Saturday, June 25, 2016

Super-Simple DIY Ultimate DM Screen

This is a step-by-step guide on how to create the single greatest DM screen anyone could ever own. It is cheap and simple. A 10-year-old can make this. (Although adults will generally make less of a mess in the process. Also, I swear, so 10-year-olds definitely should not read this guide.) To begin, go buy yourself a pack of paper report folders. I chose black because I'm metal as fuck.

Take out two of them, open them up, and put their edges flush. make sure they're both right-side up and facing the same direction. Duh.

Use the perfect tool, duct tape, to stick them together. Leave a little gap on the tape, so there's room to fold it over without bowing the pages. A ~1mm (or ~1/16") gap should be good. Don't tape the folder slot shut, note the gap in the tape on the inner side in the following picture.

Now go get a bunch of plastic cover sleeves. You will also need a strong, fast-drying adhesive. I used 3M Super 77 spray adhesive. (I wouldn't recommend it- it makes a fucking mess. Same goes for crazy glue. You should use two sided scotch tape, or a glue runner. White glue and liquid glue can't adhere to the plastic, so don't bother with those.)

Don't forget to glue them open-end up! It may seem obvious, but these things have very subtle edge differences that can be hard to notice.

Print off some nice stuff for the players to look at and drop it into the slots! I chose a couple of funny memes and two pages of table rules.

Gather your game notes and other supplies, like a stack of pregens, a book of graph paper, and your adventure plan, and dump them into the folder slots! Pack your dice and books and head to the game, 'cause you're ready to rock!

If you're looking for something a little more sturdiness, but the same desgree of functionality, take a look here:

Friday, June 24, 2016

What Matters Most? Player or Character?

This is a reaction to "Attack of the Genericons: Challenge, Difficulty, and Monster Building" by the Angry GM on October 28, 2015. In that blog entry, the Angry GM makes a TON of extremely insightful and useful points- but there is one point where I disagree vehemently with him. He believes that in-game challenge must rely on the out-of-game knowledge and skills of the players, and that challenge is the key to enjoyment in D&D and Pathfinder. I say challenge, as a technical term, has no place in most RPGs during play. (And I've always felt that way, I just never say it out loud because basically nobody around me talks about this stuff anywhere near this level.) He's basically arguing that the game is more important than the role play, and I disagree. Yes, RPGs are games, but they're also about role play, and if you're going to play a role, you can't undermine its sincerity any more than you can undermine the game! Either way, you're doing yourself and the table a disservice, by making the RPG less. The game and the role play are equal parts of a whole. You can't diminish one for the benefit of the other. What we're seeing here, in my reaction to the Angry GM's post, is RPG theory, or rather, its absence. Specifically, the Angry GM is making an exclusivist agenda-based argument, and in contemporary RPG theory, that is retarded.

Creative agenda is pretty simple to understand, and it was one of the first structures formed in RPG theory, because we needed a way to explain the conflicts of opinion in the gaming community which all seemed to be correct but somehow also incompatible. (Like the nonsense the Angry GM wrote) It was originally called Trifold theory, and then expanded to be called GNS theory. GNS was then absorbed into the big model. I use the big model as the dictionary for discourse on the subject of RPG theory, but I do not prescribe to it as a theory as a whole, because its only axiom turned out to be false. We'll get to that axiom and what it has to do with this in a moment. First, a crash course in creative agenda for the uninitiated.

Keep in mind that creative agenda terminology is not designed to segregate players into groups. Nobody is fully immersed in only one group. Rather, people tend to lean toward one agenda over another, and which agenda they lean toward can change over time- sometimes quite rapidly. This means that, on some level, every player can enjoy playing within the agendas of other people just fine, and most people can at least temporarily adjust their attitude to suit their group. You can't go around spouting nonsense like, "get out of my group, you're a simulationist and we only play with gamists here". I make that point, because that's what GNS theory was used for, and that was wrong. That's also basically what the Angry GM is doing in that post. Creative agenda describes a behavior and its associated intent- not the values or beliefs of the person engaging in a given agenda.

