Category Archives: Essay

ESSAYS IN GAME DESIGN – Essay Three: Where Has All The Magic Gone?

ESSAYS IN GAME DESIGN

Essay Three: Where Has All The Magic Gone?

Why don’t they make Magic Items like they used to?

I was looking through my AD&D books tonight and noticed how versatile and multi-functional so many of the magic items were.

They were powerful, and they were odd, and fascinating, and most important of all a lot of them could do all kinds of things.

By comparison so many of the magic items of more recent editions are bland, plain, uninspired, and uninspiring. It’s like using a piece of technology from the eighties or something. The items are overly specialized, technical, usually limited to one specific function, top-heavy in design and capabilities. A drag to own and use and usually good only for specific encounter types.

Older magic items were magical. They had so many functions they seemed like a modern mini-computer/cell phone/PDA/wristwatch/GPS/tricorder all in one. Impressive and extremely useful. Versatile. Fluid. A joy to own and use, employable in a wide range of circumstances. They were the Renaissance Men of Miracles, the Polymaths of Magic. And in addition most were mysterious. You had to figure them out as you went along. They could always have extra, hidden potential that you’d never know about til you screwed around with just the right thing and accidentally tripped some concealed latch. And you had Artifacts, and Incredible Devices, and Relics, with strange legends and ancient lore surrounding them. They weren’t just treasure types, they were items of real magic.

(In a purely imaginative sense, of course, but then again freeing the imagination, and being able to free the imagination, is a type of magic. Being enslaved to limited, prescribed, and proscribed function, technique, or technology is not magic. It is in many ways the very opposite of magic.)

We need to get back to that in modern fantasy games.

It made fantasy gaming fun instead of a technical exercise in weaponry calibres and target types.

Magic should have some, “Boy, now you’re really gonna see something!” to it, instead of “how many rounds ya got in that wand and what is the total count of damage points inflicted by it? I’m trying to calculate exactly how long this combat will last.”

Also,  magic used to be truly weird and fantastically dangerous.  To everyone including the Wizard employing it. Nowadays, and far too often it is merely a form of binary technology, on/off. And very rare is it for it to ever even fail.

So, where has all the magic gone?

It’s basically gone to hell with the idea that magic is about power shots and ammo counts rather than about mystery and wonder.

Somebody needs to dig some real magic up out of the grave and see if they can put a resurrection spell on it…

Endnote: I actually tend to think, that as far as game design goes, and even as regards gameplay to a certain extent, that the situation of “magicless magic” has actually improved considerably. Especially as regards Dungeons and Dragons and many of the related fantasy type games and role playing games. However, and against this general state of “magical improvement” has come the counter-tendency to reduce magic to a mere secondary or substitute form of technology as is far too often the case in literature, films, and video games. So I posted this essay anyway to remind game designers (even video game designers), DMs and GMS, and even players that they can be pursuing, even demanding real magic in their games, and by that I mean weird, strange, truly dangerous, multi-functional, and unpredictable magic that is anything but yet another substitute, secondary, or typical human technology. 

 

Advertisements

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN: To Hell With Balance

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Two: To Hell With Balance

I’m gonna say something that might shock some of you guys. Then again, maybe not.

Balance, go to the Devil, and burn in hell. And while there sip septic tea with him til you’re really needed again. And chances are it won’t be often. But whatever the case, don’t call me, I’ll call you.

I’m working on a fantasy Role Playing Game, I’m not designing an algorithm, doing covalence equations, or writing a computer program to calculate a moonshot at apogee.

So sometimes in-game my players get their noses busted and spleens ruptured by a dragon that in real life they couldn’t ever easily kill. Not with bow-sticks and knives and harsh words anyways. Good, it’ll teach em a lesson about danger and risk and what it actually costs people.

And sometimes they’ll whip out their Horn of Resounding and bring down the walls of Jericho, or slay a few giants with the Jawbone of an ass. Good, sometimes you catch a miracle in midair, deserved or undeserved. Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes he gets you. That’s life.

But in any case, as far as the game goes, the player is fascinated, interested, intrigued, involved, worried, anxious, and maybe even occasionally excited again. Perhaps shocked and ecstatic from time to time too, just to boot.

Balance, he ain’t my god. I don’t owe him any real sacrifices. He’s more like the grey-skinned Graeæ sisters than bright Apollo. Only one eye to see with, a lot of double talk, the bite of a one-toothed wonder – and in the end, disaster, not glory. You can’t trust Balance to point the way to the future, cause he’s more consumed with his own reflection in the mirror than with anything remotely heroic happening. Static, stale, sterile, sluggish, and simple-minded. A dotard of dullness. No poetry of soul, just an arrested arithmetic of tedium. More Echo and Narcissus, more Sound and Fury, than Thunder and Lightning.

I liked the original version of D&D. I like the 4th Edition, at least many things about it. But I see now that this pernicious idea of “balance” that crept in like the Serpent at Eve in Paradise, balance as an end in itself, especially in a fantasy game of all things, is more assassins’ poison than golden Ambrosia. If I have to kill wonder and potential just to achieve balance, then I have to kill fantasy just to achieve boredom. Thank you modern RPG Fantasy Game Theory of Balance, but I think you’d be happier working as a stock-boy in the warehouse of modern mediocrity, than a gate-keeper to the temples at Mount Olympus.

So Balance, my fine feathered fowl of gutless acquittal, go to hell and burn awhile. Maybe you’ll cook into a decent potpie.

Invention is as invention does. So, I’m gonna start designing fantasy games and adventures again, even D&D ones, where magic happens, miracles save the day, monsters are dangerous and feral, the voice of God rumbles across the sky, kingdoms topple, heroes struggle, players say, “Now that’s what I’m talking ‘bout!” and imaginations catch fire.

Balance can burn in his own oven… and stew in his own juices.

 

SPOOKED

SPOOKED

If you are a young black male and you don’t understand that police are sometimes spooked by you, especially if you live in a high crime, urban area, then you aren’t thinking this out very far. Now as a black kid or man is that necessarily your fault? If you are law abiding and peaceful and doing the best you can, then no, it is not your fault. But at the moment anyway, it is the way it is. And no one can argue the way things actually are. You might not like it, and in this case you shouldn’t like it, but you can’t argue it’s not true.

If you are a police officer and you don’t understand that a lot of young black males (or others) are sometimes spooked by you, especially if you react to them with automatic suspicion or an assumption of guilt, then you aren’t thinking this out very far. Now as a cop is this your fault? If you are a good cop and doing the best you can, then no, it is not your fault. But at this moment, anyway, this is the way it is. And no one can argue the way things actually are. You might not like it, and in this case you shouldn’t like it, but you can’t argue it’s not true.

Everyone is spooked. Sometimes for entirely legitimate reasons and sometimes for assumptively dubious and entirely erroneous reasons. And when people are spooked, then rightly or wrongly, bad things tend to happen. People react instead of carefully observe, people are triggered by instinct rather than reason, people’s emotions become actively paramount rather than their common sense. The result of those habits are often very bad (certainly stupid and unnecessary), even murderous things.

But no one but criminals and terrorists and very bad men will benefit if young law abiding citizens and young men and the police are spooked of each other, and are reflexively hostile towards and automatically dubious of each other.

What’s the answer? Hell, I wish I could tell you the answer. The one that will work in every case. But no answer will work in every case. That’s just not real life. Not the way real people are. People are people. They will at times revert to their worst instincts or their most illogical and counter-productive habits. Or even to bad or incomplete or misguided training.

However I can tell you this much: When you are angry at each other, and vengeful towards each other, and automatically suspicious of each other, and spooked by each other then no real good can come of that. And no solutions either. Sometimes though, just really thinking and dwelling on the problem can give you an understanding of how to start.

However I can tell you what ought to be happening. What ought to be happening is that young black men, the law abiding and decent and good ones should be working with the police to take down criminals and thugs and terrorists in their own neighborhoods and to straighten out those neighborhoods for everyone else. (Including for the benefit and safety of their own children and women.) What ought to be happening is that cops should not to be automatically suspicious of all young black men who live in a dangerous area (and yes, they have every right to own personal firearms and maybe even more reason than most – because, well, think about it, they live in a bad or violent or high crime neighborhood) and instead the police ought to be conscripting the young, decent, good ones as allies and informants and friends to help clean up bad neighborhoods. (And good cops cannot stand beside or defend bad ones, or even wrong ones.) There should be an alliance and a true friendship and a partnership between citizen and police, but that has to run in both directions at once and respect and protection and cooperation and trust has to also run in both directions at once, and keep running in both directions at all times and as much as humanly possible.

Now I fully understand human beings and their true natures. I’m not fooled by how things will have to go or will go, or are even likely to go. And I’m not gonna try and deceive you with a bunch of feel good, talk-show, pop-psychology, fairy dust and glitterized bullshit. Mistakes will be made and will continue to be made. That’s human nature. Humans are imperfect. But no one should defend wrongdoing in either direction and over time the mistakes should become fewer and fewer, and even less and less egregious.

But this shit has got to stop people. My nation is already entirely fucked up enough as it is. Manslaughter and mass murder and unending suspicion and chaos and innocents being slaughtered and riots in cities and snipers on rooftops and kids shot dead out of suspicion is not the way. We’ve nowhere else to go from here but straight down to hell.

Being spooked all of the time will make spooks of far too many of us. Dead men in a dying land.It is a false hope to live as ghosts in a ghostland, to be half-men in a dead land, when we could be a Great Thing in a Great Land.

We should all be living and thriving and growing and developing, and at and about worthwhile, profitable enterprises.

What we’re doing right now ain’t working, and it can’t work. And, in the end, because it cannot hope to succeed, for anyone, it will have to be abandoned anyway. Or to stubborn self-ruin we go.

I hate even mentioning shit like this because I despise politics being interjected into life and death matters and matter of Right and Wrong. Right and Wrong should always stand on it’s own because, well hell, it’s fucking Right and Wrong. If you don’t get that then I can’t help you. Truth is you should never have to interject race or class or sex or any other far lesser considerations into Right and Wrong. But my wife is black, and my kids are half-black, and a lot of my good friends are black. And I grew up around cops and I’ve worked crime and tracked murders and rapists and thieves (and I know exactly how it works, I’m not in the least naïve or misguided about how criminals and terrorists are) and a lot of my good friends are cops and God-damnit it all to hell this ain’t fucking working.

I’m sitting here about to cry just thinking about all of the totally useless, murderous, violent shit I’ve seen over the years and I don’t fucking cry. And I keep thinking, Christ in Heaven, damn this mindless, habitual shit, don’t they ever, ever, ever fucking get it? How useless this shit is? How utterly unnecessary most of it is!!?

And if they don’t get it by now then what will it actually take?

Look, I’m under no illusion that most criminals are not gonna get what I’m saying. Nor are they gonna care. But by God, why can’t the rest of us? Get it?

So start now. For God’s sake. For your own sakes… Start doing things differently. Start treating each other differently. What in the fuck do any of us have to lose if we all do this differently?

Otherwise this shit is all you’re gonna have and this cycle of idiocy and death is all you’re going to have to hand down to your children and grandchildren.

You’ve already bankrupted them. Do you want to hand them down this useless shit too?

So man the fuck up already people, throw in together, and stop being so bucking spooked when you don’t need to be. And stop giving out reasons for others to be spooked by you too.

Because what we’re doing right now can’t possibly work over time.

And we’re running the hell out of it.

Pray for your nation folks. Pray for your own understanding. But just as importantly, if not more so, start doing things differently.

This shit is all on us. The solution will be on us too.

Or the doom and the fucking damnation will be.

And I for one have had a fucking nuff of the doom and the damnation.

I want to see things they way they ought to be. I want to see all men behaving as they should.

