Monthly Archives: April 2016

“Please Plan Accordingly”

Organizations, be they government agencies, businesses, or steering committees, have discovered they can wash their hands of any responsibility for causing inconvenience (and even for failing to provide basic services) by adding “Please plan accordingly” to any announcement.

“All bathrooms in the building are nonfunctional until further notice. Please plan accordingly.”

“All windows will close 2 hours early today, and no associates will be available until Monday. Please plan accordingly.”

“The northbound lanes will be blocked for repairs until January. Please plan accordingly.”

I get it. To some degree I even appreciate it – even as a coded message, it’s useful to know that a group is disavowing any need to fix (or even ameliorate) the problems they cause.

It just makes me want to add the phrase to things like prophecies and plot-drive prognostication, just to see how they change the tone.

“Winter is coming. Please plan accordingly.”

“You’re a wizard, Harry! Please plan accordingly.”

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Please plan accordingly.”

I have a Patreon!

My patrons are the reason I can make posts like this. Please plan accordingly. 😀

No One Believes Us

I always have a lot of projects going at once, with a lot of different people. I work for three game companies, and still do a little freelance on the side. So I am always talking to someone about fixing an old project’s error, someone else about hitting a deadline, other folks about scheduling upcoming books, and so on.
today, one of those communications included a note from one of the women involved that she was managing her part (admirably, I’ll note) without all the things she *should* have for it, because she didn’t want to communicate with one of the other people involved any more than absolutely necessary.
Nor did she want to publicly call out the other participant for not doing his part, or for being unpleasant to work with.
“I don’t need that drama either. It’s why we all stay quiet. It’s easier than no one believing us.”
I believe her.
Issues discussed publicly become shitstorms of denial and second-guessing and outright insults.
Issues discussed privately generally either become private shitstorms, or nothing ever happens so why bother?
Then people later claim if there was really a problem, why doesn’t anyone say anything.
Well, they do. And are punished for it, and nothing improves. Why would they keep punishing themselves.
Even having to deal with this shit in the first place is a cognitive tax that leaves them less time and energy to handle the (plentiful) normal crap of the game industry.
In this case, I can just take care of the lack myself.
But that doesn’t actually level the playing field. Some people must choose between dealing with people who make their lives more difficult, working harder to avoid having to deal with those people, or dealing with drama of pointing out they are stuck with the other two choices.

Alignment is Not a Straight-Jacket

So, for some reason, if you tell some rpg players a character is lawful good, and that character is opposed to an oppressive system of laws that marginalize gnomes, there’s a subset of players who freak out because you aren’t being lawful. And if two lawful characters disagree on how to handle a tricky question of order, this is seen as a weakness of the alignment system, because it “doesn’t describe those characters properly.”
But if you tell a group of players your gnome has red hair, they normally don’t pause to ask if you mean crimson, or auburn. And if two gnomes have radically different red hair? Everyone is fine with that.

Alignment is a descriptor, not a straight-jacket. And that descriptor is a very, very simple description about some of the ways your character thinks. And because Pathfinder (and many games like it) present some non-real things like holy swords and manifest demons of carnage as rules you can interact with, those very simple descriptors are used to determine who the holy sword likes, who it hinders, and who is most damaged by the unholy aura of the demon.

But it’s still just a descriptor. And if you play someone with supernatural powers tied to how a god views you (for example), and the GM has decided the descriptor no long describes you, you may lose game powers.

But it’s still just a descriptor.

