Who is Ellsworth Toohey?

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.

Why I prefer blogging to forum posting

Perhaps if they fling enough poo, it will create ‘MacBeth.’

The question of whether posting on online forums is better or worse than blogging seems to get raised on forums that I visit every few months or so.  At this point, I can almost predict how they will play out. Someone will post some question like, “Is posting on forums better than blogging?” and people will chime in with their different opinions — which is fine (isn’t that what the internet is for?), but at this point, if it’s the right forum, I feel like I can almost predict which regular poster will say exactly what.

What bothers me is that it is usually presented as an ‘either/or’ proposition — either you are a forum person or a blogger — and a large number of members of the loose online community of people interested in ‘old timey D&D’ seem to be of the opinion that you can’t do both.  I think that’s just stupid.

A few years ago I used to visit online forums a lot more than I do now.  At the time of my greatest level of forum participation, I was working a job where I had frequent periods of ‘nothing to do’ and a boss who was an asshole who once reamed one of my fellow employees for reading a book when he had nothing to do.  Looking at a screen and typing on a keyboard was, in comparison, pretty safe, and better than what some of my fellow coworkers did (which was to wander around and annoy one another). When I had a spare 15 minutes, I would hit Dragonsfoot or a similar site, click ‘see active posts’ and read and comment.  As I was able to do that five or six times a day (or sometimes more!), my post count really added up. I was a forum ninja!

Fortunately, I finally managed to leave that job. This meant that I had less time to visit forums and less need to distract myself from job dissatisfaction with forum visits. I still enjoyed to write little essays on topic that interested me.  At some point I had started a blog, mostly just to keep track of my ideas and write my little essays on whatever had gotten up my snoot that week, whether it be the price of lamp oil in fantasyland or who should win the next election.  A tiny number of people seemed to read my musings, which was fun, but not really the point (at least not for me).  For me, writing about something is a good way of thinking about it… I can try to put words to thoughts and therefore make judgements about whatever thought happens to whistle through my skull that day.  I often find my opinion on some matters may change as I try to write about them, which is good because I feel like I might be actually making myself smarter while I do something I enjoy.  The ‘blogger’ system is good because I don’t have to post it when I write it — I can just save it in draft form and come back to it another day — and I can work on the draft that I started the night before at home during my lunch break at work the next day. The fact that people read it and post responses is just gravy.

Forums just aren’t very good for how I want to write these days. I used to think that the forum culture had changed… and I still think that is at least partially true — years ago, when I first started posting at Dragonsfoot, my fellow forum dwellers seemed much less jaded and just totally geeked that they had found a place where they could talk about ‘umber hulks, vorpral swords and sleep spells’ without getting “WTF are you talking about?” responses from the other forumites. Four or five years ago when I began to get disenchanted with the DF culture, there seemed to be a lot more people on DF with an axe to grind.  Maybe that’s just my faulty memory or maybe that’s just the natural evolution of online communities — people who enjoy posting in forums as a bloodsport might eventually just take over.

Plus there were people who just posted in the DF forums because, well, they wanted to post a lot.  So someone might post a question like, “If werewolves are harmed by silver, are they harmed by non magical mithril?” and some people might post “yes” or “no” or “all mithril is magical” and make their arguments, but others would post what I call bullshit posts like “pants” and “cheese” and “LOLcats” and “I like boobies.” They were (or are) irritating in the same way that someone who busts into an interesting conversation to talk about themselves or tell an off topic joke is irritating — rather than participating in the existing conversation, they seem to want to use the fact that a conversation is happening online to promote their online personality like a marketing organization wants to promote a brand of perfume or a political candidate — through blunt force and repetition. When I started visiting forums less, I realized I didn’t miss the “HEY, LOOKIT ME” people at all.

