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Mar. 19th, 2019 @ 03:46 pm Intermediate GM tips
1. Don't plan a sequence of things, plan things you can slot together.

Don't plan a series of combats, or a series of clues, or a series of social encounters. Plan enemy groups, locations, clues, interesting NPCs with their own agendas. Things will never go how you expect. But if you have that flexible preparation, you can present something appropriate in response, as opposed to just forcing the party onto the next step of your original plan.

Pace too slow? You can have the goblin hit squad catch up with the party now, rather than waiting until the party get to the Expected Location For the Goblin Assassin Ambush. Player has a surprisingly effective way of finding stuff out? Throw one of the clues you'd expected to find later at them. Party not feeling challenged? Use some more of the enemy combatants they might not otherwise have encountered. Party flailing, not sure where the plot is? Let them find one of the clues you prepared. Party go somewhere you didn't expect? Have them meet one of the NPCs. Party talk to NPC? Have the NPC react in character, don't worry if that helps or hinders.

Soon you'll feel excited not depressed when the party do something unexpected and it will reveal interesting parts of your preparation you hadn't thought of instead of throwing it into disarray.

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Mar. 9th, 2019 @ 07:14 pm Friday Five: Random 4, who would you share passwords with?

I've joked before that I have more private things in online accounts than in physical post. By default I don't share passwords with anyone, because things like email have things in that are private even if not secret. There's lots of things that I wouldn't share even with a partner by default.

My diary, because I keep it in a text file, and you can use my email to unlock most of my other accounts. Maybe it would be better if I had separate email accounts for "communication" and "account management" but I haven't set that up. If someone else talks to me in confidence about their life, that's *their* privacy, I don't automatically share it. I think it's normal that however close a relationship, you have the ability to talk *about* that relationship with someone else (a friend, a parent, a therapist, whatever) without that communication automatically being open. And because we're poly, there might be intimate conversations with someone else, that aren't secret, but aren't automatically including extra people either.

I don't mind someone looking over my shoulder usually because there's usually nothing private, just like I usually don't mind if someone I'm close to sees my post. But I don't want to automatically let someone read ALL of my email or ALL of my post.

As for other passwords, I don't care too much, I'm generally happy to share them with anyone I trust, although I don't too often because it's easy to forget that some account isn't as private as I thought it was. If I have an account which is more for the household than just me, there's often no way to have multiple separate people have separate logins to the same account, so I'd rather share that than not.

But I still get a weird feeling about it. I do instinctively separate "shared-ish" accounts and actually personal accounts, like at some places I've worked there's accounts with deliberately weak passwords on servers and suchlike. And my work network/email account is only mine, but I don't treat it as *private*, I wouldn't use a password I wasn't comfortable sharing at work if I needed to for instance.

We set up the shared laptop with a passwordless login we could both use for watching media and similar,

And one question is my phone. I really don't like sharing my phone with other adults because it has access to everything. But it's unavoidable sharing it with the children when we want to play games together.

I wish there were better security practices for sharing things, other than all or nothing, like being able to share read-only access to current email without the rest of the email account, for partners in an emergency. Or if (legally or illegally) law enforcement or someone insists on access, there's no valid reason they should automatically have the right to impersonate you and destroy your financial/personal/online life, even if they require the ability to READ everything of yours.

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Mar. 8th, 2019 @ 11:16 am Friday Five: Random 2-3, Police, Alone

2. Have I interacted with the police?

Hardly at all. A couple of minor traffic things. Not ones where anyone was significantly at fault. A couple of minor thefts, of which not much happened.

3. Do I like being alone?

A bit like sleep, perhaps? I enjoy people but I also definitely need some time alone to recharge. And I find it relaxing, and often enjoy what I *do* (getting absorbed in a hobby project, or reading/watching whatever I feel like, or walking and musing). And if I don't have it, I need it and am relieved when I have it. So I guess I like it a bit, but it feels more like "I don't like not having enough of it".

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Mar. 8th, 2019 @ 11:01 am Friday Five: Random 1, Are we losing the art of listening?


Which art? Listening to radio type things? Then probably, there's just so many forms of media around, it's unlikely the same ones would remain equally big. And easier to be distracted when I always have a phone around.

Although podcasts are getting really big for various reasons, so stuff usually comes back round.

