On the Greatest Hits of 2012

A little best of 2012!

Things you don't want to hear at the gaming table!

On why monsters don't need strength bonuses.

On common misunderstanding regarding skill based play. It's not necessary to convince anyone of anything.

A post examining in depth the value and uses of children of orcs. It investigates their position in society, their natural inclination, and appropriate measures often taken by freelance explorers.

My series on set design. A simple direct way of keying adventures.

A series on the design demon. Discussing how adventures should be explicitly designed and have a structure to create an experience for players.

A series of hidden resources on the web. Useful excellent bodies of work that just somehow managed to be overlooked.

Ten things you probably don't know about hit points!

Six things you might not know about save or die!

Ten reasons wizards hang out in towers!

Ten ways to turn wizards into degenerate reprobates!

The pretentious orc meme.

A nifty little town generator! A great little resource.

An short entertaining tale of missed treasure.

A mega-dungeon checklist!

#2 for the year: 10 Basic Secret Doors!

And my number one post of 2012, A guide for new dungeon masters!

On Interesting Treasure, the Gift Cup

You found it with a ribbon wrapped around it in your yard.

It must be a sign! Off to the alehouse, to hell with adventuring today.

For sale, any money you receive for this object becomes coal. Any substance drunk causes no hangover or other negative effect.

On the Mental Incongruity

I got into a discussion the other day where someone was asking for a simple psionics system.

What's funny about this, is the simplest system for psionics ever produced was in 1st edition. The vast majority of people believe that it's the most complicated, when in fact it is the simplest.

Here is how you resolve a psionic combat in first edition.

Declare attack power,
Opponent declares defense mode,
Find result on chart,
Subtract points,
Repeat until defeat,

No die rolls. Just superfast look-up. It is substantially more complicated in 2nd edition and 3rd edition.

So why is the belief that the 1st edition system is the most complex? Two reasons. Special cases and the fact that the system is spread out over 3 books.

If you're at all interested in psionics, then you should check out my free psionics download. It is, at its core, styled heavily after the 1st edition system. That is to say, fast, flavorful, and providing powers that are unique and not magical. If you like it, you should spread the word!

What are my favorite things about it?

  1. Flavorful combat. In 2nd/3rd/4th edition when you use psionic powers to kill an opponent, they die. Here, you confuse them, feeblemind them, turn them into a robot, or wound their minds forever.
  2. Simple Power Selection. Playing a psionicist? Pick two powers. No picking a specialty or complicated chains of requirements.
  3. Simple Power Activation. Declare Power, Pay Cost. No roll under system here.
  4. Creative Balanced Powers. I've had power gamers play with this system try to break it, and mostly they discover, psionicists are only as good as the creativity of the person playing them.
  5. Added Value. Of course it has rules. And dozens of powers. And a class. And a selection of kit's/packages. And a Background table. And Items. And Encounter guidelines. And a Combat quick reference sheet.
  6. It's Free!
What are you waiting for! 

On Another Year Conquered.

Happy Holidays!

May your year be bright and merry, and filled with the screams of monsters as they fall beneath your blade!

Because, remember, you always kill Orcs.

Some entertaining videos!
Fisher Price D&D

Gandalf Style!
A full rendition of Misty Mountains Cold, all 27 verses.
A shorter version; the one above is how an elf would sing, this one, as a dwarf.
Never Split the Party, UNPLUGGED!

Finally, Community D&D Sex Scene!

On Interesting Treasure, the Brain Jewel

You've been killing dozens of these horrible slime beasts. After a lucky blow, a gleam caught your eye and you discovered each had a beautiful jewel surrounded by gold inside their slimy brains! So far you've collected 12 of these, though when you check your pack, you only count 9. Nothing to worry about through, you'll still make a hefty profit.

The Brain Jewel is worth 250 gold to an ignorant buyer.

On the Thursday Trick, The Rotating Chambers

Rotating Chambers (Category: Restraints/Hazards)

Trigger: Mechanical: Latch or SwitchEffects:Never Miss
Onset Delay
Multiple Targets
Save: NoneDuration:Special
Resets: AutomaticBypass:Special

Description: I hesitate to add this article because it is just a specific variant on sliding corridors and other tricks to stymie mappers.

This trope of a dungeon that has rotating corridors is extremely common. It is found in a wide variety of modules to the point where it's inclusion has become cliche (B4 The Lost City, FA2 Nightmare Keep, The Crypt of Luan Phien, et. al.). If it is that common there should be some advice to running it.

The basic conceit is that the exit doors do not always lead to the same corridor. Variations include the tesseract, where each door opens into a space that maps in a non-euclidean fashion, and other non-euclidean maps.

