On Interesting Treasure, Golden Wall Tile

You may be a hireling, but you're no fool. They left you to guard the mules and the supplies in a room with golden wall tiles. Let them risk their life. You're going to pry this one off and retire.

Golden wall tile, worth 420 gold each.

On the Thursday Trick, Paranoid Party

Paranoid Party (Various)

Trigger: Mechanical: Latch or SwitchEffectsMultiple Targets
Save: VariesDuration: Instant
Resets: ManualBypass: Disarm

Description: So, whether you play with the thief or not, someone has to open the chests. And that can be a thing that brings out the worst in people.

Paranoia traps are really a measure against people who assume that the thief must take all the risks. The general idea is no matter what happens, the rest of the party lets the bulk of the risk fall on the thief.

These traps are all attached to chests. When triggered the only safe space is the space near the chest. Rocks fall or monsters are released, or walls crush, or pits trigger, everywhere but where the chest is. The person opening the chest is safe.

Detection/Disarming: Unlike traditional chest traps (where I talk about how I avoid agency with them here), these traps should have some sort of indicator of whatever effect occurs away from the chest. The trigger mechanism can be disarmed in the chest, but if failed or not discovered, the trap dooms the rest of the party.

On T versus O, battle of the SR's!

Here is a list of differences between TSR and the OSR!

  1. Far less focus on ninjas in the OSR
  2. The OSR is profitable
  3. Artists have had 20 years to become more awesome and draw something that someone else didn't draw first
  4. Somehow the bard is still stupid
  5. Fans of the OSR don't get beat up nearly as much
  6. The OSR has a dozen times the number of zombies as TSR did
  7. Forum arguments happen much faster then they did in Dragon Magazine. . . .
  8. . . . But they are all still on the same topics!
  9. The OSR can keep more then 2 rulesets going at the same time
and finally, number one. . .
The OSR doesn't mess around with putting "NPC" in front of new classes.

On Interesting Treasure, The Ruby Disc

Counting coins is such a crap job, though occasionally you come across a treasure like this, all too easily missed.

Ruby sculpture of a sculptor worth 5,000 gold coins.

On the Thursday Trick, Elevators

Elevators (Special)

Trigger: Mechanical: Latch or Switch
Mechanical: Timed
Mechanical: Interaction
EffectsOnset Delay
Save: VariesDuration: Instant
Resets: AutomaticBypass: None (Avoid)
Selective Trigger

Description: Do you have elevators in your dungeon?

If you don't, you should. As always, there should be several that are safe to convince players that they are trustworthy.

Following here are some examples of traps for elevators.

Pushing the call button can open a pit in front of the elevator.
Pushing a certain button inside the elevator might cause the bottom of the elevator to fall out.
Have an elevator work for a while and then get stuck. When they try to break out, they discover that the air-tight elevator shaft is filled with poison gas.
Have the buttons reversed and only activating once an hour.
Have only mono-directional elevators.
Have a sign that says 'Push to go up' and a button. Pushing the sign makes it go up, pushing the button makes it go down.
Have the down button release the elevator to fall down the shaft.

Detection/Disarming: I'll just say this now. A smart adventurer will not get in an enclosed mechanical box for any reason, and if they do they deserve whatever they get.

After all, you're here to rob the place. Do you want to push the call button for assistance?

Still, mechanical traps like these are difficult to adjudicate. It can be handwaved like doors and chests, or you can design specific types of elevators (Wikipedia:Elevator), so that curious players can understand how the mechanisms work to protect themselves from them. This process can also be abstracted by 'black boxing'  the entire mechanical subsystems and forcing the players to experiment to discover what the elevator does, but this requires that no result be lethal.

On Banishing the Design Demon and Having a Cup of Tea

So I have gotten a lot of questions about this and this method. Here is a FAQ.

Hey, this series is a little like. . .

Yes. The Quantum Ogre is about agency for players. How to respond to them without shutting them down.

This is about design, and how design can influence creating agency heavy play. How to free yourself from the burden of 'making things realistic' as a design goal, and making your game more fun for the people involved.

I would rather have a balance between verisimilitude and a playable game.

You are right! It's good not one thing I suggested would create a game that doesn't maintain verisimilitude. No option when used as presented would cause problems with suspension of disbelief, unless you are astoundingly uncreative and unoriginal. I don't think it is likely that would be true if you're playing Dungeons & Dragons or even role-playing at all! If it is true and you are really that uncreative and original you have bigger problems then this series of articles. But you are too frigging metal for that!