The thing I like about blogging is I can write fairly long musings on a subject that I perhaps only I care about, and, since you are not compelled to read it unless you visit my blog, you are free from exposure to my brilliance (or stupidity) if you want to be. I feel that writing really long and self indulgent posts in an online forum is bad form, especially if you write it in response to someone elses’ query… but doing that on a blog is actually what ‘blogging’ is for.  Yes, it is self indulgent.  Yes, it is more one-sided than a forum.  Yes, it is a chance for me to editorialize and stand on my soap box and squeak my stupid opinions at the void. The forums are still there and I don’t think they are harmed by the fact that I participate in them less.

For more on how people suck, read this: http://en.paperblog.com/bbc-confronts-notorious-internet-rip-troll-is-humanity-really-this-bad-140281/

Immersion through Interaction

I was having a conversation elsewhere where the topic of how the referee handles “searches” in the typical D&D game. Searches, in this case, includes looking for treasure or other items, especially places in which the items sought might not be obvious to the glance or included in the referees initial description of a locale.

Back when we first played D&D, we rolled for secret doors, but not for ‘concealed doors’ (i.e.: a door behind a tapestry that you could not see unless you pulled aside the tapestry). Things that were concealed the player had to find by describing where they looked. This was (as far as we knew), the ‘correct’ way of doing it. There were no ‘search’ or ‘perception’ skills. And, if I ran a game again, I think this is how I would like to handle it.

I recall describing the characters using poles or weapons to probe things that were suspected of being trapped, etc., rather than using a dice roll. So if you thought the floor was trapped, you might toss the corpse of a dead opponent on it, etc. Personally, I find this style of play (where the player describes what or how they do things and results are adjudicated from that) to be a more immersive one than using a funny accent while speaking in the first person, predetermining psychological quirks that will artificially govern your character’s actions, etc., simply because you weren’t playing a part — you were attempting to insert yourself, mentally, into the role of the adventurer. So if you were actually physically searching the laboratory of an evil wizard for a hidden treasure, where would you start looking? I suppose one could both speak with an accent and adjudicate searches verbally, but I would posit that using accents and assuming mannerisms often falls under the general rubric of ‘roleplaying,’ as in, “I am playing the role of Fflunfreddles the Fighter who is stupid, superstitious and speaks with a broad Moronican accent…” I would offer that another interpretation of ‘roleplaying‘ might be, “I am placing myself in the role of Fflunfreddles the Fighter. I have these items and these skills. The referee has described the situation. Using what I have available in the game, what would I like to do?”

The person I was having the discussion with thought that the method I described took too much time (as opposed to using a search skill or similar mechanic). I don’t honestly think it takes up more time to adjudicate such minor tasks verbally rather than rolling for it (assuming ‘rolling for it’ involves the referee determining some sort of target number, the player (or DM) rolling a dice and adding modifiers, then comparing what is rolled to the target number, etc.).

I did notice that when I did it this way a few years ago, I did not tend to have a lot of rooms or encounter areas crowded with lots-and-lots of furnishings simply because it could get tedious to have the players describe exactly how they were searching in the 900 nooks and crannies one might find in a room crowded with furnishings… and, honestly, as DM I made up a lot of the inconsequential details on the fly. So maybe ‘realism’ in terms of room furnishings takes a hit, but so what? As DM I was not above ‘fast-forwarding’ through searches or activities that were routine (i.e.: if the player found a store room with 100 crates and announced they would search each one for valuables, I would have just determined how many hours it took, rolled for wandering monsters and given them the run-down on the contents).

Do you read Blogs?

Do you read blogs? Yeah, I know, a stupid question. Obviously, if you are reading THIS you probably* have read at least one blog at least once in your life (this one), but the topic seems to come up perennially (like crab grass) on discussion boards like Dragonsfoot (i.e.: this conversation here). And, from having read more than one of these discussions on DF, I get the feeling that a sizeable number** of people who might identify themselves as ‘players of “old skoole games” (whatever that might be)’ seem actually somewhat hostile to the idea of old skoole bloggers writing old skoole blogs. I didn’t start blogging until I got rather disenchanted by the ‘discussion forum’ scene. I still visit the forums (but not as much as when I had a really boring job at a desk that required I sit and wait for long periods of time until someone wanted something from me). I’ve been reading both blogs and Dragonsfoot for a while now (I don’t really visit many forums at all), and, given how much overlap there is between the two communities in both membership and interest, I find the hostility surprising.

