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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.

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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

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…

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN – ESSAY ELEVEN: LUCK BE NOT LAZY

My next Essay on Gaming and Game Design, since this is my post for Design of Things to Come.

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Eleven: Luck Be Not Lazy

“High Fortune is the Good Wife of the Brave Husband.”

“Our survival kit is within us…”

“Good Luck befriend thee, Son…”

Synopsis:Boldness makes you luckier.” Boldness and risk taking make you more likely to survive and succeed than timidity and cowardice. This is true both in life, and in-game.

Recently while reading the book The Survivor’s Club (I am a survivalist and often study various aspects of survival art and science) I came across a very interesting equation by Nicholas Rescher.

The equation is as follows:

λ(E) = ∆(E) x [1-pr(E)] = ∆(E) x pr(not-E)

Rescher was attempting to mathematically illustrate how conclusions are drawn about the conditions and functional nature of “luck.” I have not had the time to examine the mathematics in detail for myself since I have only the basic equation formulation and a basic interpretation by the author of the book (not the author of the equation). I plan on looking up the entire background of the equation when I have the time.

Basically the equation states that how lucky an individual (or theoretically an event, with variable exchange) is considered to be depends upon a number of factors, but not least is the level of sufficient risk associated with any endeavor. That is to say the greater the risk taken by an individual, when success is finally achieved (though success is not guaranteed), then naturally the “more lucky” such an individual is considered in relation to others. This is of course only logical, and can be illustrated in the following way.

Two men decide to cross a chasm. One does so by a secure wooden footbridge with a safety railing, another along a length of tightrope. If both men make it safely across then most objective observers would say that the man walking upon the tightrope was “luckiest.” His risk was greatest and when (if) he succeeds then luck has been said to play a greater role in his crossing (in spite of any personal skill he might possess in wire-walking) than in the guy who has crossed the chasm on a relatively secure footbridge (in which case chance or luck plays a much smaller, if any, role as regards the crossing). This is self-evident, though perhaps often ignored or not noticed in this way in most circumstances by some observers.

lady luck

But I suspect that an even more interesting underlying and basic assumption fundamental to the structure of the equation (though it may not necessarily be overtly stated, when considering “normative variables”) is this: the greater the risk you take the more lucky you are likely to be. Not merely as a matter of relative comparison to others in different circumstances, but as a practical and fundamental matter in most any circumstance. And by extension then the more risk you assume in your given situation then the more likely you are to eventually succeed within that given situation. (Also this implies that luck is not a matter merely to be judged and quantified after the fact, or after the conclusion of the endeavor, but as a functional force, and likely an indirectly measurable force, operating throughout the course of events.)

Think about that for a moment. For the idea may just very well be fundamental to the nature of what many consider “good fortune.” Whether most people realize it or not.

The implication is that with great risk comes not only great danger, but also a greater probability towards actual and more capital success. (I think that there are several reasons for the likelihood of this conclusion, some physical, some psychological, and a few of which I will discuss here). The equation actually states that if you succeed then a larger level of risk can be said to include within the nature of the success a greater degree of good fortune, expressed colloquially as “luck.” But underneath the equation, if you examine it closely, is a sort of sub-structural formulation that implies that the greater the level of risk you assume in attempting any given or particular thing, the more likely you are to actually succeed, but that this does not become absolutely mathematically obvious until after the events are actually concluded.

In short the equation is covertly implying that all things being equal, and excluding the impossible (of course, as well as the intentionally foolhardy and reckless), it is the one who assumes the greatest risk who is far more likely to be lucky and in the end, to succeed as a result of the advantages bestowed by luck. (Is luck the only factor in success? Good Lord no. Preparation, skill, cunning, cleverness, drive, desire, etc. – all of these factors and more, or even less, can help to assure success. But what it is saying is that among roughly equivalent situations and/or competitors it is the more daring and less risk averse who is mathematically far more likely to “get lucky” and win the day, other factors not withstanding. Risk is therefore, as counter-intuitive and paradoxical as the idea may seem, one of the open and golden gateways to good fortune. Or as the old maxim goes, “Fortuna favet fortibus.” There is far more to that observation than mere Latin wit.

