On The Thursday Trick, The Rolling Boulder

The Rolling Boulder (Restraints/Hazards)

Trigger: AnyEffects:Never Miss
Onset Delay
Multiple Targets
Save: DexterityDuration:Varies
Resets: NoneBypass: None (Avoid)

Description: Everyone in the world is familiar with this trap. You're minding your own business when the trap is triggered, and WHAM. There is a giant rolling boulder heading towards you.

A small sized rolling bolder will do 6d8 damage. A man sized bolder with do 10d10 damage. A large boulder will do 20d12 damage. Each round the boulder rolls, add an additional die for momentum. A successful save will cut this damage in half. There will often be multiple small boulders used.

Here are some information and variations on this classic trap.

There may be space along the wall (where you will duck if you want to save versus the boulder) or small cubby holes. It is fine to fill these with poison spikes that are triggered the same time the boulder is. I recommend some damage over time to give them the opportunity to ponder their fate.

This is especially entertaining when they discover that the boulder is an illusion. 

The 'boulder' may be a solid crystal/gold/platinum whatever metal. It may be an art object such as a globe.

There may be plenty of space to dodge, behind fragile containers that have acid, poison gas or oil in them.

Their may be grooves in the walls or floor to escape, only to discover large wheels or crushing stones pulverizing anything in those spaces.

Assuming the trap has ever been triggered, there will be signs of it's passage, crushed metal and bodies, scratches and scrapes in stone.

Due to the size and cost of this trap, it is usually not used for protection of an area. It is generally designed to punish someone who is exploring an unused or unneeded area. Other signs of the trap may be that the area is rarely visited.

On Organic Growth

One assumes that you are ignorant, so you get on the internet to learn more.

If you get on the internet to wallow in the filter bubble, then what conclusion can be objectively drawn from that?

Some people use cards to play poker for money. Other people use them to play group games like spades. Other people use them to play alone.

What would one think of a player of spades, telling the poker player that the way he is using the cards is wrong?

There is no objective truth of cards - it is simply a tool used to play a game.

Some people play RPG's to fight. All their experience comes from fighting. This is not my flavor. I find it exceedingly boring. This is not a comment on the objective worth of the fighting, however some of the hoops that are jumped through to make such a thing engaging are an enlightening topic of commentary and study for the astute observer.

If this is the case, then clearly, random determination of hit points and to a lesser degree stats will negatively impact your play experience. So don't use them.

To claim, however, that it makes a character "suck" or that the game is "shitty" because of random generation, perhaps for a game focused on exploration, role-playing, kingdom management, or other non-combat oriented activities, speaks only to your shortcomings, not the validity of random generation in general.

On A Change in View

I used to think D&D was stupid.

The magic was dumb, and the setting was inconsistent, and nothing made any sense.

What happened?

I read The Dying Earth, and other Appendix N works.

It became very very clear.

"In this fashion did Turjan enter his apprenticeship to Pandelume. Day and far into the opalescent Embelyon night he worked under Pandelume's unseen tutelage. He learned the secret of renewed youth, many spells of the ancients, and a strange abstract lore that Pandelume termed "Mathematics."
"Within this instrument," said Pandelume, "resides the Universe. Passive in itself and not of sorcery, it elucidates every problem, each phase of existence, all the secrets of time and space. Your spells and runes are built upon its power and codified according to a great underlying mosaic of magic. The design of this mosaic we cannot surmise; our knowledge is didactic, empirical, arbitrary. Phandaal glimpsed the pattern and so was able to formulate many of the spells which bear his name. I have endeavored through the ages to break the clouded glass, but so far my research has failed. He who discovers the pattern will know all of sorcery and be a man powerful beyond comprehension."
So Turjan applied himself to the study and learned many of the simpler routines.
"I find herein a wonderful beauty," he told Pandelume. "This is no science, this is art, where equations fall away to elements like resolving chords, and where always prevails a symmetry either explicit or multiplex, but always of a crystalline serenity."

On the Wilderness Codices

So there have been quite a few posts recently about wilderness travel.

What we have here, is a systematic collection of useful structures that are applicable for a broad spectrum of game types. Actual new knowledge that is functional in play.

There are 3 types of 'wilderness travel'.

The first is travel over a road or through safe or known territory leading to a destination.
The second is exploratory travel through a hex.
The third is travel to a destination through non-safe or unknown territory leading to a destination.

Several logical, entertaining, game structures have been provided for exploring these environments in play. Each is addressed below.

Travel over a road or through safe or known territory leading to a destination.
Exploratory travel through a hex. 
Travel to a destination through a non-safe or unknown  territory leading to a destination.
This is a solved problem. Let it be recorded in all future and reprinted games involving fantasy wilderness travel!

On an Internet Collection

I noted last week that I've got a twitter up (link is on the right) that posts quotes from the game table.

In addition, I also have a tumblr that is erratically updated with my art. The link is here, etherealperdition.tumblr.com


On Interesting Treasure, Effigy Vessel

Effigy Vessel

This strange cup obviously depicts a Mabden who has strongly interbreeding ancestry with Karasu tengu. Perhaps his children commissioned this piece, for it clearly would not be something the man himself would commission.

Would he?

It is difficult to know, you cannot ask the Mabden for now they are the endless hungry dead, and killing them forever prevents the questioning of their spirit. For now you will never know. Your only question is whether to keep this ancient crafted vessel or sell it.

Gold value: 8 gold.

