About Me

Friday, November 22, 2013


I broke through the writer's block. Almost. Went to Florida to see my folks and did some work on Midlands. The actual story is beyond the scope of this blog, since my players read it, BUT, I brainstormed and had an insight. The reason that Dungeon Crawls, those D&D adventures known as "site-based" adventures work so well, is because they combine the story-telling and game structure so well, that they are one and the same - You create a dungeon map with a room key, throw in an wandering monster table, and you have your adventure!

There is a lot of well thought out pages in Gary Gygax's Dungeon Master Guide dedicated to the design of dungeon based adventures. Tom Moldway's red box basic set edition has the best and most concise section of dungeon adventure writing. Once we get into the Wildernes, we are on our own, literally and figuratively. Gygax DMG has a lot of good writing on running a wilderness adventure from the point of travel and encounter, but there is no equivalent writing on DESIGNING a memorable wilderness!  I got everything there was available on wilderness design for D&D, but there was nothing that capture the sight and variety of the terrain I know and love from years of hiking and road trips. There were books that told you how to figure out how long before your player charters staved to death of froze to death, there were books that described the types of terrain and the abstract modifiers for combat - such as modifiers to being hit by enemy missiles and concealment. And still, the forest was a forest and there were fantastic terrain descriptions for the fantasy forest and the haunted forest. Nobody had the magic of the forest though, the old growth forests with room to maneuver for a horseman and no undergrowth to hide in, the thickets, the meadows with the tall cattails to conceal a man, the pine forest and the aspen and the cottonwood tree forests. I saw the incredible variety of the backwoods in the Northeast and the monotony of the terrain in the Mojave Desert. But I saw the Saguaro cacti that looked like running figures as I drove 75 mph. I saw piles of rocks casting shadows and the noon sun made these shadow look like faces you couldn't capture on camera film. I realized that this kind of detail is best transmitted into the game not through game mechanic, but through narrative. and the narrative is not the same as the table top miniatures gaming. I realized that you can describe the wilderness in terms of its terrain features of its sub-terrain, and that each sub-terrain can be populated with encounters, not just combat encounters with monsters or role playing encounters with NPC's, but also EVENT encounters - terrain events (avalanches in the mountains), weather events (sudden summer thunderstorm), exploration encounters - abandoned orchards and hamlets, old hedgerows, Inns and road houses, old camp sites!

Elsewhere, on The Alexandrian blog and others I read about Hex-crawls and Wilderness encounters that consist of lairs and large size encampments. I read Gygax's small section on random wilderness generation. He recommended hexes 40 miles across and to generate the random "Main feature" of the hex. I did not like it. Still, there was nothing to anchor my narrative approach to, the way you can just draw a map and generate a semi-random room key. Then I had my Eureka moment!

I was away from the rainy and cold New York November. I was in the sunny Florida in the quiet of my bedroom bathed in sunshine with the green silk curtains fluttering in the breeze. White marble house, blue swimming pool outside. Temperature just perfect. There was that feeling of the getaway, of leaving my job behind and of having time. A weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was sitting behind my bedroom table and looking at the open notebook I brought for D&D design and the empty pages and the colored pens. I had a new adventure to start writing. It wasn't going to be a dungeon crawl. I have an old game with a beautiful game board and each square with its own evocative name. I loved it. I wanted to set my next adventure there! The board did not have squares, rather irregularly shaped pieces representing territories. Like Risk! but definitely not that game! And my Eureka moment, Use the hex crawl conventions and anchor your wilderness descriptions not on an abstract hex, one of sixty or so, but on each territory on that map on that gameboard!!!!!

Friday, November 8, 2013


DM standing on the edge of the Ocean. Cold wind swirling sand in the air and an occasional shadow dancing among the dust devils. Stylized Mahjongg tiles dancing in the air borne by the wind. They spin and swirl and clank with a weighty plastic sound of the tossing dominoes. DM gazes at the images on the plastic little tiles dancing in the air before him. They flash in the autumnal sun, under the cold cerulean skies. There is the blood red of the Towers and Minarets, and the light blue of the Goblets or Grails striking against the royal purple of the Bastard Swords and forest green of the Great Bascinets that has a tint of yellow to give it that feel of the military camouflage, the helmet itself seeming worn out with use. Then there is the flash of the gold tiles bearing the images of Shields with an unknown, if stereotypical heraldic device and the little Scepters appearing among the spinning tiles and rotating like the planets in their orbits. These have the feel of metal, and they seem impervious to the gusts and the perturbations of the angry wind and stately revolve around themselves and in their unseen orbits, fading in and out of the Oracle. DM is willing for the Scepters to appear and reveal their fates, to give him a good beginning and an entrance into his Midlands world, so that he can prepare the second adventure for his players. He is prepared to stand for the eternity here and wait, just as he walked his entire life along this coast, carrying his spear and sweating under his hauberk, past the burning cities the wrecked ships, knowing that he is always bound to end up walking in the end. With the suddenness of the cleared vision coming into focus, the Sceptres all reveal themselves in an instant. The DM sees even as they explode into miniature puffs and the entire oracle disappears into a cloud of sand. Excellent oracle indeed.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


If I was a D&D character, I would be worshipping Farlaghan, God of the Road. I love traveling, journeying, and exploring. I have two major passions in life, one is D&D, and the other is going on road trips. I don't have a mortgage, I pay rent and save on property taxes. I don't have a car loan, I drive a beat up old roadster, and save significantly on vehicle maintenance, and have no compunction about jumping into my car and driving cross-country. I have another blog dedicated to that other part of my life, it's called Rambler's Content and you can find it here:


Eventually I will break through the writers' block and post something there.


If the creativity is an ocean, then writing is the wind in the sails and its been dead calm for a while here. The game went into a hiatus, then ended, and when it restarts, as it most certainly must, it will be a Season Two of the campaign. The game died for all the usual reasons: A new promotion, count as a new job to be learned, GF moving in with me, campaign play outlived its lifespan. Didn't know, but continuous campaigns typically last two years in D&D, and we lasted 2 years 10 months this time, and 3 years 5 months in its previous incarnation. A good player moved on after the mega-dungeon all got sick of, came to a successful conclusion. Story itself covered about a six week dungeon siege/raid into an ecologically realistic mega dungeon complex of 15 different areas 10-60 rooms each. I WANTED to experience Moldway's Red Book, and I got a lot more. One thing I realized was that a D&D is not a fantasy exploration game, it is a tactical combat game, if you follow all of the rules. You must make a conscious effort to make it something else.

I have done and attempted to do a lot as far as game design is concerned. Story was easy, making a map was easy, I enjoyed using Moldway's rules for generating a dungeon, and after it was there, I used good tactical sense to fortify it using the in-game resources available to the Nemesis NPC. Where I made the mistake (if you can call it that) was that I let the dungeon outweigh the rest of the world, given ultimately the short life-span of a typical campaign (2 years). I did succeed, however, in taking AD&D from table top miniature figure-based war-gaming, to a more phenomenological narrative style, where combat is geared to tactical realism and takes place in players heads. I also did for the wilderness and the outdoors, what Gygax and Moldway did for the underground labyrinth, creating a realistic wilderness experience that a real world outdoorsman might appreciate. Finally, I tried to computerize the pencil and paper AD&D, where you input the ability stats and other information, such as equipment, and the computer automatically figures out and prints the necessary in-game rolls on your character sheet, the character sheet itself changes configuration based on the character class that you pick. So far, I have failed to achieve this.

I have to start writing a new adventure. The next one will be done using non-linear encounter node design and will familiarize the players with the Barony where the story is taking place. I found two beautiful maps, and they will be the next two adventures in the campaign, and I will design those using the modified hex crawl system.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


What if we had a war and nobody came?
Among its uses, this here thing lets me concentrate all of the random jottings on my campaign in one place. It started simple enough. I wanted to better undrstand D&D and as such, I decided to lead a group of players thorugh most of the iconinc D&D adventures. To this end I found a group of reluctant players totally innocent of the AD&D rules. As the first adventure, I decided to use the Haunted Keep, a sample dungeon from the Tom Moldway Basic Set. I broke away from the wererats and created my own vermin infested Dungeon in accordance with the Dungeoncraft D20 supplement. The story was tweaked to fit more into my setting and thus my gameworld was born. Playing for about one wekend every six weeks, the multi level adventure lasted a year and a half. Now it is time to move forwards.

So long ago I was sitting on my day off and listening to Up Country book on cassette (an excellent story, I might add), and drew a map of the Barony. The events of the past game sessions have shaped the form of the next few game sessions when the characters will come out of the Dungeon and start housekeeping, getting to know the Baron's Court. Bfore that happens, I have to take my beautiful, intersting and thoughtfully rendered 400 square miles and make a sandbox. I haven't started to design the wilderness yet, so gathering the posts about my gameworld might help.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Nature of the Beast: THE UNDEAD

I believe that to make anything more realistic in writing or in D&D, you have to develop a good background for it, more than goes into the actual game. One of the problems of the AD&D is that they have cerated a lot of humanoid enemies - goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, not to mention the ones that look like different types of furry animals. I mean, what is the real difference between an Orc and a Hobgoblin? How about a Gnoll and a Flind (a feline Gnoll)? In game play this becomes just another subhuman opponent for mass slaughter, but if you get the game at its word, these are not just different races or ethnic groups, they are different SPECIES! To avoid this, I have developed a lot of rationale for why the way things are in my gameworld. One of those things was the undead and the way magic would work in a fantasy world. In the beginning I wanted to do an all-human D&D campaign setting to avoid unnecessary stereotyping, then I realized that different humanoid species would add a lot of richness to the fantasy world. For a long time I puzzled over why the magic woud work in a fantasy world but not ours, and I wanted to explain the undead and turning. I wrote the following in response to what someomne else posted elsewhere and ended up writing down my thoughts. See if you get any kicks out of these ideas and let me know what you think of them. In my campaign I have the chief nemesis hurled into the fantasy world from another universe, I needed cosmological underpinnings for solving the campaign quest (when they get to it) and AD&D Cosmology wasn't doing it. That was partly how my ideas for the negative energy plane evolved. Anyway, here it is:

The undead, evil, and turning of the undead has never been adequately explained by Gygax. If you have an empty shell, where the rationale behind the invented phenomenon (the undead) should be, then the undead will appear as just another opponent wearing a zombie costume and not the drastically different from the living that it really is. In MIDlands, the undead are rooted in the fabric of reality of that world. In our real world, magic only works in the minds of the people, self and others. Careful, before you consider it all a hypnosis or an illusion! 75% of all illness and disease is psychosomatic, and so you had better respect that witch doctor with a bunch of figurines carved from bark and feathers in his medicine bag. You do not have to believe in his power, know who he is, or fear him for him to touch you and either heal you or seriously hurt you. In real physical terms! Having sais that, Haitian Zombification process as was uncovered in the 1950's in Haiti was basically a community ritual of social control, a chemical lobotomy. Prime example: the one zombie whom the western psychiatrists have recovered in the 1950's was young woman who was a fish merchant at the village market. She was staying open for one hour longer than other merchants and was underselling them to get their busiess and to buy flashy clothes for herself. Local Christian Priest talked to her about social responsibility. Her parents were warned and they talked to her. Finally, she was publically cursed, panicked, had nowhere to run, and was turned into a zombie; drugged, buried, recovered with severe brain damage affecting higher brain functions and motor skills, sold for work on he plantation cutting sugar cane. Her parents were paid blood money.This one will not bite you and you will not need to TURN her with a cross. She has alread been TURNED by her community.

