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Updated: 19 hours 6 min ago

On the Edge of the Map

Thu, 11/25/2021 - 13:30

I still recall when I had to wait till Monday to call the Library of Congress to find out things. 

You don't really know what's out there. We see a lot more of it. A cat with a thumb. A fish standing on land. Some weird underwater squiggly giving inspiration to the Flumph. 

A few months ago, I wrote an article On the Lie of Colonialism in Dungeons and Dragons. I still believe my core thesis in that post. In the entirety of my experience of gaming, I have never had a group that didn't treat or deal with sentient culture-having creatures in a modern "enlightened" way. They always helped the oppressed. They fight against those with power for the good of the people. Even in evil campaigns, they were concerned about Order against Chaos. 

In the real world, there is no objective morality. There's no glowing purple-green force one can syphon that by it nature is inimical to the existence of life. There explicitly is in Dungeons & Dragons. You can see it with magic. 

But,

I mean, people overreact right? "Oh, hey, what a miserable take this guy has in an article I didn't read, but will publicly complain about on twitter as a preening gesture for my preferred ingroup!"

But, 

I have direct experience of working with several extremely low-income high-risk cultural groups. I spent five years in Alaska working with Yup'ik and Cup'ik native tribes. I have experience working with economically disadvantaged cultures in my local area. And I find it strange to have to say this, but this isn't because of any 'white savior' complex. Frankly, you can't save shit. Like, it is in a very straightforward way, the government using money to directly ease the extinction of a culture. And let me tell you, the destruction of a culture is not pretty. 

But,

Maybe

Maybe I haven't been to that edge of the map. Maybe one of monkeys banging away on typewriters that fit into their pocket, knew something that I did not. So I've been looking into it. Partly because I'm working on large semi-historical adventure for a. . . uh. . . a thing. . . that I'm clearly not supposed to be talking about. 

But it takes place in the colonial era. My initial weeks of research led me, to a conclusion that seems obvious in hindsight, that if an adventure is literally set in a colonial time, in an area nations were fighting over colonies, you can't avoid having colonization in the adventure.

So, what does this mean? Is the act of pretending to be a wizard who engages in slaying orcs, somehow some kind of dog-whistle racist activity? Well, MyFarog and Racial Holy War are universally derided and maligned for their obvious racism. I've never seen or heard of anyone running one of those racial cleansing simulators, so if role-playing were some front full of people engaging in genocide fantasies, I would expect them to be more popular. I mean, maybe those tables are out there, full of people who live their lives like extras who get killed in an action movie. 

But, you know, edge of the map. I went out (and am out) listening to lectures, reading and listening to those who do understand the issues, and people who are not like me. I mean, we are all different. That is to say, we all possess infinite worth, but our externals can be radically different. This is something I've carried inside as a truth, that I hold with a fervor equal to its arbitrariness. I.e. total.  Now I'm not done thinking, but it seems pretty obvious from my study that when we engage in entertainment via movies, table-top games, video games, reading, story-telling, we construct tales of overcoming adversity versus the self, other people, nature, supernatural, technology and society.

That is, you can totally pretend to shoot bad guys and that doesn't make you a bad person.

That isn't the end of it. 

There are clearly depictions of racial stereotypes in the monster manual c.f. dervishes, hobgoblins, et. al. that represent a bigoted view of culture inherited from the sword and sandal novels of the early and mid-twentieth century. A bigoted view Gygax clearly had, and I know for a fact there were people who did not have that bigoted view in 1970. 

And what do you do about a thinking culture's children after your murder their adults for being on your land before you got there?

Therein is the rub. You can make the game match cultural understandings and expectations, but you can't stop someone from being a racist douche. So you kind of have to play by some unspoken rules. E.g. You can't have an inhuman enemy that you kill without compunction who has its own culture and values. If they do have a culture, they must have a value that is deleterious to your very existence, which makes it palatable to kill them. Or you've got to expect your players not to want to kill them.

The thing is, and by far, I'm no arbiter of the state of the world.

But I've never seen a game or met a person who doesn't play by these rules. In point of fact, in every game in my entire life I've been involved in, covering these questions has always been done explicitly at the table, to make sure we aren't engaging in some nefarious act. 

In fact, it's an ancient trope, being the exact point of U2, The Danger at Dunwater (1982). You are given the location of the lair of the lizard men, but they are just chill dudes, who's really just arming themselves to protect themselves from the cuthonic undersea horrors of the Sahuagin. It's an adventure that literally is about understanding cultural differences to avoid conflict. I've been in and run the adventure an astounding amount of times. Sometimes it takes a fight or two, but there's a 100% rate of 'Oh Geeze, these aren't the bad guys, let's help them defend against the evil, which neither of us could defeat apart', which is a literal parable about why racism is bad.

So has the game "Since its inception in the ‘70s, . . . had profound issues surrounding racism and the colonialist mindset. Fifth Edition has done little to mitigate these issues, and if anything, the West Marches only make the longstanding rot more visible."- Izirion's Enchridiion of the West Marches

I mean, yes. The game has had stereotypical and inappropriate representation. e.g. please do not look at the cover of X8 Drums on Fire Mountain. (I told you not to look.)

Does the game have a colonialist mindset? It's feudal. It has depictions in monsters that have been used to demonify other cultures. Are antibiotics colonial? Spiritually, the core of the game is about going into the chaotic unknown and retrieving knowledge to return to strengthen society and further the cause of order and man.

The argument is, yes. We do so. To take the world and bring it to order, imposes by definition an unjust order. Order itself is a problem. Too much and the world becomes frozen and rigid. I mean, did you see earlier where I used the common colonialist trope of "we are making things better for you." when I mentioned Antibiotics?

You see, while listening and thinking and pouring over tomes, which amazingly enough is my actual job (Made possible by awesome people who give me money! You too can join this exclusive club of raising the volume of a voice you like. Blame capitalism.) It occurred to me that the discussion, and there is a discussion, is about how to respect autonomy, dismantle unjust hierarchies, eliminate unfair exploitation, and make the world a better place.

Which, funnily enough, is exactly what the fuck Dungeons and Dragons is about.

There's no answer to the question. We still remain as a species in the period of unknowing. Maybe there will be an answer to the question of a perfect society one day. Hell, I don't have to wait till Monday morning to call the Library of Congress to find things out anymore. But the game itself is literally about answering the question: what is right, what is just, and what is within my power to improve?

The game itself deals with profound issues. Important ones. Like racism and the colonial mindset. Fifth edition hasn't done anything to mitigate this, it's still about important things, like Freedom and Representation. The game is about personally taking agency and being confronted with this question. It is about what colonialism means and what complicity and rebellion cost. It's about what it means to be a hero. So when I say that colonialism in Dungeons and Dragons is a lie, what I mean is that the idea of our personal exploration of these issues is somehow bigoted or racist is, as the kids say, a bad take.

And I would hope, in my heart of hearts, when you venture into the West Marches, beyond the edge of the map, that the longstanding rot is clear and visible, so your blade may strike true when you fight for justice. 

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope this post finds you and yours well. I've very recently solved looming housing insecurity, and it occurred to me no one should have to suffer housing insecurity. If your interested in helping, there are a lot of resources that allow you to help out locally and nationally. We are in for a rough decade—and we can make it through, together. Tell your loved ones you love them. 

The whole colonialism issue strikes me as "Satanic Panic-ish" because where are the people sacrificing these children? Is this something that is really happening, or is it a reaction to the ambiguity of what other people might do 'wrong' while playing a game? I don't think so, but don't know for sure. It seems somewhat self-selecting, racists are almost by definition provincial, and role-playing does require a lot of traits that are contraindicated to someone who has racist beliefs. What's the angle on targeting it? I'm not sure. But there's a definite disconnect between the claims and the reality. What, exactly do we do about racism? Forty years of anti-racist propaganda and societal efforts, and. . . nothing. Still Racism. It might be, I think, related to genetic in-group/out-group stuff and I don't know how we get rid of that. I don't have to know to play D&D. 

If you're curious, I'll put the old article up Friday and you can read it then.

If you're interested in something cool, I have some crazy art in this adventure about a dungeon inside a dead sea god. There's other factions and goals, it's a really smart adventure. So much cool stuff and my art, too! Take a look at Voyages on the Zontani Sea!

And, oh, it's so crazy. Dungeons and Dragons is so crazy popular, JeShields who's both a technical and spiritual mentor of mine creates crazy high quality art. It's so good. Someone like it so much, they are turning the art into 3-d miniatures? It's just awesome. I think everyone should go have a look. Just to see how cool it is to take a 2D old school type illustration and turn it into a monster. 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Gygax Design IV

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 03:00
My thesis here is that something was misunderstood. The question I'm left with is how did that happen?

Let's take a look.

Cave IntroductionThe first page of the caves proper contains the flavor text we discussed in the last post. It's lurid, and therefore interesting.

If you're going to ask someone to listen to something, it better get a reaction.

Immediately Gygax takes one column line to outline all his overview notes for the adventure: 600 words. He describes how to read the cave contour map on the outside, describes the woods, underground, and interiors.
He then covers prisoner ransom ("Set the sums low — 10 to 100 gold pieces or a magic item. . . "), the specifics of the tribal relationships, how monsters should react and handle player actions, and what happens in empty areas.

It is a training module, but these sections only contain nine sentences containing specific  'newbie' or training advice. The rest of the information is all useful, reduces the need for repetitive text, and is easily found in the front of the appropriate section. This is the really interesting thing. Here's a room description
1. Guard Room: 6 kobold guards (AC 7, HD 1/2, hp 3 each, #AT 1, D 1-4, Save NM, ML 6). They will throw their spears the first round if they have initiative. Each carries d6 silver pieces. One will run to warn areas 4. and 6.. The guards will be altered by loud noises or lights.Is there a single unnecessary word in that description to craft an emergent encounter for the players?

What is an Adventure?All the rooms are like this.
"Number. Description: # creatures (one line stat block), Rules and tactical information, treasure."

Is there any boxed text? No. Each room only tells you what you need to know what's in it, and more importantly how they act. The text is there to create emergent play. Here are quotes.
"This huge kobold is so powerful that he fights with a battle axe. . . and a large gem on a great golden chain around his neck."
"Six goblin guards are alterly watching both passages for intruders of any sort"
"If there is a cry of "BREE-YARK" similar to "hey rube!" (ed: noted in the rumor section as goblin for "We Surrender"), 2 of these guards will rush to the secret door, toss a sack with 250 gold coins to the ogre and ask him to help him"

This is over and over again in the room encounters. Set-ups from earlier pay off. Encounters are dramatic scenes. We know from his own play descriptions that he used random encounters and avoiding keying many areas in Greyhawk for these reasons. Each one uses as few descriptive words as possible to give the Dungeon Master a hook to hang his hat (the encounter) on.
There's no ancient history text, no unknowable background information.