For God’s sake, for your own sakes, don’t you?

ESSAY ONE: CRAWLING INTO OBLIVION

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay One: Crawling into Oblivion

Some things that have always bothered me about D&D, and indeed most fantasy RPGs, happen to deal with the way monsters and other dangerous types of creatures and NPCs are presented. In D&D the monster has been reduced to little more than a set of statistics, numbers, and aspect summaries, with little if any regard ever given to the idea of what the word actually means. What it means to be a monster, and what monsters would be like if they really existed (I’m leaving aside for the moment any consideration of the “human monster” who is often far too real, but is in many instances a good guide for how non-human monsters would behave and operate).

For instance many dungeons, adventures, and scenarios are built around the idea that for some unknown (and rarely if ever well-explained) reason, creatures that are hostile and dangerous to people somehow, and usually without prodding, just seem to naturally cooperate with each other to attack adventurers, but not each other. For instance orcs and kobolds can often be found in the same dungeon, no explanation given as to why they would tolerate each other rather than slaughter each other. And many monsters just seem to sit around waiting for the hapless adventurer rather than patrolling whatever dungeon they inhabit, with a well-practiced defense or attack plan, cleaning out the other potential hostiles. A typical dungeon filled with a number of different types of belligerent monsters would hardly be a likely, believable, or functional scenario even in the often not very well thought out world of fantasy adventuring.

This type of incredulous scenario is especially true of the so-called Dungeon Crawl.” Monsters, because they are monsters, would kill each other off and by the time the party arrived the adventurers would be dealing only with the most dangerous and aggressive survivor. For instance, if the Minotaur and the Chimera both existed in the same Labyrinth then sooner of later only one would be left. Furthermore, monsters, if they were organized by some higher force would not be sitting around in a dungeon room just waiting for the adventurers to blunder into their living area. At the first sign of infiltration the monsters would be on the prowl, seeking out and hunting any invaders without rest until such invaders are slaughtered. Monsters cannot be both hostile, aggressive, full of avarice and greed, hoarders of treasure, and bloodthirstily dangerous, and simply lounging about waiting to see if their lair will be invaded by some dangerous force, while calmly playing gentlemen card games with the goblins in the next room to see who gets to keep the ancient artifact they all covet. It’s ridiculous, even in the silliest of fantasy worlds. Without a very excellent and extremely fearful need to cooperate, monsters simply don’t. They kill each other instead and eat the remains of the weaker creature.

Another thing that bothers me about D&D is the fact that once you meet a monster, or have read about it in the Monster Manual, from then on, it is far too often simply just a matter of encountering hit point variants of the same creature. Having fought Trolls before you know how to kill them and make them stay dead they are an extremely dangerous encounter, afterwards, not so much. (In horror/weird, sci-fi, detective, even some military/modern and superhero games – though superhero games, like fantasy often have on-going villains whose nature you are already well familiar with – this is not nearly as big a problem because often one is constantly encountering new creatures and beings and enemies about whom you have little, if any, advanced foreknowledge.)

Of course historical records could account for a certain degree of knowledge about monsters in fantasy game settings (though such accounts should always be mixed with rumor and mis and disinformation), but otherwise because they are monsters they should be unknown or at least little-known entities; a shock to the system, a surprise, and a real danger. And anything you have advanced intelligence on is far less dangerous than the unknown. These problems regarding monsters greatly reduce the tension and sense of danger in playing the game, and for that reason, they greatly reduce the fun.

I have tried over the years to address these monstrous and monsterous problems in my Campaign setting, and in the adventures I write for the players to undertake. For instance in my world monsters are unique, usually one of a kind creations, much more similar to the monstrosities and prodigies of ancient Greece, than the creations of modern fantasy role play. This means when the party does encounter a monster then in game terms it is a real, dangerous, feral, vicious brute. Really and truly monstrous. It also means you can’t pull out the Monster Manual to know best how to fight it or know if it likes laying traps and ambushes or the straight out, let’s get bloody, man-to-man brawls.

Furthermore it knows where it lives, how it moves, what its tactics are, what techniques it will employ far better than the players. (Which ain’t the case most of the time you encounter monster sin most fantasy game sis it now.) Making it that much more dangerous and lethal because it is an unknown quantity with unknown qualities. You don’t know the creature’s level, challenge rating, hit point count, what it can do, etc. You just know it bites, claws, employs magic, has set traps, is extremely cunning and vicious, and kills. (But only after you’ve seen it in operation, until then it is all potential.)

So in that way I’ve solved the “Over-familiarity/Lack of Danger Aspect” of monster design weakness in D&D. (This is just a general “design principle,” and like all design principles it is of course open to whatever the DM and players want to do. If the DM and players want gnolls who dress like circus clowns and eat hay and farm naked molerats for monsters, so be it. I’m talking however about milieus and settings with game monsters that are truly monstrous, and dangerous, and unknown, not colorful and comic, humorous, and so familiar they might as well be wearing body scales made out of neon glowing statistical probability charts. If monsters were real they would not be “readable and predictable,” instead they would be lethal, unpredictable, crafty, vicious, natural survivalists, and stat graphs and hit point counts would be the very least of your worries if you encountered one that was pissed off, moody, or feeling kind of hungry.

The First Problem though, the problem of “Cooperative Design and Behavioral Unbelieveability,” is harder to address, especially when you want to create a “Dungeon Crawl” for your players to game. Because, let’s face it, although the standard crawl is silly and extremely weak as normally designed, it is also fun and exhilarating, and is what most people (especially older players) think of first when they think of playing D&D. The common crawl, although utterly ridiculous in many respects, can be a lot of fun if designed right and executed correctly.

So, to that end, it seems like if you’re going to create a really first rate Crawl, and I think most DMs should include at least one good crawl (if not many more) in their campaign repertoire, then a few basic design rules would help a lot.

1. Make it as logical and believable as possible, so that even in the middle of a crawl it still seems dangerous and believable. Something where the player wouldn’t say to himself, “That’s stupid and silly, no orc would ever team up with a gelatinous cube to try and keep me from killing the giant python who lives on top of a pile of gold.” So, if there is to be cooperation between creatures whose aims and interests vary, not to mention outright oppose one another, either include a force powerful enough to control and manipulate them all, or use other methods that make it at least seem plausible that the hobgoblin would be working with the Barrow Wight instead of fleeing in horror from such a terrifying and dangerous undead creature.

2. Place in the crawl creatures the players have never encountered before or at least variants of the typical monster types so radical that the players won’t really know what they are fighting, or even exactly how to fight them. Bring back the excitement, wonder, horror, and lethality of the monster. He ain’t just a giant with 300 hit points, he’s a vicious, black-hearted mutha who will snap off your head with his bare hands, drink your blood and grind your bones to make his bread. He means business, he’s set traps for you, and if you get close enough that he can catch you he means to rip your arm from the socket and club you to death with it. He enjoys doing that kinda thing because, well… he’s a monster.

3. Include tricks, traps, ambushes and other dangerous things that the players are unaware of but the creatures know exist. And let the creatures, monsters, opponents use these traps, tricks, puzzles, and ambushes in such a way as to most damage the party and most enhance their own (the monster’s) chances of survival. That is to say the monsters know their environment and how to use it, the players don’t. Let the monsters use every advantage they have, especially environmental.

4. Use every other trick and technique you have available to make the crawl disturbingly believable, but also as risky as possible. Remember the adventurer is infiltrating a place he has never been before, has only sketchy, at best, intelligence on, and is by its very nature supposed to be hostile to unwanted visitors. The characters are going into places dark, deep, and undiscovered. That fact alone, as I know from Vadding, can make the venture very dangerous. Throw in monsters, traps, ambushes, patrols, a coordinated defense response, a generally hostile neighborhood, and other dangers of that ilk and you have a very lethal combination. To say the least. Crawls, to use an analogy of military terminology, should be just short of suicide missions, and therefore should perhaps be the most dangerous and enterprising type of fantasy RPG adventure one can undertake. Make the players wish they had prepared as if they were intending to invade hell itself. Because maybe that’s exactly what is waiting for them. They don’t call them monsters only because they look and smell funny, they call them monsters because they are laughing while they disembowel your still steaming entrails and eat you alive.

ESSAY THIRTEEN: SCIENTIFICA MAGICA

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Thirteen: Scientifica Magica

Now before anyone jumps to the wrong conclusion, based only upon the title of this post, let me state clearly that I am not one of those gamers or writers who favor turning magic (in either game or fiction) into a mere exercise in science and technology under a different name. I am not for “scientificizing magic.

I am not in favor of turning either game magic or fictional magic into science by another name, nor am I one of those who favor making magic operate under closely regulated and studied rules of scientific function or with mathematical precision. I like my magic wild, uncontrolled to some degree, definitely unpredictable, prone to malfunction and misfire, and in most other ways outright dangerous.

 

image: http://d15osn4tlmtdxb.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2006/03/img-Burne-Jones.jpg

(You know, much like a woman. Now I say that half-jokingly, but only half jokingly. To me science and technology should operate like a man – with precision, with mathematical certainty, with rules, with predictability. Now am I saying all men are this way? God no, and I can only wish. I know real people as they truly are, you see, and that is merely a philosophical postulate of how male types would operate ideally, logically, and rationally. Sort of like saying all Vulcans should be like Spock.

On the other hand women should be unpredictable, without Newtonian mathematical precision, with emotional flare and passion, fuzzy and quantum at the edges, hard to pin down, and in more than one way, truly dangerous. Generalizations of course, and type generalizations as well, but they make the point. Magic to me should not be Science and science should not be magic despite all the modern Geekery in games and fiction that would have them be, in effect, merely interchangeable and fungible concepts for the same thing.)

Science should be amazing in what it can achieve but predictable in how it operates, Magic should be almost miraculous in what it achieves but largely unpredictable and untamed in both technical function and in its methods of operation. The very point of science is to be controlled and safe, reliable and commonplace, not dangerous, for a dangerous and rare science defeats the very purpose and function of being scientific. On the other hand the very essence of magic is to be rare, uncontrolled – especially in comparison to science and the mundane – and unreliable. For indeed if you have a magic that is too easy to control, utterly predictable, reliable, safe, and ubiquitous then you don’t really have Magic at all, you simply have science under the flimsy and inaccurate guise and faulty nomenclature of “magic.”)

Now all of that being said there is one way in which I favor the intersection of magic and science and that is in the analytical and detective capabilities of modern science, which often border closely upon the frontiers of what I would actually call magic. Or at least magical in effect.

Being an amateur scientist and having a near lifelong interest in physics, forensics, archaeology, medicine, chemistry and biochemistry I often keep up to date on new papers and techniques in those fields and have recently been studying several superb new and relatively new methods of analyzing, collating, detecting, examining, and understanding archaeological and forensic evidence. Such as the use of LIDAR, magnetic surface and subsurface scans, satellite imagery sweeps in the infrared, multiple data source computer modeling, etc.

In thinking on those things and what they can accomplish it has recently occurred to me that a new type of “magic” (of a kind rarely ever encountered in gaming and fiction) could easily be developed to mimic such scientific technologies without necessarily being limited to being scientific in operation.

For instance I have recently begun developing “spells” for both game and fictional use that mimic such new discovery techniques without presenting themselves in a scientific or predictable manner. I won’t specifically describe these “magics” in detail or enumerate the spells themselves as that would take too long and as one could easily develop multiple spells from these general categories in any case, but I will briefly describe a couple of these “spell types” for you to consider in developing your own magics in this regard.

