Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Campaign World Is Tear-And-Share Size, What About Yours?

Art School Story:

Student: (pointing to a bunch of little drawings she did, napkin-sized, with colored pencil and ink) "I just wanted to do these, y'know, try some things--they were fun."

Blustery Teaching Assistant: (winding up) "Ok, y'know when you go to the candy store and there's candy? Like Snickers?"

S: "Yeah...."

BTA: "Well if you've seen the fun size it's this big." (tiny fingerspace) "But if you go and look over at the King Size it's this big." (big giant handspace) "So you say these are fun? Don't have fun! Be a king!"

This points to one way professional creative types use the word "fun".

Like: a serious mainstream novelist writes a paperback detective novel. His friends go "Oh, that'll be fun!"

A sculptor makes a soapbox derby car: "Oh, y'know, it's just fun!"

Anthony Hopkins plays the villain in an SFXtravaganza "Well it was a lot of fun."

In this context, fun means, roughly:

An endeavor where you get to use your creativity, but one that is circumscribed and pre-formatted enough that it's obviously not that creatively ambitious and so you don't have to stake your creative reputation on whether it is groundbreaking or not.

Creative, but low stress. Like drawing a face on your hand and making it talk to a baby that isn't yours and that you don't really have to keep entertained for very long.

(Since this is being posted on the internet, and therefore has to be idiot-proofed just in case, let me here point out that, yeah, obviously, sometimes these "fun" projects end up better and in all ways more fruitful than the "king" ones. I'm sure Jane Fonda thought "Barbarella" was fun size, but it's one of the best movies of all time. Better than 'Klute' anyway...)


Now, for me--a person professionally employed as a painter--Vornheim and its environs and all my other RPG stuff is fun. They are not my primary creative outlet. I don't feel the need to be terribly ambitious about it, it just has to work. Like my oven and my lamp.

If I wanted to create a world that was meant to be appreciated for its own sake, it would probably not have horses and dwarves and torches and wheelbarrows and other medieval europe stuff and it would be completely bugfuck insane and probably not really playable (or playable-friendly anyway) in the RPG sense and look a lot more like Naked Lunch or Twin Peaks than Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser but really not so much like those things either. I would try not to use any tropes of any kind of genre anyone else invented unless I was trying to blow the doors off it. That's my job. As an artist you don't try anything unless you are trying something to do something totally fucked with it. You may not succeed, but that's what your job is. You get paid to try shit that's so out there that it might not work.

When I'm GMing, though, I am trying to make a world that is good at letting people in--that my players can grasp quickly and easily. And my players are often not only new to D&D but to RPGs entirely. "Seen Labyrinth? Good--that's a goblin, alright" I don't want to explain the baseline assumptions of the world, I want to play. The fun is what people do together, not what I tell people, so the more they can wrap their head around it ("KK, a barbarian is like Conan, you know Conan, right? Sure, I wanna be that") the faster we get into the thing that the game is actually about--not the world, but what PCs do to it. I like to try to have creative stuff (example) in my gameworld, but I'm happy to let the overall gameworld basically be an example of its genre. It has Elves stolen from the Vikings and monsters stolen from the Greeks and tons of building blocks stolen from Mr E Gary Gygax. This game's a party--if the beer's your favorite microbrew and the music is all from Relapse Records and Southern Lord that's great but if the best thing anyone says about your party is the beer was good and the music was too, your party has failed utterly and totally. The game, for me, is about the emergent events, not the raw material.

Even if I had more free time, I would still do it this way. Cliches help the game become a game faster (especially with new players).

So putting together D&D stuff is a challenge not primarily to the creative part of my brain but to the problem-solving part. I need a world where KK can be Conan and Mandy can be a creepy pseudoCatholic antinun, and Frankie can be a sneaky blue elf and Satine can be a steampunk musketeer and Connie can be totally irresponsible and it all hangs together and is hard enough to create necessities which mother inventions and I need it all to be rules-lite enough to run smoothly and to have replaceable parts and to never get repetitive. I can use the same part of my brain that does my day job for that, but I also have to think like an engineer.

So for all the talk in reviews about how Weird With A Capital W Vornheim: The Complete City Kit is, to me, Vornheim has always been just "make a place that works better than what I could buy, and do it with a little style and taste". Vornheim is really just meant to be a city where D&D-type-stuff can happen.