Which was is more evil? Turning her into a zombie and selling her into slavery or her forcing a fish merchant or two out of business and forcing theit families into poverty in a society where death from stavation is a very real threat? In historic European medieval legends, it was human cannibals, who came back to life as ghouls, cursed to feast on the decaying dead in the graveyards! My guess to keep canibalism from developing during starvation. I guess, undeath happens only to evil people...Real world be as it may, magic and the undead would of course exist in fantasy world also. In that fantasy world, there has to be something different about the physics of its reality at the level of subatomic particles to make it possible for a magic user to produce a very real fireball that will blow out the windows and set the house on fire. And no, a Fireball is NOT a medieval hand grenade! i.e. Magic is not technology masquarading as magic in medieval fantasy society!In our own mundane world, there is a connection between aesthetic and spiritual for most people, hence the grandeur of the cathedrals. In our world, in the spheres of psychological and social science, anything imagined is real in its consequences. Witches may not have actually frolicked naked with the devil during the middle ages, but society dealt with them as if they were. Hence, imagined (a witch who flies on the broom and hangs out woth the devil, though imagined, became real in its consequences for the women accused of witchcraft!), but in D&D fantasy world, MAGIC is REAL! Therefore in my D&D fantasy world, emotional energy a being feels can be transformed into physical energy. Perhaps it is because the deities that thought the D&D world into existence are so much closer to the mortal beings that inhabit it. In our world, the picturesque view of the landscape and weather can bring out and change the mood we are in, hence the appeal of landscape painting. In the D&D world, if the emotion is powerful enough, if enough people feel it, and if it is channeled correctly, then the mood will affect tha landscape, i.e. you can call down storms, thunder and lightning, and if enough people channel their rage, earthquakes!But here is more. In this fantasy world, it is Light, not the Energy, that can not be created or destroyed. That's why crystal balls work, but you need gems to focus that light and aid in the recovery of light from past and from faraway places. Perhaps the D&D world exists in the minds of the beings that created it and light is stored in the positive energy plane where things are cerated out of it. It flows through reality and drains through the negative material plane into ocean of light in which the cosmic conscousness floats. Enterig the Positive energy plane is like entering the Sun. Entering the Negative energy plane is like entering the Black Hole. In a D&D world, when a dead person lives in the memories and in minds of the peple as a hero or villain, that person remains linked to that D&D world after their death. Hence the power of the spirits and ancestor worship. Very evil, cruel tyrants will be summoned back from the afterlife as monstrocities. Necromancy is that branch of magic that deals with the Darkness. Possesion of bodies by these spirits is one of the features of this gameworld. Good will not become undead because the Good is selfless and can let this world go after its death. If summoned by the living, the good spirits are kind and unselfish enough to endure the temptations of the material life and ignore, entertain, or escape from the pleas of the living. Maybe it's not unselfishness, but the unplesantnes and sickness of possessing a dead body that repels the good/sane beings from doing it.

The evil and selfish are weak, insane and depraved enough to start competing for the corporeal body or for some sort of an existance as the undead. It is not a pleasant existance. These beings are unstable. They forever feel freesing cold and can not find warmth or comfort. Whatever binds tem to this world keeps driving them through the haze of exhaustion and nausea. Their physical body is crumbling into decay, they have to work at it to keep their decaying flesh in one piece,they feel no pain inflicted on the physical body, save the pain caused to their own spirit. Injuries to the unead body cause them pain because the undead spirit feels tremendous fear of dying, going through death, again. It is that, which causes the undead pain and not the physical discomfort of the dead body. More powerful demons and undead creatures exert mental and emotional control over the weaker undead spirits, and Necromancers can actually splinter spirits and enslave spirits to make the weaker undead - skeletons and D&D game zombies. With the undead there is an interaction between the "natural" undead ecology - spirits brought forth by the colective unconsciousnes of humanity, and the unnatural - Residue of Necromantic experiments, Liches, and the slaves of the more powerful undead.With regards to the mechanics of the undead and the "energy drain", in our real world, the only substinence we need is physical nutrition, we eat, we drink, we breathe we live. We might alter out surrounding environment and reproduce. In the game world The living beings are integrated into the game reality and hence, the Light flows through them, is trasformed through the actions of the living and flows into the negative material plane. The undead are not part of that Light Cycle. They are not part of the gameworld and light does not flow through them. A living being in the gameworld is like a faucet - Light flows through them like water. From the surrounding environment, which they see and act upon, into the visual memory of the experience, and into the darkness of the oblivion, the negative material plane. In this comparison, the undead are like a Pot with a hole in the bottom - the dead body they control is not processing the Light like the living and unless the undead keep sucking away Light form the beings they drain of life, the undead spirit will get sucked into the negatve energy plane, leaving behind its undead shell. The way the higher undead keep themselves alive is by consuming the Light of living beings in the world. Bound by the forms imposed on the undead by the undead ecology and collective beliefs, this feeding migh take the form of blood drinking by the Vampires. Mutant ghouls, who are still in their own bodies, but are slowly being sucked out of them. Ghouls bodies metabolize putrescin (one of the end products of protein decay, a non-lethal pison to man, that irrittes mucous membranes and causes violent diarrhea and food poisoning if swallowed). Anyway, Ghouls bodies metabolice Putrescin out of the carrrion they eat the way a living body metabolizes glucose. Stench of Putrescin surrounding the Ghoul (Putrescin is used to manufacture artificial doo-doo smell) Also, pathogen for Cholera prodiuces Putrescin in the intestines of the victim, eventually killing them through dehydration among other things, but Putrescin itself will not kill, only make viloently sick and nauseus, hence the paralytic Ghoul touch.

Negative energy plane is the Plane that sucks all the undead into it and eventually destroys their spirit. The undead spirits did not want to go into the Light or could not go to Creator, so now they must fall into the Darkness and oblivion. It's not precisely a plane of the Undead, but the Negative Enery Plane exists as a black hole and its spherical Event Horizon (anything crossing that threshold falls into the black hole and its light can not escape its gravitational pull). Anyway, it supports a spiritual shadowy existance on the Event Horizon threshold of the Black Hole that is Negative Material Plane. The weakened undad spirits fall through the floor into the Darkess never to be seen again. That's where destroyed undead fall. The rest remain on this plane in shadowy spirit form, forever trying to escape by latching on to a dead body in the gameworld and walking that world as the undead. When the Priest of Good turns the Undead, s/he channels forth the Light of the Consciousness of the Deity that the Priests worships and focuses that Divine Awareness on the abomination that is the Undead being turned. Light Of the World flashes on the Undead and separates the physical body that is part of the game world from the shadow that lurks within it. The Shadow is cast into Darkness, where it belongs, into which it dissolves, the great cosmic non-being. To the udead it's like a searing flash of white light and burnig flame, from which it tries to get away.When the undead feeds on the living, it takes away the Light, that to the living feels like life is good and that it is good to be alive and keeps people from committing suicide, Undead take that, and to them it feels like a little bit of warmth. To a wight, the zerlo level man will feel like a cup of hot offee thrown into a bath filled with cold water in which the undead sits with ice cubes floating on the surface. The greater the power of the being that was drained and the more damage they can do, the warmer the undead feels. If they kill a creature equal to their level, they get a fix. They feel warm and comfortable for a time, and the feelings of insecurity and rage and fear leaves them wth a high, which usually mean that the undead will be sleeping like the dead until the Cold wakes them again. Undead are addicts in the last stages of addiction to Life. For the living that has been drained, the efects are primarily spiritual and psychological. In the world where belief can alter the phyhsical reality and Gods are real and present, the Living get a a glimpse into the mind of he undead, in which there is only cold, hunger, fear, misery and terror ofthe darkness and non-being (The living in the game world wouldn't have the fear of motality that we have in our own, since their beliefs in the afterlife are so much more immediate and stronger, and since religion gets such stronger and imediate reinforcement).

In this fantasy world, the Light, the Spirit, cosists of memories and feelings associated with all the strong deeds that build character - good or evil, and it is reenfirced by the feelings of others who know the person. Undead, however, see none of this, to them it's not identity, feelings, or memory, to the undead, it's just warmth to be nourished on. A simple vampire might not even perceive Light as light, but rather as sweet smelling, sweet tasting blood. But that is just as illusion - what vampire is sucking is really the Light/Life energy; to them, a fix of morphine or heroin to take away the pain. Undead seek MOMENTARY RELIEF. Because of that, the traumatic damage they do to their prey (victims) is tremedous. Recovery time is based on how much the drained vicitm is loved by others, Priests and Clergy can restore the lost faith, compassionate comrades in arms can restore the lost confidence. The Living heal, undead Decay. If the victim is alienated and weak, s/he will not struggle to live and will give up all of its light to the undead predator. Undead will then have captured the entire Soul and some undead can "ride" that soul, so that they are removed from the Black Hole. Even if slain, the spirit of the powerful undead will remain in the spirits of the undead, which it created and then raised under its control. With enough undead under their control, certain undead are as removed from darkenss as the living, and if slain, will come back in some other incorporeal form.One of the reasons that Necromancy is forbidden in the fantasy world, as witchcraft was in ours, is because Necromancers experiment on living beings and try to master the technique of this Light/Level drain. It is conceivable that priests of evil religions can "TURN" Paladins. If the evil Priest or Wizard has mastered the technique of the life energy drain, he or she can drain enough Spirit from a Paladin to Break their faith, but you wouldn't be able to turn the Living the way Undead is turned.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


DM walking along the deserted beach, explaining his AD&D to the stars and the Moon and the waves breaking on the night shore. Centuries ago, a mad priest walked along the ocean shore and preached his sermons to the seagulls and the ocean waves. That priest knew where the Holy Grail was hidden. Another man in black raided across the English channel just to question and murder the mad priest. They were half-brothers and one wanted what the other one did not care for, nor known what he had, but this was a story from a different time and place...

