Monday, December 27, 2021


The snow has stopped falling, but there's still a couple feet of the stuff on the ground (though drift size varies...lots of wind yesterday), and the freezing temperatures are keeping it from melting. As such, we ended up staying in most of the day Sunday, even forgoing church despite it being (*shudder*) a Holy Day of Obligation.

Which is fine. I mean it's not the first HDO I've missed...probably won't be the last.

Still, it's too bad. We attended Mass on Saturday morning (for Christmas...natch) and I found it very enjoyable. Even though we got there late, even though we had less-than-ideal seats, even though there was an alarming amount of coughing around us (virus PTSD), and an annoying amount of misbehaving kids, and a fairly pedestrian homily...I found the whole experience a welcome, comforting experience.

Christmas Mass isn't the most important of the year, nor even my a Catholic I find Easter to be the "Big One" and greatly enjoy all the stuff of the Lenten season (from Ash Wednesday to the Friday fasts to Holy Week). The Easter season pretty much sums up the reason there is a Catholic church, after all, aI find the reflections during the Easter season the best of my (annual) religious "cycle." But Christmas Mass is still a good one, and one that I cherish doing with my family especially now that I have children. Not because I'm so much into the Christmas story (I'm more a Gospel of John guy) but because it's a chance to get away from the crass commercialism and Santa worship that permeates December and get back to why we're doing the whole dance. 

[and, yes, I've explained to the kids...this year particularly...the origin of the holiday in other (pagan) winter festivals, Roman and otherwise, and how it was simply re-purposed by the church and not based on an actual "birth day" of Jesus. They understand there was a marrying of non-Christian tradition with the celebration of our religion's foundational figure to create a delicious stew that STILL can have a very positive, spiritual message...if we keep it in mind]

Also the music is pretty good at the Christmas Mass.

But here's the main thing: Christmas Mass is always well-attended...more so even than Easter (people that only get out to Mass once a year seem to make the Christmas celebration). Always. And being surrounded by so many Catholics, all celebrating the Mass together, is heartening. There is a shared community see all these folks repeating the same rote words, following the same ritual, taking the same Communion, speaking to the same Baptismal vows...and you know that you are part of something large, that you are not alone in your "silly" beliefs. 

We didn't have that last year. There was no Christmas celebration to attend in 2020. Despite all the "joy" and "cheer" and (Lord knows) eating, drinking and gift-giving, the whole thing was fairly subdued and depressing. I note that I didn't blog about anything but bugbears and B2 at the end of last December...I'm guessing I was a bit down in the chops at the time.

This year, I got to go to Mass and I was comforted by it. Our priest pointed out that we sing about "tidings of comfort and joy" but don't really think about the reason comfort is needed. If everything's just a big feast and celebration, why the hell do you need tidings of "comfort?" We don't comfort people who are joyfully celebrating. 'Hey, that guy looks like he's having a great time...I better go comfort him.' 

No, comfort is for the sad and the downtrodden and the miserable. And there has been a LOT of those folks over the centuries. And there are a lot of those folks now. And the birth of a dude who is going to inspire a far-reaching Way of living and behaving based on kindness...well, that is a joyful thing to celebrate, and it may well have given His followers of the time something to be comforted about. That things were going to get better. That life was going to get better.

I said that a big Mass, full of fellow Catholics celebrating Catholic "stuff," is heartening to me as a Catholic. But Saturday's Christmas service was the first time I was struck by...and comforted by...the full power and strength of the tradition of the Mass. Participating in a ritual that has remained, more or less, the same (at least the important parts) for centuries...stretching far back before the lives and times of my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, etc. This thing, this celebration of the birth and life this Jesus guy, this sharing of the Eucharist with our fellow believers, is something that has been done for more than a thousand years

Empires have risen and fallen, governments have been tumbled and created, wars have been fought, plagues and pandemics experienced...and still the celebration of the Eucharist persists. The celebration of the Word persists. The teachings of a man who said "turn the other cheek" and "love your neighbor" persists. And in that stubborn persistence, in that staying power, in that tradition, there is comfort. There is the comfort that things can last; there is the hope that maybe, possibly, humanity as a species can endure, despite all our shortcomings, missteps, and tendencies to fuck everything up.

The Catholic church has made a lot of stupid, bad, and evil choices over the years. It's screwed up a lot. And yet the core of the thing...the Mass, the ritual, the teachings...these things carry on. There is strength in that shared, continued tradition...a foundational rock on which to build, and to rebuild, as and when necessary. If the church is slow to change and adapt to our evolving world...well, sure, I understand that complaint. People want, need, and demand progress. Growth and change and evolution is part of life, and we are part of a living world, not a dead, stagnant one. 

But we also need stability and consistency. Life is not always comfortable...should NOT always be comfortable. But comfort...and momentary respites from stress and chaos...are also necessary. We all need "a breather" sometimes. Our minds and souls need occasional rest just as much as our bodies.

I find this rest in my religious traditions. Sure, booze works, too...but the religion's a lot easier on the liver. 

[there is an analogy to be drawn here with old edition D&D, but I'll let my readers do that for themselves]

All right. Next post will be about either treasure or The Village of Hommlet or both. Later, folks.

Peace and love.
: )

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Let It Snow

We had our usual green Christmas yesterday (preceded by monsoon-like rains for two days prior)...the norm for Seattle during the holiday season. But today is the 26th and I woke up to "Snowmageddon 2021:" about half a foot of snow on the streets, which is generally enough to shut down Seattle.

[there are a lot of crap drivers in this town on the best of days, and the over-abundance of hills, stoners, and cell users does little to allay the sheer panic that grips most drivers when a couple inches of powder sticks to the asphalt. It doesn't help the jackasses in their Suburu Outbacks cruising around like they're heading up the passes for a ski excursion and causing chaos with the cautious types. *sigh* This is why I choose to live in a neighborhood that's walkable and has a Fred Meyer across the street from my house]

Which is fine, because we still have a ton of delicious leftovers to eat, and both the wife and kids have the week off. So let it snow, dammit (it still is...2.5 hours since I got up). I do wish I'd picked up a new pair of boots in the fall (literally walked the soles off my last pair over the summer), but at least my Christmas gifts were filled with wool socks this year. About 10-14 pair.

[when people ask me for gift ideas I usually say socks; I wear a lot of holes, very quickly, in the things. My wife quipped it was a "very socky Christmas" for Yours Truly, and she wasn't wrong. Ah, real gift came early this year]

However, I did get up late today (making up for a couple-three days of even LESS sleep than usual), so didn't have a chance to do the blog post I'd planned before the rest of the fam roused themselves from slumber. And since they are all "home for the holidays," I doubt I'll have a chance to post it before tomorrow (bright and early, that's the plan). Apologies for that, but the bacon and eggs isn't going to cook itself. And I'm guess that a substantial portion of my day is going to be taken with snowball fights and fort construction after that. 

You know how it is.

Hope everyone had a merry Christmas yesterday. More later.
; )

Monday, December 20, 2021

More Than Yule Gruel

I'm a snob about a LOT of things. Beer. Christmas music (well, music in general). D&D. Lots of things...I'm a pretty judgy, judgmental guy. But while I am perfectly willing to judge food, I wouldn't call myself a "food snob;" I enjoy food...many, many types of food...and it runs the gamut of comida that's available on this beautiful planet of ours. When I lived in Paraguay, I ate at the capital's most elegant, expensive restaurant every week (my wife and I'd have lunch there Thursdays), and were on chatting terms with the chef/owner. But sometimes you want nothing more than a $5.99 port cheese ball from Fred Meyer and a side of cheap crackers that won't get in the way of that bit of holiday goodness. I've eaten a multi-course meal from a Michelin Star chef in Spain, I've had steak tartar prepared at my table in Paris, and I've enjoyed an entire jar of Tostitos Salso con Queso with a bag of tortilla chips, and savored them all in (near) equal measure.

