Thursday, March 25, 2010

Um, yeah...

What he said.

Blogging and Public Personae

James wrote this.  I think that it is a well written meditation on what blogging is and what it is not.  While I cannot deny that I think that he is right on most, if not all, counts, I have to admit to a bit of sadness.  Probably owing to my own naivete--although perhaps idealism might be more accurate.

As an indirect result of what James wrote, a blogger who I have come to enjoy reading has decided to quit the blogging scene.  Obviously, that is his, and only his, choice, and he has to do what is best for himself and those who count on him.  (I'm not going to bother linking to his blog, because NOT ONLY is he going to stop blogging, but he is going delete the blog and all of its contents, so linking there now would only result in a dead link in a matter of days.  And I'm not going to name the individual for reasons stated below.  (If you know who I am referring to, that isn't an issue.  If you have no idea who I'm referring to, you might be frustrated by this post, but the blogger's identity is not pertinent to this post, and he desires privacy.)

The reason for his decision is that he is a "public figure" in the sense that he is the CEO of a non-profit organization.  His words will describe his views better than I can:
So the reality is that my job is a public job. I am not an elected official, but I actually need more from the public than the typical politician--I don't need the public's votes, I need their actual confidence. By taking a job like this, I give up a fair amount. I am not in a position where I can comment freely and publicly about politics or religion (I can still vote and practice/not practice religion as a choose). I cannot have my name connected to things that even a small, but vocal, minority might consider troubling, offensive, or even weird. I have, for example, quit playing in a rather loud bar band because we occasionally played at dive bars. I've been asked, "How can someone who works with children in the day play in a biker bar at night?" The real answer is that I liked my fellow musicians, I liked playing music, I didn't even drink while playing, and I'm not a biker. However, there was the implied guilt by association. Fortunately, it wasn't that big of a deal to the person and nothing came of it. Still, it was a warning of how others view me, my job, and my agency.

Playing music in a bar is a public act. Not much of one, but it is public. Same with blogging. Blogging is a public act--James is exactly correct in that. I have been very careful to keep my posting focused on gaming. I also have been very careful about which bloggers I publicly follow and who I link to on my blog roll. If I choose to not link to a blog, it is not a personal statement about content. It is me making sure that I don't have to answer questions about why I am publicly recommending blogger A or B or C, whose content might offend some of the 8,000 individuals that I (and, more importantly, my organization) are reliant on for the success of our mission.

Not many of you who blog or read this blog (whose numbers are doubled whenever one of my cats looks at my monitor) is in a similar position. Most of you have jobs where your can blog, rant, evangelize, politicize, agnosticize, or do whatever you want publicly and it has little to no impact on your job or the conditions of your employment. I am not in that position. And this is not a complaint. It is not unfair. This was my choice. I knew exactly what I signed up for when I took on the Executive Director job. I have my dream job but I also give up the ability to do certain things.

So what would be the result if (name) the Executive Director and (name, the blogger) were to meet in the minds of these 8,000 people? Well, I don't think my Board would have an issue with it--one of my Board members is (known rpg writer)' sister, Allison, and we have even auctioned off some of (writer)'s signed books at a fundraising events. I don't think our government or private funding agencies would have an issue with it--it is just not something they would care about. My staff--a few might think I was odd, but they are used to that (they have experienced me getting my head shaved a few years ago during a staff meeting and more recently, me leading a meeting while wearing Mickey Mouse ears). However, among those other 8,000 people (those donors and clients), not everyone would have the same benign reaction. All it would it would take is some motivated nut job to write a letter to the editor or do something similar. If that were to happen, then my Board might look upon me, my work, and my blogging differently. They would be forced to do so.

Is it likely to happen? No. Could it happen? Yes. I've seen some of my peers lose their jobs for less. Among my set of principles are these:

Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

The best way to deal with the crisis is to prevent it in the first place.

Cliches, yes, but no less true because of it. Based on them, I have decided to duck out of the game blogging business. I have been doing this for my own entertainment and it is not worth the potential consequences to me or my organization, remote as these consequences might be.
The fact of the matter is that this individual is a public figure, and there are risks associated with this pleasant hobby that we participate in.  Some people out there might say, "Screw the risks!"  My question to those people would be, "Is it worth it?"  Frankly, no game is worth it.

So why do I write about all of this?

Well, fact of the matter is that I am a mid-level officer in the US Navy.  "Woop-de-doo," you might be thinking.  (Probably for good reason.)  But while I am not a 'public official', I feel very strongly that my job is a public job.  I take very seriously the fact that I am representing the US Navy, and, by extension, the US of A.  I can promise you that I feel an obligation to behave in a certain way because of that.  I can also promise you that were I not an officer, I would probably behave differently in some facets of my life.  And just as our blogger said above, I am not complaining about my profession.  It was my choice--but it does affect the choices that I make.

I guess my point in all of this is that I understand where this blogger is coming from, I can sympathize with him, and I probably would have made the same decision.

In my case, I'm not going to stop blogging because of Raggi's post.  I'm not going to stop blogging because I am in the Navy.  But the fact that I am in the Navy does affect how I blog.  It affects the tone that I take; it affects how I comment at other people's blogs.  Heck, it probably even affects the type of gaming material that I produce.  But I plan to continue--in the grand scheme of bloggers out there, I've only just begun.

4E into the Older Editions

As I've said before, I dig both 4E and A-Lot-Older-E when it comes to my D&D.  While I think that 4E is a bit too difficult to write for, I do like a lot of what they've done in terms of mechanics.  Something that I came across over at the Newbie DM is this post about random effects that might impact characters during a gaming session.  Now, obviously, some of the old classic adventures rely on similar things at various times, but I really enjoyed this list, and it sparked some ideas in my mind.