Or, to put it another way: my campaign is not me being King. But I do care about how it works, long term, so it's not just Fun Size--it's not just about me toying with ideas.

Neither King Size nor Fun Size, it's this other size that I noticed when I was trying to think up reasons Connie should give me some of her M&Ms: it's Tear-and-Share-Size. As in "Look, Connie, it says right on the package, it's Tear and Share Size, you have to share your M&Ms". So that is the campaign--it's designed specifically to be used with other people, and a lot of the creative effort has gone toward making it fit that particular niche.


A lot of y'all are not professional artists and the gameworlds you make are your primary creative outlet. Which I tend to forget a lot. Like Gary Gygax was an insurance adjuster, right?

It makes people see things differently--like, here's a thing: ixitxachitl.

Is an evil psionic manta ray priest a good idea? Yes it is. I would draw an evil psionic manta ray priest. I would draw it in a picture and sell it. I would write a novel from the evil ray's point of view with all his evil ray thoughts in it and send it to my publisher and be like "that was weeeeeeird and cool". Whoever thought up an evil psionic manta ray priest has just thought up a good thing.

Is it a good D&D idea? Hell no, says me. I am tryna do a D&D game an evil psionic manta ray priest just makes no sense at all. What a mood-killer. Why is there an evil psionic manta ray priest in your D&D adventure you just wrote, DIY D&D guy? Don't you know I've got a whole Warhammer/Lieber/Vance thing I'm trying to do here? That just looks silly, a knight under water with a sword trying to hit a manta ray with an axe. I got enough silly going on, thanks very much.

Oh yeah, there's evil psionic manta ray priest in your D&D adventure because when you're done writing a D&D adventure you aren't going to go and sit down for 14 hours and draw pictures of whatever fucked up thing you want and sell them to rich people. You have nowhere else to put an evil psionic manta ray priest. Right. Sorry. Forgot.

What's my point? I don't know exactly. I guess I am just interested in how for a lot of people D&D stuff is the most creative thing you get to do all day. This is probably why some people make campaigns waaaaaaaaaaay more detailed than anything I would ever bother to put together, and other people put together campaigns waaaaaaaaaay more gonzo than anything I would ever put together. And some people do that. D&D is where they get to do their thing. And I guess I kinda would like to hear what y'all have to say about that, because what I really know about it is fuck-all...

So my campaign world is definitely tear-and-share. It's a party I throw for a specific group of people and it needs to rock them, and that's that. My interest depends on theirs.

Some people are big big advocates of the King campaign: Your World Is You, love your world, whether or not anyone else does. Which I guess makes sense if the you, in another life, would've written sword-and-sorcery novels. Not so much if you're not that kinda person.

And some people go for the Fun one--tr this, try that, it's all good. Oh I had 90 campaign ideas today and I will try 7 of them... This seems like a decent approach if you have a lot of experienced and dedicated players who don't need too much fuel to get a fire going. I feel like a lot of the games I end up in as a player are Fun Size. If I ever do the thing I keep thinking I might do where I just roll a totally random dungeon and run people through it on G+, that'd be a pretty Fun Size approach. I'm not sure I'd want the nightmare of trying to fit it into my campaign world, but it could be a pip...


Sean said...

Sounds to me like someone just laid out the guidelines for a masterpiece. Something unplayable because it is so far out there, yet made playable (eventually) through your engineer/problem- solving side.

Can it be done? Maybe not. If anyone could do it though, who better to attempt it? Financially it may do a litttle better than vornheim... But what an opportunity to influence the gaming world and leave your mark.

Freakin' do it. I dare you.

Antion said...

Some of the points floating around in the background of this post were exactly what I needed to hear right now, so much appreciated.

To answer the request, I find that a lot of the *work* I do is indeed King Size stuff. Very rarely do I actually use this material. But when the game is afoot, it tends to be the Fun Size ideas that come to the fore.

That or I overthink an idea to the point where I hate it, so at the end of the week it's "fuck it let's improvise."

trollsmyth said...

Oof! Heavy stuff.

I spend my day doing creative stuff, but it's generally not the creative stuff I'd rather be doing. On the other hand, when I do get to do Art, as you say, there's this need to avoid all sorts of cool stuff because it's not my cool stuff.

