Wednesday, November 18, 2020

State of the Blog 2020 (Still-Alive-Edition)

Let's start with 3 sentences that need writing regularly: Hey friends and neighbors. I hope you are all well out there. I've been so busy ... I'd also love to be able to say: every word written here takes time from the publication I'm working on. 2020 being as it is, not so much. That said, I have to address it at some point, right?

2020 couldn't be over fast enough ...

That fucking year. All the free time you'd want and no brain left to do anything but trying to calm down ALL THE FUCKING TIME. And I've been more lucky than most, I think. Didn't lose my job, always had toilet paper (although that was a close call, tbh, and mostly because they like me at the supermarket I frequent ... love those girls) and I didn't catch IT (I think).

[Source]
Nonetheless, the fear is real. Confronted with death does that to you, right? At first I couldn't do anything, then I couldn't do much beyond functioning on a servicable fashion (that is: work to keep the roof above the head, so to say) and right now, with the year already closing, I'm looking back and there is less done than I'd have done in a NORMAL year.

Most creatives I know had problems like this. Existential dread will paralyze you and, if nothing else, it will have you shift gears to adjust to the new world surrounding you. I'd wager we will see quite the change in the material that'll be made available and popular in the very near future. If earlier crises are any indicator, it'll be way more dark memento mori shit on the one side and way more happy-happy carpe diem shit on the other.

For now, though, I wasn't able to shift registers just yet. I'm still very close to publishing that game I've been talking about. I'm proud of how that shapes up so far, but still way behind (if you haven't guessed). We'll try for Christmas, no promisses ...

Where to go from here? What's happening?

If nothing else, it made me realize how weak I am and I hope it is a lesson I can take to heart for the future. I have heard something said during the lockdown that I agreed with at the time, but didn't process it to its full extent, I guess. If I remember correctly, it'd been an old lady in the UK that had been asked about the lockdown, and she said somethig to the effect that, if you live your life in fear of something happening to you, you are already dead (or "you are not living at all", not sure ... also, not sure if it matters). I think I get it now.

That said, it's already taxing to write this little post here, so I should keep it short. I have some ideas for future posts and, as I said, a game to publish. I plan to tackle a module next I've been talking about a couple of years ago: THE RISE OF ROBO-HITLER ... some brainless splatterfest where sploitation-savvy players can have some gory fun hunting down evil Nazi mutants in a Labyrinth Lord game (or something like that).

I think it'd be tremendous fun writing that, and that's the point. Something to look forward to. I also have the guy to illustrate it, and that'll be a wild ride as well. Stay tuned for that happening in the next 10 years or so :D I will be faster, though. Pinky-promise.

Also next in line: more Lost Songs of Nibelungs! I need a working understanding of all the little and big things developed in that regard in the last couple of years. A fusion of all I have into one coherent mess (instead of the incoherent mess it is right now). I learned a lot finishing Ø2\\'3|| for publication (which was the point in doing it to begin with) and I think I can give that my best effort now. Starting some time next year.

I'll also read more and play more, maybe cut down the Social Media a bit more and concentrate a bit more on blogging again. Clean my act, maybe write a novel ...

So to close on a more positive note: I believe we will get out of this and we will be better for it, although maybe only on a personal level (the world is spiralling right now, not sure where that's going). Growth is difficult, and should be. How else would you know that something changed? So let's see this as a chance, right?

Is he right? [Source]
 

Although I'm not able right now to write a post as lengthy as usual (or with any kind of substance, I'm afraid), I wanted to take the opportunity to ask you good people out there how you've been faring? How's things? I'd be happy to chat about shit a bit in the comments, if there's any interest at all for something like this ... Shoot me what you have, gaming or not.

More soon(-ish) :) Stay safe, people, and stay healthy.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Ø2\\‘3|| is coming! Start playing in a dystopian future December 2020

Assuming the world is still standing (2020 being 2020), we have good chances of publishing Ø2\\‘3|| late September December. Almost written, almost completely edited, completely illustrated and ready for frecking layout, that's where we are. It needs tying up badly. I want to be done with it and I want it out there ...

Ø2\\‘3|| - Role-Playing in a Dystopian Future (excerpts)

The year 2081 was a common year starting on a Wednesday. Only that it wasn‘t common at all. Imagine a world where every disaster humanity could come up with actually became reality. Global warming made the world practically a desert in most places, pollution killed off the rest. Nature, as we know it, is kept artificially alive where people managed to make geo-engineering work. Where geo-engineering didn’t work, nature turned very dangerous, and beyond that, it has turned truly strange.

Add weaponized artificial intelligence gone rogue, failed attempts of gene-editing, as well as freak accidents with nano-technology, and you get a nice backdrop for this dystopia.

...

It was a time of conflict, fueled by hyper-morality, call-out-culture and celebrated victimhood on the one side, and the extremes of everything opposite to that on the other side, screaming just as loud. There were military actions against the millions of people fleeing their homes because of disasters. There were purges in the streets as the political parties, the banks and the elites abandoned all pretense and came down on their enemies with open force. The great pandemic offered the right opportunity for them to execute long-prepared plans.

...

The setting for this game is as fucked up as one would expect after reading the above, and we encourage readers to explore this as deep as they dare. Anything goes, as long as it stays in the game. Yes, we don‘t care if you play enforcers for the political party in charge, or rebels, or anarchists, or just people trying to get by. You could play this as seriously as you can manage, or as the satire it is written as (Paranoia, anyone?) - just try to bring it all as close to its natural conclusion in all its aspects as possible. Let that world come alive and have fun doing so. We will provide the tools for that ...


