Ok, so in the real world I need to fix shit (or hire someone to fix shit) all of the time… or replace shit that has worn out. Pipes leak, shoes wear out, food rots or gets eaten — even this sack of blood and meat I call my body needs the occasional repair. In D&D world, stuff never really seems to break. You can buy that sword at 1st level, and, assuming you don’t hit a rust monster or a black pudding with it, still be using when you are 10th level without ever even having sharpened the damn thing. Of course, by the time they are 10th level, most player will have a pile of magic swords to choose from (unless their DM is a real skin flint), but you get my drift.
I remember in 1st edition AD&D, Gygax suggested you charge player characters x amount per month per level for upkeep (I don’t remember what he called it) and I guess that was supposed to represent hair cuts, getting your boots resoled, the occasional clean shirt or new pair of socks, armor and weapon repairs, etc. I don’t remember ever enforcing that rule (or having it imposed on my character when I was a player), but the Gygaxians will claim that ‘Saint Gary already covered that.’ And I’m not sure that having players deduct 3 silver pieces from their inventory every time they need to get a haircut or their bowstring replaced is going to feel like the ‘stuff of high adventure,’ but since D&D first caught my fancy because it was ‘less abstract’ than other games I had played up until that point, the occasional lack of abstraction within the game can sometimes be jarring or amusing. Greyhawk city is probably chock full of shoe repair shops, but the rules don’t have any accommodation for forcing the players or NPCs to go get their shoes repaired… so how do all of those shoe repair shops stay in business?
Two of my favorite video games, Fallout 3 and Oblivion, have some accommodation for repairs. In both these video games, armor and weapons wear out as you use them… every time an enemy hits you, the degree to which your armor protects you drops a little bit. Every time you use a weapon, it wears a little bit and gets a little less effective. In Oblivion, you can purchase ‘repair hammers’ and use them to repair your weapons or armor (how much they repair it depends on your character’s repair skill, but, bizarrely, these little blacksmith hammers disappear as you use them). As an alternative, you can take your equipment to a blacksmith and they will repair it for a price. In Fallout 3, there are merchants who can repair things for you for a price, or, if you have 2 items of the same type (like 2 laser pistols), you can use 1 item to repair the other, leaving you will 1 item in better shape. The item you used to repair with disappears (and the game makes a little ‘repair’ sound which sometimes sounds like someone tearing off a length of duct tape — which always makes me chuckle). In both games, how high your repair skill is governs how well you can repair. After a while, in both games, I find the ‘repair’ concept gets a little tedious, although I do wonder how my Fallout 3 character takes 4 worn out shotguns and with the click of a mouse creates 1 really good shotgun with no parts left over. Since it’s a computer game, though, you don’t have to track the current condition of your armor and weapons; the computer does it for you. If you had to keep track of that using paper and pencil, it would require too much effort.
And ‘too much effort’ probably describes why I won’t have rules for wear and tear and repair in Aldeboran (although I guess since the combat “fumble” tables I use have a chance for your weapon to break, so there is a chance a player might need to seek out a repair person from time to time). Things needing repair seems pretty mundane — certainly not what I imagine when I say “adventure.”
Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) probably already know that I have been working on illustrations for Barrowmaze Two, the followup to Barrowmaze One by Greg Gillespie (aka Kilted Yaksman). After a successful Indieagogo campaign to fund production and printing, Greg has published the book; PDF copies are available through RPG Now, and I think the word is that books should ship to backers in
early late October (just in time for Halloween spelunking!).
I just downloaded my PDF; skimming through, it looks like a lot of fun with cool magic items unique to the Barrowmaze and lots of kick ass illustrations by Zhu Bajie, Alexander Cook, Ndege Diamond, Cory Hamel, Trevor Hammond, Jim Holloway, John Larrey, Scott LeMien, Jason Sholtis, Stephen Thompson and me! Plus there is a really cool character sheet for Labyrinth Lord in the back created by Zhu Bajie.
I haven’t read it yet… just flipped through the pdf… but what I have seen looks really cool. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are a lot of random tables and suggestions for how to handle repeated forays into Barrowmaze by player characters that many fans of the ‘Megadungeon’ will enjoy, plus maps, unique creatures, etc.
Here are some of my contributions:
|Cover Art: Acid breath from undead dragon! The cleric is done for!|
|A witch cooking what looks like “Player Character Stew!”|
|For some reason the mope on the left cracks me up every time I look at him.|
|“Which way do we go next?” The fighter-guy in the middle is kind of a self portrait.|
I don’t know who originally decided to refer to junk email as ‘Spam,’ but I think it was a stroke of genius. Every once in a while I have a reason to search through my spam folder for something, and it can feel like searching through a pile of gristle, fat and cow-snouts.
