Thursday, November 15, 2018

check this out

I am right now in a workshop on gamification in faculty development.  I just took this interesting quiz on gamer type:  Click "User Type Test."

Your strongest type(s): Free Spirit / Philanthropist
Your full results;
Free Spirit: 22%
Philanthropist: 22%
Socialiser: 16%
Achiever: 15%
Disruptor: 14%
Player: 12%

so let's talk about this thing

I'll have to admit that I was pretty disappointed when I saw this post:

My first thought was Dammit, Jim.  You're better than this.  I'll admit to not knowing a ton about this Peterson guy, but he strikes me a uneducated person's idea of a smart guy.  A Newt Gingrich with actual credentials, if you will.  Here are the actual details of Jordan Peterson's career as I know them, please feel free to correct me in the comments.
  1. He first came to my attention as a guy who went to war with his university over a change in policy.  Normally, I am all for academics pushing back against administration dictates.  Sometimes I work with faculty on how exactly to do that.  BUT the thing he chose to go to war over was his God-given right to misgender transgender students.  If you've ever been in a classroom with a teacher you don't like, you can maybe understand how the power differential between student and professor feels from the short end of the stick.  Being in charge of impressionable young people first experiencing life out from under the shadows of their parents, even for just a couple of hours a week, is an awesome responsibility with real world repercussions that can last the rest of a student's life.  Anyone who takes a so-called Principled Stand for the right to be mean to their students has festering dogcrap where his soul should be, in my opinion.
  2. Peterson regularly rails against postmodernism and postmodernists, including people who don't fit actually those categories.  For example, he regularly goes in hard against Michel Foucault, who wasn't a postmodernist, but a poststructuralist.  Peterson can't tell the difference between the two or likes lumping people together for rhetorical purposes.  Neither of these is a good thing, in my humble opinion.  There's plenty to critique Foucault for, but I always get the impression that Peterson's real objections to him is that he is A) French and B) gay.  I'm pretty sure he's even called Foucault the worst guy that ever lived, or something like that.  Maybe he never heard of Hitler?  Or Stalin?  Leopold II?  Any of these names ringing a bell? 
  3. One of the funny-haha/funny-strange things about Peterson's critique of left-wing intellectuals like Jacques Derrida is that he regularly yells at them for being imprecise and playing dodgy rhetorical games to make their points, but his own arguments against them seem to rely on imprecision and rhetorical flourish.  Weird.
  4. He apparently believes that because lobsters and humans share a certain chemical in their brains, somehow that proves that human gender relations should be ordered the same way lobsters do it.  I swear to God, if I didn't know he was a real person, I would have thought Charles Dickens or Laurence Sterne invented him to lampoon intellectuals with their heads up their asses.
  5. Peterson is one of those right-wing intellectuals who like to go on TV and complain that they are being silenced.  Does that mean all the left-wing academics who have never been on TV are being even more silenced-er?  I dunno.
  6. What is up with his suits?  Most public intellectuals dress on the shabby side of middle class respectable.  Think Einstein frumping about in his sweaters or Carl Sagan's infamous turtlenecks.  Peterson dresses like he'd rather be in the aristocracy than do honest work teaching and researching.  Again, weird.
  7. He's written at least one self-help book that apparently is being taken up in numbers by the kind of young men who need a Really Smart Dude to tell them to shower regularly and make their bed.  I actually don't have an objection to that.  A couple weeks ago I was waiting for my train home and the student sitting next to me was reading Peterson.  My gut reaction was to tell him to put that trash away and do his homework.  But I didn't, because I know that while self-help books tend to be banal tripe, but they are banal tripe that has an audience.  You can make a nice living writing self-help books because people are dumb and need to be told what to do.  I'm not making judgements on this point.  I am just as often a dumb guy who needs to be told what to do.  So if a smidgeon of advice from Peterson once helped James turn his life around, I say bless Jordan Peterson even though he seems like a dillhonker to me.
Man, "Bless Jordan Peterson for helping James out" sure sounds like one of those things that cishet white dudes say that really sticks it in the back of other folks who didn't win the privilege lotto, though I mean it more in the vein of the backhanded Southern compliment "bless his heart" than in the Jesus sense of "blessed are the peacemakers."  Overall, I think the world would be a better place if Peterson worried less about being a public figure and a little more about being a good person, but that doesn't change the fact that he probably has helped a few people out along the way with the same sort of advice one can find reading nearly any self-help book.  Heck, most of Charles Atlas's pamphlets come down to "exercise and clean living helps you get your life together, son."  It ain't rocket science.