And I suppose I count myself as an ‘old skoole blogger’ or a member of the OSR, even though I am not always certain what those terms mean to others. Then again, as a general practice I don’t think I can help what other people think… I can try to influence what they think, but as many ‘discussions on the internet’ seem to indicate, nothing on the internet seems as cherished as an opinion that someone else has disagreed with.

The argument against ‘blogging’ that seems to get raised again and again and again is that a) blogs are undemocratic and b) blogs are narcissistic.

In theory, I can see the point in the argument that “blogs are undemocratic because the blog owner is always in charge and can delete any of my comments and that seems unfair… plus I can’t start threads on your blog…” In practice, however, I’ve developed a very low tolerance for what some people consider a ‘contribution’ to a forum discussion and sometimes wish boards like Dragonsfoot would police their forums with a heavier hand (yeah, I know the irony of ME saying that) simply because there are (in my opinion), too many Dragonsfoot members who post what I consider ‘garbage.’ ‘Garbage’ (in my opinion) would include unnecessarily argumentative posts and replies (especially the ones where the responder offers a point-by-point refutation with quotes as to why the previous poster is an idiot), trolling (in all of its forms) and the dreaded self appointed ‘guardian of the board’ (who want to spend a great deal of time smacking down other members out of some sort of sense of ‘ownership’ of the forum because they spend a great deal of time there). All that ‘garbage’ makes wading and sorting through the trash in search of treasure all the more irritating. I actually like the ‘tighter focus’ that blogs engender simply because the democracy seems inherent in the medium because if I don’t like what you are saying on your blog, I can search out another blog I like better (or, even better, I can start my own). Taken singly, perhaps “blogs” do not seem democratic, but, viewed as a whole, they are perhaps MORE democratic because individual owners seem to be more more committed to making their blogs interesting and useful (perhaps because as bloggers we feel more of a sense of ownership of our own blogs). Perhaps blogs that are uninteresting to me just slide off my radar, whereas in a forum, I am continually having to ignore posts from some members. Everyone may have an opinion, and everyone may feel that they have the right to that opinion, but nothing says that I have to spend my time enduring them expressing that opinion.

We’ve had the conversation on DF about blogs where anti-blogites cite the inherent ‘egotism’ of the blog medium as a bad thing. I think the ‘egotism’ of blogs is not a bad thing; it MAY be a good thing. I read (or look at (because some of the blogs I follow are more pictures than words)) the blogs on my list because I find myself interested in what that person might have to say or show. If I’m not interested in what a blogger has to say, I don’t have to follow his blog.

on DF, Premier wrote:
What about ‘Content’ blogs as opposed to ‘Opinion’
ones? You know, stuff life Ancient Vaults & Eldritch Secrets, all about
posting new monsters, spells, items and stuff. Do people read those, and why/why

I read both… I read all kinds of blogs. My favorites are the art blogs where people post pictures they have been working on (like Russ Nicholson) or pictures they think are interesting (like http://monsterbrains.blogspot.com/)… or some have ‘catch all’ blogs where people post whatever they want. In my own blog, I dump everything in the same place — art, politics, game ideas, etc (which may or may not be a good idea).