Fun fact: I knew someone who grew up in the Asian-American community in Hawaii. She said that her grandparent’s generation had all sorts of recipes involving canned Spam because, during WW2, it was the only meat (other than fish) that you could get in Hawaii that was remotely close to affordable for most people.
One thing that caught my eye this morning was the large number of spam messages advertising dating services for ‘Christian Singles.’ Really? I’m not on the market, but somehow having my pool of potential dates limited to Bible thumpers is the least appealing potential pitch I’ve heard in a long time.
|If you started playing D&D in 1982 or so, you were here at some point.|
I think might be just a year or two older than the average forum lurking, blogging OD&D enthusiast because I didn’t know anything about one of the old game’s quintessential adventures, “Keep on the Borderlands” until years after it had been released. My first D&D set had a book of rules, some dice, a ‘Monster & Treasure” booklet and some maps that looked like Gary Gygax got stoned and covered a couple of sheets of graph paper in rooms and hallways that went nowhere. But for so many of my fellow enthusiasts, Keep on the Borderlands is still the true shizzle, the distillation of the D&D experience, the original article, what the game is all about, the ultimate adventure, the yardstick by which all other adventures are judged, etc. And yet I never played in it. What did I miss?
There was little rhyme or reason to those early dungeons. There would be hallways with doors sprinkled around at random and rooms filled with monsters. One room might have a group of zombies guarding a chest of silver coins, the next room might have goblins or giants spiders, etc. I don’t think any of us wondered who put the coins there or why the zombies were guarding them. We didn’t question the existence of the dungeon or why the goblins in room 2 were still alive when there was a hungry owlbear in room 3. Perhaps we were young and unsophisticated in our entertainment (the original ‘Battlestar Galatica’ was still on TV and video games were in their infancy — PONG, Centipede, PAC-MAN, etc., were considered ‘cutting edge.’). But I also think there was something else going on. We were snot-nosed punks who didn’t know shit from shinola and this game was challenging us in ways we hadn’t encountered before. We got to choose between actions and consequences. If Jim’s character was down to his last few hit points, did you announce that your character was going to jump into the fray and try to save Jim or did you slam the door and run, leaving him to his fate? We also learned of social consequences: stabbing your buddy in the back meant that his NEXT character was quite likely to stab YOUR character in turn. Maybe the consequences were not real, but the social consequences of behaving like a dick in the game taught some of the less socially gifted of our circle some good lessons in social behavior. Sometimes I wonder if this crazy game didn’t help some of us develop into actual people instead of the mouth-breathing cretins that we might have otherwise become. Or, maybe I’m just trying to justify all the time I wasted fighting orcs and ghouls while the dean of students told us we were ‘never going to amount to anything’ if we continued to play ‘that stupid game.’
So, how do we compare an adventure like ‘Keep of the Borderlands” to (for lack of a better name), “Bob’s Town and Dungeon”? (which was followed by “Stefan’s Town and Dungeon” after Bob gave up DMing duties, but I digress…) As far as a document to read, ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ is/was doubtlessly better — it features Gygaxian prose (Gygax loved his thesaurus). My home made dungeons were usually nothing more than maps with creatures and treasures tossed randomly together scrawled out in pencil; Borderlands has a fully detailed town with shops, an inn, guards, etc, with maps, illustrations, etc. The ‘Caves of Chaos’ consists of a valley filled with numerous caves (some of which interconnect) filled with different tribes (orcs, gnolls, goblins, etc.). The fans of the ‘strictly realistic’ might not find the ‘Caves of Chaos’ to their taste; it’s a bit like a “Holiday Inn” where gangs of different humanoids have checked into each suite and there are occasional rumbles down by the ice machine, but, compared to my home-made dungeons, it reads like it was written by a team of sociologists attempting to describe a dungeon eco-system with a roughly defined sort of a circle-of-life where the orcs ate goblins, goblins ate kobolds, kobolds ate rats, etc.
Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, one of the advantages of the pre-made adventure is that you can discuss it afterwards with other enthusiasts. The forums are filled with excited discussions of, “This is what happened when we played through ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ back in the day…” Maybe adventures like ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ are a part of the shared experience of the hobby. Perhaps rejecting ‘Keep’ is a form of throwing the baby out withthe bathwater. But, fuck it, part of the point of having a blog is putting whatever crazy thoughts are rolling through my head out there so anyone who cares to can read them.