Detection/Disarming: The key to running this is to provide some indication that the corridors are shifting. The fact that where they are is not where they appear to be is a good clue to help them understand the indicator that they have provided.

It is also important that you be helpful when the players are working on their maps. This does not mean you tell them the solution or that they are correct or incorrect in their assumptions. It just means that when dealing with a complex maze like this, the challenge isn't in drawing accurate room sizes. It's in understanding the nature of the mechanism. Letting them discover the turn seams (once they are aware of the puzzles) and giving them accurate descriptions of the 'tiers' of rotation will not detract from their sense of discover any mystery.

As an aside, minimizing the amount of tedious combats in a situation like this might be a good idea. This doesn't mean the exploration of the mechanism can't be challenging, just that the focus should be on solving the problem.

On the Culpability of Historical Clarity

I can admit when I'm wrong or when I communicate unclearly. When I write, it is because I am trying to communicate a specific point. As it turns out, I could have done that better.

After this I promise to shut up about non-gameable information for at least a month as payment of JOSKEY tax.

This is a long post, but somewhat fascinating.

Wassermelone from the Penny arcade forums writes: "He portrays himself as some sort of roleplaying auteur. Somehow he plays this game more nobly because he doesn't do anything so facile as to pick characters he wants to play. Its some sort of bizarre walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways, argument."

Jermery Deram said of my post: "Sounds like retro-pretentious"

I understand this. It can be a common reaction to my point which was there are wrong or inappropriate ways to have fun. Russian roulette is a game people play; they do not do it for healthy reasons. Candyland is not something I would show up to play at a convention. Mainlining heroin is said to be quite pleasant. People feel catharsis from teasing the developmentally disabled.  Jason Smith gives an example of objective poor design:
"Roll a d6.  On a 5+, you go on a successful adventure and slay the dragon.  Otherwise you're eaten by a grue."
That's a poorly designed RPG.  It fails to meet its objectives.

Is this quite one sided? Not nearly as much as it seems. Rob Bush says:
"Well, it depends on its objectives. It could just be a Dadaist RPG, and would be an extremely well-designed one."
Nobilis Reed also made an excellent point about how he was mocked for playing domino's by pushing them around like boats when he was a child. He says:
"My grandmother was like this.  I would take out the dominoes and make buildings and ships and things out of them. She called that kind of play "dummy-noes" and for her it was wrong."
His grandmother was wrong for that, I think we can all agree.

The issue is, if you sat down with me to play dominoes and you moved them around like boats, you would be playing that game incorrectly. We use the word to communicate, and there is an objectively correct one when we talking about playing chess or dominoes; we play by the agreed rules.

So here are the points.
  1. There are objectively badly designed games.
  2. There are wrong ways to play games.
  3. There are incorrect or less valid ways to have fun.
Seriously, it's ok to talk about this. I'm not doing it because I'm stuck in the past. I'm not sitting here being smug or holier then thou (though I certainly understand that people come away with that impression). I am not trying to be inflammatory. 

Being offended is, as always in free societies, on the victims head. 

I am doing it because I wished to engender an actual discussions about validity of design.


Now, my first Mea Culpa.

I work in a specific clinical environment with teenagers, and I used a shorthand we use at work to describe a complex concept. What I said was "I do not play role-playing games as a form of wish fulfillment."

It was quickly and rightly pointed out by Zzarchov Kowolski "I think it is more accurate to say the game you enjoy playing is wish fulfillment to you specifically as you list an unfulfilled wish you have and state the game meets it"

This is ipso facto true.

I implied what I meant and inferred what I meant, but that doesn't count. I didn't say what I mean. And that is my fault and not the fault of my erudite readers.

What I meant was is that I do not play games to engage in a wish-fulfillment of an adolescent empowerment and autonomy fantasy

Oh, but that's not the end of it. Once what I said what I actually meant, Zzarchov points out the following two facts!
"The power to make meaningful choices is also clearly a power fantasy."
"Technically even an OD&D character is a power fantasy over a regular man, and the act of leveling only increases that."
Yep. True. So what's the difference?

An empowerment fantasy is specifically one where the great power is always wielded justly and without negative consequence, unlike actual possessors of great power in the real world.

Although in older editions of Dungeons & Dragons I am empowered to make meaningful choices, I am not protected from the consequences of those choices. Empowerment fantasies contain the trait that no harm can be done by or befall the dreamer of the fantasy. So although making meaningful choices is empowering, it is not an empowerment fantasy. As an aside, I define games as collections of interesting (i.e. meaningful) choices which is a large part of why we enjoy playing them!

Secondly, ZZarchov is right! OD&D fighters are much more powerful then any given human and they go on grand adventures.

