On the Deadly Difference

There's a big difference between this. . .
There are no players who do foolish things. There are only poor Dungeon Masters.

This is a real problem that affects even the best Dungeon Masters.

They are good Dungeon Masters because it's very hard in their game for a player to do a foolish thing.

Players, of course, do stupid things aplenty.

Foolish (adj.) resulting from or showing a lack of sense; ill-considered; unwise
Stupid (adj.) lacking intelligence or common sense.
What we are talking about is how to avoid falling into the Fantasy Gap.

The Fantasy Gap

"A great city sits among the trees, surrounded by clouds. Strange fey creatures move among the high branches wearing what appears to be the forest itself. You feel a powerful sense of awe as the city looms above you."

. . . and this.
Ok, so what's the city made of? How is it connected to the trees? How tall are the fey creatures? A "good" player might ask these questions, maybe. But how many more questions could we think of that they didn't ask? Let's try something even more complex.

"A shadowy path leads further into the bandit woods."

What's the player\s action here? What's the first thing you do if you need to go down the path? Prepare for ambushes, right? Or are you checking for traps? How far can the characters see into these woods? Is there underbrush? Would you say you were checking the treetops?

These things seem trivial to ask, but no matter how many questions players ask there are always more they cannot ask. If the players don't ask a question, it's because the players have made an assumption, and I can guarantee not all of your assumptions will match mine. The Dungeon Master knows the right answers, and the players don't.

A "Historically-Effected" Consciousness

The brain was formed by a variety of genetic factors, and then exposed to a certain lifestyle and set of experiences. Those experiences affect the way people view the world and the assumptions they make. These assumptions will never completely match another persons.

Any time the Dungeon Master is describing something in Dungeons and Dragons, it is imagined in each player's mind in a totally different way, a way that matches their developed consciousness. Good, skilled, players ask as few questions as they can to narrow this gap as much as possible.

This process of closing this gap is so difficult, the general trend in gaming has been to eliminate as much of it from the gameplay as possible.

Witness the birth of character skill gaming!

Fusing Horizons

So any time the Dungeon Master sees a player about to do something "Showing a lack of common sense; ill-considered; unwise" it is almost universally because they don't understand the situation well enough to predict the consequences of their actions. 

No one is going to not light a torch and walk into a wall in the dungeon. No savvy adventurer is just going to walk right into traps on the way to a bandit camp. No reasonable person is going to attempt a jump they have no chance of making. They are taking those actions because their perception of the situation is a different one than yours!

So what's the solution?

Good Dungeon Masters usually indicate what the consequences of an action might be, no matter what action the player takes. Every single time a player does something that seems foolish to them they take a moment to make sure the player understands the situation accurately.

Often, they proceed to do the stupid thing anyway—but aware of the consequences instead of ignorant about them.


Isn't this just coaching the players? Letting them play on easy mode?

Absolutely not! 

No, no, you're wrong. You're telling them what's going to happen before they take an action!

I understand. You're the Dungeon Master. It all seems so clear to you behind the screen. How would telling them what's going to happen not be coaching?

First, the players don't know what's behind the action. 
There is a tapestry hanging on the wall. What could possibly happen?
Burning it could open a secret door. Moving it could uncover a mirror with heinous effects. It could be treasure. Undead could be hiding behind it. It could be covering a concealed door. It may be there to keep the room warm. Quick! Which of those options is true?

Second, you don't have to tell them the consequence, just possible consequences.
If players are doing something 'foolish', then it's an indicator that they don't understand what consequences can result from their choice. So list more than one. Sometimes you can include the actual real consequence in the list, sometimes you can list other options. Either way, the players don't know, you're just creating a situation they can make an informed choice in.

But every time I do this the players will know something is up!

First, that's not a problem. Players knowing where gameplay is, is a feature, not a bug.
Second, Good dungeon masters get in the habit of informing players of possible consequences any time they take actions and checking to make sure it is what they intend to do.

But how will my players learn to be good players if I'm telling them what will happen all the time?

I interpret this question as saying "I want to play a game and hide the rules. If they were good, they would know them already!" 

This activity, of asking questions, of "Fusing Horizons", of communicating clearly with another human being is so difficult that there are college courses about it, millions spent on projects to do it effectively, and the plain fact that they moved towards removing it from the game in third and fourth edition because of how hard it was to do.

So, yes, if your players haven't been playing for at least 5 years, if not a decade, assume that they are very inexperienced. Hell, my brother who'd been playing D&D for nearly as long as I have had no idea what yellow mold was. 

Communicating isn't cheating. The gameplay isn't in obfuscation of consequences. They are already obfuscated by virtue of being a player. It's in making the correct informed choice when you clearly understand the situation and the possible consequences.

Originally published on 2/17/2014.This content is available in print at Lulu and digitally from DTRPG. See the Directory for more articles. 

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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. Here is a tool to help you generate missions and their complications. Links to the enhanced/illustrated downloadable version of this are at the bottom of the post. 

  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 employment (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
    4. 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 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

Originally published on September 24th, 2013. An enhanced version is available in digital form on Patreon and for free  on DTRPG. 
For other works, be sure and check out the Directory.

On Megadungeon #5

 I hope everyone is doing well! 

Megadungeon #5 is available in PDF. Print will be coming soon!

It's got new dragons and non-player character's, three amazing dungeons; the lavish mine of fur slime, the alchemical trials, and the tunnels of the tuth. It's got articles on how megadungeons are exciting and upgrading your home base in a megadungeon campaign, with examples for arclight. Drain your player's funds by allowing them access to dangerous grenades and weapons! 

It's over 60 pages and my daughter made the table of contents on her own accord!

People are, I think, sleeping on this, so here's some insides. 

Did I mention it's illustrated on nearly every page? AND it's only 5$? Get on it, without delay!

Hack & Slash 

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