As far as the system is concerned, I draw lots of inispiration from Half-Life 2 (yeah, you read that right). In the transition from one media (video games, FPS) to another (rpg) lots had to change, but I kept the elements and mainly 'redistributed' them, using literary theory (among other things). My editor made a proposal how to describe it and this is what ended up in the book:

By nature of its medium [rpg] and engine [the system], Ø2\\‘3|| allows the players to immerse themselves in the game with the strategies provided by first-person shooters, all while providing the means to modify the experience within the framework of the game. The mathematical framework and resource-driven interplay between players and DM keeps the narrative from derailing into pure wish-fulfillment, emphasizing, like a first-person shooter, player skill and immediacy of experience, without compromising the core tenets of roleplaying flexibility.

It's complex, demanding and innovative, so if any of the above (or my work here on the blog) tickles your fancy, this will be for you.

The book offers a complete system, which a huge DM section full of tools and context to bring this all to life. I think we'll end up with roughly 250 pages of content. A nice little book. September 2020, folks.

Stay tuned ... and remember: it's all satire!

If you are looking for more content, find the dedicated group on MeWe.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

On Narrating Complex Environments in RPGs

Here we go again, this time it's a sort of 'deleted scenes' ... I thought this was an important aspect of the game (and it is), but eventually decided that the rest of the book covers this from different angles to a degree that one should assume it obvious. Still, didn't write to delete, so I thought I could share it here in the hopes that it has merit as a blog post (not edited, but re-arranged and with added content to make it work here).

Modern city life is one of the hardest things for DMs to convey credibly for all but the sheer endless amount of possible outcomes of anything players could come up with. They could just go door to door and test how well a DM is prepared or how flexible they are with creating characters on the spot. Add science fiction elements to that and it can become quite the daunting challenge (although you'll definitely run into the same problems when the gropup enters a fantasy city).

There is something to be said about why role playing games work best in less populated and desolate areas. to do areas with high stimulation potential justice, a DM needs to find a thin line between offering too much while keeping their game on track and just enough to keep it plausible as an environment.

One way to solve this problem of overstimulation would be to think about it following the principles of emergence while remembering (1) the Rule of Seven (Miller’s Law) and (2) taking concepts like the ‘Forgetting Curve’ into account when spinning the narrative.

The first gives you a limit of what is perceivable in a narrative (or elsewhere). If you want to keep your players engaged (or 'stimulated'), you'll keep the flow of information at something like 5 to seven pieces at a time. You go below that and you'll summon patterns of low diversity. A desert or a wide plain could benefit from description of 3 or 4 pieces of information at a time. However, you'll run the risk of boring your players.

Low or high stimulation? [source]

The same goes for overstimulation.

Of course this is a bit more complicated than that, since you'll most likely have more than one player at your table, so finding the right measure is also heavily connected to reading the table right. Producing low or high peaks of stimulation migt go a long way towards bringing across what you are trying to get across.

The second gives you the window in which information is processed. Again, how fast information will be processed between several individuals may vary, but it's also within certain limits or frames AND those people fast at it will usually help the slower ones (or those with their attention elsewhere) along the way.

That said, there's no real time measure given with the forgetting curve, or ta least nothing that would relate to a direct use in an ongoing dialogue. We have to look elsewhere to see how that might work over the course of a gaming session.

How to produce a flow of information

It is very much like experiencing a good book: a well crafted text will lead you towards its conclusion from the first word on. It starts from nothing but the individual context the reader brings to it and builds on that piece by piece by coming to an agreement first and then starting a dialogue with the reader.

The established pieces of information should encourage the reader to resolve them ever forward through the text as the narrative emerges. Basically, readers collect information, interpret it towards a new, simplified understanding and use that in context with the next information and so forth, until the book is read.

[source]

Creating a flow like that is mainly based on the principles mentioned above. It describes emergence as it starts from nothing and tells a complete story in the end.

It also has to take the Rule of Seven into account because the fact that readers can only hold five to nine bits of information in context makes a hierarchy of information necessary and creates the flow as readers resolve pieces to gather new ones.

Furthermore it needs to take into account that aspects of a story tend to get forgotten as the text goes on for any length of time (which directly translates to rpgs, of course). Repetition is an important tool here (which also allows for emphasizing relevant information every now and then, for instance at the beginning of sessions).

In conclusion we end up with three principles for emerging narratives:
  1. Context is the point where you start an emerging narrative, context is what keeps it going (usually that is where all involved agree to start a scene in the beginning, and what they are encouraged to follow up on later in the narrative).
  2. Amount and hierarchy of the information you want to implement in a narrative give you control over how the narrative manifests (always hint towards information as you add to the narrative, for instance by connecting it with other information).
  3. The longer a narrative is held up, the more basic will be what is established, which means the past highlights of a narrative will inform tone and genre (starting from scratch, by taking into account hierarchy and amount of the narrative impulses will inform the experience at the table).
Now, if part of the emerging narrative is a highly complex environment, all that needs to be done (as established above) is adding information with a higher rate than one would do normally.

Controlled overstimulation

Expanding the narrative elements beyond the Rule of Seven (for instance by including all the senses and several random impressions that are present but add nothing to the purpose of a scene beyond that) will easily generate the impression of a complex environment.

That's history now, folks ... [source]

Another effect of manipulating the flow of information by overloading it is that relevant information gets more condensed in the narrative environment and irrelevant information is dismissed and forgotten far more easily.