But you said that you weren't interested in simulating reality!

That's right! But even if I totally ignore that goal, it still happens, because that isn't the responsibility of the Dungeon Master!

Things making sense, coming together, and immersion occur in the minds of the players. My responsibility in the role of Dungeon master is to engage all the players by creating environments that are filled with interesting choices. I'm not interested in it, because I don't need to be for it to happen.

But why ignore it as a goal?

Because if you make it a goal, you end up doing crappy things to your players.

You convince yourself that you must do things in order to make your game more realistic. Then when you do them, you make your game less fun. Otherwise I would never hear things like "searching empty rooms becomes tedious."

The rules are a method to give us guidelines for simulation, that's what gives us interesting choice.

Sure that's one way of looking at it. It's certainly possible that it results in interesting choice. However if you decide that your primary concern is simulation, you are guaranteeing sooner or later (hint: it's sooner) that you will be spending time on things that don't provide interesting choices.

Make interesting choices the design goal and by design, you will never spend any time making things that are boring and without choices that have interesting and significant consequences.

So every encounter must be interesting and related to the players?

Absolutely not! the whole point is to create variety in encounters so that interest is maintained.

Often this means you design nothing to happen.

Does avoiding mother may I mean that players always succeed at anything they try?

This has to do with table style of play. My players never ask for permission to do anything, nor do they ever have to wonder what might happen if they take an action.

I give options and either their likely outcomes or what resolution we will use for an outcome. If something unexpected comes up, we talk about it as a table. This falls under techniques to increase agency in play.

Doesn't this take a long time? How are players supposed to search everything?

I would say that this process is certainly longer then simply rolling a die. Considering it is actually what game-play consists of and the most entertaining part of play, then I would say the fact that it takes a long time is a positive thing.

I am curious why people think players should search everything. There is no pre-determined outcome and no reason the players are entitled to find everything. If they get bored of searching or are upset because they are triggering traps, then let them know that they are free to choose to do something else.

If they are complaining of boredom, look first to your design, then to their choices.

But if you design every encounter, you're destroying the greatest strength of Role Playing Games! Players able to do creative things to solve problems.

Why? What about creating deliberate interesting choices prevents the players from coming up with new creative ideas?

You gave examples of rolling for finding traps and searching. I thought you were against that?

I'm against rolls that eliminate interesting game play and increase tedium.

This is the 'end' of the Design Demon series. Further questions will be added to those above.

On Binding the Design Demon

Yesterday I wrote a post on design, and how what I do is different then what I have experienced in most games.

This post explains the meaning of that in detail. This post is long, but well sectioned. Each of the bold headings below the demon bound will give an example of play not concerned with simulating reality. Terminology used is defined at the end of the post.

Unless something is an Encounter, it is of minimal relevance to the play of the game. The actual physical structure of the world is irrelevant to the play of the game.

The Demon Bound

What in the hell does this mean? And how, exactly, is it different then what you are doing currently?
  • Encounters
Creating Encounters means to craft a situation that presents to the players, choices with significant, often uncertain, consequences.

Seems simple and direct, but note that you aren't just creating a building and filling rooms with monsters. You aren't even doing the extra step of developing relationships between those rooms. What you are doing is making judgments about what is relevant and why. 

A lot of this is done automatically for you when you generate a dungeon and fill it with monsters. Some of it can even be done on the fly, during play. But with the approach of 'interesting choices' as a goal instead of realism, then you remove the ability of players to have their characters interact with boredom. Since everything presented is a crafted choice, no time is spent wasted on things that are uninteresting to interact with and go nowhere.With 'interesting choices' as a goal, you remove the ability of players to interact with boredom. [Tweet This]

Yes, if you consistently drill down in play on random 'realistic' things then something interesting might occur eventually. But then how many hours of table time is wasted doing things that don't lead somewhere?

The assumption that this somehow limits character choice is incorrect also. I'm talking about what you design and choose to present as important. This in no way means that my players can't pull over random townsperson X and talk to them or grab some bedframe in a dungeon and break it up to burn it. 