Another man walks the empty beach. He walked through the door and left behind the city on fire. A nine-eleven multiplied by every house in town, multiplied by almost every city across the land. The wind blowing across the beach blows the sand into shadows dancing under the grey skies. These shadows beckon the man back through the red door to the nuked world he left behind. He is needed yet again. This was a future that never was.

DM sees the fruited plain cloaked in the dark of the night, or just the dunes during the daylight. The darkness is seeded with red eyes glowing everywhere. These are not shadows, or his past following him, nor are they prairie dogs looking at the intruder, rather these are the DM's audience, the readers of his blog, who stay anonymous.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


We live in a Lawful society. Essentially, every place went from a state like Somalia or Afghanistan, and had their warlords defeated and exterminated by the forces which brought in State power. This even applies to Incas, who consolidated their territory about 150 years before Columbus discovered America. In historic terms, any Chaotic guy, does not believe that there is a central authority that can control him, and hence will do as he or she sees fit in accordance with their power. Think warlords who administer their turf and hold out against the nation building efforts of the superpowers and the US. In that situation “Lawful” types will have faith in the UN Peacekeepers and the NGOs.

The line of demarcation between “Good” and “Evil”, as Gary Gygax wrote the alignments, is Altruism. In real world, Evil is selfish, can not see past itself and will always lose to “Good” because Evil does not survive self-interest. Good sees beyond itself. A Good man will fight and die to defend his wife and child or his cause, while evil will always surrender if faced with certain destruction. Suicide squads like Japanese kamikazes and self-bombers are really Lawful, because they accept the love and promises of the belief system and the community that sacrifices them and reveres them as heroes. A Lawful Good person can also become a kamikaze, if say, his family burned to death in the firebombing of Tokyo. Also, all alignments have their opposite side. “Good” characters can do evil and “Evil” Characters can do occasional good deeds. Let’s say a band of Good Rangers are destroying foul den of evil and cannibalistic orcs, and the orcs are fightiong to the death to defend their young and their women.

A good book to watch the alignments in action is Ken Follet’s World Without End. If you ever read it, watch the way old Earl behaves towards Ralph against the wishes of his Lady. Old Earl is essentially acting as a Lawful Evil Character, Sir Ralph turns into a Chaotic Evil character.


Kindly vassal. Uses the system to serve the society to promote good. In outlook typical law abiding citizen of the Western Nations. Weakness in this alignment is their faith in the system. They may let the innocent be unjustly convicted and may overlook the corruption before them.


These people will serve their community to the best of their ability and will disregard the hierarchy. Can not be relied upon to carry out orders. Example comes from Crimean war – Infantry column was ambushed. Commander sends the leader of the Cossacks and his two aides to alert the main force. Thirty minutes later, commander is horrified to see them in a fight. The Cossack thought that he should be with his men first, and would carry out orders later. He clearly was loyal to his men, but the concepts of greater strategies and necessities was beyond him. Had he been drilled into Lawful alignment by being in a regular unit, he would have carried out the order from his superiors, as we expect it to be done in modern times. Again, we are a Lawful paradise.


These are fanatics for the cause. They are Neutral in the sense that they do not care anything for the means, but the greater good. Historically, the Lawful character believes in the good of the system and trusts the system to do good by its citizens, this leads to a certain passivity of the Lawful Good characters, Chaotic Good is obsessed with personal freedoms, realistically, they are modern people (Like Afghanistan’s General Dostum, like the Cossacks, Like the German Uhlans or the late roman barbarians) in that they know the ways of their modern world, but yet they fancy themselves as self-romanticized Noble Savages. Obssession with personal freedom expressed as “my own horse, my repeating carbine, and the plains I can roam” (borders to patrol) in the mid 19th century. The Neutral Good character is beyond all that. Listen to the Pretenders song “Born with the sense of Purpose”. Think early Christians, think Martin Luther King, think Mother Teresa. We shall overcome and By any means necessary. In D&D terms think about a leader of a small group of barbarians survivinbg between two great empires at war. He will do anything to save his band and doesn’t care about breaking the alliances or making them, so long as his people survive. Think a young witch in a small village, who so disgusted with the sadistic ways of an evil overlord starving the peasants, that she takes up arms to break the yoke of oppression. She no longer cares about her own life or freedom nor is she waiting for any Good to come from the outside. In a way this is an ideal alignment for a player in a good versus evil type of campaign.At first Gygax thought the Lawful Good to be the best alignment, then he decided that Neutral Good would be the strongest. And yes, a Neutral Good character can give her word to a captured man at arms serving evil, that his life will be spared if he surrenders, and then slit his throat if keeping him alive is impracticable. Happens all the time. Especially if she had seen her friends tortured and executed. You can’t expect anything else.


This is the professional. A mercenary commander or a general, who cares for nothing but the welfare of his men. This is the standard AD&D definition. But there is more. There is a truism that an honest man in a corrupt system will compensate with personal honesty, professionalism, and valor. So, if you have a decent policeman in a place like Gestapo or KGB, he will compensate by being honest, conscientious and doing as good as he can by ithe people. Until he either becomes corrupt and one of the boys, drinks himself to death, or himself become a political prisoner. In that sense, a Lawful Good Character disillusioned with the corrupted system will either remain good by selectively carrying out orders from the above, a Chaotic Good OR he will remain Lawful, and try to function as before, but as a Lawful Neutral professional.


This is interesting. This is a Shaman. In our world these are people who hear voices and drug addicts trying to survive day by day. They live in a world outside our reality and must survive where it doesn’t affect us. In our world it’s schizophrenia and mental illness. Shamanism. Inuit and Eskimo tribesmen who physically can not hunt and are doomed to starvation. Their religion posits that they allow themselves to be possessed by spirtits, who can communicate through them, and that knowledge is needed by the tribe, which feeds the shaman and keeps him alive. These are the people who send their aged down the river to die when there is not enough food to eat. Shamans believe that there is an endless hierarchy of good spirits serving evil serving good serving good serving evil, ad nauseum, an endless hierarchy, in which the shaman is a physical puppet at the lowest level doing the bidding. This is almost Lovecraftian in its horror to them. They have many rituals to keep possession of their own bodies lest the spirits take over permanently. Chaotic Neutral behavior might be seen as psychotic by a non Chaotic Neutral character, but in the fantasy world of D&D where good and evil spirits are for real, the preoccupatons of Chaotic Neutral Characters take on a real necessity and real effect.


This is a selfish egotist. Think Chaotic Neutral, but in the world of men. Prostitutes and thieves at the bottom rung of the underworld, ex-cops thrown in the general population in prison, Outlaws in “World Witout End”. Survival is the Neutra Evil’ character’s watch word, but neutral evil characters will use survival to justify any sort of conduct. In very real terms, Neutral Evil characters life and well being is at the pleasure f those above them, hence they will do anything to survive. They are broken people, the polar opposite of the Neutral Good. Whereas the Lawful Evil character is about US versus Them and Strength in Numbers, and a Chaotic Evil character is “Because I can” and Might Makes Right, Neutral Evil character is “Everyone is against me” “I am powerless” “We all do what we needed to survive”


A corporate Lawyer who will hide behind the system to pursue his own ends, someone who will use his superior knowledge of the law to cheat a widow out of her house. A bunch of Goblins who believe that there is strength in numbers. Often, Lawful Evil Characters will view the world in terms of Us and Ours versus them, and they will think themselves as being superior to everyone else, and hence entitled to ruling over other by force and taking what they like by force. There are two types of Lawful Evil characters – A cynical opportunist, and a rank and file thug, fascist etc.


The biggest bully, whether with a Ogre club or spells, who thinks that they can hold their own and do as they pleased. A lot of tribal Chiefs were like that, ruled their people with an iron fist and in accordance with every whim of their ego, and were oblivious to the approaching power of the new settlers, the British Empire, the Colonial power or the Cold War Superpowers. That’s why the Neutral Good Barbarian Chieftan is in the D&D fantasy, because the historic Chieftans and Warlords were incredibly selfish and near sighted, incapable of working together.


The worst explained of all the alignments. Old D&D had only three alignments, from point of view of a war. US, the Good guys, THEM, the Evil guys, and in the second book they introduced the non-combatants, the Neutrals. Druids were neutrals, guys who worshipped trees or did the martial arts, and were outside the order of battle between Good and Evil. In Basic D&D, there was the pro-social Lawful, anti-social Chaotic and a Neutral, who viewed all things in balance, or in the AD&D interpretation, who didn’t care about the conflict one way or the other, basically the great uninvolved majority. This is incorrect; Alignment is about a dominant world view. In the real world, “Alignment” would consist of core values about the acceptable role of women in society, how one should spend or save money, how to use discipline in child rearing, limits of private property rights, church and the role of the State. In D&D terms we have the Good versus Evil and Law versus Chaos. If someone is undefined, or didn’t get a chance to differentiate their position, it doesn’t make them neutral, but undeveloped. If you look at Neutrality the way it is set up in the AD&D Alignment system, Neutrality means a withdrawal from one set of issues in favor of concentrating one’s efforts on the remaining issue. If essence of good alignments is altruism, evil alignments – selfishness, law – sense of social order and chaos – anarchy, then Neutrality is about self-abnegation.

A neutral evil character is a sissy boy surviving among bullies, a cop serving time in prison with the criminals that s/he helped put away. Neutral Evil characters abnegate their dignity, self-respect and honor in order to survive. They beg and betray and will sell themselves. They cam make a stand and die, instead they choose to live on their knees.

Chaotic Neutral character is a madman or a shaman keeping Lovecraftian demons at bay. S/he sacrifices their sanity in order to survive. Sanity expressed in social acceptance, normal friends and normal life. They are not broken by the world of men, like the Neutral Evils, but by a world of supernatural predators that no one can see, hence they are deemed insane and they pay no attention to our world, which is non-threatening by comparison.

Next is the world of the Lawful Neutral. S/he is the professional. Lawful Neutrals make the trains run on time, whether they bring food to the famine stricken regions and feed the starving, or they are transporting slaves to death camps in pursuit of genocide. Making the trains run on schedule is what’s important to the Lawful Neutrals. They abnegate their free will in order not to accept the moral responsibility for the actions, which their system takes I the world for good or evil.

