St. Andre’s jungle

Attention whore that I am (why else would anyone start a blog?) I am proud to notice Ken St. Andre’s comment on an earlier post and I am reminded by it of Meinong’s jungle. (If you are too lazy to follow the link, the idea is basically that if words refer to things, then some relationship exists between a word and its referent, and if a word is meaningful it refers to something (a thing that exists), so there must be some manner or form of existence enjoyed by non-existent things like unicorns or square circles. Yes, nonexistent entities. And philosophers have dubbed this plane of existence Meinong’s jungle, as it is presumably a chaotic and densely-inhabited domain, like a jungle as imagined by ivory-tower philosophers. The only jungle I was ever in, in the Yucatan, had no unicorns though.)


Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 12:41 am  Comments (4)  
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Now with 30% more swords

It’s been pointed out to me that while my blog has dorkery aplenty, there is precious little in the way of swords.  My bad.

Here’s some stuff hanging on my basement walls.


Published in: on February 27, 2010 at 7:57 pm  Comments (4)  
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Other Races in D&D

No, this not a half-assed rant about how D&D is racist. You can find that here, and see it beaten into pulp here. This is another prospecting post about a campaign I may run someday; today’s topic is character races.

I’ve been having a lot of sympathy lately for the view that the only player character race should be Human. A ton of classic sword & sorcery literature and films support that, and especially in later versions of D&D (but also in other games) nonhumans just get too many benefits and too few drawbacks. (4e actually makes humans pretty good though.) AD&D’s level limits got it right, IMO, denying the very highest levels to nonhumans, but that is another post. (C&C does a good job too, giving nonhumans a big disadvantage in that they will have only two “prime” abilities with good saves & target numbers for checks, while humans get to pick three, although I’d rather see level limits.)


Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 3:24 am  Comments (11)  
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The campaign web site

I’ve mentioned before that I’m playing in a Castles & Crusades game.  C&C, if you are not familiar with it, is based very much on how the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game was back in the late 1970s/early 1980s, with a few more “modern” mechanics thrown in, but the publishers, Troll Lord Games, actually worked with and more or less had the approval of the late Gary Gygax.  Dungeons and Dragons has gone through several overhauls since I began playing (generally not for the better IMO) and it is nice that retro/old school version is still out there.

Anyway when I’ve mentioned in some comments at other blogs that our campaign has encouraged players to write up backgrounds and summaries of the previous session, it was met with some disdain (apparently character backgrounds aren’t old-school enough or something).  Well, suck it.

One of the players in our group has created a web site to store our campaign materials, including the session summaries and character backgrounds, as well as for his other hobbies.

On the one hand I’m not really sure anyone else will really be interested in the specifics of our adventures, but on the other hand I love that Chad is enjoying the game as much as I am and wants to share some of it.

As we have time more will go up — I’ve volunteered to take some picutres of the miniatures we’re using (it’s been quite a while since posted any minis, hasn’t it?) and he’s going to keep collecting the session summaries and what not up.  So, I’ll add a link to his site now.

For my part I’ve never taken a lot of  interest in the materials other people post for their private campaigns, but a lot of old-schoolers are doing a nice job of blogging how they’ve created and run their games (Dwimmermount at Grognardia, Playing D&D with Porn stars, Save or Die!, and so on) and I’ve actually been more interested in that.  I’ll have to try to get the DM to write a little about how he came up with the Lich’s Skull Island campaign some time.

Published in: on February 5, 2010 at 12:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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Some more on worldbuilding

Poul Anderson rocked.  The broken sword, which was published just before Lord of the Rings, is, in my opinion, terribly underappreciated.  It’s a fairly short book, and certainly the most brutal of his works that I’ve read, and you should go read read it right away.

I saw this cover in a book of Boris Vallejo’s paintings long before I ever read the book and honestly I probably wouldn’t have read it based on the cover. I’m guessing Boris didn’t actually read it either. Although the cover does depict something that happens in the book, this really doesn’t capture the feel of the book at all. 

