On America In Crisis

Today marked a 75% growth rate of the pandemic, and 2/3rds of all completed corona outcomes in the U.S. result in death. (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/)

520 cases have an outcome (cure or death)
344 dead
176 cured.
Before end of day 3-21

26,000 total infected today. Feb 3rd to march 21st to reach that number. 48 days. In the next 24 hours over 10,000 new cases. There currently isn't room anywhere for the 26,000 cases we have already. We are on track to double that by Monday.

For Americans: If you have thoughts about our statistically disastrous response, or the people profiting off not sharing information with the public, calling your elected officials is the most powerful thing you can do.

You may phone the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.

(202) 224-3121
(202) 224-3121
(202) 224-3121

Before you die, let your leaders know how you feel about them. It shouldn't matter what political party you belong to.

Let the people who's literal job is to protect you from this know your feelings. They are in charge. They are responsible. This blog is the only tool I have to change things. It's to let you know you can make a difference and be heard.
The American Government is taking action that is causing american deaths.

You have a phone. Speak out!
(202) 224-3121

After you've done that, be sure to contact your loved ones and say goodbye. Many people you know will be gone next year. Stay safe.


Additional information:
HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN when taken together can kill you dead, quickly and unpredictably. Using hydroxychloroquine together with azithromycin can increase the risk of an irregular heart rhythm that may be serious and potentially life-threatening.
They are only prescribed together by a doctor, when it's determined that the small, but non-trivial risk of instant death is less dangerous then whatever you have that's killing you. 
I'm not even a nurse, and I'm not stupid enough to take a Z-pak with something that fuck with the CNS like that. Saying this will cause American deaths (and probably has already, it doesn't take long for this to kill people).
The reason the survival rate is skewed, is because our medical system is primitive and not geared towards health outcomes. We have failed to test, diagnose and contain the illness. Because of this many people are asymptomatic, and are spreading the disease widely. These cases will likely have positive outcomes, but millions of the unknown hundreds of millions worldwide and currently infected without knowing won't.
People will not say it like this, because they don't want people to panic. It's not all bad. The last time a plague was this serious, it increased the value of labor and caused the end of feudalism. 
Take time to say good-by and spend time with loved ones. Stay home. 

(202) 224-3121

I hope to see you on the other side.

On the Lie of Colonialism in Dungeons & Dragons

It's a golden age. I was casually browsing the internet and found this! A 215 page document about a West Marches campaign.

It's good. The biggest flaw of the work is its devotion to exhaustively developing tangential systems. As a work designed to introduce a new player who cut his teeth on 5th edition into the complexities of sandbox play it's very useful. There are moments of interest when they tease more creative results, such as the nature of the town or zone traits, but these are rare. It has solid ability to present what's actually going on in the design decisions made when developing a classic sandbox. Then again, if the whole concept is new the lack of novel or unique complications is a benefit.

You can move your finger in the tiniest way to instantly peruse this piece of work. But I came across this section, and realized that something that is clearly a misunderstanding is being taken as gospel. Let me quote.

Since its inception in the ‘70s, the base game itself has had profound issues surrounding racism and the colonialist mindset. Fifth Edition has done little to mitigate these issues, and if anything, the West Marches only make the longstanding rot more visible.

This sounds reasonable and true, except it's not.

This is an article that deals with colonialism, racism, sexism, violence, and other things that don't go particularly well with a morning coffee when you have a stressful day ahead at work.

Colonial Ignorance

I'm not trying to justify any inappropriate behavior. I was a counselor for 20 years working with native youth in rural low income communities, some of which are not reachable by road. I believe that all living people and quite a few animals possess infinite self-worth (in the Carl Rogers sense of worth) that is in no way related to any external, from income, to skin color, to education. I am aware of the many intersections of racism, bigotry, sexism, and systemic oppression for a wide variety of external features, and I believe in the equality and worth of all human beings.

I am just trying to stop well meaning people from repeating inaccurate sentiments.

Here are my points, I will explain each.
  • The game itself is not in structure or design racist. It is by (possibly accidental) design a model for the experience of the arc of experience of human life, a game that makes the psychological experience of playing mirror the experience of coming of age. 
  • The game does not represent European Colonialism, certainly not from the years 400-1800+. One of the smartest people in the tabletop role-playing game field (who backed my Kickstarter!!) recently said Dungeons and Dragons could not have ever been created in Europe due to the mindset of the game. It is much more accurate to say that the game is about the experience of western exceptionalism and manifest destiny. Game-play revolves around civilizing wilderness, not conquering and exploiting existing civilization structures. ("The 'frontier' moves, and bold adventurers move with it"—1st edition DMG, page 91) It represents the spirit of manifest destiny (c. 1845), i.e. the belief that due to american's cultural and societal superiority that it was america's responsibility to raise humanity to the pinnacle of human achievement.  This has been widely regarded as a bad move. This is not necessarily more moral, but it is more accurate.
  •  There is no rot within the game itself, only within the within the person where it occurs. This is not an argument of fact, but rather a statement that I respect the right of an individual to be responsible for their own actions, rather then attempting to control media or access. I am an artist and not an authoritarian. The arguments for freedom versus societal control are in the public record, and you likely have an opinion on it. This is the argument being made, and it is the argument I am responding to. You can play D&D without worrying about the state of your soul because there is no rot within it.