Neutral Good character is like Inayat Khan, a British SOE radio operator in the occupied France during WW2. She was parachuted into France just as Gestapo was destroying the British resistance network. As everyone was hiding and trying to flee back into UK. She stayed in place and operated her radio and maintained contact with London and was critical in saving what was saved of the network. She stayed as everyone was fleeing and was captured, then refused to cooperate as every other radio operator broke and stated providing information to Gestapo, and was tortured to death. She willingly sacrificed her life for the others and that’s the willing self-sacrifice of the Neutral Good alignment.

Having said all that, what does that make of the TRUE NEUTRAL? It’s total self-abnegation and withdrawal from the conflict in which the D&D Characters are participating, adventuring. The only people who completely are monks and mystics. AD&D states that the animals are also True Neutrals. That makes sense, if you consider that “Self” or self-awareness, is a higher mental function overlaying instinct. Four legged animals have a non-existent or extremely diminished sense of self, when compared to humans (and humanoids).

There have been historic cases, where humans have tried to get rid of their self-awareness, and it hadn’t been with the Druids. “Nature” to the True Neutral is not balance and flowers and trees and the breeze, it’s spontaneity and lack of forethought or afterthought. That humans tried to get rid of self-awareness is nothing new. Shamans and Mystics believe that if you get rid of “self” by sleep deprivation, drugs and drumming. Mystics believe that “self” holds you back from a complete union with the greater god, and to be joined with the God in such a way is the greatest joy in the world (forget yourself, forget your pain). Shamans believe that when you get rid of “self”, your body will be possessed by demons, and those demons will provide insight and do feats, that give Shamans their powers. Practitioners of Zen Buddhism believed that by getting rid of se;f-awareness, they got rid of stress and obsessive thinking and doubts, and that made for faster combat reflexes and better warriors, hence Zen became the teaching of the Samurai.

Drawing on this, a True Neutral character is basically a Monk dedicated to his monastic life and work. Monk can be a Martial artist, a D&D Monk, a type of a jester, in the Zen Koan tradition, or a warrior or a thief dedicated to their craft so they will be the top of their profession. True Neutral can be a Priest dedicated to a deity that is not concerned with either humanity or the fight that the D&D adventure is taking place, also True Neutral is a Magic User studying Cosmos, dimensions and string theory without concern for power or anything in this world. Illusionist lost in his illusions, sage lost in his books, True Neutral can be a person living such an involved and difficult life, that s/he does not have time for a self or for reflection. An athlete training for the Olympics, a D&D Monk pushing himself to the limit, or a Druid whose time is tied surviving in the forest, living as a vegan and trying to survive the winter without chopping down trees for the firewood. Day to day survival of the Druid in the Grove will give barely enough time to contemplate the balance of Nature and not much else.

Well, here is my small contribution to the AD&D Alignment theory, let me know what you think!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

MIDlands take on the Big Model Theory

I read up on Ron Edwards' GNS and the Big Model theory of role-playing games, looking for something useful in the ways of practical applications to gaming. It is of limited utility and some of the terminology is actually misnamed.

The Big Model theory may be of use to Sociologists studying role-playing gaming, and has no use to me as a DM. It breaks down the Role playing process into Social Contract, Exploration, Techniques, Ephemera, Creative Agenda. Like Russian Matreshka dolls nesting inside each other, you have Social Contract holding [Exploration [Techniques [Ephemera]]] with the Creative Agenda like an arrow piercing all four circles. SOCIAL CONTRACT is the social environment in which the group of players and the GM interact and governs all the Sociology of the gaming process. EXPLORATION is the fantasy world that is being created by this group. TECHNIQUE cover all of the game mechanics covering the play. EPHEMERA represents the actual process, the Transcript of everything that is being said and done in the course of the game session. CREATIVE AGENDA represents the GM's style as well as the goals and values of the Campaign.

Off the top of my head, Most gaming groups have no, or a very rudimentary Creative Agenda. I've seen groups meander from one randomly rolled dungeon to another, or a DM, having assembled a group of 10+ people, trying to run them through a module. The Agenda may be no more than run the players through DM game run according to the White Box Rule. I HAD a strong agenda and goals for the Midlands campaign from the beginning: 1 - To run a historically realistic game of D&D that would be free of any racist and colonial tropes that was inherited in D&D from Tolkien. I.e. Superior to or equal to Human races, such as Elves, Dwarves and other "Demi-Humans", and Sub-human races such as Goblins, Orcs, and Hobgoblins, or the "Humanoids" in the D&D parlance, that is just too reminiscent of the Nazi "Herrenvolk" and "Untermenschen".  2 - Bring the players face to face with the truly alien and mystical. 3 - Have a coherent and continuous, genuinely two-dimensional Sandbox game.

With regards to EPHEMERA, at least with me, there is a conflict between the uninterrupted story telling with the input from the players and having to administer the game, which most of the time, means looking for the right table to interpret the die roll. I can narrate over the die rolling and looking at the map and drawing out the scene to players. Fumbling for tables interrupts that process. I have interrupted my current campaign to re-do the way information is laid out for me. My goal is to eventually DM from an Microsoft Excel workbook on my laptop. Also on my project board is a list of Smart Tables, that automatically figure out the modifiers and give the correct die roll and a set of Smart - self-configuring forms, which would change their layout in accordance with the character class selected. So, Ephemera concept is functionally useful, but unaddressed in most writing on role-playing. TECHNIQUE is the game rules used. It was self-evident to me, game rules being the tools of the DM to make for a more realistic narrative. EXPLORATION refers to the game world, and would mean the literary study of the different campaigns and adventure modules. There is something of a paradox with the literary study of the D&D influences. The literary study of the roots of D&D is limited to the Appendix N of the original Dungeon Master's Guide, and a lot of activity has been dedicated to the reading and review of the Appendix N sword and sorcery literature, but any kind of serious literary scholarship and literary criticism is missing from the discussion. There has been significant literary scholarship concerning Tolkien and Lovecraft, but it is not mentioned or commented on in the gaming circles. Finally, the SOCIAL CONTRACT; This is a valid venue of inquiry, but of little interest or concern to the gamers themselves. A DM should be aware of it, though, if s/he wants to run a tight and a lasting group. To begin with, most D&D campaigns last for about two years. You can continue the campaign beyond this period, but it will likely be a "Season TWO" with personnel and other changes. Second, D&D is a social ritual, and a lot more happens at the table, than mere rolling of dice and storytelling. I have seen a couple of cases, where the game itself was mediocre and lackluster, without a main storyline, other than the characters going into a recently discovered randomly rolled dungeon, but the experience became more detailed and elaborate, with a storyline in the RETELLING after the game. That was my first clue, that there is more going on at the table than the mere gaming and story-telling. Second, unless you are running a game with a group of friends, with whom you will be hanging out anyway, each player will bring with them their own social baggage and it will create tensions that will threaten to rip the gaming group apart. For instance, I had a very diverse group of players one, and to my surprise, I found that the Surgeon, the Lawyer and the Exec, were networking with each other to the exclusion of the Truck Driver, the Construction Dude and the Receptionist. The three were brilliant as players, and they systematically solved all of the challenges that I threw at them. I sort of knew that Social Class existed, but watching my group replicate it in front of my eyes... I had to take steps to make sure that the group stayed together and that no one was getting left out. I failed to keep everyone, but the group remained. Finally, if you are running an extended campaign, players have other activities competing for the gaming time - jobs, wives and church attendance, and unless you take care as a DM, these social and economic concerns will wipe out your game. I have lost a game to a divorce and two layoffs affecting players. So, the Social Contract is a bit of misnomer, as there are conservative thinkers, who think that the Social Contract does not exist, but this segment of the Big Model is very important for the DM to keep an eye on, if he wants to run a long term campaign and retain his players.

Sunday, September 8, 2013



Anchors Aweigh playing over the loudspeakers...

ok... Here it is...
Break the Champaigne bottle on the hull! We got a BLOG!!!!

This one is about AD&D, the only medieval fantasy role-playing game in town, bad art and all!!!

This will be notes and dispatches as I work on my campaign setting.
Initially this was just a patchwork thing, an excuse to run the players through all of the interesting Dungeon Modules that were released in 1970's and 1980's and became classics. Then, as these things sometime happen, a separate world lurched forward, and forward emerged a story arc that will take the players on an epic journey, where the existing modules are only a springboard to provide experience that would launch the players into something new and completely different. As I work developing this, for me this too (more so than for the players fighting to stay alive) is a journey of exploration of the AD&D rules and the nature of its universe and how our world is reflected in it. That is the purpose of this here baby... 