(And really, it just kills me that this guy can't seem to build a credible, evidence-based case against people like Foucault and Derrida.  It's not that hard!  You just have to put in the work to read and try to understand what the hell they are up to.  I'm a farm boy who thinks Thundarr the Barbarian is the pinnacle of human culture, and I can understand at least some of what those cats are doing.)

But let's get back to the James situation.  As much as I respect Kiel Chenier, I think he may have made the wrong call when he announced he was ending his working relationship with LotFP.  This is not a callout post written to harsh on Kiel, though.  If we're going to harsh on anyone in this space, I think it should be, first of all, Peterson (that lobster thing is still making me crazy), and second of all, Raggi, for dropping this turd in the punchbowl.  But I'm not for kicking James to the curb and here's why.

First of all, having a "problematic fave," as the kids on the tumblers say, is in and of itself not a sin.  We live in a world where purity tests will damn us all.  Can we do better?  Should we do better?  Of course.  I think it would be great if James repudiated Peterson completely.  But if, as James suggests, this was the guy whose writings offered him a hand at a time when he was trapped in the Pit of Despair, who I am to now tell him to reject that guy?  If you've ever been down in that pit, you know that whoever helped you out of it is now one of your "ride or die" people.  (I got that from tumblr as well, please correct me if I am mangling it.  I still use "groovy" unironically, so my lingo may be a tad out of touch.)

Second and more importantly, I believe that the material matters.  The material conditions of Lamentations of the Flame Princess as a publishing outfit is that it throws a lot of work to people who Peterson would dislike on spec because they don't fit well into his patriarchal heteronormative magic lobster world.  And, in case you didn't know, James pays freelancers better than pretty much any other outfit I know of.  Compare this to people who proclaim liberal politics but pay starvation wages and otherwise do crappy things (Evil Hat is the poster boy of the moment in this regard.  Great work exploiting then dumping Contessa, Mr. Hicks.  Green Ronin also comes to mind).  I'll take the metal weirdo with the dodgy hero over the perfomatively woke hacks any day of the week.  And I think Kiel would do better sticking with LotFP, taking James' money, and writing an adventure that repudiates everything that Jordan Peterson stands for.  Definitely there should be at least one lobster monster and a wizard who never does any proper magical research because he spends too much time at the tailor.  But hey, if I'm not judging James, then I'm sure as hell not judging Kiel here.

Okay, I'm judging James a little.  Jordan Peterson?  Really?  You couldn't have gone with someone like Steven Pinker, or Stanley Fish, or even Harold Bloom.  I guess I'll have to take cold comfort in the fact that you didn't mention PragerU.

(Seriously. though, Conan with a lightsaber, Chewbacca, and a curvy witch team up to wander Gamma World and pummel mutant cyborg wizards.  WHY IS THIS NOT THE WORLD'S BIGGEST FRANCHISE???)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

a campaign concept from a dream

The campaign was called Mummies of Mars.  The players wander a postapocalyptic Barsoom-like red planet fighting mummies and their minions.  The mummies are a lot like the crazy gimmick-of-the-week wizards from Thundarr the Barbarian, but wrapped in bandages.  Each one lurks in a pyramid or other ruin-type lair, dominating a small local populace.