Game Structure and Racism

I am not courting outrage, I am not interested in proving some point for some external system of control. I am not attempting to promote any agenda but the truth.

Dungeons and Dragons is a game of fantasy adventure.

Fantastic creatures are stories and manifestations of ideas we have that represent our concerns or fears. I will list a few to illustrate my point. Werewolves are about fears of alcoholic behavior, giants are about our experiences of adults and our fears of them as children. a lich is a monster who denies your ability to achieve autonomy over your life, because the men before you refuse to die and make way for their children, vampires represent our fears and concerns over rape and death, zombies represent our fears of rampant consumerism and a loss of identity, the succubus is a metaphor for male fears in relationships, orcs are our fear of our memory of our ancient smarter, stronger, more athletic neanderthal companions,  dragons literally represent sin as an obstacle to spiritual purity, most often greed. 

This is not some hypothetical conjecture. Anxiety represented by nocturnal terrors is as old as humanity. They are literally our responses to fears and anxieties. There is a not insignificant body of work on this subject.

They are not representative of black people, natives, aborigines, or other indigenous peoples. In fact, making that claim, in and of itself seems quite spurious to me, because the way they are presented and used in the game is in no way representative of any of the historical interactions with native cultures. 

Racists absolutely play D&D. I was, and this is the correct word, flabbergasted at the sheer Illinois Nazism of the Bledslaw clan. Refusing to join the KKK is not what I would consider an affirmative defense! So these racists have clearly decided to co-op and gratify themselves by being fucking horrid human beings.  

To assume that this is what is coded in the work, misses both the literal and critical subtext, which is mythical threat to your survival and ability to flourish as a human being. To wit:

Under Preparation For the Game OD&D Volume 1
First, the referee must draw out. . . maps of the levels of his "underworld", people them with monsters of various horrid aspect, distribute treasures accordingly. . . When this task is completed the participants can then be allowed to make their first descent into the dungeons beneath the "huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses".
Under Character Alignment in Moldvay Basic D&D.
To a Chaotic creature, the individual is the most important of all things. Selfishness is the normal way of life, and the group is not important. Chaotics often act on sudden desires and whims. They cannot be trusted, and their behavior is hard to predict. They have a strong belief in the power of luck. Chaotic behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called evil. 
Under Approaches to Playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's guide
Of the two approaches to hobby games today, one is best defined as the realism-simulation school and the other as the game school. AD&D is assuredly an adherent of the later school. It does not stress any realism . . . [i]t does little to attempt to simulate anything. It is first and foremost a game for the fun and enjoyment of those who seek to use imagination and creativity. . . In all cases, however, the reader should understand that AD&D is designed to be an amusing and diverting pastime, something which can fill a few hours or consume endless days as the participants desire, but in no case something to be taken too seriously. For fun, excitement and captivating fantasy, AD&D is Unsurpassed. As a realistic simulation of things from the realm of make-believe, or even as a reflection of medieval or ancient warfare or culture or society, it can be deemed only a dismal failure. Readers who seek the later must search elsewhere
Let's assume you disregard both the structure of the early games, AND this snippet of the creators thoughts as he wrote the seminal work on running games, during the height of its first popularity.

Sure, neither the text nor his claims say he's racist, but that's just what a racist would say. Is the design or the text racist?


Under Alignment in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
Thus, alignment describes the worldview of creatures and helps to define what their actions, reactions, and purposes will be. . . Good and Evil: Basically stated, the tenets of good are human rights, or in the case of AD&D, creature rights. Each creature is entitled to life, relative freedom and the prospect of happiness. Cruelty and suffering are undesirable. Evil, on the other hand, does not concern itself with rights or happiness; purpose is the determinant. 
He defines good as the protection of rights extended to all good creatures. Goodness is defined as the rights of thinking creatures-not just humans and humanoids, but all good creatures no matter their distance from the human form.

This is fundamentally opposed to racist and colonial thought. They are completely incompatible. Racist and colonialism require removing rights from creatures. It requires a perspective of military superiority, moral arrogance and a desire to exploit less lucky victims. This is not the attitude of most D&D players, who encounter a world they can never conquer or tame, and only through dint of their gumption can they survive in.

But the Natives!

There's this thought in society, of the wolf in sheep's clothing. A missing stair. A sociopath who lairs, and attempts to make himself seem respectable so he can continue his degenerate abuse or assault. 

That's what strikes me as so odd about this claim, and leaves me wondering about the motives of the people making it, to say less of those that hear it and simply repeat it because they have not given it much thought. 

