On the Crew Member

Spelljammer week is too damn awesome for you! It sets up and doesn't leave, and you're like, "I'm ok with that, because this has been awesome! Oh, heck, you went and got beer and put it in my fridge too! Sweet!"

You're hiring a crew! Who the hell are they!?

Race

2.)             Rare (Pirate of Gith, Vodoni, Hurwaeti, Tinkerer Gnome etc.)
3.)             Hadozee
4.)    (2)     Xixchil
5.)    (3)     Grommam
6.)    (4)     Demi-human: Other (Tertiary Race in Sphere)
7.)    (5)     Demi-human: Dwarf (Secondary Race in Sphere)
8.)    (6)     Human (Primary Race in sphere)
9.)    (7)     Human (Primary Race in sphere)
10.)  (8)     Human (Primary Race in sphere)
11.)  (9)     Demi-human: Elf (Secondary Race in Sphere)
12.)  (10)   Giff
13.)  (11)   Lizard-man
14.)  (12)   Dracon
15.)  Scro
16.)  Unique (Illithid, Beholder, Neogi, etc.)

Feel free to adjust the table for the relative frequency of races in the crystal sphere!

This gives 35% of the crew being the primary race, 20% being the secondary race, and 8% being a minor race, making up 63% of the crew, giving over 33% to other common space-faring races. For a more common crew, consider rolling on the secondary 2d6 table.

How skilled are they? (2d4)

2.)  100% Green
3.)  75% Green 25% Average
4.)  50% Green 50% Average
5.)  25% Green 50% Average 25% Trained
6.)  25% Green 75% Average
7.)  100% Average
8.)  75% Average 25% Trained
9.)  25% Average 50% Trained 25% Green
10.) 50% Average 50% Trained
11.) 25% Average 75% Trained
12.) 100 % Trained

Crew Members can be hired for a variety of jobs:

  • Deckhands/Riggers: Provide maneuverability for the ship
  • Flagmen: People skilled to communicate with other ships using flags
  • Cooks: Mmmmm. Food
  • Artillerist, Heavy/Siege Weapon Specialist (Master Gunner): Operate and direct the firing of weapons. The master Gunner oversees all weapon fire on the ship.
  • Gunner/Powder Monkey: Weapon crew and expendable youth
  • Officer (Captain, First mate/Quartermaster, Bosun, Sailing Master/Astronavigators): These are listed in order of rank. The Captain is in charge of the ship. The First Mate tracks supplies and information for the captain. The Bosun is in charge of the integrity of the ship. The Sailing Master is in charge of the navigation and sailing of the ship, and is responsible for maps and instruments. 
  • Carpenter: Ship repairs
  • Musicians: Necessary for the long nights and boredom during travel
  • Buccaneers/Strikers: These are local specialists, serving as guides and aides to survival.
I use my book "On the Non-Player Character" to describe the individual hired and determine their personality.

On a Spelljamming Resource Collection

Some Spelljammer Resources to help you run a game!

Spelljammer: Beyond the Moons

Of particular interest beyond all the great planets and sphere ideas are the 3.5/PF conversion rules, a unified cannon Spelljammer history, and a quick random crystal sphere generator. And more. A lot more

The Piazza

This is an active board discussing Spelljammer! Come see the forum where every week is Spelljammer week. Also, they are super nice, and if you're looking to track down an out of print book, or have a question answered, they are the people to help you!

"If a player asks about oxygen and carbon dioxide, flip it back on them and ask how their character could know anything about that, and if they say they're asking out-of-character, ask them why it matters. If they ask in-character, explain it in terms of elemental forces (plants filter corruption out of the air or something). If they can't suspend their disbelief enough for in-game explanations to work, recommend they go play Traveller or something, since it would take too much time dealing with them whining about unicorns, dragons, elementals, planar travel and spelljammer being unscientific." - AuldDragon (Jeff) at the Piazza
Want more standup models for your Spelljammer game? Lose your old ones like I did? (I'm not bitter, I'm not bitter)

Visit Melkot.com and print off some new ones!

Here's a link to the Google Plus Community Spelljammer

Finally, some really well thought out ideas can be located here about adjusting the Spelljammer rules in various ways

Last, but not least:


Woah-Boy!

On the Creative Crystal Sphere

Playing Spelljammer? Searching for some Unique ideas for Crystal Spheres and planets?