I've eaten a LOT of breakfasts at the Baranof. Greasy spoon diners are my jam.

There is, of course, terrible food and inedible food and foul tasting food. I've eaten at an IHOP one time, and could not power through more than two bites of their short stack: the pancakes tasted like the batter had been mixed with sawdust. I hate wasting food and I left my plate nearly full. Perhaps it was a bad friend in Mexico swears by the IHOP breakfast burrito and insists on eating one every time he's in the country (which is less often these days, unfortunately). But life's too short...and the sheer range of eating options to have yet enticed me back to that particular establishment.

With regard to Dungeons & Dragons, I've blogged before about the importance of including food in one's D&D game. Man, that was a long time ago, and while I stand by what I wrote then, it's not something I've remembered to stay cognizant of, what with all my focus on logistics and world building. 

[*sigh* So hard, so hard to be a Dungeon Master. Some weeks Dungeon Expert (or Dungeon Journeyman) is all you can muster]

Anyway, I've been somewhat lax of late in this aspect of running the game in an immersive fashion. And I've recently come into possession of a delightful little item that could act as visceral reminder at my table. My fellow blogger from Canada, Alexis Smolensk, mailed me a copy of his latest product...not a book, but a menu. Allow me to pump up his tires a bit.

There's no denying that this is a pretty strange objet d'art...a truly niche product for a niche hobby. A fantasy menu for a fantasy inn/tavern in a fantasy world. I doubt a 15th century road house (or even one three centuries later) would have provided any such item list to its patrons...literacy wasn't all that high prior to the 18th century. And yet D&D, for all its medieval trappings, doesn't overly trouble itself with such anachronisms, and...

Well, let's just get to it.

Physically (both visually and tactilely) the thing is beautiful. Hard cover wrapped in soft black leather(?) or a reasonable facsimile of, the thing is debossed or incised with "The Jousting Piglet" and the establishment's namesake logo in silver. The interior pages (four total) are lovely and feature about 80 tasty items that one might find (presumably) in a large fantasy eatery. Prices are given in copper pieces, silver pieces, and gold pieces, clearly marking this a game product for use with various versions of D&D all the way back to the original (which only used three coin types).

[more pictures here]

I'll be honest: when Alexis first wrote about his menu project, I was pretty ho-hum regarding the idea. Unlike some DMs, I don't use (or enjoy) "props" in my game. I prefer we keep everything, as much as possible, to the "realms of the imagination." You have your dice and your character sheet, and some paper/pencils for notes...what the hell else do you need? Certainly not costumes and handouts and job, as a DM, is to keep you engaged in play without resorting to the use of such crutches. Leave that stuff to the Call of Cthulhu "Keepers" who are trying to instill a "mood" or "atmosphere."

[he says in his most snide sounding voice]

But there's a bit more to this menu than meets the eye (and it does wow the eyeballs). The price list, for one thing. Those who follow the Tao's blog knows that Alexis has designed an entire system of trade and pricing for his world, considering supply and demand and travel, all based in real world resources in order model a fantasy economy that makes sense and is closer to actual/factual. I don't doubt that much of the pricing here has come out of his own rates (as well as his years of experience in the restaurant business) and this kind of information can be useful in breaking down the resources in a given area (and relative value of said resources). Far from just a simple "prop," this can be a valuable play aid in world building.

Of course, it would be difficult to believe that even a fantasy restaurant would have such a wide array of items in its pantry. Sea turtle soup only became a "thing" in Europe after the species was imported from the West Indies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and who knows when items like sauerkraut and caviar became popular menu choices in regions west of the Rhine? But here's the thing: nothing compels you to use EVERY item on the menu. Perhaps the Jousting Piglet is run by a wizard who can teleport all over the globe for his groceries...but the menu could just as easily be used for the Red Dwarf Tavern or the Inn of the Welcome Wench with the admonition to "ignore everything in the Kettle and Hearth sections that aren't pork" (or whatever). 

The menu likewise acts as suggestions for adventure (and treasure). Ye Old Wikipedia tells me that six pounds of turtle is a good dinner portion, and that green sea turtles weigh anywhere from 150 - 400+ pounds when mature (some up to 600#). If the turtle soup is 16 g.p. per portion, that ends up being a lot of treasure for each such critter caught and hauled back to port! Likewise, if a half-jigger of absinthe is worth 13 g.p. at the tavern, what's the value of a bottle of the stuff (hint: a fifth bottle would hold about 17 shots)? How much for a cask of pear cider when the price of a goblet is 5 s.p.? These are things you can throw into your adventure sites, rather than sacks of coins. Why drop a box of 3,000 copper pieces when you could have two kegs of "lordly stout" (29 c.p. per stein) instead?

And here you thought the menu was just a gimmick.
; )

The variety of items...meats, vegetables, breads, drinks, desserts, and pretty astounding, each with a lovingly detailed description of its preparation. Everything here looks delicious. My daughter, reading through the menu, wants to go to the restaurant..."Can we please, PLEASE go to this place?" I have had to explain (multiple times now) that it's not a real restaurant, and that I'm a little short on silver and gold pieces. This has not gone over well. She'd really like eat the food described in the menu.

And, I admit, I feel much the same...remember: I enjoy eating. Some of this stuff just makes the mouth water; for example:
Jousted perch (5 s.p.)
Our specialty: choice perch newly caught, stuffed with anchovy, lobster & bread crumbs, roasted over a slow fire until moist, crisp and delicious
Roast fillet of veal (11 s.p.)
boned, skewered & bound, roasted above gentle coals, basted continuously; served with butter & bacon sauce
Mussels & potatoes (15 s.p.)
fresh plucked from the sea, boiled in their own liquor then sauteed, served with brown-fried potatoes, tomato and lemon slices
Or even...
Pumpernickel loaf (7 c.p.)
traditional Mackburg rye bread with farm brown colour & earthy aroma, reminiscent of dark chocolate & coffee
Man, I could go for a good loaf of pumpernickel and a side of their brown gravy (4 c.p.) along with a tankard of their roasted ale (13 c.p.)...that's a pretty good snack for two silver, though some might prefer the freshly churned butter ("compliments of our dear cow Beatrice") for one s.p. more than the gravy.

My son thinks the menu is pretty cool, and feels it would find good use at his gaming table (he's DM'ing AD&D these days). For him, he sees it as a useful tool to help put his players (all kids) in the right frame of mind for the game, and give them a good idea of the D&D world in which the characters reside. "Very medieval," he says, "Very neat."


The menu is a nice little luxury item for the DM that is otherwise "set" with the required complement of rule books, dice, and cooperative players. It's a niche product, but not an un-useful one. It IS a bit spendy (especially considering shipping from Canada), but for folks who have the extra cash, it's not a bad piece to aid in deepening and enriching one's campaign setting. And folks who do like (and use) props at the table will find this one pretty fantastic and...dare I say...flavorful.

Cheers to all.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

First World Problems

Sorry I haven't gotten back to the blog recently; just had a lot of shit to deal with this week.

And, no, it's not trying to track down that "hard-to-find-must-have-Christmas-gift" (although there is one of those that's also been weighing on the brain...natch for this time of year). No, it's BS with my kids' school and...oh, jeez, I don't even want to get into it.  Suffice is to say, it might just force us to pull our kids and put them in a different (Catholic) school after being part of the community for six years.

Boo-hoo, I know. Private school problems, amiright?


Anyway, sorry...I'm pretty emotionally and mentally shot at the moment. Been spending the brain sweat that would normally be used to blog about D&D for strongly-worded discussions with teachers and school administrators.  And our (artificial) tree isn't even decorated yet: just staring at me with its twinkle lights saying, "why must you leave me naked O master."