I actually think blogs have the possibility of being less narcissistic (I know that sounds counter-intuitive) than frequent posts on forums simply because the blogger usually invests a little more time and effort into putting the blog together. In many ways, as a reader of blogs I often find a new set of pictures on a blog like ‘monsterbrains’ (pictures of old magazine covers, comic books, etc., with monsters) or on Russ Nicolson’s blog to kind of feel like a treat for me since I usually enjoy what they put up and I might have never seen these images or read these words otherwise. When forum posts are good, they are a joy to read, but too often I have to wade through garbage posts and dickwagging to find my way to the good stuff. Reading yet another flame war on why the way so-an-so does initiative in AD&D is wrong-wrong-wrong (to name just one example) feels like more of an encounter with the narcissim of the participants than seeing some art or ideas for a campaign or someone’s musings on D&D in general (or so many other topics). I’m sure there are shitty, narcissistic blogs, but I don’t tend to read those… just like I skip a lot of posts and threads in the forums I visit.

*Before the pedants point out that someone could read these words elsewhere (like on a web aggregator or as a paper print out) and thus never direct their browser to a ‘blog’ and thus never actually READ a blog, I did say ‘probably,’ OK?
**I have no idea of the actual numbers but suspect it is a small yet determined bunch on Dragonsfoot. The disposition of “anti-OSR blog people” elsewhere is unknown to me.


Rob Conley has been writing about ‘The Commercialization of the OSR’ over on his blog, “Bat in the Attic.” In his posting, Rob references Mythmere’s useful analysis of the history of the OSR (here and here). I’m still digesting both Rob’s and Mythmere’s posting, so I hope this post does not come off as me as attempting to ‘refudiate’ what either of these people have said. One of the issues that strikes me, however, which may be tangential to Rob’s and Mythmere’s posts, is the idea of the ‘virtue’ of free OSR product over ‘for pay’ product in the OSR. A number of pretty vocal people tend to spout the sentiment that ‘all OSR stuff should be free’ whenever OSR product for pay is mentioned.

I’ve given things away for free and sometimes I have sold them. I don’t begrudge anyone the decision to try to make a buck (or at least mollify the loss) represented by charging for their work, whatever it may be, so I am somewhat nonplussed that this becomes such a hot button issue for some people (some of the debates on whether or not anyone should get paid for OSR work have gotten quite heated).
One of the primary arguments advanced by the ‘anti-sales’ contingent is that many of the products offered for sale are not worth the asking price. Of course, this sidesteps the religion of capitalism (the market will decide if products succeed based on people voting witht heir wallets). But “quality” is a relative thing, isn’t it? Back in the day, we had a lot of fun with adventures like “Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor.” As far as the usual markers of quality goes in terms of completeness, adherence to the rules as written, professionalism of layout and art, etc., etc., “Badabaskor” seems pretty “bad” by the standards of most products (even free ones) today. Some of the art is pretty amateurish, the spell casters do not have spells listed, many things are not explained adequately and there are editorial mistakes galore. Despite this, we had a lot of fun with that adventure. In some ways, it’s incompleteness was almost a virtue since the DM seemed to have a lot of fun filling in the details. So was it ‘worth’ what we paid for it? I’d say if the value of such a book is in the fun that you get from it, the answer is “yes.”

I have to confess that I had some pretty frustrating experiences with publishing a ‘free’ OSR-type adventure through Dragonsfoot. I submitted an adventure for ‘free’ publication a number of years ago and waited for about two years for someone to get around to reading/editing it. It was only when I said I wanted to take the adventure elsewhere (since I thought it would never see publication) that it got pushed into publication. Then, when it was in editing, I had a number of editors demanding I make changes that I did not neccessarily want to make or agree on. One editor was quoting rules from one of the rule books in his messages to me in a manner that kind of galled me, especially since I had written the adventure years before and based the adventure on how I had ruled or interpreted rules. Finally, as author I wanted to also illustrate the adventure, but at one point the editor sent the images back to me, saying they looked like ‘crap.’ I had done the illustrations in black and white and then added a ‘zipatone’ texture digitally. The editor demanded I remove the zipatone texture because he didn’t like it. What disturbed me was that the editor seemed to be under the impression that I didn’t give a shit about how it looked when I felt like the whole project was really MY BABY and he was just the midwife who was really supposed to make sure we dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s before we sent it out.