Again, because effects are specifically a part of 4E mechanics, some adaption is going to be necessary to make use of them, but that is one of the things that we like to do best, right?  Adapt, fiddle, play-around, etc.

Since the Newbie wrote that post based upon some twitter stuff that WotC is putting out, and I am NOT a twitter-er (tweeter? - I don't know...), I would have never seen these.  So, a big thanks to the Newbie!  (Although I should probably comment at his blog, since he is not one of the 20 + a handful of people who read this blog.)

I should go one step further and attempt to do some conversions and post them here, but I don't have time today.  Hopefully, it will be enough that I've shown them to you, and you can do with them what you will.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

There's Another One! - And Other Stuff

It's not a particularly great map, not the best that I've seen recently, but there is something very likeable about it--thus I had to post.

I like the light gray pencil work.  I like the fact that he obviously spent a good bit of time on the shading.  I like that there are many different paths though the place.  I like it.

Thanks for sharing, David.

Oh, and David, thanks A LOT of having a link to this place on your blog.  That site is ridiculous!

Um, also thanks for introducing me to this blog.  Maps, and illustrations, and fantasy goodness, oh my!

And here is another post about maps--hex maps no less.  That's some crazy shizz...

Tuesday Talkies: Elvish Labels

Just as French (and many other languages) characterize nouns as either masculine or feminine, High Elvish makes use of a few characterizations (hereafter referred to as ‘labels’) for its nouns. Elvish does not rely upon gender as a label. Instead, Elvish labels are the verbal signpost of how they view a given object within nature (1) or better stated, they describe the nature (2) of the item.

[Clarification may be in order:
(1) the natural world as it exists without sentient beings or civilization
(2) the particular combination of qualities belonging to something]

There are six primary natures in Elvish thinking, and hence six primary labels used in the construction of Elvish words. They are:

- Living (Alive)
- Dead (Was Once Alive)
- Inanimate (Was Never Alive)
- Natural (Of the natural world)
- Magical (Arcane)
- Spiritual (Alive, but not of the ‘seen’ world)

The standard default natures of nouns used by the Elves are ‘Natural’ and ‘Living’.  If one comes across a noun in Elvish that possesses no labels, it can be assumed that that object is natural and living.

The labels may appear as prefixes or suffixes in the language, depending on various rules of grammar to be discussed at a later time.  Also, a word may possess two or more labels.  The order of the labels in a given word will affect its meaning.  It is worth noting that there are cases when a literal reading of a noun and its associated labels will not translate perfectly into Common or even maintain the literal, by-the-rules definition in Elvish.  While this presents difficulties for those attempting to learn Elvish, the elves themselves understand that and accept that their language is not dogmatically 'correct'.

Monday, March 22, 2010

On Orcs and Things

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for orcs. I think that some of it grew from my love of Tolkein as a wee lad. I think a lot of it also had to do with my very first campaign, wherein my older brother played a Half-Orc cleric/assassin. In preparing for that campaign, I spent a lot of time figuring out how orcs worked in that world, what kind of society they had, etc.

Orcs ended up becoming much more than your typical evil humanoid race. There was a loosely-organized, continent-spanning Church of Gruumsh. The highest echelons of the priesthood to Gruumsh were based at the Temple of the All-Seeing Eye on the Isle of the Orc, located in the Sea of Cortan at the center of powerful protective magics. The cleric/assassin, by the name of Chark, eventually made a pilgrimage to the Isle of the Orc where he participated in a mystic orcish rite.  There were two possible outcomes to that ceremony: You were found to be unworthy in the Eye of Gruumsh and died, as a result of failing any one of five (!) consecutive saving throws vs. death magic, or you were found to be worthy (ultimately as a result of my brother's greatest string of d20 roles EVER) and given increased powers within the orcish religion.  In game terms, that meant that the clerical level limit on Chark was raised several levels higher.  Chark then returned to the mainland where he recruited an army (of anyone who would swear allegiance to Gruumsh) and began his journey of pillage and destruction into the underworld.  (The term 'Underdark' did not exist at that point.)  Ah, well.  Some good memories there…

So whenever someone writes about orcs, I always take an interest, if only to see what other people have done with them. (At some point when time is more available, I also plan on purchasing and reading Orcs to see what author Stan Nicholls has done with them--despite the mostly negative reviews located on Amazon.) Ken, the owner of a rusty piece of weaponry, had this to say about orcs recently.  He sees orcs and goblins as similar in many ways.  He then provides a nice list of attributes to differentiate them in his world.

I have to say that, overall, I agree with his depiction of orcs.  What I disagree with, however, is his depiction of goblins.  In my worlds, goblins have always been short, weak, cowardly, and stupid.  But the best part of his post is the list of attributes he used to compare the two:


I don't know if he came up with this list or not, but it is succinct, to-the-point, and IMHO does a very nice job of listing everything that you need to know about those, and any, race.  Perhaps he should compile a Rusty Battle Axe Compendium of Sentient Creatures, describing every intelligent creature using that list of attributes.  I would find it very useful.

Perhaps I'll do it myself.  Mmmmm...

Megudungeon Monday: Computer Down

No, it isn't some science-fantasy megadungeon goodness.  Unfortunately, only three weeks into my Megadungeon Monday weekly feature, I am sorry to say that I will not have an installment for you this week. My desk top computer, i.e. the home of all of my graphical ditherings, crashed over the weekend. Since I am unable to show you the map of the dungeon element that I was going to post today, I’m not going to post the description.

The lesson learned in all of this is that I should upload the illustrations to the blog site as soon as they are complete rather than waiting. I hope to have the computer back up and running in the near term, so the next Megadungeon Monday will probably occur on some other day of the week. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll try to post two next Monday.