On Alchemical Items, A Potion of Shrieking

Potion of Shrieking
BSC:10%(R)gp:720 gp
DC:26TTC:2 days
CC:10CGP::220 gp
D100:-15%Weight:- / 20
D6:1 in 6 / 6Difficulty:Very Hard

Materials: Purified Water (1 ounce), Rare Earths (2 drams), Djinni Hair /Air Essence (4 drams), Barbed Devil Horn/Barbed Devil Horn (2 drams),
Description: Once consumed, this potion has two separate effects that may be enacted. The potion may be used 3 times before the duration expires. Either ability may be used.
First the imbiber may shout in a cone that goes out 6" in front of the imbiber to a width of 3" (30' cone). All targets within this cone must save versus paralyzation or take 2d6 Sonic damage. (Fortitude Save DC 18) Those that save successfully take half damage. All items must save versus crushing blow (Items take an equivalent amount of sonic damage)
The other ability is a piercing yell. This affects a 4" radius (20' radius sphere). All targets must make a save versus Paralyzation (Will save DC 14 versus a sonic, mind-affecting effect). On a failed will save targets are stunned for one round, on a successful save, the targets are only dazed.
Note that this potion does not discriminate and affects all targets in the radius.

Rules are here.

On the Thursday Trick, 10 basic Secret Doors

There are an awful lot of secret doors in modules, don't you think?

I like my secret doors to be puzzles -- finding the secret door doesn't give you any information about how to open it. I think this is interesting.

If your adventure is constructed so that the secret door is required to advance, as in you can't complete the scenario without discovering the secret door, then what's your goal? If the players miss the secret door (which is both possible and likely) then they are engaged in the tedious complex task of searching every room and fighting a ton of battles.

That's the trade-off, don't you know? You spend a turn, roll your 1 in 6 or 2 in 6 or whatever chance to find the door.

Normally I place the secret door, randomly determine it's mechanism, then I go back and add that/those items to the room, along with some Red Herrings nearby. They can search and discover the door; then try to figure out how to open it, or dick around with the mechanisms and be surprised when the door opens.

So let's assume you aren't into tedium, and you're bright enough to only include optional (but cool) content behind secret doors. Or, you're running a module.

Holy crap! 27 secret doors! That's Bullsh*t!

So, for your edification, here are some basic secret door mechanisms that you can apply to any old random secret door allowing you to hand back agency to your players.

  1. The secret door is a wall that swivels on its center point or on an edge.
  2. You have to pull a nearby sconce, idol, or book to open the secret door.
  3. There is a wardrobe or armoire with a open back, hidden behind clothes, or a false back that opens with a simple push.
  4. The secret door slides to the side.
  5. The secret door lifts up like a garage.
  6. The secret door opens just like a normal door, it just matches the wall exactly.
  7. A stone when pressed will open the secret door.
  8. A hole must have a long length of steel inserted to be able to move the door.
  9. The secret doors are actually just illusionary walls. They can be walked through with no difficulty.
  10. The secret door is actually just a block of stone that rests in the wall. It can be pulled out and set aside to enter the passage-way.
Bonus vertical secret doors!
  1. Stairs lift up with a solid tug on the railing.
  2. A 'trap door' lifts up on the ground. The cover is shaped like a normal large stone. A cursory examination will revel the handle. 
Here's a list of great secret door triggers from the Dragon's Flagon.

On the Turning Point

How to keep a campaign moving?

There are these points in video games that simulate role-playing games where play often stops.

The game starts, and it is often linear for a bit, you are underpowered and have few options on where to go. You progress until you find an area where you can become more powerful, and then you acquire the means to travel to many different places, and then. . . .

Why? Why does it stop at this point?

Because once your linear goals are achieved, once you have the freedom to choose one task of many to prepare and address, that accomplishing of that task becomes work! Once the characters reach the 'domain state' and they are attempting their goals, those goals (calculate gold, find resources, wait months) feel like work, are accomplished at the table in a manner similar to the way work is accomplished, and gosh, aren't very exciting!

And don't we all have something better to do with our time?

I've seen it happen again and again at the table. When the characters finally get some footing, gain some levels, reach the point where their options are no longer constrained by 'what they must deal with' but instead they can address options that they choose, talk rolls around to another campaign. "We're going to put this aside for a while; We'll come back to it later."

And we all know how often that happens.

So what is the solution?

I think it's pretty simple. Allow the player to direct play, but do not let play become directed by the players. 

Criticisms of sandboxes are many, but a primary one is that stasisticity. (I'll make up any damn word I want, thank you very much.) How to avoid? Constantly be looking at the choices of the players in that sandbox, and constructing activities (with clearly delineated steps) that occur from those choices. Then create dynamic sessions that don't involve the players picking from a bunch of choices that just feel like work.

This means that within these dynamic encounters you have things that further player goals organically. This means that the accomplishment of these objectives should be as smooth and automated as possible except for the relevant exciting quest-focused game-play.

Here is an example in my current game:
I have a player who is a dragon wizard. He wants to learn dragon magic. He is fifth level. He can no longer advance along this path of dragon magic until he learns the language of dragons.

 I could have presented this fact to the player and then waited for him to come up with a way to try and find out how to learn this language. I could have even presented options, such as 'go ask a sage' or 'ask around in the bigger city' and let him try to  solve the problem himself.
This is what I did.
He had recently used his powers to kill an ogre. He then woke up with the ogre haunting him, preventing him from getting any sleep. He then consulted a local priest and then the group specialist on the dead (a henchmen who's class is Deathmaster) to discover that he would have to either bind the spirit to a nearby creature or find a much more powerful sage to banish the spirit.
Conveniently, since they had a deathmaster, a powerful ring of undead utility and a dumb flying lizard in a cage. 
The player was presented with two options immediate options to meet his goals. Sever and bind the spirit in the dragon creating a true dragon familiar, that could teach him draconic at the cost of a character level (required to gain the powers of a familiar), or pay gold to a powerful spellcaster to banish the spirit and go on the adventure to find someone to teach him draconic. Of course, he could have investigated in his own way how to learn draconic himself!
His choice, most assuredly did not feel like work.

