Tabletop Gaming Feeds

On Erecting a New Campaign

Hack & Slash - Fri, 10/29/2021 - 12:00
Do you smell that?
It's the smell of a new campaign. New players, new dynamics, new adventures! 
Here's how this goes:
Suggest a couple of games to players a month ahead of time. Finalize the game date.Realize no one has picked a game.Players select the game they want 48 hours before the game. Hurriedly design an entire campaign from scratch.Frantically try to print off everything you need before the game. Forget to print off a bunch of things.Realize only after the game starts that all the .pdfs you need to reference are on the tablet your daughter is using to watch kid's shows.Bargain with your daughter for the tablet.Decide to use your phone instead.Give up on using your phone. Refer to things as "That country I made up a name for that I can't find."Spend 20 minutes looking for that one piece of paper that has the entire campaign on it. Find it in the folder you made for the players.Watch a 5e player's eyes go wide as a critical chart takes off the clerics arm.Have her leave to go smoke.Convince your daughter that the phone is better then the tablet. Hurriedly try to find the name of that rebel group in the .pdf. End the session rolling up new characters.
Beginning a campaign from scratch
I joke, but this touches on a real issue. Even using an system with no house rules and an adventure path, there's still a tremendous amount of work that needs to happen to get a campaign off the ground.
Let's take a look at what needs to be done, just to start:
  • You have to create an area for the players to adventure. You need to populate this area. If you're being a good dungeon master, this area should be able to handle both expansion, foreshadow the course of the campaign, and be thematically interesting.
  • You need to decide what races and classes you are going to allow.
  • Generally, you have to provide a selection of deities for clerics.
  • You have to either select or design a calendar to keep track of time. (YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.)
  • You have to decide what languages are available for the players to learn.
  • You need to create a facebook/G+ page and an obsidian portal/wiki as a reference for the campaign as it develops.


How much work is that already?
Then you have character creation, which even in the best games, feels like needing to do taxes so you can get your refund.
There's some person out there, full of more vigor then sense, who will likely point out that you don't have to do these things. Sure, you don't have to. You don't have to brush your teeth in the morning, but who wants to be a damn savage?
The tools have been getting better for this process over the years. I find starting a campaign from scratch much easier now–not only because I've written my own tools, but because there are more useful tools out there.
The process
Because this is something that's really opaque, I'm going to outline my process below. 
The very first thing is you get some players interested. I find, these days, it's as easy as "I'm running a game at date/time, anyone interested?" I then create a venue on a social network where these players can all interact.
System
My next step was to discuss what system we are going to use. No matter what is picked, there's always issues. I don't like clerics and find % thief skills obnoxious. 3.5/Pathfinder games you need to decide what books you are allowing. In this case, the players and I voted for 1st edition AD&D.
Right away, my long experience gives me some insight into how this plays out. Demi-humans are far superior to humans in almost all respects, and most players end up playing Demi-humans as humans in funny hats. I make humans mechanically superior (4d6DL & assign, versus 3d6 in order, switch 2) and add drawbacks to each race. I used Andrew Shields Death Dwarves and their meatsmithing, took a bit of the chaos elves and have them all start with at least one madness, and have half-men (Halflings) have rows and rows of teeth, who prey on the failing morals of men.
I also replace the thief with the expert class and change all the thief skills and secondary skills to use Skills: the Middle Road. I also inform the players that I will be using my Death & Dismembermenttable, along with Hackmaster Critical hits.
World
I give a moment's thought to theme. I decide on a frontier style game. Instead of having a foreign land , where all the cultures are bizarre, I'd prefer a more traditionally medieval setting. My inspirations include Berserk, the 100 years war, Artesia, Bladestorm, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and all the drama inherent in war.
With the idea that the characters are at a forward outpost of a despotic country, with conflict brewing with the nearest city, surrounded by unknown militaristic forces, I head over to Wizardawn and generate maps until I find one that I like. Mountains to the north, a few lakes. I generate it sans any generated sites. I save this map to my Dropbox, print out a color copy and a very light almost faded black and white copy. On the light copy, I create a few cities, about half a dozen towns, and place resources and obstacles over the map. I don't generate the content for any of these. Partially because some answers will be obvious (one city and town on the west side of the map will reflect the outpost and the nearest settlement) and partially because they will develop in play. 
This map is at a scale of 6 mile hexes, making it about the size of my home state of Arkansas. The distances are substantial, but not unmanageable. There's endless adventure inside a single six mile hex, so it provides plenty of room for play and expansion. I can have a whole ancient empire in just a few hexes or introduce a new castle or force late in the campaign.
Then I generate some monster threats. One worldshaker, two that are formidable opponents for Lord or name level characters, and then four that are challenges for superhero level characters. Most of the hero level challenges don't influence the campaign enough to design now.
Now that all that is written, I rationalize clerics and select a calendar. I have a few default options, one from a campaign my father was in way back in the early 80's, another that I designed to be a unique calendar that I use from time to time. Not having to do this from scratch is a big time saver.
Preparation
The next thing is what we will need to start play. I'm playing 1st edition with hackmaster criticals so armor placement is important, along with character sheets. I print off a 1st edition Player's Handbook gear list, and consider printing off some gear packages, but I've been burned with having differing prices before. This later turns out to be a mistake, considering exactly how much gear the players were missing. They had a bullseye lantern no one could light, and no rope. I print out blank spell lists for spellcasters, and then I turn to my Binder.
I find some suitably gory and bizarre images to insert into the covers of the binder, and begin collecting what I need from online and my older folders. I need a copy of my "Table for Avoiding Death", some blank paper, a table for random monster behavior, combat commentary styles, Non-Player Character features, A table for random hireling traits, random backgrounds for henchmen (which will partially decide their class when they acquire enough experience to level), and a list of completely random rumors, which is often useful for inspiration.
The next section contains a cheat sheet for 1e morale, evasion, and encounter detection and a table of 100 reasons the characters are together along with a list of totally bullshit taxes that can be levied on players. The 100 reasons sheet is extremely useful for creating emergent play.
Finally, I have a section devoted to overland travel. The first page is a way to determine with one die roll when the next encounter is based on encounter frequency, instead of having to roll three, four, or even six or more times per day of travel. Then I have several lists of non-standard wilderness events, some creative tables for merchants, war travel, short encounters, unique treasure, holidays, strange inns, etc. Then I have a page devoted to an article from a hackjournal that contains a random system for naming small villages and hamlets. Finally I have a copy of the d30 random wilderness book.
Adventure
Well, what now?
There's still a lot left to do. Like what are the players actually going to do when they get to the game? I generate three key Non-Player Characters, and an opening setting for their arrival in town. I also go through the various books and monster manuals (The Creature Compendium, Fire on theVelvet Horizon, etc.) and pick a small (2-6) selection of monsters per terrain type near the starting area. These will be the primary antagonists and animals the players will meet.
Due to time constraints, I forgo creating an actual wandering monster table. In order to create an actual experience of discovery and realism, I follow the method for monster tables outlined on the retired adventurer blog, each containing spoors, lairs, and other monster sign.
I then flip through some resources, looking for a few activities for new adventurers, along with ideas for other local factions and groups. I select a few from here and there, and write them down on my campaign sheet, which at this point is still a single piece of paper with a lot of writing on it. I grab a copy of a few interesting files, and dump them on my tablet.
Then I gather the books I need. My "On the Non-Player Character", Delta's "Book of War", Crawford's "An Echo, Resounding", My 1e Dungeon Master Screen, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Player's Handbook, A copy of "Dyson's Delves" for treasure maps. I also keep a copy of my Critical Hit/Wild Magic Resource, and Kellri's CCD:4 for wilderness travel nearby.
I gather dice, pencils, dice trays, my tact-tiles, dry erase markers, buy a fruit tray, and just hope for the best at this point.
The Beginning
Well, after you had the first game session, that's it eh?
Not hardly. Then comes setting up the Obsidian Portal, drawing pictures of the non-player characters, creating new non-player characters, writing the random tables, creating interesting and connected rumors, and more.
In 2017, I was able to handle all the above in about 48 hours, whereas as short as a decade ago it could take weeks, or more. Are we there yet? We are getting better. Newer rulesets like ACKS, DCC, and Perdition require a lot less house-ruling of core systems it seems; adventurers, tools, and resources seem to be getting more useful as time goes on. Even the quality of official material seems to be of a higher caliber (but often fails from trying to be too many things to too many people).
What about your campaigns? Is every single one a task of pulling the entire world up by its bootstraps while you are astride it?

