20 March 2014

Yet More Persistent Fallacies

In drafting the Gaming Geek Fallacies,  the fundamental reason why I started this blog, I could’ve made that a much longer list.  Granted, I wanted to draw a parallel to the famous Five Geek Social Fallacies list that inspired them.  But these persistent fallacies have been kicking around my blog folder, and I might as well haul them out!


1) If The System Wasn't Written To Meet My Every Prejudice In Every Particular, It's No Good.

Quite aside from that if a game was exactly the way you wanted it to be, you'd be the game designer, and more likely defending it than bitching about it?  If you’re much younger than sixty, you came to adulthood in a world of a hundred TV channels, a zillion dining choices, Walkmans and iPods and all manner of options that ensured you never had to endure popular taste if you didn't want to do so, and you didn't have to work very hard to manage it, either.

The gaming grognards, however, remember a time when the rules were all badly written and opaque, and we had to rewrite them to suit. The degree to which I'm impressed by whining about rules people don't like is closely parallel to my feelings on hearing a grown child claim he can't dress himself or cut his own meat.  They are called "pencils" and "pens," folks.  Use them to X-out or alter those rules you don't like or, alternately, to add things you can't live without.  There's even a whiz-bang name for them: "house rules."  Catchy, ain't it?


2) The New Edition Of Game X Sucks!!! The Bastard Company Ruined It!!!

Something I find even more incomprehensible than the first one. So you don't like nWOD? Yeah, I think it was a dumb idea too. So don't play it. The previous edition works just as well today as it did when it was first published, and RPGs lack a sell-by date; no one is going to force your gaming group at gunpoint to switch. Delete nWOD, insert D&D 4th, GURPS 4th, Hero 5th, etc etc, as appropriate.

Yes, I know there's an intense fetish in this culture to only value the latest and newest of anything, but if you're that much of a mindless sheep, I don't see why you should expect respect for your POV.  I’m heartened by the retro movement in gaming, but bemused as to why people are spending so much time and effort coming up with “retroclones.”  Feel nostalgia for OD&D?  Well ... why not play OD&D?  You’re allowed; really you are.


3) MMORPGs / LARPs / Freeforms / Storygames Suck And Aren't REAL Roleplaying.

RP is RP is RP. Online gaming, freeform, storygames and LARPs are different than tabletop. All these styles have their advantages and disadvantages. I've played several forms, for many years apiece, and no one kind is "better" than the others. I may have opinions on particular games, but there is equally rich RP available in any venue, and equally munchkinesque asshattery in all.

What they are is different.  LARPs and online lack the institutionalized taboos against portraying sexuality, eroticism and evil that pervade tabletop.  Tabletop is much faster than LARPs, and infinitely faster than MMORPGs, in creating new things or making rules changes.  In MMORPGs, you don’t have to play with a party, you can game at 4 AM on a weeknight in your pajamas, and GMs aren’t telling you what to do every step of the way.  In LARPs, you can physically interact in a way possible nowhere else, RP can be a great deal more intense and realistic, and you can immerse for days at a time.  In tabletop, you can fine tune your character’s abilities in a way the game systems of other styles can’t match, and setting backgrounds are almost by definition far more detailed and rich.

Really, this is just GGF#4My Game Is Great, Your Game Sucks – writ large.  People feel the need to disparage the Not Us game.  For instance, several key players on the gaming board I most frequent have a rabid (and, I feel, irrational) hate on for storygames, to the point that some have accused people who’ve seemed sympathetic to storygames or advocated games that were perceived to have “storygame” elements of having a Secret Storygames Agenda.

Seriously.  I really am not making this up.

(What a “storygames agenda” is I have no idea, but months down the road, I’m still shaking my head.)


4) The Hot New Game Has A Groundbreaking New Way Of Doing Things!

