On the Costal Wizards

You know what's awesome?

Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Swords & Wizardry
Labyrinth Lord
Adventurer Conqueror King

Why? They are thought out - done for love, and amazingly playable. Each one makes you want to grab some dice and head into the depths.

I've rewritten this post a dozen times.

The problem with Wizards, isn't a problem with Wizards. It's the problem with corporations in America. And it can be summed up in two short phrases. Capitalism is a problem and Industry isn't. Because if the only goal of a company is to make money, then it's a bad company. (Henry Ford, Industrialist)

That said, I can move on and talk about more interesting things then the slow painful death of what used to be the Free United States of America!

A company is only as good as their latest product or service.

I wanted and have asked for years for the copyright holders of Dungeons and Dragons to reprint first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

They are going to reprint first edition.

This is awesome. I spend money on gaming, and the 1e re-release is the first time in about five years Wizards of the Coast will get a dime of it.

There is nothing that can be done to prevent me from having fun at home with my friends. And if wizards is a financial failure and D&D goes the way of the Dodo people will still role-play and someone else will engage the market. The death or life of Wizards has little to do with role-playing at this point.

How do I know this?

People are doing it now for free, someone will make paying products for what clearly has a market.

I like games with built characters and boards, but I'll take them like Arkham Horror. For my RPG's I will continue to play what I'm playing now. The whole D&D next thing is really a non-starter, you know? It's a game, if it's good I'll play. If not, I'll play it and then stop.

Hasbro has done terrible things. These things that they do - ostensibly for money - drive me away from the company and make me wish to not spend money there. Natural consequences. Their questions about the input they are gathering for 5e so far (Holy or Radiant damage, do you want to fight skeletons, goblins, etc.) are so galactically functionally retarded as to virtually guarantee my non-participation. As such, it is doubtful they will get much of my future money.

Natural consequences.

As of now? Until some concrete rules emerge with perspective to understand how they will work in play, there is nothing else to say.

Now we continue with our regularly scheduled programing.

On Skill Deconstruction: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition

My father, who like all fathers in our later years are wise where once we found them foolish, had this to say about the release of second edition.

"Just because it's new doesn't mean it's better,"

Upon reflection I'd say that pretty much sums up my lifestyle.

Current Analysis

Second edition skills are simple and straightforward. There are three options, in true second edition style.

Using what you know. This option allows your character to know what you know. There is some grade school primer text on what using this option means. ("Some players and DMs enjoy doing this. They think up good answers quickly. This method is perfect for them, and they should use it.") This is all to common in the "Zeb" books.

Secondary skills is another option, providing a suite of abilities - a broad area of expertise. There is about a 15% chance to end up with two sets of secondary skills. After determining the secondary skills the player and the DM are left to work out what to do with this knowledge.

Non-weapon proficiencies are the third option provided. You get a number of slots dependent on class, and select from a list of very specific skill like proficiencies. The base success of the proficiency is dependent on the relevant statistic with a proficiency specific modifier.

I find these following comments particularly insightful given the last 20 years of play.

"Secondly, using this system increases the amount of time needed to create a character. . . Novice players may be overwhelmed by the number of new choices and rules."

Note that they are discussing the time it takes to pick 3 or 4 skills. Once.

What is it we gain by having this skill?

Speaking to the Non-weapon proficiency system, you gain a simply player directed way to give your character a few skills that he will be competent at. Having the target number being equal to the statistic makes your character good at the skill as soon as it is selected. In other respects, since the Dungeon Master can adjust the chance of success, it works similarly to the D20 system with all the positives and negatives that implies.

What do we lose?

Well, at the time, the system was thought almost too complicated for use. There's no way to raise a skill independently of level gain and the skills are somewhat specific and useless at the same time. Also, a critical point is that skill proficiency is tied to your statistics, which leads to slow growth of proficiency at the skill.

Conclusions & Suggestions:

There's a lot to like about this system, not much to track, simple rules, gives some depth to characters - but there are a lot of problems using the system as is. I imagine many Dungeon Masters made quite a few modifications and house rules to the use of these non-weapon proficiencies, not the least of which was a better method for improving proficiency at the skill.

On Classic Imagery: A Wizard Smoker on a Die and a Unicorn

Two small images that I never thought much about till I played Hackmaster. Now I think they are quite lovely. These are original scans, so feel free to click to enlarge.

The first is a Wizard (or druid) sitting on a D6. I believe this is by Trampier, but since there is no signature it is just a guess.

Unknown, by D. A. Trampier, Unknown Date
Title Plate, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook
Ink on Unknown Medium, Unknown Size

This Unicorn occupies the same place in the Dungeon Masters Guide. It is by Darlene Pekul.
Unknown by Darlene Pekul, Unknown Date
Title Plate, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide
Ink on Paper, Unknown Size
The parody pieces are below, the first is by Ed Northcott.
Unknown by Ed Northcott 2001
Title Plate, Hackmaster Player's Handbook
Ink on Unknown, Unknown Size

I assume this one is also, though it also lacks a signature.

Unknown by Ed Northcott, Unknown Date
Title Plate, Hackmaster Gamemaster's Guide
Ink on Unknown, Unknown Size

On Alchemical Items, Philter of the Bifurcated Mind

Philter of the Bifurcated Mind
BSC:0%(R)gp:3000 gp
DC:28TTC:6 days
CC:12CGP::800 gp
NWP:-9XP:250 xp
D100:-25%Weight:- / 20
D6:0 in 6 / 7Difficulty:Formidable
RarityVery Rare

Materials: Pure Clear Water (1 ounce), Rare Earths (1 dram), Ettin Eyeballs (4 drams),  Intellect Devourer Brain/Mind Essence (4 drams), Angel's or Dragon's Heart/Magic Essence (2 drams)

Description: This powerful filter enhances the mind of the imbiber allowing them to focus on two actions at once. It does not increase the number of limbs or the speed of the imbiber, it simply allows them to focus on two completely seperate mental actions at once. This could include activating a psionic power while fighting, or possibly casting a spell with no somatic components while performing a shield bash. One could use a wand while climbing a rope - or any other combination of activities that you are physically capeable of performing, but require concentration.

Rules are here.

On Interesting Treasure: Sliver Ring of Amon

The double crossed ring of Amon, deity of purity are often found. The rings are pure silver, and would be worth about 10 gold if not for their special qualities.

The first is as the bearer becomes more physically unclean the ring produces a burning sensation for the user, reminding penitents of Amon the virtue in cleanliness.

If touched to less then 3 cups of water, it will purify them of any foul humors once per sun cycle.