Let's take some examples. Each of these examples supposes you are a creative person who is interested in maximizing the enjoyment of everyone who participates in your game.
  • Extra items in a room, not related to the interesting choices
"You see a bedroom, with several items of note. A pair of boots lie on the floor, an ancient oak armoire stands next to the window, and a silver sword hangs on the wall."

Don't bother describing them. Like an artist, what you choose to present is your work. It is ok to have an item be Nothing in order to increase suspense, but there is no reason why you must present every last thing in the room and make them go through each and every item. Decide as a designer what interesting choices their are and make the items that are designed to be Nothing seem suspicious so they do their job of increasing tension and acting as red herrings. Note specifically that uninteresting and unimportant items designed as Nothing are exactly that. The (non-described) bed in the example situation is a waste of everyone's time.

This is key to avoiding tedious verbal exploration of rooms.
  • A series of uninteresting rooms
"There is nothing of particular interest in the west wing."

Why is this room empty? We are all familiar with good solutions for dealing with empty rooms. Instead of tediously forcing the players to explore each room, present the room or series of rooms as a single interesting choice. "It will take you X turns to toss the rooms for anything interesting. This will result in Y wandering monster checks."

But in reality, this is a way of avoiding responsibility for bad design. In modern modules this is "solved" by creating nothing but rooms that are encounters. This is also dull. By removing nothing (and often tricks, and traps as puzzles) the game loses variation and becomes tedious.

The same thing that happens with an abundance of empty rooms.

The idea is to not have the nothing option be boring, but have empty items increase tension every time they appear. If your players are bored with empty rooms it is because the nothing option is too common, poorly implemented, or threats they encounter aren't serious, frequent, or severe enough to worry about their choices.

A lot of people have asked "isn't this how I'm running my game now?" I ask them, is it?

Do you create two nothing items in a room deliberately, one that looks like treasure and another like a trick?

Do your players walk away from empty rooms convinced that they have missed something or thankful they didn't die?

Are you using these empty rooms with purpose? Because if you are, searching empty rooms should never be tedious.
  • Keeping things interesting
"You see what looks like a golden shield hanging on the wall."

When designing these encounters things things seem pretty simple, because you know what is going to happen. The players have no idea what the encounter conceals. They parse the basic information you give them into a guess of which one of the five categories it falls into (see terminology at the end of the article).

But even though things seem more complex to them, consider taking it even further. Not only can you misdirect them by having one thing (trick, treasure, etc.) appear like another, consider multi-level encounters. A monster that is actually treasure (Owlbear->eggs) a trap that hides a monster (Swiveling wall->Otyugh) a trap that hides a trick (Pit-Secret Door) and so on. 
  • Players who insist on being pedantic about searches
"Yes, there's nothing there. There are however the boots, the sword, and the armoire."
Remind them of what the actual interesting objects are. Use the Quantum Ogre advice to present this information to the players. If you design the encounter to avoid having boring uninteresting choices, then reframe the options the players have available if they focus on meaningless items.

This is another place people seem insistent on making sure there is plenty of opportunity to be bored. Just because you present actionable options to your players, does not in any way prevent them from coming up with their own plans. Also, nothing about this means you can't use a good idea you come up with in play (e.g. Maybe there is a secret door under the rug. . . )

Again, don't design tedium into the game and then make up mechanics to bypass boredom you designed in.
  • A new player joins the game mid-session
"Suddenly you arrive! How did you get there?"

Have the player enter the session as quickly as they can get their character created. Why weren't they around a minute ago? Who cares. I am certain you three to six creative people can come up with some explanation. 

If you are concerned about the reality of the game world, the real reality of the actual world is that there is an actual human being you are forcing to sit out of having fun.
  • Avoiding excess rolls
"Yes, you climb down the shaft no problem."

I have only rarely played in games that didn't require a ton of useless rolls. (And every single one was an OSR blogger! Thanks Zak, Jeff, and Noisms!) Think long and hard before requiring a roll.

Rolling in OSR games isn't making choices. They are simply finding out the results of a choice they have already made. 
  • A trap lies in the hallway
"There is a horribly burned kobold in the hallway with a single unburnt spear shaft extending from his flesh. The hallway ahead glistens."

What is the purpose of a trap? What does that do for the actual play of the game? 