There are just a handful of fundamental elements to a RPG: what a character can do, how to adjudicate him or her doing it, what's the interaction between the character and the world. If a game decides that (for example) randomizing combat resolution is a good thing, there's no fundamental difference between flipping cards, grabbing chits, rolling 3d6, exploding dice pools, whatever. All you're doing is playing around with how the odds are calculated and resolved.

This fallacy also feeds the beast, so to speak, and has the designers of new systems scrambling around to find some way, any way, of distinguishing their system mechanics from all the rest.  This has led to some otherwise good indie RPGs to have some terribly silly key mechanics.


5) If You Want To Play A New Setting, You Have To Design A New Game Around It.

Generally applied to media licenses, I don’t understand this.  Look – I’ve written for media licenses: for Conan, for Middle-Earth, for Scarlet Pimpernel, for DC Comics.  Media licenses work under severe constraints. 

First off, the license holders (even when authors are decades-dead, as with Tolkien and Howard) get awfully sticky about creating new setting detail, however much gamers need those details and the authors never addressed them, and in some cases, competing ownership rights interfere.  The Serenity RPG was licensed from the movie, not the Firefly TV series, and couldn’t mention explicit elements from that series.  The FASA Star Trek game was licensed from the Franz Joseph group that held some independent rights through the Star Trek Technical Manual, but not from Paramount, and couldn’t address many elements from ST:TOS.

Secondly, they’re written with an eye towards getting fans of the work into gaming, and so include a lot of elements which gamers find unnecessary at best and patronizing at worst. 

Thirdly, the corebook is pretty slender, so as not to bombard those newbies with dozens of pages of combat rules, and much of the rest is taken up with recapitulations that hardcore fans find too scanty and hardcore RPGers find crowd out necessary rules. 

Fourthly, it's an axiom that no matter what you put out, half the fans will hate it with a hot, heavy hate. Either they won't like the system, or they won't like anything that isn't already canon, or they'll bitch that you included elements of the book/show they found lame, or bitch that you left out elements they loved, or they'll whine that you misinterpreted this or that.

Fifthly, the licensed properties often have shelf lives.  The company running a MMORPG I used to play started a licensed game based on the Hercules and Xena TV shows ... after both series had stopped first run.  It never had many players, and the company voluntarily relinquished the license when the player base diminished to a trickle.  The Buffy RPG came out just weeks before the series wrapped up, and suffered a similar fate.

Finally, the audience just isn't as large as people think it is. We're not (say) peddling Serenity just to gamers. We're not (say) peddling it just to gamers who like science fiction. We're not (say) peddling it just to science fiction gamers who happen to be Firefly fans. We're not (say) peddling it just to science fiction gamers who happen to be Firefly fans and don't mind the Cortex system. We're (say) peddling it to science fiction gamers who happen to be Firefly fans, don't mind the Cortex system and think the game writers did a good job. That is not an easy sell, and that breakdown applies to pretty much any licensed game.

Now compound this with having to design a new game system from scratch, one not only developed to be deliberately distinctive from other systems (because, you know, see #4 above) but less with an eye towards whether the system makes sense or not than towards whether key setting elements are highlighted.

It’s little wonder that only one media license – Call of Cthulhu – has ever had a permanent impact on the industry.


16 March 2014

Magic 'R Us: Things You Can Use

Knobgobbler, who's my most frequent commenter, mentioned in my most recent blog post concerning magic swords that a setting with magical items would have to have heaps of charlatans either pretending that they have powers or peddling fake magic items.  (Heck, it wouldn't even take a setting with ubiquitous magical items.  Isn't Earth's history filled with such charlatans?)

