Thursday, 13 June 2019

More on Free RPG Day

Thanks to the good folks at the Sanctum Secorum podcast, I will have some additional materials to give away for people who play in my games at the Sword & Board this Saturday!

To be specific, this is The Tribe of Ogg and the Trials of Moss (as well as supporting materials) - an authorized sequel to my own The Tribe of Ogg and the Gift of Suss, written by the prolific and talented Bob Brinkman!

I will have 10 copies to give away during the first event, and an additional 10 copies to give away during the second. Once they are gone, they are gone! 

This is, of course, in addition to the regular Road Crew swag that Goodman Games has so kindly provided!

For more information on my events, see this post. The Facebook event listing is here. Here's hoping to see you there!

Thursday, 23 May 2019

More on Save DCs!

In a response to a Facebook post, Jay Davis said:
 "Saves vs spell effects are one thing I have issue with... although many spells allow a save the DC is the spell check result which will routinely be over 20."

I thought that this was worth addressing.

If you look at the DCC core rulebook, on page 432, you will find:

As noted previously, “monsters break the rules”—and that applies to men as well. When sending your players to face a magician or warrior, you need not spend the time to create a complicated leveled-up player character according to the class rules. Make it fast and make it interesting!

And, on page 383:

Spellcasters in particular, whether human or monstrous in nature, should have powers that are unavailable to the players. This does not mean fully defined spells of the same sort learned by the characters. This means a unique power of some kind that would provide a plot hook, leading the player characters to seek out the wizard character and attempt to enlist his services, either as a an ally, hireling, or hostage. On the next page is a table of inspiration, but note that these powers should not be spells. The NPC should be able to use these powers with predictability and accuracy in a way that player characters cannot. It is left up to you to flesh out these ideas, which can apply to any wizard, sorcerer, shaman, witch, warlock, acolyte, priest, cult leader, or other such figure.

In DCC, it is assumed that the rules are designed for defining what Player Characters are (at least in a basic way), but not to limit what Non-Player Characters should be.  For the average human spellcaster that the PCs encounter, save DCs are fairly low: DC 11 for the Acolyte, DC 13 for the Friar, and DC 12 for the Magician. A Witch’s curse ability requires a higher save – DC 16 – but she also gains normal spells with a +8 to the spell check, which makes these formidable on a level that low-level PCs cannot easily match.

From the foregoing we can glean two important design principles in DCC:

(1) By the time the PCs have attained 3rd level, they are better than almost everyone around them.  Page 359 of the core rules puts third level characters at “1 in 1,000”. The average spell check for the PCs will be 15, assuming a roll of 11, +3 bonus for level, and a +1 bonus based off of ability scores. This last bonus is not guaranteed, but it is this writer’s experience that players often choose classes which complement their funnel survivor’s best statistics. This is not always true…an Elf, for instance, may have a penalty to Intelligence but still cast spells.

(2) PC magic is less predictable than the magic used by many NPCs, but it can be awesomely powerful.

Dungeon Crawl Classics urges the judge to let the dice fall where they may. Rather than being invested in an encounter playing out in a particular way, the game design wants you to invest in what actually happens at the table. If the PCs take out your “Boss Monster” with a natural 20 on a spell check and 5 points of spellburn, that is what is supposed to happen.  Likewise, if the Warrior crits and slays the Black Beast of Aaaagh at the top of the first combat round, so be it. Likewise if the Thief backstabs the Emerald Enchanter. Or the Cleric banishes Smaug back to the Lonely Mountain.

You are intended to invest in the process of play rather than any given outcome.

PCs slinging powerful magics might still give the poor judge pause, but there are some things the harried master of games may do. Be careful about using these too much. The idea should not be to make the Wizard, Elf, or Cleric useless, but to provide instances when the player’s “go to” tactics aren’t optimal. You are trying to create an interesting context to spur creative choices and outcomes. You are not trying to gimp the characters for being too powerful. Remember that, sooner or later, the dice will always go sour on the players. You will crit, or they will fumble. You don’t have to set it up so that they lose.