Finally, it has been said that those who remain both physically and spiritually pure may sometimes be protected by the ring. Anyone meeting the criteria may be given a warning before any imminent harm threatens the wearer. (Once annually against an unexpected attack or effect the wearer may roll 2 twenty sided-dice for a saving throw and take the better roll).
Gold Piece Value, 120 gold coins

On The Thursday Trick, Curtains!

Curtains! (Pit)

Trigger:Mechanical: Latch or Switch Effects: Liquid
Multiple Targets
Alchemical Device (possible)
Save: Dexterity or
Duration: Instant
Resets: Manual Bypass: None (Avoid)

Description:The hallway in front of you is blocked by a curtain.

When the curtain is disturbed, a latch is released. Two things happen at this point. 20' behind you there is a pivot in the ceiling. This allows the ceiling to rotate, quickly swinging down 5' behind you. It hits the floor with a resounding "THOOOM" as the gallons of oil are suddenly freed.

The second thing that happens is that the struts maintaining stability on the 10' square where the curtain is located are released, and the floor suddenly becomes slightly wobbly, tilting down towards the curtain.

Those that are not crushed by the falling ceiling must make a dexterity check to maintain their footing. If they fall through the curtain they need make no roll to detect the pit.

Torches dropped or held have a tendency to ignite the oil fumes so feel free to apply 2d6 burning damage per round till the fire is put out.

Anyone standing underneath the ceiling 5'-10' away from the curtain must make a save vs. rods or take 8d8 crushing damage. Those that save take half. Those standing 11'-15' away must make a save vs. rods or take 2d6 damage. Those that save take none. Small adventurers like halflings and such get +4 to their save.

Once one turn has passed, the ceiling slowly winds itself back up into place, and the oil refills from a reservoir of oil.

Fill the pit with whatever terror you wish.

Detection/Disarming: Curtains are wonderful. Sometimes they cover alcoves, sometimes they conceal treasure, and sometimes, sometimes they crush you to death while setting your companions on fire before dumping them into a pit filled with poison spikes and hungry monsters.

The first thing that players might notice is the smell of oil. Though not strong it is just above their heads. A close inspection of the ceiling will reveal the pivot spot, and there will probably be discoloration from oil leakage where the ceiling falls.

As they near the curtain, they may notice it is singed (for the curtain itself is flameproof). It should also be clear the the floor is darker and stained and possibly a little slick from the oil that has been spilled down its surface.

There may be the recent or not so recent remains of a corpse where the ceiling slams into the floor. On the other hand, perhaps not, being the loud noise the trap makes when set off tends to attract many of the larger predators in the dungeon.

The idea for this pit is originally from Grimtooth's traps, a trademark of Flying Buffalo Inc. games. 

On Skill Deconstruction: Hackmaster Skills

This post is about Hackmaster 4e, the older version, which is a truly excellent game. It is basically 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons with a truly excellent set of additions.

Current Analysis 

Skills in Hackmaster are percentile based where you roll under. Your skill number is modified by situational circumstance. Gem cutting may be at 47% and in a gem cutting studio with exellent tools and good lighting you'll get a +40%. You'll need to roll under 87% to succeed.

Skills are purchased with building points. They increase at different rates based on die sizes. Their initial development is equal to the relevant statistic plus a die roll. You may purchase as many die rolls as you can afford.You can also use these during character creation to raise stats and purchase other abilities. After character creation something rather excellent happens.

You can raise your skills by going to school or by use.

Granted, you can raise them at level up also, as part of training for the next level. But the ability to raise skill independently of level is great.

The other things to note is that skills are very very fiddly. Some examples of skills:

Art Appraisal: Subset: Painting
Art Appreciation: Subset: Sculpture
Cartography: Dungeon
Cartography: Hasty Mapping
Cartography: Overland
Coin Pile Numerical Estimation
First Aid: Cauterize Wound
First Aid: Sew Wound
First Aid: Sew Own Wounds

Now at first glance, this may seem like a terrible thing, until you become aware of two facts.

Skills are much like magical powers.
A successful Military: Battle Sense roll will give you +2 to hit and damage in a set-piece battle, but not in single combat and brawls.
A successful Military: Operations roll will give everyone under his command +1 to hit and damage
A successful Dirty Fighting roll gives -2 to AC, but +2 to hit and damage with criticals on 19-20.
A successful Establish Ambush Zone roll gives double chances to surprise.
A successful First Aid: Cauterize wound can stop bleeding (by doing 1d4 damage)
A successful First Aid: Sew Wounds skill allows you to double the natural healing rate.
A successful Cartography: Overland skill roll allows the character ask the GM a question about where he is or where he needs to go.
A successful Cartography: Dungeon skill roll allows the character to ask the DM where he is or how to get out, or how far he is from the exit, or how far from a level he is.

The other wonderful thing is that with such a bizarre, descriptive, and situationally useful set of skills that can be raised independently of levels is that players become very vested in raising those skills to useful values. And it is very, very, expensive to raise skills resulting in extremely . . . motivated players.

What is it we gain by having this skill?

A great method of customizing characters. A great motivator for player adventuring. Skills that don't negatively impact play or attempt to subvert role-playing or the play of the game.  Having a set value the character knows and being able to modify that target situationally is a good tool for both the player and the dungeon master because it allows the player through skillful play to seriously affect their chances. Allowing skills to develop independently of leveling is a great aid to constantly giving the players the feeling of progress and advancement without constant increases in level and absurd amounts of power.

What do we lose?

The character creation is a game in itself, done correctly sometimes taking a few hours per PC. The complexity in the skill choices requires a lot of work from players for reading and decision making. Tracking all the totals of the skills and schooling requires a fair bit of time (one session out of five was wrapped up in tracking all the ephemera of Hackmaster)

Conclusions & Suggestions:

Using this skill system was a lot of fun, but had some serious drawbacks in terms of time and paperwork required. It also requires a lot of the players and there was quite a bit of complaining when first playing Hackmaster over the many, many instances of exception based design and the general complexity of the skill system.

On Dissatisfaction

So have you published your fantasy heartbreaker yet?

My first reaction at seeing a new set of core rules? Annoyance, disgust, eye rolling derision.

Most people are much worse writers then they think they are, and that goes to a hyperbolic degree more severe for game designers.

There are some that are excellent game designers but most are terrible. Also, we already have games that we play! As far as I'm concerned *Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition by Gary Gygax* is the best game ever! (Insert your own version between the stars). Other games are a waste of time - pointless!

And yet. . .

You see, I love AD&D, but my players - some just won't traffic with ThAC0 - even if the equation is hidden from them, races restrictions and level limits may bother them just too much even if they never actually end up happening in play, and truthfully as I run with more girls and fewer guys the intense subsystems can be a little overwhelming and more then they like to deal with.

