On Inside Downtime

What's in this thing?

Well, there's some pictures of the table of contents. But what's in there?

A procedural system that drives adventure and player engagement in sandboxes!


Here's how it works.

You are standing in the center of a fantasy world. The Dungeon Master has all his adventure sites and environments prepared.

The players can do whatever they want, but if they want to sleep indoors, they are going to have to come up with the cash. If not, what adventure will befall them on the streets or in the wilderness?

The canny players will be like "How do we get ahead of the game?" You'll grin, and hand them the guide (we calling them control panels now?) in the back of the book with downtime activities. They have to pay that cash on the barrel-head, on a regular schedule using any of the classic and modern calendars contained in the appendix to keep them motivated. Like the Merwish calendar from 1978! Every month events occur, based on percentages you set. The world lives.

All of which lead seamlessly for adventure.

Now, it's not a good idea to run a blind sandbox, there are usually starting adventures that provide different hooks to draw the player into the world. That's why transparently adding this to your campaign reinforces all your hard work! Players will begin to examine your world as a place they can get the resources and information they need to accomplish their  goals.

With staged rumors, lots of secondary and tertiary dimensions for players to approach adventures, (Gain influence in town to raise an army, send out expeditions to accomplish secondary goals, manipulate influence from behind the scenes) completely compatible rules for either basic or 5th edition for clearing land and building castle, and lots of treats for players like growing vat monsters, building airships, or setting up bandit camps, it adds new realms of engagement to your game.

Oh, and some of the most creative ideas and tools from the best minds in fantasy gaming.

That's it! My players seem to really like it. So do everyone that already has a copy!
Print coming soon!

Get it today, seamlessly compatible with basic or seamlessly compatible with 5e.

If you're looking for some great art to go with your new campaign, check out James Shield's Kickstarter for 26 horrible beasts! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jeshields/rpg-monsters-a-to-z

Hack & Slash 
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On Downtime On Time

Hey guys.

I finished my Kickstarter on time.
5th Edition
Basic D&D

People's responses have been good.

"Its a good book."
"I love the Noble Patron random list in Downtime and Demesnes! Very creative and very... useful for the... discerning Judge..."
"Some of the biggest things from it that I see using or modifying for a game I run are the vehicle design rules and the settlement influence rules"
"I really liked the addition of lapidary hirelings (I know that's a weird thing to like, but making gems more of a subgame sounds like it could be fun)"
"@Agonarch The book is good yes. but that's not surprising. the kickass cover surprised me!
"This book was worth every penny. I can safely say that all or most of this will be dropped into my next campaign. Thank you and well done."

There's more, like a lot more. People seem to really like it.

Print files have been submitted and we are waiting on DTRPG printer. During the release period, the book is on sale for a price much closer to what the kickstarter backers paid. It's only for a limited time though, and once 2020 is upon us, it'll go back up to full price.

You want something exciting to read that will get your players as jazzed about your campaign as you are, so check it out.

Can you believe 1,100 people already bought this thing and love it?

I'll be posting some more about what's inside coming up this week, along with some more exciting posts now that the book is done.

Thanks everyone. 

Hack & Slash 
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On GNS in my OSR? It's more likely than you think.

My own words from 2000, a few short months after the genesis of the threefold model.

From: Courtney Campbell 
Subject: Re: Getting player buy-in to a surprise 
Date: 2000/05/26
It is a 'system' a 'model' for discussion.. .
For someone who claims to know so much about communication, you certainly 'get
off' on going to newsgroups and saying, and I paraphrase; "Your stupid model
is a waste of time. How dare you dumb fuck-wits come up with some common
terminology to discuss something you enjoy. How come you don't just play the
in answer to your question, We
do just play the game, just not while we
choose to discuss it on a newsgroup.
So, I'm into it, I've always been into it, and I always will be.

Of course, the threefold model is—Well, I mean, Ron Edwards is still active in gaming. It isn't a reflection of him as a human, I certainly don't want to be held accountable for the things I wrote from 1997-2001, so I'm not in any way looking to hold him accountable for what he said. I like Ron as a human, and I'm super glad he's a game designer.  And yet I'm going to speak my mind on this.