However, that doesn’t mean any of it is unnecessary information. You are still aiming to create a symphony of impressions that accumulates in hindsight to tone and genre while offering impulses that encourage the players to connect the dots towards a satisfying conclusion (of sorts).

Conclusion

Naturally, offering a surplus of information might sidetrack the players every now and then. It’s totally fine and actually adds to the narrative in a believable manner. That is a good thing. If anything, distractions changing the narrative might offer a great opportunity to slow down a bit and re-adjust.

In other words, let it run its course, but don’t fuel it and give players opportunities to reignite their interest for whatever they had been up to before they got sidetracked by giving impulses towards those five to nine bits of information that got them moving to begin with. And if they won’t let go, let the story come to them ...

To make all that a little easier, the system needs to support a DM in a way that allows them to manipulate the narrative from a frame that adds tone and genre to the context the narrative emerges from. How Ø2\\‘3|| does just that will be discussed in the next chapter.

So much for the Deleted Scenes

I'm in the final stretches of getting this thing written. It clocks down to roughly 150 pages A5. Add artwork, infographics, cheat sheets and tables to that, as well as a glossary and an index and we'll probably end up with close to 200 pages!

If you liked what I've shown so far, there's a good chance you'll dig the game in its final form, even if you'll never play the damn thing. I've put lots of theory in there and many ideas I've been chewing on here over the years.

Anyway, I'm getting a bit excited about getting this out there (as well as about moving on after it's out there ... but that's another story. We'll see how it goes. That said, the reason for this exercise is still to make Lost Songs of th Nibelungs my best effort. That game needs me at my top game (however 'top' that is, tbh).

Interesting time :)

Feel free to share your tips and tricks how to bring complex structures alive in your games. Did you do some of th same? How do you guys control the flow of information? Comments and exchange are, as always, very welcome.

A narrative manifesting in a complex environment [source]


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Make the Gamemaster shine (so the players shine as well)

Not sure this idea will carry a post, but I really want to keep it from getting away, so here we are, talking about it ... Maybe I'll mix in something else. For now, this is about the dimension of writing a rulebook that allows an aspiring gamemaster to fulfill their role.

The rules are not the game ...

So here is another insight I just had about writing a game that I don't see much represented by roleplaying games out there: you don't only teach a reader the game, you teach them to fill their position in the game with confidence.

That whole discussion about how games need to be inclusive and diverse and all that totally underlines how games these days would rather create a space people can be what they think they are, instead of giving the players (including the Gamemaster) a path laid out to work towards a specific experience.

Don't get me wrong, games come in all shapes and forms, and as I keep saying, we are far from done in exploring what kind of games roleplaying games are or what their ideal form might be. Or forms, really. There is, however, something about how things like that are processed by the mainstream that'll reduce a game from 4d chess to the equivalent of a chess-themed amusement park:

[source]
[source]
Or this:

[source]

And rightfully so, if you think about it, as it builds roads and bridges to the real thing. Not all will follow those hints. Some will just seek the thrill of cheap entertainment and be done with it. For others, however, it can be the start of a journey, and that's how those things have value.

Inevitably, to keep with the analogy, some people will assume that the amusement park is the real thing, the final manifestation of an evolution and real 4d chess is just a thing left in the past or not worth bothering with.

What can I say, knowing that people like that exist and following the argument I'm making here, the only conclusion must be (for me, at least) that those people have no credibility and should be dismissed like that. I've talked (at length when talking Dungeon World) about how all those Powered by the Apocalypse games are scripting and manipulating player experience in way that allows mimicking certain themes and tropes by paying lip service to them while lacking all depth or complexity beyond that (some good DM advice, though).

The success of games like that, shows that there is an audience for it, and as far as I can tell, most people that like those games, are less drawn to more complex games like AD&D. The argument is the same: those light rules games are enough for many, but for some it can be the jumping of point to something a little more involved.

Anyway, why the detour? We have to understand that the level of investment someone is willing to bring to a game is on a scale. Some just want to sit in a car that goes through loops, others want build and tune a car to take it for a ride themselves. Some just want to experience the rush of a Marvel movie, others want to make the decisions and rolls that make it seem so in retrospect. It's the difference between rolling the dice to find a clue and solving the riddle yourself and everything in between.

Still a VW, isn't it? [source]

Now, the further you get away from the imitation game, the more involved need the theories to be that make the game work. Most of us aren't firemen or soldiers, none of us are knights or wizards, so if you want more than just waving your arms and screaming "Fireball!", the game needs to deconstruct the experience and make it accessible not only through game design and game vocabulary but also through offering insights on how those stories are told.

Not only that, you do it in a way that they can be confident about bringing it to the table and running it in a way that teaches the players how to be confident about it as well. It describes a journey, a development, a path to play a game expertly to a degree that you need to describe it as a 'skill'.

The Book is to the Gamemaster ...

... what the Gamemaster is to the players. Again, this all overlaps within a spectrum. A good Gamemaster can make a bad game shine and a good player can be a great example for other players. Ideally, however, a book of rules will offer a complete deconstruction of how the game is supposed to be played in a way that experienced Gamemasters can relate and adapt while new Gamemasters get everything on hand they need to understand the game and make it their own.

Step 1, illustrated ... [source]

Part of good game design is being able to explain the game design in a way that others can extrapolate from it and deeper you dive into a topic, the more you'll have to lay out systems and ideas that are in the periphery of a game design decision.

Think about it: if your game follows the basic principles of, say, a specific fantasy book series, you have to put the Gamemaster in a position that they are able to reproduce the experience the books series is famous for. Not by quoting scenes or characters from the book, but by manipulating and presenting the narrative in a way that is recognizably akin to the source material.