So, here’s my opinion on alignment.
For people –
GOOD – “In general I am concerned about the welfare of everyone, and the welfare of each person individually at least as I encounter them. Broadly, I prefer to use methods that keep these points in mind, and I feel the best system is a system that keeps these points in mind.”
EVIL – “In general I am concerned with what I want, and am unconcerned about the consequences to others. I may decide that a system that helps everyone is useful to me and thus support it, and I may decide that long-term goals require the suppression of immediate gratification, but overall I’ll back the thing that is most likely to give me what I want.”
LAWFUL – “I think an orderly plan is most likely to achieve my goals, and most likely to move forward the things I think are important. I am concerned that randomness and unplanned action will lead to consequences I don’t approve of. Overall if I must choose between an orderly system and one without many rules and there’s no sign that either is more likely to achieve my moral concerns (if any), I prefer an orderly system.”
CHAOTIC – “I think a loose, flexible plan is most likely to achieve my goals, and most likely to move forward the things I think are important. I am concerned that rigid regulations and rules that must be obeyed regardless of real-world circumstances will lead to consequences I don’t approve of. Overall if I must choose between a flexible system and one with rigid restrictions and there’s no sign that either is more likely to achieve my moral concerns (if any), I prefer a flexible system.”
NEUTRAL (good/evil) – “In the real world, you have to choose your battles, and there are more important issues at play than who benefits from a specific system. I have greater concerns.”
NEUTRAL (law/chaos) – “I think things are too complicated to allow yourself to trust your biases on what kinds of things will achieve your goals, and different methods are most likely to work in different circumstances. Sometimes, I don;t trust any system except that which evolves as a result of the forces involved.”
For characters with auras that are stronger than normal (generally supernaturally augmented agents of divine forces), add “This is more than my personal belief, This is the Word, and the Directive, and as much as possible I shall make it [part of who and what I am.”
For supernatural beings (such as outsiders and undead), you *may* need to add “This is the power that fuels me. It is no less real than gravity, or light, and I promote it not just for belief, but because I am this philosophy incarnate, and without it, I cease to exist as I am.”
For Paladins – “To be lawful and good is not the pinnacle of virtue. It is the beginning. I must be better than the beginning. I have been given great power by forces that wish me to not only make the world better, but also to hold to an ideal, which may be impossible. To attempt to maintain this ideal is hard. That is why I must serve as an example. I honor all the good. I respect all the law. But neither of these things is enough, and even together they represent only one step on a journey.
For Antipaladins – “Fuck it all. Burn it all. Always always, find the way to cause the most vile, anarchistic, pain. And if I can’t burn it all? They’ll burn me.”

Game Story: Cleric Tossing

Game story time.

In the 1990s I ran a heavily-houseruled 2e D&D game. It wasn’t unusual for us to play haphazardly (coming up with a story for the character of whoever showed up, regardless of how much sense that made), and to play after a long day of people working, and to play until the sun came up.

In other words, we often played while punchy. Silliness could creep in.

In an example I remember well, I was running a game with just two players and three total characters – a wizard, a cleric, and a a paladin. They got stuck in an area with many small floating islands over a bottomless void, and needed to cross many, many chasms. After they used every spell, plan, and resource they could think of, they were still two chasms short. And we were all tired, And it was 7am, having played allllll night.

So the paladin’s player suggested she tie a rope to the cleric, swing him around her head with her 18/00 Strength (for those of you who don’t remember percentile Strength scores, that was really good – but not superhuman), throw him 120 feet over both remaining chasms, have him grab onto the far side, and then she and the wizard would jump into the void trailing the rope and climb up to him.

This was clearly a stupid plan. Throwing a fully armed and armored human 120 feet is not a reasonable feat of Strength, even for someone very strong. The world record for a 16 lb. hammer throw is only 284 feet, and that’s less than 10% of the weight and a record set by someone trained in using a well-balanced throwing item. I didn’t care. I wanted to go to sleep. So did the players. We all agreed this was reasonable, and it worked, and we ended the game session

And then we woke up, and thought about what allowing that bit of Looney Toons logic into the game meant.

When that group was next together, with additional friends, the story got told. A lot. And we all agreed it was sillier than we wanted that campaign to be.

The player who had the wizard suggested that maybe the pocket dimension they’d been escaping had been affecting their minds, and that even the characters knew that wasn’t ACTUALLY how the party had escaped. That was just the mass hallucination they had all shared.

This solved everything, and was adopted as campaign canon. The characters all remembered what we had played out, so we could reference it and talk about the rest of that game session before we got too goofy and should have stopped, but within the continuity of the world it was accepted as a hallucination. We decided not to play when that tired anymore, and the players didn’t feel like the game had become too silly for their tastes.