On a Megadungeon Checklist

You ever want to write your own mega-dungeon, but get pressed for time and end up using someone else's bits and pieces? It seem too difficult to come up with dozens of different zones and be prepared for anywhere the players go? 

Well, here's a checklist of what is in a megadungeon! Just create small areas for each of these zones and then you're on your way!

On the way to the megadungeon.

A small fort or choke-point to serve as an introductory zone.
Several entrances, including
  • an entrance in a well
  • an entrance in a crypt
  • an entrance in a mountain or the side of a hill
  • an entrance in the bottom of an inn
  • an entrance from the sewers
  • an entrance in a temple
Each zone of the megadungeon is themed. Make sure you have all of these levels!
  • Fungus level
  • Crypt/catacomb level
  • Plant level
  • Wizard/Alchemist lab level
  • Small humanoid village level
  • Military humanoid level
  • Cave/Cavern area
  • "Themed" monster area (Trolls/Lizards, etc.)
  • the mine area
  • The contested area
  • The alien city
  • Temple area
  • The grand halls area
  • The water filled area with fish opponents.
  • The Lost World level
  • Temple of Orcus/Demegorgon
  • The Maze
  • Spider
  • Assorted Monster Lairs (Wyvern/Hydra)
  • A dead god or giant or other large human, where the level is an interior
  • A level with planar gates
  • The lava level
  • The entrance to hell
Add to the list below in the comments!

On Optimzation

Recently a question was asked on G+ on how to address optimization.

How do you customize a character and avoid optimization? 

Optimization requires several factors. Perfect accessible knowledge of the rules, an objective metric of value to maximize, and choice without rational consequence.

Unbalance one of these key factors and you should see much more randomization.

Clearly, if we are playing a game, we need to have objective metrics of value so that decisions can be made interesting. So in order to prevent people from simply making sure that they 'optimize' those values we can do several things.

First, make sure each choice has a 'rational consequence'. The biggest offenders of optimization gone wild in 3.5 is where you can take a thing of little value, like turn attempts per day, or any level past 2 of ranger, and trade them in for something of high value. Those choices do not have rational consequences, in that the consequence of the choice is not equal to the benefit.

The second thing that's a problem is having perfect accessible knowledge of the rules. This does not mean that the player can't look at the rulebook. What this means, is that if all options are presented and are limited to just those options then you end up with a situation where the player can just 'pick' the best option.

It is better to provide a system of option creation, that allows players to instead state what sort of in game effect they are looking to provide, and then allowing the player and the DM to come to terms with such an effect.

This way, instead of having 'feats' and 'classes' and 'powers' and 'spells' that you have to buy, you just have the rules they used to create such things. I would purchase such a thing, and players would play it, and character customization without optimization would be had!

On Interesting Treasure, Oinochoe Flask

This wine flask is crafted from glass. Though dusted with age, it appears to be in pristine condition. A Zunel influenced Mabden culture certainly made this.

Sadly you are far from home and it is made from glass.

Sale price (Undamaged): 1200 gold
Sale price (Moderately damaged): 300 gold
Sale price (Broken): 8 copper

On Alchemical Items, War, Healing, and Phasic Disruption

War Incense
BSC:30%(R)gp:50 gp
DC:22TTC:1 day
CC:6CGP::10 gp
NWP:-3XP:5 xp
D100:+5%Weight:- / 20
D6:2 in 6 / 5Difficulty:Hard

Materials: Charcoal (2 drams), Gum Arabic (2 drams), Sal Petrae (2 drams), Distilled Water (1 ounce), Mucilage (2 drams), Ash (4 drams),  Rare Earths (2 drams)

Description: All those within the area of effect of this incense are affected by bloodlust, and are given a +1 to hit and a +1 to damage. This effect lasts for 3 turns after leaving the incense. A person may only be affected by this incense once in a 24 hour period.

BSC:30%(R)gp:300 gp
DC:22TTC:6 days
CC:6CGP::50 gp
NWP:-3XP:25 xp
D100:+5%Weight:- / 20
D6:2 in 6 / 5Difficulty:Hard

Healing Incense
Materials: Charcoal (2 drams), Gum Arabic (2 drams), Sal Petrae (2 drams), Distilled Water (1 ounce), Mucilage (2 drams), Cinquefoil (4 drams),  Rare Earths (2 drams), Powdered Pearl (25 carats)
Description: All those within the area of effect of this incense are soothed and calmed. Any healing they receive is doubled.

Phasic Disruption Incense
BSC:15%(R)gp:150 gp
DC:25TTC:3 days
CC:9CGP::50 gp
NWP:-3XP:15 xp
D100:+5%Weight:- / 20
D6:2 in 6 / 5Difficulty:Hard
Materials: Charcoal (2 drams), Gum Arabic (2 drams), Sal Petrae (2 drams), Distilled Water (1 ounce), Mucilage (2 drams), Cowslip (4 drams), Eldar (4 drams),  Rare Earths (2 drams), Rakshasa Paw/Planar Essence (2 drams)

Description: Any creature out of phase with the prime material, such as an ethereal creature suddenly finds themselves corporeal while within the area of this incense. They are subject to any and all attacks from creatures on the prime material. There is no compulsion however on them staying within range of the incense, they may enter and leave freely.

Rules are here.

On The Thrusday Trick, The Deadly Ramp

The Deadly Ramp (Special, Restraints/Hazards)

Trigger: Mechanical: Interaction Effects:Never Miss
Multiple Targets
Save: Breath WeaponDuration:Special
Resets: AutomaticBypass: Disarm

Description: The delvers enter a small room, with only one exit. A long hallway that slopes up for perhaps 50' or 60', ending in doorway.

