Tabletop Roleplaying: Traveller to a Common Language

Where I left the development of tabletop roleplaying last we were back in the mid 1970s, and the only game in town was D&D.  This is a slight exaggeration – there were other games back then such as Chivalry and Sorcery (house rules for D&D turned into a game), Tunnels and Trolls (as far as I know the only version of D&D in this period designed to be simpler than the original), Bunnies and Burrows (a send up of D&D – I’m not making this up), Gamma World (using the D&D rules for a gonzo post-apocalyptic future), and Arduin (high powered rules for D&D that were given a cease and desist order for referencing D&D page numbers).  I think that selection is a fair representation of what was around at the time. Continue reading

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Tabletop Roleplaying Games: Back where we started

My last posts have all been very serious and weighty.  This one might be, but is going to be about one of my hobbies – tabletop roleplaying games.  I’m a thoughtful gamer rather than an expert – so there may be things in here that are simply wrong – and my classification of tabletop roleplaying into decades is a good rough approximation but not entirely accurate.

So what is tabletop roleplaying?  The only answer I can give is people getting together to sit round a table having fun with a shared imaginary world, and in some cases doing so on a weekly basis for years on end.  What it is varies almost from group to group – and all versions are valid.  I can more or less group what is considered cutting edge – but there are outliers in any grouping, and people don’t stop playing a given game just because more come out.  People still play Monopoly – and that is not only ancient, it was deliberately designed to not be fun.  So I’m going to divide the strands that make up tabletop roleplaying by period of starting (it’s as good a method to start as any) – and this post only deals with the oldest strand.

Prehistory – Braunstein

In 1967, Major Wesley in a tradition that was to mark roleplaying games said “What if?”  He took a tabletop wargame and gave each participant a part to play of a specific officer or townsman to add some realism – and called his game Braunstein.  And he found his players had minds of their own and the result was complete anarchy.  Very fun for most of the players but worrying for him because they didn’t do as expected (something that would become a tradition) and responded by doing absolutely the wrong thing and trying to restrict their options for the next couple of games, at which the players had  (something else that would become a tradition).

Game four was set in a banana republic and along came someone called Dave Arneson, playing the Students Revolutionary Leader (who got points by distributing his flyers).  Only Dave Arneson came along with a fake CIA ID and convinced everyone he was (a) a CIA agent and (b) the safest person to look after the republic’s treasury because of this.  Game, set, match.

Arneson decided that was fun.  And ran his part of the Castles and Crusades society that way – apparently driving Gygax almost mad with reports to a wargaming society that were talking about stealing magic swords rather than epic battles.  Gygax came to take a look – and completely revamped what he was doing, ending up by producing D&D.

The 1970s – Dungeons and Dragons

Gary Gygax was, like Dave Arneson and everyone else round then a tabletop wargamer, and early Dungeons and Dragons was about taking things to the next level of challenge than a wargame.  So instead of commanding an entire army, each of the players except the runner (the Dungeon Master or DM) took a person and their retainers, and the goal was to get as much loot from a dungeon as possible without dying.  More or less like an asymmetric boardgame except you could do anything you could think of and it was the DM’s job to work out what happened from an off the wall plan.

Or possibly more like a video game; the dungeons the adventurers were trying to loot were built in levels – which matched how hard the area was.  And when one player of that period was asked what his monsters ate, he put a McDonalds on the sixth level with prices in copper pieces.

The basic rule of the period was “We made some shit up we thought would be cool”, and role playing games were about exploring the unknown and making it out alive.

I Fought the Chaos and the Law won

Early D&D had a fundamentally different relationship between the players and their characters than you normally see now.  Play was commonly “Pawn Play” – instead of being a person to flesh out, a player character was your playing piece to use as effectively as possible in the same way a wargamer uses their army or squad.  Player skill at overcoming obstacles was almost the point of the game – you just had a much bigger toolbox than you had in traditional wargames.

The method of gaining power was treasure – you either gained more powerful objects, gained experience points, making you more powerful, or both.  So smart play revolved round not killing monsters for power but robbing them blind (a slight improvement) and for preference you evaded them.

Alignment was law vs chaos initially rather than the classic nine point alignments – you were on the frontier with chaos being things looking to tear down civilisation (not that too much law was much better).

So with these constraints, characters were almost as much pawns of the player as boardgame or wargame pieces are – and NPCs were equally pawns.  Identity and a coherent world were less part of the game than fitting into puzzles.  This was to change, and change several times.