From The Campaign in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

After a few episodes of play, you and your campaign participants will be ready for the expansion of the milieu. The territory around the settlement—likely the "home" city or town of the adventurers, other nearby habitations, wilderness areas, and whatever else you determine is right for the area—should be sketch-mapped, and places likely to become settings for play actually done in detail. At this time is it probably that you will have to have a large scale map of the whole continent or sub-continent involved, with some rough outlines of the political divisions of the place, notes on predominant terrain features, indications of the distribution of creature types, and some plans as to what conflicts are likely to occur. In short, you will have to create the social and ecological parameters of a good part of a make-believe world. The more painstakingly this is done, the more "real" this creation will become. . .
It is no exaggeration to state that the fantasy world builds itself, almost as if the milieu actually takes on a life and reality of its own. . . Similarly, the geography and history you assign to the world will suddenly begin to shape the character of states and peoples. Details of former events will become obvious from mere outlines of the past course of things.  
and from Territory Development by Player Characters in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
When player characters reach upper levels and decide to establish a stronghold and rule a territory, you must have fairly detailed information on hand to enable this to take place. You must have a large scale map which shows areas where this is possible, a detailed cultural and social treatment of the area and those which bound it, and you must have some extensive information available as to who and what lives in the area to be claimed and held by the player characters. . . . The player character and his henchmen and various retainers must now go to the construction site, explore and map it, and have construction commence. . .  Once these territories become settled and populations abound (relatively speaking) they can be used as centers for activity—good or evil or whatever.

It does not appear that the author of the game nor the structure of the game take any sort of stance on what should happen during play. It's explicitly a game, where there are threats to civilization, people you must interact with, and allies you must make happy.The people claiming that it's racist because you invade the homes of the natives and kill them and take their things is more a reflection of how they choose to play the game and not an expectation within the text. (Modules about such being a reflection of their author, and not some inherit racism in design)

My players put up with the alcoholic ogres because they were willing to pay the costs, they didn't kill them to a man. A contract was negotiated with the frost giant lich, and peace was signed by the orc tribes (in a game where you might portray them in the role of noble savage, itself a racist caricature, instead of as a malignant force upon the existence of man.)

It's even within the rules of the game. Monsters give very little experience, and you are better off finding a superior solution than fighting to gain the reward. Real success comes from solving the encounter creatively using your wits, strength, and will just like mythological heroes
It is outlined as a game, and given to player driven complexity. If you want to deal with those issues (orcs are natives on the land with wives and children) or not (orcs are representative of malignant evil) you have the choice. People have been dealing with this exact choice (the orc baby choice) and being blindsided to the fact that it's a choice for, well, as far back as the 70's.  To claim that the game itself decides what you must do isn't supported. 

But the Patriarchy!

I mean, I'm not making any kind of claim of purity. The game is astoundingly sexist. "race" and "Half-X" are racist vestiges of a dark time in America when the air was filled with lead. The game at times has had people produce art that is filled with stereotypical racist representations. It has had middle Americans tackle the task of writing about other cultures when Americans were still beating natives for speaking their own language in Alaska in the early 1980's. Could we get supplements for non-white non-human societies that aren't shallow?

I fail to see how the behavior of racists is somehow uniquely objectionable in role-playing, when the medium seems unrelated to the bigotry. There's a whole genera of slightly conservative military fiction that glorifies the subjection of the universe. If your argument is that it's racist because some people who played it are racist, that point flows to you, because it's a truism. Not a statement about the text. One could certainly start to make cottage industry arguments for papers about how D&D is akin to sexual violence because it models combat which involves weapon penetrating human bodies like the penis does for the sex act. But my daughter has after school activities and I don't have the time, so could you not? 

But the racism that's talked about above is not in the core structure of the text, unless someone classifies another person as a monster. The text explicitly doesn't.

This doesn't mean we don't need to do the work of making sure our games are not cliches that rely on stereotypical racist, warlike, western tropes. 

The game is about fighting fantasy monsters—monsters which represent our fears and anxieties, coming up with solutions to complex situations with creativity and panache, so that you can secure an ability for your character to flourish. It is the modern hunt for the grail. The knight doesn't face the dragon to remove a monster, he does so to purify his soul from sin. 

To complain that a group of monsters are 'evil' is to be upset that the aliens in Independence day were all bad guys, the Persians were represented as monsters to the greeks in 300, and the Chitauri were cut down by the thousands by the Avengers. Maybe you'd like to make the argument that is a problem, which sure. Maybe. But it's got f-$& all to do with Dungeons & Dragons.

Gaining control of a wilderness means not only clearing out malignant evils that desire nothing but the destruction of the world, but also meeting locals, managing contentious neighbors, and learning ancient history, giving you the opportunity to found your own better world. 

So, now you know. Don't be a stranger.

If you liked this, back my kickstarter! Quick! Famous artists making more fantasy art! Tricks and Deceptions reborn! If you want the kind of clarity you got from this article in a book about tricks and special situations in D&D, check it out. Learn of the old ways and how to bend your campaign to new exciting emergent experiences!

On Artifices, Deceptions, & Dilemmas


I'm doing ok. I hope you are doing ok. If you are on the internet, it seems really intense for a society that's in the middle of a unprecedented golden age.

I wrote a - one second,er  a, there. fixed.

A new book! About traps.

I talked to Russ Nicholson (Warlock on Firetop Mountain),  James Shields, Steve Crompton (Grimtooth's Traps) and Marcin S (Against the Darkmaster) and they all offered to do illustrations. Karl agreed to do the cover for this sequel, and Sandor agreed to edit again.

Can you imagine? Working with Russ Nicholson and Steve Crompton on a book about baroque situations and rube goldberg devices? Crazy huh.

So maybe you will like it?

I originally intended it to be a guide on handling agency in traps, but I did some research, and it turns out everyone already knows that.

Something more useful and interesting was landed on. It's a lavishly illustrated book full of fantasy adventure things and ways to describe them. We can't all just have in the front of our brain ready to go the difference between rattan, wickerwork and bamboo. It's probably been a decade since I last set a snare on a trap-line, to say nothing of more complicated mechanisms.

What's in here is the texture of fantasy, an visual look from renowned fantasy illustrators at how parts of a fantasy realm interweave. It is a book of magician's secrets for skilled Dungeon Masters.

Cause that's what everyone is! I saw Hobbs set up a trap that just murdered the guy who blundered into it. Clues were given and ignored. Death! Excitement!

Didn't I just run a Kickstarter? Well, that was last year and it delivered, on time, to, and I say this with all sincerity, raving praise. There's the five star reviews on DriveThruRPG, the crazy good cover, and, most importantly, an object lesson in good money management for the thousand people who backed the Kickstarter and got a book shipped for half what it's retailing for now.

Did I mention I'm running a Kickstarter?

Get Artifices, Deceptions & Dilemmas because it's a cool dungeons and dragons book where there's going to be pictures of magical traps and other useful fantasy stuff. Karl's doing the cover again. It's a direct sequel to On Downtime & Demesnes, covering the world of adventure in the same way OD&D covers the world of campaign time.

Why am I doing this instead of blogging?
My cat died on Christmas. I like to live indoors. There's plans for the blog in 2020.
Why isn't this in some collectible edition?
I use books. The illustrations I poured over as a youth were all in cheap paperbacks. Warlock on Firetop Mountain. One on One Game-Books, Lone Wolf,  I want you to use this, bend, spindle, mutilate, and tear. 
Didn't you just run a-
Last year, it delivered over 2 months ago.
What about-
If anyone has any questions about anything, please, reach out. campbell at oook dot cz.

Hack & Slash 
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On Inside Downtime

What's in this thing?

Well, there's some pictures of the table of contents. But what's in there?

A procedural system that drives adventure and player engagement in sandboxes!


Here's how it works.

You are standing in the center of a fantasy world. The Dungeon Master has all his adventure sites and environments prepared.

The players can do whatever they want, but if they want to sleep indoors, they are going to have to come up with the cash. If not, what adventure will befall them on the streets or in the wilderness?

The canny players will be like "How do we get ahead of the game?" You'll grin, and hand them the guide (we calling them control panels now?) in the back of the book with downtime activities. They have to pay that cash on the barrel-head, on a regular schedule using any of the classic and modern calendars contained in the appendix to keep them motivated. Like the Merwish calendar from 1978! Every month events occur, based on percentages you set. The world lives.

All of which lead seamlessly for adventure.

Now, it's not a good idea to run a blind sandbox, there are usually starting adventures that provide different hooks to draw the player into the world. That's why transparently adding this to your campaign reinforces all your hard work! Players will begin to examine your world as a place they can get the resources and information they need to accomplish their  goals.

With staged rumors, lots of secondary and tertiary dimensions for players to approach adventures, (Gain influence in town to raise an army, send out expeditions to accomplish secondary goals, manipulate influence from behind the scenes) completely compatible rules for either basic or 5th edition for clearing land and building castle, and lots of treats for players like growing vat monsters, building airships, or setting up bandit camps, it adds new realms of engagement to your game.

Oh, and some of the most creative ideas and tools from the best minds in fantasy gaming.

That's it! My players seem to really like it. So do everyone that already has a copy!
Print coming soon!

Get it today, seamlessly compatible with basic or seamlessly compatible with 5e.

If you're looking for some great art to go with your new campaign, check out James Shield's Kickstarter for 26 horrible beasts! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jeshields/rpg-monsters-a-to-z

Hack & Slash 
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On Downtime On Time

Hey guys.

I finished my Kickstarter on time.
5th Edition
Basic D&D

People's responses have been good.

"Its a good book."
"I love the Noble Patron random list in Downtime and Demesnes! Very creative and very... useful for the... discerning Judge..."
"Some of the biggest things from it that I see using or modifying for a game I run are the vehicle design rules and the settlement influence rules"
"I really liked the addition of lapidary hirelings (I know that's a weird thing to like, but making gems more of a subgame sounds like it could be fun)"
"@Agonarch The book is good yes. but that's not surprising. the kickass cover surprised me!
"This book was worth every penny. I can safely say that all or most of this will be dropped into my next campaign. Thank you and well done."

There's more, like a lot more. People seem to really like it.

Print files have been submitted and we are waiting on DTRPG printer. During the release period, the book is on sale for a price much closer to what the kickstarter backers paid. It's only for a limited time though, and once 2020 is upon us, it'll go back up to full price.

