Monday, January 18, 2021

I published QAnon Cyberpunk with Boomer Characteristics

I am republishing an article I put on medium this Morning.  I am also putting it up here because I haven't been working on anything else and I'm proud of it:

Cyberpunk with Boomer Characteristics

    With only a few more days until the inauguration of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., therе seems to be no more room for QAnon, no more cracks in the future of the consensus model of reality of the future for its ecstatic mental paroxysms to slip through, to feed off. A lot of people have consigned QAnon to the dustbin of history. I would love to join them. I also think QAnon is dying, but in the same way that Pizzagate died. There will be a reconstitution and a reformation.  QAnon is an aesthetic practice, and a ritualistic information processing methodology that can be easily transformed and reapplied. As others have pointed QAnon is also a LARP or some sort of augmented reality game. The purpose of this article is to nail down exactly what kind of LARP it is and to discuss what aspects are transferable. I can state categorically that QAnon is a Christian millennialist Shadowrun LARP. There, you can stop reading. Although, I will spend the rest of this screed explaining what that means and how it came about.

Millennialist Boomerism and Cyberpunk
    I am not going to trace the history of Qanon from Clancyesque surrealism to apocalyptic millennialist prophecy in any detail. Other people are much more coherent at that and have done masterful jobs showing the way that Anons imagine themselves to be playing spymaster. Those narratives and aesthetics gave birth to the movement and are responsible for some of its key plot points (i.e., Q is a government intelligence officer; the military is inherently good and the potential savior of the American people, and so on). I have a lot of nostalgia for this era and the almost baroque level of ornamentation heaped on to their bizarre extrapolations from the minutiae of Hillary Clinton’s life. This era focused on pictures of politicians who may or may not (but definitely are) wearing ankle monitors, strings of numbers that might be GPS data. The explanations and exegeses have ornate winding conspiratorial lyricism almost like an art nouveau vine (perhaps I was wrong to refer to the baroque; I think art nouveau is a better metaphor for their ramblings). These reveries were clearly in the security state thriller genre. With the Cold War gone and the War on Terror (somehow lacks the same appeal) however the paranoia was directed solely at domestic targets and internal political enemies.
    At this point in early QAnon the explicit narrative is pure security state thriller tropes. Q’s posts are descriptions of future covert state actions against Donald Trump’s political enemies. The difference is anonymous 4chan users and later 8chan users have taken the role of the security analysts.  It is this democratization of security work that begins to incorporate elements of Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk can be traces at least as far back as  Bruce Bethke’s story, Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk  constructs a dialectically opposed reality to the one found in Tom Clancy novels and Cold War saber rattling. The world of Cyberpunk is one where the old guard is out of touch and not highly competent operatives. The protagonists are teenagers who enjoy sowing chaos through computer hacking with no aim or ideology. They are seemingly motivated by a motiveless malignancy or a compulsion to delinquency. However, the idea of the renegade hacker has entered into the trope blender that is QAnon. The result is QAnon’s merger of the Right's fetishization of the strong father figure found in the statist fantasies of Tom Clancy with the Cyberpunk tropes of the 1980’s.
    Of course, QAnon is not the first movement to integrate the fantasy of the rogue computer hacker into the fantasy of the uber-competent undercover government operative. QAnon’s innovation is the refusal to integrate these two things into a coherent narrative. The Government is at once a bastion of good and  a satanic pedophile ring. Anons are simultaneously anti-government hackers and loyal patriots. We can listen to an individual Anon’s justifications for how these contradictions are resolved, but any individual Anon’s explanation or ‘head canon’ cannot be understood to be the official narrative. The resolutions to the contradiction are individual; it is only the contradictions that are universal. It is here that QAnon pushes itself into Phillip K. Dick territory. However, we cannot follow them there yet. First we must discuss how the praxis of QAnon is informed by their non-synthesis of statist spycraft fiction and  libertarian cyberpunk fiction.
    Ironically the plot of the short story, Cyberpunk, is of little use here. It is more instructive on the reality of the Qanon arc than its internal symbolism and praxis. It tells the story of a protagonist, who has contempt for adults seemingly unable understand all the sophisticated stuff that he can do on a computer, and ends when his dalliances on the computer are shown to be incapable of keeping him from being sent to military school. In the end the virtual world of cyberspace is no match for the coercive power of meat-space.