So RPGs is kinda where my need to create gets to sit down and play with other people's toys and not fret about it too much. Sure, there's also a strong component of "has to work" when we sit down to play, but I also really like evil priest manta rays and Graz'zt the six-fingered demon prince and multi-headed Tiamat (but I also like mythical pre-Babylonian Tiamat, so let's squish 'em together and give Her priestess which are hierodules).

So yeah, it's all got to hang together, it's all got to be inviting to the players while giving them lots of handles to grab onto it with, and it's got to work with my sense of verisimilitude without getting too repetitive or obvious to the players. It's a tall order and much of what goes on behind the screen is me playing chess with myself. But I do that in the spaces in between, where it won't harsh on anyone's fun, because that does come first.

R.W. Chandler said...

I fall into this boat, unfortunately, where D&D is like the most creative thing I do anymore. My job is so mind-numbing and dull, D&D becomes my only main creative outlet. Still yet, like you, I want to make it work for the players. I'd love to throw together a weird ass Carcosa like game, but my players aren't familiar with that sort of shit, so they'd be like, what the fuck? I mean, they'd probably love it still, but like you, I feel the need to keep things fairly simple when I play. I don't want to have to explain for 20 minutes about what this "thing" they might be encountering is. I just want to play and have fun, so it is a catch 22 for me really. I want to let loose with the creative side, but I have to keep things fairly vanilla, and I know your games are far from vanilla, but yet you maintain the typical fantasy tropes and fit them into a fantastic and entertaining game for your players. That's kinda what I want to do. I need to stop running shit in Forgotten Realms really. Okay, I'm kinda drunk and rambling now, but you understand my point.

Roger the GS said...

This ties into an article I'm wanting to write for my fellow psych researchers.

Artists value originality above all, provided it also has a meaning.

Scientists have to be original, but they also should value reproducibility, at least for the three or four times it takes before everyone agrees it's a real thing. (Psychological science doesn't always do this, though, which is the point of my article.)

I think what you're pointing out is that a D&D campaign or ruleset can also be seen as an engineering task, where although elegance and innovation are appreciated, the main desirable thing is to be able to reproduce a positive result in practice again and again.

Zak S said...


I'd argue with the phrasing of paragraph 2--I think artists value wildly different things. As an artist I personally value beauty first-originality is merely a necessary by-product of that. The maximum beauty in art--like the maximum landspeed in engineering--requires original thought.

Originality in art is--as in science--a mere means to an as-yet-unreached end.

And meaning is nothing to shoot for--it is always unavoidably there.

Telecanter said...

If I wanted to create a world that was meant to be appreciated for its own sake . . .

The world is not the game. Whenever artistry and D&D comes up it's in terms of the setting because people can draw pictures of it, people can write that bad prose about it that you hate, people can talk about it without even playing in it. A DM doesn't need the players around, hell doesn't even need to DM, to create an intricate setting.

The game, for me, is about the emergent events, not the raw material.

Yes. That's where I'm going King-- the mechanics, and subsystems, and techniques that will facilitate those emergent events me and my friends laugh about and remember so fondly. I think you are going King there too. If not-- sweet lord, I'd love to see what you'd come up with if you put your full powers to it.

Is that engineering, not art? Maybe, but some of the leaps, the feelings of discovery I get, feel very similar to moments I've had with art.

Nemo235 said...

I don't have a gaming group right now. I haven't played anything for a couple years. Shit, I sound like an alchoholic.
Drawing and blogging about games is my creative outlet. It sounds sad in a way. I imagine playing games of imagination.
When I was playing, it was the easy fun stuff. No huge chunks of time spent writing histories and calanders.
I set up the situation and started scenarios.
I tried to judge what kind of stuff the players enjoyed and steered the world that way. If their ideas sounded cool, I could work it in. It's kind of like a shared lucid dream, but you also have to gamble with the dice.
Or a group of Baron Münchhausens keeping each other in check.
Oh, and I actually could imagine an evil psionic manta ray priest in a Lieber story.