You want something exciting to read that will get your players as jazzed about your campaign as you are, so check it out.

Can you believe 1,100 people already bought this thing and love it?

I'll be posting some more about what's inside coming up this week, along with some more exciting posts now that the book is done.

Thanks everyone. 

Hack & Slash 
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On GNS in my OSR? It's more likely than you think.

My own words from 2000, a few short months after the genesis of the threefold model.

From: Courtney Campbell 
Subject: Re: Getting player buy-in to a surprise 
Date: 2000/05/26
It is a 'system' a 'model' for discussion.. .
For someone who claims to know so much about communication, you certainly 'get
off' on going to newsgroups and saying, and I paraphrase; "Your stupid model
is a waste of time. How dare you dumb fuck-wits come up with some common
terminology to discuss something you enjoy. How come you don't just play the
in answer to your question, We
do just play the game, just not while we
choose to discuss it on a newsgroup.
So, I'm into it, I've always been into it, and I always will be.

Of course, the threefold model is—Well, I mean, Ron Edwards is still active in gaming. It isn't a reflection of him as a human, I certainly don't want to be held accountable for the things I wrote from 1997-2001, so I'm not in any way looking to hold him accountable for what he said. I like Ron as a human, and I'm super glad he's a game designer.  And yet I'm going to speak my mind on this.

The threefold model is terrible, made up of nonsensical self-referential spherical cows. Now with the advent of healthy gaming groups broadcasting thousands of hours on twitch, has firmly ensconced itself in history next to other theories like phrenology, flat-earth, and anti-vaxxers. Yeeet.

GNS stands for "gamist/narrativist/simulationist". Twenty years ago, I thought it was amazing. Finally I knew how to talk about different approaches to gaming. Although it seems exciting at first glance, It led to a dark place.
Next, I encountered GNS. I read some of the essays on TF and realized there were what I perceived as errors in the theory. I and others pointed that out here, and we were always met with a circle-the-wagons mentality. It quickly became apparent to me that GNS was immune to criticism because anyone who criticized it by definition didn't understand the theory. And given the extremity of the jargon, it was always possible to retreat from any conflict into semantic obscurantism. Of course, a theory which can't be questioned or falsified doesn't have a lot of meaning, and anyway there was never a response to the original criticisms. In particular, there was an exchange between Bruce Baugh and Ron Edwards where Bruce pointed out flaws and the most Ron could do was suggest he shouldn't tear down others' (false) theories, instead he should build up his own. —Chiaroscuro, 2006

The Threefold Model

The first red flag is when the definition for a term is an essay. I accept as natural law that if you can't define a term objectively (i.e. in a determinate way) in less than a paragraph, then it is by its nature not useful as a tool.

I've noted this tendency on the parts of a lot of people who arrive at the Forge from a scholarly background - accustomed to reading texts as representatives of identified points of view, they aren't used to dealing with texts as "thickets of debate" in which everyone understands that the point of view is expected to emerge eventually.- Ron Edwards

Very simply, there are essays defining what those terms mean, and they contradict each other. It seems simple! You might tell yourself Gamist is a focus on procedures, narrativist is a focus on narrative and drama, and simulationist is, well, something like gamist, but maybe involving mostly games people didn't like?

The use of the terms matched the way someone might use the word communist in 1960. Unless it was the group you identified with of course. This is what eventually turned into the "Big Model". But the big model is wholly reliant on the "creative agendas" of, you guessed it, gamism, narrativism, and simulation.

In reflection, I believe the threefold model was vague because it was simply a way for people who had difficulty managing group communication challenges to create an in-group-out-group dynamic to shore up their own insecurities. You can read the essays yourself linked above, I've written before about how the theory is internally inconsistent, when I was less circumspect about what I would say on the internet.

Brain Damage

My impression is that people who talk about "System matters", GNS, and such things, have never actually read any of the source material. They have invented some thing inside their head, which makes sense based on their assumptions, but breaks down with any actual contact with what the text says, or interaction with anyone else's assumptions of reality. It isn't helped by the fact that the field is filled with a ton of jargon, having meanings that are very specific and different from their common use.

The fundamental flaw of the Big Model is its core thesis. Ron defines the various material factors of role playing  as character, system, setting, situation, and color, and says that the reaction to these elements is the premise.

"Premise is whatever a participant finds among the elements to sustain a continued interest in what might happen in a role-playing session." — Ron Edwards GNS and other matters of role playing theory
I don't agree in the strongest possible way. The things that sustain my interest is augury of unknown realities, experiencing meaningful choice, sharing a life experience with my friends.

Everything he lists that appeals to people who play role-playing games is superficial and irrelevant. I will play any game with any Dungeon Master. Character, system, setting, situation and color are almost completely irrelevant.

Now, sure I have preferences, but the whole artifice of the situation is that gaming groups break up because the participants are brain-damaged by the fact that the game is incoherently made up of multiple modes, instead of focused on a single one, G, N, or S.