The threefold model is terrible, made up of nonsensical self-referential spherical cows. Now with the advent of healthy gaming groups broadcasting thousands of hours on twitch, has firmly ensconced itself in history next to other theories like phrenology, flat-earth, and anti-vaxxers. Yeeet.

GNS stands for "gamist/narrativist/simulationist". Twenty years ago, I thought it was amazing. Finally I knew how to talk about different approaches to gaming. Although it seems exciting at first glance, It led to a dark place.
Next, I encountered GNS. I read some of the essays on TF and realized there were what I perceived as errors in the theory. I and others pointed that out here, and we were always met with a circle-the-wagons mentality. It quickly became apparent to me that GNS was immune to criticism because anyone who criticized it by definition didn't understand the theory. And given the extremity of the jargon, it was always possible to retreat from any conflict into semantic obscurantism. Of course, a theory which can't be questioned or falsified doesn't have a lot of meaning, and anyway there was never a response to the original criticisms. In particular, there was an exchange between Bruce Baugh and Ron Edwards where Bruce pointed out flaws and the most Ron could do was suggest he shouldn't tear down others' (false) theories, instead he should build up his own. —Chiaroscuro, 2006

The Threefold Model

The first red flag is when the definition for a term is an essay. I accept as natural law that if you can't define a term objectively (i.e. in a determinate way) in less than a paragraph, then it is by its nature not useful as a tool.

I've noted this tendency on the parts of a lot of people who arrive at the Forge from a scholarly background - accustomed to reading texts as representatives of identified points of view, they aren't used to dealing with texts as "thickets of debate" in which everyone understands that the point of view is expected to emerge eventually.- Ron Edwards

Very simply, there are essays defining what those terms mean, and they contradict each other. It seems simple! You might tell yourself Gamist is a focus on procedures, narrativist is a focus on narrative and drama, and simulationist is, well, something like gamist, but maybe involving mostly games people didn't like?

The use of the terms matched the way someone might use the word communist in 1960. Unless it was the group you identified with of course. This is what eventually turned into the "Big Model". But the big model is wholly reliant on the "creative agendas" of, you guessed it, gamism, narrativism, and simulation.

In reflection, I believe the threefold model was vague because it was simply a way for people who had difficulty managing group communication challenges to create an in-group-out-group dynamic to shore up their own insecurities. You can read the essays yourself linked above, I've written before about how the theory is internally inconsistent, when I was less circumspect about what I would say on the internet.

Brain Damage

My impression is that people who talk about "System matters", GNS, and such things, have never actually read any of the source material. They have invented some thing inside their head, which makes sense based on their assumptions, but breaks down with any actual contact with what the text says, or interaction with anyone else's assumptions of reality. It isn't helped by the fact that the field is filled with a ton of jargon, having meanings that are very specific and different from their common use.

The fundamental flaw of the Big Model is its core thesis. Ron defines the various material factors of role playing  as character, system, setting, situation, and color, and says that the reaction to these elements is the premise.

"Premise is whatever a participant finds among the elements to sustain a continued interest in what might happen in a role-playing session." — Ron Edwards GNS and other matters of role playing theory
I don't agree in the strongest possible way. The things that sustain my interest is augury of unknown realities, experiencing meaningful choice, sharing a life experience with my friends.

Everything he lists that appeals to people who play role-playing games is superficial and irrelevant. I will play any game with any Dungeon Master. Character, system, setting, situation and color are almost completely irrelevant.

Now, sure I have preferences, but the whole artifice of the situation is that gaming groups break up because the participants are brain-damaged by the fact that the game is incoherently made up of multiple modes, instead of focused on a single one, G, N, or S.

I'm not kidding.
More specific to your question, Vincent, I'll say this: that protagonism 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. No, the most functional among them can only be counted on to seize protagonism in their stump-fingered hands and scream protectively.. .
[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. This type is only one game in terms of procedures, but it's represented across several dozens of titles and about fifteen to twenty years, peaking about ten years ago. Think of it as a "way" to role-play rather than any single title. - R. Edwards, Forge
He's talking about D&D.