The room that the players have entered is distrubing! Bones and particulate matter line the floor, the wall has a dark smudged mark about 7' high all around, and at the very back is a heavy iron grate bolted and fused into place with spaces about 1 centimeter wide. Only darkness results beyond.

Walking up the hallway, the character's may notice small 1' iron grates spaced about 3' apart at just above eye level up the entire length of the sloped hallway. The floor of the hallway is rough.

At the top of the stairway lies a door. This door is trapped.

Upon attempting to open the door, or if the door is kicked down, the release is triggered, and highly flammable oil dumps into the hallway as a steel slab drops down over the entrance. This predictable causes some difficulty moving, perhaps causing delvers to fall if they fail a save versus breath weapon.

Near the doorway a fine mist is sprayed out of the oil at eye level. This should be enough to ignite the entire hallway. If not, those delvers who fall and slide down the hall will discover that their metal armor sparks nicely against the flint hallway. Damage for total immersion in fire is 6d6-10d6 a round.

After everyone in the raging inferno has died, two turns later, the select timed release happens and the room is sealed as water rushes in through the grates. It fills the bottom chamber to a height of seven feet, cleaning the evidence of the death, and then drains down the release when it opens six turns later.

Of course, anyone still alive will likely drown.

Detection/Disarming: Long before this trap is encountered, you should become aware of the shoes your players are wearing. Unless anyone is wearing metal soled boots or full plate, the flint will not spark.

There are many many things going on with this trap. If the players investigate the entrance door, they will find the hollow where the steel slab that locks them in is located.

The bones are in fact dead burnt remains of delvers. The dark smudge is a collection of soot and dirt that has remained at the high water mark.

The heavy iron grate and the grates as you walk up the stairs are clean, being that they have a through washing with water after the trap is triggered. Attempting to look inside with non-magical means will reveal nothing, being that the mechanism is out of sight down a chimney. A Wizard Eye, Clairvoyance or other spell will trivially allow the detection of the oil and water located beyond.

The floor is flint. Any dwarf for close examination of the 'rough' floor will reveal it, as will anyone wearing metal-shod boots.

The nozzles that spray the mist are in plain view over the door, although they are well integrated with the stonework. The door is trapped with a pressure plate, where any movement of the door while it's connected to the hinges will trigger the trap.

There is a nondescript stone on the wall to the right of the door which will disarm the whole trap for one minute.

On Abundant Wealth

Are you feeling a little dark? Gothic? Do the shadows creep long throughout the realm of your world?

Looking to add interesting flavor to your game? Useful tables.

Well, holy crap Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque is awesome. And he's compiled many of the useful resources from his blog in a free .pdf.

Then he went a step further, and expanded that .pdf and added the ability to purchase it POD in either hardcover or softcover.

No Kickstarter, no waiting (well, besides shipping). The background table is IMMEDIATELY thefted and now will replace the secondary skill table from the DMG for my game.

On the Problem with Patronage

I am pro-kickstarter.

But, I would also like to think I am not an idiot.

The world has been around a long time. And there are many different creative fields. And those fields have existed for a long time.

Ideas, well, they are a dime for -- are you kidding, I don't need any change?! Who uses change?! I could give you 1000 ideas for free. You can literally just sit there and spout off ideas for hours and it costs nothing. You have limitless immediate access to a functionally infinite number of ideas.

The thing is, that's not what creativity is about. Creativity is about effective, artistic, implementation. And that dear readers, is in mighty short supply.

Let me be clear! I do not doubt that the majority of projects that are backed will be finished. Anyone can fulfill an obligation and walk a road until it ends.

Let me illustrate it by talking about movies. There is a huge vetting process involved in film. You have to be a good proven writer, you have to be a good proven director, hundreds of talented people are involved. And yet most movies are just. . . meh.

So what do you get when you take a bunch of people who have an idea (which I can't get up and go to the bathroom without tripping over) who have no experience in not only producing/making ideas but doing it well?

I think most people are aware of this, and it's why the most successful Kickstarters are from those people who are proven veterans.

On a Timewaster

I lost too much time on this already.

Sharing, because it is awesome and should be celebrated.


On The Esclation

This post on Roger's Roles, Rules, and Rolls blog, which is rapidly becoming the sine qua non of the OSR theory discussion group, inspired me to add an Escalation die to my game. 

Why? Because it rips your arms out of your lazy boring sockets.

The short version: Every time someone rolls a seven or a thirteen, the escalation die gets incremented. This provides a bonus to hit and damage and a penalty to saves.

We tried it, and no one remembered.

On my character sheets, there is an escalation track. Anytime someone rolls these numbers on any die, they may mark in the next of ten dots on their escalation track. Once complete, there is a semi-circle with a "9" in it. The next time that player rolls a nine, they may clear their escalation track and raise one of their stats by one.


Questions you may have.

It seems like fighters will have their stats go up quicker, because they are more likely to roll dice with results of seven or thirteen.

It does! They will! This is by design.

Won't everyone die if the escalation die keeps going up?

It goes down by one after the end of every battle. It also gets reset if they return to town or take a rest. The general situation is that it keeps increasing.

On Interesting Treasure, A Crystal Sphere

A Crystal Sphere

The mages went predictably compulsive when they saw this, detecting magic before anyone else in the party could do anything.

But no dice, disappointed they walked away without giving it a second glance. 

You too almost walked off, until you realized that a head sized perfect crystal sphere on a platinum display would have to be sold in a larger town, because no one locally could afford it. What's more, it's even easy to carry!

Now if you just could relax and stop thinking you're going to drop it.