We all know that boldness is a fundamental aspect of the nature of Heroism. (Indeed, I personally would not attempt the execution of the function of anything heroic lacking the mettle of individual bravery as my guide. There is neither room for in most risky situations, nor likelihood of success in most dangerous situations for the ‘timid hero.’) Heroes therefore are universally bold. Or on the royal road through hardship and risk to becoming universally bold. Yet often heroes also triumph over seemingly vastly superior opponents with vastly superior resources. Why? Because they are bold. Because they are daring, and audacious, and brave. They also almost universally, whether in real life, or in myth or literature, “get lucky” or at least luckier than everybody else around them. Why? Because fortune does indeed favor the bold. The bold risk great things and therefore fortune is a natural and interested companion along the way. Fortune is attracted to bravery and risk-taking. (This does not imply that all risks are equal, or even equally fortunate, only that fortune prefers boldness to a lack thereof.)

Now it might appear on the surface that the heroic individual, or group, is often both bold and lucky. But the actual truth is they are lucky precisely because they are bolder than everyone else. Hence luck does not make one bold, being bold makes one lucky. There is a direct, if not always immediately observationally evident, correlation. That man who takes the most risk is that man who is likely to be luckiest and to be most successful. Even if bravery does not create good fortune in a particular circumstance it at least maintains and augments what good fortune already exists within that circumstance.

There are several reasons for this I think, some derived from my own personal observations, others I have gathered from anecdotal evidence, some taken from historical studies, still others implied by the equation I listed above.

First, the psychological ones:

1. The man who is audacious and daring tends to impress others with their vision. Small visions do not attract interest or followers. Bravery impresses and heroic visions and examples evoke imitation. Courage inspires devotion. And devotion inspires more courage as well as more of itself, which thereby tends to augment good fortune through cooperative enterprise and shared labor and objectives. Making success far more likely.

2. The individual who is brave tends to impress even dangerous creatures and animals, which will sometimes flee a man who the animal could easily kill because the man exhibits no fear. So if something or even someone thinks you’re crazy enough to be unafraid (regardless of whether you really are or not in that situation) when they think you should be then this gives them pause about their own chances of success against you. Courage in yourself can often inspire caution in an enemy or dangerous opponent, tipping the scales of good fortune, as well as the initiative and control of the situation in your favor.

