Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Player Making Stuff Up (Thought Eater)

Here's some more entries for the Thought Eater DIY RPG Essay Tournament.

If you don't know about the contest, it's like this: these two essays are not by me--they're by a pair of anonymous DIY RPG writers who were both assigned to write about: Players Making Stuff Up for the contest.


Anybody reading is eligible to vote for which one you like best and voting will be cut off once all the votes for all the first round Thought Eater essays are up...

First One


If you like this one better, send an email with the Subject "MAKEUP1" to zakzsmith AT hawt mayle or vote on Google +. Don't put anything else in the email, I won't read it.


All players are inherently creative, by virtue of being human beings you are not afraid to sit down at a table with. The trick is getting this inherent creativity past their internal barriers, and any social barriers the group or game may have put in place.

It's important to ask yourself just what you want your players to invent, and how much control you want to give them: in a hyperdetailed location-focused game like D&D it's usually discouraged for players to try to add detail or interactivity to the environment, while encouraged for them to try combining aspects of their character with the environment in unexpected ways. Moving farther along the arc of creative freedom, you have something like Feng Shui, which has explicit rules for players spending Fortune Points to add (plausible) items they need or want to the scene that they're in. Past that, and you have something like Nobilis or Amber, where the narrative and setting are an ongoing negotiation between the players and GM, and then on to purely troupe-style games. Similar tricks are going to work for players in all these games, but knowing where you are trying to encourage creativity and to what extent can help you to be consistent and help your group to understand expectations.

The most interesting thing about RPGs, as a player or a GM, is that the options available are limitless. Experienced players already know this, but if you have new ones, or if your old ones haven't been playing with GMs who encourage creativity, the basics of encouraging creative play are: model the kind of behavior you want to see from your players; don't discourage them in their early efforts; give them forms and structures that they can replicate and tinker with; and keep them aware of how the possibility space of the game has expanded by being as clear and consistent with rulings and writing down or otherwise noting house-rules.

Modeling can be done using your GM-voice or through NPCs--if your PCs are always performing basic attack actions, put them up against NPCs who use the environment in more complex ways. If you want them to introduce backstory elements during play, consider initiating flashbacks during play. If you want them to narrate the beauty of their martial arts attacks, or to come up with insane stunts, throw some verbiage or breakneck daring of your own at them. They'll pick up on it quickly, if the game you're trying to run is a good fit for your players.

Encouraging creative efforts from players doesn't mean they always have to succeed, just that they have to feel like they could succeed if they come up with the right ideas. If their idea is awesome and impractical, make it clear you at least think it's awesome. Most of this is straight out of basic improv theater: saying "Yes, and" and making your partner look good. The goal is to make sure that people keep trying things to see what sticks, even when it doesn't always work. When you can't agree that something is possible, try to offer a "No, but" instead of a flat no, maybe using it as an excuse to layer in a few more concrete details to the scene--the more details are in play, the more likely someone is to use one of them.

Making an attack using some aspect of an environment, weapon, or character in a way that is not innately governed by the rules in the book on the table is a form that players can understand and will grab on to quickly. Every game has places that creativity can be layered in, and finding new ones is part of the fun. Some are pretty obvious and the players will find them on their own sooner or later. Others, like if it's possible to add to your backstory during play, or to create certain kinds of detail in a way that is not directly linked to the capabilities of an individual player character, should definitely be explicitly spelled out, with clear examples whenever possible.

Keeping a clear and ongoing understanding of rulings and house rules between players and GM can be challenging. It doesn't necessarily need to be written down, but the more sessions you play the more likely parts of it are to be lost. Having the rulings be clear to everyone keeps the players on an even footing and lets them use previous ruling to attempt new invention; if no one knows them, or the rulings keep changing, it can result in confusion and wasted effort, which can in turn be discouraging of further invention.

Just as the scope of invention available to the players can vary, so too can the purposes of those inventions. Sometimes, when faced with a difficult problem, players rack their brains to invent something to save their character's skins. At other times, they might be inventing things purely for tone, or to amuse the other players, or because they think it sounds cool. What kinds of inventions work best is going to depend on your group, and the game you're playing, and figuring it out always takes trial and error. It might even be necessary to switch games some times, or try running for different people, but the things that you and your players can come up with will surprise you. Just like inventions in the real world, trials and errors are what it's all about; and in a role-playing game, no one actually gets set on fire.

Probably.


Second One

If you like this one better, send an email with the Subject "MAKEUP2" to zakzsmith AT hawt mayle or vote on Google +. Don't put anything else in the email, I won't read it.

Getting players to add things to your game -- whether it's just minor details or major elements of the game world -- is fun and time-saving. Like the best random game elements, it produces results you wouldn't have thought of, which is desirable. But it isn't necessarily easy. If you're running a game, chances are you're the person there who's most comfortable just creating stuff out of the blue with four other people watching you. Some players balk at this kind of thing, especially when they feel like they're put on the spot. 

Fortunately, role-playing games are *already* a tool for getting people to contribute things to the game. Getting players to contribute stuff outside the usual role is just a matter of looking at what the game already does and applying it to a slightly different type of situation. 

Choices and restrictions

Some games have character creation systems that advertise themselves as "be whatever you want to be; anything at all!" But most successful ones provide some kind of restriction on what the player creates, either in the form of random generation or in the form of a menu of options. You can encourage players to invent stuff, especially early on, by presenting opportunities as choices -- "should Zylphia's dad be the local lord, or do you think he's just some guy?" Don't let menus be exhaustive. If the player says "what if he were a pirate," go with it. 

You never need to worry about choices constraining players who *don't* need encouragement to contribute. Those guys will always add stuff -- sometimes whether you want them to or not. 

Posing questions like this also helps you get around two of the three major pitfalls in this kind of situation: first, that some players will use the practice to make their characters the most important. You avoid this by limiting the scope of the question. The second pitfall is that players may like the element of surprise, and many (although not all) will feel that there's not much point to exploring if they know what's out there.

Have choices matter

My players like it -- or at least they have the good grace to pretend -- when something they created turns up in the game. An extended riff about one character's competitive relationship with his overachieving sister turned into a fully-fledged NPC, for instance, and I think she's more valued because she came from the players' conversation. But it all depends on how the new addition is used in the game. If you ask the players to explain why the sheriff decided to join the outlaws, but the sheriff is just some guy they're supposed to beat up, it's not as good as if the thing they're creating matters to what they're doing.. This is the third pitfall. 

Of course, sometimes things won't go the way you expect and something a player created gets left on the shelf. C'est la vie, but in general, try to show the players that the stuff they create for the gameworld is relevant. 

You know how some players are always embellishing their characters in kind of pointless ways (pointless for the other players, anyway)? My familiar is a sugar glider, my uncle's eyes are hazel, I went to Bumbleton University, that sort of thing? I tend to think that those are players who would like to make stuff that is important in the game world but sort of think it's bad manners to ask or aren't sure whether it's OK. When an old pal from Bumbleton University shows up, I think they find it very rewarding and hopefully it will encourage them to do it more in future. 

Don't only do it at the table

One thing that can be really handy is to have some kind of other space in which players can add creative stuff. Aaron Allston wrote about this stuff already, although they didn't have wikis back then. But basically, if you encourage players to create stuff during the downtime between games, you might get better results on both ends -- players can take their time to think about things and not feel put on the spot, and you can be warned about what they're going to introduce. I have historically used wikis for this stuff, but it could be anything as long as people can get access to it. I'm sure there are new cool online collaborative tools, but it can also just be talking over lunch. 

Begin at the beginning

Look at the development of early fantasy settings and you can see that they were often collaborative efforts, but in a very divided way -- this is Steve's kingdom, this is Laura's kingdom, this is Percival's island, etc. Presumably this was originally to do with the way setting-creation occurred in wargames and Diplomacy variants. But it's a good way to make sure that contributing players don't step on one another's toes; give distinct areas of responsibility. The easiest way to do this is to do it before the campaign starts; that's easier if you tend to run many short games rather than a single long campaign. There are even games such as Microscope or Lexicon that make little mini-games out of creating a campaign setting or its history. 