I'm going to walk the (one) beagle I have left. Get some fresh air while there's a break between rain storms, clear the head a bit. Try to re-center the brain a bit. Get ready for the holidays. School's off next week and while that (generally) means full time duty for Yours Truly, it also means more sleep as schedules get relaxed. Sleep is good...a very good thing.

Oh...another good thing: new batch of the B/X Companion should be available tomorrow. So anyone waiting for a copy: it should be going out in tomorrow's mail. Anything folks ordered should have got out today (or earlier).  

Okay. Time to walk the beagle. 

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Why Treasure

This post has been long in the making...only because I've been so concerned about getting it right. But that's probably an impossibility; let's just plow ahead, shall we?

I've written a lot about the importance of treasure in D&D over the last few years, but (weirdly) most of my best thoughts (I think) are scattered around the internet, either in the comments on other folks' blogs or...when actually posted here...fairly ancillary to whatever topic I'm discussing. There just doesn't seem to be a definitive post here that reflects my current thoughts on "treasure" in Dungeons & Dragons.

[yes, there are a lot of posts with the label "treasure" on Ye Old Blog, but most of these are magic items I've written for one system or another. Should probably go through and re-label those...]

The fact is, my thoughts on treasure have changed over the years, evolving even as I've reverted (game-wise) to an older...I mean really old...mindset. I'm sure most geezers will tell you...things that ain't broke don't need to be fixed.

Though they can still be improved upon.

That in a second. A couple months back, Adam from Barking Alien shot me an email asking me to consolidate my thoughts on why treasure is awesome, in order to dispute my thoughts in good-spirited debate. My succinct explanation (as much as I am ever “succinct”) included the following reasons: 
  • As an object, “treasure” (gold coins, jewels, etc.) is easily understood and recognized by players. 
  • As a goal, treasure acquisition is an objective, measurable means of success. You’re not worried about what may constitute (for a particular DM) “good roleplaying,” humor awards, etc. 
  • For a GROUP of individual players, it provides a UNIFYING objective; if they all want treasure, they can work (together, cooperatively) to acquire it. 
  • As a target objective, it invites a multitude of ways to accomplish the objective (stealth, trickery, negotiation, combat, etc.). When experience is only awarded for combat (as in 3E and 4E D&D, for example) there is only a single means of advancement (fighting), limiting the overall game experience. 
  • As a “tangible” objective of play (the imaginary characters must pursue it), it encourages proactivity on the part of the players to gain the reward. Passive reward systems (XP for participation, for example) do not encourage proactivity; they provide no game-related impetus/motivation for action. 
  • With regards to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition) specifically, treasure is tied directly to the game economy (it’s needed for hirelings, training, equipment replacement, magical research, tithes and fees, construction, etc.) providing REINFORCEMENT of the reward system (we need money – we need to adventure – we acquire money – we spend money – we need money) leading to perpetual long-term play and character/campaign development. 
All this appears to baffle BA (or “perplex,” to use his own word), but he seems to not understand this only pertains to the Dungeons & Dragons game, not to other fantasy adventure games like Star Trek or DC Heroes (he cites Captain Kirk and Superman specifically as individuals unmotivated by money). D&D has a specific premise, rather neatly laid out in the first paragraph of Moldvay’s Basic book: 
In the D&D rules, individuals play the role of characters on dangerous quests in search of fame and fortune. Characters gain experience by overcoming perils and recovering treasures. As characters gain experience, they grow in power and ability. 
If that ain’t your bag then there’s not much reason to play D&D. If you don’t play a group of characters “in search of fame and fortune”…well, that’s kind of what D&D is all about. 

But, of course, it’s about more than just that. There’s the “fame” part, too…but pride and envy, the driving forces behind fame-seekers, are just as base as the greed and avarice that drive individuals in search of riches. 

Except they doesn’t. Not always. Sometimes it’s necessity. 

[I’m reminded of the Sarojini Naidu quote: “it costs a lot of money to allow Gandhi to live simply”]

MONEY, one of the many things D&D’s treasure represents, is something that many folks have issues with. Some people want more of it; some people hate needing it; some people do terrible things in the name of acquiring it; some people use it against others. All sorts of negative emotions are attached to this thing we call “money.” 

In actuality, money is just a convenient means of exchange. It has been described as a tool, a weapon, a type of energy, and “the root of all evil,” but it’s just a means of exchange. Other things have been turned to evil purposes…including love and desire…just as easily and as often. Well, maybe not AS “easily and often” as money…but easily and often enough.

The point is: it's easy to have a negative attitude towards something that, at its base, is simply a means of exchanging goods and services for other goods and is a convenient and oft-used punching bag given as an excuse for the exploitation and manipulation perpetrated by humans against humans. But D&D really isn't about capitalism or colonialism (despite having a few of those trappings). It's about adventurers seeking fame and fortune. The "dungeons" and "dragons" of the title indicate where those adventurers seek those things: fame (for heroic deeds) and fortune (in the form of treasure) is acquired through the delving of dangerous adventure sites and facing fantasy monsters. 

[and with an ADVANCED attitude, these things can be expanded to the point that the entire campaign world becomes a "dangerous adventure site" suitable for adventure and achievement of fame and fortune]

In another recent post of mine I explained two of four possible priorities of RPG play are being challenged and genre exploration. Dungeons & Dragons, as originally conceived, is not about genre exploration. Oh, I can see how one might mistake it for an exploration of the classic "hero's journey" monomyth...and, in fact, one can see the times where D&D designers tried to pawn this off on gamers over the years (beginning with 2nd edition AD&D). But it was only able to do this once fantasy began to eat its own; i.e. once the fantasy literature being published began to ape D&D and inform gamers' assumptions about the game (which is to say, after TSR found they could make more money as a publishing house than as a game designer and started flooding the fantasy fiction market with self-referencing trash). But that's not how it was built. It's not designed to "tell stories," all post-1987 rhetoric to the contrary.

Let's come back to Adam's points for a second: not because I'm trying to beat him up but because I think his points represent the opinions of many other RPG players, especially players of D&D that began with a latter edition that de-emphasized the value of treasure (both literally and as a game mechanism). Adam wants to play games that tell heroic stories with characters motivated by something other than money...he cites Captain Kirk and Superman as two prime examples. But look at those two universes: in neither one does money have any value! Economy is not an issue in a fantasy world where your ship provides all the food and energy you need or where the Man of Steel can simply squish lumps of coal into diamonds (or where Batman and Robin are so wealthy as to render money no consideration at all). 

Economy and a means to a prime consideration in MANY genres one might want to explore. Money is definitely a motivation for the crew of Firefly, and for the Ghost Busters, and for most stories of the western genre. I haven't read Moorcock's Corum or Hawkmoon, but money is a consideration for Elric once he sets off to explore the Young Kingdoms (as Moonglum constantly reminds him). 

The only genre that routinely disregards money are one that provides "mission based" objectives: for example the Mission Impossible/James Bond spy thriller or the superhero "villain of the week" that must be dealt with or the city/world/universe will be wrecked. But such mission-based RPGs aren't conducive to the sort of long-term play that I consider the strength of the medium; they are short-term play at best, better served for one-shots and con play (where the immediacy of the mission is a plus) as, in my experience, they tend to peter out very quickly. 

[adventurers motivated by "revenge" fall into this category]

"Living" in a fantasy world long-term generally requires some sort of economy for the game to have any kind of meaning. Even in a setting like Star Wars; certainly waging a guerrilla war against a galactic empire requires a lot of resources: guns, ammunition, manpower, ships, fuel, provisions, etc. These things cost money, and it's hard to pay for things out of the space princess's bank account when her planet's been blown up. Ignoring the necessity of acquiring money renders the campaign a paltry thing...unless you're concerned with something other than the escapist fantasy experience RPGs can offer (for example, exploring group dynamics between characters of widely disparate backgrounds).