Surrealism in Rebellion and Bootlicking
    The QAnon aesthetic is much more in line with the early work of William Gibson. A Q drop has similar narrative contrivances to Neuromancer. The narrator has a way of making the read feel like an insider being addressed by another insider. It creates an intimacy based on the illusion of a shared lexicon and knowledge base, while teaching that lexicon and knowledge to the reader. It makes the reader feel smart and cool:

Case was twenty-four. At twenty-two, he’d been a cowboy a rustler, one of the best in the Sprawl. He’d been trained by the best, by McCoy Pauley and Bobby Quine, legends in the biz. He’d operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix. A thief he’d worked for other, wealthier thieves, employers who provided the exotic software required to penetrate the bright walls of corporate systems, opening windows into rich fields of data (William Gibson, Neuromancer).
See, very cool. You feel like a hip insider being informed by another hip insider of the doings of third hip insider. Neuromancer creates a conceptual framework for playing around on the internet while pretending you are doing something important. It also establishes the main plot outline of QAnon. There are people, Anons, sometimes known as “bakers,” who take posts/“drops”/“crumbs” on 8chan, or earlier on 4chan, and interpret them in a way that tells the story of a secret government operation.
This process is analogous to what a ‘decker’ does in Neuromancer. There is a mission from a shadowy employer. The protagonist goes on a computer and does things on the internet that allow them to extract secret information. The secret information slowly paints a bigger picture of a reality that is only discoverable through further interaction with internet. The nature of the secret becomes increasingly bizarre until it is revealed that there is a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence pulling the strings and suggestions of extra-terrestrial involvement.
     The QAnon ‘consensual hallucination’ is that they are also engaged in this process of discovery at the behest of actors in the U.S. government. This is The LARP;  it feels like an ‘almost permanent adrenaline high.’ There is the ecstasy of decoding a post. There is the fear response from obsessing over cannibal pedophiles. There is the reassurance that there are good guys in control that comes from the more boomer-oriented, Clancyesque roots of the conspiracy theory. There is the feeling of superiority that comes from having secret knowledge, which is perhaps the uniting thread between QAnon's literary antecedents. I am sure I could go on, but the point is that these feelings coalesce into a kind of ecstasy.
    I said the LARP was a Shadowrun LARP because it does not just incorporate aspects of spycraft and cyberpunk; it is also fundamentally relies on a belief in the supernatural. Shadowrun is the roleplaying game that united these two things. In Shadowrun you could be a shaman or a hacker. People pretending to be Shaman’s and hackers had to work together to complete missions. QAnon is a movement that has room for a guy named Praying Medic and a guy that claims to be communicating with himself from the future via a quantum computer. Shadowrun pioneered that integration. QAnon has replaced the Shamanistic magic of Shadowrun with the divine magic of prayer. Other than that (and the absence of other races of humanoid from the core canon) the praxis of Anons follows a Shadowrun adventure: a the mysterious patron gives you a mission. Then you move to a location while shooting stuff. At the location, you log onto a computer and do computer hacker stuff. As you repeat this process, you uncover a larger conspiracy plot.
    Qanon has adopted and adapted this process with one notable exception.    Until recently, the part about going outside and committing crimes was downplayed. Anons were never told to do anything in the real world except perhaps buy merchandise and contribute to crowdfunding campaigns. In fact, they were encouraged to simply ”enjoy the show.” The job of the Anon was to bear witness to a secret war using investigative acumen and a computer. Anons are actually engaged in a mixture of a mixture of googling and free association. As the predictions of the Q and the Anons started to fail tension developed between Anon’s image of themselves as ‘independent researchers’ and the continued failure of their research to produce any results that coincided with objective reality.  This tension resolved itself by incorporating spiritualism. Once QAnon incorporated fantasy tropes, it became too compelling and fun to collapse. Like Shadowrun, it was a place where incongruous fantasies could coexist in a sort of mélange or potpourri. Anon’s were now engaged in spiritual warfare. Anons conclusions, like, “Hillary Clinton will be executed” or, “their will be mass arrests” began to take on the qualities of prophesies or supplications to a higher power. More and more you would see Anons say things like, “God is in control.” QAnon began to resemble a priesthood. The LARP became one were cyber priests prayed and spoke prophecy into being over Facebook and Twitter.