Here is the thinking on the trap search: 
  • The characters have to search for a trap to avoid getting hit by it. 
  • They do this by rolling their 'search for traps skill'. 
  • If I call for a search for traps skill (or roll it myself) they know something is up. 
  • So I have to roll times when there is not traps also, so that they don't know that there's a trap. 
  • If they succeed in finding the trap they can bypass it. 
  • If they fail, we roll some dice and see if and how much damage it does."

Can you find any choice that a player makes in that process?
All for the purpose of taking away some hit points?

Yes, you there in the back correctly pointed out that the character chose to build his character that way, so it's rewarding the choice he made before he sat down to play.

Has anyone, ever, played in a group at any game anywhere, where some player didn't maximize his ability to find traps? Isn't something we are obligated to spend called a tax?

This is why we aren't concerned with reality. What we are concerned with is designing an Encounter. So all hallway traps should be puzzles to solve.
  • A trap lies on a door or chest
"You find a chest and [clatter] don't detect a trap."

The door or the chest is an encounter. It is presented as a barrier to possible treasure.

Because it is a limited space, it rapidly becomes trivial to perform a fairly exhaustive set of actions on the chest or door to check for traps. Since the actions are exhaustive and must be performed at every door and chest there isn't any player choice involved. This is a situation where a skill roll to find traps isn't removing gameplay but creating an interesting choice. Do I take the risk of triggering a trap by searching and disarming it, or do I bash it open, possibly destroying items / alerting monsters?

  • Non player characters and Antagonists
"The salagtite shifts and a single red eye opens. You hear it say, 'Wizard? I haven't had wizard in aaaageeeessssss.'"

Antagonists fall into several categories. These can be split into two types. Simple and complex.
Types of simple monsters include:
  1. Monsters that are an obstacle that must be overcome or avoided
    1. A monster guarding treasure
    2. Gargoyles protecting the entrance to the second level
    3. A Minotaur prowling a mazee
  2. Monsters that attempt to disguise themselves as another element
    1. A townsperson provides a quest (trick) and reward (treasure)
    2. A mimic looks like a chest (treasure)
    3. A trapper looks like the floor (nothing)
    4. Yellow mold looks like gold (treasure)
    5. A gatekeeper asks for a password (trick)
Or they are complex, in which case they are literally a miniature module themselves. An encounter with a complex NPC or monster should be resolved the same as an encounter with a room. The description and reaction roll provide the setting for the first 'room' of the encounter. Every interaction beyond that should follow the same rules as any encounter. Information should be given, players are made aware of the likely consequences of their choices to maintain agency, and they may do things (cast spells, ask questions) to acquire more information. Then the players make a choice and accept the consequences.


Encounters contain the following five elements. AntagonistsTrapsTricksTreasure, or NothingAntagonists are active entities who directly interact with the characters in a significant way. Traps are either visible puzzles to solve, or function as a possible threat guarding TreasureTricks are interactable toys with a variety of effects. Treasure includes any player character reward, secret doors, coins and jewelry, magic items boons, favors or any positive result for the player. Nothing is a result that serves to increase tension.

The Demon Serves

You already are familiar with how I engage in displaying this information from the set design series. This is why only things that provide interesting choices exist in the format.

Put your questions and objections below and they will be addressed tomorrow in the final post in the Design Demon series.

On the Virtual Matrix of the Demon of Design

I am doing something different then you are when I run a game.

In fact, the way I approach tabletop play is so fundamentally different then how you run your games, that it renders some unable to understand the following statement.

I am not interested in simulating reality.

Anyone who conjures to their mind a tired argument containing the words versilimitude, realism, or questioning how players can make choices if they don't have a frame of reference has just given themselves proof that they are unable to understand the statement.

Reality, Choice, and the Design

Agency is informed choice.

Games are collections of interesting choices.

If you're rolling dice, you're not making a choice. You're calculating and adding. Dice rolled by the player are not used to create choices, but to calculate the effects of choices.

Role playing games adventures are designed

Designed does not mean "pre-determined". It means like a painter chooses what to paint and a writer chooses which words to use, a Dungeon Master presents what he chooses to present.

This means if your players find verbal exploration tedious, then you have designed an encounter without choices that matter. You are rolling to search because you wish to skip your own failure of design.

The virtual matrix of the demon of design

I am not a demon, taking over all of your senses, recreating a new reality. I am a person, playing a game with friends. My friends are what is important.