Keeping this in mind...that money is just a medium of exchange and a necessity of can see that many of the issues that perplex Adam don't really wash:
It is a simple, common, base desire/need that isn't heroic. 
Ensuring survival is certainly a common challenge, but acquiring money...sufficient money…may not be simple at all, and may require thrilling heroics, according to the situation.
It isn't noble, emotionally driven, and serves no greater purpose beyond personal gain. 
Depending on the use for which money is put, all this may be patently false. Money CAN be put to noble use, its acquisition may be coldly clinical (or driven by emotions other than greed), and can definitely be spent in ways that facilitate a "higher purpose."
Making it the primary goal promotes envy, greed, and distrust. It can divide the group. 
Even in Dungeons & Dragons, having treasure as an objective (in my experience) fails to have this effect. Treasure generally unites the party in a common objective in a way that multiple disparate motivations seldom do, thus instilling a spirit of cooperation. Monetary treasure is generally divided evenly at the end of an adventure/session with all surviving party members getting an equal share, and I've often observed surprising magnanimity in players after pulling a rich haul, as they bestow bonuses and choice items on trusted henchmen and cherished NPCs. The main thing I've seen "divide" a D&D group is a magic item of surpassing power that multiple PCs argue over...but that's not a "money" issue.
It is never enough, partly because no reward is as epic as described in stories or art. 
This is rather a feature of D&D play (as I stated above) as the continual need for money in a "living" economy sets up a feedback loop that spurs and motivates a proactive search for more adventure opportunities, thus allowing play to continue in perpetuity.
If genre appropriate, Treasure would end the story. Filthy rich PCs need not adventure.
It really depends. Leave aside (for example) the fact that The Hobbit is story, a modern fairy tale, written with a beginning, middle, and end already in mind (leave aside also the argument that the goal of the protagonist is to find his own courage and sense of excitement/adventure outside of a rather staid existence, and that the treasure isn't really the point). If it were, in fact, based on an actual RPG campaign, one can see there is far more complexity and adventure that can occur even after acquiring the hoard of Smaug. Towns must be repaired, gifts must be given to allies, the logistics of carrying wealth back to the Shire across miles of orc and troll infested wilderness (not to mention the costs that must be paid out in hiring a baggage caravan with beasts of burden, drovers, drivers, and guardsmen) will provide an enormous...and expensive!...venture in and of itself. There is a good reason Bilbo only takes two small chests of loot with him when he leaves Lonely Mountain...only as much as his pony can carry.

[and, again...the acquisition of wealth wasn't the point of his story anyway]

But fairy tales are fairy tales and (as I've written elsewhere) RPGs are designed to be played and experienced, not fed to us through our senses like a film or novel. It requires a collective and interactive imagination...and as smarter minds than mine have pointed out, the older we get the more mature our imaginings become. And I don't mean "mature" in the NC-17 meaning. We have more life experience upon which we can draw and we can concern ourselves with the "burden" of a meaningful campaign filled with the logistics and challenges of a humongous dragon hoard.

I will not argue against the complaint that the awarding of experience points (and, thus, increased character effectiveness) for wealth is a simplification. But as an expedient mechanic, it works magnificently in practice and symbolically represents exactly what the game purports to model: adventurers hunting for fortune and fame. The D&D universe is akin to the world of Sinbad the Sailor, a hero among heroes and as wealthy as a sultan (if not the Caliph) by the end of his seven voyages. If that's not to your liking, that's fine and dandy. But if you don't understand the type of heroic adventure (like the  Sinbad stories) that originate the "D&D genre" you are bound to be perplexed in perpetuity.

FWIW: I find the system of advancement in Chaosium's games (Stormbringer, ElfQuest, Cthulhu, etc.) to be the most realistic method of modeling increased effectiveness. But I prefer the streamlined, less-fiddly system of D&D to Chaosium, giving me more room to attend to and concentrate on the game I'm running. And, again, D&D's system of advancement (XP for levels) ties directly into the premise of the game.

All right. I think that's enough for now. However, I do have more to say about treasure...but it veers away from the particular topic at hand (the "WHY" of treasure) into tangential topics. Later, gators.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Retraction (NOT Trash)

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, because I have a different post planned for later today.

Jamal Adams, the football player, is NOT "trash."

He's been a frustrating player to watch in a frustrating football season for my frustrating home team. Most parts of the team have turned in terrible performances this year, none more so than our quarterback, a beloved Superbowl champ who'll probably be going into the Hall of Fame some day with a Seahawks hat.

[man, Wilson's been awful]

Adams is a talented player. He's also a leader for the team whose teammates speak highly of him. He's a pro who works on his craft...he'd been staying late, working on his ball handling skills, and it was showing up in the last few weeks with a pair of interceptions. 

Sorry, dude.
He hasn't been used in a method that plays to his strengths. But unfortunately, his strengths as a talented player are not the things the Seahawks need from a player at his position. Trading for Adams, masking his deficiencies with the scheming that allowed him to set a sack record last year, giving him a huge contract...these things were poor moves by the team. Trash moves. But that's on the coaching staff and GM, not the player.

In Blood Bowl if you try to play bashy with elves or pass-happy with orks and you get soundly beat...that's on the coach. You don't blame the dwarf troll slayer for being poor in pass coverage. You have to use your team the way that's most effective and hopefully the dice gods will favor you.

My apologies for blaming the player in my last rant. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021


Not a D&D post.

Jamal Adams...a Seahawks player that I've mentioned far too many times in this injured and out for the rest of the season.

Back in 2009, the Seattle Mariners (FWIW: the WORST baseball franchise in the history of MLB) signed a player named Chone Figgins to a four-year $36 million dollar contract (about $46.4 million in 2021). He was terrible, having his worst season of his (till then) 7 year career. The next year (2011) he was worse, being replaced halfway through the season, batting .188 in 81 games. In 2012 he started as the leadoff only to be benched by May of that year and finishing .181 in 66 game appearances (for non-baseball fans: there are 162 games per season). He was DFA'd before the final season of his contract and played nary a game of Major League Baseball (for ANY team) ever again.

General consensus around town is that the man stole money and was one of the worst, most bone-headed trade "deals" in the history of Seattle sports.

As we watched Jamal Adams fail miserably at attempting to tackle George Kittle on Sunday (launching himself out-of-bounds and out of the play...perhaps this was when he re-injured his surgically repaired shoulder), one of the fans in our section said he was worse than Brian Bosworth. "The Boz" (whose poster I had on my wall as a child) was taken with a first round draft pick in 1987 and was given a 10 year, $11M contract (back before salary cap and fixed rookie contracts) with $2.5M guaranteed. He played 24 games over three years (12 games, 10 games, 2 games) before retiring due to injury (shoulder), and was ultimately a disappointment, with few memorable moments. In terms of 2021 dollars, he made maybe $7 million in salary. Maybe.

Jamal Adams has a four year, $70M contract through 2025 of which $38M is guaranteed. Guaranteed. Meaning that even if he doesn't play another snap of football because he decides to retire...due to, for example, the fact that his shoulder simply cannot hold up under the stress of playing like an undersized linebacker...he will still receive $38 million dollars, not counting what he was paid by the Seahawks year. In a league with a hard salary cap. 

On a team that has a bargain bin offensive line that has not been able to keep its franchise quarterback from being beat up (again). On a team that has no draft picks because they traded them away to get Adams in the first place. 