"It is just that their thinking has been infected by unhealthy thoughts,” said the Han to the Uighur. It is a man, justifying an animals actions as not those of a living thinking creature for his own edification. That is not hyperbole, it is the core of tyranny, when your opponents preferences are evidence of some sort of mental illness. Do not claim to advance your ends that I am comparing what Ron said to genocide; this isn't about Ron at all. I am saying many men in their hearts dream themselves your master. Call it gate-keeping, or manipulation, or whatever you want. Redressing in-group/out-group power dynamics as scientific fact is happening all the time.

Ron Edwards (and super-friends like Luke Crane) had dysfunctional gaming experiences growing up. I did not. It's clear today that functional gaming experiences are the norm because we have video of thousands of hours of people playing with all different kinds of focuses and different games, and the only problems that exist are social problems. And that's knowledge that's propagated. In the 80's and 90's, games were blamed for problem behaviors—when really the source of the problem was mental illness, social maladaptation, and all too frequently exploitative abusers, the "missing stairs".

Now, I can read internet forums today without going blind in my right eye from anger, because when someone starts talking about a problem game, there is a resounding cry of "Talk to your players". Engage in communication instead of trying to engage in a war of manipulation within the context of an activity.

There is a lot of thought and a lot of work and literally hundreds of thousands of words written about game theory on the forge and by various proponents. You can read it. It may be my 20 years in the mental health field that makes it look like people processing trauma in the open (and re-inflicting it on others) but you can read it yourself and make up your own mind. I'm not the first person to come to a similar conclusion.

The Past and Future

I don't agree. The RPGA promotes itself as taking care of role- players' interests. As long as this is the case, they should not put restrictions on material which is highly relevant to quite a few gamers; this is neglecting gamers' interests. The only reasons I can think of for banning homosexual issues are marketing reasons. Holter, Matthijs, 1993

I was 16 when that was written. It's important that we remember the past so that we don't repeat it. I've seen people in the last month mention both System Matters and GNS (and thankfully, saw people make the same points I made above). And you thought ten year old tweets were bad. 

Role-playing theory is a subset of communication's group facilitation theory, with a sprinkling of theological communication theory. (We see the main role of the facilitator in such a group as contributing to process and structure, not content. Sound familiar? Ever heard that old saw about the Dungeon Master being an impartial adjudicator?) It's a shared human experience and it has concrete techniques that can be taught. You don't need special training—everyone facilitates groups and communication.
Examples of concrete techniques:  encouraging exploration: Establishing the focus of the session. Setting up the question or issue that we are going to explore. Encouraging trust. Acting so that people are disposed to work together with the facilitator to create an environment in which all can participate. Helping people to engage with the subject and each other. Pose some initial questions or open up conversation. Don't undermine player action to force an outcome. Communicate so that everyone understands the situation in the same way.  Include verticality in design, Address and avoid power struggles in the clinical sense. Make sure choices in games are interesting, significant enough to notice and have meaningful consequences. Participants should be able to define their own objectives and methods for achieving them; choices should not be coerced or manipulated; and choices should be based on valid information. Et al.
The core of all this started, when Mary on rec.games.frp.advocacy started talking about what factors influenced what a game master decides. Is this a reasonable thing for the non-player character to do? Does this also produce an interesting experience for the player? Working out the answers to these with the group is the way.

You want to know what's fair? You have specific assumptions, a culture, and relationships with your friends. When you are in a group, the group shares preferences within the scope of social norms while respecting individuals. You can call this a social contract, but it wouldn't be worth the paper it's not written on. It is, as a social tribal animal, what occurs in every grouping. You discuss and negotiate expectations, verbally, non-verbally, or if handicapped, using an aid. You develop a ritual and a culture as a group.

Everything else, eventually, comes down to preference. Anyone who tells you differently is trying to insinuate you within a system of control. Stay free.

Happy American Thanksgiving. This is normally where I pitch my Patreon, but a friend of mine, Amanda, is struggling this season. It is within our power, in our comfortable, cozy, holiday, warmth, to help another wonderful human suffer less. I urge you to do so. I am so grateful that I am finally in a place where I can give to others. Gofundme for Amanda.

