Saturday, 1 June 2013

Timing, Alignment and Lanthanum Chromate

No big thoughts today. Instead, have three small ones.


What’s up with your timing? Where are you getting the time to read this, where are you getting the hours to play that game?

This shit is a specific skill set. Playing D&D. Running it. First you have to be the kind of person who can comfortably read a potentially huge book of rules, for pleasure, remember them and use them.

There is shit at work that is less complicated than the rules artefacts I use in games. It’s vital to my job, I get paid to think about it. I can’t remember it, I don’t pay attention to it. I hate thinking about it. I absorb just enough to coast. But I can run a stacked decision tree in real time with imagined physics and shifting chronology and input from four different people in a world that I invented, using a compressed version of rules that were originally the size of a phone book. I compressed the rules because I read the phonebook for fun and then I came up with ‘better’ rules, also for fun.

I have occasionally persuaded a bunch of people, some of whom didn’t know each other, to sit around a table doing something some of them had never tried, with rules that only I had read.

I can deal with a bunch of conflicting personalities and patterns of attention and reasons to be there in a bunch of different people and the whole thing can come out ok. I can do the same thing with a bunch of teenage boys. Not every time, but enough times to keep people coming back. 

I can be a challenging adversary who forces people to think and adapt and a trusted guide they know won’t fuck them up or mess them around. I can do both of these things at the same time. If that sounds simple, it isn’t. Many people would have trouble doing that. Many people do. They play card games.

You need to be a strangely specific kind of person to play D&D and you need to be an even more specific person to play old school D&D and be any good at it. A lot of rules stuff, a lot of imagination stuff and a shitload of social competence. If you are thinking ‘ha ha social competence and D&D ha ha, then, Yes. How many normal people do you know in your life who could do all this shit, even if they wanted to, even if you paid them. It is a narrow slice of the venn diagram.

(I didn’t say better I said specific.)

Who amongst you can’t say the same? I bet most of you can do that shit, or all of you. Which raises the question, where do you find the time to do it?

Because if you are good with rules and you can handle people a bit and you can put together a game then you probably have a well paying job, that you actually enjoy. Because that arrangement of qualities is rare. And if you have enough drive and ambition and skill to have that job then how are you finding enough time to game?

The Pendragon game is down. The DM is a Doctor of the Philosophy of Law, one of the players is a Doctor of Mathematics. They have shit to do. They have wives (and families soon). People drop out because they have kids, they have kids because they have lives they have lives because they are competent creative human beings who get things done, if they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been able to play the game in the first place.

So for people actually doing this shit. Is there something odd about you?

(I said ‘odd’ not ‘wrong’, I am leaving my view of myself out of this along with customary internet gamer-shame because that shit is noise.)

If you are capable of playing D&D, in particular Old-School creatively intensive real-thinking D&D. (and there is nothing wrong with any other kind because games are games first) then what’s your schedule like? You have a family? A job? Student? Weird artist? How many hours of focused attention do you get per day? TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LIFE.


Has anyone ever done D&D char gen as a product of alignment?


Lawful is 4th ed style point-point buy.

Neutral is 5d6 down the line, take the highest and lowest away. (Would that actually effect the probability curve or is that dumbass maths?)

Chaotic is 1d20 down the line?

I don’t know how you work in good and evil to stats? What’s a good stat? Whats’ an evil one?
We could thing deeply about this, but why bother? Lets do it quickly.

Good stats are WIS, STR, CON. 

Wise is good, Yoda, Gandalf. 

Strong is good. Superman, Gilgamesh. There are not many weak good guys, way under 50 per cent anyway. 

Toughness is good. Good guys resist, they hang on for just one more round. Leia, Marlowe, Indy, Rocky.

Evil stats are CHA, INT and DEX. 
Charisma is obvious, Dracula, Kurtz, Richard III, Satan. 

A high INT is obviously a bad ‘un. Hans Gruber, every bond villain, Sauron. 

Dexterity? Well, maybe. Ninja’s? The Joker? Effete Nazi’s all playing with their cards and coat hangers. It measures less perfectly than the rest but I would bet that where there are characters that are strong and those that are dexterous in the same fiction and that fiction has a visible, tangible moral code, then the dexterous guys are more likely to be bad than the strong ones, not by much, but about 65%. You know it’s real cause I have statistics.