I try to keep this in mind whenever I am running a playing a game. Some games ARE that silly, all the time, and that’s fine if everyone is having fun. But adding something much sillier than the game’s norm into a campaign can make people unhappy, and generally it’s worth finding a ay to firewall that event from mainstream game continuity.

Coming Soon!

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Sagani, a Pathfinder Base Class in Two Paragraphs and One Sentence.

Sagani. A sagani is a mystic who has made a connection to the elemental powers, and attuned their soul to the four elements. This allows them to draw on elemental power and eventually even take on elemental forms. A sagani uses the hit dice, proficiencies, class skills, skill points per level, base attack, base saves, starting wealth, and starting age as a hunter. A sagani has spells per day and spells known as a bard and is a divine spellcaster. The sagani’s class spell list is comprised of all wizard elemental specialist spells, and all druid spells (which are treated as being one spell level higher than they are for a druid). At 1st level and every odd level thereafter a sagani gains a favored terrain or terrain mastery from the horizon walker class features. If at least 11th level the sagani may instead select a terrain dominance or the ranger abilities of camouflage or (if camouflage has been taken) hide in plain sight.

At 4th level, a sagani gains the ability to turn herself into an elemental back again once per day. The effect lasts for 1 hour per class level, or until she changes back. Changing form is a standard action and doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity. A sagani does not lose her ability to speak while in elemental form, and can automatically speak the elemental language connected to her elemental form (even if she doesn’t normally know it). A sagani can use this ability an additional time per day at 6th level and every two levels thereafter, for a total of eight times at 18th level. At 20th level, a sagani can use this ability at will. At 8th level, a sagani can choose to become one size category larger or smaller when assuming an elemental form. At 12th level, a sagani can choose to become two sizes larger or smaller when assuming an elemental form. At 16th level, a sagani can choose to become three sizes larger or smaller when assuming an elemental form. This acts as monstrous form I, II, or III (for modifiers based on size, without granting the abilities of any specific monstrous humanoid). The sagani builds its four elemental forms by gaining the base form of an unchained summoner elemental eidolon and adding the base evolutions of an eidolon of a summoner equal to the sagani’s class level. The base form does not gain any other evolutions. A sagani cannot cast air spells as an earth elemental (and vice versa), or fire spells as a water elemental (or vice versa).

The sagani gains no other class features. #QuickBaseClass

Fandom’s Acceptance Problem

I think fandom has an acceptance problem.
I know, sounds weird.
At least when and where I was growing up in fandom, it was the place I felt accepted. I was fat, precocious, a thinker and dreamer rather than a doer and builder.
I was also a self-important little shit.
But fandom accepted me, at least insofar as it accepted anyone. My weird preferences, my social awkwardness. I meant no harm, though I sometimes did and said harmful things.
And I found my flavor of geek, and we hung out, and became friends, and grew up.
But for decades, when I saw someone saying or acting in appropriately, if they weren’t causing immediate harm, I was inclined to leave them alone. After all, they were clearly outcasts too. Awkward. And surely they meant no harm.
A wildfire means no harm. You still need to takes steps to prevent it from ravaging town.
So, I think too many of us ignored the problems of the misogynist few for too long. We allowed ourselves to be drawn in by people who liked military fiction, but were also racist, or transphobic. We overlooked their flaws at moments when we shouldn’t, and now they are a cancer growing among us.
I got used to accepting people in fandom, because where else did they have to go? And I never considered that accepting them meant condoning them. And it does.
I hate confrontation, but I’m not afraid of it anymore.
I dislike personal interaction with anyone but close friends, but I’ve gotten used to it.
And there are things I can’t just mutely accept anymore. Especially now that I have seen what that acceptance leads to.

Empath #Spelltweets

Empath (brd, drd, med, mes, occ, psy, shmn, wtch 3) As the emotion aura of the analyze aura spell, but requiring no concentration and applying to each creature within 30 feet of you for 10 minutes/level. Each creature receives a Will save when you first attempt to gain information from them with this spell, and on a success is immune to this spell from you for 24 hours.

#Spelltweets are quick, untested new spells created with minor but meaningful changes to existing spells.