So when you start trying to fix things and houserule, you find yourself having a difficulty with making this an environment that is conducive to reference (Yes, those are on the internet, we're using this from this book, and here's a new weapon price list) and one that is extremely intimidating for new players.

So you might set out to find something simpler. And then you start looking and nothing seems quite right. So you make a few changes, and since you're doing all this work anyway. . .

So, that's how it happens. Me? What am I looking for? Something simple for new players. A easier division of classes of warrior, mage, and specialist hybrid.Within those categories an infinite number of "classes", limited only by your imagination. Or my idealized five class system Fighter, Thief/Expert, Magic-User, Psionicist, and Alchemist. Though I'm set against creating or publishing a heart breaker I do have some things I'd like to see. Most of them hearken back to an earlier day in gaming history. . .

Any interest in a write up of some of these ideas?

On Monster Weakness

Recently over on Gothridge Manor, Tim asked "Why don't monsters get a strength bonus to damage!?"


Ok, let's pretend for just one moment that we don't have actual proof of the effects that stating out every monster has on actual game play. Let's assume that we haven't seen how much longer and more complicated things get when you have to figure out all the little bonuses and track a ton of stuff for something that's only going to be alive for a few minutes. Try to forget all the endless hours of prep that were necessary to prepare for a 3.x adventure.

Let's just answer the question, why don't monsters have a strength bonus.

So this argument is from realism, right? The players are swinging a sword and Harthgar Snigglepants the dwarf does a minimum of 3 damage, so how come a monster can end up only doing one? It doesn't make sense. It isn't realistic.

Well, that's not the intent.

Generally without strength, monsters are designed with more attacks and larger damage ranges than players. Olden times, you would see an entry that would say 2-8 or by weapon type (as gnoll), or perhaps you might find another entry saying 1-12 damage (as mummy). What are these creatures attacking you with? A slam? Their claws?

You know how much you do with your fists? One point of damage.

The second and more important point, is that these are monsters fighting the heroes. In mighty tales the monster often makes a vicious attack and due to the fortitude, luck, skill, and majesty of the heroes only does a light scratch.

The damage isn't supposed to be some realistic physics model of damage, it's supposed to abstractly represent the tales of heroism from youth.

So stop worrying about trying to get monsters to work realistically and start having more fun.

On Classic Imagery: A Paladin in Hell

A little discussion of iconic imagery and it's history in Dungeons and Dragons.

When I was a youth, my father took me to the mall to pick up his own personal copy of the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook by Gary Gygax. He was in a gaming group and was buying one for himself. I don't remember him purchasing it from Waldenbooks, but afterwords we walked a little way and sat down in the pizzeria and sat down to look at it.
I'm sure I asked a lot of questions that day, but I have one clear memory that stands out among all others. It still resonates with me to this day.

"A Paladin in Hell" David C. Southerland B&W
Page 23 of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook
Click it to appreciate it.

The thought of that faceless man, entering a Bosch-like hell, surrounded by a blinding aura of good is haunting. Alone, with courage he takes on inhuman monstrosities. It spoke to me of adventure and sacrifice.

To this day paladin is one of my favorite classes.

One of the wonderful things about the OSR are the large number of homages to classic art. Here are a few of the best.

My personal favorite homage is the Hackmaster one:
Hackmaster Player's Handbook,
Unknown Artist Page 55

Homages are nothing new, here's a second edition homage by Fred Fields, with an entire accompanying module. The module is written by Monte Cook and has an old school deadliness. It even features Emirikol the Chaotic!

A Paladin in Hell, 1988 Fred Fields, 13"x15-1/2"
Oils on artboard
An unknown piece from a book I do not have. Appears to be a color homage.

A Paladin in Hell, Unknown, Page 91
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
Here is the Homage from the Fiendish Codex II by Carl Frank.
A Paladin in Hell, Carl Frank,
Fiendish Codex II

Here is an Unintentional Homage by Craig J. Spearing.
Dragon #388 Cover by Craig J. Spearing
And before we leave, Daddy Grognard did some number crunching on this piece. His Saturday Night Fight Club link is worth a read if you're curious how the paladin does.

On Alchemical Items, Dust of Decay

Dust of Decay
BSC:15%(R)gp:250 gp
DC:25TTC:1 days
CC:9CGP::80 gp
NWP:-6XP:25 xp
D100:-10%Weight:- / 20
D6:1 in 6 / 6Difficulty:Very Hard
RarityVery Rare

Materials: Rare Earths (5 drams), Salt (4 drams), Powdered Silver (1 dram), Powdered Gold (1 dram), Powdered Platinum (1 dram), Zombie Flesh/Decay Essence (10 drams), 

Description: This dust causes non-living material to age and decay. When a pinch is applied it affects up to 3 cubic feet of material. This non-living material then rapidly ages approximately 300 years. If 2 pinches are used objects will age up to 1000  years. Each bag of dust is found with 1d12+8 pinches available, newly crafted dusts will have a full 20 doses.
This will cause stone to weather, crack and weaken and in most cases will dissolve wooden and less sturdy supports. A full bag will affect 600 cubic feet of building for 300 years, or half that for a millennium. Specific effects are left to the adjudication of the Dungeon Master, a safe damage range for a collapsing building is 10d6.
This will also rust and destroy armor, destroy rope, rations, iron spikes, doors and other equipment. Note that this has no effect on any sort of living organism, such as a tree, grass, animals, a human being or fungi. It causes no damage to undead, but naked vampires are usually not very happy.

Rules are here.

On Interesting Treasure: The Golden Bee

This treasure is always comes in a pair. First, inside a small crystal case, an intricate golden bee rests on red velvet. It is made from some golden alloy and set with rubies for eyes.

Any close observer of the bee will soon notice that it is not still. Occasionally it turns its head and its wings flutter intermittently as if testing the air.

Those who find one of these had best take care to locate it's companion. Always nearby there will be another crystal case, this one of blue velvet and inside rests a bee.

As with the first case, close observers will note that although the bee remains perfectly still and does not move it does appear to be a living bee.

If either of the containers is moved too far away from the other, the treasure is ruined. For the still living bee shudders and falls over, instantly drying out and rests leaving a dessicated corpse, while the golden bee thrashes about as it slowly turns into gold dust. The velvet bottoms of both crystal cases then fade to grey, becoming thin and worn.

No one knows the original purpose of the bees. It is believed that they were created by the ancient lost Meleckstchuppin (Me-lek-stuppin) gnome clan, long ostracized by accusations of Dwarven interbreeding.
Gold piece value for the pair: 800gp

On Why You're Not Smart Enough to Play

Player skill does not have anything to do with ability scores. 

