Thursday, November 10, 2022

Going On Adventures

As mentioned before, I recently participated in Prince of Nothing’s “No ArtPunk” adventure writing contest…this was the second year for NAP (NAP2!) and I think there’s a lot of positive aspects to it, even besides the charitable aspect (sales of the final book of top entries go to autism research...somewhat amusing given our niche market). 

Design/writing is design/writing and such things are good practice. That’s why I do it. There is also the shared “think tank” of reviews, feedback, and analysis hashed out in a “public forum” (Prince’s blog) that helps disseminate knowledge and promote certain values with regard to how one “does D&D” (hint: it’s not in the “ArtPunk” fashion, hence the contest’s name). I enjoy participating in this discourse, and lending my Old Geezer perspective to these young bucks. 

Okay. Very nice. Full stop. 

Here’s The Thing: using pre-written, pre-packaged adventure “modules” are a hack approach to playing Dungeons & Dragons, especially if one is playing the Advanced game. 

*sigh*  I’m sure I’ll take flack for this stance. 

"After all, JB, don’t YOU use adventure modules all the time in your game? Haven’t you written upteen numbers of blog posts about how you’ve re-vamped such-and-such adventure to make it work in your world? Don’t you craft dungeons for your own players?

 "Jesus, JB, isn’t this the very example you’ve been modeling for your readers?"

Yes, to all that (perhaps with a caveat or two). And let me be the first to say: I am NOT above reproach and reprimand. 

Dungeons are EASY. Crafting them, running them…they are the low-hanging fruit of D&D gameplay. Building GOOD or BETTER adventures is not as easy, but still: easy. It is D&D at its most simplistic form. And I’ll also add: crafting and running dungeons (i.e. site-based adventures) are skills that all DMs should develop, and skills they can (and will) continue to use, throughout the whole of their gaming lives. 

BUT: these modular, site-based adventures…these dungeons…they are just the first step of gameplay. 

AND: if you ONLY run dungeons (or “adventure modules,” whether written by yourself or someone else), then the campaign you’re running hasn’t yet gotten out of second gear

I apologize if I have, perhaps, led readers on about how to make “good” or “great” adventures, talking about treasure counts and encounter frequency and whatnot. As I’ve written before (more than once) my thoughts on many D&D subjects have evolved over the years. Heck, both my understanding and perception of the game has changed quite a bit. 

Let's see if I can craft a distillation of my paradigm:

An ADVENTURE is: any situation presented to the players that provides some chance of reward while involving commensurate risk, but which may be refused.

That's pretty broad...and it should be. Players and characters come in all shapes and sizes of ability and effectiveness. Breaking into the Iron Fortress of some Arch-Devil to steal McGuffins of Ancient Evil is probably not a good scenario for a new batch of players or low-level characters.

When I was a kid, I started my D&D game the way anyone following the instructions in Moldvay: I drew dungeons, filled them with monsters and traps and treasure, and then ran players through them. When I got my Expert set, I incorporated the tougher monsters and better treasures into my dungeons to accommodate the higher level game play that was occurring. I also made a few (brief) forays into Wilderness (i.e. out-of-the-dungeon) adventures, mainly using the module X1: Isle of Dread as a guide.

The hex-crawling never held much appeal for me: what is hex-crawling but tracking movement (often random movement due to high chances of getting lost) while rolling for random encounters until the party stumbles blindly into some set piece encounter? That's not "adventure" in the way I define the term.

THAT being said, just traveling from one place to another IS an adventure. Forget the whole idea of "hex-crawling" for a moment (and its associated game mechanics). Unless you (DM) are dead set on basing your entire campaign within an enormous, never ending "megadungeon," at some point your players will be traveling from one place in the imaginary world to another.

This travel...this space between dungeons...this IS "adventure," and the next tier in one's DMing ability.