Friday, September 6, 2013

MIDlands Charater Creation

With regards to chance of improving one's skill, I use the RuneQuest rule: You can try to improve the skill, only if you used it in the course of the adventure to achieve the positive difference and move the story forward. All the skills that were used (and that includes spells) become candidates for improvement. For a healing skill, it is not enough to cast the Cure Light Wounds Spell, you must have cast it on enough players to make a difference between players losing the melee and winning it. Healing skill has to be used to stabilize a character with zero and less HP and to keep him or her from dying. Magic Missile spell would be the candidate for improvement if it drops (or kills) an opponent. The frequency is ONCE per ADVENTURE. You can use the skill successfully to move the adventurers forward a dozen times, still, it only gets ONE shot. Another thing to consider, is how long an adventure takes place. For instance, My players just came off a two year long mega dungeon adventure that lasted from beginning of May until end of July in game time. I have a Magic User, who used a Sleep spell successfully at least a dozen times. Since the skill improvement represents a lifetime track record, that player will only get 1 chance at improving that skill. To make sure that he gets the improvement, I might reward him with an automatic maximum success, OR I can add the number he used the spell to attain critical success to his percentile die roll to see if his skill improves. Another thing to consider is that since Sleep is a first level spell, which the player has mastered. If he practiced the spell with another wizard, who has sleep spell and is of significantly higher level than the 1st level, it only takes one week's supervised practice, before the skill improvement check can be made. When assessing amount of time it takes for training, you should decide as DM how long a training period should take. To learn to walk on one's hands the player character mist have high STR and DEX of 16 and will take 3 to five training sessions. To become an acrobat might take 2 -3 years of active study. Healers and Herbalists may gain experience by working as healers. A season (winter, summer, give or take spring and fall), might be long enough to warrant a skill improvement check, OR a critical incident that is role played successfully that might last one evening. Have the player character treat a patient dying from human rabies. If they got enough wherewithal to make a positive difference, they get to roll for skill improvement. Again, this is rooted in narrativism, and is largely at DM's discretion.
So, you want to play a wealthy Princeling, why not? Write the DM a brief backstory that I will modify accordingly. Placement-wise, you are from the large MIDlands city-state of Starohrad, five days by the river away from the local produce walled town of Ryeland, that is the base city (well... a large town) for the players. I would let you be the Princeling from Ryeland, but the place is so small, quiet and backward, that it doesn't produce enough wealth to make a Princeling! MIDlands narrativism is where story balance is maintained. I make a social class roll for each player character to see how bad the DM's rewriting of your story will be. If you want to be from the top 1% of the MIDlands society, you will probably have to roll 99-00 on percentile dice to enter the game as a fully empowered princeling that you are anticipating. But let us say that you rolled something other, that brings you more to the ground level of peasants or artisans and craftsmen or freeman homesteaders. That would mean that you are a Princeling-in-exile, and a DM has to make up as to what happened. For instance, "Your mother cheated on your Leonian Nobleman father and he had her burned at the stake as a witch. The Rogue whom she cheated with was hunted down on the forest and you lovely Dad has severely beaten his man at arms, who accidentally killed him while taking him alive. You were in the way of your step mother and their new baby and they sent you to a Monastery for schooling. You thought that the priests were going to kill you and you ran away from them... (eventually becoming a thief that the player character had)... and that is how the backstory for each player character gets written, maybe less extreme than this case, but no less dramatic...
There are THREE ways the players can roll up a character to enter Midlands, and none of them let you lower some ability to increase the other, hence, no Min-Maxing! The Man On The Street; The Dilettante; and roll to get a particular character class, everybody gets to be any AD&D character class they like, remember. Man On The Street rolls 3d6 for each ability. The good news is that you get to reroll as many times as you like, until you get the stats that you crave! Because 3d6 versus ability gives you least advantages, and restricts your choice of the character class, this represents the typical upbringing without any special attention paid to the child. Because of this, the character relies more on his friends and neighbors to get along in the world. What this means is that the Man on the Street is written into the setting more, with more contacts, more recognition based on CHA and a few more background/cultural skills.
The Dilettante rolls 4d6 for each ability, and you can re-roll as many times as you like until you get the stats that you crave! In the real world, the dilettante is a dabbler, who is not involved in the field as a professional, but practices it as a hobby. This was typically, because their families had enough money, to where they did not have to earn a living and could become a dabbler. A sailor goes to sea to support his family. A dilettante goes on a sea expedition  as a self-styled naturalist, journalist, or an adventurer. By the same token, rolling 4d6 and picking 3 highest, gives you more opportunities and represents more attention paid by parents, better grub fed to the child, and better social position. That does not necessarily mean wealthier, for there are poor families that are loving and are well integrated into their community. Because the Dilettantes typically have the luxury of privacy and solitude, they get no advantages of the common men on the street. 
Finally, if the player wants to play a particular character class, they can re-roll the lacking primary requisite attributes on a special table, that while reflecting the probabilities from the 3d6 bell curve, will yield only the numbers that will qualify the player for that character class. Bards, Monks, Paladins etc. Of course there is a trade-off, and that is where the MIDlands Narrativism comes in. Unlike other games I played in, the true Sandbox exerts Lovecraftian tentacles over the players. Each character is WRITTEN into the setting via the background essay like Silva's Tale. The player character is bound into the setting by a number of acquaintances and relationship with those acquaintances. Typically, a player gets to pick a number of "friends" in the setting equal to their CHA bonus. Equally important to the campaign development is the concept of the CANON. Player and a DM create the character's biography that places the character in the sandbox. Whatever elements of the story are agreed on, become part of the canon. If the bio thingie says that you are friends with Merlin or Conan or the King, then later in the game, if you ever get in touch with these NPC's, they will act as a benefactor on your side. How much can you get out of a friendship with a King? This is where the game ceases to be linear/by the rules and expectations, and enters the non-linear narrativist turf.
The trade-off that players exchange for the amazing choices available at the start of the game is in their independence of their characters. Most fantasy role playing games are run and played by middle class suburbanites with the expectations of the relatively privileged suburbanized white males. Almost everyone takes privacy/solitude for granted. This applies to the players sense of themselves in the real world as well as that of their characters. Essentially, a typical character exists apart from the game world, typically existing in the player's imagination as a self-sufficient traveler, who advances in their chosen profession (character class) by virtue of "experience" - loot and combat kills, which have little or nothing to do with the advancement in their chosen occupation. Typical D&D adventure starts with the players arriving into a town, getting a room at the inn, that mirrors their own room in their parents' home somewhere in the suburban sprawl. Next thing they do, is go to some "tavern" where they pick up rumors about some dungeon waiting to get looted. This is the purview of the Dungeon Master's world. Somehow the locals are totally ignorant of the riches in their midst, just waiting to be taken from the hordes of the sub-human two legged creatures ripe for slaughter. If it wasn't for the Orcs and the piles of gold pieces, I would have thought that the players were some mining company employees looking to extract the wealth of some God-forsaken 4th world nation like D&D player characters taking gold from the dungeon. Of course, one of the casualties in this adventure, is the players own vision. Typical D&D play proceeds like lovemaking in the seventies after the Joy of Sex came out: During the act of copulating, everyone is working to get themselves off, while going through the motions. The player can and will, come up with a backstory for their character, usually lovingly crafted and cherished one, and it has no more chance of surviving in the dungeon adventure than those new arrivals to the Nazi death camps selected to go take a shower or the inhalation lung treatment. The only thing that matters to the DM is the player character is expressed in terms of the game statistic that make the character playable in the context of the immediate adventure. In the final analysis the independence of the player characters is illusionary, since the only thing that counts is the in-game stats, which give the player a seat on the DM's rollercoaster.
To counteract this, The player character is written into the MIDlands setting at the start of the game. The freest ones are the Dilettantes, since they get to start the game on their own terms, a few negotiated close friends and a few problems, disadvantages, issues, by agreement with the DM. The Man on the street has more immediate resources and creature comforts, but they are part of the local story and they are least likely to enjoy the scenario of the merry traveler from far away. Those who choose to play a particular character class have the least freedom. They are considered to be in the active service of whatever organization or order employs them. Rangers, Paladins, Monks, Bards, are essentially institutionalized or closely affiliated with secret and secretive orders and organizations. They don't have to worry about level advancement or getting or finding instructors, but the DM can send them on an adventure (via NPC's who are their bosses), and they can't say no without reverting to regular fighters common men etc. By comparison, MIDlands thieves and magic users can act as free agents and have to role play finding guild affiliation and it is usually quite hard to find regular employment with the entities that train them. Even fighters have to travel the fantasy world looking for fencing instructors, but they have easier time joining military organizations and can move in and out of them, if they like.
Vagaries of embedding the players in the game world aside, there is one other important dynamic. Every set of stats that was rolled and discarded by the player as unsuitable, is not thrown out, but is taken by the DM and is used to make the NPC's who will be that player's Nemesis and will go after the player character and try to kill him or her throughout the course of the campaign.
End notes:
With regards to the spell-casters wearing fighters helms into battle. Assuming that a starting chance for the 1st level wizard casting a first level spell successfully acquired is in the ideal range of 25-40 percent; Spell-caster can wear an arming cap or an open face helm with no penalty; a 3/4 helm with a 15% penalty; and a helm with a visor that can be opened and closed with a 20% penalty.
I will go over the three books in separate posts.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

MIDlands Skills 2: Skills versus Non Weapon Proficiencies

In a comment to a previous post (See here: http://midlandstales.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-better-way-to-do-skill-checks.html ) , Neal commented that I panned the Runequest and later editions of D&D for their use of skills, and yet, I make the extensive use of skills myself and even boast of having 375-400 skills in my system.

One thing to consider is that the player never gets to see/choose fro the entire skill list. All of the skills are broken down into skillsets, list of skills available based on the cultural and biographical details of the character. For instance, if your character was born into a particular nobility (Whether Kraitlander, Leonian or Midlander), you have a choice of cultural skills based on ethnicity. If your character grew up on the street corner or in the wilderness, or as a peasant farming, or as a Volgan fisherman (again a setting specific ethnicity), you have a choice or none or one or more skills available to that group (such as fishing and swimming and rafting and riverine survival) basic, common sense skills. If your player character becomes a plain old Fighter, s/he has access to a skill set not available to any other character class, etc.

As to the number of skills, At the beginning each player character gets a certain number of weapon proficiencies (1 to 4 for fighters) and non-weapon proficiencies (NWP). There is a number of non-weapon proficiencies and the NWP advancement rate given in the Oriental Adventure, Dungeoneer Survival Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide. In Addition, each player gets a number of NWP's equal to the starting number of weapon proficiencies subtracted from 8. This reflects the truth, that physical training and martial arts takes time away from other skills. In addition, players get to start with the bonus NWP's equal to the number of languages given in the INT table. The NWP offered by the 1st edition AD&D books can only be applied to the skill set particular to the character class. There are rogue, street, and outlaw living set for the Thieves, Priestly and Monastic Living skill sets for Clerics,  etc. While this might seem like a lot, it is not. Fighter starts with 4 weapons (s/he can also use them for the fighters-only skillset, which consists of the variety of medieval battlefield, combat, and tactical skills and is the largest skill set at 35 skills; 2 NWP (FGHTR Only!); and 4 bonus starting skill + between 1 and 7 skills based on the fighter's INT ( between 1 and 3 if his INT is in the average range of 9-12), so, a first level fighter will have between 6 and 13 skills (if we have an INT 18 fighter, have you seen any?) with the average range of between 7 and 9. A Magic User, by comparison, will have 1 weapon and 3 NWP (M-U) Only! plus 7 starting skills and between 3 and 7 bonus skills, so, a 1st level Magic User gets between 13 and 17 starting skills, HOWEVER: a Magic user will need to spend 7 points to function as a basic D&D Magic User casting spells from a single school of magic. Additional school of magic will take up additional skills. The basic skills are (1) Literacy; (2) Alchemy, skill covering the material components; (3) Declamation; (verbal spell component); (4) Spellcasting (somatic spell component); (5) School of Magic Knowledge; (6) Read Magic; (7) Transcribe Magic (being able to use the Magicians short hand to transcribe the magical knowledge that produces a spell effect into one's own spell book).

So, in actuality, a Magic User gets between 6 and 9 "elective" skills to really choose from. Except that, additional schools of magic cost additional skills, there are other magical skills to produce magic scrolls, make potions and other magic items; the really iconic powerful spells, the spell books of Liches and scrolls from the deepest dungeons, are written in dead languages, so to become truly unique and powerful, a Magic User... must... learn... ancient languages useless in the Sandbox except for deciphering spells!!!!!!!!!!!! In addition, I the strength permits them, Magic Users can learn any weapon and any armor up to Chain Mail, You can cast spells in chain mail if both of your hands are free! Based on this, it is easy to see, how a magic user can be absorbed in his/her magical studies and not have any outside skills worthy of note.

