On an Isle of Dungeon Masters

The fundamental insight of my 30's is that people are genuinely, actually, different.

The question is: what helps you run a game?

That question is a multifaceted gem: the reasons one is not running or playing a game are truly and fundamentally different.

For one person, they may be waiting to be inspired. Another may not wish to do the grunt-work to run a campaign in the manner that meets their high expectations. A third may need some limits to allow themselves to be creative.

To assume however that the way you view a project is the only metric of a projects useability is an insight that could be produced by meth-heads hanging out on corners.

Not that I find fault with bombastic rodomontade. I say more power to you Pundit. After all, the quotes from the book sell themselves.

I sat with my styrofoam cup filled with rapidly warming red bull that I refer to as 'coffee'; a proper noun xeroxed into redefinition as a universal morning liquid caffeine dose, scrolling through the review on my fruit-branded homopape and thinking that it was filled with an awful lot of dissonance for someone who hasn't finished their sugared fizzy coffee.

The article rants; a word used with no offense intended, simply as a descriptor; juxtaposed with elegant blocks of text talking about bizarre and interesting horrors, creative and strange wonders, waiting to be explored.

He says:

"So there's no rhyme or reason to it at all; no tribes, no reason for the monsters to be there, nothing.  Its a menagerie of crap, and I'm sure its meant to be "weird fantasy" but I'd put it closer to "stupid fantasy".  The monsters serve no purpose, make no sense, in many cases what they do isn't even predictable (nor unpredictable in a good way; they just do things you wouldn't ever be able to expect for no reason at all)."

Which I find equivalent to an artist complaining about their canvas just sitting there, having a surface upon which to throw paint, with no art already completed!

But that is what many people want, a completed painting that they and their group can experience together. Others maybe don't want to build the canvas themselves so buying a high-quality one seems like a fine idea.

A More Nuanced Issue

This however is not a pass for any hastily thrown together piece of randomly generated crap to pay for your meth habit.

Such a canvas has to bring something, though that thing is not connections between hexes, non-player character names, and an explicit explanation of all fantastic elements.

That something is wonder and creativity. This is why rats guarding even numbers of copper pieces inspire universal rage, and yet "Tulips of variegated colors bloom in profusion in a meadow roughly 300' in diameter.  When any human walks in the meadow, the stalks of the flowers bend toward the person, and a musical humming almost too soft to be heard emanates from the tulips." inspire a generally positive reception.

When something is put into your game, it exists and is real as anything once experienced is. It has to be dealt with as a real thing. The difference is, the work of explaining why there are exactly 3,000 copper pieces guarded by rats is much harder then thinking up a creative explanation for a field of tulips that softly hum musical aubades to living creatures they strain to reach.

What's more, is that if left unexplained one leaves you with a sense of wonder: "We never did figure out what was up with those flowers, Frank." "Yeah, Bob, you're right." And the other eliminates your suspension of disbelief: "3000 copper pieces exactly? WTF, Frank?" "I dunno, that's what it says right here!"

It's certainly possible to come up with very good explanations as to why rats are guarding exactly 3000 coppers and I doubt any megadungeon worth its salt going forward will ever lack a room with rats and 3000 copper pieces again. But turning something plain and mundane into an engaging mystery is more difficult then taking something already interesting and creative and working it into the painting you are making on the canvas.

What I find even more entertaining is not some explicit explanation of what everything means. After all, I am an adult and long past the age where I require some sort of concrete explanation for things. The world and my experience of it is personal, variable, and most importantly ambiguous. I find great pleasure when things that seem random and disconnected actually have much deeper and more meaningful connections then perceptible at first glance.

I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere, but it might take me 40 or 50 sessions to figure it out. It's a good thing I have a book like Isle of the Unknown to help me get excited about it.

Hack & Slash 
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  1. Yep. All this talk about the Isle of the Unknown has actually got me kind of excited to get out my copy again, and give it another look. Maybe see about running it if I can adjust it a bit to the setting my group is playing in.

  2. Actually I am glad this controversy happened because it reminded me I actually had a PDF of the module (Blog of Holding sale or something) and had never looked at it. Honestly it's one of the coolest weird modules out there. The only enigma I see is why anyone takes the rpgpundit seriously.


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