19 July 2015

Gaming With Kids

As is often the case, a forum discussion provoked this post.  This one involved people being creeped out by a GM of the original poster’s acquaintance including a couple 12-year-olds, neither being family members of his, in his campaign.

It’s not that society's "OMG but the CHILDREN!!!!!!" riff is getting surreal, it's that it hit surreal quite some time ago. Swear to God, I met a woman who bragged – bragged! – out loud to me that she had never yet failed in avoiding leaving her husband alone with their five-year-old daughter. Heaven knows how she failed to pick up on the shock and revulsion on my face that she would just assume her husband was a pedo-in-the-making, or if she had genuine evidence to believe he was, that she was still living with her children under a roof with him.

To me, the true creepiness and perversion is in the automatic presumption that the only reason a grown man could possibly have anything to do with a minor is for sexual purposes. If that's what any of you believe, I ask you to examine in yourselves why you're so obsessed with underage sexuality that this is the first thing you'd conclude, and to seek psychological help for your unhealthy obsession at once.  (This is my polite way of calling you an obsessed moonbat.)

Now alright – I know teenagers can be annoying, quite aside from the simple fear that having a teenager at your table would provoke the aforementioned obsessed moonbats into siccing the cops on you.

For my part, I’ve had teenagers at my table, and yes, well after college days, thanks. I'd take a player of any age who demonstrated to me a certain level of maturity, the ability to handle mature themes and a willingness to meet my regular schedule of pretty much all-day-Saturday on 2nd and 4th weeks. For the record, the most recent two players I bounced for immaturity were both in their 40s, and the oldest players in their groups at the time.

I have an anecdote. My college chorus allows alumni to sing in it, and I did, until moving back to western Massachusetts.  Six years ago, with an interim conductor, the situation was scrambled enough that I wound up as interim tenor section leader for the semester.  (I expect that they found the presence of a veteran greybeard who’d been with NUCS on and off since the 1970s comforting.) The vice-president invited all the other officers and section leaders to her place one night for a planning session and get-to-know-one-another evening, which wound up being silver-haired me – I was 49 at the time – and four young ladies. During the course of our chatting, the topic veered off onto dating, and one of the ladies mentioned her dismay at having a 30-something guy asking her out.

This was the point where I remarked, quietly, that my wife was 18 years younger than I am.

In the brief moment where all four gazed at me like shocked owls, one cleared her throat and asked, "What do you TALK about?" To which I answered that, well, you're all nearly thirty years younger than I am. What do we have in common, and what are we talking about?

Now leaving aside my cacklefest a couple years later when the original speaker, by then an alum herself and still with the chorus, admitted to me that she was dating a 35 year old guy – whom, happily, she married this past spring – I stand by my own statement. There is something deeply disturbing to me in the automatic presumptions that there is no way a grown man can be friends with a teenager without rubbing the front of his pants, that all grown men are might-be-perverted animals who can't be trusted, and that adults and children couldn't possibly have anything in common, any common ground or any reason to talk to one another civilly and socially.

And that includes sharing in this wonderful hobby.  Because, think about it: two of the original D&D players were children.  How old was Ernie Gygax at those first games ... 13? 14?  And Elise Gygax was his younger sister.  No one suggested, then or subsequently, that Gary Gygax was a sicko for that.

Honestly, some people need a reality check.

19 June 2015

My Pet Hates

We all have system elements that drive us nuts, and some that just plain drive us away from the table.  By way of further informing my dear readers (as Miss Manners would phrase it) of my gaming philosophy, here are mine:

Absolute Dealbreakers (I won't touch a game or a campaign with these elements, ever)

Alignment. The single stupidest, most insidious and by far most mismanaged concept ever foisted onto RPGs. Screw you, Gygax.
PvP. For every person energized by backstabbing and screwing his fellow players (and somehow, these people are overwhelmingly the screwers as opposed to the screwees), there's a gaming group that's been broken up over it. This is the most unforgivable sin in my own campaigns, always has been, always will be.

Hack-and-slash. Look, if all I want are tactical situations, I'll play a wargame. Heck, I'll play a console game – the graphics are a lot better and I don't have to shave, wash or travel to play one. I'm a roleplayer, sorry.