I've been playing Dungeons and Dragons for over twenty years. Even today I see the same tired arguments that were in Dragon Magazine.

Let's leave off any sort of post 2000 edition discussion; clearly scores became divorced from actual character representation when the game shifted to a tactical encounter based mode. I doubt anyone is going to resolve any thesis about their Intelligence 28 Wizard.

But what about in older games, where the bell curve distribution is meant to be representative?
Isn't player skill unfair to players who aren't as good at playing the game?
Why rely on skill when you don't rely on their physical statistics?
Why rely on their personal Charisma to resolve problems?
After all, If you don't ask the players with an 18 Strength to lift a sofa, then why would you ask your players with an 18 Charisma to come up with something witty to say?

What an excellent Strawman!

Player skill does not have to do with anything subjective. I don't require my players to be witty or convince me at the table. If they do come up with something witty I'm sure to reward them, but at no point is it ever required for success in play.

Having a low intelligence or a high charisma or a percentile strength has nothing to do at all with the player. Each of these stats has specific in game mechanical effects and the player is under no stipulations to act in any way differently then he chooses to act, no matter what his ability scores.

The problem comes with the conflation of the term 'role-playing'. What is meant by the term is that you take the role of a person in a situation and make decisions as if you were them. Let me say that again.

What is meant by role playing is that you 'take the role' of a person in a situation and make decisions as if you were them.

This is the setup of a 'Player Character' and all the associated character creation verbiage in each edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Somehow this has become confused somewhere along the line with thespian aspirations.

Is their any part of the Character Creation chapters in the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook where it talks about what voice to use to portray your character? In the core books is there a section outlining what behavior you can portray at the table for each level of the stats? Am I just thinking I'm too familiar with the books and I've missed that section in the dozens of editions and retro-clones that I've read?

The ability score statistics already represent themselves in play. Their charisma determines the reaction adjustment and number of henchmen (or spell save DC's for charisma casters - whatever). I no more expect someone to bench press weights then I expect someone to go see how many people they can hire. This is the purpose of the stats.

Now I am aware that the referee is explicitly given the option of limiting player behavior based on statistics, but this has nothing to do with player skill, nor does it or should it limit the behavior of the player in any way. While the player is under no proscription of his ability, the referee is free to describe things poorly to the dumb characters and veto actions.

I want to make it clear, I'm not saying acting like your character isn't fun or that you shouldn't do it. I'm not saying it's bad in any way, or that you can't have a lot of fun with a much higher degree of 'role assumption'. I'm just saying it's not explicit in the rules that you must do so and that doing so has nothing at all to do with player skill.

Player skill is about choices and ideas, not subjective behavior.

On The Thursday Trick, A Corridor, Separated

A Corridor, Separated (Special, Restraints/Hazards)

Trigger: Varies,
Mechanical: Pressure Plate
Mechanical: Tripwire or Trigger Wire
Mechanical: Proximity
Mechanical: Light Detection
Magical: Proximity
Magical: Sound
Magical: Visual
Magical: Touch
Effects:Never Miss
Multiple Targets
Save: None Duration: Instant
Resets: Automatic Bypass: Disarm

Description: This is a classic dungeon trap of separate and destroy.

In a long 10' wide hallway there is a trigger at the end. Behind the right (or left) wall in the hallway is  an empty area where monsters reside, also about 10' wide and as long as you wish.

When the trap is triggered, each 20' section of wall pivots in the middle, 90 degrees clockwise. Now, instead of a hallway, you have a number of 10' long, 20' wide rooms, each with one or two individual adventurers and their very own monster.

The monsters can be non-living or non-moving monsters such as undead, constructs or plants, or their could be different exits or ways for the monsters to enter the feeding chambers. Also once the trap is sprung it could be that the only exits from each new chamber lead to different areas.

Detection/Disarming: Since this trap is usually sprung at the end of a long corridor there are many clues that could be found by astute adventurers.

The first and most obvious is the scrape marks on the floor and ceiling from the walls turning. Over time they could cause what would appear to be a pattern of quarter-circle shaped marks where the walls shift.

Players could also notice dark splotches that end in sharp lines on the floor and walls. Blood would clearly be spilt  and it would land on the floor, but when the walls move back into place it would leave a sharp demarcation where no blood would be.

It may also be possible to hear the monsters behind the wall, and the characters may see broken arms and armor littering the hallway ahead.

On Skill Deconstruction: Use Magic Device

Use Magic Device is a skill reflecting activating magical items. It uses the Charisma stat as a modifier

There is a long precedent for this skill both in literature (re: Cudgel) and in the game. A D20 resolution works fine, but it could be improved by having some tables or ability to produce partial successes.

Thank everyone for staying with me and commenting. Up next, a quick glance at some other skill systems and how they handle various things.

On Skill Deconstruction: Survival & Swim

Survival is a skill reflecting your ability to survive in the wilderness. It uses the Wisdom stat as a modifier. Swim is your ability to uh, man, seriously?

Ok, Swim is useless, for the same reason Climb is. I should have put this with that. Go back and read climb for my thoughts on swim. 

Survival is a bit more interesting, because it has actual function uses, but it is totally pointless to put any points into the skill relatively quickly, making it more like a class feature.

What can you do with Survival and which of these are useful?
You can use to to both move and not starve to death at the same time. Pointless as hell!

You can improve your ability to resist severe weather like Heavy winds and Blizzards and Thunderstorms. Useless!

You can avoid getting lost and navigate around natural hazards. Of some utility for hexcrawls!

You can predict the weather! How is this useful enough in a role playing context to be a skill?

You can track! Totally functional!

Let's call the Survival skill the Tracking skill!

Current Analysis

A lot of these skills have been around a long time - tracking since 1e. So obviously there is some ground here for use. The problem is, excepting tracking, all of these "Skill functions" are really "abilities". You are either able to intuit direction or you cannot. Also, player skill can be used for this instead of a character skill. Weather prediction is so rarely useful that being able to predict the weather with any certainty is pointless.

Fortunately due to the ways skills work, these functions basically become automatic at the expenditure of 1 skill point.

Tracking though, works, i think, just like it should. However it has the same problem tracking always did - the ease in the campaign that someone can overcome or supersede it with magic.

Conclusions & Suggestions:

I remember all these skills from second edition there, and they were for flavor. Simply letting someone do these things is such a non-issue that it seems strange anyone willing to spend 1 point on a class skill can do them trivially.

I'm fairly certain tracking works as it always has. Although, you might be able to come up with a fairly simple mini-game to replace the skill that might be cool.

