On the Affordability of Zocchi Dice

Everyone has read the Grognardia post on why Zocchi dice are the most awesome, and yet many people I talk to are complaining about the price,

I was originally going to post that it is a die, less than a dollar. I spend what it would cost to get all the dice you would need for the DCC RPG every day on caffeine. etc.

I looked through my purchases of Gamescience dice in 2009, and noticed that the price I paid for my GameScience dice was 12$ for smoked quartz ink sets, and 9$ for black and white opaque inked sets. (standard 7 die sets) Individual dice were purchased for 1.75$

Checking the website it appears that un-inked opaque sets usually go for under 7$ while inked opaque sets sell for 12$ (which is more than I paid for mine) Translucent uninked sets go for 10$ with inked translucent sets for 15$. This is a 25% increase in price. All the information above is for 7 die sets.

The 12 die sets (with the extra specialty Zocchi Dice, d3/5 etc.) appear to be retailing (inked) for between 33$ and 40$! For 5 additional dice, they are asking for more than double the money! They want 7$ for a inked d3!

Clearly the solution is to travel back in time and purchase your dice in the past. I remember seeing the d3/d5/d7 etc on sale for under a dollar when there weren't any games that were using them.

I call shenanigans.

On the OSR Required Reading List (Have You Read It?)

So I had a post last week On a Basic RPG Terminology Primer for those who are new, or perhaps not well-versed in our insular little world. Then I released my Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design document. When I released it, I posted on some more modern, new school boards, and the response I got was somewhat enlightening.

A whole world of players out there, doesn't understand the importance of an empty room, or how to handle a trap without a 'perception' or 'spot' skill, or why race as class is cool. There was a time (long, long ago) when I was enraptured by the new-school, everything makes naturalistic sense, sort of thinking.

Why did it change?

I found the OSR.

There are several key posts, that I feel are required reading for understanding our sort of approach to the game. This includes certain rules and additions that have a big impact on that classic style of play. We're familiar with many of them, but they haven't really been gathered together in one place.Here's my attempt to do so - to make a required reading list.

These, I think, are indicative of the types of things we are all doing, and yet are not commonly known among the newer players. The most critical of the below are bolded

If you can think of anything I missed, please suggest it. The following are in no particular order.Blog links are to the left, article links to the right.

Playing D&D With Porn Stars:
The Alexandrian:
Delta's D&D Hotspot:
Ars Ludi:
Jeff Rients Gameblog:
Quick Primer for Old School Gaming  
The Mule Abides: Illusionism and Wandering Monsters
A Rod of Lordly Might: Skills: The Middle Road 
Akratic Wizardry:  The FRPG Social Contract
The Tao of D&D:  Fall Out!
The Hydra's Grotto: The 6 Mile Hex
Kellri: CDD #4 ( Sadly no longer updated)
Tales from the Flaming Faggot: The Tyranny of Magic Missile
Old Guard Gaming Accouterments: The Spontaneous Creation of Magical Items in Play 
Comma, Blank_: Obfuscating Through Volume

I don't read anything close to all of the blogs, but the above is a list of posts that I've read and that have stuck with me. I'm sure I missed many good ones. These posts are the ones that say what Old School Dungeons & Dragons is about. Any suggestions to expanding the list are greatly appreceated.

On the First Look at the Rim of the Sky (Skyrim Trailer Review/Breakdown/Analysis)

Who's excited?


The link above contains actual gameplay footage. I have to say I'm happy. It looks like an Elder Scrolls game. The modded copy of Oblivion I'm running has a similar visual fidelity (it looks like they are doing good things with textures). I understand the engine will add several new features (accumulating snow, etc.)

Go watch and download!

For the total Elder Scrolls Geeks, breaking it down by scene:

00:11 It appears that perhaps fly and levitate may make a return? This clearly is taken from the perspective of the flying dragon.

00:18 The head bob in this running seems overly violent. Is this perhaps a gameplay fix to the ever popular 'run backwards' survival technique?

00:27 Nice nod to Oblivion. Apparently this takes place about 200 years after the last game (a bit of a nice change, because Oblivion took place fairly soon after the end of Morrowind - soon enough for people to mention the nerevarine.)

00:29 Shadows look about the same as in previous game. Plants and trees look to have about the same complexity as in oblivion. Again, I express hope that they actually add in the plants disappearing after they are harvested, instead of having to mod it in. I would sincerely like to play this Elder Scrolls on a console.

00:36: Game engine Cut-scene? I'm having trouble imagining when you would take the perspective of the dragon; perhaps you turn into one? The hands held out in front when you reach the ledge, I initially thought was what happened when you're falling. Perhaps there's an animation that triggers when you're near the edge? Regardless, I've jumped off higher places in-game.

00:45 Dragon Shadow. Seriously, just Dragon Shadow. Can you imagine? We huddle through life, but we will never know how alive a man can feel when caught starkly in the mighty ancient shadow of avarice.

01:09 Dragonspeech looks awesome, and seriously, the sound integration between the speech effect and the background music is beautiful. I hope when they make the Elder Scrolls movie, that the Elder Scrolls team is in charge of the nifty parts like that. (Should leave character scripting to someone else though, they'd have the same 4 dudes running around playing all the different parts).

01:13 That very much looks like Nordic architecture - very similar to Cloud Temple and Bruma in style. They said the style between the Colovian, Nibenese, and Nordic areas was too subtle, so perhaps this is their attempt to fix that? Again, Nordic at 01:17.

01:21 That mill looks awesome. The moving parts make me wonder about what I *didn't* see in this video which was Dewmer Ruins. I know they should be all over the place in Skyrim.

01:25 This makes me think that even though they say it's a 'new' engine, it's clearly built up from gamebryo. That water is Elder Scrolls river water for sure.

01:27 I chuckle at the guy carrying the basket looking at the guard. The guy standing up on the right though, gives me hope for more natural movement. Little bit of bowlegged walking though, for sure. The giant is impressive, but after running these overhauls in Oblivion, I get pretty wild size variations in most normal creatures, and have fought more than one or two hill giants. Still, glad to see they are in the base game.