I'm angry again. But I'm not terribly angry about Adams being hurt...the team plays better when he's not on the field (observe Sunday's game: Kittle went for 120 yards and two TDs in the first half...when Adams was in...and only 60 with no TDs when he was out. And the 'Hawks gave up 0 points in the 2nd half compared to 23 in the 1st half). No, I'm mad that it takes a season ending injury to get him off the field. That instead of cutting bait with Adams before the season began, they doubled-down on last season's mistake and paid the man. I'm mad that it takes a season-ending injury to bench a liability, that has helped lead the team to eight losses for the season, led to us not re-signing players like Shaquille Griffin and K.J. Wright. 

We are going to see Ryan Neal, still on his rookie contract (making league minimum) play for the rest of the season at strong safety, and I'm going to guess the defense plays better. We've already seen Neal make more (and better) plays than Adams coming off the bench. But Neal was un-drafted whereas Adams was a Top 5 pick (by the Jets).

$38 million for 12...poorly played games. That's more than $3M per game. I did the math and estimate that if I went back to my old job and worked till the age of 68 I'd earn, maybe, $1.3M for my entire life. Dammit, I can dress and be shitty on the football field for a million bucks. Do you need me to fail in pass coverage? Throw myself out of bounds? Ole running backs into the endzone on goal line plays? Jump around hooting and hollering when a receiver drops a ball? Get blocked by a skinny wide receiver and injured? Man...I can do ALL that. And at half the price.

Trash. The guy is trash. When you sign someone to the highest contract ever given for player at his position, one should not be discussing whether or not he is a "good" should be debating HOW good, HOW legendary, HOW impactful he is compared to other notable, superstar players. You should be debating whether or not he's more valuable than a Bosa or Watts or Donald; you should not be debating whether or not he should have been replaced by Ryan Neal weeks ago. Pro Football Focus should not have the highest paid player at his position ranked as the #97 best player at his position...out of 64 starting safeties in the NFL.

Yeah, I'm angry. I love my family. I love Dungeons & Dragons. I love God and country and my city and state. And I love my home football team just a little less than those things. And things that hurt the things I Jamal Adams...get my dander up. I guess I could care less. I guess. First World problems. People starving and dying of COVID and all that. But shoot. It's tough not to care.

Blood Bowl.

It was the second edition of the game that introduced the concept of "star players:" players with abilities and skills above and beyond those found in a player at their position. Any human team might have a human "thrower" (the BB equivalent of a quarterback) whose ability to pass the ball was head-and-shoulders above other position players. But Jacob Von Altdorf of the Reikland Reavers is/was even better, receiving a fat +2 bonus to pass attempts, plus having the "luck" skill (an individual re-roll, usable once per match). All Blood Bowl teams in 2nd edition had a maximum of 16 players on their roster, of which up to SIX (possibly seven with the BB Companion rules) could be "stars."

3E Blood Bowl (and later) re-vamped the star system, requiring teams to actually shell out money to hire mercenary stars (and pay exorbitant sums to retain them over the long haul)...or else develop them within their own system through an advancement system not too much different from D&D (players earn star player points through actions, eventually "leveling up" and gaining skills/bonuses). In theory, given enough matches and success, every single player on a late edition BB roster could...eventually...become a "star" player.

But using BB to model the actual NFL...well, that just doesn't happen in real life. In BB, players that survive will ALL (eventually) grow to be superstars. In the NFL, most players survive and yet, only have the potential to become competent veterans, not "stars." And those that DO become stars command huge salaries that...because of the salary cap...restrict the number teams can carry on their rosters. The 2E version of stars is far more representative of the "real" NFL.

I realize I've written about this before (at least in passing) can look at just about any team in the NFL and pick out half a dozen noteworthy players and the rest are "just guys." Competent guys, perhaps...veteran guys, perhaps. Guys who know their job and do it well. But not flashy superstars. The stars (and "stars in the making") are limited.  Not only is talent limited (in the league) but potential talent is limited. 

Making that bank.
Let's return to the Seahawks for a moment. Back when they were going to back-to-back Superbowls, the Seahawks had stellar safeties in the form of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. I understand WHY the Seahawks went after Adams in free agency...the team was trying to find a replacement for Kam, just as they acquired Quandre Diggs as a replacement for Thomas. Diggs has been fantastic: a Pro Bowl free safety. But Adams has simply failed to be the hard hitting, fear inspiring enforcer and run-stopper that Kam was. For all his reputation as a "fierce tackler" Adams is just a goblin. A speedy spark plug with great straightline speed and reckless disregard for his own body's inability to take punishment. Not the same thing at all.

But that's what was available. There was no "Kam Chancellor" on the market or available for acquisition. And the Seahawks needed/wanted another playmaker on defense, someone that could bring an attitude and fire and an ability to rush/pressure an opposing QB...but that didn't have the price-tag of a premier defensive end. Because the Seahawks couldn't afford a real "pass rusher" (the Watts, Bosa, Donald type) because they're paying a Hall of Fame quarterback $135M. 

So they picked up a blitz specializing safety instead (safeties being the lowest paid defensive players in the NFL), not realizing that part of why he was so good was the defensive scheming of Gregg Williams (defensive coordinator for the Jets during Adams's tenure on the team that drafted him). In terms of 2E Blood Bowl, the gobbo was the only star player left on the (free agency) board that the team could afford. And they've been trying desperately to make it work. Despite there being no evidence that it can work with the way Pete Carroll structures his defense.


Current stars on the Seahawks team:

1. Russell Wilson
2. DK Metcalf (developing)
3. Tyler Lockett
4. Bobby Wagner
5. Jamal Adams
6. Quandre Diggs
7. Michael Dickson

Everyone else qualifies as...pretty much..."just a guy." Some are playing better; some (like the offensive line) are not.

[for the record: the Super Bowl champion Seahawks had the following stars: Russell Wilson (developing), Marshawn Lynch, Max Unger, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas. But we had a LOT of blitzers and black ork blockers on that team (especially on the D-line), and don't have quite as many now]

Okay. That's enough venting. Sometimes you just need to exhale the bile.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

YEAR OF THE RAT: Results and Updates

A few housekeeping notes: folks may have noticed the pricing for my books (in the sidebars) has changed. That's because I finally got around to updating the prices with the current shipping rates. My apologies for needing to jack up the rates...I would have waited till the New Year to implement the changes, but I was running out of money to even do a new print run of my B/X Companion, let alone put together the scratch for another book (which I'm hoping to do in the near future). Canada and international costs are the real killers here.

If you're one of the dozen or so people who already purchased the new book, rest assured you got a deal (at the old rate): your books have already shipped as of yesterday morning. PDF costs (on DriveThru) will, of course, remain the same. 

A great, heartfelt THANK YOU, by the way, to ALL my customers (print and electronic). It is immensely gratifying to know people actually support the work...I only hope that the books, in turn, have provided a commensurate measure of enjoyment to their purchasers.

NOW: Year of the Rat.

I noted back in my original announcement of this contest that it was (largely) inspired by Prince's "No Artpunk Contest" (the first volume of which has now become available at DTRPG). Prince spent the month of September reviewing each individual submission for his contest, praising and critiquing and entertaining his readers.

I'm not going to do that (just don't have the time).

However, I will SUMMARIZE how things went down. Seven people (including myself) submitted a total of eight rat-themed adventures for the contest, almost every one of which being received by the November 30th deadline (the single exception being my own). The entries were:

Into the Sewer by Andrew Newport
Vats of Rats by Vance Atkins
Court of the Rat King by Chance Dudinack
Kobold Caves of the Golden God by Jeff S.
Clearing the Warrens by Vance Atkins
Silos of the Mad Rat by Ben Gibson
The First Rat Bank by Nicolas Posner

All the submissions were scored for Originality (have I seen this idea before), Creativity (innovative use of system and design), and Usability (how easy could the adventure be run at the table). Scores were then totaled to determine rankings. Yeah,'s all subjective, but since it's my contest, I get to be the judge.