On Alchemical Items, Oil of Acceleration

Oil of Acceleration
BSC:30%(R)gp:800 gp
DC:22TTC:2 days
CC:6CGP::200 gp
NWP:-3XP:150 xp
D100:+5%Weight:- / 20
D6:2 in 6 / 5Difficulty:Hard
RarityVery Rare

Materials: Powdered Silver (1 dram), Powdered Gold (1 dram),  Powdered Platinum (1 dram),  Rare Earths (4 drams), Almonds (10 drams), Sunflowers (10 drams), Grapeseed (10 drams),  Olive Oil (8 ounces),  Pegasus Blood/Speed Essence (2 drams),  Powdered Sapphire (5 drams)

Description: This oil when applied to the skin grants the user increased speed. Air seems to flow around them, armor moves with less resistance, and the user becomes much faster than normal. One application of this oil will increase the users speed by 50%. Users with a base speed of 12" will move at 18", a speed of 9" will move at 13.5", and a base speed of 6" will move at 9" (Increase base speed by 50%, 20' or 4 squares per move becomes 30' or 6 squares and 30' or 6 squares per move becomes 45' or 9 squares per move action). Note that this oil bypasses restrictions to speed from armor, the armor restriction of weight and bulk is applied, and that movement value is increased by half. Moving at this speed is as tiring as moving at whatever rate you are moving would normally fatigue you.

Although normal oils last 4+1-4 turns, due to the extreme speeds the user travels at, this oil tends to dry out quickly. It lasts for 1 turn.

Rules are here.

On Interesting Treasure: The Wooden Child

It is said that the wood elves know no art but that of archery and death, and yet like all elves they leave traces of their passing.

Seeking an earlier age of innocence and youth, a wood elf will often craft a wooden child. These 1'-3' intricate wooden sculptures often seem to take on a life of their own. Indeed it is said the soul of a wood elf can be viewed through the eyes of these children.

If that is simple allegory or if one is able to see through the eyes of the Silvan people using this item or even if this grants control over their forest creators is unknown.

In an unrelated fact, these remain rare and tend to disappear due to the frequency of mysterious and coincidental death of the owners.
Gold piece value: 1200 gp
Weight, 80-350 lbs.

On the Analysis of Useless Race Data

So the polls are closed, and weirdness.

First Poll: 165 responses

Second Poll: 97 responses

What happened to 68 people between the first and the second!

Ok, so Does your DM allow non-standard races?

I/we only allow humans
  13 (7%)
I/we only allow humans, elves, and dwarves
  18 (10%)
I/we allow all 3.x core races (Human, dwarf, elf, gnome, half-orc, halfling)
  42 (25%)
I/we allow all 4.x core races (dragon people)
  8 (4%)
I/we allow weirdness (Warforged, kobolds, changings etc.)
  84 (50%)

So loyal readers, lets look at what this doesn't tell us. It looks like nearly half of everyone is playing with a non-standard race, with a full quarter running the standard 3.x suite of races. A handful of people play 4e (Isn't that the truth!) and the remaining votes go to either human only, or basic old school campaign race selection.

Which of the following types of games is preferred?
Humans only
  25 (25%)
Core races (human/elf/dwarf) only
  22 (22%)
Standard AD&D/3e/4e races only
  17 (17%)
Anything goes!
  33 (34%)

What's really interesting with this last poll, is in contrast to the other useless data, this useless data doesn't tell us that the preferred type of game is nearly an even split. Slightly more people prefer anything goes, but it is a quarter want human only, and a quarter want core races only.

Well I hope everyone didn't learn anything today and I look forward to talking about more exciting stuff tomorrow!

On The Thursday Trick, Falling Cage

Falling Cage (Restraints/Hazards)

Trigger: Mechanical: Pressure Plate
or Mechanical: Latch or Switch
or Mechanical: Tripwire or Trigger Wire
Effects: Never Miss
Multiple Targets
Save:None Duration: Instant
Resets: Manual


Description: This trap has spelled the doom of more than one adventurer in its day. Perfect for your dungeon environs populated by intelligent beasts. They simply have to walk down the hall and check in the cage to find out what's for breakfast.

The trigger for this trap is most often a pressure plate, but once triggered there is little chance of an escape. The cages tend to be large, covering a 10' x 10' area at a minimum, and fall from the ceiling quickly.

If anyone triggering the trap insists on trying to duck out of the way, let them try. If they fail a Rods, Staves, and Wands check at -15 they have been trapped underneath the falling cage. Do 6d8 damage to an appropriate limb, spine or head.

People adjacent or nearby the person who triggers the trap have it easier, they can make a Rods, Staves, Wands save at -4 to determine if they are inside the the cage or not. If they make or fail the save within 4 points then they take 1d6 damage from the falling cage.

Detection/Disarming: This trap is easily detected by those who know what to look for, because in order to trap anyone, it must fall from the ceiling. If it has no top, then the cage itself must run nearly to the ceiling, and it can be detected by the long narrow slots in the ceiling where the cage resides.

If it does have a top, then there must be ample room on the ceiling to hold the entire cage.

Though this trap can be camouflaged either by low light, similar coloring, rags, weeds and leaves, dark paint, or even magical efforts such as invisibility and illusion it still requires a large area and is often easily detected simply by looking up. Since the cage usually has manual reset, there is often little sign of the trap near the ground. Some of the stone may be cracked and broken from the force of the cage slamming into the ground, and there may be metal shavings or bent pieces of metal where someone tried to escape.

Most of the Denizens nearby should be familiar with the noise of the cage triggering, so there is usually little opportunity to escape before the arrival of some hideous netherworld creature.

On the Superiority of the Railroad Method Over Sandboxes

Oh, you read that correctly loyal readers.

Man, do sandboxes suck. Oh, What's that, you don't agree with me?

Then why are there so many threads about BBEG*'s? Why is there so much focus on 'My Precious Encounter' adventure design? Why are tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of people running railroaded games where there's a plot to be followed, leaving just us few hundred people fighting the good fight.

Maybe you've sold one or several on your friends on running a sandbox game. Did it not live up to expectations? Did the game for some reason get boring after the constant questioning of "What are you doing this week?"

Clearly this is because sandboxes suck! Or wait, maybe that isn't it.

Maybe it's because people are lazy and shallow and don't wish to exert themselves. Perhaps it the players who are responsible for making a sandbox fun! Maybe that's why they just aren't working. Sure - the players create the adventure, and it's their fault each session after lackluster session ends up in covering the same ground, killing the same monsters on the same random encounter table, with nothing exciting happening.

