Friday, February 10, 2023

In Defense of AI Art (the drawing kind ...)

Calm down, no one is being attacked here. I come in peace. Just one thing up front: it is not theft. Now, hear me out! Whoever came up with that sure knows how to do propaganda marketing. At least that's where tactics like that come from. Please understand: "AI Art is Theft" as a catch phrase is what the literature calls "... [shifting] the focus of attention away from facts and information, and towards altering the context within which people act" (MINDSPACE document, UK government, p. 14). It means using shock and awe (for instance) to make you stop thinking about a topic and start acting in a certain way ... in this example, it negatively associates something with theft to elicit either guilt to avoid it or compassion to "fight" those "thieves". I don't like harmful shit like that and it makes me wary instantly.

Think, do the research, form an educated opinion, share it with others in open discourse. Repeat ... So I'm going to make my argument here, and you can read it or leave it. If you come to consider my points, I'd be happy to talk about it some more.

This post will be illustrated with results from InspiroBot. You brought this unto you. It also ended up being a bit rambling. Just a bit ... If I repeat a point I deem important, just nod and move on :)

Cui Bono?

That age-old question: who earns a pretty buck by having things go their way? Closely followed by: who benefits from halting this innovation for as long as possible? And (something you should ALWAYS ask yourself): who benefits from you not thinking about it? You get answers to those three questions, you get a good idea what's going on.

I'm going to say it up front: in my opinion, AI art does not infringe on meat space artists. Or to be more precise, not more than technology already does. That I can write these words here to share it globally instead of screaming them words against a cave wall cost at least one person a job: the guy I had to pay to walk to the next village to tell my story to the people there.

I know, I know, it is a pointed argument, but not without merit, I believe. Technology happens. Always did, does so more frequently now. Just imagine all the tools we already use. Do you know which of those already use some sort of AI to support an artist's work? Just type in "Adobe and AI" into a(n AI supported) search engine of your choice and get up to speed. They already do that with the visual arts and frame it as "tools to support creators".

And rightly so, but the uproar was about the implication where the machine learned to do what it does. Anyone exploring that for Adobe or Amazon or any of the big gorillas in the room? No, not that I know of. Midjourney and Stable Diffusion just painted a huge target on their back by being public about what happens, but it's been happening all along.

As a matter of fact, DeepDream by Google is already seven years old (went public 2015). You think that program did NOT learn from what it found online to look at? Someone suing google about it? Not that I'm aware of ... But there is more! How many apps on our phones already use AI to, for instance, alter pictures? Making you look older or adding a fancy filter to a picture? If AI was used, what do you think that AI learned from to work towards?

I could go on and on. We are already knee deep in AI, for years now, full well knowing where it leads to. HAS to lead to. If you are a (visual) artist and NOT aware of what's happening and what the trajectory of that development is, you are among few. It has been known, witnessed, demonstrated and talked about. So what's the fuzz all about now?

Be like that? [source]
What's more, technology like that is a great tool for ALL artists. For one, those pictures have to be generated. You have to get a feel for how to formulate prompts, and it will take several iterations before you'll get something you can work with. Emphasis on being "work with", since those pictures often still need some work before you can even think about putting them in publications (which is ADDITIONAL work). That's a lot of steps compared to "I tell an artist what I want, they show some samples, we talk about it and it is done".

It is also work an artist could earn money with, as they should be very capable to use their skill to pretty up prompt results.

For artists themselves, it also is a great opportunity. Midjourney is dirt cheap. Even if they just go for inspirations and elements, I imagine they could speed up their workflow tremendously with AI art at their disposal. Actually, that is already happening! Still making their own thing, but the AI takes some of the heavy lifting ... a tool, just as Adobe put it.

And then you have another important aspect of this whole thing: all of a sudden lots of small artists and publishers are able to compete with mainstream aesthetics. I kid you not, for a small publisher like myself tech like that, for as long as it lasts, is a godsend. Although lots of work, it helps me giving my products the look I imagined for them but couldn't pay for (and I already do a lot, drawing just isn't my strong suit at all).

That whole argument that the AI learning from existing artwork is "theft" is faulty to begin with, actually, as it rests on the idea that it reduces future incomes because it "copies their styles". Or learned by "looking" at pictures posted online in some form of public setting. As pointed out before, no one did that with apps or whatever, but that's not even were I'm going with this.

The point I'm making here, is, that the same happens when I get an inspiration for a layout I saw somewhere else. No one is earning a dime when I do layout and writing myself, even IF I'm inspired by someone else. Which can't be helped, of course, because we constantly look at the outputs of others. Just as the AI, but even that's not the point I'm making here. What I was aiming at was that if I can't pay an artist, I will find ways around that. The whole public domain is full of material a creative mind could make use of. 

(And yes, I know, I'm not an "artificial intelligence" but a "natural intelligence", so it is a bit different. Still, how much different should be a matter of debate in this context.)

It's also a lot more work than it sounds, but the opportunities and applications of the public domain (and open source in general) are (within their limitations) endless. There are fonts and pictures, millions of books and illustrations ... Everything used from the public domain has an active artist not earn money. Everything I can do myself has someone else not earn money. Is that all frowned upon now? No. But, obviously, the whole public domain and open source movement isn't very popular with people that are actually in a position to hurt them.

Keep that in mind.

Especially since all those AI art services under fire right now are deeply rooted in OpenAI, for instance (all using technology provided to the public via google, among other open sources). The point being, those services used publicly available technology to innovate to a point where they were able to create successful businesses with LOTS of growth and potential.

So established artists have some reason to grief, yes, but only because innovation changed their world (yet again!) and we have to adapt. That's stress, of course, but also a great opportunity for all that can make it work. So did printers not that long ago, for instance, when printing went digital. So did publishers when the whole DTP movement made Print on Demand such a success ...

I know you guys know that it happens all the time. What's different now? Nothing. It is the same players protecting their benefice. And who's that? Not the little artists trying to get by. Not even the big artists, as it has only benefits for them (imagine to be that good that your style is so recognizable, an artificial intelligence can produce work like that). Can't be them. And dead visual artists? Well, same for dead actors or writers ... new technology will revive them for our entertainment. It's inevitable.

As a matter of fact, IF AI learning could be traced to having learned from one specific artist, I doubt they would benefit more if it hadn't. In other words, if this is the future, you'd be better off if it's part of your legacy than if you are being scratched out of it, because this WILL shape our immediate cultural future.

But who really earns from using that technology?

Well ...

InspiroBot, reading minds again ... [source]
That comes pretty close to the answer of the first three questions right in the beginning. But there are more arguments to be made before we get there. Other than manipulation through psychological framing and nudging, there's another thing going on. If you check the Wikipedia page about Midjourney and the litigation connected to it, it'll lead you to a (rather level-headed, actually) article over at The Verge that basically makes all the points (see here).

You will find that it is THREE artists that are suing through a big law firm specialized in cases like that. And that they actually have a weak case, since their claim seems to be, for instance, that the AI stores those pictures, which it doesn't, and it has an open source/fair use angle plus an international aspect the court could not even begin to address.

We'll have to see how that turns out, BUT it is not a lot to begin with. And that's, to me at least, suspicious. We have seen a tendency in recent years to manipulate "the masses" via social media engineering into acting as Trojan corporate mouth pieces (of sorts), through psychological skullduggery explained, for instance, in that document I shared right in the beginning. We have learned that the "mainstream" media is complicit in this, to a huge extent (see the Twitter Files, for a really, really great example).

Not all voices online are equal. Some are bought or have a vested interest in following a certain agenda, some are more vulnerable to manipulation than others. Needn't go as far as arguing that kids, for instance, are one big group deserving more protection than we are giving them right now. There is VERY solid science about how to manipulate others into doing ... well, anything, really. Public, too! And yet, for some reason, we assume that social media is "just" an exchange of opinions? Even something where an event perceived as a widely acknowledged outrage might accumulate to something true?

No, it is used to earn money and influence. Or, the other way around, it's targeting your money and manipulating you.

So, I don't know about the intention of those three women going to war against AI art. It certainly helped them getting a profile. I also don't trust all the media attention this one got. Yes, it's all new and shiny an TROUBLED, but isn't it also pretty clear cut? What makes me skeptical the most is the perceived social media war drums, the cancel culture looking for new victims. It smells of social engineering. And who does that? Who earns the big bucks with technology? Who benefits from halting innovation forced by a couple of start-ups? Who does not want you to think about those things? Well, the conclusion is, in my opinion, the direct competition.

Not sure how true that one is :D [source]
DeviantArt makes a lot of noise, while working on their own version. Adobe, Amazon, Disney, everyone earning Big Money with media is looking for the money Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and GitHUB is not making because people get scared away or join the war path to fight those "thieves".

They also have the money, expertise and means to do so. Have been doing so for years, which is pretty evident by now ... so why assume they are not somehow involved? They are, or so I'd argue, the only ones benefiting from this NOT changing the media landscape as fast as it does.

Nowadays, in general, when I see an outrage like this online, my first impulse is to question it. It all became a huge battlefield of psychological warfare and propaganda in just a couple of years, and it is bad for all of us.

So who benefits? I tell you, it's not the little guy. We are, again, reduced to being pawns in a bigger game. Evidence for that is all around us, and it is a safe bet that it is the same machinations being at work here. If not that, than it is mimicking those processes, which is (arguably) just as bad, because:

It's the wrong attack vector ...

Here is the thing, given the huge potential of the technology we are discussing here, the whole discussion that is surrounding it is asking the wrong questions. Technological advancement is (at least) exponential until the innovations happen so fast, they might as well be happening all at once. At that point, the only arguments we as a society/culture will have about what's worth saving (or safeguarding) are those already anchored in our respective cultures/societies.

When that singular event, that singularity happens, the decision what happens next is out of our hands and only our legacy will be able protect us ... or damn us.

So at this point we know AI art will be perfect in a year or two, then films and books and comics, even computer games will be done by AI within, I'd say, the next 3 years. If that slow. The whole media complex: imploding.

That'll also mean that you can have AI programming utilities, it'll teach, it'll do medical procedures. It'll do, in the foreseeable future, ALL the work. We are at that point in time RIGHT NOW. The generation born into the world as I write this will see it in ruins or live to have no need to learn and build and care other than for prosperity. None of our institutions are prepared for that other than using force to conserve the (corrupted, it seems) established. Same goes for the so-called "elites". And the rest of the population seems properly primed and rigged to function under the old paradigms.

So this should be about the BIG QUESTIONS, right? Not some petty bullshit about "the AI looked at my picture" ... no, there are far bigger issues at hand. And yes, I do believe the noise about AI art to be smoke and mirrors. Another fake problem to keep the dirty masses disoriented, disorganized and at each others throat instead of taking a closer look.

As I said, there is, in my view, only one party with a huge interest in keeping it that way, and that would be the direct competition of AI art, and Big Money in general. Proof to the contrary, as far as I can see it, is fucking rare and whimsical at best. The implications are pretty clear: Big Money sees the opportunity to replace a (cheap but still too expensive) working force and just make more profit, with even fewer benefiting from it.

In a sense, they'll tighten and close the economic circle to keep anyone not being part of the inner circle already, out of it indefinitely. To that end, they buy and cheat their way through our institutions. Big Money ALREADY earns too much money to spend, printing new money every day like crazy. So much money, in fact, that a ridiculously small percentage of it is enough to buy EVERYONE earning a regular salary or less into submission with ease. 

There's truth in this ... [source]
The cultural seeds have been planted, greed is a powerful motivator and deeply ingrained in a western culture that got rid of almost all values able to protect a culture from abuse. Education is so steeped with propaganda and manipulation now, they are already in the middle of auditing our cultural heritage towards the prevailing ideology. We've seen this only speed up, when it started is obscured in history already.

And sure enough, it all connects to how technological innovation is speeding up as well, challenging the existing order of things.

And sure enough, we already see signs of this on a global scale.

Here's what's happening and why ...

Every small business that works with artwork will sooner or later use AI art indiscriminately. I'm already seeing this happening here in Germany. It is just a tool and used as such by anyone not caring enough, even, what it looks like (and it'll be only a question of time until it will be perfect).

Chat GPT isn't challenged like we see with AI art, but already censored towards conformity (Midjourney, too, has limitations as to what can be created, and I think there's room for debate about that, too). There is a huge danger, imo (Kim Iverson has a good video on the subject here). The decisions what's right or wrong aren't a process of culture anymore, they are decided by those at the dials, following ideas not everyone agrees to (or should agree to, for that matter). Maybe even following ideas we don't want to be stuck with in the long run? But especially ideas we should have overcome a long time ago already.

Make no mistake, big money is already using this to make more money, and will do so more openly within a year. Elon Musk's (who also had a hand in OpenAI, btw) biggest investment in the last 6 months was into AI tools. This is coming, and it is coming fast.

If Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and GitHUB get thwarted or even destroyed by this, it'll all still happen, with even less access and heavier control by Big Money. We can say that from experience now, it's the pattern they thrive on. Again, look at how Adobe is setting it up. The only bone of contention with Midjourney etc., was to have those tools available for everyone and for a reasonable price.

You think Microsoft or Google would go a less greedy route? Adobe for sure doesn't, and Big Business in general seems to be very fond of some kind of subscription scheme where you keep paying until you die, ideally increasingly so and with debt as well.

So spare me the fake outrage, and start being productive about this. We'll desperately need an informed public very soon. The French are already restless ...

Fair enough ... or is it? [source]
And that's all I shall say

There is a recurring pattern in history that huge medial innovations lead to huge upheavals. It has always been that way, and maybe it cannot be avoided to be that way again or that we live to see it, but I'd urge readers to readjust their targeting a little bit. AI art is not theft, we are being stolen from all the time, we are being manipulated to believe that we have reason to hate each other instead of questioning who made us point that finger.

It is quite enough of that, I'd say.

You don't have to believe me when I say that social media phenomena like this are, more often than not, systemic these days, but the evidence is out there for everybody to find. We have open corruption in the highest administrative bodies of our western culture and it goes unpunished, for fuck sake. On a daily basis. Social media is geared to escalate shit, people are geared to get riled up like that, and those in power will use their possibilities to make happen what they see fit. Because they can.

So, just take a step back and think before riding into the next social media craze, all guns blazing. It's not all that it's made out to be. And fair enough, you can disagree with what I was writing here. I believe I made a good case, but fair enough. Allow me the courtesy to disagree with your take, then, and we move along our own paths. Works for me. Just stay positive about it all. And if you are an artist struggling because of AI art, let me tell you it'll get worse for everyone soon you'll be all right.

Actually, if you are the creating type, I really believe you will be all right. There's always something to do, always something to create, and maybe this development will wake people up to the truth that it is part of human nature to create. Not for all, but for some of us. And we should cherish that as a society. But if all fails, you'll have that drive at least and it will bring you joy. So yeah, it'll be all right and I'm sorry for your troubles. May you find the strength to overcome those difficulties.

One last thing. I am in contact with artists, and the reactions had been always the same: intrigued shock. Something between "I can stop doing that now" and "Uuuh, it's so great, how can I use it to do some wicked shit?!". I imagine it is the same all around.

Other than that, I've said quite enough about this already and I'll close with a couple of quotes and concepts for you guys to think about. First of all, I'll share the "Seven Tells of Cognitive Bias" as per Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame). The guy is a bit full of himself, in a insecure kind of way, BUT he's spot on in this, imo, so I'll share it (a short yt video about it can be found here). If this comes up in a discussion, it is fair to assume that the tells indicate that the person using it has no real grasp of the argument (describing some Rhetological Fallacies, of course, but that's unpopular and complicated).


  1. Changes Topic (something like "You don't like X, so you can't understand Z!")
  2. Ad Hominem (if all fails, people will get personal)
  3. Mind Reading (saying something outrages, implying that you think that way)
  4. Word Salad (if it doesn't make sense and can't be made sense of, it's most likely just gibberish to avoid defeat)
  5. Uses Analogy Instead of Reason ()
  6. Insists it's "complicated" and can't be summarized (basically the "I'm not a doctor." argument, which is bs, of course)
  7. The "So ..." Tell (basically the Kathy Newman approach of misrepresenting your argument with something akin to "So you are saying [add misrepresentation]")

I'll close with a quote from a Terence McKenna interview I'm very fond of (his last recorded interview, they say, you can see it here). So fond, in fact, that I used it on the back of the RPG I published (ORWELL). It was as fitting on the back of that book as it is here:

"This is what it's like when a species prepares to depart for the stars. You don't depart for the stars under calm and orderly conditions. It's a fire in a madhouse. And that's what we have: The fire in the mad-house at the end of time." (T. M., 1998)

Here's an InspiroBot quote that came up, featuring a base element of ORWELL (the title being Leet Speak and all that), so it deserves a place here as well:

I liked that on for the Ø, obviously ... [source]

And with this, I'm done. I'll use the pictures I created in Midjourney for my publications, and I see no harm in that. I'll make a note of it, so people can decide for themselves if it matters to them. I have no way of influencing that decision. After all, it is just superficial garnishing and it should be about the content instead of petty bullshit. But yeah, limits of control and all that. I'd just as quick work with an artist (as I did in the past) or use public domain art or diy it, as best as I can.

Thank you for taking the time. Stay safe out there, friends, it'll be a bumpy ride.

Yeah, sounds about right ... an AI's dream [source]

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Paradigms of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (or: Staring into the Abyss)

It's February 2023 already and I'm (seriously!) way behind with everything I planned to have happen LAST year. That said, I'm getting there. No day goes by with not at least some progress. Could be more, maybe it SHOULD be more, but I'm content with how it is. I'm getting there. Point in case: I'm tackling the final hurdles in finishing writing on be67, that Weird Sixties RPG I'm aiming to publish as soon as possible (if I'm lucky, May 2023 ... I always seem to publish big projects around that time, wonder why that is). Those last hurdles, however, are those really tough bits where so much of the rules converges that lots of interacting ideas need visualization. Welcome to another episode of the ...

Parody of original cover, fair use for sure ...
[Short side note: it seems that it is safe right now to at least talk about our house rules of old D&D iterations, therefore I'll keep telling you that be67 will be a collection of my D&D RC house rules mutated into a complete game ... I'll still take care that it is very much it's own thing, which means pushing a couple of concepts I used a bit further than I originally intended. Not a big thing, and still very much compatible with everything D&D or OSR out there, but this post will look at the core of some of the concepts in the D&D RC and how they relate to my version of those concepts. As I keep saying: be67 will not be D&D, it'll be a retroclone mutant of the D&D RC.]

The Game, as we see it

OD&D was famously vague with its rules. So vague, in fact, that it was almost impossible to play RAW (Ruled As Written) if you didn't have the war gaming background Gygax and Arneson had. To be precise, if you weren't part of those war gaming circles Gygax and Arneson frequented, OD&D would most likely be a mystery to you. Something inspiring, for sure, but IF you were able to make sense of it somehow without that context, it'd most likely be with a very different understanding compared to what the original authors intended.

Tunnels & Trolls (1975) is the perfect example of how that could still manifest a beautiful and complete game.

As far as TSR was concerned, they had two venues to explore: one was revisioning the OD&D toward a version that was more clear in its rules (that'd end up being AD&D), the other was making the entry into this hobby easier (which was attempted with Basic D&D). It ended up creating two very distinct versions of what D&D can be, both based on that vague first iteration, both, in a way, distinct variations of the same themes, ideas and concepts.

Now, we are talking the D&D RC here, which is the end point of that second strain, and, if not vague, it ended up being just as convoluted and incomplete as that first game, just on a bigger scale. We always knew this, I think, but the beauty of role-playing games is that it is possible to "wing it" on almost every level of resolution. Nowadays, a  skilled Gamemaster can GM a game with a very minimalist approach, no problem. They can also gain an (as in "one", not "the") understanding of a poorly explained game and make it work at the table.

As far as D&D is concerned, it means: the collective and documented experience of playing D&D in general makes for a great blueprint how to "summon" that kind of gaming experience. It is a paradigm:

paradigm (noun)

A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline. [source]

So mostly, playing the "idea" of the game will be close enough to the actual rules to make that approach work. But what's more: with a strong paradigm like we have with D&D and a little experience in playing it, it is easy enough to bridge what the rules might be lacking and still make it work. You get an idea where you have to end up, roughly.

In a way, the paradigm of D&D can take a lot of abuse before the game breaks (one could make the case that WotC did find that breaking point with 4E). It can also help masking some pretty major shortcomings in the rules ... which is something a dedicated collective hivemind processed and filtered most prominently in what the OSR was up until, say, 5 years ago.

What's more, while there never will be an official revision of the D&D RC, there for sure are retroclones rewriting and revisioning that game (Dark dungeon comes to mind, with its retroclone mutant Darkest Dungeon as an iteration moving away from D&D ... the latest version, combining both, can be found here). There are also tons of micro solutions to problems the rules pose and you can find them hidden all over the internet.

Some of it is about bridging gaps in the rules (perceived or not), some of it is about finding a true understanding of what all the numbers mean and how they relate ...

You want an easy example? Guns are a very specific and ignored problem in the D&D rules. At least I haven't seen any satisfying solutions to the problems guns bring to how the game is designed (the original solution, imo, was to circumvent the problem entirely by introducing wands and staffs ... but that's pretty unsatisfying to begin with).

Other good examples would be giant creatures and structural damage ... it is all there, in parts and pieces or as island solutions for specific monsters (I argued in the past that dragons give indications how we are supposed to create our own monsters ... see the argument made here).


And sure enough, all of this can be improvised in a narrative. No one would object to the idea that a dragon may just be able to do a lot of damage to structures, if it's able to bring the mass or firepower to do it ... That said, it'd still be nice to have a ratio behind it all. Not necessarily to apply it on every fictional building in a campaign, but because experience taught us that the game WILL break down for mid- and high-level games if those things need to be "winged", because characters could be that dragon (or its equivalent) and without rules to accompany that, it'll just get boring fast.

You see, all of those are problems hidden deeply at the core of the game, and if you were to write a game based on those rules, you are either forced to ignore them as well (the c/p approach of many a lazy game designer ...) or come up with a satisfying solution that suits the game. I keep saying: the D&D RC has an EPIC scope, but doesn't do it justice all the time. That can be a problem if you try to reproduce its results.

Here's another very specific problem: HD

The reason for this post is: I have no solution for this specific problem. Yet. All the pieces are there (as you will see), but I can't see a good way to condense all of this into core principles that work as a jumping off point for GMs new to the game (other than just doing the work and offering dozens of pre-made monster portfolios ... which would be a cop-out, obviously).

The problem is, many assumptions about how powerful monsters are rely on "legacy code". Some of it definitely derived from games like Chainmail, some expanded on through experience (you know it works because you threw it at a group and it worked), and build on that comes the whole rest you'll find in the D&D RC. There is no "behind the scenes" how the sausage is made, it's just a lot of sausages, ready for consumption.

Well, to be fair, it's not entirely true that there are no metrics at all to work with. There is an attempt to "balance" encounters in the RC, and it goes a little bit like this: it basically makes HD comparable with Level, which is a whole thing in itself, and not necessarily a tool of precision, considering that "special abilities" may be imbalanced to begin with. But anyway. So you take a group's total level and compare that to the "back engineered" HD of a monster (or NPC) to see how they relate. With that, you have a metric to asses how hard a confrontation MIGHT be (Tucker's Kobolds would be a great argument against that, but whatever).

Now, if the adjusted HD are, say, between 30 and 50%, it'd be a "good fight". As in, it'll tap into the resources a bit, it'll hurt a bit, but it'll most likely be a voctory, which is satisfying, and that is, of course, "good". 50 to 70% is, by that metric, "challenging", 110% (barely above what the characters bring to the table!) is categorized as "extremely dangerous".

D&D RC, p. 101

also D&D RC, p. 101
As I said above, it's not nothing. But the whole "adjustment" process is pretty much broken, and I have to find a way to make it all make sense in a way that would allow a GM to build a monster that'd be intentionally balanced from scratch and without much hustle. From what I can see (and, again, considering the scope), not even the math works out (as far as I'm aware).

Check it out. You take the base HD a Monster has. If there is anything added or substracted, it is basically rounded up or down. Then (also D&D RC, p. 101):

"[...] add half of the original Hit Dice figure for each power bonus. Power bonuses include:

• Each asterisk next to a monster's hit dice.
• Special NPC abilities.

For NPC parties, award a power bonus for each of the following conditions: 1) Everyone in the party has +2 weapons or better; and 2) There are spellcasters in the party. (Take the highest level of spells that may be cast, divide by two, then divide that result by the number of characters in the party, rounding up; the result is the power bonus added to the Individual Adjusted Hit Dice figure of every character in the party.)"

It's just ... okay? It'll give you a form of measure, I'm just not sure if I would trust it. As a matter of fact, I'd test that before believing it. Or rather, I'd have to see if it matches how I play it. Again, just from a game-within-the-game point of view, the Gamemaster is just as much a black box as the special abilities can be. I can bluff the players into making mistakes, just as a smart goblin would ... I will not lie or cheat, but I will have monsters and NPCs that'll give it a shot.

And there's the next problem: smarter monsters (than the base line), no change in xp range. Okay. At least there is some rules for it (D&D RC, p. 214). That whole chapter on changing monsters is inspiring, but not a lot of crunch, actually. Good ideas, almost no rules.

Size can be factored in, but it is a strange one, because changing the size of an EXISTING monster will alter its xp range and base HD exceptionally. Huge medusa, in an example, has HD 8+24, plus better AC, better to-hit, better saves, more damage! That'd be brutal ... and in no relation to other big monsters in the book? A big goblin like that would fuck up a normal orc, no problem (a 7 ft goblin would outmatch an orc with more hp, slightly better saves, more damage ... it's not much on that scale, but a lot when going bigger than that, as the Medusa shows easily). 

That's not even all of it. Look at the Gargantuan entry for monsters (D&D RC, p. 177), compare them ith their counterparts and THAN do the math to see if it fits. It doesn't. The gargoyle is not that much larger (still L), but features 32 (!) instead of 4 HD and deals about 4 times the damage. That's a legacy monster, for sure. They just didn't bother to align it all.

There's more. As those stars factor in as "special abilities", it is interesting to check what the thinking was there, so off we go to the section in the book about xp (D&D RC, p. 128) ... only to find out that each * basically denotes some ability that can be used in combat. Nothing else ... unless it can cast, which automatically counts as "weaponized", no matter the kind of magic (also interesting, also unbalanced).

I don't really get the distinction anyway, as EVERYTHING can be weaponized. Their argument is "if it can fly, no *, if it can swoop in to attack, it gets the *". Not even defenses factor in (they say there could be exceptions, but they don't say what they are). And another "soft rule" added to that, is called "Modifying XP" (same page) and basically advises "if it's tougher than you thought, give more xp, if the characters walk through it, give less.", which sucks, as far as advice goes (nothing to work with, just taking space, also diminishing clever play).

See the problem with that? I do.

It is all connected to HD, but inconsequentially so. It's not connecting all the dots. If you have (optional) rules for balancing, apply them to everything, connect them with how xp are calculated and monsters are created. Make it click, revise all the monster entries. Do the work. As it is, the problem is addressed in three different chapters, offering 2.5 different solutions, with all the island solutions you can come up with in the monster section. There is a vague idea what that could mean, but not developed enough to produce monsters with other than "making them up", and riddled with inconsistencies.

And that's assuming they touched the proper dials here. HD is a good measure for attack matrices, but it doesn't translate well into the size adjustments: they have to use tricks here, but they are basically inflate the HD+x and then add a indirect to-hit modifier. At best, it's not a very elegant solution.

Want more? What about things like Morale? It is so crucial to be able to overcome monsters by scaring them away instead of having the whole fight, with all the risks and resources that takes. Doesn't that factor into how dangerous an encounter is? 10 HD, but runs away as soon as it sees blood? That shouldn't be a problem for a group of level 1 characters. 

Or how about checking if the random encounter section creates results in line with the balancing idea? Don't bother, it doesn't (although it's the same fucking chapter!). It teaches a different lesson, however: there is no balancing encounters in the wild. There be dragons out there, and they don't care what level you have. And not all encounter end up in fights, AND the characters should not only encounter tougher foes, but should also learn the signs of such an encounter and how to evade them. It is all part of the game. Just different parts, offering different design philosophies EVERY TIME.

It's all kaputt ...

Let's say, a group's antagonist is a highly intelligent and very rich 2HD monster. Has the funds to give the group hell, and the smarts to be subtle about it. Could terrorize them for a whole campaign, no sweat. A real Moriarty (who might have higher HD, but needn't really in this context). If they caught him, the wizard of a high level group could take him out, bare-knuckle style.

If that would be the climax of a campaign ... xp would not rely on the enemy's HD, it'd be the creature's wealth AND all the challenges it threw at the group over the course of the campaign. Yes, all the monster xp gained, rewarded AGAIN (as per D&D RC, p. 127) plus the wealth.

And that's just that: with a shotgun approach like that, the moving pieces collected in between almost don't matter, what's important is how it is scaled towards the end of an adventure or a campaign so it doesn't overshoot all connected systems (like levelling and and so on). And even for that it has at least secondary safety measures. So D&D RC characters cannot gain more than one level for "an adventure" ...

Another side note: again, very weak with the terminology here ... What's an adventure? How about campaigns? What's if a normal session generates more than enough? What time of playing are we talking here? Say, a 12 hour session dungeon crawling (I do know people like that ... I sure was one of them when I was younger), all open-worldy, no story ... is that one adventure? Again and again just soft rules, ignoring the deeper, underlying structures.

And how unfair is that, if it occurred that you lose xp because of advancement? How easy is that to handle on higher levels? Say a group of high level characters drop a surprise round on a party of big bad dragons and take them out ... big haul, lots of xp, done in a days work. Why not? If you played long enough, you are bound to have some tricks and shortcuts collected for opportunities like that! Instead, nothing. The GM overshot and had to regulate ... fuck that.

What's more, say you just need a couple of hundred xp for next level, but you gain big time (like with finishing an adventure). Bad luck, chummy. You get one point short to gain the next level, everything beyond gets scrapped.

And there is yet another aspect: all the tools talked about here are about fighting monsters, but there is a shift in how xp are gained somewhere in mid-level range, where just killing and looting won't cut it anymore. The shift is away from combat and more towards actual role-playing.

There aren't enough dragons in the multiverse to advance even one high level wizard. Once your fighter needs 120.000 xp to gain another level, they'd rather have some drama where they can shine (good role-playing will gain a character 1/20 of what they need for next level, or in this case 6000 xp) than going for goblin genocide in the homeworld. Exceptional actions will net you another 1/20. If you aim for both, you'll advance every nine sessions, at least.

So. Many. Construction. Sites. So frustrating.

The D&D RC, if it where a bong ... [source]

Solutions: let's stare into that abyss a bit!

I could go on, but I won't. If you've read all the above, you get the idea. But how can I fix that for be67? What does it take to make it all work in unison? Cutting the "fat" here seems to be such a waste, although all of them are island solutions, there are some nice ideas throughout (obviously, duh). And my guess would be that it'd seem too one dimensional as soon as it all lines up into a pattern that actually leads to something like a coherent system.

The only thing I know is: I need that, for sure, since everything else is lined up already and this is the final piece. I cannot write my way out of that. So I won't. Lets take a look at the elements we have:

  • HD to have an idea how good a monster or NPC fights and how long it'll last (with the added benefit that the amount of HP also indicates level of maturity).
  • Damage output per successful attack (again, there is no rhyme or reason how that measures, but it really matters).
  • Saves are really important, since they are a great passive defense mechanism (no idea how to factor that in).
  • AC is there in the top five, but it just "is" in the rules (nothing to see here).
  • Morale, as described above, lots of moving pieces (no clue how they should connect).
  • Special abilities, which can be anything, but at least it is highly applicable AND we have an idea how they track.
  • Encounter challenge rating, not a good, but the best indicator we have how some of it at least connects.

What else? Treasure? Not necessary (although it factors in with xp). Number appearing? Well, that's a strange one, as it randomizes the balance rating. Maybe good to have a measure like that, but I think it might be a relic from dungeon generating tools that didn't make the cut for the D&D RC. So that's about it.

We can calculate which HD range relates to Total Party Levels in general, and (maybe) what outcome to expect depending on the Challenge Ratings. If you are aware of the sneak peak I shared of the book in my last post (NEG (blank), find it here), you can get an idea how there are additional measures that should make it easier to calculate and manifest a threat.

