Designing a New Main Lift/Accessory Split Program

~ 1200 words, ~ 6 minutes reading time

So, I’ve been working with this program (or something near it) for a while now. I like it. It balances a lot of my needs. Reasonable time for workouts, no leg day. However, I’ve run into an issue.

I’m not training frequently enough to optimize this program.

The program was designed for 4+ days a week (so, each muscle group is trained 2 times a week) with it being “okay” to drop to 2 days occasionally. But, recently, 2 days per week has been normal, which means this routine isn’t ideal. So, time to revise the program!


For a day or so, I thought I’d be using Jeff Nippard’s Minimalist Routine. I tried it for one day, and decided against it. Not because I don’t like it, but because it doesn’t actually fit one of my goals. So, let’s set out what I want from a program:

Desire #1: Optimized for 2-3 days a week.

Desire #2: ~45 minute workouts (less is fine, much more isn’t).

Desire #3: Each major body part trained at least 2x a week. (Ideally for 10+ sets, but that’s not a huge deal.)

Desire #4: Capable of expanding to 7 days a week, but with the decision about the number of days backward-looking rather than forward-looking. (Note: this is what is leading me against Nippard’s Minimalist Routine. You *can* turn his 2 day routine into a 5 day routine without much problem, but you have to be able to plan ahead, because it’s all based on SPLITTING a routine between days. This only works if you know that you’ll have two days to do the routine on the first day you do it. Similarly, 5 day full-body routines generally have very low daily volume, making them pretty sub optimal if you just happen to end up with a 2 day workout week.)

Requirement: doesn’t require equipment I don’t have. Desire: doesn’t require certain equipment that I have, but don’t really want to drag out (dip bar, my make-shift incline “bench” – a board that leans against a chair while I sit on the floor).

Design Challenges

Naturally, some of these will conflict or require some compromise. Where I was stuck was #4, but I’ve realized that this is actually essential for me. I LIKE the idea of working out 7 days a week, and sometimes I even do it (or 6 days), but recently my schedule (and/or energy level) hasn’t really allowed for it. 2 days has been my reality for a bit now. It’s pretty easy to design a 2-day split routine that you can alternate so you workout every day of the week (Upper/Lower, Push + Squat/Pull + Deadlift are two examples of such splits). The problem is that if I only do each workout once a week (total: 2 days) progress tends to slow way down (or even not maintain), especially on certain exercises that seem very sensitive to frequency for me (delt-heavy exercises, for example). Now, if I’m planning ahead, I can always say “I’m not going to work out tomorrow, so I’ll just do all my major lifts tonight, and skip the isolation movements.” But, my schedule isn’t predictable enough to know that ahead of time, at least not consistently. What I really need is something that lets me go “Yesterday I did X, so today I should do Y.”

So, to allow for up to a 7 day routine, I need a 2-day split. However, I also need for it to be okay for me to only do 2 days a week.

Enter the “Main Lift/Accessory” split!

The rules are simple:

If I didn’t do a “Main Lift” day yesterday, I do that today. If I did a “Main Lift” day yesterday, then I do an Accessory Day today.

So, if I lift on Monday and Thursday, I’ll do 2 Main Lift days.

If I lift on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I’ll do Main/Accessory/Main.

The accessory lifts will all be “fun”, but not particularly important. So, if they don’t happen on any particular week, meh. The Main lifts are how I measure progress, and will (at least usually) get done 2x a week or more. So, here’s the breakdown!

Main Lift Day

The main lift day is composed of 5 movements: a leg movement, a vertical pull, a vertical push, a horizontal pull, and a horizontal push.

Pullups (I’m doing a “50 pullup” program – it’s allegedly supposed to get you up to where you can do 50 pullups. I’m nowhere close, but can do a single set of 8-9 on a good day, which isn’t bad, seeing as I had some frozen shoulder for a good chunk of this year.) – 5 sets, reps by program

Leg Exercise (alternate Dumbbell Squat/Romanian Deadlift each time): X x 10 (last set to failure or 20, max 3 sets because I hate legs)

Dumbbell floor press: X x 10 (last set to failure or 20)

One-arm Dumbbell Row: X x 10 per side (last set to failure or 20)

Dumbbell Shoulder Press: X x 10 (last set to failure or 20)

2 minute rest between sets

“X” will have to be adjusted by experimentation to get into (or near) my 45 minute goal. I’m thinking around 4-5 will be about right (except for legs where I will do no more than 3).

Progression is based on the last set. If I get 15+ in that last set, I’ll increase weight by “two steps” (for most that’s 5 lb/side), if I get 12-13 in that last set, I’ll increase weight by “one step” (for most, that’s 2.5 lb/side)

Accessory Day

This is going to take some experimentation, but I tried to pick muscle groups that tend to recover quickly (at least for me) so that having an accessory day between 2 Main Lift days won’t interfere with the main lift days. If I find that’s not the case, I’ll have to adjust this accordingly. The routine:

Calf Raise: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Shrugs: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Bicep Curls: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Overhead Tricep Extensions: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Wrist Curls: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Reverse Wrist Curls: X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

Leg Raise Variation (use list from Start Bodyweight): X x 12 (last set to failure or 20)

2 minute rest between sets

Again, I’ll adjust X based on my time goal (I’m guessing about 2-3 for this one), and use the same progression rules, but with cutoffs of 17 and 14.

I think I’m going to give this a shot for a while and see how it goes.

Fate Solo RPG Thoughts

~ 900 words, ~ 5 min reading time

After my last entry, I decided to try out Fate, since I had recently bought the book, and kind of wanted a break from Starforged. Here are my thoughts:

(1) Tools I used: Fate Core and Fate Condensed for the base system. Fate is designed to be a “hackable” system, so the publisher has published a couple of their own hacks to show how one might do that. Fate Condensed is one of those, and I like the tweaks they made. For an Oracle, I used Kenny Norris’s Fate Solo. Fate Solo is a pretty standard yes/no oracle, but using Fate dice. However, it’s missing what Debra at geek gamers would call a “suggestive” or “generative” resource to answer more complex questions. For that, I asked my wife for some help. One technique I’d seen Debra use was to grab a novel and roll for a random page, and use that page as inspiration. So, I asked my wife for a suggestion – something either fantasy or sci-fi with quite a bit of action. She gave me a few possibilities, and after flipping through I decided Larklight looked promising. It’s a middle-grade book with lots of action in a spacefaring alternative Victorian setting. Every random page I turned to had something interesting on it. I also used the Fate Scenario Worksheet to help with the adventure planning, and UNE for NPC inspiration.

(2) Thoughts on the Fate system for solo: Fate is a pretty good system for a solo RPG. It’s quite simple, and I could have made it simpler as I think about it. The point that gets awkward is the GM use of Fate points for Compels. (Same problem I had with Threat in Star Trek Adventures – since Modiphius’s 2d20 system has a momentum/threat system that feels a *lot* like Fate Points in Fate.) But, this isn’t really too bad.