This week I stumbled onto an essay Anderson wrote in the 1970s, and hosted here. It’s called “On thud and blunder” and it is partly a critique of the laziness of many fantasy/ swords& sorcery writers, and partly some basic information you should consider when creating a fantastic world grounded in some reality.  A similar article at sci-fi/fantasy writing site asks a bunch of questions a budding fantasy author should consider when building a world.  I think either is great fodder for a DM too.  Good stuff.

Published in: on January 29, 2010 at 1:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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World building as a group activity

David Hume’s Dialogues concerning natural religion is famous for demolishing the so-called “Argument from design,” which attempts to prove the existence of God. The argument can be boiled down to the idea that the natual world exhibits a design (natural laws, patterns, highly organized living organisms, etc.) and that if there is a design, there must be a designer; this designer is known to the religious as God. Hume’s characters in the dialogue examine this argument and determine that even if there is a “designer,” literally nothing about the designer can be known just by looking at the designed artifact. For example, that the designer is one being rather than many, is alive or dead at this time, is intelligent or an automaton, and so on, none of these can be determined just by looking at the design.  So while Hume allows the possibility of a designer, he still shows the argument to be far too weak to actually prove what most of its proponents really want to prove; namely that there is a God like the one described in the Bible.

I didn’t start this blog to discuss philosophy or religion, though. The reason I mention Hume above is that a large chunk of the “blogosphere” I follow (mainly Grognardia, The Cimmerian, and their many, many satellites concerned with “old school” role playing games, fantasy fiction, and so on) has had some discussion lately about “world-building.” For example Grognardia details the author’s creation of a role playing campaign in a setting of his own devising, and he frequently discusses his philosophy of world building (what makes a good game setting, what books and other media inspire him, how he incorporates other people’s ideas, etc.). Over at The Cimmerian (a blog loosely dedicated to Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan and many other interesting but less well-known characters), one of the contributors has begun a series of articles about Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth. Interesting discussions have developed at both of these sites and some others about how authors such as Howard, Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and others built their own fictional worlds. In a related vein, in my mind at least, Save or Die! is a blog describing how a campaign might develop if a gaming group used only material released for D&D at the very beginning (the “Little Brown books,” the supplements, and the first few issues of Dragon magazine) and incorporated every element in the order it was introduced.  New character classes, monsters, and rules are added as they are published, and the blogger has woven a relatively coherent narrative as why, for example, Druids, who were introduced as a non-player character monsters become available as player characters with different abilities than those in their “monster” description. I don’t know if the campaign described will ever be run but it is an amazing work of imagination, in my opinion.

The thing that is really striking to me is that unlike fiction worlds (Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or Howard’s Hyboria), game worlds tend to be the work of many creators. The referee/Game Master/DM may take a lead role in much of the work, but the players contribute a great deal too, or should.

I can’t decide if this is just the old-school way of world-building in RPGs or if it is intrinsic to role playing games.   I can certainly think of a lot of published RPG settings that admit of very little player input beyond the actual sequence of events in the adventures played.  At one point there was an effort to have a series of campaign, administrated by TSR/WotC (“Living Greyhawk,” and other “Living” campaigns) that incorporated the results of RPG tournaments of conventions, but like the published settings I think there would be a hell of a lot of material handed down by the publishers, and to play in these campaigns the players give up the freedom to actually create their own worlds.

In the games I’ve played in (almost always as a player but sometimes as GM), the best encouraged player participation in building the world. This could be as minor as providing a short written character background, or as elaborate as writing summaries of each game session. In the game I’m playing now, our GM has encouraged players to not only write backgrounds for their characters, but to also describe their place of origin as the game takes place on an isolated and mysterious island that all the PCs are strangers to. Being the GM’s brother, I also got to be somewhat involved in bouncing around ideas before the campaign started. I’d been reading the blogs I mentioned above, and also things like Dave Arneson’s First Fantasy Campaign, which describes how his Blackmoor campaign, a precursor of D&D, developed. The results so far have been one of the best, and most memorable, RPG campaigns I’ve participated in. At this point the campaign world is still largely unknown, and our adventures, and efforts, will determine the shape of things. Each player has described their home country, and we recently found a map showing the outline of the island we are on. 90% of the game world is terra incognita. You can’t beat that.

Published in: on January 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm  Comments (3)  
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