I may as well take this opportunity to at least mention some of the things that you’ll see in the coming weeks. In no particular order, they are titled:

The Bridge of Stairs
The Bronze Pillar
The Chamber of the Crystal
The Construct in the Maze
The Cube of Kharsadon
The Spinning Madness

Other nebulous ideas are floating around. Hopefully, some of them will solidify before I run through all of those listed above.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

An Update to My Daily Read

I'm not sure why I haven't added it before now, because I am there every day.  As soon as this post is published, I'm going to make it official: Beyond the Black Gate is now part of My Daily Read.

And it was this post that did it for me.  There is so much right about it that I don't know where to start.  The first cover IS D&D for me.  My older brother owned that set when I first started playing, and I loved looking over those miniatures--even though he hadn't painted most of them.

The Land of Oz

I said it yesterday, and it seems to be coming true.  If I see a map that I like posted somewhere in the blogosphere, I'm probably going to link to it.  Even better when the map's from My Daily Read.  This one is brought to you courtesy of Original Edition Fantasy.

Why do I like this map?  Few reasons:

1. The "old, woodcut" style that it has screams fantasy goodness to me.

2. It shows a continent-sized area (theoretically) that doesn't include generic names that we've heard a thousand times.  (Black Forest--I'm thinking of you.)  As such, it immediately starts to inspire me. 

3. It depicts a place that most of us know a little about, but the map shows SO MUCH more than what most of us know.

All in all, pretty cool in my opinion.

Thanks, Tom.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mapping Goodness

I'm probably going to get in the habit of posting a link to every good map out there that I come across that is, in any way, related to the OSR (and I'm sure a whole bunch that aren't).

Take a look at this beauty.  Not only was it drawn by the current "hot" cartographer, but in the post that I've linked to, they mention one of my favorite websites.

Mapping goodness, indeed.

Marketing the OSR - My Thoughts

Al, the guy who lives past the Black Gate (Which one?  If you don't know, don't ask.), posted yesterday about marketing the OSR.  A very interesting post that led to an interesting discussion.  The Bat (over in the Attic) also had some thoughts to add to the discussion.  I think that the Bat is on to something with his idea of a collection of content producers pooling their monies to do some large scale (relatively speaking) advertising.  The Fantasy Cartographic would certainly be interested in joining such a collective, if it came to pass.

It seems to me that the collective could do some things that wouldn't be very difficult or time-intensive to "spread the word".  Here are some ideas:

First, an identity needs to be developed.  Whether you call it the 'OSR' or 'The Renaissance' or whatever, pick a name and have someone design a logo.  A logo is huge, in that it will become the visual focal point for our efforts.

Second, a website should be thrown together.  The logo across the top.  A few paragraphs on who we are and what the renaissance is all about.  Then some links:
- One to 'Member Companies' which goes to a listing of the companies who contributed the fee as described by Rob Conley in his post.
- One to 'Other Companies' which goes to a listing of all of the other companies who have any relation to the OSR.
- One to 'Blogs' which goes to a complete listing of ALL the blogs out there who consider themselves part of the OSR.
- One to 'Handy Definitions' that would go to a page containing just that.
- One labelled 'Rosetta Stone' which would describe, in general terms, the different games and their links to the D&D equivalents.

You get the idea--obviously, there are many other things that can be linked to.  Perhaps it also includes a news feed, similar to the 'This Week in the OSR'.  The layout and design would be important.

Third, a link, incorporating the group's logo, similar to the 'RPG Bloggers Network' logo that any website, blog, gaming company, etc with an online presence can add to their site.  The purpose of it would be to allow these people to show their support for or membership in the group.  Once that starts popping up all over the place on the web, people will start to take more notice, just as they did with the RPG Bloggers Network.  The link would point directly to the group's website.

Fourth, once a pool of funds have been collected, use it to purchase banner ads at (and its affiliates), at ENWorld, and all of the other 'larger' sites in the rpg world.  Use it also to purchase ad space in the standards--Fight On and Knockspell, Kobold Quarterly, and any other print periodicals that might be read by those interested.

Finally, as suggested by Raggi and others, purchase a booth at GenCon to sell our wares.

I have other ideas as well, but I think that those things would be a good start.  I think that they would also go a long way toward getting the word out.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

An Intriguing Dungeon Idea

There is a ton of goodness in this post.

Although he only throws out the basic idea, just imagine some of the possibilities:

- A dungeon created by a mad wizard long ago that continually transfigures itself according to the whims of... well, whatever you decide.

- Perhaps it is merely one means of mapping a mythic underworld where nothing is as it seems and the dungeon itself seems to be alive as it writhes around those (un)lucky enough to be investigating its halls.

While I hadn't thought of using a Rubik's Cube to generate a dungeon, I have a similar idea that is based upon interlocking cubes.  I'll post it at a later time after I've had time to draw a couple of illustrations to explain my ideas.

Fantasy Inspiration: Edinburgh

As an American living just outside of London, England for almost three years, I have come to the realization of just how disadvantaged the typical American is when it comes to experiencing real-world inspirations for fantasy settings. Unless your average American is able to leave the country and travel the world, there really are not many man-made inspirations for fantasy worlds.

It is worth noting the contrast between the States and the United Kingdom, Europe, and (with the exception of a few other places) most of the world. There are a multitude of cities, sites, and ruins that are multiple hundreds and even thousands of years old. I have been lucky enough to visit some and am continually seeking out others.

What I plan to do here is occasionally post maps and other images from some of the places that I have visited that have been inspirational to me.

Perhaps my favorite city in the United Kingdom in terms of fantasy inspiration is Edinburgh, Scotland. Edinburgh has just about everything necessary: a colourful history, amazing geography, a massive castle on a hill, areas of small winding streets, and very old buildings. In attempting to compile this post, I’ve found that locating decent maps that do justice to the city can be frustrating. But I’ve found a few and will post them here.