01:29 Oh sneak animation, don't ever change.

01:31 Some of these montages scenes seem to be cut-scenes in the game-engine.  This is fine. running water, giant, walking through town, dragon biting man (cut-scene), player with spell and sword equipped attacking a troll, assassination in a tavern which I initially thought was a cut-scene, but it appears that maybe it's 3rd person mode of actual gameplay. That tavern is beautiful by the way, check out the ivory chandelier over on the right. Axe smash tied to the music, hitting a dragon (cut-scene?), using a staff in a cave with more water effects. Fighting a man in 3rd person, some sort of magic trick (cut-scene), attacking a dragon, approaching some magical energy, archery don't ever change, casting magic against some skeletons. The skeletal models seem more . . . substantial then they have in previous versions. Stabbing some dude in the gut. This is a possible finishing move system? Getting knocked down as a dragon flies over you? Sneaking in some ruins. Now I'm looking at those ruins, and man, they sure look a bit like Ayleid ruins. Perhaps they are updated Dwemer Ruins? Hitting a sweet looking giant spider. The monster detail seems greatly improved. Lots of the little hairs effect on both the giant man and spider. Finally the cut-scene of killing the dragon.

02:00 This appears to be some sort of 'gain a new power when you kill a dragon' bit, which is fine by me. I imagine it's tied into the 'shout' system.

02:20 Nice wide shot, seems like no issues with fog or draw distance. I'm betting these are from a computer though. Wonder how the PS3/360 versions will look. (I'm in a circle of grass!)

Looking forward to 11.11.11!

On The Thursday Trick, Burning Hands Trap

No promises, but in honor of the release of the document, Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design, I've decided to attempt to produce one old-school trick, interesting empty room, or trap each week in the format set forth within the document. (perhaps more). Anyway, I hope this is of some use.

We're going to start off with something simple, and go with a fairly basic trap.

Burning Hands Trap (Spells)

Trigger: Magical: Visual Effects: Multiple Targets
Save: Rods, Staves, Wands Duration: Instant
Resets: Automatic Bypass: Selective Trigger

Description: This trap is disguised as part of statuary. In the center of a room stands a 12' statue of whatever sort of creature (cultists, snake-men, elves, whatever) built the structure the statue is contained within. At each corner of the statue is a serpents head or mouth carved from the same stone the rest of the statue is made from. Each head contains a failing magical sensor that causes the serpent head to spit out a gout of flame when it detects any sort of creature moving in front of it, if that creature is different from the ones that created it. Each sensor has a 90 degree arc of vision, and each is on a corner of the statue. The sensors have a 75% chance of functioning each round (determine randomly each round for each sensor that has a target). This trap works particularly well with another type of encounter in the room (either a combat, or needing to search). When activated, the trap does 2d4+4 of fiery damage in a 120 degree arc, half if a save versus Rods, Staves, and Wands is made. Note that depending on the original creatures, the damage could be changed from flame to another type. Note that the arc of damage is larger then the arc required to trigger the trap.

Detection/Disarming:This trap is particularly difficult to both notice and disarm in the traditional methods. Astute characters who examine the serpent heads from one of the safe spots will see ash and scorch marks in the mouths. Traditional disarming methods take twice as long due to the decayed nature of the magical sensors. Non-traditional disarming methods should have a higher chance of success. (Smashing the serpent statues, covering them up with a black bag).

On the Wednesday Weigh-in, Hoard

This is a little game I've been playing lately.

In short, you play a dragon who burns down towns, captures princesses, and tries to collect the biggest hoard possible. When I saw my nephew playing it, I was immediately drawn to 'oh lord, dragons!' which is not something that is often done well, or successfully in games. But dragons with their flaming breath and huge hoards and destroy, burn, pillage mentality is too cool to pass up. So 14 dollars later I was playing.

The Elements: Even though it doesn't appear to be the case at first glance, Hoard is a two-stick shooter in the vein of Geometry Wars and Everyday Shooter. It has three modes (Treasure, Princess Rescue, and Survival). Your dragon is upgradeable during play.

The Crux: Each of the three modes is functionally a different type of game. In Treasure, you compete either alone or against other dragons to acquire the most treasure. In Princess Rescue, you compete against other dragons to capture the most princesses. And in Survival you attempt to survive as long as possible.

Basic gameplay consists of flying around a map, burning down towns, carts, and mills and collecting the gold left behind. You can only carry so much gold before you have to cart it back to your hoard. Your breath is of limited duration before it has to recharge. If you capture a princess and carry her back to your hoard, you can ransom her if you can keep her safe from knights. The longer you go without losing your health or having your hoard stolen from, the higher your gold multiplier becomes.

Your Dragon has a health bar and is upgradeable in 4 different ways. When your hoard reaches certain threshold sizes, you receive the ability to upgrade your dragon.You can have more armor making you take less damage, stronger and longer fire breath, the ability to carry more gold and unload it faster, or increase your airspeed.

The Countenance: The game lacks a 'campaign mode'. This was the first thing I noticed when I sat down to actually play it on my own PlayStation. I was a bit disappointed at the lack of a over-reaching structure, so I settled in and began to play.
The first thing the structure reminded me of was a racing game. There are various tracks (maps) and on each track you are shooting for the fastest time (score). After I played a few levels, and became aware of the leader-boards, my compulsive tendencies kicked in and I lost the next 'too many' hours of my life.
The traditional racing structure of a selection of tracks works very well with the opposite side of the genera wheel. I still greatly prefer to have a larger structure to provide some guidance, like a campaign mode or unlockables. This was quickly overlooked once I started to play.
Another interesting thing about game play, is that what you choose to burn modifies the flow of the game. If you destroy a town, then the gold carts it sends out have less gold, slowing down the game. But it also produces fewer archers, making the map a safer place to be. A tavern will produce thieves (destroy!), and a market increases the gold value of the carts. Larger castles produce stronger knights, but also more valuable princesses.
You are limited to 10 minutes on most levels, so this provides a fascinating push-pull dynamic on the tactics and upgrade strategy you use.

