On A Haunting Future

What if Dungeons and Dragons were the most realistic vision of the future possible?

"It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing high intelligence this is not correct. We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only." - Sir Fred Hoyle

Currently today, we use not a little more energy than the earth can produce, but a massive amount more energy. The resources available for this energy are limited and non-reproducible.  What is the end result when they run out?

The Olduvai, a post-industrial age!

In the hundred thousand years our minimally successful species (There were, after all, thousands of different species of dinosaurs, we comparatively are bereft of anything but distant cousins.) will have left, we will toil under a brutal sun in an eternal age of feudal serfdom.

Imagine if we could sustain our industrial society for just a few hundred more years. The marvels! (The actual expectation is that it doesn't last nearly that long - less than 100 years). What ancient relics could be found by enterprising future humans! What dangers?

A chill thought when you wake up and scientific data points to the realm of Dungeons (& Dragons?) being our future. . .

On Trading Items

There are some fundamental disconnects in player assumptions.

Would you lend your car to a coworker? A friend? A cousin?

I personally would not. But what if you would lend your car out? What if, instead of a car, it was something that could not be replaced? Something priceless and irreplaceable.

Here's another question for you. Would you sell everything you own? Would you then take that money and buy armor and weapons? Would you then take mercenary contracts in active war zones with an eye towards looting the dead in the hopes of earning a few weeks salary?

Would you lend your car to someone who does those things?

Fundamentally, your characters are not you.

These people in games that you are pretending to be did not have a formal state funded education. In some games knowing how to read is a class feature. Their world is fundamentally different than yours.

It is a delicate situation, for we are playing a game and would be well advised to stay away from the non-mechanical interface of what one character would or wouldn't do. But perhaps having this perspective can shed light on rules such as why it takes so long to move safely through a dungeon, why there are rules against trading magic items, and maintaining formation during travel.

On the Chimerical Onomatopoeia

A lion goes Roar! A car goes Vroom!

A zombie goes Braiins!

A orc goes Waaagh!

What other noises do fantasy animals make? Comment below!

On Interesting Treasure, Wooden Snail

This delicate wooden carving is of a snail. It is obviously elvish in origin.

It will fetch a handsome price at market, however any elves you run across when you mention that you wish to sell it respond only with an arched eyebrow.

You don't give a second thought to what the fae aren't telling you. . .

Gold piece value 800 gp.

On the Thursday Trick, the Dangers of Comfort

Dangers of Comfort (Special)

Trigger: Mechanical: Interaction Effects:Onset Delay
Save: VariesDuration: Instant
Resets: VariesBypass: None (Avoid)

Description: Your players should really really know better. Somewhere in the dungeon they find a feature, such as a toilet, campsite, suspension bridge or other useful functional area or feature. Only the area is really a trap. The fire burns away until it explodes or perhaps there are well placed bolts to strike at a very uncomfortable place when the toilet seat is used.

Detection/Disarming: First of all, you should be aware that if you've been running a game for several weeks and the players run across something like this, nothing short of a million gold coins will cause them to fall for this trap. So it is important that you provide many areas like this and make them mostly harmless. Perhaps provide a temporary benefit either in mobility (Can carry more weight, is refreshed) or a small bonus to abilities (+1 to saving throws for 6 turns). You can even sometimes provide a large bonus for erratic reinforcement.

The idea is to train the party so that they look forward to these little amenities. Then when your delvers encounter one, they will not do the very simple and very basic detective work necessary to notice and disarm traps.

Most of the relevant agency for these has been covered in other articles ("Why yes, there does appear to be an extra hole in the toilet. Why yes when you examine it you discover that it does indeed contain a rusted iron bolt!") The key with a trap like this is training your players and using the idea of trap escalation to stymie their greedy attempts to empty out your Mega-Dungeon.

On the Importance of Agency

Discussion is by its nature, cyclical.

Everyone is familiar with the fact that the ancient romans were complaining about their disrespectful children and the sad state that the world has fallen into. People do that to this day.

I think we are doing fine, how about you?

The downside is that things once proven have to be proven and discovered again by a new generation. Examples of what we have to relearn are: if you give up privacy for security you end up with neither. Or restricting speech to curtail 'offense' makes us all slaves of our neighbor.

But this is an role playing game blog, so it is that time when things like Quantum Ogres and Fudging again crawl out of the woodwork.

Simply, these are about invalidating choices of players.

The explanations of why these things are bad have been examined and discussed to death. I am explicitly not interested in rehashing the basic principles. A search for player agency or reading the articles above will tell you what you want to know and answer any question you might have.

Each and every person who fudges, denies agency, or uses an Ogre that is Quantum and still feels childishly compelled to dig into their position says the same things.