1. REENLIVENING SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over an area or other target and can then present, in a complex still or even a moving image, the events that occurred long ago in a particular area, concerning certain bodily remains, etc. For instance the spell could take you back into time (figuratively speaking) to see events that had occurred long in the past, such as making you privy to a particular conversation, an event in the life of a person long dead, to witness a long forgotten or unrecorded (or even an historical) event so that you could view such things occurring for yourself. These would be very different spells from something like Speak with Dead because you would be an observer and witness, not a conversant, and such results would not be limited to mere third party descriptions but rather you would be a first hand, though passive, observer.

2. RECONSTRUCTION SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over an area of building or object and that allows you to see that area or building or object as it looked at another period (of the past), say at the point of its making or shaping or construction. Via the use of such an enchantment you could see a building as it is designed and constructed, an object as it is manufactured, or perhaps even several different time periods (in sequence or simultaneously overlain against one another) and their interactions, tracing the construction or object through time to several different time-points to gain detailed information about its history.

3. REENACTMENT SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over a large area or maybe a specific person or set of remains that allows one to view, hear, feel, taste, smell, and magically touch the reenactment of a famous battle, an unknown war, the forging of a weapon, a day in the life or an individual, or even the vision, trance, or dream of another individual or creature. The emphasis here would not be merely upon the gathering of information or the witnessing of an event, but more directly upon a sort of shared (or in this case reenacted/relived) past experience. Perhaps such a spell would actually allow you to become another person, another creature, or even an inanimate (but magically aware) object for a certain period of time.

4. RECREATION SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour upon a particular object, building, device, etc. that can recreate a visual, interactive image of the same. Higher levels spells of this type can actually recreate a physically real or similar mock-up of the original object based upon the information gathered from the object remains by the initial glamour. Still higher level spells can recreate usable approximations of even formerly magical objects (though the magic contained in the reconstructed objects may be limited) and the very highest level such recreation spells can even recreate working (though not necessarily magical in any way) models of previously lost artifacts and relics (assuming there are any remains left for the glamour to read).

5. PROJECTION SPELLS – One of the other types of spells would have to be enacted first, but, once that was done, and using the information or experiences gathered from that initial set of magics a spell caster could then seek to work a secondary set of spells that would allow one to project what would happen in the future regarding one’s chosen target or set of targets. For instance say you were in an existing castle, you could then use a projection spell to analyze and predict how it might fall to ruins, what part of the construction would be destroyed, what parts preserved, why, and by what agencies of destruction or even of renovation or preservation.

As I said above I will not enumerate the specific spells I have developed using these categories or ideas of magical effects because I don’t want to limit your imagination to my conceptions. I think every DM or player or writer ought to develop their own ideas regarding the specifics of this concept.

However I will say this, that when it comes to the operations of “magic” in my own milieus and worlds and writings every use of magic is at least tinged, and sometimes heavily tainted, with the possibility of danger, misdirection, and even failure and misfire. For instance considering the spell types above perhaps the information gleaned from such a spell will be entirely accurate, then again perhaps the work will be only partially accurate, or even mostly inaccurate. Perhaps the caster intends to see an image of one particular fortification or construction site and what he actually sees is an entirely different site. Perhaps the spell will fail entirely (with no discernable consequence or with great and dire consequence). Perhaps the spell will erroneously mix information from several different objects together and produce an amalgam of an object that does not really exist. Perhaps the spell will cause a “Rogue Projection” that will attempt to divine or even produce an unanticipated future rather than accurately display the past. Or perhaps the spell will draw the unwanted attention of some dangerous creature or being that is monitoring or warding the intended target.

The dangers surrounding the use of such magics, as with the use of any such game or fictional magic, could be nearly inexhaustible.

And I fully encourage such dangers, just as I encourage the dangers inherent in the use of any magic.

Magic is, after all, not science. And it should not operate like science. Even when it closely mimics the basic functions of science and technology (as in the case of the “spells” described above), it should be remain essentially separate and distinct in operational methods and in general nature.

For even if magic yields an essentially scientific purpose this does not mean that it should in any way reproduce a technological outcome or result.

It should always remain dangerous, rare, unpredictable, mysterious, and “magical.”

Otherwise it is mere science under another name

11 BETTER

11 ways to be a better roleplayer, the Safe for Work version

This is the “safe” version of the 11 ways text with all the rude bits removed if you want to share it with someone who’s upset by profanity.The original rude version, complete with swear words, is available here.

ONE. Do stuff.
Job One for you as a player is to do stuff; you should be thinking, at all times – “What are my goals? And what can I do to achieve them?” You are the stars of a very personal universe, and you are not going to get anywhere by sitting on your butt and waiting for adventure to come and knock on your door.
Investigate stuff. Ask questions. Follow leads. No-one needs you to point out that this is an obvious plot thread while you do it. Mix up scenes, talk to people, get up in their grill. If you’re not playing the sort of character that would do such a thing, find something you can affect, and affect it.
If you keep finding yourself pushed to the back of scenes and twiddling your thumbs – why is such a boring character hanging around with the sort of people that Get Stuff Done?
Be active, not passive. If you learn nothing else from this article, bloody learn this.

TWO. Realise that your character does not exist outside of the things you have said.
You can write as many pages of backstory as you like, mate, but they don’t factor in one bit to the game unless you show them happening. Are you a shrewd businessman? Cool. Do some business, shrewdly, in front of everyone else. Are you a hot jazz saxophonist? Play the saxophone. Are you a wild elf struggling through social interactions with civilised people? Struggle through those interactions! Don’t go off and sit in a tree!
This ties back into the first point, really; you only exist through your actions. It is not the responsibility of other players to read your backstory, and their characters cannot read minds. Well. Some of them can, but you know what I mean. They shouldn’t have to.
So display your talents, your traits, your weaknesses, your connections. Take every opportunity to show, and not tell, the other people at the table what your character is about.

THREE. Don’t try to stop things.
Negating another player’s actions is fairly useless play; it takes two possible story-changing elements and whacks them against each other so hard that neither of them works. For example, your fighter wants to punch some jerk, but your monk’s against it, so he grabs the fighter’s hand. In game terms, nothing’s happened. All you’ve done is waste time, and we don’t have infinite supplies of that.
Instead, go with the flow. Build. If the fighter wants to break someone’s nose, what happens after that? Does your monk rush to help the jerk up? To admonish the fighter? To apologise to the jerk’s friends, before shit really kicks off? To save the fighter in the big brawl that ensues, even though he was going against your will? Or to throw the biggest guy in the tavern right at him, to really teach him a lesson? Those are all examples of interesting stories. Stopping him from doing anything whatsoever isn’t.
Don’t negate, extrapolate. (See, that rhymes, so it’s easier to remember)

FOUR. Take full control of your character.
“My character wouldn’t do that” is a boring excuse, a massive NO to the game’s story on a fundamental level. It’s a point-blank refusal to participate.
Instead of being bound by pre-conceived notions of what your character would and would not do, embrace complications and do it, but try to work out why. Why is your Rogue doing this mission for the church? Does he have ulterior motives? Is it out of a sense of companionship with the rest of the party? Characters in uncomfortable situations are the meat and drink of drama.
(Do you remember that great story about that hobbit who told Gandalf to go away, and sat at home picking his hairy toes all day before his entire village was swallowed up by the armies of darkness? No. No you bloody don’t. So put on your backpack and get out there, Frodo)
If you keep finding yourself having to explain your actions, or not wanting to go along with group decisions because of your character’s motives… well, maybe your character’s motives are wrong. They’re not written in stone. The group’s the thing, not your snowflake character, and if they’re not working, drop them off at the next village and maybe try playing someone more open to new ideas. Maybe work with the group to build a character that fits in.
Your character is part of the story; this is not your character’s story.

FIVE. Don’t harm other players.
Oh ho, here’s a jolly thief that nicks stuff from the other party members! And their Sleight of Hand roll is so high that no-one will ever notice! Gosh, what a jape.
No-one likes that guy. (That guy generally plays Kender, and I am fully of the opinion that Kender should be promptly genocided out of all RPGs. I don’t think genocide is a crime if we’re talking about Kender.) If you steal from other players, you are exerting power over them in a really messy, underhanded sort of way. If they find out, what are they going to do? Are you going to force them to escalate? Is it fair if they kill you for it? Is that fun for them?
Similarly, attacking other players is awful, too. I’m okay with this where systems fully support and encourage this, of course – something like Paranoia or Dogs in the Vineyard – but, hey, give it a rest. I am hard-pressed to think of a way where such a thing improves the game; if your group is fine with it, discuss it beforehand. But keep me out of it.
There are a whole load of things out there to steal from and beat up and kill that won’t get offended when you do it to them, so go bother them first.

SIX. Know the system, don’t be a jerk about it.
If you know a system, you are easier to GM for, because you know your character’s limitations. You can calculate the rough odds of a particular action succeeding or failing, just like in real life. You can make prompt assessments of situations and act accordingly, because you understand the rules of the world.
(New players, of course, get a free pass on this one. But do make an effort to learn the rules, obviously, if you’re keen on sticking around in the hobby.)
But for the love of God, don’t rules-lawyer. Do not do that. It is not hard to work out, because here is a simple guide – if you are arguing over a rule for more than twenty seconds, you are a rules lawyer. You are the Health and Safety Inspector of roleplaying games, and you need to stop talking, because you are sucking the fun out of the game.
There are times when the rules are wrong, and that’s fine, but I’m hard-pressed to think of that time the guy remembered the rule and we all laughed and had a great time because he made the GM change it.

SEVEN. Give the game your attention. If you can’t give your full attention, step away from the table.

Hey! What’s that you’re playing, on your phone there? Oh, is it Candy Crush Saga? That’s funny, all these dice and character sheets gave me the impression that we were playing Dungeons and Bloody Dragons, I must be terribly mistaken.
It is hard to think of a way to be more dismissive of someone’s game than playing a different game during it. If you find yourself getting so bored by what’s going on you’re resorting to playing a game on your phone, or reading a book, or checking Facebook, then step away from the game. You are draining the group with your very presence. I would rather have an empty chair than someone who wasn’t paying attention, because I don’t have to entertain an empty chair.
And of course, it’s up to the GM to offer an entertaining game. This is not one-sided. But going back to point one, act whenever you can. Give them something to work with. Unless you’re paying them money to do this, they are under no obligation to dance like a monkey for you just because they’re behind the screen.

EIGHT. If you make someone uncomfortable, apologise and talk to them about it.
I have a rule in my games, and that rule is: “Nothing has sex with anything else.” Simple. Clean. Elegant. No sexual conduct; it’s weird, often. I’ve had seduction attempts, obviously, and that’s fine. I’ve had characters deeply affected by sexual assault. But, and this is the crucial thing here, nothing had sex with anything else “onscreen.”
In situations like the ones we find ourselves in on a weekly basis, it’s easy to make people feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s as blatant as discussing dead babies; maybe it’s something much more benign, like being rude or chatting them up in-character.
If you think you might have upset someone, then ask ‘em, quietly. And if you have, apologise, and stop talking about that particular thing. It’s not rocket science; that’s how existing as a functioning social human being works, and somehow because we’re pretending to be a halfling for a bit, we often forget how to do it.

So, you know, be nice. Be extra nice. No-one’s going to think any less of you for it.

NINE. Be a Storyteller.

The World of Darkness books call their GM a Storyteller, because they are very obviously unable to call a spade a spade. But they have a point; a GM is telling stories. It’s easy to forget that the players are doing that too.
So put some effort in, eh? Say some words. Develop a character voice and stance. Describe your actions. Work out a level of agency with the GM so you can chip into wider descriptions, or just make assumptions and describe it and see if it sticks. A good GM should go with what you’re saying, anyway, unless it really goes against their plan.
Similarly, brevity = soul of wit, and all that. A good GM doesn’t monologue, or have their NPCs have long discussions, or make players sit back and watch while their world plays out. So know when to shut up, and to keep your descriptions short – unless you’re an incredible storyteller, of course. But short and punchy is always better than long and flowery.