First, a map of Edinburgh castle:

And an even better map of Edinburgh castle:

I really like this map of the castle but, as good as I find it to be, it still really doesn't do justice to the actual.  A few pictures of the castle:

Now a map of the city itself.  I have to admit that this does not really do a great job of showing why Edinburgh is so great, but the map is fantastic for other reasons.
A very cool location in the city is the Royal Mile, which is the thoroughfare that leads up to the main entrance to the castle.  I don't have any good images/maps for it so you'll just have to take my word for it.

That is one of MANY amazing places that I have come across during my time in the UK.  I will be returning to the States this summer, and I'll certainly miss this and all of other amazing places I've been able to visit in England and on the Continent.

Some Mapping Goodness at KQ

The friendly chaps over at Kobold Quarterly have written a little piece about a special kind of map. I like the idea and am looking forward to the next several parts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday Talkies: Direction and Time in High Elvish

As lovers of the natural world and beings who understand, in ways that man nor any other beings do, the processes of the nature world, Elves understand the importance of the sun on all life.  The sun is a symbol of their first god.  As such, the original word for sun forms the base of many different words in their language.  Excellent astronomers, the Elves paid particular attention to the motion of the sun through the sky and have used their knowledge of the sun's movement in their language.

One area of language where that fact is most apparent is in their words for the four cardinal directions.  The elves understood that the sun travels to its most northern point in the sky on the summer solstice and from that they derived their word for 'north'.  The Elvish word for north is based upon the three word bases that mean:  "Toward" + "Summer" + "Sun"

By the same token, the word for south is based upon the sun reaching its most southern point in the sky in the winter on the winter solstice.  The Elvish south is based upon:  "Toward" + "Winter" + "Sun"

East and west are based upon the word bases that describe sunset and sunrise:
"Toward" + "Sun" + "Set" = West
"Toward" + "Sun" + "Rise" = East

The above examples show that the motion of the sun and the words that describe that motion are instrinsic to the Elvish language.  Just as important are words that describe time and its measurement.  The following words need to be considered:

Year = The length of time between the sun appearing at one point in the sky and the next time that it appears in that same point (with respect to the other stars in the night sky).  The Elves have no concept of the world's rotation about the sun (if, in fact, the world does rotate about the sun) therefore the term 'year' is based upon the sun's motion around the world.

Day = The length of time between the sun appearing at its highest point during a given daylight period (noon) and the next following time at which the sun reaches its highest-most point in the sky (the next noon).

The Elvish words for 'year' and 'day' are closely related.  Other terms which relate to time-keeping, including "month" and "week", are less dependent upon the sun and are actually artificial constructs used in the formation of various calendars.  As such, they are purely cultural.  While the Elves developed some form of calendar, its specifics will not be discussed here (as I have not yet worked out the details).  One unit of time that is purely arbitrary that I have decided to define is the hour.  The elves, as the longest lived of the sentient races and, theoretically, those who have existed the longest, were the first people to split their day into twenty-four "hours".  Therefore, for most races in the world today, the day is split up into twenty-four hours.

In choosing to split the year and the day up into shorter periods, the elves looked at the natural lifecycles of most creatures in nature.  In almost all cases, all living things went through four stages of life.  The elves defined these stages as: Birth (and early growth), Maturity, Aging, and Death.  They have used these same stages in the development of their words for the seasons and the time of day.

The Elvish words for the seasons and time of day are made up of word bases that mean:

Spring = "Season of" + "Birth"
Summer = "Season of" + "Maturity"
Autumn = "Season of" + "Aging"
Winter = "Season of" + "Death"

Morning = "Time of" + "Birth"
Afternoon = "Time of" + "Maturity"
Evening = "Time of" + "Aging"
Night = "Time of" + "Death"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Megadungeon Monday: The Chamber of Echoes

The Chamber of Echoes is a cross-shaped room.  The floor of the central square sloeps down to a level five feet lower than the rest of the chamber.  The ceiling above this central square forms a shallow dome, its height reaching almost thirty-five feet above the lowest area in the chamber.  The ceiling of each of the 'arms' of the cross slope upward from a height of ten feet at the outermost edge to twenty feet high around the central square.  The walls, floor, and ceiling of the chamber are all curved from solid stone.  They are smooth but not polished.

The construction and geometry of the room is such that it has the following properties:

- All sounds in the room are amplified into the central square.  This effect is so pronounced that a quietly whispered word spoken at one of the doors can be clearly heard by someone standing in the room's center, although that same word would not be audible to someone standing at another door.

- Characters walking anywhere in the central square will hear footsteps and may pause to peer about in confusion trying to determine who it is they are hearing.  They may even fear that there are invisible assailants about.  In fact, the footsteps that they hear are their own.  Any sounds generated in the central square will be amplified and focused back into the chamber's center.

- A loud noise, such as a shout or metal striking metal, made in the central square is almost deafening to any creatures located there.  Very loud noises, such as a large creature's roar or a magically created sound, can be dangerous and will do actual physical harm.

If the DM desires it, perhaps the amplifying properties of the room apply not only to acoustic energy but also to arcane energy.  The possibilities are interesting...