I think there's a wider point. I think having more choices possible is usually better, almost by definition, because the more there are, the more the chance there's one that fits what you need best. But there's significant problems with having choices *equally* available, as anyone's who's used a search engine knows: having three relevant results is so much better than hundreds of maybe useful maybe not results.

Is "having more forms of entertainment" good or bad? I think both, that's usually going to be good. Think of all those niche podcasts which would never have existed twenty years ago. Isn't that awesome? But there are some drawbacks. Like, what's the chance that, just by chance, technological limitations would have positive societal effects? I mean, if you said, "here's two societies, one can listen to any entertainment, the other has a choice of five options. Which population gets better skills from this?" you'd say, well, probably the one with more choice, but there's probably SOME exceptions that are better in 1950s-ville.

Not having anything to distract you is good for some people and bad for other people. That seems like a bad basis to prefer it on a societal level, when you CAN have other solutions (have a special device that only has five channels for people who want one, ban things that seem genuinely bad). So it's not ALL good, but I think "wouldn't things be better like they used to be" is much more often "I hate change" or "here's one or two things it would be good if we made an effort to keep alive" than a genuine observation that it would be desirable to put technological progress back in the bottle.


Funnily enough, my reaction is similar. I think it's likely there are obstacles to interpersonal listening similar to those of broadcast listening. But it also just sounds like a "kids these days" lament, when people always complain about kids these days being insufficiently respectful, but probably, they're much the same as people-younger-than-the-speaker any time in the past.

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Mar. 5th, 2019 @ 10:54 am Roleplaying, planning labyrinth campaign
After getting back into roleplaying, with a combination of one-shots I quite wanted to try running a more traditional campaign. I found a swirl of world-building ideas filling my head.

The premise is, centred around a sprawling underground labyrinth, partially colonised by underground animals and races, partially full of left over "tests created by the gods for heroes", etc. It lets me go wild with all the spooky maze stuff in my head. Does the maze move around sometimes? Yes! Do you get windows onto spooky landscapes? Why not! Do you get weird geography, inexplicable statues, unusual variants of classic dnd races? Definitely.

I'm testing out a mechanic that's a variant of dungeon/hex/other crawls I've seen, where the plot happens back at the castle, but the adventure is mostly navigating the labyrinth and surviving what you find. Where there's a grid of "locations", and you assume they're all connected by plenty of twisty passages, but you don't map out all the maze, you just say, you can usually find your way from one location to an adjacent one, but sometimes a passage moves or it tricks you into going the wrong way.

On the one hand, I'm quite excited to run it, on the other hand, I feel like maybe I'm sinking too much invention into something that will probably only ever be really interesting to six people (although I was lucky to find interesting people).

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Mar. 4th, 2019 @ 08:44 pm Success!
OK, this has been an extremely, extremely long time coming, but I feel like I'm finally starting to be on top of a lot of aspects of my life.

At work, I used to get blocked on lots of things, not just things you might expect people to freeze up for but, well, almost every situation, even situations where it should be easy for me to do with the experience I had. And I muddled through somehow, but it was always a struggle, like writers block every day. But I finally broke through a lot of the big blocks, and I think now, most of the things I need to do, I can just sit down and work on. That doesn't magically make me able to do them, of course, but they're mostly things I can do with the experience and strengths I have. It feels silly saying so, since that feels like a baseline most people should *start* from. But on the other hand, plenty of people have different reasons for "not really doing the thing", including people who just, don't really get what it's for. But it still feels really freeing, and hopefully I can actually start notching off some things where I've worked effectively and am pleased with the result, rather than lurching from one thing I didn't quite have the time to get working to another.

And at home, I've always been drawn to one creative project or another, but for the longest time I'd be blocked from sitting down and *starting* anything, and then I'd be blocked from *finishing* anything. But with the latest bout of drawing, writing, game design, and roleplaying, I feel like I'm finally putting in an amount of work commensurate to being satisfied with things, rather than endlessly planning but not getting anywhere, or sinking into it irretrievably for ages. And I've too much stuff queued up I want to do, but fingers crossed, I can actually *do* some of it.

It's still early days yet, I need to see if I get *used* to this, and ideally can relax with the idea that if I just keep doing what I'm doing I will get somewhere, rather than constantly panicking that I need to be doing better.

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Feb. 16th, 2019 @ 01:01 pm Friday Five: Groceries

1. Do you make up a dinner plan for the coming week?

No. Now, with two people in the house, we cook often enough it might be worth planning in advance, but just playing it by ear is working well enough. I used to do less proper cooking, when I didn't think about it at all, I only ever really bought things that kept, and treated each meal separately.

2. Do you make up a shopping list and stick to it when shopping?

There's not really a thing about sticking to it. I've been fortunate not to have to worry deeply about sticking for a budget, but I've also never really excitement to buy unusual things, so I don't usually have a big desire to buy other things (I mean, unless there's like books :)), I just want to get it done, so I don't need to make an effort to stick to a list.

I used to just usually buy the same staples. At some point I started keeping a list on my smartphone which was very convenient. Now we finally found a grocery list app we could both share which had been very convenient.

3. What is one thing that you always buy, but never put down on a list?

Nothing exciting, but things we need to refresh most often, like milk or bread, I usually have an idea if we have enough and just buy it, the list is more for things to buy "in the next few days".

4. Is there anything that you always think you are out of and come home with it to discover you already have a year’s supply on hand?

I can't think of anything specific, but things like flour, vanilla, jam that we only use every so often, I always forget if we have already.

5. Do you get your groceries delivered?

That would probably be more convenient but I keep not getting round to it. I used to not because I was out almost every evening and didn't know when I'd be in to get deliveries. I work right buy large tesco so I usually shop one small batch at a time at lunchtime.

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Feb. 14th, 2019 @ 10:26 am Roleplaying: Character abilities affecting difficulty not die roll
I've blogged about this ages ago, but apparently I never made myself understood.

Imagine you have a few characters, probably lovable misfits, a tough one, a hacker, a disguise artist, etc. The GM is adjudicating something simple and in theme, say the hacker needs to bypass an electronic keypad and then the tough one needs to spring through the door and take down half a dozen guards.

Traditional resolution mechanics, used commonly in all of simulationist games, tactical games, and lightweight narrative-focused games, go something like:

* Decide how hard each of those are for a typical human
* Each character gets a bonus for how much better than a typical human they are
* Then you resolve it.

It's important that the players and GM all have a similar idea how difficult these things actually are for the players, or they'll get into an argument about the resolution. But in truth... most of them will have watched a LOT of movies about tough ones who take down rooms full of guards, and never ever seen it in real life. So when you get to the "estimate difficulty" part, it's easier to estimate "for the tough one, taking out six surprised and lightly armed guards is of moderate difficulty" than to estimate "for a typical human, is this challenging? extreme? superhuman? something else?"

I'm considering an alternative, something like:

* Look at the obstacle as described by the GM
* Look at the character's ability
* Adjudicate "OK, for your specific character, that's easy/medium/hard/nigh-impossible", and roll a die that says "you succeed on an easy/medium/hard/impossible" challenge.

If you have a simulationist system, the traditional method is almost necessary. It's also a lot more practical if you have lots of different small bonuses, because adding those to the player's achievement is easier than subtracting them from the difficulty. But outside those situations, in theory, that system has some advantages: the GM doesn't need to model the characters abilities, just how hard the situation is; it means players usually get big numbers or lots of dice which is fun. But I'm not sure I actually believe those.

In practice, in creating a fun experience, the GM probably has a better idea of "I want to provide the players with this much of a challenge" than of "I want the situation to be this challenging in the abstract". Especially if there's modifiers being thrown around, it's easy for a "choose a difficulty, and then the players get bonuses" model to end up with "whoops, the player can just always/never succeed at this".

For instance, the players try to bribe a guard. Everyone expects that to happen in heroic fantasy all the time, so the GM gives it a fairly low difficulty. Now the players want to disguise themselves as laundry attendants to escape the castle. The GM does the same thing. But it turns out there's a mechanic for bribing but not disguise, or vice versa, so the players get a whacking great bonus to one of them and not the other, despite both being what you'd expect from the genre. It means the GM and player's instinctive knowledge of what the characters can do can work against them if the mechanics don't perfectly line up.

But with the new system, appropriate difficulties happen automatically if people forget themselves, but you can still calculate them in detail when you feel the need. The GM can always just assume that as long as the hacker does the hacking and the tough one does the bruising, most challenges will be "medium", but they can throw an "easy" or "hard" in there if they want. And if they DO want to make things more objective they can use a rule-of-thumb of "for every notch above typical human you are, you reduce the difficulty by one level" without wiring it into the rules of the universe.

What are the advantages of that system?

One is, as I said, it's easier to adjudicate difficulty on the fly if everyone has a good idea what the characters can do but not what a normal human can do.

Also, if characters want to work outside their specialities it also works better. Maybe "jumping a gap", anyone can try even if only the athlete can be assumed to succeed, but "picking a lock" you can't do at all unless you know. Most systems force you to pick one or the other of those for all possible tasks (or choose two possible levels, as with DnD's "take 10/take 20" system and restrictions on some skills without training). In this system, the GM can adjudicate on the fly what obviously makes sense in the situation at hand, even if it means some tasks which are medium for the hacker are hard for other characters and some are impossible. Whereas with a traditional resolution, if two different players want to try the same thing, it's easy to have the results break everyone's expectation of what the characters can achieve.

And, it implicitly puts the variance under the GM's command, not only the mean. If one character has a special ability that makes routine something that is usually far out of the reach of other characters, the flavour might still suggest that they some of those tasks are easy and some are hard for them. In a traditional resolution mechanic, you *also* need to make sure those difficulties are out of reach of other characters, except for the times they actually should be able to do it with sufficient effort. With the new system, you can simply assign difficulties for the character with the special ability, and worry about the other characters only if they try something like that.

I'm not sure if there's actually any use for this system, but thinking it through helped me think how abilities and difficulties work.

And I'm still confused by the responses I got when I talked about this before, which were mostly, "If you think that, you should try FUDGE" which I mean, sure, a popular widely used system probably is a lot better than one person's random idea, but it seems so irrelevant, since FUDGE uses exactly the same traditional resolution order as DnD, so I wasn't sure what they were trying to say.

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Feb. 8th, 2019 @ 10:49 am Friday Five: Bedtime

1. What size (twin, full, etc.) is your bed?

They keep changing the terminology, I think it was the size about double, but not the biggest size?

2. How many pillows do you sleep with?

At some point I started needing more pillow, so I typically have one really thick pillow or two pillows.

3. Do you have a weighted blanket? If so, does it help you?

I don't think I've ever wanted a heavier blanket, I feel constrained by beds which are tucked in all the way round. What I would like is a cover with the heavyness of a normal duvet, but only a single top sheet worth of insulation, because I find a thinner cover really annoying, but a duvet can be too insulating when it's hot weather. But I've not got round to seeking such a thing.

4. Do you sleep with any stuffed animals?

No. I've kept a variety, but I've never been inclined to cuddle anything other than partners or bedding.

5. Do you have to have the TV on to go to sleep?

I think having something quiet to occupy my mind in an idle way would help, but almost anything I try ends up drawing my attention too much and I end up either distracted by it or paying full attention to it.

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Feb. 5th, 2019 @ 04:36 pm Roleplaying Feelings
OK, after running a couple of sessions, my massive role-playing kick is ebbing a bit. Now I've been through enough obsessions to ride the wave a bit rather than just being confused. The important things are, finish off what I was planning and continuing to run sessions, which I will enjoy even if I don't have "absolutely must right this second" obsession, giving myself some space to do chores and passive relaxation like books and tv, and have a next "thing" ready, because if I don't have something I'm anticipating I lose all motivation for anything.

Or another way to look at it is, I've achieved what I never quite managed for embarrassingly long, of sitting down to GM some roleplaying with the confidence that I could advertise a one-shot and have it go well, and not worry that I can't manage to learn a new system and get my GMing up to a non-beginner standard at the same time. And now I can think about what I'm excited to run, stories and systems that I can hopefully build up to (DnD world with a rich history which I've developed, vorkosigan-esque roleplaying).

As it happens my second session running the superheroes was pretty fun, and introduced some people to simple 5e DnD mechanics when they'd roleplaying before, but not played DnD any time recently, and the players had pretty cool characters. But partly because the characters didn't happen to gel as well, and partly because I ran it on short notice, it wasn't quite as memorable as the first session. Oh well, I'm glad it was that way round, and now I'm more confident running variants on the theme.

And I did enjoy bringing one of the last session PCs in briefly as a cameo as a superhero much more experienced with these enemies: the dice were great at delivering deadly ninja effectiveness, but also in-character pratfalls :)

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