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On Early Tropes, Eggs and Raising Young Monsters

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 13:00
From the very beginning of Dungeons and Dragons, Pokemon was a thing. Not only was Charm Person and Monster often used to fill out ranks for henchmen, many beasts were found and raised. You can see early thoughts on this from Gygax, on Page 50 of the Dungeon Masters Guide.

"Griffons are often nasty and bad-tempered. If captured when very young and trained, however, they can become fiercely loyal mounts. Their loyalty is non-transferable once fixed, so they must be disciplined and trained solely by the intended rider. The griffon must be trained and exercised by its owner on a fairly regular basis while it is a fledgling (up to age six months) in order to accustom it to his or her presence and the bridle, blanket, saddle, etc. When the griffon is half-grown a period of intensive training must begin, which will last at least four months. The daily routine must never be broken for more than two days, or the griffon's wild nature will assert itself and all progress will be lost. After two months of this intensive training, it will be possible to begin to fly the griffon. This will be a period of training for mount and owner alike, as the rider must learn how to deal with a new dimension, And he will probably have no teacher but himself. Imagine the confusing tumult of giant wings, the rush of air, the sudden changes in altitude, and you will realize why an inexperienced rider absolutely cannot handle a flying mount.
Griffons, like all large flying creatures, eat enormous amounts of food, especially after prolonged aviation. Moreover, they are carnivores, and thus very expensive to feed. Care and keeping of a griffon will be a constant strain on the largest treasure hoard. Costs will probably run in the area of 300-600 g.p. per month. It will require special quarters, at least three grooms and keepers, and occasionally an entire horse for dinner (diet will differ, but similar arrangements must be made for all flying mounts).
Hippogriffs are not so difficult to train os griffons, but neither are they as dependable in a pinch. A  training process basically similar to that previously described will be necessary, though occasionally an animal trainer con substitute for the master for short periods if he or she is tied up elsewhere. Once broken, hippogriffs may possibly serve more than one master. They are omnivores, and thus somewhat less expensive to
feed thon griffons.
Pegasi are greatly valued for their speed, which makes them virtually the fastest things in the air. Their training is o long process similar in many respects to thot of griffons." -Gary Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide
Obviously this was an issue that came up repeatedly, and Gygax developed the following procedures to train animals.

One of the formative experiences of Dungeons and Dragons are the challenges with taking a monster, enemy or opponent, and turning them to your ends. As with most challenges to get creatures to change their inner nature, it is astoundingly difficult, and requires a bond on top of the serious commitment maintained above. The animal must be socialized till adolescence, and then intensively trained for months.

The general consensus about Animal Friendship and the limits of animal training are subjective and should be worked out between the Dungeon Master and the player, keeping in mind the animals intelligence and alignment. And it will come up, with unicorns, flying creatures as above, or even minanimals from the Monster Manual II.
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On Brothers of Battle

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 13:00
It's so good, it's like a snow globe made of murder hobos and horrific violence. It's an abstract tactical puzzle, where if you are smart, tactics will beat numbers and arms.

After a short tutorial battle, you are set loose upon a randomly generated world and can do what you want. Ally with a noble house, rob caravans, explore the unknown.

Your troops gain levels, and you improve them selectively. After the first hours of play you start to realize you can build them for specific roles—dagger assassin stabbing men to death in their heavy armor, nimble duelists moving first and darting between targets taking out back rank archers, bowmen raining down arrows, arbalisters knocking people off hills, heavy tanks taunting and drawing attention. From the palette of abilities they give you, you can make countless roles.

Let's talk about Battle Brothers!

The BasicsYou manage a mercenary company. You must have gold and food for daily wages. You can visit different cities, recruit and train new men, slay brigands, orcs, the dead in the wilds, and horrors even worse.

Here I have taken the high groundCombat is turn based on a hex map with height levels, obstacles and terrain. The graphics are of your men and monsters as game pieces—they are busts that display all necessary information visibility, the condition of your helmet, armor, weapon, and man.

You must manage your funds, via victories and trade, to bring in enough income to cover medical supplies, ammunition, tools to repair armor and weapons, food and wages.

Over time your brothers grow increasing both 3 of their 8 stats and picking a new 'perk' which changes certain aspects of how they interact on the field. One might allow you to step away from an engagement, another might increase damage after you get a kill, a third by increase one of your stats by a %. Each different brother develops like a plant, where you guide their organic growth.

Death comes quickly, along with permanent injuries, failure, and loss. But each choice, from where you move your piece on the battlefield, to what rolls you select when your brother levels, has ramifications that change the course of your game.

I don't know the devs. No one is paying me. But when you find yourself staring into the facets of a diamond for untold hours (301 hours as of this post. Well, I guess it's told now.), you kind of want to share. Why is it so engaging?

The FacetsBecause the differences are significant, and create different kinds of emergent play. When the world
is generated, cities have attached sites that determine their character, the spawns and arrangement of towns is always different, along with the distribution of lairs and dens of evil. The way the game works changes dramatically from these differing starting states. There are really strong parallels to sandboxes in Dungeons & Dragons here.

I was very far into the game before I realized that each of those buildings adjacent to the city, changed not only the characteristics of that city, but how it interacts with the rest of the map. Those goat farms mean affordable goat cheese for your men. These building and even cities can be destroyed and rebuilt over the course of the campaign.  Because this town has both an ore smelter and blast furnace, it produces high quality armor and weapons in the stores. But the regiments it produces are also extremely well armored and it has vision to the sea, meaning that it's hard for lairs to fester.

Which, they do you know. Nits make lice. A goblin city will produce goblin patrols. As it grows, it will eventually send out a patrol that sets up a camp. Go in and clear out all the greenskins and it will take them a long time to repopulate. So each map is strongly different based on its random starting arrangement. Sometimes there's a forest town in the frontier assaulted constantly by enemies. Get dogs and birds from cities with kennels, and use them to hunt down nightmares and archers.

It's often unclear how things affect other things, and I'm still discovering new nuances. Each nobel house has a personality, and I'm not certain, but it seems to affect which quests you get from it. Is this true? Only a lot more testing and play will tell. But everytime I reroll I find or see something new.

The MenYour first games end in brutal destruction, without even understanding why. But as you play you begin to understand, these aren't individual men, they are part of a squad that works together.

Each man has a head and body. Those who don't wear a cover are corpses, yeah? Each is covered in armor. Better armor is not always 'better', some men go heavy armor and some go light, depending on their role. You take wounds in combat (which always heal, depending on severity in 1-6 days) based on the % of your hit points taken, meaning tougher brothers take fewer wounds. If killed, there's even a chance they survive with a permanent wound. And while some are. . .untenable, some people consider a boost (it's harder for witches to charm or giests to scare a brain damaged brother).

Each man has eight statistics, and they increase by a random roll at every level. So you want to increase what he needs when the roll is high, and skip low rolls, but it's important to know what role they have so you can assign the stats correctly. The statistics are Hit points, Fatigue, Resolve, Initative, Melee Attack, Ranged Attack, Melee Defense, and Ranged Defense.

When you hire a brother they may have traits, like iron lungs, or athletic, which positively or negative affect their stats. The following brother is Huge (+10% damage -5 Ranged Defense, -5 Melee Defense) and Paranoid (-40% initiative,  +5 Ranged Defense, +5 Melee Defense) meaning he does +10% damage in exchange for going later in the round. So I gave him a cleaver, and made it reduce the damage he needs to do to wound, and gave him duelist so that more damage penetrates armor. So he cripples and bleeds anyone he strikes. This causes morale checks, which reduce the combat ability of your opponents.

If you're reading this, you probably like the same things I like, and this sounds awesome, right? It is. You can name and go to the barber to change the look of your brothers. It's like controlling a team of bonsai trees that you have very carefully cultivated to mercilessly slaughter any who stand against you!

The difficulty curve is very clear, with several different stages. When you start out, you aren't prepared for this. You generally end up destroying equipment you must salvage from your opponents. Striking someone in the head will leave their fancy armor untouched, or you can surround or dagger opponents to death.

Every 100 in game days, a crisis occurs, either greenskins invade, the undead, rise, or there is a war among the noble houses. There are certain thresholds where the base difficulty increases. You have a range of danger options on the contracts you can take, as well as creatures in the wild getting more dangerous as you venture away from civilization.

The recent expansion turned it from a good game into a great one. There are a selection of new enemies, creating different and dangerous tactical challenges both apart and with other groups. The enemy variety is very high and differs significantly between campaigns. It's like a good movie. Every part of the journey is fun.