And through the Gamemaster presenting the game like that, the players follow suit. The result is experiencing a story with the same intensity as the one that inspired the original series through the combined effort of game design and comprehensive literary analysis. You allow the Gamemaster to shine and they will not only make the game shine, they will inspire their players to invest more into the game.

The Star Wars RPG by Westend Games is another excellent example for this. When WEG got the contract for a Star Wars game, they don't just created something within what the movies established, they expanded on it in a way that allowed players to experience stories that felt like Star Wars while being something entirely different (here is a great article about their decisions and success).

How could it be the same, but different, you might ask. In a way all of that is related, again, to the decisions that made Star Wars work. The philosophies of the Jedi and how that relates to Japanese Samurai movies, the narrative necessities of the space opera genre and how all that translates into game design. There's also an aesthetic to it that translates to more than just visuals.

An understanding of all that informed the game designers when expanding on Star Wars. It's one important aspect of making it work. Opening that world and its machinations up to a Gamemaster will put them in a position, where they can do just the same for the players, but not through reading, but through creating a story.

Step 2, illustrated ... [source]

Don't reduce Roleplaying Games to 'Storytelling'

And that should be the last point I make in this post, something many don't seem to be aware of (or at least not aware of the implications): rolelpaying games transfer and translate established tropes, stories and genres form other media to a narrative environment that is entirely based on group communication that is enhanced by some sort of gaming mechanic.

And just like a book translates differently to a movie or a computer game, it translates differently to a roleplaying game. It is crucial, in my opinion, to understand that it's not the communication that manipulates a narrative in a way that it emulates a certain genre or trope, it's the additional rules that are used that bring that effect.

Designing roleplaying games in the context described above means altering the rules of language to a degree and with the purpose to create a certain headspace within those playing the game that echoes specific experiences from other media in a collaboratively manifested narration instead.

Still the best representation of this idea, imo. [source]

Each of those experiences follow different rules. Grindhouse is different to romance is different to western or books to movies to tv series ... and you just can't assume that a Gamemaster is savvy with all the exceptions and rules to begin with. As a matter of fact, given that Gamemasters will most likely be interested in more than one game/genre/setting, it's actually necessary to provide them with all they need to make it happen.

I feel like hitting all the same notes again ...

Another post by the Disoriented Ranger talking about how important DM tools are and the same distinctions of games and some of the same theories. I hope you enjoyed this post nonetheless. I feel there is value in approaching those topics from different angles and it all is a learning process for me as well. That, and there is value in mantras like this, as it helps me internalizing some of the insight presented here, which then, in turn, makes it more intuitive to integrate them into my designs (here's hoping ...).

For some things, you just have to sit down and do them to get a new perspective on them, and writing a game for publication is definitely one of those things. It also helps appreciating well written games. It's a shit load of work to write a game in a way that allows some stranger to play it as intended ...

Anyway, yeah, that's what I wanted to tell you guys. If nothing else, it might help you in understanding the games you read and play a bit better. I'd love to hear about games that fulfill those criteria and maybe about popular games that don't. Stay safe and healthy, guys.

Now with new context [source]


 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Style of Play in Ø2\\‘3|| (that game I'm about to publish)

A plan is a list of things that won't happen, especially when you are self-publishing and even more so in trying times like these. That said, we've made great progress in that roleplaying game I'm going to publish: Ø2\\‘3||. The writing is almost done, the art is lined up and the editing already started ... we are on our way and maybe (maybe!) it'll be out there as early as end of June. Wouldn't that be something?

Anyway, I'm always saying a publication is worth at least 20 posts here, and I honestly believe that the people enjoying this blog will enjoy reading Ø2\\‘3||, if not playing it. Or I could be totally talking out of my arse here (and there). To put this to the test and to give you a hint what will be in store with this publication, I thought I share a part of the introduction to the DM part of the book. Here we go, unedited (please hype):

Style of Play

If you have read this book in a linear fashion (as one would be bound to do on a first reading), you’ll only have a glimpse of what style of play we have in mind for the DM. As we define in the beginning, the system itself will produce lots of abstract patterns that help forming and directing the narrative.

Some indications of how that works have already been shown throughout the book (how Anger limits the actions a player has in combat is one example of that). However, it’ll need a little bit more than that to make it work for a District Master. We believe that each DM needs the equivalent of what the character sheet is for a player. A world sheet, if you will, although more fittingly it should be called something like an ‘analogue world engine’.

A clockwork like that would by necessity be way more complex than anything you’d expect from a character sheet, which is why we dedicate the second half of this book not only to offering a DM more background for the setting of Ø2\\‘3|| but also try to ease the DM into designing their own campaign with this game.

How to exactly do that will be described later in the book. For this introduction full of inspirations and themes we want to conclude with a little passage how all of the above connects to form a game in Ø2\\‘3||.

There is one universal truth that unites all DM/Player-driven roleplaying games: the decisions the DM makes push the narrative that manifests at the table beyond its event horizon to move it forward. The feedback loop between players and DM will create areas with possibilities that get limited as the dialogue about them progresses to a point where a final decision needs to be made how to progress. That’s when the DM makes a call on what needs to happen next and how.

Aspects a good DM will take into account with their decisions need to be (1) the established narrative, (2) the player expectations, (3) the setting (as a background), (4) the immediate scene (as the stage, if you will) and (5) the rules (basically the physics of the simulated gaming environment).

As important as those aspects are, they are also merely indicators. They offer possibilities. The style of play that emerges from decision to decision to choose among those possibilities is in equal parts what will make the tone of a game and what defines a DM.