(This has happened to me on more than one occasion with animals, men, and situations. For instance I’ve been shot at and drawn on on more than one occasion. Most recently this happened to me about two weeks ago. Yet I managed to defuse that particular situation without bloodshed or anyone being harmed because I walked towards the gunfire instead of freezing or fleeing from it when guns were drawn. Not that walking into gunfire is the most impressive or important kind of courage, it is far from it. Other things are often far more dangerous. I know that from personal experience. But the policeman in this case had the wrong location and the wrong target and he was obviously afraid of attack himself and so he drew and fired when he thought he was under attack. I don’t blame him by the way, he did indeed think he was under attack and may have even thought he could possibly be killed. He was also a young fella and a bit of a rookie. I doubt he had ever drawn his weapon before in the line of duty, but that’s just an assumption mind you based upon my observations of the boy, I didn’t really ask him. But he didn’t do anything really wrong; he was just surprised and scared by the situation, not knowing what was really going on. So I supported him when his commanding officer came out to do the in-the-field inquiry about why and how he had discharged his weapon. But I was able to prevent any real harm during the incident by walking into his line of fire [he wasn’t shooting at me, but I caused him to pause by interjecting myself] and taking control of the situation with my voice. Thereby stopping any further firing. I don’t think most people realize how effective an instrument the human voice can be in controlling a dangerous situation but those of you with law enforcement or military backgrounds probably know exactly what I mean. Your voice is probably often your most effective tool of courage and control. So I wasn’t afraid at all when it was happening, though my wife later yelled at me, as she often will, by saying “you stupid white guys run towards gunfire instead of away from it.” But obviously it has got nothing to do with being white, I’ve known a lot of brave men from all kinds of backgrounds, or even really with being stupid I would argue, but with training. I wasn’t afraid at all and so acted as I have trained myself over time, to walk towards danger and not away from it, and to attempt to command any given dangerous situation by not panicking, but by trying to assume control of the circumstances. I also wasn’t scared at all in this situation because I wasn’t thinking about myself at all. Over time I have basically trained fear for my own safety out of myself so that when others are endangered I think about others and not myself. Which eliminates the occupation with “self-fear.” It has become a matter of habit by now, and I never consciously weigh dangers for myself in my mind in that way anymore. However this does not mean the elimination of fear, if my children or wife had been under fire or endangered then I would have been afraid, I would have been thinking of their survival. I do not think though, and thank God this has never occurred, that even in that situation it would have paralyzed me, but I would have been afraid. Afraid for them. Indeed after the shooting I spoke about before was over and I realized just how bad the situation could have become for everyone – there was another officer who could have drawn and started shooting but he remained basically calm and watchful – I had about two minutes where I needed to sit down. To prevent my legs from shaking. But that was about 15 to 20 minutes later. Various friends and some people at church heard about this little adventure from my wife and the police and they all said I was a lucky fool. Just shook their heads. But I wasn’t a lucky fool; I was lucky because in that situation my training allowed me to be bold enough to prevent the situation from becoming completely out of control. I guess what I’m saying is that training yourself to move towards danger may seem apparently crazy, and so the assumption is that you just get lucky that nothing bad happens. Actually you get lucky because you act boldly. The crazy is only relative to those who do not understand that boldness enhances good fortune, not detracts from it.)

3. Bravery does not allow for panic, especially not debilitating panic. Courage is usually prepared for most situations (through exercise, practice, training, and habit) or at the very least does not panic and make situations worse. Boldness has “faith in itself.” Because boldness and enterprise are habits and skills that can be learned through practice. Perhaps some people are naturally born fearless or bold. But regardless of the veracity of that statement a person can become bold and daring through the exercise and practice of courage, just as is the case with bodybuilding through resistance training. You become muscularly and physically stronger by working ever-heavier resistance against weak and inexperienced muscles. You become more courageous by placing yourself in dangerous situations and exercising control against your fear. Eventually your “courage physique” will increase and it will take more and more danger to cause fear any real friction or resistance against you.

That’s all I’m gonna say about the psychological factors because it is not my intent in this essay to discuss all possible psychological variables. But merely to present basic possibilities.

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Now for some of the physical factors:

1. I suspect that on the physical level there is an “Entrainment of the unlikely” but nevertheless “necessarily possible” whenever boldness is a factor operating upon the physical environment. That is to say that boldness has both a physical and a quantum effect upon the surrounding environment much as it does on the psychological environment in which courage is in operation. Though the effect may be subtle, it nevertheless positively influences events in favor of the party operating “boldly.” The apparent physical effect is displayed as a tendency of events to move favorably in relation to the “bold party.” Though of course more than one party may be simultaneously operating in a bold fashion. It is not my intention in this short essay though to discuss competitions or conflicts between separate parties acting against each other each in their own bold fashion. That subject can be taken up by another if they so desire.

2. I suspect boldness is probably also a “quantum excitement” to the local environment, causing obstacles and frictions to move away from or bend away from the “bold party.” Friction and resistance does not build up in the environment against the bold, but rather boldness acts as a sort of overlaying energy field that slightly tilts the operational environment in the favor of the bold. You might think of daring and risk as exciting the local environment in such a way that it acts as a sort of simultaneous lubricant for good fortune, and as a sort of barrier against misfortune.
Now if all, or indeed if any of this is true, then this idea has large scale implications for human activity and work in the real world. It also has large scale gaming implications, because heroic gaming could therefore be used as a sort of imaginary training ground for the development of higher and higher states of mental and psychologically habitual (behavioral habits begin in the mind after all) boldness, which could then be effectively transferred outside the self-contained environment of a given game and exported to the wider world.

