Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em: A look at a Ron Edwards explanation video/a rules first/fiction first debate

This is actually a reasonable explanatory video for deploying various extra rules – it could apply as much to D&D and when to give advantage or disadvantage. But to me it’s painful in how it avoids giving a rules first answer. It’d be much easier to just say that you have rules that make the effects better and you have rules that make things worse – you can just apply them like you might sprinkle a topping on a pizza if you want to. And that putting the nicer topping much more often than the less palatable one is a ‘spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down’ thing.

Like it’s rules first – you can add these things. Then it’s situation and social context – ie things that are suggestions for bringing in these extra rules. It’s so much simpler and straight forward to think in these terms.

And I would get if someone wants to try and consciously try and keep asking setting questions as if to answer should they add on a bonus or malus. Like they want to deliberately make it as if the situation that decides this – to treat it as if it’s totally the setting that decides if the gas blast can hit multiple people or if it’s totally the setting that means the gas blast is dissipated in the wind. To put on a show!

I don’t think Ron is doing the following here but gosh it gets close and yeah, I think he’s trying to reach people who do the following, BUT…

The video treats it as if the situation TELLS you whether to use the bonus or the malus. Not ‘as if it tells you’, not like make believing it tells you – but that situation just freakin’ directly TELLS you whether to use that bonus or malus and in an absolutely objective way.

Gosh that hurts my head to think about – to think about trying to game that way. Not only the subjectiveness of imagined worlds, but the largely intangible imagined space being treated as if it’s as reliable as a ruler, for goodness sake! When heuristic treats itself as objective measure.

Then again I’ve discussed about rule first/fiction first with Ron in the distant past at the forge forums and IIRC Ron went with fiction first. So maybe that is happening here – the subjective being treated an an objective way of running the game? Or if it’s ‘a bit of both’, well for once that doesn’t do you any good here, I think. If there’s any ill effect to trying to treat it that situation ‘kind of’ objectively tells you whether to use the bonus or malus rules, it’s still gunna be there. Smoking half a cigarette doesn’t somehow mean the ‘not smoking’ half nullifies the negative effects of the smoking half.

Maybe it’s reaching out to gamers who want to treat situation as objectively deciding rules deployment – offering half a cigarette to the chain smoker?


Adventure released on DriveThruRPG : The Denied Betrayal

A small adventure of a corrupt politician and a need to consult a seer to find the evidence. All the while a leader of the town utterly rejects that there could be a bad apple amidst his ranks, he denies the betrayal – even finds it to be an attack to suggest it.

The quest to reach the seer has some skill challenge like mechanics to stealth through various situations. There’s several tunnels and the players choose which they’d like to face, based on their guess as to what nasties live in them. Then they can take the description of the tunnel and if they want use it to describe how they stealth down the tunnel, to perhaps get advantage.

It’s designed around more of a ‘Sneaking past monsters is what we want to do because they’re scary’ kind of vibe.

The Denied Betrayal

And my previous title:
Five Jungle Encounters


I was just thinking of the Heroes TV series where one of the characters who can pass through time sees a future version of himself get killed (and that version knowing he’ll get killed).

And it really bugs me, that fatalism. Not just emotionally but in practical terms – you can see the future, you have information. But there’s this attitude of ‘Welp, that’s it, can’t do anything else’. A learned helplessness.

If everything is predetermine (never mind that you can’t know how all predeterminance works out until it’s been rendered/it happens), sure, it’s gunna happen.

But you don’t know how it turns out.

It’s just weird how the universe doesn’t know how things are gunna turn out – because I lied, we are going to look at how determinance doesn’t matter if you don’t know until the reality is rendered. The whole universe is kind of blind to what happens next. It’s funny how the psyche can echo that blindness – have that fatalism even when it can see the future (which can’t happen when things have not been rendered yet), you just gosh darn can’t do anything about it! It’s curious how psyche echoes that curve of the universe.

Dark Souls/Hypocritical Souls


It’s like a word that comes after a feeling that comes after who knows what. After a natural reflex – a natural responce to certain events. A natural reflex to tell someone off for doing something.

But from the same place in the same chiding individual comes…the urge to do all other things.

Visualize it as a tap – water pours forth. But some of the water that pours forth tries to block other taps from releasing their water.

But, you might argue, some of it is legitimate – who wants one taps pourings to be that it loots your home of your goods? Should not that pouring be blocked?

The thing is that is an intellectual argument – I don’t see an issue as much where someone can formulate things into discussable rules. Maybe they say they get to do X and Y, but you don’t get to do Z. How come they get to do X and Y? Well at least it gets talked about, not just done as if it’s just fine. Maybe there’s room for negotiation in that self reflection.

But without discussion, it’s taps flowing but their flow tries to block other taps. If we take the tap to be a kind of soul, does that make the human soul pretty hypocritical? It insists on flowing and feels of itself it is great in its flowings, even as its flow blocks other souls? Again, one might think of various attacks or thefts or assaults. But on the other hand it can be that someone simply walked a certain way or wore a certain items of clothing or ‘looked the wrong way’ or…so many others. Flows crushing flows. And it goes for any, really – we all pour pretty much the same.

So people act like you should just be the real you and pour yourself out – even as they will reflexively, right from the core, damn certain other behaviors. No thought about it, no discussion. Just the hypocritical soul. Reveling in its outpourings purity and wonderfulness even as those outpourings block the outpour of others.

Nihilistically I guess it makes sense – just animals clawing themselves to the top over/at the expense of other animals. But inside the moral bubble, can people really think of however they want to act as being as pretty as they keep treating it? Such self satisfied states?

Yeah, crushing an outpouring there myself (or attempting to – I’d be surprised if it was super effective). But at least talking about it.