(3) Thoughts on Fate Solo as a GM emulator/Solo Guide for Fate: Fate Solo is really just 3 modules: a yes/no oracle using Fate dice – which works well, ideas for character creation – which I used about half of since I thought the other half would overpower the character for my taste, and a “surprise factor” – designed to trigger “surprises” of various magnitudes. This is incomplete, as mentioned above. But, that deficiency can be made up for in two ways – and I used both – Kenny Norris, in his other resources, suggests writing lists whenever possible, and then choosing from lists. So, if a surprise happens, you should write out a list of possible surprises and pick the one that seems like it would make for the best story – or you could use the classic “make a list and roll on it”. I did this at a significant surprise point, and it provided a pretty fun twist. I came up with 3 options, assigned them to the 3 unique sides of the Fate dice, and rolled. The other way I filled the gap was rolling for pages in Larklight. So, the lack of a complex oracle wasn’t a big deal. However, I didn’t think the surprise factor mechanic worked very well. In the 6 scenes I played, I only every encountered ONE surprise – and it was labeled as a “minor” surprise. I feel like there should have been more, especially since I managed to finish the entire scenario in 6 scenes – not insanely few for Fate (Fate Core suggests something like 2-9 scenes per scenario) – but I felt like I faced too few complications. Next time I play Fate, I might try using TOFU (The Tiny Oracle with FUnny dice) instead. It has a more Mythic-like “Mess factor” (like the Chaos Factor in Mythic), which will tend to create altered scenes and random events, though it is also lacking a generative/suggestive resource.

(4) Other thoughts: Fate Core has some really good tools for scenario planning. I particularly like the idea of building scenes around “story questions”. It provides for pretty good pacing without letting scenes drag on. “The purpose of this scene is to answer the question: Is Ronnie going to be able to infiltrate the lab and gather information about the experiments being done to increase the aggressiveness of dogs of war?” Once the question is answered, the scene is over. I also appreciate the idea of keeping scenarios fairly short – they suggest that having 8-9 story questions is probably going to end up overlapping into another scenario. With 1-3 story questions expected to be answered per session, they’re basically saying that you should be able to complete significant plot points in no more than 7 sessions or so, and probably 2-3 being average. One other nice thing about Fate: you can get the electronic version on a “pay what you want” basis – so you can try it for free to see if you like it. So, it’s easy to try out. Just remember that you’ll need to provide a setting. But, if you don’t mind doing that, Fate provides a really nice, quick, flexible system, and the ability to choose between Core, Condensed, and Accelerated allows for you to choose the level of detail you want.

Failing at a Solo RPG

~1100 words, ~6 min reading time

I haven’t posted a playthrough of a solo RPG for a while. So, I thought I’d share some of my recent experience, where I feel like I’ve “failed” a bit.

I know, it’s weird to think of “failing” at a solo RPG. Like, what does that even mean? I’ve had characters die MANY times – in fact, character death is how I generally know that it’s time to try a new game (the exception being the character I had that ended up with a life sentence in prison).

In solo RPGing – rather like with any leisure activity, really – success and failure are highly subjective. Personally, I generally judge by whether the leisure “feels right” – and this is true whether I’m watching a TV show, playing a video game, or solo RPGing. At the end, there’s a sense of satisfaction (though not always the *same* sense of satisfaction!) when things went well. This is “success” for me.

Anyway, I have recently been soloing Ironsworn: Starforged, which I preordered. The physical book is expected in October, but we got the PDF immediately with the preorder. So, I read it, got a reasonable sense of the setting (which is cool) and the system (which is mostly Ironsworn, but with a couple of nice tweaks), and jumped in.

I followed the advice in the book for setting details creation and character creation, except that I tried to make everything that I could random. I rolled on tables for every detail about the universe and sector. I drew my character background basically at random (though I assigned the stats based on the randomly drawn “assets”).

Then, I started to play. For a few sessions, everything felt like it was going well. I mean, yeah, terrible things were happening (a temporal anomaly killed over half of the settlement I started at, since we failed to evacuate everyone in time). But, there was a clear forward action.

Then, I hit a wall. Things started feeling *wrong* – aimless. Not like I was *stuck*, more like I didn’t know which direction was forward. I wasn’t sure what was wrong. I did managed to regain *some* sense of direction, but things still don’t feel quite *right*. After some thought, I have a sense of what went wrong – and it’s really three-fold.

(1) Relying too much on randomness. Now, there’s nothing wrong with rolling on random tables – but what ended up happening here was that I created a universe randomly and then created a character randomly and then created an initial quest randomly. The result was that the pieces didn’t really cohere very well. The universe, allegedly, has wars happening all over the place as shipwrights engage in arms races to design more powerful ways of killing each other. But, the sector I was in had one obviously dominant planet, and a bunch that weren’t particularly interested in war, it seemed. Then, my character had backgrounds as a mercenary and diplomat – a cool background for the universe, but not the sector. The initial quest involved saving the settlement from this approaching anomaly. Again, a cool quest – more on that in a minute – but why in the world would a mercenary/diplomat be involved with saving people from a SCIENTIFIC problem. (Eventually, I figured out he could negotiate with a neighboring settlement to take them in – but it took a strange amount of time – and failing at scientific scans that he was no good at – for me to figure that solution out.) Anyway, I should have relied less on randomness – specifically, I should have paid more attention to the universe when creating the sector and the character. If wars are everywhere, and my character is a mercenary, then odds are good there should be war in the sector where play begins! In the balance of “logic” to “surprise”, I really should have used a bit more logic in setting things up. In addition, my poor initial design was made WORSE by the fact that I rely a lot on randomness when I play. In itself, not a problem – EXCEPT that I end up with a lot of disconnected elements. I need to do better keeping the number of elements a bit more limited!

(2) Poor character design – the player character is given a “Background Vow” – which is a background motivation. I decided that diplomat and mercenary are, fundamentally, about politically uniting people – either through negotiation or conquest. So, I made the background vow “Unify the Forge”. Apart from that, I was VERY lazy about character design – very little backstory. I skipped basically *all* the backstory exercises in the book. So, while I had a motivation, that motivation was so broad – and, frankly, impossible – that it really didn’t work in providing a sense of direction. While diplomat/mercenary is a weird choice for someone to solve a temporal anomaly, saving people from a temporal anomaly is a pretty clear goal that you can either succeed or fail at. However, the equivalent of “World Peace”, while a nice ideal, is a very poor motivation for action. It’s much too broad!

(3) Lack of time limit – the “deal with the anomaly” quest had continuous pressure on. The clock was ticking (though with a bit of randomness) – so I knew that I only had about 4-5 sessions (maybe a bit more, if I rolled very luckily) to solve the problem. And, in the end, I *didn’t* – at least not entirely. Not quite half of the population escaped. That was a pretty great dramatic story, even if the ending wasn’t happy. But, after that, nothing had a time limit any more. It kind of felt like I could just sit around and things would be fine – bad for motivation!

