Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Death of Lady Smashalot And Why I Don't Have A Castle-Wall-Density Calculation Table

Mandy: Zak's going for a Total Party Kill tonight.

Me: Am I? Let's review...
Connie falls into a pit.
Lady Smashalot over here stays at the edge of the pit and begins a conversation with a Non-Player Character who says "What happened there?"
Lady Smashalot flies into a rage and decides to attack him for some reason.

KK: He was a hippie.*

Me: Fair enough, still, you decided to attack him, you chase him down--into a room full of people he's friendly with--and stab him, and he vomits up a hydra.
Then you ran away from the hydra, then you turned around, ran back and attacked it. Then it ate you.
So, none of that had to happen. I hadn't planned any of that, all that happened because you decided you had to kill a hippie.

Mandy: I was trying to distract it.

KK: How was I supposed to know he would vomit up a hydra?

Zak: Well, you got here by going into a place full of people that vomited random monsters.

KK: Oh, right.


I like my players, and we have fun.

However, I know the way we roll isn't the only way.

I look over at Tao's blog and I find the clockwork world there impressive and inspiring.

Alexis goes in for a lovingly simulated world, where the price of ox feathers in Novgorod is what the price of ox feathers in Novgorod should really be, assuming everything else is the way it is. And there actually is a Novgorod. And there's no ox feathers 'cause oxen don't have feathers.

Some people think these kind of simulatory rules are just there for their own sake, but that's not entirely true--part of the fun of having a world that really makes sense is that if the PCs do things that they'd normally do, then they generate their own plots merely by doing them. And they can plan reasonable tactics because they know the world operates on real-world-like rules.

If the world is simulated enough, then if the PCs, say, build a castle, then paying attention to where they build it might actually matter, in terms of what trade, political consequences, and monster infestations they can expect. And they don't have to worry about game mechanics--if the world's simulatory in the right way, they just need to worry about what would make sense.

I, myself, like that idea. It allows you to play the game on more levels simultaneously--I could kill the orc to get the gold, but if I don't wear a disguise the orcs may start to realize I'm just this guy who's been robbing orc temples for about sixteen months now and I might get a reputation and they might come after me in the comfort of the bed I sleep in where I don't wear armor because if I did I'd wake up with severe back pain and so I'd better hire some bodyguards, but which bodyguards? None of them seem very trustworthy since... Actions have consequences, cause has effect, a story can begin to write itself.

As the death of Lady Smashalot (and Palomedes, and Ilona the Illusionist) demonstrates, not all my players are necessarily the kind of players who would appreciate the behind-the-curtain tinkering that's necessary to create this kind of world. So the world's logic is pulpish at one end, nightmarish on the other, and fairy-talish in the middle.

And, honestly, I don't mind. Every party needs its Pippins. But if occasionally the PCs burn down a town and no-one notices, or the vengeful tree sprites seem weirdly arbitrary about which trees they protect, it's because half the players around here wouldn't notice if I did it any other way.


*He was an anesthetized vomiter. Vomiters, being constantly ill, speak in dazed, distracted voices.


  1. I find the best solution to "these rampaging PCs wouldn't pay attention if people started holding a grudge" is to just make towns close up like a clam shell when the PCs roll in. Lets them feel bad ass. Also; the rival party! If they are burning down places & randomly attacking folks, shouldn't the reoccurring NPC team be sent out to bring them to justice? Make sure the NPCs are part of a...lets say guild for bounty hunters, or church, so that "if" they get killed you can replenish their ranks...

  2. As much as I love reading about your campaign, I couldn't really run one like it myself. I'm sure it would be fun for a while but my need to make everything (everything!) make sense (if only in the form of internal consistency)would eventually drive me quite made. And my players, a least most of them, would take notice pretty quickly.

    I guess the best description of the type of fantasy games I run and enjoy most would be 'Folklore Simulatuions'. My preference is for a slightly romanticised real world medieval or modern setting, with the world of magic overlay on top of it. I'm not explaining it perfectly but I can see it in my head.

  3. I have started running into this issue myself in my games. My new wife started playing with us recently.

    I try to make my game as logically and socially correct as possible (the Mage Guild is in effect the head of state, and yet due to fear of spells like Charm Person no mage is allowed to engage in direct commerce; they have to have an intermediary).

    My wife keeps asking if she can find a bazooka, and doesn't understand why her character can't be from Cambodia.

    I'm just having to relax it a bit, which has been remarkably hard. Apparently I take DnD too seriously.

  4. The struggle between keeping the game flexible and giving the world depth is something I've gotten really interested in lately. I don't really care about losing myself in a fully-crafted realistic world, but the point you bring up about detail offering potential emergent plot hooks and making castle-placing more interesting is very valid.

    I've decided to start assuming very little detail by default, but try to build it in whatever areas the players show interest in on the spot. I'm not going to worry about toilet placements in the wizard's tower until a player starts hatching a plan involving sewer systems, at which moment toilets will magically appear off-screen in unexplored parts of the tower. This can have some funky effects, where the players can change the layout of a dungeon based on what questions they ask about it, but that's not so bad. It's not perfect, but I'm hoping I can strike a decent balance.

  5. Your games sound like fun, but I'm not sure if I would enjoy them as completely as you and your players do. I certainly hope my players are somewhat less whimsical and random, but I want them to have fun, also.

    And, seldom mentioned as part of the equation, the DM should be having fun, too.

  6. My wife keeps asking if she can find a bazooka, and doesn't understand why her character can't be from Cambodia.

    I'm just having to relax it a bit, which has been remarkably hard. Apparently I take DnD too seriously.

    I love this comment. This is how I felt when I ran The Girls' Game. I wanted them to feel the scale and difficulty of assaulting an island full of orky pirates, and they wanted to buy wine. (Player: "What the hell is belladonna for?" Me: "It keeps you from turning into a werewolf." Player: "Why the hell would I want to PREVENT that?")

    That's another reason I love this blog. Zak has these wonderfully detailed theories on gaming, great plans for a campaign world, and a deep understanding of D&D through the years, much like many of us. And KK wants to kill hippies! Hahahaha that's why D&D is great. There's room for all of us at the table.

  7. So when you say "Yet" does that mean you're seeing signs of interest in what's going on in the greater (fictional) world outside of the sphere the party's immediately occupying?

    Or that you intent to encourage such an interest, perhaps via the evil-mastermind style plan?

    Or just that you would like for it to develop some day?

    Or is it something else, something I couldn’t even begin to guess at?

  8. tom--
    it's just most of my players are new--so they have yet to develop in any given direction--they're still in the sampler stage.

  9. Oh but Zak what a beautiful stage that is, right?

    Sometimes I wish I could go back to a simpler time when it wasn't all edition wars and story vs. OSR and working my ass off to create the perfect adventure or world since we only have a few hours of game time.

    Instead, I want to just sit down, throw some dice and the next thing you know 12 hours have gone by.