Part of the problem, of course, was a personality conflict. Perhaps I am too sensitivem but I didn’t like the way some of the editors/producers treated me in the course of bringing the project to the point where it was deemed ‘ready’ for publication on Dragonsfoot. And, to be fair, I might have been a bit of a ‘prima-donna.’ The adventure in question was one I had originally written back in high school; I don’t think I was ready to allow strangers to poke and prod it and criticize all of its faults. But I was also unhappy because it took a lot of effort on my part to see the adventure to publication and I had to try to make a lot of concessions along the way in order to make it happen. And, after all of that, I still didn’t get the sense that everyone involved in the process understood how hard it was for me to give up so much creative control on a project in which our respective roles were not clear. Dragonsfoot wasn’t paying me for the writing or the images, so I didn’t feel like they had the right to make too many demands or the right to make more than superficial changes. On the other hand, the Dragonsfoot crew probably felt that since the adventure was being published by them, they had the right to demand that it be brought into compliance with their editorial guidelines. That is quite a conundrum. And this instance wasn’t the first (or last time) I joined a project as a volunteer and ended up regretting it. Perhaps I don’t have the right temperment for such collaborations. But (and this is the most important thing), I learned something about the work involved and being a professional from participating in the process of submitting that adventure to Dragonsfoot. I got some valuable perspective on what it is like to be involved in such a process.

Trying to think honestly about the OSR ‘for profit/not-for-profit’ issue, I long ago discovered that I much preferred to have a clear role as a paid collaborator on any project. Perhaps getting paid (even when one is paid a tiny amount) makes one feel as though one is being given a tangible reward for participation, and, strangely, being paid also seems to help me place a limit on my level of responsibility for the project. One of the problems with the Dragonsfoot experience is that I ended up feeling taken for granted — first when I had to wait for two years to have the process of editing my adventure begin, then when I felt that I had to jump theough a lot of editorial hoops to see it finished. I don’t think Dragonsfoot is to be held to blame for my feelings; I’m just trying to be honest about how I felt (and why I am reluctant to repeat the experience). My relationship to the product (and to the other people involved in the production) seems clearer when I am being paid. Being paid is not as much about the money (although, as someone with bills to pay, the money becomes more important than it was when I had a full time 9 to 5). It can also be about the ‘boundaries’ of the project. The problem with the freebies is that we did not have a clear understanding of where my control ended and the other collaborator’s control began.

"But your character wouldn’t know about that!"

Bochi, over on Dragonsfoot, posed a pretty simple (but thought provoking) question about whether or not players should be allowed to peruse books like the DMG and the Monster Manual. This opens up the whole, “player knowledge” versus “character knowledge” debate.

After people play in several games (or play in many games over a course of years), they come to know all sorts of information that a first level character probably wouldn’t know. I used to play with a guy who would loudly say, “But your character wouldn’t know about that!” whenever another player would dare to utter something like, “Green slime? Get out the oil and torches!” or, “A potion? I hope it’s a potion of flying!” or something similar. And this was even when he was not DMing. It was as if he expected us to play ‘stupid.’ Often he would do stupid things that other players did not want him to do and then claim, “I was just playing my character.” I’d describe his ‘malady’ as a form of reverse rules lawyering. I found it very tiresome.

That said, I find it fun (and refreshing) to play with people who don’t know the Monster Manual inside and out. I think as a fellow player, the “gee whiz I wonder what will happen next” idealism of new players just introduces more fun and a less jaded energy to the group.