Hack & Slash 
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On the Explicit Procedure of Play

This isn't about bad-wrong-fun.

The discussion yesterday about behaviors we've all come across at the gaming table are not gaming problems. They are related to cognitive distortions. I get that "Cognitive Distortions" has a negative connotation, they aren't moral judgements.

A common example of a cognitive distortion is "Parents should love their children." Some parents don't. Until that reality is accepted, suffering. Often we aren't aware of what these distortions are, and they can drive a lot of our actions as do things to stave off having to deal with that dissonance. An easy way to avoid this type of pain is try to control or manipulate a situation so that you aren't given evidence that contradicts your beliefs.

When this isn't possible, you experience emotional trauma. This goes through a variety of phases, though the order and severity varies on education, culture, and experience. In order for us to get rid of the cognitive distortion (e.g. "Life should be fair."), your body needs to go through processes to rebuild a new mental conception that matches reality: Anger, bargaining, denial, depression, and acceptance of a more accurate model of reality (e.g. "Life isn't fair"). These phases are what allow the brain to, in a quite literal sense, rebuild itself around its current conditions.

This is, I think, very basic, very well accepted knowledge. We expect families to teach rituals on how to cope with change, but frequently that doesn't happen. Cognitive and/or dialectical behavior therapy teach these skills.

Quantum what's?

None of the ideas are wrong. High lethality? Great! Go for it. Want to make a game less lethal, change the rules. Low magic? Sure! Come back as a cartoon? Great idea.

It's never about the specifics. It's not about railroads, or quantum ogres, or fudging. It doesn't matter what specific kind of game you do at the table. Yet still role-playing horror stories exist. It's all about human beings, and getting their needs met at the expense of other people.

When people go into therapy, it isn't some philosophical problem or existential angst. Universally it is specific, often sentinel event overloading their support systems ability to cope. Loss of job, breaking up with a boyfriend, becoming homeless, et. al. You have to look at the specific problem and break it down. It's not how to solve the problem-these are people, like you. Telling people what to do doesn't work, you know? You are there to provide insight. Part of this is an analysis of a person's interactions with other people.

You look at the sequence of events and categorize each interaction as belonging to one of three interpersonal communication styles: aggressive, passive-aggressive, or assertive.

Are you meeting your needs at the expense of other people? Are you avoiding confrontation? There's no right or objective answer, because these are people, they are full of messy squiggly bits and nearly all of their volume is empty space, their presence simply a projection of a vibration that lairs in a place we cannot see.

So we have some baseline assumptions, foundational principals that we work up from. Everyone has infinite worth regardless of externals. Relationships should include ways for everyone to get their needs met without it being at the expensive of someone else. Interactions should be made with levels of confrontation that are respectful of everyone involved.

Cognitive Distortions of Dungeons & Dragons

Player death must meet some threshold of meaning, players should do what the Dungeon Master thinks they should do, A bad die roll is what kills characters; These are all cognitive distortions.

There is a procedure for Dungeons and Dragons, and it requires a Dungeon Master who is a player, and characters managed by players of the game. The person running the game, at no point, should ever deceive, manipulate, or attempt to pressure or influence the people playing the game. The job of the Dungeon Master is to give helpful accurate information. Lying isn't in the job description. (His responsibility to represent the game world might cause him to portray a character who lies, but his job is to represent that lying character honestly.)

The dungeon master can present limited information-the information the characters have access to. Mysteries can abound in your game world. There can be plots and intrigue aplenty. But the core gameplay procedures and loop of Dungeons and Dragons at no point involve any player manipulating another.

There is no rule in Dungeons and Dragons proscribing one person having authority over another person. 

You see, the Dungeon Master is a player. He manages the procedures and flow of the game. He creates the world, and acts as both an auger of a distant realm seen dimly through the ocular power of dice, a neutral judge of the results of game-play, and a designer who creates (hopefully interesting) situations for the players to encounter.

Alignment has no authority to prescribe behavior, it's descriptive (and a palpable, detectable force, in the fundamental sense, within the world). The role of the Dungeon Master is one of servant, one who entertains, not via authorship but by facilitation. The rules are explicit about this: They say "The DM decides how these rules will be used in the game. . . and the final decision is the DM's" (B60) They don't decide what the characters will do. They have no authority over player's choices.