WWG1WGA and Mercerism
I am skipping over a lot of the whackier aspects of QAnon. The whackier parts-the clones and stuff- have roots in mental illness and Philip K. Dick. I know, the whole thing has its roots in mental illness. It’s a “schizoid embolism”, a “consensual hallucination.” I would never call it a cult; it’s not that organized. It is more of  a gnostic Christian practice. It is a real-world analog to Mercerism from, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but dumber. Just read this; let it wash over your mind:
The man, Wilbur Mercer, plodded ahead, and, as he clutched the handles, John Isidore gradually experienced a waning of the living room in which he stood; the dilapidated furniture and walls ebbed out and he ceased to experience them at all. He found himself, instead, as always before, entering into the landscape of drab hill, drab sky. And at the same time he no longer witnessed the climb of the elderly man. His own feet now scraped, sought purchase, among the familiar loose stones; he felt the same old painful, irregular roughness beneath his feet and once again smelled the acrid haze of the sky - not Earth's sky but that of some place alien, distant, and yet, by means of the empathy box, instantly available. He had crossed over in the usual perplexing fashion; physical merging - accompanied by mental and spiritual identification - with Wilbur Mercer had reoccurred. As it did for everyone who at this moment clutched the handles, either here on Earth or on one of the colony planets. He experienced them, the others, incorporated the babble of their thoughts, heard in his own brain the noise of their many individual existences. They - and he - cared about one thing; this fusion of their mentalities oriented their attention on the hill, the climb, the need to ascend. Step by step it evolved, so slowly as to be nearly imperceptible. But it was there. Higher, he thought as stones rattled downward under his feet. Today we are higher than yesterday, and tomorrow - he, the compound figure of Wilbur Mercer, glanced up to view the ascent ahead. Impossible to make out the end. Too far. But it would come (William K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep).
There, that’s QAnon.  “Where We Go One We Go All” is their motto. The purpose of the gematria, the praying, all of it is to achieve unity with a higher purpose. Not to win. Not to actually get the pedophiles. It is to join with people through this entity known as Q and bear witness to his deed through this arcane process of decoding these cryptic missives. Once you understand them you have in a way made yourself one with his consciousness and joined with him. There is a larger war, a nebulous spiritual war that occurs secretly behind the scenes. Only traces of it appear in our reality as codes in music videos or popular movies. Our reality is a veil, and behind that veil is Q and Trump and the white hats. Your job as an Anon is to bear witness and in bearing witness you meld with Q and Trump and all of the white hats. You also join with your fellow Anons into this one entity that exists to fight spiritual evil.
    This profoundly religious experience is not going to be debunked. It must be robbed of its transformative power. Once QAnon can no longer provide spiritual ecstasy, it will be replaced or reformed into something that can continue to provide that experience. Falling into QAnon belief is a process that begins with feeling alienated by where your country is headed, and then it provides you with comfort, excitement and intrigue. Finally, once you are hooked, it provides you with ecstatic religious experience. It is as intoxicating and nourishing as Mercerism is. It acknowledges the evil of the world without asking Anons to understand or truly confront it. Or as in, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, “A Mercerite sensed evil without understanding it. Put another way, a Mercerite was free to locate the nebulous presence of The Killers wherever he saw fit.” This is what makes Mercerism and QAnon so resilient. The evil is nebulous. The shared reality is the reality of the experience of believing in QAnon. It is a form of Gnosticism.
    QAnon is world of intrigue and divinity that invites participation and shared world-building. It purports to give people, through prayer, the power to purge evil from the U.S. Government. This formula is compelling and not going anywhere. The new version of QAnon may take some time to constitute itself after Biden’s inauguration but it will be back if it ever even goes away.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

1/17/2021 Summary - Sexy Long Beard and the Way to Level 3

 Sexy Long Beard and the Way to Level 3

Theodora, experiencing an epic hangover from a night at the tavern with Sven is pretty hungover and out of it for the first half hour of exploring and has almost no memory of what was said or went down. She knows that due to not having the Feather Fall spell the adventuring team opted to enter through Nupo’s basement. By the time she had really come to herself, processing a greasy breakfast and an ale, that the group were already in a corridor previously unexplored. There were three new hired men; X, Y, and Z. As well as “original” hired men; Adonis, Dinkle, and Ernie.

This was the corridor running parallel to the one just to the west where Ember had fallen through a trap door/hole. There was some confusion as to spacing and how this corridor fit into the dungeon they had previously mapped but things seemed to come together over time. 

There was a door into a further corridor and around this point Lorna Doone felt ill and had to return to the surface. She took with her the ghost of hired man Ernie, in hopes of helping them both at the infirmary. 

The rest of the party continued onward finding a door in the left wall where Ember heard a grinding sound which reminded the group of the gargoyles they had previously encountered, so they skipped the room and continued on. The corridor ultimately terminated in another door, which again the group pussed out on opening, instead choosing to try a corridor in the east wall.

However, as they turned, heading back, there was the sound of a small, barely intelligible voice following them.

Ember and Ves were down the corridor, heading east, as Sven and Theodora turned back to see a little, skinny man, wearing nothing but his own very long hair, behind them. He had long hair, and an exceptionally long beard. It covered private areas but little else. Both were understandably nervous so Sven turned on the Chainmail Chick charm. It worked. The man was enchanted.

He had clearly been in the dungeon for a very long time without human contact. But he agreed to join the group and lead them to the third level through the twisted maze of corridors, if he could ride upon Sven’s back. Theodora, understanding the need to get deeper in the dungeon and feeling compassion for the strangle little man, scooted back and made way. 