I would recommend that this chamber be placed somewhere in your megadungeon that is fairly commonly travelled.  Perhaps it is on a well known route from one major area to another.  It would serve as an interesting traffic sorting device.  Once the characters have become familiar with it and its effects, you can then change conditions such that its effect on arcane energies becomes apparent.  Now the entire nature of the chamber and its role within the megadungeon changes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Healthy Gamer is a Playing Gamer

As I sit in my gaming lair pondering the nature of our hobby and our lives in general, I have come to the conclusion (not original by any means) that our hobby does not lend itself to a healthy lifestyle. Picture the average gaming situation: Sitting around a table with a bunch of people, eating copious amounts of junk food, drinking sugar-laden and/or calorie-laden beverages, and doing little physical activity beyond rolling some dice or lifting a rulebook for quick perusal. Take this scene and stretch it across multiple hours per month (for those lucky enough to do so) and a recipe for dangerous living is born.

Now before I go any further, I am going to say that this blog is NOT going to become a place where I discuss health all the time. In fact, the only reason that it has entered my thoughts today is that my stream of consciousness took me back to several blogs just before and after the New Year that talked about gaming resolutions for 2010. Many of those touched upon the idea of trying to place more of a focus on health than last year. I think that it is fair to say that most of us are starting to get up there in age and we all immensely enjoy a hobby that, by itself, does nothing for our physical wellbeing. It may do a lot for our emotional and mental wellbeing—but not so for our bodies.

I am also going to say that I can be as unhealthy as the next guy. Sitting down and finishing-off a bag of tortilla chips, a jar of salsa, and a one liter of Coke by myself is a favourite pastime of mine.

But with those things said, I do believe that there is room to at least broach the subject from time to time, compare notes, maybe even throw out some ideas or tips. So here I go.

I truly believe that part of the fun of playing rpgs is getting together with a group of friends and doing the aforementioned “eating copious amounts of junk food, drinking sugar-laden and/or calorie-laden beverages, and doing little physical activity beyond rolling some dice or lifting a rulebook.” That is part of the experience—no way around that. And I don’t want to change that. Instead, what I do recommend is changing our diets outside of the gaming environment, so that when we do game, we can afford to be a little unhealthy because we are that much healthier the rest of the time.

What do I recommend? I recommend that everybody purchase a cookbook that my wife uses for our family that is healthy, tasty, and just plain full of awesome. The name of the book is The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook by Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre. You can order it directly from their website or from Amazon although Amazon is currently Out of Stock. The recipes are healthy, the food is really tasty, and it contains recipes for foods that you would swear are not ‘healthy’ because foods that good just cannot be. And to be clear, I do not know either of the authors, nor do I have any financial stake in you purchasing their book. I recommend it because we use it, we love it, and we are eating healthier as a family than we ever have.

I’ll get off my soapbox now. I would invite anyone else in the blogosphere to perhaps comment here or, even better, throw up a post of their own talking about health. Even just talking about it may cause some people to take action to improve their situations, leading to longer-lived gamers (hence more gaming) and more fun for everyone. If you have any question as to why I believe that this is important, repeat after me: A healthy gamer is a playing gamer.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nice Little Post about Maps

Reading this short blog post warmed my heart.  Looking at the maps was fun too!

My Thoughts on 4E

I enjoy playing and writing material for both 4E and the retro-clones.  Against any semblance of good business sense, the Fantasy Cartographic will try to support both ends of the D&D spectrum.  But I do have a couple of comments on 4E--conclusions to which I have recently come.

- Rules-heavy roleplaying (4E) is just more difficult to play than rules-lite (0E, 1E), for both the players and the DMs.  In the case of difficulty for the DMs, I think proof of this can be found in the blogosphere.  Two cases in point: ChattyDM and NewbieDM.  I love both of these blogs and am a regular reader of both.  But a good half of Chatty's writing is from the perspective of "I'm not that good of a DM, because it is so difficult, so here are some tips that I have learned the hard way to get better."  And Newbie's whole blog is based on him learning to be a better DM and sharing his insights with the rest of the DMs out there.  This is not meant to take anything away from either of those guys, but I think that their success is proof positive that 4E is hard.

- Avid players of 4E are different than players of the earliest editions.  (I know--obvious statement--just go with me on this one.)  If one goes to ENWorld's forums, they have a whole section devoted to questions about the rules, as they do about the 3.X rules.  I don't think that these types of sections would exist if ENWorld had been around in the early days.  Maybe I am wrong, but I think that players 30 years ago would have just house-ruled things.  (Although as I type this, I realize that perhaps that is not the case.  We probably would have discussed/argued the nuances as much as they do today.)

- It is extremely difficult (comparatively) to write good, mechanically sound material for the later editions than it is to do the same for the earliest editions.  (Thirty years ago, did anyone even consider the need to be 'mechanically sound'?)  The learning curve is steep--perhaps too steep to attempt to climb.  I think that 3.X epitomizes this, and while I believe that 4E is better in this regard, it is still difficult compared to the early editions.

- With one exception, I think that WotC is supporting 4E very well, which makes it difficult for a would-be publisher of 4E materials to really get traction in the market.  Between their DDI, Dungeon and Dragon magazines, and the other content available on their website, they are producing a vast amount of gaming material.  The one area where I think they could do a lot better is in publishing adventures.  While one could argue that Dungeon magazine includes several adventures each month, it is not the same as full length modules that you can hold in your hands.  [Is 'magazine' even the proper term of WotC's two periodicals?  I don't know.]

- While I know that many people (especially in our neck of the woods) do not consider 4E to be D&D, I know that I enjoy it.  I enjoy reading the material that they are putting out; I think that the production values are top-notch; and (perhaps most blasphemous of all) it even feels like D&D to me.

I'm sure that I'll write about this topic again as I wrestle with my views on it and as I attempt to decide where (and if) The Fantasy Cartographic will concentrate its efforts.  Lots to think about.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ultimate Mapping - Egyptian Style

I am truly ashamed to say that I have been at this blog for about two months now and have failed to include a link to one of my absolute favorite sites on the internet.  Not only is it all about maps and contains lots and lots of maps, they are maps of tombs.  Even better, they are maps of Egyptian tombs.  There is so much goodness at THIS SITE that you, if you are at all like me, might spend the rest of your day there.