Let's talk about that core gameplay loop.

Core Gameplay Loop

The minutiae of these vary from game to game, so I'll be very explicit here. This will allow you to assess what behaviors are explicitly part of the game-play loop, and determine which behaviors are not. This gives you insight and results in a better game.

Obviously this is quite instinctive (being a model of existing and taking action in the real world), and these social norms make this flow of play transparent. But once you are aware of it, it gives you a framework to handle issues in communication and behavior.

Pregame activities include one player designing an adventure and other players rolling up characters and purchasing equipment.

Play begins with the Dungeon Master providing background for the players. This includes an objective or goal. Even if it's implied, the background information will indicate some specific change of circumstance that needs to be resolved. "We are in a new place." "A dwarf caravan has disappeared." "A house is haunted."

This background will both communicate the narrative themes (which you can not think about or design, but they end up being there anyway) as well as providing players with an ability to contextualize your comments from shared cultural touchstones. It's difficult to communicate extremely complicated situations, so providing a similar frame of reference does significant amounts of work for the people engaged in the game.

Finally, this leads us into our first game structure. Different games have different words for it, but it is easily conceptualized by the word "Scene." The characters are existing at some conceptual space in this imaginary world, and the background is our entrance to that conceptual scene. "You find yourself. . . " "You are standing. . . " "Before you lies. . . " et. al.

Each player of the game is in control of one or more agents who can take action within the world. Note that "Role-Playing" is a term derived from taking the role of a singular unit on a battlefield. The player is still considered to be playing a game, just one in which he controls individuals instead of squads of soldiers. Almost immediately upon exposure to the wild the term was conflated with the idea of role as emotional experience and theatrical presentation. Even though this wasn't the intent, it is completely compatible with the play of Dungeons & Dragons and is a matter of taste. You are encouraged to interact as your character, while playing the game, though it is by no means required. Many people still play by saying "My character does. . . " or "My character says."

It's important to note here that it is A) a game B) with explicit and implicit goals C) and you can succeed and fail within those goals within the context of the game. This is true of every official version of Dungeons and Dragons, though it is not necessarily true of other games. It's left as an exercise to the reader if this is related to the unrelenting dominance and success of Dungeons & Dragons.

There are a few different games or modes that Dungeons and Dragons switches between, and each one has a separate procedure of play.

Exploration Loop

The most common is Dungeon Exploration. Frequently there is wilderness travel or handling activities in downtime. A lot of these are clearly procedural-I'm not going to walk through the combat rules, likely you already know them by heart. What's important is that the non-combat sections of the game are as procedural and game-like as the combat structures.

But because these rely more on conversational social norms, rather than explicit discussion about procedural issues, it can create a lot of tension when miscommunications happen. Adding in one person trying to manipulate the outcome of game-play can rapidly create a dysfunctional situation.

This is illustrated most clearly in examples of play from early editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Here's an example from the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide. Here's a different sample of play from Basic Dungeons and Dragons.

DM: "After 30' you reach a round landing with two sets of stairs. One goes down and to the east, the other goes down and to the west."

The environment is described, as well as any relevant activated objects or red herrings. Once the environment is described the gameplay proceeds via the characters asking questions. This is a two-way process of information gathering. The players can ask any questions they wish until they are satisfied.

In this opening example the players don't have any questions, and the caller goes ahead and takes action. Taking action has four steps. Intent, Initiation, Execution, Effect. This is a social exchange between the Dungeon Master and a Player. The player states their intended action, providing a space for the Dungeon Master and the player to negotiate over the specifics of their action. This is the reduction of the Deadly Difference, i.e. the difference between the players understanding of the situation and the Dungeon Masters. Then the player oks the initiation of the event, the event is executed and the result is presented, leading us back into our next opportunity to act. Frequently Intent and Initiation will be collected from the whole group and resolved effectively simultaneously.

Here is the next play example containing the Intent and Initiation from Basic Dungeons and Dragons.