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Science Fantasy Domains - OSR rpg Retroclones & the Drums of War

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 10/29/2021 - 04:29
 Going over older campaign notes today & thinking about pulling up older campaign adventure elements. One thing that comes to mind with the supply chain issues hitting Kickstarter & Hasbro. I've been speaking with co DM's about the idea of pulling forward several older campaign elements. And this brings up ACK's Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu & Night Owl Workshop's Warriors of the Red Planet.  Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Write Up For the Roboskull Mark II For Stars Without Numbers Revised rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 10/28/2021 - 22:22
 From beyond the furthest reaches of the moons of Saturn on a planetlet base comes the Roboskull mark II marking the return of the Red Shadows terrorists! They have languished since the early Eighties out beyond the frozen rings of Saturn! But now the Red Shadows are back marauding colony after colony within the Sol system. Roboskull Mark II Packaging Art by the Legendary Ian KennedyHP: 9 Power: Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The original release of Dungeons and Dragons was a supplement.

Bat in the Attic - Thu, 10/28/2021 - 19:20

It occurred to me recently that the original release of Dungeons and Dragon is best viewed as a supplement. Not to the Chainmail Miniature wargame but to the unwritten rules, systems, and methods the miniature wargaming community of the early 70s were using.

After reading Playing at the World, Hawk and Moor, and other accounts of early miniature wargaming I had a better understanding of why the 3 LBBs of ODnD were organized the way they were. It makes  sense to me to view it as a supplement to what folks were doing at the time. And why everybody else who got a hold of it was scratching their heads over the missing parts.

What got me thinking about this was thinking about my Majestic Wilderlands Supplement. This was written for Swords and Wizardry. I didn't bother explaining what hit points, armor class, and levels were. My target audience was hobbyists playing Swords and Wizardry and other classic editions. I assumed that they would "get" the stuff I left undefined. I did receive a few criticisms and comments early on about where was rest of the system was. I explained that it was a supplement to another game. Luckily for me it was free to download.

With all the interest generated in the history of our hobby with the Game Wizards, I figure this would a interesting insight when weighing the original release against later editions of Dungeons and Dragons.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Legacies of Dread - X1 Isle of Dread by David Cook , & Tom Moldvay Campaign Commentary & Update

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 10/28/2021 - 17:52
 When it comes to fall out from one module within my campaigns its got to be X1 Isle of Dread by David Cook , & Tom Moldvay , not only is this a great module for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. But its one of the modules that has the greatest impact by its connections deep into the Sea of Dread. Not only do you have deep connotations into a dinosaur filled realm but the Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

In Defense of Randomized Content in RPGs (with bonus 1d20 Random Table for megadungeons)

The Disoriented Ranger - Thu, 10/28/2021 - 12:41
Just tropping by to leave a little something here on the blog. It's been a busy month, and November will be just as busy (for relevant reasons yet to be disclosed to you, gentle reader). So here's a little something I did for a project that didn't make the cut ... Incidentally it also connects nicely with the last post and further explores my thinking in that regard. The Random Table in the end is just icing.

True randomness, you say?

Many gamers believe that the use of random tables in role-playing games is an old school staple and has no place in newer designs. Let me try and change your mind on this.

First of all: the use of random tables, for instance, to create some encounters or an encounter reaction, is not necessarily as ‘random’ as one would define the word. Let’s see a definition. ‘Randomness’ is, according to the main definition offered by the Oxford Language Dictionary:

‘The quality or state of lacking a pattern or principle of organization; unpredictability.’

Most rpg random tables are a collection of terms (or mechanics) that are considered compatible with the purpose of the random table and therefore will produce results that are within an expected spectrum or range. It’s when random tables start to work in conjunction and use more abstract terms that you’ll get results that are a bit more unpredictable.

So what I’m saying is that a one column table with 20 or even 100 entries doesn’t really qualify as something that produces random results. It’s a start, but not where the true potential lies. Or its reason …

Gimme Danger (the narrative whispered)

Gamemasters have to describe versatile environments and how all of that interacts with the players and the game. Improvising all of that is never advised. A good game will do some of the heavy lifting and some notes and maps along with some moderate documentation will be enough to keep a campaign running, if the improvisation it needs to bring the game to life and connect all the dots is actually up to the task.

Just make it work, right? [source]
So improvisation is where it’s at. The flow of the game, the interface between players, rules and narrative across time. It’s a crucial junction and delivering or not decides between everyone having a good time and destroying the Suspension of Disbelief. It takes tact and rhythm, an idea how the narrative’s past and its future could connect and everything in between. If you are a gifted (or experienced) storyteller, you can get away with a lot before there is any danger of being repetitive or running the narrative into the ground. If not, this is where you’ll struggle, even if the rest works.

Ultimately, we all have our ways and tastes and styles. We are subjective individuals and it’s only human to prefer certain outcomes or stories. However, it makes us lose sight of the possibilities. This is where Random Tables figure into the equation. This is where they shine, because random tables are in that weird space between rules and improvisation.

The best results make no sense on their own

It’s about unpredictability, just like they say in the definition above. Checking if an encounter is friendly by any chance instead of just assuming that they’ll always look for combat will open up every game. And context will always give you some opportunity to make it part of the story. Why is that slime the group just encountered so shyly engaging and not at all aggressive? That’s a story worth some curiosity.

And you can’t plan for it in a meaningful way. Not without cheating (as in: forcing it on the players). However, if you allow it as an option, the best way to give something unexpected a way of occurring is by making it ‘random’ in a way that contradicts what you are going for just enough to expand the narrative by elements you wouldn’t have thought of on the fly without leaving the realm of possible and expected occurrences.

Now, that's a mouthful. Since I had this next part laying around, doing nothing (as I mentioned in the beginning), I'll end this one with an example, for a change. The premisse with this one is that the characters hang out in a city that is on top (or near) a megadungeon of some sort. The idea is to have a number of incidents that will occur on a regular basis, but vary by circumtsances enough to have them recognized as a general theme. It's abstract enough to be that and should easily adapt to every fantasy setting.

Behold (and check out the conclusion at the end):

You have a megadungeon under the city, so once a week you will experience (roll 1d20):
  1. … ghosts of adventurers, talking about their past failings.
  2. … strange gasses emanating on random locations.
  3. … underground detonations.
  4. … currency lost all value for now as treasure floods the city.
  5. … weird visitors from another dimension (planescape tourists).
  6. … humanoid tribe occupying a district, seeking asylum and protection from a bigger threat.
  7. … fissures appear, roll additional 1d20 (1 meaning a minor fissure, a 20 toppling houses).
  8. … mobilisation of an adventurer guild for a (1d3) rescue/retaliation/reinforcement mission.
  9. … parade of high level heroes coming back from a dungeon deep-dive.
  10. … a water body (toss coin) in or close to the city drops significantly with lots of gurgling.
  11. … random magic wildfire (1d3: no magic possible/weird side effects/triple effects).
  12. … monster meat is back on the menu! Butchers sell cuts of rare beasts.
  13. … city watch enforces an immediate evacuation of a district, no reasons given.
  14. … magic items show weird but harmless glitches (1d3: sparks/talks nonsense/vibrates).
  15. … underground fight with (random encounter) is carried out to the surface (1d3: neighbourhood joins in/turns into a wild chase/ends up being a slaughter).
  16. … rich and drunk adventurers partying too hard, being annoying.
  17. … exotic funeral, financed by an adventure guild, paid bards constantly sing praise of a dead adventurer all over the place.
  18. … drama between two famous adventurers is the buzz of the town. Bets are taken.
  19. … city prepares for an invasion from below (1 in 6 chance small army (1d100% of the population) of 1d6 combined Random Encounters will make the attempt).
  20. … that the psychosphere in your corner of town shifts to an extreme for a short time (1d3: ecstatic/aggressive/depressed).

Conclusion

Our understanding of what 'random' means in role-playing games, is pretty basic at best, so it should be safe to say that games in general benefit from what they add to a game. Since they mostly stay within the narrative scope of what a given game might allow (and considering misfires are easily navigated, I might add), there are actually no good arguments against using random tables. Not that I can see, anyway (and I've thought a bit about it, too).