Mostly. I lied a little bit. Everyone had to get the wrong idea from somewhere, right? Even when there is some unknown history, it is referenced and due to non-player character actions is discoverable by players. e.g.
13. Forgotten Room. Only the two orc leaders (from this area and from B.) Know of this place. They secretly meet here on occasion to plan co-operative ventures or discuss tribal problems, for although separate tribes are not exactly friendly, both leaders are aware of the fact that there is strength in numbers. . . . Looking at this alone, it certainly looks like the usual dump of information to the Dungeon Master that is completely inaccessible to the players. Except, note the following sentences:
From 12. Orc Leader's Room: . . . If hard pressed, the leader will wiggle behind the tapestries on the south wall and attempt to work the catch on the secret door to the south and go to the rival tribe for help. . . 
From Dungeon Master notes: If the leader is slain, the survivors will seek safety in area B/C, taking everything of value (and even of no value with them)

So you know, it's part of a dynamic encounter.

Encounter DesignI've talked before about how room environments should consist of clearly interactable objects in Red Herring Agency. That article uses the example of play from the Dungeon Master's Guide, and it's pretty clear the same design aesthetic is in use here. In the forgotten room, it describes "A small table and two chairs", "a wooden chest", "Two shields hanging on the wall", and "Two pouches behind an old bucket." The chairs are normal, as are the shields. The chest is unlocked and contains some weapons. The pouches have treasure, but cover 2 centipedes.

It's explicit, direct. Here are the interactable objects. Each one has a different effect and clues are available in the environment.

There is a specific structure to the different pillars of play. This is what the exploration pillar means. It means there are specific presentable things—clickable objects— within play. It's these objects, their integration into the environment, their creativity, and the tactical infinity options they offer that is the gameplay of exploration.

Walls the players can knock over, doors that open into space, a ring that shrinks objects, a chained megatherium. Give the players simple things that allow interaction. Create a world where non-player characters take action in response to the players. The complexity and gameplay is emergent.

Every single piece of information is either immediately accessible to the players, or is necessary for the Dungeon Master to run the encounter.

Each room is an encounter designed, and it should be like a good scene in a movie. Interesting, helping create tension and set the pace. It shouldn't be simple, boring, dull, and buried in a thousand words of useless text. It requires both active actors and things to act upon, and it must be designed and not just generated. This doesn't require verbiage, it requires thought. You want my examples of this in use, check out Megadungeon (or any of the modules I have coming out soon!)

From RPG CartographyI'm not saying it's perfect. It's certainly raw—for example many rooms have information on how people act if they hear someone nearby. This could be on the map, along with other modern improvements due to better tools. Which way the doors open, what the light levels are. . .

When the goblins rush the players and yell BREE-YARK, if the players got the rumor that it means "We surrender", shenanigans ensue. This isn't the only setup. More than one character is lost when the chaotic evil priest that offers to come with them from the keep casts 'inflict wounds' on characters instead of cure wounds.

The prisoners have a variety of races and genders, as well as each providing some non-standard reward, trick, or trap. You may notice a theme. There are also slaves that can be freed and armed. Each of these things creates a specific experience for the players. He isn't just writing descriptions of rooms! He's creating a scene flowchart just like the one in the start of Deep Carbon Observatory, but using the dungeon as his flowchart paths.

I did find a sentence of flavor text, "The owl bear. . . sleeps in the most southerly part of its den, digesting a meal of gnoll it just caught at dawn." That's some information that's not accessible to the players. It's on page 19.

There's also quite a lot of humor within the module. Signs posted on doors say things like "You are
invited for dinner!" and "Safety, security and repose for all humanoids that enter — WELCOME! (Come in and report to the first guard on the left for a hot meal and bed assignment.)" The thing is, it's not just a joke for the reader. The players will also find this joke amusing, and although it's funny, like all Dungeons & Dragons, it's deadly serious. I ran Hackmaster for years, and a gummi bear golem seems really funny, until it crits your fighter in the head for 38 points and kills him in a shower of sticky blood.

All of the rooms contain setpieces—interesting reactions and organic events, but this is one of the best.
"[Bugbears] lounge on stools near a smoking brazier which has skewers of meat toasting over the coals. Each will ignore his great mace when intruders enter, reaching instead for the food. Through they do not speak common, they will grab and eat a chunk, then offer the skewers to the adventurers — and suddenly use them as swords to strike first blow (at +2 bonus to hit due to surprise!) unless the victims are very alert. . . I mean, that exclamation point though.

If you aren't creating scenes and experiences through activities for players (and not excess verbiage) please start, and point people to this series to get them to change.

You don't have to write a bunch of words about how encounters react to every last thing, you just have to write something interesting well, and from that the Dungeon Master will be able to know how it reacts.

Enter the Present.This is INFURIATING.

Why? I just downloaded the most recent Dungeons & Dragons pay what you want adventure to find a room description to compare. Each room description is literally a full page. In lieu of typing the whole page, I'm just going to quote some random sentences from this full page of text for a single room. A whole page. It's not even an A5 page! It's a full letter page.

"The bed is perfectly normal and has a warm, soft blanket stretched over it."
"The party is in the right place, but this isn't the chamber in which the wardrobe is kept."
"Unbeknownst to the players, a hidden passage lies beyond the bookcase"
The box text says "the chamber. . . is not quite what you imagined"

I will summarize the entire room description, as I think Gygax would have laid it out.
3. Wizard Bedroom. Locked Chest (Disable Device DC 15, Strength DC 20) contains pouch 32 gold, 13 silver pieces, 21 copper. Secret door behind bookcase filled with bird books. Note in book about secret door. Corridor beyond trapped, must flap like bird or say "[REDACTED]" 50 XP for door, 50 XP for ladder.You do not need 1,200 words! I am a Dungeon Master looking for useful tools!

The early examples were great and maintain their popularity and utility decades later, look at the sales of the poorly-reviewed Keep on the Borderlands 5e reprint. They had to hold a second pre-order since pre-orders exceeded their first print run.

This endless glut of poor adventure writing is someone emptying their uninteresting brain noise right in the middle of what I need as a person that runs a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. Is there a market for people who want to read an adventure and have no use for it during play?

Yeah. there is, and it's pretty big. That's the problem.

People keep trying to characterize "What the old school renaissance" is. This has never been a mystery.

It's just people trying to find something they can use in play!

People were playing Dungeons and Dragons until people who did not play, and instead just read and admired ran it into the ground and nearly caused it to cease to exist. You can clearly publish a game with no firm rules and just allow everyone to do what they want, but they aren't very successful are they?

I would think everything in this post is obvious, but due to my inability to use 90% of everything ever published it apparently is not. If you feel the same way, link it the next time someone doesn't know how to write a module. Or, if you're feeling generous, you can join our hierarchy over here, and support more posts like this on Patreon, where you can get special access to my discord

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Gygax Design III

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 03:00
There are like 12,000 terrible modules and adventures.

This hobby is almost 50 years old at this point. There have been literally thousands and thousands of adventures written and are available.

Why are we always playing the same ones? Why do people always fall back on Keep on the Borderlands, Forgotten City, Ghost towers, Horror Tombs,  and Giants in their lairs, leading to drow?

I mean, Modern cinema isn't obsessed with the movies that came out in the 70's. You don't see Deer Hunter being played and replayed over by viewers. (The fact that a significant portion of my readers were not alive when that movie came out, much less have even heard of it. In hindsight maybe it shouldn't have won best picture of 1979 versus Grease and Superman, which you know, weren't even nominated).

It's a joke, surely. But it's not.

We keep replaying the same old old modules because they are good and other adventures are not.

The old masters, Gygax, Jennell, and others—they knew how to write an adventure. Everyone else copied the form, not understanding the intent, and produced jumbled linear messes that are boring and dumb; literally not fun to play. How many good adventures can you name? What percentage is that of 12,000?

In part one we looked at how Gygax presented Keep on the Borderlands in just a page so that Dungeon Masters understood the excitement and wonder that was about to occur. You can't read his introduction without getting hype!

In part two, we looked at how the sequels just presented jumbles of random, useless, and most importantly inaccessible information. More importantly, we saw how Gygax used the physical layout to generate tension in the keep with player desire, a deliberate tactic used to create the tension that emergent play develops from.

The Journey to the Keep

You know how if you want to go on a theme park ride, there's a big sign? You just walk up to it and ride? That can be fun, but it's not an adventure.

You have to find the adventure. Finding the adventure location isn't something that delays play. Eliminating it to "speed things up" is missing the point. The adventure location exists among a living world. Travelling there, through the fantasy realm, to the threshold of chaos cannot be removed simply to get to the combat fasters.

Let's look at these wilderness encounters:

A madman hermit(thief) with a pet lion who wants to attack the party but is friendly first.
A mut pit with a roof and a hole, which lizard men come out one at a time to fight players, until only the women and children are left in the mud hole.
A group of bandits with their eye on the keep and any adventurers
Two spiders who guard the corpse of an ancient elf.

Explicitly, each of these create tension within the game world. This tension drives emergent play. Each is described in a way that makes them easy to represent by the Dungeon Master. All the relevant information is accessible to the players.

I'm not saying it's perfect. There's useless text in there (how many gold and silver pieces each of the different bandit types are carrying.)

But each of the different encounters creates a new tension in the world. Each is memorable and easy to represent. Each inspires other thoughts, questions, and adventure. Each is an event that can go many different ways on how the players approach.

How did "2.2d4 Dire Boars" become a standard?

The Caves

This being a learning module isn't relevant to our discussion, but it does provide some interesting insights into presentation. Gygax cautions at the very front: "Add whatever you feel is appropriate to the description of what they see, but be careful not to give anything away or mislead them." This is a concrete example of how he viewed the Dungeon Master as impartial arbiter of the game.

His description of discovering the caves is short and is entirely devoted to explaining the space in a way that allows us to visualize it, and, of course, setting the tone:
The sunlight is dim, the air dank, there is an oppressive feeling here—as if something evil is watching and waiting to pounce upon you. There are bare, dead trees here and there, and upon one a vulture perches and gazes hungrily at you. A flock of ravens rise croaking from the ground, the beat of their wings and their cries magnified by the terrain to sound loud and horrible. Amongst the litter of rubble, boulders, and dead wood scattered about on the ravine floor, you can see bits of gleaming ivory and white - closer inspection reveals that these are bones and skulls of men, animals, and other thing,. . .You know that you have certainly discovered the Caves Of Chaos.Here's another thing that's explicit in the module. "With this knowledge, they might be able to set tribes to fighting one another, and then the adventurers can take advantage of the weakened state of the feuding humanoids." In this adventure, indeed in most of his adventures Gygax assume that there will be multiple forces, often in equilibrium that the players will disturb or can leverage as they explore. It's this dynamic response that creates emergent adventure and dramatic scenes.