The rules were either 3e or 3.5 with the following changes:

  • Humans were not allowed to multi-class, except to join a single prestige class.  (This effectively locked humans out of certain prestige classes like Eldritch Knight and Mystic Theurge, which exist only to aid and abet multiclassing.)
  • Human PCs could pick any feat out of the book with no regard to prerequisites.  So, for example, someone could just take Great Cleave without taking Power Attack and Cleave before it.  Nor did they need a Str 13 or Base Attack +4.  Nonhumans still had to follow the usual requirements.
  • Players of human characters were also encouraged to use feat slots on anything they wanted to be able to do that wasn't covered by the Feat rules in the Players Handbook.  I.e. instead of buying other products to find weird ass feats, just work with the DM to write your own.
That's all I remember, except for the fact that buddy Chris liked the feat rules for humans.  To the best of my knowledge he's never played any edition past AD&D2, but he's definitely the kind of player who doesn't want to read the rulebook in detail to plan out a character.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

a stupid battlemat trick

If you use minis and a markable surface, here's a fun thing to do when the party accidentally stumbles into the lair of Mr. Bad and his minions.  First, take a minute to write the numbers 1 to 30 on your battlemat, something like this:

Place terrain, if any.  It's totally okay if the terrain sits on some of the numbers.  Then set up the foes on the blank half of the map.  Make sure to use some miniatures that looks like they are going to mess the party up.

Now, for each character in the party pick a custom die throw for random placement.  Do you have a stalwart meatshield who always takes the lead when marching down smelly dungeon hallways?  Have that player roll 1d6.  Someone who always places themself in the middle of the formation might roll 1d6+6.  The PC who always guards the rear might roll 1d8+12.  Someone who stays with the group but rarely specifies their position might be a 3d6 or 1d20 roll.  The sneak thief who cares more about a nice safe, shadowy hiding spot than the party formation might roll 2d6+12.  And that one PC who is always manically running around everywhere and doing everything rolls 1d30.

Go around taking turns for placement.  If a player rolls a number that is already occupied by another PC, they may pick any empty adjacent square.  If the square is occupied by terrain, the same basic rule applies, though for some terrain types the player could opt to be standing on top of the terrain or maybe the thief started scrambling up the wall for some reason just before the monsters showed up.

Do this a couple of times for funsies then hit them with the bonus version.  Write a second set of numbers on the map in a different color, a few of which are adjacent to the party's set of numbers.  Then take turns with the party.  One player rolls and places, then you roll for one badguy, back and forth until the fight is already pre-trainwrecked by random placement.

Again, this is for when the party wanders into a big lair of bad guys.  I wouldn't use this method for a properly scouted and planned attack by the party against a known foe.

Friday, November 02, 2018

a vision

In my previous campaign it was established that the Great Cosmic Flailsnail carried all of reality on its back, each facet of its hyperpolygonal shell reflecting a different parallel universe.  Here's an attempt to depict such a thing in the classic medium of the inept photoshop.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


So I've owned for years this old DAW anthology Heroic Fantasy, which I read one story at a time over the course of a decade or so.  My favorite of the bunch is "The Mistaken Oracle" by a dudeperson named A. E. Silas.  It offers an interesting answer to one of my favorite big, dumb questions to pose in fantasy literature, "What the heck is a Wizard, anyway?"

I've not encountered the name A.E. Silas anywhere else.  Not that I'm one of these guys obsessed with Appendix N.  In fact, my interest in fantasy lit kinda trails off after Tolkien and Howard and Jack Vance's original The Dying Earth, at least until it picks up again under the pseudonym of "magical realism."  On any given day, I prefer to read fantasy that's 500 years old rather than 50, but I make exceptions from time to time.

A couple weeks back I finally got around to seeing if A.E. Silas had written anything else.  Unless she published under another name, I can find just one other work of hers, a fantasy novel called The Panorama Egg.  I needed for work a certain book on my wish list and had a freebie coming to me (Thriftbooks has a frequent flyer program, kinda like a punch card at a coffee house.  Between that and the free shipping for orders over something like twelve bucks, I use it just as much as Amazon for books.).  So I went ahead and got it.

