I am officially retiring the Sad Puppy Book Reviews as a regular feature.

I’ve said before that they’ll probably taper off, but I sat down to consider what books I want to do this week and you know, I look at it, and while there are plenty more children’s books I could give the SP treatment to, but I’m just not sure there’s not much more to say. The fact that John Z. Upjohn is a “composite puppy” kept it from being quite as much of a one-joke premise as it might have been, but it’s bound to get repetitive.

I may bring it back if any of the major players says or does something that is both egregious and a relatively new specimen of troll logic, but for now I think it’s run its course.

The temptation to keep it going is strong, insofar as it’s netted me some very positive attention, brought new readers to my blog, and garnered notices from some fairly big names… but that doesn’t really translate into anything except more attention for subsequent reviews. I know that I could keep cranking them out, but where’s the end game? Or rather, what comes next? Without a solid answer to that, I’d rather focus on other things.

STATUS: Monday, June 8th

The State of the Me

I figured out last night that what I’m dealing with in my sinuses is mostly or entirely environmental… the back-and-forth nature of my recovery after I got over the actual sickness corresponded to the time I spent in my bedroom with the A/C on. We don’t have central air, so each room that needs it has a window unit, and mine was very badly in need of a filter cleaning. I figured this out when I spent most of the day feeling fine only to have my sinuses explode within an hour of laying down. I’ve been getting used to having to repeatedly clear my nostrils and throat when I first wake up, but I did not need to do so this morning. Positive sign!

We’ve been spending quite a bit of time at the hospital the past few days, which does take its toll in time and energy and routine. I didn’t sleep well at all this weekend, which is why even though I was awake before nine i’m not writing my status post until just after noon.

The Daily Report/Plans For Today

I’m feeling very reflective today. I’m going to write a post about something I’ve been thinking about, on the subject of mindfulness practices, or a mindfulness practice. After that, I’m going to be kind of looking at what’s on my table and doing some prioritizing, since we’re a week into the month and I’m feeling behind on everything.


Edward Schlosser Part III: The Disgusting Assumption

A few days ago, I made a post about Edward Schlosser’s Vox article. I started by addressing his thesis, saying that I thought he was onto something, suggesting that maybe he’s putting the blame in the wrong place, but acknowledging that I’m not a student or an academic so I’m not the best person to judge. I didn’t offer a final judgment on his larger point, or try to sum up what I thought his point was. I certainly didn’t try to argue with him.

The main body of the post was concerned with one specific thing he did in that article, which was calling out an individual woman on Twitter by name and holding her up (falsely, he was wildly misrepresenting what she was saying in the Tweets he selected) as an example and cause of the problem he described.

As I noted in my post: she was not one of his students, one of his colleagues, or a part of any community he belongs to. She also didn’t call anyone out by name or point to anyone as a target.

And him holding her up and making an example of her subjected her to vitriol, threats, and other abuse from people who were all too eager to buy what he was selling about her.

The point of my post is that this was wrong. He was factually incorrect in how he characterized her statements, but disregarding that, what he did was morally wrong.

And here’s the thing: ever since I made that post, I have had people in the comments on my blog and in my Twitter mentions saying, “Yes, but Edward Schlosser has a point.” or “I don’t think you can say this proves him wrong.” or “You’re just cherry-picking to try to throw out his argument.”

Every single person saying this is making one very disgusting assumption.

And no, this is not a leap. It is a conclusion I am drawing, and I will explain how I drew this conclusion.

The disgusting assumption you are making is that the only reason a person would have to object to Schlosser’s treatment of his online scapegoat is if they desired to use her as a a pretext to attack him. You’re overlooking the possibility that anyone could actually care about her, about her feelings, about her safety, or even about the basic concept of fairness as it applies to her as a human being.

I’m saying, “What he did to this person while making his argument was not cool, and we should not stand for it.”

In order to take away from that is that I must have an axe to grind against him or I must be trying to discredit his larger point, you must not consider the possibility that I actually care about what he did to the person to be worth entertaining.

Now, I’m not claiming to have read your mind. I’m not saying you sat there twirling your Evil Mustache of Evil and said, “ZOUNDS! COULD SHE HAVE CARED ABOUT THIS OTHER PERSON? I SAY THEE NAY!” I’m saying it honestly didn’t occur to you. You leaped right past it.

And why did you do that?

Well… obviously any guess I would venture would be something of an assumption. That’s not to say that certain more obvious possibilities didn’t spring into my mind. I’ll bet they sprang into your mind, too… you were thinking that this is one of those “sees racism/sexism everywhere” things, weren’t you?

Here’s the thing that gets overlooked in all this “LIBERALS TODAY ARE TOO SENSITIVE BLAAAAAAR” stuff: if we only consider racism as a factor when it’s wearing a sheet and burning a cross on somebody’s lawn, we end up missing a lot of stuff.

Let me make a postulate here: Edward Schlosser did not in fact have any elaborate sinister plan when he called out the person he mentioned in his article. He did not in fact have any conscious agenda in using her as a lightning rod to gather outrage unto himself and support for his cause. I know, I know. You’re thinking, if I believe this, then why did I make my post?

Well, my post still stands.

Because racism doesn’t require evil schemes.

All it requires is callous disregard.