In the End
It's written by two brothers, not a big game studio. The soundtrack is amazing. There's a growing community of people who stream and play this game, that has significant overlap with interests in Dungeons and Dragons sandbox play. The actual game design is rock solid. It's amazing how neatly the different parts of the game interact with each other. You only have 9 action points a turn, but depending on the weapon, traits, and skills, you can turn that into two or three attacks each round. Once you see how the pieces fit together, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to turn that to your advantage, often only coming to the correct conclusion after a lot of testing or tries.

It's good and I needed to tell people about it. Don't complain to me about missed sleep.
Battle Brothers is $30 on Steam.
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On Gygax Design IV

Tue, 01/15/2019 - 13:00
My thesis here is that something was misunderstood. The question I'm left with is how did that happen?

Let's take a look.

Cave IntroductionThe first page of the caves proper contains the flavor text we discussed in the last post. It's lurid, and therefore interesting.

If you're going to ask someone to listen to something, it better get a reaction.

Immediately Gygax takes one column line to outline all his overview notes for the adventure: 600 words. He describes how to read the cave contour map on the outside, describes the woods, underground, and interiors.
He then covers prisoner ransom ("Set the sums low — 10 to 100 gold pieces or a magic item. . . "), the specifics of the tribal relationships, how monsters should react and handle player actions, and what happens in empty areas.

It is a training module, but these sections only contain nine sentences containing specific  'newbie' or training advice. The rest of the information is all useful, reduces the need for repetitive text, and is easily found in the front of the appropriate section. This is the really interesting thing. Here's a room description
1. Guard Room: 6 kobold guards (AC 7, HD 1/2, hp 3 each, #AT 1, D 1-4, Save NM, ML 6). They will throw their spears the first round if they have initiative. Each carries d6 silver pieces. One will run to warn areas 4. and 6.. The guards will be altered by loud noises or lights.Is there a single unnecessary word in that description to craft an emergent encounter for the players?

What is an Adventure?All the rooms are like this.
"Number. Description: # creatures (one line stat block), Rules and tactical information, treasure."

Is there any boxed text? No. Each room only tells you what you need to know what's in it, and more importantly how they act. The text is there to create emergent play. Here are quotes.
"This huge kobold is so powerful that he fights with a battle axe. . . and a large gem on a great golden chain around his neck."
"Six goblin guards are alterly watching both passages for intruders of any sort"
"If there is a cry of "BREE-YARK" similar to "hey rube!" (ed: noted in the rumor section as goblin for "We Surrender"), 2 of these guards will rush to the secret door, toss a sack with 250 gold coins to the ogre and ask him to help him"

This is over and over again in the room encounters. Set-ups from earlier pay off. Encounters are dramatic scenes. We know from his own play descriptions that he used random encounters and avoiding keying many areas in Greyhawk for these reasons. Each one uses as few descriptive words as possible to give the Dungeon Master a hook to hang his hat (the encounter) on.
There's no ancient history text, no unknowable background information.

Mostly. I lied a little bit. Everyone had to get the wrong idea from somewhere, right? Even when there is some unknown history, it is referenced and due to non-player character actions is discoverable by players. e.g.
13. Forgotten Room. Only the two orc leaders (from this area and from B.) Know of this place. They secretly meet here on occasion to plan co-operative ventures or discuss tribal problems, for although separate tribes are not exactly friendly, both leaders are aware of the fact that there is strength in numbers. . . . Looking at this alone, it certainly looks like the usual dump of information to the Dungeon Master that is completely inaccessible to the players. Except, note the following sentences:
From 12. Orc Leader's Room: . . . If hard pressed, the leader will wiggle behind the tapestries on the south wall and attempt to work the catch on the secret door to the south and go to the rival tribe for help. . . 
From Dungeon Master notes: If the leader is slain, the survivors will seek safety in area B/C, taking everything of value (and even of no value with them)

So you know, it's part of a dynamic encounter.

Encounter DesignI've talked before about how room environments should consist of clearly interactable objects in Red Herring Agency. That article uses the example of play from the Dungeon Master's Guide, and it's pretty clear the same design aesthetic is in use here. In the forgotten room, it describes "A small table and two chairs", "a wooden chest", "Two shields hanging on the wall", and "Two pouches behind an old bucket." The chairs are normal, as are the shields. The chest is unlocked and contains some weapons. The pouches have treasure, but cover 2 centipedes.

It's explicit, direct. Here are the interactable objects. Each one has a different effect and clues are available in the environment.

There is a specific structure to the different pillars of play. This is what the exploration pillar means. It means there are specific presentable things—clickable objects— within play. It's these objects, their integration into the environment, their creativity, and the tactical infinity options they offer that is the gameplay of exploration.

Walls the players can knock over, doors that open into space, a ring that shrinks objects, a chained megatherium. Give the players simple things that allow interaction. Create a world where non-player characters take action in response to the players. The complexity and gameplay is emergent.

Every single piece of information is either immediately accessible to the players, or is necessary for the Dungeon Master to run the encounter.

Each room is an encounter designed, and it should be like a good scene in a movie. Interesting, helping create tension and set the pace. It shouldn't be simple, boring, dull, and buried in a thousand words of useless text. It requires both active actors and things to act upon, and it must be designed and not just generated. This doesn't require verbiage, it requires thought. You want my examples of this in use, check out Megadungeon (or any of the modules I have coming out soon!)

From RPG CartographyI'm not saying it's perfect. It's certainly raw—for example many rooms have information on how people act if they hear someone nearby. This could be on the map, along with other modern improvements due to better tools. Which way the doors open, what the light levels are. . .

When the goblins rush the players and yell BREE-YARK, if the players got the rumor that it means "We surrender", shenanigans ensue. This isn't the only setup. More than one character is lost when the chaotic evil priest that offers to come with them from the keep casts 'inflict wounds' on characters instead of cure wounds.

The prisoners have a variety of races and genders, as well as each providing some non-standard reward, trick, or trap. You may notice a theme. There are also slaves that can be freed and armed. Each of these things creates a specific experience for the players. He isn't just writing descriptions of rooms! He's creating a scene flowchart just like the one in the start of Deep Carbon Observatory, but using the dungeon as his flowchart paths.

I did find a sentence of flavor text, "The owl bear. . . sleeps in the most southerly part of its den, digesting a meal of gnoll it just caught at dawn." That's some information that's not accessible to the players. It's on page 19.

There's also quite a lot of humor within the module. Signs posted on doors say things like "You are
invited for dinner!" and "Safety, security and repose for all humanoids that enter — WELCOME! (Come in and report to the first guard on the left for a hot meal and bed assignment.)" The thing is, it's not just a joke for the reader. The players will also find this joke amusing, and although it's funny, like all Dungeons & Dragons, it's deadly serious. I ran Hackmaster for years, and a gummi bear golem seems really funny, until it crits your fighter in the head for 38 points and kills him in a shower of sticky blood.

All of the rooms contain setpieces—interesting reactions and organic events, but this is one of the best.
"[Bugbears] lounge on stools near a smoking brazier which has skewers of meat toasting over the coals. Each will ignore his great mace when intruders enter, reaching instead for the food. Through they do not speak common, they will grab and eat a chunk, then offer the skewers to the adventurers — and suddenly use them as swords to strike first blow (at +2 bonus to hit due to surprise!) unless the victims are very alert. . . I mean, that exclamation point though.

If you aren't creating scenes and experiences through activities for players (and not excess verbiage) please start, and point people to this series to get them to change.

You don't have to write a bunch of words about how encounters react to every last thing, you just have to write something interesting well, and from that the Dungeon Master will be able to know how it reacts.

Enter the Present.This is INFURIATING.

Why? I just downloaded the most recent Dungeons & Dragons pay what you want adventure to find a room description to compare. Each room description is literally a full page. In lieu of typing the whole page, I'm just going to quote some random sentences from this full page of text for a single room. A whole page. It's not even an A5 page! It's a full letter page.

"The bed is perfectly normal and has a warm, soft blanket stretched over it."
"The party is in the right place, but this isn't the chamber in which the wardrobe is kept."
"Unbeknownst to the players, a hidden passage lies beyond the bookcase"
The box text says "the chamber. . . is not quite what you imagined"

I will summarize the entire room description, as I think Gygax would have laid it out.
3. Wizard Bedroom. Locked Chest (Disable Device DC 15, Strength DC 20) contains pouch 32 gold, 13 silver pieces, 21 copper. Secret door behind bookcase filled with bird books. Note in book about secret door. Corridor beyond trapped, must flap like bird or say "[REDACTED]" 50 XP for door, 50 XP for ladder.You do not need 1,200 words! I am a Dungeon Master looking for useful tools!