He claimed to no longer know or remember his name, as he had lived in the dungeon for so long, but Sven gifted him with the name “Sexy Long Beard” with his excessive charm.

Sexy Long Beard only remembered the vampire leader of Clargarsar, Grishknock. The group tried to explain that where was no vampire in the tour, but Sexy Long Beard could not comprehend this fact it seemed.

He was a strange little man but a good guide as the group moved through the dungeon. They took the corridor in the east wall, twisting with it, and eventually returning to the room with the spiral staircase, the gargoyles, and what was likely the dead body of Ernie, but no one looked long enough or hard enough to know.

Note: Sexy Long Beard explained that the Well was the fastest way to the third level of the dungeon, but AGAIN due to the lack of Feather Fall is was a difficult route to take with a large Pegasus. So the group chose what was a longer route.

They travelled through the north door in the spiral staircase room, narrowly escaping the gargoyles thanks to a quickly slammed door and the Hold Portal spell and travelled along a winding dirt and stone passage way that twisted and turned, clearly hewn from he very stone of the dungeon. Theodora recognized the passage and tried to find and use whatever maps and memories she had of the space from earlier adventuring.

The group continued on with shocking little intervention. There were a few Kobolds distracted by apples. They twist and turned, Sexy Long Beard cackling about the corridors which lead into corridors. Until they came to an area, which was clearly under the old tower. Beneath it sewage ran, not traditional sewage, more like magic run off sewage. 

Sexy Long Beard was the first to throw himself in and be whisked away. The rest of the group followed behind with some serious trepidation. They were dragged along on the least fun water ride of their life eventually falling into a quickly running stream. Sven and Theodora leapt from the waters, following the surprisingly lithe Sexy Long Beard. Ves and Ember jumped out after them. The hired men had far more issues.

Adonis, Dinkle, X, and Y, were swept away, unable to escape the torrent of water and washed over another waterfall and out of view, only their screams to be heard. Z was the only one to escape. He immediately wished to look for his fellows but was stopped buy the group and convinced to stay with them.

Theodora immediately recognized the room as she had previously been part of a battle against a giant slug in that room and found an idol. In fact the bridge one of her compatriots had built with magic was still there, across the stream.

The team chose to cross said bridge and go through the southward door.

Behind the door was a corridor (surprise). And while the party occasionally got distracted, Sexy Long Beard reminded them that the third level was slow close, just to the south. So they continued and after like 140 feet they entered a thirty by thirty room with a door on the opposite wall. Through the door was an intersection, leading west, east and south, and again they went south. 

This FINALLY lead to a stairwell that meandered, twisting and turning, until depositing the group on the third level!

They found themselves in a room, massive and cavernous, similar to a church of some sort. The room was so large that Sven, with Theodora on his back, could fly above.

There was an apse with a pit and offering bowl. There was artwork of people falling from heaven and an inscription to do with a child, tithing, and offering, and submitting. It reminded Theodora of the inscription on the massive elf sculpture to do with glory and sacrifice. But alas the group realized they had no children to sacrifice, terrifying the hired man, and moved to explore more. The hired man at this time ran for his life...

(It’s so hard to find good help.)

As the did this Ember offered a jewel - nothing. Some blood -nada. 

The south corridor, which was huge, had niches with cherub statues. Heads with Wings. And their faces were disgusted.

So the group travelled East. The found a room on the south wall, it smelled like death and decay. In the center was a person in a robe but they were mummified, decayed, but clutched a vellum scroll, it was a map of the forests above group. The team opted to save it for later.

They exited the room from the opposite side and entered another massive cathedral like room. The apse in this one was more football shaved and held a Dias with a body upon it. The body was only bones and armor at that point and looked as though it had been dropped from an immense height. Sven and Theodora fly upward but determined it could not have come from even the ceiling to cause such damage. It was a mystery. 

Ember rifled his pockets.

Gold (625 pieces) and 4 gems were recovered and taken. At this time it was decided to head back and due to their companion Lorna Doone being in the infirmary, the group opted to return to the surface to meet backup with her rather than spend the night in the small room of death.

Sexy Long Beard had at this point vanished. The group briefly mourned his loss. Especially Theodora who had found the old coot amusing and helpful. Even while others questioned him. She hoped they would find him (alive) again soon.

The return journey was unremarkable thanks to their handy maps. The group returned through Nupo’s basement and vowed to have the Feather Fall spell for the following day of adventuring for a quick return to the third level!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Cat People That Weren’t Cat People At All

In today’s pre-Christmas holiday adventure, our team of intrepid characters set out once again in hopes of finding the third level of the dungeon. Spoiler. They were once again thwarted. 