Sale price 10,000 gold

On Alchemical Items, Elixir of Rapid Healing

Elixir of Rapid Healing
BSC:15%(R)gp:2,000 gp
DC:25TTC:4 days
CC:9CGP::350 gp
NWP:-6XP:250 xp
D100:-10%Weight:- / 20
D6:1 in 6 / 6Difficulty:Very Hard

Materials: Purified Water (1 ounce), Rare Earths (1 dram),  Troll Blood/Healing Essence (4 drams), Pegasus Blood/Speed Essence (4 drams),  Powdered Gold (4 drams), Powdered Pearl (10 carats)
Description: This elixir once quaffed grants the user superhuman quick healing. Every round that passes, the user regains 3 hit points. This lasts for the normal duration of the potion. This effect does not grow back any limbs, it does not knit bones, and it does not have any effect on scars and more permanent injuries. This elixir ceases to function in the event of the demise of the imbiber. It's only effect is to restore 3 hit points per round to the imbibers natural maximum hit points.

Rules are here.

On The Thursday Trick, Detection of Triggers: Part the Fourth

Mechanical Triggers
The following is the text from the Empty Room, Tricks, and Traps document. The additional information is added to increase agency.

This week our options are less about how to trigger traps, and more about our tools for creating interesting challenges for players. We're looking at light and timing.

Light Detection: This trigger only functions in always lit or never lit areas. It works by using materials that react to the interruption or exposure to light. The source of light can be natural (sunlight/moonlight), magical (light, continual light), or man made (incandescent, torchlight, lasers). The trigger can be set to go off after the first interruption or detection of light, or it can be set to be triggered after a certain number of counted interruptions or time exposed to light.
 This simplistic description of light detection neglects the various ways it can be used.

This is an effective trick or puzzle when the sensor responds only to a certain color of light.

The default stance of the trick, is of course that once torch, lantern, or sun-rod light is shone on the trigger, the trap is set, but it is also a useful stance for constructing a puzzle.

Often the sensor will be visible as a colored opaque crystal sphere. This should be breakable of course but doing so should ruin the mechanism.

The trigger most certainly does not have to be binary. It can require a certain degree or configuration of light, or perhaps be part of a multi-part puzzle where the light that triggers the light detector also gives a clue to the next step in the process while allowing the puzzle to succeed (like opening a door or portal where something must be thrown).
Timed: This trigger just regularly springs the trap. Note that the trap may be set to use a timed trigger after the initial trigger is sprung.
Timed triggers are great obvious traps. This can be gouts of flame or swinging blades. They are rarely a danger themselves, but can make other situations more interesting. Having timed teleporters or walls or blades or other things can create interesting puzzles and situations.

On a Framework

So, a FRAMEWORK need not be limiting. It doesn't mean you can't joke around or have fun.

What a FRAMEWORK means, is that you have a formal method for resolving conflict in a PAPS* focused game.

What are these conflicts?

1. Finding out information from the world.

2. Taking action within the world. 

Without a formal structure for these activities, the interactions get sloppy. And since there isn't an objective understanding of the rules and the world that players and the DM can fall back on frustration results.

Activity 1: Finding out information about the world.

This is the process by which players gather information about their environment. This applies in both a local (dungeon room) and a global (city layout) sense. This is required so that the players can engage in Activity 2, which is actually taking action.

What should the formal rules for finding out information about the world be?

Players can talk amongst themselves to discuss options and come up with a plan. Depending on the style of game you are running, this may pass time within the game (wandering monster checks) and may be overheard by nearby NPC's and Henchmen.

During this activity players may ask the DM only for information regarding their environment, clarification about previous information they would have access to or be reasonably expected to remember, and they may ask a question about how the mechanics of the game work. At our table discussions about mechanics are handled via group discussions with verisimilitude as a metric i.e. rulings not rules.

Questions about information that was not gathered or could not be known will not be answered with the information. Questions about what will occur in the future will be answered with uncertainty.

But doesn't this destroy agency? Aren't the players just looking to clarify their understanding of the world with yours?

Sure, if you just said "No." But everything that is stated in the Quantum Ogre article stands. If a player says "Will I be able to climb the wall and fire a bow in through the upper story?" You should support agency by saying "You are able to climb the wall, but until you do, you won't know if you can fire a bow into the upper story"

When a player says, "I'm going to set a tripwire with a bomb, will this work?" Instead of saying "you don't know", state the relevant factors involved. "Well, he may see the tripwire, the bomb will be effective based on how it is constructed." You need not state all relevant factors, but enough to assess that the perception of the player is at least in broad strokes in line with your perception of the situation.

During this activity, the no action can be taken, till you move into . . .

Activity 2: Taking action within the world.

This is the process by which the players take non-combat action. Nothing of import is done by the players unless it is done in this activity.

This is where a great deal of the issues have occurred in my recent games. This is the addresses the crux of 'going back in time', and spending endless time attempting to auger in advance if the plans will be successful.

The game runs better when players are actually in an environment taking action. The game has been much more unfocused and more difficult for the players when they are attempting to plan. After some thought, it became immediately apparent what the solution to these problems are in a PAPS focused game.

A Caller.

This formalizes and resolves nearly all of the issues that exist with taking action. Nothing active happens unless the caller states that it does, and once he says it, it happens. No taking anything back. No question about where the players are. Only the caller may declare actions -- who crafts, who trains, who searches, who scouts.

This has several positive benefits. First, everyone who is not the caller can only interact with me, within the context of the game, in very specific limited ways. They may ask a question or clarify information that they would reasonably be expected to have. This can help them clarify and focus on what information they can reasonably be expected to get from the DM.

After a set length of time, the DM may ask the caller to give an action for the party. If no specific action or plan is given, then time can pass.

These are not called phases because it is possible to transition between them freely.

And so we go forward into the past, where the solution had lived all along.

*Player Agency Player Skill

On Classic Problems

So we ran into our first issues with skill light, agency heavy play. Here are some quotes to give you an idea of some of the problems we encountered.