And callousness… we hear “callous” and we maybe still picture a sneering villain. But cruelty and callousness aren’t the same thing. To use an example from fantasy fandom: Severus Snape wasn’t callous in how he treated Harry Potter; Albus Dumbledore was.

Edward Schlosser did not consider his scapegoat to be worthy of the same regard he took for himself when he published under a pseudonym. He did not consider his scapegoat to be worthy of the same regard he reserved for his colleagues when he denounced call-out culture as creating a toxic aura of silence and fear. He did not consider his scapegoat to be worthy of the same respect he gives his students in actually hearing their words and taking in what they mean.

And when I say “did not consider”, I don’t mean “thought about it, then decided no”.

I mean “did not think about it”.

The same is true of each and every single person who came to my blog, read my post, and decided that I wasn’t really defending his target, but only attacking his message.

I could tell you how much I respect and admire his target, or how long I’ve been aware of her in a friend-of-friends sort of way, but here’s the thing: I shouldn’t need to prove my bona fides in caring about another human being. My point was and is that what he did to her was unacceptable, period. It would have been unacceptable if it happened to my best friend. It would have been unacceptable if it had happened to a perfect stranger.

This is a moral stance. This is an ethical stance. This is barebones, basic human decency.

I’m going to close this post by reiterating what I said before:

What he did to her was incitement, it was exploitation, and it was abuse, and we should not stand for it.

I note that Vox.com agrees enough to have edited that portion out of his piece. People are crying censorship, but notice that his argument is still there, exactly as intact and complete as it was from start to finish. That’s because the attack, the scapegoating… it never had to do with him making his case on a logical level.

Just as a heads-up…

While I was out Thursday afternoon getting my ID renewed/updated, we got a call that an older family member had gone to the emergency room following a fall. They’re out of the woods, but we just got back from the hospital. Everything is more or less okay, though they’ll be there for a few days and the recovery period is likely to be in the months.

Needless to say I got even less done today than I’d expected and I am wiped. No idea what tomorrow’s going to be like.

AWW: New Approach, Part II (Magic)

This is part two of the post giving an overview of my new approach to my RPG project, A Wilder World. This post will deal with magic.

I’m going to recap how magic was conceived in the previous version of the game, since not a lot has changed but a lot of different people are reading my blog. The big points are this:

While a given working of magic might be thought of as a spell, A Wilder World does not have a spell system as such. Magic is treated as a force that wizards and other magic-users can control rather than a list of menu selections to choose from. Being a pyromancer (for instance) is like having another set of muscles which, when flexed, make fire do things.

Magic comes in three sizes: trivial, ordinary, and extraordinary.

Something that could very easily be accomplished without magic or that has little lasting impact on the world is trivial magic. Stirring your drink with a lazy wave of your hand, fetching a book off a shelf that a person could have gone and picked up, making a harmless shower of sparks to announce “Why yes, I am a wizard.”… these things are trivial magic. Merely having magic allows you to do these things, which are similar in scope and intent to D&D’s “cantrips”. They are the special effects and roleplaying flourishes of being a wizard. No roll necessary, no cost normally.

Anything that would have required real effort and a die roll to accomplish by other means is ordinary magic. Fetching a key from a peg on the wall outside the locked cell you’re in, using a book to hurl itself at someone’s head or using a shower sparks to injure, blind, or distract would all be ordinary magic. Ordinary magic always requires a roll, a roll that is noticeably more difficult than it would have been to do the same thing by mundane means.

“The same thing by mundane means” does not refer to the summoning the key or creating a shower of sparks, but the end result of the magic. If you try to circumvent a locked door, whether by magically causing the lock to open or disintegrating the door or blasting it to cinders or teleporting just past it or turning into mist and pouring through the keyhole, the net result is still that you have defeated the obstacle posed by the door.

Extraordinary magic is the stuff that is clearly impossible to achieve without magic: traversing miles in the blink of an eye, opening or closing a portal to another realm, et cetera. Extraordinary magic is bounded by laws not subject to mortal knowledge or approval; e.g., it’s either built into the story or approved in a desperate moment by Storyteller fiat. The daring wizard who manages a long-range teleportation feat in AWW has not added a new trick to their repertoire, but has more witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence that few mortals who traffic with magic will even see.

The categories of trivial and ordinary magic can be expanded by having the right sets of abilities; e.g., talking to the dead should by definition be extraordinary magic, but it may be trivial for necromancers, and there may be wizards or magical beings out there who specialize in site-to-site transportation. These abilities do sketch out the limits of what is trivially and ordinarily possible for those “flavors” of magic.

In the previous version of AWW, the use of magic was governed by an attribute called Magic that would basically “sub in” for any check attempted through magic. You just had to explain what you were doing and how. The “flavors of magic” abilities would define specific bonuses for magic uses that fell within their purview, with instructions that Storytellers be flexible and generous, but reasonably firm about things like “I make a key out of fire and use it to pick the lock” or “I make a fiery hand reach out to pick up the book.” It was also possible to make a character who could only use magic when that fell within their designated “flavors”.

In addition to the checks being harder, I originally intended for Magic to cost more than other attributes (because it can stand in for any of them) and using magic to accomplish something was assumed to be slow, risky, and obvious (loud/bright) compared to the mundane approach.