Now, roleplaying games allow for a lot of conjecture-driven projection between the ‘real world’ (or our perception thereof) and the gaming environment. DMs will instinctively use that leeway to compensate for all kinds of shortcomings a game might bring by applying common sense, personality and good old story telling instead of the rules.

Again, to a degree this is a necessity due to the complexity of the aspects a DM needs to take into account at any given moment. However, the gap between the limitations a game brings and the craftsmanship of a DM decides about the experience at the table. In other words: it takes a great DM to work with an incomplete game.

But what makes a game ‘complete’? It is our strong belief that a game should offer all the rules necessary to produce a similar (if not equal) basic experience to which then a DM adds their personal touch.

To be more precise, Ruled As Written (R.A.W.) each game of Ø2\\‘3|| should produce the kind of stories it wants to tell while allowing for autonomous, intuitive and spontaneous play from all involved, including the DM.

This is, ultimately, where the style of play in Ø2\\‘3|| connects to those original games of yore: a game of AD&D is recognized as such through the usage of its rules (it’s just its popularity that allows DMs to project the game instead nowadays).

To achieve something like this, a set of rules needs to provide abstract patterns that go beyond what the main set of rules described in the beginning of this book will do for a DM. It is the area where the game designer gives a game nuance. It is what makes it complete.

Since Ø2\\‘3|| is about a dystopian world where individuals are imprisoned, manipulated and monitored in their own private little bubbles, we decided to create tools for DMs to generate twists and turns for the narrative that culminate in the tropes one would expect in a story like that along with point-driven economy (called ‘Pennies’) that forces players to make the setting response stronger and more dangerous the more advantages they take.

DMs will also get the opportunity to create the districts the characters live in as well as surrounding districts and districts they might travel to. It will bring that specific part of the world in Ø2\\‘3|| to live and help a DM in describing a complex science fiction setting with lots of urban areas. This ‘sandbox’ will change over time as the narrative emerges and the DM spends Pennies.

All this is kept abstract enough to let a DM make out of it what they deem interesting and entertaining, offering enough material and interaction to allow believable freedom of movement on the player side while staying consistent with the premise of the game and the fictional surroundings.

In Ø2\\‘3|| DMs will improvise aspects of the narrative most would expect to be prepared (like encounters and the basic story) and will be able to do so consistently because the game offers the tools and additional rules to give complete support for conjuring all the little details that make the game a unique experience.

Lastly, this approach to roleplaying games allows a DM to actually play their part of the game as they can freely improvise and create without making hours of preparation necessary before each Episode.

And that's that

As you just saw, this will be somewhat demanding, and purposely so. Aren't there already enough roleplaying games out there doing the same over and over again? This will be an attempt on going into another direction. I'm actually not afraid to fail. The book stands for itself and it will not embrace mainstream. It'll also be hard to find (look at the title) and it'll be only PoD for the price I deem appropriate (no pdf ... you want this, you buy the book or know me personally). That said, all involved are giving their best to make this as good a book as possible.

We'll also sell merch. Here is part of a poster (details on where to buy it will follow):

The complete poster will be a detailed cityscape with lots of details ...


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Innovation in RPG-Land Part 2: The Process and the Innovator

People actually asked for this (okay, one person ... but Part 1 received generally good and encouraging feedback). That said, I wouldn't want to force it. It's a strange and complex topic, and although I didn't go very deep into it, I think I laid out the basics okay. It's just that it all was left rather abstract (and intentionally so), so there is a lot to explore if opportunity (or inspiration) arises. Which actually happened (as I seem to be almost back to form), so here we go, building heavily on what was established earlier ...

Chuang Tze contemplating a waterfall [source]
The Process (beyond craftsmanship)

I'd like to kick this of with a poem by the famous Daoist philosopher Chuang Tze. It is called The Woodcarver and it goes like this (translation seems to be by on Thomas Merten):

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits. The prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”

Khing replied: “I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set my heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain or success.
After five days, I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days I had forgotten my body with all its limbs.

“By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

“Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
And begin.

“If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.

“What happened?
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits.”
This is among the earliest descriptions of how creators push beyond craftsmanship while opening themselves for inspiration (roughly 2.100 years ago) and it is quite remarkable for several reasons.

You will find sentiments similar to this among various (if not all worth the label) artists of all kinds. Tom Waits is on record for telling inspiration to go somewhere else when he's driving a car, to name but one more famous example (just don't ask me which interview it had been ... I'm at a loss right now). Inspiration comes to the artist. They are kissed by muses, something speaks to them, they saw it in their dreams ... artists describe inspirations always as something disconnected, as something given to them.

One way to describe this would be that they tap into what Jung called the Collective Unconscious. How to get there is another matter altogether. Meditation, fasting, drinking (as many authors seem to do), other drugs, just taking a walk ... there seem to be as many individual solutions as there are artists. What they have in common is far more interesting, though: it all describes a form of disconnection from what is most commonly referred to as the "ego" (the thing in you that claims to be "I").

The brain getting flooded with impulses ... [source]
It definitely also needs the tools to express those impulses artists receive, so that's craftsmanship. It's where you start, and in a sense it is a different thing altogether. Good craftsmanship needn't be inspired, it is useful and fulfilling on its own.

That's also a very important distinction to make, for the very reason that creativity is connected to the Big Five personality trait Openness as well as to intelligence (interestingly enough, using psychoactive drugs is one of the few things one can do to alter a score in Openness, and it seems to be very hard to change those personality traits at all ...). In other words: people are more or less creative, or even not creative at all (which seems to be an unpopular thing to say, although the science speaks for itself in that regard).

