Saturday, March 25, 2017

Lurker's Corner ~ Fun Times

If I wanted a clear example of how a battle using my combat system can go in a completely different direction than what's anticipated, I couldn't do better than to compare Round 6 with Round 7 in the present Juvenis combat.  I have been consistently missing the party with my rolls, while the party has been hitting just as consistently (with the exception of the cleric).  With one frog humanoid dead and two of the others apparently on their last legs, being easily stunned, the party had every reason to believe they were done.

However, the frog humanoids had a good round for a change.  With two claw-claw-horn potentials, I hit four times out of six, and rolled good on a d6 for horn damage: a 5 and a 6.  Add in a little frog-hopping ability and just like that, the party is smashed right back onto their own heels.

Not to mention what might happen if the one frog in the hall escapes, is able to climb the rope and goes after Petar and Willa . . .

Post Script:

Consider leaving a vote on this post about determining my top ten posts from these last 9 years of blogging!

Friday, March 24, 2017


Hah!  That's 10 comics.  I'm told that a lot of people who try don't get this far in this period of time.  So, nice.  I think I'm still looking to find my voice, but fact is that it will eventually center itself without my thinking about it.

As ever, please support my Patreon.  If you're not able to do it this week or this month, please think about doing it a month from now.

Also, I answered a proposal from some readers with the previous post.  It looks bleak just at the moment, but I suspect that its because Friday nights are game nights.

Challenge to Find the Top 10 Posts

I expect this to come to naught, but . . .

Following on the premise by this comment from Kimbo, and the few comments afterwards expressing an interest in a top ten list of posts on this blog, I suggest the following:

1)  That I have no vote whatsoever.

2)  That the number of page views of a given post are irrelevant.

3)  That anyone may propose up to ten posts for candidature.  There is no minimum.

4)  That for any post to be considered, that post MUST be seconded.  It is sufficient enough for an individual to second someone else's title, without needing to express a recommendation of their own.

5)  That following a period of, say, two weeks, over which time I will promote this post, we will collect a list of posts that have been proposed and seconded.

There is a limit to how many possible answers I can add to a poll, though I don't know what that number is.  More than ten, surely.  I will collect those proposals with the most seconds and create a poll, which can then be voted upon again.

I will then take the ten highest posts and make it permanent on the sidebar.


I consider this to be self-promoting and awful.  But since it was not my idea, I'm prepared to see what happens.  I expect about 33 people to make proposals, since that is usually the total number of voters I get in a typical poll.

Thank you for anyone who contributes and let me say I appreciate all the readers who have supported this blog.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Old Posts 1-10

Here are a list of the first 10 posts I created on this blog:

The Tao.  Personal Memoir.  An account of how I was introduced to D&D my very first time, my offline campaign in 2008 and my reasons for starting a blog.

To Make a World.  First Worlds I Created, Personal Memoir, Worldbuilding Theory.  Describing my transition to being a DM, the first world I created based on the Gorean novels, my second world fully self-designed and why it didn't work, my present world and reasons for its design.

How It Got Infected.  Corporate Marketing, D&D's Development, Official Game, Personal Memoir.  First experiences with modules in 1979, TSR's agenda, witnessing the manner in which people moved towards the game, early conventions in the 1980s, my feelings of disenchantment and moving towards isolation as a DM.

Rats in a Maze.  Agency in RPGs, Humor, Personal Memoir.  My first DM and his style, the employment of dungeon doors as evil entities, discussing the freedom of players to live a life vicariously through role-playing games.

Seizing the Day.  Adventure Building, Agency in RPGs.  A theoretical description of how an alternate-form of adventure might be created, not based on the traditional style (the mustard adventure).  A few words on objectivism as a DM.

So What If They Win?  Adventure Building, Agency in RPGs, Bad DMing.  Good vs. Bad playing, appreciating the player, the player's primary value in a campaign, DMs prepared to circumvent the rules in order to preserve a preconception of how their games should unfold.  [I have moved slightly from the opinions expressed].

Dead Thinking.  Agency in RPGs, Alignment, Corporate Marketing, Official Game, Personal Memoir, Unearthed Arcana.  Disappointment in the Unearthed Arcana's release, attempts to subvert player agency with alignment, the bad paladin trope, character codes, end result of point-buy systems.

Give Abilities Their Due.  4th Edition, Game Mechanics.  The release of 4e, negative first impressions, increased emphasis on the die roll, fantasy world demographics, the rational difference between having an clear and unquestioned skill and the silliness of making rolls to determined success.