TEN. Embrace failure.
Failure can be embarrassing. I know that I get pretty het up when the dice don’t favour me – when I’ve spent ages waiting to have my turn in a large game, say, or when I’m using some special power, or when I’ve been talking a big talk for a while or described some fancy action – and I use some pretty bad language, too. And not “fun” bad language, like we all do when we’re gaming. Like threatening “is this guy okay” bad.
And that’s not cool. I need to learn to treat failure as a story branch, not a block. Why did I miss? Why didn’t my intimidation roll work? Why didn’t I pick the lock? Why was I seen? Who worked out that I’m the traitor? What other options can I explore?
Some systems build this in by default – Apocalypse World, for example – and they give you the ability to somehow affect the world whenever you roll the dice, not just fail to affect someone’s Hit Points. That’s great! We need to get ourselves into that mindset by default. We need to view failures as setbacks and explain why our character didn’t achieve their goal, and we need to understand that failure is not the end of the world.

ELEVEN. Play the game.
This is a game. This is not a challenge that exists solely in the head of your GM. This is not your character’s personal story arc. This is not your blog. This is not an excuse to chat up one of the other players. This is not a table to sit at in silence. This is a game.
We have signed up to play a game together. We are all telling a story with each other, to each other, and the story comes first. Step back from the heat of combat; step back from your character’s difficult relationship with their half-Drow mother; step back from the way that the Paladin’s player keeps stealing your dice.
This is a game. Respect the other players. Respect the story, and act in service of it. Respect that you will not always get your way, and that not getting your way can be interesting.
Do what is best for the game. Do what is best for the story. Be active! Be positive! Be interesting! Change things! If you can’t walk away at the end of the night with a good memory, with something that you could talk about in the pub in years to come, then everyone at the table has failed.

THE WRITE GAME – THE FORGE

Indeed. It has been a  seminal influence on my fictional writings, but not just upon my writings. It also greatly influenced many other things I did or am still doing in life, everything from detective work to my inventions.

I also learned a great deal about things like map-reading and ambush setting by playing D&D.

 

Photo

The playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is one of many authors to have gleaned skills from Dungeons & Dragons, now 40 years old. CreditÁngel Franco/The New York Times

When he was an immigrant boy growing up in New Jersey, the writer Junot Díaz said he felt marginalized. But that feeling was dispelled somewhat in 1981 when he was in sixth grade. He and his buddies, adventuring pals with roots in distant realms — Egypt, Ireland, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — became “totally sucked in,” he said, by a “completely radical concept: role-playing,” in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.

Playing D&D and spinning tales of heroic quests, “we welfare kids could travel,” Mr. Díaz, 45, said in an email interview, “have adventures, succeed, be powerful, triumph, fail and be in ways that would have been impossible in the larger real world.”

“For nerds like us, D&D hit like an extra horizon,” he added. The game functioned as “a sort of storytelling apprenticeship.”

Now the much-played and much-mocked Dungeons & Dragons, the first commercially available role-playing game, has turned 40. In D&D players gather around a table, not a video screen. Together they use low-tech tools like hand-drawn maps and miniature figurines to tell stories of brave and cunning protagonists such as elfish wizards and dwarfish warriors who explore dungeons and battle orcs, trolls and mind flayers. Sacks of dice and vast rule books determine the outcome of the game’s ongoing, free-form story.

Photo

Dungeons & Dragons has influenced a shelf full of writers. CreditEthan Gilsdorf

For certain writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives. As Mr. Díaz said, “It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.”

The league of ex-gamer writers also includes the “weird fiction” authorChina Miéville (“The City & the City”); Brent Hartinger (author of “Geography Club,” a novel about gay and bisexual teenagers); the sci-fi and young adult author Cory Doctorow; the poet and fiction writer Sherman Alexie; the comedian Stephen Colbert; George R. R. Martin, author of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (who still enjoys role-playing games). Others who have been influenced are television and film storytellers and entertainers like Robin Williams, Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”), Dan Harmon (“Community”) and Chris Weitz (“American Pie”).

With the release of the rebooted Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set on Tuesday, and more advanced D&D rule books throughout the summer, another generation of once-and-future wordsmiths may find inspiration in the scribbled dungeon map and the secret behind Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

Mr. Díaz, who teaches writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his first novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” was written “in honor of my gaming years.” Oscar, its protagonist, is “a role-playing-game fanatic.” Wanting to become the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien, he cranks out “10, 15, 20 pages a day” of fantasy-inspired fiction.

Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.”

And, he said, he was typically his group’s Dungeon Master, the game’s quasi-narrator, rules referee and fate giver.

The Dungeon Master must create a believable world with a back story, adventures the players might encounter and options for plot twists. That requires skills as varied as a theater director, researcher and psychologist — all traits integral to writing. (Mr. Díaz said his boyhood gaming group was “more like an improv group with some dice.”)

Sharyn McCrumb, 66, who writes the Ballad Novels series set in Appalachia, was similarly influenced, and in her comic novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun” D&D even helps solve a murder.

“I always, always wanted to be the Dungeon Master because that’s where the creativity lies — in thinking up places, characters and situations,” Ms. McCrumb said. “If done well, a game can be a novel in itself.”

What makes a D&D story different from novels and other narratives is its improvisational and responsive nature. Plotlines are decided as a group. As a D&D player, “you have to convince other players that your version of the story is interesting and valid,” said Jennifer Grouling, an assistant professor of English at Ball State University who studied D&D players for her book, “The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games.”

If a Dungeon Master creates “a boring world with an uninteresting plot,” she said, players can go in a completely different direction; likewise, the referee can veto the action of player. “I think D&D can help build the skills to work collaboratively and to write collaboratively,” she added. (Mr. Díaz called this the “social collaborative component” of D&D.)

Ms. Grouling also cited “a sense of control over stories” as a primary reason people like role-playing games. “D&D is completely in the imagination and the rules are flexible — you don’t have the same limitations” of fiction, or even of a programmed video game, she said. A novel is ultimately a finished thing, written, edited and published, its story set in stone. In D&D, the plot is always fluid; anything can happen.

The playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, 44, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” said D&D “harkens back to an incredibly primitive mode of storytelling,” one that was both “immersive and interactive.” The Dungeon Master resembles “the tribal storyteller who gathers everyone around the fire to tell stories about heroes and gods and monsters,” he said. “It’s a live, communal event, where anything can happen in the moment.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire said planning D&D adventures was “some of the very first writing that I did.” And the game taught him not just about plot but also about character development.

Playing D&D has also benefited nonfiction writers. “Serving as Dungeon Master helped me develop a knack for taking the existing elements laid out by the game and weaving them into a coherent narrative,” said Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic and author of “My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind.” “And yet you were constrained by the rules of the D&D universe, which in journalism translates into being constrained by the available, knowable facts.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire agreed that fictional worlds need rules. “For a story to be satisfying, an audience needs to understand how the world works,” he said. “ ‘The Hunger Games’ is a perfect example of: ‘O.K., these are the rules of this world, now go! Go play in that world.’ ”

Over and over again, Ms. Grouling said, tabletop role players in her survey compared their gaming experience to “starring in their own movies or writing their own novels.”

As for Mr. Díaz, “Once girls entered the equation in a serious way,” he said, “gaming went right out the window.” But he said he still misses D&D’s arcane pleasures and feels its legacy is still with him: “I’m not sure I would have been able to transition from reader to writer so easily if it had not been for gaming.”

THE TRIGGERING OF THE HUMAN IMAGINATION – LOST LIBRARY

Recently I have undertaken a new career (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, an additional career) as a fiction writer. My background as an author is as a non-fiction writer, primarily dealing with such subjects as business, science, and technical matters. Although on occasion, often for private clients and sometimes just to pursue my own interests, I write analytical, white, and theory papers on everything from military and law enforcement matters to educational techniques to religious subjects.

But, as I said, now I am embarking upon a new or supplementary career as a fiction writer. Last night, while reclining in bed, and reading a fiction story before sleeping, it occurred to me that the author was very good as describing some scenes (thereby easily provoking my imagination to work “independently” of the actual words used to construct the scene) and at other times the author did a very poor job of description and my imagination had to work very hard, or was confused as to exactly what the author was describing. (The author was Michael Moorcock.)

I went to sleep and later awoke about 0500 hours from a dream, and then an idea suddenly occurred to me about what had triggered the dream. (I didn’t connect my dream directly to the story Moorcock had written but it had triggered an “oblique set of imaginings” which I thought were related to some of the ideas expressed in the story.) After I was awake about fifteen minutes or so replaying the dream through my mind it occurred to me that many authors, as well as others, such as really good playwrights, poets, filmmakers, graphic or visual artists (I had recently taken my children to see one of the largest collections of Sacred and Italian and Spanish Gothic and Renaissance Art in the entire nation, and most all of the works were both highly symbolic, and fantastically beautiful), even inventors, scientists, and religious leaders often express their ideas in such a way as to have a great and lasting impact upon the imagination of the consumer. (I am using the term consumer here to represent any partaker or user of such services, products, information, or ideas as are being now discussed.)

And herein lies the seed of my theory. That there are certain techniques that writers, artists, inventors, etc. use that are capable of triggering the imagination of the listener, audience, or observer in such a way that the imagination of the consumer is expanded to such a degree that it becomes heavily provoked, and can then operate almost entirely independently on similar matters (if not indeed completely independently) of whatever the original trigger that had initially produced it.

Using a writer as an example of my intent, for instance, certain authors are so good at description, that they can create an image in the mind of many readers that even when the reader completes reading the description or has finished the work, there lingers a sort of lasting or almost semi-permanent impression of (and on) the imagination, that is not static and calcified, but is rather “alive,” flexible, and on-going. A sort of Living and On-Going After-Image that is not static, but is fluid and almost vital. The images and impressions made by the work do not die out with the reading of the last word, or by finishing the book, but rather they “carry on” almost as if they had created a sub-rosan or virtual reality within the mind and psyche of the consumer or the partaker. And this new and virtual mind-reality is likewise not limited to the breadth, depth, or scope of the original subject matter of the work, but rather one type of imagining or image activates numerous others in a long and continuing chain of triggered imaginary impulses, the limits of which are constrained only by the inventiveness, potentialities, and desires of the particular consumer in question.

As a side note I should also mention that I am not using the term Virtual to imply something that lacks reality, as much as to represent something that has not as of yet become imminently real, but could very well become empirically real when imagination is determinedly and ambitiously combined with actual work and concentrated effort. (Now of course a badly executed or ill-conceived effort of work, imagination, or description may leave the consumer either highly confused as to what exactly the author meant by virtue of his description, or may lead the consumer completely away from the actual intent of the author, or may simply provoke a feeling of disinterest or “dullness” on the part of the consumer, triggering within him not sustained and powerful imaginings, but rather impressions of distraction, or a shallowness that can only be indicative of a total lack of interest and respect for the work in question and what it produces.)

But my theory (and my theory is not new, I am sure, but I am seeking a sort of specialized or different application of it) is that while there are certainly defective techniques of the act of describing or envisioning a thing that lead to a failure to spur on the imagination of the consumer, that miscarry the attempt to create a “virtual reality” of the mind through the lacking exertion(s) of a peculiar creator, there are also techniques that rarely fail to produce the sort of positive effects that I am discussing here in respect to the imagination.