I don't ever do anything "because it's what would happen". I don't make players sit out because "your character wouldn't be there yet". I don't make people tediously search empty buildings. I don't make them look for the fun, pixel bitch, play mother may I or suffer from Dungeon Master fiat.  I certainly don't make them endlessly and mind-numbingly roll dice to "search for traps" so that they "won't know when one is there." And it certainly doesn't mean they succeed at anything they attempt.

If you think this means that I don't have empty rooms, mysteries, or traps, you're wrong.

I'm just not an asshole about it.

Containing the Demon of Design

Reality is not being simulated. The players do that themselves in their imagination. If you choose to take the responsibility of being Dungeon Master, the goal is to create situations that are ripe with opportunities for players to make choices that matter, that have interesting consequences, not to enforce ridiculous restrictions on your friends.

On Interesting Treasure, Golden Bracelet

Gold and rubies. You will likely make a bundle when this gets sold in town. You know a jeweler who specializes in bracelets.

When you get there, you're a bit surprised because he tells you it's not a bracelet, but a belt for trickster fae, and he won't have anything to do with it.

Now how are you going to unload this thing?

Golden Fae Belt, worth 2,000 gold coins

On the Thursday Trick, Mimics

Steven S. Crompton
Mimics (Special)

Trigger: Mechanical: ProximityEffects: None
Save: Armor Class or
Duration: Varies

Resets: AutomaticBypass: None (Avoid)

Description: The idea, is that a thing that looks like a thing it is not. There lies endless opportunity for player skill to shine.  Many of the traditional options of  'object that is a monster' have actually been codified into monsters themselves. Caryatid columns. Mimics. Trappers. Cloakers.

These are all characterized by similar traits. Digestive ability, Immobilization/Trapping ability, and Disguise. Using these traits and your default system and you can create a 'trap' out of any object.

Bags or sacks
Endtables, cabinets, armoire
Curtains (with the added bonus of being able to say "It's curtains for you!" when they fall victim)

Detection/Disarming: Use one descriptive term that is out of place for the object and describe the results of the events in the room. The odd descriptive term lets them know that something is amiss with the object, and the events should let them puzzle it out. Examples:

"A stagnant fountain lairs in the corner. The room has some discoloration on the floor and broken weapons and armor lie about." (In this case the fountain has backed into the corner, which is an odd position for a fountain. It cannot digest metal so that remains, and the discoloration is dried blood)

"A wooden chest with brass banding rests in the corner facing the wall. There is a pile of bones and refuse piled in the opposite corner." (The chest is facing the wall, which is odd. The mimic piles its bones in the opposite corner to make itself appear not suspicious.)

On Movement

There have been exhaustive posts about movement rate over the history of the hobby.

This is a classic example of bad/wrong/fun debates in our hobby.

Not only is this a simple thing to house-rule; it works very well as written in every edition that uses it and works just as well if house ruled.

The argument often occurs with someone stating that 'movement rates are too slow'. That it isn't 'realistic enough'. That it is so unrealistic that it destroys verisimilitude and they can't play if torches are going to be used up that fast.

This results in discussions that endlessly go back and forth trying to prove what's real. These are generally unproductive to engage in.

Here are some things that are often overlooked.

Movement is a game construct. You can move 3, 6, 9 or 12 10' x 10' "squares" a "turn". The differences in these rates of exploration means that the costs (in torches, ground covered, time spent) are significant. The fact that the choice of how encumbered you are has significant consequences makes the choice an interesting one. Choosing to change the exploration rates makes this choice meaningless, meaning there are fewer costs to being weighed down with armor or treasure.

Eliminating interesting choices certainly changes the focus of the game, especially since many of the choices involved are important ones for low level characters. There are much fewer costs to wearing heavy armor and torches and other equipment become much less encumbering if movement is sped up.

Now the real world movement rates are very slow. Several people by themselves have done 'tests' where they map their environment or attempt to cautiously move around in these environments. In every case they say, 'I am able to walk so much faster then the listed rate'. They then reach the conclusion that the listed rate is wrong. In every single case none of the following is considered.

The environment is cramped and pitch black. The ground is uneven in the best case. The light is torchlight. Mapping is done with either parchment and charcoal or an ink pen. There are no hash marks or clear markers to indicate distance, it must be measured. Groups range in size from 4 to 12. Many are uneducated hirelings. Many are wearing metal armor and carrying heavy gear. Movement must be coordinated and silent. The rate is an abstraction, looking around corners, stopping to listen (and having to get everyone silent first) and quiet hurried discussion about what to do make up for the time spent moving slightly faster down an open corridor.