I have since tried to solve some of these problems. (1) I’ve cut back on how much I introduce new random elements a bit. (2) I’ve ignored some of the more incoherent parts of the universe design. I’ve figured out that my version of the universe is not one filled with wars – it’s one where settlements are very isolated from one another. So, unification is a combination of exploration and negotiation. (3) I recently added an “explorer” trait to the character, which goes well with the unification direction in the kind of universe I *actually* have.

At the same time, I’m engaging in a significant internal debate: is it time to put this character to rest and start over?

That’s a major challenge of solo RPGing that I’ve not yet figured out – how to know when to stop. (Thus why my characters almost all end up dead.) But, it’s something worth thinking about.

Ironsworn/Starforged Progress Move Thoughts

~900 words, ~5 min reading time

I’ve not posted about my solo RPGing recently, though I have been doing it. I preordered Starforged (at least as of 8/31 you can buy the PDF but not the physical book – they’re doing an initial print run for Kickstarter backers and preorderers, with the physical book made available to others late this year), by the maker of Ironsworn. The preorder gave immediate access to a PDF of the game. The major mechanics are basically the same in the two games. Here, I’m going to focus on the “Progress Move” mechanic.

The Use of Progress Moves

“Progress Moves” are used any time you’re trying to accomplish something that isn’t “one and done”. Instead, you take actions to accumulate progress. The games formalize progress moves in 3 cases: quests (called “vows”), expeditions/travel, and combat. (Starforged adds “connections” to this list, where you use progress tracks to track relationship development.) Each case has “steps” you take – “milestones” for vows, “waypoints” for expeditions, “harm” for combat (in Ironsworn, just “progress” in Starforged – Starforged acknowedges the possibility of non-harm objectives in combat while that is lacking in Ironsworn). However, how many steps you have to take depends on the “rank” of your objective. One of the challenges of playing the game is picking an appropriate rank for a progress track. Let’s look at an example.

Suppose I’m exploring a derelict spaceship, hoping to find some useful supplies/technology. First, I decide the rank of this expedition – Troublesome, Dangerous, Formidable, Extreme, or Epic. The rank determines how much progress you make on a 10 box “progress track” with each step you make toward your goal. For a Troublesome expedition, you mark 3 boxes for each waypoint. For Dangerous, 2 boxes. For Formidable, 1 box. For Extreme, 2 “ticks” (basically, half a box, since a box requires 4 ticks). For Epic, 1 “tick” (1/4 of a box).

Some Statistics

When you decide you’re done, you roll 2 10-sided dice (2d10) and compare them to the number of boxes that are completed on the progress track. If both die show a number LESS than the number of completed boxes, then you have a “strong hit” – so some very desirable outcome. If just 1 die is less than the number of completed boxes, then you have a “weak hit” – you get what you want, but at a cost. If neither die is less than the number of completed boxes, then you have a “miss”. There are a couple ways to deal with a miss, depending on the context. For an expedition, you either just fail to accomplish your goal (nothing valuable in this derelict!), OR you renew your efforts by clearing some of the boxes, pushing the rank up a step, and then continuing. Doing some math, here’s a potentially useful table:

Boxes filledProb (strong hit)Prob (strong or weak hit)Troublesome StepsDangerous StepsFormidableExtremeEpic

Now, let’s apply this to the different categories.

If you complete 2 milestones on a vow/quest, you have a 75% chance of at least partial success if the vow was Troublesome. 51% for Dangerous, 19% for Formidable, and 0% for Extreme or Epic.

Or, put another way, to have at least a 50% chance of at least partial success, a troublesome quest requires 2 steps, as does a dangerous quest. Formidable 4 steps. Extreme 8. Epic 16.

Suggested Interpretations

Because of this, I suggest these interpretations for progress track rank:

Combat – rank captures the difficulty of the objective – by increasing the number of successful rolls required, a higher rank increases the length of combat and therefore the amount of damage (to health, stress, supplies, etc.) that the players are likely to take. In Ironsworn, rank also increases how much damage the opponent does.

Vows/Quests – rank captures complexity of the quest – not necessarily difficulty. You could have a Troublesome quest where the 2nd step is an Extreme combat (which, if successful, means the quest is probably completed). So, the quest is straightforward – but the 2nd step is quite hard.

Expeditions – rank captures the length of the journey or the size of the area being explored (speaking in # of rooms terms) – each progress step is the discovery of a new waypoint. Longer journeys have more waypoints, as do larger dungeons/derelicts/etc.

An Alternative Interpretation

Another interpretation suggested in Starforged is that rank should indicate how much time you want to spend on this vow/combat/expedition/relationship. Practically, this is likely the best approach. Troublesome goals tend to be finished quickly. Epic goals take a very long time to complete. However, I think it worthwhile to keep in mind the guidelines above. I have found myself “stuck” before when I decided a quest was “Extreme”, but quickly ran out of steps to complete after 4 or 5 – which meant the odds of success were basically zero, even though I couldn’t think of what else would need to be done to accomplish these goals. Keeping in mind the # of steps required to complete the progress track helps keep us from under/over ranking quests.

On Political Realignment

~2000 words, ~10 min read time

Note: nothing I say here is particularly original. I’m mostly distilling ideas that have come to me primarily through/from historian Steve Davies. But, it’s been on my mind the past few days, so I’m writing it up again.

The Four Inclinations

In the US, there are basically 4 political inclinations. One might be tempted to call these “philosophies”, but that’s claiming far more internal consistency than they deserve. So, I’m going with inclinations, as, for most people, political thought tends to be more instinctive and tribal than reasoned. In any case, here are the four:

Conservatives – These are the “God and Country” folks. As an inclination, this inclination generally dislikes change, particularly if it’s rapid.

Liberals – Here (and throughout this piece), I use the term in the older JS Mill sense rather than the newer FDR sense. In modern parlance, “libertarian” comes fairly close to what is meant here – though I think libertarian has a slightly different usage. In any case, liberals emphasize freedom – free thought and speech, free markets, and free expression of individuality.

Progressives – Often confused with liberals nowadays (especially by the political right). Progressives are defined largely by their sense of using social institutions to push society toward some fairly specific ideal. Generally favorable toward the idea of elites/professional bureaucrats running things.

Populists – not particularly well-defined philosophically, but, in general, believe that society is divided between “the people” and “the elites”, and that society should be made to serve the people.

Of course, very few individuals are PURELY motivated by just one of these inclinations, nor are they monolithic internally. But, these are the general inclinations you see in American politics.