  • A world made of a translucent golden substance with the remnants of an entire insect civilization inside
  • A planet identical to Oreth, down to the political situation and rulers, shopkeepers and prominent figures, except the dominate race is thri-kreen. Bigby the Archbug
  • Rildar, A world with an undead pseudo-babylonian empire seeks to eliminate the last vestiges of life and greenery found in a hidden mountain valley defended by pagan barbarians. Their skeletal armies and gargantuan demon-gods chained to rolling ziggurats are commanded by the spiderlace priestesses
  • A sphere containing a lone deity, the sole victor of a god war. It sits alone, pensively and internally debating the idea of recreating life on the currently bare planet
  • Palais, vice planet.  It's single round continent is covered in vivid red visitation contrasts with its planet wide green ocean, giving it the appearance of a cocktail olive from space. The ocean is the source of the powerful soporifics and spirits that are distilled on Palais. Paloma Blanca, the capital, is home to an unending debauched festival for the benefit of dissipated hedonists, scheming diabolists and decadent fae creatures. Palais's gleaming spires, thriving hospitality industry and interstellar narcotics trafficking is supported by the white fist, it's army of alabaster constructs, each a uncannily positive face on a flawless, sculpted, humanoid physique. 
  • A sphere filled with crystal sphere eggs, dominated by Nuhurrinu the Crystal Dragon, a force older than the universe. She slumbers nearly endlessly, which is why it is possible to escape with your life. All creatures tend the sphere eggs until it is time to take them out in the gossamer jammers and sow them afar. . .
  • The sphere is thick with tumbling asteroids, what terrible cause created such a place? What wealth is to be found on the endless asteroids?
  • A gas giant is filled with gentle gliding winged creatures that generate energy not by eating, but from differential currents created by their hundred foot wings. 
  • A sphere or planet filled with turning, whirling, wheels, springs, cogs, widgets, sprockets, pistons, and mechanisms, filled with inhabitants that are the information stream the machine processes. The players intrusion and the data anomalies it represents may destroy thousands of the sentient entities living in the slow-time mechanical simulation of reality that is the sphere.
  • A sphere where all entrances lead to the interior of a world eating giant, filled with refugees lead by a tinker gnome, salvaging resources from remnants of worlds, intent on creating a giant crabjammer to burst through the chest of the giant in a celestial orgy of creative destruction
  • A planet spins, for all the world resembling a colossal apple. Perhaps an equally colossal worm lurks under the surface
  • A perfect polygonal world, an early attempt by the gods at worldbuilding. Each face different and it is difficult and nauseating to cross from face to face, each side being starkly different to all nearby sides. The inhabitants of each side are all recognizable, but each appears unfinished in some subtle but conspicuous way.
  • A ball of molten rock, sporting a ring of pure water. The surface is uninhabitable, but the creatures who live in the ring fear nothing but space whales and geysers of lava from the molten planet. A trading city by dwavens of some measure (mechanical, or perhaps Azer) has been constructed on a large cooled free floating chunk of lava
  • A world where all begins anew every 300 days. A human lives for 3, emerging fully grown from their eggs and learning at an incredible rate. But the god-earth inhales in just under a year, and all creation is ended. When he breathes out, all begins anew again. 
  • The Gemball is a teal and purple monstrosity of alexandrite that orbits a red giant. It is a voidworld and is covered in craters and rugged canyons. Denizens of the plane of earth find the stone intoxicating and often consume it to their deaths, and poisonous life clings to the lower sheltered walls beneath the surface. The planet is also the base of a gang of harpy pirates, located near the shattered arches
  • The tiny moon known as the Dust Sphere was once the center of Agriculture for a forgotton Gith Empire. Their rush to exploit it triggered an ecological nightmare. The topsoil was blown into black clouds that crackled and shed blue lightning. Everyone died and the clouds grew to three times the size of the moon. Recently certain profane necromantic cults have build pearl pyramids amid the upper reaches, disturbing the vengeful djinn within the clouds.
  • The Jungle world of Goro is toxic and deadly to all normal life, but it is orbited by the thousand bronze pleasure palaces of Suulo the Efreet. Some are thousand room affairs, and others are little more than a platform with a gazebo and fire garden. 
  • A planet that is a honeycomb made of stone, filled with giant space bees. The whole sphere it resides in is self aware and the honeycomb and bees are its brain
  • The most vicious criminal empire in the sphere is a group of creatures of elemental fire. Long ago imprisoned in a water prison planet, they escaped by extracting the core of the planet, banishing the water down under a torrent of magma and fire. Now they reshape their paradise of dryness to their pleasure, excepting the rare storms that cause them to take shelter. Their bounty hunters and agents are terrifying elemental stone hybrid monsters that hunt the space ways.
  • The crystal shell was cracked and abandoned long ago, and the void leaks in. Voidcasters gather necromantic energy from the emptiness between the crystals. Their slaves endlessly work to seal the sphere, often becoming sucked and trapped against its surface, covered in a miles-long runs of blended slave meat, animated by congress with the void. Those slaves that have escaped rebel, and have a plan to strip the death-meat and use it against their former masters
  • Crystal men nurture crystal gardens, farms, and orchards, the vibrational power healing all meat-creatures laced with energy. The independent pacifist sphere remains so by allowing warlords to heal their armies here, by launching a crystal spire against the shell. The secret being that the vibrations heal emotional as well as physical wounds, and once violent warlords now defend the sphere with their life, against an evil, invading, insectile force.
  • The sphere of the Mirromancers has been found, their greatest magic allowing entire fleets and worlds to move via the reflections inside spheres. They were destroyed by the gods themselves, but now their world has been found and the interstellar race to decipher their work has begun. Why would the gods oppose such a magic? Does it threaten them? Are we thinking too small?
  • The only artificial sphere known is said to be a myth. It can travel along ley lines, along both time and space; the entire sphere is a mechanism with a city in the center. It used to sell timeships, and whoever figured out how the sphere constructed them could do so again. Someone used all the ships ever produced and filled the sphere with creatures of violence and malice of all types, all at once. Now it is a ghost sphere travelling randomly, and it was just seen nearby.
  • The planet has a golden insect with gossamer wings. When dried, they are the perfect material for a spellbook page and currently the rage of fashion. This has become so intense that travel to the planet has been blocked as a conference rages over who will manage and who can harvest and profit from the situation. The standard rogues gallery has been attracted by the combination of money and risk, causing a great deal of tension as they all orbit the planet
  • The empire's name is lost to time, but the memory of their ability to destroy crystal spheres is not. 18 were vanquished before they were stopped. Now someone claiming to be their last son has arisen and crushed one sphere.
  • The paradise sphere was colonized, but turned out too good to be true. It was a garden alright, and the void giants who owned it were quite unhappy to awaken and find it filled with pests. They have now begun their campaign to extinguish the humans, much as humans exterminate mice, using surprise, poison, machines, whatever - so long as they leave.
  • The planet is painted black, with a miniature sun burning at its heart. The lowest areas are filled with the most light, homes are lit from beneath. Above is all darkness. 
  • Long forgotten to the inhabitants, the planet is a weapons cache. If the peaceful innocent grey skinned people are exposed to the void, they undergo a monstrous transformation. A few can wipe otu a whole fleet, they can crack crystal spheres with their strength, they could become a plague and corrupt the ether. They have no memory of this, but there are those that do. . .
  • A disgraced emperor escaped judgement with his empire's wealth. He bought immortality and a sphere and filled it with art. Haunted and paranoid, he filled it with constructs and locked it as best he could. All his time is spent in the pleasure palace and the bored constructs eventually forgot him, forming a society based on the wondrous art they see. They are all controlled via the throne he had exquisitely sculpted for that purpose, when the king of the constructs discovered this and that the throne still exists, he knew the emperor must be slain and the throne destroyed if they were ever to be safe and free. 
    • Another construct has a different idea. Perhaps the throne could be used by a construct, to control meat for a change. Moved and installed into a new sphere, it could raise a devastating invasion force. 
  • In a time before time, two gods warred, and one lost his head struck from his shoulders, drifting now through infinity. It has gathered dirt and muck, and life has begun upon it. But the head is not so buried that it's shape is not obvious to those who study the geography of it.

On the Ecology of the Giant Space Hamster

Ecology of the Giant Space Hamster!


Silly? Only because you've never died to one!

There are many giant breeds, including:

  • Subterranean - Digs through soft rock, sometimes called dirt.
  • Saber-toothed
  • Rather wild - slightly left of wild, right of haggard
  • Invisible -  but only when no one is looking
  • Sylvan
  • Jungle
  • Miniature
  • Armor-plated
  • Yellow Musk
  • Ethereal - also, translucent skin!
  • Carnivorous flying
  • Two-headed lernaean bombardier
  • Tow-faced lagan
  • Fire-breathing, phaseing, doppleganging
  • Great horned 
  • Abominable
  • Tyrannohamsterus rex
  • and the Space Hamster of Ill-omen.
Other more rare breeds include
  • Spotted
  • Club-foot
  • Terribly dire
  • Feathered
  • Hopping
  • Slithering
  • Burning Vorpal
  • Night
  • Meek & Friendly
  • Voracious
  • Steel
  • Many-hatted
  • Hamstornado
Where did Giant Space Hamsters come from? The sages discuss it below.
  • They are the remnants of childhood imaginary friends long forgotten
  • Deep in the deepest depths of deep deep space is the sorcerous space station of Peng. There, the sorcerous sorcerer of Peng has performed many countless uncounted innumerable experiments for years uncounting, seeking to perfect the perfect titanic battle creature with which he can wreak his revenge against the universe. A universe that cast him as a lunatic, a madman!
    • He is, without doubt, a gifted master of the mastery of genetic splicing. However, he suffers from a scarcity of subjects save for his pet hamsters. With their many offspring (and siblings), he works feverishly to perfect his creatures.
    • He is also, without doubt, a hapless idiot when it comes to security. And so, many of his creations escape from Peng and somehow end up scattered across the universe. 
  • The goal of the program was to develop a breed of Giant Space Hamster that could infiltrate enemy positions and operate individually behind the lines. The program was headed by an overly obsessed G-gnome operative. 
    • The program was a complete failure, until, in a horrible accident, the G-gnome heading the program was transformed in a horrible accident into a Giant Space Hamster herself. During her operative period, she took the code name "Nebula". While she herself was a very successful hamster agent, her refusal to mate with "natural" giant space hamsters meant the program ended with her. 
  • They are the imaginary friends of an infant godling!
  • Every time a rules lawyer makes a GM cry, a different space hamster is born!
  • The evil summoner Farfegnu was attempting to summon the horrible Hgythracolabartphamat from the depths of a demon hell dimension when he was interrupted by the escape of his young daughter from her succubus nurse. Instead of summoning Hgythracolabartphamat, Farfegnu reached into the pink bedroom of Alexandra Tuppin who had just dressed Twinkles, her pet hamster,  in a tiny pink princess hat with a flowing diaphanous ribbon. 
    • Twinkles was ripped from Earth and appeared in Farfegnu's Seclusion where to everyone's droll surprise mammals from Earth are 25 times the size of local mammals. While Farfegnu was horrified by the cute giant, his daughter was not and the girl and giant hamster lived in happiness for many years. Until a party of adventures invaded the seclusion slaughtering everything in its path except Twinkles, who, having drunk a concoction of broken potions was able to fly off into space in search of his home world dressed in a dainty pink hat.
  • A space wizard did it
  • It started as a harmless business venture, custom pets, that got a little out of hand.
    • Ok. A lot out of hand
  • The rare Intelligent Giant Space Hamster Breed, an ancient race of religious star-faring traders wait for the day that Cuddles, the Chosen Hamster of blood will lead them to the land of endless pellets
  • Crystal spheres are actually hamster balls. Notorious escape artists, some hamsters escape them, then drift in the void looking to eat, mate, and poop. Their poop, by the way, provides a fantastic hull for a cigar-shaped inter-stellar vessel.
  • Space Hamsters are the degenerate remnants of the oldest, most important interstellar race. Having constructed the transportation hamster tunnels we know as the wormhole network, they traveled to many worlds to spread the squeaking joy of their own religion. After a catastrophic religious war (clockwise hamster wheel rotation vs. counterclockwise), only the mightiest (or most overlooked) hamster heroes were left, made nearly immortal by their fluffy sciences. Their mental faculties proved not quite so resilient, so after many millennia, all that was left was the animalistic Giant Space Hamsters of today.
  • Normally, stellar radiation has unpredictable and dangerous effects on living tissue. For unknown reasons, it always has the same effects on hamsters: rapid growth, increased intelligence, and eventual development of psionic ability
"Go for the eyes Boo, GO FOR THE EYES!!!" -Minsc to his Miniature Giant Space Hamster Boo.

