Monday 22 August 2011

Clarification (Re: EN World)

In this post,, Plane Sailing is correct that EN World reviewed the situation independent of my decision.  My decision came about as a result of EN World's decision to permanently ban those who caused EN World to review their options and to "recognise that the topic under discussion needs alarm bells all over it in future" (as nedjer put it).  

So, any implication that EN World's decisions have been swayed by my stance is wrong, as far as I can tell.  On the other hand, any implication that my stance is unrelated to EN World's decisions in this case is misleading.

So, from my position, the score is RCK 0, ENW 0, Trolls 224 and still scoring regularly and often.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Some Sidebars from RCFG Skills Section

Working for a Living

Skills like Craft, Perform, and Profession make it possible for characters to earn a living without adventuring. 

While there are no extended rules for this within RCFG, the Game Master is encouraged to look at the rules for what NPCs in various professions make as wages, and reward the PCs accordingly.  Certainly, having a profession (or similar skill) can be used to allay the costs of “down time” between adventures!

That said, the Game Master should also remember that NPCs have an initial advantage over PCs in almost every profession.  This advantage is based on several factors:

· Existing workspace/shop/supplies.
· Existing customer base – a startup business usually makes less than an established one.
· Existing social network – known professionals are usually supported by their community, using a network of friends, family, and business contacts.

In some cases, marketing oneself as a professional requires admission into a guild or other professional association, which may or may not be easily attained.

For this reason, most PCs who both work and adventure will either have to hire an overseer and labourers to build their business while they are away, or will have to hire themselves out as intermittent journeymen.

Busking and begging (usually using the Perform skill) may also be regulated, or subject to guilds, gangs, and assigned spots.  A percentage of the gross take might be payable on a daily basis to a local boss who “owns the corner” where begging takes place.

Overall, these considerations are not to discourage players from considering business ventures for their characters.  Rather, they are offered as a means both to prevent players from assuming that working requires little more thought than a skill roll to generate lucre (in which case, why adventure at all?) and to ground the PCs in the campaign world’s various guilds, criminal gangs, and professional associations (as appropriate).  In addition, it makes it possible for the Game Master to make such contacts available as a form of “treasure” for adventuring!

How long does it take to make a belt buckle?

Craft skills allow characters to make items, generally at half the cost the item is typically sold for.  Usually, the DC for making these items runs between 5 and 20, depending upon the complexity of the item.  Assume a crafting time of 1 day to three months or more, depending (again) upon the complexity of the item.

Some rulesets attempt to give you a formula that you can use to determine exactly how long it takes to craft any given item.  RCFG doesn’t do this; crafting proceeds at the rate that the Game Master says it does.  The Game Master is encouraged to listen to the players, and to attempt to make a reasonable ruling. 

In the long run, though, the Game Master cannot be expected to know how long it takes to make a bow, or a suit of armour, or a belt buckle, and his ruling is final.  If it seems like the crafting process is taking longer than it should, or that it is going incredibly swiftly, then there is some other factor influencing it, like a run of good or bad luck.

Generally speaking, trying to meticulously determine how long it takes to craft anything is more time consuming and difficult than any benefits gained by so doing.

The Importance of Crafts

Craft skills are more important in a pre-industrial society than in a modern society.  Even in the early industrial era, it was imagined that given the time and tools, most modern conveniences could be recreated.  Thus, in Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, or Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the industry of knowledgeable craftsmen is rewarded in a primitive environment.

Characters traveling to wild and exotic locations may not always be able to buy or scavenge the equipment that they need.  The ability to make weapons, pottery capable of holding water or grain, shelter, and so on, can make the difference between survival in a primitive milieu, and death.

To people living in a post-industrial society, who have never crafted furniture by hand, or shoes, or worked metal...who have never turned wood, made a cart wheel, fixed a wooden axle, or thatched a roof….how to complete these sorts of tasks can seem “obvious” or “easy”.  There is little conception in modern society of the skill, knowledge, or time required.