[Aside on “libertarian”: I generally think “libertarian” is just a synonym for “anti-State”, and one can get there through lots of inclinations. There are libertarian conservatives – who see the State as a threat to traditional cultural institutions, and there are libertarian liberals – who see the State as a violator of rights, and there are libertarian populists – who see the State as the vehicle by which the elites exploit the common person. Libertarian progressives are possible, if one believes that the State stands in the way of progress more than being a vehicle for pushing it forward. I suspect that in the US today, there are few libertarian progressives, but this might just be in the circles I run in.]

The Fading Alliances

Of course, with four inclinations and two major parties, the parties are naturally alliances of the various inclinations. Now, technically, all parties contain all inclinations to SOME degree – but it tends to be the case that two of the inclinations dominate one party and the other two dominate the other party. Through most of the 20th century the division was something like this:

Democrats = Populists + Progressives

Republicans =Conservatives + Liberals

The reason for this division was that economic questions were paramount, and this division puts natural allies together. Both populists and progressives are distrustful of markets, and so want some kind of intervention from the government to protect the common person. Thus, for example, you have Democrats being very pro-labor-union. Meanwhile, both conservatives and liberals value relatively free markets and low tax burdens.

However, these alliances have been fading for the past 20-30 years. This has happened for two reasons:

(1) A moderately liberal consensus on economic issues. That is, in the early 1900s, there was genuine debate about major structural questions regarding the economy – should the government centrally plan the economy or should markets play a key role? But, as the 1900s came to an end, the conclusion was clear: widespread central planning was a failure. So, a consensus emerged that markets should be the primary organizing method in the economy, but they should be regulated and some level of income redistribution (safety nets, welfare) was desirable. The only debate left was in the details. This led to what I’m going to call “liberal drift”. That is, liberals started drifting away from the Republican party toward the Democrats as the Democrats became more acceptable on economic issues and social issues – with which the liberals generally agree with the progressives in many ways – became more important.

(2) Following from (1) – the Democrats’ gradual abandonment of the populists. Strategically, this makes perfect sense. The labor unions were largely populist, but labor unions were dying during the last couple decades of the 1900s. So, it didn’t make much sense to put many eggs in that particular basket. The area I spent my childhood in was staunchly Democrat – filled with “conservative Democrats” who were Democrats because of labor union membership. I now recognize that “conservative Democrat” actually means “populist”.

Both of these have fed into a realignment.

The Realignment

With the emergence of the moderately liberal economic policy consensus being adopted by both parties, those with liberal inclinations are now divided. One group started to focus more on social issues, and so shifted to the Democrats, who were generally more freedom-oriented on that front. Another group was convinced that more could be achieved on the economic front, and so generally stayed aligned with the Republicans.

Also, this meant that economic issues became matters of technocratic wrangling (should the top tax rate be 35% or 47.2%?) rather than real debate with significant clash (should the government own all the natural resources?).

The “liberal drift” freed the Democrats to cut loose a sinking ship: labor union populism. Labor unions were clearly dying (25% membership in 1980 to roughly 10% now), and would be quite difficult – perhaps impossible – to revive. So, don’t rely on them.

This allowed for social issues to be a bigger part of the Democratic program. Populists tended to be in favor of protectionist tariffs, social safety nets, and progressive taxes (much like the progressives), but fairly conservative on social and cultural issues – affirming the importance of a “traditional family”, and being nervous about the cultural impacts of immigration. But, it didn’t make sense to play to either of these to much degree, with the liberal drift happening. So, the Democrats leaned into trying to attract the liberals by placing more emphasis on social issues – where the progressives tend to be more rights-oriented – and becoming more market friendly (especially in the area of international trade). This left the populists abandoned, and voter participation plummeted. (See 1996 and 2000)

Then, the Republicans started making a play for the populists. For example: GW Bush and his support of steel tariffs. Not a free market policy – but it wasn’t intended to be. It was a conservative/populist policy. Conservative in the sense that it was protecting American industry – and one with strategic significance, and populist because, well, populists love tariffs because they protect very specific, easy to identify, jobs. Bush wasn’t particularly successful with the play for the populist vote, but laid the groundwork for someone who would be: Donald Trump.

Pres Trump – I suspect to some degree by accident – masterfully combined conservative and populist rhetoric. His “America First”/MAGA message was designed to play to these mindsets, and his presentation style was populist through-and-through. For a while, I’ve described him as “common” as a speaker. But this isn’t quite right. Rather, he’s “unrefined”. His speeches have a very un-practiced feel (perhaps genuinely so…), and populists LIKE that. Simply saying what you think (or feel) strikes populists as honest, even if any factual claims aren’t literally true.

Thus, Pres. Trump has solidified the Republican Party as a conservative/populist alliance.

This also helps explain what has happened in Ohio over the past few years. Not too long ago, Ohio was pretty purple. Now, it’s turning red. Look at a map of the 2020 election, and you can identify every major city – they’re in the blue counties (one exception: Ohio University dominates its county in Southern Ohio). Go back to 2008, and there are several non-urban blue counties. (Even moreso in 1992.) One that stands out to me: Belmont County, where I grew up

About 20 years ago, Ohio was the land of the conservative Democrat and liberal Republican. We pretty regularly had the most conservative Democrats in DC and the most liberal Republicans – and the Republicans we sent were often more liberal than the Democrats. Why? Well, Ohio is largely composed of conservatives and populists. When these were in two different parties, Ohio was a swing state, and the need to get elected meant our Democrats tended to be populists, not progressives, and our Republicans conservatives, not liberals. This gave a very pragmatic/centrist flavor to our politics.

But no more. These two inclinations are both now united in the Republican party. So, Ohio is going to swing a lot less. (It’s for this reason that I registered Republican in our primary this year, since I strongly suspect the Republicans are going to sweep the State-wide offices.)

The Democrats, though, are still stumbling their way toward a new alliance. What that alliance is going to have to be is a blend of progressives and liberals. At the moment, there’s a battle going on for which of these two have dominance, as that will determine a lot of the overall approach of this party. One of the issues that has the potential to cause the most harm are issues related to free expression. The progressive/”woke” wing is perfectly happy to stomp out speech they disagree with since they tend to equate disagreement or disapproval with violence. In fact, even “silence is violence.” Probably more than any other inclination, liberals respect and value disagreement – probably because JS Mill’s 2nd chapter of On Liberty is in liberals’ bones. So, the idea that speech itself (or the lack thereof!) should be equated with violence makes it *very* difficult to get liberals on board. The question is really whether the Democratic leadership is going to be able to reframe cultural issues in such a way that Democrats can be seen as embracing diversity rather than imposing it. A general attitude of tolerance – including tolerance for disagreement – is necessary for this to work, and there is a very loud progressive wing that is fighting against this kind of tolerance. (Note: I generally consider any reference to “The Paradox of Tolerance” to be a pretty clear signal that this is the kind of person you’re dealing with.) Democratic leadership has to be careful, because “well, at least we’re not Republicans” will only work for so long, and there’s a real possibility that those of liberal inclination may just not vote at all, once the Republicans are less threatening/more boring.