On a Generator of Missions

I've run many, many games. No matter the game, the party gains access to a commerce hub and immediately begins asking about work.

Well, I'm done scrambling about. The random mission generator for Shadowrun/Spelljammer/Fantasy City is below!
  1. Assault/Raid
    1. Fortress
    2. Town
    3. Ship
    4. Ambush
    5. Skirmish
  2. Extraction (Voluntary/Involuntary)
    1. Jail
    2. Prison camp
    3. Private prison
    4. Prisoner of war
    5. From empolyment (corporation/crown)
    6. Natural Disaster
    7. From hostile forces
      1. Tower
      2. Dungeon
      3. Jail
      4. Camp
      5. Building
  3. Theft
    1. Caravan
    2. Individual
    3. Building
    4. Hijacking
    5. Kidnapping
    6. Piracy (Tranfer of goods between vehicles)
    7. Salvage
  4. Bounty
    1. Monster
    2. Individual
    3. Posse
    4. Pest-Control
    5. Hunting (Safari-style)
    6. Hunting (Commercial gain)
      1. Any of the above may be Dead or Alive
  5. Escort
    1. Caravan
      1. Commercial
      2. Pilgrimage
    2. Animal (Cattle)
    3. Object/Transport
    4. Message/Parcel
    5. Personnel
    6. Smuggling
      1. Goods
      2. Weapons
      3. People/Items
  6. Coup d'etat
  7. Duel/Contest
    1. Sport
    2. Weapons
    3. One vs. One
    4. Team vs. Team
    5. Tournament+
    6. Brawl
  8. Assassination
  9. Sabotage
    1. Arson
    2. Destruction
    3. Planting evidence
      1. Forgery
  10. Exploration
    1. Area
      1. Mapping
      2. Trailblazing
    2. Spying
      1. Armies
      2. Governments
      3. Populations
  11. Mysteries
    1. Murder
    2. Disappearance
    3. Riddle/Puzzle
  12. Skill (Cooking/Leatherworking, etc.)
    1. Labor (Farmhand, General Labor)
    2. White Collar (Appraiser, Scribe)
    3. Black Market (Forger, Lockpicker)
    4. Service (Armor Tester, Waiter, Usher, Etc.)
Any mission above may be given by the Authority, an Individual (such as a Merchant, Noble, Wizard/Scientist/Alchemist, Politician, Public Servant), Rebels, Feuding families or groups, or a Faction. Any of the above may come with an "Obstacle Course" or test before employment. Any of the above may also be just a preface for a different actual task.

The actual adventure comes in the twist however. Common permutations of the above options are listed below. This is your VALUE-ADD.

  • Assault/Raid
    • You must attack and kill/retrieve a macguffin
    • You must defend a structure that someone is planning to attack
    • You attack the structure, but the 'victims' welcome you
    • You attack the structure and the victims welcome you, but then try to kill you
    • There are exceedingly strong long term consequences of the Assault
  • Extraction:
    • You must recover or retrieve the macguffin
    • You must insert or place the macguffin in the target area
    • You are the macguffin to be retrieved
    • You go to the macguffin and they want to stay or you see a reason retrieving it would be bad
    • You go to the macguffin and they want to stay because they just wanted to expose weaknesses where they are (or some other method via they help their captors)
    • You go to the macguffin and decide retrieving it would be bad, but really it's bad to not retrieve it because you were misinformed
    • There is no macguffin and never was
    • The maguffin is surprisingly difficult to retrieve
  • Theft:
    • You must steal a macguffin
    • You must protect the macguffin from theft
    • When you go to steal the macguffin it's not their or is not what you expected
    • As above, except it secretly is (illusion, secret compartment)
    • You go to steal the item and discover the owners are glad to part with it or the macguffin wants to be stolen
    • There is no treasure to steal
  • Bounty:
    • You get paid for killing a creature
    • You get paid for preventing people from poaching or killing a creature
    • The bounty is on your head
    • The creature or the reward is fictional
    • No one believes the creature still exists but it does
    • The bounty on a creature is very high, after killing many of them, the effects on the ecosystem become known
  • Escort:
    • You must accompany a macguffin to a destination
    • You are the person to be escorted
    • Something has affected the destination that makes completion of the mission impossible
    • The macguffin is not what it appears, making delivery impossible
  • Coup d'eat:
    • You must unseat a person in power
    • You are the person in power someone is attempting to unseat
    • The person in power is actually the one who should be
    • The person in power is the one who hired you to depose him
    • You don't need to unseat the person in power because of their new position
    • Performing the Coup d'eat destablizes the region and the fallout changes the shape of the campaign
  • Duel/Contest:
    • You must defeat an opponent
    • Someone is trying to stop or defeat you
    • Your opponent throws the match
    • Your opponent loses, meanwhile he's accomplishing his goal while you're tied up with him
    • The contest is called on account of weather
    • The contest doesn't need to occur because of other developments that put you and your opponent on the same side
  • Assassination:
    • You must kill a target
    • People have taken a contract out on your life
    • The person is paying you to kill them
    • The person is paying you to kill them, but is actually under the control of the players enemies
    • When you go to kill them, they are removed in another way as an obstacle (or perhaps they leave the prime material) meaning it is no longer necessary to kill them
    • Assassinating your target causes more problems then it solves
  • Sabotage:
    • You must sabotage a target
    • You must protect a target from being sabotaged
    • There is a non-functional device that must be repaired
    • The target you set out to sabotage is already non-functional
    • The non-functional target is actually just a ruse, the real danger is coming from another foreshadowed source
    • The target due for sabotage fails of its own accord for entirly seperate reasons
    • Sabotaging the target actually makes your own goals more difficult to achieve
  • Exploration:
    • You must explore an area
    • You must prevent a group from finding out about an area
    • You set out to explore an area only to discover it is already well mapped
    • You discover a well mapped out area that you set out to explore but find that all the maps are very inaccurate
  • Mysteries:
    • You must solve a mystery
    • You must prevent someone from discovering what you have done
    • You set out to solve a mystery, but the solution is easily found. Knowing it causes a whole new set of problems
    • Something happened with an obvious solution, a close examination will show that perhaps the obvious solution isn't correct
    • Something that appears to be a mystery is clearly not when examined
  • Skill:
    • Your skill or work is tested
    • You are needing to hire people for a project
    • You set out to do a job, but it turns out there are bigger problems
    • The bigger problems require a different skill you have
    • It turns out that a skilled person wasn't needed at all


If you think this post is something, check out my Village Generator, Ecology Series, my book On the Non-Player Character or the Index for more!

On the Intersection of Gonzo and Awesome

Welcome to Spelljammer Week!

If you think Spelljammer is dumb, you are missing out!

Do you know why?

Here are some peoples comments:

"I thought it a ridiculous concept. The idea of putting Forgotten Realms in Space into a game just seems wonky for lack of a better description."
"I was in my teens and thought it was so far fetched that it was stupid."
"I didn't like it mostly because it lacked imagination. The complete rejection of any kind of science or tech turned it into MAGIC IN SPAAAAAACE!!!! When you already have the means to magically create a stable wormhole between two worlds, why would you ever need a magic ship to fly there?"

Sounds terrible right? It's not. I'll tell you why.

People complain about Gonzo because it isn't 'rational', 'doesn't make sense' and is 'stupid'. What makes this an ironic statement is it describes every property they are a fan of . Here, let's try it.

A farm boy is actually the son of the galactic emperors second in command and he ends up not only destroying their impenetrable fortress by shooting it with his eyes closed, but also learns to fight with lazer swords and is responsible for convincing his father to slay the emperor who can shoot lightning from his fingers. He's a member of a secret group of psychic ninjas.

Hm. Maybe again:

Ok, so the world is actually a computer simulation and in the real world people fly around in squid-like ships and avoid evil robots while in the computer a messiah can fly around and fight like superman against evil programming code. Also, for some reason, humans are batteries and have to produce more energy then they consume.

There is one difference between gonzo that's stupid and gonzo that isn't, and that's how well it is presented.

George E. Williams IV says it best:
I think the reason some people hate it is the silly elements, which are not overbearing or constant. Giff, the hippo men, are hilarious but have you ever seen an angry hippo? They are terrifying. 
Dungeons and Dragons by it's nature and design is gonzo and absurd. Look at the clothing styles! Talking spellcasting dragons! Magical yet medieval societies!

When you present gonzo features as deadly serious then it becomes awesome.

When a pirate giff pins your character to the wall with 800 pounds of muscle, and his mouth is open and against your face, not to eat you, but because the labor of crushing your ribs is causing him to exert himself, and his thick blunt teeth are tearing the skin of your face off as you choke on his fetid breath, then it ceases to become absurd.

Spelljammer did have a presentation issue as Thomas Fitzgerald (of Middenmurk) points out:

"It was something we approached with conservative teenage gamer orthodoxy and found it unplayably bland. My impression is still of an intriguing premise let down by lacklustre execution and a weird genericism of aesthetic. The fact that it lacked a DiTerlizzi or a Brom was unfortunate. It coulda been a contender."[1]

So, really, beyond actual presentation skill, the failing of modern gonzo comes down almost exclusively to how seriously it is presented.

What people are actually saying when they say "Property X is stupid because it is gonzo" is "I couldn't imagine a way of presenting that in a serious or dramatic fashion." That's a failing in the viewer, and not the property.[2]

Some more praise of Spelljammer:

by Jennell Jaquays
"Played it, loved it, and I still own the boxed sets, books and grid maps. Spelljammer was UNIQUE, at that time there was nothing in 2nd Edition that touched it." -Jesse Fulgoni
"Love the idea and have pulled bits of it in to games before, never got to play it straight." - Eric Aubey
"My group loved it . . .If I would run it knowing what I know now, I'm confident I  would rock it." - Jasper Polane
"Loved it. Got dozens of stories. It took my players awhile to adjust to the setting but once they did we had a blast." - Michael Fuller
"My first experience with Spelljammer turned into a campaign that lasted more than...geesh... 3 years and counting now. Once you get into Mind Flayers and Drow in space and Giff carrying guns as big as some of your team it can turn quite serious if you want it to." - Emily Vitori
"Neogi are among my favorite enemy monsters, and having them appear in a campaign on one of their spider-like ships doing some slaves'n'food pillaging is usually exciting!" -Carl Niclas

[1] I believe Jennell Jaquays could have been this person.
[2] Before you get all riled up; this doesn't mean a property can't be 'not to your taste'. I don't particularly like Yu-Gi-Oh as a matter of taste, but not because it's gonzo. I can imagine ways that I can take and present that property seriously -- I just won't because I don't like it. When I asked about opinions on spelljammer, I didn't receive responses like "I wasn't interested in wavecrawl type adventures." Or "I prefer smaller scales" The responses were as those in the beginning of the post. ALSO: this doesn't mean the property can't be bad or dull or boring. It's certainly possible to ruin any idea or setting by doing that.

On Interjecting Illusionism Ingeniously


So are the ways we can use Illusionism in our game without invalidating the agency of the players?

This is a crucial issue, so let's revisit the original definition of Agency as a refresher.

Player Agency (n.): “the feeling of empowerment that comes from being able to take actions in the [virtual] world whose effects relate to the player’s intention” -Mateas, 2001

So, everything you do as a Dungeon Master is valid for empowered except for one very special case.

Are you taking an action that invalidates the players expectation of the result of their action?

That is what each of the many techniques in the Quantum Ogre series revolve around.

  • Explaining the consequences of action
  • Letting the players know about the effects of their choices
  • Reminding the player of what they might have forgotten, so that their expectations are rational
  • Not shutting them down by saying no, but instead letting them know what to do to achieve their intention
  • Giving them warning of dangers ahead of time
Know that the answer to that question is not a simple, objective, clear-cut answer. It is one of emotion. Does the player feel invalidated? Do they feel railroaded? This is why so many of the solutions provided involve not hiding information, and reducing that information gap necessary for illusionism, instead of taking advantage of it.


Techniques

Let go of any preconceived notions about how things should play out. 

There is no flaw in a general course set for the campaign, but if the sequence of events isn't in doubt, then players aren't necessary. The organic creation is going to be more innately satisfying to the players, and provide greater opportunity to you.

Look, here's a secret. You're the Dungeon Master. You can make anything happen, anywhere, that isn't in the vicinity of the players, however you want. You can even achieve your outcome without invalidating their choices, depending on how you approach it.

Deciding certain things have to happen a certain way in play and then using blunt, clumsy, techniques to make it happen is just poor technique and style.

Figure out how to make what happens awesome, instead of how to make an awesome thing happen.

This is the correct stance of Flexible Progression.

Vet or clear the basic premise before the game begins. 

"You guys are going to be travelling around with an ancient good lich, who acts as your mentor or teacher, does that sound cool?"

You know, I'm running a story focused campaign right now. I said, "can we do Spelljammer?" Everyone said yes. Then I ran the campaign as normal, starting in a village, with a festival. They kept expecting me to shove the kicker down their throat, which caused them to second guess themselves the whole time. When they finally found the ship, they were motivated both in-game and out to take it, of their own free will.

This is addressing the question directly. By doing so, they explicitly make a choice who's effects are respected.

Foreshadow events.