That is to say if there are techniques that fail in the cause of provoking and exciting and expanding upon the capabilities of the imagination of the consumer, then there are obviously other and more intense techniques, which will, more often than not, have the desired effect of expounding upon, elucidating, enlarging, edifying, and invigorating (perhaps permanently) the imagination of the consumer. Techniques that can help to create a sort of “perpetual inner motion” of the imagination, and that will have effects far beyond and far exceeding the actual individual triggers or spurs that were used in producing this state of affairs.

(Now, for purposes of this discussion, I am not going to really address the receptivity or state of internal agreement that any particular consumer feels toward the subject matter he is consuming. That is outside the bounds of what I am discussing, and in any case there is very little, practically speaking, that any creator can do to control the state of receptivity on the part of the consumer. The creator can use the best techniques possible, and undertake his or her work in the most crafty and acute manner by which he is able, but he cannot control the inner state of receptivity on the part of the consumer. That is almost entirely the duty or the affair of the individual consumer of information. If someone else wants to discuss this issue of information dispersal versus information receptivity, then feel free, but as for me, and at this moment, I intend to avoid the issue as a momentary distraction to the other more important points at hand.)

It also occurred to me this morning, after teaching my classes, that the same sort of thing happens in Role Play Gaming, and that moreover in such an environment such “triggering of the human imagination” is often a corporate act, as much as an act of the creator of the plot, storyline, and/or milieu being explored. (And if indeed it is an act of both the corporate and individual imagination, then this in itself might be an important clue towards the feasibility and dynamic nature of important methods of “imaginative triggering.”) That being the case it seemed to me that this website and blog would be the perfect place to solicit further ideas for this discussion. And that a discussion of role-play techniques and methods geared specifically towards the architecture of imagination might yield vital and important clues towards even larger issues of the mind and visionary invention.

Now there may indeed be, and I very much suspect that indeed there are, more or less Universal Techniques and Methods for the “triggering of the human imagination” in the way in which I am framing the issue. (Techniques that may vary in application according to media type, or in discipline or field of endeavor, but are still interchangeable in intent and basis of intended achievement.) However let’s put that possibility aside for the moment and work at the problem inductively.

Let me ask the question(s) very simply in this way: What techniques or methods do you employ as a DM (or even as a player), adventure writer, milieu creator, writer, songwriter, inventor, and so forth that seem to you to “trigger the human imagination” in a very intense and enduring fashion? So that your work takes on a “virtual life of its own in the mind of your consumers,” and/or so that it continues to excite your consumers long after the actual act of the game is concluded? And how do you go about employing such techniques on a consistent basis in order to repeat these effects in a systematic and continuing manner?

I’m looking forward to your answers, ideas, opinions, and speculations…

THE ABILITY HOARD – AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY ON PERSONAL AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Fourteen: The Ability Hoard

THE ABILITY HOARD – AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY ON PERSONAL AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

When it comes to my own characters (be they fictional or gaming) and even the players and characters I DM I think of Skills, Capabilities, Abilities, Attributes, (innate personal and individual features) and so forth as much more important character elements and possessions than magic items, spells, money, and other types of what is normally thought of as “standard treasures.”

To me the single greatest types of treasures a character (or a real person) can possess are what they can actually do for themselves (and for others) in the world, devoid of all outside help, material/materiel, and extraneous accoutrements. So I’m going to call this idea and post the Ability-Hoard, or the Treasure of Personal Capacity. I think that this is where the true emphasis of “characterization” should be evident, and most brightly shine.

Let me, at this point, briefly define the Ability Hoard.

The Ability Hoard is that accumulated set of skills, talents, abilities, capabilities, extraordinary qualities (be they physical, mental, psychological, or spiritual), educational and individual merits, virtues, and sensory capacities that a character or person possesses which allows them to resolve difficult problems or to gain some beneficial advantage over others or over a particular set of circumstances.

Now I realize that this may be an entirely personal opinion, or at least very probably a minority opinion, but to me the Ability Hoard (similar to the poetic term Word-Hoard in this respect), be that in a fictional world, a gaming environment, or in Real Life is by far the greatest wealth a person may possess, and as such accumulating and developing and increasing your own Ability Hoard is of paramount importance to both your success in this world (or in any fictional world) and to your favorable development as an individual.

(At least in the gaming world, it has been my observation, and far too often in the Real World, possessions, especially powerful and valuable possessions seem to consume much of the emphasis and interest in any setting. However the Ability Hoard is not only a treasure and a possession in its own right, it is the one possession you own which actually allows you to grow and multiply all of your other possessions – be they physical, financial, material, mental, psychological, or otherwise.)

Thus in my opinion, whether you are speaking of gaming or Real Life a person’s Ability Hoard is their Chief and True Treasure, and the one source of wealth that is never subject to theft or plunder by another. (Unless, of course, you intentionally allow some particular element of your Ability Hoard to be stolen by another.)

I will return to the idea of the Ability Hoard in later posts, because for one thing, it constitutes a vital and fundamental part of my Games of Personal Advancement and Development series. For now, however, I just wish to introduce the concept.

In closing, what is your opinion – is a character’s or an individual’s Ability Hoard their single greatest source of treasure, or do you consider some other form of treasure a more valuable possession?

THE TRIGGERING OF THE HUMAN IMAGINATION

Recently I have undertaken a new career (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, an additional career) as a fiction writer. My background as an author is as a non-fiction writer, primarily dealing with such subjects as business, science, and technical matters. Although on occasion, often for private clients and sometimes just to pursue my own interests, I write analytical, white, and theory papers on everything from military and law enforcement matters to educational techniques to religious subjects.

But, as I said, now I am embarking upon a new or supplementary career as a fiction writer. Last night, while laying in bed, and reading a fiction story before sleeping it occurred to me that the author was very good as describing some scenes (thereby easily provoking my imagination to work “independently” of the actual words used to construct the scene) and at other times the author did a very poor job of description and my imagination had to work very hard, or was confused as to exactly what the author was describing. (The author was Moorcock.)

I went to sleep and later awoke about 0500 hours from a dream, and then an idea suddenly occurred to me about what had triggered the dream. (I didn’t connect my dream directly to the story Moorcock had written but it had triggered an “oblique set of imaginings” which I thought were related to some of the ideas expressed in the story.) After I was awake about fifteen minutes or so replaying the dream through my mind it occurred to me that many authors, as well as others, such as really good playwrights, poets, filmmakers, graphic or visual artists (I had recently taken my children to see one of the largest collections of Sacred and Italian and Spanish Gothic and Renaissance Art in the entire nation, and most all of the works were both highly symbolic, and fantastically beautiful), even inventors, scientists, and religious leaders often express their ideas in such a way as to have a great and lasting impact upon the imagination of the consumer. (I am using the term consumer here to represent any partaker or user of such services, products, information, or ideas as are being now discussed.)

And herein lies the seed of my theory. That there are certain techniques that writers, artists, inventors, etc. use that are capable of triggering the imagination of the listener, audience, or observer in such a way that the imagination of the consumer is expanded to such a degree that it becomes heavily provoked, and can then operate almost entirely independently (if not indeed completely independently) of whatever the original trigger that had initially produced it.

Using a writer as an example of my intent, for instance, certain authors are so good at description, that they can create an image in the mind of many readers that even when the reader completes reading the description or has finished the work, there lingers a sort of lasting or almost semi-permanent impression of (and on) the imagination, that is not static and calcified, but is rather “alive,” flexible, and on-going. The images and impressions made by the work do not die out with the reading of the last word, or by finishing the book, but rather they “carry on” almost as if they had created a sub-rosan or virtual reality within the mind and psyche of the consumer or the partaker. And this new and virtual mind-reality is likewise not limited to the breadth, depth, or scope of the original subject matter of the work, but rather one type of imagining or image activates numerous others in a long and continuing chain of triggered imaginary impulses, the limits of which are constrained only by the inventiveness, potentialities, and desires of the particular consumer in question. As a side note I should also mention that I am not using the term Virtual to imply something that lacks reality, as much as to represent something that has not as of yet become imminently real, but could very well become empirically real when imagination is determinedly and ambitiously combined with actual work and concentrated effort. (Now of course a badly executed or ill-conceived effort of work, imagination, or description can leave the consumer either highly confused as to what exactly the author meant by virtue of his description, can lead the consumer completely away from the actual intent of the author, or can simply provoke a feeling of disinterest or “dullness” on the part of the consumer, triggering within him not sustained and powerful imaginings, but rather impressions of distraction, or a shallowness that can only be indicative of a total lack of interest and respect for the work in question and what it produces.

But my theory (and my theory is not new, I am sure, but I am seeking a sort of specialized or different application of it) is that while there are certainly defective techniques of the act of describing or envisioning a thing that lead to a failure to spur on the imagination of the consumer, that miscarry the attempt to create a “virtual reality” of the mind through the lacking exertion(s) of a peculiar creator, there are also techniques that rarely fail to produce the sort of positive effects that I am discussing here in respect to the imagination.

That is to say if there are techniques that fail in the cause of provoking and exciting and expanding upon the capabilities of the imagination of the consumer, then there are obviously other and more obverse techniques, which will, more often than not, have the desired effect of expounding upon, elucidating, enlarging, edifying, and invigorating (perhaps permanently) the imagination of the consumer. Techniques that can help to create a sort of “perpetual inner motion” of the imagination, and that will have effects far beyond and far exceeding the actual individual triggers or spurs that were used in producing this state of affairs.

(Now, for purposes of this discussion, I am not going to really address the receptivity or state of internal agreement that any particular consumer feels toward the subject matter he is consuming. That is outside the bounds of what I am discussing, and in any case there is very little, practically speaking, that any creator can do to control the state of receptivity on the part of the consumer. The creator can use the best techniques possible, and undertake his or her work in the most crafty and acute manner by which he is able, but he cannot control the inner state of receptivity on the part of the consumer. That is almost entirely the duty or the affair of the individual consumer of information. If someone else wants to discuss this issue of information dispersal versus information receptivity, then feel free, but as for me, and at this moment, I intend to avoid the issue as a momentary distraction to the other more important points at hand.)

It also occurred to me this morning, after teaching my classes, that the same sort of thing happens in Role Play Gaming, and that moreover in such an environment such “triggering of the human imagination” is often a corporate act, as much as an act of the creator of the plot, storyline, and/or milieu being explored. (And if indeed it is an act of both the corporate and individual imagination, then this in itself might be an important clue towards the feasibility and dynamic nature of important methods of “imaginative triggering.”) That being the case it seemed to me that this website and forum would be the perfect place to solicit further ideas for this discussion. And that a discussion of role-play techniques and methods geared specifically towards the architecture of imagination might yield vital and important clues towards even larger issues of the mind and visionary invention.

Now there may indeed be, and I very much suspect that indeed there are, more or less Universal Techniques and Methods for the “triggering of the human imagination” in the way in which I am framing the issue. (Techniques that may vary in application according to media type, or in discipline or field of endeavor, but are still interchangeable in intent and basis of intended achievement.) However let’s put that possibility aside for the moment and work at the problem inductively.

Let me ask the question(s) very simply in this way: What techniques or methods do you employ as a DM (or even as a player), adventure writer, milieu creator, and so forth that seems to you to “trigger the human imagination” in a very intense and enduring fashion? So that your work takes on a “virtual life of its own in the mind of your consumers,” and/or so that it continues to excite your consumers long after the actual act of the game is concluded? And how do you go about employing such techniques on a consistent basis in order to repeat these effects in a systematic and continuing manner?

I’m looking forward to your answers, ideas, opinions, and speculations…

THE CIVILIAN, THE INNOCENT, AND THE NON-COMBATANT IN WAR

It’s an interesting theory of war and I think it is at least partially true. Especially from the pragmatic standpoint. I rarely argue against pragmatism or practicality.