And yet, it doesn't matter (in that sense that it is not an universal and you don't lack anything if you don't have it), since learning a craft is all about dedication and practice, and that's only related to personality in as much as preferences go*. Although Conscientiousness might have an impact on your progress (among other factors). But still, that just determines your approach, not how good you'll get. Right?

If you need a good example for that, look at the cultural implementation of something like Martial Arts in Japan or Yoga in India. Everyone is encouraged to do it, age or social background don't matter, everyone has access to some degree or another (this is somewhat generalizing, but you get the idea).

High craftsmanship is achievable, transcending that might be something else altogether and less connected than generally assumed. Less connected, because craftsmanship has two separate functions: perfection and conservation of an established form (creation of the perfect table, for instance) and innovation beyond the established through creativity and transfer (making a better wheel, for instance).

It's also important to see all this within a spectrum, of sorts. If it's all individual journeys to express inspiration through craft, we are all at different steps in our personal development, sometimes even unsure where we are going or where we'll end (if at all aware).

And while we take our individual dips in the collective unconscious, fishing for inspiration, we are sometimes reduced to being spectators. But that's another thing that's interesting in the process (and very Dao, I might add). We, as a group of individuals, are able to recognizes art, especially over time, although the process for this almost seems as mysterious as inspiration itself. The importance of art, in that sense, can be measured as the time a culture keeps it around (or more precise: the time it carries meaning in a culture).

Within all those complex patterns emerge works of art that alter cultures permanently, and while we could debate the importance of the waves of innovation our little hobby produced so far (see Part 1), the impact of that first game on all cultures that got hands on it, is undeniable and still echoes through all aspects of many cultures as I write this. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure we are not in the least aware how big of an impact we are actually talking about.

As far as the process goes, we see the same pattern emerge that I described above. Simply put, a group of enthusiastic college level war game hobbyists pushed their hobby to a degree where some of them transcended the given parameters out of the necessity to allow for single character games instead of units. Looking back, it seems like a natural development. However, it took some creative minds to tackle the problem (Gygax, Arneson, and so on).

As you'll always have with things like this, many tuned in, either working together, or even being unaware of each other (again, collective unconscious describes best what exactly they tuned into). and the result was what generally is referred to as the first edition of D&D today**.

Famously, this also led to feuds that go on to this day. Who came first up with it, who's the creator, who deserves more praise, all that petty bullshit people fight about over the corpses of those who helped putting the game together. That, however, is a whole chapter on its own ...

Now, what about the innovators?

Did Tesla invent the light bulb or was it Edison? Actually, 22 inventors are listed that made attempts in that direction, and Edison's just was the most successful***. Or did they already have "light bulbs" in old Egypt? They had batteries back then (so-called Baghdad Batteries in Persia, which is mind-blowing in its own right), so what did they use them for?

Light bulbs in Egypt? Check out the Dendera Lights**** [source]
Did the Americans invent Pizza, or was it the Italians. Same for noodles: China or Italy? Are hamburgers a purely American invention, or was it European immigrants inventing short-cuts to sell their fast food better? And what about the Romans? They had a thriving fast food culture, among that selling a beef patty with minced meat between two buns, so they had hamburger over 1500 years ago.

What's more, focus shifts names of inventors change to regions change to nations, and then get forgotten. How many appliances do you have at home with no idea who came up with it? Give it a couple of decades and people may reduce the origins of roleplaying games to America. Give it even more time and it just might end up being a staple like chess.

This is the usefulness and tragic of innovation, actually. The inventor is channeling and manifesting something, with craft, ingenuity and time, and with luck, it ends up resonating with enough others to have an impact. Again, a spectrum, it may be a bestseller that'll be forgotten in a couple of years, it may be penicillin, it might be the thing that inspires the guy that will invent penicillin.

There aren't high chances for success, but if a creative endeavor turns out to be successful, it has a measurable impact. High risk (because you believe in your ideas and invest into realizing them), but equally high reward (if something blows up, it blows up proper).

Sometimes you catch the fish, sometimes ... [source]
Yet, this is just one side of the coin. The other side is that if a creator is channeling, it gets difficult to claim ownership. Sure, you wrote the book, you designed the game, you painted the picture, but in a sense you made the collected conscious manifest. You made it conscious in others, so it becomes a thing of it's own, in a sense.

Insert here the years old discussion about fandom and how much influence a creator has after the creation resonated with the public. Especially with huge successes (I explored that specific rabbit hole in another post not that long ago, and you can join me doing so here). Some can keep on the pulse they created, some try to send new impulses and fail (The Matrix Trilogy comes to mind as a failed example, but there are also enough successful series proofing that the opposite is possible).

It's everyone's game, and it needs to be. As I said in part 1, innovation needs a critical mass to emerge from. If a pattern gains enough interest, lots of lesser successful attempts on it allow for some to hit it out of the park in a way that also encourages others to conserve the attempt through playing with the pattern while repeating it (which, incidentally, is another reason to let go ... and also very Daoist).

There is also the small side of the coin that deserves a bit of contemplation: if creators channel ideas from something that is potentially accessible for all, and manifest those ideas through the established methods of a craft, the whole disconnect created that way between the art and the artist means you really don't have to like the artist (or know them, for that matter) to appreciate the art (or the innovation). Individual expression will always find a way to make itself known, but it is clearly distinguishable from the innovation or the artwork.