I'm in complete and longstanding agreement.  One of the more offbeat groups in that line is an outfit in the capital city out of which my main group works I informally call "Magic 'R Us."  The description in my binder runs thus:
This cheerful lot of young magicians are in the business of supplying minor enchantments and magical items to locals at substantial discounts to the prices more usually found citywide.  Though none are journeymen, they are the nominal apprentices of San Nath Catalis, a retired Almuensin, and Sana Nirasta val Arcolon, a Fruningen Starlight wizard.  Both are far more interested in counting their profits than interfering with the business or teaching their "apprentices," but despite the College's unhappiness over the situation, they fulfill the letter of the law.  Quality is respectable for what it is (at least no major disasters have yet been recorded), and so far the band has remained quite cohesive.
The College of Mages is the multinational outfit that seeks (with varying degrees of success) to regulate the use of magic.  Their sway in Warwik City is relatively strong, and one of the laws they've successfully seen enacted prohibits anyone from practicing magic for profit who doesn't have a journeyman's license from the College ... that, or who is working under the direction of a journeyman or master, which covers apprentices.   Hence Magic 'R Us, which has franchised out to some villages in the region.  One of the branches PCs have come across is in the village of Athelren, which is halfway on the great highway between Warwik City and the south coast:
The first "branch" of the eponymous outfit, set up by an Athelren native, who goes by "Shadowdove" (she hates her given name, Paline).  She is an Almuensin senior apprentice who felt she was going to wash out on her journeyman trials and fled the city.  Here in her home village, she is what passes for a wizard, and skirts a dangerous line: she has not told anyone she is not a journeyman, and does not operate under the direction of a master.  She has a modest command of Earth (useful locally), Creation (less so) and Sensory (not particularly) magics, and can enchant ... just barely.  Her spell floor is -12.

This outfit really ticks off the College, and my PCs have generally been very down on it.  The most powerful PC wizard in the campaign's history is currently active, and she's a Warwik native who for the past few years has been (respectively) the local Master of Apprentices, and then one of the College's handful of "Intermediate Masters," the College's hit squad and responsible for magical law enforcement.  Elaina has no use whatsoever for Magic 'R Us -- which is comical, because her family business is an inn catering to pirates, and she's pretty laissez faire otherwise -- and has occasionally sought to shut it down.

14 March 2014

The Ordinary Magic Sword


Princess Verella and Meldil
I recall a gaming forum discussion on magic swords, and magic items in general, where the sentiment was running against “common” magical items – and against the concept of scaling owned items up in power as the PCs gained experience – and in favor of “unique” and “storied” items.  One person asked:

Certainly there's something very cool about creating a sword or wand or whatever that has a storied history and special unique powers... but do you want EVERY item to be that way? Do you feel like there should never just be a +1 sword?


No.

The game I play has enchantment rules. My gameworld's cities have a number of qualified enchanters, and they make their livings enchanting things. Since the lower end enchantments are by far the easiest and cheapest to make, by the nature of the beast there are going to be a relatively large number of +1 Puissance weapons out there, which take less than a twentieth the time of (say) +2 Puissance, +2 Accuracy, Quick-Draw, Loyal Sword broadswords. Since said +1 Puissance weapon takes 250 mage-days to enchant with my houseruling of GURPS, and the ability to enchant in the first place isn't common among wizards, this isn't anything a lowly PC is going to buy off the rack.

But that being said, I see no reason why an item's "storied history" should have much to do with its OOC system stats. The legendary Dragon Crown of the Emperors of Vallia doesn't become legendary because of its stats; it's legendary because it's been worn by three thousand years' worth of monarchs. No one knows the actual stats of the great warsword Meldil, borne on half a hundred battlefields by the renowned Princess Verella Elyanwe; it's famous because it's wielded by a great hero. Does it actually cleave iron as if it were wood? (Or is it the case, in truth, that the beautiful elven hero-princess has particularly florid and fanciful minstrels composing her tales?)

It wasn’t always this way, and D&D isn’t really to blame.  My first campaign as a player was an Empire of the Petal Throne run in 1978, and we just got flooded with stuff, in tried-and-true Monty Haul fashion. So much so that we players – sick and tired of scenarios being solved with our widgets instead of our wits – got together and agreed to pick just three items apiece to keep, and throw away all of the rest.

How would I change the paradigm?  If I had to do it all over again (unfortunately, the making of relatively simple items is too entrenched in my gameworld), I'd eliminate any spell or ability that analyzed the particulars of a magical item, and make the result of any enchantment unpredictable. The only way to figure out what something did would be empirical. Enchantments become things of mystery only if they're mysterious, and if you can't know – for certain – everything about it. Make it mechanistic, know for a certain fact that the bolts from a Staff of Reaming do 1d+2 crushing damage, that they have a range of 10 hexes, and that the Staff has 11 charges and 15 HT, then it's no more "wonderful" than 50' of hemp rope or five pounds of smoked cod.

Heck, you could even ring in items that people thought were magical, and really weren't.  I did this writeup on another site, and bet some of you could use this as an idea in your own campaigns:

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One of the most significant finds to come out of the haunted ruins of the city of Telmora, Deathreaper is a giant battlebrand, five and a half feet in length.  Wrought of some black glossy metal and engraved with fell runes of annihilation, the only color on the blade is the well-worn silver wire wrapping the hilt.  Through some eldritch sorcery, it is light as a willow wand in the wielder's hand ... but that is not all.  When waved over the wielder's head, Deathreaper erupts in dark violet flames (which somehow do not burn the wielder), and the runes on the blade sear with stabbing blue radiance.  The howls of dozens of voices split the air, screaming in horror and anguish, eternally damned.  It is said that to die on Deathreaper's point is to have your immortal soul destroyed, sucked into the blade for all time, to join the chorus of the hell-caged and be seared in the unholy flame of the brand.

The warrior-mage Thenestre, who found the sword, is now a feared man.  Standing taller, standing prouder, the power of Deathreaper fills him with its blazing might.  It is said that as long as he carries the sword he is invincible, and that even if he is parted from the blade, it will fly through the air to his defense ... and find his foe.  And drink.

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That's the shtick, anyway.  As a warrior, Thenestre is nothing much.  As a mage, he's a decent weaver of illusions and tolerably good at minor summonings.  As an adventurer, he's quite a con artist.  Reading of the adventures of a legendary champion bearing a hell-forged black soulsucking sword, he wondered whether he could do one better.  "Deathreaper" is, with the help of a dwarven confederate, a few layers of enameled foil over a core of pinewood.  A little engraving took care of the "runes of annihilation" (which came out of the Big Little Book of Wyzardry, 4491 edition), and a couple of enchanted illusions takes care of the lighting and sound effects.  Well, everyone knows that Thenestre was assisting Master Thormor on the dig in the northern part of the Old City ... or at least they believe it when Thenestre tells them that he was.

Thenestre can whip the sword around with the best of them, and light as it is, he makes it look easy.  He bolsters it by summoning "bodies" which he artistically disguises with illusion to have large holes in them and features contorted in horror, claiming that they were rascals who tried to steal from him.  He hasn't had to do more than brandish it since -- many a brave warrior, bold enough against mortal steel, wants no part of a dark destroyer forged in the very Fires of Hell itself!  And now Thenestre is "somebody," a renowned adventurer, someone who doesn't have to buy many of his own drinks, someone who can run up tabs at the tailors and the taverns, someone who gets his share of the women attracted to the Dark Anti-Hero.

Adventure hooks: 

1)  Sooner or later, there'll be some up and coming punk stickjock who wants to prove how bad he is by taking down the "legendary" Thenestre!  And maybe he'll run before the full fury of Deathreaper ... and maybe he won't.

2)  Sooner or later, there'll be some up and coming punk thief who wants to prove how bad he is by stealing the "legendary" Deathreaper!  And maybe he'll go down before the anti-theft illusions Thenestre sets (most nights, when he remembers, when he isn't too drunk, when he's not occupied with the groupie de jour) ... and maybe he won't.