[Aside: it is certainly true that the GOP has its own problem – with the fringier elements declaring the more moderate members “RINOs” and the like. This would tend to speed the liberal drift, but if the Democrats embrace a full-woke “Paradox of Tolerance” approach, the liberals will have nowhere to go. The Republicans adopting free-speech rhetoric has slowed this, and they’ve been helped by the progressive wing of the Democrats treating speech as violence.]

A Personal Note

As a kid, I proudly considered myself a conservative Republican. But, in college, Pres. GW Bush convinced me that I wasn’t actually a Republican, and my exposure to more libertarian thought led me to call myself libertarian.

Over the past couple of years, and especially after being exposed to this 4 inclination hypothesis, I’ve come to realize that I am, like Strephon in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe, a “liberal conservative”. That is, I affirm the importance of individual liberty and traditional social institutions like faith and family. This meant that, during the 1990s, the Republican Party felt like home. It was a blend (though an imperfect one) of my major inclinations. However, now that populists are running the GOP and progressives the DNC, I have nowhere to go.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It might convince me to think about politics less, and I suspect we’d all be better off if we did that.

A Jobless-less Recession?

~500 words, ~ 3 min reading time

One of the strangest prospects we currently face: the jobless-less recession.

Q1 real GDP is supposed to be down – like literally down as opposed to “below trend”. (I say “supposed to be” because this is an “advance” estimate, which is going to be revised a couple of times.)
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate (those without jobs who are actively looking for work) is very low – under 4%. 2.4 million more people were employed in March 2022 vs. March 2021. (Of those, roughly half are people who weren’t even looking for work in March 2021.) Put another way – the “Great Resignation” doesn’t seem to be people leaving the workforce entirely (at least not at a macro level) – it’s people leaving one job to take another.

Even using the broadest measures, which add in those who want a job and looked for work in the past year even if they’re not actively looking for work recently, PLUS those who are working part time but want a full time job, that measure is almost as low as headline unemployment was a year ago.
Anyway, dropping production tied with rising employment suggests that labor productivity has dropped significantly. Why? Well, that’s an interesting question to which I don’t have a great answer. Some speculative thoughts:

(1) There’s been something of a “youngening” of the workforce over the past couple of years – with more 16-17 year olds working and fewer 45+ year olds working. Dropping productivity could reflect a loss of human capital (experience, training, etc.).

(2) Shortages for specific materials + labor hoarding. Example: there’s a chip shortage. While employers could lay workers off since they literally can’t produce at the moment (or at least can’t produce at typical levels), in this environment that’s a really dangerous choice since there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to hire people back. So, businesses are hoarding labor even if it’s not immediately productive so that they’ll have workers on hand when shortages resolve.

(3) The Great Resignation was, in part (perhaps mostly), people looking for jobs that had more flexibility rather than more pay. People are looking for a better “work/life balance” or better working conditions. These traits tend to decrease physical productivity (the kind GDP measures) even if they improve overall well-being (with which GDP is generally correlated – generally people with more stuff feel better off – but of which it is not a measure).

(4) Another part of the Great Resignation was people leaving a job for another with higher pay. However, it might be that these jobs “overpay” early in an employee’s career (relative to productivity) but underpay later. This is especially likely if the job requires significant employer-specific skills/knowledge which take some time to learn, and which don’t improve the employee’s likelihood of finding a higher paying job later after these skills/knowledge are acquired. So, productivity fell because people moved into jobs for which they don’t yet have the skills/knowledge needed to be very productive.

I may be missing something very important, since these are just quick first guesses. But, it is pretty fascinating to be in a world of rising employment, dropping GDP, and high inflation…

Missions of the USS Comstock (NCC-7204) (Star Trek Adventures Solo TTRPG Play) – Part I

~ 2100 words, ~11 min reading time

Background Information

Technical Matters

For this soloing experience, I decided to use Star Trek Adventures as my core ruleset and setting. I’m new to the ruleset, so I’m sure I made some mistakes. Also, while I enjoy Star Trek, I don’t know that I’d call myself a “Star Trek fan”/”Trekkie”, mostly because I know people who are way more in to Star Trek than I am. Example: I’ve not watched any of the latest Trek because I don’t want to pay for Paramount+ yet. This means I probably have (or will have) some inconsistencies between my game and the ST canon. I’m at peace with this, because I play for my own amusement, not to develop the ST canon. I am not, in fact, a screenwriter for Star Trek (even if Brannon Braga did take classes from the campus I teach at now), nor do I write Star Trek tie-in fiction (even if I did chat with Christopher Bennett pretty late into the night – 2am? – once). I’m the kind of fan who owns DVDs of the TOS, TNG, DS9, and VOY, as well as the TOS and TNG movies, but only the first of the JJ Abrams era movies, and has only ever been to one ST convention.

For GM Emulation, I’m using a combination of Tana Pigeon’s Mythic GM Emulator for oracle rolls and triggering interrupt scenes/random events. However, I’m using Pigeon’s Adventure Crafter for generating the opening scene and any interrupt scenes, as I like the structure it provides. If necessary, I’ll also use Pigeon’s Location Crafter for any locations that need that kind of development, though I don’t really anticipate that.

I’ve also decided that my write-ups are going to take the form of scripts. Probably more than in any other game I’ve played so far, this one is very much playing out as a video in my head, so a script feels like the appropriate way of communicating the story. Any metadata (rolls on oracle tables, scene setups, etc) will be put in italics if I bothered to make a note of them, as will some of my thinking. Plain font will be used for the scripts, with brackets for stage direction, background, etc.

Character Background

In Star Trek Adventures, character creation takes a “life path” approach. Those who have read my Cepheus posts will realize that Cepheus/Traveller/similar systems use the same broad concept. Character creation is a process of starting with a basic character and then developing their backstory simultaneously with their stats. So, let me introduce Capt. Michael Watson of the USS Comstock, a Nova class Scientific/Survey ship.

Capt. Watson – human – grew up on Andoria, the son of artists who had come from Earth to learn about Andorian artistic culture. He is proud of this heritage, and considers himself, in some ways, to be a “son”of Andoria.

Two major life events played a big role in his time in Star Fleet so far.

(1) On an away mission that he was leading, his friend Uq’aath – an Andorian – was killed by an animal after he stayed behind the away team to complete some readings on his own.

(2) When Watson was on assignment on a previous survey vessel, the Captain of that ship fell ill when exposed to some kind of xenovirus. This forced Watson to take command. His handling of that situation played a key role in his assignment to the Comstock.