"Wait, wait! What? You just said hex crawls aren't adventures!" Yeah, I did. I also said forget hex crawls for a moment. Let me explain:

Players (PCs, adventurers) don't just wander without purpose. Or, rather, they shouldn't wander without purpose. They have reasons to go places. They are (imaginary) people...not migratory birds. Put yourselves in their iron-shod boots for a moment: our party has just finished scouring the entirety of the local dungeon/bandit hideout/goblin den. Is it reasonable to buy a week's worth of food and then just "set off" into the wilderness, expecting challenge and reward to find us?

As is the answer to most rhetorical questions (as my old humanities professor would say): "NO!" with a small chuckle.

People don't do that. Well, maybe suicidal imbeciles. But most rational folks (adventurous or not) wouldn't. Even in our real world...depressingly devoid of unicorns and dragons...grabbing your napsack and marching off-road into the wilderness is a bad idea. No, I don't care if you were trained as scout-sniper for the USMC. I've known such individuals (and played D&D with them) and, no, they're not that stupid.

Destination. Purpose. These are things rational individuals have. "Adventure" is what happens on the way.

When I started playing AD&D "for realz" (circa age 12-13), it was with the near total abandonment of the dungeon or "static adventure site." Instead, we explored the world in which our characters resided. It was a fantasy world, created from whole cloth by the DM, but the map (not a hex map) had quite a bit of "blank space" to it. As we travelled from destination to destination, having adventures, our characters grew in both knowledge and experience...just as we players grew in knowledge and experience. And the map ended up having fewer blank spaces.

Dungeons were still run. I ran Tsojcanth, Forbidden City, an assassins guild of my own creation, and (towards the end) the Demonwebs. My co-DM ran Ravenloft (I wasn't present for that), one or two homemades, maybe a couple from Dragon, maybe some stuff ripped out of Castle Greyhawk. But those were few and far between. Our adventures were mainly composed the things that happened on the road, interactions we had and relationships we built with various NPCs, scrapes and shenanigans we might get into in larger towns. 

Granted, our world was the work of amateurs. It had all the trappings of vanilla fantasy of the pseudo-medieval European variety (i.e. "D&D-esque"). But it had no history (that we ever wrote) or imbedded politics. The "factions" and "powers" that came into being all developed in play: Machiavellian nobles, benevolent kings, shady assassins, friendly archdruids. Ours was a developed world and rather densely populated (mostly with humans) had to travel long distances (often via flying mount) to get to anything like "true wilderness." Such travel was exceptionally dangerous...far away from civilized lands, communities where you might find food/shelter were sparse (if present at all), and you were more likely to wander into a pack of trolls than anything resembling "friendly NPCs." You didn't just wander into that shit without purpose...and even if you did, you better make damn sure you have a means of provisioning yourselves and (hopefully) a ranger or barbarian type to keep you from getting hopelessly lost.

Roads. Roads were important. Stepping off the road was as perilous as in Tolkien's Mirkwood.

Back in civilization, things were far easier. Business folks (shopkeepers, innkeepers) weren't apt to stab one in the back or slip you sleeping potions because they were doing business. PCs had to look for work because the money found would (eventually) run out. But there were always local issues that needed dealing with...the average NPC was busy with their daily lives. I don't recollect a single time that PCs were hired by a wizard at a tavern, or offered a treasure map by some shady, cloaked figure; those things just didn't happen! What was MORE usual was getting into a bar fight...perhaps over a lady...someone getting beaten and/or killed and then getting in trouble with Johnny Law. More than a couple jail breaks. 

Often time, destinations were suggested by rumors heard in one community. "Such-and-such king is holding a contest/tournament," or "Baron So-and-So has a Problem." Smelling opportunity, the PCs would pack their bags and set off to the next place, picking up other PCs along the way. As they grew in level, they also grew in reputation, and many of the characters became their own "factions" with their own agendas. A patriarch built his castle and started attracting zealots. A wizard built his tower and pursued his own magical research. A bard wooed the most beautiful woman in the land...and incited the vengeful jealousy of multiple powerful figures.

And because of those agendas, new destinations were chosen, and new adventures were had.

