²1987 Steve Marsh

P.O.Box 2552

Wichita Falls, TX 76307


Most of the contributors to TWH are either in college or have graduated from college. Since kindergarden, everyone here has trained 35 hours or more a week, 30 to 40 weeks a year, for many, many years. Many of you have participated in individual or team sports. Some have taken lessons from a golf pro or a karate instructor. Others have worked out in organized drills (football, wrestling, soccor, etc.). Most have put in long (or longer) hours training skills and improving requisits (math classes, weight training, edurance drills). As a result, most of you have the background to appreciate that the learning and training of skills and requisits occurs in the real world.

Much of our society is shaped by the constant and endemic practice of non-stop skill training. Twelve years of manditory training for all children followed by four years of almost compulsory undergraduate work, followed by post-graduate work for almost everyone who "wants to succeed."

Thats alot of training. Add to it the number of people going to YMCAs, health clubs and spas--either to relax or to seriously train--and you have a society addicted to skill training.

If you don't believe me, talk to a lawyer, a CPA, a doctor, a police officer or any other trade or profession that requires that its members engage in annual training (and reporting of that training) and certification.

I am convinced that there is a real world equivilent to training, experience, and similar game concepts.

For example, I went to three years of law school, much of it aimed at specific skills, knowledge or ability. Some of it still pays off. After law school I took two bar review classes (and passed both the Utah and the Texas bars).

Since then I've handled trials, done depositions, negotiated settlements, and fought a fair number of hearings.

I've also competed in karate tournaments, been in serious automobile accidents, weight trained (mostly nautilus) and thought alot.

I'll bet you have too.

There appears to me to be several steps in learning a skill and improving it.

First: Recognize the skill as a skill. This is harder than it looks. Library Use, the Call of Cthulu skill is untaught in many countries. The lack of this skill is all that keeps nerve gas and nuclear weapons away from third world countries.

More pragmatically (?!), written persuasion and oral persuasion are different skills. The same technique that works on paper doesn't work when spoken. Many a good brief has died in court when the writer couldn't argue.

Second: Find a way to practice the skill. Karate is all about practicing skills. So was your French class in junior high school or your calculus class.

Note that some things practice more than one skill. Most of school consists of classes that lay a foundation for a wide range of skills.

Also note that many ways of "practicing" are utterly useless.

a. Skills should be practiced in their parts and

b. Skills should be practiced together.

Using karate as an example, a work-out will practice various moves, combinations of the moves, timing and distance, and then using the moves (sparring). This way of practicing is much faster.

c. Good instructors cost more.

Using law as an example, if I want good training or instruction to improve legal skills, it costs money. The better the instruction, or the more esoteric (i.e. the more specialized or the "higher %tage skill zone") the more expensive. I know lawyers that make more from teaching law than they ever made practicing law. The average attorney in Utah makes $20,000.00 a year after expenses. The average law professor makes $45,000.00 a year.

Heck, forget law and look at pottery. Most people teaching pottery make alot more money than those who make pots.

Third: Get practical experience. Classroom experience usually does not suffice to replace real experience. All of the practice courses and workshops I've been in have not replaced my need for real experience. Every time I get real experience it makes the workshops, the classes, the lectures and the CLE come to life. The two work together.

Fourth: Exert will. I have found that it takes a certain kind of mental energy (that I'll call "will") to make things sink in. A concious decision to improve. If coupled with continuing experience or education it results in improvement.

People who don't use it, don't improve. Surely you've all had classmates who never seemed to learn? Even more to the point, you've all probably had plateaus where you couldn't learn even with effort. I'm not sure what it is, but everyone has limits based on how much will they have.

I used to see it all the time in karate and I see it now in law. Some people just don't improve. Neither experience or education seems to make much of a dent in them. I run into limits when I try to improve (or maintain) too many skills at once.

Will is closely linked to attrition.


I think that skill training systems (such as RUNEQUEST) are reasonable in the main. The biggest flaw they have is that they don't reflect that many people have a limit to how fast and how serious they are about improving all of their skills.

My personal solution is in my player point system. Similar to CHAMPIONS or SUPERWORLD (or ...) I use player points. Each session, depending on how I evaluate play, the players get from 1 to 3 player points (bad players get 0 to negative 3 points) apiece. The players decide whether to invest the points into luck or will.

Luck is used to avoid bad luck. It is a compromise on the hard key/ soft key argument. I run a hard keyed world (one where everything is as it is and the GM doesn't bail you out for mistakes, bad dice rolls, etc.) but allow the players to spend luck to alter that. As far as I can tell that is what happens all the time in novels. (and the real world for that matter).

Will allows players to learn by experience or to train. Each improvement of a requisit or a skill consumes will.

An example. Jessica Pilferbaby, in her latest adventure, successfully snuck into the bedroom, pulled a chair over, climed up the bookcase, located the container with the M&Ms in it, opened it and carried the loot away to her bedroom. A successful adventure for a 16 month baby.