Morgan:"Fredrik looks down the east staircase and Silverleaf looks down the west one. What do they see"

And the execution and effect.

DM: "The parties torches mess up their infravision, so they can only see twenty to thirty feet. The west stairs go down ten feet and turn sharply south. The east stairs go down at least thirty feet. Also, Fred smells a rank, musty odor coming up from below."

This process: Information gathering, Intent, Initiation, execution, and effect continues until one of the other modes of play is invoked. Within those other modes of play, player action follows a truncated version of IIEE. I hit the monster, picking up the die, rolling the die, rolling damage. Intent, Initiation, execution, effect.

It's not white room theory. It allows you to explain in a concrete way why, for example, players never die to unlucky die rolls. The unlucky die rolls are consequences for a series of choices. It gives you insight into the specific roles each player has, not of their character, but there responsibility in the game. It clarifies why a referee has to be neutral and what that means—when performing the execution step he should be invested in determining the outcome objectively, because that's his role at the table. The players job at the table is to decide what she wants to do.

This absolutely happens fluidly, often in a non-linear order because it's a game for fun that you play while hanging out with your friends.  (e.g. "Wait, I actually have fire resistance 5. That will change what I want to do.")

This helps clear up specific distinctions. It's why considering the last monster dead in a fight when it really has 1 hit point left is fine, but arbitrarily changing monster hit points based on your personal feelings of how long combat needs to last is a breach of responsibility as a player in the role of Dungeon Master.

The first is an action taken out of respect for the time of other people, the second is capricious, subjective, and arbitrary and undermines the intent and initiation phase. "Don't change the rules during play" as it goes. This is why "Rocks fall, everyone dies" or "You get hit by a bolt of lightning" are inappropriate behaviors (those aren't called via the game systems, they are caused by the Dungeon Master being passive-aggressive—punishing the players while avoiding a confrontation by virtue of a misunderstanding of the servile nature of the responsibility).

This framework provides a lot of clarity over where the problem really is in role-playing game horror stories. Psst. It's the people. *ghost wail* Whoooooooo--oooOOOOHhhhhhhhhhh.

Giving me money is the new hip trendy thing!

Hack & Slash 
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On the Rules of the Game

Hi guys. Kickstarter went well, like 1,100 backers. Took some time off. Got a cat. Back to work.

Holy schnikes, guys, did you know Role Playing Games have rules? Strap in!

Aggressive Denial

It's hard to let go of your preconceptions. Like, it's giving up an addiction hard. I know this will be a bitter pill for some people, and others will find themselves amazed that it's still news. People will go to aggressive lengths to avoid facing facts. So I'm going to break it down as clearly as possible.

A role-playing game is a game in which you play a role.

Look, clearly you can define whatever kind of activity in whatever way you want. But if you're going to play a role-playing game it requires those two things. Here are the reasons that combination of things is special.

Tactical Infinity. Because you are playing a game with human peers, there's no arbitrary limits.
Emergent Gameplay: Because it is a game, outcomes are unknown and develop during play.
Group Cohesion In-group Valuation. Because it is a regular activity engaged in with a peer group, task commitment increases the relative value of in-group experience.

I know, that last one sounds complicated.

Look, we form social groups. I'm not telling, I'm just saying, we do. And role-playing games involve a social group that often solves problems together. A group of people with shared interests that solves problems or engaged in problem solving activity together show stronger interpersonal relationships and stronger social identities. (Cohesion and Performance in Groups) This activity thus leads to greater motivation, performance, life satisfaction, and better emotional resilience

You know this in your heart, because you are reading a blog about role-playing games in 2019. You know that feeling I'm talking about. That "Oh god, isn't role-playing just wonderful" feeling we all have. It's specific and quantifiable. ALL players (everyone involved in the game, including the Dungeon Master, who is a player) engage for this valuation.

It's got Rules! It's not a Cult!

Here is the line of demarcation. If everyone isn't playing-if one person is trying to manipulate other people or engaging in some passive-aggressive behavior to control or alter the natural outcome of a game, that isn't a group of people solving a task and increasing cohesion.