One last thing, professional development aside, there are no additional skill points given out on regular basis. However, a player character may elect to learn any additional skill at any time. This must be role-played. Player must spend 3 months - 2 years living in an environment where a given skill is practiced, have means of learning that skill and must be actively learning it. So, to learn juggling, you have to be accepted into a troupe of performance, who will teach it to you. It is really a role-playing/story telling mini-game and there is no limit to it per se.

Of course, I missed the post about the difference between Runequest skills and AD&D non-weapin proficiencies, but I will have to cover it another time! 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Neal raised a number of interesting points regarding my use of skill checks in a previous post dated July 25, 2013, and I thought best to address it here.

One of the most fundamental questions raised is why use percentile dice in increments of five when I can use a d20 in increments of one? Well, the reason being is that it offers greater variety of possible outcomes to use a Percentile Die over a D20, but another reason is that percentile dice are used for skill checks (as in Runequest (RQ)- you must roll within the skill level to make the skill check and you must roll above it, to improve it). In MIDlands D&D, as in RQ, skills improve through successful usage, Abilities do not. It is NOT QUITE realistic that abilities remain stationary, but to be fair, adventure time keeps people from exercising and their abilities generally slowly deteriorate. So it is probably better that the character abilities stay chiseled in stone. By the same token,  strongly believe that Gygax was wrong, when he wrote that even a Wish spell could not permanently raise one's ability score(!), each casing of the Wish spell will raise the ability by 1/10 of 1 ability point. That is the prime example of the King Gygax being foolish.

In my example of Brent the Paratrooper, read here: http://midlandstales.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-better-way-to-do-skill-checks.html

I change Brent's Parachute Jumping Skill from a percentile based 43% to a d20 ability-like 8, you always round down! This was done when Brent tried teaching Jumping to buddy of his. We use the ability modifier, and for this I like Moldway's symmetrical universal ability modifier table from the ability checks and multiply it by 5 to use with the percentile dice throws typically used in skill checks. When teaching the skill to his buddy, Brent would suffer a 5% penalty since his own skill is not that strong.

How did I come up with this? Ability Checks are very useful for mediating complex social dynamics that may occur between player characters and NPC's.  Complex things, whose dynamics still challenge modern social science can best be mediated through a system of ability checks: thingslike teaching, carrying a conversation, negotiating, seducing, questioning and being questioned, falling in love, selling a used car. If facts and knowledge is involved, you do an INT check, if it is maturity and life experience that is needed to judge a situation, then it is a WIS check, when emotional issues are involved - trust, manipulation, empathy, assurance, social dominance, social graces, then it is a CHA check. If anybody wants to know the various ways of doing the ability check, just mention it I your comments and I will post on that. A complex social interaction between two participants should ALWAYS be role played and be mediated by a number of ability checks. A young magic user trying to become an apprentice to a great wizard, may try a variety of approaches as s/he role plays, and everything they do can be mediated/modified with an ability check. Attempts to seduce/impress will require CHA check, context of wits, INT, WIS ill be required to see through the game and ultimately it will be CHA when the magic user asks to be accepted. When teaching, the old Wizard will have to use CHA to establish trust and rapport with his apprentice, WIS to establish clear communication, and INT and his skills converted to the Ability scale to actually teach. Each roll will create modifiers that will express the teacher/apprentice relationship and will affect how much (if at all) the teacher will be helpful in learning a skill. When rolling to beat the skill, the student adds the teacher's success as a bonus to his percentile roll. Of course, there is role-playing and time spent, sometimes weeks and months, behind each roll.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Combat in MIDlands: Crit Hits and CRIT HITS!

In a comment from an earlier post, Neal asked me when a critical hit puts the opponent out of the fight. Let me briefly explain why I consider Critical Hits essential, even though Gygax and his AD&D rules were against it. For whatever reason, Gygax wanted a linear game, where there was a steady progression of rolls and a gradual loss of hit points, until one of the opponents was dead (well, sort of, they go unconscious and start bleeding from 0 to -10 hit points, at which time the character dies). In the mean time if the other characters stop the bleeding, the player character survives. Nice fudge to help the players live longer, but it makes sense.

Of course, there is a problem of two characters with 50-75 points each slugging away at each, and let us assume that they each have a Chain Mail, Sword, and Shield, that gives each a formidable and historically accurate AC of 5. Let us say that each is a 6th level fighter with the maximum 60hp, as player characters typically get the maximum hit points. In Gygax DMG (GDMG), a sixth level fighter needs 11 to his AC 5. Let's say that they each have a STR bonus of +1 and the long sword gets no bonuses or penalties against the Chain Mail and Shield on Gygax's infamous Weapon versus Armor chart in the Gygax PHB (GPHB). So, each fighter needs to score 10 or better or a little beter than 50% or 1 out of 2. Sword doing 1d8 damage, each fighter will score on average (1+8)/2 +1 = between 5 or 6 points of damage per hit. So, under Gygaxian combat rules, it will take an average 6th level fighter armed as a typical medieval man at arms between 10 and 12 combat rounds, or 10-12 minutes(!) to put down his opponent! Modern historians claim that sword combat had nothing to do with foil fencing as we know it today, and fights took about a minute, or 20-30 seconds until the lethal outcome. On the battlefield, several would be stabbing one and one or two hits were enough to injure, disable, and render them a casualty. More so with cut and thrust weapons, as opposed to the thrust alone rapier, on which modern fencing is based. Sword cuts severed veins, arteries, muscle and tendons, rendering the defender's hands and arms useless, before they collapsed from internal bleeding. In contrast, Gygax posits two opponents fencing for about a minute, each making feints and trying to score a hit (as in fencing). This is historically inaccurate, according to the prevailing modern scholarship.

Gygax himself must have known that the linear nature of his combat must have slowed things down, for he has put two non-linear dynamics into his rules. These were limited, with the right circumstances, they allowed one side to inflict more damage on the other. These were the surprise and weapon speed factors. Surprise I covered previously. If the party fails the surprise check, they can remain "flat-footed" in the later edition D&D parlance for up to 5 combat segments or 30 seconds, in which the opponents gets to act. I like this dynamic and in MIDlands, this can potentially let the attacker loose a bunch of arrows and spells at the hapless defenders, OR the attacker can charge the opponent, and potentially close the distance and slash a lethal sword blow or two. The second mechanic is that of Weapon Speed. In the essential GPHBK it is listed in the much reviled and least used Weapon versus Armor table. I am a big fan of that table, since it individualizes the To Hit numbers and makes the weapon choice more meaningful thus, it makes the MIDlands D&D combat more of a tactical thinker's game. The speed of some common weapons is as follows: A swod has a Speed Factor (SF): 5; Two-Handed Sword has a SF:10; Short Sword has a SF:3, Spear has a SF: 6 - 8; Pole Arm, SF: 8 - 13; Hand Axe, SF: 4. Speed Factors work in two ways. When roling for initiative (as opposed to rolling for Surprise, in the beginning of the combat encounter, you roll for the initiative once every combat round (10 x 6 second Combat Segments, to see when in the Battle Minute you get a chance to score your hit). Rolling 1d10, you add your weapon SF to the initiative roll add the Character's DEX based adjustment (negative for the Characters with high DEX). If the group acts as a team, you can roll once for the group and add the individual bonuses. If the individuals are NOT fighting as a team, each player rolls his own initiative. Obviously, longer/heavier/slower weapons will strike last. There is a Caveat to it, but these are unmodified Gygaxian rules. The second and more lethal way, in which the WEapon's SF is used is that under limited circumstances it grants one of the players additional attacks: When two opponents roll THE SAME initiative, then you compare the weapon SF of each opponent. If the difference in the weapon SF's is TWICE the SF of the faster weapon, or more than 5, the attacker wielding the faster weapon gets to strike twice - before, and after the slower opponent strikes. If the SF difference is 10 or more, the faster weapon gets THREE attacks on the slower weapon: Once before, once simultaneously, and once after the slower weapon.

In MIDlands Combat, the Weapons Speed Factor is used as a cyclic rate for the weapons. Let us say that both of our aforementioned Men At Arms rolled for initiative, and one rolled 10 and the other rolled 1. With the sword, one went on Segment 6 and the other went on Segment 15. The difference is 9, and the faster dude gets two strikes on the slower one. If the faster dude has a short sword, SF3, it would have been Segment 4 versus Segment 15, the difference of 11, and the faster player would have gotten 3 attacks in! Keep in mind, that if attacking with his short sword versus the long, the faster player would have had to close the distance before doing inflicting any damage. Since the slower player had the LONGER weapon, the faster player would have rolled to attack, and the slower player would have rolled to hit as well to keep the faster player from closing in. If the defender scored a hit, the short sword would have taken damage and not closed the distance. If the short sword attacker would have scored a hit and the defender missed, the short sword does not do any damage, but the short word closes in and gats to score damage, while the long sword fights at a penalty of -1. This model is applied only so long as the Long Sword has room to maneuver. If the Long Sword is in formation, Long Sword CAN NOT retreat and as soon as he misses the To Hit, the short sword closes in! The beauty of fighting in formation is that the swords to the left and the right of the Long Sword get to strike the short sword as well, and if the short sword is a skirmisher fighting as an individual, he is SCREWED. Thereby the monsters and the players derive the historic advantage of fighting in formation. Never forget that Ancient Roman Legionnaires had the casualty ratio of 1:19 versus the ancient Celtics during their conquest of Brittania. Us soldiers had the same ratio, incidentally, in Vietnam.

Finally, having seen this overview, we now turn our attention to Critical Hits. In D&D these evolved slowly. Gygax was against Critical Hits, ostensibly, because they should also be applied to players and they will kill the players faster! This is exactly the reason D&D needs a simple and a lethal critical hit system, to make the combat truly a deadly undertaking. Between AD&D initial notion that a To Hit roll 1 always misses and a To Hit Roll 20 always hits, there was a number of different ways to introduce the Critical Hit system. AD&D version 2.5 has introduced a hopelessly complex critical hit system, that took into account attacker and target body mass, size of the weapon, body shape, Hit Location, and finally damage and knock down. Mine is much simpler and workable, suited for DM's colorful storytelling:

There are two ways in which critical hits are scored: 1) If you make your To Hit Roll by five or more points, i,e, Man at arms rolling 15 when he needs a 10, and also, 2) When you make a critical hit number for the weapon listed in the D&D OSR document in the Weapons Table. It assumes that you typically roll a 20, or in some cases an 18-20 or 19-20 for a few weapons, to score a critical hit damage multiplier. For swords, the critical hit damage is multiplied by 2, spears by 3, etc.