My copy just arrived yesterday and I'm only 43 pages in, but I have to share this little tidbit:
He looked at her and shook his head.  Half a year in this place, and he wasn't used to her.  People called her Melaklos as if it were a descriptive term, and referred to her by that fourth pronoun, ke, which is used in the trade tongue to refer to something neither masculine nor feminine, but living and therefore not neuter.  She called it the neutral.  Various peoples applied it to weapons, ships, the sea, fire, the moons, and nearly all mythological figures, gods and monsters alike.  The Melaklos was probably a demon of some sort.
The Melaklos referred to here is the trickster figure who enables the hero, a lawyer in modern day America, to cross over into a world of swords and sorcery.  The Melaklos presents as a lovely but slightly odd-looking woman.  So here's a novel published in 1978 that is taking a moment to wrangle with the issue of who is a he, who is a she, and who is a person that doesn't fit neatly into those categories.  I think that's pretty neat.

UPDATE: Derik Badman found that A.E. stands for Ann Elizabeth.  Still no additional works, yet, but at least now I'm not misgendering the author like a numb-skull.  Thanks, Derik!

Monday, October 29, 2018

turns out there are RPGs that don't involve orcs

So this morning I got to participate in one of the playtest sessions for Zak's superhero game.  I quite liked a lot of what I saw.  Chargen involved a combination of random roll and choices.  The mechanics were similar to FASERIP but replaced the bigass d100 color chart with dice for stats.  (Like Savage Worlds, my Toughness is a d6, my Agility a d8, etc.).  I'm not sure I followed how initiative worked but the GM managed it so I didn't much care.

Anyway, here's my hero, the irrepressible Sewer Lad!

5 minutes with HeroMachine 2.5

His two superpowers are summoning (but not really controlling) lots and lots of rats and his deadly Sewer Touch, the latter of which he is very reluctant to use.  It can, like, melt your face off, man.  I did my best to only threaten to use it in dire circumstances, but I ended up have to corrode a bit of the villain Brick.

Sewer Lad is also a not-particularly-good martial artist and a leading authority on rat biology who works in the small and under-funded Rat House in the City Zoo.  His pal is Tad, a sewer maintenance guy with a big wrench and a heart of gold.

Sewer Lad teamed up with the Arcanist, some sort of dark emo mindbender, to fight the villains Mindvoid, Brick, and Nullifier. I had a great time.


Later this week I'll be trying out the World Wide Wrestling rpg.  This is a Powered by the Apocalypse type story game, so it's a bit out of my usual sort of thing.  It's the first pro wrestling RPG that I like.

If you're interested in playing in the campaign (assuming we don't all hate it after one session), the game is being organized on the DIY RPG discord.  If you're not a member there, just hit me up via email (jrients at the gmail) or twitter or something and I'll send you an invite.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Shiny Rocks

So Angus at Meandering Banter built this doo-hickey that can turn any list into a bit of code for random table widgets.  Below are buttons that should each generate a random gem, based upon but not completely mimicking the charts in the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide.

For instances where you have an odd valued gem (150gp, 400gp, etc.) just use the next lower amount assume an unusual size, a nonstandard shape, a unique coloration variant, etc.  By the way, I tend to imagine Huge gems as fist-sized, Very large gems like golf-balls, Large gems like dice, and default gems as roughly dime-sized.  But your campaign may be more realistic than mine.

If you want the actual code to put into your Digital DM Screen, here's a file with all of them.

Much of the time in my D&D games I treat gems as simply a nice portable way to score GP and XP, but sometimes you want to know more specific details.  For example,
  • Spell components: black pearls for animate dead, diamond for bringing people back to actual life.
  • Tricking people: A fool might buy a flawed gem for more than its worth, or think a high quality rock crystal is actually a diamond.
  • Known prejudices for specific stones: IIRC Lord Dunsany says gnolls love emeralds and and Gygax says in the DMG that dwarves don't care for pearls.  Important to know when negotiating prices for ransoms with kidnappers.
  • Personal preference: I knew a player once who liked to name her PCs after gems and then call dibs on all examples of that type.
And it might  just be fun for a player to find out the details of those three gems worth 100gp sitting on their charsheet.