Indistinguishable From Technology

So here’s the thing about D&D: it makes no sense. None. Don’t get me wrong, I like it and all, but the world as presented is completely wrong-wrong-wrongity-wrong, and the new Pathfinder setting (much though I enjoy it) has done nothing to change that.

You wanna know why?  One word: magic.

Magic in D&D is reasonably common, which is bad enough, but what’s worse is that it’s reliable.  If you cast magic missile more than once, the only difference between castings is precisely how much damage you’ll do, and even that will vary only within strict limits.  Which is bad enough.

Where magic gets really bad, though, is in the utility stuff.  Don’t tell me that a world that has fireball lacks, say, a spell to keep food from spoiling, a spell to make a roof more weathertight, or a spell to keep bugs out.  And given that even the smallest town is likely to have a person who can at least use level 1 spells, life in a D&D universe should not look much at all like the pseudo-medieval setting it generally defaults to.

I mean, consider continual flame.  A magic item that can cast it at will would cost 10,800 gp and take 11 days to make; it produces items (gravel-sized stones would be great) that appear to burn but need no fuel or oxygen and never go out.  And then the city that made it could have streetlights for the cost of whatever they’re mounted on, requiring no fuel or maintenance, and easily replaced if stolen.  And could start exporting “flaming” stones for a little over the cost of shipping…assuming anyone could be coerced into buying them.  Everyone in town could have all the light they needed, and trust me when I say that that mere fact is enough to make a lot more work and production possible. 

How about teleportation circle? It costs 1000 gold to inscribe, and the circle’s only 10 feet in diameter.  More to the point, you need a 17th level caster for it.  But you can make it permanent, and then you have a circle big enough to drive a largish wagon into that will send your cargo to the destination instantly.  I can see a wizard retiring from adventuring and going around to cities and large towns, offering them teleportation circles to other places for, say, a couple months’ worth of room and board.  It’d only take a decade or two before a whole continent would have a transport network that would put the US Interstate system to shame.  Pretty soon people would start doing it for destinations inside large cities, and then you don’t even have to walk through rush hour anymore.

Cure light wounds? No more crippling injuries from stupid accidents.  Purify food and drink means no one gets sick from food gone off.  For that matter, a 5th level cleric can feed 15 people a day with one casting of create food and water, which means famine not so much.  Repel vermin, made permanent, means one can sleep without worrying about lice, mosquitos, bedbugs, or any of the other disease-carrying bugs of the world.  And if you get malaria, the cleric can fix that, too, so no need for sickle-cell.

If you can summon and bind fire elementals, you can make steam engines that require no fuel.  Unseen servant can do drudge work like cleaning or weaving, freeing up humans to do creative things.  With a decanter of endless water, deserts can be easily made fertile; with a bottle of air, mining is no longer such a dangerous job…assuming you actually mine, instead of getting your iron from the wall of iron spell.  Anyway, just get a druid to stone shape the shafts.

Sure, people might not think of all these things immediately, but it wouldn’t take long; we monkeys are always looking for ways to do less work.  And a magic-driven world would be cleaner and safer than a technology-driven one, because magic doesn’t produce waste.


New Experiences

I have never played a paladin before in WoW, and now a friend and I are leveling pallys together.  The idea is that when we get to a level for it, we’ll start doing randoms as a tank/healer pair, thus guaranteeing queue times of approximately as long as it takes the “Find Group” button’s message to reach the server.

We’re at 5th level now, which means we’ve still got like three powers apiece, but it should be entertaining when we start getting talents and whatnot; I’ve got a good idea of what talents are good for a healer-pally, and my buddy’s played a human paladin so often he says he could do the Deadmines* in his sleep.  I’ve even done enough research to find out what stats are good.

I am having some of my usual “This character is not a hunter” problems, starting with “Where are my minimap dots?  Why can’t I see where the mobs are?!”   And hunters are all about ranged attacks, while paladins have, essentially, no ranged attacks, so that’s going to be interesting to get used to.  At least I don’t have to do my own tanking, though.

* The first Alliance dungeon, and pretty much every quest leading up to it is in human territory.

Forging Onward

Some of you may know about the Forge, a forum for independent RPG designers.  For several years, the Forge has had some areas in which one could talk about game theory–why is it that some games work and some games don’t, what’s the difference between two die mechanics, that sort of thing.  Those bits of the site have closed, which has led to some discussion in indie-rpg circles, and it helped crystallize something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

The short version is: I don’t like the Forge, and I like its creator Ron Edwards even less.

The long version: I try hard not to look down on people for having “unsophisticated” tastes.  I think, for example, that car racing is possibly the world’s most boring activity, but that doesn’t mean that I think people who enjoy it are somehow inferior.  Ron doesn’t seem to have that circuit–that is, the one that tells him that what he likes is not the same thing as what is good, or what other people can like.