But I strongly and truthfully suspect the whole issue is far more complicated than that. For instance, psychologically, and this is especially true once Christian ideals get fully embedded in a society (rather than a society just formally accepts Christianity as a state-religion), most soldiers (truer as time progresses, but especially true of the West) have no desire to kill or harm a civilian, innocent, or non-combatant.

Yes, pragmatically you’re wasting much needed resources and both tactical and strategic advantage by attacking non-combatants, but also, psychologically, you feel it immoral and evil to do so if it can be avoided at all. I know I do.

I would also feel it immoral to attack a combatant who has truly surrendered (rather than just making a pretense of it) or who has demonstrated they have no more desire to fight. Commiserate with that I would have no desire to kill a prisoner of war, or any helpless prisoner. To me all of those things are simultaneously entirely un-Christian and highly unmanly.

Why do we spare civilians in war?

October 13, 2014 – 06:23

Neither compassion nor charity were the reasons why Western soldiers spared enemy civilians in war, new Danish research shows.

Soldiers relaxing in a village. They are not popular among the residents, who may have been citizens of an enemy territory. (Painting by Adam Albrecht)

Soldiers get killed in war. That’s the way it is.

But it hurts us more when people not in uniform lose their lives, despite the fact that a soldier who gets killed just as well can be someone’s boyfriend, son, father, daughter or best friend — just as any civilian.

So why do we actually distinguish between soldiers and civilians? Gunner Lind, Professor of History at the Saxo Institute of the University of Copenhagen, has found answers to this question.

“Soldiers easily got into difficulties using their energy to fight civilians. So the practice was introduced, according to which soldiers would do their best not to harm civilians who refrained from taking part in acts of war,” says Professor Lind.

The military historian has presented his research in a new book, ‘Civilians at War’, in which a number of Danish and international researchers have examined the development of the concept ‘civilian’ from the 16th century up until our modern era. His research begins at a time when the brutality and customs of war of medieval times still applied.

“We all have the impression that the Middle Ages were extremely violent and that’s not far from the truth. The level of violence was really high,” says Lind.

Rules of law laid down by church father

In the Middle Ages everybody carried a weapon. Peasants might not have had swords but they had daggers or axes which they used for their work on the farm.

Conflicts in the form of rebellion, feuds or actual war could arise out of the blue because violence was a tool everyone used. When the state or a squire entered into a feud they would gather local peasants, who would bring along their own weapons. In addition to this, a warlord could hire professional warriors and draw on the services of the nobility, who had spent their youth training in the art of war.

Learned Christians and those in power in medieval society saw it as quite legitimate to go to war, despite the moral imperative of the Biblical Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not kill”.

Augustine of Hippo, also known as Saint Augustine or Saint Austin, who lived in the fourth and fifth century A.D., asserted that there was such a thing as just war, in which Christians could legitimately be involved.

Christians: you may kill, but spare the innocent

Killing in a just war could be justified if one’s adversaries had committed a grave injustice, such as declaring war on, or threatening the lives of, Christians. This was the reason for the preliminary declaration of war in 1095 which led to 200 years of crusades against Muslims.

Among adversaries, however, there would theoretically always be innocents who had nothing to do with the grave injustice committed, and it was deemed that they should be spared by the warring parties.

Was anyone automatically innocent? For instance women or children?

“Children, yes. But women — we can’t be sure of that,” says the historian.

He explains that women had little influence in the society of the day, and children absolutely none whatsoever. The Christian thinkers of the day, however, disagreed as to how innocent women actually were in war, and some held the belief that women could be held to account for an adversary’s unjust actions and thus be held responsible.

Professor Lind does not think the concept had much significance in practice. It was not possible, for instance, to keep a town under siege without its children suffering as a result. Hunger and disease invariably followed in the wake of a siege…

WISLIC’S MARGINALIA

I very much enjoy this blog. I recommend it: WISLIC

Marginalia—Book Doodles as Works of Art

Ever look at the format of older books? After you pick up a handful, you’ll likely realize that compared to modern novels, there was a lot of white space in the margins.

This was commonplace in the days of letterpress printing, and likely a necessity of the process. But even before movable type, when books were completely transcribed, there was quite a wide margin between the end of the text and the end of the page. Interestingly enough, monks would often fill this space up too; not just with text, captions or footnotes, but also with works of art.

In an ancient manuscript of Homer’s Iliad, the famous “A scholia” contained commentaries that are, in part, some of the most fundamental sources of information on poems pertaining to the Matter of Rome.Marginalia’s a bit of a lost art form these days, reserved for Mad Magazine and high school textbooks, but its history is both fascinating and impressive.

Some of the first known markings to be found inside transcribed book margins were old scholion, kind of your ancient-world footnote. They contained translation notes, contextual references and sometimes a scribe’s personal reflections on the text he was working on.

And remember, printing was a much bigger deal before the printing press, so you’ll often find corrections inside the margins of books that date farther back.

Some of these have become extremely important throughout the ages. In an ancient manuscript of Homer’s Iliad, the famous “A scholia” contained commentaries that are, in part, some of the most fundamental sources of information on poems pertaining to the Matter of Rome.

For more modern examples, you should probably turn to Edgar Allen Poe, who’s sometimes attributed to coining “marginalia” as a term. He was also a big proponent of marking up books as a reader…

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN: WHERE HAS ALL THE HISTORY GONE? PART ONE

Essay Nine: Where Has All the History Gone?
On Heirlooms, Legacies, and Inheritances, Part One

Synopsis: Heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances form a vital part of human history and culture. Yet they are often overlooked or ignored either intentionally or unintentionally in game, milieu, and character development to the detriment of the overall game design. Heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances should take their natural place in-game as important and fundamental aspects of game and character development in role-play games.

This essay is part of the series’ Essays on Game Design. It is, however, like the short essay, Where Has All the Magic Gone, too broad in scope to be presented within the boundaries of that other thread. So I have instead posted it here as a separate thread.

Interactive Essay – This thread is also an Interactive Essay. See link for an explanation of what this means.

CMOC_Treasures_of_Ancient_China_exhibit_-_bronze_sword
Part One: There are three aspects of human life that are common to many cultures (but most especially to most of the Western cultures and countries that were the basis of the basic idea behind the D&D fantasy game settings and milieus) throughout the world that I think are conspicuously missing in many fantasy role play games. These three aspects of human life (and it seems to me that at least one of these absent aspects would likely also be common to Western based non-human fantasy races, such as Elves and Dwarves) missing from the game are those very things so often mentioned in both real world history, and in folk and fairy tales, legend, and myth. Those three things are what we today call heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances.

Now not all three seem to be missing from every fantasy based role playing game (though most all are missing to some degree from most such games), and indeed heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances could be equally applied as important factors in Pulp games, Western games, Sci-Fi games, Mystery and Horror games, and even to some extent Detective and Military and/or Espionage based games. But in the field of fantasy, at the very least, things like heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances should be stressed as a far more important general aspect of role play gaming, not to mention general character development than is currently the case. Because in real life people often passed between different generations, not to mention among various same generation family members and friends and associates, heirloom objects, matters of personal and family legacy, and inheritances (due to premature death by war, exploration, accident, misadventure, or disease) as a common matter of course and cultural practice. (At this point I won’t even mention things like family and personal blessings and birthrights, but they too weigh as a form of inheritance or legacy. And such things as these were often of extreme importance to our ancestors. More so often than physical inheritances.)

However, in fantasy gaming these important aspects of human life and relationship are often entirely missing from personal matters of (character) interaction, or perhaps more importantly from the developmental background of how characters become created, established and are evolved. Think to your own family for just a moment, especially if you live in most Western cultures (thought that is definitely not a necessary precondition), and ask yourself, have you or another family member not directly received, benefited from, or befitted yourself from the legacy, inheritances, or heirloom objects of your family and ancestors?

It is as if, in most fantasy games, a character is considered pre-developed with no history but his individual self, as if he or she sprang like Athena from the forehead of Zeus without any prior progeneration or ancestral ties, responsibilities, or inheritance of any kind. Without a real background, or relationship to their own historical legacy. Yet even Athena inherited the Aegis. Even she drew wisdom, insight, and wealth from her father’s legacy. But for most fantasy based gaming characters it is as if the common and assumed practice of character creation is of a person completely devoid of family history, inheritance, legacy, and background. In all practical effect orphaned by and within the world they inhabit. And with nothing of real value to effectively describe and define their past.

Yes, I am aware that character creation often considers or expresses a sort of loosely sketched and generalized “background story.” At least in theory or in part. Meaning that I, the character, came from this or that town, had this or that general background, my parents may have been named so and so, and I may have an older brother or sister. But that is usually the extent of character background development (at least initially so, and in many games), aside from the usual gaming demands of establishing the attributes of Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, or whatever (other) abilities are practiced and measured in-game. But little, if any, attention is ever given to matters such as “what was passed on to me by my family or friends,” “what did I inherit of importance,” or “what was the legacy left me by my family, for good or ill, or for both?” Indeed I could find no mention at all of the terms heirloom, legacy, or inheritance in any of the First Edition, Third Edition, or Fourth Edition D&D books (I cannot speak about Second Edition having never played it, but the other editions are, I think it would be agreed the basic framework of what are usually considered the most important or at least most popular fantasy RPGs), a seemingly strange omission if one stops to think but a moment on the matter. And in only a couple of cases were concerns involving heirlooms, legacies, or inheritances even vaguely, briefly, or indirectly mentioned or implied in relationship to character, setting, or game creation and development.

(I fully understand that many individual games and settings, such as private homebrew efforts, do consider play aspects such as heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances. And that is well and good. However such factors are rarely considered systematically even in individual settings or milieus, and in this case I am not really talking about individual settings or private homebrew efforts. I am encouraging game developers and writers to include these important aspects of human, and likely demi-human, cultures and societies within the formal structure of their work. That is, as a matter of real and inherent game structure. For indeed as both Medieval and Modern societies often show considerable considerations regarding heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances of great family, clan, personal, legal, societal, and cultural importance it seems a strange oversight (or is that not truly more of an undersight) to omit them from the body and structure of role play games. So game writers and developers should pay far more attention to matters involving heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances than is often the case. This is true when developing games whose genres include horror, pulp, modern, historical, and especially fantasy elements or settings. However even gaming genres involving historical war gaming and science fiction could probably benefit either directly or indirectly by the inclusion of elements regarding heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances.)

How many oral accounts and written records in human culture, how many folk tales, fictional stories, legends, and myths are built specifically around matters dealing with these important expressions of human life? Frodo inherits the heirloom of the One Ring, Arthur inherits the heirloom of Excalibur (not to mention his family legacy, which is then passed on to others), Harry Potter inherits his family’s dark past and future hope, the Sagas and Eddas are likewise filled with tales of inherited and rich objects, and so forth and so on. I could go on practically ad infinitum and ad nauseum. Need I even mention the numerous accounts of Greek and Roman (the Iliad and Odyssey, Jason and the Argonauts, the Aeneid), Scandinavian, Germanic, Celtic, Japanese, African, Indian (indeed, sources from around the world) myths and legends in which heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances play an important if not the most vital role in the development of an heroic character, clan, or culture? I could also mention numerous real world historical examples such as Attila and the Sword of War (Mars) and the White Stag, the legacy Augustus took up from Caesar, the generals who inherited the legacy of Alexander’s conquests, The Byzantine continuation of the legacies of Rome and the Orthodox church, the Muslim expansion of the legacy of ancient Greek and Roman science and engineering, the Judeo-Christian legacy and inheritance in Europe and the West, how modern societies have benefited from the inherited scientific and technological legacies and heirlooms of the past, and on and on and on I could go citing example after example. As other illustrations of my meaning in a more direct and material sense just look to the Relics and Icons of religion, the heirloom Crown Jewels of government, the civil, court, and legitimacy claims of princes and kings, and to various other physical and cultural signs of authority and asserted rights and responsibilities. Heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances abound throughout history as obvious indication of both grand and powerful physical objects, and of unresolved issues and concerns that continue to haunt men and the tribes, clans, families, societies, and cultures from which they have been generated and evolved. So, within the storied tales of myth, legend, fairy and folk tales, fiction both ancient and modern, and even within the hallowed halls of history records are replete with events in which heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances of one kind or another shape and mold the course and sweep of both the character of individual men and women, and the movement and scope of history itself.