But for the moment, since this is a website and forum dedicated to gaming let’s examine how we might exploit the idea encapsulated by the statement: “Boldness makes you luckier.”
So I’m going to make a few suggestions as to how to use this hypothesis within your game and/or game setting.

1. If you use some factor, variable, or attribute in your game that represents or expresses Luck (I use several in my games) then (given that my previous statements and hypotheses above make sense to you) anytime your players display real courage this should have a corresponding and even compounding “Luck Effect.” If they are brave, and bold, then their level of Good Fortune should naturally increase, or be augmented in some way. Good luck is never lazy, and it is rarely risk-averse. Rather the braver the character the more likely he is to be lucky in any given situation (assuming he or she does not face impossible odds or an inescapable situation).

So acts of courage and heroism are more than likely to have a direct and positive corresponding effect upon factors of good fortune and the benefits bestowed by luck. I can’t tell you how to do this exactly in your game or setting (because I don’t know the details of your setting) but it is my recommendation that you bind together in some way acts of heroism and boldness to corresponding gains in good fortune. (However these things might be expressed, as bonuses to saving throws, or as “luck advantages,” or as gains to certain types of abilities or skills, or whatever the particular case may be in your situation.)

2. I would also suggest that acts of cowardice and timidity have a corresponding suppression upon factors involving luck. The risk averse would also be averse to natural good fortune. After all the obverse of my proposition, that bravery makes you luckier, is easily demonstrable. No great thing was ever achieved by timidity. The timid do not attempt and therefore naturally do not achieve great things. That is self-evident. Therefore good fortune can hardly be considered a close ally of timidity or cowardice, for achievement is the opposite of being retiring and timid. And achievement against great odds can be called one of the potential proofs of good fortune. So the bold often achieve where the timid will not go. And good fortune goes where the bold dare to lead her. Therefore fortune is long time friend of the bold, but always the stranger to the timid.

3. Courage might not only affect “Luck Factors” but even attributes like Charisma, Wisdom, and leadership. Courage should and will increase luck and overall good fortune but it might also temporarily or even permanently increase attribute scores like Charisma, Wisdom, Intelligence, or leadership abilities.

4. Courage causing increases in luck and good fortune might also have a corresponding positive effect upon things like intuition or even psychic abilities (I use the term psychic to reflect both mental abilities and spiritual capabilities.)

5. Courage would make one “fortunate” in the types and quality of the individuals you attract to yourself as friends, allies, and followers.

6. Another suggestion I might make is that in game terms at least allow for a sort of generalized and conditional reaction to acts of heroism, bravery, and boldness on the part of the surrounding environment. This could take any number of different forms but the overall effect would be that the environment “acts lucky” towards the person exhibiting bravery, initiative, and enterprise.

7. Courage and luck might have a beneficial effect upon the degree of power and level of control one may exercise over magic, magical items, artifacts, and devices, and/or more mundane types of tools/technology.

8. If courage increases good fortune and good fortune makes survival more likely then heroism and bravery should likely have direct and positive effects upon any useful survival mechanism or skill within your game.
These are but a few simple ways that the relationship between boldness and good fortune could be exploited in game, and could also serve as a sort of “reward system” to your best and bravest role-players. I could go into other related matters such as the possible mathematical relationship between boldness, confidence, and chance mechanisms, like gaming dice. But I’ve explored pretty much what I personally wanted to explore as regards this subject, and since I am presenting this post as an Interactive Essay others can add related or peripheral content as they see fit.

But in summation I would also like to encourage you all to make better use of heroism, enterprise, initiative, and boldness in your own situation(s), both in real life and in-game. I suspect that given time you will find yourself more and more inclined to boldness through practice (assuming you are not already), and as a result of that more likely to find yourself enjoying an ever increasing level of good fortune and definite luck.

Good luck to you then.

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…

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.

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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.

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…

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