Now, before I get much further, I’d like to point out that I would dearly love to try Dogs in the Vineyard or Primetime Adventures or some of the others.  The Mountain Witch and My Life With Master strike me as unfun, but I think that has a lot to do with their settings (samurai bearding a demon in its lair and Igor And Friends Kill Frankenstein, respectively).

In any case, I can’t say how many times I saw something on the Forge that involved someone posting something they thought was fun, only to be informed that it was dysfunctional and immature (but they were still free to have “fun” with it if they liked, no one was going to stop them, oh no).  Or someone would say, “Gee, all these terribly avant-garde games you guys’re coming up with don’t really work for my group,” and someone else would reply that the first person’s group was either 1) playing the new games wrong, 2) composed of gamers (poor little things) who’d been trained into bad habits by mainstream games, or 3) both.  To which I say, bite me–could it be, instead, that your games are not the One True Way, and that people who don’t like them are, perchance, just in posession of different preferences?

Take, for example, D&D.  It’s hard to dispute that the game at its core is about killing things and taking their stuff.  One wonders why the Forge thinks that you can’t have Story in and around that.  Heck, the lack of discrete mechanisms for such things actually makes it easier, in a way: there’s no allocating of scarce Narrative Power Points or whatever, you just look at the GM and say, “I go to the entrance of the escape tunnel from the palace” and the GM, recognizing that this is cool, replies, “OK, it’s in a storefront a few blocks away.”  And yes, that’s an example from personal experience.

Then there was the Forge’s preference for the practical.  If you weren’t designing your own rpg, or at least playing one that someone one the forum had designed, your opinion, bluntly, didn’t matter.  Because, of course, no one who’s not a designer can have any insight into how games work, no matter how much they have played, right?  This one’s going to get worse now that the theory forum’s closed; if you aren’t a designer, there’s just no reason to go there anymore.  Clearly the collective wisdom of the Forge needs no further enhancement, right?  The stated reason for closing the forums is to cause theory discussion to metastitize (which I know I’ve spelled wrong), spreading out into other places on the net.  Which, yeah, sure, that’ll happen…

I suppose this isn’t very coherent, and can be justly ripped apart for that.  But I think that some of its core points are things that indie rpg designers should keep in mind: some of us like killing things and taking their stuff, at the same time that we like having drama and narrative interest.  That doesn’t make us dysfunctional, it makes us complex.

Meyers-Briggs and Gaming

So someone’s come up with a nifty way of relating the Meyers-Briggs personality test to gaming.  I thought I’d look it over and see how I fit.

I know I’m an INFP in real life, pretty strongly in all cases; I think my lowest percentage, the last time I took the test, was 64%.  (I am not going to link to a MB test–anyone with even elementary Google-fu should be able to find one.)   What about in gaming?

I/E: Introverts are those that approach a game primarily through their character. Extroverts are those who approach the game primarily through the world, setting, or situation. If you want to play in the world of Wheel of Time, you’re going the E road. If you want to play a farmer who grows into a great leader, in whatever setting, you’re going the I road.

I’m gonna say I’m I here.  While I have been known to be drawn into a cool setting, it’s usually because I’m interested in the kinds of characters one can play there, rather than because I want to explore the setting itself.

N/S: Intuitives are basically No-Mythers, and Sensers are big Mythers. If you want the game to focus on tangible, repeatable, discrete elements you’re walking the road of S. If you’re more interested in the concepts, themes, and abstracts of the game then you are embarking on the path of N.

I’m not, honestly, certain what this one means, but I think I’m an N.  Not a very strong preference, though.

T/F: This one changes very little between standard and game. If you think your way through game, want to focus on the logic, an intellectual appreciation, then you are on the Tower of T. If, otoh, you want game to be about feeling you way through, focusing on the emotionality, and having a gut level appreciation of game then you’re on the ship of F.

F, all the way.  I like logic and it’s fun to see how everything fits together, but I like emotion more, and I want to be involved with things.

J/P: Mo and I called this one Pressure (J) and Flow (P). Judging gamers want to hit it and quit it, they want discrete goals, short run games, quick closure, and games full of pressure that they can make statements about and through. Perceiving gamers want more flowing games, stories that flow into each other, long running campaigns, either no closure or closure that flows into a new story, and games that are about enjoying the flow rather than increasing the pressure.

I think I’m J here, but not very strongly.  I like long-running campaigns, but I don’t want to go forever between interesting stuff, either.  If we’re having 6 months of downtime, I want the GM to say, “OK, what do you do in the next six months?  OK.  When you get back together…”

So in gaming, InFj.