Martial Strike #Microfeats

Martial Strike
You can focus on dealing additional damage with your weapons
Prerequisite: Ability to take feats requiring fighter class levels
Benefit: As a swift action, you focus your efforts on dealing additional damage with your weapons. For 1 round, your weapons deal +1 damage. Additionally, you may add one weapon damage type (bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing) to the damage done for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction. For every +5 base attack bonus levels you possess, this bonus increases by +1, to a maximum of +5 at 20th level.

#Microfeats are quick sketches of rules I am considering for possible use in a 3pp Pathfinder-compatible product, which may be altered, adjusted, or never make it into a final product.

Ways I Have Failed

*It’s 1982. My older sister and I are staying with my aunt and uncle for the summer while my parents go to Europe. I want my uncle to run D&D for us. My sister isn’t particularly interested in playing. I cajole. I beg. I pressure her into playing the game. She hates it. Despite being a brilliant part of fandom, she never touches rpgs ever again.

*It’s 1984. On another family trip, some older kids of friends of my parents invite me into their D&D game. It’s three other boys, and one girl. My character is encouraged by all the boys to rape the girl’s character – because they aren’t allowed to. I refuse, and get kicked out of the game, but tell no one. I don’t even remember their names anymore.

*It’s 1987. The woman who will someday be my wife recounts how her first game group sacrificed her first character to a volcano, then decided to gang-rape her character because their Twilight 2000 campaign got boring. She doesn’t play with them anymore. I never played with them. But it doesn’t even occur to me that *someone* might play with them again, continuing to play out rape with women sitting down with them for casual games.

*It’s 1992. At a live action RPG session, I am asked by still-underage women to stand in front of their tent while they change costumes, so they feel safe. I do. I feel good about myself. I don’t wonder why they don’t feel safe to begin with. I never investigate. I never try to find a way to make a safer environment,. I never even make sure there is someone they trust around in future games.

*It’s 1995. A woman tells me she doesn’t want to play in my paramilitary Hero System game anymore. I am offended. I let her know she is free to not play. I never ask why she doesn’t want to play.

*It’s 1998. I get my first article published in Dragon Magazine. I feel great about it. A woman I know mentions she’s been trying to get published for three years, while I got published on my very first try. I assume it’s because I am better than her. I assume we exist on an absolute level playing field. I don’t even question that narrative in my head.

*It’s 2000. I write my first work as an employee of Wizards of the Coast. My manager calls me in. I have created a damsel-in-distress story. It’s clichéd and, worse, belittling. But he’s careful to make sure I know it’s good, and this is only a small concern. We change the gender of a single character. I’m annoyed my story won’t happen the way I saw it in my head.

*It’s 2002. I am running demos of Forbidden Kingdom at Gen Con. Two women come up and want to play together, but I only have one seat left at my table. There’s plenty of room. I refuse to seat them both. They leave the game room.

*It’s 2009. I’m part of Super Genius Games. I’m not even thinking about the art we use in our all-white, all-male game company, until someone calls us on it.

*It’s 2014. I’m developing an adventure. After I am done, an editor brings up that a major plot point is a concern for her. It involves the best ways for PCs to deal with a ghost is to convince a woman who never loved it when alive or dead to give it a kiss, because it gave her a gift. It’s super skeevy. She has to explain why it’s super-skeevy.
She’s right. We change it.
But she had to do the work of convincing me of something that should have been obvious.

I am sure there are scores of occasions where I was part of the problem that I don’t remember. Hell, in most cases I may not have noticed. And that’s a huge part of why this is such a big problem. I get to live in a safe version of the game world that the women who are my mentors, employers, colleagues, friends, patrons, and employees don’t.
And this is mostly a list of sins of omission, though that doesn’t make them any better. Like full-blown rapists, sexual abusers, and even common-variety bullies, the people who *actively* assault and harass women and minorities are amazingly good at knowing when they will, and won’t get away with those actions.

If you haven’t seen it that’s not because it’s not happening. It’s because they know to stay on the fringes of your vision.

Which means if you are actually dedicated to a safe and fair hobbyspace, not being an abusive asshole yourself isn’t good enough. You have to do more.