If I were to DM, I would not mind that player characters acted on player knowledge… to expect a seasoned player to sit there and let a rust monster eat his character’s +5 sword just because the character never encountered a rust monster before (but the player HAS) seems the height of folly to me. It’s a game, not a pure simulation. Just like someone playing their 10,000th game of chess is going to have an advantage over a new player who is still asking, “How does the horse one move again?,” so, too, the player who has been playing D&D for years can be expected to have a few advantageous nuggets of wisdom that may help his character in a pinch… then again, players that assume that everything is going to be the same in my campaign as in the one run by their chum in highschool might be dissapointed (I think it’s fair game to introduce variant monsters like a variety of green slime that is vulnerable to cold instead of fire or traps that strike the area that most seasoned players might expect to be safe). If you need a justification, just allow that the new character sat on his grandpappy’s knee every night while that retired adventurer told him about rot grubs, green slime, harpies and gelatinous cubes.

Now, I also think it’s perfectly fine to introduce house rules and rules variants to your home campaign. If these rules would possibly directly impact the player’s decision making process, it’s only fair that you would try to let them know ahead of the time when they are in the middle of a situation and trying to decide what to do. Failing that, allowing a player to ‘take back’ one action (especially if it seems obvious that the player would have chosen differently if he knew about a house rule), seems only fair. If the player isn’t a dick, they can probably be trusted not to abuse your patience by invoking the, “But I didn’t know” clause too often.

Zombie Survival Strategy

This post over on DF got me wondering… as a fun exercise, I pondered my “Zombie Survival strategy” if Z-day came.

The initial question is, “You wake up from a coma in a hospital to discover that the zombie apocalypse has come. You are in a bed dressed in a paper gown in a deserted ward. What do you do?” No doubt the proposal is based on the comic book and upcoming TV show, The Walking Dead.

My assumption is going to be that the zombies will be hunting the ‘free range’ meat. Assuming I don’t wake up with a zombie trying to eat my face, I’d take time to don my clothes (shoes especially) and arm myself with an improvised ‘basher’ of some kind. Protecting your feet is going to be important since you will want to stay mobile, and there is bound to be broken glass, etc., on the ground.

Hopefully these are slow, stupid, shuffling “Romero” zombies. Assuming the hospital is semi-abandoned and not absolutely crawling with zombies, I’d retreat upwards in the building for the meantime, trying to find somewhere to hide, doors that can be barricaded, etc. I’d try to use the phone… or my cell if I have it, to contact friends and family and find out where everyone is. Employee lunch rooms would have food and water. If I have to rest, I might try to hide somewhere where I could barricade the door. Are there other survivors? I’d team up. Try to stay quiet. If the water works, fill up a lot of containers with clean water for drinking; enough to last a couple days if not longer.

The roof might be a good bet — maybe there would be a helicopter arriving to pick up/drop off? If so, I could advise the pilot/attendants of the situation, and, assuming they believe me, get help. I would strongly suggest that anyone who appeared to be infected (bite marks, etc) be made comfortable but restrained, so if they turned we would not be surprised by someone suddenly going “zombie” in our midst. I’d suggest we wrap the dead in curtains/blankets/shower curtains and then tape/bind them and isolate the bodies, so if they come back to “unlife” we are not overwhelmed. Keep at least 2 people on the roof to signal passing aircraft and write messages on the roof with strips torn sheets or paint if we can find it.

From an upstairs window I hope I would be able to see the streets below. Assuming the zombies are going to follow easy prey during the initial freak out, I would want to let “zombie rush-hour” slow down and hopefully the undead would leave the downtown area over the next few days as everyone else tried to beat it. I imagine streets will be filled with abandoned vehicles, which might make driving impossible. If not, I would think an ambulance or a cop car would make a pretty good escape vehicle. Perhaps the cop car is equipped with a reinforced front that would help plow abandoned vehicles out of the way. Maybe the cop car has a shot gun in it?

When we see that the zombies are few and far between, we might finally make a break for it. Try to keep to main streets/wide areas since I would think my chances would be much better out in the open.