The early examples were great and maintain their popularity and utility decades later, look at the sales of the poorly-reviewed Keep on the Borderlands 5e reprint. They had to hold a second pre-order since pre-orders exceeded their first print run.

This endless glut of poor adventure writing is someone emptying their uninteresting brain noise right in the middle of what I need as a person that runs a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. Is there a market for people who want to read an adventure and have no use for it during play?

Yeah. there is, and it's pretty big. That's the problem.

People keep trying to characterize "What the old school renaissance" is. This has never been a mystery.

It's just people trying to find something they can use in play!

People were playing Dungeons and Dragons until people who did not play, and instead just read and admired ran it into the ground and nearly caused it to cease to exist. You can clearly publish a game with no firm rules and just allow everyone to do what they want, but they aren't very successful are they?

I would think everything in this post is obvious, but due to my inability to use 90% of everything ever published it apparently is not. If you feel the same way, link it the next time someone doesn't know how to write a module. Or, if you're feeling generous, you can join our hierarchy over here, and support more posts like this on Patreon, where you can get special access to my discord

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Top Ten Sandbox Locations.

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 13:00
You're in a D&D sandbox, you look around and find:

10. A giant rock carved like a skull. Cultists are rumored to lair there, and at night, sometimes the eyes glow as if it is possessed (or more likely that torchlight is reflected). Perhaps there are many levels of this dark place below.
9. A wizard's tower where strange lights and sounds emanate from realms beyond. Not many people would risk their souls in a wizards tower.
8. Rumors of great treasure and a hidden artifact are said to lie under caverns in the nearby hills. None who have survived the search have been successful.
7. A chateau is the home of a quite dysfunctional royal family with such wealth and power!
6. An old house, upon a hill. It's said to be haunted, those are just childrens tales. Yet people have gone missing and there are sometimes mysterious comings and goings.
5. A castle, ran by a reclusive old man. Rumors swirl about demons and blood magic being performed, but who can tell these days?
4. The ancient and hidden tomb of a malign creature. Those who have found it and returned, speak of death and horrible traps and mysteries.
3. In the nearby foothills are large buildings, several of them, of primitive make. Sometimes, if you watch, you can see a large shadow of some creature. Trolls or giants perhaps, surely. You've heard of the raids nearby.
2. A ruined moathouse, falling apart. Be careful of the large toads and collapsed roofs.
1. A small keep, with good folk, an amusing village idiot, and a respectable brick wall. It's also possible their ale is both well-brewed and affordable. They also are rather fond of folks, who happen to be of a certain sort of miscreant or wanderer. There's surely a cleric around, but I wouldn't trust him.

This list, along with any of these three hexes from ChicagoWiz, and you got yourself a game, ready to run.

If you think I'm a good writer, reward me yeah? You get rewarded yourself! You don't only get the feeling of doing something nice, you get some neat stuff, like discord roles and high def art.

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On The Thursday Trick: Underground Hazards

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 13:00
Underground Hazards (Category: Restraints/Hazards)

Trigger: Mechanical: Proximity
Mechanical: Light Detection
Mechanical: Interaction

Effects: Multiple Targets

Save: VariesDuration:Varies

Resets: AutomaticBypass: None (Avoid)
Description: The Sub-world is not like the world above!

Dungeons aren't supermarkets and there are dangers that exist only beneath the world. What features can be used to create interesting organic underground spaces?

Accidents and falling. This is interesting, because this hazard must be applied and telegraphed before used. Environments underground are not always smooth and level. This is naturally taken into account in every version of Dungeons and Dragons by the movement rate. It is bad form to punish your players beyond that for the underground and cramped movement space.

But that doesn't mean you can't use uneven ground. You just have to clearly communicate to the players where it is and under what conditions it applies. You can say "This ground is uneven enough that if you wanted to cross it at full speed, you have to make a dexterity check." You can inform the players of unstable ledges that could cause them to fall if they walk along them unless a check is succeeded. It's not that the basic level of these checks should be difficult, but that emergent events in the hazardous environment creates tension, tactical puzzles, and entertainment.

Note how I'm just assuming you would never present any sort of space without a vertical element, right? We're in the future of Star Trek II, where three-dimensional thinking rules.

Another thing that must be considered underground is light. Without a light source, movement becomes more hazardous. Stating that any movement out of bright light requires a balance or dexterity check can create an environment that feels hostile, held back by the characters light. This is extremely compelling, because it psychologically mirrors the activities during the game. They are exploring the literal unknown dark, and straying from their light is dangerous.

Again, not in every environment, and not by surprise. Variety is the spice of life.

Rockfall. Man, rocks fall from space under the open sky. You can sure bet they fall underground. Have a talk with your miners and dwarves about the stability of the underground areas. Some might be very stable. Some might cause rockfall due to the use of some sonic or thunder damage. Some might be so unstable simply passing through the room is dangerous. This should be another factor in underground environments that reward characters for playing dwarves or taking the appropriate skills.

Dehydration and Exhaustion. When Dungeons and Dragons was a more focused game about exploring dungeons, there were explicit rules to handle these.
RESTING: After moving for 5 turns, the party must rest for 1 turn. One turn in 6 (one each hour of the adventure) must be spent resting. If the characters do not rest, they have a penalty of -1 on all "to hit" and damage rolls until they do rest. Pretty straightforward. Adventures are heady stuff.

Flooding. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single cave, in possession of adventures and near a large body of water, must be in want of a flood. They know it's coming before it happens. Water dripping from the ceiling, deep roaring noises, slick walls covered in algae. Often the best way for flooding to work, is to have it be a triggable factor in the environment. You're underground. The cave is multi level. Popping the pimple of the water will change that environment, depending on the situation, to the monsters advantage or yours.

Becoming lost is too large a topic to cover here. Disease is also a serious hazard, but is its own topic.

Detection/Disarming: Falling and balance hazards just must be full stop presented to the players. They literally function as hazardous zones. By their nature and how humans deal with movement, we can easily tell the stability of an area and our capacity to cross it. (As you would well know if you ever walked through the woods and crossed a stream). The thing is, even if we don't know how dangerous it is, we can almost always tell that it is some degree of dangerous. Of course you can make an argument that there might be some hidden danger, but we are playing a game and designing an encounter. Putting in a "F&%k you, you're prone/take x damage" isn't fun, or particularly game like. It's not a choice, it's a tax.

Rockfall. Anyone with the appropriate skill or background should absolutely be able to tell what's going on mechanically here. If they ask. When presenting rooms with rockfall, make sure you note what's on the floor. Dust, small stones, loose rocks, a boulder, spiderweb divots and cracks in the ground. If it is a rock fall area, then rocks fall. Before entering any area where it's stable unless shatters or fireballs start going off, dwarves and characters should have a  handwaved check to determine if that is the case. It's more interesting for the game if the know the consequences of using loud, damaging, area of effect spells.

Flooding. Players are going to shrug their shoulders and move ahead when you give them clues that the cavern will flood. They will say, "Well, I've got to go on the adventure!" They will often feel that they have no control over when you will flood the cave. So it's important to present it clearly to the player so they understand the dynamic. Is it a dangerous area with the risk of instant death, not only from crushing damage, but needing a way to breath water? Will it wash the characters away? Will it destroy the temple? If you're using as part of a load-bearing boss, then it really doesn't matter, right? To make it interesting in the game, the players have to understand the threat, and you should be able to communicate it to them, so they can make meaningful decisions.

This post might be more useful than the entire Dungeoneers Survival Guide. If you liked it, and you'd like to see more monthly posts, please consider joining our hierarchy on Patreon for special Discord roles!

The Tricks and Traps series examines original and classic traps discussing how to present the traps while maintaining the agency of the players. A complete list of sources and inspiration may be found here. The Tricks and Traps Index page contains a complete listing of all the tricks and traps on this site, or you may browse by tags.
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The Top 10 Types of Parlor Games useable in Dungeons and Dragons

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 13:00
You know, for kids!

Sometimes, it will be necessary to have a small diversion during play. Perhaps a character is gambling, or they have an opportunity to avoid combat. You can even use some of these to resolve appropriate situations. Let's look at some popular and easy parlor games that can be integrated into Dungeons & Dragons. These are not full time replacements for mechanics, but something you can drop into a game. As always, it's never recommended to put one of these in the way of the game progressing. Non-traditional tasks should be optional.

10. Two lies and a truth. The rules to this game are simple. Make three statements, one of which is a lie and the other person must guess one. This is particularly useful for Dungeons & Dragons because you are playing characters, adding a second layer upon the game. The statements are made in character, and the interplay between the characters over the players provides interesting situations, while also empowering players to expand on their backstory!