Oh, you were a player in one of those games? Well if it's not the DM, and it's not the Players, what is it?

An incomplete adventure design.

Aren't we looking for how to make this thing work? Here's how.

Step One:
The Passive Campaign: Why U Haz One?
The Passive campaign: Don't have one.

Go ahead, give your players total freedom and watch them do nothing.

Option Paralysis is a real quality in human beings, so avoid it. Do not assume because you have a map and hexes and dungeons that going 'here's a dungeon, have fun' is enough to create an engaging campaign.

You want an engaging campaign - every week engage the players as if you were running a railroad.

Give up the desire to locate me,
your suffering will end.
Step Two:
Your Aspirations, Literary or Otherwise: Give them up.

But if you're running the campaign like a railroad - what if they don't do what you want?

Give up what you want.

Yes, you need to engage the players with linear adventure in the form of quest-lines and dungeons, mystery plots and character arcs.

But, you have to accept failed and ignored quests and dungeons, mysteries left unsolved and death and misfortune preventing the end of development arcs, suddenly.

Yes, you need to engage the players with space structure by creating interesting sites and places to go, detailing towns, castles, dungeons, and camps.

But you have to accept ignored towns and people being dismissed, and long forgotten tombs and ruins remaining distant memories.

Yes, you need to create a dynamic world with time structure, including random encounters, plans that engage and happen if the players fail to intervene, dungeons that restock, and events that move regardless if the players are their or not.

But you have to accept that they will miss some of these events arriving late or early, fail to recognize when some are happening, and engage in events in orders that will change your carefully structured plans.

Yes, make each of your scenes as if it was a 'my precious encounter'

But have plenty of 'empty' rooms and allow them to miss or bypass as many of your precious encounters as they can manage.

Yes, you need to create a great power structure, with many influential forces and NPC's with plots and plans that influence the players and the world.

But you need to stop passing judgement on what is right and what is wrong, and let the players make their own choices and align themselves with however they feel is best. Get rid of the big bad evil guys and good heroes and make the plotters, movers, and shakers a little more complex and dynamic characters, rather then just 'evil because'.

Buddha says: Create game in railroad style, let go of railroad desire. Railroad desire is the root of all suffering.

*BBEG is Big Bad Evil Guy

On a Happy Belated Solstice to Me!

On Skill Deconstruction: Sense Motive

Sense Motive is a skill reflecting your ability to assess situations. It uses the Wisdom stat as a modifier

I am not a big fan of this skill. I wrote a little bit about a certain ogre that existed in many places at once.

The point of these posts was that games are most fun when players can make choices that matter. To do this requires information.

Sense motive is a skill that exclusively exists to give players information about what is going on around them. Since this is a skill, you roll it to succeed at a task. Meaning in a game with sense motive I can be forced to withhold information from players if they fail their skill roll.

But shouldn't there be some things player's shouldn't know? More on this in a second.

What can you do with Sense Motive?

It opposes Bluff. You can get a "gut assessment" of the social situation. You can detect when someone is under an enchantment and you can interpret secret messages.

Which of these have ground for use? 

None of them.

Current Analysis

This was the most dreadfully misunderstood point of the whole Quantum Ogre argument. Justin Alexander over at The Alexandrian made the point:
Players making a choice without having relevant information is only a problem if they don’t have the ability to gain that information. The choice to not get that information is a meaningful choice.

I 100% agree with this assessment.

However, when you are dealing with people, as people they may have needs that cannot be easily met from the in-game information they can acquire. If they are all tired and just want to kill some stuff for a few hours and not do any heavy role-playing - then forcing them to acquire that information in character is a dick move. You can go ahead and tell them, you know - there's a lot of killing to be done here.

But that's not the problem with sense motive. Sense motive is rolled to determine something the characters would know, and yet they have a chance to fail. As a DM you are handing out a lot of information during a game and people are talking, and grabbing snacks and going to the bathroom, and could just misinterpret a variety of things you are doing that have nothing to do with the encounter or the game.

When a player just wants to understand the context of the situation his character is in, then he should not have a chance to fail.

Conclusions & Suggestions:
Turn the social conflict into some kind of mini-game. Let players use sense motive to get a 'gut feeling' only ignore the die roll and clarify whatever their confusion is. Allow them to use player skill to uncover enchantment effects or decipher secret messages.

On Skill Deconstruction: The Fluff Fallacy, Perform & Profession

Perform is a skill reflecting your ability to entertain, Profession your ability to complete a task. Perform uses Charisma, Profession uses Wisdom

Hey! I have an idea! Let's take something awesome, and find a way to make  it really really boring.

Conclusions & Suggestions
Allow players to write down whatever profession/perform skill they want. Have them describe what they do, when they do it. Give them a increasingly random amount of gold based on the entertainment value of the description. Also: You could have them get better the more they do it! (note that this is opposed to "I roll a 7" "You get 7 gold")

Fluffing up the skill
This is a great opportunity to disscuss the Fluff fallacy.

This is the argument that if a shitty thing is entertainingly presented, then it is magically no longer shitty. The logic for this is understandable. If we see a curvy girl next to a whale (I'm not being sexist here, I MEAN AN ACTUAL WHALE, GEEZE) she will appear less significant.

If we hear someone make an entertaining comment or describe something well, we are likely not to be bothered by the anti-climax of rolling some dice.

How is my suggestion in the conclusion different from the roll? It frees you from the static d20 roll, and allows you to make the description an actual entertaining interaction between human beings. You can push forward more dice to be rolled for gold as the entertainment value increases. It rewards player skill and creates a fun environment for players.

Can't you entertainingly describe it anyway? Sure you could - and it will have the same effect as any non-die rolling action you take in the d20 system - NONE.

Could you just roll a die and skip all of the above? Sure - but why is rolling a die to skip having fun of value?

On Sheer Idiocy

Image courtesy
the New York Times
New York Times can't keep a secret.

This is a sad day for mankind.

"We can't write a game good enough for people to want to buy, so why don't you tell us how?"
-Wizards of the Coast

I've got too many good games to play. Thanks though.

On Alchemical Items, Dust of Deliquescence

Dust of Deliquescence
BSC:30%(R)gp:150 gp
DC:22TTC:1 days
CC:6CGP::50 gp
NWP:-3XP:50 xp
D100:+5%Weight:- / 20
D6:2 in 6 / 5Difficulty:Difficult

MaterialsRare Earths (5 drams), Lye (4 drams), Powdered Silver (1 dram), Powdered Gold (1 dram), Powdered Platnium (1 dram), Rust Monster Scales/Entropy Essence (2 drams)

Description: This dust, when spread over once living material that is no longer alive, produces a thick, dark, mist for several moments. This mist contains streams and wisps of sparkling silver smoke, and a soft ominous hissing sound can be heard. Several moments later, the dust clears and the corpse disappears.
This dust has no effect on any living creature, and does not affect plant life - only animal. It will destroy dead bodies, leather armor, and other dead organic matter in one round leaving no trace. Most undead are unaffected by this dust, though it will do 3d6 damage to corporeal undead that have fewer than 3 hit dice.
Rules are here.