I'm not kidding.
More specific to your question, Vincent, I'll say this: that protagonism was so badly injured during the history of role-playing (1970-ish through the present, with the height of the effect being the early 1990s), that participants in that hobby are perhaps the very last people on earth who could be expected to produce *all* the components of a functional story. No, the most functional among them can only be counted on to seize protagonism in their stump-fingered hands and scream protectively.. .
[The most damaged participants are too horrible even to look upon, much less to describe. This has nothing to do with geekery. When I say "brain damage," I mean it literally. Their minds have been *harmed.*]
All that is the foundation for my point: that the routine human capacity for understanding, enjoying, and creating stories is damaged in this fashion by repeated "storytelling role-playing" as promulgated through many role-playing games of a specific type. This type is only one game in terms of procedures, but it's represented across several dozens of titles and about fifteen to twenty years, peaking about ten years ago. Think of it as a "way" to role-play rather than any single title. - R. Edwards, Forge
He's talking about D&D.

"It is just that their thinking has been infected by unhealthy thoughts,” said the Han to the Uighur. It is a man, justifying an animals actions as not those of a living thinking creature for his own edification. That is not hyperbole, it is the core of tyranny, when your opponents preferences are evidence of some sort of mental illness. Do not claim to advance your ends that I am comparing what Ron said to genocide; this isn't about Ron at all. I am saying many men in their hearts dream themselves your master. Call it gate-keeping, or manipulation, or whatever you want. Redressing in-group/out-group power dynamics as scientific fact is happening all the time.

Ron Edwards (and super-friends like Luke Crane) had dysfunctional gaming experiences growing up. I did not. It's clear today that functional gaming experiences are the norm because we have video of thousands of hours of people playing with all different kinds of focuses and different games, and the only problems that exist are social problems. And that's knowledge that's propagated. In the 80's and 90's, games were blamed for problem behaviors—when really the source of the problem was mental illness, social maladaptation, and all too frequently exploitative abusers, the "missing stairs".

Now, I can read internet forums today without going blind in my right eye from anger, because when someone starts talking about a problem game, there is a resounding cry of "Talk to your players". Engage in communication instead of trying to engage in a war of manipulation within the context of an activity.

There is a lot of thought and a lot of work and literally hundreds of thousands of words written about game theory on the forge and by various proponents. You can read it. It may be my 20 years in the mental health field that makes it look like people processing trauma in the open (and re-inflicting it on others) but you can read it yourself and make up your own mind. I'm not the first person to come to a similar conclusion.

The Past and Future

I don't agree. The RPGA promotes itself as taking care of role- players' interests. As long as this is the case, they should not put restrictions on material which is highly relevant to quite a few gamers; this is neglecting gamers' interests. The only reasons I can think of for banning homosexual issues are marketing reasons. Holter, Matthijs, 1993

I was 16 when that was written. It's important that we remember the past so that we don't repeat it. I've seen people in the last month mention both System Matters and GNS (and thankfully, saw people make the same points I made above). And you thought ten year old tweets were bad. 

Role-playing theory is a subset of communication's group facilitation theory, with a sprinkling of theological communication theory. (We see the main role of the facilitator in such a group as contributing to process and structure, not content. Sound familiar? Ever heard that old saw about the Dungeon Master being an impartial adjudicator?) It's a shared human experience and it has concrete techniques that can be taught. You don't need special training—everyone facilitates groups and communication.
Examples of concrete techniques:  encouraging exploration: Establishing the focus of the session. Setting up the question or issue that we are going to explore. Encouraging trust. Acting so that people are disposed to work together with the facilitator to create an environment in which all can participate. Helping people to engage with the subject and each other. Pose some initial questions or open up conversation. Don't undermine player action to force an outcome. Communicate so that everyone understands the situation in the same way.  Include verticality in design, Address and avoid power struggles in the clinical sense. Make sure choices in games are interesting, significant enough to notice and have meaningful consequences. Participants should be able to define their own objectives and methods for achieving them; choices should not be coerced or manipulated; and choices should be based on valid information. Et al.
The core of all this started, when Mary on rec.games.frp.advocacy started talking about what factors influenced what a game master decides. Is this a reasonable thing for the non-player character to do? Does this also produce an interesting experience for the player? Working out the answers to these with the group is the way.

You want to know what's fair? You have specific assumptions, a culture, and relationships with your friends. When you are in a group, the group shares preferences within the scope of social norms while respecting individuals. You can call this a social contract, but it wouldn't be worth the paper it's not written on. It is, as a social tribal animal, what occurs in every grouping. You discuss and negotiate expectations, verbally, non-verbally, or if handicapped, using an aid. You develop a ritual and a culture as a group.

Everything else, eventually, comes down to preference. Anyone who tells you differently is trying to insinuate you within a system of control. Stay free.

Happy American Thanksgiving. This is normally where I pitch my Patreon, but a friend of mine, Amanda, is struggling this season. It is within our power, in our comfortable, cozy, holiday, warmth, to help another wonderful human suffer less. I urge you to do so. I am so grateful that I am finally in a place where I can give to others. Gofundme for Amanda.

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On the Explicit Procedure of Play

This isn't about bad-wrong-fun.