9. Piggy. This is good for a game in a maze or darkness. Have the character seeking a way out close their eyes. Then have a person in the group squeal like a hog. If the blind player can determine who is the person that made the noise, they have succeeded in their sightless navigation (or made their listen roll, etc.)

8. Codes, puzzles and riddles. I've talked about using these before. But it's possible to do so without any preparation. Simply search for word puzzles and riddles will give you more than you need for years of play, but it's a good idea to have a couple famous ones in mind. Much like jeopardy questions, people like knowing trivia. "No hinges, latches or lid, inside a golden treasure is hid!"

7. Don't Laugh! This is great for a test of will or constitution. The game is simple. The player must not crack a smile for 60 seconds while the rest of the group attempt to make them laugh. If you have to be told not to infringe on personal space inappropriately during this game, you probably shouldn't be playing Dungeons & Dragons.

6. Slaps. Did you like bullies in high school? Relive the memory awkwardly with your friends by playing slaps! The Dungeon Master puts out his hands palm up. Someone places their hands a few centimeters above the Dungeon Master's hands. The Dungeon Master tries to slap the players hands. If they fail, the player succeeds. If they hit the player, that probably sucks for the player, because getting slapped on the hand hurts. If the player flinches or pulls their hands away before the Dungeon Master starts moving, they also fail.
Somebody who likes you but is also insecure usually bullies someone by punching someone in the shoulder is what generally happened next. This doesn't have to happen in your game of course.

5. High Card or War. Pick a card, reveal your card. The higher card wins! This is a classic game. War is played to win the deck. The number of cards gathered or lost can be used to determine outcomes of actual battles, where you get cards equal to your troop count. Ties have a runoff, where three cards are burned (Each player turns 3 cards face up to add to the weight of the conflict), and the fourth duels, high card winning. Ties cascade of course.

4. Game of Phones! I saw bumblebee the other day with my daughter. It takes place in 1987. I told my daughter that 1987 was when daddy and momma were kids and there was no internet or cell phones. She said, "You didn't have TV?"
So yeah, I am old and we are in the future. Name a word or theme, and give everyone in the room 60 seconds (90 seconds if the phone is more than a few years old) to come up with the best image or video from the internet related to the word or theme. Players vote for their favorite.

3. Never have I ever played in character can be entertaining. The game is played by a person saying "Never have I ever. . . " and then states an embarrassing occurrence, such as having sex in an uncomfortable place (like the back seat of a volkswagen). It doesn't have to be sexual. "Never have I ever been robbed while drunk!"

2. Race the dice. A simple game is everyone rolls 2d6 and the low roll loses a 'life'. You can set a number of losses. This is an interesting way to handle a race. Different factors can change the die sizes. Bonuses are very powerful since you are averaging two dice, so probably you shouldn't use them!

1. Finally, Liar's dice. This classic game is played with 5d6. Each player rolls their dice and hides them behind a wall or cup. This is a pure test of player skill and the ability to bluff and lie, making it a possible tool for a tense social situation! Everyone rolls. The first player has to bid on how many dice of a certain number there are. The next player either has to raise the bid, either by increasing the number of dice or the number on the die or both, or they can challenge and call. If called, all dice are revealed. And if the dice are there, the caller loses a die. If not, the liar loses a die. The game continues until only one player has dice, them being the winner. Quicker games can be played with fewer dice and fewer players. A 1 on 1 game with the Dungeon Master could be used to resolve a deception or insight attempt. Variants include 1's being considered wild cards and representing whichever numbers are generated.

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On the Thursday Trick: Sand

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 13:00
Sand (Category: Terrain, Vents/Sprays, Restraints/Hazards)

Trigger: AnyEffects:
Multiple TargetsSave: Strength

None Duration: SpecialResets:VariesBypass: varies
Description: This is less "sand" or "quicksand" as a trap. Sand is often ill-considered during play, and yet. . .

Sand is more deadly than wild animals. Holes, unstable footings, and instability cause more deaths than wild animal attacks. From 1990 to 2016, there have been 16 deaths just from sand pits used for making sandcastles. Sharks only killed 12 people during that span. Source.

Culturally, if there is no lumber or tree industry nearby, non-industrial societies have 'sandmen' who Collect and 'clean' sand to bring into cities. It is used as a cleaning, degreasing, and abrasive agent. Once a lumber industry is running, sawdust is cheaper and more effective, causing this job to die off. But for non-industrial societies, collecting, moving, and cleaning sand is a necessary industry.

Green SandSand describes a wide range of particles, from the large (64mm) to silt (.0004 mm). This consistency affects its behavior. You aren't going to sink into large grained sand. For example: Sand between .1 and .5 mm in diameter at the right humidity level will emit noises like whistling and barking. Video example 1, video example 2, video example 3.This can be up to over 100 decibels in volume. If you have a sand trap, where it pours in from somewhere, it could cause a terrible cacophony. If it happened elsewhere it could project the semblance of a terrible beast.

Sand near volcanic beaches can be straight up green. Olivine from the volcanic residue will produce a green color in the sand. Furthermore, sand can be beige or yellow. but also black, white, pink, red, gold, or purple, naturally.

Wizards who predict the future with sand would be called arenomancers. Arenolugry or Thaumoarenoists are sand wizards.

Areas with a lot of sand where it can be disturbed, (due to fights or fireballs) can put enough particularite matter in the air to cause illness, and if severe enough, cancer or death. Unprotected exposure to sand particles in the air can irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin, or flu like symptoms like runny nose, lack of breath, a terrible cough.

This isn't particularly helpful, but did you know some desert animals (like sand cats) are just so damn efficient that they literally never drink? They get all the water they need from the bodies of their prey. Like all desert predators they are nocturnal.

Sand, of the correct type, will often be sought by glassmakers, wizards, and other people who need specific grades of sand for glassmaking.

For sand dominated areas, feel free to to remember that heat and water are scarce in deserts.

QuicksandQuicksand is not limited to any specific climate or region. It can be found anywhere you find sand. A necessary component of quicksand is nearness to some body of water, whether underground or nearby.

What actually happens with quicksand is that it's super saturated with water. It's basically a deep pool, filled with a great deal of sand. The water volume is so high, that there's no friction, the pool is in a "colloidal" state and can't support any weight, any more than a swimming pool could, but the sand prevents you from swimming effectively.

You don't actually sink in very far. But the mistake most people make is that they try to push themselves out. Any attempt to "lift" out of the quicksand will cause another body part to push. This pushing disturbs the support and people sink further in.

Since the sand is more than twice as dense than the human body, you will not sink if you don't struggle. Falling head first into the sand can be deadly, being that you cannot remove your head, nor hold your breath long enough for your buoyancy to bring you to the surface.

FantasySail over the sand sea.
Giant worms snake through the sand.
Armies of the dead rest beneath the sands.
Burrowing predators harass characters in packs that swim through the sand.
Towers and whole cities rest buried beneath the dunes, the only entrance a single window at the top of a tower.
Balloons and parachutes allow sailing, held up by head coming off the dunes.
Mirages and illusions mess with dehydrated minds.
Wizards hide their towers among the dunes.
Sarlacc's and their cousins, giant dire antilions can be found among the sands.
Sandstorms ripe with magic bring thunder, lightning, and astral disruptions to the desert.
Sphinxes that live in the desert may take a dim view of you arriving to remove their valuable sand. Giant city like barges drift across the sands.
Silt striders, or other giant water bug like insects cross the sands, only their legs visible to players, their bodies far above the clouds.
In the wastes lie beasts like basilisks, sphinxes, and amphisbaena.
Victims of a sand necktie may be human or something else, often long dead, sometimes alive.
Creatures made from sand, or controlled sand shapes from sorcery nearby. (Video, nudity)

Detection/Disarming: Whenever using sand as an environmental variable, it's suggested that you explain to the players what's occurring and allow them to respond. Don't just immediately penalize them for sand exposure, mention that it's clouding the air and burning their lungs and eyes. If they don't take action to fix or correct the problem (Cloth over mouth, holding breath/closing eyes) then the penalties can apply.

The players need to be told about the hazard, before they get the chance to interact with it. Having quicksand or difficult terrain or pits on the battlefield, all should be described (if examined) before a player interacts with it.

Players should be told that sand is difficult terrain (double movement cost), but for sand that is actually hazardous (say full of pits), let people know that they will need to make a check to keep their footing. Quicksand is actually pretty difficult to spot, but allow players to take an action to try to identify which areas are unstable.