  • High Save Modifiers:  A huge monster may have a +15 Fort save, and a fast monster may have a +15 Reflex save. Used sparingly, and with dice rolled in the open, this can provide a great table moment when the thing saves with a natural roll of “5”. But if the monster still fails, let it. Great gaming memories form around such occurrences.
  • Immunities: Some monsters just cannot be affected by particular types of spells. Some might be immune to magic altogether.  Likewise, some monsters might be immune (or partially immune) to critical effects and/or specific Mighty Deeds.
  • Reduction: Some locations, and the vicinity of some beings, might lower spell check results (but not necessarily the roll itself, so that spells are not lost), or cause spells to be cast with a reduced die type. This might affect only Cleric or Wizard spells, or it might only affect a certain subset of spells (mind-affecting, fire magic, etc.).

  • Stranger Things: Some monsters might be even worse. They reflect spells targeting them back at the caster. They absorb the magic energy and become stronger. They steal spells cast in their vicinity from the caster’s mind. The rules of magic change around them.

The rules also contain spell duels, and it is inconceivable that these rules were not intended to be used. Even if they were not, many DCC modules contain statted up spellcasters which are certainly capable of making the same kind of high spell checks that the PCs are. Even without those adventures, there is the aforementioned Witch. Both Demons and Dragons can do the same.

Suddenly, it is the PCs facing those incredibly high saves! What to do then?

The best answer is to roll the dice in the open, and let the chips fall where they may. Most spell checks will not be optimal. Once you have hit level 1, 0 hp doesn’t mean that you are dead. PCs can spend Luck (and a Halfling will be a major boon here). If the party contains a Wizard, Cleric, or Elf, an attempt at spell dueling may reduce the potency of an enemy spell (or eliminate it altogether).

Ultimately, though, there is a reason that the peasantry fears magic. It can be potent indeed. Rather than reducing that potency, make certain that the players see how magic is feared and respected by the commoners they encounter.

As a last pro tip, if you are having that NPC sling a magic missile with the force of a nuclear weapon, and there is no good reason not to, target the Thief and tell him what the save DC is. A Thief’s ability to use a Luck Die means that she has the best chance of actually making one of those gargantuan saves.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Saving Throw DCs in DCC

Okay, this is a crosspost from a thread on the Goodman Games Forums, because I thought it might be of some value to readers here. It related to setting saving throw DCs when converting materials from other systems (in this case, Barrowmaze).

I wrote:
For saves, use the "average man" standard, where the average man is a schlub in a 0-level funnel:
DC 5: The character succeeds 80% of the time.
DC 10: The character succeeds 55% of the time.
DC 15: The character succeeds 30% of the time.
DC 20: The character succeeds 5% of the time.
Assuming that a natural 20 always succeeds, DCs over 20 represent cases where even a more powerful being has a reduced chance of success. A character with a +2 bonus to Fort saves has a 15% chance of making DC 20, but only a 5% chance of making DC 22....the same as the peasant.
In general, if a failed save results in killing the character outright, or removing them from play, a lower save DC is often appropriate. 
If a failed save results in a change to the status quo that promotes more interesting play, a higher save DC is often appropriate.
IOW, the DC reflects, in part, whether or not you want the save to succeed or fail more often. If you have a way to telegraph the effect, and the level of danger, a high DC can also increase table tension. If there is a way to avoid having to make the save, or to alter the odds of the roll, so much the better.
Remember that save bonuses in DCC don't inflate like they do in some games - a 10th level warrior has a +6 bonus to Fort saves, and nothing else that high. It is barely possible to get up to +12 with an 18 Stamina, an 18 starting Luck, and the right birth augur. The odds are good that you will never see such a thing fairly rolled. You don't have to make save DCs excessive to make them work.