They team - Theodora, Ember, Svenasus the Pegasus, Ves, and Lorna Doone travelled to the local tavern to hire some fighters. They paid 20 gold pieces and were able to hire six men who would each receive half a share. The party agreed to this knowing first, they had been pulling very little lately, and second, most of these guys were probably doomed to die grisly deaths due to the party’s callous behavior.

The fighters, named A, B, C, D, E, and F (promised names only if they survived and returned on a second adventure), were wary but set off with the team to enter the dungeon through the mansion basement entrance. 

Svenasus was again dropped first and with the help of Ves’ feather fall spell hit the ground slightly less hard than last time (there were some weight miscalculation issues) and only took 6 points of damage.

The rest of the party followed on ropes.

The team noticed that a previously spiked door, keeping the naked hairless humanoid cat people locked up, were missing and the group collectively shuddered. They immediately moved to follow their path from last week into the large room, down the hall, and to the crossroad. Back to the even larger room with the elvin statue that had come to life previously.

The statue was waiting for them. But the team was prepared. Ves cast Dispel Magic stopping the statue in it’s place, still repeating the same words from last time. Lorna Coone set to smashing it to pieces, for the valuable metals inside, with her mace. 

The group opened the second chest from last week and a secret door opened on the west wall. Lorna stayed behind with F (holding the door), as well as C and E to guard/help her. The rest of the group went through the secret door. To the north were wall paintings representing the good and heavenly and to the south were the bad and earthly. Ember removed the daggers on the wall with a green stone (the opposite having red stones) from the south, earthly side.

The party then returned to the larger room and the chest. Placing the daggers inside did nothing. Nor did it reveal anything else on the statues pedestal. So they moved onto the pit. The pit seemed very deep so the group sent two hired men down 100 feet of rope, held by Svenasus. It wasn’t long enough so another 100 feet were added and one made went to what seemed to be the bottom where he started screaming. He was pulled up and was physically fine but emotionally broken and screaming about ghosts.

The party didn’t have time to examine this further as F told them that the naked cat people had just entered the room. They didn’t look as much like cats as the party thought but they were hairless and eyeless and creepy. 

Theodora used her Fireball scroll and burned them all to death. And the party decided to go back to the cat room from the beginning and see if there was an idle there.

Lorna had finished collecting all of the precious metals and they were loaded into Sven’s saddle bags. And the party departed. 

Opening the door to the “cat” room hallway presented the group with four more “cat” people, some large and some small. A fight ensued. There was spear jabbing, daggers, and Burning Hands. They were all vanquished. They party went to the room and moved across it to find another door. On the other side was a corridor and a room filled with snakes. And the party, knowing their time was just about done, turned back and returned to the shaft. 

Theodora cast Levitate on Svenasus, as every one grabbed a hold of him, and the party was transported up and to the mansion again...

No richer, and with no more idols...

- Theodora

Sunday, December 13, 2020

 Return to the Mansion Entrance - 12/13/20

The intrepid group of adventurers, this time Ves, Theodora, and Svenasus the Pegasus, opted to venture down the shaft through an abandoned, ruined mansion into the dungeon. Svenasus had to just drop down, sustaining some damage. The others climbed down with rope.

Theodora had some familiarity with the entrance, haven taken in before, but the rest of the party was new to that part of the dungeon.

They group entered a 30 by 30 foot room with doors to the north, south, and west. To the north, Theodora remembered looting so the group went south. There they discovered a room filled with naked scary humanoids as well as goblin like creatures who frightened the group badly enough that they turned, spiking the door three times and the following door was spiked as well. The eyes will haunt them.

And so they ventured west. In that room, a large space that seemed silent and empty, there were Bugbears. The adventures tried to escape through a door on the south wall as Theodora burned the monsters with Burning Hands. This mostly singed and angered them. But the party escaped, even after almost leaving Theodora behind to her fate (she took 4 hit points of damage).

The Bugbears gave chase and Theodora used Push to hold the door closed. The group moved down the corridor and to the west, to the east they saw the Bugbears who followed them but then fell back. The monsters did not follow them to the large bronze doors emblazoned with snakes. Theodora remembered as snake monster behind those doors who demnbaded to be fed. The group turned away. 

They circled around and ended up back in the main room, heading back into the Bugbear room and headed north this time. They saw a door but then heard the same Bugbears behind them. This time they fought.

The Bugbears inflicted damage on the party and then Theodoras put them to sleep and the group killed them as they slept. Taking what little money they had.

They went through a door in the west wall and entered another hallway. At the intersection they could go south but this appeared to head back to the snake room. Or go west but this path headed upwards. Or north which was a graduated down tunnel, so they took this path. 

The group ended up in a very large room, they could not make out all of it. There were two large chests along the east wall. One which demanded glory, the other sacrifice. Further along the north wall was a slab, a table, which had cracked and lead down into a pit. And in front of it was a large elvish statue figure with a sword through its chest. 