I mean, I set that apart up there, because it's important to note that I recognize and accept his point as correct. OD&D characters are more powerful then normal men. But the design of the character and the relevant design of the game does not fetishize that power. They may have more hit points than a normal man (9d6, or about 32 hit points on average), but their success or failure still comes down to the choices made by the player during the game.

You can't build or pick or choose your avatar in a certain way that insulates you from the consequences of your choice. If you take the gold key off the wall without choosing to tap it with a pole first, then you get your saving throw versus the yellow mold. But it was your bad play in using your hands to take the key that caused the threat of instant death. Choices, consequences.


My thesis then, is that the design of modern games insulates the players from the effects of their choices. They do this to support players living out adolescent empowerment fantasies. This is not something as an adult I wish to spend time doing. My original article's point was that the creators were about my age and also not interested in doing that, which is why the game has the design it does.

Many excellent points were made.

Ken Silverman told me to hate 3e and 4e all I want.

I can understand that impression. But really, I don't hate them. It's just as I've moved into my thirties I've become tired of them. I played 4e for a year and 3.0/pathfinder for about 8 years. If I hated them, I would not have played them for so long. Meaningful choices are few and far between in those games and it's trivial to construct an overpowered character. That engenders little interest.

To me, it is similar to the reasons why I no longer have any interest in playing candyland. I know my colors, I am not interested in a game that rewards me for that basic knowledge. Just like I'm no longer interested in 'following an adventure path' with a character that represents an empowerment fantasy. I am not conflating an age or developmental focused activity with a subjective metric. (i.e. because you are engaging in adolescent power fantasy I do not think you are wrong/bad/suck.)

This doesn't make a new school player or the games themselves wrong, anymore then kids playing Candyland are wrong. It makes it not to my interest to play.

The inestimable Scrap Princess said:
"[you're] like there's saying I like this thing, and then there is saying I like this thing and if you like this other thing that's cool but you are a wanker"
Like.. what is the point of that ? And all that stuff the goes on in pathfinder (tactics , builds etc), boring as I might find it, requires thought, logic , planning etc. None of this is "choose which cool way you automatically win huzzah!"
Well, that goes back to the top. Some games are better then others.

I've played a lot of games. I love miniature war games. I love tactics games. I love strategy RPG's. So why call everyone who plays these games a wanker?

First, I'm not calling anyone names.  (Well, I did refer to engaging in empowerment fantasies as masturbation, saying that it was an activity best done in private.) I'm trying to discuss objective values in games. The point was made that they are different kinds of games.

Second, everyone knows that it is fairly trivial for anyone to correct these issues. Any one of the commenter's below would run a game in such a way that the flaws noted wouldn't exist. I fully understand rule 0 and how it can correct problems. That's not what this discussion is about. It's about how the game is designed as written. Why should we have to fix a game?

Modern games focus on tactics, not adventure. Why isn't that ok? It is ok. There is nothing wrong (and a whole lot right, imho, about tactics games). What I'm saying is compared to most miniature and tactics games on the market Pathfinder and 4e as tactics games are badly designed. The reasons for this are multitude and dependent on the specific game. The most egregious offenders and proof of this fact are defined by the very people defending them.

I point out, that by RAW in those systems, players are expected to win Balanced Encounters. This is, after all, why they are balanced. The basic thesis of modern games is a tactics game you are always expected to win. Why? Empowerment fantasy. Refutations follow.

+Zzachary says: "You are conflating "win encounter" with "win adventure"."

An average challenging combat takes around 90-120 minutes. You are expected to experience victory or defeat due to the management of your resources in combat over this length of time. This claim made that the game isn't made as a empowerment fantasy because you are expected to win or lose over six hours of combat  (a series of encounters)does not seem like a particularly well designed feature.

I know other people have played 4e, having an experience of facing an opponent with 400 hit points, all encounter powers gone in the first five rounds of the fight. I had enough time to both calculate the average damage per round and graph the expected round the fight would end on due to mathematical averages.

Taking victory or loss and spreading it around over the length of the game is an objectively poor design in tactics games. If I know an hour ahead of time I'm going to win, why do I have to wait an hour to make it happen? Compare, Song of Blades and Heroes, where each turn you're forced to make hard choices about dice and action.

A large part of the design of hit point inflation was to prevent players from losing characters. Why would that be important? Because the character isn't the avatar for the player interacting with the game, the character is the empowerment fantasy and should be protected from death (or other permanent consequences to poor decisions like level drain).

+Ramanan Sivaranjan says in response to 'balanced is defined as the players are expected to win.'
"I don't think [they define it that way]. More so, if that's what they suggest that need not be how you choose to play.  One of the public play events Wizards of the Coast runs is Lair Assault, which is basically a very honest take on 4th Edition: straight up super difficult combat."
First, 4e DMG, page 56: A standard encounter should challenge a typical group of characters but not overwhelm them. The characters should prevail if they haven’t depleted their daily resources or had a streak of bad luck.