DM: "How big is the keg?"
Player: "How large does the keg need to be so that it will propel 25 vials of alchemist fire?"
DM: "You don't know. A vial is about 1 lb."

Player: ""Let's do the tripwire, with the alchemist's fire near the door. That will work, right?"
DM: "You don't know, I can't tell you ahead of time the success or failure of this plan."

Fundamentally Player-Agency Player-Skill (PAPS) play is conversationally focused. It is performed by asking questions, receiving information, and then making decisions about actions.

I have been running a relaxed game and environment, and that is important for fun. My game has serious consequences and the players are very responsible for the actions that take place within it. Yet still poor play persists. This is not a condemnation of the players -- poor play is missed communication, frustration over differing worldviews without an objective rule source, and lost focus.

I have elaborated at length over what steps the DM should do to encourage this type of play.

What I have neglected to do is discuss what FRAMEWORK for the game the DM should enforce, and what responsibility the players have to slay the Quantum Ogre.

For in any PAPS game fundamentally about conversational interaction certainly must involve the behaviors of more than one person. Unsurprisingly, some of the most effective advice regarding these problems has been in our source material all along.

A FRAMEWORK must be constructed during play. A relaxed interchange between planning, information gathering, and action-taking will lead to frustration. The existence of a FRAMEWORK need not be hostile to the environment of play.

More Tomorrow.

On Commandos

"Skilled players always make a point of knowing what they are doing i.e. they have an objective. They co-operate -- particularly at lower levels or higher ones when they must face some particularly stiff challenge -- in order to gain their ends. Superior players will not fight everything they meet, for they realize that wit is as good a weapon as the sword or a spell. . . When faced with a difficult situation , skilled players will not attempt endless variations on the same theme; when they find the method of problem solving fails to work, they will begin to devise other possible solutions. . ."

"Whether the purpose is so simple as to discover a flight of stairs to the next lowest unexplored level or so difficult as to find and destroy an altar to an alien god, some firm objective should be established and then adhered to as strongly as possible. . . "

The expectation of old school play is that players focus on a specific goal and come up with creative solutions to directly accomplish that goal.

I find my experiences at the table with players often differ from this idea.  Time is wasted, players are indecisive, conflict occurs due to poor communication, frustration occurs.

But these conflicts continue to occur, in spite of a dangerous high stakes game. In this era of communication and player agency, old problems reassert themselves. But now that we are no longer children, we can address these problems as adults and come up with real solutions; instead of just creating more and more rules till the game is cut and dried like chess.

"The game is unlike chess in that the rules are not cut and dried. In many places they are guidelines and suggested methods only. This is part of the attraction of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, and it is integral to the game."

More on classic problems tomorrow.

On Missed Treasure

DM: And there is the pond, here.

Garth: I care most about the area under the planks and the pond.

DM: Well, uh. The only thing you see under the planks is stale fetid water, and inside the pond, you see a giant floating frog corpse about five feet in length.

Rachel: Is in intact?

DM: Fairly intact, yes. It's in the water? So you would have to, I don't know, either get in the water or pull it towards you in some way.

Rachel: How far into the water?

DM: Well, the whole pond thing is maybe 25, 30 feet across, So 10-12 feet?

Rachel: I bet we could throw, what do you call them? One of our grappling hooks.

Garth: Do we want. . . a frog corpse?

Rachel: Well we might be able to figure out how the frog died.

Jordan: Did the frog corpse have anything on his person? Or is he just a naked frog.

DM: Well, all you see is just the belly of a frog that's about five feet long. And only just parts of it, because it is kind of floating in the water.

Jordan: And it's obviously dead?

DM: Well it doesn't look alive no. You don't normally see frogs like that, lying like that, upside down and not moving.

Jordan: Ok, Can I use my quarterstaff?

DM: Not your quarterstaff, it's about 7' long.

Rachel: All right, I take my grappling hook, with a rope and try and throw it out there.

DM: Ok, you can grapple the frog. It makes a thicking *plctch* sound as it hits the water and your rope goes into it. I mean it's standing water because it's separate from the river and you can hook the frog and pull it towards the shore which you do. You now have a frog corpse near the shore.

Jordan: Is there anything on the frog corpse.

DM: When you check the frog corpse --

Jordan: I check it with a rock first, by the way. Hit it with a rock from 20' away.

DM: That is going back in time, so let's be careful about that.

Rachel: I already hit it with a grappling hook.
Garth: Yeah, I don't think it --
DM: We are done with the introductory sections --
Garth: I check the --
DM: Now we are in the full-on player skill holding you to your word section.
{End Simultaneous}

DM: What exactly are you guys doing to the frog corpse.

Garth: Try to pierce it with something. Does it look bloated?

DM: Ok. It is fairly easy to pierce it with anything you wish. What are you doing?

Rachel: I'm looking to see if there are any kind of wounds.

DM: You do in fact see, near the lower stomach of the frog that there are these vagina like gashes all over like it has been stabbed possibly with a spear or a short blade. The interesting thing is, these wounds look like they've puffed out at the edges, like they are ragged.

Garth: Don't get stung by wasps.

Rachel: Are they in a pattern?

DM: They are in a pattern of randomly being stabbed.

Rachel: So it's not like teeth marks?

DM: No, no no no.

Garth: it would be reasonable to assume that something came out of the frog?

DM: That is reasonable.

Garth: Don't drink the water. Let's um. . . {Short discussion about some other topic from earlier}

Rachel: Should we slice him open and see if we find any of the dead things that crawled out of him?

Garth: Maybe some of them didn't crawl out. Sure, why not. Spear tip.

Jordan: What are you doing?

DM: Who's doing what? {Silence} Oh, yeah? Who's doing what?

Rachel: It makes me nervous when he says that. It makes me want to back away.