 On the next article, we'll take a look at they keys for the caves themselves. . .

I'd love to keep writing, but I need help to continue. I'm almost making ends meet, and Your support could mean the difference between success and failure! Make a difference today!

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Gygax Design II

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 02:30
Let's look at the background section of the adventures B2: Keep on the Borderlands, and Return to the Keep on the Borderlands. Part I of this article is here.


Keep on the Borderlands has a four paragraph background, and a two paragraph starting encounter. The expectation is that the background is read aloud. 



The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasures. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounds them. Yet, there are always certain exceptional and brave members of humanity, as well as similar individuals among its allies - dwarves, elves, and halflings - who rise above the common level and join battle to stave off the darkness which would otherwise overwhelm the land. 
I mean, he wrote it as if it pulsed fire in his heart.

The starting scene is particularly appropriate because it instructs the players to introduce themselves to the gatekeeper, and thus the other players.

What follows is six pages detailing the keep itself. We're going to talk about this in a minute.

The Return to the Keep on the Borderlands has a five paragraph introduction, and a two paragraph starting encounter.

But wait? What chicanery is this?!

The introduction is not to be read to the players and contains ancient history. What's more it's dull. No, really. I'll—just look:

Such, at any rate, was his plan. In the event, Macsen found that retirement agreed with him. He devoted all his time to managing the affairs of the garrison and the Keep, . . . Fortunately Macsen had chosen his castellan well. Devereau was a faithful henchmen, an archer who only remained behind because of a crippling wound received in an early adventure. . . Today it is a small but thriving community once more, less populous than of old but warded by people who have invested years of hard work making this into their home and been willing to defend it to the bitter end. That's how it ends. That's the call to adventure. Let me sum up.

Once a dude got a keep, and it was too much effort to dick around with assholes in the woods. And so other people did it, and then all the monsters were dead. Then he went off and died in war, and the rest of the people stayed and now they are strong and happy.

Two paragraphs on a dude that's dead. Story that's both boring and not accessible to players of the game, and the call to adventure is "It's a safe, nice place."

The starter encounter has a paragraph of read aloud text as you approach the keep, and you are hailed by a guard. The boxed text makes no horrible affronts, only slightly telling the players what they feel or do. Then there are eleven pages detailing the keep.

So Much of the KeepWhy do we care about the keep? What can we learn about the way it's presented in the module? What's in those six pages?

Amazingly, it's very gamified. Each section of the keep is a tool to drive the adventure. Gygax meticulously details the arms, armaments, and tactics of people in the keep in addition to documenting the location of every loose copper piece.

What's noticeable is the expectation that the interior of the keep will be explored as a dungeon environment. The players walk in, and then walk around to all the different places. Let's look at some of the gamification of the environment:

1. Main Gate: "Two men-at-arms. . . require that persons entering the keep put their weapons away and then escort them to area 3."
3. Entry Yard: "All entrants, save those of the garrison will be required to dismount and stable their animals (area 4). The Corporal of the Watch is here [and] is rather grouchy, with a low charisma, but he admires outspoken brave fighters and is easily taken in by a pretty girl."He doesn't have a name, but he gets a personality. Further:
Map by Dyson Logos3. Entry Yard: Cont. "A scribe. . . records the name of each person who enters or leaves. . . Lackeys will come to take mounts or mules. Any goods not carried will be stored in the warehouse. Another lacky will then show travelers to the Traveler's Inn."
This connects directly to the entrance scene, informs characters of the stables, that there's goods in the warehouse, and then walks them over to the inn. Which is at area 15. If you're using the map, this walks the characters directly past every other interesting player facing building on the map. To wit:

They walk south past the stables and warehouse, directly towards the bailiff tower (at 6), then west directly past the smithy/armory (at 8) and the provisioner and trader (at 9-10) and the fortified loan office on the south wall (at 11).

By the time they've reached the tavern, they've been exposed to everything there is interesting to do in town for a new adventure, but it doesn't stop there.

Areas marked 7 on the map are private apartments, and Gygax provides two. A jeweler who will exchange gems and money for the characters, and a priest who is willing to assist the party in the caves (but spoilers secretly is chaotic and will attack the party—I've killed more than one player who came to the priest for aid and got a cause wounds for their trouble.)

The apartments (and their many empty partners) are set up for the Dungeon Master to introduce characters of their own. Though this is not explicit, the introduction does say "Special quarters are available for well-to-do families, rich merchants, guild masters, and the like."

How do we know that the information that's listed here is deliberate and not just something compulsive Gygax did because he was an insurance actuary? Because of what he leaves out. He does not detail the normal family members of the personages of the keep.
"The five small apartments along the south wall are occupied by families of persons dwelling within the Outer Bailey of the KEEP."This is the only sentence addressing what Gygax felt were non-game entities. They aren't described, given treasure, etc. because they aren't likely to be involved in gameplay. The smithy's grandmama isn't going to need combat stats, and the players aren't likely to interact with a house full of women and children, so those "apartments . . . are occupied" is all the text that is given.

This deliberate presentation of some things and not others is designed for what the Dungeon Master needs in play. What if the keep is attacked? What if the players attack the keep or try to steal things? Well, that information is there for those Dungeon Masters. The contents of the bank and warehouse are documented. 

Can you figure out why? I can. Because I've played Dungeons and Dragons before.

Where is there to go in this keep? What can the players do? Those questions are also answered in the text, in a very sort of computer game, pick the smithy menu, here's some information about that encounter.

What's in the northern half of the outer bailey—you know, the part the characters don't walk past on the way to the tavern—is unsurprisingly the things the characters will need after their first foray out into the wilds. 16 is the guild house for travellers, 17 the chapel for priests and healing, and most importantly, the gate to the inner keep, which you can only gain access to after you have accomplished deeds in the caves.

You can't go home againIn Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, the map remains very similar (with one or two new tricks). The guard challenge is repeated and they are met at the gate by a named non-player character, Sabine the Gatekeeper who directs them  to the stable, warehouse, marketplace, and inn/tavern. Everyone in the sequel is given names ("The second floor houses. . . Laurl, Charl, Wort, and Joop.")

Each home in the sequel has details of their occupants, no statistics, just a story about what type of person they are.
"A quiet man who keeps mostly to himself, Reece. . . has since married a local woman (Asgrim, a young widow whose first husband marched off to the battlefield while they were still newlyweds, never to return). They have a three year old son, Decius, and a year-old daughter, Nadya."I don't see how the above is accessible or useful to play. He's a cobbler. When will the players intersect with this information? Why is it detailed? 7f details three sisters who are milkmaids and their schedules throughout the day, but should I references 7f which I'm deciding who's in an area?

Each paragraph is giving me a little character story or vignette. . . and no tools to integrate it with what's actually going to be happening at the table. The presentation is convoluted bullshit with zero effort given into what I'm supposed to do with that information.

It gets worse. The players can't buy anything at the smithy "Rafe can make horseshoes, nails, and bits with ease, but weaponsmithing and armor-forging are beyond him." followed by this useful gem that can in no way impact our game, "The keep once had a resident weaponsmith in Mascens day who kept the garrison supplied."

!?

Let's play a game. In what world where you have sat down with your friends to play Dungeons & Dragons is the following information useful?

"Beasley's daughter, Calista, divides chores and responsibilities with her husband."

"Most folks only stay here for a few days, but some stay for extended periods."

There's literally thousands of words detailing small family relationships, who's married to who, local town politics, organized only by building title:"Guild House" under which you find, Greeves and Peta who are the grandparents of Jess who is in the one-eyed cat.

Is the adventure about small town drama? If it is, why is it so poorly organized? How would I keep this web of stories and relationships straight without re-writing everything?

Every entry in the original adventure contained information that I might need. And it did so in the correct place. Anything else, it left me to create and keep track of (such as the large number of un-named guards and people)

There are some bright spots. Even though entirely too many words are used, there are an entertaining collection of colorful characters that the players can collect as henchmen. There's no indication of where they are located in the keep next to their stats, but: Third, a warrior who wears a bronze mask all the time, Brother Martin, a fair cleric who makes sure that everyone provides input (even shy people), Opal, a neutral moon cleric who's Lawful-Chaotic alignment axis changes with the moon. A clever but loony mage, a manipulative necromancer who just wants to find a way to worship at the hidden temple, and a cowardly thief.

Then there are three keep encounters, one keyed to happen after the first three times the characters return to the keep.

If the intent was to detail family relationships, following the form of Gygax is the worst way to organize it. Even though the original module has six pages devoted to the keep, it just feels like six pages of tools for the Dungeon Master to respond to players ideas and successes. Whereas the house descriptions in the sequel are devoid of any mechanical information.

I can see how you could interject some of this drama into the lives of the player characters, but I want to be clear. The text provides no tools to assist with using this information in play, besides creating the unexciting situations: A ward falls in love with her step-father, or how the twenty some-odd members of the Lum clan make up most of the militia. etc. What's more is that the format actively works against this.

I can run the keep with a single pass over Gygax's text. I couldn't even understand the second adventure unless I spend the time to reorganize all the information it gives me.

Next time, we'll look at the wilderness and cave encounters proper.

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On Gygax Design I

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 02:00
It's unspoken in the rulebooks all over the place.

You are just supposed to know certain things from the culture of wargaming. But it blew up way past that microculture.

The immediate casualty was the adventure. This has been my focus now for over a year. What went wrong? Why are the modules Gygax wrote good, while others that ape the style are so bad?