So there you go: some tips for encouraging and using player contributions. Exactly how you do this depends on how into it your players are; some of my players really enjoy it, while others are more reticent. But assuming you're stopping short of full-on distributed-GM play, these are good ways to coax stuff out of players without losing control. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

100 More Lyonesse Things

100 more persons, places, creatures and objects you might run into from Suldrun's Garden (1983) and The Green Pearl (1985) taken from the Lyonesse series of books, all these quotes copyright Jack Vance.

1, a troll, with a narrow forehead and a great red nose from which sprouted a mustache of nose-hairs. He carried a net and a wooden pitchfork.

2, a furious troll, wearing purple fustian. He was even more ugly than the previous troll, with warts and wens protruding from his forehead, which hung like a crag over a little red nose with the nostrils turned forward.

3, a troll who seemed to combine all the repulsive aspects of the first two. He wore snuff-brown garments, black boots with iron buckles and an odd conical hat tilted to one side.

4, an ogre, rocking from side to side on heavy bowed legs. He stood fifteen feet tall; his arms and torso, like his legs, were knotted with wads of muscle! His belly thrust forward in a paunch. A great crush hat sheltered a gray face of surpassing ugliness. On his back he carried a wicker basket containing a pair of children.

5, the carcass of a child, stuffed with onions, trussed and spitted, roasted over the fire. Nerulf turned the spit and from time to time basted the meat with oil and drippings

6, He went to the table and drank the contents of the purple cup. At once he dwindled in stature to become a squat powerful troll,

7,  the missing head. Pode and Daffin discovered it halfway across the meadow, pulling itself forward by snapping at the ground with its teeth.

8,  a witch trapped me under her hat and sold me

9, the ghosts of dead children running along the' roof.

10, One of the dryads splashed water toward Dhrun. He saw the drops rise into the air and sparkle in the sunlight, whereupon they became small golden bees, which darted into Dhrun's eyes and buzzed in circles, blotting out his sight.

11, Dame Melissa, as she calls herself, is a dire witch. When I was fifteen years old, she gave me drugged milk to drink, then transferred herself into my body—that which she wears today. I, a fifteen-year-old girl, was housed in the body Melissa had been using:

12, a set of dolmens, arranged to form the In-and-Out Maze, whose origin is unknown

13, In Wookin reside a vampire, a poison-eater, and a woman who converses with snakes.

14, Rhodion, king of all fairies, who wears a green hat with a red feather. Take his hat and he must do your bidding

15, On yonder hill I plan a great moon-trap, and when the moon comes walking and spying and peeping for to find my window, I'll pull the latch and then there'll be no more of my milk curdled on moony nights

16, I wait under gallows until the corpse drops, whereupon I assume possession of the clothes and valuables...

17, Pilbane the Dancer, who robbed along the highway for thirteen years

18, This gallows is known as Six-at-a-Gulp. Both law and custom forbid the hanging of five or four or three or two or one from the ancient beam

19, He wore a long black cloak, a black cloth over all his face, save his eyes, and a flat-crowned black hat, with an extremely broad brim. In his left hand he brandished a dagger on high.

20,  the great Janton Throatcut himself. Only last week I hanged high his six henchmen. He was in the act of taking their shoes for his collection; he does not care a fig for clothes."

21, the Thief-Taker

22, The festival had not yet commenced, but already booths, pavilions, platforms and other furniture of the fair were in the process of construction.

23, DOCTOR FIDELIUS

24, Grand gnostic, seer, magician.

25, HEALER OF SORE KNEES

26, ... Mysteries analyzed and resolved: incantations uttered in known and unknown languages. ... Dealer in analgesics, salves, roborants and despumatics.... Tinctures to relieve nausea, itch, ache, gripe, scurf, buboes, canker.

27, At Sinkings Gap you must pass under a boulder balanced on a pin. You must kill the guardian raven, or he will drop a feather to topple the boulder on your head.

28, At the River Siss an old woman with a fox's head and a chicken's legs will ask you to carry her across the river. You must act on the instant: cut her in half with your sword and carry each piece over separately

29, a pair of bearded gryphs. Give each a comb of honey coming and going, which you have brought for the purpose.

30, a number of manikins carved from blackthorn roots. "Name these little homologues with names, and place them on the map, and they will scuttle to position. Watch!" He took up one of the manikins and spat in its face. "I name you Casmir. Go to Casmir's place!" He put the manikin on the map; it seemed to scamper across the map to Lyonesse Town

31, Fafhadiste and his three-legged blue goat

32, acrobats, contortionists, mimes and jugglers

33, took a black box from the shelf, poured inside a gill of water, added drops of a glowing yellow liquid which caused the water to show films of light at various levels. In a leather-bound libram Tamurello located the name "Shimrod." Using the appended formula he prepared a dark liquid which he added to the contents of the box, then poured the mixture into an iron cylinder six inches tall and two inches in diameter. He sealed the top with a glass cap, then held the cylinder to his eye. After a moment he gave the cylinder to Carfilhiot. "What do you see?"

34, Looking through the glass, Carfilhiot observed four men riding at a gallop through the forest. One of the men was Shimrod.

35, six poles fifty feet tall, supporting as many impaled corpses.

36, a kind of aviary thirty feet high and fifteen feet in diameter, equipped with perches, nests, feeders and swings. The human denizens of the aviary exemplified Carfilhiot's whimsy at its most pungent; he had amputated the limbs of several captives, both male and female and had substituted iron claws and hooks, with which they clung to the perches. Each was adorned with plumage of one sort or another; all twittered, whistled and sang bird-songs

37, a team of two-headed black horses, of great size and strength

38,  a round chamber decorated in blue, pink and gold, and with a pale blue rug on the marble floor

39, a gantry twenty feet high from which hung four men with heavy stones dangling from their feet. Beside each stood a marker, measured off in inches…Let markers be placed; then when these miscreants have stretched to double their length, let them be released,

40, Up the cliff they rode, back and forth, and at every stage discovered instruments of defense: embrasures, traps, stone-tumbles, timbers pivoted to sweep the intruder into space, sally-ports and trip-holes.

41, I am a magician of the eleventh level," said Shimrod

42, A band of fifteen ragged mendicants straggled south

43, a circular frame something less than a foot in diameter, surrounding a gray membrane. Carfilhiot plucked at the center of the membrane, to draw out a button of substance which grew rapidly under his hand to become a nose of first vulgar, then extremely large size: a great red hooked member with flaring hairy nostrils.

44, Carfilhiot gave a hiss of exasperation; tonight the sandestin was restless and frolicsome. He seized the great red nose, twisted and kneaded it to the form of a crude and lumpy ear, which squirmed under his fingers to become a lank green foot. Carfilhiot used both hands to cope with the object and again produced an ear, into which he uttered a sharp command:

45, bluffs extend into the valley, with little more than an arrow-flight between. They are riddled with tunnels; were you to march past a hail of arrows would strike down and in one minute you would lose a thousand men

46, the Wastes of Falax

47, the Flesh Cape of Miscus

48, the Totness Squalings

49, The line from Murgen's spool, so fine as almost to float in the air, could not be broken by the strength of human arms.

50, A great gibbet was erected, with the arm sixty feet from the ground

51, Princess Madouc, half-fairy, is a long-legged urchin with dark curls and a face of fascinating mobility.

52,  the trolls of Komin Beg to war, in which they are led by a ferocious imp named Dardelloy.

53, three one-legged witches: Cuch, Gadish and Fehor

54, A boy or girl innocently trespassing upon a fairy meadow might be cruelly whipped with hazel twigs

55, VISBHUME, apprentice to the recently dead Hippolito, applied to the sorcerer Tamurello for a similar post, but was denied.

56, a spell of ennui upon Desmei: an influence so quiet, gradual and unobtrusive that she never noticed its coming

57, a spell of stasis upon you, and you will never move again.

58, a young witch named Zanice, accused of drying the udders of her neighbor's cow.

59, brain-stone of a demon

60, goblin's egg

61, basilisk's eye

62, each year the Esq magicians alter a hundred human fetuses, hoping that one may be born with thirteen eyes in a circlet around its forehead…So far, nine eyes is their limit of capability, and these become priests of the cult

63, he rubbed the soles of his sandals with water-spite, that he might be enabled to walk on water.