So here’s what has changed:

First, there is no Magic attribute equivalent among the abilities you can pick. Abilities that allow you to use magic in the fashion described above fall under the heading of “Wizardry” (to distinguish this kind of ad-hoc spellcasting from other, more specific abilities that might also be magical), and each flavor of Wizardry is its own thing: Necromancy, Illusion, Green (plant) Magic, et cetera.

Now, you might be thinking this means there’s no non-specialist wizards in the game, especially if you weren’t following the previous development cycle. Some flavors, though, are more about the method of casting spells than the way the magic manifests: ritual, song, et cetera.

Each level of a Wizardry form you have gives you one die to roll when making checks using it. You don’t start out with one die as you do with normal checks, because an ordinary person has no recourse to magic at all. It’s all extra.

You can get more dice by combining a method of Wizardry (Circle Magic, Ritual Magic, Song Magic) with an aspect of Wizardry (Illusion, Necromancy, Pyromancy) if you decide when you take them that they are bound together, meaning you always have to use them together. You can have multiple such bindings affecting the same ability; only one needs to be satisfied (and can be taken advantage of) for a given casting. So a bard seeking power and flexiblity could have multiple aspects of Wizardry bound to Song Magic; the level(s) of Song Magic would increase the power of whatever the bard does, at the cost of their magic always having a conspicuous musical component.

Under the system of archetypes-as-ability-packages that the previous version used, each flavor of magic came with a set of side abilities that in some cases where what players really wanted; e.g., people looking to play a Batman-style adventurer/gadgeteer who always has the right item tucked away taking Conjuration for the ability to get new gear on the fly. These side abilities are now separate abilities, so they can be taken without being tied to the Wizardry system and properly defined as non-magical if they’re meant to be a non-supernatural innate ability or a “meta” thing (in the sense of storytelling, rather than superpowers).

Now, the other change is more of a refinement. Magic before was risky in the sense that it had an immediate failure rule that didn’t apply to most other checks (as AWW allows you to do a preliminary check as a sort of “cautious consideration” before you try things like jumping over a canyon) and limited in the sense that failure could wound you and/or accumulate Magic Burn, which would impair future magic use. It effectively “burned out” a portion of the character’s magical ability.

But the Magic Burn mechanism, if it were a meaningful limitation, would create the sort of curve for magic where it would tend to get less useful as it was used over the course of adventure, meaning that wizards would either tend to hoard their magic use until the end, or they would be more dramatically useful at the outset, when things are easier anyway.

And what we might call the “committed risk factor” would sharply limit the willingness of people to try wizardry in some of the cases where it would be most exciting and high-flying, the things that maybe nobody else in the party was prepared to deal with.

So I’ve re-imagined the limiting factor of magic into a less one-size-fits-all form.

Like the rest of Wizardry—and indeed the game as a whole—this can require some good-faith negotiation between the player and the Storyteller, but the basic idea is that old saying that magic always has a price. But not all magic is the same, and so the price isn’t always the same.

When you make a character who has Wizardry or similar magical abilities, you basically choose a payment plan. Available choices include (but may not be limited to):

  • Control: Choosing this as your limit means that your magic always works, it just doesn’t always do what you intended. If you fail a check using Wizardry, the Storyteller rolls a die and decides what happens, ranging from random happy coincidence on a 6 (not what you wanted, but something beneficial) to something fairly benign on a 4 or 5, and then increasing levels of bad turn for 3, 2, or 1. As usual, the dice and rules don’t tell the story, just provide a general result. A Pyromancer with control issues is likely to have wild gouts of flame, where a summoner of some sort is likely to have the spirits/creatures show up and simply not respond to their commands. As an additional limiting factor, there is a small but cumulative chance each time you succeed on a magic check that there will also be a side effect.
  • Balance: If you choose this as your limit, then the universe or some force within it exacts a price in the form of bad luck every time you use your magic. It might be something so small you don’t notice it, it might happen right away or somewhere down the line, but every successful magic use results in a roll similar to the failure cost of Control. If a drawback or disaster is indicated, this is not always a direct, immediate side effect of the magic use (unless the Storyteller sees an opportunity for some creative irony), and in particular it’s not directly related to the magical energy/effect.
  • Favor: Favor means that your character, rather than controlling magic directly, is a thaumaturge; you are in contact with some higher (or lower, or other) being or beings who will do magic for you. Making this your cost, though, effectively makes each use of magic a round of negotiation between you and the force you work with. It might be an easy, routine negotiation if you’re doing the being’s bidding, but you might have to pay an actual agreed-upon price or agree to a contract or code of conduct to be able to use magic for your own purposes.
  • Self: Each time you use Wizardry, you risk taking on an increasingly more inhuman (or inelven, or whatever) aspect, usually in a way defined when you create your character (like becoming increasingly demonic), though it can also be related to the form your magic takes with each specific application. This not only affects how people react to you, but how you react to people and things, again in a way defined on a per-character basis; a pyromancer might become increasingly obsessed with creating fire for its own sake, a diabolist might become increasingly venal and selfish, a druid-like character might become increasingly animalistic or withdrawn from the world. Skilled roleplayers can play out this limitation all on their own, but there is a mechanical aspect for those who need more guidance; essentially, once you reach a certain tipping point, the Storyteller can roll a die when you try to do something 1) helpful and 2) not involving more of your magic use and tell you, “You can’t bring yourself to do that.” Additionally, as you accumulate lack of self, you start to run into a version of the Control issue described above, except it only strikes when your magic works… so you can succeed on a check, but fail to do what you set out to do because you were too distracted by how awesome your power is, or how pretty the fire is, or whatever. Lost “self” is regained over time.
  • Blood: If you want to do magic, first someone has to bleed (or the equivalent for their biological makeup). It can be you, a willing ally, or an enemy (provided you have the ability to hurt them). This is one of the most predictable and easiest to control prices, but also one of the grimmest and most implacable. The ones above it basically give you the chance to get off for free, where the blood price is always paid. But you also know what it is.
  • Life: Life works similarly to blood, but it’s purely internal. You are always the one who pays the price, but on the plus side, you don’t have to be able to cut someone.
  • Effort: Your magic is “free”, but it takes intensive effort (mental or physical, your choice) to pull off. You are never considered to be at rest when doing magic. This also translates to magic being more time-consuming; any kind of instant magic will be mentally or physically exhausting. This is common for ritual mages who are already not counting on quick turnaround for mystical labor.