The Escapist Genre Wheel
The Genre: Each of the different game modes falls into a slightly different genrer.
Treasure Mode is squarely in the ActionStrategyConflict mode. The focus of the game is on the action, and yet the interrelationship between how you approach the levels and the other dragons is clearly a strategic choice. Although there is simulation of the medieval town occurring, your control over that is the strategic content due to the choices you make as the dragon, instead of the exploration of a game like majesty or the sims.
Princess Rescue is more directly competitive. It moves up the wheel, much closer to the ActionConflict section, while maintaining it's ActionStrategyConflict status.
Survival is pure shooter, placing it square in the ActionConflict portion of the wheel. This mode very much feels just like any other two-stick shooter, though with a very limited firing distance.

The Detritus: There are nice little touches all throughout the game: Knights who win fights against dragons level up, princesses scream, AI dragons have different personalities.
I absolutely love the vegas style slot noises. I have to say that's a large part of why I enjoy this game so much, the dingdingding of the slot wheels spinning. Makes me want to run right out to the casino (just for the nickle slots - not much of a gambler.)
I have some personal hints and tips. Upgrading the amount you can carry also upgrades the speed in which you are able to drop your gold off at the hoard.
To get a high score, focus on 2 things. Making towns fear you so that they pay fealty and do not lose your score multiplier. The towns have a fear integer equal to the amount of damage you do to them. So once a town is yours, when you notice it's at full health if you do a flyby and damage it some again, it makes it more resilient to being taken over by other dragons.
Always destroy taverns. Thieves will kill your score multiplier. (Taverns produce more thieves).
It has co-op. I haven't played that version yet, but co-op two-stick shooters are always cool.

The Final Counsel: Man, not only is this a good game, it's all tied up in awesome subject matter. It's clearly a downloadable title, due to the rough edges, but it's cheaper than a 3-D movie ticket, and a lot more fun. I highly recommend playing on a system that has two-sticks.

I find it particularly interesting how it might model a dragon surviving in an actual traditional medieval society. The environment advances faster than the dragon can destroy it. And while a lone knight or archer is no great obstacle, en masse, they can be quite challenging. It is easy to see how an ancient and powerful dragon could find it safer just to hole up in the mountains and avoid the reach of man.

It is available on PlayStation Network, on the PlayStation Portable, and PC/Mac.

On the Superiority of Descending AC


Ask anyone, and they can tell you what's not good about descending AC. It's pretty simple.


Subtraction is so much harder than addition. How much of a terrible effort it must be to take one number and-

Oh, wait. It's not that hard.

In all seriousness, the ability to do short form addition inside your head is much easier then to do a subtractive operation. If you've ever been asked to do serial sevens, then you're aware of that. It clearly is a simpler operation to simply have the entire process be additive.

So what's the problem? Why not just switch over to the attack bonus? What is so great about ThAC0? They are in fact an identical operation (To hit AC 0-AC is exactly the same equation as Attack Bonus, err, mathematically if X=d20 roll and To hit AC 0 = 20-Attack bonus, then, Attack Bonus + X > AC is the same as X > (20 - Attack Bonus) - AC. tl;dr math))

 Upper bounds. There is no -11 AC in Dungeons and Dragons. (Well, I'm sure in some supplement somewhere, but I'm pretty sure the intent is to have -10 AC be the absolute best armor class). This upper bound meant that the game was constrained to a human level. No matter how many bonuses you had, or how good you were, the best that you could be was -10. And there were many many difficulties in reaching such a high Armor Class. First, the best suit of armor and the best shield in the core game (AD&D1) only put you down to 2. And then to find magical enhancements on that armor of any substance was quite rare. It is possible to get both up to +5 (in what I'm sure were some high powered games) and have both a shield and armor made from "adamantite alloyed steel"

Welcome to armor class -8. Can't get any help from a ring of protection (due to wearing magical armor), so you'd have to have a bit of dexterity to push it higher. I understand it is even more limiting in the earlier versions of the game.

I'm assuming we're all familiar with what happens with the d20 system, when the values start to be larger than the dice ranges. And the fact is, with all the different kinds of stacking bonuses, I rarely have a pathfinder character that isn't trying to get his armor class into the 40's. (that's -20 AC  for those of you playing along at home. That was a summoner, the party tanks were better at it. Pretty possible with armor, buffs and an enchanter in the party.

It is another thing that indicates the grounded nature of the game. You were always playing people. By 11th level, my flying, invisible, shadow walking, giant pet having, summoner often felt more than human. (However I should point out, that in contrast to 3.5, this was not outside the power level of the non-spellcasters. The barbarian was quite functional and interesting - sticky. Highly entertaining to watch him follow anyone who tried to run and smack them down. Much better then 3.5)

You could tweak and power game and min/max all you wanted. You'd hit the limit, and then the rest didn't matter. It is exceptionally hard to have a bad first edition character, no matter the stats. Discussing this with a friend, he show me how he could "build" a poorly functional fighter. It involved taking proficiencies in a lot of strange weapons. (I specialize in rope! and chair legs! oooooo. scary -_-  )

It's another reason that all those little fiddly bits aren't really necessary. Descending AC, though non-intuitive and difficult for newcomers to grasp, limited the game in positive ways. It kept the focus on where it should be - the play between the players and the Dungeon Master.

I want to say thanks for all the kind comments, and hello to all my new followers. Posting has been light this last week, because I spent most of last week preparing for the traps release. Know that I'm working on an old school Alchemy & Poisons Supplement that I hope to have out next month. Also, if anyone has any ideas for these things, or questions about where you can use them, please contact me at the e-mail address underneath the picture of the monkey!

On 80% of Modern Forum Content Summerized in The Alexandrian

Justin over at The Alexandrian, one of my favorite blogs, made a key post about spherical cows, and I feel compelled to extort it's virtues.

I've spent a lot of time on message boards in the past - even some time on more modern ones. I avoid them in general because, well, 80% of the content isn't helping me to run a better game. When I posted about my tricks document on EN world, one of the replies was "We need to see more posts like this", because in their world, actual gaming posts are few and far between.

