Sunday, November 10, 2019

One liners

Today I thought I could squeeze a blog post out of a bunch of undeveloped ideas that are scrawled into my current DM's notebook. Make of them what you will.

  • New aphorism: The DM is always free to introduce a new complication.
  • Pledge-object: an object of value given by the higher status party as part of a negotiation; if the higher status one breaks the pledge, the object is forfeit.
  • Nullset Jones: a hypermathematician who specializes in Zero Theory, the math of zeroes, null sets, etc. Real first name is Larry.
  • Spell Focus: a class of magic items in a material components heavy game. Non-exhaustible replacement for components. Examples: Wand of Sleep Focus, Staff of All First Level MU Spells Focus
  • OK, but what if mounts and pack animals were intelligent, speaking NPCs for hire?
  • Jean-Luc Marion uses the term "saturated phenomenon" to describe an "absolutely unique, irreproducible, and largely unpredictable event." I.e. any old RPG session.
  • Undead skeletons are heavier than you'd think because of all the dark matter in their bones.
  • "Every man must create his own system or else he is slave to another man's" --William Blake
  • Mustardface, Agent of SLIVER (Sovereign Locus of Investigation & Vindication for Extradimensional Realities)
  • Cyclops lost his eye in the war, got a beholder eye replacement.
  • Inhuman Miscellany of the Underpeople - An MU with access to this tome is double effective at researching any spell castable by a Derro savant, but each success 1 in 6 cumulative chance of devolving into one of these wretched creatures.
  • Torture Lantern (no clue why I wrote this down)

Friday, November 08, 2019

What does infravision look like, anyway?

Here are the entirety of the infravision rules as they existed in 1981, per page B21.

PET PEEVE: I have never seen a computer game that attempted to simulate infravision. If you have, please leave a comment!

Here's some random dungeon art I googled up. A background from the computer game Darkest Dungeon, maybe? This is what your normal torch- or lantern-bearing crew would see.

With infravision,  color is determined solely by temperature. And things left laying about a dungeon for centuries will tend to be at the same temperature. Without a proper light source, the party elf or dwarf might see something like this:

It's a subtle difference, but that weird rock formation on the left no longer pops out, and those wine (potion?) bottles will be a little harder to find. Now let's add some monsters to the scene, first by normal vision:

The red dragon, skeleton, and troll are all pretty easy to see. Not quite the same scenario using infravision:

The internal heat of the dragon makes him almost too bright to look at. The troll is basically unaffected. The skeleton has become the same grey as the walls and floor. Undead are hard to spot via infravision because of their tendency to be the same temperature as the background.

Note that my interpretation here is the most generous one I can make, based on the rule above. You could argue that infravision is in fact must worse at picking out details than normal vision, hence the 'no reading' clause. Maybe infravision actually looks more like this:

a creation myth, part II

The clerics, fighters, thieves, and magic-users grew so numerous that they met again where they started at the Center. Suddenly, they could recognizing the missing parts of themselves. Half reunited joyously with half. Thirds came together and embraced. To celebrate this happy event, they held a great celebration, inviting the elves and dwarves and gobble-folk. The halflings were already there.

This event was the first marriage feast. Everyone was happy, except the demons. They were displeased that their gobble-folk slaves  were invited to the feast while they had been snubbed.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

a creation myth, part I

Back at the start of things all was possible, all was present, all was mixed up. There was no thing separated from any other thing. No one knows how long this pile of allness lasted, for the past had yet to be divided from the future.

But somehow, something became divided from nothing. East split off from west,, north split off from south. Heaven floated upwards as hell sank to the bottom. Laughter became distinct from lament. Gods and demons parted ways. The land dried up and the waters pools. Animals moved about and plants grew in one place.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Watch Out for Bucket Bob

Here's a random chart from my D&D notebook.

Bucket Bob is some type of humanoid, fairly large (a bugbear or a troll, maybe?) but sneaky as heck. When he shows up on the wandering monster chart, he will usually (4 in 6) surprise the party. His normal procedure is to throw the contents of his bucket at d4 members of the party, then run like hell.


  1. Acid
  2. Rats
  3. Blood
  4. Spiders
  5. Web spell
  6. Hot coals
  7. Trilobites
  8. Caltrops
  9. Broken glass
  10. Rot grubs
  11. Green slime
  12. Oil, flaming
  13. Raw sewage
  14. Lava
  15. Dust of choking & sneezing
  16. Evard's black tentacles
  17. Ochre jelly
  18. Gray ooze
  19. Black pudding
  20. Venomous snakes
Is the bucket enchanted? Does Bucket Bob know some magic spell that can allow a normal bucket to suddenly contain lava or whatever? Heck if I know.