Scene 1 – Capt. Watson’s Quarters

Mythic: set Chaos Factor to 5 to start. Using Adventure Crafter, I rolled up these plot elements for my first “turning point”: Frenetic Activity (surrounding Capt. Watson), Character Returns (New Character – “Ugly Leader” connected to current plotline), Run Away! (Capt. Watson), and Character is Diminished (Capt. Watson). My first thought was that this might be an “in media res” scene resulting in Capt. Watson being demoted, given the high level of action. But this didn’t feel right. Here’s what did.

[Watson’s Quarters, lights off. Watson sleeping, but restlessly.]

[Cut to jungle scene. Dense underbrush, clearly daytime, but upper canopy provides significant shade, so only dappled sunlight gets through. The sound of someone running. Young Watson runs into the scene.]

Young Watson: Uq’aath! Uq’aath! Where are you? [Comes to clearing. Looks slightly down, stunned.]

[Sound of communication “ringing” coming through to console in quarters. Watson wakes up, groggily walks to desk. Sits, presses button. Unnamed Admiral appears on screen.]

Admiral: Captain, I hope I didn’t disturb you.

Watson [still obviously tired]: Not at all, sir. Do you have a new mission for us?

Admiral: Yes, I do. We have some anomalous readings coming from a sector not too far from Bajor. You mission is to investigate these readings and report back to us.

Watson: Excellent. We’ll be on our way shortly.

Admiral: And one more thing. This is to be a joint mission. Holem Latha of Bajor’s science community will be leading the scientific side of the mission. His knowledge of spatial phenomena and xenobiology should be quite useful whether this is a living thing or not.

Watson [clearly a bit taken aback, but holding it together]: Are you sure that’s a good idea? Sir?

Admiral: We are well aware of your history with Latha. We are also confident that you can set that all aside for the sake of ensuring that we maintain friendly relations between the Federation and Bajor.

Watson [nods, not happy, but putting on the right “face”]: Of course, sir.

Admiral: We look forward to your report. [Screen goes black.]

This turning point introduced the first plotline “Investigate Anomaly”.

Scene 2 – Bridge

Chaos factor 6, since Watson clearly was not in control in the previous scene. Plan was to arrive at the anomaly to start studying it. Latha got on board off-screen. But, I rolled under the chaos factor – so this is an altered or interrupt scene. Turning to the Adventure Crafter, I rolled for plotline. Got “Investigate Anomaly” – okay, so not a new plotline, so probably just an altered scene. Plot points: Catastrophe, Wanted by Law (New Character – Not in this plotline, “Rough Rogue”), Fall from power (New Character – connected to existing Character – Holem Latha – “Heroic Guardian”), Conclusion(?!), Catastrophe. Okay, so I know the investigate anomaly plotline is going to end in this scene, and there’s *definitely* some kind of catastrophe, since that came up twice.

[Bridge, everyone at stations, everything seems fine]

Helm: Captain, we’re coming out of warp.

Security/Tactical: Captain, there’s phaser fire here. Two Bajoran vessels – a scout seems to be firing on a shuttle craft.

Latha [a Bajoran man, scars across his face, and with graying hair, sitting next to the Captain]: The scout is probably planetary security. That’s what we’ve been using those ships for recently.

Science: Sir, we’ve detected the anomaly. It seems to be some kind of dark energy – the phaser fire seems to be destabilizing whatever it is.

Watson: Hail the Scout.

[View screen shows a Bajoran man – middle aged – dressed in Bajoran military garb.]

Watson: I am Captain Michael Watson of the Federation ship Comstock. We have been sent to study a dark energy phenomenon.

Latha [cutting him off]: Which your phasers are in the midst of destabilizing, Ko.

Watson [annoyed]: Yes. So, if you wouldn’t mind calling of your attack, we would be much obliged.

Ko [on screen, very stoic demeanor]: Of course, Captain. However, the occupant of this shuttle is a terrorist that we will be taking back to Bajor to answer for his crimes. If I am correct, your ship should be equipped with a tractor beam. Perhaps you could assist us in apprehending this criminal.

Watson [looks at Latha next to him]: Would the tractor beam cause any problems with this phenomenon?

Latha: It’s impossible to say for sure, but I suspect we’ll be fine.

Watson: Very well. Tractor beam on the shuttle. Bring it into shuttle bay 1.

Ko: Thank you, Captain. I will see you shortly. [view screen switches to image of shuttle being tractored in]

Science: Sir, the anomaly seems to be destabilizing further.

[Quick shot to outside – explosion of black/purple energy hits the Comstock, and seems to deflect off of the Bajoran scout’s shields.]

[Back to the Bridge – people clearly shaken, lights mildly flickering]

Watson: Damage report!

Tactical: Hull breaches on Decks 2 and 7. Emergency forcefields are holding, and damage control crews are on their way. Significant structural damage, but we should be able to repair it.

Engineering station: A brief interruption to power supply, but it has mostly stabilized, sir. No ongoing concerns.

Science: Sir, the anomaly is gone. Space appears normal here.

Watson: And the shuttle?

Tactical: Safely in shuttle bay 1, sir.

Captain: Then I’m going to see what this is all about. [Walks to turbolift, doors open, he enters, and doors close behind him]

Scene 3 – Conference Room

Chaos factor up to 7. Previous scene was also clearly out of control. Getting ready for scene set up, roll against Chaos Factor – another interrupt or altered scene. No current plotlines, since “Investigate Anomaly” closed. So, we’ll use Adventure Crafter to roll up scene elements and figure out the plot from there. Plot points: Framed (Jelah Rin – shuttle pilot – framed by Ko Ret), Character attacked in lethal way (Ko Ret), Resource runs out (Capt. Watson), Character Upgrade (Ko Ret) – note: this plot points is a “meta” point. It means that Ko Ret gets added to the character list a couple more times, so his name is likely to show up involved with plot points. So, he’s moved over to become a more major character – Rural setting. I didn’t do much with “rural setting” except saying “We’re in the middle of nowhere in space. That counts.”

[Watson is sitting at the head of a small conference table. On one side is a Bajoran man we’ve not seen before. Clearly a bit worn down, clothes in bad shape, ex. Two security guards stand behind him.]

Watson: Care to tell me your story?

Rin: Ah, yes. I am Jelah Rin, and I have been framed for a crime I did not commit. I don’t know how much you pay attention to Bajor, Captain, but there has been a number of bombings recently. I was accused of being involved in these bombings, but I am innocent, Captain. I think Ko Ret just wants to hunt me down so people will think better of him again.

Watson: Better of him?

Rin: Oh, yes. Ret was a significant player in the Resistance during the Cardassian occupation. However, he has fallen out of favor with the current government for reasons I really don’t know. What I do know is that I am innocent, but that Rin is willing to take me in anyway. He’s in a position to really benefit from these bombings if he can slow them down or stop them.

[A couple more security walk in with Ko Ret, who is offered a seat opposite Rin. As Ret is sitting down, Jelah Rin pulls out a dagger and lunges across the table at Ret, managing to cut his arm.]

Watson: Not on my ship! [Rin is clearly intimidated by this, drops the dagger.] Take him to the brig. [Security escorts a defeated looking Rin out.] I apologize for that Mr. Ret. I’ll accompany you to sick bay.

Ret: Thank you, Captain. It’s no more than a flesh wound. I’ve had worse, but I certainly won’t refuse. I just hope that you now see the kind of man you have in your brig.

New plotline: Bombings on Bajor

Mini-scene – Captain’s Ready Room

I didn’t actually play out this scene. This was just resolved in a couple Fate Chart rolls about how Starfleet Command wanted the Comstock to respond to this plotline.

[Watson talking to Admiral on his console]

Watson: So, Admiral, the phenomenon is gone. My science officer says that there’s not even a sign that it was ever here. Scans all look normal. Would you like us to look into these bombings on Bajor?

Admiral: No. This is pretty clearly an internal matter for the Bajoran authorities to handle. However, given the claims that Mr. Rin made, you are not to hand him over to Ret. Rather, take him to Bajor yourself, and ensure that his claims are at least heard by the authorities. We’ll let Bajor take it from there.

I’m actually in an odd position now. With Ret’s character being upgraded, he’s very likely to show up again. Also, “Bombings on Bajor” is my only active plotline that I might randomly roll. So, despite these orders, Watson’s involvement in this plotline is clearly not over yet.

GM Emulation

~ 1600 words, ~ 8 min reading time

A question came up on Facebook about GM Emulation in the context of solo RPGs, so I thought it would be worth writing up an entry about this.

Traditional RPGs vs Solo RPGs vs Fiction Writing

To really understand solo RPGs, I think it best to think of what solo RPGs fall “between”.

On the one hand are traditional RPGs. Think: Dungeons and Dragons. The basic format of a traditional RPG is that you have three major roles collaborating. The “players” each control a single major character, while the Gamemaster (GM, or, in D&D, Dungeon Master or “DM”) controls the rest of the world – from the weather to villains, etc. However, there is a third role: the “system” – that is the set of rules & randomness that neither player nor GM controls. When putting this all together, you end up with a balance of logic and surprise, with players, GM, and rules & randomness all playing a part in providing both.

Contrast this with fiction writing. In fiction writing, you have a single author that controls everything about the world – the heroes, villains, weather, and so on. While anyone who has written fiction will tell you that sometimes there is some surprise in the process (characters seem to develop “minds of their own” at times!), it’s certainly not the same as having a different person controlling part of what’s happening, nor is it the same as total randomness introducing surprise elements.

Solo RPGs fall in between these two. There’s a combination of a human author/player with random elements provided by the game system. Because solo RPGs fall between traditional RPGs and fiction writing, there’s a wide spectrum that any soloist could choose. Closer to the fiction writing end, you have the soloist that simply divides their mind between player and GM, and uses the game system to resolve challenges. Experientially, this approach leans toward the “creative writing” side, but with some random elements tossed in, since the dice determine success or failure.

Many soloists, though, want to spend less time in “GM mode”, and more time in “player mode”. Basically, we want to increase the proportion of “surprise” vs. logic. This is where GM emulators come in. That is, we want to be surprised not just by the outcomes of challenges, but also by the kinds of challenges that present themselves. So, we need to have a system outside of our own heads that plays a big role in developing the world.

Enter GM Emulators

GM emulators are designed for those players who want to be surprised by the RPG world itself.

The “heart” of a GM Emulation system is the “Oracle”. Generally, the oracle is a randomized system for answering yes/no questions which players can use to build the world in which their characters are acting. A very simple oracle might be a simple coin flip. Heads means yes, tails means no.

Example: Suppose my character, Jim Stephenson, town marshal, walks into the saloon in downtown Pike Springs. I want to know if the saloon is busy this evening. So, I ask the oracle “Is the saloon busy?” *flips coin* *tails, no*. So, now I know that the saloon isn’t busy – the crowd is pretty sparse, though the place probably isn’t completely empty. I walk up to the barkeeper. I wonder if they’re in a bad mood. Are they in a bad mood? *flips coin* *heads, so yes* Makes sense – they’re probably annoyed at how little business they’re getting… and so on.

In effect, the coin flip is acting as a GM Emulator. As a player, the questions that I ask the oracle are questions that I’d normally ask a GM. Thinking of it this way narrows the kinds of questions I might ask. It would be silly to ask something like “Does this saloon serve alcohol?” (unless I suspect teetotalers are in charge of the town!) since the answer is obviously yes. And, given a Western setting, I probably wouldn’t ask “Is there a wizard riding a dragon flying around inside the saloon?” The answer is obviously no. I also wouldn’t ask either of these questions of a GM because it would be stupid to. Context is enough.

Now, while a coin flip can get us pretty far, it’s probably not quite enough. What if the odds aren’t 50/50? What if the event is “possible but not likely” or “likely but not certain”?

Or what if we need some other kind of inspiration for a more complex random event? Building a true “random event” from “yes” and “no” questions feels a bit clumsy. GM Emulators are often designed to include these other forms of inspiration as well. So, let’s get to a few specific ones.

Examples of GM Emulators

In recent years, there has been a rise in solo RPGs – Scarlet Heroes and Ironsworn leading the way. These games include GM Emulators for their specific contexts, so I’m not going to talk about them except to say that they take very different approaches to game design, though the emulators bear a striking similarity in many ways. Here, though, I’m going to focus on a few “generic” GM Emulators.

Mythic GM Emulator – this is probably one of the oldest and best known. The system can be summed up in 4 tables: the “Fate chart” – which provides Extreme Yes/Yes/No/Extreme No answers based on likelihood + a random roll + the “chaos factor” (a measure of how out of control things are), the “Event Focus Table” which tells you broadly what a random event is about (example: NPC action or PC positive), and two “Event Meaning Tables” – a verb table and a noun table. Add to these tables two lists that you create for your specific game: an NPC list and a “thread” (that is, plotline) list. When using Mythic, you start with your “scene setup” – figure out what your character is *trying* to do and where. Then, you roll to see if the scene sets up like expected or if there’s some kind of interruption (a random event!) or alteration (ex. turns out the villain wasn’t at home like you expected). Then, play it out, asking yes/no questions when needed. Tana Pigeon, author of Mythic, has also put together a few Variations on Mythic as well as a “Crafter” series – Adventure Crafter, Location Crafter, and Creature Crafter. All of these are designed to combine logic with randomness. You can get these for under $10 each from There are also decks of cards that can replace the die rolls, and several issues of Mythic Magazine for those who are interested.

CRGE – A system very similar to Mythic in many ways, except that the Yes/No answers can contain surprises within them, as there is a “Yes, but unexpectedly….” option with “unexpectedly” tables. The odds of unexpected events depend on where you are in the story – as you move from heading “To Knowledge” (where lots of unexpected stuff happens) to “To Endings” (where unexpectedlys are rare) – and also how long it’s been since something unexpected has happened. Zach Best, author of CRGE, has also created several other supplements: UNE (for emulating NPCs), BOLD (for creating storylines and backstories). These are pay-what-you-want on

MUNE – Another Mythic-like system, but significantly simpler. Roll a d6. Answers are “No, and”/”No”/”No, but”/”Yes, but”/”Yes”/”Yes, and”. If the event is “likely” roll 2d6 and use the higher roll. Unlikely, use the lower roll. There’s also a system designed for providing surprise complications as well. Available for free online.

One page solo engine – This system is pretty cool, and fits on one page (front and back). It uses a combination of standard playing cards and 6-sided dice to answer questions. However, the maker suggests you should only use it if you’re already familiar with the basic concepts of GM Emulation. Free on

Now, there are certainly others out there. These are just a few that I have on hand. There are significant similarities and differences between them.

Using a GM Emulator

One thing that takes some getting used to is figuring out *when* to appeal to a GM emulator and when to just let logic dictate what happens. This is very much a matter of taste, and I don’t think there’s any clear guideline I can give. The best guideline is probably this: ask yourself if the game is dragging. If the answer is “yes”, then change what you’re doing. If you’ve asked a bunch of oracular questions and feel like things are dragging, then you should probably just let logic take over for a bit. On the other hand, if you feel like the game has become overly predictable, then ask more questions.

Similarly the *style* of question is something that you can only really figure out by experience and experimentation. In any particular moment, do you want a sweeping “cutting” question that can have big impacts on the entire storyline? Or would a much smaller “chipping” question make more sense? Trial and error is the best way to learn how to balance these elements.

In any case, if you’d like to know more about solo RPGing, I highly recommend two Youtube channels. Geek gamers is one of my favorites, and has lots of material about solo GMing. The other – which is a more recent discovery – is Me, Myself, and Die where Trevor Devall plays through a few solo games.

The Taylor Principle and Fed Policy

~ 200 words, ~1 min reading time

John Taylor is a macroeconomist from Stanford, mostly known for his “Taylor Rule” – a rule describing both historically how the Fed has targeted interest rates and how it *should* target interest rates.

He is also known for the related “Taylor Principle”, which is a little bit broader. The idea is simple: the central bank should increase interest rates at least as much as any increase in inflation. This is necessary for monetary policy to have a stabilizing influence. If the central bank follows this principle, an increase in inflation causes an increase in real (that is, inflation adjusted) interest rates, which will discourage spending – keeping inflation in check. If we don’t follow this principle, then inflation tends to spiral out of control, as inflation leads to decreasing inflation-adjusted interest rates, which encourages spending – driving inflation further up.

Since April 2020, price inflation has risen from almost nothing to about 8% on a year-over-year basis. Meanwhile, the Fed’s interest rate target has risen from 0-0.25% to 0.25%-0.5%. All to say: there’s a lot of room for interest rates to rise.

Reactive v Proactive PCs

~850 words, ~4 min read time

My latest foray into solo gaming made me realize how much my player character (PC) was reacting to situations that we thrown at her rather than driving the action forward herself – until about the halfway point when I decided on a specific goal for her to pursue. This led me to reflect on the difference between reactive and proactive PCs and how they change the gaming experience in general – and the solo RPG experience in particular.

A “reactive” PC is one whose decisions are reacting to the world around them. For this type of game to work, the world must be dynamic and imposing itself on the PC. In contrast a “proactive” PC is the dynamic force imposing themselves on the world.

I realized that, much of the time, a story-driven game ends up with reactive PCs. At first I thought this might be some kind of personal pathology – something I was doing “wrong” – perhaps reflecting my own contentment with life as it is. But, then I realized, a lot of great main characters are largely reactive. In Star Wars: A New Hope, for example, Luke’s behavior in nearly every scene is a reaction to the world around him. The heroes in Lord of the Rings are reacting to Sauron’s return and aggression. And so on. It’s actually pretty rare, it seems, for main characters to go LOOKING for trouble – instead, trouble comes looking for them.

“Sandbox” style games, however, require proactive PCs – PCs with well-defined motivations, even if these motivations are a bit broad. Now, the world might put obstacles in their way, but, fundamentally, the game is about the PCs having goals and pursuing them. Because I just looked across the room at my son playing on his computer – Minecraft is a great case of a sandbox. No clear goal apart from what the player brings with them.

Putting this together and thinking about some of my solo gaming:

I think I need to decide ahead of time what kind of game I’m going to be playing – is it story-driven (where PCs are more reactive) or sandbox (where PCs must be proactive)? (Now, stories emerge out of sandboxes sometimes!)

In the case that I want to go story-driven, then it make sense to spend more time in GM-style prep. Not in as much detail as if I’m GMing for a group, but creating a situation that will impose itself on the character forcing a reaction is important. In this framework, my solo tools should also be aimed at moving the story forward. Ironsworn is designed for this, as is Mythic and the scene setup and play for One Page Solo Engine. I may even be ahead to design fronts and grim portents. Basically, if this is the route I want to go, I should spend more time on prepping the threats that are forcing the PC to act. Truly “random” encounters should be rare. Rather, if I have multiple fronts out there, randomness can be introduced in *which* of the fronts is progressing when.

But, if I want to go sandbox, then I should use a different set of tools. Travelling Alone, the random tables in Scarlet Heroes are good tools here (or any other random mapmaker). Game play should be composed largely of random encounters and reacting to them. Story, in a broad sense, emerges simply because random encounters create barriers between the character and their goals. But, it doesn’t exist by design.

Thinking in this more analytical way has made me realize something: as I’ve been playing Cepheus, I’ve been trying to merge the two styles of play – specifically, I’m trying to play story-based, but driven by random encounters. I think my most recent Cepheus game was a case in point here. The first part was largely story-driven, but kind of lame because there wasn’t much for the character I had to do, nor did I have a good sense of her motivation (making a stricter sandbox approach impossible). The second part was actually much better as a player experience, because I spent more time thinking about what the character wanted. Her motivation wasn’t particularly interesting. (Make a bunch of money and buy a ship so I can make even more money.) But, I used an appropriate tool (Travelling Alone from Cepheus Journal #8 paired with appropriate random encounter tables), and didn’t care much about story. Yet, narratively, the character died precisely because of previous decisions she had made. Mechanically, it was a random encounter where I rolled that there was a crew that was hostile to the PC because of history. So, totally random elements can be woven together into a light story.

So, part of my struggle at the moment is trying to decide if I want to play another sandboxy game (using appropriate tools), or if I want to prep a more story-based game to give that approach a shot. The first is something I can do right away, while the second would take some time developing a setting, villains, etc. So, that may wait until I’m not quite as sleep-deprived…