So, what is creative agenda? Creative agenda is what the player is seeking when they sit down to play an RPG. There are three creative agendas. The gamist agenda loves challenge as defined by the Angry GM. They don't care much about the generation of a meaningful narrative experience or the sincere simulation of a setting. They'd rather have fun overcoming challenges by their own skill and knowledge. The gamist agenda actually breaks down into a lot of smaller techniques, including challenge, but there's also things like the crunch, (metagame character building) and the gamble (relying on probability). The Angry GM is basically shouting, "GAMISM IS THE ONLY WORTHWHILE AGENDA, AND THE REST OF YOU ARE FUCKWITS!" and then goes on to say, "CHALLENGE IS THE ONLY WORTHWHILE TECHNIQUE TO EXPLORE GAMISM!" (I'm paraphrasing) ... which is pretty immature for such a prominent person in the gaming community to say in 2015. The next agenda is narrativist. Basically, the idea here is that RPGs are like a form of literature, and that the game should serve the purpose of constructing a narrative in the literary sense of the word. People who lean toward this agenda typically describe RPGs as a form of collaborative literature,  and that the game is an art form. I agree with them on a theoretical level, but I don't believe it is the fundamental essence, or primary purpose of RPGs,  so I often find narrativist objectives a little misguided. They often do things that undercut the rules of the game  in order to create a narrative that goes the way they think it should- which kind of defeats the purpose of even having those rules. (Really, they should make rules which intentionally construct a narrative in the first place.) This is, by my understanding, why the Angry GM hates FATE. FATE is full of self-defeating rules intended to allow the players and GM to make a story they like. I also dislike FATE, if you didn't notice. Finally, there's simulationism, whose sphere I have always understood with ease. Simulationism is about the sincere simulation of another thing- and that extends to role play too. Simulationism actually has two major techniques that most people totally overlook or conflate. The first technique is what I call rational simulationism. The focus is on creating game engines that accurately replicate physics, chemistry, and biology, or they write convoluted physics engines to literally represent the mechanics of magic. People who focus on this form of simulationsim tend to give way to gamism or narrativism in play though, because as long as the world they play in is internally consistent, they're happy. Then you have emotional simulationism. People who exclusively prescribe to this behavior, by my experience, tend to cause the most problems at the table. Ever met a guy who says, "my character does [something stupid/horrible] because that's what my character would do."? That guy is pursuing an emotional simulationist agenda. Basically, they believe that, when playing a role, metagame knowledge can not be used, and they must play the character as the character "should" be played. Low INT score? When playing that character, you can't make statements or decisions which exceed the character's stated mental capacity. Low charisma? When role playing, your are compelled to be rude, awkward, or confusing. Evil characters WILL do evil things that WILL put them at odds with the good characters in the party. Basically, they feel that metagame knowledge applies only to metagame problems, and is excluded from in-game behavior, for the purposes of a sincere performance, or simulation, of another person.

So, that's the gist of what matters about creative agenda. Now for what all that has to do with the Angry GM and my reaction to him...

The Big Model used to have an axiom. (An axiom is a proposed "law" within a theory, which has not undergone scrutiny yet. A theory cannot be a theory without any axioms or laws- otherwise it is just a dictionary of technical jargon, which is what RPG theory is at the moment) That axiom was that creative agendas are fundamentally incompatible with one another, and that effective game design should focus on one agenda only, to prevent players adjusting it to suit their agenda; an effect called drift. As it turns out, that is wrong! The agendas are not mutually exclusive, because everyone likes them all at least a little bit! People are not robots, and we express ourselves in a complex, organic manner! Drift only happens when you have a whole group of people who lean very heavily toward one agenda playing a game that does not consistently address that agenda. That group is playing the wrong game, the game was not necessarily built wrong!

So, given that the agendas are not mutually exclusive, and that the Angry GM is basically arguing for gamist agenda drift at the expense of simulationism and narrativism in D&D and Pathfinder, all I can say is: You're playing the wrong games! Go find something you actually like to play if you're so damn angry! I hear Hackmaster is pretty good! D&D puts gamism on the same level as emotional simulationism, and the gamist techniques it employs on a mechanical level are the gamble and the crunch, with actual challenge being left as an option to the DM. The gamble is used to represent the mental capacities of the character, regardless of the mental capacities of its player. For example, rolling a charisma check to convince the king to give you his pants has NO challenge- it's a gamble designed to abstract character effectiveness from player talent, thereby enforcing an accurate simulation of the character, even if the player fails to do so. (If the DM sets the DC too low and the king actually gives the PC his pants, that is the DM's fault, not the game's) The crunch is used during chargen and progression to allow the players to use their metagame knowledge to improve their odds in the gamble.

D&D gives the DM the purview to drift the game toward narrativism or gamism on a whim- it's a very flexible system. A DM may decide to pretty much ignore mental ability scores, adjusting DCs on INT, WIS, and CHA checks based on role play, regardless of its consistency with those scores. A DM may also introduce in-play challenge reliant on wholly metagame capacities of the players at the table. That's OK. It also isn't the core of the game. The Angry GM is saying that one form of adjustment to play is the ONLY RIGHT WAY TO PLAY, and that's stupid. It's only one of many ways to play, and they should all be used together, not exclusively.