In MIDlands, you can score critical hit damage bonus either way. If you made a 2HIT+5, then you automatically score the maximum damage for that weapon. If you roll the OSR crit hit, then you multiply. If your OSR is also a 2HIT+5, then you multiply the Maximum Damage! But here is the thing: Let us say that our Man at arms scored DOUBLE CRIT (a roll that is 2HIT+5 and the OSR CRIT at the same time). The amount of damage he will do is 9x2 = 18 points! It will drop the first and maybe  second level fighter, but the rest will remain on their feet. That is why in MIDlands battle, any critical hit has a chance to be the PEACEMAKER! Whenever you roll a CRIT, you must roll a second time (the BLOOD ROLL) to see of CONFIRM the critical hit, by rolling a second CRIT HIT (either type). If you don't, then you just do the bonus damage, however, if you do (roll a CRIT CRIT), and either of the two rolls is a 20, then the opponent is out of the fight! Note, does not necessarily means KILLED - enemy runs away, surrenders, or yields (Neil's idea). The opponent may or may nor be critically injured, but they lost the fight. If the attacker rolls TWO 20's (i.e. 20 the first time, and rolls a 20 to confirm), the  enemy is dead! This is the GOLIATH  KILLING  GIANT shot!  Any creature, Ancient Dragons, Giants, Wights, Vampires, Liches, CAN ALL BE SLAIN IN THIS FASHION (roll 20; roll 20 to confirm, the hit) BY ZERO LEVEL MEN WIELDING NON-M,AGICAL WEAPONS!  

During Gulf War ONE, Physicists studying probabilities of Combat found that Luck is a real measurable phenomenon, and that there are Lucky, as well as UN-LUcky soldiers, police officers, and fire-fighters. Are we in store for the Men Who Stare At Goats movie the sequel? Anyway, the MIDlands CRIT HIT system is there to account for battlefield LUCK and it represents everybody's one in a million chance at victory against all odds!

End Notes:

- There is a question of what happens if you score a CRIT-CRIT, but no 20's. Narratively speaking, the opponent is knocked off his feet, his shield is split in half! His sword breaks! Opponent is STUNNED by the blow! allowing a number of free attacks. DM's narrative improvisation call. There are deadly consequences for the defender. The reason for this is that if you score 2HIT+5 the first roll and OSR the second one, you will get your MAX damage multiplied, But if you get a 2HIT+5 the first time and a 2HIT+5 the second, you will only do MAX damage once. Ergo for the OSR CRIT rolled twice. If you roll a whammy DOUBLE CRIT, then no matter what you roll on your second "Blood Roll", you WILL NOT do any additional damage (except the narrative one). The only other additional outcome from that roll will be if you roll a 20!

- Neal, I will respond to the rest of your comments as time permits.

- Curved Sword that you mention is the same as a Scimitar, and its OSR CRIT Stats are 18-20/x2, as in all swords.

-Military Pick, the GPHB's most effective weapon against plate armor has the OSR Stats of 20/x4. In AD&D it deals 2d4 points of damage and with a +1 STR bonus to damage, it will deal 36 Points of Damage on a DOUBLE CRIT hit.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Narrativism Revisited

Narrativism can be broadly defined, and so is role-playing. Lucky for me, I evolved my ideas of what D&D should be in near isolation, and took at face value that DM tells a story of what is going on, and the players tell him what their characters do in that story, and the rules are used to make realistic outcomes.

From the beginning I realized that the D&D rules as presented, were not realistic, too abstract, too based on luck and too linear, so I broke away from it. Over years I realized the moral implications that D&D suggested, an old cop, when  I explained D&D to him, laughed and said, "your D&D adventure is basically an armed robbery - break down the door, kill the owner, take his property". Later still,   I realized that miniatures is not the most accurate way to portray combat or make the characters visualize or experience it. I became  a fan of phenomenology. And so, I became a fan of my very own historically accurate and tactically realistic, thoroughly fantasy sand-box.
Railroad adventures give narrativism a bad name. Most sand-boxes and hex crawls fizzle, because they lack the conflict and urgency of a story. Some DM's call Sign-posting, the practice of telling the players exactly where the DM wants the players to adventure in his sandbox. I reject sign-posting, and boss monsters, and power-players, and make my rules the bane of any power player who tries to figure out the optimal approach, by basing it on what is known in the real world based on research, and nothing is more complex or overwhelming than the real world.

And so, almost all the players I had have been uncomfortable about getting into character and role-playing, and I don't have a problem about players talking in the third person: "Zorg does this... Zorg does that... Zorg". One guy was stammering and was clearly uncomfortable with dying people screaming, crying and begging for mercy, or having to role-play his character comforting crying children who just lost their parents. In his case, the limits of his emotional depth interfered with him interacting with the game world. He stayed. Another quit. My best player never role-played, and when my players got into character and actually role-played, the players' agency (initiative and ability to get things done in the game world), went through the roof. So, I am not forcing the players to role-play, and can get along without any, but I sure am glad, when it happens.

I consider myself a narrativist DM, in that D&D is a storytelling game, mind, not a choose your own adventure, not a scenic train taking people from scene to scene, however, the sandbox will lose all meaning if the campaign doesn't have the beginning, middle and the end game; if the conflict and the march of events does not touch the players, and if it doesn't have some value/reward system beyond the level advancement and the loot. In my campaign, the players are egg-shells floating in the ocean near the shore, and the campaign is a breaking tidal wave that will throw the players on the shore and smash them against it. Where and how the players will end up, is up to the players.

Monday, August 26, 2013

On E. Gary Gygax and why I prefer AD&D

I left AD&D and then went back to AD&D rules when I decided to resume playing D&D as an adult. Why did I do it? Because I liked Gary Gygax's writing. It was sophisticated. He had a vision. He had gathered a lot, lots of detail to create random dungeons and dungeon dressing. The game mechanics were abstract enough to allow building upon them, and  there was enough spells, monsters and equipment to make the game vivid.

I didn't care about Gygax. It was unfathomable and sad, how quickly he lost control over his artistic creation. I didn't know all the bad things Gygax did to make D&D HIS game, and how incompetent's TSR's other BUSINESS members of the board of directors were. The profligacy of Gygax himself was amazing also. Especially, if you consider that he had a multi-million dollar company. As you read the articles, you will notice that he gave $500,000.00 USD to some author to develop the D&D movie screen-play. In a second article, dealing with Lorraine Williams, Bruce Heard expresses skepticism that TSR could have bought their own printer. The issue was that TSR paid premium prices for outside printers to print their hard-cover books. Well, I know someone in NYC, who spent 15 years working as a printer in an offset printing/binding shop, before raising $135,000.00 USD and starting his own offset lithographic print shop. This was I post 9/11 and in 1980's they couldn't have done it with half a million. Another glaring error I noticed was that TSR had a single distribution agreement with Random House and borrowed from, them against future sales. The Blume brothers packed the TSR's board of directors with three more people, two businessmen and a lawyer. I do not think that anybody took the TSR seriously and only used it as a cash cow to enrich themselves. Another interesting detail is that that Gygax hired Lorraine Williams (how can anybody with any brains trust that pit bull?) on the strength of her experience sitting on the board of directors of some hospitals and other non-profit. Wasn't he aware that rich people typically spend their time on the boards of directors of museums and hospitals? That was her qualification? Nobody thought to hire business strategy consultants? I read a 1980 or so interview with one of the Blume brothers, who were opening a company store for employees inside the TSR, and were talking about a "visionary" model, where TSR would have its own daycare and health care etc. I am not sure what he was doing - building socialism for TSR employees or building a company town, where the relatives of the board of directors members can recover some of the money paid to its employees.

What follows is the description of Gygax's time un Hollywood, and the two links to the probably thue best articles about the TSR and Gygax:

Gygax’s own position at TSR had become weak by 1982. In order to finance the publication of D&D in 1974, he and his partner Don Kaye had brought in a friend named Brian Blume, whose father, Melvin, was willing to invest money in the company. Kaye died in 1976, and Brian got his brother Kevin named to TSR’s board. Gygax was the president of TSR, but the Blumes effectively controlled the company; to keep Gygax further in check they brought in three outside directors, a lawyer and two businessmen who knew nothing about gaming but always voted with the Blumes. So Gygax moved to Los Angeles, and became president of Dungeons & Dragons Entertainment, which produced a successful D&D cartoon, and set out to produce a D&D movie. This was, to put it mildly, a strategic retreat. Gygax rented King Vidor’s mansion, high up in Beverly Hills, with a bar, a pool table, and a hot tub with a view of everything from Hollywood to Catalina. He had a Cadillac and a driver; he had lunch with Orson Welles, though he mentions with Gygaxian modesty that “I find no greatness through association.”[36] Here a whiff of scandal enters the story. Gygax had separated from his first wife, the mother of five of his six children; he had not yet married his second wife, Gail.[37] In the interim, well, it was Hollywood, and Gygax was in possession of a desirable hot tub. Gygax refers to the girlfriends who used to drive him around—he doesn’t drive; never has—and to a certain party attended by the contestants of the Miss Beverly Hills International Beauty Pageant. But he also mentions that he had a sand table set up in the barn, where he and the screenwriters for the D&D cartoon used to play Chainmail miniatures. This is perhaps why Gygax, unlike other men who leave their wives and run off to L.A., is not odious: his love of winning is tempered by an even greater love of playing, and of getting others to play along. He ends the story about the beauty pageant girls with the observation that Luke, who was living with him at the time, was in heaven, seated between Miss Germany and Miss Finland.

Gygax spent a lot of money in Hollywood. According to Brian Blume, he paid the screenwriter James Goldman, best known for A Lion in Winter, $500,000 for the script of the would-be D&D movie, but a movie deal remained elusive. Meanwhile, TSR had other problems: believing that it would continue to grow indefinitely, the Blumes had overstaffed the company; they invested in expensive computer equipment, office furniture, a fleet of company cars. But TSR’s growth spurt was over. By 1984, the company was $1.5 million in debt, and the bank was ready to perfect its liens on TSR’s trademarks: in effect, to repossess Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax got word that the Blumes were trying to sell TSR, and he returned to Lake Geneva, where he persuaded the board of directors to fire Kevin Blume and published a new D&D rulebook to raise cash.[38] At the same time, Gygax looked for people to invest in the company. While he was living in Los Angeles, he’d become friends with a writer named Flint Dille, with whom he collaborated on a series of choose-your-own-adventure-type novels. Flint arranged for Gygax to meet his sister, Lorraine Dille Williams, who, in addition to the Buck Rogers fortune, had experience in hospital and not-for-profit administration. Gygax asked Williams to invest in TSR; Williams demurred, but agreed to advise Gygax on how to get the company back on its feet.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Silva's Tale

Below is the background I wrote for one of my player characters. The reason for the massive write up is that it is part of the campaign setting that can later be used as a source material for the future adventuring.