64, a spell of temporary meekness

65, a glossic to make Sir Hune's weapons shrivel and droop and all his arrows fly awry

66, a plague of stag-beetles for my bed

67, Scurch: untranslatable into contemporary terms; gernerally: ‘susurration along the nerves', ‘psychic abrasion', ‘half-unnoticed or sublimated uneasiness in a mind already wary.' ‘Scurch' is the stuff of hunches and unreasoning fear

68, the activating spell is of three resonances and a quaver

69, a Circassian witch who began to corrode Tamurello with Blue Ruin

70, Sandestin: a class of halfling which wizards employ to work their purposes. Many magical spells are effected through the force of a sandestin.

71, he cursed the witch with footlong toenails, so that now and forever she must wear special boots."

72, the wizard Baibalides, who lived in a house of black rock on Lamneth Isle, a hundred yards off the coast of Wysrod

73, I know the tube well: it is Gantwin's Millenial Spectator; it depicts events of the last thousand years anywhere within its purview

74, a mask representing Baibalides. Next he brought out a skull on a pedestal and arranged the mask in place over the skull. Instantly the mask seemed to come alive. The eyes blinked; the mouth opened to allow a tongue to moisten the lips. Shimrod called: "Baibalides, can you hear me?

75, optical wisps

76, falloy: a variety of halfling. much like a fairy, but larger and far more gentle of disposition.

77, listening shells

78, The mirror is of magic. You see reflected the person you think yourself to be. Or you may say: ‘Mirror, show me as I appear to Shimrod!' or, ‘Mirror, show me as I appear to Tamurello!' and you will see these versions of yourself.

79,  a druid appeared in a brown robe with a sprig of mistletoe pinned to his hood. He uttered a single word; all fell silent, then slunk away and hid in the shadows.

80,  a dour old castle of fourteen towers overlooking the harbor

81, green vapor, which, caught by the wind, blew out over the sea. Swirling low and mingling with spume from the waves, the fume condensed to become a green pearl

82, "You refer to the Temple of Atlante?…The priests claim that the number of steps above the surface is dwindling: either the land is sinking or the sea is rising: such is their reasoning

83, Hoonch the dog-god

84, iron-legged goat

85, I can put toad-heads on your enemies!

86, I can change the stone of their castles to suet pudding.

87, I can enchant the surf, to bring sea-warriors with mother-of-pearl eyes charging ashore out of each breaking wave!

88, a stuffed blackbird mounted on a stand. A sheet of parchment, folded and tucked between the bird's legs, read: To hold converse with. Tamurelo, pluck a feather from the belly of the Bird and place in the flame of a candle.

89, The base was a circular ebony platter, marked around the rim with signs of the zodiac. The golden ball at the center, so Casmir had been told, represented the sun. Nine silver balls of various size rolled in circular troughs around the center, but for what purpose was a secret known only to the ancients. The third ball from the center was accompanied by a smaller ball and made its circuit in exactly one year

90, Trilda had been designed by Hilario, a minor magician of many quaint notions, and built overnight by a band of goblin carpenters who took their pay in cheeses.

91,  a wonderful structure of jet and milk-glass. Slender columns supported domes and tall arcades and higher domes, and still more, ranked one above the other, along with a hundred terraces and balconies and, higher yet, a cluster of towers flying pennons and banderoles. In the shadowed halls hung chandeliers encrusted with diamonds and moonstones, which gave off glints of red, blue, green and purple light.

92, Stangle: the stuff of dead fairies, with implications of horror, calamity and putrefaction

93, I will transform all your teeth into barnacles."

94, crayfish in the shallow pools and a noble trout lazing in the shadows

95, Threlka is a witch of the seventh degree, and is wise beyond most others.

96, Threika cut away the splint and threw it into the fire. "Burn, wood, burn! Pain, in smoke fly up the chimney; disturb Tatzel no longer!" From a black jar she poured a syrup upon Tatzel's leg, then sprinkled on crushed dry leaves. She wound the shin with a loose bandage and tied it with a coarse red string. "And so it goes! In the morning you shall know no more weakness

97, the Cam Brakes. This is a series of ledges or terraces arranged like steps, which, according to myth, the giant Cam laid out to ease his way from Lake Quyvem up to the moors.

98, ancient tombs; give them all due respect. This place was sacred to the ancient Rhe-daspians, who inhabited the land three thousand years ago. Ghosts are common, and it is said that sometimes old friendships are renewed and old antagonisms find vent. If you by chance see such ghosts, make no sound and give no interference, and above all, never agree to act as arbiter at one

99, a ghoul who has the power to change his guise. It will meet you in sweet friendship, and offer wine and food and kindly shelter. Accept nothing—not so much as a sup of cold water—and cross down over this brake, no matter what the cost, while the sun is in the sky; at sunset the ghoul assumes its true shape and your life is in the balance. If you take its gift you are lost.

100, When you come to Lake Quyvern, you will discover Kernuun's Antler, which is the inn of Dildahl the Druid. He is, so it seems, a kindly man, and offers a hospitality of moderate cost. This is hardly true and you must eat none of his fish! He will serve it in many guises: as roe, and croquettes, and pickles, and pudding, and in soup. Eat only the items whose cost is specified

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Wonder (Thought Eater)

Next pair of entries for the Thought Eater DIY RPG Essay Tournament.

If you're new to the contest, it's like this: these two essays are not by me--they're by a pair of anonymous DIY RPG writers who were both assigned to write about: Achieving Sense of Wonder for the contest.

Anybody reading is eligible to vote for which one you like best and voting will be cut off once all the votes for all the first round Thought Eater essays are up...

First One


If you like this one better, send an email with the Subject "WONDER1" to zakzsmith AT hawt mayle or vote on Google +. Don't put anything else in the email, I won't read it.


Killing the Pig

For the last several years, all the DnD campaigns I've DMed have been with a party of 5th graders. I run an after-school "Games Club" with several other teachers, which is really just an RPG club.

It's very rare that any of these kids have played or heard of DnD before, and watching the game click in their heads is the best part of the job. The first half-hour or so is full of questions on what they are allowed to do:

"Can I run away instead of fighting?"

"Can I see what's inside that house?"

"Can I kill that weird pig that keeps following us around?"

But at some point you can see it click, where they realize that they can try anything, and the DM will just make up a ruling to cover it. And then, quickly afterwards, the second realization hits that all actions have consequences, consequences that are quickly catching up with them.

That sudden insight, "I can try anything, and the world changes based on what I do," is a moment of genuine wonder. You can see the players' perspective suddenly shift, as they begin imagining everything that they could do, and what might happen as a result. That experience was Dave Arneson's central innovation, and it's a feeling you can only have playing RPGs.

 I don't think that wonder is something you impose on your game, through elaborate descriptions, byzantine plots, or "epic" scenes. All of those things are dead on arrival unless you are constantly feeding the engine of choice and consequences that lies at DnD’s heart. That cycle is a thing of wonder already, the hard part is letting it out.


Second One

If you like this one better, send an email with the Subject "WONDER2" to zakzsmith AT hawt mayle or vote on Google +. Don't put anything else in the email, I won't read it.


A “Wand of Wonder” for Adventure Design

Think back to the first time you played a role-playing game… 

You probably had only the most tenuous grasp on how the rules worked.  The dungeon around you was dark and terrifying – and you had no idea what might be found within.  You didn’t really know what your adventurer could do.  A 20’ x 20’ room with an orc and a locked chest?  That was a crazy-new situation you’d never faced before.  Could you kill the orc?  Maybe.  But you really had no idea what that beast could do to you.  What was in that chest?  It could be almost anything.  Everything around you was new and mysterious.  And, if you’re like me, every situation you faced filled you with an incredible sense of wonder.

Now, fast forward five, ten, twenty, or even forty years later.  You and your players are still having a great time playing these games – otherwise, you would have moved on to a different hobby long ago.  But somewhere along the way, something changed.  Something was lost.  A little bit of that old magic is gone.   

I’m not always a huge fan of Adam Smith, but I think his discussion of “Wonder, Surprise, and Admiration” in The History of Astronomy nicely captures the challenge GMs face.  Smith also earns bonus points for starting his discussion with what makes a “monster” inspire wonder:

Wonder, Surprise, and Admiration are words which, though often confounded, denote, in our language, sentiments that are indeed allied … What is new and singular, excites that sentiment which, in strict propriety, is called Wonder; what is unexpected, Surprise; and what is great or beautiful, Admiration …. 