Keep on the BorderlandsLet's just start with the introductions. 
"You are not entering this world in the usual manner, for you are setting forth to be a Dungeon Master. Certainly there are stout fighters, mighty magic-users, wily thieves, and courageous clerics who will make their mark in the magical lands of D&D adventure. You, however, are above even the greatest of these, for as DM you are to become the Shaper of the Cosmos. It is you who will give form and content to all the universe. You will breathe life into the stillness, giving meaning and purpose to all the actions which are to follow. The others in your group will assume the roles of individuals and play their parts, but each can only perform within the bounds you will set. It is now up to you to create a magical realm filled with danger, mystery, and excitement, complete with countless challenges. Though your role is the greatest, it is also the most difficult. You must now prepare to become all things to all people."-Gary Gygax, "Keep on the Borderlands"
Let's see.
"You are not entering this world in the usual manner" is literal. He presents this powerfully as descending not only personally into the realm of fantasy, but the, and I quote, "become[ing] the Shaper of the Cosmos. It is you who will give form and content to all the universe."
Heady stuff. 
Let's look at the introduction of Return to Keep on the Borderlands by John D. Rateliff 1999, at the tail end of the dark ages of Dungeons & Dragons:
"Return to the Keep is an update of the classic adventure, detailing what has happened in the Caves of Chaos and the Keep itself in the two decades since brave adventurers cleaned out the monsters and departed for other challenges. The rules have been fully updated. . ., encounters have been fleshed out, and the section of advice to inexperienced Dungeon Masters expanded and rewritten. In the main, however, Keep on the Borderland remains what it has always been: A series of short adventures, distinct enough that player characters can catch their breath between each section, that smoothly segue together. Altogether, this adventure gives novice players and characters a chance to learn the ropes without getting in over their heads; characters who survive will have learned the basic tricks of their trade, just as players and Dungeon Masters will know the basics of good gaming."
What the f$% happened here? Do you see this shit? Apologies to Rateliff, but I try to edit my blog posts better then this introduction. There's just extra, redundant, words in excess of the words that are needed, for some reason that's a reason there's extra words for a reason. Right? 
"A series of short adventures." is the short description of "Adventures distinct enough that player characters can catch their breath between each section". How about "In the main, however". What purpose does that equivocation serve?
An example from one of the worst printed module of all time, N2, The Forest Oracle. Although terrible, it's common in quality to the vast majority of material on RPGnow and DM's Guild. But I'd rather not punch down on amature creator, so consider this a stand in for the type of dross you find on onebookshelf. 
"The Forest Oracle is an AD&D module for levels 2-4. It is an independent adventure, and not part of a series. It can be integrated into any existing campaign or played as a separate adventure to help initiate players into the world of AD&D." -Carl Smith Forest OracleEvery single word of the above introduction is patently obvious. The level range is on the cover. You can integrate any adventure into an existing campaign or play it as a separate adventure.  This is literal wasted space. Compare with original borderlands text.

The point I'm driving at here, is Gygax used every word of the introduction to drive home a mind-blowing idea, the introduction was copied for the sequel by a writer who writes as if he gets paid by the word, and the worst adventure writers don't even understand the point of the introduction so they just say truistic generic comments. "This is a module." or one of my personal favorites "This module is for X level characters, but you can run it with higher or lower characters if you increase or decrease the difficulty."

No shit?

Why did I pay? How does this help me? What does this do for me?

Dungeon Master TextThis text varies between each individual module.

Let's look at the original keep:
This module is another tool. It is a scenario or setting which will help you to understand the fine art of being a Dungeon Master as you introduce your group of players to your own fantasy world, your interpretation of the many worlds of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Adventure. THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS is simply offered for your use as a way to move smoothly and rapidly into your own special continuing adventures or campaigns. Read the module thoroughly; you will notice that the details are left in your hands. This allows you to personalize the scenario, and suit it to what you and your players will find most enjoyable.Which commits the sin of being obvious, but considering the dearth of modules at the time, this was good advice then. Is the pass I'm giving the above text unfair?

The DM should be careful to give the player characters a reasonable chance to survive.Hopefully, they will quickly learn that the monsters here will work together and attack intelligently, if able. If this lesson is not learned, all that can be done is to allow the chips to fall where they may. Dead characters cannot be brought back to life here! Then, Gygax lines out his conception of Dungeons & Dragons:
The KEEP is a microcosm, a world in miniature. Within its walls your players will find what is basically a small village with a social order, and will meet opponents of a sort. Outside lies the way to the Caves of Chaos where monsters abound. As you build the campaign setting, you can use this module as a guide. Humankind and its allies have established strongholds—whether fortresses or organized countries—where the players’ characters will base themselves, interact with the society, and occasionally encounter foes of one sort or another. Surrounding these strongholds are lands which may be hostile to the bold adventurers. Perhaps there are areas of wilderness filled with dangerous creatures, or maybe the neighboring area is a land where chaos and evil rule (for wilderness adventures, see DUNGEONS & DRAGONS@ EXPERT SET). There are natural obstacles to consider, such as mountains, marshes, deserts, and seas. There can also be magical barriers, protections, and portals. Anything you can imagine could be part of your world if you so desire. The challenge to your imagination is to make a world which will bring the ultimate in fabulous and fantastic adventure to your players. A world which they may believe in.He is a priest, his sermon dense with meaning. Note particularly "will meet opponents of a sort" and "hostile foes of one sort or another".

Jeff Dee's art is a treasureThis is the first module, a teaching module, the first time many of these things had ever been seen. Yet the form of treating it as the first-ish publication anyone may ever see, is not something that other and later modules needed to copy. A lot of the text in the original B2 is almost an errata—a detailed description of procedures in play for lost or confused Dungeon Masters. Other then a few pointed notes, I'm going to excise this from the analysis, due to the singular artifact of "being first".  A rules addendum is tangential to our examination of Gygax's content versus the imitators of form.

Of particular note:
To defeat monsters and overcome problems, the DM must be a dispenser of information. Again, he or she must be fair - telling the party what it can see, but not what it cannot. Questions will be asked by players, either of the DM or of some character the party has encountered, and the DM must decide what to say. Information should never be given away that the characters have not found out - secret doors may be missed, treasure or magic items overlooked, or the wrong question asked of a townsperson. The players must be allowed to make their own choices. Therefore, it is important that the DM give accurate information, but the choice of action is the players’ decision.It's bolded like that in the original text.

In Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, the text and advice is largely similar and fascinating. Perhaps Ratcliffe was just warming up earlier and needed a sharper editor for that paragraph. I'd like to quote  things that indicate people carried true knowledge always with them, even as those who claimed to be kings had lost that knowledge. To wit:
"Boxed text can either be read out loud by the Dungeon Master, or simply paraphrased in his or her own words. Paraphrasing is often preferred by experienced Dungeon Masters. . ." "Players have a habit of doing the unexpected; resist the temptation to force them to follow a particular track." "For purposes of this adventure, the Dungeon Master is strongly urged to use the optional rule that grants experience points for treasure (at the rate of 1 XP per 1 gp value); this sends the message to the players that there are a multitude of right approaches to take (combat, stealth, negotiation), not a single preferred method of play."This was in 1999, before the release of 3rd edition, where traditional games of Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire were advising Dungeon Masters to invalidate their players choices, and modules consisted of badly constructed railroads of the sort a grade schooler might create. In the darkest moment the hobby of Dungeons & Dragons has experienced, light still shone.

Next time we're going to look at the background section of the adventures and dig into things both nitty and gritty.

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On a Definitive Table for Avoiding Death

Sun, 10/31/2021 - 09:30

Hit Points are abstract. 

Do you feel that your games might like more realistic combat wounds and damage without losing the ease and abstraction of hit points? Would you like critical hits and wounds that create gradations beyond down at 0 up at +0? One that takes into account all types of damage?

Go ahead and download the free Pandect if you are already interested.

The core of this system doesn't change default gameplay, it just creates a space between 0 hit points and dead, where damage results in actual wounds and permanent damage instead of death. Perhaps you'd like a less lethal and a more gritty setting—this isn't for all games. It's a poor fit for super heroic games like 5e and Pathfinder at level 7+

The other advantage is that it makes players significantly more resilient in low level games. Once your hit points are gone, instead of being dead you are subject in increasingly severe wounds. It helps character survival, adds character (people dig scars), and creates more realistic consequences for adventure for games like AD&D, OSE, and other low fantasy settings!

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On Erecting a New Campaign

Fri, 10/29/2021 - 12:00
Do you smell that?
It's the smell of a new campaign. New players, new dynamics, new adventures! 
Here's how this goes:
Suggest a couple of games to players a month ahead of time. Finalize the game date.Realize no one has picked a game.Players select the game they want 48 hours before the game. Hurriedly design an entire campaign from scratch.Frantically try to print off everything you need before the game. Forget to print off a bunch of things.Realize only after the game starts that all the .pdfs you need to reference are on the tablet your daughter is using to watch kid's shows.Bargain with your daughter for the tablet.Decide to use your phone instead.Give up on using your phone. Refer to things as "That country I made up a name for that I can't find."Spend 20 minutes looking for that one piece of paper that has the entire campaign on it. Find it in the folder you made for the players.Watch a 5e player's eyes go wide as a critical chart takes off the clerics arm.Have her leave to go smoke.Convince your daughter that the phone is better then the tablet. Hurriedly try to find the name of that rebel group in the .pdf. End the session rolling up new characters.
Beginning a campaign from scratch
I joke, but this touches on a real issue. Even using an system with no house rules and an adventure path, there's still a tremendous amount of work that needs to happen to get a campaign off the ground.
Let's take a look at what needs to be done, just to start:
  • You have to create an area for the players to adventure. You need to populate this area. If you're being a good dungeon master, this area should be able to handle both expansion, foreshadow the course of the campaign, and be thematically interesting.
  • You need to decide what races and classes you are going to allow.
  • Generally, you have to provide a selection of deities for clerics.
  • You have to either select or design a calendar to keep track of time. (YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.)
  • You have to decide what languages are available for the players to learn.
  • You need to create a facebook/G+ page and an obsidian portal/wiki as a reference for the campaign as it develops.