In his spherical cow post, he summarizes (in a much more entertaining matter) the basics of the majority of modern forum content:
  • Extremely Implausible Hypothetical Scenario, e.g. because wizards can memorize a variety of spells, they obsolete any class that has an ability duplicated by a spell
  • Treat RPGs as if they were skirmish combat games, i.e. the white room DSP crunch.
  • Irrational Spotlight Jealousy, i.e. because a character contributes uniquely, the fun is ruined for everyone else
  • Guideline as God, e.g. the insistence that all encounters be 'balanced' against all parties of their encounter level
It's a brilliant post - if you go to the modern message board forums (4e? EN world? pathfinder?) and look down the list, you'd be hard pressed to find one topic that doesn't fall under one of these flaws.

The fact is - games don't run like that. I have some new school players that would often look to the wizard to solve problems, and because they didn't have access to their spellbook, or hadn't had a chance to rest, or, just gosh darn it, didn't memorize the correct spell today, they were no help. Because, as Justin points out, games aren't run like the examples above.

His post and his blog are highly recommended reading.

On Race as Class

I'm excited about the new DCC RPG. One of the biggest caveats I see that people have about the system is race as class.

They have this caveat because they are ignorant self-centered speciests.

Race as class is AWESOME. I wanted to get that out of the way first. The reason why it is so spectacularly good is because non-humans are not just humans in funny hats. Elves aren't the forestey humans - *Humans* are the foresty humans.

We've only been on this planet in our current form for about 10,000 years, and only at all for a little while longer than that. I get that we murdered to death the other last sentient species that we shared the planet with around 7000 years ago, and that was bad on us. (Word is they were stronger and smarter than us anyway). But the way we are is not the only way that things could be.

Let's take the 3.5 system example to the extreme, and say I wanted to play a bumblebee. Well, I've got to give him a class right? Why not fighter?

This is the lousiest sword and board fighter ever. Maybe he uses a really tiny shield?


Really small spellbook filled with dances and scent codes?




Well, flying is an advantage, maybe he could come back and let the party know where the treasure is? It's what his limited ganglia are good for. However when they kill the monsters and find only flowers and pollen, they might be a little dissapointed.

Dwarves, elves, hobbits, gnomes, are not human. IRL I've done work with native cultures who's baseline assumptions and knowledge were drastically different then my own, and non-humans are even more different then that.

Dwarves are carved from the literal earth. They are the physical embodiment of greed and craftsmanship. They aren't people who are good at those things - they are literally those things made manifest. They don't wake up and go, "I think I'll go adventuring!", because as a general rule, they are physically incapable of doing so. Their mindset is bizarre and seen through the filter of their own twisted vision.

The reason why most dwarves are incapable of adventuring is that their unique nature physically prevents them by mental compulsion. They have to complete their own tasks because there is no other option. They can't leave, because they'd spend the whole time in acute psychiatric crisis, over the fact that the gold is un-mined, and they are not fulfilling the weighty responsibilities of their clan.

The dwarf that is in the party is that unique, rare breed; cast out through circumstance and fortune to walk among the lands of men. He can't be like "let's pick up a spellbook!" He is dwarf and with all that entails: hardy, good with an axe, knowledgeable about construction and stonework, drinker of ale. Their differences between them are subtle, in their nature and their character (you know, the role-playing part - fallen by the wayside in the modern 'my precious encounter' play-style) not in the way they defend themselves or the way they adventure.

The same goes for the other races - elves are spirits and sprites, playing in eternal youth, living in the moment, powerful in magic and unconcerned about the future (or whichever variation, what have you). They are not HUMAN+, like they get played as in so many campaigns. One elf lost in the world of the men, where actions have consequences and existence is weighty, does what the elf does - fights well with light weapons, and uses magic and stealth in the natural realm. Gnomes are the spirit of trickery, misdirection, and contraption, lovers of gems. One banished or geased sets out, approaches life the way he always has, using illusion and ingenuity.

There is an excellent long form piece of fiction (and film) on the hobbit if anyone is interested in that particular example.

So whenever I see someone saying "I think race as class is stupid" or "I don't like that". What they are saying is "I don't have enough imagination to conceive of a world without me in it". Considering that this was the actual physical case for several billion years (and by all accounts, in the grand scheme of things, we won't be here that long at all - maybe trillions of years into the future) that is a small petty imagination indeed. And this from a person in a hobby that requires a lot of imagination to begin with!

So one should look at race as class as an opportunity to make the game truly interesting and memorable. Instead of the more common option which is a bunch of people sitting around the table playing humans in funny hats, with a minor difference in which stat gets a bonus.

On Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design

I can't figure out why I did this!

Inside its thirty pages you'll find:

  • A way to randomly determine over 105 empty room types, each defined and given a basic list of what items they contain!
  • The differences between a room and a chamber!
  • Ways in which empty rooms may be interesting!
  • A comprehensive listing of things that a room may contain!
  • 17 different categories of tricks!
  • A comprehensive listing of trick types!
  • Almost 100 example tricks!
  • Basic old school trap design, including triggers, special effects, duration, resets, and different categories!
  • Randomly generate thousands of different doors and a listing of over 60 door tricks!
  • Over 40 different surface tricks!
  • Randomly generate hundreds of thousands of different magical fountain effects!
  • 69 different interesting curses!
  • 100 different things that can be found in pits!
  • 100 strange and interesting things that can be found in corridors!
  • Randomly generate a nearly infinite number of traps!
  • 16 sample riddles and guidelines for creating your own riddles and puzzles!
  • Free!
Get it here.

It's companion piece is Treasure, a document allowing you to generate different interesting kinds of Treasure and it can be found here.

So, yeah, enjoy.