3)  Sooner or later, Master Thormor -- or someone else familiar with the Telmori site -- might come into town and recall Thenestre as a minor assistant who didn't merit anything beyond the antique emerald brooch that was his share of the loot, and three weeks' pay ... certainly no ancient artifact sword.  Of which none were recovered, not in working order, anyway.  (Alternately, a researcher of the period might know, or uncover, that no such weapon is recorded in the annals of the Triolini Empire.)

4)  There are real dark forces in the world.  Forces which covet the power of Deathreaper, and seek to take it for their own.  (They might even hire the party to do it, and might not react well to being told "Oh, yeah, we stole the weapon you wanted, but gosh, it's a fake, here it is.")

07 March 2014

LGBT in gaming, Gossip Column style

The notion of gay, bisexual, or transgender characters has come up in many a discussion forum thread.  It’s an astonishingly contentious topic, running the gamut of “Why do our games need to mention s-e-x at all?” to “People who want this stuff mentioned are pushing The Gay Agenda,” to “OMG that game company’s new city book had two gay couples in it” – out of a hundred hetero PCs – “so the company must be Pushing The Gay Agenda!!”

So I could write a coherent rant on the subject, or I could just do this in letters-to-the-gossip-columnist style, with excerpts from posts, and my response to them, from over the last decade.

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In another discussion, on another forum, I was just reminded of a game of D&D 3.5 I played a while ago. I wanted my character to be bisexual because it just fit with the whole androgynous glam-rock Bard thing he had going. The DM disallowed it "because of the setting" ... Anyway, I was just wondering how many people play sincerely gay/bisexual characters or use them as NPCs.

Yeah, I would've been all over that DM like white on rice. "Exactly what about your setting is incompatible with bisexual characters, and what is your explanation for why that is?"

I've played a bisexual character in the past, and gay/bi NPCs are in my world a fair bit, to the degree which the PCs are aware of their sexuality. Some of my world's cultures are less than welcoming towards them; most don't care.

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Honestly, I don't think there's a need for even introducing sexuality in most RPGs. Why would you even bother stating your characters sexual preference? Is it such a significant part of who he/she is that you need to specify?

Gosh, I don't know. Is your character's religion pertinent? His or her background quirks? Do we need to know that your character was an orphan, enslaved as a child, is buggy about heights, or that you have a fetish for hidden knives? And do we really need to know that your characters visit brothels (in a he-man, heterosexual fashion, of course) or that they flirt with the cute NPCs (in an approved, heterosexual fashion, of course)?

So why do we? It's called character development. Unless there's some reason, unique to all of human emotion and endeavor, to exclude sexuality from those traits. Exactly what about our settings is incompatible with overt mentions of such things, and what is your explanation for why that is?

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That's pretty easy, actually. "The gods created the mortal races, and none of them saw any need to make any portion thereof homosexual in nature." There's no particular reason to make it a part of the setting unless it's something your players really want to explore, so it's pretty darn easy to omit.

To which I'd respond to the latter with "Well, plainly you do have at least one player interested in exploring non-hetero characters."

The former? Unless the GM could whip out the printout showing me that was already a part of acknowledged doctrine, I'd have to ask why in a pantheon - as typical RPG pantheons run - where the gods agree on nothing, from who created the world to moral codes to common dress for clerics to what races are subhuman, the only thing upon which they DO agree is that everyone is 100% hetero? Say what?

I'd bet a twenty against a dime that the result'd be GM hang-ups rather than a genuine explanation.   Even giving the GM the (very large) benefit of the doubt, I'd be no more enthused to play in that person's campaign than under any GM who when confronted with an unconventional RP trait responded with "Well, you just can't play that way.  Urrr, well, hurr ... because you just can't, that's why."

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... if someone created a male character in your game and mentioned in the backstory that they had a wife, would that similarly annoy you? Would you tell them that you didn't want them introducing sexuality into the game and ask why they felt the need to state their character's sexual preference?