See, here's the thing...the real deal, the dirty secret...about D&D: the game doesn't really start until you've come out of the dungeon. People talk about "endgames" and "dominion play," but they are speaking of superficialities with only a partial understanding of the game's potential. 

When properly engaged with the game, the participants are taking part in an act of creation...of world creation. They are crafting their own Silmarillion, penning their own stories, writing their own histories, building and enriching the fantasy environment. That is what "campaign play" is, at its highest form. And it is a near equal partnership between the players and the DM(s). The DMs may be setting the starting geography, but it is the players' interaction with that geography that gives the world "life."

[of course, little prevents D&D players from doing their own landscape work: founding towns, building castles, digging dungeons (and populating them with summoned monsters, traps, and treasure), felling forests...even raising mountains is possible with the right magic spells! Literal world building exists as a distinct possibility for the enterprising player, even when NOT acting as DM] adventure design, i.e. dungeon writing, is a piece of the DM's work, a tool every DM should have in his/her toolbox. But that's just the elementary level of game play. The next, higher, level is world building, a much taller order. But it's only with a properly built world (or the beginnings of a properly built world) that one can start to build true adventures based on meaningful context. That is to say:

situations that provide some chance of reward involving commensurate risk

...any of which can be refused by the players.

[the refusal part is important. Might need to write a separate post about that]

These days, I'm building my own campaign world in a less amateurish fashion, though it's tough without the creative partnership I had in the past (my old co-DM doesn't game anymore, so far as I know. Her business these days is coaching struggling writers to finish their novels). On the other hand, I have a lovely crutch in the form of a real world map (the Pacific Northwest) with real world climate, resources, population centers, etc. and an existing history that I can twist and turn to my own ends. Makes the running of the world rather easy which, in turn, frees up an enormous amount of time that I can use to develop profitable, dangerous scenarios. Me shoe-horning in various adventure modules (Ravenloft, The Sentinel, Hommlet, etc.) is admittedly lazy on my part...but players like dungeons and they remain an integral part of the game.

They're just not the entirety of the game. 

All right. That's probably enough for now. Not sure how this one is going to land with folks, but at least I got something down for a Thursday morning post. I have a couple follow-ups planned that piggyback on the subject, but comments, questions, and feedback would be appreciated...especially disputes or calls for clarification. Thanks!


  1. So.

    I find I get the same reaction when I give this speech. If it wasn't that my players get such a kick out of doing exactly as you suggest, JB, I might think I was going crazy to feel this way. Personally, I've come increasingly to the conclusion that it's not that people resist the idea, it's that it sounds like the expectation that they're going to build a rocket and fly it to the moon.

    "Sounds great, JB ... but how?"

    1. That’s the next post.
      ; )

      Yeah, you know I didn’t always feel this way, even though the evidence (from my youth!) was there, even though you’ve been writing much the same thing for YEARS. But I had to get to my conclusion in a roundabout progression of logic…also, several of your later posts (like the need for commitment and the need to evolve our game to our own maturity level) were key concepts I needed to realize/understand.

  2. Altbough I disagree that dungeons only represent basic play, I agree that the best part of play is the world building that naturally occurs as PCs mess around in the sandbox .
    A mega dungeon with factions, rival adventuring parties, and links to the campaign world can also create the same opportunities.

    By the way, there is a reason the treasure tables create such a large number of treasure maps. They drive expansion and give the motivations to travel. They also provide meaningful choices, which along with joint world building, is the core of higher quality rpg play imho,

    Of course as long as everybody has fun, who cares.

    1. Wellll...I think we SHOULD care. I know *I* do.
      ; )

      Just in case it wasn't clear: "Basic" doesn't necessarily equal "Bad." It just means "basic," which (per my internet search) is defined as:

      forming an essential foundation or starting point; fundamental

      FUNDAMENTAL. As in "necessary." Plus you can't spell fundamental without "fun," right?

      But it's not the endpoint of play.