The nature of the imagined world – what actually causes events to occur

I ran into a recent account of a game that, as I understand it, the DM decided by himself was going to be a vampire campaign and as I understand it told some players but not all of them. It seems a good example of how game worlds actually work.

One player utterly resists and fights back against the vampire, utterly resisting being turned. Everyone else is turned.

People are cross with the player. But he was clueless to the overall agenda and played his character not wanting to be made into a vampire, as characters are wont to do.

The thing is if he had been talked with and told it was a vampire campaign and that his PC would be turned – well, he’d either agree to this premise or not play (or something)

His character might still not want to be turned, but if the player agreed he will be turned then the player would at some point stop giving game world physical reasons that would stop the turning. Eventually the player would cave in and accept the vampire has him pinned enough to turn him – not because the PC is somehow definitely pinned by game world physics, but because the player agreed to being pinned and turned at some point.

Without agreement, he’s struggling and his PC is trying all sorts of physical moves to avoid being turned. With agreement he gets turned eventually.

The difference between them isn’t game world physics, it’s what players agree to (with agreement sometimes being on a spectrum sometimes)


Traps – how to connect fictional positioning and trap mechanics

The trap is probably the least documented in terms of procedures for play in RPG texts. It’ll have some damage and a save listed – done – let’s go out for Friday drinks!

Really no. I don’t have a source on this, but as I estimate it from seeing a range of modules and materials the key with traps is to have hints built into the room. Now there can actually be a range of hints, some of them making the trap nearly obvious – and harder hints that just barely tell the player where the trap is. But starting off I suggest with really fairly obvious hints and build up slowly over sessions from there.

So what’s a hint? Well if there’s a pit trap beneath a carpet, you could say the carpet is flaps in the wind a little. This might be a bit too subtle a hint, but many players might think that’s out of place – and it is for a regular carpet, but one strung across a pit and there are wind currents flowing through the dungeon is going to flap a little.

You’ll notice though that players home in on anything that gets extra description. Something gets described in more detail than it normally would? Players are all over it – they can’t help it, it’s normal, but it makes it a bit easy on them. Which is fine for when you’re starting out. Some players would not really think of poking the carpet with a stick unless they get a fair prompting before – they need the training wheels (and as they play over time they will get better and wont need them anymore). But when you are ready to increase difficulty, describe a few things in detail – like one or two other things apart from the trap. Or make the hint far away from the trap. A burn mark on a wall is classic for this – the trap isn’t on that wall, that trap is on the wall way on the other side and it shoots fire when triggered. The fire flies across the room and scorches the opposing wall. Players have to think inside the imaginary space and work it out.

But that’s the harder stuff – keep in mind as DM you can see the answer. A riddle always seems easy when you already know the answer. So keep in mind knowing the answer will make a trap seem much easier than it actually is.

Once your players are poking at traps with sticks, it’s a matter of using investigation checks or even disarm checks. If the way they describe their characters actions seems in any way like it could be more beneficial, give them advantage. Be generous with advantage at the start, allowing pretty much any extra effort to garner the bonus. In fact this is where many GMs go wrong – they think being really, really stingy with bonuses makes the game really, really real. And indeed it does, because reality rarely ever gives bonuses – but that’s the reason we’re playing a game, because reality sucks a lot of the time. So instead don’t try to be really, really real and instead use a difficulty curve that starts low with lots of encouragement and how hard it is to get advantage on a roll slowly increases over sessions and levels. I’d say to find the players level of skill in investigating traps and try and keep the difficulty just slightly higher than their skill, so as to provoke them to get better. That still means giving advantage/a bonus fairly often. Probably around half the time or forty five percent of the time. Give incentive to them to try more thoughtful and descriptive approaches to working out traps. If you dry up and don’t give any incentives they’ll give up trying to get better – if you give bonuses all the time then they don’t need to get any better.

Semantic Erosion/Post Truth/Semantic Apocalypse, Part 1

It’s funny – it’s a hard to introduce subject because it’s about subjects being hard to introduce. In Venn diagram terms, hard to find some overlap of circles on the subject of non overlapping circles. Who wants to listen on the subject about them not listening?

Fantasy Author R. Scott Bakker has had various posts on the idea of a ‘Semantic Apocalypse’. A recent one here, using a real life example to raise the hypothetical as possibly applying. It’s the¬†Kavanaugh hearings, btw. Not your kind of thing? Well the subject is things that don’t overlap the interests of others, so that kind of fits you have to admit.

A crude way to put it is possibly just that political spin gets bigger and bigger. It’s probably got more nuance than that, but that idea is a circle that kind of reaches out. In addition we have a history where people of differing ideas had to work together to survive – now that’s not so much the case. People can have more and more extreme ideas and use search engines to find people who share those ideas. Rather than having to only be able to talk to a range of people with a range of views, most of which would tell them ‘That’s a bit extreme’. And so maybe take the extremism down a notch or two. Instead you get stuff like theredpill on reddit.

So you get spin and you get machinery/the internet that helps polarised people find polarised people and reaffirm their polarisation. Rather than have it turned down a notch or two by only seeing a range of people with a range of views.

I wanted to get onto some concerns Scott raised in a pair of comments

“I very much worry that warning of the semantic apocalypse will have the effect of contributing to it”

and the other comment

“Understanding the mechanics of human sociocognition enables evermore manipulation of human sociocognition means the eventual doom of human sociocognition.”

And who doesn’t love a bit of doom, eh?

But these I realise are circles inside of the first circle. And the first circle is hard enough to find some tasty gristle in to chew on. But if doom is a kind of tasty gristle, I assure you there’s something to chew on there! And I’ll leave this here as a sort of reasonably bite sized portion and move onto the other parts in future – having not actually reached the subjects I started writing for to begin with! What can I say, there was more gristle than I realised?