O. G. R. Raymond said...

Yesss, brilliant, Zak S G+ dungeon delve. You'll have them lining up around several city blocks. For your average Australian arts student(modern lit subjects perhaps with a breadth in African Drum and Dance, or Renaissance Dance: yes, you can learn the Pavane and get graded on how well you rip up a 17th century dancefloor) playing D&D, it becomes an opportunity to channel the creative stuff that's floating around in one's head as a result of the lit we're doing, or the African mythology etc we're learning. The drawcard of D&D is, there are no institutionally-decided limits on what can and can't happen. If we want to cross some Italo Calvino-inspired characters investigating the machinations of Anansi the Trickster God in a Borgesian dreamscape library, then we can! And no 'creative' writing tutor can tell us we're wrong. That's the creative joy my friends and I get from D&D

noisms said...

I think another thing that needs to be added is that DMing is not very much fun if you're not into what's going on. So if you're the kind of person who loves creating a complex world and really thinking it through in detail, you get a lot out of play in that setting and that enjoyment feeds through to the players, keeps you motivated, and generates momentum.

Likewise, if you really like going hell-for-leather and gonzo, you'll really get into kitchen-sink sort of settings and likewise your enthusiasm will shovel fuel into the engine of the game.

And coming at it from the other angle, if as a DM you feel a bit "meh" about the setting you can be sure that will feed through to the players too.

Basically, if as a DM you're enjoying the players interacting with your world, it's generally a good thing for the game, is what I'm saying. (Provided you follow the cardinal "don't be a dickhead" rules, like not railroading, not forcing everybody to pronounce your special snowflake words correctly, remember where every last detail of geography is, pay special attention to the fact that your goblins are not like other goblins because of x, y and z, etc.)

Zak S said...

@kabuki kaiser

you assume far too much and reading what you want to read rather than what I wrote.

There's no-one talking about "deep emotional blossoming" here. Comments about some shit I didn't write just snarl the traffic.

Kabuki Kaiser said...

You can keep my 2 cents. I can provide you with a PDF version of the comment you've just deleted if you want to read it again another day, like when you feel like to open up a bit, just drop me a mail.

Zak S said...


Again--you completely misread my post. I didn;t say playing D&D was "minor", you could never call Star Wars "fun size" by the criteria I wrote out here, I never said "fun size" projects couldn't end up being the best ones, and all that's just to start with.

Next time, ask a question, Don't assume I said a bunch of bullshit that makes no sense and then take me to task for it.

Kabuki Kaiser said...

Okay, then I guess I'll have to go for the King-Sized answer... Most of the time, I write game design documents and video games stories for a living. I'm supposed to like it, but it has become a humdrum of sorts and I get my little space of freedom and fun with D&D and other pen & paper games. Yet, of course, D&D is shared freedom and creativity and that's the reason why I think King-Sized settings and adventures fail to fulfill their purpose. It's like you've got suppressed creativity and you want it out and begin unwrapping Your story. When I go like this, and this happens sometimes, I drop my D&D books and I write a short novel instead so that I least, if I bore someone, they can stop reading.

Surprisingly, I've been asked by a few publishers in my country (France, hello there) to write King-Sized settings and campaigns for some of their lines. It's a kind of fashion you know, people open the book, and they can say “waw, someone is going serious here, there's even fan-fiction bits”. While I know how to do it, thank you, I'm pretty sure it totally fails once you take it to your game table. I've told them to no avail: they like my fan-fiction. Well, I don't.

What I like is the freedom you get from the Fun Size, and the fact that it allows space for your player's creativity as well. It's not only more relaxed, it's also more efficient and eventually, as I've said earlier into the void, the final result you get is much better than all the King-Sized serious projects, not only for gaming, but in general.

If I post the bit about Ixitxachitls and psionic starfishes again, will you delete it?

Zak S said...

@kabuki kaiser

None of that is nearly as insane as what you you were writing before. Nor is the ixitxachitl thing.

That all makes sense.

Sure, often the "fun size" project is the one that works out best. Who doesn't know that? It can go either way.

I'm not making a value judgment. Barbarella is the 3rd or 4th best film ever made and i have no doubt Jane Fonda thought it was a "fun size" project.

I am merely saying: "I approach certain things I do like this and other ones like that" and unless you have a problem with how my d&d stuff comes out or how my paintings come out, then you'll have to say that division of labor works for me. So making a generalization like "low ambition projects always work better than high ambition projects" is over-reaching bullshit.

There is no single approach to making stuff that is going to work best all the time for all people and pretending it is is totally nuts.

Apocalype Now was real ambitious. And it rocks.

Mel said...

This sentence made me laugh out loud:

"Creative, but low stress. Like drawing a face on your hand and making it talk to a baby that isn't yours and that you don't really have to keep entertained for very long."


Kabuki Kaiser said...

I'm happy with that. I just wanted us to be sure to see that the division between Fun and King stands on a very thin line, there's many projects I've begun as “Fun” that ended up as “King”, and the other way round. While I can't prove you wrong when faced with examples like Apocalypse Now, I'm still dubious with high ambitions set from the beginning of a project, unless they involve the same distance and space as the one we allow ourselves to with “Fun”, but, yes, this is another issue entirely.

Last but not least, Ixitxachitl are awesome, and they pray Demogorgon and I use them every time I can. Sometimes, there's no water in an adventure I design and I have them float in thin air with land sharks below. One day, I'll design an Ixitxachitl Empire, or maybe a secret colony of psionic sentient multi-colored starfishes, and they would belong to different social classes based upon their color, their king being 7-colored like a gay robot unicorn.

Von said...

D&D is where they get to do their thing. And I guess I kinda would like to hear what y'all have to say about that, because what I really know about it is fuck-all...

Well, here's my twopennorth, for whatever it's worth.

Ain't no accident that I started GMming again when my sci-fi anthology crashed and burned. Ain't no accident that I have a background in literary criticism, that's quite frustrated by teaching lit-crit at the basic levels that I teach it at, either.

Those two things lead me to dislike the very idea of a generic fantasy, no matter how useful it is from a playability point of view (which it undoubtedly is). They also provoke a lot of barking mad thoughts about women and medieval death taboos and Tarot and allegorical diasporas, which get sucked up into How I Design Game Settings...

... although in practice, I'm not sure how much of that actually filters through to the players. Thinking about it keeps me sane and fulfilled, and I'm joygasmed if someone actually notices how the world works, but I don't need it to be picked up on.

Inspiration is fun-sized, design is king-sized, actual gameplay is tear-and-share. I create a lot of stuff that may or may not get used, but doing it is its own reward, really.

Beedo said...

Vanilla is the most popular ice cream flavor. If you want to ensure most folks like your ice cream... well, don't serve them chocolate marshmallow with chunks of banana.

It's funny how vanilla means "boring pastiche" but the accessibility is overlooked. Its the "my elves are different" and read this 15-page-theses-on-what-makes-my-world-unique problem - instead of common tropes - cool - I'm up to speed - let's play! I like the theory of making it accessible and putting in bits of bite-sized fun - both from a DM's perspective and a player's engagement.

mordicai said...

"Emergent" is a great term. Break me off a piece of that Kit-Kat bar.

Welcome to Dungeon! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Welcome to Dungeon! said...

D&D isn't my primary creative outlet and I don't really make my campaign settings all that detailed, but, that aside, here's the way I'm looking at it.

If I am at a gallery or museum or someone's house and I see a painting of an evil psychic manta ray, what I am going to think is "huh, put that in a dungeon."

Maybe this is because about 80% of the time I am a player rather than a DM; I see the painting of the evil manta and I think "I would like having my guy try to spear that thing in its tank/grotto/bubble." If I'm DMing an adventure, I'll put in the kinds of things I like to play through when I'm a PC. The other players might think the manta priest is silly, but there is no monster so awesome that some wiseass won't make fun of it. I just don't see a reason not to go for it.

Kabuki Kaiser said...

I knew this would eventually all end up with the core issue of Ixitxachitl.

Jeff Rients said...

D&D is my primary creative outlet, but the making crap up before the game part isn't the primary part of it. I'd rather run a half-assed game or lean on someone else materials than stay home and work on my own stuff. I think a musical analogy might work here: I'm a composer mainly so my band has something new to play.

Trey said...

Good post. I think its widely applicable. Gaming (and creating things for gaming) isn't a one size fits all enterprise. From my own perspective I do want to do something somewhat different (but not to different it doesn't have plenty of room for tried and true "cliches") and it allows me a sort of creativity I don't get in my day job--nor even when when engaging in other hobbies.

Anonymous said...

Great post; that is something to tihnk about.

But waitaminit -- Barbarella is one of your top five films of all time?!? What else is on that list?

Zak S said...


good point

Uncle Matt said...

I plan King-size campaigns because it's just what I do. Doesn't matter what kind of sessions I'm hoping to run or what the expectations of the players are -- we'll adjust that on the fly. I have a sense of what scale they want to be, and that's the scale we'll be.

But I like the planning. I like connecting dots, adding backstory, making pieces of the campaign whether or not they'll come into play. It's just fun - like writing a novel, but without the need to actually make it worth reading. I have plenty of other creative outlets, but the deep creating for an RPG campaign scratches a particular itch. Planning on the King scale is for my enjoyment, not necessarily for the group's use. So I don't inflict it on them if we feel like doing it another way.

But it's there in the background if I need it. Last session I ran, we needed a coda. Nothing fancy -- just a surprise to goose the last 5 minutes and make them wonder about what might happen next time. Into our light episodic game stepped an NPC I designed (for the sheer joy of designing him) about 15 years ago. I don't know if this fits your taxonomy anywhere. The material's there in my head, but it's not driving the action. It's more like a hexcrawl, only instead of crawling through environments, the PCs crawl through situations. The King-size stuff I did is there if they happen to crawl toward it. Is that the kind of explanation you wanted?

Zak S said...

@uncle matt

that's really good. see, that's the kind of thing one would hope would happen if you went all-out making the campaign as an independent entity--you know it so well that you can pull stuff out at will.

ghostwriter said...

1st things 1st, killa post. a few things it made me think off bat (sorry i havent had time to read comments yet so sorry if i am late to the party): 1. a psionic manta ray priest sounds like the sorta stuff one starts to think up when D&D BECOMES their day job + 2. your style of "tear & share" (great analogy) seems to be more about an attitude of not focusing too much on the non-game part of what is ultimately a "game" (ie. why bother when the real fun is spontaneity & playing w/ others) than it does w/ exhausting your creativity elsewhere, no? i/o/w, i'm just guessin there are others that hold the same attitude towards their game that dont nec work in the arts for a livin.....Anyways, amazing post. thx

Jason said...

First, let me say that a manta ray priest sounds epic, not silly. I imagine a steampunky fantasy environment, a knight with this crazy old timey diving helmet kinda thing that's gurgling as it sucks in water to give him oxygen and sends out bubbles of exhalation, while he dodges magic missiles and controlled sharks and stuff and tries to put enough force behind his sword blow to make it count even with the water slowing him to a crawl even while it let's the dark priest of the ray queen move all around him freely and attack from any and all angles.

Second, while RPGs are not my only creative output, I am in no way a professional, so all my stuff only has to satisfy me and people willing to give it time(which includes my players). This leads to almost all of my projects being, essentially, shit I think is cool, typically interlacing several concepts weirdly. Like putting technicolor friendship ponies into giant robots fueled by fighting spirit and having them fight dragons. These things ping completely different sectors of "cool" inside my skull, but I mix them up anyways.

just my two cents.

Adam Thornton said...

Wait, didn't Leiber already have evil manta ray priests? There was that one story where the Twain were down under the water in some sort of bubbles-connected-by-tunnels, and there were no doubt hawt chicks to bone on the altar (maybe I have that mixed up with Stardock, though, and that reminds me that a perfectly respectable campaign would be "travel to really inaccessible places and bone the hawt chicks who are waiting for Real Heroes to be their consorts once you get there" (fine, fine, one could even say that Mentula Macanus and its brethren already enact this)), and I can at least believe that I remember things that they took to be cloaks but were Evil Sea Beings.

Also, there's something else going on here, which might be the difference between professional and hobby. My creative reputation might be on the line in the stuff I do for RPGs and Interactive Fiction, but the audience for that is my real-life friends and certain internet circles (indeed, my G+ stream has one circle for RPG and one for IF).

I do get to do creative things in my day job, although they are mostly engineering creative things, and I have other spheres of interest which track that job much more closely. The creative reputation that would be on the line for that stuff has a wider audience and a lot more consequences. If people begin thinking that I don't create tools that help them get their jobs done better/more quickly/more easily, then I have a real problem in short order, and won't be able to pay my bills.

Although maybe we're both just saying it's about emotional commitment. But I dunno if that's right either, because I certainly cared a lot about Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis (and I care about IF a lot more than about any specific game I've written), and I care a lot about playing D&D, although again a lot less about any specific creation I've made for or in D&D.

Maybe that's it: could it be about process rather than product? What I care about with both IF and D&D is the act of playing, and the group of people who play (which lends itself to Tear and Share)...whereas in my day job and my IT stuff, I care more about the stuff I produce, which then leads to less willingness to treat those products as Fun-Size?

Provocative post. Thanks!

Ry St said...

Hey Zak, I hope I'm not too late. I've been reading and re-reading this post for days.

I'm one of those people whose main creative outlet is D&D. I've run a lot of D&D, and I play a lot of different RPGs. I'm bummed because I don't have my own game right now, and the biggest reason is that I'm always nixing my own ideas.

I've done King sized and Fun sized and... I get bummed out considering either.

My King sized games are too much work, and I hate 'telling my story' or any of those other things where basically the players kneel before the altar of My Big Idea.

But my Fun sized games seem really dull. I mean, if I ever see another elf and dwarf learn to put aside their differences and become comrades in arms, I think I will pluck out my eyes and wire my optic nerves to the toaster. When I bring an easy-to-grok premise for a campaign I don't get interesting stuff out of myself or the players.

I'm in the middle of a great community of gamers who want me to run stuff for them. But I don't know how to navigate into that middle space.

Jason said...

Ry, this is just my personal thing, and I'm just a random dude, but what I like to do is cut most of the early standard plot out. Elves and dwarves get along in my settings, as well as having some different schticks(my last big one had dwarves as woodsmen, elves as pirates, and dark elves as cavernous metal smiths, for instance), but most importantly, I drain out the usual first-step plots to focus on either big "OH SHIT THE DARK BARON OF LORDLAND HAS AWOKEN FROM HIS NAP OF EVIL" plots, or "what shenanigans will you psychopaths get into TODAY?" character driven stuff.

Hope that helps!

Ry St said...

Thanks Jason...

If I told you "Dark Baron of LordLand and the daily greedy psychopath shenanigans" sounded boring too, would that indicate there's something wrong with me? Have I already played all the D&D I'm ever going to be able to enjoy?

Zak S said...


I just don't get how you always have a dwarf and an elf putting aside their differences to become comrades in every game.

In my experience, especially in a fun-size game, the elf and dwarf are too busy hacking mutants and jellyfish-men to bits for 8 or 9 sessions before even noticing what race the other guy is.

Jason said...

@Ry St

Certainly not. The only way you hit that point is when D&D's mechanics themselves start to bore you, and there're guys who sat down at the same table as Gygax himself who still get by just fine with a retroclone or their own little hack to fill in the gaps.

Really, my point is just more that if you keep running into these same early plot points and they bore you, make your world one where they already happened. The elves and dwarves get along just fine, every town bigger than a few shacks in a clearing has some level-1 problem solver who's happy to punch whenever they threaten the town in trade for a few gold pieces(and thus your dudes and/or dudettes only need to be concerned with whatever's actually important to them/the game as a whole), whatever. The core point is, start your game or your entire world past that early stuff that's boring you, depending on what's appropriate.

Ry St said...


After I read your reply I was like 'but it's not about dwarves and elves!' but then I hadn't said anything else so I had to sit down and figure out what I meant.

I still dig the idea of encountering the surreal / phantasmagoria but I'm tired of fantasy clichés. That includes races, but is just as much about casual violence. I think that's the most general way I could try to express the elf/dwarf thing.


Your comment really got me thinking about "what do I want?"

No big dark lord, no nations at war, just... enclaves of humanity, with strangeness between and beyond. Heroes that have the resources to change something, either through strength of arms or magic or cunning.

I really want a game like that, but I don't want to reward casual violence. So say I make a world with No elves, no dwarves, start at 4th level or so.

Combining both @Zak and @Jason, I'd need experience rules that were about exploration, solving mysteries, and impacting communities. Because I want that and I don't want killing things and taking their stuff.

Zak S said...

@ry st

if your game won't be about killing things and taking their stuff and will include communities that the PCs are supposed to care about then I am afraid I have absolutely no helpful advice for you.

Ry St said...

That's OK. Your random generators rock.

Bill the Dungeon Master said...

Thank you for mentioning Jellyfish-Men, Zack. Now a lost city of Jellyfish-Men is getting plunked down on the map of my world, right in the general direction the PCs are already heading. I love how inspiring your blog is, Zack. Kudos!