      [megadungeons are their own can of worms]

      RE Treasure Maps

      I think you're giving them more credit than they're worth. In OD&D, the implication (from my reading) is that they lead to a treasure in the dungeon being explored. This is EXPLICIT in the Moldvay basic rules:

      "A treasure map should be made by the DM in advance, and should show the location of some treasure hoard in the dungeon."

      While the Cook/Marsh expert rules adds "either in the dungeon or wilderness" there is no stipulation as to how far away such a hoard is, no admonition to world build based on this. It is also fair to point out that while OD&D has a large number of treasure maps (25% of ANY magic items found), this drops considerably in B/X (7.5%). You're more than four times more likely to find some of magic armament which only really lends itself to ONE meaningful choice (combat).

      In the AD&D DMG, Gygax distinguishes between maps found in a dungeon (always leading to a location in the dungeon) and a wilderness (the vast majority of which lead to a very near location if not a "labyrinth of caves found in the lair").

      The DMG drops the chance of such a map being found down to 10% but BY EXAMPLE (i.e. in reviewing published 1E adventure modules), such maps seem far more sparse than 1-in-10.

      So, no...I don't think they really "drive expansion" nor provide a reliable "motivation for travel."

    2. Treasure maps - I do agree that their prevalence has diminished over time. This is a pity as my experience with treasure maps has been excellent. I used them to motivate pcs to find out more about the world:

      1) an ancient letter to a mystical master with info on how a city was laid to ruin, details on how an empire crumbled, and led to an ancient library in a flooded and ruined city.

      2)ancient talking lizardman skull that led party to its home, an ancient crypt deep in the woods, providing hints on the once great Altrusian civilization ( smart lizards) driven by Crystal magic.

      3) A map leading the party to a secret treasure room deep in a mega dungeon, providing drive for the pcs to inquire about the history of it writers, and pushing them deeper than they had previously dared to go.

      These are just few examples. They set into motion a number of events that helped drive and shape the campaign world and how the pcs fit into it.

      They also can provide non adventure site based if the players desire.

  3. As Jojodogboy says the main point is to have fun and it's hard for me to believe that the quality of fun that my players might get from me running B1 or G1 versus something I've brewed myself is going to be less. That's not going to be the case for all modules of course and as Bryce, Melan and PoN blogs illustrate there's huge quantities of dross out there.

    Moldvay and Cook both give some sound if basic advice on setting up dungeons and wilderness adventures but what I think was missing from TSR's product line up was a proper guide to helping you prepare your own adventures and be a better designer and perhaps more crucially, presenter of dungeons and adventures more generally.

    On hexcrawls I understand your point, but I do think that it is rare that anyone plays in the random, drunk man walk that you criticise. Cook's example of a wilderness adventure is clear that the journey needs to have a purpose and that appropriate resources and guides are required. My view is that hexcrawls still require a purpose and the famous real life adventurers such as Marco Polo or the Renaissance explorers in search of India had a definite purpose. For D&D the goal might be as simple as finding out whether the part of the map which says "here be dragons" actually does have them, or it might be more quest like "find the fountain of youth". The truth of whether the dragons or the fountain exist doesn't need to be decided by the DM for some time at all, the party could journey all over looking for clues but not actually find their goal. This sort of hexcrawling is sort of episodic with each week's session having a slightly different adventure either thought up by the DM or procedurally generated a few weeks in advance.

    For campaign play, I've tried to have at least three dungeon options for the party when they set out, and a vague idea of some NPCs and what their motives might be and take it from there. I have to hold my hands up here and say that I like to play with random generators for both dungeons and wilderness adventures to see what comes up. I've recently had fun with the adventure generator in Mausritter and just rolling the dice several times to see what comes up.

    1. I'll reply to myself. The ever-interesting Melan said something similar about adventures. He called it tapestry versus mosaic type design. Like yourself he calls out false sandboxes where the party loses purpose or doesn't have one.


    2. Thanks for the comment, Jacob. Your main point of disagreement seems to be this (correct me if I'm wrong):

      "...the main point is to have fun and it's hard for me to believe that the quality of fun that my players might get from me running B1 or G1 versus something I've brewed myself is going to be less."