Friday, November 01, 2019

All weapons do d6

In the earliest versions of D&D individual weapon types were barely distinguished from one another, mechanically speaking. All weapons did d6 damage, from daggers and clubs to two-handed swords and lances, at least until Mike Mornard pestered Gary about it. Weapon speed and armor type adjustments came later as well. My beloved Basic/Expert version included variable weapon damage (i.e. daggers d4, swords d8, polearms d10, etc.) as an optional rule, but it is an option that I've always used, as has everyone I've every player with. (S. John Ross doesn't use it, as I recall. But he is exceptional in many ways.)

Anyway, I want to consider here what it would look like if I went back to all weapons do d6. Why would you choose the weapon you choose, assuming no specific mechanical advantages or disadvantages attach to them? Below are two possible answers, which I think are completely compatible with each other.

[Note that I am ignoring the rule that two-handed weapons strike last in initiative, as that rule is directly attached to the variable weapon damage option (see page B27).]

Answer 1: Aesthetics

From a certain point of view, this is the first, best reason to do anything in an RPG. You're exploring an imaginative space, you might as well populate it with things that come together in an aesthetically interesting way. Taking away specific weapons rules means I no longer feel guilty about choosing a suboptimal weapon (I sometimes worry about not pulling my weight when I'm a player). If I want to, say, bonk the bad guys with a rude wooden club, the d6 rule doesn't actively discourage that behavior.

Answer 2: Narrative-style Advantages

If you are making effective use of your head-brain, there are lots of ways that a specific weapon impinges the gameworld that don't necessarily need mechanics attached. Need a small back-up weapon that can be stored securely but also drawn in a flash? A dagger or shortsword makes a lot more sense than, say, a warhammer. Want to hold off the touch attacks of some creepy ass monster? A spear or a polearm will get the job done a lot better than a club. Need to hack down a door that no one can open? I hope someone is carrying a battle-axe. If all weapons do d6, I suspect it would encourage more people to start thinking about their weapon choices in this way.

Final Note

Sometimes when you float All Weapons Do d6 rule on the internet, some joker will come back with something like "Well then, I should just spend 1gp to buy 12 iron spikes and hand them out to all my friends. No need to spend the money on anything better, since everything does d6." My response to that is twofold: A) All Weapons Do D6 is not the same concept as All Objects Do D6. Prepare to encounter mechanical penalties for wielding a non-weapon in combat. and B) There's a fine line between clever and stupid and you are are nowhere near that line.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Lost Tombs postmortem

Let us start with the observation that more campaigns fail than succeed.  If longevity is your measure of success, at least.  I believe my lifetime average of campaigns exceeding 20 sessions has hovered reliably at around 1 out of 3, which makes keeping a campaign going roughly as difficult as hitting a fastball from a pitcher in major league baseball.

On the other hand, running any number of sessions is a success in a world that seems designed to feed us numbing pablum for popular entertainment.  And since so many campaigns flop at session one, even making it to a second session is a bit of an accomplishment.  And to the extent that role-playing games are a sort of folk art/performance art (which I deeply believe, but will not argue today), even an incomplete draft of a work of art has virtue in the making.

None of the above is said by way of excuses for my inability to keep the game going.  If you signed up but didn't get a chance to play, I apologize.  Rather, the first two paragraphs are written for those gamemasters who beat themselves up when a campaign goes to pieces.  You don't have to do that.  Mourn if you need to, think about why it happened, and decide what you're going to do differently next time.

So what went wrong with the Lost Tombs, such that it fizzled out?  I think there were four key factors at work:

Timing - While working on my dissertation I haven't gotten a lot of gaming in.  It reached a point where my wife told me that one of the reasons I was such a psychological mess was that I hadn't run a game in such a long time.  So during a lull in the dissertation process, I through together the campaign concept and started it rolling.  She was right (as she always is): playing again was very helpful in me keeping my overall shit together.  Then whammo!  The chair of my dissertation returned three chapters for further revisions in a single day and I had to focus entirely on that.  The lesson learned here is perhaps an obvious one in retrospect: if I organize a new game to take advantage of a temporary hole in my schedule, it should be a short-term project and not a new ongoing campaign.  Duh.