On Incliment Weather and a Plea for Death Traps

Since it looks like I'll be stuck at work again this weekend and won't have internet access, I'll post a bit from the document I'm working on releasing next week.
Concerned that save or die is too rough? Convinced that there would be some way to avoid automatic death from the ceiling crushing the players? Don’t want anything bad to happen to you players? Like to fudge those dice?
If it is not possible to die or miss treasure or lose - if the only path is the one to victory, then there is no victory at all. When you cheat and lie by mis-reporting the results on the dice, then you are cheating the players of their free will and any sense of accomplishment they may gain.
Without consequences, there can be no meaning or value to decisions made. If nothing bad can happen then nothing the players do matters. As the Dungeon Master you are responsible for not ruining their fun in this way.
The key here is player choice and empowerment. Go ahead and give a death trap or two a try (along with appropriately rich rewards in other places) and see how much more engaged your players become when they realize the choices they make matter. Then watch how much fun they have to strive with the honest possibility of loss and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
I've heard arguments from Dungeon Master's who fudge the dice to "help the players out" or "make sure they have fun". It's equally idiotic to eat ice cream and cheese cake constantly to lose weight. When what you do has the opposite effect of why you're say you're doing it, then you either don't understand what you're doing, or you're disconnected from reality.

When you "help the player's out" by removing consequences then they won't ever learn to become better players. When you "make sure they have fun" by removing their agency and the value of their choices, the end result isn't someone feeling like they are awesome.

I want to be clear about what I'm saying. This isn't to say when it's 11pm at night and people have to leave that you can't hand wave getting camp set up. It doesn't mean that you forget that you're a person sitting in a room with other people. It just means that there are no save points or take backs. Always allowing players to redo their choice when they discover that it has consequences (setting off a trap, or, uh, aaaahhhhchoodrawing an attack of opportunity).

I post this because it's about having a good time. You are playing a game with people. If they always win, and there's no downside to any game, then they will not have as good a time. This isn't about being mean, or berating players or anything. They should make informed choices, where they know the consequences (or they should know that they don't know what the consequences will be). They should just be held accountable for those choices, and the results. If they stand firm to hold off the bugbears, then they might die. If you don't kill them then that will devalue the choice they made to hold off the bugbears.

If they win, then the glory is real.

On 100 posts and 40 Followers!

I leveled up!

My new rank title is now Thinker!

Old School RPG Blogger Advancement Table.

Thank you all for following and commenting! Look forward next week to the free release of "Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design". It's a 30(!) page document looking awesome so far! It's the book nobody makes - filled with every conceivable tool to endlessly generate empty rooms and the ever needed tricks.

Maybe Cyclopetron should do some sort of 'momentum' study, where followers gained per blog post is some metric for blog popularity.

On Searching for Traps

So I've been playing a lot of Oblivion lately. One of the things that Oblivion has a heads up on Morrowind over are the excellent immersiveness of its dungeons.

These dungeons are filled with traps.

The kind where you can instantly die if you're not paying attention. There are no monsters around, I'm being careful. How often do I die to these traps?

A lot.

This says a real bit of something about players who always claim they search for traps. Because I'm searching for traps.

What's really interesting is what exactly is going through my mind when I trip these traps.

First, there are plenty of visual clues that there is a trap there. I'm busy exploring an Ayleid ruin. Large chamber is up ahead. I move forward, shining my torch in the nooks and crannies, searching for hidden enemies when suddenly the floor slams me into the ceiling.

I reload, and wouldn't you know it, there is a giant bloodstain on the floor, and if I look at the ceiling, I sure as heck see spikes (though they are at the limit of my light radius). Why did I fall for this trap? Because there hadn't been one in a while, and the real danger was the monsters. I was intent on discovering if any of those damn spectral warriors were going to run up and murder me, so I was busy doing a sweep of the room.

I don't fall for them all, not even most of them, but I'm surprised enough. It's hard to stay focused, and it's boring to spend hours going over each section of dungeon looking for secret doors and traps. And, you can't spend all your focus on looking at the walls and floor, or you'll quickly get murdered by a Grue in the dark. I even have an advantage in that I know that there are only a limited number of trap types, and it's still a challenge to locate them all.

For those players who are busy always searching for traps, have a monster sneak up on their distracted selves.

The point is that players assume that everything is obvious and apparent. The issue is, it isn't a bare room. Even if the room is empty, there are nooks and different brickwork, and likely an uneven floor, and it's dark because you're underground and your only light comes from a torch.The signs of traps you're looking for look remarkably like the way the walls are already designed. The longer you take, the more likely it is you'll be found. It's not as simple as just, you know, seeing everything all at once.

Dungeon Delving: It's harder than it looks.

On a Basic RPG Terminology Primer

This probably won't be of much interest to my well educated readers, but while e-mailing and "foruming", I realized we use a lot of jargon. Most of the people I game with aren't really super hardcore gamers, and I often find myself having to explain some of these terms. A short painless post covering what most of us already know might help someone who wandered in here off the street not be so confused.

Big Model: Primarily designed by Ron Edwards of The Forge. A method of contextualizing the role playing game hobby. See this for an explanation.

Dungeons and Dragons: The arch-typical role playing game. See the end of the post for a review of the different iterations of Dungeons and Dragons.

GSL: A Gaming License allowing other companies to produce 4th edition material for the Dungeons & Dragons game. It is generally considered more restrictive than the OGL.

Hot Pizza: A term used to refer to any non-tracked inventory (e.g. quarrels, assorted gear) for mid and high-level adventurers.

House Rules: Often made by gamers for stupid reasons ("more realistic" being the most offensive and common). Usually a bad idea. The best house rules are those that come up during play to help the group focus in play on what a group likes to do.

OGL: A Gaming License allowing other companies to produce material for the Dungeons & Dragons game. Allowed the birth (explosion?) of dozens of new games, systems, and retro-clones. The reason this is so awesome is it allows any content indicated as such to allow such use that is "perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive" as long as the license is included.

OSR: The Old School Renaissance. This is not a movement, but rather a term to describe a thing that sort of seems to be happening (am I offending anyone yet?). People like old RPG's, because they are awesome in ways the new ones are not. See A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.

Retro-clone: A game published that uses the OGL to replicate an older game. A good listing is here, or here. Big names are OSRIC (replicates 1st edition), Swords and Wizardry (replicates 0e), and  Labyrinth Lord and  Basic Fantasy RPG (replicates Basic D&D Moldvay/Cook). It also includes new games in the old style, such as Legends of the Flame Princess, and Castles and Crusades and the yet to be released Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

RPG: Role playing games. Are you sure you know where you are?