Building up to things in the weeks before they occur, make the players feel as if they are discovering what is happening instead of something being forced on them. Have them hear a rumor about a dead wizard that still lives given up all hope at being reunited with their love three sessions before this one. Then the next session, have people talk about a ghost ship that flies through the sky. Finally, have the adventure before talk about a falling star nearby that no one has been able to find.

By the time they discover the ship in play, they are armed with the information that makes them want to react in the way that allows the campaign to travel forward in the way you have conceived.

This transforms railroading and illusionism into player driven discovery. By foreshadowing, you set expectations beforehand. This by the structure of play aligns player intent with the result of their choice.

Pre-plan and allow for the other option to be as interesting as the one initially presented. 

Assume and plan for agency. So what if the players reject your expect action out of hand? The option that they pick should be designed so that it is interesting no matter their choice. Reject the good lich? Perhaps he becomes the nemesis, or vanishes leaving them the ship only to return later. Whatever they should pick, interesting play should flow from that.

The only way that works, is if you spend just a few minutes ahead of time thinking about possible options and what can be interesting depending on which is selected.

This is the effective use of Multiple Outs and Flexible Progression. This is a technique ripe for abuse, and requires thought to insure that the results of the various options don't disregard the intent of the player.

Do not depend on a singular option to move the game forward.

Anything that can stop play should be optional. Full stop.

Puzzles, riddles, clues, mysteries -- you must consider that what seems simple to you may be very complicated to your players. It is very difficult to accurately communicate what is in your head to players of your games.

If it doesn't stop play, but simply changes the outcome, then this option doesn't apply.

The original series on Player Agency "The Quantum Ogre" is there.
Part 1 of looking at Illusionism, "On the Tacit Acceptance of Play" is there.
Part 2 of looking at Illusionism, "On is Ed Greenwood the Devil" is there.
Part 3 of looking at Illusionism, "On Theory Defined: Illusionism" is there.
You're reading part 4 of the series examining illusionism.

On Theory Defined: What is Illusionism?

Recently, I've been talking about Illusionism.

What is it?

The definition used in gaming comes from philosophy's stance of illusionism.

It is the position that free will does not exist and is merely an illusion.

The basic precepts of this stance are outlined in Stephen Hawking's Book, The Grand Design:

"The molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets...so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion"- page 32
The Magician's Choice, Equivocation!

Obviously, there is a clear parallel to the behaviors used in gaming, such as the magician's choice and the idea of illusionism. What's a magician's choice? It is sometimes called a Force or Equivocation.

At its basic level, it invalidates choice to get the result you want.

Consider a lever, and a trap! 
You want the trap to trigger, so badly, because it opens into a pit that contains Macguffin that allows the game to progress in a way you have decided is dramatic.  
There is a lever nearby. The lever is your force. It allows the Dungeon Master to portray the illusion of free will. No matter what they do, the trap will trigger.
  • If they pull the lever, it will trigger the trap
  • If they ignore the lever, it was the way to disarm the trap

In the end, they feel as if they have had a choice, and you end up with the result you want.

Other Illusionism Techniques

Multiple Outs: In magic, this is when you prepare for any choice the mark makes. If they pick a number 1-3, you have a slip under their chair that says "You picked #1", one in your hat that says "You picked #2" and another inside your pocket that says "You picked #3". No matter which they picked, you are correct.

This translates directly to role-playing when you prepare for multiple outcomes for choices that the players make. No matter which choice they select, you allow for the consequences of that choice to flow, but also plan so that it appears that designing the game to go that way was your intent.

Stooge or Ringer: This is a rarely used technique, where one of the players is in on your plans for the game. The best documented example of this technique is from the series I HIT IT WITH MY AXE in the episode "Deciding which goblin to hit"

Flexible Progression: This technique is when you present options to the player and if they do not pick the option you need, you simply continue with an alternate result. You activate the event or choice you want to occur when they do finally make the selection you desire. 

Psychological Equivocation: This is a less consistent technique relying on situational factors and language designed to encourage the "correct" choice. Examples include:
  • Presenting the choice you want selected prominently, while downplaying other options
  • Using language or design to influence a choice
These are highly unreliable and inconsistent.

Illusionism

This ties directly in with the basic precept of illusionism, which is that the players themselves do not have any real choice.

These techniques depend on the information gap which naturally exists between the Dungeon Master and the Players. There are heavy dangers and risks in using these techniques:
  • It may impact the agency of the players
  • It loses its effectiveness the more it is used. For first time players or for their first exposure to a technique, it may be extremely effective. Long time players will pick up on these techniques almost immediately
Realistically Dungeon Masters use many of these techniques. It is crucial in the use of these techniques that Player Agency is respected, otherwise frustration results.

The original series on Player Agency "The Quantum Ogre" is there.
Part 1 of looking at Illusionism, "On the Tacit Acceptance of Play" is there.
Part 2 of looking at Illusionism, "On is Ed Greenwood the Devil" is there.
You're reading Part 3 of the series looking at illusionism.
and Part 4 of Looking at Illusionism "On Interjecting Illusionism Ingeniously" is there.

On the Ecology of the Rat

"The problem with rats is that they will thrive anywhere. They fill up wherever they are, until some of them end up in a corner.  Then you have corned rats to deal with. Only a matter of time." - Nunthil Van Dorminscant, Reagent-aide

Nomenclature: Rat

Description: Medium-sized, long-tailed, furred mammals

Things that are known:

  • They have poor vision
  • They live anywhere
  • The have litters of up to 20 and breed prolifically
  • They have a lifespan of up to 7 years
  • Certain infections, cults, and sorceries can grant humanoids rat-like traits or even turn them into rats themselves
  • Somewhat surprisingly, nearly every person of note ever can relate a story about how they had to clear a basement out of rats immediately before they became a person of importance.

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • Before monsters, rats were smaller
  • The rats become dire and grow to enormous size, because they broke through to the underworld, finding new stores of food and room to grow. Some grew to the size of wolves or even bears. Others feasted on the blood of demons, becoming monsters in their own right
  • Cultists worship rats because they see the wealth it has brought the rats to break into the underworld. They seek to master the dark, so that they may serve gods instead of kings. Perhaps to drink and eat of the blood and flesh of the gods instead of subsisting on moral scraps
  • Some cultists have managed to become like the rat only in moonlight or through magic, allowing a rat to consume what is human, leaving only a human skin. Others have taken what is good of the rat and grafted it to their flesh, becoming the standing rats, the man-rats, inheritors of the wealth of the new world
  • The sign of rats is sign that there is something beneath the depth. Where does the rat live? In the rat hold. That is where the secrets lie
  • The sailors of Suul say that rats are the progeny of a drowned and bloated god that came from the sea. That is why no sailor will kill a rat and why they seek the damp and dark
  • Rats are the physical manifestation of urban property, exhibit a strange gravitational energy towards other emblems of poverty: rotten clothes, empty wineskins, and the lowest value coins. 
  • Rats have grown as the world around them has been corrupted
  • Rat-kind has exploded for another reason, feeding off the magical detritus and runoff of society. Over generations of tainted meals of the dead, mutated cast-off experiments, and other arcane energies, rats have become stronger, larger, and smarter and even learned to walk and talk. The ratkin are still rats at heart, tribal, organized, using tools in their lairs
  • Rats are the physical incarnation of things badly made, or scrambled in the making. Many of them bear mutations or unhealing oozing sores. They are masters of argots and broken codes. They are drawn to tar, the stars, and the arts
  • "Radagast" is a filthy word in the slang of rats and the double secret name of their hidden shadow pontiff -- Radagast the most Reviled
  • While rats increase in size and strength, their cousins, the mice have gotten smaller and sneakier
  • The traditional guardians against rats are of no use against these smaller mice, who are too small to be pounced upon. These vermin, no larger than a grain of sand form swarms that portray locusts as cuddly pets. They have the ability to strip a grown man to bones and buckles in under an hour.
  • The alchemist's guild, sole breathers of the hellscotties, trained fire-breathing dogs, denies any rumor that they are responsible for the pipmice
  • A wererat is more dangerous and scheming than a hoard of enemies, able to blend into human societies, trading brute force for cunning, as smart as a man no matter the form they wear.
  • The teeth of rats never stop growing. They must gnaw constantly or their teeth will grow too long, killing them. This is only part of the truth. It is not the teeth, but the rats that never stop growing. Given the space and food, they grow ever larger and ever hungrier. They never stop gnawing. They never stop eating. . .
  • Wererats were not originally human. A mad alchemist wondered if lycanthropy could be reversed and humanoid animals could be created. His lab rats agreed with the procedure, but not with their situation. Investigating into the circumstances of his death make it clear he did nothing to prevent their infection from spreading
  • The ability of rats to spread and share information defies analysis, impossible to understand and control. One heretical sect of mathomages holds that rat-knowledge is both so fast and so ubiquitous that it must be a branch of god-knowledge.
  • Giant rats arrived in the belly of a ship that raided mega-fauna from a long lost land. Accordingly, when enough gather near water, it flows in the opposite direction, making them useful in the construction of pluming, river locks, and traps
  • Ratkin are descended from the King Ferdinand the Rat. They are bold, love battle, and bands of young Ratkin are nearly always raiders or mercenaries.
  • A ratkin never builds a home, only squatting once tragedies empty established homesteads. 
  • Rats and ratkin are known to build strange and beautiful piling sculptures from rubble. They eat anything and work well in a group. They are capable of executing complex tactical maneuvers with no communication, having learned such maneuvers from their oral histories and ancestors
  • Great works of ratkind are The Squeak, Dawn and We Discovered an Uneaten Sandwich. Tales of the ratkind include How David the Rat Pinned the Great Stoat and Stole Back the Sun, and Why Nettleskin Rat Kept Knives in Her Fur.
  • Rats are given a bad rap, they are really just happy, polyandrous, hippy sneaks!
  • Ratmen are immune to creature and plant based poisons
  • All rats spy for the Rat King who seeks one day to be pretty
  • Rats are the reincarnated forms of sinful people, the larger the rat, the worse the sin
  • Ratkin are the eventual results of incestuous relationships between noble families
  • The Rat King is a demi-god of filth and evolved ratman. His senses are distorted, explaining his fondness for copper
  • Ratmen are the result of children abandoned on dirty city streets, only able to regain their humanity if they find the parents who left them
  • Rats are the agents of entropy, seeking copper dipped in blood. Were they ever to collect one million pieces, it would mean the end of the world. . .
  • The remarkable nature of rats is not due to the rat at all, it is due to the fleas that infest them, resulting in many and varied mutations, from the common dire, to fire-breathing, regeneration, acid saliva, and worse
  • The swarming rats in narrow cave warrens are actually bats who found flight impractical. They retain only vestigial wingflaps, but their sonar is acute and weaponized
  • Dire rats are the result of a rat who has consumed enough of its brethren. Then when the dire rat consumes enough humans it becomes a ratkin. Ratkin perpetuate this process by feeding small human children to the dire rats
  • A dire rat is a ratking, rats pushed so closely together that they merge and become one giant rat.
  • Pungent cheese wards ratkin as garlic does vampires. Centuries of using cheese to trap rats has caused them to associate the scent with danger
  • The fleas on rats brought black death with them, but the fleas on dire rats are that much more terrible. To survive a fight with a dire rat is to die a slow tortured death, soon after.
  • As a rat's teeth always grow, so to, do the dire rats. But wood does not wear them down. Instead dire rats gnaw on stone. Ratkin gnaw on human bone
  • Some sages purport that men evolved from monkeys. The dwarvelves (hairy, bearded elves who like forging mithril and gems) hold that this is obviously not true, for there are no monkeys in the Fantastickal Lands of Middle Oerop. According to dwarvelvish lore, a Madman from the Far North, from beyond the Maw of Whitefear the Bear God and beyond the razor winds of Iron Boreas, came seven thousand years ago. 
    • The Madman, called Piripetros by the dwarvelves of Morgolindon and Petropirireis by the dwarvelves of Taudrakshka, offered to save the dwarvelven holmings of their rat plague in exchange for half their gold and half of their most beautiful princesses. The dwarvelves agreed and with his magical Fluting Alpenhorn he summoned the rats from the deep holmings.
    • But the avaricious dwarvelves then slammed their doors shut and refused to pay the Madman who howled and puffed and roared in rage. He departed into the Flat Lands of Grass with his rat horde and there gifted them with uncanny prowess and knowledge (but not wisdom) and from these rats came the plague of MEN. 
    • According to the few remaining dwarvelves, therefore, rats are the larval stage of the locust creatures known as Men.
  • There are rumors that in the old alchimitorium where the white wizards perished researching the plague dragon's corpse a race of intelligent six-limbed rats have arisen, with an additional set of manipulating hands hidden in pouches inside of their mouths
  • Dire rats acquire intelligence by eating the brains of slain creatures. Eventually they become intelligent enough to realize this and seek out areas of frequent slaughter, like dungeons that attract adventurers.
  • Ratkin include capybaras, chinchillas, nutrias, guinea pigs, hamsters, gophers and doppelgangers.
  • Rats are elemental sponges, acquiring the magical properties of their surroundings. In filthy human cities they carry diseases. In gorgeous natural elven tree-holds they poop edible caffeine berries. In dwarven duggings they accumulate "cave pearls" in their livers and are often bred on a diet of gem-dust to produce beautiful pearls which are then sold abroad.
  • In halfling communities there are very few rats because they are used to make the famous three-bite-pie.
    Mablox

  • Death Wizards first bred semi-intelligent dire rats so they wouldn't have so much trouble with buying fresh slaves and captives from humanoid villages.
  • A dire rat's soul is worth one fifth of a man's soul and three-quarters of a woman's soul, according to Pulchraphobos' seminal work, The Balance of Souls.
  • Orcs will buy bundles of rats at sixteen silver pence the half-dozen. Or at two silver pence for a single rat. Math is not an orcish strong suit.
  • Several species of dire rodent have prehensile tails, which can grow into a new rodent if severed.
  • Dried and ground skyforest rat gonads protect from mummy rot.
  • Ear-rats are popular familiars among wizard-scouts, who use them to listen in on distant conversations.
  • A rat is a bat without wings. Rats can crossbreed with bats, resulting in winged monkey-rats. There is no monkey in a flying monkey, just a lot of nasty rat.
  • Rat bites can cure old age. . . . or at least prevent it.
  • Dire rats are otherworldly rats that come from the domain of the Mater Milia, the rat spirit. They are her agents and children, and normally live in her halls where they "gnaw at the pillars of the universe". They may breed with normal rats and create giants rats.
  • Were-rat skins are used to make Face-masks of Animal Charming.
  • Old colonies of rats become more organized and develop group intelligence and cunning and even enslave other small species and build structures.
  • In dungeons rats scurry in between walls, under floors and through air vents. Some adventurers have tried to smash through walls to have rats swarm out and attack them.
  • A ball of rats are a colony whose tails become knotted and they act as one. Very rare in wild, in some magic rich areas dozens of these balls form. Some even form huge sphere, as large as a child or even larger.
  • Normally big rats eat smaller rats. Humanoid rat men and wererats may keep rats and giant rats as pets and food. Pony size colossal rats or larger may serve as mounts. 
  • Rats beneath an Alchemist guild in the ruined city of Gnash-Toril bred a gargantuan rat who burst up from beneath the earth and destroyed buildings before the cities wizard kings destroyed it.
  • A rat's intelligence is inversely proportionate to the amount of rats in a certain range from it. Lone rats, well out of range of other rats, sometimes even develop psionic abilities like telepathy and telekinesis. These rats normally keep to themselves and will try their best to look like their city-dwelling cousins, as far as intelligence goes, when any other intelligent creature is about.
  • Among all natural creatures and races, rats are the best at sensing magic and following residual amounts of it. In fact, this sensitivity is borderline addiction, as rats just love feeling surrounded by magic. The reason hubs of civilization tend to have quite so many rats is because the same hubs tend to house wizard's guild, or several, and those draw rats in from miles and miles away.
  • Among all creatures the ratkins have been blessed, along with the roachkins, to inherit the Earth at the End of Days. So spake Ratatushtra.
  • Ratpyres are pyrokinetic blood-drinking ratkin.
  • A ratkin that drinks a human potion of healing is afflicted with a voracious appetite and a propensity towards obesity - this is why ratkin-kings are all huge and round.
  • Rats originate from the elemental plane of filth. There, rats are easily fed and treated as a versatile domesticated creature. They can be a source of food, a pet, or bred as guard creatures. Generally, dire rats are guard creatures, giant rats are food (or sometimes pets) and regular rats are pets, trained to eat some of the more pestilent creatures of the plane.
  • When they migrate to the material plane, they tend to migrate to the places most similar to their home dimension: the sewers of large cities.

The ecology series is a crowdsourced series of articles, and contributors can be found on google+ under the hashtag #crowdecology. They are limited posts, but following me on G+ will allow you to see them. All artwork is credited where the artist could be found. Classic ecology articles from Dragon magazine are used both for reference and inspiration; the whole impetus of the idea was to create 'classic' ecology articles that are actually useful. Let's Read the Monster Manual by Noisms is also a source of inspiration.  If you're curious how to make effective use of these articles, read On the Use of Ecology

On Is Ed Greenwood the Devil?

Of course not!

He's an awesome person, and not in a figurative sense. I would certainly be struck with awe when meeting him. He's written hundreds of books, and his games and settings have been used by people the world over to have fun. There are parts of the Forgotten Realms that are fascinating.

But fundamentally he is an author.
"I started creating the Realms in 1966 (when, yes, I was six), as a setting for short stories featuring Mirt the Moneylender (moving along the Sword Coast from city to city, a step ahead of creditors, rivals, and local authorities). As a D&D game setting, the published-by-TSR (and later also by Jake, in an issue of Gameplay magazine) Realms dates from 1979." - Ed Greenwood

This makes for problems when running a game.

Some examples:
"The corpse seems to stare at you. its head cocked slightly to one side. Suddenly two points of rapidly expanding, glittering light appear in the dark eye-sockets of its shriveled dead, dead face. The skeletal figure speaks in a loud, dry voice.
"Welcome, adventurers. Put aside your weapons and speak in peace if you would -- I mean you no harm. I've waited so very long for someone to find me. I'm looking for a few true adventurers -- to become my friends."
Read the above text even if the PCs immediately attack the figure from a distance. All initial PC missile or magic attacks will be deflected or dissipated harmlessly before they reach the seated figure as they trigger, encounter, and exhaust a spell cast long ago, which englobes the seat in combined Shield and Globe of Invulnerability spells. - Lost Ships page 7
If the PCs elect to do nothing about the Ghost Knight, they will soon be unable to sleep -- whenever they close their eyes, they will see his angry-faced, shining image striding toward them, sword drawn.
This vision continues regardless of spells, magical barriers or cures, planar travel, and so on, until the sleepless exhausted PCs lay the Ghost Knight to rest by revisiting the alleyway in which he disappeared. - Undermountain Adventures page 2
So pretty clearly, forcing these situations is not very conducive to player agency. Players usually have expectations that they have some say in the actions of their characters. I've talked about this pretty extensively before.

In the follow up, I'll be talking about ways to use this style of play effectively while maintaining agency.

Oh, and if anyone out there still thinks I'm really railing against Ed, I'm not. I've always been a big fan. To wit, the Forgotten Realms is the most successful and widely known dungeons and dragons campaign ever created. Here's a short listing of some of his works. Note that the listing is not actually short.

The original series on Player Agency "The Quantum Ogre" is there.
Part 1 of looking at Illusionism, "On the Tacit Acceptance of Play" is there.
You're reading Part 2 of the series looking at illusionism.
Part 3 of looking at Illusionism, "On Theory Defined: Illusionism" is there.
and Part 4 of Looking at Illusionism "On Interjecting Illusionism Ingeniously" is there.

On the Tacit Acceptance of Play

Human interaction sure isn't straightforward, objective, or clear, even though a lot of advice on this blog is.

So where do I get off?

Why have I spent so long talking about objective things if the games themselves aren't objective?

This is the root of endless navel-gazing that has resulted from the discussion of the topic. What if the Dungeon Master creates a wandering monster table with one monster? What if the players don't do any legwork before they make a decision? What if the encounter is rolled randomly, and it secretly is the one the Dungeon Master wants to happen? What if. . .

Here are the facts:

  • I run games for 4-16 hours ever week. Errry week son.
  • Dungeon Mastering is hard.
This drives the old school renaissance blogosphere. And is the primary source of confusion for people who 'don't get it'. 

The next time you see a post or thread going "Why are their so many retro-clones? Why do so many people pay for this adventure or this book of lists?" Ask them how many hours they run games per week.

So, if you're actually running games for 400-600 hours every year, you have certain concrete, objective, and physical concerns. To put that in perspective, if you have a full time, 40-hour a week job, you put in about 2000 hours a year, assuming you take a vacation. Let's not even talk about the time the Dungeon Master spends in preparation for their game.

When people take time out of their busy lives, they have certain desires and needs that they want to meet. One of those is that they are going to have some player agency -- it is the reason to pick tabletop gaming over video games or watching movies.  This is a generalization; because generally, this is a factor.

So that's the tacit assumption, right? We're going to explore the Keep on the Borderlands already limits play in a way we've agreed, but within that realm we have certain expectations (freedom to explore outside of the caves, freedom to choose which cave to invade, etc.). I've talked about how actively removing this expected agency is the definition of railroading. 

So what does this mean?

First, I am interested in things that are immediately useful. I'm not interested in what your favorite system is, how you feel about monsters, or your last sessions play reports. I'm interested in things I can use, tonight, in a game. As a player, I'm interested in topics that inform me how the game is going to be played. Is this a Dungeon Master who believes in cheating by changing dice rolls? Is this a Dungeon Master I can trust to allow me to outsmart his precious encounter?

Second, I'm not interested in vague hypotheticals because I have to prepare for two games this week thank you. The thought experiment is a waste of time because what I need to know is "How can I insure that my players get what they are looking for?" That means concrete advice about agency.

So why am I talking about this?

Because it very clearly and effectively illustrates the uselessness of the GNS division when compared to the usefulness of the Timmy, Spike, and Johnny design principles.

Assume for a minute that we aren't going by the circular and useless definitions of Gamism, Simulationism, and Narrativism. Let's assume instead, that we are using the colloquial definitions of those terms. Gamism is about game rules and interesting mechanical choices, Simulationism is about logical internal consistency and consequences, and Narrativism is about an interest in character, theme, and story arcs.

The definitions, even in their new form, are useless. They describe whole games and provide little concrete information that helps me address preparing for any game this week. 

Now how are TSJ design principles useful? 

Well, if I'm going to prepare for a magic game, I have to build a deck. Their design principles concretely help me build a deck. If I'm playing casually with kids, well, I can build a deck around faeries, or zombies, or some sort of thematic element. If I'm playing casually with my friends or perhaps EDH, I can play big, expensive and flashy cards. If I'm playing in a tournament, I'm only interested in winning, and can play effective low-cost, high power cards. 

Design towards each of these principles allows me to identify which I want to use, ensures that a variety of these tools are available, and that I can discuss each card within the context of its purpose in design. 

Both systems cover play-styles. One is helpful. One is not.

This does not have to be the case. The reasons Timmy, Spike, and Johnny are useful, is because they have concrete functional definitions and implementations. Nothing prevents Gamism, Simulationism, and Narrativism from having the same - they just don't.

To determine the truth of this, what is an objective measure of an encounter to determine if it is Simulationist or has Simulationist elements? What is an objective measure of a magic card has elements that appeal to a Timmy? 

Obviously, there is some level of subjectivity involved in both these discussions. But using our existing definitions, saying an encounter has logical consequences or is internally consistent applies to every encounter in the game. Saying a magic card has a casting cost of higher than 5 and an effect that is global or affects more than one player does not apply to every card in the game.

Clearly when designing a game for the week, I create different situations. I try to make each of those situations filled with opportunities to fill various player needs. But when I'm role-playing I don't have the tools to objectively talk about or discuss how to meet those needs. 

I think that sucks.

This article is part of a series on adventure design, defining theory to be useful, and speaks towards the motivation and use of such. Follow the blog, sign up for the newsletter for sales and advanced information about forthcoming products, and write into (campbell at oook dot cz) if you have questions you'd like to see answered on reader mail.

The original series on Player Agency "The Quantum Ogre" is there.
You're reading part one of the series looking at illusionism.
Part 2 of looking at Illusionism, "On is Ed Greenwood the Devil" is there.
Part 3 of looking at Illusionism, "On Theory Defined: Illusionism" is there.
and Part 4 of Looking at Illusionism "On Interjecting Illusionism Ingeniously" is there.

On the Top 10 Kinds of Non-Traditional Currency

What are the top 10 Non-Metallic Currencies? Inspired by a post via +Jez Gordon. It's companion article is The Top Ten Types of Magical Currency.

10) Runic Arcanite: It works a lot like Bitcoin, only using actual labor and value. It can be used to power magic items and enchantments, but must be mined and constructed from raw materials (+Dallas M)

9) Ceramic Coins: Originally from Dark Sun, these are glazed, hampering counterfeiting (+Geek Ken)

8) Boon Debt: Mimicking the relationships of the eternally damned, every good transferred, also transfers a specific amount of labor debt. The value of your time is equal to what you can provide. In many underworld economies, this has indebted thousands of goblins, orcs, and ogres to overlords who will dominate their time for years to come. After your debt exceeds twice your lifespan, your very life is at their disposal. (+Geek Ken)

7) Light: Anything that produces illumination is of value in underground environments. Magical light is not at the top of the list; instead ranking near bioluminescence and other sources of uncontrollable light. The candle is the basis for such a system, with lanterns and lantern oil near the top. Torches are less useful than candles for the degree to which they foul the air. (+Jeff Russell) (+Jacob Hurst)

6) Animal Parts: Usually of rare or dangerous creatures. This follows one of the key functions of economic materials, which is that the more people that seek to acquire the substance the more rare and difficult to acquire the substance becomes. Feathers, scales, teeth, preferably of dangerous beasts all work quite well as currency.(+Jacob Hurst) (+Jeff Russell)

5) Occultum: Psychic particles bonded with gold that makes shadowy weightless high value coins that cost nothing to carry, but that lose value every time they are counted or observed as they shift back to gold (+Patrick Stuart)

Just as an aside. Damn dude. Patrick Stuart is astounding. He should just record himself speaking, constantly, as a service to mankind.

4) Letters of Credit: For when you want to just say 'to heck with it' and have everyone use paper money. (+Barry Blatt)

3) Mushrooms: Or fungus or mold, or other rare delicate plants that can be traded, smoked, and or consumed when dried. Tobacco, Coffee plants, and other natural drugs are also sporting commodities.

2) Water: on a crapsack world, in a grimdark era, basic water is the exchange unit in the world. Difficult to transport, in constant need and use. Other examples from this type of currency include steel, weapons, armor, food, threats of violence, and other basic expectations in a civilized society.

1) Gems: Nothing is more portable, rare, beautiful, difficult to acquire and valuable than shiny rocks. Strange but true.


On Reader Mail, The G+ Experience

Charles writes:

"I'm not much of a G+ user; can you recommend good resources to follow?"

This is a complicated question, and requires more than a simple comment in return.

Google Plus is a "Social Network". This is code for "A free service that is provided so that you can be exploited by a large multi-national corporation".

Since the avalanche is started, it is too late for the stones to vote.

There are many advantages to Google Plus. First, it is highly resistant to spammers, because it is an opt-in network. It's focused because circles allow you control who sees your post. The downside is, it is hard to wrap your brain around. It allows you to play tabletop role playing games online via hangouts.

A Google Plus hangout is 90% of what a face to face game is. The biggest difference are the issues with people talking over each other causing confusion. The integrated chat window goes a long way to addressing that issue. There are many factors that are superior to face to face gaming: music, sound effect, graphics, images, and map/layout tools are all trivially shared. It is a different, but equivalent experience to running games online.

Long story short: You can organize groups of people into "Circles" and each circle individually allows you to control A) which circle sees your writing and B) which posts you see!

A quick primer:

  • Anyone can see your public posts
  • You choose the list of people who can see what you write
  • You can 'notify' people by tagging them or selecting a box, which triggers a notification. This is somewhat invasive and may get you reported for spam, unless they have requested the notification. Individual users set whether they want notifications to just be a number, an e-mail, or a text message.
  • You choose which circles you can see in your 'all' stream and how much of them you see. You can read any one specific circle by simply selecting it
  • Communities are like message boards, and some are good places to expose yourself to G+ people you would like to follow. 
  • ADVICE: Do not post to multiple communities. Do not post articles with no discussion. Google plus isn't a 'marketing scheme', it's about interaction and communities. 


Who to follow:

  • If you're looking to play Old School D&D online, then the FLAILSNAILS community will allow you to role up and take a character between games. If you're looking for other kinds of games, then the G+ RPG Hangout community can put you in touch with, well, any game you want. On the front page, there's Sharknado, a mage game, Fate, Star Wars, the Judges Guild Dark Tower, and Bronze age D&D. Like, those are games you can play!
  • There are also lots of communities for specific varieties of D&D, from Labyrinth Lord to Ambitions & Avarice
  • I've written about several of the most creative people on G+ on my OSR New Wave interview series.
    • You might just pass that point by, but if I've interviewed them, then perhaps it might also be worth following them.
  • There are several notable individuals that will provide a good starting point for joining G+.
  • I chose people who post often about gaming, and are very moderate and unlikely to get into long intense discussions over issues tangentially related to gaming. These people play games and are positive and non-confrontational about gaming. +Zak Sabbath and +Jack Shear are fantastic people to follow on G+, but they are also likely to be confrontational! (Though, if you get the chance to play in a game with Zak, take it!)
  • Follow them, and then engage with their posts. Then, follow other people who follow them, and soon you'll have a great gaming circle of your own, along with regular players!
  • People who aren't actually interested in playing role playing games need not apply.
If you have any questions of your own you'd like answered, message me on Google Plus, or give me an e-mail at campbell at oook dot cz
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