What they have done there is incredible: Complete and detailed maps of real world "dungeons" that are scaleable, zoomable, measureable, accurately detailed, and verbally described.

Fantastic.  And now to be added to my Sites of Interest.

Complexity is Good

I feel that I am in danger of falling into the trap of stealing topics from my fellow bloggers out there.  Of course, let's face it, everyone does it.  So right now I'm going to steal something from Tony over at Year of the Dungeon.  He posted a link to a great article here that ends with a plea for better fantasy maps.

In actuality, the writer is not talking about better maps per se but better fantasy worlds, with more complexity and more interesting dilemmas.  His point is completely spot-on.  I couldn't agree more.

Making a Living in the OSR

Much has been said about James Mishler's recent decision to close up shop at Adventure Games Publishing.  I think that I agree with everyone when I say that it is a sad thing whenever any gaming company decides to close its doors.  It is obvious from his announcement that he has given it a lot of thought and is doing the right thing for himself--as he most certainly must.  I wish him luck in his future endeavors and look forward to seeing his name on gaming material in the future.

As I've been pondering this development over the past few days, I've reread his post several times.  On the fourth or fifth reading, something jumped out at me that I hadn't noticed previously.  He writes:

Were this simply a sideline to a full-time job, that would truly be a nice result. As this is supposed to be my "day job," that result is, as we call it, a "reason to quit."

I have to admit that those two sentences shocked me.  Much has been written all over the internet about the feasibility of making a living solely based on rpg-related income.  I believe that the general consensus is that, outside of employees of a few of the larger gaming companies and a few invididuals (who can probably be counted on two hands), no one makes a living solely from rpg work.  I know that there are artists who derive a good bit of their income from their gaming work, but I believe that most of them also do art work for other industries.

I might be wrong on this count, but I have always viewed AGP as an OSR entity.  The idea that one could even conceive of making a living from our "niche within a niche" completely blew me away.  Perhaps this has been a topic across the blogosphere and, new to the OSR as I am, I missed it, but does anyone think that this is possible?  Is it?

Is there anyone out there who produces mostly "old-school" material who is making a full time living from it?  I would love to know.

Writing for Publication

James Raagi makes an interesting point here about his writing process. It seems that he is a perfectionist even before he writes a single word—someone who doesn’t like the concept of drafts and feels that if his thoughts are not fully formed, then he probably isn’t ready to sit down and type them. He believes (rightly or wrongly depending on how you may choose to look at it) that this is a weakness in his writing.  [I hope that I am not mischaracterizing what he said here--if so, I apologize.]

The comments from his post (twelve as I type this) concentrate on the specific writing piece that he included to illustrate his point; they offer recommendations and their thoughts on improving it.  But none of the comments really dealt with the point that he was making--at least as I see it.  The real topic is not the piece that he posted but his process.  As someone who is trying my hand at rpg publishing, I find this intensely interesting.

That got me to thinking about my own writing process.

I'm not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing, but I'm not very good at drafts (in the traditional sense) either.  While I don't (think I) share James' self-professed views, I find in my own writing that from first to final draft, my material doesn't change all that much.  Some other personal observations:

- I write incredibly slowly.
- What editing that does occur to my writing usually involves removing extra words, clauses, and phrases.
- I believe that I am a good editor of other people's work but am not a very good editor of my own.

Now all of this begs the question: How do the rest of you write?  [Yes, I'm typing directly at the nine followers that this blog currently has (THANK YOU GUYS!!!) and the other five people who pop in occasionally.]  Lots of drafts and editing?  Few drafts and LOTS of editing?  For those of you who also publish work in the rpg realm (whether for sale or for free), is your writing style different for your own personal use than what it is for your 'professional' pursuits?

I'm very interested in this, so please leave a comment and fill me in.  Thank you.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Absolutely Amazing

This is just one reason why the Cartographer's Guild is one of the best websites on the internet.  If you like cartography (at all), if you like fantasy gaming (of any kind), if you like creativity and vast talent, you HAVE to become a regular there.  Enough said.

Oh, and can you believe that model?   Crikey!

(In case that didn't make any sense, I would never have found the 'This' above were it not for the Guild.)

Tuesday Talkies: Assumptions for High Elvish

The first language that I am going to tackle is High Elvish. First, I want to comment on the fact that it is a ‘High’ Elvish as opposed to some other form of Elvish. This language is going to be created from scratch, including all of the rules of grammar, word construction, etc. One of the assumptions of this project, at least at this stage, is that all rules will be strictly adhered to. As all rules are followed, it will tend to be very formal, very regimented, with little or no use of slang. Thus, the adjective ‘High’. I’m doing this, because it will make the tongue easier to create.

At the same time, I do not believe that this would be the case for a living, constantly evolving language. No language actually used by people (even elves) in everyday life would remain true to its strictest rules. All peoples invent short cuts, shorten words, adopt slang, etc to make the use of their language easier.

Therefore, the language that I am creating will be the written form of Elvish, a formal or perhaps ceremonial form. At a later date, I may go back and revise to simplify, or make changes to the words, etc. In fact, the eventual Elvish dictionary, which is a long term goal of this project, might include both a ‘High’ and ‘Common’ Elvish. To increase its ‘realism’ (A term that I use lightly.) even further, I may develop two or more dialects—all based upon the original High Elvish, but degraded in various ways to account for common usage.

Some other general assumptions that I am making at the beginning of this process:

1. Regarding the world in which this language developed:

- The elves live(d) in the northern hemisphere of the world.
- There is one sun.
- There is one moon.
- The year is approximate to an Earth year and the day approximate to an Earth day, i.e. 365 days in a year and 24 hours in a day. (The calendar may or may not be divided into 12 months and about 52 weeks of 7 days each. Those are yet to be determined.)