On Interesting Treasure: Marriage Chair

This 3' relic of the Yate people is highly sought after and difficult to find.

During their marriage ceremonies the headpiece of the bride was removed and doused in the blood of her other suitors. Once this headpiece was placed upon the marriage chair the bride was said to be unable to refuse any wish of her husband.

The back is of pure soft gold and polished sliver. The cushion is covered in the skin of the rare purple mushroom of the Yate. It is decorated with the polished bone spheres of infant nightingales. The bottom is set with pearls and more polished steel.

Is is unknown if the legendary subservience of Yate wives was due to this enchantment or the aggressive highly dominate nature of their men. Regardless, the legend causes high demand for such a treasure by nobles. Few remain in existence and those that do are so delicate as to be at constant risk of destruction.

Gold piece value: 8400 gold

On Skill Deconstruction: The Travesty of Knowledge & Linguistics

Knowledge is a skill reflecting what your character knows. Linguistics is a skill reflecting what languages your character knows. It uses the Intelligence stat as a modifier.

Let's skip the usual format today and talk about what exactly you are doing at your table.

I am confused by the purpose of this skill. Pathfinder has a nice little write up that allows you to use this skill to determine the abilities of monsters you encounter. Roll well enough and you can ask "What's this monsters AC?" or "What type of Damage Reduction does this monster have?"

I am even accepting of the traditional uses listed in the table for this skill (determine aura type, depth underground, common plants or animals) as useless as they are.

I just fail to understand how this is supposed to be used in play. Here are the situations I can imagine.

There is a piece of information. It is either trivial and of no importance, or it is interesting providing some depth and background to the game and not vital, or it is a crucial piece of information.

In any possible conceivable case is the game improved by withholding any of the above information?

The erudite LS of Comma, Blank_ proposed an example in which a knowledge check was made for background information about the crown, when pressed about the benefit of using random chance to determine the item, replied with this:
The benefit is the opportunity for the player to choose their own level of involvement. Setting aside the die roll for a moment, the system you outlined doesn't seem to allow for much flexibility beyond class.
 As discussed recently nearly every edition has some sort of system for allowing customization outside of class. It is totally possible for any class to be a scholar of religion, either using the customization options within your game or simply allowing the player to describe their character. While discussing it, he mentions the same root problem with many of the 3.x skills:
In honesty, though, I will admit that the randomization element isn't very useful for knowledge skills. It can easily be explained, but it's not particularly exciting and the roll doesn't really drive the game forward the way an acrobatics check to dodge a pendulum blade might. I tend to think that there's only a dice roll attached to it because otherwise there would need to be a secondary skills system which didn't require dice. Even I would admit that would be needlessly complicated.
It is convenient to use in 3.x because you're getting all these skill points anyway, but the system sucks.

Should players be allowed to determine their specialties and what their characters know? Yes.

Are there any arguments for the roll improving the game in any way?

Not to be forgotten, languages have always sucked in Dungeons and Dragons. Did anyone ever choose to learn Xorn? How about Elven Cat? There is one stellar improvement in the 3.x system regarding languages from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, being that they are almost identical systems - it is that in 3.x you have a system for automatically acquiring new languages.

Every time you level up and get skill points.

Even if it only takes you a week.

Regardless it's still an improvement over having no system for increasing the number of languages you know; though I am fond of having a maximum number of languages knowable instead of being able to speak 20+ languages.

Am I being sarcastic here? I don't even know.

(Here's a hint - you can learn a new language by taking the time in game to learn a new language).

Now I know there are some players out there who are just under some compulsion to think a game should model reality - they will try to tax your money in monopoly, politically influence you in chess, and require players to chant and swing their arms to cast spells while playing magic.

So yes, people have varying fluency in language (or crafts. or professions, or etc.). You can represent that using some sort of partial skill system - but in what way does that improve the experience of play?

In spite of my tone, I'm really looking for some sort of spirited defense, some insight about how to make skills tons more absorbing at the table. These d20 skills are certainly my very most least favorite things during play, to the point where 90% of the time it's irritating to even have to roll. I want to be shown what I'm doing wrong and how I'm just not looking at it the right way.

On The Thursday Trick, Bear Trap

Bear Trap (Restraints/Hazards)

Trigger: Mechanical: Pressure Plate Effects
Save:Dexterity Duration: Instant
Resets: Manual Bypass:Disarm

Description: This is a bear trap, for bears. Spring powered, sometimes called an ankle biter, these can use food as a lure or be concealed in some manner - possibly even magically.

If not discovered by searching, checking the characters reflexes with a dexterity check can help them avoid the trap. This check covers both catching sight of the trap at the last minute and ducking out of the way.

Failure means taking 2d8-1 damage. If the character is not wearing leg armor (i.e. leather) or both dice come up 8, then the leg is broken. They are also trapped.

If the bear trap is loose, the player character can still move with the trap attached to his leg. his moved is reduced by 4", he gains no benefit from his dexterity to his armor class which is further lowered by 2, and the character continues to bleed. You may assign damage from this as desired, but the real danger is the delicious trail of blood left through the monster infested dungeon.

For a trap that is somehow static or chained in place the character is trapped and must work their way free before they starve or something worse happens.
Few characters starve.

The player can also attempt a bend bars/lift gates roll to escape the trap. If the player and his companions can apply more than 22 points of strength combined to the trap it will also be possible to pry open, but the character's strength is at -14 for these purposes, both for the pain caused to the leg and the poor angle they will have at opening the trap.
You can also smash the trap apart it will take between 20 and 50 points of damage to break apart, and it will ignore the first 5-10 points of damage based on material.

There is fervent debate on the efficacy of loudly banging a large metal weapon against a metal trap and associated survival rates.

Detection/Disarming: Disarming these is simple. Trigger them with something that is not your leg. These are often camouflaged in several ways, covered by leaves, or underneath cloth. When used to bait animals, there is often food in or near the trap. For adventurers gold or other treasure works well. They are particularly effective in areas where the floor is poorly lit.

It is usually placed near a desirable object, and is generally considered an error to bait the center of the trap. The trap is generally situated near where a person would stand to acquire the desirable object.

The Epic Failure of Perception and Stealth, A Skill Deconstruction Post

Perception is a skill reflecting your ability to notice detail. Stealth is your ability to avoid detection. Perception uses the Wisdom stat as a modifier, Stealth uses the Dexterity stat as a modifier.

Again, I'm going to skip the usual format because of how much of a clusterf&*k these skills are. I'm also going to preface this with the fact that my experience with these skills is with 3.0 using listen and spot and stealth, and Pathfinder with perception and stealth.

These skills are so broad and complicated, I would like to separate out one important thing before focusing on their secondary function. Surprise has been a part of the game for a long long time and is a crucial mechanic. It and the randomized distance between the monsters and the players is one crucial factor in setting  up random encounters, and can change a few weak monsters into a deadly threat. Modern editions did much to neuter the critical game play widget, removing much of its former power.

First lets deal with hiding. Any character in any edition can hide. Everyone has always been able to hide, under a bed, in a barrel, what have you. What thieves used to do is to be able to hide in shadows. This allows them to hide where someone can actually see them and then move to strike an unaware opponent with a back stab. Some of this was offloaded in modern editions on to sneak attack, turning the thief from a poor combatant who was an opportunist to a heavy burst damage dealing striker. A terrible change in my opinion - after all, isn't that what the grey mouser is known for; hitting for heavy damage? No? How about Cudgel? He always cut down his enemies by doing massive damage, right?

Maybe I'm missing something.

Ok, so the problem with stealth is this. There is no facing in pathfinder. And you must have cover or concealment in order to use stealth.

This effectively means you cannot sneak behind a guard unless there is a path of concealment; as soon as you step into a lit square you are being observed and can no longer use stealth. Their perception DC to notice you becomes 0.

Now if you don't think this is accurate, you may be right - it's much more complicated then I have presented here. (That 157 post thread is one of the shorter and more useful ones. Don't go looking for the thief trying to sneak past the chicken).

Some players may have a problem with the lack of facing. Well buddy, you better not be playing Pathfinder, because them's the rules and that's the way it works. Pathfinder has rules, and those rules contain no information about facing anywhere.If you want to play with facing rules, AD&D is a pretty brilliant game.

This isn't even the worst thing about Perception.

Ok, let's assume you rule 0 stealth, or just accept the way it works and find some way to create concealment everywhere or whatever. Then there is the other thing perception does. This is objectively a terrible thing. Why is enumerated in the following points.

First, It's a skill tax skill. Someone is always required to keep this maxed. This usually goes to the rogue or the character with the most free skill slots, but it is so important to avoiding surprise, finding treasure and insuring that you are not killed by a trap that it cannot be ignored. Sometimes multiple characters max it out.

Secondly it is terribly time consuming and difficult to manage at the table. You have to ask for perception rolls when there is nothing to find in order to obfuscate if there is something there. I've seen some solutions for this, such as taking the passive values, or rolling for perception behind the screen. This simply offloads the problem, into the party sitting and staring at the DM until  he figures out which of them see which things.

Third, I ran several games with perception skills and observation skills for years, and upon reflection and analysis of when I called for a roll, it was when I wanted them to have a piece of information. I realized that I wanted them to know it because it was either interesting or enhanced their experience of play in some way.  I never asked for a roll to find hidden information.

Hidden information universally has some way of taking an action in character in order to uncover it. The chance to just discover it because of a random roll literally removes the player skill necessary to discover the hidden information. Rolls that remove game play are bad design. After all, if they can just get it when they roll, then I've taken away their current choice and play and offloaded it on some decisions made when leveling the character.

Since I'm setting all the DC's anyway, what is gained from having a 80% chance of finding something versus finding it for sure. Something might be gained, but I can't imagine what it is (remember, someone is maxing this skill, unless any pathfinder/3.x players want to volunteer an example of someone in a group where no one maxed this skill). If you are using their take 10 perception values then you are just deciding what they are aware of anyway.

Fourth, it is the single worst offending skill at removing player skill and bypassing game play. I've read several arguments that indicate that this would require players to make decisions about what to look at and search and since there is tactical infinity (and baskets and boxes and hallways and junk) they wouldn't be able to search everything.

Well no shit.

The unspoken assumption is that player characters shouldn't need any personal skill in order to avoid missing something. I don't agree with that entitled assumption.

Fifth, the roll can be used against the players. When it is written that a lockbox has a secret bottom that requires a DC 25 search check to find, and then I tell the DM that I pick up the lock box and search the bottom for a secret compartment by tapping it and looking for a way to open it, he is completely within his rights to tell me that I can't roll high enough to find it! In fact, if he doesn't, then he's screwing the player who did put the points into perception, because I'm getting the benefit of having the skill without spending the points!

Lastly and most damming, the process of 'we search the x', 'roll search', 'you don't find anything' is one of the most mind-numbingly boring things one can attempt to do with friends!

What's the fix?
Well, for the last year and a half, I've been running with no perception skill at all. A large portion of that time I ran Labyrinth Lord and never felt the loss of any skill check at all.

It was some of the best dungeoneering I've ever done. It was more fun then I could have remembered having, and I found that the players remained engaged in spite of themselves at times. How did I address the lack of rolls?

First, rooms were designed as encounters as described in my Empty Rooms, Tricks, and Trap Design Document. Every room was either empty, contained a monster, a trick, a trap, or treasure or some combination of the above.

If so, traps were designed to not be bad traps there was always some sign of their effects. Secondly secret doors were no longer designed in the abstract. Each door had a mechanism that physically existed in the room that the players could activate. The same with traps and locks, using mini-games to simulate their opening and disarming.

Then I filled all the rooms, with the stuff that goes in rooms.

Suddenly there was no more dice rolling or looking at the sheet, just selections of choices - that looks dangerous should we touch it? Why is this statue in the alcove facing the wall? Is there anything in that chest? How much do we think this tapestry is worth?

And when the game became a collection of interesting choices, rather than just rolling dice for pass/fail results often when there was no 'pass' to be found, everyone started having a lot more fun.

Interestingly enough, the common vehement complaint of limited time versus tactical infinity is nicely handled by the fact that they are in a literal dungeon which provides a unique environment for limiting that infinity. Often there were areas where they could exhaustively search, at the cost of wandering monster checks of course.

But the feeling of lowering the visor on the statue and describing the slow rumble as a secret door opened into a room filled with treasure was infinitely more satisfying for them and for me than the other option of them simply stating they search for secret doors and telling them they found one, no matter how flowery the description that accompanies the roll.

If you're interested in more thoughts on the subject, I've talked a little bit about this before.

Hope this post wasn't too long. Thanks for reading this far.
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