This post about sand may or may not have anything to do with my research for my Sandbox project. Get excited. If you think this post is good, and want to help make sure I can keep doing it throughout 2019, consider patreon!

The Tricks and Traps series examines original and classic traps discussing how to present the traps while maintaining the agency of the players. A complete list of sources and inspiration may be found here. The Tricks and Traps Index page contains a complete listing of all the tricks and traps on this site, or you may browse by tags.

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On the Hexporation

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 13:00

I've recently finished and published Hexplore: Borderlands, Raven Tower, Mill, and Abandoned Outpost!

You can get it here from DriveThruRPG.

It's the second borderland hex I've drawn, and it's a six-mile hex  with a raven tower in a mysterious forest, a bottomless pit, a haunted abandoned military outpost, a garden tended by spiders, a tomb for a powerful evil book, and the lair of an arrogant druid and his strange retinue. The document contains maps and encounters with space for your settings name and statistics. Four landmarks, three lairs, and four adventure sites, all for just a few dollars! This helps you make your game exciting in a new way!

 You can check out all the illustrations inside, in the free preview, but it's only $4.99 and you're ready with weeks worth of content when your players wander off in a random direction.

Here's a small .jpg of the hex covered in this Hexplore. The other image is an example of the illustrations contained within.

The other fun thing about this, is that I actually get to make the hex. You can see it right on the cover. See? It's the actual hex! Compare it to the map above!

I really like doing these and I hope you like them too! If you'd like to get them for free, along with 600 .dpi files for use with virtual table tops like roll20, they are all on my Patreon!

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On the Top 10 Crypts

Fri, 12/28/2018 - 20:31
The top ten styles of crypts for your adventurer to rob. Make it like a Turduken, and put different crypt types within each other like Matrioskha dolls.

A corpse is totes inconvenient. I mean, it's not a person, it has no use, and yet it is pretty important right? What do you do with all those corpses?

10 Cairn. Well, I guess if we drag it over there and cover it with rocks that will be good. Plus when you carry the rocks, you can get rid of all the feelings, because you're carrying heavy rocks. But you know, you deserve to be exhausted. After all, you're still alive.

9. Chamber Cairn. After a while you are probably preeety good at moving rocks. The next step is to cover the room the dead person is in with rocks. You can still visit this way. And yet. . .

8. Dolems, because even the dead don't like the rain. It's a separate chamber, kind-of. Merges right with the entrances, usually through a slight change or alteration of elevation.

7. Cist, A hole with stone walls, or a stone coffin set in the ground. Bones lie exposed to the weather or covered in the cist.

6. Tumulus, earth covers the dead in this burial mound, piled high over wherever the dead are stored. Frequently, large areas may be covered in some number of these, creating hills of the dead.

5. Olerdolana, when the grave is carved from stone, covered, holy resting places of the dead. Easily and frequently looted.

4. Sepulchres, cut deep into the mountain, forming rooms and chambers, where christians have lain their dead in ancient times, such chambers may run quite deep.

3. Catacombs, tunnels and chambers running for miles, where the dead are stored. Subterranean, an urban solution for an urban problem. What mysteries or secrets do these chambers of the deads hold? Tombs, Sarcophagi, and more can be found within their twisting passageways.

2. Crypts, a stone chamber that lies beneath the ground, where the dead are interned, vaulted for strength, and frequently near churches, though the church claims it doesn't use such work for necromancy, still the dead rise, no?

1. The Mausoleum, a building, a home for the dead above the earth, secrets of lost lineages can lie within.

Now that you've seen each of these types of tomb, it should help you be able to describe and reference your knowledge during play.

This post is Patreon supported! Come join our community and check out all the cool stuff we having going on, and be one of the great people who's making sure more stuff like this is coming your way in the future. You'll get free stuff, High Definition images for your VTT games and more!

All of the above are drawn by me. I'm also open for commissions at very reasonable rates.

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On a Thursday Trick: Mirrors

Thu, 12/27/2018 - 14:00
Mirror Trick (Category: Special, Restraints/Hazards)

Trigger: Mechanical: Light Detection
Mechanical: Interaction
Magical: Proximity
Magical: Touch

Multiple TargetsSave: Petrification/Polymorph
None Duration: Varies

Resets: AutomaticBypass: Special

Description: Mirrors are a powerful tool, frequently overlooked and forgotten by dungeon designers. Consider mirrored walls, at a distance, strange figures that are difficult to make out. In a room with mirrors, distances can be confusing and surprising. It can be difficult to locate a target.
A mirror trap can be simulated by simply having each appropriate mirror face present another location for monsters the players can see.

Mirrors at the end of hallways confuse mappers, and frequently draw aggressive reactions. Hide something deadly behind a mirror and wait for a panicky player with a crossbow to unleash it on a party.
Magical mirrors are always useful. A covered mirror could be a mirror of life trapping. Mirrors that travel to other mirrors, or hide reverse of rooms or dungeons, or act as scrying devices all have a precedent in fantasy.
Mirror opponents, duplicates but in reverse created by the mirror are a classic opponent. How does the character beat himself? There's even an old transcription of a game in the 70's where a journalist comments on encountering a mirror that made a fighter fight his reflection.
"Mirrors" can represental portals to a similar dimension, requiring you to take some action in this world to cause an event to occur in the other—pull a lever, push a pressure plate, smash an obstacle.

Detection/Disarming: The important thing with maintaining agency about mirrors is making sure that you describe to the player exactly what they see and how it responds to them. You should work this out ahead of time (as above). Intelligent characters will ask questions and draw the correct conclusions. Reducing solving a puzzle like this to a roll should only be used for people unwilling to engage in exploratory play due to insecurity.
Only use these tricks to protect optional treasure or areas. Don't ever require a trick or puzzle as described as above as necessary to advance play.

Consider also this trapped mirror from an earlier article, Tim Short's take on a mirror leading to a mirror universe, and this list of Mirror Effects from Aeons & Arguries.

The Tricks and Traps series examines original and classic traps discussing how to present the traps while maintaining the agency of the players. A complete list of sources and inspiration may be found here. The Tricks and Traps Index page contains a complete listing of all the tricks and traps on this site, or you may browse by tags.

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On The Corporation is Not Your Friend

Wed, 12/26/2018 - 13:00
Spider man, spider man, doing things a spider can,
spin that web, poison that man, oh no it's spiders-man

Spider-man, into the Spider-verse is the best movie I've seen since Lord of the Rings. It is an astounding tour-de-force. It's the first time I've seen something visually authentically new in cinema since the Return of the King. Also, it made me love Morales as spider-man.

I don't know that much about the Marvel universe. I'm a visual artist, I read comics, but mostly indy stuff? Lots of Dynamite comics, risque nudity, the type of thing that offends the weak minded.

When I was a kid I decided I was going to listen to whoever had the best arguments and think those things, the ones that were the best. But it turns out, there's actually a biological component to what I think. No matter how much a (for example) plutocrat explains their views to me, it turns out I'm not going to agree.

What's going to happen is that there will be a few more spider-verse movies and they will be good to ok, and then there will be a lot of them and they will be bad. I know this, because Sony owns Spiderman. And they are a corporation.

Let me explain: Let's talk about blizzard.

The Name is Blizzard. Activision-Blizzard.
In late 2007 Activision began the process of buying Blizzard. Bobby was put in charge.

I'll let him damn himself with his own words, yeah?

From the article titled "Activision: If we can't run a game into the ground, we don't want it." (This stuff writes itself, are you kidding me? That's a quote!?!):
"The games Activision Blizzard didn't pick up, he said, "don't have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million franchises. … I think, generally, our strategy has been to focus… on the products that have those attributes and characteristics, the products that we know [that] if we release them today, we'll be working on them 10 years from now." - BobbyYeah.

So Activision eliminated the bonus program, dropping technicians to their below industry average rates, causing many developers to flee. Anyone who followed Blizzard's developers on twitter, would now be following people who no longer work at Blizzard. Personally, as a Hearthstone player, having Ben Brode steal some members of the team and leave to found his own company was where it impacted me.

Here is a list of major developers and programmers who have left just in the last few years, not even since the Activision takeover 10 years ago. Rob Pardo (creative director). Chris Metzen (Story Director), Nick Carpenter (VP Cinematics), Josh Mosqueira (Game Director Diablo III), James Waugh, Tyson Murphy, Craig Am, Ben Brode (Hearthstone lead), and hearthstone programmers, Jomaro Kindred, Yong Woo, Michael Schweitzer, and most recently, Mike Morhaime, the co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment.

Blizzard doesn't work at Blizzard any more.