Random chargen. Think Monopoly would ever have gotten off the ground if you got to roll 3d6 x $100 for starting cash? Is there any other type of game other than RPGs where players start out with wildly disparate levels of ability or resources?

High mortality rate. I get attached to my characters, and I want to develop them. If they're just cardboard cutouts with a life expectancy of three game sessions, what's the point? (See Hack-and-slash, above.)

Lack of credible realism. I like gritty, realistic games. If you don't know your shit, or it's not reflected in your game, you really don't want me as a player. Trust me on this one.

Dungeons. It's no longer 1975. We don't use Trash-80s for computers any more, and we stopped listening to disco, and Earth Shoes are antiques, and the polyester leisure suits are all in landfills now. Why the pluperfect hell do these crapfests still exist?

Skills that work. The last time my wife and I attempted d20, she damn near erupted in frustration having failed nine straight First Aid rolls.  Look, if the sailor you hired has only a 50% chance to tie a knot, you're going to throw the incompetent loser overboard.

Jackass/agenda.  I refused to have anything to do with a game written by a fellow who got onto my Ignore list on a prominent Internet gaming forum almost twelve years ago, and who defines "arrogant, obnoxious prick" to me.

Probably Not. (I won't automatically rule these out, but they're huge strikes)

Character classes. Sorry, I don't need a label. Give me a point based system and I can decide for myself what skills I get, thanks.

Levels. Sorry, I don't need to train all at once at some artificial point, and furthermore have an arbitrary basket of arbitrary skills improve. Give me a point based system and I can decide for myself when and what to train, thanks.

All-male groups. Quite aside from that I like women around, an all-male group has a significantly higher chance of having a number of elements I don't like.  I can do without testosterone poisoning at my age.

Horror. It isn't that I hate the genre, per se – although it's no favorite of mine – it's that I don't think RPGs convey horror well.

Silly. I don't do that style well either. Slapstick isn't my cup of tea.

Fire and forget spells. It goes to figure that of all the magic systems in fiction, Gygax would have to copy the one author (Jack Vance) who used a fire-and-forget system. Screw you twice, Gygax.

Lack of walkovers. Sometimes the players make all the right guesses or have all the right luck. I want my decisions, skills and actions to have a material effect on gameplay. I don't want scenarios to be artificially prolonged just because the GM decided they ought to be and nerf anything that interferes with his timetable.

Overforced narration. Hello, there, we're the players, not you, Mr. or Ms. GM. If you want to do nothing but to tell stories, there are coffee houses and bardic circles that cater to that. If it's that you'd rather play yourself, go for it; I'll trade seats with you.

Over the top skill lists. You're seriously telling me I have to take skills in Abacus and Soldering and Isometrics on top of Merchant and Electronics and Fitness?

PDF only. I'm an old fashioned chap who likes a printed book in my hands. I've absolutely no problem with the outfits with PDF options, but if I can't order a bound hardcopy, I'm unlikely to use it.

BS having nothing to do with gameplay. I'm disinterested in the several pages of turgid twaddle by a gamewriter desperate to prove he can really write fiction, honest! I don't need two dozen pages full page color stills and character writeups of the cinematic party of the licensed property. I don't need a fifth of the book taken up by artwork and graphics. Since I am not six years old nor suffer from ADD, I'm capable of reading a book without dozens of (allegedly) pretty pictures to break up the text.

Major sections missing. If your game is missing a character sheet and an index, it's incomplete. If your SF game (say) lacks space combat rules, it's incomplete. I am disinterested in the excuses why ... especially since games missing such sections always seem to have plenty of the aforementioned art and fiction. The only reasons not to include such glaringly obvious sections involve carelessness, laziness, incompetence or obstinacy, none of which bode well for the rest of your rules.

"Fate" points. I don't want to handwave success, I want to earn it. I don't want a Get Out of Jail Free card any time anything bad happens to my character, I want to suck it up and deal with it.

Impenetrable jargon. I don't need some obscure polysyllabic term for every ability and game mechanic. (Yeah, WoD, I'm talking to you.) It's not even so much as needing a copy of Webster's handy to translate the terms during play ... if doing so does you no good, that's a large headache.

Half-assed attempts to emulate a skill-based system with a class-based system. Call them demi-classes, "Prestige" classes, what have you, but the end result is a system far harder to learn and far slower to play, if a GM has to flip through a splatbook every time you try something offbeat.

Lack of "light" options. I like crunch. I like a good bit of crunch ... but not nearly as much as I did, once upon a time. If a system crashes in ruin when you handwave modifiers or don't use every picky rule, I'm less interested.

So-called "social combat."  ... in most cases Just Another Combat System with the serial numbers filed off.  Look, we already have systems with tactical choice, CRTs and all those trappings.

Filler proliferation It's good that production values have increased.  It's bad that a lot of it is wastepaper.  I don't need a fifth of my book (and the count is that high) taken up with inch-wide decorative borders, full-page illos, long fiction sections and suchlike crap.  How about you chop the 50 pages that sucks up, just give me rules, and reduce the price of the book accordingly?

Watermarks/fonts I don't need fancy backgrounds on every page.  I don't need bizarre fonts, tiny type, or brown-colored print.  Don't worry so much about PDF thieves; worry about me not buying your stuff in the first place, because I can't read the damn thing.  A lot (daresay, the majority) of your customers aren't 20 years old any more, y'know.

Splatbooks Look. I know why they exist: so companies can make more money.  I don't even disagree with the principle.  It's the results I deplore ... that far from optional for those who love crunch, they've become essential; that they shoehorn New Stuff in whether it fits or not; that said New Stuff often conflicts -- and often badly -- with the core system, and more often than not was poorly playtested; that they provoke a rules armsrace for Ever And Ever More New Stuff; that the end result is a massive rewrite of the system to disavow much of the New Stuff, whereupon the whole cycle begins anew.  (Only without a large faction of players who declare Rewrite 2.0 to be suckass, and who insist on sticking with the “original” rules.)

New For The Sake Of New. The hobby's been around for approaching half a century.  There is very little conceivable that no one's thought of before.  Most of which IS "new" is in fact some old idea dressed up.  A particular pet peeve of mine is baroque combinations and types of dice resolution mechanics.  Look, it's a randomizer.  It's not revolutionary, it's not new, and it doesn't make any game stand out as Uniquely Kewl. 

27 May 2015

Helping the players out.

A couple forum threads about courtesy and status of PCs has provoked a bit of thought, which I'd like to share with my avid readers.  (Well, all few of you, anyway, even though I just went over 10,000 page views!)

In a lot of campaigns, the PCs are set up to be bumbling fools.  Even in the stereotypical "Dungeon Fantasy" games, with bog-standard cookie-cutter expectations players bristle if they don't find, too many GMs set them up to fail, socially.  Ignorant of customs the GM mentions only in passing if at all, ignorant of social cues and clues, a great deal of tension, angst and anger is often the result.

Now I think of all the customs and social cues I take for granted, as an American and lifelong New Englander.  You drive on the right hand side of the road, and you walk on the right hand side of the sidewalk.  The woman in the dark blue uniform, with a holstered pistol and nightstick, wearing a garrison cover and sporting a silver badge, is a police officer.  Someone dressed all in black, with a matching high collar with a small white rectangle in the middle, is a Catholic priest.  You greet newly met strangers with a handshake using the right hand, and "How do you do?" is a standard opening sally.  You cut meat at dinner with your knife in the right hand, transferring the fork back from your left to eat that meat.  You don't -- if you have pretensions to courtesy -- wear your hat indoors when visiting; you generally do keep your shoes on.

And so on.  So many of these cues are unconscious, reflexive and subtle that we only think about them in the breach.  So many of them are also deeply national or regional: not a single one I just listed pertains to traditional Arabic mores, for instance.

The way I see it, not even the best educated and informed among us are natives of the milieus most of us run -- or have worked out in realistic detail what all of the customs are -- and we don't have the level of immersion to notice what someone who isn't a 21st century Westerner gaming out of a comfy living room with a soft drink and a slice of pizza would. 

 There are any number of times where it's not merely the case that the PC should know a key bit of social/cultural information ("Okay, make a roll against your Savoir-Faire skill ... thankew") but would reasonably know it reflexively, and never normally botch or forget it. None of us need Savoir-Faire/IQ rolls to avoid spitting into open coffins, punching pregnant women in the bellies, saluting the dark skinned archbishop with "Yo, nigga," or failing to understand what the aforementioned blue-uniformed lady with the garrison cover, pistol, silver badge and nightstick is.

So I figure it's my duty to double-check when a player commits what I think is so egregious a social blunder -- well, short of the PC being portrayed as an ignorant lout -- that any informed member of the culture would reflexively avoid it, with a phrase along the lines of "You do understand that this is the Queen's throne hall, and her Chancellor is standing right behind you. Are you sure you want to do that?"

27 April 2015

NPC of the Day: Jake "Greywolf" Nelp

"Every day I don’t get up, the suits rip down another acre of trees.  I can’t quit."

Jake Nelp is an aging hippie. He grew up on a commune, and holds firmly to 60s counterculture values, morals and practices. The fellow lives out of "Betsey," his colorfully painted '65 Westphalia WV microbus, traveling between various Ren Faires, counterculture festivals and bashes like Burning Man, to hang out with like-minded individuals and sell knives. He forges and grinds his own, and has a wide reputation amongst festival regulars as a superlative knife maker, and as a friendly fellow who plays at campfires and always has a story to tell. It's enough to get by, and for him money is only needful to pay for gas, propane, food and knife-making materials: "the buck’s a prison of green."

He's also a practicing shaman, with a wide range of occult lore, and is a devotee of Carlos Castaneda (though he greatly prefers pot to mushrooms) and various Cherokee shamen. He's come up with his own rituals, which for some reason he does in jackleg Cherokee, and they do work: largely in the way of manipulating fire and spirits.  He'll only work with magic at night, and song.  Meditation, for him, involves putting on some 60s tunes (he's reluctantly given up his decrepit 8-track player for an iPod player), lighting some joss sticks, putting the lava lamp on, and smoking a bowl.

A few notes:

* Jake is used to living rough, and can manage out of a tent just fine. However -- and this is where the Chronic Pain and Slow Riser comes in -- he's over 60 now, and living off of Faire food and on a futon in back of his microbus has just taken a heavy toll; he's achy. A lot.  He loves being a drifter, but fears that his roving days are nearing the end.

* He is only a pacifist by philosophy. He's well aware that him and people like him get hassled a lot by the Man (thus the Social Stigma, and having an FID in case he gets bothered about the honking big knives he carries around), and that some folks aren't willing to live and let live. He is very fast for his age, knows how to use his knives, and won't shy away from doing so if he figures he must.

* The Contacts represent probably four types of people: a fellow knife-maker, a fellow Faire merchant, a fellow shaman, and that lady who bakes the awesome flatbreads at his old commune.

* He's something of an ecoterrorist.  The "Suits" are all that's wrong with the world, and them building highways and pipelines everywhere will ruin it if you aren't vigilant.  A natural gas pipeline proposal which would go through his rural home county -- going, naturally, from places far away thataway to the Big City far away that away -- is very much in his crosshairs, and he's making plans.

* His daughter Brooke is a pediatric surgeon at a teaching hospital.  They love each other very much, and spending the first few years of her life on Jake's commune (that given name is "Riverbrook," actually) gives her significant sympathy for his POV.  Still, she's made up a mother-in-law apartment at her home, hoping Jake will settle down with her.

ST: 11       IQ: 12      DX: 13      HT: 12      Move: 5

Advantages: Charisma/1; Contacts (4 points' worth); Less Sleep/2, License Perk (has an FID); Magery/2 (Night, Song aspected), Night Vision/2; Reputation+3, as master knife-maker, Ren Faire types, 12-.

Disadvantages: Addiction / Pot smoker; Chronic Pain / Mild, 2h, 9-; Code of Honor (Counterculture); Disciplines of Faith; Farsighted (mitigated); Slow Riser; Sense of Duty: underclass; Social Stigma: Second-class citizen; Struggling, Vow (Oppose The Suits).

Languages: Speaks and reads Cherokee at Accented level.

Quirks: Cats are people; Don't mess with Betsey!; Dresses in stereotypical hippie attire; Loves his daughter; Pyrophile.

Skills: Armoury-18; Carousing-13; First Aid-13; Gardening-13; Knife-14; Mechanic (auto)-12; Meditation-12; Merchant (knives)-12; Musical Instrument (guitar)-12; Observation-12; Occultism-13; Public Speaking-12; Religious Ritual-12; Savoir-Faire (counterculture)-13; Singing-13; Survival-14; Thrown Weapon: Knife-13.

Spells: Affect Spirits-13; Create Fire-13; Divination-14; Heal Plant-13; Identify Plant-14; Ignite Fire-14; Itch-14; Plant Growth-15; Seek Plant-14; Sense Spirit-13; Shape Fire-15; Spasm-14;   Summon Spirit-13; Turn Spirit-14; Warmth-13.

Betsey is a ‘66 Westfalia VW Microbus camper.  Named after a lady Jake knew (her likeness is on the driver’s side door in a white bikini and glasses), Betsey is done up in lime green and liberally festooned with Peter Max-esque counterculture paintings and liberal bumper stickers.

Her interior is done in ash paneling, with handmade curtains in the windows (gifts from Brooke) and dark blue shag carpeting.  There are futons with homemade quilts in the overhead extendable camper and the back (used for a spare bed in need and for general hanging out).  Behind the macrame-and-beaded covered seats are a couple propane burners scavenged from a Coleman stove, a wash basin, a cutting board, and narrow cabinets holding cooking equipment, wooden and handmade pewter flatware and Jake’s fetish kit. 

On the walls are a bookcase, brackets for Jake’s guitar case, a CD player/radio and a modest stack of CDs, a battery-operated fan, a propane space heater and several dreamcatchers.  The bookcase has the following well-worn titles: Stranger in a Strange Land, The Hobbit, an omnibus of the first three Foxfires, Complete Guide to Camping, Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, the Pentagon Papers, the North American Field Guide to Plants, the 1972 Whole Earth Catalog, the Nelp family Bible, Carlos Castaneda’s Teachings of Don Juan and A Separate Reality, and the following Cherokee shamanic texts: the Kanâhe'ta Ani-Tsa'lagï E'tï, Origins of the Bear, and the A`yûn'inï “Swimmer”, Gatigwanasti, Ayâsta/Gahuni, Inâ'lï “Black Fox”, Tsiskwa “Bird”, A`wani'ta “Young Deer” and Takwati'hï “Killer” Manuscripts.

Beneath the futon is jammed with stuff (getting things out can be a chore): a dorm-size propane refrigerator, two grinding wheels, a portable anvil, a propane cutting torch, a number of canvas sacks, mosquito netting and spare tarps, as well as a 2-gallon spare gas can, a 5-gallon iron cauldron, Jake’s fetish kit, miscellaneous gear and food.

For further explanation of system numbers, check this link.

21 March 2015

Campaign FAQ

I've found this a useful thing, over the years, in giving a quick precis about my campaign, my setting and the system I use.  I think all GMs should use something like this, and I know I would've avoided a couple of campaigns in my time if the GMs had handed me one of these:

* * * * * * *

New Player FAQ                Celduin Campaign, RG Traynor, March 2015

Hello!  I’ve written this for prospective new players to clue you into what the style of our campaign is like.

What system do you play?  I was one of the original GURPS playtesters nearly thirty years ago – as well as a writer for Steve Jackson Games and several other gaming companies – and I’ve GMed it ever since. 

Ack!  Don’t they call that a hard system?  It isn’t nearly as tough or “math oriented” as its detractors make it out to be.  The real deal is that a dithering player can take forever over the choices available.  I recommend GURPS Lite, a 32 page free PDF from the Steve Jackson Games website at http://e23.sjgames.com/item.html?id=SJG31-0004, for a look at a stripped down version of the rules.  You don’t need anything more complicated.  Besides that, I require new players to sit down with me and tell me, in as much detail as they feel like, what kind of characters they want to play.  Character creation takes a great deal less time with me present to answer questions and give guidance.

Alright, I know GURPS.  Any changes I need to know? 
A number of them, including new Advantages, Disadvantages and skills, templates appropriate to my campaign, and a few other fillips (such as that I still use BSII missile rules for simplicity’s sake).  A number of skills, Advantages and Disadvantages are restricted or disallowed.  I have some house rules for things, but the gist of it goes back to GURPS Lite, which substantively I run; I'm not inclined to slow down play hunting and pecking through rulebooks for every last little modifier.  I have an edited version of GURPS Lite on my campaign’s website, incorporating the house rules, which I urge new players to download.

What’s your campaign like?  I run a Renaissance tech fantasy world, very loosely based on Kenneth Bulmer’s Dray Prescot/Scorpio series.  It is now getting into the Gunpowder Age.  Realism is a hallmark of Celduin, and you won’t see magical streetlights, orcs carrying hundreds of gold pieces and flying cities.  The current party (an all-mage group, an experiment that’s been going on for a couple years now) is based out of a giant seaport, and maritime and urban adventures have traditionally predominated.  Characters ought to be able to get along in a city and at sea. 
What’s the play style?  We have a collegial, laid-back atmosphere with a bit of socialization and digression – someone expecting wall-to-wall Action!!! will be disappointed.  (Then again, someone who can’t hack two hours of rip-roaring combat will be disappointed too.)  We’re also a crew of mature grownups and like to see like-minded folks.  I run a character-driven game more than a plot-driven game; of course there’s plot, and lots of it, but I want the players to tell me what they’re going to do far more than I push the plot into telling the players what to do.

When and where?   I run on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month; it starts at 11:30 and wraps up around 6:00 PM.  Good attendance is strongly encouraged.

Anything else I need to know?  We have a cat and a rabbit, and anyone with serious pet allergies should take notice.  This is a non-smoking apartment, and we’re not much for drinking.

14 February 2015

Playing child characters

So I’ve stumbled onto a discussion regarding playing child characters, and as usual, I’ve some thoughts on the matter.  And it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve had a good rant, so ...

There are obviously gamers who hate the concept like poison, and they’ve some ammunition.  Some have – or claim to have, anyway – encountered players who insist on baby-voices suitable for a barely articulate two-year-old.  Some profess incredulity that children could make viable adventurers.  Some profess deep personal discomfort in portraying children, and some mutter darkly about pedophilia.  So let’s take the objections piecemeal:

* First, let’s examine whether this dings our suspension of disbelief.   The notion that 11- or 12-year-olds are somehow completely incapable is very much an artifact of Western culture of the last century.  Before child labor and compulsory education laws took hold, children that young routinely worked on farms, in factories, hours as long and hard as any adult.  Were they as physically capable as adults?  Of course not ... but they worked to the extent of their skill and strength.  Indeed, the impetus of child labor laws in America came from factory owners preferring to hire such youngsters for clearing jams and making repairs on equipment in crevices and crannies into which larger adults couldn’t squeeze – tasks which sometimes resulted in those children being maimed or killed.

For other things?  How about marriage?  I just cracked open my 1946 almanac – decades into the “kids can’t do anything” haze.  In 1945, there was not a state in the United States where a sixteen year old girl couldn’t get married at will.  In twelve states, boys under 16 could get married.  In nine states, children under 14 could get married.

But on the battlefield?  As it happens, children as young as eight served as “volunteers” on European navies through the very end of the Age of Sail, and 12-year-old midshipmen were officers in the chain of command who as a matter of course led grown men in battle.  The last living combat veteran of World War I, Claude Choules, enlisted at 14 and saw action at 15.  At age 14, the great future shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu led his first army at the Siege of Terabe.  The youngest Hero of the Soviet Union, partisan Zinaida Portnova, was 17.  The youngest Medal of Honor winner, drummer boy Willie Johnson, was 11 at the battle for which he won his award.  In more recent times?  Heck, Wikipedia even has an article on the subject of child soldiers.

Obviously the concepts of labor, the military and marriage in previous times revolved around "Can you do the job?" rather than around an arbitrary age minimum.

But okay, okay, This Is Fantasy, right?  You know, the trump card response that’s supposed to signify that it's okay to ignore real life?

Fair enough.  So let’s talk about fantasy.  Shall we start with Disney?  If I started firing off the top of my head on Disney movies alone featuring pre-teens in high-impact adventures, I think I could go twenty deep without pausing to breathe. Heck, does as little as a third of Disney's entire live action output feature young protagonists?  My wife, who’s on a multi-year quest to see every feature length film Disney ever produced, thinks that’s seriously lowballing it.  She thinks it’s as much as half.

And that ignores the dinosaur rampaging all over the premises.  The best selling literary series of all time – it’s only been outsold by the Bible – begins by focusing its attention on the exploits of pre-teen adventurers in a world where magic is real.  Many millions more than will ever hear of D&D have cheerfully bought in to the concept that Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley and friends are not only credible fantasy adventurers, not only routinely outsmart the grownups, but can compete in battle against adult Bad Guys ... and win.  To claim that the concept is inconceivable is, well, moronic.

* How about a couple other points?  That people use baby talk in playing kids?  Sheesh.  You know, I’ve seen a lot of people who roleplayed paladins as dimwitted thugs-in-plate.  I’ve seen a lot of people who roleplayed dwarfs as nothing beyond dumb and greedy.  I’ve seen idiot fighters, supercilious elves, cowardly mages and every other poorly played stereotype under the sun.  Somehow our games still include these roles, however much some folks suck at roleplaying.

That being said, I don't imagine the children most people want to play are four-year-olds. I imagine they're more often preteens, who are quite capable of tying their shoes and feeding themselves without mommy's supervision.

That some folks are very uncomfortable with the thought of playing children?  Great: then don’t play one.  (Oh, it’s that you’re uncomfortable with me playing a child?  Back to the "Special Snowflake" nonsense that anything you don't care for is something no one should ever play?  Too.  Damn.  Bad.  I don’t recall giving you a veto.  I'm going to play whatever I feel like playing, and I'm sure as hell not going to ask your permission before I do.)

* The pedophilia thing?  Deep breath time.

It's one of the great cognitive dissonances of the roleplaying world that it's considered acceptable to fulfill your fantasies about being a mass serial killer, a torturer, a batterer, a Satan worshiper and seventeen kinds of racial supremacist around a gaming table, but pretty much anything having to do with sexual matters is completely out of bounds. Don't get it. Never have gotten it.

Never mind that, though ... let's be serious. How many of you have EVER seen a campaign, EVER, in which ANY player has sought to indulge in screwing eight year olds? I've been doing this for 35 years now, played tabletop, online, freeform, LARPs, MMORPGs, and I've not only never seen it, I've never had a credible report from someone I trusted of the same.

Now I agree that in today's hyperparanoid environment, in which "OMG Something Might Happen!!!!!" is SOP, and in which a mother of my acquaintance bragged -- bragged! -- to my face that she'd never yet left her five-year-old alone with her husband, the kid's father – because, of course, of that sickening and depraved fallacy of What All Men Want Do To Kids – there are idiots who'd jump to that conclusion.  But c'mon. Aren't we all grownups here? Don't we have some measure of common sense?  What forces us to cater to the unbalanced paranoids among us?

To wrap up this long rant ... so, yes: if your campaign is set in the Western world in the 21st century, full-time child adventurers might be a reasonable suspension of disbelief issue.  (Although no one, I expect, seems to have told the fans of Spy Kids, The Sarah Jane Adventures, The Incredibles ...)  If it's set in any other venue, time period or milieu, it's no more reasonable than to freak out that a campaign has slavery, pandemic plagues, human sacrifice, genocide, institutionalized racism, or any such element that the West has seen off within its own borders.

Of course these roles aren't for everyone; I doubt they'd be for many people.  So what?

07 February 2015

The Corpora of War: Stuff You Can Use

A very longstanding feature of my gameworld Celduin is that -- many long centuries ago -- the religion of the god Upuaut (the fire/war god of the pantheon) imposed something of a cross between the Geneva Conventions and a code of honor on the conduct of mercenaries in war.  Subsequently interpreted and amended over the years, it's widely honored to the present day.

Honorable actions are not mandatory; dishonorable actions are to be always avoided.  Actions that are not dishonorable are legal, but not the path of greatest honor.  Obviously, some tenets are more honored in the breach than in the observance.

For those of you scoring at home, a “paktun” is a warrior of great prowess and honor, voted the accolade on the battlefield by the collective paktuns there present; they wear a distinctive silver medallion on a rainbow ribbon.  “Nikobi” (half-oath) is the contractual arrangement between mercenaries and their employer.


- It is dishonorable to betray your employers, explicitly or implicitly.  It is dishonorable to disobey direct orders.  Obeying the laws of the nation under which you serve is honorable; obedience of an order in clear conflict with the law is a matter of conscience, but following the order is the path of greater honor, unless the order itself be dishonorable.

- It is dishonorable to slay or enslave soldiers who have surrendered, or to directly assist those doing so.  It is honorable to disobey orders to do so.  It is not dishonorable to loot the defeated or conquered territory.

- It is not dishonorable, under threat of certain doom, to surrender one’s command to a superior foe.  To do so is a matter of personal conscience.  It is dishonorable to knowingly lead one’s troops into certain death, and honorable to disobey orders to do so.  It is not dishonorable to lead volunteers into such situations in order to protect a line of retreat.

- Lord Upuaut is our patron, and his servants and priests are honored by every true warrior.  It is highly dishonorable to knowingly harm any of His priests, or any healer or physician.  It is not dishonorable to defend yourself against an attack by a priest or physician, but you should seek to subdue him without killing.  Priests fighting in battle forfeit such protection.

- It is dishonorable to harm any civilian without just cause.  Being attacked by a civilian constitutes just cause; however, it is dishonorable to goad a civilian into attacking a trained warrior.

- It is honorable to care for your comrades, your weapon and your mounts before yourself, for they are your succor in battle. It is dishonorable to neglect your comrades in the field, the food and care of the troops you lead or of prisoners in battle.

- Mutual truces are sacred.  To violate the terms of a truce is blackest dishonor, and he who does so shall find that Lord Upuaut has turned His face away from him.  If ending a truce is necessary, it is dishonorable not to inform the enemy commander beforehand.  Heralds or emissaries must be given time to return to their lines, and if this is not possible they must be treated as honored guests, not as prisoners.

- The use of sorcery in battle, as with any other skill, is not dishonorable.  The use of necromancy is highly dishonorable, and its use in the field is just cause for the voiding of the nikobi.

- When captured in battle, it is not dishonorable to attempt to escape or to damage the foe in any way possible.  It is dishonorable to slay a recaptured escapee.  However, any escapee who breaks the law or slays his captors may be honorably dealt with as the laws require.  If parole is given, it is dishonorable for the parolee to try to escape.

- To disobey orders to perform dishonorable tasks is honorable.  It is dishonorable to do so without informing your commander why you are disobeying orders and without standing fast - if possible- to allow him to countermand.  If the commander knowingly persists in the ways of dishonor, the nikobi must be voided, for only a coward or a bandit remains under the charge of a dishonorable leader.  If there is dissension, the paktunsa must vote on the matter, a majority carrying.

- However, a mercenary’s conscience is his own, and to Lord Upuaut be the judgment.  It is honorable to convince a comrade to turn from the path of dishonor, but dishonorable to force him to do so.

- Honor and respect the paktunsa, for such warriors are blessed of the Lord Upuaut.  In return, a paktun’s actions and bearing must be worthy of respect, for he serves as an example to the host.  The paktun who acts in dishonor blackens the name of his host and his god; if he not repent of his evil, let him suffer just and sudden death.

- The blessing of the Lord Upuaut are upon the honorable mercenary, but His curse rests on he who acts with dishonor.


There's a great deal of debate on those points; you can see where the Code has loopholes and conflicting sections. Mercenary rapists have tried to argue, for instance, that their victims weren't "harmed" – there ain't no blood, is there?

On the more liberal side of things, there's a faction that holds that looting "too much" harms the victims.

There's certainly plenty of fodder for barracks lawyers and litigants back in the cities; on the latter count, some of the nations are extending a concept akin to sovereign immunity on mercenary companies under their hire, pretty much solely to ensure that they can hire companies for the next campaigning season.

When all is said and done, of course, there are companies which skirt as close to the line as possible, the operating principle being "how much can we get away with before the paktunsa vote to take us out?"