They should win, unless they are out of dailies or they have bad luck.

As to lair assult, Chris Tulach of WotC writes: "At that time, I was talking with David Christ, our convention organizer for some of our big shows, and we agreed that we wanted to have a sort of “challenge” experience to really sate the needs of the growing audience of rules masters." of Lair Assault's design.

A special thing, specifically designed to actually be a challenge, instead of the default 4e rules.

Jeremy Murphy, who's comment about there not being a wrong way to play started this whole series says:
"I choose how difficult to make my games.  So-called Balancing is just a better gauge for me to determine how hard I'm making it.
For example, when I play 4e, I design massive, sprawling "encounters" that contain about 10x the recommended XP budgets for characters of my players levels.  The players have to make meaningful decisions about how they approach things, or the results will be almost definitely horrible death."
Which is a tacit admission of the problem by pointing out that he's correcting the lack of threat, character fantasy empowerment, and dearth of meaningful decisions by using rule 0 to increase by TEN TIMES the suggested amount of experience in monsters.

And, in what may be one of the most direct, clear, and thoughtful comments of the thread, Scrap Princess asks:
"How are easier games objectively worse than harder games if the object of a said game is to have fun, and the people playing the game enjoy the game being easier?"
Insightful, no? 

So, obviously we are talking about a spectrum here. There is a spectrum of balance and challenge and interest. Obviously we aren't interested in a simple game of identifying colors. Who's to say we don't want to let off some steam and play an easy game that just lets us kill some monsters without getting hurt? Well, nobody, really. I mean, if you enjoy playing 4e over B/X, or the cardgame War over Five Card Draw, or even Solitaire over Freecell, there isn't anything wrong with wanting an easier play experience.

But by definition, 'easier' means that choices have fewer, less serious, consequences. They are literally less meaningful choices. You don't have to think about what you're doing when you're playing on easy mode. 

When I'm discussing the design of a game, if I see that it has few meaningful choices, long stretches where my choices don't seem to matter, mechanics that invalidate my choices in play, and contains many things that appeal to a demographic I am no longer a part of, then I measure that game as having an objectively worse design than another one. (Of course, the demographic appeal, being a purely subjective factor tuned to my own interest.)

And that's what I'm discussing. This isn't to say those games don't have virtues or that there is anything wrong with the people playing them. Simply that they are designed to cater to people desiring empowerment fantasies, and that the original creators were not creating with that goal in mind. And noting that those of us of the age they are find value in their original work as if it were created for us. 

And it was.

On the Gameable NPC

Telecanter has an superlative post on an implementation of NPC's as locks. The kind of post that kickstarts your game and makes you want to design something that you can use in the game right now.

So, how do we implement this as functional?

Here are my thoughts.

The card design Telecanter made is brilliant. It contains space for an image, visible traits, and what tumblers (interactions) we can make to unlock information.

The picture and the visible traits serve the purpose of avoiding the basic confrontational stance that players always end up in to meet their goals when interacting with NPC's. The image and traits, as well as the introduction used by the Dungeon Master will provide clues as to which techniques will work best against the NPC. These traits can be generated from the link to the Character Traits.pdf (author unknown) on my sidebar, or whatever tool you use to generate NPC personalty. A automated one is online at B/X character creator.

Failure Conditions

First, We need a mechanic for creating a cost in the interaction. Otherwise players could just go down the list trying different things. It is important that this cost take into account the charisma of the player. Fortunately we already have that mechanic, in the 2d6 Reaction Roll. Each action taken will reduce or raise the reaction value by a specified amount with certain conditions (storming off in a huff, fighting, pressing charges, spitting, joining the party, etc.) occurring when values are met.

Note that this is extremely similar to the relationship mechanic in pathfinder or various bioware relationship games. What makes this different are the locks -- activities which unlock specific behaviors or events, rather then just timed events or specific actions that increase a singular numeric score. The score is simply to track win or endgame conditions, so that the process cannot be infinitely gamed.


Second, we need a list of interactions and a list of rewards and results!

Designing the list of interactions first involves an iterative collections of various options that are significantly or noticeably different from each other.
  • We want the list to be comprehensive, not in the extent that it be huge and cover every possible action, but in the sense that any action the player characters take could be fit within it. 
  • We also desire for the list to be evocative. If this were a mechanical system not dealing with sentient creatures, I would suggest a limit of 7 to 9 things. But human beings are complicated creatures, so creating a system with more options then we can easily keep in mind provides a sense of that complexity to the players (who after all, are interacting with a picture, two descriptive words, and three optional action/results.