Yeah. The very next time I hear a gamer make such a complaint will be the very first. 

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But why would anyone want to play a gay character unless they were pushing the agenda?  I’m not the only player who objects to this!

What I'm surprised there are some people missing is that roleplaying is a broad world, with a lot of folks doing things that others find boring, objectionable or outright grotesque.

Would you think so concerning other areas of gaming? Would anyone respond to a post about wanting to play a hardboiled 1950s detective, "Why would anyone bother?" or "Well, my campaign is medieval fantasy." Okay, sure, fair enough, but some folks like playing fantasy, and some like playing steampunk, and some like vampires, and some like chaotic evil characters and some like Star Wars and so on and so forth, and no doubt there are some campaigns out there that do, indeed, channel Archie Goodwin or Mike Hammer.

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No one's advocated doing that, though. There's a big difference between eliminating homosexuality because of personal biases and not including it because it serves no purpose in the campaign setting. Again, if it's not something your players express an interest in, why bother?

I question upon what, if any, basis homosexuality would "serve no purpose" in any campaign setting whatsoever. It's a human trait.  It's no more setting dependent – or setting violating – than claustrophobia, a love for music, a tendency towards athleticism, OCD, or a thousand other personality or physical traits within the range of human expression.

Now you certainly can have settings where it isn't likely to come into play, where it might be inconvenient, unwelcome or outright dangerous/illegal/proscribed. Certainly a homosexual character in a WWII or Holy Lands campaign has to keep a tight lid on things, no error.

But I'm afraid my reaction to the "Err, it just doesn't exist in my campaign because, erm, it serves no purpose" would almost always be "Yeah, right, the only underpinning to that is that the notion of guys getting it on with guys squigs you out so much you can't even handle the theoretical concept."  Beyond that, we're not talking about a campaign that doesn't include matters sexual in it because no one wants to touch that trope - any more than the one the OP cited.  We're talking about making a point of banning homosexuality from characterizations.

Fair enough; there are a lot of folks who can't handle it. I just don't need to let them be in charge of my escapism.

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But frankly, at high levels, a fantasy character is akin to a force of some fickle sort of nature. This is not a sexually-charged setting, and making a fantasy world into one seems to be shoehorning something in that was never meant to be there.

Not in the fantasy you prefer to play, demonstrably, and it is no more or less a "sexually charged setting" as the players prefer. I've certainly played in campaigns that were nothing more than one-dimensional collections of stats and where all we did was, indeed, kill them and take their stuff. I've also played in campaigns where eroticism was a major theme (to date, I've had three characters married to the characters of fellow PCs).

But you know something? I don't play steampunk or nihilistic fantasy or Vampire LARPs. D&D leaves me cold, and what is termed "D&D Fantasy" leaves me a lot colder. There are a great many systems, milieus and styles I haven't played, and a good many I wouldn't play. I stop far short of airily stating that sexuality, eroticism and/or romantic tropes were "never meant to be" in a fantasy world, the more so in that I can quote a good many fantasy works where they are major elements. Anyone want to claim that sexuality and/or romantic entanglements don't form a significant plot element in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time? That even as the quintessesial kill-them-and-take- their-stuff protagonist, Conan the Barbarian's motivated in a lot of plots by heaving bosoms? From Lois McMasters Bujold (The Sharing Knife books) to Marion Zimmer Bradley (Darkover) to Michael Moorcock (Eternal Champion) to Tanith Lee (damn near every adult book she wrote) to Robert Heinlein (Glory Road) to Harry Turtledove (Videssos) to Robert Adams (Horseclans)  - and that's just a casual glance at two of my bookshelves - those themes are everywhere. Heck, Elizabeth Lynn was writing fantasy works with explicit LGBT sex scenes in them thirty years ago.

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But NPCs are just that: non-player characters. They're co-stars at best and even in story heavy games they shouldn't be given the attention that player characters command. Why should I care about an NPC's sexuality and how will I know unless it's established IE they're married or in a known relationship?