(By the way, I have a full draft of my dissertation and hope to defend it next month.  I am almost done with this self-inflicted intellectual torture-thon.)

The Sliding Schedule - I thought I was being really clever proposing that the game would run each weekend, but sometimes it would be Friday night, other times it would be Saturday morning/afternoon/evening or Sunday morning/afternoon/evening.  You would not believe the number of times people have said to me in passing "Yeah I would like to play your game, but your 4am start time is ridiculous."  Basically, I wanted to reach those players without giving up all the wonderful people who were available for my last two campaigns.  This is one of those things that works better on paper than in practice, as it turns out the fetid goblin in my skull responsible for keeping my schedules refuses to take seriously a moveable target like that.  On Thursday, I would say to myself "I guess I'm not playing Friday night, as I should have started player recruitment on Wednesday."  That would be the end of my thought.  Then the next day I would say to myself "Whoops. I should have started recruitment yesterday in order to play on Saturday."  Then the next day...

I love having a large list of wonderful people who I get the privilege of playing silly elf games with.  But the sliding play time was a step too far for my brain to manage.  Furthermore, I am wondering if maybe for the next campaign I should have a public list of players and just designate a single player responsible for recruiting the rest of the team.  Just an idea I am kicking around.

Too Many Cute Ideas - This is an absolute rookie mistake and of all the goofs I made this is the one I am slightly embarrassed about.  I had some Very Big Ideas for this campaign.  The one about futurehumans that made it into the player's handout, as did some of the ideas about the relationship between people and the gods.  The big problem is that none of these ideas were in direct service of the players and their PC's dungeon escapades.  In other words, they were a distraction from the main event of the kind of game I like to run.  If I had been blogging regularly, I would have done what I normally do: write a blog post about my idea and hope that some more sophisticated DM can do something with it.

I sometimes use a pro-wrestling analogy when thinking about my DMing style: I am never going to be the Ric Flair of DMs.  I can't pull off that level of flash (read: high concept), so I shoot for being the Arn Anderson of DMs.  For those of you not in the loop, Arn Anderson was, perhaps, the greatest professional wrestler of his generation not to wear a world heavyweight title belt.  He was great in the ring, he was convincing on the mic.  Most importantly, he did a superb job of making the other wrestlers in a match look good.  But he didn't do flashy.  In an era of face-paint and ten thousand dollar sequined robes, he sometimes wore a windbreaker to the ring.  When other wrestlers hooted and hollered and carried on, he would just look into the camera and give the most credible, most articulate "I am going to beat you up" promos.  That's what I want.  I want to be the best DM of players going into dungeons and beating up orcs.  Any new idea has to be in service of that cause, or it just doesn't fit me and my play style.

(Note to fellow wrestling aficionados: I like Ric Flair, too.  He's just doesn't speak to me the way Arn does.)

Something About the Dungeons - For over a decade now I have been working off of something I call the Collage Theory of Dungeon Design.  In short: I steal levels that other people have already published and you mash them together.  My job becomes building interesting connections between these levels, and, occasionally, erasing the evidence that I'm using a well-known dungeon level.  The Dungeons of Dundagel in the Wessex campaign included levels from the Temple of Elemental Evil, for example, and no one caught on because A) I rotated the maps 90 degrees and B) I swapped out a few key, recognizable encounters for ones that better fit the campaign setting.  And as far as I know, no one has identified the singular publication that nearly every level of the Vaults of Vyzor comes from.

For a long time I found stitching together and editing other people's dungeons to be much more fun than sitting down and making/stocking my own dungeon maps.  But this time I just wasn't feeling it.  I still don't know what the exact issue was.  Did I choose the wrong levels?  I've used some fairly crummy levels in the past with no problem.  Heck, one time I had to add a staircase to a level in the middle of a session because the published map hadn't bothered to include one.  But I just wasn't grooving on these dungeon levels.  Maybe I'm over the whole collage concept and need to come up with a different approach.  Either way, the dungeons themselves, my absolute favorite part of running Dungeons & Dragons, were noticeably less fun than usual.

So there you have.  What I am pretty sure are the key contributing factors to the collapse in my enthusiasm for this particular campaign.  Again, apologies to all concerned.  Let the record show that at no time was the issue the players.  They were all fun people who I would gladly sling dice with again should opportunity arise.

I bet you weren't expecting an Arn Anderson tribute in the middle of a campaign autopsy.  Well, neither was I.