We also have to worry about speed and conciseness. Not every option should unlock a tumbler and not every option will be good or bad. A simple way to track this is to say any unlisted option reduces the reaction level by 1. Actions that raise the reaction level (I would suggest by no more than 1) or lower the reaction level a greater amount (by 2 or 1-4 for example) would be rare and specifically noted.

An optional rule, is that a particular conversational stance, such as obsequiousness, friendly, or hostile is selected, and this gives a one time adjustment to the reaction track.

Rewards and Results

Thirdly, we need a list of what you get for unlocking the NPC! This has less to do with a specific list of items, after all, context will suggest many of the rewards. What this has to do with is acting as inspiration or random generator for those 'NPC' results generated in the dungeon.

I also believe for ease of use that perhaps results of 'NPC party' should be treated as a single NPC in this case.

Comments, Thoughts, Conclusion and Two Lists

The most exciting thing about this system, is that a simplified form could be used to handle encounter checks when the players decide to parley. Factions within a dungeon could be treated as a single NPC, allowing the players to gain alliances and other rewards based off the way individual encounters go.

Even though this is the mechanical system behind NPC reactions, the experience for the players should not change. Their interactions with the NPC's should remain organic and interpreted by the Dungeon Master. Players should not feel as if they are playing a computer game, this system exists to aid the Dungeon Master in adjudicating NPC interactions impartially.

Here is a list of options for interaction:
Action Options: Drinking, Flirting/Seducing, Intimidate/Threaten, Demanding (robbing, etc.), Ignoring, Honoring, Bribing (gold/magic item/food/etc.), Trade, Question/Interrogate, Pray/Convert, Seek Aid, Offer Aid, Surrender/Grovel, Flee, Gambling, 

Each of these is specific and should be individualized. If the player characters say 'we give him 100 gold', and what he really wants is food, the replay should give the players the information. "Aye, I'll take your metal, but it does little for my empty stomach."

Here are some ideas for rewards. These are less regimented and are merely meant to provide inspiration for the possible results of unlocking tumblers.

Teaching a spell, Telling about another NPC/Faction, Joining the party, Giving a quest, Handing over a reward in thanks, Telling about a trap, giving the players a map, Guiding the players somewhere, Teaching a skill, Unlocking a playable race, Unlocking a new special ability.

On Interesting Treasure, Silver Shield Ring

This ring was found on the hand of a warrior that did not carry a shield. The rest of your party says it isn't magic, but you know better.

Silver Shield Ring, 220 gold pieces to an interested buyer.

On a Comment on Historical Clarity

I don't intend to offend people. But I firmly believe, that the burden of a free, cogent, citizen is not to be protected from offense, but instead to be able to hear ideas that are not his own and engage with them. Note, that I very literally mean what I say, I am discussing either my taste (which is not subject to debate) or factual statements (which are). This is about yesterday's post, which discusses how modern systems are about wish fulfillment and how old school gaming wasn't.

Jeremy Murphy made a comment that provides remarkable clarity to yesterday's post. He says:

"It's so nice to see that the lovely spirit of "you're playing it wrong" which so pervades the "OSR" is still alive and strong. 

Please, by all means try to convince yourself that your imaginary elf is somehow superior to another imaginary elf. And do your level best to convince yourself that you aren't in to codified make-believe for wish fulfillment. 

This sort of commentary is *exactly* why people are shaking their heads at "angry grognards". Wait... were you being sarcastic?"

I think this could not be a better opportunity to clarify what I mean.

Jeremy's argument, as I understand it, is that there is no type of wrong fun -- That there is no wrong way to play the game, as long as people are having fun.

This, obviously, patently, is false. There are wrong ways to play chess. There are ways of playing games that remove gameplay. There are ways of approaching a game with preconceptions about 'honorable play' or what play 'should be' like, covered extensively by Sirlin's Scrub Theory. There are ways of having fun like smoking crack or teasing the developmentally disabled. Clearly there are ways to play inappropriately.

The thing is, when I sit down to play Dungeons & Dragons, I am not doing anything not proscribed mechanically. I am playing a game. I play it by the rules. When I play games such as poker, Dungeons and Dragons, or chess, I screw around. I talk in funny voices and have a good time with my friends. This is not the play of the game.

There is one way to make a pathfinder character. Some options are selected and then the character is made with that. There are mechanical techniques for generating characters and handling combat in 4th edition.

If you decide to add something in the game and have it affect the game that there isn't a mechanical system for because you feel you 'should' or it seems like a good idea; then D&D is well structured to take that into account. However it is not playing the way the game is designed.

What I am saying, in yesterday's post is that the gameplay in a 0e, B/X, or even 1e, game is about gathering information and making choices. And that style of gameplay has nothing to do with wish fulfillment. It has to do with making decisions or accepting the consequences of your good or poor judgement.