The discussion yesterday about behaviors we've all come across at the gaming table are not gaming problems. They are related to cognitive distortions. I get that "Cognitive Distortions" has a negative connotation, they aren't moral judgements.

A common example of a cognitive distortion is "Parents should love their children." Some parents don't. Until that reality is accepted, suffering. Often we aren't aware of what these distortions are, and they can drive a lot of our actions as do things to stave off having to deal with that dissonance. An easy way to avoid this type of pain is try to control or manipulate a situation so that you aren't given evidence that contradicts your beliefs.

When this isn't possible, you experience emotional trauma. This goes through a variety of phases, though the order and severity varies on education, culture, and experience. In order for us to get rid of the cognitive distortion (e.g. "Life should be fair."), your body needs to go through processes to rebuild a new mental conception that matches reality: Anger, bargaining, denial, depression, and acceptance of a more accurate model of reality (e.g. "Life isn't fair"). These phases are what allow the brain to, in a quite literal sense, rebuild itself around its current conditions.

This is, I think, very basic, very well accepted knowledge. We expect families to teach rituals on how to cope with change, but frequently that doesn't happen. Cognitive and/or dialectical behavior therapy teach these skills.

Quantum what's?

None of the ideas are wrong. High lethality? Great! Go for it. Want to make a game less lethal, change the rules. Low magic? Sure! Come back as a cartoon? Great idea.

It's never about the specifics. It's not about railroads, or quantum ogres, or fudging. It doesn't matter what specific kind of game you do at the table. Yet still role-playing horror stories exist. It's all about human beings, and getting their needs met at the expense of other people.

When people go into therapy, it isn't some philosophical problem or existential angst. Universally it is specific, often sentinel event overloading their support systems ability to cope. Loss of job, breaking up with a boyfriend, becoming homeless, et. al. You have to look at the specific problem and break it down. It's not how to solve the problem-these are people, like you. Telling people what to do doesn't work, you know? You are there to provide insight. Part of this is an analysis of a person's interactions with other people.

You look at the sequence of events and categorize each interaction as belonging to one of three interpersonal communication styles: aggressive, passive-aggressive, or assertive.

Are you meeting your needs at the expense of other people? Are you avoiding confrontation? There's no right or objective answer, because these are people, they are full of messy squiggly bits and nearly all of their volume is empty space, their presence simply a projection of a vibration that lairs in a place we cannot see.

So we have some baseline assumptions, foundational principals that we work up from. Everyone has infinite worth regardless of externals. Relationships should include ways for everyone to get their needs met without it being at the expensive of someone else. Interactions should be made with levels of confrontation that are respectful of everyone involved.

Cognitive Distortions of Dungeons & Dragons

Player death must meet some threshold of meaning, players should do what the Dungeon Master thinks they should do, A bad die roll is what kills characters; These are all cognitive distortions.

There is a procedure for Dungeons and Dragons, and it requires a Dungeon Master who is a player, and characters managed by players of the game. The person running the game, at no point, should ever deceive, manipulate, or attempt to pressure or influence the people playing the game. The job of the Dungeon Master is to give helpful accurate information. Lying isn't in the job description. (His responsibility to represent the game world might cause him to portray a character who lies, but his job is to represent that lying character honestly.)

The dungeon master can present limited information-the information the characters have access to. Mysteries can abound in your game world. There can be plots and intrigue aplenty. But the core gameplay procedures and loop of Dungeons and Dragons at no point involve any player manipulating another.

There is no rule in Dungeons and Dragons proscribing one person having authority over another person. 

You see, the Dungeon Master is a player. He manages the procedures and flow of the game. He creates the world, and acts as both an auger of a distant realm seen dimly through the ocular power of dice, a neutral judge of the results of game-play, and a designer who creates (hopefully interesting) situations for the players to encounter.

Alignment has no authority to prescribe behavior, it's descriptive (and a palpable, detectable force, in the fundamental sense, within the world). The role of the Dungeon Master is one of servant, one who entertains, not via authorship but by facilitation. The rules are explicit about this: They say "The DM decides how these rules will be used in the game. . . and the final decision is the DM's" (B60) They don't decide what the characters will do. They have no authority over player's choices.

Let's talk about that core gameplay loop.

Core Gameplay Loop

The minutiae of these vary from game to game, so I'll be very explicit here. This will allow you to assess what behaviors are explicitly part of the game-play loop, and determine which behaviors are not. This gives you insight and results in a better game.

Obviously this is quite instinctive (being a model of existing and taking action in the real world), and these social norms make this flow of play transparent. But once you are aware of it, it gives you a framework to handle issues in communication and behavior.

Pregame activities include one player designing an adventure and other players rolling up characters and purchasing equipment.

Play begins with the Dungeon Master providing background for the players. This includes an objective or goal. Even if it's implied, the background information will indicate some specific change of circumstance that needs to be resolved. "We are in a new place." "A dwarf caravan has disappeared." "A house is haunted."

This background will both communicate the narrative themes (which you can not think about or design, but they end up being there anyway) as well as providing players with an ability to contextualize your comments from shared cultural touchstones. It's difficult to communicate extremely complicated situations, so providing a similar frame of reference does significant amounts of work for the people engaged in the game.

Finally, this leads us into our first game structure. Different games have different words for it, but it is easily conceptualized by the word "Scene." The characters are existing at some conceptual space in this imaginary world, and the background is our entrance to that conceptual scene. "You find yourself. . . " "You are standing. . . " "Before you lies. . . " et. al.

Each player of the game is in control of one or more agents who can take action within the world. Note that "Role-Playing" is a term derived from taking the role of a singular unit on a battlefield. The player is still considered to be playing a game, just one in which he controls individuals instead of squads of soldiers. Almost immediately upon exposure to the wild the term was conflated with the idea of role as emotional experience and theatrical presentation. Even though this wasn't the intent, it is completely compatible with the play of Dungeons & Dragons and is a matter of taste. You are encouraged to interact as your character, while playing the game, though it is by no means required. Many people still play by saying "My character does. . . " or "My character says."

It's important to note here that it is A) a game B) with explicit and implicit goals C) and you can succeed and fail within those goals within the context of the game. This is true of every official version of Dungeons and Dragons, though it is not necessarily true of other games. It's left as an exercise to the reader if this is related to the unrelenting dominance and success of Dungeons & Dragons.

There are a few different games or modes that Dungeons and Dragons switches between, and each one has a separate procedure of play.

Exploration Loop

The most common is Dungeon Exploration. Frequently there is wilderness travel or handling activities in downtime. A lot of these are clearly procedural-I'm not going to walk through the combat rules, likely you already know them by heart. What's important is that the non-combat sections of the game are as procedural and game-like as the combat structures.

But because these rely more on conversational social norms, rather than explicit discussion about procedural issues, it can create a lot of tension when miscommunications happen. Adding in one person trying to manipulate the outcome of game-play can rapidly create a dysfunctional situation.

This is illustrated most clearly in examples of play from early editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Here's an example from the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide. Here's a different sample of play from Basic Dungeons and Dragons.

DM: "After 30' you reach a round landing with two sets of stairs. One goes down and to the east, the other goes down and to the west."

The environment is described, as well as any relevant activated objects or red herrings. Once the environment is described the gameplay proceeds via the characters asking questions. This is a two-way process of information gathering. The players can ask any questions they wish until they are satisfied.

In this opening example the players don't have any questions, and the caller goes ahead and takes action. Taking action has four steps. Intent, Initiation, Execution, Effect. This is a social exchange between the Dungeon Master and a Player. The player states their intended action, providing a space for the Dungeon Master and the player to negotiate over the specifics of their action. This is the reduction of the Deadly Difference, i.e. the difference between the players understanding of the situation and the Dungeon Masters. Then the player oks the initiation of the event, the event is executed and the result is presented, leading us back into our next opportunity to act. Frequently Intent and Initiation will be collected from the whole group and resolved effectively simultaneously.

Here is the next play example containing the Intent and Initiation from Basic Dungeons and Dragons.

Morgan:"Fredrik looks down the east staircase and Silverleaf looks down the west one. What do they see"

And the execution and effect.

DM: "The parties torches mess up their infravision, so they can only see twenty to thirty feet. The west stairs go down ten feet and turn sharply south. The east stairs go down at least thirty feet. Also, Fred smells a rank, musty odor coming up from below."

This process: Information gathering, Intent, Initiation, execution, and effect continues until one of the other modes of play is invoked. Within those other modes of play, player action follows a truncated version of IIEE. I hit the monster, picking up the die, rolling the die, rolling damage. Intent, Initiation, execution, effect.

It's not white room theory. It allows you to explain in a concrete way why, for example, players never die to unlucky die rolls. The unlucky die rolls are consequences for a series of choices. It gives you insight into the specific roles each player has, not of their character, but there responsibility in the game. It clarifies why a referee has to be neutral and what that means—when performing the execution step he should be invested in determining the outcome objectively, because that's his role at the table. The players job at the table is to decide what she wants to do.

This absolutely happens fluidly, often in a non-linear order because it's a game for fun that you play while hanging out with your friends.  (e.g. "Wait, I actually have fire resistance 5. That will change what I want to do.")

This helps clear up specific distinctions. It's why considering the last monster dead in a fight when it really has 1 hit point left is fine, but arbitrarily changing monster hit points based on your personal feelings of how long combat needs to last is a breach of responsibility as a player in the role of Dungeon Master.

The first is an action taken out of respect for the time of other people, the second is capricious, subjective, and arbitrary and undermines the intent and initiation phase. "Don't change the rules during play" as it goes. This is why "Rocks fall, everyone dies" or "You get hit by a bolt of lightning" are inappropriate behaviors (those aren't called via the game systems, they are caused by the Dungeon Master being passive-aggressive—punishing the players while avoiding a confrontation by virtue of a misunderstanding of the servile nature of the responsibility).

This framework provides a lot of clarity over where the problem really is in role-playing game horror stories. Psst. It's the people. *ghost wail* Whoooooooo--oooOOOOHhhhhhhhhhh.

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