As a matter of fact, random tables help game designers in helping gamemasters in bringing their vision to life, and that's just as important. Role-playing games are about telling stories, and in the end it is all about the impulses a game offers to make it what it intents to be. Specific words, ideas or inspirations are all easily enough transported into the game through random tables, and easily enough implemented, since they are part of playing the game and not just an info dump somewhere in the rule book.

What do you guys think? Do you see any reasons to not have random tables as a standard tool in every game? 

 

Good boy ... [source]

------------------------ 

If you are interested in a completely realized game heavily utilizing random tables of all sorts, you can check out a free preview of Ø2\\'3|| (that rpg I published) right here (or go and check out the first reviews here). We will definitely do a sale in November. Stay tuned for that ...

If you already checked it out, please know that I appreciate you :) It'll certainly help to keep the lights on here!

Just look at that beauty ...

 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Thursday Trick, Doors & Chests

Hack & Slash - Thu, 10/28/2021 - 12:00
Doors & Chests 
I talk a lot about agency in traps, about having signs of the traps be obvious but subtle, about distracting from what the real clues are and about how to make them interesting.

All this gets tossed out the window for doors and chests. Why?  Because they are common and commonly trapped. In most cases the trapping mechanism is subtle and hard to detect. And the procedure for checking them using player skill would rapidly reach the point where it was comprehensive and going through that process would be boring and repetitive.

It is an actual example where character skill trumps player skill. I can explain how to crack a safe or pick a lock, but it is practice and exposure to different safes and locks that really determines your ability.

So, for traditional, classic, door and chest traps, I don't bother describing the mechanism of the trap. 
This is reliant upon the relevant thief skill.  It is the thief's equivalent to fighting or casting spells. I do certainly think it is reasonable to create a unique game or subsystem for opening locks or detecting traps (Such as pulling Jenga blocks, winning hands of war, etc.)

Detection/Disarming: Here are some lists of common door and chest traps!

  • Poison
    • Contact poison on treasure
    • Contact poison on container
    • Poison needle in lock or handle
    • Poison darts in front, top, inside lid, or bottom.
    • Poison Gas (in chest, in door handle)
  • Scything blade, cutting, up, down, etc.
  • Contains deadly vermin
  • Triggers another nearby trap, trap door, crushing stone block, etc. (Note that this trap can have plenty of agency)
  • Triggers a Magic Spell
  • Mimic
  • Acid spray
  • Explosive
How to deal with overactive door kickers?
  • Dropping blades
  • Weighted line that releases a metal spear shaft from the ceiling behind the kicker
  • Weakened doors that break eaisly to allow blades to amputate the limbs
  • Snares in the door
  • Spring loaded blades in doors
  • Shooting blades that fling out
  • Portcullises that drop when the door is opened (to prevent the peek and flee)
  • Spiked clamps triggered around the surrounding ceiling, floor, or walls
  • Door contains deadly substance
  • Doors that spring out, slamming targets into the walls, floor or ceiling
  • Things perched on the tops of doors
  • Doors covered in sticky, toxic, or dangerous substances


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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Encounter with the Cyan Sorceress

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 10/28/2021 - 11:00

Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued on September 16 and again last Sunday. The party passed through the door opened by the sleep walkers and into an older structure. Just beyond the door, they encountered an animal like a great cat with a ball of energy for a head. The party fought with it, and though it had some unusual powers, put it down reasonably quickly.
They moved into a larger passage where a humming sound presaged the passing of something at high speed. During the rest of the time in this central tunnel the thing periodically passed at unpredictable intervals. They had to be careful and stay out of its way.
Crossing the dangerous "highway" they came into a room full of strange, junk machinery--and another (or perhaps the same) energy-headed cat. They fought it again, and realized finally it would stay did until they shocked it with lightning. 
More weird rooms followed that one. There were several with sarcophagi where beings seemed to be in various states of growth around old bones. Dagmar touched the semi-solid green stuff in a vat and got sucked in and would have drowned, had they not pulled themselves out. A strange, cybernetic undead attacked them, but they stopped it with the first of the trinkets they had managed to figure out how to use.


Eventually they came to a room where some of the hapless, captured townsfolk were being turned into more such creatures. When they moved to free them, the Cyan Sorceress appeared. She revealed that she was one of the Chromic Witches, in the same coven as the Magenta Mage they met back on the Candy Isle. The Sorceress's speech seemed halting, and occasionally she was confused, suggesting to the party she was being controlled by someone. She also mentioned a book as being important which Waylon guessed (rightly) was the Wondrous Wizard of Azurth. The group tried to apprehend her, but she teleported away.

Campaign Session Commentary - Bloody,Bloody Arduin rpg & In Praise of the Deodanths

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 10/27/2021 - 17:41
 We're gonna start temporal adventuring once again & I wanted to take a moment to talk about my running family obsession with the Deodanths from Arduin. When it comes to Bloody, Bloody, Arduin there's one race that I've used since I was a kid & that's the Deodanths. The evil, nasty, undead semi Elven race whose origins stretch back into the realms of their dealings with fell powers. Forget Drow, Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

How Playing on Streams and at Conventions Sharpens D&D’s Designers

DM David - Wed, 10/27/2021 - 12:12

In the 80s into the 90s, I would see convention panels or magazine interviews where game professionals said that their game writing left them no time for game playing. Those writers might admit to an occasional session of Call of Cthulhu—that was the role-playing game the pros played once they felt too mature for bashing monsters in dungeons. But writers of the era’s countless Dungeons & Dragons setting books rarely seemed to play the game much anymore.

Prolific adventure author Teos “Alphastream” Abadia writes, “Especially in the third-edition era, some Wizards staff seemed not to play their own game and seldom saw it played. In the Living Greyhawk community (a 3E organized play campaign) there was the sense that a large portion of new rules needed errata solely because the designers weren’t familiar enough with the game to see (obvious) exploits and problems.”

For many of the game products of the time, play experience mattered less. People bought game books to read. RPG writers could succeed by satisfying game readers more than players. See “How the end of lonely fun leads to today’s trickle of D&D books.”

Speaking in an episode of the Misdirected Mark podcast, veteran RPG freelancer Shawn Merwin said, “One of the criticisms I’ve had in the past of [D&D] staff, especially through third and fourth edition, was that they would sit in Renton, Washington and create this game, but they never really got out and saw how the game was played by the different kinds of fans, or the fans that may play a little bit differently than the designers’ own home games or their games within their company.”

The designers of fifth edition play more with the D&D community, and the edition benefits. “We know that D&D is a big tent,” explains lead rules designer Jeremy Crawford. “Not only do people of many sorts play in the D&D, but also people of many tastes play D&D. We know some people really love heavy improvisational role-playing and other D&D players, for them, that’s all about the tactical nuances of D&D combat, and everything in between.”

Over the past few years, I‘ve seen D&D designers at conventions run games for random tables of Adventurers League players lucky enough to draw the celebrity DM. Speaking in the podcast, Teos Abadia said, “This is a really important thing for Wizards to do. To meet with players and see how players play [the designer’s] game in this kind of environment.”

In a convention game, you will join players who may play differently. “You’re just randomly dipping into the pond to see who ends up at your table and to see how they play the game that you create. And I think that’s very important,” Teos said. “For me as a fan, I want to see Wizards involved with fans in this kind of way as much as possible.”

The D&D designers play with non-designers even more on liveplay streams. “One of my favorite parts of the rise of RPG celebrities running liveplay games is that they have to then play their games with other people,“ Teos writes. “I really think it is fantastic that so many at WotC have run and played in the games.” Of course, streamed play intends to entertain an audience, making these performances different from most D&D sessions—the ones at basements, kitchen tables, or game stores‘ back rooms.

People who think about D&D’s future wonder how livestreams will influence designers to change the rules, and whether streaming should shape the rules. Jeremey Crawford says, “We’re concerned about supporting traditional tabletop play well, but also the types of D&D experiences people have in streams.”