For me, a person who is an adult with a job, family, and active life, it is a very satisfying and engaging way to play. I am empowered, both by being successful in the game and by knowing that if I fail in the game, it is because I have made a bad decision. It is a beacon of choices that have meaning in my life. A place where my choice matters, unlike the drudgery of the office, or shopping market, or thousands of other disempowering systems and structures of control we are exposed to in our daily lives.

4e, and to a lesser extent Pathfinder is not about that. Those games are about creating a powerful build and making good tactical decisions in combat. This can be fun, but in my opinion pales in comparison to the first type of play. My choices are constrained to which squares do I move to in combat? What combat actions do I take? And the consequences of those are statistically predictable ones, to the point where I know the break-point of when using [Power Attack] is mathematically more beneficial.

Of course I am aware of how Pathfinder and 4e support exploration and some of the similar decision-making processes in old-style games, but they do so in a mechanically slanted, character build focused way. At best it is less about your plan, and more about taking actions that target statistical likelihoods, because even if you search in the right place, you can still fail your roll.

Are their ways of working around this? Of course, but that is rule 0 and cannot excuse what is actually written in the rules.

So I can say that yes, if you want to talk about all the cool powers your elf has, than 'what powers you have' is about wish-fulfillment.

And I don't desire wish-fulfillment, because I am not a teenager. I am empowered and in charge of my life. What I seek is that my choices have meaning. What I seek is accountability. What I seek is adventure.

Not to move four squares and activate my daily that buffs my friend.

On a Historical Perspective

I mean, what the hell, right?

What is with these old games?

Why are the retroclones so damn popular? So popular that the most played version of Dungeons & Dragons isn't called Dungeons & Dragons. So popular that the design aesthetic is influencing the modern version of the game. What is the deal? What is the plain secret answer?

I do not play role-playing games as a form of wish fulfillment.

Hm. Maybe I could be more clear. I do not play role-playing games as a form of wish fulfillment.

I was flipping through some old Dragon magazines the other day from the early 3.0 era. The entire magazine was given over to classes, feats and various other things that one could pick to design, enhance, or build one's character. None of those things have anything to do with the play of the game.  It isn't your special feat that wins the encounter -- encounters in most modern games are designed to be beaten. When you are faced with a choice about what your character does, it isn't the meta-magic feat [maximize spell] that determines their course of action, nor their trained arcane skill. Picking those isn't playing the game. Once you've done the important part, making the choice, the dice rolling and combat is all just resolution.

You see, the reason I play role-playing games is for the role-assumption, the exploration, the adventure. Do I pull the lever? Can I think of the right questions to ask? What will I find here? Can I come up with a good plan? The character I select is just the broadest tool, in the sense that it affects my stance and how I approach the game. Picking the character isn't playing the game.

Now this hasn't always been true. I was a teenager once, staring slack-jawed at He-Man; watching Adam the incompetent oaf infuse himself with power from his mighty metal penis of Greyskull to become the Platonic ideal of an alpha male.

Gary and Dave were around my age when they wrote this game. The audience for their game however was not. They were a bit younger. One can plainly follow the development of the changes in the game in the years that followed as their audience grew. And now that we have reached their age, we play the game the way they did.

Funny thing, that.

So next time you see someone shaking their head at 'those angry grognards', or someone who just doesn't understand why someone would want to play that game without all those feats and bells and whistles, just send them here. Those bells and whistles, feats and encounter powers and other detritus of empowerment fantasies aren't Fantasy Adventure. They are just little marks put down on a sheet.

When you wonder why people are distasteful of crunch heavy character build systems, know it's not because there's something intrinsically wrong with empowerment fantasies. It is just that there are people that prefer masturbatory activities to be private.

On Exploration In Life

The other week me and the wife went and explored a long abandoned milking barn!

Some notes and observations!

We explored the whole barn! It took about 15 minutes. During this time we were able to explore 8 10' x 10' squares safely! We were not mapping. It was the middle of the day and we did not need light sources.

Why did this take so long?

The experience was not without risk. The floor was literally covered in more then 1 inch of debris.

We had to check for wasps, snakes, and spiders -- all very real dangers in the area of the country we live in.

The surfaces were not smooth or easy to search visually.

I should note that we spent no time actually searching containers or trying to inventory the contents of the rooms. We were only attempting to move through the barn safely. There were many piles of junk and stuff lying about.

Any one of these piles could have been hiding a spider or a snake. It would take even longer to test each area before disturbing it for traps.