If this sounds like fun

The players who like to play in this style normally gather under the heading of the OSR and I’d start off looking at Grognardia (and links provided by Grognardia) – with the game of choice probably being Swords and Wizardry which is a legal reimplementation of the original published rules of D&D.

The module I’d recommend for exploration is Caverns of Thracia – and I’ll let Zak S (NSFW), Grognardia, and The Alexandrian’s play report explain why.  For challenge it’s White Plume Mountain or the notoriously lethal Tomb of Horrors, and for sheer atmosphere and advice for a prep-light game I can’t beat Vornheim.  But half of this is missing the point – coming up with your own environments is part of the fun of this form of play.

Freedom, Restriction, and the Law

The British Government are going to legalise religious gay marriage for any religious institution that wants it, but make it illegal for the Church of England to opt in.  And they are making it illegal for the CofE to offer gay marriage on religious freedom grounds.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  If you think so you are certainly not alone.

In fact, and I say this as someone in full support of marriage equality and someone who would reach for an umbrella on instinct if this government told me it was sunny, on religious freedom grounds the government is absolutely correct – although the only two summaries I’ve seen as to why are from Thinking Anglicans and the Church of England itself.  I’ll explain why below. Continue reading

CVs and Application Forms: Basic Advice

I’ve had the same conversation about CVs and jobhunting with two different people in the past month and a few more in the past year – so thought writing it down and putting it online might be useful – especially as most of the CV advice I’ve seen (with a single honourable exception) provides advice that will end up with yet another person with a decently presented and formatted CV that is destined for the bin.  So I’m going to more or less ignore the basics here and assume that everyone can lay things out (or ask for help) and knows what basic information to put on a CV (if not follow the links above).  And I’m going to do it based on the following one line summary:

Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is going to be reading your CV – and about a hundred others.

Continue reading

Blood and Fire: The Salvation Army and Charity

A man cannot serve two masters according to the bible.  This is largely true – there will always come a time when the two come into conflict.  In the case of Christian charity there are normally two goals, with one of them being to evangelise and win converts.  In cases such as CAFOD (and its parent organisation Caritas International) charity very firmly wins to the point that the head of Caritas called the Vatican a ‘particular brand’ of being Catholic.  Which means that despite both being an atheist and having a particular dislike for the Roman Catholic Church I would (and indeed have) given money to CAFOD.  It is a charity that has the primary goal of helping people and just happens to be organised by the Roman Catholic Church (and not always as closely as they would like).

How does the Salvation Army fit into this?  They do a lot of work that looks charitable including charity shops and providing food.  But are they genuinely charitable, or do they provide food and shelter because it is a good way of getting people through the door so they can evangelise?

We can look at the historical record.  In 1903 Jack London wrote The People of the Abyss – a first hand account of the experiences of the poor in London, and Chapter 11 deals with the Salvation Army.  In chapter 11, Jack and others go to the Salvation Army for shelter and a meal.  In exchange for this they literally get locked in and preached at for the entire morning, making it impossible for the poor who accept the help of the Salvation Army to find work for that day – making poverty impossible to escape.  Following in his footsteps thirty years later, George Orwell wrote Down and Out in Paris and London and came to visit the Salvation Army himself and Chapter 29 has the details.  He wasn’t quite as scathing as Jack London but was certainly unimpressed.

So the historical record for the Salvation Army is not good.  Especially not in Jack London’s account where they clearly and definitively forced people to listen to their sermons thus making it impossible for them to look for work.  (In Orwell’s they just charged the poor for things donated to the Salvation Army…)

What about the present day?  Are they a charity before they are a church?  Because they are definitely a Church, right down to some fundamentalist Articles of Faith.  There’s a simple way of testing.  Do they put judgement first or do they always try to help regardless of who is requesting the help.  Jack London was clear, but a lot has moved on in the last hundred and ten years.

So how do the Salvation Army treat people they dislike who turn up asking for help?  The main group of people they dislike for who they are rather than what they do (the Salvation Army is both tea total and anti-gambling) are gay people and transsexuals.

Do they insist gay couples break up before offering help?  Do they throw transsexuals out onto the street to die?  Do they threaten to stop operating in cities because of equal rights legislation?  Do they launch political campaigns in multiple countries to oppose equal rights legislation?  Has a spokesman recently said gay people deserve death?

The answer to all the above is yes (as if the collection of links wasn’t a clue) – and the last point is a great place for charitable donations to end up.