Streaming certainly affects the interests of new players discovering D&D. Traditionally, new D&D players tended to focus on the joy of bashing monsters and developing more powerful characters. Those same new players found acting in character off putting. Before steaming, virtually nobody new to D&D spoke in character. The prospect of adopting a funny voice seemed odd and potentially embarrassing. Now, new players typically want to play the sort of personalities and scenes they see in streams. (In my experience, new players act in character, but they still hesitate to use a funny voices. Perhaps the vocal talents of actors seem unreachable.)

Based on experience running games at conventions, the people guiding D&D’s Adventurers League organized play campaign work harder than ever to accommodate different play styles. The recent League seasons have encouraged authors to welcome the three D&D pillars of exploration, roleplaying interaction, and combat when designing adventures, and to especially consider non-combat answers to encounters. The league’s Ravenloft: Mist Hunters campaign aims to “focus on story, atmosphere, and immersive interaction.”

If you want to write games and adventures for strangers to play, then you benefit from playing with strangers. Every regular group settles into a play style. Do they play recklessly or cautiously? Heroically or ruthlessly? How do they settle conflict between PCs that pull in opposite directions? Regular groups seek activities they all enjoy. A group’s style makes them predictable. When we play long enough in one style, we tend to forget other ways.

DMs who operate in public eventually see groups that defy even the most common customs of D&D. New players love to split the party. Authors with experience as dungeon masters for strangers become better at anticipating what random players might do, and do better at writing scenarios that account for players who veer off the path.

Organized play authors understand the challenges of running an adventure from a text. Their adventures sometimes even include troubleshooting sidebars that help DMs account for actions that threaten to break an adventure.

Every group is different. You can’t play with everyone, but if you want to write games for everyone, you benefit from reaching out to game with random strangers.

This post revists a topic from 2016.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Expert

Hack & Slash - Wed, 10/27/2021 - 12:00
There's been some talk about the thief lately.

I have a very elegant solution and wish to share.

This system works no matter which version you run.

I have eliminated the thief class and replaced it with a class called Expert. Expert works exactly like a thief regarding saves, hit points, and all other relevant aspects of the thief class except for the following differences.

Experts can re-roll any one roll they make, once per session per level. This is to support their playstyle niche which is risk-taker.

Experts select 5 skills from the following list. They do this instead of gaining their default skills. I use Skills: the Middle Road* as the system in my game because it doesn't tie skills into level, but X in d6 or % both work. Each level the thief selects a new skill, or raises a skill from skilled to expert to master.

The key to this following list is each of these skills resolves a specific in game 'lock'. It is a literal toolset as the magic users bag of spells, or the fighters bag of murder.


Agility/Athletics: For resolving feats of derring do.
Alchemy: For the creation and identification of alchemical items.
Appraisal: For determining the value of objects in the dungeon.
Arcana: For the identification and use of out of class magic items (wands/scrolls, etc.)
Backstab: For doing additional damage in combat.
Healing: For restoring hp to comrades after a battle.
Listening: For gathering information behind closed doors.
Nature Affinity: For calming and working with animals. This also allows you to use your charisma to have animal companions in addition to henchmen.
Poison Use: Use, identify and treat poison.
Campaign Specific Lore skills: Specifically useful skills that provide additional info in your campaign.
Sleight of Hand: Picking pockets, palming, and other feats of prestidigitation.
Stealth: Hiding, Movement to surprise monsters, and taking a round to set up a backstab in combat.
Stonelore: Identification of slopes, new construction, sliding walls, pit traps depth underground and stonework.
Tinkering/Devices: Disarming traps on chests and doors. and working with machinery.

Note that searching and parley are not on the list by design. The X in 6 chances to locate secret doors once players have given up looking and reaction rolls are not systems that are improved by allowing people to become 'skilled' in them. It is highly likely those will become 'skill taxes'.

The difference between these skills and the usual assortment, is that each of these provides a specific in game mechanical use. There aren't skills for flavor or background (those should be non-mechanical in nature). The system is expandable for subsystems you might use in your campaign

*All non-supernatural tasks have a target number of two to seven. Those unskilled may attempt a task by rolling a d6. Those skilled at a task roll a d8. Those that are experts at a task roll a d10. Those that are masters roll a d12. Target numbers may be modified situationally.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Barrow of the Elf King

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 10/27/2021 - 11:12
Nate Treme Highland Paranormal Society The Vanilla Game Level 1

And if joy were not on the earth,
There were an end of change birth,
And Earth and Heaven and Hell would die,
And in some gloomy barrow lie
Folded like a frozen fly
-WB Yeats, The Wanderings of Oisin

This sixteen page digest adventure features a ten room barrow. Of an elf king. I know, surprising, given the title, right?  It knows how to create an atmosphere and brings a certain OD&D charm to the table with its encounters. I will never complaining about small level one adventures, but, the challenge for a designer like this is moving away from the ten room level one dungeon in to something with room to breathe and the context to bring the larger area to life.

There are, I think, two major hurdles for most designers to overcome. In the Brycian model of adventure design we have Ease of Use, Evocative Writing and Interactivity … with hidden pillar four being “Design.” Ease of Use is not particularly difficult, once you know you need to do it. It’s mostly just following some guidelines. Interactivity that is formulaic can provide least middling results, enough that the adventure is not just one note anyway. The ability to throw away all of the tropes of all of the adventures ever seen and bring new life to things is an important skill. The imagining of a scene, and what it would really be like, getting past all of the imagination having been beaten out of you by life. The Evocative Writing then communicates this to the DM and the DM to players, painting a picture in their head, creating a mood and atmosphere. It allows the DMs imagination, and the players, to be leveraged in to something much greater than what was on the page, the negative space in the imagination being filled in by the players/DM’s own brains. This adventure hits on all three notes, successfully in all cases with some occasional bits that verge on brilliance. 

The dungeon is small. Ten rooms, which includes the exit which is not an actual room, at least not in my taxonomy. So, nine spaces to adventure in. It keeps the text to one room per page, one digest page, with relatively large margins a decent sized font, and generally some room left over at the bottom. (At least enough for my most petty of enemies t o make an appearance: the explicit mention of where each exit is in the room.) This allows the DM to scan the room quickly, picking up what the important features are. It’s generally written with the most important features appearing first/high up in the description, allowing the DM to narrate as they go through the room. It’s very tightly edited. There’s none of the usual if/then shit, or room backgrounds, or conversational styling to get in the way of the DM actually using the text to run the room. At most we get an occasional aside in the room that provides context within the bounds of ACTUAL PLAY. A room with three skeletons at a table playing dice tells us, in the middle of the description, “An ancient enchantment bound them here to protect the tomb but the magic has eroded with time and they are terribly bored.” The terribly bored part enhances the rooms play especially roleplay, which this room is bound to have. The “ancient enchantment” stuff can even fit in to that. It fits in perfectly with the next sentence “They’ll halfheartedly ask intruders to leave and end every conversation with “Ok, time for you to go” or “It’s getting late” while gesturing towards the entrance.” It builds. (and, good use of italics to offset while maintaining readability). Importantly, this is one aside in what is otherwise ¾ of a page of text, maybe, seven sentences total. The ratio of directly actionable data to tertiary aside is absolutely spot on … AND The tertiary background is relevant to the actual play of the room rather than just useless trivia. Good job. There’s an OD&D vibe here, not just in type of encounter but in mechanics as well. The text focuses on the play rather than the mechanics of play, with a sparseness of attention to it, letting the focus remain in the FANTASTIC rather than the mundanity of getting there. Oh, for a world in which the monster ref sheet page of the Ready Ref sheets were the norm!

Interactivity is … subtle. While there’s an obvious role play element to the skeletons, there are at least two other role play opportunities as well within the tomb. In the tomb! Tomb dungeons can be boring, but here we have something other than undead combat and traps. You can talk to a goblin, or with The Oldest Spider in the Forest … and perhaps strike a bargain with her. Want to see in the dark and walk on walls? The spider has a deal for you … and that deal is delicious! Literally, of course, but figuratively as well, causing the player to ask themselves what they will do for power. And, the ability of a minor entity, the oldest giant spider in the forest, to do that? Great! (More The Oldest later.) 

This sort of thing extends to the magic items.  Canopic jars full of brains and heart … who’s up for a light snack? Or, the living wooden sword of the elf lord … planted to grow in to a tree. Rewards for returning said gobo to her boggy home? The gift of a toad steed. Or skulls attached to the wall with thin silver wires. There are things to do!

The writing here is generally strong, and it supports itself by leveraging a kind of older folklore element, something pre-Tolkein and before the advent of every description becoming meaninglessly abstracted and generic. This is bleeding in to the general vibe of the dungeon and the atmosphere it creates even from the very first encounter. There’s a mound of dirt in the forest. There are three stone slabs on top, all the same shape, one that a single man can lift, one that three men together could lift, and one that it takes two men to lift. Stacking them, in order, creates the portal in to the barrow. Note this doing three separate things. FIrst, there’s interactivity. Second, there’s the appeal to the entrance to the mythic underworld … you have to do SOMETHING to gain entrance to it. Finally, the appeal to The Old Ways. This feels different. It feels like you’re in some older tale, a peddler or soldier matching wits with the supernatural. And it does this over and over and over again. The talk spider. The dicing skeletons. A dead elf lord on a dias, arms crossed, holding a black iron arrow in each one. Wearing white wooden armor and a crown of twisted branches growing green leaves. Note the evocation of the fey elf, closet to the wood elf king from the Hobbit. Fey. Iron. Bramble Crown. This all FEELS right, down in your bones. 

We get “A narrow stone brick tunnel is lined with small alcoves, two on each side. Each contains a skull, covered in ornamental markings in blue ink, with green gemstones “ A brick tunnel, with all the imagery that holds. Niches, and not just skull but inked skulls. And not just inked skulls but blue-inked skulls. These are simple, decently described, not overly verbose, evocative. And leveraging ideas to bring more than the simple words would indicate. Maybe could use some work in this area to get to super stardom description levels, but the trend is absolutely SOLIDLY on the correct side of the spectrum. 

A small lair dungeon for level one adventurers completed successfully. Good Job! You’ve done the most basic thing a designer can do. There’s a weaker room here or there (the exit room, the canopic jar room) and perhaps the writing could be even better. But, solid solid effort. For what it is. A basic level one lair dungeon. Yeah, that’s right fuckers, I’m complaining about that. Look, I like level one adventures. There are a decent number of them. Maybe fewer lair dungeons, since those tend to come from a genre not known for producing strong efforts. But, I assert, the level one lair dungeon is nothing but training wheels. There is no larger context of the world around the location. There are only ten rooms. The challenge is to continue this effort. To include the larger context. To have a dungeon  that larger design elements come in to play. One in which the players can stretch their legs, with all of the design challenges that come with that. The lair dungeon, that is but a single bite of a single donut. I want to see something more fully realized, with context and size. That’s where the designer needs to go next to stretch themself, both creatively and logistically. That is what will put Nate down in the annals of RPGdom. 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1981 (wk 2, pt 2)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 10/27/2021 - 11:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around October 23, 1980. 

Legion of Super-Heroes #271: continues the story of the last two issues. Light Lass learns the secret of the Dark Man, who is clone made from part of Tharok's irradiated brain (and apparently all evil). The various Legionnaires manage to escape from their confinement and make common cause with the Fatal Five who have decided the Dark Man doesn't have their best interests at heart. Blok (late of the Super-Assassins) gets to prove his worth to the Legion, but it all comes down to Tharok versus the Dark Man, which appears to lead to mutual annihilation.  Conway's and Janes' story is inferior in craft to the sort of stuff going on over in the X-Men at this time (and probably Teen Titans) but it's a solid story that only suffers for perhaps being a little drawn out.

Mystery in Space #115: None of these stories are particularly interesting except for some of the artists brought to bear. "Certified Safe" has got Bolland drawing Drake's story of a hotshot, space opera general whose overconfidence is his undoing when he's killed by a weird organism on a routine scout mission. Still, his political opponents meet the same fate. Denys Cowan is artist for a humorous tale by Allikas which has contestants vying to be delegates to a convention on Planet Rxaxx, only to discover it's our viruses they consider kindred intellects, not humans. La Rocque and Sech collaborate on a space opera yarn where a couple both sacrifice themselves thinking the other can then get to earth and warn of an alien invasion. This causes the aliens to change their plans of conquest because of the human power of love. 
The other two stories have artists from an older generation. Barr and Tuska give us a story of a spacefaring Noah contending with a AI gone mad. In "The Planet of Loathing" by Utley and Ditko, aliens contact one human to offer to help earth enter a new Golden Age only to be rebuffed. They unknowingly contacted a hardened criminal on deathrow.


New Adventures of Superboy #13: This is not usually one of my favorite titles in the DC catalog and this story isn't anything special--but the ending had a twist I wasn't expecting. This sort of continues from last issues story, with Clark acting extra cowardly to convince everyone he isn't a hero, which makes Clark seem really masochistic, but okay. On a plane ride to Coast City, he meets a young man named Harold who impresses Clark by seeming without fear no matter what happens. He and Clark become friends and later on the beach, he helps Clark out against some bullies. Clark as Superboy soon  soon returns the favor when Harold gets in over his head with some criminals. At the end of the story, we find out Harold's (or Hal's) last name is Jordan, and he will one day become Green Lantern. Well played, Bates and Schaffenberger! Other interesting continuity tidbits: comments regarding the distance from Smallville to Coast City puts Smallville in the Eastern Time zone and suggests it must not be too far from the coast, so it isn't in Kansas at this point. The story also mentions the Beach Boys as if they are new, so it must be set in the early to mid-60s.

Sgt. Rock #348: The lead story by Kanigher, Ayers and Randall has Zack, former bazooka man for Easy, preparing to head home because he lost his left arm. Zack doesn't go home though, instead following Easy into battle, and helping Rock out one last time before leaving him in the hands of his replacements, Short and Long Round. Jan Duursema pencils the next story about the depravity of the Roman gladiatorial games under Nero. Kanigher seems to like these historical asides. "Runaway" has really amateurish looking, apparently early, art by Ron Randall. It's a nasty tale of deserting British soldiers in World War I who disguise themselves with cowhides and escape the Germans only to die in a grisly mishap in an abattoir. The last story is a "Men of Easy" feature focusing on 4-Eyes and what happens the day he breaks his glasses. Spoilers: he still makes the shot.

Super Friends #40: Bridwell and Fradon introduce the Monocle, who has the power to fool any sense, and pretty much makes fools of the Super Friends until they lure him into a trap by pretending Wonder Woman is getting arrested for one of his crimes. Then the Wonder Twins take him down. The backup story is about Jack O' Lantern of the Global Guardians and features a leprechaun and a piece of the Blarney Stone for really concentrated Irishness.

Unexpected #206: The cover story is a Johnny Peril tale by Barr with appealing, sort of cartoony art by Sparling and Patterson. A robot appears to acting as a brutal vigilante. Johnny traces the robots to a factory and discovers the killer robot is the prototype for an assassin (and really more a vehicle or powered armor, but whatever). The creator, Dr. Haskell, powers the robot with a star-shaped talisman given him by a mysterious benefactors--who then apparently kill him for revealing their secret. More on this mysterious group is promised next issue.
Drake, Nicholas, and Demulder open the issue with a businessman wanting to wise up the liberal, vegetarian, animal-loving son of his old mentor. He drops him on an island with a gun where he believes he'll be forced to kill a rabid wolf and give up his beliefs. He returns to find the young man does now have a taste for meat--human meat! He's become a werewolf. "The Iron Beast" by Utley and Garcia is a bit like Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" except the machine looking for commands from humanity is a futuristic tank. 

Warlord #41: Read more about it here.  We also get more of a "Tale of Wizard World."

An OSR Sword & Sorcery Twist or Two On The Free 'The Praise The Fallen' One Shot Dungeon

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 10/26/2021 - 21:42
 There have been huge delays in delivery of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea third edition because of issues with the global supply chain. And its effecting a ton of Kickstarters at the moment & that's fine. I wasn't expecting AS&SH 3rd till next year anyhow. Now that doesn't stop me from rooting around the AS&SH forums & I came across a few gems. And Handy Haversack delivers the Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Review & Commentary On The 'Free' Davis Chenault's Castles & Crusades 'The Hanged Man' adventure module For Both The Castles & Crusades rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 10/26/2021 - 17:38
 "A long journey under an azure sky filling with brackish, boiling clouds ends at a large oak tree. Here, from a muscled branch, a man hangs limply by a thick rope strangled around his neck. Beyond, a dim, rising, yellow moon silhouette’s a village. Snaking, ashy tendrils of smoke coil above rooftops, lights glitter in windows while a miasmal fog creeps down upon the village from freshly churned Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On 101 uses for a 10' pole

Hack & Slash - Tue, 10/26/2021 - 12:00
101 uses for a 10' pole
  1. You can use it to sweep the ground in front of you for tripwires and pressure plates. 
  2. You can use it to assist you in mapping by measuring the walls.
  3. You can use it to remotely open or prod chests or levers.
  4. You can probe liquids and slimes.
  5. You can use it to jam between to walls closing in on you.
  6. You can use it to place across a pit or ledge to walk across.
  7. You can strike it against the ground to make a noise to help determine the size of rooms or announce your presence.
  8. You can tie a prisoner to it to assist in carrying them.
  9. Helmet on a stick.
  10. You can use it to vault over dangers.
  11. It can be sharpened and turned into a makeshift spear.
  12. It can replace the haft of a broken weapon.
  13. In a pinch, it can be converted into a makeshift ladder.
  14. The cleric can decide that it's the holy symbol of his god.
  15. You can use it to prod or whack other party members who annoy you.
  16. You can use it to push climbers who are halfway up a wall.
  17. You can interpose it between yourself and dangerous monsters.
  18. You can dangle it down into pits to help people get out of traps.
  19. You can string a line around the end and use it to fish.
  20. It can be used to increase your carrying capacity by tying balanced bags on either end and carting them on your shoulders. 
  21. You can open unlocked doors from a distance.
  22. You can use it to check dead bodies to make sure they aren't zombies.
  23. In an emergency it can be used to stake a vampire.
  24. You can also shove it up someones ass. Sideways if you really don't like them.
  25. You can also use it to poke dead monsters and wizards in the eye to make sure they are dead.
  26. You can use it as a lever to lift more weight than normally possible, helping you topple statues.
  27. You can use it to stir a cauldron or big pot.
  28. You can slice it into small discs and paint them gold or turn them into metal.
  29. You can break it in half to beat an unruly henchmen or hireling.
  30. You can agitate a pond or lake and see what comes to investigate.
  31. It can be thrown like a javelin to hit a switch or something out of reach.
  32. You can use it like a cane in the darkness to help you navigate.
  33. You can paint it dark grey or make it invisible and jam it across the conveniently 10' wide halls when being pursued by monsters. 
  34. You can use it to pole a craft across a lake or river.
  35. You can use it to determine the length or depth of crevices, niches, ponds, fountains, etc.
  36. You can tie a light party member to the end and use it to lift him up or across something.
  37. Better yet, it's where you can keep your chickens. Tied to the end of the pole. 
  38. It can be used as a locking bar to bar a door shut.
  39. You can cast a light spell or tie a lantern on the end of the pole to extend the distance of your vision.
  40. You can knock on doors and windows from a very safe distance.
  41. You can tie a mirror to the end to safely see over the tops of walls and ledges.
  42. You can use it to prod floors, ceilings, chests, and cloaks to test for trappers, mimics, and cloakers.
  43. You can thread the end and have a spade or hammer attachment, to avoid having to carry the extra tools
  44. You can have a collapsible or segmented pole for that extra 1' of length if you need it.
  45. You can jam it between the walls and swing on it to add force to a kick.
  46. You can use it to trip opponents in melee with fighters.
  47. You can use it to disrupt a light source or knock something off a ledge on a wall.
  48. You can set the end on fire. For fun.
  49. You can mark it with notches to keep track of directions, intersections, kills, or the number of times the wizard has insulted the fighter without him noticing. 
  50. You can use it to roast your opponents once you kill them, over a nice warm fire. There's no better feeling than turning your enemies into poop and ideas.
  51. You can in extreme instances use it to test for unusual heat or cold or gravitational fluctuations.
  52. If a door opens out into a vacuum or tries to suck you through, you can use the pole across the door to keep from getting pulled away.
  53. A 10' pole can double as a base for a shelter in the wilderness, as the center of a lean to.
  54. A collection of 10' poles can be used to roll large statues or other valuable items.
  55. 10' poles can serve as replacement levers or spokes for machines you might run into in the dungeon.
  56. Breaking clay pots to look for rupees.
  57. Clearing out cobwebs and spider webs without setting them on fire. 
  58. You can strap two ten foot poles to your feet and be 16 feet tall.
  59. Writing down a 10' pole on your character sheet gives you options outside of skill checks.
  60. It can be used to balance while walking a tightrope or other high narrow ledge.
  61. You can use it to start a fire if there's no wood.
  62. Nothing says the pole can't be made from metal.
  63. A metal pole can be used as a lightning rod.
  64. A hollow metal pole can be used as an air-tube while underwater.
  65. You can tie all the parties livestock to the pole to keep them from running off.
  66. You can tie a flag to the end and use it to communicate over long distances or perform a really sick flag routine.
  67. Kender control. By the judicious application of bruises. 
  68. You can offer it to a giant as a toothpick.
  69. Gives all those beautiful women you rescue from the dungeon a pole to assist with their dance routines. 
  70. A 10' pole allows you to easily interact with and test for illusions. 
  71. You can tie a rope to it and use it braced against something to descend safely.
  72. If you have to turn over all your weapons, it's unlikely they will try to take your walking stick.
  73. You can use it to play games with children or monsters, like limbo or stickball.
  74. It can be jammed in an arrow slit to block the archer's ability to fire. 
  75. You can use it to give you leverage to bend bars or lift gates.
  76. Two of them can be used as a makeshift stretcher.
  77. A cloth can be draped across it as a privacy screen.
  78. You can knock over anthills and break open hives with it.
  79. Tie meat to the end to feed hungry wild animals while staying out of melee range.
  80. Convince the wizard to enchant it so that it won't break and it will give you a bonus on your saves.
  81. Put a funny horses head on it and pretend you are riding a horse to entertain a bored prince.
  82. Use it to lift up kilts and skirts from a distance.
  83. Use it to beat the sexist a--hole who's looking up kilts and skirts from a distance.
  84. Tie a cloth and wire to the end to use it as a makeshift umbrella.
  85. Start a bar fight between to patrons at a safe distance.
  86. Tie a sprinkler on the end to disperse various toxic and alchemical substances. 
  87. Tie strings to it while camping and attack a bell for a rudimentary alarm system.
  88. Three words: Improvised Whirlwind Attack. At least as useful as the feat.
  89. Use the pole to disrupt the integrity of magic circles. 
  90. Yell "I'm not touching you" when you poke someone with the pole to turn them hostile.
  91. It can be hollowed out and used as a musical instrument.
  92. Impromptu ballastie ammo.
  93. It's really the first step to designing your very own polearm.
  94. Use it to play fetch with dire wolves.
  95. The best solution for carrying 100 gold pieces of hemp rope.
  96. It can be used as a legal option for a very non-lethal duel.
  97. Long-range defenestration.
  98. Good for collecting giant ants out of a giant anthill
  99. Better to use a pole to dig through trash and refuse than your hands.
  100. Give it to the wizard so he can better estimate exactly how far 20 feet is, and finally. . .
  101. You can lean against it when your dogs are tired.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the End of Just So Stories

Hack & Slash - Tue, 10/26/2021 - 01:30


What happened? Where did I go? (tw: abuse, language, mental illness; long)

I suffer from Schizotypal Personality Disorder. This is a type of schizophrenia, but you'd be surprised by the number of people without a master's degree who take the time out to gatekeep schizophrenia. 

I'd like to talk about what this means. You can find the full list of symptoms here. I have 8 of those to a degree that required hospitalization and radically affect my life.

I have ideas of reference. This is like when someone believes the TV is sending them secret messages. Now, that isn't how mine presents. It's more. . .disruptive. I want to be clear that although I'm explaining this, the manifestation of it is horrible. It sounds interesting, but this isn't some story where I have a special power. 

I'm driven by a pattern underneath the fabric of the universe. When I'm in public, I'm assaulted with the sensation that I'm in a river. I see (hallucinate) other possibilities and branches of the future constantly. The larger variety of outcomes, the more overwhelming it is. Before medication (which helps) this was so overwhelming, the stress of it caused me to have a blood clot. 

What this literally means, is I think I can feel the outcome of actions and possibilities. I, if subjected to a double blind scientific study, can't of course. That's what makes it a hallucination. The universe is giving me information, and I can feel it pulling me. It tells me about the secret hearts of people. It shows me all the ways I could die, constantly. 

It is, in a word, a nightmare—one that makes me never want to leave the house. The blood clot occurred because I thought it was normal, and I could just 'tough it out'. The reality is that every time I leave my house I was wound tightly enough for psychosis to occur. After years of being untreated,  the spring broke, and I found myself hospitalized as parts of my body died from the literal stress of it.

How does this happen? Mental illness runs in my family. In the fall of 1980, my mother shoved me down a flight of stairs. All types of reported childhood trauma were significantly associated with SPD, in a linear fashion. This, the beatings, the verbal abuse, it's not a single incident. 

I could have been different. 

She's around. I've confronted her about this, along with therapy. She's even a professional on the internet. But there's no way she'll ever see this, because she's a narcissist. The reason my bi-polar mother shoved me down the stairs is that she was getting ready for visitors and she was mad at me because I had ruined her life and career by being born. 

As an adult who spent years doing groups and providing therapy, I see her being overwhelmed, in crisis, and having her ability to control her impulses impaired in light of her misery. It was easier, in the depths of the lack of her self-esteem, to lash out at me when manic and suffering from her narcissism. She saw her flaws in me, and as every good narcissist knows, you have to hide your flaws right? You can't accept them. You can't love them.

This is not fresh trauma. I dealt with this years ago,  (i.e. she chose to have me, and I'm not responsible for her unhappiness) and the lack of disfunction in my adult life is wonderful. Realizing that I've never raised my voice to my daughter, compared to my childhood where yelling, abuse, disfunction, and violence being the order of the day, it's blissful.

But I did not escape unscathed.

The Banality of the Human Animal

Think of the unquantified rage at all those people so upset when some schizophrenic on the internet doesn't do what they want.

When I was a child, which apparently is a long fucking time ago; the state propaganda pushed out by PBS told me that everyone was the same. I took it literally, as in "People are like me" instead of "each person is a unique individual of value worthy of unconditional regard" which is what it means.

It's not surprising, the shrunken areas of my brain due to abuse make me incapable of understanding nuance or sarcasm naturally. It's also why my writing is so concrete. (clinically, I naturally parse and discuss items literally and miss both verbal and written information 'between the lines', see "Odd thought and speech (eg, that is vague, metaphorical, excessively elaborate, or stereotyped)" from the diagnosis list) Thankfully due to my obsessive paranoia, I can usually work through to the subtext I'm missing.

The bottom line, is I'm not like you at all. In real concrete ways.

I only think things that don't fit into any sort of group or position. I do not experience loneliness. I desire acceptance, yet in order to have connections with people, I have to overcome a crawling revulsion of disgust of a web that lies beneath my skin. 

The number of people willing to spew bile, lies, and threats at people suffering from mental illness while simultaneously presenting themselves of allies is eye-opening. You know what an ally of the downtrodden has? UNCONDITIONAL POSTITIVE REGARD FOR ALL HUMAN FUCKING BEINGS. The number of people who don't understand that, and propagate the violence that was done to them because they haven't processed their own damage is higher than I could have ever conceived, and written all over their timelines. The number of people willing to experience the presentation of my disease and remain in my life is even smaller. 

Why did my blog go away? I was tired of reading (ostensibly 'woke') peoples rape and murder fantasies in my comments. 

I'm still available, via discord, patreon, email, and on other social media, but I don't do social work any more. It's no longer my job, like it was for twenty long years, to deal with the trauma of the abused and help them work through it. If people are going to type out fantasies about hurting me and my daughter on the comment section on my blog, I'll gladly remove that avenue for people to abuse me. 

I'm making a living from being a writer and illustrator. I don't need blog comments or blog posts to do that.

Everything thinks.

All life on earth is earth life. If you take a bee out and feed it, the other bees will watch the dance that guides the bees to where the food is. In the case that the bee is taken to an unlikely place to eat (e.g the middle of the lake) even though the food given in the middle of the lake was sugar rich and highly exciting to the bees, they don't go get the food. 

It's because they know there's no food available in the middle of the lake. They don't believe him because they have a mind and understand the world. This has been the work of ethologists and behavioral scientists over the last 20 years.

What is science? Nothing more than a simple process by which we figure out what is actually happening in the universe. It's not an agenda. It's what's there regardless of you. And it's beyond your and my ability to understand. Consider expertise in the realm of chess.

If an chess playing adult were to play a game of chess with a five year old child, they would win 100% of the games. If a person ranked 1600 Elo, a semi-professional chess player who plays regularly and has a deep understanding of the game, were to play an untrained adult who knew how to play they would win 100% of the games. A grand-master would win 100% of their games against a person ranked 1600. Ignorance, understanding, expertise, and mastery. 

We already know about Dunning-Kruger, and how your ego works to protect you from accepting that you are incompetent or lack knowledge. Your access to the internet and information does not give you expertise. In fact, if you haven't spent a few decades working with something, whatever thoughts and opinions you have about it appear as those of a five-year old child, demanding that their authority be recognized in a realm they don't even fully understand.

And as more of the universe becomes revealed, your beliefs are going to be challenged more and more. You can already see the inability to cope in public by our lead-addled elders, attempting to prosocute someone for looking at an html page source.

You are an expert at internet use, with thousands of hours and understanding, and his comment makes him look like a ignorant 5-year old child.

The same way people look at you when you have opinions and thoughts about things that experts hold, like perhaps gender, politics, economics, or 'science'.

This tide of anti-intellectualism is not new, it is constant . From prison, martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer writes: 

Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed. . .  – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. . . The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. . . Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. . . The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. -1943

One of the great things about the OSR, and the release of 4th and 5th edition D&D, and the popularity of D&D on twitch is that they allowed us to answer several enduring discussions that have been floating about since the beginning of Gygax's role-playing game reformation (as if people hadn't been role-playing—excuse me, having rigid and free kriegspiel—for the previous two centuries.)

And yet, some remain evergreen.

Like bigotry:

RPGA (Role Playing Game Association, the ancestor of organized play) would continue to sponsor events in other companies’ games, but the . . . scenarios would have to be . . approved by the publishing company, and (as always) they had to conform to TSR’s official guidelines.  The guidelines include the following:

“Profanity, obscenities, and vulgarity are not acceptable. Lust and sexual perversion should not be portrayed or implied in submissions.”

It was this clause that was cited when Richard Donnelly, then-president of a gaming group (and official RPGA club) dedicated to gays, lesbians and bisexuals called The Order of the Triangle, tried to get RPGA approval for a GURPS adventure which included gay characters. The RPGA refused, saying, “It is our policy that games and seminars involving sexual themes of any type are not permitted . . .” It’s important to note that Donnelly’s adventure did not include any actual depictions of or references to sexual activity of any kind; it’s just that several of the characters were described as gay. This was enough, in the RPGA’s eyes, to invoke their policy. -Pyramid #5, Industry News, 1994 (27 years ago)

There's no point in confronting these people who have opinions, yet no expertise. They will react like a five-year old, and throw a tantrum filled with certainty and petulance. I am certain of little, but I have been gaming since the early 1980's, I average about 3 games a week, and have had several books published by publishers about gaming, my work is well-reviewed, and my income comes from creating role-playing games. 

This level of expertise—the 1600 level chess player—make Dungeons and Dragons a realm where I have a degree of confidence and expertise. 