Another danger is keeping an eye out on the ceiling. It was easy to search  due to it being daylight, but that still doesn't keep you safe from what could be lurking inside. Holes were everywhere, but actually making out what was inside those holes was neigh impossible.

another activity that was relatively dangerous was trying to open doors. First, it was uncertain what was behind them. Second, opening them gave a poor idea as to what was in the room beyond.

If monsters actually existed and there was a good possibility of treasure existing in the structure we were exploring and it were dark, it would have taken a long long time to safely move and search the building. As it is, during daylight, while moving at a reasonable pace safely, looking around and snapping pictures it took us nearly the length of time classic D&D states for exploring structures for lightly encumbered people.

On Hidden Resources, Stable of Horses

We need an index.

So, let's say your players go horse shopping.


It produces entries like the following.

Light Warhorse, Black (Coronet), Average Quality150GP
Hit Dice: 2, Hit Points: 11, Move: 24", Carry 3000cn, Loaded 5000cn
Personality Traits: Leaper

How much cool stuff is out there that we are missing? Too much.

We need an index.

On Interesting Treasure, Sapphire Skull Brooch

You thought a skull was a strange place to find this. However it's coated with diamonds and sapphires. You're not even worried about anyone seeing you have it -- your helm seems a natural place to store this until you get back to town to sell it.

Assuming you can survive to sell it, it has a fair market value of 8600 gold pieces

On the Thursday Trick, Signs

Signs (Category: Special)

Trigger: Mechanical: Interaction 
Other: Player Greed
Effects: Varies
Save: VariesDuration: Varies
Resets: AutomaticBypass: None (Avoid)

From the Highly Recommended Oglaf
Description: Sometimes you want to challenge the player. Are they suspiscious? Are they greedy? Are they brave?

Some examples.

A trigger (lever, button, etc.) next to a sign that says "Treasure Vault Release". When pulled it opens a chute that drops coins of selected denominations on top of the players. If coins weigh 10 to the pound, it takes relatively little treasure to crush the players. This sign can be found inside of a pit to increase the lethality. This is an example of the literal sign. The sign is literally true and sounds positive but has negative consequences. Another example is a slide labeled "Safe Exit". It will allow you to exit the dungeon safely, but leaves you thousands of feet in the air.

A sign with text on it surrounding the trigger. The sign says "Push to X" where X is opening a door or some other desired effect. The trigger itself has a negative effect, setting off a trap or the like. The sign itself is what must be depressed in order to trigger the correct effect.

A warning or truth sign. This sign presages a trap, but does so in a way that misleads the characters into triggering the trap. A "Danger" sign with small text that you have to be close to read. This will trigger the proximity trap.

Detection/Disarming: Traps like this contribute to the myth of "DM versus Player" play, because it presents a choice that depends on the player himself to actually think. Given this requirement, an unscrupulous Dungeon Master might engage in Quantum Ogre finagling to get the result he desires to see. This all around results in bad play.

But the idea of a sign is not. In fact, it leads to engaging play. The key is, as mentioned above, that the Dungeon Master remain impartial -- that he look at the situation objectively when the players interact with the trap. This is important because these traps rely on misdirection, puns, and inappropriate assumptions made by the players.

The examples of signs originate from the Wurst of Grimtooth's Traps, which is a trademark of Flying Buffalo Inc. games.

On Battered Player Character Syndrome

Do you show up to the game each week wondering why?

Are you sitting across from your DM as he shakes his head at your attempts to navigate his adventure?

Do random, bad, unforeseeable things happen to you because you couldn't auger what the DM wanted you to say?

Then you might be suffering from Battered PC Syndrome.

Unlike traditional abusive relationships, experiences are not told of the months and months one spent laboring under the abuses of a Dungeon Master because that doesn't happen. What does happen is that people have singular or short term bad experiences with single Dungeon Masters.

Sometimes the intent of these people is good with them giving excuses like "But I want you to experience my story!" or "I'm going to make sure it's appropriately dramatic by following my script!"

Sometimes these people are ignorant of human nature or possess the naivety of youth leading to statements like, "Won't it be awesome when they see how bad-ass Thorin DeathBlade is! They can watch him cut down the dragon!"

In rare cases the intent is actively malicious, stemming from a desire to feel superior "Ah ha! You didn't say you were looking where you were going! Take 1-6 damage for walking into the wall" or from painful insecurity manifesting as a desire to control things "Players:We go south. Dungeon Master:There's an impenetrable forest! Players:We go east. Dungeon Master:An ocean lies there. Players:We get a boat. Dungeon Master:No one builds boats."

The truth is, when we game it is not our livelihood. It is not our home-life. This makes it clear that we aren't dependent on the person running the game in any way that can affect us in a material substantial way. By definition this person can only extend control over you to the amount you allow them to. You are engaging in a recreational act.