Religon and D&D

This from a post over at Dragonsfoot got me thinking:

[quote=”xyzchyx”]The biggest problem I would see with playing a catholic priest in AD&D is …[/quote]

[quote=”prespos”]Technically, according to [u]Modern Monsters[/u] ([b]Best of Dragon, Vol. V[/b]),
I would think that Catholic priests (or Rabbis, or Imams)…[/quote]

[quote=”xyzchyx”]By the book, yes… but that ruling would be incompatible with the notion of the judeo christian god, who maintains that *NO* supernatural power is good other than that which comes directly from him…[/quote]

Jeez Louise, when people start debating real life religions in D&D, it makes me want to give up on RPGs entirely.

I think it’s perfectly alright to use popular culture, movies, fables, etc., as source materials and not worry so much about what is considered truth or gospel or dogma in the real world churches (which don’t all agree, anyway — ask a religious question of a Protestant, a Catholic and a Mormon and you will get three different answers(all three would self identify as “Christians” — although I understand that some Christians say that the Mormons are NOT christians… whatever)).
In the bible, there is the story of the pharaoh’s priests tuning sticks to snakes and then Moses’ snake swallowing the pharaoh’s priests snakes — it’s not clear to me if this was supposed to indicate that the Egyptian gods had power to to turn sticks into snakes but the Hebrew God was more powerful, so the Hebrew stick-snake swallowed the Egyptian stick-snakes… or did the Hebrew God “allow” the worshipers of false gods to turn their sticks into snakes or does the story have some other meaning? And if the God of Abraham is the source of all power, both natural law and “less than natural” magic or miracles, then why would anyone be worried about occult influences from D&D books? If I could cast any spells as a result of playing D&D, wouldn’t those spells have to be ‘powered’ or ‘allowed’ by the Hebrew God?
It’s things like this that make me just want to say, “Nevermind all that” when someone gets too insistent that a game of fantasy be fueled by either historical truth or run according to someone’s real religion.
In my game, the ‘basic’ cleric can’t use swords because he is forbidden to use edged weapons. That might be based on a misunderstanding/assumption by the 19th century historians looking at the Bayeux Tapestry, but I like it so in it stays. I don’t believe in vampires… but they make great villains so in they go. I’ll base NPCs and organizations in the fantasy world on real world people and organizations like “The Spanish Inquisition” but I will also play fast and loose with the truth — and ‘Van Helsing’ types straight out of a Hammer Film or ‘Aliens’ with acid for blood are all fair game.
I don’t view D&D as a good historical recreation vehicle — it’s more fun as a pop-culture, folklore and history mash-up with an emphasis on the game itself.

Fantasy Economy Boondoggle

One of the complaints being voiced over at Dragonsfoot these days is that the old “price list” for adventuring equipment, weapons and armor used in Dungeons & Dragons is unrealistic. The first version of D&D I ever played (1978 edition) had very simple rules for generating a character — after rolling the dice to determine your character’s abilities and picking a class (magic user, cleric, fighter or thief, elf, dwarf or hobbit), you rolled dice to randomly determine how much ‘starting gold’ you had and then bought what you wanted or thought you needed from a price list that had everything from chain mail armor, axes, bows, spears, etc., to more mundane items like backpacks, ropes, torches and lanterns.

The departure from economic reality in classic D&D does not bother me much. If you ‘fixed’ prices in the price list to become more realistic, you would also have to ‘fix’ treasures to reflect the idea that big piles of coin just might not be availible. OK, so you toss out the treasure tables in order to get a more realistic price on lamp oil and torches… what other changes would you have to make for ‘realism’? And, once you got done making all of those changes, would the game even be fun anymore?