Rule 0: The (unwritten) idea that the first rule of any Role Playing Game is that you can change any rule you wish. A few caveats. If you have to rule 0 a game in order to make it playable, that does not mean that the game isn't broken. Also, if you're going to rule 0 something, let the players know before the game starts. Also referred to as House Rules.

Splatbooks: Small (~100 page) softcover books release en masse to attempt to produce a profit for RPG publishers. The issue is that with a basic book and some dice, you can play for years and never need buy anything again.

SRD: A System Reference Document containing all the rules for basic play of 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons online for free. Also available for Pathfinder.

Threefold Model: Words used to describe a way of playing that usually make people very angry for inexplicable reasons. Everyone has a bit of each. (Not surprisingly, this matches up to the internal Timmy/Johnny/Spike model of  WotC). Supplanted by the Big Model.
  • Gamist - A gamer who enjoys systems, manipulation of rules, and tactical play
  • Simulationist - A gamer who enjoys rule models of realism, specifics of play and strategic play
  • Dramatist  - A gamer who enjoys taking a role, acting, and thinking about actions in character.

Iterations of Dungeons and Dragons:
  • Chainmail: A wargame with supplimental fantasy rules (1971)
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Called 0e, released in 1974, came with three little white books. (1974)
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons: This edition of the game was written by Dr. J. Eric Holmes. One of 2 versions released in 1977, The other version being Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. (1977)
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Hardcover first edition, written by Gary Gygax. The first book released was the Monster Manual Followed by the Players Handbook in 1978, and the Dungeon Masters Guide in 1979. What is referred to as AD&D or 1st editon (1977-79)
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons: A revision of Dungeons & Dragons written by Tom Moldvay (1981)
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons: A revision of Dungeons & Dragons written by Frank Metzer. This was the start of BECMI (Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal sets). A hardcover compilation compiled by Aaron Allston was released in 1991. (1983/1991)
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition: Called 2nd edition. Mostly compatible with 1st edition. Written by David "Zeb" Cook. Drastically Marked by sales of splatbooks, a large division of many different gaming lines and worlds, and a general decline in sales and attention throughout the 90's. (1989)
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition: Called 3rd edition (3e). A new edition based around a basic D20 Mechanic. Released core rules for free under the OGL.  Published by Wizards of the Coast who purchased TSR. A revised edition (3.5e) was released in 2003. This edition was very financially successful. (2000/2003)
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition: Called 4th Edition (4e). This edition breaks away from many traditional Dungeons and Dragons elements. Uses a more restrictive license called the GSL.  It's release was marked by the firing of many key WotC staff, and has nowhere near the success of previous editions of the game. (2008
  • Pathfinder: Called 3.75e. Released by Paizo after the end of the 4th edition line. Continues revisions to the 3.x edition of the game. Very successful financially. (2009)
See the Wikipedia article Editions of Dungeons & Dragons for more information.

So, did I miss anything?

On It Needs to be Written Down Somewhere

The universe is subject to natural law.

Capitalism is based on the idea of infinite growth. This is obviously unsustainable. (Granted, what with the heat death of the universe looming, anything is essentially unsustainable, but whatever).

The on topic point is this. Role Playing Game publishing is a piss poor method of making money. Once your consumers have your rulebooks they never need buy anything again. They can play your game forever.


"A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business."
Henry Ford

On Power Structure or Spider Web Style in Adventure Design

This is the fourth in a multi-part post discussing adventure design. The supplemental article discussing the Scene is here. The first post covering Line Structure is here. The second post covering Space Structure is here. The third post covering Time Structure is here.

Now we come to the most exciting and complex tool. This is the tool that creates emergent gameplay at the table and let's your players participate in a active complex and dynamic environment then simple wildernesses, sandboxes, and mega-dungeons.
This is the tool for political, social or city based campaigns without spreadsheets or endless skill checks. It allows you to introduce a logical dynamism to traditional adventurer environments
Logical Dynamism

What is Power Structure?
An accounting of all dynamic, non-player controlled, independent entities; this accounting succinctly describes their goals, values and relationships with each other.
Dynamic refers to those entities that either have power or take action. We are not concerned about that third generation shopkeeper, or the bureaucrat on Lysen Temple on Zeta IV. Dynamic entities are those that interact with the world in a similar manner to players.

Non- Player controlled means you're in charge of them, buddy.

Independent means that attache's of the player characters do not belong on this list of entities (q.v. though they may be considered a goal or a resource for any entity). Henchmen, wards, trainers, wives, ect. are not a part of this accounting. Of course if they are NOT dependent on the player character, then they may freely be used, hence independent.

Entities refers to the fact that this structure contains more than non-player characters. This also describes any group that the players may interact with. e.g. the guild of smiths, the rock-peak owls, frank the necromancer, the crown, the townspeople who live in the slums, northern-wood elves, the followers of the rat countess etc.

Why is this helpful? I mean, aren't you already doing this for single NPC's?

Yes, you are. When a necromancer invades level two in the dungeon you are doing exactly that for that single NPC. You are doing it separately, dictating each individual action that the person takes independently of all other entities in the game. Just like every other NPC acts based off of what you are having him do individually and independently in spite of the verisimilitude of the world.

Consistency and Logical Dependency This is helpful for consistency and logical dependency. These two factors together contribute to make a vibrant dynamic world for the players - one they can be motivated to take action in and have some conception of the results of their actions. This tool also allows you to easily react no matter the actions of the players in a realistic and consistent way.

Now what? How do we use it?

There are two components to the Power Structure.

The list of the entities and their relationships to each other.

A description of the entities and their goals and values.

The List of Entities:
An example of a Power Structure entity relationship list I used for a game is on the right. (click to enlarge). It is important that this fits on a single sheet of paper! This is your tool used during the game to respond to player activity. The game I was using it for was FUDGE space game. Because it was a story/character based game instead of a fantasy action/adventure based game I included entries for each player character separately. (You can see the party members in the graphic, it makes up that hexagon in the upper center of the sheet.) In an adventure game it can be simplified by only putting the players on the sheet as a group.

From the example, you can see why we call it Spiderweb Style. Each of those lines represents a different kind of relationship between each of those entities.