2. Regarding elves in general:
- They are ‘typical’ fantasy elves in that they are almost as tall as humans but of slightly lighter build.
- They are long-lived compared to humans. (Although whether this means several centuries or two to three remains to be determined.)
- They are stewards and lovers of and livers in nature. The natural world is where they are most at home and consider it their duty to protect and preserve it.
- They are typically more magical than humans and are ‘masters’ of the arcane arts. (Whether this means that all elves possess magical abilities or not remains to be determined.)
- While there may or may not be (To be determined.) many subraces of elves, this language was developed by the ‘original’ elves and all other dialects grew out of it.

3. Regarding the elvish tongue:

- Many of the words and phrases in the language grew out of or allude to various aspects of the natural world. It is common for elvish words that describe things in nature to also describe things that aren’t specifically in nature. One specific example of this is that adjectives used to describe weather are also used to describe peoples’ moods and emotions, i.e. the elvish word for ‘stormy’ in the phrase ‘stormy weather’ is very similar to the word for ‘angry’ in the phrase ‘angry dwarf’.
- Specific grammar rules will probably be slightly different than English, though not so different as to make it intelligible. As the languages of the world contain many grammar types, I am interested in using some different type.
- Elvish will probably place more emphasis on adjectives than verbs, as the elves are concerned with beauty and how things look, smell, and feel rather than the actions of things. This is due to the fact that they are longer lived, have a mindset more in keeping with the timescales of the natural world than in the ‘human’ world, and place less emphasis on doing deeds than on being and experiencing life.

Those are the ‘entering arguments’ for the creation of High Elvish. More may come up as this process continues; if they do, I will inform you as they appear.

Next week, I will discuss some basic words and relationships-between-words to give some examples of where I see this going. After that, we will get into basic grammar structures, basic word construction, and maybe even start thinking about the types of sounds that will exist in the language.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Megadungeon Monday: The Pool of Mirrors

The Pool of Mirrors is not named for its appearance or even for any of the dungeon dressing in the area around it.  Rather, the Pool of Mirrors is named because of the nature of the magical trick in the area that can only be overcome through the use of the waters held within these identical pools.  DM's notes are as follows:

The player characters would enter this area through the double doors at the bottom of the map.  They will work their way through these chambers, what I call the Foyer, the Small Shrine, the Square Hall, the Arched Passageway, the Hall of Statues, to finally pass by the Pool's Sentinels before coming to the main room at the center of the complex where they will find the two pools.  There is nothing to indicate that these pools are special or magical in any way.  Near the ceiling on the wall behind each pool are openings through which flows a constant stream of clear, cool water.  The water in the pools is clean and drinkable and drains through several small holes in each.

When the players continue heading to the "north" and turn the corner to the right, they are magically teleported to the identical spot in the complex to the "south" walking to the "south".  They will not be aware of this and will continue on their way until they work their way through all of the rooms through which they just passed.  Obviously, if they had left any sign of their passing, they will quickly realize what has happened to them.

There is nothing that the players can do to prevent this teleportation.  No form of magic or mechanical device will prevent it as they walk "north".  The only way to block the teleportation effect is to step into the waters of either of the pools.  Any character who stands in the pools (which are about 18 inches deep) and soaks their feet and footware will be able to walk to the "north" without the teleportation from occurring.  [Note that flying through the passageway will not prevent the teleportation either.]

The characters may even then become confused, because as they venture "north" they will find the complex of rooms ahead identical in makeup and contents as that through which they have already passed.  It is quite possible that they will believe that they have been subjected to the teleportation yet again.  It is only after they make their way through the complex and then through the double doors at the end will they realize that they have made it to someplace new.

How you as the DM want to use the Pool of Mirrors is up to you.  Obviously, it would trick the lesser intelligent beings in a dungeon and so might serve to protect a specific area from wandering monsters.  It might just guard the chambers of a powerful wizard.  Or perhaps it is just one way of limiting traffic into a specific area of your dungeon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tuesday Talkies: Some Questions and Answers

Earlier I presented the general plan of what I hope to accomplish with this weekly feature.  I hope that you are as interested in this project as I am.  But I've been giving it a lot of thought, and I've realized that in some ways, a lot of people in the OSR might be scratching their heads.

Many people in the OSR espouse a "less-is-better" approach to running and playing their games.  The general thinking is that the game is more collaborative and hence more fun if the DM concentrates only on what is needed for game play.  That the campaign will develop better if it is derived from the give-and-take between player and DM and between planned events and what the dice say.  If those things are widely considered true, why go through the hassle of creating, from scratch, a new language when it won't really impact game-play all that much?  For me, I have a few different reasons:

1. I'll enjoy it.
2. I believe that it will add to game play if the results are used in the right way.
3. By presenting a tool that DM's can make use of, maybe their worlds will be just a little fuller, a little more real in their own minds.

Another thing that many old-schoolers seem to appreciate (at least in their D&D) is a humanocentric campaign where demi-humans, if they exist at all, are relegated to the periphery.  This is in keeping with most pulp swords-and-sorcery literature upon which our hobby was founded.  Why spend the time developing an elf or dwarf tongue?  Why not just a foreign human language?  In this case, the answer is a little more personal.  Fantasy, to me, was first the Hobbit and then the Lord of the Rings.  Pulpy S&S only came later, much later.  I like them (elves and dwarves) in my worlds, and I'd like to have their languages as well.