Yet within the game it seems as if most characters spring from the air, free of, and for the most part, completely divorced from and ignorant of the responsibilities, obligations, histories, legacies, inheritances, and heirlooms that make up the treasure horde of their family, community, and/or cultural background. Character background development is usually little more than a Spartan and anemic exercise in “naming and attribute rolling.” Some in-game characters, of course, will be orphans and urchins, doomed by fate or circumstance to have become separated from their natural background and antecedents, but most will be, as in real life, the product of where, and whence, and through whom they arose. Therefore, most will carry upon their person, seen or unseen, the marks, marques, and effects of their history. They will to a large extent be who they are because of whom and what has come before them.

(I have a personal theory as to why most games approach character background development as they do, as if it is an activity quite divorced from what would actually be entirely natural among most peoples, not to mention what is divorced from historical precedent, and natural to myth, legend, and fiction. And others can discuss this somewhat separate issue among themselves in this thread if they choose to do so. However, at this point let me merely say that whatever the reason or reasons, and I suspect more than one, the important point in this thread is that with game and character creation it is not so vital a matter as to why so many RPGs tend to so often lack real substance regarding background, as it simply is that they do.)

Therefore to correct this dearth of developmental potential, this lack of character legacy and substantiality, I suggest including three (you may suggest more, I am suggesting three) new facets of character and game background and development. These three facets of background being the Heirloom, the Legacy, and the Inheritance.

THE INTERACTIVE ESSAY

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Fifteen: The Interactive Essay

The Interactive Essay

I intend one day to write a full paper on the Interactive Essay. It is a new form (or perhaps it is better described as a new composite form) of communications that I have invented and will later describe in full detail. However for the moment it is enough to say that the internet permits for the possibility of new forms of communications not previously allowed for by other, older, and more traditional means of writing and communications.

As I have already said I intend to return to this subject later, in far greater detail, and in the figure of a formal paper. So for the moment let me simply describe an interactive essay in this manner:

An Interactive Essay is an essay presented through some internet (or similar communications structure) vehicle that allows for instant interaction between the ideas presented and the consuming (reading, in this case) audience. This is similar to what happens on any message board, or forum, or interactive blog, in the fact that the audience can read and then comment upon the ideas presented. Similar in presentation but with a very different objective and outcome in mind.

In the case of the interactive essay the ideas are presented in the form of a formal essay which can then be interacted with, directly, through a number of different means. These methods of interaction include, but are not limited to, comments, criticisms, and critiques (as is usually the case with messages posted to the internet in some way), but it can also include more varied and wide-ranging types of responses. For instance the original post can trigger a counter-essay, a continuation essay, or even a parallel essay.

As a case in point the original essay can trigger a reader to write his own essay refuting the original essay. Or the original essay can trigger a reader to expound upon or expand upon the original essay in different or even numerous ways, further elucidating the original points and even making new points based upon implications not fully addressed in the original essay. Or it can trigger a reader to write a parallel essay that covers subject matter that the original essay activated within the mind of the reader but which the original essayist never himself considered or never addressed, either directly or indirectly. In the case of the essay on Where Has All of the History Gone it is possible, for instance, that some reader would take up the matter I mentioned in passing but intentionally failed to address,

“I have a personal theory as to why most games approach character background development as they do, as if it is an activity quite divorced from what would actually be entirely natural among most peoples, not to mention what is divorced from historical precedent, and natural to myth, legend, and fiction. And others can discuss this somewhat separate issue among themselves in this post if they choose to do so. However, at this point let me merely say that whatever the reason or reasons, and I suspect more than one, the important point in this post is that with game and character creation it is not so vital a matter as to why so many RPGs tend to so often lack real substance regarding background, as it simply is that they do.”

Or, perhaps, the essay made the reader think of some seemingly unrelated point that nevertheless within the mind of the reader is tangentially connected to the matter at hand. He or she therefore sets out to write a new essay of their own to compare and contrast their thoughts against the body of the original work.

Whatever the circumstances or methods of response however, some of the more important aspects of the interactive essay include the facts that the internet allows for more or less immediate response and interactivity with the original essay and essayist, that it allows for “branching off” in addressing the ideas originally presented, and that it allows for numerous and varied types of responses and counter-responses.

In this case however (with the interactive essay) I am looking to establish and build up a more formal and useful type of response pattern than is typically the case with the message post and brief response pattern or system, so that the ideas presented in the original essay, and the ideas that develop from that initial basis can be more fully, completely, and formally expanded, expounded upon, and explored. In this way a complex system of group communications can be created that is very likely to have a better chance at fully developing any given set of ideas than would be possible through the efforts of a single individual.

Though I suspect if history is any example and judge then it will always be single individuals who are likely to show the most acute genius on any given subject matter, but they are also unlikely, precisely because they are single individuals and thus limited to individual shortcomings of insight and capability, to be able to express the largest or greatest range of fully developed ideas. That is to say it is the individual who creates, and it is others (sometimes many others) who most fully later develop what was thus created.

My first attempt at an interactive essay was this one, What is Modern Fantasy Anyway? However it failed to work as intended for the obvious reasons that I was still not sure of exactly what it was I was attempting to develop, and had not at that point fully or even really described or defined my true intentions and objectives.

GAMING AS A MEANS OF UNDERSTANDING THE REAL WORLD

After many years of both observation and experimentation it has been my conclusion that the real reason games are superior to most neuroplasticity (or even educational) programs (no matter how good in design) is because games are by both design and play active and fluid, whereas most neuroplasticity and cognitive learning programs are essentially passive and static.

I don’t think it is a secret to anyone that the more you involve the body and the senses and the mind and even the soul (psuche) in conjunction with whatever subject matter is to be learned the more easily will that subject matter be later recalled and the more deeply it embeds itself into the memory.

Whether most people realize it or not most games are active tactile as well as mental in nature, and even in things like Role Play there is a huge amount of engagement with the imagination in a wide range of input fields (imagined sights and sounds and smells), not to mention the large amount of involved social interaction.

So whether it is the visual and tactile stimulation of a video or computer game, or the tactile and social and imaginative interplay involved in a role play or even a board game what is learned is much more visceral and applicable later on to the Real World. (And if you cannot carry what you learn to the Real World then what you have learned is pragmatically useless.)

Consciously or subconsciously the impressive sight and sound and the imagined impulse and acted-out (role-played) solution is a far superior problem solving exercise than is the static learning and answer format.

Games are alive in ways that most cognitive learning programs are not, and cannot be, unless radically redesigned to be directly applicable both to the Real World and to the entire human being.

So the solution to this problem is an obvious one, learning techniques that are active and tactile and sensory and that engage at problems as if they were Real (for the mind has a hard time distinguishing between reality and fantasy at the very moment of actual employment) are far superior to didactic and dialectical and other such static learning techniques.

Especially when it comes to skills mastery and skills employment gaming is far more vital and functional and efficient than mere instruction and static learning practice techniques.

That’s just the way it is.

THE SHADOW…

I think that there is actually something to be said for this observation. I have recently been studying the historical sources upon which Tolkien built Middle Earth. Tolkien was meticulous about most sources, some he greatly modified, and a few he dismissed altogether as irrelevant (though they weren’t).

But I do not think that Tolkien would have been pleased, and I certainly am not, at those who followed and how sloppily they drew upon history or changed it into fantasy altogether. Whereas Tolkien wanted fantasy that was realistic and historical as well as fantastic and mythological far too much of modern culture is built upon the opposite premise (to the detriment of modern culture): that fantasy and fiction and myth should somehow inform or even replace history.

That completely misreads fantasy, entirely disregards the whole point of good fiction and totally misunderstands myth.

Shivering in Tolkien’s shadow

Middle Earth has swallowed up our understanding of the Middle Ages

by Josephine Livingstone / July 17, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine

There’s a drawing of a smug-faced dragon on the front cover of JRR Tolkien’s newly-published translation of “Beowulf.” Its green, scaly body loops and knots into a pretzel-esque shape that medieval historians call the “interlace” pattern. You might recognise these loops from Swedish runestones, crumbling Anglo-Saxon crosses or bad tattoos.

The drawing of the dragon, however, is not actually medieval—early medieval dragons’ snouts are usually rounded, not pointy. As the copyright page explains, it is a drawing by Tolkien himself. The very dust-jacket of this new book sums up why an 88-year-old translation of an extremely old poem will sell. We don’t want to read medieval poetry, but we do want to read JRR Tolkien. “Beowulf” is only about 3,000 lines long, but it is here fatly supplemented both by Tolkien’s commentary essays and two of his works of fan-fiction, “Sellic Spell” and “The Lay of Beowulf.” These are both his original creations, inspired by—but sadly not as good as—the literature of medieval northern Europe.

Ever since The Hobbit appeared in 1937, Tolkien’s oeuvre has become a cipher for the look and feel of “medievalness.” From Monty Python’s Holy Grail to Game of Thrones, most modern depictions of the 5th to the 15th centuries in European history bear Tolkien’s distinctive mark. Today, the phrase “Middle Earth” conjures hobbit-holes, not the beautiful Old English word middangeard—the middle space between heaven and hell, where humans live out their short lives. The Lord of the Rings has grown so monumental that medieval culture shivers in its shadow.

Tolkien himself was a philologist, and one of the virtues of this translation is his respect for the source material. From sloppy journalistic articles to preposterous movie adaptations starring Ray Winstone, “Beowulf” has invited a lot of nonsense from modern people. This is not surprising, given how little we know for certain about the poem.

These are the facts: It was written down in the 10th or 11th century, but could be hundreds of years older. The manuscript is fairly hefty—about 25cm by 19cm—but looks straightforwardly like a book. Other texts in it are illustrated, but not “Beowulf.” It was singed in the fire that devastated Robert Cotton’s manuscript collection at Ashburnham House in 1731, although the text miraculously escaped destruction, aside from a few lost words. It now resides in the British Library.

“Beowulf” tells of events that take place in the deep past, not in Britain but somewhere in Scandinavia. They concern a hero named Beowulf who arrives to save a community from a monster named Grendel. He kills Grendel and then he kills Grendel’s vengeful mother. The hero becomes a king. Many years later, his kingdom is terrorised by a dragon, which he kills, but which also kills him. He dies heirless…

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN: THE BLOOD OF UNCANNY MONSTERS – PART TWO

Essay Twelve: The Blood of Uncanny Monsters* – Part Two (continued)

Synopsis: The Blood of Monsters is far more than the blood of simple animals, or the nerveless sap of tree limbs. The blood of the monster is a deep, potent, ancient, terrible thing, capable of warping the world, and either wondrously enabling, or viciously crippling and killing, the Hero. Beware the blood of the monster, and do not easily discard the tremendous potential it encloses within itself.

Essay: In this section I shall discuss some of the more actual mechanical and physical and pragmatic properties that the Blood of Uncanny Monsters will possess, or should possess.

With that in mind I am going to suggest some effects that will result from the injury, death, or shedding of the blood of uncanny monsters. Some of these effects will be light, some dramatic, some wondrous, and some terrible. Feel free to add your own ideas. This is an Interactive Essay on the notion of “Monstrosity.”