Maybe I’m reaching when I compare my 13 year old self sitting down to ‘draw a dungeon’ to an artist painting a canvas… but if there is a creative component to it, I’m reluctant to disavow that by saying, “Well, Gygax is the professional, so we should stick with, ‘Keep on the Borderlands.’” Part of me feels like when people who gather to play D&D end up running nothing but pre-made adventures, they will be missing a big part of the fun (making shit up). Back in the day, one of the slogans of TSR (original publisher of Dungeons & Dragons) was, “Products of your Imagination.” If I remember right, it was printed right there on the front of “Keep on The Borderlands.” Indeed.
|Well stocked survival shelter!|
The first problem with the most obvious plan is that everyone else will have thought of it, too. Wal Mart, Krogers and Target are going to be busier than they have been on any black Friday, and it’s not going to be polite shoppers respecting the one-to-a-customer and first-come-first-served rules. It’s going to be a bloodbath, and, if the Zero-day scenario we are thinking of involves infection or zombification or rage virus, the middle of a crowd of angry and possibly infected shoppers is the last place you want to be. Anyone else remember “The Day After” movie from 1983? This film followed a handful of people around Lawrence, Kansas just before, during and after the bombs drop. The one scene that sticks out in my mind as unintentionally hilarious was the part where people are frantically shopping at the local grocery store and the cashiers and baggers ringing up and bagging as fast as they could as people buy up all the batteries and Frankenberry. I don’t know about you, but if I was a teen age grocery bagger, I would tell Mr. Whipple to fuck himself and start looting the liquor aisle. When you see people trampling a store employee to death during a ‘Black Friday’ Christmas sale, it’s doubtful that they are going to patiently wait in line when they think bombs are going to start dropping.
Hopefully you have enough shit at home to can get you through the first few days or weeks and don’t even have to set foot in the stores on Zero day. I don’t think bottled water goes bad; buy a couple of cases RIGHT NOW and stash them somewhere where you won’t be tempted to deplete your chances of survival every time you come back thirsty from a jog or a bike ride. Maybe put up some canned food and other shit as well. And aren’t all Mormons supposed to keep a stash of emergency food at home? Mitt and his pals are going to be sitting pretty when zero-day happens.
OK, but what happens when the canned food runs out or those who have control of the existing stockpiles refuse to share? I suppose you could go all ‘Fallout 3’ on their asses and grab your hunting rifle and Pip boy and try to pick-em-off one by one — good luck with that idea. Here are some alternatives, presented in no particular order:
1) Gretel the Dog: I have a dog that has (no shit) killed about 100+ squirrels over the course of a couple of years. She’s a fast and fierce Chow/Retriever mix who, at 80 lbs, is all muscle. Her secret is that she will chase the squirrel into an isolated tree and then just bark at it with her really loud, hoarse bark and the squirrels (usually) lose their shit and decide to try to jump to another tree rather than just waiting the dog out. When they miss their jump because they are scared shitless over the strength and volume of her bark, she grabs them with the jaws of death and it is game over. One morning, the ‘squirrel killer’ joyfully practiced her deadly trade in full view of our neighbors who were trying to enjoy a brunch with some elderly relatives, so we decided to end the ‘dog versus squirrel’ gladiator show. Now we let the slow dog out first. The slow dog chases the squirrels away before killer can come out.
4) Canada Geese: They are all over the place. You can probably hunt them with your car if you don’t have a shotgun. We also get a few wild turkeys in my part of the state, although both the turkeys and the geese are MEAN. Some of the turkeys took out a dude who was jogging in the woods near my house. The turkeys flew at his face, claws extended, and he went down and broke his arm. Had this been a real post apocalyptic situation, he would have been coyote food in a few days.
5) Foraging: I know a couple of plants that are edible, but I don’t know how long I would live eating only boiled nettles, gooseberries, purslain, wild onions and cattails. In our foodless future, the national parks will probably be littered with the corpses of amature foragers who couldn’t tell the difference between morels and fly agaric. I’d suggest getting a good book with good illustrations, but I took one of these ‘natural food guides’ out on the trail and then looked at the mushrooms growing along the side of the path, carefully comparing them to the pictures and descriptions and still had no idea if the fungus I was looking at was going to be delicious with butter OR was going to kill me in less than 30 minutes if I ate it… so I went back home and opened a can of Cambell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.
6) Poor Man’s Lobster: I’m talking ‘Arthropods!’ Beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and similar bugs may be disgusting to you now, but just wait till you are hungry enough! True story: I once met a guy from South Africa who told me that he was really grossed out by the sight of people eating lobsters and shrimp… even though, back in the homeland, he and his family ate termites. I asked him why the shrimp and the lobster grossed him out, and he replied, “They look like bugs!” I replied that termites looked like bugs, too, and he aswered that he knew his disgust was illogical, but he had never seen anyone eat lobster or shrimp until he was in his late teens and old enough to travel, whereas he had been eating termites all his life… so termites were the bugs he was used to eating, whereas lobsters were just gross — especially when he saw them scuttling around in the tanks at the grocery store. How long will it take hungry Americans to look forward to a meal of beetles or grubs?