Silva’s tale as a Monk started when he was five or seven years of age. He remembers walking with his mom and dad along a deserted stretch of the road towards some large stone houses in the distance, must have been the town or city square. Strange birds in the shape of men approached Silva and his parents from the side of the road. They looked human, but their heads and faces were dark and bird-like, with black beady eyes and narrow long beaks. They had leering faces and they started talking to Silva’s mom and dad, smiling and sucking up to them and saying nice things to them. Silva’s parents forgot all about him and started walking away towards the city in the company of two birds, while two others took Silva under his arms and started walking in the opposite direction. Silva started crying and screaming for his mom and dad, but they did not hear him and just walked away, absorbed in their pleasant conversation. As Silva screamed hysterically, one of the birds in human for grabbed Silva and flew into the air. Silva was terrified beyond belief and stared in horror as the ground started falling away from him and then sailed under him. They flew for many days until they flew over a large, large forest, and they flew for several days more, and then they landed in the Monastery. Men in strange clothing walked out of the buildings and walked towards Silva and the birds in human shape. They exchanged respectful greetings and bows, each mocking the other, the birds and the men. The birds flew away and the sound of the dinner gong rang across the monastery. Silva was terrified of the strange buildings, the strange vibrating noise of the low-pitched gong, terrifying statues of fierce beasts and screamed in earnest terror. That night Silva cried himself to sleep, but as he dreamed, he was approached by the strange looking birds and fierce unfamiliar statues of the beasts and the demonic looking men, who were speaking to him. And when he woke up, the strange looking men,  the Monks, talked to him about his dreams and offered him advice on what to say and do to the demons in his dream time.

Silva did not so much snap out of the tears as he grew numb. There were paintings of demons who looked like they were really men and there were men, who had the demonic glow in their eyes. The Monastery was not so much cloisters as it was a secluded village in the middle of nowhere surrounded by trackless thickets and bogs. The forest was white birch and bright green leaves and clear blue sky. There were stone buildings with dark red wooden roofs and grass growing on top. There were clusters of these stone buildings and between them were the monks’ huts, the incense temples and shrines, statues and vegetable patches and small gardens. There were animals everywhere, except that they weren’t really animals. Some spoke in different voices, some stared demoniacally and had no fear of you. Some grinned at you and others made fun and taunted you. It was this unreality that numbed Silva more than anything else – humans that weren’t quite human and animals that were typically, more than animals. There were other children in the monastery, and the other monks treated them with cruelty and good humor. There were uncomfortable sleeping quarters and hot tea in the winter and cold water in the spring. There was breakfast gong and midday meal gong and dinner gong. There were regular audiences with the abbot and other senior monks. The regimen was strict, the work was hard and discipline severe and the monks treated it all as it was a joke. New children arrived regularly and they were typically in stages of crying, hysteria, rage and catatonic withdrawal. Monks only cared if the chores weren’t done or if any of the rules were broken. Discipline was typically harsh and given light-heartedly.

One day several older boys, around 13, came to the abbot and told him that they were leaving. The abbot shrugged okay and pointed at the surrounding forest – they can go. Anyone is free to go. The boys left and three days later they came back – the forest was too thick, the damn sneering animals were everywhere, they wandered around in circles until the gave up and decided not to leave the monastery for yet another circle. Throughout his lifetime as a monk, Silva had seen this happen more than once, except that not all of the children returned alive. Silva lost himself in his work. At first he was put to cleaning the animal pens, the pig sties and the chicken coops. He was later put on to work ploughing the field and working in the vegetable gardens. While other children cringed, Silva learned to escape into his work. The plants and the livestock were a certain kind of a constant. You took care of the plants and they grew and produced food.  For all the mean and teasing intelligent animals in the forest, the monks’ livestock still consisted of the dumb farm animals, which mooed and brayed and ate and shat, but if didn’t hit them and if you weren’t mean to them, they came to you, and if you loved them, they would trust you in return.  One day Silva was done milking the cow and was enjoying spreading fresh fragrant hay around the cow’s resting place. Unbeknownst to Silva, a older monk in charge of the dairy was observing him. When he noticed that Silva  had seen him, the monk laughed and said: “Who is more free – a man who finds freedom in his cage or a man who escapes from a cage into a bigger cage?”. Another time a bunch of twisted humanoid little creatures were encamped near the monastery and one of them tried to trip Silva, but slipped and fell himself. “Ouch! Ouch!” The little creature shrieked in pain as it grabbed its broken toe, “You stepped on my foot!”.

“I am sorry!” Silva stuttered and was jumped by a dozen of these little creatures, who broke his nose and pounded him mercilessly. Adult monks watched without interfering as the little humanoid creatures beat Silva into unconsciousness. When Silva came to, it was dark, all of the monks have left, except the abbot. 

“Don’t complain, don’t explain, and never, ever fucking apologize!!!” The abbot spat, shouted at Silva and went to sleep, leaving Silva alone with the bloody snot running from his nose. Later on, when Silva was a novice monk proper, another child used to idolize one of the elder teaching masters. Every time the elder master would score a teaching point or win an argument, he would raise his index finger up in the air as if was a king’s sword. One day in the back of the kitchen the boy was arguing with other children and he raised his finger in imitation of his favorite teacher. The teacher saw it,  dragged the boy into the kitchen, and grabbed a kitchen cleaver and cut the boy’s finger of, the one he raised in the air like his teacher. The children were left to care for the boy’s injury. The next day the boy came to religious recitation pale from pain. As he recovered from his injury, he became noticeably cooler and people said that he had given up his finger and got a life.

As Silva grew bigger, he was pulled from cleaning out livestock pens and working in the gardens and was put to hard labor first, to clearing farmland and later to carpentry, to cutting down trees, to working with a carpenter’s axe and adze to clear logs of the bark and branches and to trimming logs down to beams and to cutting planks form the smaller logs. Silva built roofs and bridges and got away to work in the gardens and to tend livestock only when he had a chance, where he was now put I charge of supervising younger boys and  to delivering calves and other baby animals.

His religious studies concerned the fate of the eternal human souls free to wander among the six hells in the great wheel of being until they choose Enlightenment and stop the great cycle of rebirth and suffering. Silva was told of the Hell of Suffering where humans were in the state of absolute pain; the realm of Hungry Ghosts, where everyone starved and the slightest bit of nourishment brought pain and suffering; of the world of animals, where animals were stupid and everyone took advantage of them, used them and hunted them; and of the world of Man, where the man had a choice of going into another one of the hellish worlds or choose Enlightenment.  And there were worlds of Demons, with never ending strife and warfare, the world in ruins, and the world of Gods, where they had everything except Love. One day Silva asked the Elder monk about his parents and why the birds in the shape of men brought him here.

“Your parents didn’t want you.” Elder Monk said, and even though Silva didn’t believe him, somehow the Elder Monk’s words sank in and Silva started forgetting his parents and where he came from. Silva was taught that it was okay for people to make their living in any way possible except by killing, by selling weapons, by sex or by selling of sex, by selling alcohol and other intoxicants, by killing animals (as a butcher might) and by selling of slaves. Anything that kept people chained and kept them from reaching Enlightenment was forbidden and was to be stopped.

Silva also heard that not all the souls in Midlands were free to wander between rebirths and seek Enlightenment, but it was a discussion beyond his abilities. One day Silva was sitting underneath a steep river bank feeding some fish in a stream, when he heard the abbot and some Elders in a heated discussion. At first, none of it made sense. The Monastery was here in the White Forest, because Midlands are on the edge of the abyss. All kinds if beings, light and dark beyond dark, fly from the abyss and they get trapped here. For some reason this edge of the abyss attracts the Enlightened beings from all over the world. Something flew from the abyss and was trapped, like most things from the abyss, except this thing will eventually destroy this world as we know it and perhaps other worlds as well. “He who breaks out finds wings, he who breaks in finds an inescapable prison.” The abbot muttered.

Silva sat perfectly still and waited for the Elder Monks to go away, and eventually they did, as the darkness and the night chill came. The next morning the Elder Monks gave Silva peculiar stares and a little after breakfast he was summoned to the Abbot’s office. “It’s time for you to venture out into the world.” The Abbot told him. “We are here to help all souls reach Enlightenment, though they may have no idea of what Enlightenment is. Others proselytize and teach, but you are here to see that even the lowliest peasants do not starve to death when their masters can not provide for them. There is a town just south of our forest several days journey from here. Strife and suffering and coming there. You are to help the common people to survive. Observe everything, and come back after the autumnal harvest.”

Silva spent a day getting his things, and left the monastery the next morning. It took him a little over a week to come out the White Forest along the banks of the Satilla River. A few miles south was a large village or a bustling small town with a Castle near the river and with prosperous orchards on the bluffs overlooking the river.

 Silva soon found the dwellings of the field hands, poor tenant farmers and poorer peasants crowding across the road from the castle beneath the orchards. Summer sowing was coming and the itinerant field hands gathered in the town from all over. All of the rooming houses were crowded, and Silva preferred to sleep in the field on the edge of town, especially since the weather was warm. Finally, he found a common room at a barn that was rented to the wandering field hands. For several days Silva was in shock, wandering around town, pretending to be looking around, making sense of it all. The squalor and the misery on the poor people’s faces, the ignorance on the faces of the men at arms and helplessness of the wealthy farmers surprised and scared him. The men at arms had the red and black livery, with a upside down Eagle’s Claw as their symbol, but they were not mean or cruel, merely content and complacent. Silva was sleeping in the barn alongside many other men when he was awakened by unfamiliar foot steps. Silva snuck out of the barn just as armed men snuck in started ordering the sleeping men to their feet at spear point. On the street he saw people being dragged from their homes and put in chains with the clanking hammers. Some people were stabbed to death, some thatched roof houses were set ablaze. People rushed out in the street and panicked as the pint-sized raiders barked at them to stand still. A Church bell started ringing at the town square. Silva left his disassembled bow as well as all his valuables in the woods outside town, for safety, now he had no weapons. These raiders were only the size of the child, but there were many of them and they had spears. There was safety in numbers. The church was a stone building and it was a sanctuary. Silva ran through the back yards and gardens and made it to the church just as the large doors were being swung shut to keep out the armed raiders. Inside were only few men, mostly women, children and old people.
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