Here are people describing work at Activision/Blizzard: "Siloed mentality. . . fear based culture", "Severe problems in management", "Lots of politics, pleasing egos on a constant basis." "Lots of pressure, way too much overtime."

Here's a story. There's a golden goose. Wait! There's a surprise.
Someday this goose is going to die.
A 'bidness man', not a bleeding heart artist like me, says something like this: "This goose is gonna die someday, so I better get as much gold out of it as I can." And they decide to dip into the nefarious world of microtransactions, loot boxes, in-game advertising and research on algorithms to prompt people to spend money by matching them with rich players to get stomped.

Because why build art? Don't you know that the goose is gonna die someday? Best to get as much out of it as you can.

The goalpost at blizzard has unquestionably shifted from, "Make and test games until they feel perfect." to "Let's exploit this for profit." and it shows. The last Hearthstone expansion has serious weird bugs that would be impossible to miss during playtesting—at least the way blizzard used to do it. The work is getting shoddy and it shows. Who is left to make sure it doesn't?

It seems stupid, yeah? Until, of course, it's pointed out that, even though it's a long shot, from their perspective it's better money-wise, to take the shot. Blizzard did it, right? It just made "Everquest but from Blizzard". That worked out real well.

The shot in question being a big f-u to everyone looking for a new diablo community on the internet with a new PC release, with the announcement of a skin of a chinese game written by a chinese software company to release a microtransaction-focused diablo-skinned arpg slot machine. You know the sort, 4$ to turn off ads, 6$ for the experience doubler, and then the gem packs.

Welcome to Diablo Eternal, written by the chinese market for the chinese.

So, in retrospective, much like the 19th century was about british imperialism, the 20th about the information age, the 21st will be about the rise of China. It's ok. They aren't going to go to war with anyone, except on the market.

So who knows? Maybe tapping the chinese market will make Activision a ton of money.

But what about Blizzard? What about what they stood for?

Me? I'd want to extend the life of the goose. Give it a little swimming pond, some free range spaces. I mean it's a goose, and geese are assholes. Seriously. Geese are dicks. I mean, I'm no speciest, but I don't want geese moving in next door, if you know what I mean. They will honk all night. Still, if it's laying golden eggs, who cares if it lives in a nice house with a swimming pool?

Henry Ford said "If the only reason to run a business is to make money, it's a bad business." So when activision takes over, policies change. The culture changes. People leave. The games do drop in quality. But Activision wants to acquire, and extract. After all, it's not like Blizzard was going to stay profitable indefinitely. Even if it did, it's just not enough money every month.

Not every corporation has the practices. Others love their game so much they enslave their workers like a medieval lord, forcing people to labor for over a hundred hours in a 168 hour week? Some companies like Steam are private, lean, and generate both revenues and power.  Others like Crate are made up of a group of people who love their jobs and lives, pouring their soul into the game.
Along Came A Spider To Sit Beside-herVenom, Black Cat, Silver Sable, Morbius the Living Vampire, Kraven the Hunter, Silk, Jackpot and Nightwatch. Those are all the movies Sony has planned for the Spider-verse in the next 24 months. I only know like 3 of those characters.

The animated movie was just a side project.

But already sequel plans are in place. A sequel with morales and gwen. That will serve as a "Launching Pad" for spinnoffs. Gwen/Spider Woman/Silk. Spider Ham.

They don't have an idea for a movie. They have an idea about how to produce a lot of content while people are excited. In their favor is that the people getting these projects care about the spider.

But here's the thing. As quality varies in the movies, shareholders will demand better returns, and that's when the rules come about what directors can and cannot do. With less freedom and more studio interference, director quality will decline, until they've squeezed every last penny from the spider-verse that they can.

And you know, good on them. But don't turn the corporation into your heroes. Maybe we shouldn't let corporations operate without concern for the well-being of people. It turns out the invisible hand will give people cancer if it makes 'em some money. This is why extremism is so bonkers. Of course you need both socialist and capitalist traits in a government for it to be successful. I don't care about someone making a few hundred million a year, but even libertarians—a political movement founded on the principle of freedom from government intervention, believe that the wealth concentration is an issue where injustice is being perpetrated and must be addressed.

Like the vast vast majority of humans are on board with this as a problem.

I mean, that's why the future of the Internet is in communities. They've become social entertainment, doors open in many houses at any given moment, time shared with people you care about who's jobs are communicating and building communities. Patron, Twitch, human organization is changing. That's why I'm following Overhype studios, developer of Battle Brothers. Because they are a pair of brothers, making a toy they love. They have money, but mostly they just want to make their little sandbox. I drift along with other fans who watch and stream the game, becoming a part of a tribe.

It turns out that people do things for reasons other than money. I'm not taking a choosing beggar stance, people should be compensated for their talents. But the fact is, if people have their needs met, they still will do things because they enjoy them. The fact that the very plutocratic policy these objectivist follow doesn't even heed the core maxim of the creator "Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to men's vices or stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hopes of getting more than your ability deserves?. . . If so your money will not give you a moment's or penny's worth of joy."

We all know that isn't true. People making millions at activision or seeking to save and distribute twenty-five million dollars to executives, while stiffing floor people who are fired. They don't feel guilt about that. Just trying to get as much for them as they can.

But here's a crazy thing. Aggressive assholes? That's not something that's biologically selected for. It turns out, you are more reproductively successful if you have friends (said the uncountable bacteria encasing every human body.) So in the long run, we are seeing an evolution of humanity itself. It turns out, that evolution selects for community instead of aggression. What befalls the fox befalls us all.
While Belyayev and his team "didn't select for a smarter fox but for a nice fox", Hare said, "they ended up getting a smart fox."I'm sad about the future of Hearthstone, and glad we are going to get some good spider man films.
Have a great Christmas everyone!

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Don't look at this trap!

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 14:00
I was drawing a map on the table, extemporaneously from a source online. My players had predictably wandered off course. Not having thoroughly prepared, I absentmindedly drew a trap on the map in front of them.

I erased it. One of my players said, "What was that there?"
"A trap."
"Are we supposed to act like we don't know about it?"

Well, the answer to that question is no, and comes along with a story about how meta-gaming is like a tube of material ejected from a bull's ass.
Meta-gaming is dumbNow, follow me here. Outside of directing a play or fulfilling a sexual fetish, when is it appropriate to tell someone, you've got to do what I want the way I want it because I said?

I don't have time to talk about the boring stuff, like "Metagaming is when players use real-life knowledge about the state of the game to determine their character's actions." The real question is what are you doing in a room?

Are you there to play a game? Hang out with friends? Tell a Story? Generate a mood? It certainly varies. I don't feel like I'm there to tell a story. Doesn't mean I can't see how people are playing the way Matthew Mercer plays are having fun.

But in all those cases, you're talking about a group of competent adults together in a room that like each other. Would you like it if someone told you what to do and how to do it? I know I wouldn't. A decade ago, I might have assumed that no one would. I mean, maybe it's your thing!

Generally though, it's considered a dick move. So I'mma gonna go with that.

The people metagaming are ruining the game!!!!!!11EXCLEMATIONPOINT

Are they though? Are they?

I've never never agreed with the principal that anything in the game takes priority ever over verisimilitude. From experience: Watching a player who made a character sit out of a game for five hours because "this wouldn't be a good time for him to show up yet." I liked that guy. I thought it was shit to make him sit out and he didn't come back. If I were who I am today, I might have had the courage to speak up at the time instead of after.

Now this doesn't mean verisimilitude isn't important, just that it shouldn't ever take precedence over something that is breathing.

What, exactly, are you in this room for?

The most common example, of course, is players knowing the weaknesses of the creatures in the monster manual. There are lots of solutions that avoid the problem ("Create your own special monsters!") but my core stipulation is it's not a problem.

Who cares if they know the monster abilities? Or, to put it more clearly, is the feeling you get when they don't use lightning or slashing weapons on the black ooze worth having other players lose agency? Do you need to make other people feel bad for 'not playing correctly'? How do you even determine what correctly is?

We have a table consensus. It's not a game you play to win. When we are talking about the outcomes, we focus on what seems most reasonable for the shared reality, not what is of most benefit to our characters. This is always a voluntary discussion. To compel someone to act as if they did not know a thing they know seems absurd to me. It's a game. I've played in adventures I know from memory. I'm not going to play stupidly, but I won't lead play.

I'll tell you my six year old does it ("You're playing wrong!"), and I'm going to socialize her out of doing that too. Which is sort of my point. I'm just going to flat out state that placing the freedom of your friends, below your own desire to reduce cognitive dissonance, isn't a mature thing to do. That might be because that's kind of how I view everyone who ever told someone "there character wasn't allowed to do that."