I thought it was going to take a while to top yesterday’s news bit about Limbaugh and the shrinking penis, but the internet did not disappoint and another example of the douchebaggery of humans delivered itself to my inbox today. I offer it up for your edification:
|If you were wondering, that’s “Beast Jesus” on the far right.|
I’m sure you heard about the grandmother who ‘restored’ a heavily damaged fresco of Jesus in a church in the town of Borja, Spain (and by ‘restored’ I mean she transformed Jesus into some sort of chimp-like humanoid with a smear for a mouth). She explained that she thought she could just ‘fix it’ but the restoration job ‘got out of hand.’ This makes me wonder what, exactly, all the people who saw her painting in the church thought she was doing — church attendance in Borja must be way down. Seeking to make lemonade out of a ruined fresco, the church noticed that people who had heard about the ‘Beast Jesus’ (as they now call it) on the internet were willing to pay to see it, so they started charging an entrance fee (the money changer IS the temple, I guess). They collected 2,000 Euros in 4 days! A miracle.
Cecilia Gimenez, the ‘restorationist,’ isn’t pleased. After ruining the fresco, thereby turning it into a tourist attraction, she thinks she deserves a cut.
I’m especially enamored of the painting’s new moniker, “Beast Jesus.” My Facebook friend Rene says “Beast Jesus” needs to be the name of a Black Metal band. Thank you, Facebook!
|“My dick was HUGE till she wanted out of the kitchen!”|
I am not making this shit up. According to the internet, Rush was on his radio show, talking about penis size (?), and he brought up a study that was done in Italy that claimed to show that human penises had decreased in average size by about 10% over the last 50 years. The Italian penis measuring people said this was a result of exposure to pollution (Which remind me: I gotta stop dipping my dong into that Rouge River water!).
“I don’t buy this,” Limbaugh said. “I think it’s feminism. I think if it’s tied to the last fifty years, the average size of a member is ten percent smaller…it has to be the feminazis.”
Makes perfect sense to me. Those dick hating Feminazis have probably been sneaking penis shrinking pills into our food… or doping the water supply with anti-viagra… or sprinkling or underpants with magic genital shrinking powder or something. There really is no other logical explanation.
|This is what lawful evil looks like.|
The richest woman in the world, mining company owner Gina Rhinehart, recently stated that African workers who were willing to go to work for around two dollars a day should be considered an ‘inspiration.’ Rhinehart considers the africans ‘inspiring,’ perhaps, because they earn so little. I wonder what she thinks of the South African mineworkers who were ‘inspired’ to strike because their wages were too low and their workplaces too dangerous?
Rhinehart lives in Australia and owns a gigantic company that produces iron ore. She did not build this company; she inherited it. Her complaint is that normal Australians, with their expectations of a life beyond what you can get for 2 dollars a day, are destroying her industry’s ability to compete with Africans who earn 2 dollars a day or less. Yes, she does seem to be serious. She says that in order to get ahead, the poor could work harder and ‘drink and smoke less.’ I’d point out that if she wants to cut wages to two dollars a day, she will have to add ‘food, healthcare, a place to sleep and water’ to luxuries that Australian workers will have to do without in order to get by on 2 dollars a day. And who will buy the items made from the ore that her 2 dollar a day wage slaves will be producing?
I think rather than trying to change Australians, Rhinehart should move herself to somplace in the world where two dollars will buy you 8 hours worth of labor. She also looks a little too hefty for someone who feels she has the right to preach self restraint to those uppity Aussies who won’t settle for her gilded age level wages and give up ‘luxuries’ that make working in a mine more bearable like a can of beer or a smoke.
The title of this post is a reference to a (probably) well meaning but ultimately doomed thread on DF in which the original poster, who goes by the name “Thorkhammer,” asked, “Are blogs bad for the hobby?” and invoked the image of Ellsworth Toohey, an awful-awful-awful person from Ayn Rand’s book, “The Fountainhead.” Mentioning Ayn Rand probably doomed the discussion to begin with.