Any of the costs can be mitigated somewhat by spending more time on an individual magical working: the more time you put into a spell, the less likely it is to run wild or take a serious toll on you; the more time you spend flattering or praising your otherworldly contact, the more likely they are to dispense a supernatural gift; the longer you spend drawing out the blood, the more mystical energy you coax from it with the least pain, et cetera.

Trivial magic is still trivial, and so its price; a mere pinprick, a short prayer or word of flattery, random butterfly fluttering level occurrences, et cetera. You can also take levels of an ability called Arcane Reserves to give you “freebie” uses of ordinary magic in a day without the price/risk.

Some magical abilities that aren’t Wizardry also fall under the cost mechanic. Using these abilities and using ordinary magic are treated as equivalent for purposes of incremental effects.

Note that the assumption is that all your magic comes from one source and thus has the same price, but you can define a character in a more complicated fashion. A character might have most of their magic bound up in Favor but one particular “gift” that comes with a cost of self, for instance.

So, the short version is that there are no discrete “spells” to be learned in A Wilder World, but you instead define your character’s magical abilities using a combination of archetypal methods and aspects, and the price you pay when you use your magic. The goal here is to create a system that is flexible but limited, with magic-users whose abilities more closely map the way these things play out in stories and folklore than in typical “gamey” systems.

STATUS: Thursday, June 4th

The Daily Report

I have a fairly stressful and potentially time consuming but unfortunately necessary errand outside the house today, so I’m not sure if there will be a Sad Puppy Book Review today or really what else will get done.

The State of the Me

I think last night was the first night I’ve slept without NyQuil since the outbreak, though that might have been the night before. Sleep was a little fractured, dreams were a weird mash-up of Borderlands and Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers. My morning so far has involved more clearing of throat and sinuses than I would have expected based on how I felt when I went to bed. Three steps forward, two steps back.

Plans For Today

I do have the post about magic in A Wilder World mostly done, so that will probably go up. In the late afternoon, after I’m back, I will be responding to some emails… I got a bit backlogged during WisCon and its run-up.





I figured out how to sum up the Edward Schlosser thing…

…for the people who are trying to comment on it right now.

(That’s this post: http://www.alexandraerin.com/2015/06/edward-schlosser-is-a-liberal-professor-and-his-students-terrify-him/, for reference.)

The short version of what’s wrong is that Schlosser wants to talk about the toxic call-out culture that he says affects his teaching career. To do it, he held up a woman on Twitter who was saying nothing about him in particular or any single specific identifiable human being and said that she, identified by name and linked to, is the problem.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Why is it an example of toxic call-out culture that creates an aura of silence and fear for her to call out the presence of white patriarchal bias in a lot of what gets labeled”scientific thought”, but it’s not an example of toxic call-out culture for him to hold her up, call her specifically by name, and say, specifically, that she’s causing this problem?

There’s a serious double-standard at work here, and I am not going to be entertaining comments on this or the previous post from people who refuse to acknowledge it. You want your comment to be approved instead of deleted, you need to explain why you think what he did was cool and in no way hypocritical, and it needs to make sense.

Also, if anyone else wants to say that I’m playing identity politics, then you need to articulate a cogent reason why this disparity exists. Because I didn’t even say that it’s racism or sexism! I didn’t! I just pointed out what happened.

So if you’re looking at that and are jumping straight to “YOU ARE JUST PLAYING IDENTITY POLITICS! EVERYTHING IS SEXISM AND RACISM WITH YOU PEOPLE!”… ask yourself why. Ask yourself how you got there, because I didn’t lead you there. You found yourself there on your own.

You looked at what was happening, and you saw something that made you think about sexism and racism… right before you went foaming at the mouth to scream that it wasn’t.

How’d that happen, do you think?

AWW: The new approach to things at a glance, part I.


This is Part I of a three part post delving into my thoughts on a new iteration of A Wilder World. Parts II and III will deal with magic and combat. This part deals with the basics of the die resolution system and character creation.

First, the attribute system is basically just… out. Having twenty different axes of numerical customization right alongside the “take two or three concepts and smush them together” character creation thing, it was like having two pretty strong but unrelated bases of character generation in the same game.