What's more is that we are not dependent on the person running the game for our entertainment. This might have been true twenty years ago in the late 80's, but you could find someone running a game in a few hours if you want to hop on over to G+. If for some reason that isn't good enough for you, the number of gamers is large and the stigma of doing so no longer exists in any real form.

The dynamics of abuse don't exist in any chronic long-standing form. Why is this important?

Because it lets us know that trying to design rules to prevent the above is pointless, because there is nothing to prevent.

Because it lets us know that avoiding playing some games because the rules aren't there to protect you is only robbing you of experiences you might otherwise enjoy.

Anyone can make a bad choice and have a game with a jerk. That problem is self-correcting. People who don't enjoy it won't play. Then the bad DM won't have players and he will stop running games.

On the Contents of Cells in Prison

On a list of what you might find in a prison cell!

From Empty Rooms, Tricks & Basic Trap Design, a prison cell is a room or chamber designed for the purpose of confining people awaiting trial or sentencing. The contents of a cell that is 'empty' can include: a pallet, bed, desk, quill, paper, scrolls, books, bench, privy, straw, cot, stool, waste, stale or urine odor, blood, skeletons, manacles, wall cressets, trash/refuse, jug, plate, fork, spoon, file, barred window

What kind of interesting things can be found in a cell? Look below!

1. A window to the outside or surface.
2. A skeleton with basic gear
3. Rats or other vermin eating scraps of remaining meals
4. A monster, such as a dungeon inhabitant or spy.
5. A wild animal.
6. A small tool or key hidden under a mattress.
7. A baby.
8. A secret hidey-hole, filled with food, or the start of a tunnel to freedom (perhaps even completed!)
9. Coins or a small piece of jewelry.
10. A stash of porn, perhaps monster-girls?
11. Makeshift weapons, such as a shank.
12. A prisoner, ripe for recruitment or to replace a player character!

On the Unbearable Visible Absence of Color

What we do is hard.

I assume that if you're reading this blog, you probably run a game. So at the very least you're responsible for creating content for your players.

An awful lot of modules are sold, which I think speaks to the difficulty of content creation.

What's more, if you're reading this there's a pretty good chance you're attempting to do more then just produce content for your players. You are producing content for a blog, self-publication, or even for an authentic real publication. And that can be hard.

Today we are going to talk about writer's block.

What's writer's block?

A waste of science damned time.

Either you're telling someone else you have it as an excuse OR you are telling yourself you have it while you stare at a blank page till you go browse Facebook.


Look, content creation is hard; artist, writer, scriptwriter, composer -- whatever. You can find a ton of wishy-washy namby-pamby feelgoodery out there about writer's block and what it is and how to cope with it. All that is a waste of time. What is writer's block? A manifestation of laziness and fear.

How do I solve writer's block?

You send me 20$ and I tell you.

That's funny now of course, but growing up in the 80's in a household with a working writer I saw more than one or two advertisements that made the same offer. Thank goodness for the internet where you can spend a thousand hours finding out you have writer's block without actually working!

Let's examine the causes of writer's block and how to fix them.

1. You're lazy.

Whatever it is you have to do next on the project is a lot of work. Make time and sit down and do it. How do you make time? That depends on your creative process. If you aren't feeling so compelled to make the time to sit down and do it, then by definition you aren't a writer/content creator.
Writers write, because they can't not.

2. You're an idiot.

Looking for just the right idea? That's an excuse that can keep you from working for a while. You know there's only like a handful of these, right? My favorite compilation is S. John Ross's Big List of RPG Plots, but depending on your field you probably have your own bible.

The idea is completely unimportant. What is important is your implementation of it

If you are sitting around waiting for the right idea, then you aren't writing. This makes you a daydreamer, not a writer. Writing is work. Take any idea and make it interesting. That will speak to your efforts as a creator.

3. You're a self-centered narcissist.

You have one really really good part of whatever you're working on because you've worked it over 100 times? Haven't started because you want to make sure you don't make any mistakes?

Enjoy not being a content creator.

You see, you are not perfect. Anything you do will be flawed. The only way to get good and produce good things is to actually produce something. The instant something becomes a real thing is the moment it loses the perfection of the platonic ideal.

In Conclusion

Now you're either making a knowing sage-like nod as you think about the 2,000 hours you slaved in addition to your full time job in the past year in order to get a work published or you're constructing your defensive whining so that you can tell the world that that in spite of the fact that you have never published anything in any form at all except for the comment they are about to make on this blog that they are really writers and all the above is wrong.

Either this will invigorate you and make you want to get back to work or it will inspire you to tell yourself how what I'm saying just really isn't true. You can tell by which you pick if you're really a writer or not. You should defiantly quit in a huff if you're completely able to detect sarcasm. Maybe you won't and you'll make something worth seeing.
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