See, believe it or not, all role-playing games have rules. Now am I saying you can't change the rules? No. Of course you can. The specifics of the rules are unimportant. The rules of the game are rules, and there is a procedure (and always has been). It's a game like chess or monopoly. It has rules.

I don't think that's a contentious statement. Some of those rules are social rules. A lot of these statements I'm making seem logical, until you recognize your own negative behavior as "magical exceptionalism" and somehow different. 

All of these are some variation of the same behavior:
  • "I didn't think that death was fair, so I had the monster miss"
  • "I didn't want a player to die to a 'bad die roll'"
  • "I change the hit points of all the monsters because I felt that the combat didn't go on long enough"
  • "The player was wrong so I killed his character"
  • "I fudged the dice to make the game more 'fun'"
This argument is commonly misinterpreted. You do get to decide things as a Dungeon Master. You're not destroying player agency by skipping the last encounter check at the end of a long night. The game is open and depends on player consensus at the table.

The danger is in creating non-open subjective metrics
You can of course have rules that are hidden or rules that are not player-facing. But inconsistently deciding some rules change for subjective reasons-well, think about that in the context of any other game.

"I don't care that you broke through as red rover, you go back to your side because I said."
"Well, now this is the hill, and I'm king of it."
"You can't go that way, the only way to go is into the forest!"
"That one doesn't count. I meant to fold"

David Sirlin has a book called "Playing to Win". It talks about Scrub theory. Basically the rules of the game are the way they are; creating some 'imaginary' set of rules that people are supposed to follow instead of the actual rules of the game impair that players ability to not only compete professionally, but truly know their own limits and take responsibility for their own successes and failures. As opposed to calling someone's tactics "cheap" because their legal play doesn't fit your own conception of what is "fair" instead of the reality of the game. (This isn't the full argument, his book is the full argument.)

His point is, by creating these safeguards from consequences people never get to experience their full potential. They can never compete at the highest level.

Role-playing isn't usually competitive, it's almost universally cooperative. That includes the Dungeon Master. Much like if I were to cheat at Arkham Horror or Pandemic it would reduce the meaning of playing the game as a group, the same goes for redefining the rules of an role-playing game based on subjective feelings. 

The Secret

All roleplaying is procedural. If you're running a game and deciding things arbitrarily, that's a sign of an unskilled Dungeon Master. (Not that they know they are unskilled or will admit it, but they will talk about how hard it is to get a game together. This is serious Dunning-Kruger territory.)

Let me explain. Much like in any other kind of game in the world, there is a sequence of actions. At no point does someone wave a wand and there's a free-form interpretative dance component to chess. 

Role-playing games are the same way. Familiarity with some of these steps can make them pass instantaneously or invisibility at the table. Different games have different steps. But they are all procedural steps, there's no magical tea parties

A short example.

Players gather.
Play begins.
The Dungeon Master describes the scene. 
The players ask questions.
The caller confers with the players.
The caller reports the action to the dungeon master.
The dungeon master reports the outcomes.

Depending on the setting, Wilderness exploration, Dungeon Exploration, or Downtime, various other procedures are described, as well as methods to switch between them. The players get a 'turn'. they must spend one 'turn' in six at rest. They can move X' a turn. 

Let's not be aggressively stupid here. Let's say you want to add a procedure for having the players talk to each other at the camp to flesh out character relationships. Can't you do that? 

Of course you can. Look at The Dying Earth (if you can find a copy) or my own On the Non-Player Character, if you'd like to see some of the ways you could handle something like that. But if you're creating new game procedures, you should do that and then present them to the players.

Because of the fact that role-playing groups form such strong bonds this boundary can get a little blurred. It's the line between engaging in an activity freely with your friends, versus acting in aggressive and passive ways to meet your needs at the expense of theirs. Often we take advantage of people once we grow used to them. You no longer think about their experience or the group experience being a priority, but rather in your individual superiority over it. You know better, so it's ok to invalidate their choices in the group experience. You cease to approach them as valued humans who are sharing your time. 

Let's put it this way. If you're not willing to roll right out in the open and say "I'm ignoring or changing that roll because I don't want you to die." why not? 