But I had a good reason!

"It was a new player that died, and they would have quit playing!"(1)
"It would have 'been a better game' if the encounter goes the way I want it."(2)
"The encounter was unbalanced I was just fixing it!"(3)
"I can get away with it without them ever finding out!"(4)

Why is it so important that you use agency in your games? Why aren't any of these reasons good enough?

Because in your daily life, your choices are by and large meaningless. You have little control over events and make few decisions that affect any long lasting change. You spend your life making meaningless choices and latching onto them in a desperate bid for meaning. What sports team am I a fan of? Do I like apple or android? That's why agency is so important.

What requires for something to exist in a quantitative and real sense is that it be observed. Role playing games are the few hours a week when decisions we make matter. As a DM, you should not stand in the way of that.

Why is there such resistance to providing agency? Because in order to give the players the ability to affect the consequences of their choice, you also have to give them the ability to reap the consequences of their choices.

Consequences that are not always positive.

And most people don't have the wherewithal to do so, to the detriment of their friends.  See, if you think by preventing a bad thing from happening to the player, preventing them from making a mistake, preventing them from missing treasure, or preventing them from dying will make sure they have a good time -- what you're really doing is making sure they know that their choices don't matter.

And if their choices don't matter, why bother gaming -- then it's just like the rest of modern existence, a tedious slog of meaningless choice after meaningless choice.

(1) Then man up, stop the game and explain to the new player that you made a mistake in forcing whatever situation killed them. Don't set the expectation that their actions don't have consequences.
(2) For who? How is robbing the players of free will improving your game? Your "better" encounter is boring as shit to people playing a game. Who wants to wait for someone else to decide when something happens with no control over the situation. Now the reverse of the situation when things go their way drastically, that's something they will talk about for years.
(3) Perhaps the problem here is the players aren't smart enough to avoid the encounter. If you've decided that they have to fight it, we're back to the original problem.
(4) How long can you keep your unspoken assumption that your players are aquamaroons before they catch on and quit your game? Or do you act or play poker for a living?

On the Confusion of Role

There are some old saws in the gaming community that break down when you take a closer look at them.

What is "Roll Playing versus Role Playing?"

It is a term used derisively against those who are focused on the mechanical aspects of Dungeons & Dragons, or less frequently gaming.

This is non-trivial for at least two bizarre reasons that spring to mind.

First, the current, yet canceled, line of Dungeons and Dragons is explicitly focused on character skill and mathematical representations of combat.

Second, it commits the common error of mistaking "role-play" to mean 'taking on the personality of a fictional character (1)' with 'making a choice as if you were in the situation (2)' i.e. taking the role of a war game unit which was the original meaning used by Gygax and company.

The second definition is occasionally used in gaming, but the lack of mechanical interface puts it in the realm of thespianism, outside the purview of a game. You can after all, act like a robber baron while playing monopoly but it does not mechanically interface with play any more then deciding that your character is gregarious.

(1) To assume the attitudes, actions, and discourse of (another), especially in a make-believe situation in an effort to understand a differing point of view or social interaction: Management trainees were given a chance to role-play labor negotiators.
(2) To experiment with or experience (a situation or viewpoint) by playing a role

From the comments it appears that I have completely failed to communicate my point successfully.


Imagine you are playing a wargame. Instead of deciding what each and every squad of units is doing on the battlefield, you decide what a single figure does - i.e. you take the role of the figure. You make decisions for that figure instead of for the entire force.

I would say it is explicitly NOT "interacting with the scenario from the point of view of the character, using his/her knowledge, inclinations, and priorities over your own." If you examine the record, you will find reference to "Bill's third level fighter." Clearly the character was Bill's avatar for playing the game, that is to say "taking the role" of a single unit.

You experiment with the situation by 'taking a role'. It is you making the choice. The character is simply your piece for interacting with the game.


My issue (and part of the thrust of this post) is that non-mechanical rigamarole around play is just that - not that it isn't fun to screw around during play and talk like the characters. It's just not part of the game proper. "The role-play aspect" is exactly the part of pretending to be a king in chess or a banker in monopoly -- separate and not integrated into the game itself. This is a tautological statement being that there are no mechanical factors or systems that represent "the role-play aspect". (Note that the obvious example, alignment, is about spiritual mechanical interface with the game and not representative of personality)

As an aside: People play that way for 40 years, because the game is about a personal challenge to the player. They continue to play because the game continues to be challenging.



On the Misrepresentation of Facts Part I

Something has got my burr up.

I would hope my loyal readers would be smarter than the average bear.

I bet if you owned a railroad, you would be pretty bitter business isn't as good as it was in 1880, right? I mean we're much worse off now, aren't we? Doesn't it take longer to ship goods and cross the country?