This picture is a physical representation of a social dynamic. It doesn't represent any physical space, it represents an emotional one. Unless you are playing a very strange game, this is not a space the players physically enter, so you need to head to your Line Structure or Space Structure that represents the physical space the players inhabit and identify physical resources.

Once you do that, add them to the sheet! These physical resources could be mines, sectors to tax, water resources, holy sites, a palace, a standard, sources of information, anything that could be considered a resource of any kind. It is extra beneficial if *every* resource contains some sort of in game advantage (extra die in die pool, +2 circumstance bonus to certain checks, additional income generation, etc.) There should be approximately 2.5 of these for every active entity on the sheet.* Everyone really wants to have as many as possible, but you can consider them satisfied with 3.
 *where in the hell did I come up with 2.5? Well, 3 is too many (everyone ends up happy) and 2 is not enough. Everyone desires to have 3, so when the players start taking over these resources, other factions start taking action.

The Description of Entities:
A long time ago when there was a paper monthly Dungeons & Dragons magazine, there was an excellent article (in Issue #184) called The Seven Sentence NPC by C. M. Cline. Summarized the article suggests describing NPC's in  seven sentences. The first is Occupation and History, the second Physical description, the third Attributes and skills, the fourth Values and motivations, the fifth Interactions with others, the sixth Useful knowledge, the seventh Distinguishing feature.

That aside, here is what you don't do - waste a bunch of time making up stats. There was a recent post at Grognardia that commented on the increased resolution in Ed Greenwoods Forgotten Realms campaign on places where his players spent a lot of time adventuring. Don't write down a single damn thing you don't have to, it's a waste of time and will probably end up overlooked in play.

The point of the description is not to do a bunch of useless work that's forgotten about in the heat of play. The point is that you create a sheet for each entity so that you can write down during and after play - information that's relevant to that entity.

Misogyny is objectionable
If the entity takes enough of your time at the table up, feel free to give him more depth. Also feel free to do this if he's a focal point of the campaign and will spend a lot of time taking action.

If not, all the page needs is a name, a goal, values, motivations, and what resources they control. I've got another example of one of these pages to the right. AFTER I have those basic things down, I usually add the seven sentence's describing the entity, and a quick sketch showing what they look like.

Another example is to the right, again of the space FUDGE campaign

On New (!) Old School Saves in Modern Systems

As already covered Reflex, Will, and Fortitude model actual actions, which breaks down quite quickly in abstracted combat (if you duck out of the way of the fireball using reflex, how come you're not prone?). So if  you're going to use a modern system and want it to have some old school style and flavor, you'll need a replacement. Here's my suggestion.

Obstinance: For saves versus things that affect the body and soul. Use this for poison, death magic effects, paralyzing and effects that attempt to override your mind. Also can be used to resist petrification effects. Modified by Constitution for physical and Wisdom for Mental results. (You may allow these modifiers for only certain races or classes for an even more old school feel.)

Chicanery: For saves versus devices, traps, and short confidence games. Use this for dodging out of the way of a trap, for a magic user firing a bolt or beam from a device, or for when people are trying to charm, apologize or fast talk you into doing something you don't like. Also can be used to resist polymorph effects. Modified by Dexterity for the physical effects or Intelligence for the mental ones. (You may allow these modifiers for only certain races or classes for an even more old school feel)

Destiny: For saves versus area affects, anything to do with luck, and a general magic save versus spell effects. Use this for when you set off a trap that ignites a flaming cloud, when a dragon breathes, or on any spell or effect that doesn't match one of the above saves. Modified by Charisma usually, but can use any appropriate stat for the specific save. (You may allow these modifiers for only certain races or classes for an even more old school feel)

Remember, that these saves are abstract, so the specific manner in which the damage is avoided is up in the air (and should directly impact play).

Obstinance maps to Fortitude, Chicanery to Reflex, and Destiny to Will for advancement as good or bad saves. The easiest way to handle modifiers is to not give them out at all (making it more dangerous) unless you have a special case, and then only for a specific effect. i.e. The same as it is handled in 1st edition - where your Paralyzation / Poison / Death magic save is a flat number, and Dwarves get +4 versus poison on their saves. Just write out the granted modifier next to the save.

I only do this because I loath the 3e save system, and it appears that it is retained in the DCC RPG. I give them permission to freely use this system in their project.

On the Discovery of the Dissemination of Your Work in the Digital Medium

Just found this excellent shout out from The Underdark Gazette in this weeks news post!

Old News

Just stumbled across this post from -C of Hack & Slash. Here's Treasure by Courtney Campbell. A 12 page PDF available as a Free Download. This looks Cool!

 A thank you to you James Smith! Your work is greatly appreciated! He takes the time to comb the whole OSR BLOGOSPHERE (which is like a huge bigness of treasure) so that we don't have to!

On the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

I just have to say the early coverage about this game has me more excited to try a new role-playing game than I have been in a long time. Tavis Allison over at the excellent Mule Abides has been blogging about the playtesting he's had the opportunity to do with the ruleset. (Part one, Part one (supplimental), and Part two) I should also point out that many people are blogging about this who have played it (Jeff's gameblog, Cyclopeatron, Beyond the Black Gate, and Bat in the Attic) and all are excellent blogs.

There are several things that have me quite excited. First is the basis of the game on the 3.5 ruleset. Now the 3.5 ruleset has some serious problems, especially at higher levels of play (Pathfinder has been rather successful at functionally addressing many of these problems). But to it's credit, it has one of the more functional skill systems I've every used in a game. (Not good, and certainly not 'best' - but the list is fairly concise and for the most part, the use of each skill is fairly clear). In spite of it's other problems, this is one area where third edition was more intuitive than older versions of Dungeons and Dragons. (i.e. take the thief skill "Hide in Shadows", it makes players think no one can hide but the thief - when in actuality anyone can hide. You just do it. The skill really describes the special thief ability to hide without something to hide behind). It isn't perfect, but as skill systems go it's fairly direct and comprehensive.

Second: The old school flavor is a given, but their approach to actual Appendix N: style magic has me quite psyched.