How much work is that already?
Then you have character creation, which even in the best games, feels like needing to do taxes so you can get your refund.
There's some person out there, full of more vigor then sense, who will likely point out that you don't have to do these things. Sure, you don't have to. You don't have to brush your teeth in the morning, but who wants to be a damn savage?
The tools have been getting better for this process over the years. I find starting a campaign from scratch much easier now–not only because I've written my own tools, but because there are more useful tools out there.
The process
Because this is something that's really opaque, I'm going to outline my process below. 
The very first thing is you get some players interested. I find, these days, it's as easy as "I'm running a game at date/time, anyone interested?" I then create a venue on a social network where these players can all interact.
System
My next step was to discuss what system we are going to use. No matter what is picked, there's always issues. I don't like clerics and find % thief skills obnoxious. 3.5/Pathfinder games you need to decide what books you are allowing. In this case, the players and I voted for 1st edition AD&D.
Right away, my long experience gives me some insight into how this plays out. Demi-humans are far superior to humans in almost all respects, and most players end up playing Demi-humans as humans in funny hats. I make humans mechanically superior (4d6DL & assign, versus 3d6 in order, switch 2) and add drawbacks to each race. I used Andrew Shields Death Dwarves and their meatsmithing, took a bit of the chaos elves and have them all start with at least one madness, and have half-men (Halflings) have rows and rows of teeth, who prey on the failing morals of men.
I also replace the thief with the expert class and change all the thief skills and secondary skills to use Skills: the Middle Road. I also inform the players that I will be using my Death & Dismembermenttable, along with Hackmaster Critical hits.
World
I give a moment's thought to theme. I decide on a frontier style game. Instead of having a foreign land , where all the cultures are bizarre, I'd prefer a more traditionally medieval setting. My inspirations include Berserk, the 100 years war, Artesia, Bladestorm, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and all the drama inherent in war.
With the idea that the characters are at a forward outpost of a despotic country, with conflict brewing with the nearest city, surrounded by unknown militaristic forces, I head over to Wizardawn and generate maps until I find one that I like. Mountains to the north, a few lakes. I generate it sans any generated sites. I save this map to my Dropbox, print out a color copy and a very light almost faded black and white copy. On the light copy, I create a few cities, about half a dozen towns, and place resources and obstacles over the map. I don't generate the content for any of these. Partially because some answers will be obvious (one city and town on the west side of the map will reflect the outpost and the nearest settlement) and partially because they will develop in play. 
This map is at a scale of 6 mile hexes, making it about the size of my home state of Arkansas. The distances are substantial, but not unmanageable. There's endless adventure inside a single six mile hex, so it provides plenty of room for play and expansion. I can have a whole ancient empire in just a few hexes or introduce a new castle or force late in the campaign.
Then I generate some monster threats. One worldshaker, two that are formidable opponents for Lord or name level characters, and then four that are challenges for superhero level characters. Most of the hero level challenges don't influence the campaign enough to design now.
Now that all that is written, I rationalize clerics and select a calendar. I have a few default options, one from a campaign my father was in way back in the early 80's, another that I designed to be a unique calendar that I use from time to time. Not having to do this from scratch is a big time saver.
Preparation
The next thing is what we will need to start play. I'm playing 1st edition with hackmaster criticals so armor placement is important, along with character sheets. I print off a 1st edition Player's Handbook gear list, and consider printing off some gear packages, but I've been burned with having differing prices before. This later turns out to be a mistake, considering exactly how much gear the players were missing. They had a bullseye lantern no one could light, and no rope. I print out blank spell lists for spellcasters, and then I turn to my Binder.
I find some suitably gory and bizarre images to insert into the covers of the binder, and begin collecting what I need from online and my older folders. I need a copy of my "Table for Avoiding Death", some blank paper, a table for random monster behavior, combat commentary styles, Non-Player Character features, A table for random hireling traits, random backgrounds for henchmen (which will partially decide their class when they acquire enough experience to level), and a list of completely random rumors, which is often useful for inspiration.
The next section contains a cheat sheet for 1e morale, evasion, and encounter detection and a table of 100 reasons the characters are together along with a list of totally bullshit taxes that can be levied on players. The 100 reasons sheet is extremely useful for creating emergent play.
Finally, I have a section devoted to overland travel. The first page is a way to determine with one die roll when the next encounter is based on encounter frequency, instead of having to roll three, four, or even six or more times per day of travel. Then I have several lists of non-standard wilderness events, some creative tables for merchants, war travel, short encounters, unique treasure, holidays, strange inns, etc. Then I have a page devoted to an article from a hackjournal that contains a random system for naming small villages and hamlets. Finally I have a copy of the d30 random wilderness book.
Adventure
Well, what now?
There's still a lot left to do. Like what are the players actually going to do when they get to the game? I generate three key Non-Player Characters, and an opening setting for their arrival in town. I also go through the various books and monster manuals (The Creature Compendium, Fire on theVelvet Horizon, etc.) and pick a small (2-6) selection of monsters per terrain type near the starting area. These will be the primary antagonists and animals the players will meet.
Due to time constraints, I forgo creating an actual wandering monster table. In order to create an actual experience of discovery and realism, I follow the method for monster tables outlined on the retired adventurer blog, each containing spoors, lairs, and other monster sign.
I then flip through some resources, looking for a few activities for new adventurers, along with ideas for other local factions and groups. I select a few from here and there, and write them down on my campaign sheet, which at this point is still a single piece of paper with a lot of writing on it. I grab a copy of a few interesting files, and dump them on my tablet.
Then I gather the books I need. My "On the Non-Player Character", Delta's "Book of War", Crawford's "An Echo, Resounding", My 1e Dungeon Master Screen, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Player's Handbook, A copy of "Dyson's Delves" for treasure maps. I also keep a copy of my Critical Hit/Wild Magic Resource, and Kellri's CCD:4 for wilderness travel nearby.
I gather dice, pencils, dice trays, my tact-tiles, dry erase markers, buy a fruit tray, and just hope for the best at this point.
The Beginning
Well, after you had the first game session, that's it eh?
Not hardly. Then comes setting up the Obsidian Portal, drawing pictures of the non-player characters, creating new non-player characters, writing the random tables, creating interesting and connected rumors, and more.
In 2017, I was able to handle all the above in about 48 hours, whereas as short as a decade ago it could take weeks, or more. Are we there yet? We are getting better. Newer rulesets like ACKS, DCC, and Perdition require a lot less house-ruling of core systems it seems; adventurers, tools, and resources seem to be getting more useful as time goes on. Even the quality of official material seems to be of a higher caliber (but often fails from trying to be too many things to too many people).
What about your campaigns? Is every single one a task of pulling the entire world up by its bootstraps while you are astride it?

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On the Thursday Trick, Doors & Chests

Thu, 10/28/2021 - 12:00
Doors & Chests 
I talk a lot about agency in traps, about having signs of the traps be obvious but subtle, about distracting from what the real clues are and about how to make them interesting.

All this gets tossed out the window for doors and chests. Why?  Because they are common and commonly trapped. In most cases the trapping mechanism is subtle and hard to detect. And the procedure for checking them using player skill would rapidly reach the point where it was comprehensive and going through that process would be boring and repetitive.

It is an actual example where character skill trumps player skill. I can explain how to crack a safe or pick a lock, but it is practice and exposure to different safes and locks that really determines your ability.

So, for traditional, classic, door and chest traps, I don't bother describing the mechanism of the trap. 
This is reliant upon the relevant thief skill.  It is the thief's equivalent to fighting or casting spells. I do certainly think it is reasonable to create a unique game or subsystem for opening locks or detecting traps (Such as pulling Jenga blocks, winning hands of war, etc.)

Detection/Disarming: Here are some lists of common door and chest traps!

  • Poison
    • Contact poison on treasure
    • Contact poison on container
    • Poison needle in lock or handle
    • Poison darts in front, top, inside lid, or bottom.
    • Poison Gas (in chest, in door handle)
  • Scything blade, cutting, up, down, etc.
  • Contains deadly vermin
  • Triggers another nearby trap, trap door, crushing stone block, etc. (Note that this trap can have plenty of agency)
  • Triggers a Magic Spell
  • Mimic
  • Acid spray
  • Explosive
How to deal with overactive door kickers?
  • Dropping blades
  • Weighted line that releases a metal spear shaft from the ceiling behind the kicker
  • Weakened doors that break eaisly to allow blades to amputate the limbs
  • Snares in the door
  • Spring loaded blades in doors
  • Shooting blades that fling out
  • Portcullises that drop when the door is opened (to prevent the peek and flee)
  • Spiked clamps triggered around the surrounding ceiling, floor, or walls
  • Door contains deadly substance
  • Doors that spring out, slamming targets into the walls, floor or ceiling
  • Things perched on the tops of doors
  • Doors covered in sticky, toxic, or dangerous substances


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On the Expert

Wed, 10/27/2021 - 12:00
There's been some talk about the thief lately.

I have a very elegant solution and wish to share.

This system works no matter which version you run.

I have eliminated the thief class and replaced it with a class called Expert. Expert works exactly like a thief regarding saves, hit points, and all other relevant aspects of the thief class except for the following differences.

Experts can re-roll any one roll they make, once per session per level. This is to support their playstyle niche which is risk-taker.

Experts select 5 skills from the following list. They do this instead of gaining their default skills. I use Skills: the Middle Road* as the system in my game because it doesn't tie skills into level, but X in d6 or % both work. Each level the thief selects a new skill, or raises a skill from skilled to expert to master.

The key to this following list is each of these skills resolves a specific in game 'lock'. It is a literal toolset as the magic users bag of spells, or the fighters bag of murder.


Agility/Athletics: For resolving feats of derring do.
Alchemy: For the creation and identification of alchemical items.
Appraisal: For determining the value of objects in the dungeon.
Arcana: For the identification and use of out of class magic items (wands/scrolls, etc.)
Backstab: For doing additional damage in combat.
Healing: For restoring hp to comrades after a battle.
Listening: For gathering information behind closed doors.
Nature Affinity: For calming and working with animals. This also allows you to use your charisma to have animal companions in addition to henchmen.
Poison Use: Use, identify and treat poison.
Campaign Specific Lore skills: Specifically useful skills that provide additional info in your campaign.
Sleight of Hand: Picking pockets, palming, and other feats of prestidigitation.
Stealth: Hiding, Movement to surprise monsters, and taking a round to set up a backstab in combat.
Stonelore: Identification of slopes, new construction, sliding walls, pit traps depth underground and stonework.
Tinkering/Devices: Disarming traps on chests and doors. and working with machinery.

Note that searching and parley are not on the list by design. The X in 6 chances to locate secret doors once players have given up looking and reaction rolls are not systems that are improved by allowing people to become 'skilled' in them. It is highly likely those will become 'skill taxes'.

The difference between these skills and the usual assortment, is that each of these provides a specific in game mechanical use. There aren't skills for flavor or background (those should be non-mechanical in nature). The system is expandable for subsystems you might use in your campaign

*All non-supernatural tasks have a target number of two to seven. Those unskilled may attempt a task by rolling a d6. Those skilled at a task roll a d8. Those that are experts at a task roll a d10. Those that are masters roll a d12. Target numbers may be modified situationally.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On 101 uses for a 10' pole