While I liked the idea that you could make your Acrobat/Assassin more or less acrobatic than someone else with the same build and then choose how to spend whatever points were left over, it also meant you could make an Acrobat/Assassin who utterly failed as an Acrobat/Assassin. You can’t stop players from making borked characters if they want to, but in a “plug and play” character creation system you shouldn’t need a guide to tell you how to spend your points.

Without attributes, all we care about is notable abilities, notable differences from the norm. To use an example from D&D spin-off novels, we’ll take the Icewind Dale characters by R.A. Salvatore. Wulfgar the human barbarian has what we might call legendary strength, especially when fueled by his rage. At one point he arm-wrestled a balor (which is a balrog with the serial numbers filed off), and at another juncture he took the edges of a dimensional portal and bent them shut. I mean, it was a magical device with an actual edge so he wasn’t literally grabbing space and time and folding them, but still.

So, legendary strength.

His adoptive father, Bruenor, is a dwarven warrior, so we’ll say he has notable strength. We would expect him to win a tug-of-war with the average human more often than not, but lose to Wulfgar.

Bruenor’s other adoptive child, Catti-Brie, is a human swordswoman and archer. As a reasonably fit hero, maybe she’s a bit stronger than the average adult human even in a time and place when the average adult human is a laborer, but her physical strength is not the thing that people remember her for. If she’s the one trying to shift a heavy rock, it’s only because neither Bruenor nor Wulfgar is around and her magical piledriver bow and magical stonecutting sword are both missing… all of which is to say that it’s not terribly important for us to know exactly how strong she is because she doesn’t solve problems with brute strength. Her solutions are often Gordian in nature, but she doesn’t need as much raw strength as either her foster brother or her father to back them up.

Their friend Regis, the pampered halfling confidence artist, deals with heavy rocks by persuading very strong people to move them for him. In a team of what is basically fantasy superheroes, the fact that he’s there at all is an indication of the fact that his superpower is charm: he is friends with all the most powerful people. It is probably worth noting that strength is even more affirmatively not his area than Catti-Brie, but having noted that, it is not necessary to quantify in exacting detail exactly how not strong he is. We just know he’s not strong.

Now, we could use words to describe these levels of ability, and back around maybe January or so I was toying with a color-coded system, where average would be green, yellow and red would be one and two levels below, and then we’d use the shiny metal colors for higher levels of ability: like copper, silver, gold, platinum, mithril.

That’s a lot of levels for a system that by design doesn’t need or want to be very granular, and it also has the disadvantage of not being visually intuitive. There would be a period in the learning curve where you’d still have to look up what “copper” means, and there’s no reason to suspect right off the bat that “copper” beats “green”.

So let’s stick with numbers. We’ll call where Catti-Brie is 0. She’s probably a bit stronger than average, but not so much that the game cares to mark it, and it’s not her particular area of expertise. In most situations, she’s going to have better things to do than apply elbow grease, and allies who are better suited to those problems where only raw muscle will suffice.

Bruenor we’ll say is +1. Wulfgar we’ll call +2, with another +1 when he’s enraged. Regis is -1.

This gives us a way of referring to differing levels of ability in a way that the difference is obvious at a glance, but we also need a way of meaningfully translating it into game terms. There isn’t really a combination of die rolls where straight up adding +2 for Wulfgar’s Strength as compared to -1 for Regis’s would really capture the difference between a relatively sedentary halfling and a legendary human warrior.

So let’s borrow a page from D&D 5E’s rather elegant replacement for a lot of “stack ’em to the heavens” modifiers, their concept of advantage/disadvantage: rolling extra dice and then taking the better roll or, in the case of disadvantage, the worse.

We’ll stick with the conceit of only using 6 sided dice for A Wilder World, for reasons of simplicity, predictability, and accessibility. If we define checks or rolls by a Difficulty number that is the minimum number needed to succeed, we can have tasks defined from Difficulty 2 to 6, with odds of success ranging from 87.5% to 12.5% for the average character.

If you have a score of -1, you have to roll twice and use the worse result. If your score is positive, you can roll extra dice and use the highest one. Each additional die halves your chances of failure, without ever dropping the odds to 0.

So say that a non-raging Wulfgar is trying to kick in a wooden door. We’ll define this as a Difficulty 5 task; the average person would have a 1/3 chance of managing it. He rolls two extra dice, and if even one of them is 5 or higher he succeeds. That’s pretty close to a 70% success rate, compared to Catti-Brie’s 33% success rate. Note that I’m doing the math here, but it’s not at all necessary for players to do the math, just understand that more pluses = dice = more chances to succeed. You can roll your three dice and glance at them and if anything is 4 or higher, you know you made it.

Meanwhile, Regis has an 11% success rate. Which might seem high, and some people are doing the math in their head to figure out how many tries it would take him before his success was basically guaranteed… but the thing is, AWW goes with the philosophy that a check is not “Does it work this time?” but “Does this thing I’m trying to do work?” The random factor abstracts away all the different innumerable variables that would be in play in real life. So it’s not that Regis can try to knock down the door nine times and he’s bound to succeed once. It’s that 11% of the time, when Regis encounters a door like this, he’s able to take it down.

It still might seem odd that any door that Wulfgar can take down is theoretically within Regis’s reach, which is why there’s another wrinkle to difficulty levels. For now, let’s call it magnitude. It’s the “you must be at least this awesome to ride” filter on doing stuff. Magnitude is noted as a minus after the difficulty. Imagine a reinforced security door that is Difficulty 5-1.

What’s the minus do? It shifts your effective score, and if you’re left with lower than -1, you can’t even try.

So when faced with the reinforced door, non-raging Wulfgar has Strength +1, Bruenor has Strength 0, Catti-Brie has -1, and Regis has -2, meaning he’s out of the running.

There is a thing called Heroic Effort where you get to use your whole dice pool for check you’re awesome enough to attempt, but it’s a resource-tracking thing. It’s not too limited, because part of the idea here is that each level of ability is a whole order of awesomeness above the next plus down, but it’s also not automatic.

Now, I’ve been talking about Strength as a concept here, which seems like a stand-in for an attribute even though I’m saying that the system is attribute-less. This is why I also used Rage as an example of something that could conditionally stack with the Strength bonus, to ease into the next concept I’m bringing up.

As much as I like the smushing-together-two-archetypes system… it really contributed a lot to the problems I described in my last post. It’s a great idea, for something that functions more like D&D, but with a focus on gonzo character customization—kind of like D&D 4E’s Gamma World spin-off, or D&D 4E’s hybrid system—and with D&D 5E style “grow into your complexity” system.

It’s not great for a system like A Wilder World where part of the idea is that characters can be relatively “feature complete” at level one, or where the idea is to keep conflict resolution/risk management on a quick and easy basis.

So here’s my new basic concept for character creation: you make a list of stuff your character has going for them. Each of the things you list are considered Abilities. Most abilities are 1 Character Point, though some might wind up being 2 or 3, and some (many) of them will be available at different levels; Strength +1 is one point, Strength +2 is two points. The Storyteller can cap how high an ability can be at character generation depending on the intended power level of the campaign, and also sets how many points are available.

Me, with my taste for high-flying action-adventure at level one, a sort of cinematic fantasy feel, I’d go with something like 10 or 12 points, but it’s possible to play with a pool of 4 or 5 points.

A secondary list of the same length follows the first. These are things called Perks, which are smaller than Abilities. Knowing a language is a Perk, while being a skilled linguist who can find a basis for communication in any language is an Ability. Possessing a musical instrument and knowing how to play it is a Perk, while having an alchemist’s kit and knowing how to use it is an Ability. Having a small side weapon or light armor is a Perk, while having a full-sized weapon or metal armor is an Ability.

While Abilities and Perks can be roughly sub-divided into different categories like gear, followers, skills, advantages (advantages specifically describing things most people can do naturally but you can do better, i.e., things that would otherwise be attributes), there are only these two steps in character creation: spend points, pick perks.

The Abilities would be a lot more roughly sketched than any special abilities listed in the previous iteration. Many of them—particularly the pseudo-attribute Advantages—will basically just consist of describing the areas of endeavor they cover, as well as some rough guidelines for figuring out the fringe benefits (like being strong = can carry heavier burdens for longer). Some of them will have specified mechanical effects, including bonus perks. Points in Linguist = extra languages, for instance.

The archetypes I spent so much time lovingly devising will be included as basically packages of suggested abilities: these are good things for merchants, these are good things for nobles, these are good things for assassins, et cetera. While this makes the plug and play element a little more involved, I feel it makes character creation as a whole simpler, and also more flexible and consistent.

Under the previous version, multiple archetypes essentially had “knows special contacts” as a special ability but the handling for each one was different. Same thing with archetypes that had flexible item allotments, or the ability to summon helpers.

Of course, with attributes and archetypes gone, magic is going to work a little bit differently, though the basic structure of it will be familiar to those who read the old system. The basic ideas of “magic comes in different flavors, magic can do anything that could be done without magic plus a few extra things depending on the flavor, and magic pays for its flexibility by being costly, difficult, slow, and loud compared to the mundane way” are all there, though the whole cost of magic thing is being refined in a way that I think will be more interesting.

A Wilder Return

I don’t know if green tea with mint is my personal miracle elixir for creativity, or if the taste and smell of it is just a memory trigger for certain times in my life, or I am just feeling the euphoric effects of being well-rested after a couple of weeks of being anything, or what, but yesterday afternoon, and then again last night, and then when I woke up this morning, I was having a lot of thoughts about A Wilder World, the roleplaying game system I’ve managed to bring almost to a point of completion multiple times over the years.

I haven’t talked about it in public much lately, but I have had a few private conversations about it, particularly with Shweta Narayan, that helped crystallize what wasn’t gelling in the recent, most close to complete iterations.

As I see it, there are three basic problems with the system I devised.

I: It basically starts with high level play.

The idea of hybrid characters who are “complete” at level 1 instead of having to multiclass/dumpster dive over a series of levels to get the exact combination of abilities you want is important to me. If you want to be a rogue with an animal companion or a wizard who fights with two swords, you shouldn’t have to spend half your adventuring career assembling your schtick and winding up less competent overall than your peers. That’s key. That’s the whole kernel of the idea.

The problem is that my solution gave you characters with something like 12 to 16 distinct special abilities at level one. For a player like me who is experienced with high level play in other systems, this is not a big deal. I’m used to the juggling of multiple resource pools and keeping track of multiple moving parts. I thrive on that. But not all players do, and newer players can be turned away or overwhelmed by that kind of complexity.

Even a lot of the people who were excited by AWW were more excited about it as a character generation system than an actual game to play. Which, you know, I get that. But it should be a game people can actually play.

5th Edition D&D manages to both impress me on a design level and frustrate me as a player with its approach to this, in that most classes at level 1 aren’t much more complicated than a level 1 character in some flavors of OD&D and then grow into customization and complexity over the course of the next two levels, blossoming into a character that falls somewhere between 3rd and 4th edition. I’m particularly impressed with the fact that nearly every character class can have spellcasting abilities by level 3, if they desire that path, without any feats or multiclassing.

In terms of learning curve it really seems well thought out, and is similar to what I had intended in my more D&D-flavored side project Adventure Song. But that kind of solution doesn’t work for A Wilder World, where the idea is that if you’re a magic-using thief or warrior you can have that at level one.

II: Because nearly every ability is “exception based” and abilities come in packages, thing stack weirdly…

…a problem that is compounded by an overly-specific attribute system that allowed you to achieve things like being a skilled warrior or master attribute either by stat points or by picking appropriate archetypes.

So if you wanted a character who was scary, you could put all your points in Coercion, or you could take an archetype like Intimidating or Brute, or you could buy gear that makes you look imposing, or you could put all your points in Coercion and take archetypes like Intimidating and Brute and buy gear that makes you look imposing. All of these things would make your character scary, sometimes in different yet overlapping ways.

Some balance might be retained by dint of there being a point of diminishing returns and the saying about “putting all of one’s eggs in a basket”, but when there are so many different complementary roads going up the same peak it’s hard from a design standpoint to figure out what all the ramifications of combining them are, to say nothing of doing it from a player’s standpoint.

This is part of why I kept running into problems with the math. The result of the system was that edge cases weren’t actually edge cases.

III: The numbers were never quite as transparent or intuitive as I had hoped/thought/intended.

My goal was always to keep A Wilder World fairly light on math so that it would be approachable and fast paced.

Now, math is not my particular forte, by which I mean I’m a lot better with words than numbers. But I’m good enough with words that there’s a pretty wide territory for my number skill to dwell in, and so I’ve learned over the course of my game design hobby that I tend to underestimate how my abilities to do arithmetic quickly in my head stacks up against the average person’s. I’m also better at remembering something I myself wrote than other people are, because I wrote it.

These two facts add up to me routinely failing to realize how complicated the number schemes I was using could get. Even when the rules were clear, the results were less intuitive than I’d believed.

When I was talking with Shweta earlier this year about shifting to a system that is less dependent on math to resolve conflicts and more reliant on the idea that each character has certain areas of expertise/ability, the system I came up with for codifying that grew pretty complicated pretty quickly.

These are all serious problems that become apparent whenever I step back and look at what I amassed in my aborted test draft of A Wilder World, to the point where I don’t think it is viable as anything except an experiment in mash-up character design. And I do think it is a good example of that. But what I want is something that is both playable and as easy to pick up and fast-paced as I intended it to be.

And I’ve hit on a new approach for that. I was going to say that I think I’ve hit on the right approach, but the thing is, I’ve thought that before. And been wrong.

And the other thing is, wrong or not, it was still worthwhile.

I mean, this is one of the big advantages of game design approached as a hobby rather than a multi-million dollar industry. I can spin my wheels and try things out and learn from the experience.

I’ll be blogging about the new approach in more detail, but just as I started my blogging about A Wilder World by laying out the basic principles I was aiming for, I wanted to start this new round by talking about what I need to avoid.

Edward Schlosser is a liberal professor, and his students terrify him.

You know this, because the article he just wrote for Vox.com (no relation to Vox Day, for those playing along without a program) opens by saying so.

He is afraid because there’s a different “vibe” in academia now. He’s afraid because now a man’s career can be ruined merely because he spent the entire career making academia a hostile, toxic place for women (or as he prosaically refers to it, “being creepy at conferences”). He’s afraid that claims of racial or gender insensitivity might be taken seriously in a way that, before this changed vibe, an obviously spurious complaint about reverse-racism was pointedly not.

And the thing is, I don’t know.

I really don’t.

Specifics aside, I think he’s on to something about the problem of treating students as consumers and then adopting a “customer is always right” approach to teaching. This is a knife that cuts across ideological divides, as Professor Shannon Gibley was reprimanded in 2009 for making white students uncomfortable when teaching the truth about structural racism and imperialism.

There’s something there. I’m not the best person to engage with what’s there, as I’m not an academic. But I’ve seen enough and heard enough to know that there’s something there.

I don’t think the problem here is necessarily with the students, or with liberals, so much as it is with the commodification/consumerization of education as a whole. When college makes itself into a big business and positions its degrees as product, the student-as-consumer model seems like a necessary end result. It’s probably not quite that cut-and-dried, though, and this could be a fascinating discussion to have.

The thing is, Edward Schlosser doesn’t seem to be having that conversation. Rather than asking what’s been changing over time in the environment in which he’s working, he’s looking outward. He’s blaming “call out culture” and “a simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice”.

And he has examples.