What about my characters?  They tend to be a lot more about their interactions with the world, in that they expect to have an effect on it; this leads me to suspect that most of them are usually E.  I’ve got problems enough trying to deal with my own intuition, so my characters are usually S–I don’t go for “immersion” in the sense most people seem to mean it.  The characters are usually F, though, in that they’re more likely to rely on their own sense of right and wrong than on just logic.  And I’m going to say they’re usually P, but not strongly.

Characters: ESfp
Gaming: InFj
Real Life: INFP
I have no idea what this means.

God, I Hope You’re Being Ironic

For me, super powers and SfX only screw things up and make the game boring. You can have very fun five hours of gaming just talking about your angst leaving your (in the game…) girlfriend. I promise.

Excuse me while I shudder.  Thanks, but no, I do not wish to play in this game.  5 minutes, sure.  But if all you’re gonna do is wank about how much your life sucks, you might as well talk about real life, because at least that way you might be working out actual issues.

Just read this post, I guess, and marvel at the arrogance and condescension that come off it in waves.  Read the bit by Ron Edwards, who manages to produce good games despite no apparent ability to distinguish between “what I like” and “what is good”:

I’ve had it with games in which the characters are specially-powered in any way whatsoever.

And yeah, I wrote games about sorcerers, magical elfs, and tall babes with horns on their heads. That’s done with.

No more. People in situations, from now on.

Explain again what it is about having extraordinary powers that makes a person any less of a person, or their situation any less of a situation?  Seems to me, from my plebian, low-class, unenlightened position, that having the powers increases the range of people and situations you can talk about–which ought to be only a good thing.  But what do I know?

The Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

I’m running a character that uses a non-PHB class, to wit the wu jen from Complete Arcane.  One of the things about this class is that, every ~3 levels, you have to pick a “taboo”, something your character isn’t allowed to do lest she lose her spellcasting ability for a day.

My problem with this is that most of the example taboos are things that you don’t, in D&D, really have to deal with.  “Oh, by the way, I never cut my hair,” you say, and voìla! your taboo for that level is fulfilled.  Even stuff like “make a small sacrifice once a day” doesn’t specify that you actually have to spend any money on it–heck, you could say that you prick your finger every day before memorizing spells, and that’d cover it.

So for Altariel’s 3rd-level taboo, I picked one I’m actually going to have to roleplay: Cannot lie.  (Note that this is in the sense of “cannot make an untrue statement”, rather than “cannot allow someone to come to the wrong conclusion based on what I say”, but still, it makes perfect sense.)  If the universe is to be expected to listen to me when I say there’s a fireball over there, I can’t go around telling lies about other things, now can I?

Cultural Context

I have just noticed another example of what Liam and I have taken to calling “context jokes”.  They are not all actually jokes; they are statements, images, or whatever that you can’t appreciate without the context.

For example: “A chicken and an egg are in bed.  The egg rolls over and lights a cigarette, and the chicken says, ‘Well, I guess that answers that question.'”

Consider the amount of backstory you have to have to giggle at that.  You’ve got to know that the chicken and the egg were probably having sex, that lighting a cigarette is something you do after sex, the old saw about “Which comes first”, and–last but not least–that “come” can be euphemism for “have an orgasm”.

Now, a lot of things depend on cultural context to get their point across, but in many cases it can be glarked; in the “spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch” joke, all you have to know is that Catholics cross themselves, but Jews don’t.  Similarly, in the “Do you think we have time?” joke, it works almost as well no matter who is supposed to be saying the punchline, and while the “Yes, sir, but now their eyes are open” joke communicates nicely that the person telling it considers Baptists to be idiots, nearly any other group the joke-teller dislikes could be substituted without loss of humor.  By contrast, context jokes depend entirely on their backstory.

This comes up because I’ve been reading the Forge again–this is a bunch of people who do rpg design.  One of them developed something called Primetime Adventures, in which the players create a TV show.  Given the way the mechanics work, one player is going to have narrative control at the end of a scene; while he is required to narrate in such a way that the character who “won” that scene achieves her goals, it is possible for his narration to not be satisfying, at least at first.  The example given was “OK, the Stakes are for Buffy to save the world by killing Angel.  While it’s possible for her to do this in a cool way, it’s also possible for it to be narrated as “Tuxedo Mask swoops in and beats Angel up, then holds his limp body in place for Buffy to kill him!””

Yeah, so those of you who’ve watched Sailor Moon are now giggling, and the rest of the world stares in blank confusion.  What’s more, “Tuxedo Mask” has entered Forge terminology as “NPC who steals all the cool stuff even while nominally allowing the PCs to participate”, adding another layer of context…