Ves casted protection from evil on theirself and opened the glory trunk, it was empty, but as they did this, the statue came to life, pulling the sword from its chest. It was 10 feet tall. The group chose to run for it and come back with more people to fight another’s day, exited the way they came, and levitated to the surface.

Ves and Theodora visited Xylarthan and Ves learned the Feather Fall spell for when they party returns.

And now it is time to rest.

- Theodora the Gnome

Friday, October 30, 2020

Gygaxian Spontaneous Generation and a More Involved Procedure for Setting up your Demense

You're Playing OD&D. You get your fighting-man to 9th level. He raises and army with all his gold. He travels to a hex on the map. He rolls to see if there are any monsters in that hex. He kills the monsters. There are now 2d4 villages in that hex. Each has 1d4 *100 people.

Where did they come from? Were they always there?

Maybe each hex on a map has villages. This would mean that the wilderness is not so wild and that when a party is travelling (I am not British, just an asshole) through the wilderness they should be more likely to meet a village as they are to meet 1d4 manticores or whatever.  Despite this the OD&D tables from Wilderness and Adventures shows that "Men" have a 1 in 4 chance of appearing, suggesting that there are not in fact 2d4 villages in every hex.

Ok, What if they weren't always there then where did they come from?

I think as far as Gygax is concerned the answer is, "who cares? Don't worry about it."  These people are spawned out of the wilderness in units of whole villages waiting to be taxed. This might be ok in a world with spells and gods. Maybe you build a castle and a god comes down and breathes life into some piles of clay and they become your peasants, a publica ex dei (I don't actually know Latin either).

What if I don't like that and want a bunch of new stupid rules?

Well, let's go back to the part where you travel to the hex and check for monsters. Let's say if that hex is empty there are no people in the hex. If you build your stronghold here, you get 0 villages for your first year. Then after each year there is a 1% chance that a village will spring up for every 100 gold that you have spent on your stronghold and/or demesne generally. Roll 1d4 and multiply by 100 to see how big the village is. Then roll 2d4 if that number is less than or equal to the number of villages your demesne has than you will stop attracting more villages to your demesne.

Now let's say the hex is full. Whatever monsters you found there are the population of that hex. So if you find amazons in your hex and you subjugate them you become the lord of the amazons and your villages are populated by amazons. Did you find goblins? Congratulations goblin King! Did you find undead? You've got spooky boys who probably don't pay taxes! If your population consists of creatures with more than 4hd then the population of each village is 1d4 * 10.  If your population consists of creatures with more than 6hd then the population of each village is 1d4. If you get dragons there is only one village, but hey you are a dragon lord. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

More on Dungeon Mapping and Darkness

Here be Monsters

My last post triggered another one of these reactions:

There is an element in old school d&d that having players map their own map based on the DMs descriptions is prone to a misunderstanding and incorrect mapping, which is a part of the game that Gygax really seemed to be into, as much as his "gotcha!" Tricks he seemed to encourage. So when the party goes back into the dungeon and find out that they mismapped the section of the graph paper with a dungeon corridor by 30', it's more frustrating that fun.

Once again, I get it. People think it is annoying to try and make a map.  This is an aspect of the dnd that has been excised from the rules in the last few editions. My internet friend quoted above continued on with this other common thing you hear often when talking about player mapping:

Logically, if you've been somewhere before, chances are you'll have a good idea how to navigate back to a location the next day (unless you fell down a pit or some other involuntary moment happened)

As logical as this may seem it is not true for being underground. I have been in a pitch black cave with a torch (an electric torch, which is better than a flaming stick). You can't see a whole cavern at once and it is very difficult to get the dimensions or a mental model of the space in your head. It is super easy to get lost in a dark cave:

From our first step into subterranean darkness, our hippocampus, which so reliably guides us through the surface world, goes on the fritz, like a radio that has lost reception. We are cut off from the guidance of the stars, from the sun and the moon. Even the horizon vanishes—if not for gravity, we’d scarcely know up from down. All of the subtle cues that might orient us on the surface—cloud formations, plant-growth patterns, animal tracks, wind direction—disappear. Underground, we lose even the guide of our own shadow.

Down in a tight cave passage, or in the bounded folds of a catacomb, our field of view is blinkered, never reaching beyond the next twist or kink. As the cave historian William White observed, you never really see a whole cave—only one sliver at a time. When we navigate a landscape, wrote Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, we are reading our surroundings as a text, studying “the language of the earth itself”; the underground is a blank page, or a page scribbled with language we cannot decipher. should seriously read the whole article. I am going to get the book the article is base on.)