Actually, the less you find of the artist in the art, the longer it will last (if it was a success). Look at all the classics. The older they are, the purer they are in their form. Shakespeare is a perfect example for this, imo. Art so powerful, pure and innovative, its impact is felt to this day, 400 years later. Does it matter who he was? Well, of course people want to know who he was and how he lived, but does it matter? No. Not at all.

That doesn't mean artists or innovators don't deserve compensation, mind you (as some seem to think that if you are merely channeling and if what manifests isn't "yours", you didn't seem to do anything special ...). But that's like in that sad joke about the guy asking the other guy why he should pay 200 gold for something that took only ten minutes to make:

See what I mean? [source]
And that's just that. Years of dedication will make you good at what you are doing, and speed is just one indicator how good someone became. You see in the example above that you'll have to remind people of this even if you are only talking craft, with art it gets even less clear cut (the high risk, high reward thing discussed above) as recognizing the possibilities of a thing is not as hard as creating it, but still very hard.

There where cultures that honored the artist for the attempt, for the way of life they chose to (possibly) create something all may benefit from. We don't seem to live in a culture like that.

The only consolidation an unsuccessful artist has, would be that their creativity keeps them entertained. Going that way is a goal worth in itself (which, again, is a very Daoist thing). However, the tragic truth is that a culture that not only ignores spiritual growth (which this all is, obviously), but actively dismisses and denounces it, will also make it a rather privileged endeavor to explore your full potential (or a hard decision).

To end this on a more positive note, though, I'd like to point out that it doesn't stop people from trying and hard decisions are made more often than not ...

And this leaves us where, exactly?

Well, I think that leaves us at a potential part 3, as I still kept this as abstract as fuck :D However, while you might say that this isn't as specific as talking about creating a roleplaying game, it very much is about that very same process. For now, you could think of this as something more like a school of thought than a concrete guide. Maybe we'll go further down that road ...

Learning any craft, being it writing or game design or carpentry, is hard work and takes years of dedication. Furthermore, exploring the outer limits of a craft can be seen as a spiritual journey and manifesting your findings needs you functioning on all the levels described above.

If you recognize this as a possible truth, you will also see where we are at in our hobby. You'll gain an awareness of what is trying to conserve and what's trying to innovate and even, what's couterproductive. To one degree or another. You'll also know one approach to go that way or at least where you are at in the great scheme of things. That's not nothing.

I know it's a struggle, and I'm barely what you'd call an artist. Spiritual, yeah, I'd claim that I dabble in that, but ask me to what end, and I'm somewhat at a loss. I read too much about it and don't live enough of it (mostly because I can't afford to, but partly because it is also very hard to let go). This blog exists for almost 9 years now. I monetize very little (I published a thing that is PWYW ...), because it's a process for me, a way to learn. I'm finally at a point now where I will try my hand at earning a bit more with this. Just a little bit.

See what I mean? 9 years of work here, with years of work before that, and now I feel like I might be in a position to actually earn a buck or two with it. Might still fail, mind you, and I somewhat dread the jump (my first rpg is almost publishable, but I hesitate, and not only because of the pandemic).

Still worth it, though. I regret nothing and I really do believe that taking the journey is worth it. Doesn't matter where it ends, it brought me here, didn't it? So I hope you enjoyed reading those musings and ramblings of mine about what makes art and what doesn't and how innovation is connected to it all. Creating something and sharing it with others at least has the chance to have some stranger leave a bit richer than they had been before, and if nothing else, there is value in that.

The Poor Poet by Spitzweg sums it up for me. [source]

*Here are some thoughts about the Big Five and what they mean for a person. It is important context, but not so important for what I'm writing above. First, we all seem to be primed the way we are from very early on. So much so, that we seem to be born with a specific set of traits (roleplaying gamers can relate: you get what you roll) and we need a big part of our life to come to terms with that (I'm going with Schopenhauer here, in that people don't change, they just change their behavior). This "coming to terms with our personality" will always be a very individual journey, and by no means successful for everyone. If someone is too open and their parents are more of the opposite, that can create conflict. The type of conflict you will see in dramas all over the world. Sometimes people get damaged, sometimes they arrange themselves with something not in sync with their nature. Sometimes extraordinary circumstances force us to be a more rudimentary version of ourselves to function ... It is a very complex subject, as one can easily see, so we think in ideals when we talk about the Big Five. Ideals, because it assumes a person is fully aware of their potential. I just wanted to point out that there are also those people that can't even begin to express themselves (or only when reacting extreme themselves, like getting drunk to write, or cutting off an ear?), because their surroundings don't allow for it. Going this way can be difficult.

**Nothing is that easy, obviously. However, in terms of patterns, we see this all the time, for instance with music genres (Grunge would be a good example, I think). 

***Again, the same pattern emerges ... Just saying. 

****Not necessarily as fact, but as an interpretation or a possibility. We are clever monkeys, after all, and it just took as a couple of 100 years to get where we are today, technologically speaking. It would just take as long to lose all that again, with almost nothing left to proof our technological sophistication. So who's to say what the ancients where capable of? It's a fascinating thought experiment, imo.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Rabbitfolk and Berserker Bunnies for the D&D RC & Layrinth Lord (Happy Easter Edition!)

Hey folks. I hope you are all well out there in the bad wild world. 2020 has been a tough one so far, with more ahead, as it seems. We'll see this through, though. I'm confident we will. Getting some proper gaming going (digitally, nowadays) seems like a good start in a better direction for me. And since it's also Easter (which traditionally is a fresh start and the end of Winter and all those positive notions of life coming back and thriving), I thought I'd share some bonus classes for your D&D  Basic and Labyrinth Lord games. Please, make good use of these bunnies, and share their tales, if you are so inclined.