Tue, 10/26/2021 - 12:00
101 uses for a 10' pole
  1. You can use it to sweep the ground in front of you for tripwires and pressure plates. 
  2. You can use it to assist you in mapping by measuring the walls.
  3. You can use it to remotely open or prod chests or levers.
  4. You can probe liquids and slimes.
  5. You can use it to jam between to walls closing in on you.
  6. You can use it to place across a pit or ledge to walk across.
  7. You can strike it against the ground to make a noise to help determine the size of rooms or announce your presence.
  8. You can tie a prisoner to it to assist in carrying them.
  9. Helmet on a stick.
  10. You can use it to vault over dangers.
  11. It can be sharpened and turned into a makeshift spear.
  12. It can replace the haft of a broken weapon.
  13. In a pinch, it can be converted into a makeshift ladder.
  14. The cleric can decide that it's the holy symbol of his god.
  15. You can use it to prod or whack other party members who annoy you.
  16. You can use it to push climbers who are halfway up a wall.
  17. You can interpose it between yourself and dangerous monsters.
  18. You can dangle it down into pits to help people get out of traps.
  19. You can string a line around the end and use it to fish.
  20. It can be used to increase your carrying capacity by tying balanced bags on either end and carting them on your shoulders. 
  21. You can open unlocked doors from a distance.
  22. You can use it to check dead bodies to make sure they aren't zombies.
  23. In an emergency it can be used to stake a vampire.
  24. You can also shove it up someones ass. Sideways if you really don't like them.
  25. You can also use it to poke dead monsters and wizards in the eye to make sure they are dead.
  26. You can use it as a lever to lift more weight than normally possible, helping you topple statues.
  27. You can use it to stir a cauldron or big pot.
  28. You can slice it into small discs and paint them gold or turn them into metal.
  29. You can break it in half to beat an unruly henchmen or hireling.
  30. You can agitate a pond or lake and see what comes to investigate.
  31. It can be thrown like a javelin to hit a switch or something out of reach.
  32. You can use it like a cane in the darkness to help you navigate.
  33. You can paint it dark grey or make it invisible and jam it across the conveniently 10' wide halls when being pursued by monsters. 
  34. You can use it to pole a craft across a lake or river.
  35. You can use it to determine the length or depth of crevices, niches, ponds, fountains, etc.
  36. You can tie a light party member to the end and use it to lift him up or across something.
  37. Better yet, it's where you can keep your chickens. Tied to the end of the pole. 
  38. It can be used as a locking bar to bar a door shut.
  39. You can cast a light spell or tie a lantern on the end of the pole to extend the distance of your vision.
  40. You can knock on doors and windows from a very safe distance.
  41. You can tie a mirror to the end to safely see over the tops of walls and ledges.
  42. You can use it to prod floors, ceilings, chests, and cloaks to test for trappers, mimics, and cloakers.
  43. You can thread the end and have a spade or hammer attachment, to avoid having to carry the extra tools
  44. You can have a collapsible or segmented pole for that extra 1' of length if you need it.
  45. You can jam it between the walls and swing on it to add force to a kick.
  46. You can use it to trip opponents in melee with fighters.
  47. You can use it to disrupt a light source or knock something off a ledge on a wall.
  48. You can set the end on fire. For fun.
  49. You can mark it with notches to keep track of directions, intersections, kills, or the number of times the wizard has insulted the fighter without him noticing. 
  50. You can use it to roast your opponents once you kill them, over a nice warm fire. There's no better feeling than turning your enemies into poop and ideas.
  51. You can in extreme instances use it to test for unusual heat or cold or gravitational fluctuations.
  52. If a door opens out into a vacuum or tries to suck you through, you can use the pole across the door to keep from getting pulled away.
  53. A 10' pole can double as a base for a shelter in the wilderness, as the center of a lean to.
  54. A collection of 10' poles can be used to roll large statues or other valuable items.
  55. 10' poles can serve as replacement levers or spokes for machines you might run into in the dungeon.
  56. Breaking clay pots to look for rupees.
  57. Clearing out cobwebs and spider webs without setting them on fire. 
  58. You can strap two ten foot poles to your feet and be 16 feet tall.
  59. Writing down a 10' pole on your character sheet gives you options outside of skill checks.
  60. It can be used to balance while walking a tightrope or other high narrow ledge.
  61. You can use it to start a fire if there's no wood.
  62. Nothing says the pole can't be made from metal.
  63. A metal pole can be used as a lightning rod.
  64. A hollow metal pole can be used as an air-tube while underwater.
  65. You can tie all the parties livestock to the pole to keep them from running off.
  66. You can tie a flag to the end and use it to communicate over long distances or perform a really sick flag routine.
  67. Kender control. By the judicious application of bruises. 
  68. You can offer it to a giant as a toothpick.
  69. Gives all those beautiful women you rescue from the dungeon a pole to assist with their dance routines. 
  70. A 10' pole allows you to easily interact with and test for illusions. 
  71. You can tie a rope to it and use it braced against something to descend safely.
  72. If you have to turn over all your weapons, it's unlikely they will try to take your walking stick.
  73. You can use it to play games with children or monsters, like limbo or stickball.
  74. It can be jammed in an arrow slit to block the archer's ability to fire. 
  75. You can use it to give you leverage to bend bars or lift gates.
  76. Two of them can be used as a makeshift stretcher.
  77. A cloth can be draped across it as a privacy screen.
  78. You can knock over anthills and break open hives with it.
  79. Tie meat to the end to feed hungry wild animals while staying out of melee range.
  80. Convince the wizard to enchant it so that it won't break and it will give you a bonus on your saves.
  81. Put a funny horses head on it and pretend you are riding a horse to entertain a bored prince.
  82. Use it to lift up kilts and skirts from a distance.
  83. Use it to beat the sexist a--hole who's looking up kilts and skirts from a distance.
  84. Tie a cloth and wire to the end to use it as a makeshift umbrella.
  85. Start a bar fight between to patrons at a safe distance.
  86. Tie a sprinkler on the end to disperse various toxic and alchemical substances. 
  87. Tie strings to it while camping and attack a bell for a rudimentary alarm system.
  88. Three words: Improvised Whirlwind Attack. At least as useful as the feat.
  89. Use the pole to disrupt the integrity of magic circles. 
  90. Yell "I'm not touching you" when you poke someone with the pole to turn them hostile.
  91. It can be hollowed out and used as a musical instrument.
  92. Impromptu ballastie ammo.
  93. It's really the first step to designing your very own polearm.
  94. Use it to play fetch with dire wolves.
  95. The best solution for carrying 100 gold pieces of hemp rope.
  96. It can be used as a legal option for a very non-lethal duel.
  97. Long-range defenestration.
  98. Good for collecting giant ants out of a giant anthill
  99. Better to use a pole to dig through trash and refuse than your hands.
  100. Give it to the wizard so he can better estimate exactly how far 20 feet is, and finally. . .
  101. You can lean against it when your dogs are tired.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the End of Just So Stories

Tue, 10/26/2021 - 01:30


What happened? Where did I go? (tw: abuse, language, mental illness; long)

I suffer from Schizotypal Personality Disorder. This is a type of schizophrenia, but you'd be surprised by the number of people without a master's degree who take the time out to gatekeep schizophrenia. 

I'd like to talk about what this means. You can find the full list of symptoms here. I have 8 of those to a degree that required hospitalization and radically affect my life.

I have ideas of reference. This is like when someone believes the TV is sending them secret messages. Now, that isn't how mine presents. It's more. . .disruptive. I want to be clear that although I'm explaining this, the manifestation of it is horrible. It sounds interesting, but this isn't some story where I have a special power. 

I'm driven by a pattern underneath the fabric of the universe. When I'm in public, I'm assaulted with the sensation that I'm in a river. I see (hallucinate) other possibilities and branches of the future constantly. The larger variety of outcomes, the more overwhelming it is. Before medication (which helps) this was so overwhelming, the stress of it caused me to have a blood clot. 

What this literally means, is I think I can feel the outcome of actions and possibilities. I, if subjected to a double blind scientific study, can't of course. That's what makes it a hallucination. The universe is giving me information, and I can feel it pulling me. It tells me about the secret hearts of people. It shows me all the ways I could die, constantly. 

It is, in a word, a nightmare—one that makes me never want to leave the house. The blood clot occurred because I thought it was normal, and I could just 'tough it out'. The reality is that every time I leave my house I was wound tightly enough for psychosis to occur. After years of being untreated,  the spring broke, and I found myself hospitalized as parts of my body died from the literal stress of it.

How does this happen? Mental illness runs in my family. In the fall of 1980, my mother shoved me down a flight of stairs. All types of reported childhood trauma were significantly associated with SPD, in a linear fashion. This, the beatings, the verbal abuse, it's not a single incident. 

I could have been different. 

She's around. I've confronted her about this, along with therapy. She's even a professional on the internet. But there's no way she'll ever see this, because she's a narcissist. The reason my bi-polar mother shoved me down the stairs is that she was getting ready for visitors and she was mad at me because I had ruined her life and career by being born. 

As an adult who spent years doing groups and providing therapy, I see her being overwhelmed, in crisis, and having her ability to control her impulses impaired in light of her misery. It was easier, in the depths of the lack of her self-esteem, to lash out at me when manic and suffering from her narcissism. She saw her flaws in me, and as every good narcissist knows, you have to hide your flaws right? You can't accept them. You can't love them.

This is not fresh trauma. I dealt with this years ago,  (i.e. she chose to have me, and I'm not responsible for her unhappiness) and the lack of disfunction in my adult life is wonderful. Realizing that I've never raised my voice to my daughter, compared to my childhood where yelling, abuse, disfunction, and violence being the order of the day, it's blissful.

But I did not escape unscathed.

The Banality of the Human Animal

Think of the unquantified rage at all those people so upset when some schizophrenic on the internet doesn't do what they want.

When I was a child, which apparently is a long fucking time ago; the state propaganda pushed out by PBS told me that everyone was the same. I took it literally, as in "People are like me" instead of "each person is a unique individual of value worthy of unconditional regard" which is what it means.

It's not surprising, the shrunken areas of my brain due to abuse make me incapable of understanding nuance or sarcasm naturally. It's also why my writing is so concrete. (clinically, I naturally parse and discuss items literally and miss both verbal and written information 'between the lines', see "Odd thought and speech (eg, that is vague, metaphorical, excessively elaborate, or stereotyped)" from the diagnosis list) Thankfully due to my obsessive paranoia, I can usually work through to the subtext I'm missing.

The bottom line, is I'm not like you at all. In real concrete ways.

I only think things that don't fit into any sort of group or position. I do not experience loneliness. I desire acceptance, yet in order to have connections with people, I have to overcome a crawling revulsion of disgust of a web that lies beneath my skin. 

The number of people willing to spew bile, lies, and threats at people suffering from mental illness while simultaneously presenting themselves of allies is eye-opening. You know what an ally of the downtrodden has? UNCONDITIONAL POSTITIVE REGARD FOR ALL HUMAN FUCKING BEINGS. The number of people who don't understand that, and propagate the violence that was done to them because they haven't processed their own damage is higher than I could have ever conceived, and written all over their timelines. The number of people willing to experience the presentation of my disease and remain in my life is even smaller. 

Why did my blog go away? I was tired of reading (ostensibly 'woke') peoples rape and murder fantasies in my comments. 

I'm still available, via discord, patreon, email, and on other social media, but I don't do social work any more. It's no longer my job, like it was for twenty long years, to deal with the trauma of the abused and help them work through it. If people are going to type out fantasies about hurting me and my daughter on the comment section on my blog, I'll gladly remove that avenue for people to abuse me. 

I'm making a living from being a writer and illustrator. I don't need blog comments or blog posts to do that.

Everything thinks.

All life on earth is earth life. If you take a bee out and feed it, the other bees will watch the dance that guides the bees to where the food is. In the case that the bee is taken to an unlikely place to eat (e.g the middle of the lake) even though the food given in the middle of the lake was sugar rich and highly exciting to the bees, they don't go get the food. 

It's because they know there's no food available in the middle of the lake. They don't believe him because they have a mind and understand the world. This has been the work of ethologists and behavioral scientists over the last 20 years.

What is science? Nothing more than a simple process by which we figure out what is actually happening in the universe. It's not an agenda. It's what's there regardless of you. And it's beyond your and my ability to understand. Consider expertise in the realm of chess.

If an chess playing adult were to play a game of chess with a five year old child, they would win 100% of the games. If a person ranked 1600 Elo, a semi-professional chess player who plays regularly and has a deep understanding of the game, were to play an untrained adult who knew how to play they would win 100% of the games. A grand-master would win 100% of their games against a person ranked 1600. Ignorance, understanding, expertise, and mastery. 

We already know about Dunning-Kruger, and how your ego works to protect you from accepting that you are incompetent or lack knowledge. Your access to the internet and information does not give you expertise. In fact, if you haven't spent a few decades working with something, whatever thoughts and opinions you have about it appear as those of a five-year old child, demanding that their authority be recognized in a realm they don't even fully understand.

And as more of the universe becomes revealed, your beliefs are going to be challenged more and more. You can already see the inability to cope in public by our lead-addled elders, attempting to prosocute someone for looking at an html page source.

You are an expert at internet use, with thousands of hours and understanding, and his comment makes him look like a ignorant 5-year old child.

The same way people look at you when you have opinions and thoughts about things that experts hold, like perhaps gender, politics, economics, or 'science'.

This tide of anti-intellectualism is not new, it is constant . From prison, martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer writes: 

Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed. . .  – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. . . The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. . . Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. . . The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. -1943

One of the great things about the OSR, and the release of 4th and 5th edition D&D, and the popularity of D&D on twitch is that they allowed us to answer several enduring discussions that have been floating about since the beginning of Gygax's role-playing game reformation (as if people hadn't been role-playing—excuse me, having rigid and free kriegspiel—for the previous two centuries.)

And yet, some remain evergreen.

Like bigotry:

RPGA (Role Playing Game Association, the ancestor of organized play) would continue to sponsor events in other companies’ games, but the . . . scenarios would have to be . . approved by the publishing company, and (as always) they had to conform to TSR’s official guidelines.  The guidelines include the following:

“Profanity, obscenities, and vulgarity are not acceptable. Lust and sexual perversion should not be portrayed or implied in submissions.”

It was this clause that was cited when Richard Donnelly, then-president of a gaming group (and official RPGA club) dedicated to gays, lesbians and bisexuals called The Order of the Triangle, tried to get RPGA approval for a GURPS adventure which included gay characters. The RPGA refused, saying, “It is our policy that games and seminars involving sexual themes of any type are not permitted . . .” It’s important to note that Donnelly’s adventure did not include any actual depictions of or references to sexual activity of any kind; it’s just that several of the characters were described as gay. This was enough, in the RPGA’s eyes, to invoke their policy. -Pyramid #5, Industry News, 1994 (27 years ago)

There's no point in confronting these people who have opinions, yet no expertise. They will react like a five-year old, and throw a tantrum filled with certainty and petulance. I am certain of little, but I have been gaming since the early 1980's, I average about 3 games a week, and have had several books published by publishers about gaming, my work is well-reviewed, and my income comes from creating role-playing games. 

This level of expertise—the 1600 level chess player—make Dungeons and Dragons a realm where I have a degree of confidence and expertise. 

So I can tell you the thing that makes them angry.*

D&D's dominance is the most frustrating thing about the tabletop gaming scene- 2021 (this year)

D&D is a mechanical and writing dinosaur, whose dominance is honestly among the worst things ever to happen to the industry #ttrpg #gamedesign #fail -2019 (two years past)

the larger problem is that D&D kinda sucks but everyone keeps playing it anyway -2017 (four years past)

[D&D's] game system is antiquated, using many clumsy mechanics and carrying with it all the flaws of the original, never having changed ANY of the basic system in all its history -1998 (Twenty-three years past)

The state of the art for RPGs has moved on, and for myself personally, [D&D] doesn't cut it. -1995 (Twenty-six years past)

In general [D&D] has huge holes in the core rules. As a DM you either fix them, ignore them, or move on to a "better" system. -1993 (Twenty-eight years past)

And the pièce de résistance:

[P]rotagonism was so badly injured during the history of role-playing (1970-ish through the present, with the height of the effect being the early 1990s), that participants in that hobby are perhaps the very last people on earth who could be expected to produce *all* the components of a functional story. . .[The most damaged participants are too horrible even to look upon, much less to describe. This has nothing to do with geekery. When I say "brain damage," I mean it literally. Their minds have been *harmed.*] All that is the foundation for my point: that the routine human capacity for understanding, enjoying, and creating stories is damaged in this fashion by repeated "storytelling role-playing" as promulgated through many role-playing games of a specific type. -2006, Ron Edwards saying D&D and vampire players have literal brain damage. (15 years past)

Thirty years of market data would indicate fucking not. 

D&D is a good game, and when it moves away from what makes it a good game (railroaded 'story focused' modules and a focus on large sprawling settings as in 2nd edition, or dissociating mechanics from the reality of the game world as in 4th edition) it stops being the market leader.
Can you explain this to people? Obviously not, at least in the last thirty years. There are very specific reasons why it's a good game. It keeps score via gold/xp/levels, gives players clearly defined roles, emulates the hero's journey, crossing the threshold and retrieving knowledge to strengthen one tribe, has a structure that's easy to manage (i.e. dungeons are literal flowcharts) while facilitating a group, and all these structures being manageable and clear and ritualistic allow players to consistently share a common journey, made real by the group witnessing it.
People who are invested in justifying their own failure aren't interested in hearing it.
Their argument is, and always has been, that D&D is bad and somehow millions and millions of people playing it more than any other role-playing game for over thirty years is because. . . well, it's illuminating, but not about D&D. 
The Point

As the knowing happens, and we get closer to the point where everything is known, and all mysteries: The Voynich manuscript, the Antikythera mechanism, Fermet's last theory, eventually disappear as they are discovered (all of which were unknown and unsolved mysteries when I was 10, now all completely solved), we will remain as immortal gods, knowing all, in a virtually endless future within a limitless void.

Robert Sapolsky, a neuroendocrinology researcher and professor of Biology, neurology, and neurological sciences makes it clear. There's a lot of data that we have no control over our actions. Maybe free will exists. But to date, there's no mechanism, theory, or evidence for it, and daily more evidence is accumulating that there are mechanisms and evidence that it doesn't exist. We don't make decisions consciously, they are made and our brains tell us a Just So story about why we did. You don't have any control over your DNA.

You are on a ride as a passenger, with no way to steer the cart. 

Most people deny this the same way one denies that a machine can outperform you in every field to the degree that you can outperform an ant. John Henry was a steel driving man. There is nothing special about man. Your ego demands it.

But can we afford to create a society that address this? One that removes responsibility from man, and instead places it on what factors that determined the behavior?

This is not a philosophical question. We will speak with thinking living machines. We will eliminate the need for labor. We will conquer aging. Not in a geological age, not in some future era, not in far off centuries, but in mere decades. We are already genetically engineering humans to be stronger, smarter, better. 

They physical nature of the brain, the hallucinations and psychosis drugs and therapy manage, the endless insecurity and irrational beliefs of the human animal, all sitting underneath a shining sun of reason and knowledge, burning away all the ignorance, leaves the human ego where? 

Reality is that which remains. 

Coda

English Common Law holds adults responsible for their actions. What will happen if science proves they are not? 

This inability to align with any in-group has dictated the path of the future. This post is not content and I do not desire to create content. Anger has been expressed, because I refuse to take action based on the desires of any group, because I've removed parts of my public persona from view, because I've worked with people other people wish I had not, because I'm making a living at writing and illustrating instead of being enslaved to someone else, because I hold beliefs and thoughts that threaten, confuse, and anger people, because I've taken down posts due to harassment, because I've 'gone commercial' and make things and ask for money, and because I take action of my own initiative regardless of the desires of other people.

Empathy is possessed, for I felt the same way when certain writers stopped interacting with the gaming scene, in the space of four decades, I've seen it happen dozens of times. And now as a person who went from someone who's in the scene, to someone who creates for it, I can understand why. I possessed as many complex emotions over luminaries such as Michael Curtis, Monte Cook, and others withdrew from public interaction and just produced works. But now I understand it much better.

The real question is: What is it I should do? Do I produce popular "content" and get one of those ridiculous patrons that makes thousands a month? Do I just continue to produce blog "content", regurgitating the same ideas and giving everyone something entertaining to look at every day? Do I spend all my time reworking other crappy stuff written by other people on a deadline making it useful? Do I farm outrage by pandering to the needs and wants of extremists? Do I create parasocial relationships and put myself online at the risk of feeding my ego?

In part, my reach exceeds my grasp. I've been producing evergreen gaming products that I feel move the industry forward. Megadungeon's display format, maps that provide more information than a grid, templates for what an open high-level adventure that challenges players without eliminating what makes them powerful, books full of ideas for children (and the child inside all of us), a reimagining of one of the oldest artifacts in gaming.

But I want more. I want to illustrate stories, and make movies, and music, and cartoons, and write books, and, and, and; but I'm discovering the ingroup necessity to "Stay in your lane" as well as the fact that it takes time, skill, and mastery to produce quality in different fields, makes this a difficult task. I may have achieved adult levels of understanding in many of these fields, but not expertise (much less mastery)

What's more, is I'd like to do what people want to see, which is harder than it sounds, because often times people lack insight into what they actually want, and what's more, when I take action that upsets or disappoints someone, the response isn't to tell me, but rather understandably, to turn their limited attention elsewhere. 

We are going to be exploring some of these options, soon. Over the coming weeks. With three major book releases this year I have time to take a breath, and look forward. If you'd like to participate in these discussions, join the discord. It is not a daily discord, nor is it quite busy. It is a way to interact with me directly. 

If not, just watch this space. We have some amazing stuff coming soon. 

Oh, and if you want to pick up a hard copy of In a Deadly Fashion you should hurry before it's sold out. Only about 350 copies left at the time of me writing this. Some copies will be sent to the U.S. store eventually (which will help with shipping) but there's already a line forming for those.

* I linked these posts as proof. There are more on fallen forums, like story-games, and the forge. Do not contact or bother the people who made these posts. 

If you like posts like this, along with other surprises coming soon, support me on Patreon!

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On 10 Ways To Open A Chest

Fri, 10/22/2021 - 13:00
"But assuming it was a treasure hunting expedition (and the lower floors of the tower were reasonably cleared, with a path of escape blocked only by wandering monster rolls) what would a party need to do in one of your games to safely open a chest?"
Here are 10 ways to open a chest safely!

10. Pour acid in the lock.
9. Use a pick and chisel to break apart the lock mechanism.
8. Use a crowbar and specialized tools to pry the lock out of the chest.
7. Saws!
6. Carry the chest back to town and pay the thieves guild to open it.
5. Hammers!
4. Knock!
3. Unscrew the lid hinges.
2. Pry off the back of the lid!

And the number one way to open a chest safely?