I wouldn't be completely honest if I didn't mention the one other reason for pursuing this.  Eventually, when it is far enough along, when the language (or languages) have grown to a size that it is actually useful, I will compile everything into a document, which I will then sell.  Mercenary perhaps, and I make no apologies for it, but the opportunity to make a little spending cash doing something that I really enjoy is too good to pass up.

Tuesday Talkies: The Plan

So I introduced my idea for Tuesday Talkies awhile back and decided that I needed to get to posting.

First, a question to anyone who might be reading.  One of my earliest memories of language creation in D&D comes from an article in an old Dragon magazine that listed a rough orc vocabulary.  The listing was maybe two pages long, but it assumed great importance in my very first campaign as my older brother played a half-orc cleric/assassin who worshipped Gruumsh.  Good times.  Anyway, does anyone remember that article and, if so, do you know the issue of Dragon in which it appeared?  The help would be much appreciated.

Now, back to the topic at hand, which is the plan for future Tuesday Talkies.  If you were to visit the Language Creation Society, you would find a nice little web document called the Language Construction Kit that goes through the basics of language creation.  It is an easy read, and it explains a step-by-step method of developing your own language.  It really is a very useful read if you are at all interested in trying this yourself.

Basically, according to the Kit, the steps for language creation are:
 1. Decide on the sounds of the language
 2. Create the lexicon
 3. Create the grammar
 4. Design an alphabet
 5. Decide how the alphabet is modified for cursive handwriting
 6. Translate the desired text

There is nothing wrong with that list, as far as I can tell.  It seems to have worked for lots of people.  Unfortunately, my mind doesn't quite work that way--I actually want to start a little earlier in the process than that.  Before thinking about the language itself, I want to think about the words that will eventually appear in the language, what they mean, how they go together, etc.  To illustrate what I am actually trying to say here, let me offer an example.

In my case, I am interested in eventually developing an elf language and a dwarf language.  Before thinking about any of that stuff above, I have started thinking about what kinds of words would appear in those two different languages.  It probably goes without saying, but a people who are most at home in verdant forests, surrounded by the brilliant greens of virgin wilderness, and subject to the whims of the organically natural world would probably develop a language drastically different from a people who live deep underground and whose focus is survival in winding caves and vast caverns where, perhaps, it is possible to go weeks or months without seeing the sky.  How do the elves think about and express time?  How do dwarves?  How do elves express directions, and how do they do it differently than dwarves?  The same question can be asked for measuring things, describing moods and emotions, counting things, and on and on.

Another example:  The Eskimoes have many, many words for something for which the English language has only one: 'snow'.  How many words to describe how many different versions of 'green' would elves have?  How many would dwarves?  You can bet that the elves would have many, probably based upon different types of plants or plants in different seasons.  The dwarves might have several, but they are probably based upon the shades of various minerals in the rock through which they mine.

(Now honestly: In a roleplaying game situation, who cares how many versions of the word green either uses?  Is that really going to affect our fun at the gaming table?  NO!  But those are the types of things that I'll think about when working on these languages.  I believe that by thinking about those things, the resultant language will be more consistent, more believable, and more real.)

In terms of characterizing objects, different languages do different things.  Some assign genders to all nouns, some do not.  For us in the real world, assigning genders is one method of characterization.  But in a world where magic exists, where the divine routinely interacts with the mortal (if only through clerical spells), where good and evil, law and chaos might have more than just abstract meaning, can these be used to characterize nouns or verbs or even adjectives for that matter?

How I choose to answer those questions is going to go a long way toward developing these languages.  What you will see here if you visit on any given Tuesday is an expansion of these ideas, an answering of these types of questions, and the slow development of these two tongues.  I hope to have at least two languages when this thing is done--whenever that will be.  I'm really excited about this, and I hope that they will find use in your games.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Megadungeon Monday: Introduction

I introduced the idea here for my Tuesday Talkies (and have failed to follow-up since then).  As fantasy language creation is one of my many interests, I decided that each Tuesday I will post about how my efforts at that are going.

I'm here to introduce another weekly feature that, I hope, will become a standard here at Carto Cacography: Megadungeon Mondays.  Here is my thinking:

If you followed any one of the many megadungeon discussions that took place last year, whether in the blogosphere, at EN World, at Knights & Knaves (more specifically here), or elsewhere, a common idea is that one easy method of building a megadungeon is to create a few specific locations (areas, set pieces, or whatever term you prefer) per level and let everything that happens between them be generated randomly or on the fly by the DM.  I actually really like this method as I believe that it lends to the organic or living nature of true megadungeons.  I also think that it relieves the DM of a lot of possible work: He can concentrate his efforts on the really cool encounters or locales within the megadungeon and spend less time on the stuff in between.

In support of that, I'm going to present what I will call a "Location of Interest" each Monday for inclusion into your megadungeon or campaign.  Usually it will be in the form of a map with a few paragraphs explaining what I see when I look at the map.  It will not be fully keyed and will never contain stats of any kind--I don't think that it will need those things to be useful.  Theoretically, you could take my location and drop it straight into your dungeon as is, or you could take the idea and leave the map, or you could use the map with your own idea.  I have ideas for several and, hopefully, more will pop into my head in the coming weeks.  Heck, I'll even take ideas from the readers and map them (if people are willing to contribute ideas).

I don't have one ready for this week but there will be one here next Monday.  I'll hope that you'll be here to take a look.

(You might think that this idea is similar to what Tony is trying to do over at year of the dungeon, and I would have to agree.  I love what he is doing there and think that his pieces are extremely inspirational.  Megadungeon Mondays are going to be a similar contribution from me.  [If they are even a fraction of how inspirational I believe Tony's work to be, it will be successful in my book.]  The major difference that I see when envisioning this is that his are more abstract--philosophical even--whereas mine will be little dungeon maps, grids and all, that would fit right onto your graph paper scribblings.)