What an Aquamaroon!

Blogs are sources of information and news. The natural tendency is to notice one or two things and extrapolate general trends. This is foolish.

Here are today's "MYTHS OF THE BLOGOSPHERE" dispelled.

Megadungeons are old hat/No fun/Out of vogue

So there was an article and a meme about 2000 copper and some rats. There was also some discussion about how a single session of Dwimmermount didn't go well for a single group. The Era of the Megadungeon Must be Over! 

Uh, whatever. 

In the year 2000 there were just a handful published mega-dungeons, Temple of Elemental Evil, Teagle Manor and Undermountain. Castle Greyhawk was a myth.

Today, in addition to Dwimmermount of the 2000 copper meme, there is Barrowmaze, Stonehell, Castle of the Mad Archmage, Rappan Athuk, Anomalous Subsurface EnvironmentNumenhalla, and Worlds Largest Dungeon (Don't bother so much with that last one), as well as several others in development on G+, Blogs, and Forums, (Most notably by Benoist Poire)

Oh, you say, but those aren't very popular or good.
  1. Rappan Athuk kickstarted 246,541$
  2. Barrowmaze II kickstarted 12,702$ For an OSR project.
  3. Barrowmaze reviews: "Wow." "Instant Classic" "Worth getting for the joy of reading alone".
  4. The most popular game ever on G+ was a megadungeon not listed above!
Oh, you say, but these aren't very original.
  1. Here is Keith Davies Multi-part theory series about Mega-Dungeon Node Design.
  2. Here is the new, great Megadungeons.com website, covering all megadungeon news!
  3. Here is an obscene amount of work collected at the first of this year.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it. The era of the megadungeon lives!


On New Life

Oh, the blogosphere must be dying!

Or maybe we are just having babies.

Meet Elizabeth Annora Campbell. 11 pounds 5 ounces. 22 Inches long.
Strength: 4
Dexterity: 5
Constitution: 7
Intelligence: 3
Wisdom: 4
Charisma: 18

Regular content to resume shortly.

On Snarfquest and the Breaking News

A short midnight post, apparently Kenzerco is set to announce that Snarfquest is going to be published anew as a monthly title by Elmore.

Press release should be forthcoming. More info on this breaking story as I uncover it!

On Large Dungeons and the Merits Thereof

James M's Dwimmermount
Is the Megadungeon dead?

See, now that you've been hooked by the trite fearmongering, I can give you the real article.

Asking questions about if something is dead or alive is navelgazing that appeals to base human instincts to watch the successful fail or the underdog win.

Feel free to engage in that if you wish for entertainment or esteem purposes if you wish. It is not a productive use of time.

The truth is that what determines the goodness of something is it's quality. I mean, you can push a shitty product and do well. Once. Your total market success can be influenced by luck or what is in vogue (talk to White Wolf). But it is the quality of your work along with luck that determine its value in human endeavors.

So, is what you are doing of the highest quality? Then continue assured of your success.

As far as Megadungeons? I've finished Alchemy and am already thinking on Numenhalla.

It is a dungeon in the classic style done in a way that I have never seen, so it should be of some interest to the general population. Being assured that it is the quality of implementation that determines the success and not the idea; I share the following about the ways it is different:

  • Deliberate Design: As talked about in the Demon series, rooms are keyed in such a way to highlight objects relevant to the players.
  • Player engagement: Each section is specifically engaging to the players -- treasure maps, rumors, bounties and inhabitant quests all engage the player in the megadungeon. This focuses the play on what mega-dungeons do well (provide a living dynamic underworld environment) versus what they don't (exploring every last room)
  • Modular: Being that mega-dungeons are rarely useful (you will only play maybe 10 or 12 full campaigns in your life, how many megadungeons do you need?) the sections will specifically be designed as modular. They can fit in the Numenhalla framework or you can drop them in a hex or use them where you see fit.
  • Focused: Megadungeon play is designed for low levels. This is not something designed to take your characters from 1st to 20th level (tm) -- it's focused on something closer to B/X, where players can continue to be challenged deep into the dungeon.
  • Agency Directed Advice: So, you know, your players can actually do what they are interested when they play.
  • Evocative: Classic does not mean generic. Modules are designed to be interesting, subtle, creative, and interesting. Not random. It's trivial to randomly fill a big place. It's less trivial to do so in a way that engages players.
  • Visual: I am an artist, so not only will it be illustrated, but each illustration will be given with assistance to help make it useful in play. 
  • Cool: It will not be boring. I use empty rooms in the way they are designed, to increase tension or provide room for the DM to add their own additions to the dungeon.
So if that sounds like something you're interested in, stay tuned loyal readers. I'll be talking more about these things soon!

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