The bottom line is that the Salvation Army is a Church and not a Charity.  Give to the Salvation Army in the way you would to any other mission of a church you do not belong to.

I personally won’t give to the Salvation Army because of homophobia and transphobia as documented above, and do give money to Shelter.  That said, other than on matters of sexuality the Salvation Army is generally a good thing, and I wish that other Conservative churches were as keen on helping the poor as they are.

The Liverpool Care Pathway – half the truth can be worse than none

The Telegraph has recently been waging a campaign against the Liverpool Care Pathway, their most recent shot a few hours before I started writing.  And regrettably the campaign seems to have legs – I’ve caught the Social Welfare Union falling for it tonight. (Needless to say The Daily Mail is taking it to extremes).

The campaign itself is true but dishonest.  True in that statistics like “At many hospitals more than 50 per cent of all patients who died had been placed on the pathway and in one case the proportion of forseeable deaths on the pathway was almost nine out of 10.” are perfectly true.  Dishonest because there’s one thing that modern medicine hasn’t been able to change.

People die in hospitals.

I was shocked, shocked to find that out.  And sometimes the doctors realise that there is nothing they can do – the patient is either going to die or recover.  If there is nothing more the doctors think they can do medically for a patient this doesn’t mean the patient has no needs.  They need to preserve the patient’s dignity and make them as comfortable as possible.  This is when they have two major choices.  Either to leave patients alone to die or to care for them as best they can while they are dying.

The best practice method for caring for patients for whom there is no further treatment possible is called … The Liverpool Care Pathway.

It came out of best practice Hospice care (hospices specialising in the care of terminally ill patients) and is intended to give the benefits of that best practice to doctors and nurses who very rarely see dying patients – so need the guidance.  (It’s also used in hospices, nursing homes and other environments; clinical care pathways are a good thing).  And yes, some PCTs do reward hospitals for providing best practice care for dying patients rather than just leaving them in a bed to die.  This is meant to be a bad thing?

Of course as the Liverpool Care Pathway is for patients the doctors have done all they can for medically, it is unsurprising that most patients who die at many hospitals go on the pathway – and an overwhelming proportion of forseeable deaths.  But the most clueless quote from the media on the subject belongs to the BBC (admittedly as a quote).  “We don’t leave animals which are sick just to die without medication, we don’t just leave them to die of their own causes, so why do that to humans?”  The answer to the question, to be brutal, is that we take sick pets to the vet to be put down.  Is that the standard of care those opposed to the Liverpool Care Pathway want?

For further reading, there’s the implementation guide and the official FAQ.

And on a final note from the FAQ

Does the patient or relative need to give written consent to use the LCP?
No, the LCP is not a treatment but a framework for good practice, therefore, written consent is not required. However, identifying that someone is in the last hours or days of life and agreeing a plan to support care in the last hours or days of life should be discussed with the patient where possible and deemed appropriate and always with the relative or carer.

How will a relative or carer know if the LCP is being used?
Acknowledging that a patient is dying and making the decision to use the LCP to support care in the last hours or days of life should be discussed by the clinical team, with the  patient where it is possible and deemed appropriate and always with the relative or carer, in accordance with GMC best practice guidance (GMC 2010). All significant conversationsshould be supported by appropriate written information about the LCP.

Therefore there should never be an occasion when the relative or carer who is named as the first contact or next of kin is unaware of the diagnosis of dying or of the subsequent care plan.

These cases where the relatives haven’t been told they are either not primary relatives or carers or the Liverpool Care Pathway hasn’t been followed.  (And the “opt out cards” are simply telling doctors and nurses to follow the Pathway).

The Corral: Medical Practice

This is the first post in the Corral – the space for my thoughts on certain matters that go round in circles, are related to ethics, and are not ultimately going to go anywhere, but may be useful.

There is a medical procedure that I find revolting to even think about.  It is one I can’t see why anyone would actually want, but some do and others even go so far as to fetishise.  It is regrettably medically necessary and even life saving for some, but commonly leads to depression in those who have it.  And I would expect almost all decent people to agree with me that we should work together to try to wipe it out.  Unfortunately if we try to ban it, those who desperately need it will perform it on themselves.

I refer, of course, to limb amputation.  What did you think I was talking about?

The parallels to abortion are close.  Abortion is a procedure that is medically necessary and that I find squicky.  It is also a procedure that the poor unfortunate women who need will give themselves if they find it necessary.  Like the trap mentioned that would force someone to cut their own arm off, there are two jaws: Unwanted Pregnancy and Impossible Circumstances.