The Corpus Dejecti: First of all, let me speak about the remains or parts of a monster’s body (whether or not the creature itself has survived as a result of loss of these assets). The remains or parts of a monster are valuable because of the unique properties they bestow both upon the monster itself, and anyone else either fortunate enough, or unfortunate enough, to gain control of or contact such remains. To that end let me detail just some of the possible parts of a monster’s body that could be invaluable, a treasure in itself, or horrifically disastrous, an unshakeable and lifelong curse.

The Blood
The Brains
The Eye or eyes
The Third Eye or the Secret or Invisible Eye
The Tongue
The Horn or horns
The Scales
The Claws or nails
The Heart
The Liver
The Lung
The Glands
The Tears
The Ichor
The Tail
The Foot
The Hand
The Paw
The Snout
The Jaw
The Ear
The Tendril or Tentacle
The Wings or feathers
The Fin
The Bile
The Stolen Part
The Flesh
The Muscles
The Excretions

The prized and blood or ichor stained possessions of a monster
Each of these parts might render some beneficial aid to the possessor, or might render some monstrous curse. In the case of especially powerful or weird monsters, it might very well render both, and/or multiple effects.

In addition such tissues or remains can be prepared, modified, presented, and intentionally used (with the right knowledge) for other employments, such as:

Creating inks and parchments
Creating Book materials
Creating unique potions
Creating unique magical items
Creating technologies, machines, artifacts, and devices
Creating unique traps and tricks
Creating illusions
Creating unique spells and powers
Disrupting other things, objects, places, or events
Dispelling magics
Enhancing or disrupting miracles
Augmenting or disrupting mental or psychological powers
Augmenting or disrupting physical capabilities
Augmenting or disrupting spiritual capabilities
Invention, Design, and Craft
Summoning or turning away other monsters
Summoning or turning away the undead
Summoning or turning away demons and devils
Foreseeing possible futures
Solving puzzles
Overcoming obstacles
Developing new scripts, ciphers, and codes
Gaining control over, or freeing other creatures
Gaining control over, or freeing spirits
Communicating secretly and/or over a distance
Creating Glammors
Creating powerful blessings or curses
Making objects tough or nearly indestructible
Destroying other objects
Extending or shortening life
Curing or causing disease
Creating or controlling intense emotional states
Charming others
Exciting Love, or Hate
Allowing flight
Healing or preserving health

The Effects – I will divide effects into obviously beneficial and obviously malignant effects. Some effects may seem to fall into both categories. Some effects can be viewed as blessings, others as curses. These effects can occur on the level of the individual, or on the cosmic level (effecting the world at large), or both, when the blood, tissues, and other remains or parts of a monster become exposed to a hero or the world through direct contact. These effects are not intentionally controllable but occur as a result of the unique properties of the monsters interacting with the unique nature of the individual or circumstance to which the blood or remains of the monster are exposed. These effects can also be acute, immediate, temporary, chronic, delayed, or life-long and permanent (unless somehow brought under control or removed).

Beneficial Effects:

Magical powers increase
Sensory Capabilities improve
One can read the thoughts of others
One can know the hearts of others
New capabilities are gained
One becomes stronger
One becomes wiser
One becomes more intelligent
One becomes more charismatic
One becomes more resilient
One becomes faster or more dexterous
One’s flesh becomes invulnerable to certain things
One rarely tires or rarely needs to sleep
One needs little food
One needs little water
One becomes powerfully intuitive
One becomes prophetic
One becomes clever and ingenious
One can speak with monsters

Malignant Effects:

Magical powers decrease
Sensory capabilities become clouded, restricted, or confused
One’s own thoughts become scattered, confused, and open to suggestion
One becomes unable to understand the motives of others
Old capabilities are lost or diminish
One becomes weaker or feeble
One becomes more foolish, reckless, or unwise
One becomes denser, slow-witted, or more stupid
One becomes repugnant or repulsive to others
One becomes drained, lethargic, or inflexible
One becomes slow of body and reflex
One is easily injured or sickened
One exhausts easily and often, or is chronically anemic
One becomes uncontrollably gluttonous
One becomes a drunkard or an addict
One becomes uncontrollably arrogant and prideful
One becomes uncontrollably envious and covetous
One becomes uncontrollably lustful
One becomes uncontrollably angry, petty, and ill-temperate
One becomes uncontrollably greedy
One becomes uncontrollably despairing and cynical
One becomes uncontrollably slothful and lazy
One becomes uncontrollably bloodthirsty and vicious
One becomes easily duped and made fool of
One becomes blind
One becomes deaf
One becomes unable to smell
One becomes unable to taste
One becomes leprous
One becomes mute
One contracts a chronic and perhaps incurable disease or condition

Blessings:

Good fortune is enjoyed
Crops become plentiful
Good and pleasant weather
Enemies avoid invasion or warfare
Water supplies are clean and plentiful
The earth is enriched, plants and animals thrive
The natural environment becomes filled with beneficial magic
Wealth increases
New resources are discovered, old ones are easier to exploit
Miracles occur
The Gift of Tongues – other languages can be understood, or the language of other creatures can be understood
Powerful and beneficial creatures or allies rein habit the area
Trade prospers
Resistances to malignant forces develop

Curses:

Water becomes polluted, fouled, and poisoned
The air becomes poisonous and retched
Foul, dangerous, catastrophic, violently stormy weather
Natural disasters abound
Plagues become common
Droughts develop and wild fires break out
The earth becomes weak, polluted, unyielding and unproductive
The natural environment becomes resistant to beneficial magic or open to malignant magic or other influences
Wealth decreases and resources become depleted
Treasures corrupt or corrode
Misfortune multiplies or lingers
Confusion and misunderstandings of speech and language
Malignant serpents, insects, and other creatures spring from the ground
Warfare and Civil warfare erupt
Vulnerabilities to evil develop

The Death Curse of the Monster: Sometimes at or near the moment of their death particularly powerful, intelligent, and malignant monsters might curse an individual, a party of people, or even an entire region or nation with an especially effective and malicious curse. In such cases extreme and immediate counter-measures must be taken, sometimes even involving the undertaking of a complicated Quest, it order to nullify or reverse this curse. Otherwise, if the curse is not counteracted it may very well unfold as prophesied in a most destructive and devastating manner.

Conclusion: Make use of monsters, their blood, and their remains in a far more interesting, productive, potent, and imaginative way to reflect their real and inherent potential for creating both endless wonder, and appalling desolation.

* I use the term uncanny poetically. I do not mean to imply that a monster must be supernatural (in the gaming or mythological sense) for its blood to have weird or powerful effects.

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN: THE BLOOD OF UNCANNY MONSTERS

Essay Twelve: The Blood of Uncanny Monsters*

“The Blood of the monster is the doom of the unwary.”

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”

“History is not the story of heroes entirely. It is often the story of cruelty and injustice and shortsightedness. There are monsters, there is evil…”

“… I prefer the monsters of my fancy to what is positively trivial.”

Synopsis: The Blood of Monsters is far more than the blood of simple animals, or the nerveless sap of tree limbs. The blood of the monster is a deep, potent, ancient, terrible thing, capable of warping the world, and either wondrously enabling, or viciously crippling and killing, the Hero. Beware the blood of the monster, and do not easily discard the tremendous potential it encloses within itself.

Essay: In myth it is often the case that the blood, tissues, organs, or parts of a monster have unique, if not astounding properties of their own, quite apart from those possessed by the whole or intact, living creature itself.

Yet far too often these additional (or inherent, really) “monstrous characteristics” are overlooked (sometimes entirely) in fantasy, mythological, and magical gaming. Monsters are slain, their blood washes over the characters to no real effect, and the monstrous bodies or corpses thereafter simply discarded, as if they were the inconvenient, tiresome, or useless detritus of the true business of adventuring. No real consequences ensue from, or for, the slaying of monsters, from being in close proximity to them when they are killed, or from being washed and covered in the gore and curses and hatred and pollution and ferocity of their ultimate demise. The death of monsters becomes a mere mathematical and mechanical expression of character survival beyond beastly endurance, rather than a fascinating cosmic struggle between weird and uncanny physical, supernatural, and magical forces and the life-force of men. And the killing of monsters likewise has either no additional benefit, nor any additional consequence, other than the taking of their treasure or the removal of their objection to whatever goal(s) the hero currently or ultimately pursues. In short the monster is far less a real monster, far less a real threat, far less weird and far less dangerous, than if hunting and killing monsters implied nothing more mysterious, fantastic, and potentially lethal than a mere exercise in hit point reduction to “less than zero.” As a matter of fact killing most monsters in many role play games implies a level of danger and consequence that is exactly that, less than zero. Once slain or nearly slain a monster is then no more of a real threat than the paper-tiger number stats used to summarize his imaginary existence. But is this really a proper expression of the idea of monstrousness? In the imagination? In myth? Or even in-game?

Certainly not so in myth, where the blood of monsters and weird beings often has dramatic (and even sometimes life-long) effects upon the heroes who encounter such marvels, perhaps even upon nearby observers, other monsters, or the very landscape itself. In this respect I think myth is often far more engaging, richer in content and implication, tremendously more interesting, and far more versatile than typical fantasy (or other genres of) role play gaming. Monsters actually mean things in myth. They are not simply the enemy soldier du jour, dressed in some fantastic garb of hoary yet impotent flesh or rotting, undead sheets of nothingness. They are not merely “tactical challenges” as would be the case as if an infantry battalion in a wargame were suddenly compressed into a single fearsome body and sent forth to fight tooth and claw against armed adventurers. Instead monsters are “danger incarnate,” they are a warping of the woof of existence, their being alters and changes things around them, they bend reality, sicken or extend it, they reshape nature (physical, mental, and spiritual) into a monstrosity of devastating potential. In myth (from which spring the sources of the idea and shapes and names and forms of monsters in role play games) monsters are dangerous, deadly, uncanny, they distort the nature of the things they encounter, and they do all of this both within and well-beyond the very narrow confines of combat. It seems to me then that the monster should be returned to his more natural (or unnatural, depending upon your point of view) state(s) of being, a being that exudes, reflects and engenders corruption, weirdness, lethality, and real, unremitting and unrepentant peril. Both in life, and in death. *

In short I am advocating the idea that even the blood, tissues, and corpses of monsters might very well, and even in some cases definitely should, have effects both upon the characters encountering them, and upon the entire atmosphere and environment of the role-play milieu. That monsters become far more than mere combat automatons, far more than just tactical challenges, far more than an enemy in a rubber mask and a plastic suit of armor who can execute feats of multiple backflips or shoot acid from a naphtha gland in his mouth.

Monsters are not simply monsters because they look weird, because men find them to be distasteful, evil, ugly, frightening, gigantic, or unique adversaries. Monsters are also monsters because of their peculiarly monstrous qualities, which extend far beyond motive and appearance and down to the very marrow of their bones, as well as throughout the blood or ichor that washes unseen through their twisted veins. And that when this blood (and/or body) becomes exposed to the world at large, when it stains the flesh of the hero, and when the bones of monsters litter the landscape, other things occur of definite and noticeable effect. Things that are sometimes wondrous, things that are sometimes terrible, occasionally even more horrifying in implication or outcome than the threat of the original monster itself. (I use the term monster in this respect in a very generalized sense. Of course the same “monstrous properties” might be said to exist for supernatural beings and alien creatures, in horror/supernatural/adventure/superhero, and sci-fi gaming. And I would hardly argue against the same types of monstrous properties I am advocating for mythological and fantasy based monsters is such cases. Rather I would just expect that given the nature of the creature in question that such properties would manifest differently, but also quite obviously, in those other types of circumstances.)

TO BE CONTINUED…

%d bloggers like this: