Don't look at this trap!

I was drawing a map on the table, extemporaneously from a source online. My players had predictably wandered off course. Not having thoroughly prepared, I absentmindedly drew a trap on the map in front of them.

I erased it. One of my players said, "What was that there?"
"A trap."
"Are we supposed to act like we don't know about it?"

Well, the answer to that question is no, and comes along with a story about how meta-gaming is like a tube of material ejected from a bull's ass.

Meta-gaming is dumb

Now, follow me here. Outside of directing a play or fulfilling a sexual fetish, when is it appropriate to tell someone, you've got to do what I want the way I want it because I said?

I don't have time to talk about the boring stuff, like "Metagaming is when players use real-life knowledge about the state of the game to determine their character's actions." The real question is what are you doing in a room?

Are you there to play a game? Hang out with friends? Tell a Story? Generate a mood? It certainly varies. I don't feel like I'm there to tell a story. Doesn't mean I can't see how people are playing the way Matthew Mercer plays are having fun.

But in all those cases, you're talking about a group of competent adults together in a room that like each other. Would you like it if someone told you what to do and how to do it? I know I wouldn't. A decade ago, I might have assumed that no one would. I mean, maybe it's your thing!

Generally though, it's considered a dick move. So I'mma gonna go with that.

The people metagaming are ruining the game!!!!!!11EXCLEMATIONPOINT

Are they though? Are they?

I've never never agreed with the principal that anything in the game takes priority ever over verisimilitude. From experience: Watching a player who made a character sit out of a game for five hours because "this wouldn't be a good time for him to show up yet." I liked that guy. I thought it was shit to make him sit out and he didn't come back. If I were who I am today, I might have had the courage to speak up at the time instead of after.

Now this doesn't mean verisimilitude isn't important, just that it shouldn't ever take precedence over something that is breathing.

What, exactly, are you in this room for?

The most common example, of course, is players knowing the weaknesses of the creatures in the monster manual. There are lots of solutions that avoid the problem ("Create your own special monsters!") but my core stipulation is it's not a problem.

Who cares if they know the monster abilities? Or, to put it more clearly, is the feeling you get when they don't use lightning or slashing weapons on the black ooze worth having other players lose agency? Do you need to make other people feel bad for 'not playing correctly'? How do you even determine what correctly is?

We have a table consensus. It's not a game you play to win. When we are talking about the outcomes, we focus on what seems most reasonable for the shared reality, not what is of most benefit to our characters. This is always a voluntary discussion. To compel someone to act as if they did not know a thing they know seems absurd to me. It's a game. I've played in adventures I know from memory. I'm not going to play stupidly, but I won't lead play.

I'll tell you my six year old does it ("You're playing wrong!"), and I'm going to socialize her out of doing that too. Which is sort of my point. I'm just going to flat out state that placing the freedom of your friends, below your own desire to reduce cognitive dissonance, isn't a mature thing to do. That might be because that's kind of how I view everyone who ever told someone "there character wasn't allowed to do that."

Really, because what this issue raises isn't the problem. When the 'problem' of metagaming comes up, it's always because there's some sort of other disagreement, that is being addressed non-directly by one person trying to dictate the behavior of another. I don't think this is a good idea considering how most people talk about metagaming. It's just a passive-aggressive way to avoid conflict.

Looking at it, and all the classic examples, I can't see in any case about how it's bad.  Metagaming seems fine or stems from another problem. I certainly think this has its roots in narrative control from second edition, and I don't remember anyone who ever played those Dragonlance modules who thought they were good. Not only now in the internet age, but back in the hobby shop two cities over with my dad, talking with the cigar guy behind the steel and glass counter age. Everyone knew they were shit to play back then. I think my dad pitched it to his group as getting to play the heroes from the books, but I'm 100% certain that game died a very quick death.

There isn't any should, because their can't be. Don't think of a white elephant. DAMN IT. Now I want you to have not done that! Complaining about metagaming is crazy, weird, mildly unhealthy expression. Which, you know, if that's the cross you gotta bear, you be you, but damn man. Don't it get heavy?

Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong in the comments. It's a brave new world that looks like the old one, circa 2008.

Hack & Slash 
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I'm Bowing Out

Politics, Violence, Social Media, and Dungeons and Dragons

I've not written this post several times. It will be intensely personal, brutally honest, and not directly about gaming resources. It is likely something in this post might trigger you, regarding abuse, sexuality, or mental illness. It is filled with ups and downs, trials and travails, good and evil, hope and loss.

A) It is one year ago today I was fired, illegally, due to a medical condition. Soon after termination, I was diagnosed with an Apnea Hypopnea Index of 120+, breath stoppages of a maximum 35 seconds. An index of 30 is considered 'critical'. (That's code for deadly. The number is the number of times during an hour that breathing ceases. An exercise for the reader: Multiply 120 times an average of 30 seconds and see how many of the 3600 seconds an hour I didn't breathe while I slept. My AHI is now < 2.)

B) It is one year today that I've survived as a full-time working artist and writer! (hint: support me on Patreon!)

I'm not a smart person. Tests say I'm a smart person, but I don't think that's true. Not because of low self-esteem, but because I stop and think what someone smarter than me would do.

It is no great insight that those two statements of fact create different biases. A smart person would realize that and try to eliminate their biases. So that's what I did. I broke out of my filter bubble. I got in conservative groups, liberal groups, groups that claimed to be unbiased, reviled groups, secret groups, popular groups, and more, because I wanted to understand people who are not like me.

You know what I found out?

What I Found Out

I spent 20 years (1998-2017) working in mental health. That means psych wards, live-in home waiver services, drug and alcohol counseling, almost all with teenage youth. I've worked closely with schizophrenics, drug addicts, murderers, rapists and more. I was involved in violent confrontations multiple times a month.

A real life example, a 14 year old youth with fetal alcohol syndrome and developmental disability, watched his father murder his mother in front of him on a boat, then was sent by DHS/CPS to live with a family that repeated raped him until he came into our care.

Did you get empathy for him due to that description? It's probably because I didn't mention the rapes he committed against the female children under 10 in the home he was put in. He would scream and attack people so he could be restrained because he was touch starved.

I'm not doing that for the shock value. The above is hardly an unusual case. What I'm saying is that for 20 years, I worked with nothing but victims and criminal degenerate sacks of shit. Almost universally these were the same people.

Now, I've also run across evil; true, real human evil. It exists. But working with criminals and mental patients, the kind of place you're going to find true evil outside of a CEO conference, I can count the number of times I encountered true antithetical soulless broken evil humans without using all the fingers of one hand.

I can speak about this, because I spent 40,000 hours working with the mentally ill and in the medical sector. Here are things I learned that are the foundations for how I approach life.

+Arbitrarily deciding that people have infinite self-worth that is not based on externals (skin color, job, education, money, country of residence, political affiliation, personal beliefs) is a healthy way to approach life. Once someone's worth is based on externals, it immediately becomes possible for some people to be worth "more" than other people. For the last 40,000 years, this has resulted in enormity. From this week when a synagogue was attacked by a domestic terrorist, to early humans committing genocide against close relatives. Out of all the time we've had, that's been true for all of it.

+Everyone has a good reason when they commit a crime. A bank robber has a very good reason to rob a bank, or they wouldn't. Nearly everyone who commits crimes does so because of their own pain and suffering and they justify it because they don't understand the way things really are. In a surprisingly large number of cases, this is due to biological factors they have no control over that punish them with overwhelming pain and confusion. (e.g. pedophiles or people who have anger issues.)

+All actions people take are, to them, the most rational and logical course of action to take. If you or I were in their position, experiencing what they've experienced, and limited by their natural faculties, then you or I would make the same choices. Because it appears not rational to you, means you lack the perspective to understand why they view it as a rational action. This doesn't mean their action was rational—I'm fairly certain the bibles weren't shooting beams of light in an arc into each other.

And finally,
+People are different. liberals aren't weak 'cucks' trying to undermine civilised society and conservatives aren't malicious assholes trying oppress minorities. They are different kinds of people with honest, core, philosophical differences. This is true for a lot of good biological reasons, which is why it's so difficult for one to understand the other.

No, Really, Here's What I Found Out

This is really about Dungeons and Dragons I promise.

Expanding my filter bubble showed me a lot of things. I saw people accuse others without facts. I saw a lot of people who would just make things up because they weren't alive when things were different. I saw people organize to blacklist and slander people. I saw people taking joy in other people's suffering. I saw people engage in gatekeeping and kinkshaming. I was told that adults could not be held accountable for their actions, that influence overrides free will so what gets made needs to be controlled. I was blocked by people I still love to this day. I was accused of supporting national socialist racial genocide. I've seen people claim hate groups (al-qaeda, kkk, nazis) were fake news. I saw people who are ideologically possessed. I saw anger, and fear, and hate.

Don't get me wrong, I have an agenda for this post. It's pretty much centered around supporting my daughter and writing about gaming. Listen.

I accept you. Yes, you.

I'm not writing this to change your mind about anything. In the last five years, I've had a life threatening ischemia, had my father die, become a father, lost my career and started a whole new one from scratch, was diagnosed with a serious mental disorder, gotten divorced and moved twice. I am currently in a legal battle against the Mother of my child who is illegally denying me visitation for my daughter out of spite. That's a major life-altering event about every six months for the last half-decade. When you tell me it's evil or wrong to talk to whoever you've decided is bad, my scale for what's important might be calibrated a little differently than yours.

If a United States marine veteran who spent 20 years working in the public health sector helping disabled non-white youth overcome crisis and addition, often in rural areas only reachable by plane (I spent 5 years of that doing work in rural Alaska) is being accused of being a Nazi, something is a little wonky.

What's wonky is that we are in the middle of a culture war caused by a fundamental shift in the way humans interact as an organism. It's called the internet, and it's not going away, and we are going to have to adapt to this new form of communication and interaction.

SERIOUSLY THIS PART IS PRETTY FUCKING IMPORTANT
Perhaps you are different then me. Perhaps you believe that if you interact, view, or talk with the wrong person, that the only solution is to make them verboten. *Perhaps you believe that when I draw a map of a dungeon and sell it that threatens your safety or causes harm to you.

Well, here's the thing. If you feel that way, you're really in the minority.

Most people are moderate and are exhausted by all these extremists [edit to clairify: Not Nazis, fuck those guys. There is no 'both sides'. Violence and the call for genocide is a crime. I explicitly mean 'extremists in the gaming community' I think everyone can immediately think of a name or two], Outrage peddlers living on the suffering of the left and right both, and their inability to get along. There is a whole job category of people who make their living by generating outrage. Those people, and the ones that support the outrage are a mind-boggling minority.

If everyone in america were 100 people. 8 would be in one corner, 25 in the other, and the rest of us just sick of listening to them yell at us, about each other. When this happened in England, they put all 30 of those folks on a boat and made them come build America.

One thing that extremists like to do is to respond as if I've typed (said) something I didn't actually type or say. So if I say "Extremists are minorities", extremists will view that as an attack—as if my failure to be an extremist will cause fungible harm in the world.

It won't and the extremism does.

This doesn't mean I'm a degenerate piece of shit. e.g. If a person is talking in my game, and another person talks over them, they get a warning the first time and a discussion where we process the behavior the second. (I was a counselor for 20 years, remember?). I recycle. I donate to CRI. I've served my country. I volunteer. I vote in every election. I am a citizen and I take my civic responsibility seriously. I'm a minimalist. I still eat meat, but not daily. I am the change I wish to see in the world.

And I wish to see less extremism.

Ok, holy shit I get it. Things are going to change. We are at a peak of human development. But it can't go up forever. Sooner or later it will come down. That could be Tuesday, or it could be the heat death of the universe. That creates a lot of anxiety. We don't know what will happen.

But you get wrapped up in that, you are just going to make yourself sick. They have a plan to make  sure everyone on the planet has water. Like life was a god-damned camping trip. If they don't have access to fresh water in second-world places like Iran, South Africa, or Flint Michigan, then they make sure they had access to potable water.

When I was born, there wasn't any hemisphere of the earth that didn't know war, now all outright war is limited to a small slice of the planet. I could post links all day to all the wonderful fantastic things the we are doing.

All I'm saying is that if you're not old enough to remember having to wait till Monday morning to call the Library of Congress to get the answer to a question then you don't have any idea what fake news is.

The Point

It's ok to enjoy games!
The majority of all people are not extremists.
You can play and talk about games anywhere you like with anyone you like and it doesn't make you a bad person.

I'm not scared about writing this, because anyone who's upset about what I said, is an extremist and statistically if everyone single one of them stopped following me, It would be a small enough number that I would not experience any significant threat or change.

So, for example, I'm on MeWe. There's a lot of people who are talking about how MeWe is going away, like Gab. It's a haven for the 'wrong people'. Yeah, the 1,000 contacts who are talking about gaming in my circle over there don't care. I don't want to make a political stance—I want to talk about Dungeons & Dragons. There's literally thousands of people over there doing that. We've known for more than 200 years that Free Speech is Important. I also think it's good hate crimes are illegal, and understand the difference between the two.

I get 100 new contacts a day on MeWe, ever since the G+ exodus began. I see people posting on facebook about terrible people on the platform. Of course, the same people on twitter or facebook don't seem to bother them. I've even seen some people hoping all those gamers have their space taken away.

That's cool! I accept them. They, like all people, are acting out of pain. But it won't stop me from talking to literally thousands of people about gaming. I post on Facebook and you know, some extremist acting like a violent asshole isn't going to get me off that platform. I broadcast on Twitch about 25-30 hours a week, and Twitch users commit violence against each other on the regular. What's that saying, no conscientious consumption under capitalism?

What can we do?

All hope is not lost. I too have been experiencing more frustration and anxiety from social media as this war between extremists goes on (as they all try desperately to convince us to not be calm, rational, and moderate). Mine was pretty severe because I changed my job to one that depends on media to survive. I see others hurting and suffering, so I'm walking the walk. This is  how my knowledge of mental health helps me cope with the aggression and social violence of extremists. So I've been building a playbook of strong mental defenses using psychological techniques as follows:

+Don't believe anything. Belief means you think a thing. It doesn't mean you know it or can prove it. It just means you think it. Belief in an infographic, in where a politician is born, in the weather, deities, anything. I mean, personally I've met Ganesh the deity twice in person. But I don't "believe" in him any more than I "believe" in my daughter.
I'm not saying you shouldn't listen to people, I'm saying you should listen to the right people. I've got 40,000 hours in the medical field. I don't know fuck all about climate change. I don't believe anything about climate change. But during a spirit gathering, I talked to Yu'pik elders who had seen over 80 winters and they said that the snow no longer squeaks, because now there is water when before it was too cold to have moisture in the air.
You know what I know about? Heath Care, Counseling, Art, Video Games and Dungeons and Dragons. Possibly an amature opinion on movies or series procedurals. Those are the topics I can give an informed opinion on. Why would you listen to anything I thought about politics? Or anything else? Perhaps take a minute to note the million words on this blog covering video games and Dungeons and Dragons.
It's the same with the outrage sycophants. If someone isn't discussing an area of their specialty, but rather a variety of rotating topics—that's a talking head. Their job isn't to share knowledge, it's to push an agenda. Rosanna Pansino talks about cooking. Reviewbrah reviews food. Scotty kilmer talks about cars. Hack and Slash talks about Dungeons and Dragons. Those are creators. Know the difference when you engage.

+ Cultivate your awareness like a garden. CPGrey has an excellent video explanation of the fact that outrage from extremists is ultimately reinforcing and self-destructive once it veers far enough away from reality. This video will make you angry.

+Investigate claims to the source. If I hear someone make a claim about someone, it's literally the future. I can have a face to face call with nearly every human being on the planet in a matter of seconds. When I wanted to know something, I directly reached out and asked the person and then used my own judgement to determine the truth of the situation.
It's the same about concerns about MeWe. What I did was investigate and make up my mind myself.  Here is a video where Matt Finch talks to a Jason Hardy the Project director of MeWe, and within 24 hours they responded more to our concerns then google+ did in total. MeWe is politically unaffiliated, but they have banned members for hate speech. Here is a conservative article bemoaning that they ban hate speech. We (G+ gamers) were welcomed to MeWe with a User Experience survey. A panel was held discussing the platform. Someone mentioned in a thread on MeWe that the pointed out the terms of service needed adjusting if they really claimed to be neutral and they adjusted the terms of service the next day.

+I engage in social media less. I read it, but now the only time I actually engage is to talk to artists or other creators. I'm tired of being sick to my stomach over stupid discussions online about shit people don't have the first clue over anyway. I'm tired of the never ending rant of just a few people who desperately want someone else to take their side or back their cause. Have you noticed I'm more quiet on social media? It's because I'm bowing out of the arguments online. That's not the fight. That's people trying to profit from the fight. I win the fight when I vote, volunteer, and fulfill my role to my community, family, and planet. Not when I'm pushing an agenda.

+Beware of totality in speech, be skeptical of fear mongering, and think about what might motivate someone to do a thing. When Rome fell, people still got up in the morning and went to work. The course of life is natural.

+Finally, holy shit guys, can I get a break. Just go another six months without a death, lawsuit, alien invasion? One stable year? So much crazy crazy cool stuff is coming!

For a little levity after all that, watch my daughter draw a D&D monster.

If you'd like to talk to me about any of this, you can have a direct conversation with me online on twitch when I broadcast, or you can write or verbally chat with me on discord (Agonarch#0828). When you visit me on twitch, it's just like television, except it's me drawing one of my maps! I won't be talking about any of this on social media, but I'd love to have an in person, voice or face conversation with anyone who wants to.

There's a lot of good gaming coming, I hope to see you there!

Hack & Slash 
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**[Edit 2 the original text that was replaced: Perhaps you believe your safety is threatened and actions I take by listening to people or writing only about games is harming you.]

The King is Dead; LONG LIVE THE KING!

Friends! Companions! Compatriarts, adversaries, and villains!

Google Plus is Dead!

In ten months, the field we have sown blood and tears on; the field upon which an empire of creativity was wrought; a field many left in disgust, will be closed and destroyed after the passing of next summer!

This is no hoax.

Listen friends; gather round and be joyful, for this passing of ages.

When we began this great work, no one played Dungeons & Dragons seriously online. Now every thursday hundreds of thousands of people tune into watch people play D&D.  When this began, the only official play was 4e, with builds and squares, dissociated mechanics, a dying playerbase.

Now is a golden age that I am lucky to see, and perhaps may not come again in my time. But whatever we all set out to do, even those who were stranger, opponent, friend, or foe; We did it.

OSR is at the forefront of industry awards, and Dungeons and Dragons, the new edition that explicitly empowers Dungeon Masters in the classic style, is more popular now then it was during its height of popularity in the early 80's.

The future will bring new life to gaming, and it is not all bad. Dark forces, corrupt and nefarious emotions, and bigoted, racist, and sexist individuals drove people from that land, over and over again. Google Plus dying means we have a chance to start over, to start again and perhaps build something even greater. Something better, safer, more egalitarian.

Let me say to everyone, It will be ok! Discord, twitch, reddit, forums—One thousand flowers will bloom in the soil the OSR carried and laid.

We will be here, no matter what dreams may come. Life is change. I am excited to see what happens next!

Fair journey friends, I wish you well!

Hang out with me and watch me make crazy beautiful art: https://www.twitch.tv/agonarchartist
Give me money so I can live indoors: https://www.patreon.com/hackandslash
Sign up for my Newsletter: https://tinyletter.com/Hackandslash
Play with me on Steam: https://steamcommunity.com/id/nexusphere/
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Tweet at me:https://twitter.com/Hackslashmaster
Book right into my face: https://www.facebook.com/Hack.Slash.Master
Here I am on MeWe: https://mewe.com/i/courtney.campbell1
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Email me: campbell at oook dot cz

On Waves and Travel

Oh, doesn't fall always breed new campaigns? It certainly seems that way to me.
But I'm not talking about the adventure I'm playtesting, or even the game I'm going to be running for family, I'm talking about old, regular, Dungeons & Dragons that happens on a Friday, pretty much every day of the year, excepting football times? I'm not sure, my friends are reprehensible people.

They are in the water and they would sink to the bottom, but those clever bastards build a boat. So they aren't sinking to the bottom. I know, I checked. They are sailing south in mystara, somewhere around 1500 miles. It's hard to tell. It is literally difficult to read the maps.

How do we handle a wave crawl?

I'm a big fan of outlined procedures, so this is the place I'm going to do it. I mean, when I run the wave crawl, I'm going to open up this web page to do it!

"The sea is an awesome place, the home of terrible monsters, the source of unpredictable currents and strange mists, and the scene of terrible storms that can smash the strongest ship to splinters. Perhaps the most deadly of the sea's hazards, however, is the lack of landmarks. Once out of sight of land there is little to steer by. A small mistake in navigation or a sudden storm can drive a ship hopelessly off course until a familiar shore is signed. Only the braves and most hardy adventurers dare challenge the sea!" -Expert Set, page X63

Morning Bells
[  ] Navigation Check: The acting navigator rolls his Navigation skill, +2 for Astrolabe, +1 for Spyglass, and +1 for Maps. (With appropriate training, this grants about an 8% chance of some drift per day)

[  ] Then we roll on the Water Movement Modification Chart from X64, reprinted here for my convenience.

Dice Roll Effect
2 Becalmed. No movement except by oar. Oared movement reduced to 1/3 normal amount to take into account rower fatigue.
3 Extreme light breeze or beating before normal winds. All movement reduced to 1/3 normal rate
4 Light Breeze or Quarter reaching before normal winds. All movement reduced to 1/2 normal rate.
5 Moderate breeze or broad reaching before normal winds. All movement reduced to 2/3 normal.
6-8 Normal winds. Normal movement.
9 Strong breeze. Normal movement plus 1/3 extra movement.
10 High winds. Normal movement plus 1/2 extra movement.
11 Extreme High Winds. Double Normal Movement*
12 Gale. Eighty percent of a galley sinking. Triple normal movement in a random direction**
* 20% chance of galley shipping water, 10% chance for all other ships. Any ship which ships water will have its speed reduced by 1/3 until it can dock and make repairs.
** Roll 1d6: 1 = current direction, 2 = 60 degrees starboard, 3 = 120 degrees starboard, etc.

High Sun
[  ] Check for encounters at Morning, Evening, and Night by rolling on the following table, cribbed from CDD-Encounters References by B. Scot Hoover for uncharted seas:
None Land Natural Encounter
Uncharted 01-79 80-81 82-98 99-00

If land is indicated, I use Chris Tamm's d100 Islands and possibly his d100 castaways tables.

I use the following table for natural marine features (adapted from CDD-Encounters by B. Scot Hoover)

1. Seaweed
2. Sudden storm
3. Dragon turtle
4. Dolphin pod
5. School of fish
6. Whirlpool
7. Maelstrom/Hurricane
8. Birds!
9. Water Elementals race the ship
10. Floatsam!
11. Green glow on the horizon.
12. Lightning storm
13. Kraken. You rolled a 13. What did you expect?
14. Fog. Pea Soup.
15. Corpses of fish and other deep horrors lie on the surface of the water
16. Ball Lightning, maybe will-o-the-wisp, possibly bad mushrooms
17. Whales
18. Sea monster
19. Ghost ship
20. Chris Mcdowell's d10 Odd Ocean Encounters

TAPS  
[  ] Each night, perform a morale check. This check is penalized by 1 for each week it has been since they have seen land, and penalized an additional 1 per day without food. If the check fails check out the camp events on Evelyn's Hireling events table.

When other ships are indicated, I prefer Zak's "Who's on That Passing Ship?" table. down towards the bottom.
If you're looking for a salt water horror, I use Chris Tamm's D100 Deep Water Horrors. Or, if you need fishlike beastment civilizations, check out The Trouble with Beastmen: Wet & Wild.
Frequently you need some junk that washes up on a beach. This table from Death and Axes will generate 100 crazy pieces of washed up flotsam.

Did I miss anything?


Hack & Slash 
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On Gygax Design III

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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On the August Release

Welcome to the increasingly inaccurately named weekly release. Here's what's been on my radar:

Have you seen Disenchantment?

I watched it. It's possibly the most concrete and consistent portrayal of a fantasy realm I've ever seen. I think it'll probably end up being one of the great works of fantasy. They know where they are going; the world is pre-seeded with relationships, magic, cults, curses and mystery. It has a similar discovery of the realm feel to it, like from Adventure Time or Dungeons and Dragons where the sometimes drastic consequences of events each week carry forward in a tale about a dysfunctional princess.

Bart Simpson
I've also seen people who were like "I dunno man, it didn't make me laugh like the Simpson's did." Well, shit. As someone who saw the premiere of the Simpsons on the Tracy Ullman show the first time they were shown to the world, I can tell you expecting any animation, especially a matt groening one, to have cast chemistry in the first eight episodes has unrealistic expectations.

Look at the cohesiveness of this moving painting of a magical otherworld. As the season carried on, it's clear that what they really want to do is a fantasy epic, and it's a good start. Everything you are seeing is setting up for a payoff and setting the rules of the world. It was surprisingly enchanting.

I mean the words "Cartoon, Fantasy, Matt Groening", how is that not in my wheelhouse? It's 10 episodes on Netflix and premiered about a week ago. There's 10 more finished episodes. And hopefully 26 seasons.


New Releases

On the Shoulders of Giants
He's 15 years old! He is a published role playing game author! He's got a book coming out from Lamentations of the Flame Princess! Chance Phillips wrote On the Shoulders of Giants! It's got great art by Scrap Princess. There are dead gods! New Classes that twist the rules of how the game is played. It's preeety much a guidebook for living on the corpses of giant gods. That's totally a thing that happens in Dungeons & Dragons by the way.

Way more frequently then you would expect it to, actually.

Art Trading Market
As an artist, seeing Mr. Shields set up a market for clip art that's favorable to creators, both people looking to make art available and writers looking for the right art. I know it's just starting, but I'm looking at the cut drive through makes and I'm pretty glad there's people taking steps to provide services, like affordable art, to the people who make the games we play. It's great to see Jestock art at its launch, and I look forward to seeing what happens with it.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess 
Lamentations has put out .pdfs of GTFO, OSR2, and SB, that's Going Through Forbidden Otherworlds, Obscene Serpent Religion 2, and She Bleeds. If you can't afford the shipping across the ocean, the .pdfs are now available. They all look interesting—OSR 2 is a sequel to the book by Rafael Chandler called Obscene Serpent Religion which isn't an adventure. OSR2 is an adventure and has cartography from ennie winning artist Glynn Seal, and brilliant art from twitch streamer Journeyman1020! That's the one I couldn't say no to.

Jennel Rides Again
Man, some days are just good days. I woke up to this, and the phrase "A new adventurer from writer Jennell Jaquays" was in my feed. The way to design dungeons is literally called Jaquaying the dungeon. Caverns of Thracia was one of the greatest dungeons ever created.

This was just like Christmas. It's strange suddenly being an adult, talking regularly with people who weren't alive during the 80's, or sometimes even the 90's, but for us we lived and learned from the old masters. They were alive and they touched our lives. And for one of them to step forward and gift us with more, I could not ask for anything greater.

I haven't read The Dragon's Secret because it's coming in hard copy via mail. I'll let you know all about it when I get it, I'm sure! It's so rare that something happens that makes me this excited, but I have to admit, it's happening more and more often.

Weird Coastal Wizards
I'm saying here I'm not intending to throw shade, but I'm writing still, so maybe I do. Wizards decided to release two new settings for fifth edition. Is it Greyhawk? SpellJammer? Athas?

No. It's Ravinica, forthcoming. And Oh, also Eberron, but it's not a whole setting guide because that . . . already exists for another edition of the game. And this is the best part!

These official releases are .pdf only!

So yeah, that's just a mixed bag. I understand they'd like to tap into their magic playerbase and get some cross synergy going there. And I applaud not just rewriting a bunch of old stuff with new minor system changes. Any Dungeon Master who's played both 3rd edition or Pathfinder and 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons can make whatever conversions he needs easily, with the updated information in the Eberron guide. But, .pdf only? That seems like an odd play. If you've got any insight into this situation, I'd love to hear it.

Personal News

If you'd like to chat about anything D&D related, I'm usually in my virtual office from Tuesday-Friday from Noonish to after-five on Twitch. If you had a question, you could come ask or hang out and listen to music and watch art. I post about it on the social medias. It's a lot of fun, cool people, good times. AgonarchArtist on Twitch!

It that vein, I'm currently playtesting modules, but I'd like to get an online game going on Twitch. Does that sound like something your interested in? Drop me a line on Twitter, over e-mail at campbell at oook dot cz, or via facebook or google. And holy crap! Discord. I'm Agonarch#0828

I'll be finishing up another project soon, and have several books that are near release! I've got a few blog posts lined up. It's exciting to wake up every day and have more work than there are hours to do it in.

I think I liked my last essay more than other people. You got something to say to me? Say it to my face on twitch! There are a group of awesome people making the world the way they want it to be by supporting me on Patreon to make more Dungeons AND Dragons.

Hack & Slash 
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On the Physical Space

Module designers, can we talk?

It's not me, it's you.

This is 2018, not 2000. Why am I still seeing modules with flat spaces, square rooms, and two dimensional thinking. Captain Kirk taught  us long ago that future people think in three dimensions when they fly their space cars. Not in two dimensions like those clones from the 1990's!

In all seriousness, let's have a discussion about vertical spaces and how they can be useful in play. You know why? You don't, but I'm about to tell you.

Because not just any three dimensional space is good for gaming! Some add nothing, useless complexity for no purpose. Let's not do that! What do we want? Not that!


Three Dimensional Spaces in Play


The Cliff:

The cliff is fun because I have a neat critical hit table for crushing blows, and I calculate damage the way hardasses do, 1d6 cumulative per 10' feet. 20' would be 3d6, 30' 6d6. At 40' I just pick up all the d6's and grin.

Also, the angle of the cliff; that's what the thief's climb skill is for, to move across that terrain at full speed.

It's fun if the characters are above, they can survey a situation (sometimes called an encounter!) with a "Monster". That's what we call the things that live in the places our characters invade to rob. So they are usually doing monster things like boiling peasants, paying taxes, and bitching about that snippy biddy down the hall with the fire breathing dogs. I also usually like to have a very small loud annoying thing in the room.

If they are below, did you know trying to dodge thrown boulders is a fun game? We played it on a hill with my friends as children, and the hospital bills weren't even that bad! It's exciting. Especially if you are the one throwing boulders! If you're reading this, you probably are, and let's be honest. That's awesome. So do it.

The Vertical Corridor:

You remember that scene from Don Bluth and Rick Dyer's game, written by Rick Dyer and Drawn by Don Bluth Dragon's Lair (TM) Laserdisc video system? Where the platform fell and there were all the corridors—wait this one? Too late! SPIKES!

I like to roll lots of 'to hits' with my spikes. I make sure as I roll all the dice that I let the player know I feel really bad that—oh! six of them hit. That's just, that's not good Todd. That's not good at all.

I don't usually have a falling platform, although hanging discs, rope, and other accoutrements really help the space. Also monsters aren't dumb. Well, not all of them anyway. We're not speciest here. They know this is a really good place to fire arrows at adventurers!

So it's super enjoyable as they begin to try to deal with Todd's unfortunate situation, that I'm forced to let them know that from the darkness—*Clatter* "FOUR of the arrows hit, guys, four. That's so many. I'm sorry. Where are my d8's?"

Some of the levels overhang each other, because seriously, damnit why would anything in life be easy? Additionally, monsters are just made for this. Harpies, ropers and cave fishers, piercers, and fungus beds glore. It's like a ball pit for saves versus death!

The Action Playset:

We can talk about bad dimensional spaces here. Like, the "vertical wall" challenge. This was popular in mid-wave third edition Dungeons and Dragons 'dungeon punk' where the challenges and encounters were becoming more mechanical and build focused. "This fight takes place on a vertical wall/ship in battle/earthquake!"

That sounds awesome, right? All you have to do is have a normal combat, except anytime anyone has to do anything, they have a 50% chance of failing their balance check and losing their turn.

So it's like normal boring combat, except half the time you lose your turn. I mean, maybe that sounds fun to you because it's brutal or realistic or something. But if it does, fuck you, you know? I'm here to play D&D man. My father told me one of my early board games designs (from the 4th grade era) that losing 8 turns just because you landed on a space was bullshit and no good game would make someone lose 8 turns.

I showed him though. I built a Magic:the Gathering deck that gave me infinite turns. Richard Garfield is a millionaire. That, among other reasons, is why my father wasn't a game designer.

Which is why the concept of an action playset is important. There can't just be an area that has a negative property, unless it's in context to other alternate spaces. This plays out in a couple of different ways depending on the game mode you happen to be engaged in: exploration, role-playing, or combat.

One thing that's intimidating about Dungeons and Dragons for newcomers is that its structure has always been very fluid by design, to fit the personality of the person running the game. But because that varies from person to person, it's difficult to not only clearly identify the je ne sais quoi of the structure, but to clearly encapsulate that to provide conceptual understanding to another person.

But essentially, Dungeons & Dragons is played by sharing a conceptual space filled with unknown and possibly highly dangerous or rewarding outcomes. It's important for emergent play, play that arises beyond the simulation of the mechanical, that multiple outcomes are provided simultaneously. When exploring you enter a room, there are items of interest weird object A, basic-looking object B, suspicious detritus object C. When in combat, there's advantage area A, cover-filled area B, and independent mechanical feature area C. When interacting a non-player character has personality trait A+B, and interacts with the party and its retinue.

This combination is the perfect balance of 7-9 interesting interactions that people can track. You have an advantage because 4 of those are the players. And you wrote things down. Unless you didn't and you're trying to impromptu everything off the top of your head. Why this is a really just shite idea was, no bullshit hashed the f&*k out. At length. Have fun down that rabbit hole. I lived it.

So the action playset is just that. A tower with two platforms, stairs, and a gem powering a ritual at the top. A floating disk filled with wizards. Areas with alternating magma flows (or lava flows if you're engaged in outdoor exploration). A group of victims perilously under threat of death. Get the things together, put them in the bowl, and stir the shit out of that pot.

"Are you surrreeee you don't want to dig through the filthy trash?"

Well, I was, damnit.

Did you like this? Did you also know that I have a vested interest in continuing to afford shelter? There are a group of awesome people making the world the way they want it to be by supporting me on Patreon to make more Dungeons AND Dragons.

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