Unwanted Pregnancy

Unwanted pregnancy is the obvious factor.  Abstinence only sex education doesn’t work. (That’s studies from six successive years – I can’t be bothered to go back further).  And people aren’t going to stop having sex – before the 20th Century, Foundlings (abandoned babies) were a fact of life – and in its first four years, the Foundling Hospital in London accepted 15,000 foundlings.  There always has been unwanted pregnancy.

The main thing known to lower the rate of unwanted pregnancy, the simplest, and the most effective is contraception.  Preferably free contraception.  (Banning abortion has no effect on the abortion rate).  And almost all contraceptive methods that say may prevent implantation say so on the “may contain nuts” principle.  They might but no mechanism has been proven that they do and the known methods account for what happens.

Yes, that includes the Combined Pill (which inhibits ovulation and thickens the lining of the mucus – this being sufficient to account for all the effectiveness of The Pill), the IUD/Copper Coil (which makes the environment toxic for both sperm and egg), the hormonal coil (which is just the Pill delivered another way), and even Plan B/Levonorgestrol (the “Morning After Pill” prevents ovulation which is why it isn’t always reliable) and Ella/Ulipristal Acetate (prevents both ovulation and when that fails prevents the egg opening to receive the sperm for five days – long enough for the sperm to die off which is why it’s more effective than Plan B but also makes the person who took it fertile late in the cycle).  The only method that actually prevents implantation is the copper coil used as emergency contraception after the fertilisation has already occurred.

So to prevent the jaw of Unwanted Pregnancy being closed, the method is obvious.  Contraception for all, free at point of delivery.  (And that includes the Morning After Pill and Ella).  But this brings us to the other jaw.

Impossible Circumstances

As a man, I’m glad I will never be pregnant.  Something growing inside me for nine months, using my bodily resources, upsetting my balance and everything else, and then coming out in a painful way, stretching parts of my anatomy to the limit in an intense physical process that as often as not requires a hospital stay (I may work in a hospital but that doesn’t mean I want to be a patient!)

The most obvious impossible circumstance to carry a pregnancy to term is when it would kill the mother – even Roman Catholic doctrine says to abort in this case.  Yes, I know the official reasoning is that you can remove the fallopian tube and the baby is only incidentally aborted.  And?  It’s still an abortion; this justification is obvious sophistry.

The next most obvious is economic circumstances.  Even if the baby is given up for adoption, a pregnancy is expensive – and physically constraining.  (For all I’m saying about the Roman Catholic Church, I’ll give credit where it’s due on this point ).  Most women who seek abortions do so because they do not believe they can afford to keep the baby – a fact born out by over three quarters of those refused abortions being on the dole a year later as against under half of those who have abortions, despite initially similar circumstances.

Further, social circumstances are also a tie; having to look after someone dependent on you makes you more likely to be dependent on someone else, and gives other people a hold over you, making you more likely to stay in an abusive relationship.  The above links all are empirical findings on what actually happens with a sample of a thousand, comparing those accepted and denied abortions.

To open this jaw of the trap and prevent the poor woman cutting off her arm to save herself, the answer should be obvious.  Better protection and provision for the poor and the abused.  Social justice all the way actually lowers the abortion rate.

The Elephant in the Room

We’ve already been through the fact that banning abortion doesn’t actually lower the abortion rate.  We’ve been through the fact that contraception and real (i.e. not “abstinence only”) sex education works. We’ve been through that social justice works to lower the demand.

But the opposition to abortion comes from one claimed source.  Opposition to killing babies.  Unfortunately this doesn’t stack up – there appears to (as Fred Clark pointed out) be literally no attempt to save the foetuses that would spontaneously abort.  It’s likely that 75% of all pregnancies miscarry which makes this far and away the greatest killer the world has ever seen.  Cancer?  Nothing.  Small pox?  Small change, more like (even if it wasn’t the one disease we’d cured).    AIDS?  Only a little help.

Far and away the largest killer in the world if you believe that a foetus is a baby.  If life begins at conception, flood the research labs with money to cure this killer.  And support contraception – it divides the death rate by forty when used – or could prevent more than two thirds of worldwide deaths.

But this doesn’t happen. Those “pro-life” don’t seem to care for what they claim are babies at all – they merely focus on one very minor cause of death.  As the opposition to abortion therefore can’t be about saving babies lives, the reason must be something else.

Edit: Apparently British pharmacists can deny emergency contraception.  Because they labour under the belief it’s abortion.  (via)