The GM decides to award her 3 points because it was a well played, well executed and pilferbabish adventure. Why she even thought to eat all the M&Ms before she was caught.

Jessica must now decide what to do with her points. She puts two into luck (if she keeps climbing bookshelves she figures she'll need luck) and one into will. She uses the point in will to improve by experience the skill locate chocolate. Rolling d6+1 for her experience roll she gets 4 %tile points to add to her skill. She'll be a runelord baby soon she's sure.

Later, on another adventure she fumbles in the nursery and dislocates her elbow. Even worse, the doctor fumbles and misdiagnoses the dislocation as "only a sprain." She spends a point of luck and her parents take her to the doctor for a successful follow-up visit just in time to avoid any permanent damage.

Book Reviews

R.A. MacAvoy, The Grey Horse, Bantam $3.95, 247 pages.

This is the book that The Book of Kells should have been. Tight, clean, well written. A love story, both of a "man" for a woman and of the author for a land. The author's best so far.

It is the tale of a silkie who returns to Ireland for a brief visit during the time of the English occupation and what happens when he meets someone worth staying for..

Leslie Gadallah, Cat's Pawn. (as usual, when a book is not recommended I omit the publisher, price, etc.) The book had a wonderful teaser and read well. It fell apart at the end, closing on a note of dispair without solutions.

I wouldn't have minded but the end seemed more of a reprise of an author without creative energy left than a natural outcome of the plot.

George R.R. Martin, Wild Cards, Batam, $3.95 per volume, 410 pages, 390 pages.

I like both books, though I read Volume II first and was very impressed with the tight editorial control. The mood, pace and plotting is consistent. So is the style (I'm still impressed by an editor who can maintain style along with everything else).

Be warned, Wild Cards is still Edwyr, with kundilini magic users, pimps, graphic sex, et. al. in some of the stories (and absolutely none in others).

The premise is that another race has used an experimental tetragenic mutagen virus on humanity that alters inate PSI power.

PSI is defined as psychokinisis and telepathy with a little holistic imaging (i.e. body controll/knowledge). This makes for shapechanging, etc.

And lots of nasty side effects for those whose PSI alterations are not accompanied by successful imaging. Volume I covers from 1941 to 1976 and introduces several subthemes.

Volume II uses the subthemes and wraps them around a central plot.

Volume III should grab all the lose ends and wrap them together (I anticipate seeing Hartman/Puppetman again).

Jo Clayton, Skeen's Return, DAW, $3.50, 320 pages.

Book Two in a series. Clear warnings. Stops at a natural break point. Well written (though in a style that would wear if the author used it for every book). Jo Clayton continues to improve as a writer.

In Return, Skeen makes her way back to the interdimensional gate she stumbled through and finds out why Tibo abandoned her. This story introduces a few new characters while developing everyone for the next novel. Well done. I expect that several elements from these novels (such as Skeen's darter) will appear in campaigns.

David Brin, The Uplift War, Bantam, $4.50, 636 pages (yes, it is long!).

This book shows that The Practice Effect did not kill Brin's ability to use the universe Startide Rising and Sundiver are set in. Set shortly after the events of Startide, it resolves none of the questions or plot lines of that book.

The plot is tighter (fewer extraneous elements), but the story was not quite as moving as Startide. Add 1 point to technique, minus 1 point to style. Still, it was worth a solid read.

I look forward to the next novel.

This novel was too much like a complete story set against the background of Hitler 6 months before the invasion of France. While I enjoyed the story, I want to find out what will happen on the larger stage (and to learn more about what happens to the crew of Startide).

Well done.

Robin McKinley, Imaginary Lands, ACE, $2.95, 230 pages.

The collection does nothing to justify the title of the book. However, it includes a P.C. Hodgell story, Stranger Blood that is set after the two novels and that introduces the missing shapeshifter. It also has Patricia McKillup's The Old Woman and the Storm.

Buy the book used and those two stories are worth the price.

Downtown by Polikarpus and King, Stalking the Unicorn by Mike Resnick are both set in the "other" New York. Just like the fairy realm had its side to the middle ages, both authors have written novels set in the fairy realm's image of New York.

Downtown justifies its existance better than Stalking the Unicorn and resolves better. Stalking is more interesting and offers more for a campaign. The heroine in Stalking is also named Winnifred -- which is likely to bias the partial observer.

Neither is recommended on its own merits as a story. Downtown is good adolecent fare (for mature adolecents rather than the broads and blasters set) and Stalking almost makes it -- but for the flaws in the resolution and the appendixes

Glen Cook, Reap the East Wind, TOR, $2.95, 213 pages (short for Glen).

A moving book. I read it in one sitting. The plot pulls the book together and also is sensitive to the series. Glen uses his new style and does not leave the future as open as he did in the other books.

In it a dead god returns using Varthlokkur's missing grandson. The hopelessness and dispair that should have been in the last novel appears and is resolved, and the stage is set for the next story -- all without damage to

the plot or storyline. However, the book seemed about 100 pages short. It really needed a second draft with more text worked in on the storyline. A good book that could have been better.

Emma Bull, War for the Oaks, Ace Fantasy special, $3.50, 309 pages. Emma Bull is married to Will Shetterly (of the infamous The Cats Have No Lord and Llavek series).

Easily qualifies for one of the five best novels I've read this year. It is about a modern day person caught up in a war between the Seelie and the UnSeelie Courts.

The heroine is a hard rock singer (with generally good taste -- I loved the sequence with "The Safety Dance) who comes to self knowlege while wending her way through dangerous waters. She has been drafted to serve as the ritual mortal whose presence allows immortal blood to be shed with permanent effect.

Tight, clean and nicely resolved without loss of creative power. My only complaint is that the plot resulted in the death of a character who the "world" could have used later.

Added to my impressions, Win loved it too.

(as an aside on Cats, above, Will's work has shown continuous improvement and this novel is of the quality I expect from his next effort. It is a definite keeper in spite of a quiet cover).

Vernor Vinge, Marooned in Realtime, Baen Books, $3.50, 313 pages.

The weakest part of the book must be the teasers. Solid. I caught myself rereading it twice. It combines solid character development and growth with two good plots (one strategic and one tactical) and a murder investigation.

I am amazed at the technical competence and creative power shown by the newer authors. I am impressed by the author's afterword (which acknowledges the one weakness of his premise).

Glen Cook, Sweet Silver Blues, Signet, $3.50, 255 pages.

Another brick in the wall of rumor that Glen Cook is more than one author.

This is a wonderful book, written in a true first person (compared to the first person descriptive used in the Black Company books -- which I liked). Its another private eye in a fantasy world novel (which seems to be a slow trend) and the best so far of that genre. Surprisingly it manages to be true to both genres without reading like formula writing.

Glen has already sold at least one more novel in the same setting and will probably do at least three novels in this group. The first has the hero out looking for the heir to a friend's fortune. Of course the heir has disappeared, the friend got the fortune illicitly, and there is a war on. Our hero takes the job but has the good sense to hire help. He needs it.

Note. The setting is not cloned from anything. Nicely done whole cloth this time. I was pleased.

The Sea Otter Inn, Cambria, California. The best hotel Win & I found on vacation in California. Reasonable rates, incredibly nice rooms for the price, lots of seals and otters nearby.

May Poll. A Stevezine. I sent it in for May's TWH. Seems like it never arrived. Since I made the mistake of manually typing it, it probably won't make it either.

Now, for something different . . .

My background for my musings on Super Powered Role Playing Games.

Premise 1: Most Super Powers are Magical in Nature

Lets assume that the magical half-world really exists. In the time of the dinosaurs, through hideously obscene sorceries, the earth's half-world was severed from the real world.

Ghosts and images of it have haunted the real world ever since. A select few have been able to reach into the half-world and a few more have been able to see into it or draw inspiration from it.

That is the setting. Now, assume that some even has re-united the half-world with the real world. In my nacent campaign I posited that the Teynd price wasn't paid one fortnight and that the barriers seperating the worlds (and keeping death out) collapsed. The great dragons were not pleased.

(Not to mention the fact that most aged the millions of years that had been held in abeyance since they seperated the worlds).

At moments of incredible strain, some individuals tap into the powers of the half-world and are transformed. (Think of all the origination stories that involve some sort of fatal gamma-rays or other radiation that instead of killing the individual changes them into a superpower). The transformation may be viable, may not, and may or may not be accompanied by a moral transformation.

Additionally, there are pattern transformations. Vampirism, lycanthropy, and similar afflictions are contagious patterns that tap individuals into the half-world. Mysteries also exist that serve the same function.

Most races have initiation mysteries that tap their members into the half-world in a "safe" manner (gamma-ray exposure killing off hundred of people for every super power produced) that is also mild (and less threatening to the established order).

Note that this allows me to mix science fiction with my fantasy without too much strain and lets me have comic book characters and a comic book campaign without having to fight the physics of it. (though I like Bob Butler's Khys Energy system alot).

A final note on Jessica Pilferbaby and skill training . . .

Lets assume Jessica survives all the chocolate hunts. She is now interested in hunting boys instead. However, she doesn't have enough will to invest in all the skills she'd like to have (she's needed too much luck . . .).

One thing she can do is let skills atrophy. For every 7 points she reduces a skill she gets a point of will back. Since she doesn't need her locate chocolate skill she decides to sacrafice all 70 points for 10 points of will (note that those 70 points cost her 18 points of will to buy). Her locate chocolate skill whithers away to nothing.

Next, she has to get training or successful experience in order to be able to spend the points.

It is much like Runequest except skill learning is alot slower and comes as the result of successful play rather than good luck. Note the reduction in pressure to do things just to justify a skill improvement roll. Generally skills you aren't using just are not worth spending will to improve.

COMMENTS in next TWH. If you got a letter, I may comment anyway (assuming Win & I can find the last issue -- its lost around here somewhere). Cheers!

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