DM: We're done with easy mode. We're onto hard.

Garth: With you guys nearby, with a spear tip I want to score the belly of the frog.

Jordan: I'm standing back while he does that.

DM: You score the belly of the frog.

Garth: Hoping it's rotted. Weakened.

DM:It doesn't bleed. It's dead flesh. It's like when you cut dead flesh.

Garth: Ok. Cutting a little bit harder, I want to--

DM: Ok, so like you're {simulates cutting motion} trying to cut, open a frog, from five and a half feet away, using a spear, how easy would that be to do, you think? I'm asking, I don't know.

Garth: Dead frog flesh is not leatherly.

Jordan: and it depends on how sharp the spear is.

DM: Ok, you are able to make a cut in the frog. Now the frog has those wounds plus a cut.

Garth: Lifting it a little bit. Do I see any motion.

DM: You don't see any motion. It's hard to see at the end of the spear anything other then disgusting frog guts.

Rachel: Where's your sun-rod?

DM: It's not cause it's dark, it's because it's all disgusting frog guts.

Garth: Let's stop everything and run a dissection.

Jordan: Fair enough. You're better at dissecting stuff alchemist, go for it.

Garth: Yeah, this is gross, I don't want to do it. Let's uh, leave.

Rachel: Ok. Moving right along.

DM: You're leaving the frog --

Garth: Footloose and fancy free.

DM: with a cut in it on the side of the road.

Garth: Sure.

DM: Ok, what are you guys doing now?

And thus ends the tale of how the body of the gnome Hyusi-bigglebag and his magical sword (among other valuable possessions) killed by a giant frog who swallowed him and then died from his repeated dagger stabs was never discovered. The body was later eaten by a Grue.

On Interesting Treasure: The Obsidian Rune

The Obsidian Rune

Whatever long forgotten culture that created this was older then even the corrupt Go'tathorians. The symbols are meaningless and have no power. Stranger yet, it appears to have frequent offers for purchase.

Are these men aware of something you are not?

Sells for 10 gold, but if kept the offers keep increasing. . .

On Alchemical Items, Salves of Blade Enhancement

Salve of Basic Blade Enhancement
BSC:15%(R)gp:1,000 gp
DC:25TTC:2 days
CC:9CGP::200 gp
NWP:-6XP:200 xp
D100:-10%Weight:- / 20
D6:1 in 6 /6Difficulty:Very Hard

Materials: Rare Earths (4 drams),  Powdered Gold (1drams), Powdered Silver (1drams), Powdered Platinum (1drams), Almonds (2 drams), Grape Seed (2 drams), Beeswax (10 drams), Olive Oil (8 drams), Variable Essence (variable drams), 
Description: This paste when applied to a weapon gives the weapon a temporary magical effect. There are many different temporary effects that can be applied and each has different essences requirements. Once applied this salve lasts the normal duration for salves, unless a one is rolled on the attack. In that case the salve has be scraped off or ruined somehow and no longer has its effect. In spite of the name 'blade enchantment' these enhance any item that can be used as a weapon, including unarmed attacks (coating gloves, etc.). Consult the following table to see the different kinds of effects and what they cost.

Flaming+1d6 Fire damageHell Hound Teeth/Fire Essence (4 drams)
Frost+1d6 Frost damageYeti Fur/Cold Essence (4 drams)
Shock+1d6 Electricity damageElectric Eel Brain/Electricity Essence (4 drams)
SharpnessCritical range increased by 1Unicorn Horn/Purity Essence (4 drams)
TerrorTarget becomes shaken on failed save versus Fear (Will save DC 16)Dragon's Bones/Fear Essence (4 drams)
Corrosive+1d6 Acid damageBlack Pudding/Acid Essence (4 drams)
ParalyzingTarget becomes paralyzed on a failed save versus Paralyzation at +2 (Will save DC 16). Check every round to escape.Ghast Claw/Stasis Essence (10 drams)

Salve of Expert Blade Enhancement
BSC:-10%(R)gp:4,000 gp
DC:30TTC:8 days
CC:14CGP::600 gp
NWP:-XXP:400 xp
D100:-35%Weight:- / 20
D6:0 in 6 /7Difficulty:Impossible +
RarityVery Rare

Materials: Rare Earths (4 drams),  Powdered Gold (1drams), Powdered Silver (1drams), Powdered Platinum (1drams), Almonds (2 drams), Grape Seed (2 drams), Beeswax (10 drams), Olive Oil (8 drams), Variable Essence (variable drams), 
Description: This paste when applied to a weapon gives the weapon a temporary magical effect. There are many different temporary effects that can be applied and each has different essences requirements. Once applied this salve lasts the normal duration for salves, unless a one is rolled on the attack. In that case the salve has be scraped off or ruined somehow and no longer has its effect. In spite of the name 'blade enchantment' these enhance any item that can be used as a weapon, including unarmed attacks (coating gloves, etc.). Consult the following table to see the different kinds of effects and what they cost.

Thundering+1d6 Sonic damageDjinni Hair/Air Essence (4 drams)
BanishingBanish extraplanar opponent on successful strike, save versus Rods, Staves, and Wands at -4 negates (Will save DC 26)Rakashasa Paw/Planar Essence (4 drams)
KnockbackRoll contested 1d20's plus strength and add 10. Knock back your target that many feet. If it is over 10 feet, they must succeed at a dexterity check or fall prone. (The strike causes a Bull Rush - your roll is at +10) Giant's Heart/Prowess Essence (4 drams)
QuicknessGain an extra attack every roundPegasus Blood/Speed Essence (10 drams)

Rules are here.

On The Thursday Trick, Detection of Triggers: Part the Third

Mechanical Triggers
The following is the text from the Empty Room, Tricks, and Traps document. The additional information is added to increase agency. 