Whether you care or not isn't the point. It's whether the NPCs who've been presented are straight or otherwise. I'd say the 99% total is pretty much accurate.  I'm going to provide some evidence of my own. The city in my setting in which I've done the most work has over 1100 locations, and I've given information on 498 NPCs. Of that total, 143 are explicitly (or presumed) hetero, oftentimes through identification of an opposite sex spouse or children ... although my wife being the daughter of a gay man, I know how much that's worth.  Fifteen characters are explicitly gay.

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If I'm in a combat-focused game like D&D or Pathfinder, sexuality never enters into it except the occasional off-color joke. So there's no need to worry about homosexuality in the game; I'm more worried about initiative and flanking bonuses.

In other words, spouses, children and anything that references marriage don't exist? No one has any heirs? There aren't any brothels? No NPCs ever introduces you to a wife or a husband?  If your response is "nope, never," then fair enough. If not, then of course you have sexuality in the game.

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Now if that decision to include GBLT NPCs clashes with the adventure background, then I believe it damages the adventure because it will appear to be shoehorned in for political reasons.

Just out of curiosity, how would mentioning that a NPC happened to be LGBT clash with an adventure background, any more than a casual mention that a NPC happened to be hetero (by virtue, say, of an opposite sex partner)?

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If that information does not have a direct bearing on the adventure, then why include it? How many adventures do you know of that call attention to the sexual preferences of the NPCs if that sexual preference does not have a bearing on the adventure?

Well, for starters, suppose you let me decide for myself what has a "direct bearing" on the adventure or not, and I'll even return the favor and let you decide for yourself. I might even be one of those GMs who likes to include local color and flavor to my adventures, and come up with details that have no bearing on solving a tactical problem. (Come to that, I might even be one of those GMs whose gaming isn't always based around solving tactical problems.)

It's funny that you bring up Village of Hommlet.  Possibly unfortunately for your argument, I happen to own it. On the very first entry in which the village is described -- two pages into the booklet -- we see that the head of a house is a manly man, and there's a "large goodwife," and several children. Location #2? An elderly "master and mistress" and their son. Location #3? The local woodcutter, his wife, and three young children. Location #4? A widow and her two grown sons. Location #5? A widower and his five children. Location #6? The leatherworker, his wife and their three children. Location #7? The innkeeper, his wife, and their children. (The inn is named, as you surely know, the "Welcome Wench," and depicts a buxom serving maid on its sign. Are you arguing that that has nothing to do with sexuality?)

In all, twenty-five of the 33 numbered locations in the village mention the sexual preference of the inhabitants -- if all male, and all with housewives who have no part of business. Why do I need to know this? What kind of -- what was your turn of phrase again? -- direct bearing does the number of small children of the stonemason or the marital status of the carpenter have to do with the plot of the adventure?

Perhaps, while you're so eager to have your questions answered, you can answer that one.

As it happens, I own 38 other adventures written for D&D. Anyone want to bet me that there's as many as ONE that never mentions a spouse, never mentions a brothel, never mentions a child?

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One reason I love my wife is that she can often anticipate my thoughts. In marching in the Boston Pride Parade a few years back, we were talking about whether we'd be marching in them ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road, I was raising my finger for my next point, and she glanced sidelong at me and said, "It's not even that you don't want to be marching here ten years from now. You don't want this parade to exist ten years from now."

And she was right, and she knew the reason: that however much that parade evolved from a desperate protest in the face of shrieking bigots throwing things to a joyous celebration, it'd be lovely to live in a world tolerant enough that it wouldn't even occur to anyone to have a parade for a segment of sexuality ... any more than we have parades celebrating blondes, vegetarians, hockey fans or any other human aspect or trait.

We're not quite there yet. It's sobering to realize that topics on alternate sexuality in our escapism routinely provoke hundred of posts and thousands of page views.