Players are advised to read Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe for some conception of working crafts under primitive circumstances.  The BBC historical series, Tales from the Green Valley, is also highly recommended, and is available on DVD, as are many episodes of the BBC series, Time Team.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Q is for Quipper

Ah, the quipper.  Was there ever a monster to cause more of a love/hate relationship?

When the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition Fiend Folio tome first appeared, it was met with a mixed reaction.  On one hand, it was nice to see some monsters from modules appear in hardcover; on the other hand, some of the monsters seemed a bit...goofy.  On on hand, some of the monsters really seemed to fit in a D&D campaign milieu; on the other hand, some of the monsters seemed a bit more science fictional.  I mean, the Horta from Star Trek and the Martian rats of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter stories both made appearances, albeit with different names and enough changes to prevent legal action

And then there is the quipper.  It's a piranha, except it is found in colder water.  And it's name suggests a bit of a joke.  Hmmm.  Why not just call it a piranha?  And yet....the move to include the piranha - by name or otherwise - in the official D&D canon was a good one.  I have used the quipper in many an adventure back in the day.

The best OGC equivalent that I am aware of is the "blood fish" from Into the Blue (Bastion Press).  Mix with the "creature swarm" template from Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary, and you have something for characters to truly fear!  I used exactly this combination in Balmorphos, published in Dragon Roots #3.  I think to good effect.  This version of the piranha/blood fish will be the basis for the same creature in the Big Book of Monsters for RCFG.

The quipper.

On one hand, you have to ask yourself, why the funny name?  On the other hand, you have to chuckle with glee when you place them in a dark waterway deep underground.

And that is really so much of the 1st Edition AD&D experience, isn't it?  On one hand, you are wondering why things are as they are written.  On the other hand, when you let go and just enjoy it, it is very much fun indeed.

Friday 19 August 2011

Related Note to EN World

A post on EN World suggested "Post[ing] random quotes attributed to RC saying random or silly things in reponse to another post, things RC never actually said, but due to his total deletion of all his posts can never be conclusively proved that he did not say."  

Intentionally misquoting someone has been a violation of the Rules since the day I started posting there.  It also might open EN World and the poster(s) in question to legal action.

A report of that post, instead of spurring moderator action, ended in an email to me suggesting that I cannot have it "both ways"; I cannot both leave and expect the Rules to apply.

Interesting times indeed.

By all means, tease away.  Stop your teasing short of intentional libel, though.  Or publicly encouraging actionable behaviour.  And if you are intending on committing libel, be a little smarter than this.  Don't publicly announce it.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

(Shameless Plug)

P is for Poetry in the Tomb of Horrors (Spoiler Alert!)

Perhaps the most famous riddle in Dungeons & Dragons is Gary Gygax’s riddle poem in Area 3 of the Tomb of Horrors.  Yet it seems that some folks find this riddle a bit difficult to parse.


If you don’t want to read spoilers, skip this post!

Okay, then.  If you’re still with us…..I give you the riddle/poem:

Go back to the tormentor or through the arch,
and the second great hall you’ll discover.
Shun green if you can, but night’s good color
is for those of great valor.
If shades of red stand for blood the wise
will not need sacrifice aught but a loop of
magical metal - you’re well along your march.
Two pits along the way will be found to lead
to a fortuitous fall, so check the wall.
These keys and those are most important of all,
and beware of trembling hands and what will maul.
If you find the false you find the true
and into the columned hall you’ll come,
and there the throne that’s key and keyed.
The iron men of visage grim do more than
meets the viewer’s eye.
You’ve left and left and found my Tomb
and now your soul will die.

To get through the Tomb of Horrors, you need to proceed from Area 3, reach Area 10, and then reach the following Areas (in order):  14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 28, 30, 32, and 33.  It is useful to gain the gem of seeing from Area 11, and the gems in Area 8 help with that.  Note that no area which one does not need to traverse is actually described in the poem; it is not a key to all of the Tomb, but merely to the “correct” path.  Not only that, but the clues to the correct path are given in the order that they are likely to be needed.