When you look at real world examples of these things the movement rate is much more realistic. Getting people in line and moving orderly is time consuming. Exploration of caves tends to take much longer (with modern equipment) then people assume, and we know they aren't trapped, filled with demons and monsters, and actively inimical to your survival.

Play how you want, but know the rules and the reasons for them before you break them.

On Mechanics, Collected!

It's a pretty wonderful time to be a gamer.

Problems. Some things come up again and again. Sometimes those problems become solved. I'd figure I'd collate some of the brilliant fixes to classic problems that the OSR hivemind has produced in the last month. All credit goes to these brilliant minds. I am simply paraphrasing these rules with links for the edification of my readers.

If only we could send these insights back in time to the genesis of the hobby!

Climbing on Large creatures.

Large creatures have damage resistance to attacks based on their size, reducing 5 points of damage for every size category over medium size. Each time you successfully climb on the creature, you remove five points of damage protection. Rule by Scrap Princess

Zak's Modification. Each time you successfully climb on a large creature you receive a +2 to hit and damage.

Climbing is a Strength or Dexterity check. In Pathfinder, it is likely a climb check versus the combat maneuver defense.

Mass Battle Simulator 

This elegant mechanic simulates attempting to cross a dangerous chaotic battlefield.

There is an encounter table. The players have a goal. The length of time it takes to resolve the first encounter is the number of encounters the players must pass to achieve their goal. It is also the modifier to the roll to determine the next encounter. Details and the step by step process are at Across the Moshpit, by Zak S at his blog D&D with Pornstars.

Dynamic Sandbox Encounters

This gem comes to us from Eric Treasure from The Dragon's Flagon, a blog I was happy to find. There's some good stuff there.

One of the nice things about OSR play is the lack of complexity as well as the impartiality of the Dungeon Master. How to use this in the context of sandbox encounters?

Each encounter is assigned a die type according to its volatility. Large dice for situations that are very stable and small dice for volatile situations. Roll the die after time has passed. A minimum result means the situation gets much worse, where a maximum result means that it moves on its own towards resolution. A result one less then the minimum or maximum result causes the same effect to a lesser degree. Read about Lines in the Water at The Dragon's Flagon

Upgrading Megadungeon Towns

So, the players keep dumping gold into the local economy. How does this affect the town? The Dungeon Fantastic has the answer!

Set thresholds for services and goods. For every set value of coin the players spend in town, move the category threshold up by one. For example on 2d6, you might need a 15 for a level 5 cleric spell, and a 12 for a magic item, and 9 for potions. After the players spend 20,000 gold, the categories are all shifted, requiring a 12 for whatever cleric spell they are looking for and a 9 for magic items. Read more about Player Impact on the Megadungeon Town at The Dungeon Fantastic

On Communication in the Future

Don't you love the things in that picture?

I got what I consider to be a tremendous response to my poll. I had over 10% of my readership vote and believe it or not, that's pretty outstanding.

Let's look at the data.

Deathless Gods. 11 votes. This is about 5% of the vote and understandable. There's no sample of work to look at. That said, I really think that 11 people out there are interested enough to say so is pretty encouraging. I should point out that this is the only real option in the list that appeals to more then just our oh, so limited gaming base. So I think it's a relatively secure assumption you'll see something like this from me in the future.

Numenhalla. 51 votes. This was something of a surprise, that there would be so much interest in my barely mentioned mega-dungeon. I had it in play-testing with multiple groups at different times in the week, and made sure that the sections I had completed tapped into that gestalt of classic adventure that we all lust after. The positive response has actually convinced me that this is one of the key projects I will be focusing on soon. As a completely added bonus, this will mean I need to play-test, which means I will be opening the doors to Reintsian adventure on G+.

Design Compilation. 86 votes. This was not a surprise. Know two things. Everything that would be in this is currently available on the site either on the sidebar (Tricks, Treasure) or in the agency or Thursday trick posts. Second, I ain't by  far sight done writing traps, about agency, or creating new interesting items yet. So I figured I'd continue doing that until I felt done, before I started wrapping everything up.