As per the contest rules, prizes were to be awarded to the Top Two adventures...and based on points alone, I had a tie for second place! Since the scoring was subjective anyway, I turned to a secondary "tie-breaker" to determine who would join the #1 entry in receiving a shiny new book: treasure placement. I hope to write an entire post on "treasure" (hopefully this week) but suffice is to say that proper treasure allocation is a pretty darn important consideration in modular adventure design...and one that (for many reasons) seems to get overlooked too often by (present day) designers.

This IS D&D, after all. of the tied entries had placement of roughly 89.7% of (what I'd call) "expected" treasure, based on encounters, PC level, and PC number. The other had 8.5%...far, far too low. No.

Thus it is, I'm proud to announce the Top Winners for my Out of the Sewer adventure design contest are: Nicolas Posner and Vance Atkins (the latter for Clearing the Warrens). Yay! Kudos to both!

Honorable Mentions go to the places 3, 4, and 5: Ben Gibson, Jeff S. and Chance. Their adventures...along with the winners...will all be going into the compilation book, Year of the Rat. I will let folks know when it is stated, all proceeds from sales will be going to charity.

Gauche as it may be, I might throw my own adventure in the book, just to have an AD&D entry in the mix (all the others were written for OSE, B/X or S&W). We'll see. If not, I'll just make it available on the blog. 

[hmm...might do that anyway]

All right...that's it for now. Once again I'm out of time...super busy this week, not even counting things like decorations, tree-trimming, and Christmas shopping (none of which I've yet done or scheduled to date...and I've got a couple of kids who are expecting holiday cheer!). More later, people.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Pix of the New Book

Kelvin Green asked me if I could send his some photos of the new book to post on his blog (though I'm not particularly sure this is his the moment he seems very into pie). Anyway, since he DID do all the art for Comes Chaos, I figured the least I could do is mail him a print copy; however, international postage being a bit wonky at the moment, it might take a while to get to him.

SO, I sent him some photos, and I figured I might as well post them here as well...just in case folks are considering the book as a stocking stuffer this holiday season. Here you go:

Softcover, 64 pages

Some really good art pieces from K.G.

It's a B/X setting supplement, so
includes rules for designing/running the setting.

A few adjustments to the standard B/X
rules to incorporate the vagaries of the Chaos gods.

For folks like me, who grew up wishing they could find a way to make GW's Realms of Chaos books in their D&D campaign...well, this adapts many of those books various ideas (as well as stuff from other games/works of fiction). Works well for a Moorcock style "Chaos takeover" or medieval-style Mutant Chronicles. It is NOT designed for Advanced D&D (most of it was written while living in Paraguay, back when I was still "all B/X, all the time") but most of it is pretty adaptable. And it should work perfectly well with OSE...although the chapters are written in the same layout format as B/X.

People might be wondering why and how they might ever find a use for a book like this. "I'm not planning on blowing up my campaign world, a la Moorcock's Elric saga...and I definitely don't want my PCs running around as mutant champions of evil!" There are still many ways to use the book. It has new monsters, magic items, and spells that you can throw into your campaign world. It has alternate B/X rules (and an alternate B/X class or two) that you might find useful. It can be used to create small pocket areas of "bad juju" for PCs to heroically explore and combat. It has ideas for how to unify various "kitchen sink" themes found in D&D (like all the weird, Chaotic humanoids and the "funhouse" dungeons in which they live).

Anyway, it's a neat little book. And I just happen to have a big ol' pile of them on hand.
; )

By the way: just while I'm on the subject of hocking my wares, my B/X Companion is once again sold out. A new print run HAS been ordered, so I'll be able to send out copies in the next week or so, but if you don't want to wait there ARE retailers (like Wayne's Books) that have it in stock. You should NOT need to buy copies from eBay for hundreds of dollars (those keep popping up for some reason; not sure why). If your money is burning that big a hole in your pocket, email me directly...I'll take your $300 and send you my kid's copy (he'd happily split the money with me and wait for a copy from the new print run). 

[okay, no, don't send me hundreds of dollars for a book that costs less than $30. My POINT is, please don't be a sucker]

Finally, one last thing I want to note before I sign off and start prepping for Football Sunday (I'm going to the Seahawks game today, which will be really depressing given the way they're playing this season...): while Comes Chaos is the work of myself and Kelvin Green (illustrator), the impetus for creating it AS A PROJECT is largely due to James V. West who, back in the days of G+, issued a challenge to folks to design a 64 page "setting book" for B/X. When I took up his gauntlet...many years ago...I do not think I envisioned actually publishing a printed book. I'm not sure who else might have participated or completed their projects (if any of my readers do, I'd be interested in being informed) but...well, I did. Finally. 

Now, onto the next project. Cheers!

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Happy Christmas To Me!

Ha! The print run of the new book, COMES CHAOS, came through, in fact. 

[well, not actually "early;" just earlier than anticipated (getting the right paper stock from suppliers has been, like everything during the pandemic, a bit complicated)]

Still: there it is. Spent a couple hours driving to and from Tacoma, picking up five crates of books. And they turned out really nice...far better than I expected or hoped. The whole time I was driving there I had this vision of me having to tell the folks, 'nope, that's not going to work for me,' and having to deal with all that fallout, but all my fears were groundless. Turned out quite nifty, despite being softcover.

SO...folks will notice there's a new button on the blog for ordering a print copy. Same price as the other books (it has a couple more pages than TCBXA, but I don't anticipate the weight being being more than negligible for shipping). Come and get it, people.
; )

In other news: I've had the chance to go over all the submissions received for my YEAR OF THE RAT contest. Despite the suggestion that it was too short a turnaround time, six folks got seven adventures to me BEFORE the deadline of midnight, 11/30. My own offering wasn't finished before 12:10am on 12/1 (as I noted in my last post) so, well, boo me. In my defense, I will note that I'm the only one to do an AD&D adventure, and I had to calculate the XP value of the three new monsters I included in the appendix (that's what I was doing at 11:57pm) which is, you know, ridiculous but I'm a bit of a stickler. I also cooked a six-dish meal for the family dinner (not counting the dessert) so...well, whatever. 

*AHEM* As I was saying, I've gone over all the submissions, and I have the two winners (not yet notified) as well as the short-list of entries that will be going in the compilation book. I'll blog about all that tomorrow.

Okay, that's it. Dinner tonight was a fantastic beef stew with a vegetable medley side and a really nice "Swiss peasant" loaf (now with 60% more peasant!). My glass of cab is sitting downstairs waiting for me, and I'm feeling pretty "holly-jolly." Later, gators.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Out of the Sewer (LAST DAY!)

Just a reminder that today is the last official day of my "Out of the Sewer" adventure contest. Get me your submission by midnight, Pacific Time, if you want to be considered for one of the "glittering prizes."

I'm working on my own entry for the contest today...just wanted to make sure the contest was "doable." It's been tough (I'm a  busy guy and November's a busy month), but I think I'll make it. I hope. If I find it impossible to complete myself (knowing that I'm pretty anal retentive and a procrastinator to boot), then I might consider extending the deadline. Might. But right now I'm not considering anything except the writing I have to do to finish my own adventure. 

Anyway. That's all I have time to blog at the moment. Just wanted to remind folks.
: ) 

Good luck to all the contestants!

***EDIT: All right, I just finished the final touches on my own adventure and it is AFTER midnight...specifically it is 12:10am on December 1st. As such, I will accept ANY submissions received today (12/1) as official contest entries...though I might ding you a point for tardiness (my own adventure is ineligible for prizes, duh). ***

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Play-Testing The Insanity

So...we finally, FINALLY had a chance to restart the AD&D campaign Monday night.

Sad to admit, but it's been close to six months...just insane the amount of time that's slid by since our last delve. Oh, we've played Dungeons & Dragons since then...I've run games for my kids and their friends (Blizzard Pass as a one-off just a couple weeks back); AD&D even. But we needed to get back to actual play in our (my) game world, not just development.

When last we'd left off, the team had used a staff of summoning to conjure a pack of shriekers, whose shrill screaming upon finding themselves in the afternoon sun managed to drive away the lizard folk they'd been fighting. They then continued their scouring of ancient paths, looking for the sunken city hidden somewhere in the swamp. 

And they found it...or at least the remains of the last surface plaza, complete with a single standing building, a temple of ancient design, its dome cracked from long centuries of neglect, it's massive doors scratched and scarred and bereft of the gold leaf that once covered their frames. 

Enter the temple they did, and choosing NOT to despoil the statue of the goddess they found therein (though tempted by the rod of blue crystal held tightly in its hands) they found a long stairway descending down-down-down into the bowels of the earth. Down to the temple crypts, where they hoped (and expected) to find some sort of treasure, ripe for the plucking. 

Father Barod ("Beanpole") led the way with his hooded lantern. 

Here's the "box text" from DL1 for the Hall of Ancestors:
Dim light shines up through the floor. A vast hall stretches to the east. The ceiling, heavily reinforced, stands solidly above, but below, the floor has fallen away in several places. Hot mists, carrying the odor of decay, rise through the holes in the floor.
Beanpole, the party's 3rd level cleric decided to go check out the gaping hole that cut across the floor of the chamber. 'I'm going to go peek over the edge and see what's down there.' Will Big Jim (the trusted retainer they've had since Bendan Fazier) go with you? 'Yeah, he's staying by my side.'

I did a double-take as I looked at my notes for the chamber:
  • There is a 65% chance that any weight greater than 50# within 5’ of a hole will cause the floor beneath it to collapse. The fall to the cavern floor below is 700'.
What? I checked the original text in DL1. Here's what it says:
Any dwarf can tell that the floor is unsafe. The holes open to a 700' drop straight into the lower ruins of the city. Anyone who weighs more than 500 gpw [gold piece weight] and comes within 5' of a hole's edge runs a 65% chance that the floor below him will collapse.

Even if a hero makes it to the edge of a hole, all he sees is a foul mist gathered below.
That's all the text says. And for the most part, my restocking/rewriting of DL1 was focused far more on monster and treasure selection than on environmental hazards. Strange, perhaps that such a deadly trap isn't better telegraphed...especially for a DragonLance adventure (where the "heroes" are expected to succeed). But then it IS telegraphed because "any dwarf can tell that the floor is unsafe" and anyone playing DL1 should have Flint Fireforge (4th level dwarf fighter) as a prominent member of the party. Unfortunately, there are no dwarves in my players' party.

This is a good example of why play-testing is so important. Looking at the encounter area on paper, it doesn't seem terrible (probably one of the reasons I didn't bother adjusting it). Standard chance of springing a trap in OD&D or B/X is 2-in-6 (33% chance)...with something as "obvious" as this hazard, is a double chance (4-in-6, 66%) so unfair? Especially considering that a cautious party might use a 10' pole to probe the floor, or rope up together, or use the lightest party member for exploration?

But even so, some sort of Get Out of Jail Free card could be provided besides "have a dwarf in the party." I wrote before about including "Flinty" as a findable NPC in the adventure, and he IS there, albeit in the lower cavern levels. A better idea might be to have the dwarf stashed in the swamp outside the temple. This gives the PCs a potential benny for taking the non-psychotic approach to dealing with NPCs (find a helpful set of eyes for subterranean hazards); players eager to deal out death to everything on two-legs will thus be justly penalized for their lack of imagination.

Ah, well. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

Beanpole weighs scarcely more than 50# soaking wet, but he is dressed in plate and carries 20ish pounds or so of extra gear. I informed the player that the floor creaked mightily as he stretched out his lantern over the edge of the hole and asked him to roll the percentile dice; unfortunately, he rolled a 34. The floor collapsed with a groan taking the cleric with it.

I rolled for Big Jim...though, topping 300# of gear and muscle, this probably should have been automatic. As the Fates were obviously on the same wavelength as myself, the dice came up low and Jim followed his employer into the drop.

The nice thing about having Google at your fingertips: you can quickly find out how long it actually takes to fall 700'. 6.59 seconds it turns out, equivalent to a bit more than one segment. Diego scanned through his spell list for something that might save him...unfortunately, nothing. We did allow him the opportunity to pray for divine intervention on the way down (see page 112 of the DMG), but the gods were apparently satisfied at the doom he'd chosen for himself. 

Sonia, my daughter's character, was quick with a spell of her own; she sent a message to her brother: "you're going to die." Diego was not amused, but Sofia laughed mightily.  Until they discovered that all the torches, oil, etc. had been carried by Beanpole and Big Jim and now the party was left in the subterranean hall without a light source. 

*sigh* Hindsight. 

ANYway...I'll skip the rest of the evening's escapades except to say that no one else died and they DID escape the temple crypt and have now discovered a new PC (Frederick, a gnomish illusionist/thief) that was skulking in the swamp, hiding from lizard men and otyughs. It feels good to get back to playing D&D, and I am immensely hopeful we'll get to play more in the next couple/few days. I'm not sure the players want to continue exploring the Sunken City (their resources are quickly dwindling and they've yet to find anything resembling treasure...well, except for that blue crystal staff embedded in the statue of the goddess). If they don't decide to continue, they will have to deal with matter of 3,000 gold owed to Duke Van-Uz (the Duke could employ two 5th level assassins for 900 g.p. and would still be less out of pocket than the 1,500 he originally gave to bankroll the party). But they might be better served finding a smaller dungeon, closer to civilization. And I'm currently working on a ratty little thing that might do the trick.
; )

However, that'll (probably) have to wait till after Thanksgiving. Lots to do the next couple days.

More later. Hope everyone has a happy holiday! Best wishes to you all!

Friday, November 19, 2021

Different Strokes

The other day, I was looking for video reviews of old adventure modules (something to listen to while doing housework) and stumbled across an old Goodman Games video in which four of their prominent designers, listed their Top 10 D&D modules (TSR era) of all time. 

As such videos go it Par for the usual (as in, no mind-blowing opinions/info got dropped). And, yet, I was fascinated enough to go back and re-watch the thing and make up a spread sheet charting everyone's individual list. Because what was interesting was just how surprisingly crappy their favorite picks were and their justifications for including specific adventures.

That's "crappy" in my opinion...but my opinion is one of an adventure designer. And these guys are adventure long-time ones with more book credits under their belts than I will ever have. That is what caused me to sit up and take notice. You know, if three out of four designers list Sinister Secret of Salt Marsh as one of their Top Ten faves, then, hey, maybe there's something to take a look at there. On the other hand, when they blather on about Ravenloft being one of the greatest of all time with regard to design, it makes me question their abilities at all.

So I rewatched the thing and dived deeper. Some of the dudes had picks I agreed with. Some (clearly) did not. But what I came to realize, as I watched this video was that their lists were largely based on something more than "design." They were influenced by nostalgia, reputation, size/scope and...more than anything else...fond memories they've had of times actually running/playing these particular adventures. The guy who picked Ravenloft as his number one claims to have run it 5 or 6 times (even taking the same players through it more than once). The guy who listed the Desert of Desolation series as his favorite has run the entire thing more than once and had a blast doing so. 

The fact that they have fond memories of playing/running Ghost Tower of Inverness or Palace of the Silver Princess or whatever...because that's what they had the opportunity to play/run as a youth...should not be a knock against their opinions, any more than it should be a knock against MY lofty opinions of Forbidden City or Tomb of Horrors or whatever. The fact is, it's tough for MOST of us to be critical against the things we hold in esteem due to rose-colored glasses of the past.

And as my son likes to point out: different folks have different tastes. 