Really, because what this issue raises isn't the problem. When the 'problem' of metagaming comes up, it's always because there's some sort of other disagreement, that is being addressed non-directly by one person trying to dictate the behavior of another. I don't think this is a good idea considering how most people talk about metagaming. It's just a passive-aggressive way to avoid conflict.

Looking at it, and all the classic examples, I can't see in any case about how it's bad.  Metagaming seems fine or stems from another problem. I certainly think this has its roots in narrative control from second edition, and I don't remember anyone who ever played those Dragonlance modules who thought they were good. Not only now in the internet age, but back in the hobby shop two cities over with my dad, talking with the cigar guy behind the steel and glass counter age. Everyone knew they were shit to play back then. I think my dad pitched it to his group as getting to play the heroes from the books, but I'm 100% certain that game died a very quick death.

There isn't any should, because their can't be. Don't think of a white elephant. DAMN IT. Now I want you to have not done that! Complaining about metagaming is crazy, weird, mildly unhealthy expression. Which, you know, if that's the cross you gotta bear, you be you, but damn man. Don't it get heavy?

Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong in the comments. It's a brave new world that looks like the old one, circa 2008.
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I'm Bowing Out

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 08:01
Politics, Violence, Social Media, and Dungeons and Dragons

I've not written this post several times. It will be intensely personal, brutally honest, and not directly about gaming resources. It is likely something in this post might trigger you, regarding abuse, sexuality, or mental illness. It is filled with ups and downs, trials and travails, good and evil, hope and loss.

A) It is one year ago today I was fired, illegally, due to a medical condition. Soon after termination, I was diagnosed with an Apnea Hypopnea Index of 120+, breath stoppages of a maximum 35 seconds. An index of 30 is considered 'critical'. (That's code for deadly. The number is the number of times during an hour that breathing ceases. An exercise for the reader: Multiply 120 times an average of 30 seconds and see how many of the 3600 seconds an hour I didn't breathe while I slept. My AHI is now < 2.)

B) It is one year today that I've survived as a full-time working artist and writer! (hint: support me on Patreon!)

I'm not a smart person. Tests say I'm a smart person, but I don't think that's true. Not because of low self-esteem, but because I stop and think what someone smarter than me would do.

It is no great insight that those two statements of fact create different biases. A smart person would realize that and try to eliminate their biases. So that's what I did. I broke out of my filter bubble. I got in conservative groups, liberal groups, groups that claimed to be unbiased, reviled groups, secret groups, popular groups, and more, because I wanted to understand people who are not like me.

You know what I found out?

What I Found Out

I spent 20 years (1998-2017) working in mental health. That means psych wards, live-in home waiver services, drug and alcohol counseling, almost all with teenage youth. I've worked closely with schizophrenics, drug addicts, murderers, rapists and more. I was involved in violent confrontations multiple times a month.

A real life example, a 14 year old youth with fetal alcohol syndrome and developmental disability, watched his father murder his mother in front of him on a boat, then was sent by DHS/CPS to live with a family that repeated raped him until he came into our care.

Did you get empathy for him due to that description? It's probably because I didn't mention the rapes he committed against the female children under 10 in the home he was put in. He would scream and attack people so he could be restrained because he was touch starved.

I'm not doing that for the shock value. The above is hardly an unusual case. What I'm saying is that for 20 years, I worked with nothing but victims and criminal degenerate sacks of shit. Almost universally these were the same people.

Now, I've also run across evil; true, real human evil. It exists. But working with criminals and mental patients, the kind of place you're going to find true evil outside of a CEO conference, I can count the number of times I encountered true antithetical soulless broken evil humans without using all the fingers of one hand.

I can speak about this, because I spent 40,000 hours working with the mentally ill and in the medical sector. Here are things I learned that are the foundations for how I approach life.

+Arbitrarily deciding that people have infinite self-worth that is not based on externals (skin color, job, education, money, country of residence, political affiliation, personal beliefs) is a healthy way to approach life. Once someone's worth is based on externals, it immediately becomes possible for some people to be worth "more" than other people. For the last 40,000 years, this has resulted in enormity. From this week when a synagogue was attacked by a domestic terrorist, to early humans committing genocide against close relatives. Out of all the time we've had, that's been true for all of it.

+Everyone has a good reason when they commit a crime. A bank robber has a very good reason to rob a bank, or they wouldn't. Nearly everyone who commits crimes does so because of their own pain and suffering and they justify it because they don't understand the way things really are. In a surprisingly large number of cases, this is due to biological factors they have no control over that punish them with overwhelming pain and confusion. (e.g. pedophiles or people who have anger issues.)

+All actions people take are, to them, the most rational and logical course of action to take. If you or I were in their position, experiencing what they've experienced, and limited by their natural faculties, then you or I would make the same choices. Because it appears not rational to you, means you lack the perspective to understand why they view it as a rational action. This doesn't mean their action was rational—I'm fairly certain the bibles weren't shooting beams of light in an arc into each other.

And finally,
+People are different. liberals aren't weak 'cucks' trying to undermine civilised society and conservatives aren't malicious assholes trying oppress minorities. They are different kinds of people with honest, core, philosophical differences. This is true for a lot of good biological reasons, which is why it's so difficult for one to understand the other.

No, Really, Here's What I Found Out

This is really about Dungeons and Dragons I promise.

Expanding my filter bubble showed me a lot of things. I saw people accuse others without facts. I saw a lot of people who would just make things up because they weren't alive when things were different. I saw people organize to blacklist and slander people. I saw people taking joy in other people's suffering. I saw people engage in gatekeeping and kinkshaming. I was told that adults could not be held accountable for their actions, that influence overrides free will so what gets made needs to be controlled. I was blocked by people I still love to this day. I was accused of supporting national socialist racial genocide. I've seen people claim hate groups (al-qaeda, kkk, nazis) were fake news. I saw people who are ideologically possessed. I saw anger, and fear, and hate.

Don't get me wrong, I have an agenda for this post. It's pretty much centered around supporting my daughter and writing about gaming. Listen.

I accept you. Yes, you.

I'm not writing this to change your mind about anything. In the last five years, I've had a life threatening ischemia, had my father die, become a father, lost my career and started a whole new one from scratch, was diagnosed with a serious mental disorder, gotten divorced and moved twice. I am currently in a legal battle against the Mother of my child who is illegally denying me visitation for my daughter out of spite. That's a major life-altering event about every six months for the last half-decade. When you tell me it's evil or wrong to talk to whoever you've decided is bad, my scale for what's important might be calibrated a little differently than yours.

If a United States marine veteran who spent 20 years working in the public health sector helping disabled non-white youth overcome crisis and addition, often in rural areas only reachable by plane (I spent 5 years of that doing work in rural Alaska) is being accused of being a Nazi, something is a little wonky.

What's wonky is that we are in the middle of a culture war caused by a fundamental shift in the way humans interact as an organism. It's called the internet, and it's not going away, and we are going to have to adapt to this new form of communication and interaction.

Perhaps you are different then me. Perhaps you believe that if you interact, view, or talk with the wrong person, that the only solution is to make them verboten. *Perhaps you believe that when I draw a map of a dungeon and sell it that threatens your safety or causes harm to you.

Well, here's the thing. If you feel that way, you're really in the minority.

Most people are moderate and are exhausted by all these extremists [edit to clairify: Not Nazis, fuck those guys. There is no 'both sides'. Violence and the call for genocide is a crime. I explicitly mean 'extremists in the gaming community' I think everyone can immediately think of a name or two], Outrage peddlers living on the suffering of the left and right both, and their inability to get along. There is a whole job category of people who make their living by generating outrage. Those people, and the ones that support the outrage are a mind-boggling minority.

If everyone in america were 100 people. 8 would be in one corner, 25 in the other, and the rest of us just sick of listening to them yell at us, about each other. When this happened in England, they put all 30 of those folks on a boat and made them come build America.

One thing that extremists like to do is to respond as if I've typed (said) something I didn't actually type or say. So if I say "Extremists are minorities", extremists will view that as an attack—as if my failure to be an extremist will cause fungible harm in the world.

It won't and the extremism does.

This doesn't mean I'm a degenerate piece of shit. e.g. If a person is talking in my game, and another person talks over them, they get a warning the first time and a discussion where we process the behavior the second. (I was a counselor for 20 years, remember?). I recycle. I donate to CRI. I've served my country. I volunteer. I vote in every election. I am a citizen and I take my civic responsibility seriously. I'm a minimalist. I still eat meat, but not daily. I am the change I wish to see in the world.