I was given a copy of ‘The Fountainhead’ as a young man by a well meaning person who probably didn’t really understand me very well. Ellsworth Tooey was a character from Rand’s book, and, like many Rand villains, he was a sneering, bullying, uncreative parasite who worked as a critic and spent his time trying to destroy ‘men of vison’ like architect Howard Roark (the novel’s hero). Rand’s argument was that men like Toohey added nothing to society and were threatened by the obvious genius of people like Roark. In case you didn’t get the point, Rand made all of her heros masculine, sexy, handsome and tall and all of her villains were ugly or physically flawed in some way. But I’m going to try to resist giving in to the temptation to fire off the obvious potshots at Ayn Rand.
I think the link that Thorkhammer was trying to make (and I’m just guessing here, since he was pretty cagey about exactly what ‘blogging’ was ‘bad for the hobby’ by refusing to provide specific examples) was that perhaps getting raked over the coals by Ellsworth Tooheys (or critics) is
a) Bad for the ‘hobby’, and,
b) A sign that the critics themselves are, like Ellsworth Toohey, threatened by the creativity (or at least productivity or even ambitions) of others.
I’d like to try to address these separately.
A) Bad for the Hobby: I reject the notion that there is some collective ‘hobby’ which can be measured as rising and falling like the values of shares on the New York Stock Exchange. I used to believe in a certain warm-fuzzy collective of like minded people who had interests in common and would naturally want to help and support one another through some sort of shared interests; I think that really isn’t the case. I won’t bother to try to count the numbers, but a very non-scientific survey (i.e.: me looking at stuff and talking to people) seems to indicate that there are a lot of people who are at one extreme or the other (i.e.: some people are exited or positive of every project, others are negative no matter what) and a lot of people somewhere in between. ANd an even larger number either has no idea what the ‘OSR’ is or does not give a fuck. And every faction has their own issue — some people seem really pissed off that other people would presume to get paid for their work (a proposition that I find silly since, as far as I know, almost everyone posting in these online communities has ponied over cash to TSR for books at one point or another — by all means, don’t buy it if you don’t want it, but as another consumer in a consumerist society, claiming that ‘money’ is ruining the hobby because other people are buying books you aren’t interested in is fucking stupid). With other writers on blogs and forums, it just seems personal. I don’t know what James Masliewski could have possibly done to make some of the people who are constantly ripping on him anonymously hate him so — possibly at some point or another he corrected their pronunciation of ‘Erelhei Cinlu’ in an online chat session and they swore, at that point, that they would dedicate their lives to getting revenge. Still other people are on some ‘decency’ kick and still haven’t forgiven Geoffrey McKinney for publishing a blasphemous book like Carcosa because it included something like 7 or 8 ‘disturbing’ sentences in book written for a game that usually involves lots and lots of violence, naked succubus pictures, pople getting beheaded by vorpral swords, being eaten by demons, people getting burned alive by fireballs or disolved by acidic dragon spit, etc. Yes, by all means, take the high road.
My argument is that NOTHING can be bad for the collective hobby because there is no collective hobby. We don’t share values or identity… we just have some of the same books on our book shelves. We might think we share a certain sensibility by virtue of liking older editions or ‘old school style’ or whatever, but once people start gathering in the different forums or blogs to discuss this ‘hobby,’ the knives come out and the factions emerge.
B) The Critics are all Ellsworth Tooheys: I don’t know why other people write ‘reviews’ or critiques or why they post in blogs or forums. I suspect some of them are just excited about it and want to talk about it with like minded enthusiasts. I used to think I could write reviews of books or movies and that other people would actually find them ‘helpful.’ If I could write why I did or didn’t like something, people could examine my reasons, and, if they agreed, either pass on something that they thought they would not enjoy or pick up something the might have otherwise missed. And maybe some people do that — I don’t know. But at this point, I think a large number of people who read reviews simply want to see their own opinion reflected back at them. So if you hated ‘Death Frost Doom’ or you have a chip on your shoulder about James Raggi or LotFP, anyone who says they like it will automatically be labeled a ‘sycophant’ or moron or worse (if anyone cares, I have never read ‘Death Frost Doom’ and thus have no opinion). And, vice versa, if someone gives a positive review to something the reader liked, the reader will think the reviewer is a clever chap because he thinks just like the reader does.
I don’t tend to write much about gaming products anymore other than to engage in the occassional bit of self promotion (“I just had illustrations published in this…”). I don’t tend to think that the world is interested in my opinion. I like to write observations on different themes or tropes in popular culture, folklore and art these days, which occsionally touches on some gaming topics… and if that gives someone else some ‘inspiration,’ well, then it wasn’t all wasted effort… but mostly I write these things (including this blog entry) because I enjoy to write these things. Writing about apocalypses or last week’s gaming session or the mole people or whatever other subject I am going on about just amuses me. If someone else gets some value out of it, great, but I am not holding my breath.