Lawful Good guys are boring, strong, wise and tough, but not by much. A little bit better. They are also predictable. So if you are the kind of player who has to know what character you are going to be then your characters are all lawful. 

Chaotic ones are the opposite. If you like having no idea who will turn up then all your characters are chaotic.

Chaotic Evil characters are Intelligent, Charismatic and Dexterous, but you never know when they will turn up. You can decide to play Lawful good or Lawful evil but you can’t decide to play chaotic good or chaotic evil because it depends what stats get  good rolls, it’s in the hands of fate, you can only decide to be chaotic.

And if you decide to be neutral? Well you get someone dull.

A world where all intelligent charismatic people are evil but also weak and vulnerable and unperceptive would be an interesting one.

Lanthanum Chromate

I think Lanthanum Chromate will be the name of the Dwarven City Without a Name. I like the sound of it. 

“Most of the greatest deposits of ore for chromium were produced by early settling of the weighty mineral chromite within the magma chamber. Black, dense bands of chromite form dull layers of booty; the chromium miner is like the naughty boy scraping all the meatiest bits from the bottom of the stew.”

“The sample heater has to be immune to the temperatures of the experiment, which rules out any materials familiar to us in the home. Lanthanum chromate (LaCrO3) has just the right properties, when encased within a zirconia (ZrO2) sleeve. Tungsten carbides’s atomic structure has something of the three-dimensional fortitude of diamond; a trace of added cobalt improves the toughness.

- Richard Fortey

Joe Morans book ‘On Roads, a hidden history’ is lovely. It contains possibly the most English paragraph ever written.

“The shiny new Gravelly Hill interchange also featured as a scenic backdrop in the film musical Take Me High, in which Cliff Richard plays a merchant banker mistakenly transferred to Birmingham rather than Paris, who goes to live in a canal barge in Gas Street Basin. In a non-speaking scene with a moody instrumental of Mood synthesisers and wah-wah guitar playing in the background, Cliff whooshes along the canals in a mini-hovercraft, admiring the new junction. Arriving in Birmingham for the premiere, the film star went rather off-message by criticising the city’s one-way system.”

When I have finished Veins and Lanthanum Chromate I will do a grand module about the building of an imperial road that plunges through deserts, chews through mountains, plunges through dungeons and changes everything.


  1. At my "day job" I work nights. I can get stuff done while children sleep.

    With a book sale and some self-publishing projects on the horizon, I will "work" less soon and write more.

  2. Great thoughts on alignment and attributes. Gonna steal those (yoink).

    Why do we do this? As Rorschach (aka Alan Moore) says "Something in our personalities, perhaps? Some animal urge to fight and struggle, making us what we are? Unimportant. We do what we have to do."

    Notice that the guys (and gals, bless the few who do) who do this well are the sharpest tools in the box, regardless if there are a string of letters after their names or not. I would say that one hallmark of a mind is the type of play it seeks out. Dull minds seek dull games, so what does that make good roleplayers?

  3. I'm in a group where almost everyone is a successful lawyer or IT guy, and have been doing so for years. We play about once a month, though some months come up dry. Everyone's work is incredibly stressful, and so we play D&D to relax and shoot the wind. Nobody takes it seriously. The DM uses mostly published adventures, or some simple ideas he worked out the morning of the game. We don't worldbuild, rarely talk in character, and don't mix well with "serious" roleplayers. It's pretty awesome.

  4. Yeah, 5d6-take-middle-three will mess with the probabilities, but less than you might think. You might want to use 7d6 or 9d6 if you want a more visible effect.

    Deriving other characteristics from stats is a fun idea. I've never seen it applied to alignment, but I like it.

  5. Also, if the Chaotic guys are rolling 1d20 for every stat and the Lawful ones are using point-buy, then the strongest people in the world (the ones with good stats across the board) will always be the Chaotic ones.

    If you subscribe to the idea that a few exceptional people have more of an effect on the world than the unwashed hoi polloi, then it is Chaos that writes the destiny of the world, not the city-builders.

  6. You may be over-thinking the timing thing. If I was still in Liverpool we'd be playing every week. I refuse to believe that an adult human being can't devote one evening a week to a hobby they have, regardless of how busy they are.

    1. And I am just going through a busy "away" period - incidentally next Tuesday is probably fine Patrick!