Dungeons & Discourse. 46 votes. I am fully of the belief that the world doesn't need another retro-clone. This was placed here to discover exactly what the general opinion of it is. Rest assured, that I think the current plan obviates any need for anything like this. Agency material will go in the Design Compilation. My Psionic Handbook is available for download on the right hand bar. Alchemy is finished and will be available 'soon', and the rest you likely already have access to or would modify yourself! Nothing is lost here.

Magic Codex.  56 votes. Nearly as popular as Numenhalla! To do something like this is a large project, whereas it would be fairly simple (4-6 weeks) to release each section of Numenhalla as a modular release. Codifying this is a big task. Know that I'm pleased with the positive response and likely will be diving into something like this after I take a well earned break from the year of labor it took to produce Alchemy.

I'd like to extend a personal thank you to everyone who voted. Your continued support is appreciated. It was meaningful to me. Now, instead of reading this, you should probably do some work on your own games, no?

See you at the gaming table!

On Art, Mythological Naturalism

A while past, there was some links to mythological beasts drawn in the old biology style.

Updates have been made and some of the work is worth a look!

On the Ancient Miniature

Ancient Kickstarter anyone?

This is a bronze boar miniature. More information about this ancient Celtic miniature here.

On Interesting Treasure, Glass Beer Chalice

You know what you find a lot of in a tavern or inn?

Broken glass.

Apparently it took an extinct non-human culture to come up with the idea of creating non-slip surfaces for drunk people.

Now if you can just get all these glass cups back to town you're going to make a bundle!

Gold piece value, 20 gold per glass.

On the Thursday Trick, Peephole

Peephole (Melee Attacks)

Trigger: Mechanical:  Pressure PlateEffectsNever Miss
Save: DexterityDuration: Instant
Resets: AutomaticBypass: None (Avoid)

Description: Temptation that leads to misfortune is the best way to create entertaining misfortune.

Peepholes create interesting encounters. Players will be tempted to take advantage of the information that can be acquired through the peepholes.

You should let them! The majority of the time this is exactly how peepholes should work because the players having this information enhances play, the additional information empowers agency.

And as an added bonus, you can occasionally use traps to cause disastrous misfortune! What kind of misfortune can result from a peephole?

A mirror can be placed so that the victim sees his own eyes staring back. Stabbing at the eyes can cause blades to break the weapon (or the arm) or puncturing the mirror can release poison gas.

Needles or blades can spring forward, doing actual damage (not just hit point damage) directly to a victim's eyes. This can cause blindness, usually permanent. It is trivial to replace this with an acid, chemical, or fire spray.

Another weakness is how close the delver must get to the wall. Once against the wall to peer through the hole, blades striking out at his midsection can cause severe damage.

Do not forget the mythic quality of these. Peepholes can show other things besides the area next door (thought that is very useful). If they look through and see a burlesque show, the future, the past, or home, or perhaps even dungeon levels further down, mirrors reflecting rooms far away, or even find that they are gazing upon themselves, looking into a peephole, peepholes can be a trick in themselves.

Detection/Disarming: The key here is to make sure you describe the untrapped peepholes with the same type of flavor and atmosphere as the trapped ones. Perhaps their are red or black stains near the peephole. After all at some point a person was likely caught unawares while gazing at a show.

At that, naturalistic descriptions of whatever results from the trap should provide enough clues. Do not neglect this as a method of control or manipulation either. A smart monster would put a blinded wounded corpse near a safe peephole after it had been killed near the trapped one.

On Reader Mail, Table Talk & Communication

Cedric Plante writes in:
"In Pandemic how the players communicate with each other influence and change the game a lot, since the main challenge of the game is to cooperate efficiently, I think communication is somehow part of the game play.
So I wondered how this apply to old school gaming and how you manage table talk, player vs character talk and communication at the gaming table. "
How apt. This question strikes at the heart of gaming. 

Gaming is about communication. Dice, stats, rules, all fall to the wayside in tabletop role playing games behind the essence of "What do you do?" [Tweet this!]

I was browsing G+ and saw someone reference a Reintsian dungeon crawl. It wasn't D&D or B/X - it was Jeff. [1] (You can search G+ for the term here!) When talking about D&D, it is not the way combat or skills are handled that differentiates the game, but the communication style in playing it. There is no question that communication is part of gameplay.