1. Have the thief open it, there's always more where they came from!

Why don't they just do these things by default? They are time consuming, loud, or require heavy encumbrance penalties.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Ecology of the Lammasu and Lamia

Tue, 09/28/2021 - 20:00


"The offer she makes you seems like a good idea, but so does the worm on the hook to a fish" - Aldervile, Neo-Imperian Speaker

Nomenclature: Lammasu, Lamia, Manticores, Nagas, Sphinx, Shedu, Lilith, Empusa

Description: Creatures that have the head of a human and the body of a lion, goat, deer or snake, said to eat children

Things that are known:

  • Human are their prey
  • They are intelligent and have powers of illusion
  • They like to live in arid desolate places
  • They have the heads and/or torso's of humans, with animal lower bodies
  • They can see in darkness
  • They bait and trap men, using them for sex, sport, and supper


Rumors and other whispers in the dark:



  • They aren't evil monsters, just superior beings who view our children as a delicious source of tender veal
  • Their morality is complex, beyond human understanding. Amashotep's seminal works, Beyond Good and Evil, Also Sprach Lammathustra, Ecce Lammia, and Antilamia address the vast subject
  • It is a well kept secret that there is no separate species as lamia, it is the curse of all human females one night a month to become one
  • They are fond of associating with various other half-breeds, such as harpies and centaur. Whether this is due to distant relations or some other reason is unknown
  • They aren't any special - lions are just super horny and have no problem mating with human females. Lucky to survive, this rape is rarely mentioned. Lots of half-lion monsters though
  • The gods dream secrets, and these secrets slip into the world. They find a feline form, because those receive and transmit secrets. The forcefulness and power of the secret can sometimes mutate and warp the feline. 
  • Were a mortal to unravel the secrets of the leonine dreams, then immortality, even godhood, may be within reach. Two gods in the pantheon ascended in this way, and a secret order of questers pursues this murderous quest.
  • They are actually Zensunni post-buddhists, explaining their preference for arid, dune-filled environments
Art Adams
  • They keep dustworms as pets, from which they harvest mysture, a substance used to make lions and snakes grow human-like faces and intellects.
  • All lions are inherently evil. They lust after human flesh, and when they consume enough, they become a monster. Manticores come from the flesh of old men, young women produce lamias. Kings produce Sphinxes. 
  • They are a species that breeds true, and they suffer no defects from incest. The meaning of this is uncertain 
  • Demons don't just tempt men, sometimes noble lions fall prey, and the demonic corruption causes this horrific change
  • The Lamia-kind are neither good, nor evil, being beyond such matters. Some follow chaos and others law. Mortals try to ascribe morality to their actions, but they are simply angelic messengers of the balance, disinterested in the fate of men
  • A lamassotto is an underdark version of a lammassu
  • That Which Prowls stalks the trade routes, and celebrates melding the creatures of the wasteland and the humans who trespass into it. Some of the survivors swear loyalty to That Which Prowls and assist in playing out the long, incomprehensible, sadistic game of cat and mouse with humanity that may end in the elevation or destruction of the world.
  • They are truly vegetarians and child-like playful beasts. Guarding wastelands and other desolate places, however, poses them as a threat to the Lords of Law. The end result is that they are portrayed as a vicious, bloodthirsty, childnibbling beast.
  • A male Lamia is called a Lamio. Rare creatures with silvery hides and prodigious. . . manes. The lammassu is a protector of Lamia
  • The Goddess of Trees was struck ill, and barely managed to escape the battle of the gods, stumbling into civilization. There, she was cared for by the awed and ignorant human savages. She saw their lives up close; the way they turned to meat and away from the energy of the sun and the plants. She saw how they kept cats to eat meat that threatened what they wanted to protect. And, as we all know, the war of the gods caught up to the village and the terrified villagers betrayed the Goddess of Trees to the Master of Forges. Her dying curse was that humanity would become the mice, and their hunters would bear the cruelty of their faces.
  • They are not half-lion, all of these creatures are simply torsos on swarms of countless insects, each representing the soul of a living creature
  • Simply another form of an aberration of chaos, like satyrs, centaurs, minotaurs and platypi
  • The spectacular orgies of the Arch Magus Wyvaria tended to focus on reptiles. Lilariasha tended to use shape changing (mercifully) or just gear (best not to think about it) for coupling with spiders. But Vashtoor... he had a thing for lions. There's a reason we've killed all the wizards we could catch.
  • The Kingdom of Farragut does a spectacular trade in lamia sized slippers. They are fascinated by wearing soft, woolen booties while at home
  • Their internal organs are suffused with magic - their guts can be used to make magical bowstrings +2 of distance and deceit
  • They are not actually lion-headed creatures. They are Penanggalan, which many people believe are vampires but are actually a type of sky demon. If they feast on the flesh of men, a body eventually grows to support them. This body if feline. If they feast on other creatures, they become other creatures. Horses and steeds become centaur, felines and cats become Manticores, etc.
  • Lamias have no digestive systems, in fact their bodies are purely mechanical support systems for their heads. Their heads are the last remnants of an ancient empire that depended on machinery for survival. They were cursed by the gods for the misuse of their physical bodies and now suffer, eternally 
  • Lamias and Lammasu can remove their own eyes. When they do so, they loudly utter prophecies. No one knows the accuracy of these prophecies, it's hard to listen after you've just seen something rip out its own eyes
  • They are difficult to perceive and viewing such creatures is difficult on the mind, draining sanity or wisdom
  • No matter their form, they detest combat. Much better through spell, word, or deed to have lower forms do their fighting for them
  • Each is violent and aggressive because when they tear themselves into existence a dark shadow is created at the same time. This shadow form hunts them to destruction
  • Each is a different manifestation of a pure emotionally ideal, Lammasu's are intelligence, Lamia's jealousy, Manticores are anger, etc.
  • All of these are in fact guardians of thresholds, doorways, and portals. It is impossible to cross one without being within their vision. This is the root of their knowledge and power.
  • They are all just different lineages of Rakasta bloodlines
  • It is the name for a female vampire. Their powers of mentalism are so strong, that the only memories are those of a beautiful woman crossed with a deadly predator
  • They are actually enlightened ascetic beings who have chosen to remain behind in earthly form
  • House cats were ordered to play nice with humans so that they could serve as a spy network, funneling truth about humans and witness of their deeds to the dark judges that await them. When enough intelligence about humans reaches them, these strange leonines transform in a more human direction, shaped by the nature of the insights the cats send them about what humans really are.
  • The leonines are assigned by the cosmic to shepherd the human race, but they chose servants of the wrong temperament. They were unable to agree on how best to handle humanity. Those that insisted on control, pushing, and goading humanity to achieve its destiny became male. Those who preferred seduction, trickery, and thinning the herd became female. Their task is a failure and the dissapointment of the cosmic is palpable.
  • Leonines once ruled the world. Humans could only ascend by wielding chaos magic, and crushing human frailties into the animal perfection of the world's rulers. By forcing human flaw and personality in to permanently shatter the balance of these once-regal beasts, they destroyed their ability to work together.
  • At the end, the heroes faced Gozer, who insisted they choose the form of their destruction. All Rae could think about was Mr. Mittens, his innocent and wise house cat. Since then, the leonine form of the destroyer has gained in power and aggression in the corners of the world, as a millennial-long agenda of destruction unfolds.
  • The foundation of the world is not stone, but secrets. The leonine guardians of the world are tasked with protecting it. However, their society is matriarchal. The men dislike their servitude and the discrimination against them. Some slipped out of their enclaves (a man's place is at the hearth) and try to support and encourage the seekers of secrets, the faster to erode the world's underpinnings so they can transcend to the next world. Meanwhile, the ladies seek out the races that are addicted to riddles and puzzles, and finish them off as cruelly as they can--still, they cannot quench the thirst for mystery that humans stole from the cats long, long ago.
  • The priests of the Rakasta are gifted by their feline goddess with more and more leonine features as they are infused with more and more cosmic and divine energy, eventually becoming immortal. Therefore, when slain, they must contextualize and motivate their existence as they re-exist. They go insane a little, but the better they manage their obsessions, the more lucid they remain.
The ecology series is a crowdsourced series of articles, and contributors can be found on google+ under the hashtag #crowdecology. They are limited posts, but following me on G+ will allow you to see them. All artwork is credited where the artist could be found. Classic ecology articles from Dragon magazine are used both for reference and inspiration; the whole impetus of the idea was to create 'classic' ecology articles that are actually useful. Let's Read the Monster Manual by Noisms is also a source of inspiration.  

If you like posts like this, support me on Patreon!

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On Megadungeon #6

Mon, 09/27/2021 - 19:50

Hello friends!


Megadungeon #6 is out!

It's 3.99 and contains the Dagon, party fish people. A collection of diseases one can pick up in filthy places like a megadungeon. Articles on megadungeon as sport and in campaign play. It talks about hera, the cow-eyed queen of heights, and more!

If you're curious about all the hype, issue 3 is still currently PWYW! The preview for issue 6 covers all the pages!

Come take a look at the hottest place to take your players, the STONE HEAD OF BALDUR.

A giant stone face in a megadungeon, half flooded with ancient water. Explore this eerie and supernatural environment in megadungeon, or transplant it to your own games and megadungeons. 

Don't miss out!

If you like posts like this, support me on Patreon!

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On Reduced Price, Free Advertising, and Megadungeon!

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 12:30

Hello!

Work proceeds apace with Bestial Ecosystems Caused by Monstrous Inhabitation, but that's not what this post is about.

Can you believe it's been two years since On Downtime & Demesnes was funded? Because of it's success, I'm now a full time creator, with books published by Frog God Games and one from Lamentations of the Flame Princess at the publisher right now.

Long enough that it's time to drop the price a bit. On Downtime & Demesnes is now 9.99 for PDF, 19.99 for softcover, and 24.99 for hardcover. So if you've been waiting. Now's the time. It's available on Amazon.com and DriveThruRPG.  I've also set Artifices, Deceptions & Dilemmas on sale for the next two weeks on DriveThruRPG to celebrate their success. 

Celebrating the success of Megadungeon, I've also temporarily made Issue #3 free. If you're curious and you'd like to check it out, grab it quick.


I've been working on the next issue of Megadungeon, and it's nearing completion. Check out the little teaser to the right. That means, also, it's time to solicit advertisers. There's a catch though, if you don't have the money or are a hobbyist, advertisements for your products are free. I'll just need a 600 dpi. Black and White half or full page A5 advertisement. It's 20$ for a half page and 40$ for a full page, but again, only if you have the money. Otherwise feel free to send me your projects advertisements for inclusion. Megadungeon has an average circulation of 300+ paying customers and growing, with a long tail. Contact me via e-mail at campbell at oook dot cz or on discord with links to the tiff/png/jpg files. If you have some assets, I can even lay them out for you if you need it. The whole point is just to get word out about projects. If you've got one, get it to me.


If you support me on Patreon, you already get digital copies of all this stuff free, so what are you waiting for?

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