I wonder if, strictly speaking, the ‘price lists’ of games like D&D, where every ‘dungeoneering item’ like torches or rope has a fixed price, might be pretty ahistorical anyway. In a typical medieval town would one have found little bodegas that sold everything from flasks of oil to spikes, sacks and 10 foot poles? Would there be a lot of ‘readymade’ goods available? Would the armorer really have a rack full of suits of armor ready to wear like they have ready to wear suits for sale at The Men’s Wearhouse? Would a lamp oil merchant really sell oil in little ceramic flasks, ready for dungeoneering, or would the vast majority of his customers provide their own container and the merchant would just sell the oil itself? The latter seems more likely and I don’t think “variety stores” (like 7-11 or Sears Roebuck) are likely in preindustrial times. The people who sold shoes probably also made them. There would be merchants who carried goods from one town to another, but I think they would make money on the fact that prices varied from place to place — you could take wine from the town with the vineyards (where wine was cheap) and sell it for more once you had moved it to a town with fewer or no vineyards. If the oil is made from something like fish, wouldn’t it cost more the further inland you went? Wouldn’t the price of bread go up if the grain harvest was bad? Moving goods by cart or mule would add a lot more per unit cost than moving them by UPS or Fed Ex.
If I’m not mistaken, Europeans had to come to the new world to discover platinum, so if you are, strictly speaking, basing your economy on medieval Europe, then platinum coins should go. I don’t know if the American natives used platinum at all as a metal, or even if they knew how to extract it from ore…(OK, I just Wikipedia’d it… and, according to Wikipedia, the first mention of Platinum by a European was in 1557…). Although the pre-Columbians had silver, gold and copper, I don’t think they used them as a medium of exchange the way the Spanish did, anyway, so different cultures might value different stuff. Plus the idea of a ‘universal’ economy where gold coins, silver coins, copper coins, etc., are all valued the same and items like gems have a fixed value seems pretty unrealistic, but if you want to give PCs XP based on treasure, you need to standardize value of ‘prizes’ at some point.

I suspect that fixed prices in the marketplace may actually be a relatively recent phenomenon. In older economies, people probably tended to haggle or bargain a great deal more… but to be honest, in most cases when I am gaming I really don’t anticipate roleplaying the “haggling” between a merchant and a player character whenever the players need a coil of rope or a few candles. In a quasi-medieval setting, it seems entirely likely to me that someone who bought oil from the oil merchant every week or month might be charged one price while some stranger who came into town and was probably heading off somewhere to get killed by trolls and never return was going to be seen as an opportunity to make a little more. The regular customer from next door is the oil merchant’s bread and butter. The adventurer who needs lamp oil might be seen as ‘gravy’ money.

Faced with the sheer record keeping nightmare that a realistic pricing structure entails, I think I’ll stick with a price list — although a nod to realism (such as perhaps variations in price or potential shortages) could add some fun. A food shortage could be a great adventure hook. But at the end of the day, the price list is just one way to get coin out of the pockets and pouches of the player characters.

My own experience is that in ‘default’ D&D, carrying all the stuff one might want to have on an adventure rather than being able to afford it is usually more of a problem for player characters. After a few adventures, my 2nd or 3rd level fighter is likely to be able to afford several suits of platemail at 50 gp a pop… so if a black pudding dissolves his armor he is likely to be able to afford another suit — but given the bulk and weight, he is unlikely to have it with him!

One DM’s “screw the players” is another DM’s “challenge the players.”

(this post originally written by me at Dragonsfoot)

Picaresque Adventures

In reading the gathered wisdom of others via sites like Dragonsfoot, I gather that the general consensus seems to be that player characters should all get along and evil alignments are frowned upon.

I find myself wondering why? Sure, I’ve been involved in some games that became bitter feuds between players, but removing the choice (to be good or to be bad) from the players seems heavy handed. Sometimes it can be great fun to play a real villain… and sometimes a fight to the death between player characters can be more fun than just knocking down the monsters that the DM has set up to be conquered.

In literature, a novel in which the protagonist is flawed or even occasionally villainous is often called a picaresque story. Classic sword and sorcery heroes such as Leiber’s Fafhrd and Mouser or Vance’s Cugel the Clever are decidedly flawed heroes… maybe even REH’s Conan would qualify. Certainly D&D got its start with killing monsters in order to steal their treasure… the game was structured to reward those who were most proficient at killing and looting.