Compatibility, a luck stat, race as class, all in a fairly familiar framework that will allow me to with no conversion use my 3.5 edition material without a ton of reworking (which is considerably more difficult with Hackmaster, with the caveat that my first and second edition library are easy to use. :-) are all other things that have me excited.

I'm sure everyone who reads my blog is aware of this game, but just wanted to compile some of this information. It releases in November (along with Skyrim!) so that looks to be like a busy month.

On Dungeons & Dragons in the Community

Hey all, this is my belated review of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons episode of Community. I would have written this earlier, but I work in a hospital and what with the snow and weather, was stuck at work for three days.

I'll have this review open to record my thoughts as I watch.

On the opening: Bully on the Lord of the Rings narration style. Also Darleks, Watchmen, Uncharted, AND Kick-puncher is a barrel of win.

The most awesome is the second printing first edition Dungeon Masters Guide, of course. Thank science for old school!

Britta the Needlessly Defiant. At this point I'm overwhelmed with a sense of well-being. This nee serious comedic style is vastly underutilized in modern entertainment and vastly rewarding.

The reworked opening music is excellent.

How excellent is the introduction where there is no product placement, a color accurate 1st edition adventure mock-up, and the description of how the game is played in the imagination! Abed's opening description where he explicitly gives the players their goal indicates a style of game that provides focus for the players at the cost of reduced immersion. An excellent summary for those who have never been exposed before. What I think is most important, is that it is an accurate summary, clearly written by those that have played the game before.

Also: Contrary to the opinion of many in the blogosphere, the Dungeon Master Rolling all the dice is a totally valid style of play.

I like that fact that unlike in a real game, the players stick with what they say they do. They aren't asking for take-backs, and there are real consequences for their actions.

The box of Dungeons and Dragons stuff Pierce looks through appears to contain a Fiend Folio and a copy of Oriental Adventures. There is also a copy of UK3 "The Gauntlet" in the box.

Strangely enough the table appears to contain a copy of a 4th edition book of some kind.

The ending was good. This was better than any presentation of Dungeons & Dragons I've seen in the media. I enjoyed it. Community certainly is all over the place with the quality of episode style, so to see this be one of their more successful episodes (the bit with Britta interviewing the gnome was priceless) is excellent.

"I won Dungeons & Dragons and it was Advanced!"

Places this episode can be seen:
Hulu (for a limited time)

Community Dungeons and Dragons episode airs this week!

I'm fairly certain that this weeks Community is the Dungeons and Dragons episode!

For half an hour they are going to play D&D on the show. Actually sitting there and playing D&D from what I understand. The news is here.

Everyone be sure to tune in!

On Sexy Ladies

As promised, a Sexy Lady.

 Picture by the brilliant artist Russ Nicholson, one of my idols.

On 'The Scene' in Adventure Design: Supplimental

This is a supplemental article discussing adventure design. The first post covering Line Structure is here. The second post covering Space Structure is here. The third post covering Time Structure is here.

What are the six elements that compose a scene in the context of a tabletop RPG?

The answer is more simple than you think.

A scene is composed of two primary parts, The Setting, and The Action.

The first component of  a scene The Setting, is fairly simple. It's the platonic ideal of a space for the players. It could be a static room, a house, a giant complex, or a spaceship. It is where the players exist during the scene.

What happens in this setting?

Surprisingly few options. What's more surprising is that Gary Gygax already laid out the sum total of everything that could possibly happen relative to play in a tabletop RPG in 1981!
"That's right bitches!"

Dungeon masters guide page 171.
Table V.F. Chamber or Room contents

1-12 Empty
13-14 Monster
15-17 Monster & Treasure
18 Special
19 Trick/Trap
20 Reward

Let's look at these options.

Empty: Nothing could happen
Monster: The players could meet an antagonist
Treasure: The players could get a reward
Special: Something unusual that his neither wholly good or bad could occur
Trick: The players could experience a plot twist or a challenge of wits
Trap: Something bad could happen

That is the sum total of any and every possible thing that could occur. These six elements compose The Action of the scene. These two things, The Setting, and The Action make up the scene. So what does this have to do with our structures?

Line Structure and Space Structure are all about the way that scenes connect. They are literal structures, because in a very real sense they physically connect the scenes that they are made up of. They are useful tools for providing a virtual game-board for the players to explore. Sadly, they are very static having their actions trigger only when the players arrive. (The cultists muscles ache as they hold positions, waiting for the players to bust down the door and save the sacrificial victim)

So to address the static issue we use Time Structure which allows our environment to change and react in simple ways to the players.

Much like rudimentary Artificial Intelligence programs, the Time Structure is not reactive because it is actually intelligent. It either reacts based on a predetermined plan, or in reaction to the player action. For instance, if the players eliminate a set encounter that they fought as a wandering monster, and then later either find the empty set encounter or get the same wandering monster result, then this doesn't make the Time Structure intelligent, it just means that what the Time Structure is using as reference to introduce some dynamics in the environment is empty.

Happy Cultist Leader
Not smart. Not Dynamic. Just empty. At least using time structure the cultists can execute their sacrifice at midnight regardless of the player action. Happy Cultist!

This type of thing feels fairly dynamic to the player, but really it's just changing the states of a few scenes, based on player choice (i.e. how long do they spend doing what).

I would like to make it clear that there is nothing wrong with using just these three structures in unison. My last two games used just these structures and no others. This tends to give the game an old school feel. The world is large and dangerous and the players move within it as heroes. Lots of modules, megadungeons, and old-school games take this approach. It leaves the heroes as the only giants to stride across the land.

But what if you really want the players to feel like they are in a world that's alive? How do you make the elements of a scene truly dynamic, instead of just a list of things that you've decided as Dungeon Master? A world that's authentically dynamic and have the players not only combat dungeons and monsters, but other entities and organizations? How do you create emergent game play at the table?

How does one set up a city based game or play a political game without resorting to rolling skill checks or playing the spreadsheet game? How do you handle non-combat encounters without resorting to a mythical iMech? That's what we'll look at next time when we examine Power Structure, or Spiderweb Style.
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