So I can tell you the thing that makes them angry.*

D&D's dominance is the most frustrating thing about the tabletop gaming scene- 2021 (this year)

D&D is a mechanical and writing dinosaur, whose dominance is honestly among the worst things ever to happen to the industry #ttrpg #gamedesign #fail -2019 (two years past)

the larger problem is that D&D kinda sucks but everyone keeps playing it anyway -2017 (four years past)

[D&D's] game system is antiquated, using many clumsy mechanics and carrying with it all the flaws of the original, never having changed ANY of the basic system in all its history -1998 (Twenty-three years past)

The state of the art for RPGs has moved on, and for myself personally, [D&D] doesn't cut it. -1995 (Twenty-six years past)

In general [D&D] has huge holes in the core rules. As a DM you either fix them, ignore them, or move on to a "better" system. -1993 (Twenty-eight years past)

And the pièce de résistance:

[P]rotagonism was so badly injured during the history of role-playing (1970-ish through the present, with the height of the effect being the early 1990s), that participants in that hobby are perhaps the very last people on earth who could be expected to produce *all* the components of a functional story. . .[The most damaged participants are too horrible even to look upon, much less to describe. This has nothing to do with geekery. When I say "brain damage," I mean it literally. Their minds have been *harmed.*] All that is the foundation for my point: that the routine human capacity for understanding, enjoying, and creating stories is damaged in this fashion by repeated "storytelling role-playing" as promulgated through many role-playing games of a specific type. -2006, Ron Edwards saying D&D and vampire players have literal brain damage. (15 years past)

Thirty years of market data would indicate fucking not. 

D&D is a good game, and when it moves away from what makes it a good game (railroaded 'story focused' modules and a focus on large sprawling settings as in 2nd edition, or dissociating mechanics from the reality of the game world as in 4th edition) it stops being the market leader.
Can you explain this to people? Obviously not, at least in the last thirty years. There are very specific reasons why it's a good game. It keeps score via gold/xp/levels, gives players clearly defined roles, emulates the hero's journey, crossing the threshold and retrieving knowledge to strengthen one tribe, has a structure that's easy to manage (i.e. dungeons are literal flowcharts) while facilitating a group, and all these structures being manageable and clear and ritualistic allow players to consistently share a common journey, made real by the group witnessing it.
People who are invested in justifying their own failure aren't interested in hearing it.
Their argument is, and always has been, that D&D is bad and somehow millions and millions of people playing it more than any other role-playing game for over thirty years is because. . . well, it's illuminating, but not about D&D. 
The Point

As the knowing happens, and we get closer to the point where everything is known, and all mysteries: The Voynich manuscript, the Antikythera mechanism, Fermet's last theory, eventually disappear as they are discovered (all of which were unknown and unsolved mysteries when I was 10, now all completely solved), we will remain as immortal gods, knowing all, in a virtually endless future within a limitless void.

Robert Sapolsky, a neuroendocrinology researcher and professor of Biology, neurology, and neurological sciences makes it clear. There's a lot of data that we have no control over our actions. Maybe free will exists. But to date, there's no mechanism, theory, or evidence for it, and daily more evidence is accumulating that there are mechanisms and evidence that it doesn't exist. We don't make decisions consciously, they are made and our brains tell us a Just So story about why we did. You don't have any control over your DNA.

You are on a ride as a passenger, with no way to steer the cart. 

Most people deny this the same way one denies that a machine can outperform you in every field to the degree that you can outperform an ant. John Henry was a steel driving man. There is nothing special about man. Your ego demands it.

But can we afford to create a society that address this? One that removes responsibility from man, and instead places it on what factors that determined the behavior?

This is not a philosophical question. We will speak with thinking living machines. We will eliminate the need for labor. We will conquer aging. Not in a geological age, not in some future era, not in far off centuries, but in mere decades. We are already genetically engineering humans to be stronger, smarter, better. 

They physical nature of the brain, the hallucinations and psychosis drugs and therapy manage, the endless insecurity and irrational beliefs of the human animal, all sitting underneath a shining sun of reason and knowledge, burning away all the ignorance, leaves the human ego where? 

Reality is that which remains. 

Coda

English Common Law holds adults responsible for their actions. What will happen if science proves they are not? 

This inability to align with any in-group has dictated the path of the future. This post is not content and I do not desire to create content. Anger has been expressed, because I refuse to take action based on the desires of any group, because I've removed parts of my public persona from view, because I've worked with people other people wish I had not, because I'm making a living at writing and illustrating instead of being enslaved to someone else, because I hold beliefs and thoughts that threaten, confuse, and anger people, because I've taken down posts due to harassment, because I've 'gone commercial' and make things and ask for money, and because I take action of my own initiative regardless of the desires of other people.

Empathy is possessed, for I felt the same way when certain writers stopped interacting with the gaming scene, in the space of four decades, I've seen it happen dozens of times. And now as a person who went from someone who's in the scene, to someone who creates for it, I can understand why. I possessed as many complex emotions over luminaries such as Michael Curtis, Monte Cook, and others withdrew from public interaction and just produced works. But now I understand it much better.

The real question is: What is it I should do? Do I produce popular "content" and get one of those ridiculous patrons that makes thousands a month? Do I just continue to produce blog "content", regurgitating the same ideas and giving everyone something entertaining to look at every day? Do I spend all my time reworking other crappy stuff written by other people on a deadline making it useful? Do I farm outrage by pandering to the needs and wants of extremists? Do I create parasocial relationships and put myself online at the risk of feeding my ego?

In part, my reach exceeds my grasp. I've been producing evergreen gaming products that I feel move the industry forward. Megadungeon's display format, maps that provide more information than a grid, templates for what an open high-level adventure that challenges players without eliminating what makes them powerful, books full of ideas for children (and the child inside all of us), a reimagining of one of the oldest artifacts in gaming.

But I want more. I want to illustrate stories, and make movies, and music, and cartoons, and write books, and, and, and; but I'm discovering the ingroup necessity to "Stay in your lane" as well as the fact that it takes time, skill, and mastery to produce quality in different fields, makes this a difficult task. I may have achieved adult levels of understanding in many of these fields, but not expertise (much less mastery)

What's more, is I'd like to do what people want to see, which is harder than it sounds, because often times people lack insight into what they actually want, and what's more, when I take action that upsets or disappoints someone, the response isn't to tell me, but rather understandably, to turn their limited attention elsewhere. 

We are going to be exploring some of these options, soon. Over the coming weeks. With three major book releases this year I have time to take a breath, and look forward. If you'd like to participate in these discussions, join the discord. It is not a daily discord, nor is it quite busy. It is a way to interact with me directly. 

If not, just watch this space. We have some amazing stuff coming soon. 

Oh, and if you want to pick up a hard copy of In a Deadly Fashion you should hurry before it's sold out. Only about 350 copies left at the time of me writing this. Some copies will be sent to the U.S. store eventually (which will help with shipping) but there's already a line forming for those.

* I linked these posts as proof. There are more on fallen forums, like story-games, and the forge. Do not contact or bother the people who made these posts. 

If you like posts like this, along with other surprises coming soon, support me on Patreon!

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

American Nightstalker - A Neon Lord of the Toxic Wastelands Adventure & Encounter

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 10/25/2021 - 22:33
 The PC's are conscripted by a local warlord to find the daughter of a local duke whose military influence has a direct impact on the smuggling operations of  'The Black Star Order of Nightstalkers'. The Black Stars are connected with lots of shady operations including mutant trafficking, slavery, and worse.  The Black Star  also dabble in demon worship & summoning. What no one realizes is that Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

In The Shadow of Sleeping Giants - Adventurer, Conqueror, King rpg & Kevin Crawford's Worlds Without Number rpg Combined Mini Campaign

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 10/25/2021 - 17:15
 So over the weekend its been me speaking with some fifth edition players because of the James Mishler review I did the other day. 'There's no welcome to the fold here folks', merely me reviewing a fifth edition product that will get used when our Amazing Adventure 5th edition game sessions continue. Now the three new fifth edition players about to have an Adventurer, Conqueror, King rpg wake up Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Seven Years in Azurth

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 10/25/2021 - 11:00

 


We played the 7th anniversary game of our 5e campaign last night, having had the inaugural session in the Land of Azurth on October 19, 2014. It hasn't been as many sessions as the time might suggest; we only played once a month over much of that time, though the pandemic and a switch to telegaming led to an increased frequency. Still, it's the longest myself or any of my players have continued a game.

We've lost no characters to misadventure, and only one player has left the game over that time period: the teenage daughter of two of the other players who decided she had been things to do than game with middle-aged folks. 

I can't say my eye hasn't wandered to other games over that time. It has probably helped the longevity that we were able to squeeze in Star Trek Adventures in the pandemic, and I'm able to play some other games with another group. Still, I think the inertia of doing this game for so long actually helps carry it forward. It's much easier to quit something you haven't invested as much in.

I don't think we've plumbed the depths of the setting, yet. There's still a lot more the group could get up too.

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