[of course he only points that out when it excuses his enjoyment of a song like Pitbull's "Fireball," which I am absolutely convinced is THE WORST SONG I'VE EVER HEARD. I don't know that it's the worst song ever written (that "honor" may go to some other Pitbull song), but it is hands down the absolute most awful piece of trash masquerading as "song-writing" that has ever tortured my ears. Worse than "Party in the USA." Worse than "I'm Too Sexy For My Shirt." Worse than "You Remind Me Of My Jeep." Worse than Crazy Town's "Butterfly." I would willing to put it second to that stupid "Good Is The New Bad" song I had the misfortune to hear on Disney radio the other day (that one even makes Diego cringe), but then I hear Pitbull's opening "lyrics" and want to punch my face through a wall of glass. 

Yet everyone else in my family dig that stupid-stupid song. Even my wife (who claims to not like Pitbull). There's no accounting for tastes. I consider "The Hotel California" one of the best songs of all time, and some people hate the Eagles. But I would rather listed to Ice-T singing "Evil Dick" (from his Body Count days) than Fireball. F**k that garbage. I won't say I hope Pitbull dies a gruesome death...but if he were to spontaneously combust some day and all his gazillions of dollars be donated to some worthy charity, well, I can't deny I'd be more than content]


Now, as I wrote in my last post, all RPGs provide rules for participants to explore an imaginary environment, but they are distinguished from each other by HOW they execute this exploration. And it is in the execution of these "HOWs" that we can best judge them.

And, yes, because of the limitlessness of the (RPG) medium, it is possible to contort mechanics into doing all sorts of things that the design doesn't support. Back in the day, we transported a couple of our high level AD&D characters to the Marvel Superhero version of earth, converting all their stats and abilities to standard FASERIP scores. That was some bunch crazy (and I don't recommend it)...but for us, it worked and we had half-elf weather goddesses and psionic-slinging bards brushing up against mutants, cyborgs, and aliens...for a while anyway.

BUT, as I wrote about recently, different RPG groups have different priorities of play, similar to what Ron Edwards once termed "creative agendas," a term from the (now more-or-less obsolete) GNS theory postulated on the Forge. Dungeons & Dragons (the old pre-1983 version about which I'm concerned) pushed a particular priority of play and conceptually executed it rather well:
  • the premise contained a joint objective (everyone wants treasure)
  • deadly challenges force engagement (pay attention or die)
  • asymmetry forced players to cooperate (different classes bring different skills to the table)
  • simple mechanics increase accessibility (roll dice, look at chart)
  • kitchen sink setting provides many possibilities for exploration (the length and breadth of pulp fantasy fiction)
For those who wonder why it is that D&D has remained "king" of the market for so long, one really only has to look at the excellent way in which the game executes its objectives. It's not that people LOVE "pseudo-medieval fantasy" ...some people want to retch at the idea of "high fantasy." It's the fashion in which the system functions and interacts that makes it the master of the RPG realm. 

The ONLY game that really comes close is Shadowrun. It has a joint purpose (players need to complete missions...for money). It has high pressure (i.e. deadly) stakes. It has SOME asymmetry...magic and cybertechnology don't mix well, and both are (generally) useful for completing missions. Plus the priority system of chargen ensures PC types have different strengths. But its setting...being both near future and far more far less mysterious (less avenues of exploration). And EVERYone has the ability to use firearms (the great equalizer) making many teams feel a bit "same-y." Also, the premise (PCs being beholden to missions given by Mr. Johnson) makes the game the equivalent of "quest-giver-at-the-tavern" Every Single Time...a rinse-n-repeat that gets old with no endgame in sight.

Unlike Dungeons & Dragons.

And that's the BEST of other RPGs...most fall down in even more ways. Asymmetry is the usual one; while most of the challenging RPGs do well forcing cooperation between PCs (safety in numbers!) none have quite the distinction...nor emphasis...between different PC types, even in games that have "classes" (including Marvel's "power types," Rifts' "O.C.C.s," Vampire's "clans," etc.). It's not like the VtM group is saying, "man, we really need a nosferatu to round out our coterie!" 

Here's the thing, though: that ain't a priority of play for MANY players of RPGs. Being challenged is a priority of play supported (and enhanced) by the design of Dungeons & Dragons, but some people aren't looking for that. Some people just want to explore a particular genre/setting

Westerns, outer space, superheroes, Lovecraftian exploration, Cold War spies, post-apocalypse, secret vampire society, zombie survival, steampunk time travelers, whatever...there are RPGs written to provide rules for just about any "imaginary environment" one might want to experience. You read it in a fiction novel, you saw it in a movie, you had a weird dream...wherever the strange inspiration came from you think it would be "cool" to live in that particular setting for a while. And that kind of play appeals to some folks: a shared daydream, if you will. 

Most RPGs fall into the category of facilitating this style of play. Most. 

D&D isn't about genre/setting satisfaction: there are better games that explore "pseudo-medieval" (Chivalry & Sorcery, Pendragon, Ars Magica, etc.)...better games, even, that explore struggles between law and chaos (Stormbringer, Warhammer) in a "realistic" fashion. D&D, as originally written, is wholly unconcerned with realism and almost unconcerned with genre for the tropes of adventure fiction. 

The idea of genre emulation or setting exploration has a vast appeal. It's super cool! I get drawn into it myself! My shelves are filled with RPGs for settings/genres that are wicked-awesome. Zombie cowboys (Deadlands), pulp adventure (Hollow Earth Expedition), time traveling zeppelins (Airship Pirates), etc. In my experience all these games tend to be extremely short-lived, no matter how heavy-handed the GM (and it generally takes a heavy-handed GM to get the game even beyond the chargen stage). None have any long-term duration. And yet some people desire nothing more from their RPG than the type of exploration afforded by these genre-specific RPGs, happily jumping from one to another. One day ElfQuest; the next day Star Trek.

Different strokes for different folks.

There are other priorities of play found in those who regularly play RPGs...two more really. I don't really want to discuss either one of them, however, as I have nothing positive to say about them (different tastes, fine); likewise, of the two "unmentionables," one is only designed for incidentally. But neither is conducive to long-term play except in the most toxic and/or insular fashion. And these days, I am all about the long-term play. 

What I am now wondering...and what I have sometimes wondered in the past: is it possible to design an RPG that functions conceptually as well or better than D&D. AND...a "flip-side" it possible to write a genre/setting-specific RPG that generates the same type of "perpetual game experience" that D&D does. 

Considering it right now, I actually think the latter has already been done, at least in one genre. Heavily developed Traveller or games like Ashen Stars or Bulldogs...RPGs in which the PCs represent the crew of a single ship provide a reason for players to cooperate and "adventure" together, unfettered from the needs of being challenged in a D&D-type long as the table is cool with that type of play. Lots of "imaginary environment" to explore in space; shared/joint concern (maintaining the ship); need for cooperation among the PCs...although the asymmetry isn't quite there. And with good reason: if each PC is responsible for one aspect of "ship survival" (engineer, pilot, etc.) and any PC gets killed, the entire ship goes down. The perils of operating in a hostile environment (same would hold true in submarine-type RPG).

Genre exploration is most usually executed with scripted stories...and while that's functional for that priority of play, it cuts out the beating heart of D&D, destroying what makes D&D great. And, yet, that is what many MANY individuals equate with fun, authentic D&D much so that some DMs simply cannot run a game of Dungeons & Dragons without some sort of storyline/plot. Sad (to me), because the game as written takes care of player motivation, leaving nothing for the DM but to construct a world that is imaginary environment worthy of exploration. 

Why must you force story down the players' throats? What are you trying to prove? What has destroyed your trust in your players?

Different tastes. 

All right, that's enough for today. I want to take the dog for a walk before I pick up the kids from school. Next week they have the week off, so posting will (probably) be light. Have a happy one, folks!