      I'm not saying dungeons (i.e. "site based adventures") aren't fun. They are. Whether you run your own or something someone else has written. I'm really not trying a line of distinction based on quality of the dungeon.

      I'm drawing a line between site-based adventures IN GENERAL...and non-site based adventures. However (and I'm just now starting to see the immensity of the challenge here), I'm starting to grasp that this is a really, REALLY tricky concept to get across.

      If I said:

      "There's more to D&D play than dungeon-crawling...and THAT "more" is better and more fun."

      Maybe that would be the thing to raise antennas (and hackles).

      Please note: I'm not talking about the joy of play-acting in character or about "hex-crawling" (random or not). Hell, I'm not even talking about "playing in a sandbox."

      Yeah. It's a tricky subject.

      Consider this post (I suppose) just a preamble. Apologies.

    3. Just finished the Melan essay. Good. What he calls a "mosaic box" is not really a fit for my definition of an adventure: rather, they are setting supplements ripe with potential.

      The main problem with such boxes, however, is that they are not connected to the world building exercise of the DM. Adventure modules ("tapestries") can be fitted...sometimes with difficulty...into most campaigns. BUT: how does a thieves guild interact with a community? How does an island interact with the politics/economy of the nations already on the map? How does the Underdark change the scope and definition of a campaign's underworld?

      Random toolbox play is not, in the end, a satisfying substitute for strong world building. Advanced adventure design hinges on the latter.

      But I'll get to that (hopefully in my next post). It's kind of stupid for me to keep saying "yes, here's what you should think" without explaining why.

    4. I'm lost, probably because I tend to read your blog on my phone, so I'll have to wait for the next post. :-)

    5. From being lost on Friday night (my reply above), I've figured out what I think you are trying to say.

      I think your point is that the scope for adventures is much bigger than the dungeon itself and that then requires the DM to define what those adventures might be - their objectives, structures, interactions, NPC, and sources of jeopardy. So I agree with your point about "Random toolbox play is not, in the end, a satisfying substitute for strong world building. Advanced adventure design hinges on the latter." but would suggest that random toolboxes (eg: the wilderness encounter charts in the DMG) offer seeds through which the DM can develop their world with objectives, structures, interactions, NPC and jeopardy. The important point is that the DM has to do most of the rolling well before the sessions and put the seeds into appropriate compost and add water & sunlight :-)

  4. I'd like to throw in here on the "mosaic" module or any other.

    I'm a player in your world. I'd like to acquire some land near some hilly or mountainous country, so I can start a farm while pursuing prospecting in the hills. Ultimately, I'd like to bring in some peasants as settlers, set up a foundry with metals I find, and in the meanwhile import animals to begin a trade in leather and foodstuffs.

    I'm more than willing to slaughter and kill off the usual array of creatures and monsters that already populate the land, and then establish outposts on my perimeter to kill off newcomers. But here's the thing ...

    I don't want YOU, the DM, interrupting my FUN with a bunch of cheap contrived B-movie plot module shit. I'd like it if you'd create scenarios in which I negotiate with other authorities and power-brokers, making alliances, using my band of merry men to wage war and collect plunder from abroad, as I choose to do it. I'd like you, as DM, not to meddle in my fun. I'd like you to have a world that's rational, believable, and not modulated by YOUR need to stick your finger in my pie.

    1. That's an interesting set of demands for a player to make of the DM. It is a great set of objectives for a player to have for their PC at name level and above.

      I'd probably enjoy it myself as a player, but there's several comments that I'd make as a DM:

      1 - It is centred on individual PC rather than the party. The whole party would have to buy into the same end goal of power and wealth. Inter-player rivalry and the risk of PvP conflict seems high. I personally view D&D and rpg more generally as very much a team game. I can't see how there's much opportunity for the social interaction side between players (which for me is where a lot of the fun comes from) in the situation you describe.
      2 - it reminds me of what I've read about Dave Wesley's Braunstein game and the origins of Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game. Players played strong PC with domains/power, mass combat and resource management. However, I'd point out that those players eventually found their fun in the dungeon and gave us the game that we all know and love.
      3 - OD&D, D&D and AD&D don't have rules for managing domains. OA has some rules for events generation at various levels, but I think that these are less well defined than those that appear in the Bushido's referee's book.
      4 - "rational, believable". When I read through the wilderness encounter tables for AD&D and D&D then that's not the game I see. Pendragon and Chivalry & Sorcery are perhaps more suited to that.
      5 - It requires a lot of time commitment from the DM, much more than the players would need to put in. From your post above the DM would need to develop economic systems for prospecting, processing and production of ore. Same for metalworking and animal husbandry. If three or four players all have different objectives of what their domain will pursue then the DM's work goes up in a linear fashion. Adventures with the party at the centre or separate but in the same location requires far less commitment on the DM.
      6 - All of that commitment by the DM to generate systems to provide the sort of rational and believable campaign world that you are after would be better spent coding it up and selling it to the masses as a game rather like Sid Meier's Civilisation.

    2. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

      Why do I have to wait until name level? I'm sentient at 1st, aren't I?

      It's not individual-centered if the party agrees on a plan and works together. You've made a huge assumption there. It's not your place to decide how the party organises itself. Leave that to us.

      I have been playing for 43 years and I guarantee I'm not going to end up finding my "fun" in your dungeon. And once the other players discover what we can do without shackles, they won't either.

      They don't have rules for managing domains? TOO BAD. Make some. Get off your butt. This is what our characters want.

      I didn't say anything about the kind of game you want to see. This is the game I want to see. I am the player. DM me, not you.

      Oh, I'm sorry about your time commitment. Sure is tough to be you.

      Um, D&D is a better game and isn't limited by my imagination to the simplifications offered by Civ IV.

      Face it. You don't know How to Run D&D. Not really. Not beyond the child-version.

    3. Hahaha! My phone was not allowing me to reply to comments yesterday, or I would have thrown in something to soften Alexis's (inevitable) retort.

      [and in all honesty, that's a little softer than I would have expected from Alexis...I'll assume he cut some of the vitriol out of respect for my blog]
      ; )

      @ Jacob72:

      Your perspective is not uncommon or unusual. Your questions/concerns ARE thoughtful...they're just coming from a flawed starting point. I know...I used to think this way, too.

      This will be an overlong comment, but I think addressing each point might be helpful:

      #0: Consider first that you need to start with world building as your priority.

      #1: It's not going to be a selfish, self-centered enterprise for the PC because, if he/she cannot obtain buy-in and cooperation from fellow party members, such objectives are likely to fail. Consider the real world: one person alone cannot pursue such undertakings successfully, unless they already have supreme resources (in terms of capital and connections), something low-level PCs don't have. But it's POSSIBLE for ambitious types working together...if the DM's world is robust enough to handle such things.

      #2: Braunstein is just the starting point, though my understanding is that DW continues to run "Braunstein games," wholly unrelated to dungeons.

      #3: AD&D provides rules and guidelines for running fantasy worlds. We can extrapolate from there using the same methods early wargamers did (i.e. studying hostory, geography, economies, etc.).

      #4: Being rational and believable does not mean a world that's UN-fantastical. Just that it functions in a rational way (given the context) and believable in a way that makes sense to a person of the real world. How does a society act if there are dangerous predators (say, wyverns) in the woods outside town? They take measures to protect themselves just like a rural town would take against grizzly bears or tigers. You just have to give yourself permission to wonder.

      #5: It takes commitment to the process. You're already spending your time on D&D. Alexis has provided an example of what can be done with his trade system, but he's put decades into it as part of his life can't look at it and be daunted, only look at what's possible after years of attending the process.

      #6: For all the wonders of a game like Civ, it is still a closed system and (in the end) "someone else's world." The glory of D&D is that YOU, Mr./Ms. DM are the god of your own world, it is never closed (unless you make it so) and you can refine it and detail it to your heart's content. It will therefore always and ever surpass a simple video game in terms of enjoyment and satisfaction...IF you treat it with the respect that it deserves.
      : )

    4. I expected that I might have to put my tin hat on. All part of weaving the tapestry or rooting about the mosaic box of life.

      Oh boy, I found the replies from yourself and Alexis in my late afternoon just as I was in the kitchen making dinner for the family, and my wife wondered popped her head around the door to check whether the percolations she could overhear were from the cooking or me.sucking my breath.

      Now it's well after 11pm and the Scotch broth for my lunch later this week is burbling away alongside Wednesday's bolognese.

      Having read both replies several times I've concluded that we're probably going to have to disagree on the degree of world building that a DM has to put in to provide a fun and satisfying D&D experience to their players.

      World building can be fun. My entry into the hobby was influenced by the maps in the Hobbit and the campaign maps of WW2 in my Dad's history books. As well as wondering how these places were pronounced (especially Eastern Front ones) I would wonder what the terrain was like, what goes on in these places and what the people did. Peter Fenlon's maps for MERP and the world building detail in the MERP supplements fascinates me and continues to do so. I even try to sketch out fragments of these maps to get a feel for the places.

      But is it necessary that the DM needs to do it in order for the players to have fun?

      I'm of the view that while there are good ways of adventure design and presentation to enhance a DM's technique to deliver fun to the players, there is definitely no single correct way to play the game. That is the case across editions and within editions. I see this as being multiple solutions to the same end goal or result and I hold this to be true probably because I'm an engineer by profession.

      My overarching point from my previous replies (not very clearly made I think) is that a DM has to decide where to allocate their available time between gaming and non-gaming and that the gaming time has to be allocated to those areas which achives the enjoyment goals of the players and DM as a group.

      Assuming the DM and players have a competent knowledge of the rules then
      it seems very likely that the functional relationship between the level of effort that a DM puts into world building and the fun or enjoyment that the players derive from it is not linear. The benefits will likely start off steeply and the DM and players will get good return for a small amount of effort by the DM. However the law of diminishing returns will mean that each extra unit of DM effort (which equates to time for our competent DM) will not deliver the same number of units of fun (a bit like this reply really).

      If the players have a high threshold that needs to be reached then the DM will spend a huge amount of effort and not be able to deliver and the group will break up. If the group's threshold is met then the DM has to decide whether they want to continue to put in the effort/time with this group of players or use their own time with another group or in allocate it in another way (eg: write a blogpost or watch the Seahawks).

      (I would imagine that there's a similar functional relationship between a stand-up comedian and their audience - a threshold which needs to be achieved by effort on the part of the comedian in order for the audience to acknowledge that they had a good time. Once that threshold is met, go home or find a second paying audience.)

    5. @ Jacob72:

      I really, REALLY understand where you're coming from. As the guy who's usually in the DM chair, I definitely don't want to be the "dancing monkey," in forced servitude to my players.

      I grok everything you're saying about "diminishing returns" and the sheer amount of work implied by this paradigm shift. Really!

      Go back and read my old posts reviewing Alexis's book How to Run (from...mmm...December 2014 in my archives). I dug the book, but its implications (not fully grasped by me AND...I think he'd admit...not fully clarified by Alexis) were damn daunting. And I pushed back in much the same way.

      My vision of the process has since changed. I will try to elucidate that in my next post on this subject.

    6. Thanks for the cross reference. I'll go and check thst out.

    7. I've read through your three posts on Alexis Smolensk's book. Interesting posts in their own right, particularly the last one and the discussion you have around your thoughts on Ch13. I feel I understand Alexis' philosophy better and the views of the 2014 version of you are clearer too. Are your views about which sort of games you enjoy still the same 8y later?

      I'll maybe look into purchasing the book.

    8. It's worth the read. So is his other book ("The Dungeon's Front Door") which is much smaller and a quicker read.

      Are my views on "which games I enjoy" still the same? No. Definitely no. My views have changed considerably. But answering HOW those views have changed would be a long post in and of itself.

      What I can say succinctly, however, is what went explicitly UN-said in those old posts: that I was afraid to buy into DMing as any sort of "vocation." For a NUMBER of reasons. And that's kind of what Alexis was advocating for in that book (he was more about "taking the game seriously" being me...I make everything all life-and-death/melodramatic). Mainly, I just needed to gain some healthy respect for this weird passion I have (D&D) and not denigrate it or look down on myself. That took a while to come to grips with and integrate into my psyche.

  5. As an aside, I agree that there is much more to d and d than adventure site based play. I would also argue that the best 'adventures' come not from clever design of alternative options, but from a naturalistic reaction of the campaign world to player actions.

    The most fun, for me, is when the players are self motivated to find 'adventure', usually as a result of a prior loss, failure, perceived slight, or internal drive to reach goals.

    So while I agree with your premise, I also have found that the most beneficial prep for play is creation of relationships and motivations for NPCs/ organizations, so when the pcs begin to interact, I have some idea of where to go or how it fits. That may be where you are headed.

    (That plus visuals. Nothing helps define a person in my mind better than a picture.)

  6. Must be nice to have the free time to run a game like this, haha. xD

    I'm just happy if I manage to schedule and run 2 sessions a week, between ~45 hr/wk job (not counting commute), raising a toddler with another on the way, housework, church stuff, and ofc spending time w/ my wife in the rare moments we get alone.

    It doesn't feel great to be told I'm doing it wrong by not running a fully realized sandbox world.

    1. @ Matt:

      I'm not saying you need to run a sandbox world. I don't run a sandbox world. Or else I have a poor idea of the term "sandbox."

      And anyway...

      Look, Matt, a couple (TWO) things:

      #1) A decade ago, I was the guy with the wife, toddler, fulltime job, long commute, toddler, baby on the way, blog/books I was writing on the side, etc. Part of my agreeing to quit my job and move to Paraguay was thinking (stupidly) that it would give me "more free time."

      It didn't. It doesn't. There's never enough time. The commitments and responsibilities we take on help define us, make we who we are. We just need to get better at juggling/managing and prioritizing. Years of practice helps, if you're the type that can focus and self-discipline (unlike me). But the time constraints will always be there...they'll grow even (as your kids do).

      But...well, if (like me) you've decided that you're never going to shake this hobby, then you might as well admit it (to yourself if not your spouse), and carve out a little time for your game. You build your world a bit at a time. And over time it grows. Just like investing/saving money. Or taking time to teach your children to be good humans. Or...well, any endeavor that's worth doing over a long period.

      #2: While you can run your game as serial adventures just fine (and enjoy yourself! and have fun!) for years, in MY EXPERIENCE there comes a time, sooner or later, where that will no longer satisfy you. And if, at that point, you come around to thinking like me...well, you might wish you'd started sooner. I know *I* wish that.

    2. I appreciate the reply! Looking forward to the advice on running such a game.

    3. As a practical matter - I'm super curious what advice you'd have on finding players and building groups. When you're building your current world, who are you building it *for*? Do you have a regular group that meets to play?

      My current campaign is a megadungeon-centered "open table" campaign, partially because after my first group dissolved (long story short, people moved away) I've had enormous trouble putting together another for consistent play. Covid was a factor, but since we've reached the endemic phase I've still struggled to get a consistent group of the size I'd like. Hence, the "open table" format where each session begins and ends in town (and each can have different characters). This alleviates a lot of the scheduling pressure, because I just announce a session time that works for me and whoever shows up shows up.

      The downside, of course, is that this is a fairly limiting meta constraint to place on the campaign. The characters can't really do adventures that require them to be away from "home base" longer than a session. Hence, the single town that also happens to be fairly close to several dungeons. (I've actually got the beginnings of an in-universe explanation for why, but haven't really folded that into the campaign world in a way the players will interact with it... yet)

    4. I'm going to write a post on this subject.