These sentiments … mutually support and enliven one another:  an object with which we are quite familiar, and which we see every day, produces, though great and beautiful, but a small effect upon us; because our Admiration is not supported by either Wonder or by Surprise:  and if we have heard a very accurate description of a monster, our Wonder will be the less when we see it; because our previous knowledge of it will in a great measure prevent our Surprise.

- Adam Smith, The Principles Which Lead and Direct Philosophical Enquiries; Illustrated by the History of Astronomy (1795).

To paraphrase Smith, then, Wonder arises when we experience something that is new and unique, which disrupts the equilibrium of our imagination.  Intrinsic greatness or beauty (Smith’s “Admiration”) will enhance and greatly amplify our sense of Wonder.  But experience, forewarning, repetition, or predictability – these reduce our Surprise and, in turn, our Wonder.

I’ll tell you a secret:  there is no single tip or trick that is guaranteed to bring Admiration, “greatness,” or “beauty” to your games.  There are just way too many variables, including the individual tastes of the participants, at work.  That’s why even the best GMing advice tends to boil down to:  (1) “here’s an idea that worked for me in a particular game, with a particular group of players”; (2) “here’s something you may not have thought about, but maybe should, when running games”; or, at the very best, (3) “here’s a theory for why certain things seem to facilitate fun at my table, which may suggest a way you can have more fun at yours.”  

But Smith’s other contributing factor – Surprise – now that is something we can fix.

Obviously, if your players have developed an encyclopedic knowledge of every monster, spell, and magic item in the books, both Surprise and Wonder are going to fly right out the window unless you change things up.  But if you are reading Zak’s blog, you know this already.  Grab a copy of Jeff Raggi’s Random Esoteric Creature Generator, or pull up Zak’s own series of articles re-imagining classic monsters from the Monster Manual.  And you can mine the internet for more unique magic items and spells than you will ever need. 

But what about HOW you run the game?  The particular kinds of adventures, scenarios, and situations you choose to present?  As GMs, we tend to run a lot of games for a relatively small group of players.  Those players will inevitably come to know our GMing styles, and the kinds of adventures we like to run, very well – particularly after they’ve been playing “in our heads” for years.  If you are looking to revive your players’ sense of wonder, you need to shake up your adventure design too.  You need to, at least occasionally, run games that are completely different from your normal, regular style.

My own solution is to keep a running list of plot twists, reversals, and other surprises.  They can come from anywhere – books, movies, blogs, or playing in other people’s games.  Anything that surprises you, the GM, is worthy of inclusion, because that means it is coming from a place outside your normal thought process.  Now dump all those into a random table and number the results.  Then, after you devise your next adventure idea – like “the town’s mayor hires the PCs to stop goblins from raiding the town” or “the high priest sends the PCs to get an artifact from an evil lich” – roll on your table, and twist, flip, or embellish your idea according to the result.  

Why a random table?  Because randomness pushes us outside of our comfort zone, and forces us to reach past our default, natural, and often predictable impulses and assumptions.  Dice and random tables have been a staple of RPGs since their inception for precisely this reason.  If something works well, it is very tempting to keep doing things exactly the same way.  But staying in our comfort zone leads to predictability, the enemy of Surprise and, in turn, Wonder.  

To get you started, below is a table I put together this week – a Wand of Wonder for Adventure Design, if you will.  Take it, add new entries, and make it your own.  And the next time you or your players seem a bit too comfortable with the scenarios you are running, grab yourself some dice, expend a charge or two, and see what happens.  You don’t need to do this every game – total chaos doesn’t create Surprise or Wonder.  Just often enough to keep that “excited uncertainty” alive in your player’s minds. 

Wand of Wonder for Adventure Design
(roll 1d20, apply result to your adventure idea)

Roll Change-Up Your Planned Adventure By…

1 Peripeteia, a/k/a “the Old Switcheroo” — In classical Greek tragedy and comedy, a peripeteia is a sudden reversal or change in the circumstances or core assumptions of the plot.  Take your planned adventure and build one of those in.  Maybe those goblins raiding the town have repented their ways and given up violence.  Now, the PCs are left between a tribe of peaceful goblins and an angry mayor who wants the goblins dead – and if the PCs won’t do it, he’ll hire some other adventurers who will.  Or, upon breaching the sanctum of the evil lich, the PCs find her beaten and distraught.  She is evil, sure, but was tasked eons ago by the gods to guard the artifact – which was recently stolen, and now endangers the entire world.  Instead of fighting the lich, the PCs must help her track down and return the artifact before it is too late.

2 Boss For a Day — Keep your adventure setup exactly as planned.  But the mayor, high priest, or other quest-giver does NOT want the PCs to handle the job themselves – oh no, they are far too valuable and important to ever risk on such a dangerous and/or minor mission!  Instead, the quest-giver wants the PCs to track down, hire, and supervise other, more-expendable adventurers for the task.  Now, the PCs get to experience all the joys of “middle management.”  They have to round up and supervise a bunch of morally ambiguous murder-hobos who will, of course, demand ridiculous amounts of treasure before lifting a finger, burn down the inn, pick fights with the locals, loot and pillage everything in sight, and ultimately screw the job up royally – leaving the PCs to pick up the pieces and finish the task.

3 Start in Media Res — Jump right past the adventure idea you had, either to the middle of the action, or to its aftermath – right where a new, more complicated story is about to begin.  Start the game with the PCs already battling the goblin king in his lair.  After the battle, the PCs discover that the real adventure is just beginning – deciding how to deal with the surrendering goblins, figuring out a way to haul their cumbersome treasure back to town, getting the mayor to actually pay out the extravagant reward he offered.  Or start the PCs in the lich’s sanctum, while the now-defeated and slowly disintegrating lich cackles and taunts them.  It seems that the artifact is sentient, and is already telepathically summoning every powerful evil wizard, cleric, and monster in the region, all to ensure that it never reaches the high priest who can destroy it.

4 Bring on the B-Team — When the players show up, hand out character sheets for their hirelings, henchmen, allies, and friends.  Then inform them that their regular characters embarked upon your planned adventure several days ago, but have not returned.  Not content to wait any longer, their hirelings, henchmen, allies, and friends have resolved to retrace the PCs’ steps in the hope of rescuing them.  It is up to you whether the PCs were actually defeated or captured, and really need rescuing, or whether the PCs just got side-tracked, decided to stop over in a brothel, are planning a surprise party, etc.

5 Shift Genres for a Night — Take your adventure idea and rework it to fit within a completely different genre.  So, if your adventure is a standard heroic fantasy quest, take all those same elements, rework it, and run it as a horror story, or a pulp romance, or a murder mystery.  Maybe those goblin attacks are all the work of a single, deranged goblin serial killer (a short, green “Jason”?).  Maybe that lich is happy to do anything you ask, but only if you can solve her latest love-triangle dilemma (Team Edward vs. Team Jacob, but Edward is a red dragon and Jacob is an unusually handsome mind flayer).   

6 Make the Bad Guys “Good” — Keep your adventure exactly as planned, but replace the opposition with traditionally “good” monsters.  Then devise a plausible, justifiable, and reasonable explanation why a good-aligned creature would engage in the otherwise villainous activities.  Instead of goblins, the village is under attack by normally peaceful wood elves.  Are they being controlled by some evil wizard?  Have greedy loggers from the village ignored the elves’ pleas to stop?  Or are both sides arguably in the right – e.g., the villagers need to continue logging to survive, but the land is sacred to the elves.  Or, instead of a lich, the PCs find a silver dragon guarding the artifact.  The dragon explains that she has been posing as a lich for hundreds of years because it helps keep the riff-raff away.  The dragon confirms she has the artifact wanted by the high priest, but is afraid she can’t bear to part with it for at least a few hundred more years.  Now, the PCs must decide what to do.  Do they fail their quest for the high priest, who urgently needs the artifact?  Do they battle an otherwise friendly and good-aligned silver dragon?  Try to steal it and return it?  Something else?

7 Break the Rules (Or at Least a Key Assumption) — Change one of your game or campaign world’s default assumptions for a night, but NOT in a way that screws over your players.  Maybe there is a planetary alignment that greatly strengthens magical spells, allowing even apprentice-level wizards to draw forth vast amounts of power.  Maybe the gods themselves have placed a wager on the outcome of the PC’s quest, with some providing boons and advice, and others placing new and surprising obstacles in their way.  Maybe the god of death himself is taking a holiday, so no one – not the PCs, and not the monsters – can die regardless of their wounds.  The change be temporary, but fundamentally alter how the PCs approach the problem.

8 Unlikely Team-Up — Choose one (or more) of the PCs’ most hated and feared adversaries.  When the PCs show up to accept their quest, they find the villains already present.  It seems that the villains have also agreed to undertake this mission, and work with the PCs, for reasons selfish, altruistic, or entirely unknown.  Can the PCs work with their enemies?  Do they use the adventure as an opportunity to settle old scores?  Or will they grudgingly come to respect their former foe? 

9 Reverse the Plot — Take the adventure you had in mind and reverse as many parts of it as possible – including, but not limited to, the quest-giver, the goal, and the opposition.  For example, instead of being hired by the mayor to stop the goblins, maybe the goblin king sends an envoy to hire the PCs to stop (through diplomacy or combat) other adventurers and townsfolk from making repeated attacks on the goblins’ lair.  This can lead to a fun “reverse dungeon,” where the PCs are planting the traps, setting up guard rooms, and organizing and training the goblins.  Or, instead of being hired by the high priest to assault the lich’s lair, maybe the lich wants to take a vacation, and is willing to trade away powerful magic items in exchange for the PCs serving as “guard dogs” for her haunted castle during her absence?

10 Too Much, Too Fast — The adventure proceeds as you planned, but the PCs’ employer gives them way too much firepower for the task.  Complete overkill.  Perhaps the mayor offers to loan the PCs a (recently confiscated) Staff of the Magi or other powerful magical item.  Or perhaps the high priest agrees to bestow upon one of the players the full measure of his own mighty power for the duration of the quest.  The goal is to give the PCs so much raw, uncontrolled power that the real challenge becomes restraining themselves from blowing everything around them sky high.  When the mission is done, do they return the incredible power they have been loaned?  Or do they betray their employer and try to keep it?    

11 All Too Easy — Keep your adventure the same, but today is the PCs’ lucky day.  Downgrade the opposition until it is almost laughable.  Maybe a plague has recently ravaged the goblin tribe, and the handful of warriors they can muster are sickly and weak.  Maybe the “lich” is really just a human charlatan, relying on ghost stories and folklore to scare everyone away.  The adventure is not a test of the PCs’ prowess or cunning, but of their moral character and mercy.  How long will they slaughter hapless, plainly overmatched foes before their conscience retrains them? 

12 Toolbox Changeup — Pick one or more of the “tools” that you regularly use in your game (miniatures, maps, handouts, pictures, wandering monster tables, a GM screen, pre-prepared notes, character sheets, initiative rolls, dice, or whatever) and put them away for a night.  At the same time, pick a tool that you almost never use and try to work that into this session’s game.

13 Freaky Friday — The adventure proceeds as originally planned but, early on, the PCs stumble across an old skull, a mummified monkey’s paw, or some other obviously magical item.  The item is cursed and, when messed with, causes all of the PCs’ minds to jump to a different body.  Ask everyone too pass their character sheet to the player on their right.  Now, the adventure just got much harder, as our heroes must complete it while still in the “wrong” bodies.  The means for removing the curse are up to you.  Consider awarding bonus XP, hero points, inspiration, or your own preferred “player treat” for roleplaying the voice and mannerisms of the player/character whose body they are borrowing. 

14 It’s All About the Competition — Keep your adventure setup the same, except that the quest-giver has decided to use the threat or problem as an opportunity to learn, once and for all, who are the greatest heroes in the land.  All of the PCs’ rivals show up to compete.  The group that solves the problem will be the toast of the town, and lavished with praise and gold.  The losers will become a joke.  Now, the PCs must rush to accomplish their goal, while facing sabotage along the way.    

15 You’re (Probably) Too Late — Everything in your planned adventure is true, but change things so that, part way into the game, the PCs suddenly discover that they have much less time than previously thought, and are perhaps already too late!  The villain’s nefarious plan came to fruition early.  The goblin camp is mostly empty because they have already departed to raze the village.  The lich has already activated the magical artifact, triggering an imminent apocalypse.  Now the PCs must scramble to come up with a new plan on the fly, or maybe just find some way to mitigate the impending disaster.

16 Swap Your “School Of Magic” for a Night — If you are running an “old school” game, switch it up by injecting some “new school” mechanics for the night.  For example, you might use something like John Wick’s “The Dirty Dungeon” (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsnvANYBRWo) to let your players build the goblin tribe’s dungeon at the start of the session.  If your regular style is more “new school,” give Matthew Finch’s “Quick Primer for Old School Gaming” (link: http://www.lulu.com/shop/matthew-finch/quick-primer-for-old-school-gaming/ebook/product-3159558.html) a read, and try to incorporate as many elements as possible in your next game.

17 False Flag — The person giving the PCs the quest is not who they think (because of mind-control, illusion magic, intellect devourers, he took a bribe, or any other reason) and his or her motives are different than represented.  Maybe the quest-giver is really just a villain in disguise, hoping to lure the PCs away before launching his latest scheme, lead them into an ambush, discredit them, or use them to destroy his villainous rivals.  Maybe a group of doppelgangers wants to assume the PCs’ identities once they are outside of town.  Or maybe an old boyfriend is trying to stage a heroic rescue, in hopes of reconciliation.  

18 Uh, What Did We Do Last Night?” — Think Memento the RPG.  Begin the session just as the PCs approach the main villain of your adventure.  Unfortunately, a curse or magical mishap has just wiped out all of their memories for the last few days, and now they don’t remember where they are, who hired them, or what they are supposed to do – they need to piece all that together from clues and interrogating monsters they recently defeated.  At least one clever villain with a plausible, but utterly false, story about why the PCs are here is recommended.

19 No, You Do It” — A couple days before the game, give your notes to one of your players (the one with an interest in GMing) and ask him or her to run the next session.  You play one of the group’s hirelings or followers – preferably someone who is dumb and generally just goes along with whatever the PCs decide.  Play dumb and reveal nothing about the adventure – the goal is flip your perspective, and see how the adventure you wrote and planned to run feels from the other side of the screen.

20 And Tonight’s Guest Star Is…” — Grab someone from outside your regular group and ask them to “guest star” as an NPC for the session.  Tell your guest star in advance that they cannot personally hurt, kill, or steal from any of the PCs (to avoid hurt feelings), but that otherwise they should make life as difficult for as possible.  VIP protectees, local guides, and villains who talk a lot, but hide behind and army of goons can all make good choices for the NPC.



*  *  *

Friday, September 25, 2015

Group Dynamics (Thought Eater)

Here are some new entries for the Thought Eater DIY RPG Essay Tournament.

If you're new here, it's like this: these are not by me--they're by a pair of anonymous DIY RPG writers who were both assigned to write about: Group Dynamics for the contest.


Anybody reading is eligible to vote for which one you like best and voting will be cut off once all the votes for all the first round Thought Eater essays are up...

First One


If you like this one better, send an email with the Subject "DYNAMIC1" to zakzsmith AT hawt mayle or vote on Google +. Don't put anything else in the email, I won't read it.


When the whole is less than the sum of the parts

Recently, I terminated my Vampire campaign after only a handful of sessions. The reason? The players developed a certain hostility towards each other undermining our weekly evening of gaming fun. 

This is a personal example of group dynamics going awry. Often, when complaining about a player's behaviour, it is recommended to replace that player, or find a new gaming group altogether. Although this might indeed solve the problem, it is often preferable to look for an answer within the current group.

Within the field of gestalt psychology Kurt Lewin proposed the equation B = f(P,E) to describe one's behaviour (B) as a function (f) of both her personality (P) and the environment (E). Later, he applied his equation to groups by observing that the environment for one individual includes the behaviours of the other group members. This results in a set of coupled equations, with each equation describing the behaviour of one member, requiring the behaviours of all others as input. The solution of this set forms the basis of the research field known as group dynamics. The equations are heuristic in nature, in the sense that they do not solve the dynamics mathematically, but help to align our thoughts on the matter.

In order to deal with negative group dynamics within a game of D&D, all we have to do is determine the cause(s) of undesired behaviour in terms of 1) personalities and 2) elements constituting the environment, and then take action accordingly.

Bad group dynamics is often explained by bad personalities. This explains why the most-offered advice is to expel a player. From the equation above, however, it follows that the dynamics are rather dictated by undesired behaviour. And although, this might in turn be induced by certain personalities, it is an oversimplification to state that bad personalities will always result in undesired behaviour, since the latter is also a function of environment. It might even be that, with the right set of environmental parameters, a 'bad' personality will lead to desired behaviour.

In case of D&D, the environmental parameters fall into three categories: 1) Behaviour of the other group members, 2) elements of the game, and 3) non-gaming elements. 

Since behaviour induces behaviour, the first category is an important one. Hostile acts may prompt retaliation actions. Or, disproportionate amounts of spotlight time given to one player may cause non-involvement in the other players. This, in turn, can be the feeding ground of boredom and the loss of focus leading to non-game activities like chatting or playing with mobile phones. Also positive acts can induce undesired behaviour. An in-game joke may lead to another, non-gaming-related, story, for instance.

Also the game itself may be debit to bad group dynamics. By the nature of the game, it facilitates certain behaviour based on the assumed roles. A common excuse to misbehave is: 'I do this, because it is what my character would do'. Think of thieves stealing from party members and the 'lone wolf' who is deliberately not involved. A more subtle aspect of the game may be that one character is more suited to do a certain thing than the others, giving her player an excessive amount of spotlight time: 'My character should do all the talking/sneaking/scouting'.

Finally, there is the broad category of 'anything else'. This encompasses anything from a foul mood because my cat died yesterday, to the game location with all these interesting miniature on display causing distraction. Part of these fall in the once-in-a-while category and probably do not have to be dealt with; just endure the one time things do not work out perfectly, and pick things up next week. 

The final step is, of course, addressing the cause and talking about it. Specifically asking input from quiet players, change of character, 1 hour chatting before game play, telephones from the table, different game location, the solutions are many. One specific type of solution needs special mention and that is the in-game solution. Sometimes, an improvement can be achieved by changing the game or campaign. For instance, the lone wolf must become a full party member as part of an assignment making her more cooperative. Make the thief who steals from her party members realise that this has alignment consequences. Device a setup such that the party spokesman is not the most-suited to speak up. Be creative!

In short, when group dynamics go askew, it is worthwhile to look beyond player's personalities. Even when not the cause, a change in game or non-game environmental elements might be enough to overcome the group problems.

In case of my terminated Vampire campaign, it was my own fault that things went down-hill. Only one player had played Vampire before giving me the opportunity to hand out information on a need-to-know basis. This made information valuable. In addition, politics was an important aspect of the campaign. When the players joined different factions, they became de facto competitors; information was not shared anymore, and fights broke out. In principle, I could have repaired the campaign by changing some aspects within the game. For instance, I could have sent them on a quest far away from the political arena. But, that is not what I decided to do ... 

... I terminated the campaign in favor of AD&D. Because, AD&D is more fun than Vampire anyway.




Second One


If you like this one better, send an email with the Subject "DYNAMIC2" to zakzsmith AT hawt mayle or vote on Google +. Don't put anything else in the email, I won't read it.


Group dynamics, the interactions of a group of people engaged in a social group (or game), are of extreme importance in RPGs. These are social games. Played amongst friends or strangers, the nature of these games is cooperative storytelling with the added twist of chance for the success of the narratives. The internal operations and behaviors of the players at the table are crucial to the enjoyment of the game. Most players and game masters are aware of this on some level and much has been written about it. The behaviors of the players influence the behaviors of their characters in game to varying degrees. Different groups play with different desires and as some are just looking to play themselves with magic or a big sword, others really enjoy getting into a character. As such, their characters may present the group with a different dynamic in game than their players do around the table. An experienced group can handle all of this with relative ease and the changes in dynamics between players and their characters can make for enjoyable story telling opportunities.
But what about the monsters?
 What about the NPCs?
The villains?
As these actors are imagined, voiced, and controlled by one player, the game master, it is difficult to observe in them the same group dynamics we expect to see in the players. Often the dynamics are assumed. The biggest monster, or highest level NPC, is the “leader” of whatever group (if there is one) they are associated with. But is this realistic? Does it smack of verisimilitude or is it simply an easy approach to tailoring and encounter? Think about real groups in the real world. A brand new Lieutenant in the Army is not nearly as experienced or dangerous as his platoon sergeant, a veteran of years of training or real warfare. Yet the Lieutenant is in the position of authority. Why would this not occur as well in the monster or NPC encounters we craft at the table?
The dynamics that arise from unexpected leaders and followers can make for more interesting encounters. Imagine the following encounter:
"Astride a nightmare sits a robed and hooded figure, slouched in the saddle and carrying a staff. Between the nightmare rider and the party, four skeletons, bones yellowed with age, but glowing eerily in the dusk, advance towards the group."
This description paints a familiar scene of a group of low level undead approaching the party, apparently under the control of the rider. Many parties, experienced in the game or at least with stock horror concepts, would plan to target the rider as a priority. They would infer from the description that the rider is somehow in control of the undead, or at least more dangerous. However, if we create the encounter with the skeletons as the leaders (perhaps they are the long dead remains of a group of low level necromancers that managed to combine their negative energies to summon a nightmare and rider…) we throw a surprise at the players. As they focus their attack on the nightmare and rider, only to find it is an illusion, or worse, invincible to their damage, they find the skeletons more dangerous than they expected. In the course of the battle, as they destroy the skeletons, the nightmare and rider become vulnerable to damage, or slowly weaken in relation to the destruction of the skeletons. Any number of ways to play this out exist. The point is, by altering the dynamic of the group encountered, a game master can make for more memorable play than just another minion to master grind.
With sentient creatures or humanoid NPC parties, the dynamics can provide even more interesting options. That rival adventuring party that has been exploring, fighting, and facing the challenges of the world together, just like the players’ party, has developed internal dynamics. Who loves who? Who hates who? If the leader dies in combat, who will still fight and who will run? Who will assume control? If someone attacks the wizard, will the rogue stop what she’s doing to defend him because of their relationship? Does that rival party even get along, or are they all looking for a chance to let one of the others perish…? By developing this information, the encounter can be given further depth and if the encountered party is to be a recurring rival for the players, their internal dynamics may become more important as time goes on. (Sentient creature groups can be examined and developed in the same way. Maybe the goblin is the leader of that group of hobgoblins because of a religious prophecy that the hobgoblins will all die to protect…)

The point of all this is to invigorate your encounters through the application of some basic group dynamics. These encounters will prove more memorable and challenging for your players without necessarily increasing the actual stats based challenge of the scenario.



Now since this is about gaming, an essay is only as good as its use in game. Here’s a quick mechanic I worked up to develop the dynamic for a randomly encountered group (or a group in a published adventure that lacks any info on the dynamics of its members…)
- Quickly assign a number to each creature/NPC/monster/whatever in the encountered group.
- Roll an appropriate die to determine the leader, i.e. for 8 creatures, roll a d8. The number rolled identifies the leader.
- After identifying the leader roll a d10 and consult the table below. Play as described.
1-All (or some) members of the group are loyal and will sacrifice themselves to protect the leader
2-All (or some) members of the group are disloyal and will not help the leader (may even try to sneak a hit in)
3-One member of the group is in love with the leader (roll to determine). That member will behave accordingly.
4-One member is the object of the leader’s love (roll to determine). The leader will make decisions based upon that interest, potentially at the cost of the group.
5-The leader is loyal to the whole group and will tell them to flee a losing encounter, remaining behind to protect them or slowing the pursuit.
6-The leader does not care about the group and will send them to their deaths without hesitation, but will save self.
7-Two members love each other (roll to determine who loves who) and will behave accordingly.
8-Two members hate each other (roll to determine who hates who) and will behave accordingly.
9-No one trusts the competence of the leader. Will ignore most orders (determine by rolling under/against wisdom or intelligence stat)

10-The leader is only a puppet of one of the other members (roll to determine) and if killed will be replaced as leader immediately by the other member.
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Thursday, September 24, 2015

D100 Things You Find In Lyonesse Hexes

Lyonesse is a trilogy of books by Jack Vance (as in Vancian magic). It's doesn't have quite the verbal gymnastics of his must-read Tales of the Dying Earth, but it somewhat makes up for it by having a less episodic plot and a wider variety of characters.

More to the point for this random table, Lyonesse is also a place in the novels--a kind of fairy-talish pre-Arthurian place with competing wizards. So if you have a place like that in your game, you can use this for random encounters or hex-fillings. I'll be using them for The Hexenbracken, the Far Lands and Gaxen Kane.

These are from the first Lyonesse book Suldrun's Garden. I basically went through and cut and pasted every single unusual or unusually-described noun from the book into the table. All of these are direct quotes, copyright Jack Vance, 1983.

I'll put up another one with stuff from the other two books later.


What do you see? Roll d100

1, Loald, a submarine giant

2, eery knight Sir Sacrontine who could not sleep of nights until he had killed a Christian

3, the crone named Dyldra, who was profound in the lore of herbs, and by some considered a witch

4, Ewaldo Idra, Adept of the Caucasian Mysteries.

5,  a wagon from which a pair of maidens tossed handfuls of pennies into the throng.

6, Blausreddin the pirate built a fortress at the back of a stony semi-circular harbor. His concern was not so much assault from the sea, but surprise attacks down from the pinnacles and gorges of the mountains, to the north of the harbor.

7, Go to Thripsey Shee just as the first rays of sunlight sweep down across the meadow. Do not go by moonlight, or you will suffer a death of weird invention. 

8,  Queen Sollace showed great cordiality to religious zealots and priests, and found much of interest in their creeds. She was thought to be sexually cold and never took lovers.

9, What to do with the defeated magician, who seethed with evil and hate? Murgen rolled him up and forged him into a stout iron post, ten-foot long and thick as my leg. Then Murgen took this enchanted post to the crossroads and waited till it shifted to the proper place, then he drove the iron post down deep in the center, fixing the crossroads so it (Zak: the heretofore fugitive Goblin Fair) no longer could move, and all the folk at the Goblin Fair were glad, and spoke well of Murgen

10, Never-fail will serve you all your life long, always to indicate where Lord Dhrun may be found. Notice!" King Throbius displayed an irregular object three inches in diameter, carved from a walnut burl and suspended from a chain. A protuberance to the side terminated in a point ripped with a sharp tooth

11, "Tell about Goblin Fair!"

12, "Well then, it's the place and time when the halflings and men can meet and none will harm the other, so long as he stays polite.

13, books of fairy-skein, written with words that you can't get out of your head once they're in.

14, a mordet* on him."

15, *A unit of acrimony and malice, as expressed in the terms of a curse.

16, the orangery

17, Dame Boudetta, Mistress of the Household, a severe and uncompromising lady, born into the petty gentility. Her duties were manifold: she supervised the female servants, monitored their virtue, arbitrated questions of propriety. She knew the special conventions of the palace. She was a compendium of genealogical information and even greater masses of scandal.

18, Prince Quilcy, is feeble-minded and spends his days playing with fanciful dolls and doll-houses.

19, Hall of Honors beyond, where fifty-four great chairs, ranking the walls to right and left, represented the fifty-four most noble houses of Lyonesse…One chair was characterized by a shifting sidelong deceit, but pretended graceful charm; another exhibited a doomed and reckless bravery. 

20, the crags Maegher and Yax: petrified giants who had helped King Zoltra Bright Star dredge Lyonesse Harbor; becoming obstreperous, they had been transformed into stone by Amber the sorcerer

21, King Oriante, a pallid round-headed little man, was ineffectual, shrill and waspish. He reigned at his castle Sfan Sfeg, near the town Oaldes, but could not rule the fiercely independent barons of mountain and moor. His queen, Behus, was both tall and corpulent and she had borne him a single son, Quilcy, now five years old, somewhat lack-witted and unable to control the flow of saliva from his mouth.

22, four gaunt Druid priests.

23, They wore long robes of brown furze, belted and hooded to hide their faces, and each carried an oak branch from their sacred grove.

24, …caught a mouse and changed it into a fine horse. 'Ride home at speed,' he told me. ";Do not dismount or touch the ground before your destination, for as soon as your foot touches ground, the horse is once more a mouse!

25, …a pair of young mermaids. They had seen her and called out, but they used a slow strange language Suldrun could not understand. Their olive-green hair hung about their pale shoulders; their lips and the nipples of their breasts were also a pale green. One waved and Suldrun saw the webbing between her fingers. Both turned and looked offshore to where a bearded merman reared from the waves. He called out in a hoarse windy voice

26, King Casmir now dispatched a secret emissary to Dascinet, urging attack upon Troicinet, and promising full assistance.

27, On the rocks west of the Chale crawled cripples, lepers and the weak-minded, in accordance with the statutes of Lyonesse.

28, Each was spread-eagled naked to a frame and hung upside down, facing out to sea. Down from the Peinhador came Zerling, the Chief Executioner. He walked along the row, stopped by each man, slit the abdomen, drew out the intestines with a double-pronged hook, so that they fell over the chest and head, then moved on to the next.

29, …the Tower of Owls

30, …green glass bottle of a size to hold a gallon. The mouth fitted tightly about the neck of a double-headed homunculus, so that only its two small heads protruded. These were squat, no larger than cat-size, with wrinkled bald pates, snapping black eyes, a nose and oral apparatus of tough brown horn. The body was obscured by the glass and a dark liquid, like strong beer…"Let the bottled imps clamp your hair or your fingers and you will learn the meaning of harm."

31, an octagonal mirror in a frame of tarnished wood…I see nothing. It is like looking into the sky."

32, The surface of the mirror moved; for an instant a face looked into her own: a man's face. Dark hair curled down past a flawless complexion; fine eyebrows curved over lustrous dark eyes; a straight nose complemented a full supple mouth.. .The magic faded…From time to time I demonstrate the inconceivable, or mock the innocent, or give truth to liars, or shred the poses of virtue—all as perversity strikes me. now I am silent; this is my mood."

33, …trained animals, which King Casmir had ordained for his pleasure. Bears in blue cocked hats tossed balls back and forth; four wolves in costumes of pink and yellow satin danced a quadrille; six herons with as many crows marched in formation.

34, …a weird-woman dressed in white entered the chamber holding high a glass vessel which exuded a flux of colors swirling behind her like smoke

35, …Brother Umphred, a portly round-faced evangelist, originally from Aquitania

36, …the Skyls, a dark crafty race of unknown origin, were uncontrollable. They lived isolated in mountain glens, emerging only when the time came for dreadful deeds. Vendetta, revenge and counter-revenge ruled their lives. The Skyls' virtues were stealth, reckless elan, blood-lust and stoicism under torment; his word, be it promise, guarantee or threat might be equated with certainty; indeed the Skyl's exact adherence to his pledge often verged upon the absurd. From birth to death his life was a succession of murders, captivities, escapes, wild flights, daring rescues: deeds incongruous in a landscape of Arcadian beauty.

37, Five golden crowns rolled forth. They became five golden butterflies which fluttered into the air and circled the parlor. The five became ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred. All at once they dropped to cluster upon the table, where they became a hundred gold crowns.

38, A cavalcade of twenty knights and men-at-arms came down the Sfer Arct and into Lyonesse Town. At their head rode Duke Carfilhiot, erect and easy: a man with black curling hair cropped at his ears, a fair skin, features regular and fine, if somewhat austere, save for the mouth, which was that of a sentimental poet.

39, A great lummox claims that you have molested his wife; he takes up his cutlass and comes at you.

40, Pomperol is an ardent ornithologist

41, swan-headed barge, which a dozen young girls clad in white feathers propelled slowly across the lake.

42, They breed and train the cannibal falcons, each a traitor to his kind.

43, a scarlet and gold carriage drawn by six white unicorns

44, a tall shape muffled in a long black cape, with a wide-brimmed black hat obscuring his features. He stood always back in the shadows and never spoke; when one or another of the magicians chanced to look into his face they saw black emptiness with a pair of far stars where his eyes might be.

45, Sartzanek, perhaps the most capricious and unpredictable of all the magicians, resided at Faroli, deep inside the forest,

46, the Spell of Total Enlightenment, so that Widdefut suddenly knew everything which might be known: the history of each atom of the universe, the devolvements of eight kinds of time, the possible phases of each succeeding instant; all the flavors, sounds, sights, smells of the world, as well as percepts relative to nine other more unusual senses. Widdefut became palsied and paralyzed and could not so much as feed himself. 

47, a plague of maggots

48, He was compressed into an iron post seven feet tall and four inches square, so that only upon careful scrutiny might his distorted features be noted. This post was similar to the post at Twitten's Corner. The Sartzanek post was implanted at the very peak of Mount Agon. Whenever lightning struck down, Sartzanek's etched features were said to twitch and quiver.

49, She appeared to him as a female clothed with a soft pelt of black fur and an oddly beautiful cat-like mask. This creature knew a thousand lascivious tricks

50, In niches beside the entrance stood a pair of sphinxes carved from blocks of black diorite: the Tronen, or fetishes of the house.

51, imps riding like knights on armored herons

52, A griffin's claw reposed in an onyx case. 

53, A gallstone cast by the ogre Heulamides gave off a peculiar stench.

54, Persilian, the so-called "Magic Mirror." This mirror would answer three questions to its owner, who then must relinquish it to another. Should the owner ask a fourth question, the mirror would make glad response, then dissolve into freedom.

55,  This feather," he said, "is indispensable to the conduct of daily affairs, in that it infallibly detects fraudulence."

56, a young harpy in a cage. 

57, Desmei moved away. Presently she departed through the forest in a palanquin carried by six running shadows.

58, Over a time of two hours she worked a great spell to sunder herself into a plasm which entered a vessel of three vents. The plasm churned, distilled, and emerged by the vents, to coalesce into three forms. The first was a maiden…

59, The cow's horn yields either fresh milk or hydromel, depending upon how one holds it.

60, a green meadow where rose an array of twenty poles, half supporting impaled corpses.

61, I am a student of magic. I am taught by the great Tamurello, and I am under obligation, so that I must refer to him matters of policy. 

62, Balberry's Abstracts and Excerpts, a vast compendium of exercises, methods, forms and patterns inscribed in antique or even imaginary languages.

63, Using a lens fashioned from a sandestin's eye, Shimrod read these inscriptions as if they were plain tongue.

64, a cloth of bounty, which, when spread on a table, produced a toothsome feast

65, fairies of Tuddifot Shee, at the opposite end of Lally Meadow, who loved music, though no doubt for the wrong reasons.

66, Fairy musicians, discovering that a human passerby had chanced to hear them, invariably inquired how he had enjoyed the music, and woe betide the graceless churl who spoke his mind, for then he was set to dancing for a period comprising a week, a day, an hour, a minute and a second, without pause. However, should the listener declare himself enraptured he might well be rewarded by the vain and gloating halfling. 

67, On certain occasions fairy horn-players asked to play along with him; each time Shimrod made polite refusal; if he allowed such a duet he might find himself playing forever: by day, by night, across the meadow, in the treetops, higgledy-piggledy through thorn and thicket, across the moors, underground in the shees. The secret, so Shimrod knew, was never to accept the fairies' terms, but always to close the deal on one's own stipulations, otherwise the bargain was sure to turn sour.

68, To the side a long-bearded troll, with an extravagantly large cudgel, beat a lank furry creature hanging like a rug on a line between a pair of trees. With every blow the creature cried out for mercy: Stop! No more! You are breaking my bones! Have you no pity? You have mistaken me; this is clear! My name is Grofinet! No more! Use logic and reason!"

69,  He placed down a small box, which expanded to the dimensions of a hut. 

70, …the severed member. Rings decorated the four fingers; the thumb wore a heavy silver ring with a turquoise cabochon. An inscription mysterious to Shimrod encircled the stone. 

71, In the forest nearby a door opens into the otherwhere Irerly. One of us must go through this door and bring back thirteen gems of different colors, while the other guards the access.

72,  isolated mountains of gray-yellow custard, each terminating in a ludicrous semi-human face. All faces were turned toward himself, displaying outrage and censure. Some showed cataclysmic scowls and grimaces, others produced thunderous belches of disdain. The most intemperate extruded a pair of liver-colored tongues, dripping magma which tinkled in falling, like small bells; one or two spat jets of hissing green sound, which Shimrod avoided, so that they struck other mountains, to cause new disturbance.

73, three small transparent disks. "These will expedite your search; in fact, you will go instantly mad without them. As soon as you pass the portal, place these on your cheeks and your forehead; they are sandestin scales and will accommodate your senses

74, you will need this sheath. It is stuff to protect you from emanations.

75, a pair of iron scorpions crawling at the end of golden chains. "These are named Hither and Thither. One will take you there; the other will bring you here

76, three competing religions: The Doctrine of Arcoid Clincture; the Shrouded Macrolith, which I personally consider a fallacy; and the noble Derelictionary Tocsin. 

77, a jet of blue magma

78, Shimrod brought the House Eye down from the ridge-beam, and set it on the carved table in the parlor, where, upon stimulus, it recreated what it had observed during Shimrod's absence.

79, On the great table he found a silver penny, a dagger and a small six-stringed cadensis of unusual shape which, almost of its own accord, produced lively tunes. 

80, WITHIN AND ABOUT THE Forest of Tantrevalles existed a hundred or more fairy shees, each the castle of a fairy tribe

81, BOAB: who used the semblance of a pale green youth with grasshopper wings and antennae. He carried a black quill pen plucked from the tail of a raven and recorded all the events and transactions of the tribe on sheets pressed from lily petals.

82, TUTTERWIT: an imp who liked to visit human houses and tease the cats. He also liked to peer through windows, moaning and grimacing until someone's attention was engaged, then jerk quickly from sight.

83, GUNDELINE: a slender maiden of enchanting charm, with flowing lavender hair and green fingernails. She mimed, preened, cut capers, but never spoke, and no one knew her well. She licked saffron from poppy pistils with quick darts of her pointed green tongue.

84, WONE: she liked to rise early, before dawn, and flavor dew drops with assorted flower nectars.

85, MURDOCK: a fat brown goblin who tanned mouseskins and wove the down of baby owls into soft gray blankets for fairy children.

86, FLINK: who forged fairy swords, using techniques of antique force. He was a great braggart and often sang the ballad celebrating the famous duel he had fought with the goblin Dangott.

87, SHIMMIR: audaciously she had mocked Queen Bossum and capered silently behind her, mimicking the queen's flouncing gait, while all the fairies sat hunched, hands pressed to mouths, to stop their laughter. In punishment Queen Bossum turned her feet backward and put a carbuncle on her nose.

88, FALAEL: who manifested himself as a pale brown imp, with the body of a boy and the face of a girl. Falael was incessantly mischievous, and when villagers came to the forest to gather berries and nuts, it was usually Falael who caused their nuts to explode and transformed their strawberries to toads and beetles.

89, Twisk, who usually appeared as an orange-haired maiden wearing a gown of gray gauze.

90, The troll Mangeon

91, He marshaled two armies of mice and dressed them in splendid uniforms. The first army wore red and gold; the second wore blue and white with silver helmets. They marched bravely upon each other from opposite sides of the meadow and fought a great battle

92, He assembled an orchestra of hedgehogs, weasels, crows and lizards and trained them in the use of musical instruments.

93, Falael, from boredom, next transformed Dhrun's nose into a long green eel which, by swinging about, was able to transfix Dhrun with a quizzical stare.

94, a fairy sword. "The name of this sword is Dassenach. It will grow as you grow, and always match your stature. Its edge will never fail and it will come to your hand whenever you call its name!"

95, a locket around his neck. "This is a talisman against fear. Wear this black stone always and you will never lack courage.

96,  a set of pipes. "Here is music. When you play, heels will fly and you will never lack jolly companionship."

97, "This is a magic purse," she told him. "It will never go empty, and better, if you ever give a coin and want it back, you need only tap the purse and the coin will fly back to you."

98, "Go your way and do not look back, on pain of seven years bad luck, for such is the manner one must leave a fairy shee."

99, a clearing planted with plum and apricot trees, which had long gone wild.


100,  Before the hall the ground had been tilled and planted with cabbage, leeks, turnips, and onions, with currant bushes growing to the side. A dozen children, aged from six to twelve, worked in the garden under the vigilant eye of an overseer boy, perhaps fourteen years old. He was black-haired and thick-bodied, with an odd face: heavy and square above, then slanting in to a foxy mouth and a small sharp chin. He carried a rude whip, fashioned from a willow switch, with a cord tied to the end.