How I manage communication

I am a proponent of Old School play. [2] In old school play, the player is the person tasked with making choices. The idea is that the player puts themselves in the role of explorer, not that of an actor playing a part.

I ended a game in media res last week. This week different players showed up. The old characters were gone and the new players and their characters were there.

From Drawing & Dragons for LoFP
My priority is not creating a naturalistic environment that reeks of verisimilitude. My priority is playing a fun game with my friends.

Players always communicate as players and rarely as their characters, even when interacting with NPC's. Players discuss options as a group. As a general rule, anything they are saying both takes time within the game and can be heard by people standing nearby. These are for the game purposes of encouraging focused play as a measure of player skill (planning quickly to avoid random or wandering monsters) and keeping play focused on adventure and not inter-party squabbles and rivalry (No discussing killing players or hirelings or other NPC's without consequences).

When players take action, that action occurs. Occasionally when players have engaged in 'take-back' behavior, I will nominate a rotating party leader and will enforce that until players begin to take responsibility for what they say. Other games (run by a certain notorious narcissistic blogger who does not deserve a link) allow no table talk, assuming that everything said is always said and done.

The communication structure in gaming is based around IIEE. (Intention (announcing the action), Initiation (starting the action), Execution (completing the action) and Effect (consequences of the action).) In my games Intention and Initiation are conflated. Many players will attempt to state Intention to bait the Dungeon Master for Execution.

This next part is so important.

I bypass the Intention/execution end around by using player agency. "You have options A, B, and C. Here are the consequences of each. Choose."
E.g. "You may remain where you are, or you may step out into the hallway, but you feel fairly certain that doing so will place you in view of whatever fired that arrow, or you may attempt to move back, either fleeing or hiding behind party member B for cover."
Players are responsible for acquiring information about the situation themselves. There are two ways this happens.

  1. They ask. I tell them.
  2. They ask. I tell them the cost to find out.
90% of requests fall into the first category. It is very very difficult to convince players to ask and clarify uncertainties before taking action. I repeatedly tell them they can ask me for information during play, as well as making sure I state what options and known consequences there are so they can understand what they don't know.


  • There is little to no character development. Characters do emerge, but the game isn't about who these people are, it is about the choices that the players make.
  • Players are informed of their options and empowered. Since they know possible consequences before choices, the game seems very fair to all those involved.
  • Players have a lot of control over getting to do what they want to do each week. 


There were some more questions asked in the letter.
"But I have noticed that the group table talk often short circuit some players actions, choices or initiatives. Like a player is tempted to explore or interact with something and the other players chat in and the player shy away or just do as the group suggest even if he or she was tempted to make a different choice. "

This is a fairly standard group dynamic. Peer culture has a huge influence on behavior. It can be situationally addressed by (politely) telling everyone to shut up and asking the player what his action is without interference from the rest of the party. In general, however, this should be considered a positive thing. You do have the power to say "Discussion is over" and then ask for actions, free of input clockwise. Or look at other game resolution options and systems that allow choices to be made without input from all the players.
"Sometime it also feel like that in-game communication limitations could lead to interesting in-game situations. Like removing "on the spot" decisions."
When you design a dungeon or adventure, that is literally a truth of what you are doing. You are designing it. There is a standard mode of play, but certain situations can create an 'on the spot' decision. The key is it should be a consequence for player action. Make sure that whatever is causing the timed situation is clear (a stopwatch, a count, etc.) and driven by player choice. Then they are on the spot. Again, it should be an intended design, and not simply something done to frustrate your players. 

[1] Note that I'm not saying that system doesn't matter. Clearly communication in Bridge is part of play, as it is in Burning Wheel.  But we are talking about D&D which is it's own broad spectrum thing. You can design an RPG about communication as a game-play element, that makes it its own game. When speaking about D&D or the base role playing experience, it is much like talking about poker. Even through the hundreds of variations, the structure of poker and the necessary elements of communication (tells, bluffing) remain the same, even if minimized to the point of irrelevance.

[2] I've played new games, from Vampire to 4e to Dogs in the Vineyard to Microscope and more. My preference for old school play is no statement on the validity of those other play-styles. It was fun to play those other games! I imagine my assertiveness of the virtues of old school play have caused people to assume that I'm saying something negative about those other games. When in truth, when played as designed they can be fun! (Though I will admit, I want to add about 1000 caveats to that statement.) 

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