Proximity: This trigger is an extremely sensitive device that detects vibrations, most often transmitted through the air. They are generally very sensitive and only used in out of the way places. Note that because they detect vibrations in the air, they are also extremely sensitive to sound. Non-thieves have a difficult time detecting these traps. There is little that you can do to notice this trigger, but the area around a proximity trap has no breeze, is very quiet, and often has either a thick layer of dust on the floor or no dust at all. Disarming it is a difficult and time consuming process - increase the length of time required to disarm a proximity trigger by 10 times. On the positive side, these triggers usually only trigger alarms or summon guardians of some sort.
Mechanical proximity triggers are interesting triggers because they often are not directly detectable. The only clues you will have to proximity detectors is that the area is sealed, and appears undisturbed. Even sensitive ones can avoid being triggered by someone who is quiet and walking softly, so approaching and disabling them is possible. The difficulty comes in finding them.

I would generally rule that finding a proximity trigger without triggering it takes twice as long as just searching a square normally. Also, that it can only be done by one person at a time, slowing down the process even more.

Since these are triggered by vibration, be aware of talking loudly or other action the party might take to set it off.

Another way to handle these triggers is to just set them off. Throw a thunderstone down the hallway and cover your ears.

The biggest clues you have in order to detect a trigger of this type are the signs that the area has not been disturbed or visited in a long time. Examples above, such as dust, are useful; other signs of proximity triggers in use include:
  • Cobwebs
  • Sagging shelves and furniture or curtains
  • Hard stone or metal hallway floors or acoustical ceilings to increase the noise made
  • The section of the dungeon is a sealed or is clearly a vault. 
For higher level characters, they may be facing powerful Wizards, Engineers, and Alchemists who may be able to make mechanical proximity sensors that only are triggered when player characters enter a certain (short) range. This escalation can occur once they receive new tools for addressing problem solving (henchmen, constructs, Wizard Eye, Legend Lore, etc.)

On 10 Reasons for the Wizard's Tower

Why do Wizards hang out in towers?

10. Symbolism! The tower is an ancient symbol of arrogance and hubris. Look at how high my tower reaches over my demense! Behold my power and glory!

9. Isolationism! Towers represent the idea of someone who wishes to remove themselves from polite society. They are above it.

8. Fortification! There is only one entrance. In order to invade, you must storm up the stairs. There is literally less square surface area to enchant/protect.

7. Visibility! If you wield vast cosmic power, you wouldn't want anyone approaching to be able to hide from you, no?

6. Display of Power! It takes knowledge, engineering and know-how to build a tower, otherwise every peasant would do it.

5. Protection! Robbery, Home Invasion, and Murder were commonplace. Nobody can just break into a tower -- the separation and height protect it from stealthy infiltration.

4. Power! Ley lines and magical sources are more corrupted near the ground. The higher the tower the more energy is available.

3. Peace and Quiet! Being up in the air like that gives you some distance from whatever distracting hustle and bustle is on the ground.

2. Freedom! It's cheaper then a castle and there's no lawn or grounds! Upkeep is easy and they can avoid all those distracting mundane tasks that they are forced to engage in.

1. Safety! It provides protection and a convenient excuse for all those irate peasants who are certain that you are the reason all their cows are sick.

And the number one reason for wizards to live in towers --

It's the most efficient layout for storing all their damn books!

Look forward to over 25 different mortars that Alchemists and Wizards can use to protect their homes in Alchemy coming soon!

On A Proper Approach

Garth: Pebble happy. {Discussing Jordan's cautious new character}

Jordan: Throws a pebble at everything.

DM: A what?

Garth: A pebble.

Jordan: He throws a pebble at everything.

DM: Oh, he's paranoid. That was what made me think of what I told you earlier. Is that the solution is not to just do more and more paranoid things taking longer and longer. The solution is to think about whatever is being presented.

Garth: I like to picture us as pigeons in an experiment. Sometimes we don't die so like before we go in a room, we turn around, we touch all the corners of the door, back up a little bit, and then it's safe to get in there.


DM: *Cooing*



DM: Is that a 1?

Garth: More or less.


DM: He's wearing a two-toned outfit.

Garth: Hi, what's your name?

DM: My name's Dougel.

Jordan: Hi Dougel, what do you do?

DM: I'm saving up for Jester school! I'm gonna be a Jester!

Garth: That's. . . Admirable.

DM: Did you hear the one about the cow that didn't have any legs?

Garth: Ground beef?

DM: GAH! Like I said, saving up for Jester school.

Jordan: You know how you make a Kleenex dance? You put a boogie in it.

DM: I don't know what a Kleenex is!

Garth: That sounds like a brand.



DM: you receive notice from a page that the town council wants you to attend their next session.

Rachel: When is that?

DM: Uh, at some indeterminate point in the future which allows you to do anything that you'd like to do beforehand.


DM: I do think that the primary culpability on that was your impulsiveness. The thing I want to avoid is when when we did this with {A former player} he said "Well I just want to make a big, long, list of all the things I do every time I walk in anywhere." The point isn't to create an exhaustive checklist of activity, the point is that it's like a choose your own adventure or a word puzzle. The clues are given in the environment.

Jordan: What do you do when you walk into a room. Here's an excel spreadsheet.

DM: He made the list. He was writing stuff down. I was like, "Don't do that." He was like, "I'm not going to miss anything". We always do all these things. I'm like, "No, no, that's not what it's all about".


DM: They see you and say, "Hey, Who the f&*k are you?" and draw their weapons.

Garth: "Hey! . . . We. . .uh, need you to not be here anymore."


DM: Ok! Roll for initiative.


Jordan: That is fantastic. Captain Obvious. Way to go.


Garth: We didn't have a plan. You can just comprehend languages real quick.

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