Obviously, there will be even more spoilers in this post.  If you don’t want to read them, skip the post.

With this in mind, let us examine Mr. Gygax’s riddle.

Go back to the tormentor or through the arch,
and the second great hall you’ll discover.

This refers to the image of the torture chamber (‘the tormentor”) in Area 3A and the arch at Area 5.  The second great hall is Area 10. 

Shun green if you can, but night’s good color
is for those of great valor.

This refers to the Face of the Great Green Devil (Area 6) and the black sphere in Area 10, which leads to a crawlway that proceeds to Area 14.  [N]ight’s good color” is black, but it is not the dead black of the Green Devil, and the whole area of the Great Green Devil radiates evil.

In Area 3, characters must determine how to use the Arch to be successful.  As a character approaches the Arch, the base stones glow yellow on the left, orange on the right, and the keystone glows blue. 

According to the module text, “There is a misty veil across the archway, and nothing will cause the vapors to clear, nor will any sort of magic allow sight into the area, until the glowing stones are pressed in the proper sequence - YELLOW, BLUE, ORANGE.  If this sequence is pressed, the vapors disappear, and the path appears to go eastwards.”

If the archway is entered before the mist is cleared, characters doing so are instantly teleported to the Forsaken Prison (Area 7).  If the characters succeed in figuring out the sequence, they are teleported to Area 11 if on the path, and back to Area 3 if off the path.  (As a side note, it is suggested that it will require two characters to move the three levers at the same time, but a clever player can find ways around this.)

There are only six possible combinations of pressing stones (if the players think of this, and press each stone only once):  YBO, YOB, OYB, OBY, BYO, and BOY.  There is no clue to the order needed.  However, attempting such a minimal number of combinations makes this way more than possible.

However, given the difficulty of figuring out both the order needed, and realizing that the PCs need to walk on the path, many players are likely to try the Tormenter, and thus manage to gain passage to Area 8.  In Area 8, they gain ten gems (useful for Area 11) and gain another riddle:  Look low and high for gold, to hear a tale untold. The archway at the end, and on your way you’ll wend.

This riddle is somewhat nasty, but it serves to alert characters that pass through the Tormenter without using the Arch to examine the gold sphere that leads to Area 11.  In Area 11 there is a hidden gem of seeing, that can be gained by sacrificing the ten gems from Area 8.  It is difficult, but not impossible, to attain Area 14 and bypass Area 17 without acquiring this gem.

Moreover, the area immediately beyond is difficult enough to turn most parties back to the Arch.  In this case, characters move from one gargoyle (Area 8) to another (Area 11) in very short order.

Characters who pass through the Archway at Area 10A (The archway at the end, and on your way you’ll wend) find themselves back at the start, totally nude, with their goods and items teleported to Area 33.  on your way you’ll wend” means “you’ll be leaving” in this instance, and it seems very likely that characters will be leaving if they pass through this arch.  If a character passes through the arch while carrying the gem of seeing gained in Area 11, the entire group is in trouble.

On the other hand, there is no way to make the mists in this archway disappear…and characters that have experience with Area 5 are likely to look for another way.  This is nasty, but not unfair.  Nor is the character so dealt with slain.

The “tale left untold” may refer to Area 14 (which raises questions about the demi-lich in life) or it may be a clue that the gem of seeing is used to find “untold” information.  Or it may be both.  This is the only riddle in the Tomb that I personally find to be somewhat opaque.

On the other hand, “night’s good color/is for those of great valor” is very clear indeed!  In my experience, it takes quite a bit of courage for players to consign their PCs to the long crawlspace leading to Area 14.  However, this is the correct course of action, exactly as the opening riddle/poem describes.

The red sphere in Area 10 leads to Area 13, where characters can gain a magic ring (if they need one.  Thus the next lines:

If shades of red stand for blood the wise
will not need sacrifice aught but a loop of
magical metal - you’re well along your march.

Any characters who reach Area 14 have (hopefully) learned not to step through just any archway they discover.  On the other hand, they can find a small slot with an ornate letter “A” traced faintly above it.  A magic ring (a loop of magical metal) sacrificed here opens Area 15.  This “A” should be known to the characters as the sigil of Acererak.

At this point the characters really are well along their march!

Two pits along the way will be found to lead
to a fortuitous fall, so check the wall.

The next challenge the PCs face is to find a door at the bottom of a pit, and these lines give a (perhaps needed) clue.  There are two pits along the way because a pit in Area 3 also has a secret door.  It is also a clue to consider the Tomb in terms of three dimensions – necessary to find the secret trapdoor in Area 23.  By the time characters reach Area 23, though, the players should be well aware that they need to consider what might be above or below a particular floor.

Once you have passed the door after “a fortuitous fall”, you need to “check the wall” for Area 17, which leads to the demi-lich.  Characters who fail to do so pass to Area 18, the False Crypt…and probably end up fleeing the module with some modest treasure.

These keys and those are most important of all,

Refers to both the riddle, and the keys found in Areas 19 and 28 (as well as the scepter in Area 25D).  They are the most important of all because (1) it should be very difficult (if not impossible) to succeed without the keys, and (2) the next lines refer to what may be the two most difficult areas in the Tomb other than Acererak himself.

and beware of trembling hands and what will maul.

Refers to the Agitated Chamber (Area 21) and the Juggernaut (Area 23A).  Failing to pay attention to those keys will, indeed, kill you.

This is harder to parse than most of the poem because, while the players should determine that they might need “keys”, what the “trembling hands” are is not given, nor “what will maul”.  Clever players should be able to realize that their hands will be unsteady on the unsteady flooring of Area 21.  The real danger in this room is that the tapestries will be torn…and that danger can be eliminated by having steady hands resulting from dealing with the floor.  The characters will probably be aware of the floor’s motion before they have a chance to use their “trembling hands” on the tapestries.

On the other hand, characters that discover what “what will maul” is probably going to die, because they failed to fully solve Area 23.

If you find the false you find the true
and into the columned hall you’ll come,
and there the throne that’s key and keyed.

This refers to the False/True Door in Area 23, and is a clue to look for the true door where you find the false.  Of course, there is no direct clue to then look for a secret trap door, but a wary party should still have a charge or two left on the gem of seeing.  By this point, the group will have encountered two areas (the door to Area 14, and the secret door at Area 17) that require the gem, and a few areas where things are not as they seem.

The “columned hall” is Area 25 (as should be obvious to most players once they reach it), and there discover the throne that is both the key (via the scepter) and keyed (as the passage), leading them to Area 28 and 29.  The group should discover, at small cost, that the scepter is again the key, and thus into the False Treasure Room (Area 30).  Trying to remove the crown may have a greater cost, however.

The iron men of visage grim do more than
meets the viewer’s eye.

These lines tell the characters to examine the iron statues, which in turn leads them to Area 32.  It is likely that the players will first imagine them to be iron golems, but, when they do not attack, they are likely to be examined more carefully.

You’ve left and left and found my Tomb

Once you have left the room with the iron men, you look to the left, where you find a secret door (Area 32) leading directly to the actual Tomb (Area 33).  The alternative is to turn to the right and continue down the passage.

and now your soul will die.

Describes the demi-lich’s modus operandi to a T. 

It is not at all certain that Acererak is meant to be defeated.  Leaving him alone – both his shade and his skull – works, however.  Acererak has no interest in leaving you any particular clue as to how to defeat him, though.  He just wants tough, brave, and resourceful individuals to have their souls sucked by him, fuelling his undead life force as his soul explores strange planes.

Making use of the information provided in the poem, the gem of seeing, and the judicious use of divination magic, a thinking group should be able to successfully reach Area 33.  This doesn’t mean that they can defeat the demi-lich, of course, but a group that is both cautious and clever should be able to either discover the means to defeat Acererak, or, more probably, be wise enough to glean most of the treasure before leaving the demi-lich well alone.

Tomb of Horrors is described as a “thinking person’s module”, and it deserves this description.  Clever players will think of ways around the challenges that the module presents that are not included in the text.  The module is difficult, yes, but not unfairly so.  Failure to meet the Tomb’s challenges occurs, of course, but that should not be taken as a failure of the module to be fair.

Likewise, although the module has been much-maligned as being “unbeatable”, people have beaten it.  Likewise, I have heard complaints that the poem provides no clues until “after the fact” (or if one has the knowledge of the Game Master), but to the contrary people have parsed out the poem (as a whole or in part) and made use of the clues thus provided.

The poem is not quite a walk-through, but it is close enough that thinking persons can, indeed, do very well in the Tomb of Horrors.

Friday 12 August 2011

O is for Objectives (Part 2)

If one problem with Adventure Path play is that the Game Master may block the players in setting objectives for their characters, the reverse problem can occur in sandbox play.  The players are left struggling to find an objective, with little or no input from the Game Master.  Both of these two extremes are to be avoided.

Within a sandbox campaign, the Game Master should be guiding the players toward potential objectives, without actually choosing objectives for them.   This is actually far easier than it might sound.

Within a game like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, for example, players tend to be motivated by a few common things:  A big treasure, a powerful item, an intriguing puzzle, some prize to gain, some ally to help, some enemy to thwart. 

Assuming a reasonably developed campaign area, it is fairly easy to place rumours about all of these things.  There’s a ruby the size of a man’s heart, it is said, in the Tower of the Elephant.  Danger abounds in the ruins under Zenopus’ tower, although some have come out with bright gold and gems for their troubles.  Mercenary companies looking for plunder and titles flock to the banners of Robb Stark and Tywin Lannister in these troubled times.

Implied threats raise potential objectives as well.  The wildlings have come over the Wall, and are raiding the North.  Evil humanoids spew forth from the Caves of Chaos to threaten the nearby Keep.  Folk bar their doors at night in fear of a creature that stalks the city streets. 

If these things happen one at a time, then the Game Master is choosing the objectives for the players.  If they happen all at once, the players must choose.  Do we explore the ruins, or do we deal with the wildlings?  Both choices have potential consequences, which will change the context of the campaign area.  Perhaps while the PCs explore Zenopus’ dungeons, another group stops the wildling raids, and gains glory for themselves.  Or, perhaps, no one does, and the wildlings become a larger threat.

What’s the most important thing right now?  The players must decide.  How are we going to deal with it?  Again, the players must decide.  An objective is set.

The objectives of an initial adventure/play session are especially important.  Even in a sandbox game, the Game Master must provide the players with a strong initial objective.  If they discard it, and pursue an objective of their own, that’s great.  If they don’t have one of their own, though, providing an objective gives the players an interesting game while providing the Game Master ample opportunity to seed each session with hooks and rumours to allow the players to choose their own goals. 

By the time the initial objective has been met, the players should know enough about the setting to be eager to pursue at least two or three other objectives of their own.  They know of ruins they may wish to explore, prizes they may wish to obtain, and threats they may either deal with or avoid.

Throw into this mix two important types of NPCs:  The Ally and the Enemy.

The Ally is a character that the players actually like.  The Ally provides backup, council, discounted merchandise, spell support, etc.  The Ally doesn’t travel with the players; the players must come to her.  In some cases, the Ally is not available, because she has a life of her own.  In some cases, the Ally asks the PCs for aid….But, generally speaking, the Ally is of benefit to the PCs, giving them more than she asks in return.  An Ally is an asset.

Elrond and Beorn in The Hobbit are good examples of Ally characters.  Simply reaching them can be an objective.  Likewise, the Eagles of the Misty Mountains are Allies of Gandalf, repaying him for an earlier kindness.  Inclusion of Ally characters is important, because it gives players a motive for such a kindness…and it prevents players from treating every NPC like an Enemy.

The flip side of the Ally is the Enemy.  The Enemy is not necessarily the Big Bad Evil Guy of the campaign setting, and he is not necessarily someone that the players can deal with by means of combat.  Properly used, the Enemy can last for many campaign sessions, with many reversals where the PCs sometimes defeat the Enemy, and the Enemy sometimes defeats them.  An Enemy can be an officious little man with political power – like a tax collector or a customs inspector.  An Enemy can be a rival adventurer who is friendly to the PCs, but tries to beat them to every prize.  An Enemy can be an individual or an organization.

In my current game, a clan of vampires controls the organized crime in the city of Ravenglass.  One of the PCs, in an attempt to glean information about an unrelated manner, started beating up members of the vampires’ organization.  So, the vampires took notice, becoming an Enemy.  Since then, the PCs have defeated them in combat, been jailed as a result of a vampire charming a city watchman, had their home infiltrated (and a staff that could cast daylight stolen), met one of the vampires at a social function honouring two of the PCs, had dinner with a vampire, considered eradicating them, and considered converting them to Allies.

No player ever hates a creature that is truly dealt with when first encountered the way that the player will hate a creature who dances a long dance of many encounters before its final defeat.  Nor does any player ever offer a “one shot” creature the grudging respect that eventually is accorded a long-term adversary.

As another example, I once played a swashbuckler character in a 2nd Edition AD&D campaign.  The DM at the time, Jesse, included an encounter with another swashbuckler.  We dueled, and I lost.  Rather than have the NPC kill me, the DM had the NPC take pity on me, relieve me of my blade, and leave me alive.  Needless to say, I had a great desire to meet that NPC again, defeat him, and leave him alive with my pity.

It is the back-and-forth of repeated encounters, that fail to resolve a rivalry, that gives added emphasis to an Enemy.  This is one of the major reasons why Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was so effective, while Star Trek: Nemesis falls so flat.  I have seen players shift their course 180 degrees if a chance to deal with an effective long-term Enemy presented itself.

These things together:  Allies, Enemies, Prizes to be won, Threats to counter….mix them well, salt the game setting with them, and it is easy for players to have objectives.  What becomes difficult (and interesting) is choosing which among them are the most important to deal with right now.

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, a persistent location where adventuring is known to be had – such as a megadungeon – supplies an option when nothing else “feels right”.   Obviously, this could also be a stretch of wilderness, a bad part of town, an arena, or anything else that is “always in play” when the players want to take their characters there.

Taken together – along with a healthy dose of encouraging & empowering your players to set objectives – these things ensure that your players will be winnowing through their options instead of seeking desperately for “the plot”. 

And if you do hear “Now what are we supposed to do?”, it’ll be because the PCs are in a jam and haven’t found a way out, rather than because they are sitting at an inn and haven’t found a way into the campaign milieu.

Good gaming!

Thursday 11 August 2011

O is for Objectives (Part 1)

“Now what are we supposed to do?” they ask.  And then they sit there, staring across the table, waiting for you to give them some quest, some purpose.  Or perhaps they say, “If we sit here long enough, something’s bound to happen.  The plot will come to us.

Gods of Gaming, protect us from those players, spoon-fed from years of so-called “Adventure Paths”, who only know how to react to what the Game Master tells them is their quest, jumping through whatever hoops the GM may provide like so many trained seals.  I am reminded of an experiment where researchers put food beyond a fence.  There was a trick by which the subjects – wolves, coyotes, and domesticated dogs – could open the gate and get to the food.  By and large, the wild canines quickly parsed it out, and got their reward.  The domesticated dogs?  They whined at the gate and waited for Master to open it for them.

Now, some Game Masters prefer domesticated dogs.  They might have only the third adventure of War of the Burning Sky prepared, and, come hell or high water, that is what tonight’s game will be.  And that’s fine, sometimes, and,  for some, all of the time.  Others would like their players to be a little bit more proactive. 

The key to proactive players is to empower them to, and reward them for, setting objectives.

Such a little thing to do.  Such an obvious thing to do.  And, more and more often as the years go by, such an uncommon thing to do.

Empowering your players to set objectives means that, sometimes, you will not be able to rely on materials written by others.  To put it bluntly, it means that the players don’t have to follow a plot you lay down; they literally “choose their own adventure”.  It might mean that some materials you’ve prepared don’t get used right now.  Perhaps not ever.  It might mean that they choose not to pursue the BBEG, and his schemes – whatever they may be – come to fruition.  Meanwhile, you’re left trying to decide how to deal with your fighter’s romantic advances toward Lady Stark.

For example, imagine that you have decided to run Savage Tide.  But the players don’t “buy in”.  They simply are not interested in sailing toward the Isle of Dread.  They leave their patron’s service.  They would rather find out where the bullywugs came from, or visit Cauldron after hearing about the events which happened there.  The big problem with “The World Will End Unless the PCs Do X” is that the players might rather have their characters do Y.  This goes back to the “C is for Choices, Context, and Consequence” blogs in this series – a Game Master should never set a consequence of failure that he or she is unwilling to accept having to actually play out in-game.

On the other hand, we can have a sandbox game where players can do anything – but cannot think of anything worth doing.  Characters end up sitting in a taproom somewhere, waiting for something…anything…to happen.

One of the keys to running a good game is to allow the players to choose their own objectives.  If one is running an “Adventure Path”, this means either getting the players to buy into the objectives the path lays out for them.  If one is running a sandbox, this means ensuring that there are always obvious objectives that the players can make their own.

Sunday 7 August 2011

N is for Appendix

As in Appendix N.  And if you don’t know what I am referring to, it is a list of “Inspirational and Educational Reading” in the back of the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.  It is also the stated inspiration for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics Role-Playing Game.

Now, it is a fact that there are works in Gary Gygax’s list that I’ve never read.  And it is a fact that, were I making a similar list, there are things that were not included in the DMG list that would be included in mine.  But, in the case where Mr. Gygax’s recommended reading overlaps with mine, I can clearly see the influence on Dungeons & Dragons…not only in content, but in tone as well.

Many times, when I am reading posts (like those in a recent thread on the Tomb of Horrors), where one or more posters seems to have no idea how to deal with the material presented, I imagine that this lack comes from not having read Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack Vance, or Fritz Leiber.  Because the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG so firmly brings these (and others!) to mind when reading its text, I have found it the most enjoyable reading of any RPG product I’ve come across in a long, long time.

I recently had a chance to play through the first of two playtest adventures released by Goodman Games for Free Role-Playing Game Day 2011, and I’d like to share some thoughts.

First off, it was really fun to create random characters.  In fact, it was far more fun than simply crafting a character to do exactly what you wanted.  Low rolls, I was reminded, are as much fun as high rolls.  The random backgrounds, because they affect starting equipment and what “skills” a character has, turn out to be fun, too.  It was cool to have a gravedigger and a couple of farmers enter a dangerous area in search of adventure.  It was exceedingly cool to see the players try to use the odd bits of equipment they had gained through the character generation process to try to circumvent reliance on combat.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I had only two playtesters, each with seven characters.  The playtesters were my son and my oldest daughter.  And they were cunning.  Rather than leaving with 1-2 character each, they managed to avoid damage repeatedly, and instead lost only 2-3 characters each.  And, sadly, there were neither critical hits nor fumbles to enliven the evening.  We had all looked at the charts, and were ready for real hilarity.  Instead, you would imagine that those two were veterans of low-level AD&D play (which they are not).  They never dared combat where wits would avail, and they never simply charged in blindly.  I could have upped the strength of creatures considerably and they would still have done all right.

I don’t think that DCC RPG will be able to replace my own home game, but I do intend on buying it, if only for “Inspirational and Educational Reading”, like the Appendix that inspired it.

(I have a lot more to say about Megadungeons, and I will eventually return to that topic.)