For one, a GM can track how dangerous the surroundings are, which maps nicely with the idea of a Challenge Rating. For the six Danger Scales presented in the NEG I'll go 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, 100%, 120%. If you have the Total Party Level (TPL) as well as the Danger Scale (DS) and an Encounter occurs, there's already a lot to deduce from the available numbers. It just isn't that much of a help if you end up with one big number and a myriad of options how to resolve it.

I'm telling you, this will hurt a little ...

Say we have a group of 6 level 5 characters cruising in a DS IV kind of situation, that'd allow for encountering a (80% of 30) 24 HD entity. And the problem is: that could be ANYTHING. Even just reduced to the encounter table, there's so much to go with. I'm tempted to make it sort of a point buy system where the 24 (in this case) are a pool to buy all kinds of features, with some easy defaults to fall back on, if time's pressing.

It could be, however, information overload: would it be a good option to use a swarm, or one big fella? Maybe buy some damage options and better AC? So default is AC 9, reducing that would mean different costs for different numbers of enemies ... so that needs to be categorized. Single (one entity), skirmish (a division of the HD Potential) and mob (1 HD entities, all of them) encounters, maybe? At least that's what I did in ORWELL ...

Maybe it should scale a bit differently? Like, a single encounter should have the lowest AC default, skirmish encounters default a bit higher, swarm lands at 9. Easy. Default damage should be just as easily mapped with group size ... But having the option to buy shit with HD as the currency would mean it'll be reduced. You'd have to do THAT before deciding for group size, right? Right?!

Okay, so potential first, then group size, then the defaults (AC, Damage, Saves should be in there and Morale?), then using the Potential for specials. And that's it. Make it relate to the basic encounter key, give it something special, maybe dial a bit with the stats ... é voilà, basic encounter?

No no no ... Something's missing. Can't have the same defaults independent of the actual HD. Higher HD should have better defaults, right? So that needs to be done. Saves scaling HD like Level, maybe? Higher damages, maybe related to DS? DS could factor in all the time, actually. Still, that's a lot of information to decide on during a game ... And how would prepared monsters fit into this?


So we need to shift that paradigm?

Fifth attempt at this (I think). Anyway, had to put it to rest again for a couple of days to mull it over AGAIN. Here's the thing: they never cared to put it all together. In other words, the system I'm looking for, does not exist. The D&D RC is a tool box, consequently it doesn't amount to much until you do something with it. That can (and often will) mean we have to fill those gaps ourselves with the tools we like or our own solutions.

Which is good, as I can use something I came up with instead. It'll change the tone of the game a bit (compared to the D&D RC, that is), but only for the GM (which is another interesting observation, I think ... the game doesn't change much on the player side at all). So how could I go about this, then?

be67 already offers several frames I can work with. Encounters are themes and tropes a GM wants to see in an adventure, all of them geared and scaled towards an escalation (including clues a group might collect and stationary encounters they might explore). Characters are free to explore as they see fit and encounters are abstract enough to manifest independently of that.

Here, have an example! What we are playing now is a Narnia grindhouse feature where the group ended up looking for some lost kids in a Nazi occupied Narnia variant ... No talking lions yet, but we've only started. Anyway, the group enters through a portal and gets several directions to explore (hints to several stationary encounters). The first Encounter I roll is connected to the main plot: Nazis. As for what their motivation is, the Motivation Generator comes up with "A force of greed that is insane and aims for power". That's what I'm working with.

It is a Main Plot Encounter, so the characters should get a chance to learn something about what's going on here. I'm going through the stationary encounters, and there is a frozen lake with a mystery that the group will see soon in the distance. "insane greedy grab for power" sounds to me like they are taking something powerful they shouldn't, maybe in a place they shouldn't (very movie-villain like, I might add). I decide it'll manifest as a mining operation on the frozen lake. Those Nazis are cutting huge pieces of ice out of the lake and something is trapped in those pieces they carry away!

It was clear that they'd end up seeing the lake soon, because of their decisions. Encountering the mining operation fit that perfectly, imo, so I went with it. That same result on a different stage might have had very different results with the same encounter and motivation rolls, but should have covered the same themes just as well: greedy Nazis doing insane shit for power ...

Another narrative encounter might have been more benign or challenging or threatening, so what would have happened then on their way to the lake would have manifested very differently. That way you gain huge variety in encounters, but themed and with some escalation systems to forward the plot as the characters figure out what's happening (one way or another).

Anyway, so plot and stationary encounters come with a "Danger Scale" (as mentioned above) that alters how powerful those encounters are and changes as the characters interact with them (clearing a dungeon, for instance, would reset that stationary encounter to a DS II (default) or a DS I even). As far as "balance" is concerned, the Total Party Level (TPL) gives indicators what's how tough on a group.

I'd take that, but modify it to adding all of that up (Levels and HD from supporting NSC) and then taking a tenth of that as base line. If that produces fractions (.1 to .9, obviously possible), round down but keep that fraction in mind.

Danger in be67 is scaled from 20% of that TPL (very easy) to 120% (very hard), just like they indicate in the RC, but in steps of 20 % to align it with the DS. That tenth of a TPL is calculated easily enough, to see what HD Potential (HDP) that amounts to in a specific DS, just multiply that number with 2 ( for the 20% or DS I), 4 (40%, DS II), 6 (60%, DS III) and so on. Easy enough and actually quite fast, I'd say.

Now a GM has to decide what's needed in that specific situation. If it's less than what's actually available, it can well be improvised as long as the numbers aren't adding up to something more or way less powerful than indicated by the HDP of that encounter. Other than that, there will be rules to use the HDP to its full, well, potential.

The next thing that needs deciding is the size of the encounter. Is it a single beast/NPC/entity? A "skirmish" (which, for be67, means a group with the upper limit of character group plus DS)? Or a "mob" (which would describe a number of entities above the number of characters in a group + DS)? As a situation is already on hand, that should be easily to decide on the fly.

Mob rules in effect! [source]
While the TPL and the DS with the narrative and motivation generator results give you a target area (HDP) and a rough idea what could happen (group size, some elements of the encounter as well as a "stage"). Once the smallest HD unit of that encounter entity is defined, you also gain a couple of insights in as far as HD already determines how capable a monster/NPC/etc. is to hit something. We also already have guidelines for what HD can mean generally, as it nicely tracks with character levels.

Something like that will give a GM a base line to work with, as far as AC, Damage, Saves and Morale are concerned. What it needs, then, is comprehensive tables to make that information easily accessible. Done. A GM that knows if it'll be a single, a skirmish or a mob encounter and what HD a single of those entities will have, will just as fast have the basic default values needed to make it a fight.

As a cherry on top, that fracture from the TPL tenth calculated in the beginning, that can easily translate into that HD bonus we all know and love from D&D monster entries (+1, +2, and so on).

If you are GMing on the fly, this "fast lane" approach will help you immensely, but there is more ...

Introducing Builds & high complexity Encounters

Following the above, you'll see that the numbers a GM is working with at any given moment are moving targets, in flux until needed in a specific situation as all parameters may change quickly during play (DS changes, characters gain allies or explore alone, and so on).

The easiest way to alter those spontanious numbers quickly, is to provide a GM with what I call "Builds" or "Monster Builds" in be67. It is basically a collection of alterations that add variety in the base numbers (higher or lower AC or Saves and all that) as well as special abilities, combat tactics, treasure and even weaknesses.

That, then, is just thrown on the numbers a GM has come up with. Instant goblin soup. Or that werewolf you just needed. Or aliens, because why the fuck not. Builds is what GMs prepare for their adventures (think: grindhouse features), but are just as easily provided in the equivalent of monster manuals (and be67 itself will feature its good share of examples as well ...).

HDP will be a general guide what's possible or recommended here, but that's just to not overpower an encounter by accident and should formulate nothing more than an upper limit. Anything below that threshold should be fair game.

To get REALLY deep n dirty into the rules, be67 will also provide tools for GMs to create detailed builds themselves. It'll provide a GM the dials needed to have a somewhat balanced build to throw at all suitable TPL. It introduces weaknesses (blind, small, stoned, incestous, animal or plant, stuff that'd impede an encounter somewhat) and gives a coherent list of special abilities and combat tactics for inspiration, as well as guidelines to implement attributes, skills and other character traits for monsters and NPCs.

And that's it?

That's it. GMs get three grades of resolution to manifest ALL encounters the game provides as well as all the tools needed to DIY all aspects of it. With this, if it isn't written already, I feel confident enough to say that its now conceptualized to a point where it just needs to be written.

Is this still B/X D&D? I'd say be67 will produce similar results to a degree that it all stays highly compatible while doing something else entirely (like, being weird in the Sixties and introducing lots of GORE!). If you where playing it towards a more balanced version of the game. As far as the D&D paradigm I described above goes, I'd say that if you were to design a game like that from scratch nowadays, you don't (well, I don't) have the luxury of it not making sense. In my opinion.

The only aspects new rpgs need that MAY gain a distinct advantage against their (overwhelming) competition, would be compatibility and/or coherent designs. Coherent enough, at least, so that an aspiring GM could transcend the rules to a degree that allows for a complete DIY approach. If you can throw it at everything and do everything with it, chances are that people that bought it to at least read it, will get something worthwhile out of it.

Hence the headache of making this work as good as possible.

That said, I hope I could also show that the D&D RC is more than that one approach I chose to build my designs on. There is way more, and that's a good thing. In a way, having it being so "patchwork" and incomplete is part of the appeal of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. It draws you in easily enough (playing early levels works like a charm, with enough material all around to make it even easier), and when you get to a point where you find some inconsistencies, it invites you to look deeper and engage with it even more that way.

I wonder if that imcompleteness is one of the secrets of its success, actually starting with OD&D, which (as I alluded to in the beginning) was just as incomplete (and inspiring), but for other reasons. Is it, even, the source of that paradigm I was talking about above? Something worth pondering on, I presume, but maybe impossible to replicate in a modern rpg?

As for be67, I'm happy how it shapes up. If nothing else, it is what my house rules look like as a full game, and it is what I use when I want to play a game like that, so it'll be handy to have around. But it is also a (hopefully) comprehensive deconstruction of early D&D (as you see above), so it may have value as that as well. Compatibility is the third important aspect, I think.

Structuring monster and NPC generation like seen above, it not only makes all monster manuals out there fair game, it is also quite the fit for the great systemless monster generators that managed to get my attention (my good friend Eric Diaz' great Teratogenicon and James Raggi's fabled Random Esoteric Creature Generator come to mind ... I'm sure that's just the tip of the iceberg), if more inspiration or just more meat on them bones is needed.

Anyway, this ended up being a long one again. I appreciate everyone reading this one to the end. Thank you for tagging along as I tried to sort this out for me, and I hope you took something away from joining me in this deep, deep dive into the machinations of the D&D RC! Maybe it'll also help gaining a bit of interest for be67. Either way, know you are appreciated.

Latest version of the cover ...