In an article whose subject is, I remind you, “my students scare me”, he chooses to highlight a couple of tweets by blogger @bad_dominicana, Zahira Kelly, talking about bias in science.

Note that Zahira Kelly is not one of his students. Zahira Kelly is not one of his colleagues. Zahira Kelly has bother-all to do with him or his. What Zahira Kelly is to him is a convenient target of opportunity, a person who can be used as both a scapegoat and a lightning rod.

I have the feeling that Schlosser knows none of his students would actually be that scary to the Vox.com reading audience. I’m sure he knows that it’s hard to sell his fear describing them in the abstract. But what is scary to his audience? But an outspoken AfroLatina blogger, a self-described “Bad Dominicana” speaking her unvarnished thoughts in Tweet form?

He wants to talk about nuance and complexity over simplicity, but he selects two tweets from a series of larger thoughts and then extrapolates from them… well, let me do what he did and screenshot what I’m talking about. (Apologies to the Facebook readers, click over for the crosspost):


Kelly is not one of his undergrads, but let’s stop and marvel at the condescending manner with which he acts as though she is, as he praises her intelligence and voice while blowing past her point to work what she said into what he was saying, in more or less exactly the same way he describes dealing with off-track interjections into his class.

Except she didn’t interject. He went looking for her saying something, and then even though it’s not germane to his topic, he roped her into his article, held her up for the world as an oh-so-frightening example of why everybody else should be as scared as he is.

And except she’s not saying what he claims she is. If she were calling for us to reject science, why would she say that most (quotation marks hers) “scientific thought” isn’t that scientific? If the point was science is bad, she wouldn’t be arguing that anything isn’t science. She would have no reason to make that distinction.

And look at the phenomenal leap he makes from her calling out “white patriarchal bias” to saying she throws things out “just because it’s associated with white males”.

Maybe I have a low tolerance for or high sensitivity towards this particular leap because of how often it comes up in dealing with Sad Puppies, but really. Someone who claims he just wants to go back to a time when nuance and complexity and reason were allowed to rule over short-sighted oversimplifications and us-vs-them identity arguments should not be mistaking a conversation about bias for one about demographics. That’s inexcusable.

But at the risk of giving him an “AHA!” moment in support of his supposition that feels have superseded reals, I have to say that the fact that he’s wrong in the sense of being incorrect in his words is really secondary here to the fact that he is wrong in the sense of being morally indefensible in his actions.

Because whatever he’s using Bad Dominicana’s words to say, the fact is, he’s using her.

He knows—or at least has no business not knowing, given that he’s mining her Twitter timeline for pull quotes—that her writing makes her a target for abusive backlashes. He must know that there’s a receptive audience out there looking for acceptable targets to pile onto and an excuse to pile on them.

His piece is one of many out there right now that are full of hand-wringing and head-shaking over the plights of the poor, beleagured Joss Whedons and George R.R. Martins of the world, a world in which apparently anyone can just say anything to anyone else and it’s supposed to be okay. Cultural critics, activists, and bloggers like Zahira Kelly are routinely held up as being the face and muscle of an unstoppable juggernaut that lashes out without warning and strikes without repercussions.

This ignores the actual realities of online discourse. What power the internet has as an equalizer means that stuff can fly in every direction at once. As Joss Whedon got full blast the rage of angry/disappointed comic fans, internet trolls, and those labeled as “Social Justice Warriors”, there were people taking full advantage of the opportunity to lay blame for both that whole fustercluck and Joss’s decision to leave Twitter at the feet of feminists.

And always, always, these attacks somehow spiral out and grab hold of people who have nothing to do with them. It’s opportunism. At WisCon 39, on the panel at call-out culture, we discussed this tendency as it has shown up on Tumblr: somebody finds themselves involved in an argument or controversy (or wants to find themselves there); they pull in someone they know has a dedicated hate-following. The target of such a proxy attack is inevitably stereotyped as either “strong” or “thriving on attention”, or both, and thus immune to pain and in no need of empathy.

Edward Schlosser is participating in that pattern of behavior. Zahira Kelly isn’t his colleague, or his student, or anything to him except a villain for a story that needed one. Forget his calm, cultured mild-mannered professor at a midsize school act. When he appropriates tweets from an AfroLatina blogger and holds them up as the example and cause of everything that is rotten in the state of Denmark, this man is Gaston in the village square, holding up a stolen magic mirror and saying “IT’S TIME TO TAKE SOME ACTION, BOYS… IT’S TIME TO FOLLOW ME.”

It’s incitement, it’s exploitation, and it is abuse.

We should not stand for it.

Folks, it is downright eerie how many people are trying to leave comments on this post and either clearly haven’t read it, or read it and assumed that I’m saying “Edward Schlosser is wrong, wrong, wrong about his premise and I’m going to nitpick the way he treated an unrelated third party purely as a means of attacking his message,” as though it’s impossible for me to actually care about the subject I’m actually talking about.

The latest offender asked me if I’m in academia (a question this post answered!) and then dropped a link to her own blog post in support of his point. I treated this like spam. I’ve been telling people all week that if they want to debate Schlosser’s larger point, they should do so in their space. That’s not an invitation to use my space as a billboard.

If you want to comment on this piece, make sure you’ve read it and know what it’s actually about.