It might seem wrong to include "insignificant" DCs (such as DC 5) for skill checks, or even saves, in the game. Don't fall for that argument.

For DCC, skill checks are made with a 1d20 if you are "trained" and 1d10 if you are not. It should be obvious that there is a significant chance of failure for a DC 5 check using 1d10.

In addition, if penalties for armor apply, DC 5 might be something simple for the unarmored wizard, but difficult indeed for the warrior wearing platemail. The DC reflects the nature of the task in this case, such as climbing a rough wall or swimming across a relatively modest pool. This in turn helps make the armor you choose to wear into an interesting choice, because there are direct and obvious consequences apart from just how hard you are to hit in combat.

As a saving throw, a DC 5 might represent a small chance of something very, very bad happening to you. For instance, if you were fighting a skeleton and each time it hit you there was a DC 5 Will save to avoid permanently losing 1d24 XP....which would become hp for the monster....that save is significant. Even if it doesn't result in a PC losing a level, the lost XP deficit must be "made up" before the PC can progress any further. If those bonus hp are permanent until used, there is an "in story" reason to inflate the skeleton's hit points, thus making it likely that the PCs will require multiple saves - the un-dead creature has a pool of extra vitality it has stolen from others.

Dungeon Crawl Classics has a reputation for being deadly, but remember that your goal is neither to kill characters nor to preserve them. It is, instead, to provide the players with an interesting set of choices, within an interesting context, and then following to see where their choices lead them.

EDIT: As a bonus, when the DC really is 18 or higher, the players know that the shit has hit the fan. Keeping those DCs down means that, when you do not, it has a serious impact at the table.

SECOND EDIT: Consider an Agility check of DC 1. Characters without a penalty do not even need to roll, as they cannot fail. Those burdened by armor, or with low Agility scores (as a result of Spellburn, perhaps?) do need to roll. The chance of failure might be slim (max 15% if just due to low Agility), but the effects could be dire.

And what if this was a check that was required on the way into an encounter where a PC Spellburns the hell out of her Wizard or Elf? What was inconsequential before may well become consequential. Conversely, these minor difficulties reaching an encounter area may limit how much Spellburn the player is willing to accrue.

It has been claimed that "the encounter" is the unit of play for role-playing games, but hopefully this example shows how encounters bleed into each other. A DC 5 Strength check, a DC 2 Agility check, and a DC 4 Stamina check leading to the dragon's lair might seem insignificant, but these things are not really four separate encounters. They are part of an organic this case, a whole that greatly hampers armor-wearers and Spellburners (if they have to leave via the same route).

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Join Me For Free RPG Day!

DCC RPG Double Feature!

12,000 to 0

A 0-level Funnel where the gravity of the situation can really bring you down!

@10 am—2 pm

Geas of the Star-Chons

A 1st-level adventure by Julian Bernick!

@2 pm—6 pm

At the Sword & Board
Saturday, 15 June 2019
1193 Bloor Street West - Rear

Thursday, 2 May 2019

DM Workshop!

Saturday, May 25, 2019 from 12 PM to 4 PM at Storm Crow Manor, 580 Church Street in Toronto.

Don't let the name of the event fool you - the principles of good GMing and adventure design apply to far more than just Dungeons & Dragons (any edition)!

Registration provides four hours of instruction and workshopping plus your choice of appetizer and main dish. We'll talk about how to design adventures, how to run things at the table, and how to make lasting campaigns work. Moreover - we will tackling the aspects of GMing that you want to bring up!

If you are in Toronto, and you want to spend some time talking about designing adventures and running games, I would love to see you there!

Thursday, 25 April 2019

“Gotcha!” D&D and Telegraphing Encounters

I’ve often talked about telegraphing encounters, and in one blog post I’ve written about how Gary Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors is an essentially “fair” dungeon, although it is in no way easy to beat. When I was in high school, I played a party consisting of the special characters in the back of the Rouges Gallery, and I killed them all trying to solve the Tomb myself.

My own foray into the “deadly death trap dungeon” is Tomb of the Squonk, which was published by Mystic Bull Games as part of Pulp Weird Encounters #1. I wrote about it in the DCC Trove of Treasures here, and it is available for purchase here. I wrote about running it at Gary Con here.  

I am going to direct you to a couple of reviews. The Thilo G review can be found here originally, and I would encourage you to visit Endzeitgeist regularly as the reviews tend to be informative. He is, perhaps, a bit too positive regarding most of my output, but this is an exception. Tomb of the Squonk was not to his liking at all. In fact, the reviewer refers to it as a “dickish design-paradigm”…and it really is, because it is inspired by (and an homage to) Philip José Farmer’s World of Tiers series.  

(If you are unfamiliar with the World of Tiers, you can listen to podcasts pertaining to The Maker of Universes and The Gates of Creation at the Appendix N Bookclub, or The Maker of Universes at Sanctum Secorum.)

One of the Enzeitgeist criticisms is that some traps “kinda lack means to properly telegraph them”. Similarly, Noah S. writes that “the foolhardy adventurers would probably suffer a TPK either at the hands of the Squonk himself or in their efforts to assist him” and “it seems very likely to me that players not conversant in the old ways would suffer many many casualties”.

It is noted in the text that “This encounter is designed for 4-6 3rd-level characters. Because of the trap-heavy nature of the adventure, a party without at least one thief is seriously handicapped, and may not survive.”

Gotcha D&D

“Gotcha D&D” is a term for adventure design that sets you up to believe that X is true, while the opposite of X is actually true. The idea is that player expectations are subverted, which is fine, but in a way where rational decisions are punished, which is less fine. Good adventure design is not a series of “fuck you”s, where, no matter what the players do, they are screwed.

This is not to say that no level of “gotcha” is acceptable. For instance, a dwarf has the ability to smell gold and gems in DCC, and it is certainly within reason to make a gold-eating creature smell like gold to the poor dwarf. There is nothing wrong with the occasional creature, like a rust monster, that inverts the normal paradigm of the heavily armed (and armored) fighter having all of the advantage over her less-armored companions in a fight. In fact, the early rust monster had no effective attacks if you wore leather armor and beat it to death with a wooden club.

The goal should never to be taking away the PC’s hard-earned stuff (or the PCs themselves) without the players having any reasonable means to understand the risks involved. Ultimately, the best designs entice the players to take risks, continuing onward despite knowing that it is dangerous to do so. This is similar to how a judge can create a magic item that is good enough to use, but which has drawbacks forcing the players to consider how much they want to use it.

In several of the World of Tiers books, protagonists face a series of death traps and overcome them. The death traps are real, and brutal. Many of them would certainly kill the person who failed to discover and/or disarm or avoid them. Our protagonists, of course, do manage to survive them, just as Conan overcomes giant spiders and human adversaries, or Tarzan manages to kill lions with a knife.

The goal is to allow the players to experience a slice of Farmer-style Appendix N action, giving them a chance to succeed, all the while making them understand how slender the odds of success are. The Patricians are cruel, “childish, petty, and spiteful”. The players’ introduction to the Patricians must convey this.

The question becomes: How? And how do you make if fair?

There are going to be a lot of spoilers in what follows. If you intend on playing this adventure, you should skip the discussion below.

Enter the Tomb

The goal is to make the adventure fair. Despite being a death trap, a clever party should be able to survive with minimal (or no) loss. The players should also come out of it feeling that they were both lucky and clever to do so. The design has to feel “dickish” while telegraphing enough information to allow the players to succeed.

As the adventure describes, “About three months ago, Arvind Shar was captured by his sister, Yona, who transferred his body into that of the squonk, a hideous creature from a far distant plane. He has survived ever since on frogs, raw fish, and the bodies of those who refuse to speak with him or help him. Travellers who encounter Arvind are terrified, and in his rage he often kills them. If the judge desires, the characters may hear rumors that a hideous creature of the swamps has been accosting wayfarers in this region. Meanwhile, Yona watches to gain full satisfaction from Arvind Shar’s humiliation.”

The adventure starts when the PCs meet the titular Squonk in a swamp. He is “a sodden lump of darkness with an elephantine trunk, bulging eyes, clawed hands, horns, and a thick tail ending in tentacle-like grasping appendages. The trunk ends in what appears to be a stinger of some sort. Spikes and boney nodules stud its hide.

The Squonk asks for help. His story is that “he was seduced and captured by an evil witch (who looked like a comely young lass, of course) who called herself Yona. She trapped him in this horrific form, but torments him with the knowledge that his true body lies in a tomb just within the low hills. If the party will only help him, Arvind is certain that there is a fortune in jewels lying not far from his uninhabited shell. He is lying, of course.”

Arvind Shar flinches when he sees birds, calling them “the Eyes of Yona”. At one point, a 3-lbs shard of meteoric iron targets one of the PCs. It is unlikely to hit, but is both damaging if it does, and demonstrates that there is, indeed, active and deadly opposition to the PCs aiding the Squonk.

Reaching the Tomb complex, the PCs are greeted with this:

Past the doors, you can see a 10-foot wide corridor stretching out before you some 30 feet before entering a wider space. The walls give off a soft radiance, making it easy to see. Lying near the opening is a human corpse, obviously several weeks dead and crawling with beetles and flies. The man’s head lies some 10 feet further down the corridor – from this distance, it appears to have been neatly shorn off.

The trap here is arbitrary and cruel – a laser beam which will most likely kill any that walks blithely into the hallway. However, the dead body should (and, IME, always does) telegraph the trap nicely. Notes are given to describe what a thief sees who finds the trap, as well as how it might be effectively bypassed. Going under it is the easiest way. No one has ever failed to discover this trap when I have run this adventure. No one has ever been killed by it. Its purpose is to warn the players of the existence of serious traps, as well as to imply their frequently technological/sci fi nature.

The second room must be entered to continue.

The corridor enters into a square marble room, 30 feet to a side, with an archway exiting in the middle of both the far wall and the wall to your right. Marble benches line the west wall. The room is otherwise bare. As with the corridor, the walls glow softly.

This area is trapped with a heat field, which causes 4d6 damage to anything that enters. Anyone foolish
enough to remain in the room for a whole round takes an additional 8d6 damage. The heat field is triggered by touching the floor – even a small stick is enough to trigger the field – or the presence of warm bodies within the room.

Once the field is triggered, it takes a few seconds to reset, allowing a character to throw in an object to trigger it, and then dash across the room. Doing so requires a Reflex save to succeed – DC 10 for creatures with a 30’ movement rate, and DC 15 for those with a 20’ move. If a character has taken precautions, such as soaking himself with water, before the dash, he gains an additional DC 10 Fort save to take half damage.

While this field can be detected by a thief (DC 20), there is no way to disarm the trap from here.”

A 3rd level Thief in DCC has a +7 bonus to Find Traps, meaning that an average thief has a 40% chance of detecting the trap if it is searched for. 4d6 is a lot of damage, but it should be remembered that even reaching 0 hp doesn’t automatically kill you in DCC. And, after the first trap, most players approach this room cautiously. Tossing the head from the first encounter into this room is, IME, the most common means that the trap is discovered. Characters with infravision can, of course, see the heat, but other characters can see the effects, and the one-round-on/one –round-off nature of the trap is pretty easy to learn with a little observation.

I have yet to see a character die in this room.

The third area does not need to be entered. Characters are unlikely to realize that at this point, however. A trap can seal this area, possibly splitting the party. Possibly trapping the party. “A thief can discover the bronze plate by finding traps (DC 10) (the edge of the plate is visible at the top of the arched corridor) and can similarly locate the pressure plate. There is no exposed mechanism to disarm, although the trap is easily avoided once it and its trigger are located.”