Here is another account of people getting lost in a cave once their light went out they had no mental model of the cave and couldn't navigate out. Then check out the Wikipedia article on Mine Exploration.

Player mapping is I think supposed to simulate this. When a player asks how big a room is and their character has a torch with a 30' radius of light. I imagine and sometimes describe to the players how they need to travel from one end to the other counting paces while their comrades wait in the darkness. One wall disappears. you count. Then a corner appears. You turn. the corner disappears there is a door way, you pass that it is engulfed in darkness then another corner. Eventually you have the perimeter. Then you push out blindly into the middle of the room. slowly. You might trip. If you've been quiet enough it is conceivable that there is still something sleeping there. 

Patrick Stuart from of False Machine has written a lot about light on his blog during the writing of Veins of the Earth

Here is an interesting narrative about the role of light in underground combat:

 Under these conditions it is highly plausible that you might make a mistake mapping fumbling around on your tiny island of light in a sea of darkness scraping your grease pencil or charcoal nub on your vellum or sheet of papyrus. Here is another excerpt from the Atlantic Article; Apparently real world delvers had just as much trouble mapping as frustrated Dnd players:

Even when they did manage to make measurements, meanwhile, the explorers’ spatial perception was so warped by the caprices of the environment that their findings would be wildly off the mark. On a 1672 expedition in Slovenia, for example, an explorer plumbed a winding cave passage and recorded its length at six miles, when in reality, he had traveled only a quarter mile. The surveys and maps that emerged from these early expeditions were often so divergent from reality that some caves are now effectively unrecognizable. Today, we can only read the old reports as small, mysterious poems about imaginary places.

Maybe you still aren't convinced. Maybe you think that the artificial seeming dungeons would not be as disorienting as natural caverns. Plenty of people have gotten lost in the Paris catacombs. Here is one account. I would also encourage you to watch this Youtuber get lost in the Paris Catacombs; notice how feeble the light seems and the knee deep water. 

These maps make me think of the early maps that cavers would make, "a mysterious poem about an imaginary place."
Also imagine the party members that stand still shrouded in darkness watching this orb of light move off in the distance with no accurate way to no how far away the light is. Imagine the dread they feel when they think that the light might go out and their comrade is alone in a sea of dark and they have no idea what happened. You can see some of that in these videos made at the artificial caves under Castle Valkenburg in The Netherlands (these are the caves I was in. It was amazing; if you ever have the chance take a tour of these caves).

It's interesting that these maps were labeled by of exploration. It supports my idea that player maps are often adventure logs rather than surveys.
So you may think player mapping is annoying and you might not think it is fun but it the way that Dnd recreates the disorientation of being underground and the trouble of mapping labyrinths while robbed of all the things that humans use to orient themselves. If you do not want to simulate that in your games that is more than fine. You have the support of the last three version of Dnd. However, If you think that your character would not need to make a map and that your character would "have a good idea how to navigate back to where they were before," you are just wrong and have a very unrealistic idea about what it is like to be underground.

Also check out what the caves under Castle Valkenburg with a bunch of flashing lights

Monday, October 12, 2020

When and How Players Should Map: In which I Ramble on until I Tell you to Match the Type of Mapping you are doing to the Type of Adventure you are on.

I run a very old school game and I won't draw maps for my players when exploring dungeons. I like mapping, A good map is very useful and hopefully rewarding to make. Here are some things I think a dungeon map is good for:
  • lets the players know where they've been
  • serves as a kind of adventure log
  • helps players plot goals for the next session
  • can help the party find secret doors 
  • can help the party circumvent random encounters
My players are less enthused about mapping. More recent fantasy rpgs have done away with having players create their own maps of dungeons and other environs. Several blogs in past few years have also come out against requiring players to make their own maps. Here's a reasonably popular blog summing up the anti mapping sentiment:

Geoffrey Greer

Enjoyed this reflection, David. I’ve always thought that mapping was stupid. We used to do it all the time with 2nd edition, but then it seemed ridiculous and unrealistic. I mean, if we accept that the player-characters have the time and luxury to make a reliable map (and often times the DM would assist to make sure they were correct!), then why bother? Just let the DM answer all the questions you might have and direct you accordingly? And if the DM *wasn’t* clear with directions/descriptions, then there’d be an argument when discrepancies emerged.

Of course, with the advent of erasable, gridded mats, or even model dungeon-construction toys, mapping became unnecessary, and the “fog of war” was all you had to worry about.

I dislike mapping so much because of the immense time-suck, that I even look for ways to not have to make maps in the first place–AS A DM. lol During the 2E days, I had a copy of Ruins of Undermountain, but we never played that for what it was. I just looked for small sections of the map that had the kinds of tunnels and rooms I wanted, photocopied the area, then used a marker to black-out the sections I didn’t need so the map would be self-contained. A few notes in the margin, and then ta-da! A dungeon map. I have long sought a good system for random dungeon generation, since nobody really cares about the *shape* of the dungeon as much as the *adventure* inside it.o

The last sentence of Geoffrey's comment does the most work in illustrating why people don't like mapping. They don't think that mapping is part of the adventure. And you know what if the don't think that mapping is part of the adventure then it doesn't have to be for them. In an old school dungeon players get to decide what their goals. If they can have fun without making a map then they don't have to make a map. What I don't like is when players shift the map making responsibility to the dungeon master. The dungeon master has done enough work already. If players don't want to make a map then they should figure out another way to achieve at least some of the goals I outlined above.

Here is an idea from the Angry Dm:

First, let’s throw out the notion that it is in any way necessary for the party to produce a map of the same quality as one of Pathfinder’s in house cartographers. That s$&% is useless and pointless and it sets the bar way too high. Instead, let’s agree that the best way to map is the way that those of us who ever played a game Zork already knew – one of the old Zork games before graphics were invented that is. All the party needs is a flowchart. A room is just a box with a name in it. A connection between rooms is just a hash mark on the wall between the rooms. A hallway is just a line. That’s it. Quick and dirty.

The point is that a player’s map isn’t meant to be a f$&% architectural rendering. It’s just meant to show how to get from room to room and which rooms are where. Basically, a player’s map just needs to answer some very basic questions:

  • How the hell did we get here?
  • How the hell do we get back?
  • Where the hell do we go next?
  • Where the hell is that room with the statue with the missing eyes because now we have those two eye-shaped gems?

In other words, players don’t need a map. They need a flowchart. That’s it. Hell, it’s really just a list of rooms with identifying features and some way of showing how to get from one to another. These are perfectly fine player’s maps:

 I think this is a great idea a flow chart can serve most of the purposes that an accurate map does. The only limitations of a flow chart are  in avoiding random encounters and finding secret doors. Let's see what the comments have to say:

No. Just no. Ten years of having to map other people’s fucking dungeons has taught me this is a waste of time. Getting rid of this was key to actually enjoying dungeons First of all, the reality is that verbal language is a shitty ass way to describe room shape, unless, as you say, all of your rooms are conveniently rectangular with at least one single distinctive feature and no complex spatial relationships. This describes almost no interesting building ever. Caves arent rectangular either.
More to the point, in real life, people have strong spatial awareness, which means walking around they rapidly build a spatial map. This does not apply to verbal descriptions, and adds an excessive amount of mental effort to the roll.
A key component of playing an rpg is being able to feel present and oriented in person. Making accidental fuck ups about basic room shape and orientation rampant makes that practically impossible. It’s even worse if you run a large group and people cant always make it every week (such is life). Then half the players have no clue where they are, and find it hard to contribute. I say this, and half of the people I play with work with building maps, now, though I suppose they didnt at the time.
Works well for wilderness crawls, though. I do like a basic global map to remind people of “you started in that village, and there are mountains over there”, but this may relate more to the issue of “large group, occasionally players cant make it” issue.

Ok, wow. Also this doesn't really address what the blogpost was about at all.

Anyway, here are some maps from my two most recent sessions:
This map has a lot of pretty colors and attempts to be to scale. I am not going to say whether or not it accurately depicts the dungeon. That would be telling. This map was made while the party was trying to locate a treasure trove.

This map is from the following session. It is much less organized. You can see that there were mistakes made when deciding where to start mapping from (the safest bet is always the middle of the page). This map functions more as a diary of the adventure than as an accurate map that a 3rd party could use to guide themselves.
 The first map would be ok for trying to find secret doors and does a great job of depicting the encounters that the players had during the session. The second map depicts a long journey but in a disjointed way. It might not do a good job at helping the party explore further or retrace their steps. It does do a good job of providing snapshots of the parties adventure throughout the delve. We can see that they were followed by cats, that one of them drank beer. It lists prominent landmarks that may be worth returning to but isn't clear on exactly how to get them. I think that when like here the party is documenting a broad sweep of the dungeon, a flow chart is better than trying to construct an accurate map. The first map was made while the party was doing a more focused search of an area while looking for a specific item. When doing something like this all the benefits that a detailed map give are important. You can see that more care was put into the dimensions of this map and I think that reflects the task that the party was engaging in. 

Maps are a record of an expedition and players should tailor the type of mapping they are doing to the type of expedition they are on. If there is a unity between the purpose of expedition and the type of mapping that players are doing then the maps will be more useful and more rewarding to make

I published QAnon Cyberpunk with Boomer Characteristics

I am republishing an article I put on medium this Morning.  I am also putting it up here because I haven't been working on anything else...