I used Building the Perfect Class as a guide to make the Rabbitfolk (so it's all balanced and thought through). You should check that out, if you haven't already (and here is why).

The gentle Rabbitfolk

Your classic humanoid rabbits. They come in all the variety you'd know from rabbits. They are peaceful social creatures and live in burrows (as one would guess). They are more spiritual than religious and love dabbling in magic. All of them are vegetarian and they really don't like killing at all (although they will defend themselves). They are as big as Elves when fully upright (although they do love to cower).

I love me some DiTerlizzi ... so good [source]
As far as origins go, I'd go with a martial Halfling clan that got cursed millenia ago when they angered a god with their unspeakable war crimes. They've made peace with their fate by now (as their nature would force them) and are generally rergarded as nice folk and all around pleasant company. They don't often go on adventure, but when they do, it's usually to help the peace in the realm one way or another. That and their strange relationship to magic. The lure of some mighty magic item will tempt the most cautious bunny into a dungeon. They are also highly requested couriers and make honest and reliable merchants.

Prime Requisites: Dexterity and Intelligence

Experience Bonus: 5% for DEX or INT higher than 12, 10% for DEX and INT higher than 12

Hit Dice: 1d6 per level up to 9th level.

Maximum Level: 12

Armor: Only light armor, shields permitted

Weapon: Any blunt

Combat Progression: like Magic-User

Weapon Mastery (if you use that): normal

Saves as: Halfling


Special Abilities:
  • INFRAVISION (like Elf)
  • DEADLY AWARENESS (can only be surprised 1 in 8 times, even when asleep, as they sleep with their eyes open, but if surprised, they need to make a Save versus Death to not drop dead)
  • BINKY FELLA (can jump double as high and double as far as humans)
  • RUNNER (Movement as Monk)
  • WIGGLY WRESTLER (may 1 time per level and day add their complete Dexterity to an attempt to free themselves from a grapple)
  • AFFINITY TO MAGIC (casts magic with 1/2 Magic-User progression)
  • CASTS MAGIC IN LIGHT ARMOR
  • HIDE OUTSIDE (like Halfling)
  • HIDE INSIDE (like Halfling)
Rabbitfolk Experience Table (advances like Mage)
Level     XP
1           0
2       2.100
3       4.200
4       8.400
5      16.800
6      35.000
7      70.000
8     140.000
9     280.000
10    430.000
11    580.000
12    730.000
Berserker Bunnies!

Among the Rabbitfolk are also the so-called "Berserker Bunnies" (not to their face, though) that found a way to channel the ancient wrath of their anscestors(or maybe it found them?). Legend has it that they channel their ancient Halfling origin. They are very rare, very scarred and usually don't get very old. If they ever where to unite in force (as it has been foretold in obscure prophecies), whatever is in their way would be in serious trouble. Rabbitfolk in general don't like history rearing its ugly mug like that, and rabbits that discover the Ancient Way of the Berserker for themselves  soon become outcasts, living in exile from their people. They roam the world, looking for the long lost war wisdom of their kin.
Don't call him Berserker Bunny ... [source]

Berserker Bunnies are quite honorable, in a quirky way, and would rather fight for a good cause. However, they will work as mercenaries and because of their They love oversized blunt weapons and would love eating meat, but can't stomach it. Drinking blood seems to be okay, though.

There seem to be no Berserker Bunnies beyond Level 9. They seem to follow a calling of sorts when reaching name level and disappear without a trace ...

Prime Requisites: Dexterity and Constitution

Experience Bonus: 5% for DEX or CON higher than 12, 10% for DEX and CON higher than 12

Hit Dice: 1d12 per level up to 9th level.

Maximum Level: 9

Armor: Only light to medium armor, no shields

Weapon: Any (also has bite as blunt weapon), the love two-handed blunt weapons (because of the "thump" noise they make)

Combat Progression: like Monster

Weapon Mastery (if you use that): as Fighter

Saves as: Halfling


Special Abilities:
  • INFRAVISION (like Elf)
  • EVEN DEADLIER AWARENESS (can only be surprised 1 in 10 times, even when asleep, as they sleep with their eyes open, but if surprised, they need to make a Save versus Death to not end up in an undiscriminating berserker rage for 2d6 rounds - Level which functions exactly like the WRATH below, just without the Save)
  • BINKY FELLA (can jump double as high and double as far as humans)
  • RUNNER (Movement as Monk)
  • HIDE OUTSIDE (like Halfling)
  • HIDE INSIDE (like Halfling)
  • FLYING RABBIT ATTACK (attacks involving jumps add DEX bonus to attack and damage, needs room to maneuver as full movement, though, little jumps don't count)
  • WRATH OF THE ANCIENTS (as soon as losing at least 1 HP in a fight, Berserker Bunnies can call their ancestors for support and their ancestors will answer the call, a bunny possessed like that will shimmer and have glowing and steaming red eyes, they'll also get +2 on damage and attack as well as +1 HP/Level for CON/2 rounds per day, Save vs. Spells negates (unless Deadly Awareness), Berserker Bunnies will fight until the Wrath is over, even when they have no HP left, even if no enemies are left)
Berserker Bunnies Experience Table (advances like Fighter)
Level     XP
1            0
2        3.000
3        6.000
4       12.000
5       24.000
6       50.000
7      100.000
8      200.000
9      400.000
The classes here on the blog are:

Ratpeople

Feline Humanoids

Ape Men

My take on Halflings (a little series)

A Prince Charming (human that grew up with Elves)