Assuming that the characters take even rudimentary precautions, a 3rd level Thief has a 85% chance of discovering the trap, and using a 10’ pole will trigger it, closing off the room before the PCs can enter. The best outcome is that the party detects the trap, enters the room, and discovers that it is a decoy. This telegraphs that decoys like this exist. If they then trigger the trap from a safe distance, they can also realize how potentially dangerous the trap was to them.

Now, I have had PCs get trapped in this room. And, as the text notes, “Without magic, there is no way to raise the plate from here.” Magically, a wizard or elf may try a reversed enlarge or ward portal, or might use invoke patron, knock, levitate, or shatter. A 3rd level cleric may ask for divine aid…but second sight used earlier would have been less costly. In one convention game, a PC had the magical Rah-Neld’s Raygun to escape a similar – and nastier – version of the same trap in the next area: “When the plate falls, it opens a sluice leading from a water reservoir into the end of the corridor. Water will rush into the area, rising 1 foot every 10 minutes.”

Most players note the bronze door waiting overhead before triggering it. Corridors are arched to a 12’ height, and the water rises 1 foot per 10 minutes, meaning that the PCs have 2 hours to save themselves…or, alternatively, their trapped companions. Again, while a surprising number of PCs have triggered this trap, I cannot recall a single PC who ever died as a result.

After a brief combat, the PCs reach a room which is really dangerous:

The corridor beyond the massive bronze doors is 20-foot wide ending in another set of massive bronze doors 70 feet away. There are hexagonal niches built into the walls, three to the left and three to the right, large enough for a man to easily stand within. Midway down the corridor, the floor is marked with a large crimson hexagon 20 feet across – above it, the ceiling disappears into a 20-foot-square shaft of unknown height.

The hexagonal niches to east and west are all one-way gates into other worlds. Anything tossed into them is lost, unless the character passes through the gate to recover it – and then, he must find some other way home! If Arvind is with the characters, he will caution them about the gates, but he is evasive about the source of his knowledge.”

Characters exploring these niches have wound up in other adventures – The Weird Worm-Ways of Saturn, The Giggling Deep, Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess, and others. They also allow the judge to introduce PCs to the worlds of Mutant Crawl Classics, The Umerican Survival Guide, Star Crawl, DCC Lankhmar, or whatever else the judge desires. A judge who wants to include more treasure can do so here, and can include a gate wherever it is located that allows the PCs to return.

But this room contains a real trap:

“The hexagon on the floor is different: it triggers a vortex that can pull a man-sized creature (or two halflings, etc.) 30’ up the shaft to another gate. This one is twoway and leads into the atmosphere of a super-heated gas giant. Any character passing through the gate drops back down 1d4 rounds later – charred and asphyxiated.

The vortex draws a creature up at the rate of 5’ per round and can be defeated simply by adding another creature to the glyph – if there are more creatures than it can draw, the vortex collapses. Creatures that are 10’ or higher when this is discovered suffer falling damage as usual.”

Rooms are 15’ high in the complex, which gives three rounds where the victim is clearly visible to rescue them. Thereafter, to see the victim, characters must enter the hex…automatically defeating the trap. What could have happened should be clear to the players, at least as a general outcome – the PC was heading up to a gate. That it did not happen should also be, by far, the most common outcome.

What happens next is either (1) the Squonk escapes with a potential new body, and the PCs follow it through a gate to recover their own, or (2) the PCs defeat the Squonk and go on to the last room. If the PCs just enter the room, it will kill them. Hopefully, though, by this time they have learned that just entering rooms in this place isn’t a good idea. There is a way to disarm the trap (DC 15, or 35-60% likely for a Thief who does not spend Luck). Using a pole, or throwing something into the room, is almost certain to discover the trap as well.

In the end, the PCs can gain just over 3,000 gp worth of gems, but doing so causes the archway leading from the room to “permanently becomes a gate leading to any location the judge desires – this is Yona’s last vengeance, so the judge should choose somewhere interesting.” This also deactivates the remaining gates, which some players might think of as a greater treasure than the gems. I have had players decide that the Tomb, with traps and gates intact, would make a great lair for themselves!


I have run this a number of times, and some of the players who have encountered it have been relatively new gamers (in every sense of the word; some were kids). In each case, the adventure worked as I had intended it to. Rather than being a series of “fuck you”s to the players, it is a series of terrible things that the players can resolve with wit and daring, allowing them to give a rousing series of triumphant “fuck you”s to the judge after surviving yet another trap which was clearly not meant to be survived (from their standpoint).

And that is, for a player, perhaps one of the best feelings you can have. You were “meant” to fail, but you succeeded anyway. Don’t believe me? Read some accounts of how player ingenuity conquered various tournament scenarios, from the very first Gen Con tournament to the very last. Consider all the weird (and brilliant!) plans players come up with to defeat obvious meat grinders in various funnel adventures.

At least twice I’ve come up with solutions to in-game problems that left gaming legend Brendan LaSalle having to wing the repercussions of my solutions…and I have to say, that is some of the best gaming I have ever experienced from the players’ side of the screen. I don’t know if our solution to the Damn Tasty! playtest last Gary Con was expected or not, but when the players think they are being clever (as we did!) it is the wise GM who avoids disabusing them of that notion.

But maybe what I was trying to do wasn’t clear from the writing. I therefore would like to open this up. Have you run or played in Tomb of the Squonk? If so, how did it go for your group? Feel free to tell me if I am really off-base here!

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

DM & Dine at Storm Crow Manor

The DM & Dine program at Storm Crow Manor in Toronto is now officially open. As one of the GMs in the program, I hope that you will take a look at it. 

From the website:

"The main quest of the DM & Dine program is to give new players, experienced player or just DMs who need the night off the chance to come play the tabletop RPG of their choice with one of our expert dungeon masters. 

Don't worry, we will supply you any provisions you may need on your journey: characters sheets, dice and of course – food is included!  Each player gets their choice of appetizer and entrée for their journey."

Please allow me to facilitate an evening of great food and high adventure!

Friday, 15 February 2019

Reading the GM Section

The question came up on Facebook recently: Should players be allowed to read the GM section of RPG rulebooks?

I thought that it was an interesting enough question to crosspost my answer here.

Allowed? Obviously.

Encouraged? That's a different question, because you can't unlearn what you see....and, regardless of being "really outdated and obsolete", the opportunity for true discovery of the fictional milieu can be removed by knowledge. This is analogous to film spoilers, in a way. 

Which is how you get a game like Dungeon Crawl Classics, which actively encourages the GM to make new monsters, has no standard magic items, and even suggests that the GM make campaign locations where the forces of magic work....differently.

If you can remember that magic when you first played, when you were facing some skeleton or goblin or whatever, and you didn't know what it could do.....or when the magic thingamabob you discovered really seemed special, it was because of the information disparity between you and the GM. The GM knew the skeleton was beatable; you did not. The GM knew the blunt mace was going to work better than your spear; you did not. The GM knew what the thingamabob did; you did not.

For some of us, that sense of discovery is actually what the game is about.

At some point, through experience or through reading the monster and GM books, you learned the ropes. The game shifted. It became about how the pieces were used, rather than discovering what the pieces were. That information disparity was about the current (and extended) situation - the particulars of this encounter or that adventure. Rather like most fantasy fiction itself, the process of discovery narrowed from not even knowing what a word like "goblin" was going to mean in the context of the fictive world to wondering how common tropes are going to be combined this time out.

I run Dungeon Crawl Classics because you can read the book cover-to-cover and that magic will still be there. There is no monster book to memorize. There is nothing to un-know.