Enough Junk.  Community Feedback, Ranting.  My emotional response to the apparent present state of the RPG game culture, viscerally expressed, upon beginning to discover how fractured that culture had become, and how the same lazy cliches were still prominent.  Exactly the sort of post I am trying never to write again.  [I am strongly tempted to delete the post]

Secondary Skills.  Character Generation, Father's Table, Pre-Sage Abilities.  A discussion of the secondary skills approach used in the original DMG and the approach I had used at that time, which I described as the "father's table."  This is still part of the background character generator I would develop later (with more results that this post gives), but now sage abilities exist as a complement to the moderate skills/bonuses a player gains from their parent's profession.

Believe it or no, this is about all I can stand.  I can see the benefits of highlighting most of this, but it is a boring post to write.  Maybe I'll try one a week.  That will get through my entire present lexicon in . . . around five years.

Index Blogging

I have a very well-meaning dedicated supporter of my blog telling me that I have got to create a better index for my posts ~ and on the whole, I agree that a better index would be preferable.  The tag system has gotten far past the point where it can practically enable any person to find a specific post about something I wrote five to eight years ago, while the blogger search engine won't search specific phrases at all.

The only problem?  That is an immense amount of work.  At present, I just wrote last week that I have to concentrate my resources on my book and on the new comics (which are generating interest on facebook and twitter that is unusual for me).  I feel I'm letting the fellows down on the campaigns because I'm deliberating backing off, posting less per day and sometimes not at all.  I haven't expanded the wiki in a month.  And now the question arises that I should go through and systematically "re-shelve" my blog lexicon: a massive task that I'm not convinced will greatly increase the interest in this blog.

Right now, my focus is on interest: getting the present reader to feel safer around me (my being such a freak) and more active and getting new readers to come in and look.  Granted, a better index will encourage those new readers to know what they're looking at ~ but if so, just redesigning the sidebar tags isn't going to do it.

Logically, I should ditch the auto-system that blogger provides and make my own index, one that makes sense, that properly identifies the subject-matter of a post, right down to the material value covered in the paragraphs of that post.

At this point, I don't remember entirely what is in this blog.  When I want to find something, I go to google, not blogger, then type "Tao D&D blog" and as many meaningful words as I can remember being attached to the post.  This morning I found an old, lost post immediately by searching "Tao D&D blog children ability stats", locating something I wrote about generating ability stats for children one year at a time.  If I had tried to search for that through blogger, I'd never have found it.

It would make sense if I were to make a series of posts that were largely links on a specific subject, then build list in the sidebar that would compile the link posts.  That, unquestionably, would be a brutal amount of work and boring as hell to create.

A few years ago I conceived of writing a post at the beginning of each month that would compile all the posts of that same month but four years earlier.  It was horrible.  The posts were dull to write and required that I go over material that did little to expand my consciousness, and which generated very little real interest from the reader.  My page views per post dropped visibly.  So the notion of doing this on a grand scale, dragging myself through a process that people might appreciate while producing a grand community yawn doesn't motivate me.

I'd rather push my lazy ass to get another round up on the campaigns.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Non-Fighter Training and More

The following is an answer to Vlad Malkav's three questions in the previous post.  Starting with the training of non-fighter characters.

I'll be addressing the matter from the original starting-age tables in the DMG, back from 1977.  I don't know what other age tables exist or what numbers they give, but I have always felt the original numbers were well designed and rational, for the classes they were supposed to represent, at least as far as humans are concerned.  I treat every races' lifespan as the same as humans, as this makes sense for history in my game. I don't need any elves around talking about their personal friendship with Julius Caesar.

A fighter starts with a minimum age of 16 (15+1d4).  This suggests that there is little mental prowess that is necessary, which fits with our conception of history.  Boys have always entered armies as young as 12; just look at juvenile combatants in Syria, Zaire and Afghanistan right now.  The principle requirement for a medieval-concept fighter is a weapon, some experience in using it and comprehension of the battlefield through observation.  A 16-year-old fighter is believable.

However, the paladin begins 1st level at a minimum of 18 years while a cleric or druid starts at 19.  Again, there is a 4 year window (the paladin is 17+1d4), but the key point here is the 2-year difference between paladin and fighter.  What is that two years spent doing?  What slows the cleric or druid down three years?

The latter seems plain.  They have to learn spells, gain an understanding of either the secular or non-secular world and in general obtain a certain clarity where it comes to their professions.  With the paladin, the question is one of faith.  The paladin needs to become more mature in order to comprehend how the world works (and how the paladin fits in it).  This can't be gained by just more fighting.  We can imagine the paladin becoming a fighter first, but then the character needs to "drop out" of the daily grind of living and acquire insight through prayer, contemplation, study, ordinary labor (to gain perspective and humility) and in all likelihood a great deal of time spent alone.

This can't be bought or taught, except in the most cursory of terms.  The paladin must be the sort of person able to "see" the way clear to being a paladin.  Thus the necessary wisdom and intelligence as well as strength and constitution.  The high charisma is then gained because, through humility and comprehension, the paladin has gained a greater understanding of what people need and what they want to hear.  The paladin is empathic.

When we roll up a character, we're seeing the result of this training, the accumulation of the stats that we're setting down.  The matter is settled at the beginning of the game.  We roll a 17 and slot it in under charisma without a thought for how that charisma is acquired.  It simply is ~ and the tendency is to think it is a natural, born-in-the-womb trait.  Actually, it is an indication that this character spent those extra years profitably.  An ordinary fighter with a 14 charisma, not so much.

So to "train" a paladin would be to make a fighter the way I described in the previous post, then let go.  After a few years (if we sent off a 16-year-old to be a paladin, could take as long as 5 years before the reunion occurred), we'd get the revised fighter back or we'd get a fighter that failed.  It wouldn't be up to us.

Similarly, the cleric or druid would probably interrupt the fighter track before becoming a 1st level fighter (less proficiencies, a THAC0 that upgrades more slowly, very little interest in fighter-based knowledge), just enough to gain the requisite combat abilities for the class, before ditching anything more to spend years either in a seminary or in the wild.  Again, both would be a matter of time, not expense.  The seminary might cost a stipend, but that wouldn't make the time go by faster.  The same follows for the druid, who would likely follow a teacher but the skills gained have little or nothing to do with combat.

The thief also begins at 19 (18+1d4).  The thief's combat abilities are different, less trained and more streetwise in technique.  But we can still assume that a greater thief could train a would-be ordinary person to obtain their first level, like Fagin in Oliver Twist.  The thief track could work almost exactly like the fighter, except that a non-fighter would be the instructor.  Thus I created the sage skill disciplinarianship - about which I've written nothing, until now.  That's because, like the fighter, I had absolutely no idea how it would work until 1:30 AM in the morning last night.

The assassin starts with a minimum age of 21 (20+1d4).  There is no disciplinarianship for assassins because I don't see an assassins' school as a concept.  Murder, or killing as we like to say, is taught in the army; and with my recent change of seeing the assassin as a fighter and not a thief, we need to see the principle combat training/sage ability knowledge for that assassin coming out of the fighter instruction that we've postulated.  However, like the paladin, the assassin is someone who drops out.  Not to become more pious, but more likely because they don't get along with others.  With a higher strength, intelligence and dexterity than ordinary fighters (again, the ability stat prerequisites), they learn more quickly, get bored, leave before they gain their necessary 1,200 experience and begin living a misanthropic lifestyle.  They do mercenary jobs, pick up knowledge from thieves on the streets and gain a natural aptitude for killing more effectively and coldly.  We can argue that the assassin takes less experience to get to second than a fighter does because it takes perhaps 1,700 x.p. for the assassin to gain their 1st level.  I'm don't know for sure.  All of this postulation needs the creation of firm guidelines for what each 100 x.p. gained produces.  I don't need to do that at this time, so it can wait.

The ranger also starts with a minimum age of 21, like the assassin.  The high intelligence, wisdom, strength and constitution all assume this time was spent hardening the ranger to the wilderness.  Less interested in how nature works and more interested in how to survive it, we can presume rangers also manage their fighter training handily before departing from the urban environment for the wilderness, where they are happy as individuals.  There they accumulate another 500 x.p. surviving, getting to know specific environments, acquiring ranger sage abilities (most of which are exactly like a fighter's) until reaching an age where they accumulate the skills, hit points and hardiness to be a first level ranger.

The monk begins at age 22 (21+1d4).  Like the paladin, the monk has meditated.  Unlike the paladin, the combat training is wholly unique and intrinsically different from that as a fighter.  More of the combat training is managed through precision and repetition, so that is must be gained like a cleric learning spells in a seminary.  It can't be gained through casual combat as a non-leveled individual.  It is rigorous and requires total commitment.  The monk begins somewhere in their early teens and doesn't appear at all in the real world until they have become a 1st level.  Therefore, one doesn't encounter a non-level monk anywhere but a dojo or a monastery ~ where, we might suppose, there are many students with partial monk abilities that could be a formidable challenge for even a high level party (a hundred "part-monks," with the skills I've recently proposed, would be strangely dangerous, even if they had few hit points).  Naturally, all the monks in any particular school would be following a specific "path" in the "way" of the school's design.  This school would be full of "claw"-trained monks while that school would all be "tranquility"-trained monks.

This leaves the mage and the illusionist.  The mage's minimum age is 26 (24+2d8).  Because a bell-curve results from the two dice used to determine age, however, only a very few mages would be that young. Most mages would start as 1st levels between 32 to 34.  The illusionist's minimum age is 31 (30+1d6).  A slightly worse average.

This suggests the training to accumulate cantrips and spells is exhaustive and time-consuming.  In a typical campaign, therefore, training an ordinary NPC from scratch to become a mage would be impractical.  Considering the response I received from the post I wrote about jumping time ahead, I don't think this plan will interest most players.  Who wants to wait around for a 15-year-old to enter a magic academy to reach the unlucky age of 40 before hitting 1st level as a mage?

Okay, let's put that down for now.

Part 2

Vlad asks about my civilization technology concept from 2015.  In brief, for those not familiar, this is the idea that more densely populated parts of the world would have a higher tech level than parts less urbanized.  The tech level measure is based on D&D equivalents to the video game Civilization by Sid Meier.

The explanation for why more people would be leveled in a higher tech region is simple: there are more teachers.  A given teacher should be able to teach more than one protege: most of the time training and learning is spent in repetition and practice, meaning that a single teacher is only needed for 10-15% of a student's actual learning window.  One teacher, then, can manage up to 8 students, rotating between them, getting rid of students who require too much time when the full complement is being educated.  A teacher with less students can manage more time for hard-to-teach individuals.

In a dense culture, teachers are everywhere and there are plenty of would-be students.  This enables the creation of mass-production schools that would be impractical in largely rural cultures (where there aren't the teachers and fewer students).  This allows for the greater number of leveled persons, as the experience gained would be fruitful and not lost to an x.p. ceiling, as I proposed in the previous post.

Vlad's second question regarding tech cultures is about where does the experience come from?  I rush to point out that the 30 Years' War post describes a war taking place in the highest tech areas possible for my world.  Virtually everything in the heart of Europe has a tech between 15 and 18.  Remember, the tech is based on population density alone.  All those city states are very densely populated ~ and all of those city states (Ulm, Mulhouse, Pisa, Milan, Augsburg, Florence, Padua, Nuremberg) were rife with war, uprisings, rebellions, religious clashes in the streets and ~ like the modern era ~ excessive crime.  By no means does an educated population indicate a calm, peaceful population.  Given our humanity's propensity for fighting over ideas, an education actually gives us a lot more to fight about.

Therefore, a technology-rich region might shield themselves from harm on the outside, but everyone inside already has all the available tech and are more than willing to use it.  As well, population density tends to fit the agricultural richness of a river valley, so if our country is well off and educated, the chances are the other country across the river will be also.  Finally, we know that greater technology massively increases the potential for devastation and destruction, rather than decreasing it.  The evidence of the 30 Years' War indicates this was as true in the 17th century as it is now.

True, they were using muskets and gunpowder.  But they didn't have magic, and a high tech culture would have much more magic than a low-tech culture.  The paradigm holds.

Thank you again, Vlad, for such good questions.  For the general reader, Vlad lives in that part of the world that was knee-deep in the 30 Years' War.  Without giving the exact location, he's well-acquainted with the city-states of Alsace, those of Wurttemberg and the upper valley of the Rhine.  He's close enough to walk to places that I would give my i-teeth to visit.

Lucky bastard.

A Training Idea, At Last

Very late at night and I think I worked too long.  I'm overtired.  But I just spent some time looking over the campaigns and I think I've had a mental breakthrough on the issue of training an NPC non-level towards becoming a level.

The primary issue is that "training" sucks as a game design.  Send someone off, pay a bunch of money, they come back a first level.  It's the equivalent of going to the market and buying a first level character.

So I've been trying to think of some way to make training a part of the actual game, where actual stakes are at play.  I think I have a wisp of an idea.

Here is an example of the ongoing experience the party is earning as of round 3 in my Juvenis game:

If you're not familiar with my experience system,
read here.

Take note of the follower, Bergthora.  Her share of the bonus x.p. is only 1/8th share.  I began that policy years ago, to undermine the amount of experience that followers were stealing from the party.  If she were getting an equal share to everyone else, that would seriously undermine the party's gains in the long run.  Besides, she isn't a leveled character.  She's the equivalent to a man-at-arms in most games: zero-level, some combat training.  (I don't use "zero-level" as a designation, but that isn't important right now).

But why 0.125?  Why not 0.1 or 0.15?  No reason.  Henchmen get 0.5 of the bonus, to underscore that they are auxiliaries and not making their own decisions.  A henchman's hench would get 0.25, while a henchman's henchman's hench would get 0.125.  These were starting to appear in my game, when my big party would get their whole team together, so the followers got rated at the same rate as a third-tier henchman.

Technically, at least partly, they are persons in their own right, not fanatical followers of players.  If a leveled character, they'd BE the same as a player, at least in theory.  So how to justify 0.125?

Suppose that number is indicative of training.  Suppose that a green follower is seen as relying very heavily on the commander, and therefore their own bonus experience is negligible ~ they're just following orders.  But we could make it that as the greenhorn gained experience, their share of the bonus experience would increase.

We could, for example, start with a share of 0.1 ~ and then, as their experience went up in 100 x.p. increments, the share of the bonus x.p. would also rise, by 0.1.  A follower with 100 x.p. would gain 0.2 shares of the bonus.  200 x.p. would equal 0.3 shares, 300 x.p. would equal 0.4 shares and 400 x.p. would equal 0.5 shares.

Now I have another idea brewing in the background and I am getting to it.  Suppose we made a ceiling of 400 x.p.  Bergthora in the example still wouldn't be considered a level at 400 x.p. but she would have to fight a lot to accumulate that much.  She also wouldn't increase her combat skill in the least, but a 1st level fighter doesn't do that either until accumulating 2,000 experience.  400 is negligible.

Just suppose, however, that with Bergthora there was a fighter with instruction for a sage skill (I'm linking a rough page from the wiki but I'm only spitballing here anyway).  That fighter, working with Bergthora, while fighting together in actual combat (not training), would be training Bergthora.  The difference would be that the instructor would let her increase her ceiling from 400 x.p. to 1200 x.p.  Now, each 100 x.p. would only raise her bonus by 0.05 . . . but with the instructor's help, shouting at her during battles, preparing her each day, discussing what went wrong with her swing in each encounter, Bergthora would start to gain weapon proficiencies, sage abilities and hit points, bringing her up to the level of a 1st level fighter.

Once she had gained 1,200 x.p. (remembering that she needs to do this in the presence of an instructor), she would BECOME a 1st level fighter, with all the skills having been gained.

The D&D equivalent of "boot camp," therefore, is to make Bergthora combat trained and able to swing a weapon.  The non-level, zero-experience grunt.  She gains 400 x.p. and she's experienced, but not trained.  But if she fights continuously with a sergeant at her elbow, she builds up a field ranking that puts her in the level-track.  Those who don't survive, or drop out, remain combat-trained; but it takes an instructor to get to first level.

That helps get rid of a lot of the experience I posited with this post.  Most troops, even combat-experienced troops like Bergthora, top out a 400 x.p. and can't get more unless there is an instructor.  And instructors are rare.

There's work left to be done here, but I think that is a genuine idea.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lurker's Corner ~ Mid-March

I haven't put one of these up for a while, but as I was asked to do so regularly . . .

Questions, then.  Are people still reading either of the online campaigns?  What do you think?  Would you have trusted the wererat?  What was your impression of how the Senex party handled the courtyard and guard situation?  What about the small statues in the Juvenis campaign, or the combat that has just launched?  What are your impressions of the dungeon thus far?

Feel free to speak openly.  As readers, you know no more than the existing party does and I don't mind a little kibbutzing.  You may give the party some ideas but you may also bury the party's choices in a collection of useless overthinking and misinformation.  Thus, there is no reason to hold back on conjecture or on general opinion.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


As before, please consider supporting me on Patreon.  The less time I spend working as a cook, the more time I spend designing games, writing and making work like the above.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Yes, I know, it is just a cartoon.  But a tiny bit of
Patreon support from many can enable me to make
cartoons, books and game design for years to come.