If you only "prevent people from unfair deaths", then you've created a room full of people, ostensibly your friends,  who have to figure out what you, personally, consider unfair. And when someone dies, it's because you decided, and not because it happened in the game.  

The Hard Truth

People have a fear of confrontation and consequences. Players don't die to bad die rolls. That's a lie people tell themselves for comfort. The player is always in charge of deciding to put themselves in the way of that random die roll. 

The reason people railroad and subjectively change outcomes due to whim is all about fear. What if things really matter and they don't go the way I want them to?

Well the truth is things really matter, and they might not go the way you want them to. Just deciding which rules to follow when they are convenient, that's something that allows you to feel safe. And it's at the expense of the the other human people.

My first adult player death was in Keep on the Borderlands, where they hired the evil cleric. The fighter backed out of combat seeking healing, and the cleric cast 'inflict serious wounds' killing the character. The players chose. They chose to hire the cleric, the player chose to put himself out of sight of the party. None of the specific particulars were in question because they followed the rules and procedure in the game. It wasn't what he wanted to have happen. It was hard to do. I was afraid.

I faced my fear and moved through it. 

The people were successful in that campaign, not because I made them successful. But because they were. I didn't have a 'story' in mind, but I could regale you with tales of their adventure for days. A real adventure, risking real danger, and real loss.

You see? No one is saying you can't decide things, or streamline some stuff, or whatever. What's happening is people who have been around the block know this as fear. As anyone can tell you, having something to lose makes life worth living. 

Holy Schnikes it's good to be back. 

Join the team if me being back makes you happy! 

On Getting Down with Downtime.

I'm overwhelmed and thankful. Less than 32 hours left.

I didn't expect this. I thought even coming up with this many stretch goals was absurd. And it looks like all of them will be unlocked and then some.

Thanks be to you, without whom I wouldn't be here. I talked to Hobbes on his radio program and it was quite personal. Honest. He's not afraid to ask actually difficult challenging questions. That was terrifying and wonderful.

Listen for yourself.

We have amazing things coming. I'm so glad to be journeying with you.

Hack & Slash 
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On the Dream

Before this Kickstarter began, I had wildest dreams.

We passed those yesterday. It's sitting at 15k with just over two days left. People seem to like it.

I don't want you to be in a position at the end of this week, once the Kickstarter ends and people are talking and using On Downtime and Demesnes, where you to realize it's a lot more expensive after the Kickstarter. I just recently made this same mistake, passed something up when it was available a low price, and then realized after it returned to its normal price that I wanted it.

I'm so thankful for everything. It's been one of the most amazing and life-changing weeks of my life. There's still over two days left, and more stretch goals to hit, but this is already a complete and total success.

I didn't do it alone. Other people made it happen with me. I'd like to thank Bodieh, of Slowquest who's just an amazing artist, producing these great physical artifacts-Packets of these booster cards with items, monsters, and adventure. He also illustrated the cover on the latest issue of Megadungeon, and he's amazingly charismatic.

 Anytime I can work with Arnold K.to get him to produce more gaming content, the world wins. You can check out his Patreon here. He's creating a Glog, and you'll just have to see how awesome that is yourself. And my personal dream work is getting to finally read Centerra once it's published.

Chris Tamm runs the blog Elfmaids & Octopi and is my primary reference for sandbox play. There's so much content that's just immediately useful in play. He's got a ton of books, free, filled with tables. Check out his Patreon!

Alex needs no introduction, creator of the Adventurer, Conquer, King role playing game, writer, and game designer. The new stuff coming out is making the Auran empire into one of the most original and awesome classic gaming settings, along with one of the best classic rulesets.

And Mike Evans is Hubris, which is setting via design and content personified. Follow him at Wrath of Zombie Blog,

Finally, we've got art previews coming in the next two days. If you'd like to see more of my art, Merciless Merchants is creating a mid-level super-module The City of Vermilion for 1st Edition style play! Once funded, I'll be producing (more) art for the project. Check it out!

More hype and maybe a surprise or two will be coming in the following days. If you haven't backed On Downtime and Demesnes, do it soon before the opportunity slips away. And thanks.

Hack & Slash 
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