And I wish to see less extremism.

Ok, holy shit I get it. Things are going to change. We are at a peak of human development. But it can't go up forever. Sooner or later it will come down. That could be Tuesday, or it could be the heat death of the universe. That creates a lot of anxiety. We don't know what will happen.

But you get wrapped up in that, you are just going to make yourself sick. They have a plan to make  sure everyone on the planet has water. Like life was a god-damned camping trip. If they don't have access to fresh water in second-world places like Iran, South Africa, or Flint Michigan, then they make sure they had access to potable water.

When I was born, there wasn't any hemisphere of the earth that didn't know war, now all outright war is limited to a small slice of the planet. I could post links all day to all the wonderful fantastic things the we are doing.

All I'm saying is that if you're not old enough to remember having to wait till Monday morning to call the Library of Congress to get the answer to a question then you don't have any idea what fake news is.

The Point

It's ok to enjoy games!
The majority of all people are not extremists.
You can play and talk about games anywhere you like with anyone you like and it doesn't make you a bad person.

I'm not scared about writing this, because anyone who's upset about what I said, is an extremist and statistically if everyone single one of them stopped following me, It would be a small enough number that I would not experience any significant threat or change.

So, for example, I'm on MeWe. There's a lot of people who are talking about how MeWe is going away, like Gab. It's a haven for the 'wrong people'. Yeah, the 1,000 contacts who are talking about gaming in my circle over there don't care. I don't want to make a political stance—I want to talk about Dungeons & Dragons. There's literally thousands of people over there doing that. We've known for more than 200 years that Free Speech is Important. I also think it's good hate crimes are illegal, and understand the difference between the two.

I get 100 new contacts a day on MeWe, ever since the G+ exodus began. I see people posting on facebook about terrible people on the platform. Of course, the same people on twitter or facebook don't seem to bother them. I've even seen some people hoping all those gamers have their space taken away.

That's cool! I accept them. They, like all people, are acting out of pain. But it won't stop me from talking to literally thousands of people about gaming. I post on Facebook and you know, some extremist acting like a violent asshole isn't going to get me off that platform. I broadcast on Twitch about 25-30 hours a week, and Twitch users commit violence against each other on the regular. What's that saying, no conscientious consumption under capitalism?

What can we do?

All hope is not lost. I too have been experiencing more frustration and anxiety from social media as this war between extremists goes on (as they all try desperately to convince us to not be calm, rational, and moderate). Mine was pretty severe because I changed my job to one that depends on media to survive. I see others hurting and suffering, so I'm walking the walk. This is  how my knowledge of mental health helps me cope with the aggression and social violence of extremists. So I've been building a playbook of strong mental defenses using psychological techniques as follows:

+Don't believe anything. Belief means you think a thing. It doesn't mean you know it or can prove it. It just means you think it. Belief in an infographic, in where a politician is born, in the weather, deities, anything. I mean, personally I've met Ganesh the deity twice in person. But I don't "believe" in him any more than I "believe" in my daughter.
I'm not saying you shouldn't listen to people, I'm saying you should listen to the right people. I've got 40,000 hours in the medical field. I don't know fuck all about climate change. I don't believe anything about climate change. But during a spirit gathering, I talked to Yu'pik elders who had seen over 80 winters and they said that the snow no longer squeaks, because now there is water when before it was too cold to have moisture in the air.
You know what I know about? Heath Care, Counseling, Art, Video Games and Dungeons and Dragons. Possibly an amature opinion on movies or series procedurals. Those are the topics I can give an informed opinion on. Why would you listen to anything I thought about politics? Or anything else? Perhaps take a minute to note the million words on this blog covering video games and Dungeons and Dragons.
It's the same with the outrage sycophants. If someone isn't discussing an area of their specialty, but rather a variety of rotating topics—that's a talking head. Their job isn't to share knowledge, it's to push an agenda. Rosanna Pansino talks about cooking. Reviewbrah reviews food. Scotty kilmer talks about cars. Hack and Slash talks about Dungeons and Dragons. Those are creators. Know the difference when you engage.

+ Cultivate your awareness like a garden. CPGrey has an excellent video explanation of the fact that outrage from extremists is ultimately reinforcing and self-destructive once it veers far enough away from reality. This video will make you angry.

+Investigate claims to the source. If I hear someone make a claim about someone, it's literally the future. I can have a face to face call with nearly every human being on the planet in a matter of seconds. When I wanted to know something, I directly reached out and asked the person and then used my own judgement to determine the truth of the situation.
It's the same about concerns about MeWe. What I did was investigate and make up my mind myself.  Here is a video where Matt Finch talks to a Jason Hardy the Project director of MeWe, and within 24 hours they responded more to our concerns then google+ did in total. MeWe is politically unaffiliated, but they have banned members for hate speech. Here is a conservative article bemoaning that they ban hate speech. We (G+ gamers) were welcomed to MeWe with a User Experience survey. A panel was held discussing the platform. Someone mentioned in a thread on MeWe that the pointed out the terms of service needed adjusting if they really claimed to be neutral and they adjusted the terms of service the next day.

+I engage in social media less. I read it, but now the only time I actually engage is to talk to artists or other creators. I'm tired of being sick to my stomach over stupid discussions online about shit people don't have the first clue over anyway. I'm tired of the never ending rant of just a few people who desperately want someone else to take their side or back their cause. Have you noticed I'm more quiet on social media? It's because I'm bowing out of the arguments online. That's not the fight. That's people trying to profit from the fight. I win the fight when I vote, volunteer, and fulfill my role to my community, family, and planet. Not when I'm pushing an agenda.

+Beware of totality in speech, be skeptical of fear mongering, and think about what might motivate someone to do a thing. When Rome fell, people still got up in the morning and went to work. The course of life is natural.

+Finally, holy shit guys, can I get a break. Just go another six months without a death, lawsuit, alien invasion? One stable year? So much crazy crazy cool stuff is coming!

For a little levity after all that, watch my daughter draw a D&D monster.

If you'd like to talk to me about any of this, you can have a direct conversation with me online on twitch when I broadcast, or you can write or verbally chat with me on discord (Agonarch#0828). When you visit me on twitch, it's just like television, except it's me drawing one of my maps! I won't be talking about any of this on social media, but I'd love to have an in person, voice or face conversation with anyone who wants to.

There's a lot of good gaming coming, I hope to see you there!
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**[Edit 2 the original text that was replaced: Perhaps you believe your safety is threatened and actions I take by listening to people or writing only about games is harming you.]
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The King is Dead; LONG LIVE THE KING!

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 00:16
Friends! Companions! Compatriarts, adversaries, and villains!

Google Plus is Dead!

In ten months, the field we have sown blood and tears on; the field upon which an empire of creativity was wrought; a field many left in disgust, will be closed and destroyed after the passing of next summer!

This is no hoax.

Listen friends; gather round and be joyful, for this passing of ages.

When we began this great work, no one played Dungeons & Dragons seriously online. Now every thursday hundreds of thousands of people tune into watch people play D&D.  When this began, the only official play was 4e, with builds and squares, dissociated mechanics, a dying playerbase.

Now is a golden age that I am lucky to see, and perhaps may not come again in my time. But whatever we all set out to do, even those who were stranger, opponent, friend, or foe; We did it.

OSR is at the forefront of industry awards, and Dungeons and Dragons, the new edition that explicitly empowers Dungeon Masters in the classic style, is more popular now then it was during its height of popularity in the early 80's.

The future will bring new life to gaming, and it is not all bad. Dark forces, corrupt and nefarious emotions, and bigoted, racist, and sexist individuals drove people from that land, over and over again. Google Plus dying means we have a chance to start over, to start again and perhaps build something even greater. Something better, safer, more egalitarian.

Let me say to everyone, It will be ok! Discord, twitch, reddit, forums—One thousand flowers will bloom in the soil the OSR carried and laid.

We will be here, no matter what dreams may come. Life is change. I am excited to see what happens next!

Fair journey friends, I wish you well!
Hang out with me and watch me make crazy beautiful art: https://www.twitch.tv/agonarchartistGive me money so I can live indoors: https://www.patreon.com/hackandslashSign up for my Newsletter: https://tinyletter.com/HackandslashPlay with me on Steam: https://steamcommunity.com/id/nexusphere/Look me up on Discord:Agonarch#0828Tweet at me:https://twitter.com/HackslashmasterBook right into my face: https://www.facebook.com/Hack.Slash.Master
Here I am on MeWe: https://mewe.com/i/courtney.campbell1See some grams, I've inst-ed:https://www.instagram.com/nexusphere/Email me: campbell at oook dot cz
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs