Thursday, November 28, 2013

Advice With Connie

So, remember this guy--Hex King--Archlich of Bellet Osc? Scourge of the Bleak Continent? He of The Unspeakable Crown?

 This is Connie:

 She killed him. Righteous Might, mace to the back. Not two days ago. A credit to 10th level thieves everywhere.

Also, she drew this unicorn...

Now you're thinking:

Holy fuck, Zak, this Connie sure is an incredible woman, but how can I put this raw force for justice and badassness to work for me?

Funny you should ask! For today on this lazy Thanksgiving Eve we here are introducing a new feature here on Playing D&D With Porn Stars....


Here's a sample:

Dear Connie: Why am I up this early craving Orange Juice like a fucking madman. Is that some sort of allergy?

 No, that is your body telling you what it NEEDS.  Did you smoke any pot tonight? I don't think you're allergic to anything, but you might want to start keeping orange juice in the fridge. Also, late night/early morning trips out into the world for things like OJ can be really fun and rewarding.
~Connie, M.D.

Yeah, I did smoke. And you're right, went the distance to find a 24-hour Kroger. It is cold. I like the music I have playing. I can see my breath singing. Will remember. Thanks.

So, here you go--ask anything about love, food, feelings, career, gaming, moving silently, using rope, whatever--- CONNIE WILL SOLVE ALL OF YOUR PROBLEMS!

Place your questions in the comments....

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


First day after the big victory.

Mandy's after-action report in italics, me in regular print:

Survived today's encounter with a beholder 


and Cyanotica Bast.


Developed big glowy stag eyes and hooves to add to my horns and claw-like fingers.

Found out Tizane is the daughter of Belphegor the Beast demon of Envy and a long dead Sister of Vorn called Brunehilde. Asked the Wyvern of the Well.


Got a fancy house in Vornheim with servants and shit and all the important people are afraid of me. 


My clone however did not survive the battle to save Vornheim.


Had an amusing conversation with the Masticators


Hung out with Anaxorchas for a month with no ill effects. He told me dad has 3 heads, a stag, a serpent and a crow. I do look a bit like him apparently.

Found out dad's in league with Tiamat and that in my second adventure ever I prevented him from being summoned. Oops. 


The witches Thorn, Dread and Frost work for him and Tiamat. Anaxorchas is cool with dad but has beef with Tiamat. The witches have been out to get me for ages. They each need to be killed 3 times to stay dead. I've gotten 'em or one at least once so far. 

I'd rather it were me who summons Belphegor. Fucking upstart witches.

I now absorb bits of souls when I heal my friends up from zero or resurrect them. Anaxorchas approves and dad would too. 


Resurrected our highest level wizard Brian the Slayer of Ferox the Incinerator after he got in the way of a death ray while us clever adventures ran the fuck away.


Saturday, November 23, 2013


Despite the fact that we mostly use it for D&D, the idea of the original FLAILSNAILS conventions was that you could use any character from any kind of game in any other game of a like genre.


...the Traveller-specific sci-fi version of FLAILSNAILS is called STARSLUGS and, as of last night, is fully operational--we did indeed successfully kill Astrozombies from The Galaxy Of Fear with a Astrogrenade From The Space Cantonment.

That is: Evan died in Chris's Classic Traveller game but in the process inadvertently enabled us to get our hands on weapons Chris' party then used against the monsters in Evan's Mongoose Traveller game.

Original Traveller supports a build-what-you-like setting and a simple 2d6-roll-high system with all the usual space-suspects for skills and so is so generic so I'm having a hard time thinking of any reason you shouldn't just bolt any old sci fi game you happen to have lying around onto it and start running games for any space pirate who wants to roll up.

There are probably people who'll tell you Traveller is a poor fit for yyy setting because themes or something, but people who say stuff like that are usually wrong about everything and have ugly children or smell bad or both and are far too defeatist for the gaming life.

So let's see your Star Wars, Warhammer 40k, Carcosa, Mekton, Gundam, Gigacrawler, Stars Without Number, Cthulhutech, Eclipse Phase and Dr Who STARSLUGS games--rolling 2 is bad, rolling 12 is good, rolling 7 is average and...that's all you need. So get on it like yesterday. 


Friday, November 22, 2013

d10 Seasonal Modules Someone Should Write

1 Fuck This Sugarplum Palace

2 Unlimited Access To Every Single House With A Chimney And At Least One Christian Inhabitant For One Night Only

3 The Rat King Was Right The Nutcracker Is A Devouring Menace

4. Biscuits, Ice And New Machines

5 Toyhammer of the Weasel Elves

6 The Bishop of Turkey and His Six To Eight Slaves

7 Inside The Turkey Is A Duck And Inside That Is A Chicken And Inside The Chicken Is The Entrance

8 Your Grandmother's House Is Basically Wolf-Themed

9 The Reward For Your Year Of Sloth And Sin Is This Reeking Anthracite

10 Black Metal Frost Giants Of The Hatemountain Demand Toys

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mass Battle, End Of An Era, Brain Eating Turns Out To Be A Good Idea

So there was this army of the undead, right?

And they've been sweeping across the land like a scythe since basically forever. Since like the first ever actual play report on this blog. That's 4 years of undead army.

Once the players got to grips with the whole actually-doing-something-about-it thing (which required some minor time travel) there's a whole strategic layer where they maneuver around the map Ken Burns Civli War style and pick their battles:

Once their army bottled up the enemy in that area between the red gorge in the center of the map and the"Jagged Rox" hex northeast of it, they got to grips with actually wading in and trying to take out the boss level undead monsters at the center of the swarm. These were many and varied.... that's a vintage Vornheim Plasmic Blob there.

So this session was a 4-hour fight. 2 four hour fights if you count last session, when the party was almost TPKed and buried under by the first wave of the undead and a lot of gluten-free pizza.

Tonight was one of those fights where everybody contributed something cool...
clicking makes it less small

...although, like a lot of sessions I've been running lately, people do end up spending a lot of time unconscious if they're not careful--that is, if they're new or Connie.

Explaining what Connie did here takes a little doing:

For the first half of the fight, she was doing well sneaking around, backstab-disrupting bad guys and disappearing back into cover but then the Hex King got his eye on her in the same round that the undead giant natural-20'ed Laney and kicked her halfway across the battlefield leaving the group with almost no way to harm the unsettlingly magic-resistant uberlich.
Long story short: a TPK is imminent and Connie's unconscious, stripped of stuff, and one round from permanent death forever when the combined efforts of Mandy, Stokely, the part of  future Mandy's brain that Connie ate that had a Dispel Magic stored in it and one lucky die roll pull her back from the brink.
She then backstabs the everliving fuck out of the Hex King for 104 hit points and finishes him off the next round as David's insane defensewizard grapples him, bashing the archfoe to into crown, powder and lichy bits.

Decimated and leaderless and now at terrible penalties to maneuver rolls, the skeletal force is routed and driven toward the booby-trapped river. They are washed into the sea.

No more of this shit.

So.....will have to think up something new for next week....

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

100 Problem & Puzzle Set-ups

Entries marked with a * are variations/extensions of the entries above them.

1, Foes rely on each other for completion of a multipart plan--if all foes die/are stymied, it's even worse for the PCs than if the foes' plan went off perfectly, so the PCs must carefully decide which to bump off.

3, Essential key to essential area isn't there, it's somewhere else in the adventure

4, *Roaming monster has it

5, *Key has pieces/multiple keys required

6, Map trick allows for prediction of secret door

7, *Realistic floorplan has obvious missing area

8, *Floorplan alternates in pattern (door on left, door on right, door on left…) missing part has secret door

9, *Floorplan's eccentric but symmetrical

10, *Floorplan's obviously shaped like some familiar object: star, hand, etc.

11, *-Shape is sacred to inhabitant/architect culture

12, *-Shape is worked into decoration of rooms

13, *-Shape is present by omission (nobody in the dungeon has a hand, shaped like left hand, etc)

14, Monster is only way to kill another monster

15, Monster is literal key to inorganic puzzle/door

16, Object is secretly key to defeating monster

17, Trap, once sprung, has key to important bit elsewhere in adventure. Success requires springing it

18, Verbal clue (found note)--puzzle clue hangs on secondary meaning of word

19, Haystack puzzle--there are tons of monsters, one has the thing

20, *Narrowing haystack--each defeated monster offers one clue to next monster

21, *-Narrowing ticking clock haystack--the longer it takes the more difficult the final showdown becomes

22, Monster only reappears worse when it dies unless some vital thing is done besides just hit it

23, Something that doesn't appear to be a map is one

24, Nonhuman intelligence (goblin, demon, etc) is expressing itself. What it thinks is very clear (verbally or leaving a note), but it only makes sense if you know/remember about their culture/mentality. For example: when an ogre says "food" it might mean something else…

25, *Ancient "emoticon"--turning message sideways or upside down makes sense of it. Show players a picture.

26, Picture clues: there's a specific and detailed picture you show the players, with clues in it. Noticing them reveals stuff.

27, An apparently random agglomeration of words uttered by some NPC (dying? insane?) is an address

28, Some monsters can get through a door, some can't. The players may notice all the ones on one side or able to traverse it have some distinguishing feature/mark--mutilated ear, etc. Doing that allows you through.

29, A given color is always an illusory surface with something through it/portal to another world

30, *"Key" color shifts round color wheel, so the first is red, then the second is orange, then yellow, etc

31, *"Key" is mixed with color of user's eyes (include mirror)

32, Lock/door responds to quantifiable element of character (age, eye color)--the closer to the desired value, the more the door/lock/gate etc responds (one door opens, two doors, three) because of some flaw in the manufacture

33, Monster is actually part of a monster. Make it a whole by combining monsters. It must be whole before it can be killed.

34, *Once it's whole it's no longer evil

35, The weapon you use against the monster changes the nature of the monster.

36, Deducing the creature's mission allows you to predict its actions. Predicting its actions is the only way to avoid or kill it.

37, A thing changes states: from trap to monster to treasure to clue etc. Observing the pattern allows you to stop the cycle at a desired moment.

38, *All monsters of a given species do this as they die--the trick is to kill them at the right moment

39, Creatures or mechanisms identify creatures by behavior not appearance. Can be fooled.

40, Creatures or mechanisms mirror party behavior.

41, Intercepted communication in simple code.

42, Simple vulnerability/key (earth, air, fire, water, blood, etc)

43, Magnetic trap not immediately obvious as magnetic trap, especially to victims in armor.

44, Babelfish/Apollo 13 trap: problem, apparent obvious solution, each obvious solution creates a new problem, until the chain finishes. Things needed to solve the problem are scattered throughout the location.

45, Killing monsters or taking treasure creates a problem--some subtle area denial weapon like gas or oil or disease or undead is released. This isn't noticeable immediately but the more you adventure the harder you make it on yourself.

46, The large door mechanism's broke: you have to do some precarious thing while someone else in the party does some other precarious thing in order to open it. Of course while you're doing that the monsters come.

47, You need to kill the boss monster but leave some vital part intact, so certain attacks are off the table.

48, Drowning or other slow area-denial trap made by accidentally flipping a switch in a big machine-room--fixing it requires realizing some unobtrusive object is a missing part.

49, Villain's backstory requires keeping a prisoner nearby. Prisoner is disguised as pet, member of court, concubine, statue etc.

50, PC failure in a certain zone/room disproportionately strengthens the enemy, so the choice of battlefield is important. (Like: dying on level 1 adds a head to the hydra)

51, Fight in minefield-like situation/Falling Rocks/Thin Ice

52, *Rickety floor but enemies can fly

53, *Certain "landmines" don't kill but instead make environment weirder

54, *Chalk circles contain spells that activate

55, *Chalk circles imprison demons, breaking chalk releases them

56, PCs' predicament requires capturing a fierce foe alive or else they die.

57, Attacks on monster activate automatic counterattack

58, Hunting foe can hide/move through a specific kind of object--can come from underneath a rug, through any open window, etc.

59, Presence of common thing strengthens foe--light, sound, reflective surfaces, hair, etc

60, Physical space mapped to chronological space--i.e. going up or north goes forward in time, going down or south goes back in time, etc

61, Time, lighting, gravity, shape of things, weather, etc mapped to disposition of innocuous object

62, Voracious foe secretly requires specific surprising food source

63, Behavior of foe mapped to "voodoo doll"-like object

64, Friend and foe's situation mapped to each other--hurt one, you hurt the other, etc

65, Two foes' situations mapped to each other. Foes aren't in the same place.

66, Controlling villain is disguised as background creature/object

67, Environment is fragile/destructible (made of spider webs, etc)

68, Foe/place has dominion over common weapon element--fire, steel, etc--that weapon, if used, will turn on user

69, Ghost or whatever has outstanding issue that needs to be handled in order for it to be put to rest

70, *Golem/iron cobra/necrophidius has a "program" which it keeps running requiring it to head to a room whose door's been bricked over

71, All actions in (sealed?) room A cause resulting actions by monsters in room B.

72, Capabilities displayed by PCs in (sealed?) room/complex A allow creature in area B to do all those things: if you ever cast fireball there, it can too now etc

73, Colors map to supernatural property of area, work into subtle room descriptions--rooms with blue in them=magic doesn't work, rooms with yellow mean metal doesn't work, etc.

74, Pac_Man-esque situation--harmless creature becomes voracious and dangerous (and physically different) when exposed to specific object/area of dungeon

75, Object/location is Dorian-Grey-style storage area for something noncorporeal or esoteric (bitterness, fat, sleep, etc) opening or destroying or interacting with it lets it all out

76, Enemy can snipe at you from a protected position. Preventing it requires finding a hidden entrance to the network that leads to where they are while being sniped at.

77, New magic item has a general, not-obviously-useful purpose (change the color of any object for instance) which is, not obviously, the key to a situation (yellow goblins at war with red goblins for instance)

78, Boss has a "boss pattern".

79, *Army has a "boss pattern"

80, *Every creature in an area acts in a coordinated "boss pattern"

81, *"Boss pattern" code is encoded in an object like a musical score--changing it changes the behavor of the boss or foes

82, Death trap-like murder devices in rooms have a pattern (reverse gravity room first, magnetic room second, etc) that can be altered by altering the object the pattern is written into. Change the "score" change the order of the rooms. (Disperse party to make this important?)

83, Rival group is in the same dungeon/sandbox/wilderness/castle. PCs made to magically monitor their progress and position from afar but neither side knows the area well.

84, Combat in cramped, physically discontinuous space like: going out the west door brings you in through the ceiling, etc. No direction is what it seems but it's stable.

85, Dungeon/monster effects strictly keyed to a specific NPC's reactions to events--happy=ceiling lowers, angry=monster appears, etc. 

86, Monsters don't want PCs dead, the room/an inanimate object present does. Attacks don't stop until it's addressed.

87, "Learning foe" starts stupid, develops Sentinel-like response to any tactic after 1 attack.

88, A trap situation is set up--the trap _will_ activate under x y z conditions (ritual summons a devouring creature for instance). Foe attempts to get PCs to fulfill the conditions w/out revealing themself.

89, Apparently irrational behavior of creature is part of complex ritual, interrupting the behavior or altering it causes the ritual to go awry in analogous way. For example: the path the foe takes through the city is the one their terrible Star God, once summoned, will take through the city.

90, Previous events erased/reversed by a magic device. Like: each of 10 candles maps to a previous combat round--extinguish the candle, undo the round, etc.

91, Time pressure: x complex task must be completed before y disastrous consequence. Approach of y is clear and on a graduated scale. T-minus 10, 9, 8

92, *Evidence of approaching consequence is not obvious at first.

93, PCs are in a situation where most actions have major consequences and they are instantly made aware (prescience, crystal ball) of consequences after taking the action. You killed that guy? Here's the duke discussing the cavalry goblins he's left to his widow, etc.

94, PCs are in a situation where any viable action will have immediate major obvious consequences. Like: any one of several NPC generals in the room has to die but each one of them is in control of a different army that will invade the dungeon if that leader does not leave alive. So the decision is which army or armies to unleash and defend themselves against.

95, *Each kind of monster has a known deleterious or warping effect on the local environment--deciding the order to kill the monsters in decides the shape of the environment for confronting the next. Like: if you kill the white dragon first, the dungeon will freeze over, if you kill the blue one first, all metal in the dungeon will rust, etc.

96, Foe has-/is composed of- a number of debilitating problems (blind, crippled, stupid, etc). Defeating the foe requires these be off-loaded onto someone else (probably PCs). Probably the best way is to give different problems to different PCs.

97, *Debilitating aspects are self-canceling if organized properly, so like if you take the foe's cowardice and recklessness they cancel each other out, so the trick is to be organized.

98, NPCs and monsters secretly react to PCs based on some obscure-but-discoverable detail of clothing/hair etc

99, Dungeon/building doesn't naturally lead to goal/exit. The space must be rearranged using some mechanism inside the space.

100, *Rearranging the mechanism can make further rearrangings of the mechanism more difficult

Monday, November 11, 2013

Congratulations, It's A Mousetrap.

Have you heard the news? Changing the rules changes how the game works!

I know I've heard the news--pretty much every single day since I found out people talked about games on the internet.

You can hear about it on DIY D&D blogs like this one where people talk about how having low hp makes the game more about outside the box solutions, you can hear about it from game designers when they talk about how their game cleverly incentivizes this or that, unlike all previous games.

And this is worth saying--if it's worth talking about games, you might want to talk about how they work.

But you know what changes how games work way more than changing the rules?

New ideas about what kind of fun things you could have in the game.

I have a game. It, like all games, was not custom-made for me and therefore is flawed. But with a couple kicks, it does exactly what I want it to do. That's a trivial problem. What I want is ideas about what to do with it.

Matt Finch put out Swords & Wizardry--as game design it's fuck-all, just a retread of what's already in D&D, and Matt will readily admit that: it'a just a tool of convenience.

He then got on to the much more relevant business of producing new ideas--Spire of Iron & Crystal, Tome of Adventure Design. That's where the innovation is.

Same with James Raggi: Lamentations of the Flame Princess has a few clever updates to the D&D Basic rules, but the supplements have hundreds of useful ideas of what to do with any game once you have it going.

The ways changing the system changes the game experience are harder to explain than the ways changing the content does but they aren't actually more important.

You found out a new, better, way to tell a player, in game language "You can play a wizard with a sword". Good on you! Now it's time for the first session, and the one after that, and the one after that and the one after that for a year. Do you have any ideas about how to fill all those hours?

I wonder about the personal gaming experiences of people who spend all their time under the hood trying to build a better mousetrap and apparently no time building new content.

If they're designing tabletop RPGs, presumably they've been playing them for a long time. And if they've been playing them for so long, why are they so convinced games are in crisis and that the best use of their time is addressing this crisis?

-Have they just, for a decade or whatever been unable to figure out how to make existing games work for them? Despite continually playing them?

-Are they designing for some imagined audience they don't belong to? Is that why so much of it seems so passionless and condescending?

Y'know Kenneth Hite? Mr RPG Creativity? That guy runs straight up Call of Cthulhu. All that time hanging out with  Robin Laws and he's still just playing that old thing. Because he's busy thinking up what ideas to put in the damn game, not endlessly replacing hubcaps.

It's like the Dungeon Bastard said: what edition should I play? Whatever fucking edition is there, man.

Y'know that guy who spent all that time ten years ago talking about how System Matters? The best games yet produced by all the people who believed him all basically just say "Here's a new system to do that thing You Always Had Trouble With. Now go make up your own content".

Well thanks, but you did the easy part and went and left the hard, interesting, infinitely-extendable part up to me.

If the game's got three rotating groups fighting each other on a jewel-tinted Salvador Dali landscape of war machines vat-bred from the cast-off DNA of titans who died defending the planet from the eminent return of demons that rewire physics by modulating the screams of their sacrifices who the fuck cares if it's a skill system or race-as-class?

If it's out of tune: by all means tune it.

But then if you don't fucking go somewhere in that car? Why even bother, Captain Slow?

Innovation is great, but most of the real and useful innovation I've seen hasn't been "Oh let's count d6s instead of d100s, that'll pack 'em in!"--the translate-and-die tricks in Death Frost Doom, the game-changing, plot-derailing things new spells can do in Rolemaster and Dungeon Crawl Classics, the way the One Page Dungeons organize content and deliver a dungeon, and the cool knock-on effects of Jeff's Party Like Its 999 table--there's some innovation I can actually use, not a patch for a problem I never had. They assume the pencil works and then go and draw something with it.

Here's a double dog dare:

Let's see a Dungeon Dozen-equivalent for a game like Dread--new, interesting set-ups and hacks with twists for that game every day.

Let's see a blog dedicated to new ways to use Shock for long term campaigns. See if you can cross-pollinate with the Traveller and 40k ideas the DIY D&D community spits out three times a week like it's no thing.

You like tactical combat in 4e or 13th Age? Let's see some One Page Dungeon-style accessible crazy fucking over the top set-piece encounter madness--like WOTC's Dungeon Delve only not totally mundane and flavorless and pointless with like a Master BoneEater Ghoul and 3 Slavedull Ghouls and a candlestick. Like gimme a dungeon room encounter I can pick up and it's just evocative, beautiful, useful and nuts.

Just assume, for once, we actually all managed put the key in the ignition, turned it, and the car started rolling. Where are we going, you guys?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Absolutely Sublime And Unimprovable

Sometimes someone will try to devise games or ways of playing games by starting with their problems (not enough gamers, games make people cry, games are in my butt, games bit my sister) and trying to fix them. But you can't do this if you don't have or care about these problems.

Still: it might be nice to have some principles.

In philosophy you can develop goals and ethics by imagining the perfect end result and reasoning backward from there, toward all the conditions that would be required to make that thing come true.

So, in games, could you imagine the most perfect possible moment in a game and back-engineer everything you need to try to do from there?

Hey, maybe.

Some ground rules:

I'm looking at the perfect moment--the absolute ecstatic apex--not a very good moment. This list will be extreme. These aren't things that have to be there for the moment to be good--they're things that have to be there for the moment to be perfect.

On the other hand--moments that are awesome but could have come about without playing the game--very good owlbear jokes, the entire session collapsing into a GGGGB orgy--don't count.

Although nongame things (decor, snacks) can be part of a game moment, at a perfect moment, or even just a really good one, those things cease to be present, the way peripheral awareness melts away when you watch your freethrow roll on the rim before it sinks in the net.


So, the Perfect Moment:

I don't remember what was going on when that photo at the top of this page was taken--it probably wasn't the perfect moment, but from all the evidence in the picture it could have been. Let's assume it was and describe what's going on.

Start with a pair of easy ones:

-Good People

There have to be other people there for there to be a game. If it's perfect: it's all people you like.


Real life games, assuming all other things are equal, beat online games. And let's assume you're comfortable, undistracted, and well-snacked while we're at it.

Now the crunch:

-Simultaneous visualization

In the perfect moment, everyone there is imagining the same thing, or at least all simultaneously imagining something that's close and very good ("good" in every sense--we'll get to that later). The perfect RPG moment is a shared moment.
The ability to do this isn't unique to games--most kinds of oral storytelling can have this quality, including stand-up comedy--you all summon the same mental image at the same time, you all react to it at the same time, and you also all enjoy the feeling of everyone around having that simultaneous reaction.
It is an unusually focused and rapid kind of collective effervescence and possibly at the heart of the sympathy between cult-like behavior and RPG behavior noticed by False Patrick.


In the best possible moment, the moment everyone is imagining is original (so far as all the participants know), and exotic.
So the moment where you fell the giant with an axe is ever so slightly inferior to the one where you fell the giant with the axe made from his father's tooth.

Creativity exists in a certain tension with simultaneousness--if the word picture painted is too obscure (the giant killed by the soundwaves from the collapse of a baby universe teleported into his ear)--you might have an imaginability problem--everybody's got a different idea of what they're seeing and in most cases all the images aren't equally good.
You have to pave the way for imaginable creative moments during play, build up the picture, get people on the same page.

-Victory (with loophole)

I'd argue victory is what's going on in the best moment by logical deduction:
It's self-evident that, in the best moment, all the people at the table should be people you like.
It's self-evident that you would want the perfect moment to be untainted by any vague empathic assumption that any of these friends might not be having an awesome time.
While everybody has a wide variety of aesthetic experiences they might like (I like lots of depressing movies), it is also true that, if you're looking for a definite overlap: everybody likes to win.

There's a loophole:
Maybe you know for a fact (before the perfect moment happens) that everyone at the table loves it when a player gives a fantastic spontaneous death speech--even more than they love winning. I'd say ok: what you need is not necessarily victory but a moment of some other thing that you are 100% sure ahead of time everybody at the table agrees is a good thing to have happen. Achievement of a thing so locally agreed-upon as cool you could call it a goal. Which sounds a lot like a kind of victory, come to think of it.


Beautiful moments in games can have a quality that beautiful moments in no other medium except real life can have: they can be earned. Hamlet can, technically speaking, avenge his father whenever Shakespeare wants to write it into the play. Hamlet as a PC, however, is restricted from doing so until all the rules have been satisfied. An earned moment is one that could not have happened that way had a specific set of previous, not-guaranteed events taken place.

A game makes it possible for the feeling that it's not just that the wonderful moment happening it's also the simultaneous sensation of seeing all the old pieces retroactively falling into place so that it could. The sudden appearance of order from a previous disorder--if we're talking blue-sky moment, we might as well throw that in.

Earning is kind of the opposite of foreshadowing--realizing significance after the fact.

-Real Exercise

By the above definition, a moment can be earned by pure chance--this die roll, then that, then the other--and that can be fun. But in the perfect moment the players have had to stretch their minds into new places in the course of earning the moment--and thus actually become a little bit better at thinking--during the course of the game.

This can be done in more than one way: creative problem solving is one way, but any other time-crunched creative moment--like suddenly making a great speech, or devising a great plot twist--is a kind of exercise. You had to extend yourself to do it--it tested you.

(I have heard the theory that games should offer moral exercise--that is: they should help people extend their ability to feel sympathy and imagine the lives of other people. I have seen great novels and movies do this, so art can do it. However, since every attempt thus far to do it in games assumes players are all Louisiana sheriffs circa 1958 and must work toward greater moral understanding from there, they seem to offer less moral exercise than just interacting with the actual people in the gaming group does.)


Many of the details in the best moment would be unanticipated. This forces the moment to be explosive--revelation comes all at once. Ok, what AC am I trying to...NATURAL 20, BITCHES! Surprise can be a result of real exercise and creativity, but it can also be provided by purely mechanical randomness. All three is the best, of course.


The best moment would also be, at least in some details, anticipated. This paradox is familiar to anybody who writes any kind of story or joke--you create an expectation and you do something with it. Not always fulfill it, not always frustrate it, but, like a good punchline, you find a way to do both.

The tension built up feeds the payoff.


If winning is good, winning a lot is better. Personally, I like death as the stake: if you like a game, there isn't a higher stake than your ability to keep playing the game, at least with that character, in the way that character allows you to play it.

Other staked consequences, despite being more creative, always either aren't harsh enough to create that tension or they simply threaten to render the character less fun to play (you're three years younger and made of fish flakes! Congrats!), so that giving up and rolling a new one--as if you'd just died--is preferable anyway.

Some people will tell you this and I believe them: the pleasure in the cathartic moment of beating death is offset by the anxiety of worrying about dying up until that moment comes. I can't help them. They'll need a game I can't run.

Knowing the stakes shades into foreshadowing.

-It's The Middle

You'd think, what with all this talk about climaxes and victories, the best moment would be the last moment, but I don't think so--because that is always going to be tinged with the regret at the campaign ending.

In a perfect moment you unconsciously expect many more like it around the corner--so the moment's as earned as possible and so ties up as many loose ends as possible, but promises more possibilities suddenly open up.


In the best moment, everybody at the table would not only imagining the same thing, but contributing in that moment to that thing. This quality isn't easy to achieve, and it's probably the one existing games are least set up to support in the most literal sense--even if one person is holding the giant weasel and the other is punching him or in a game like Tunnels and Trolls where combat value is a sum of everybody's scores, you still only have one person rolling the last killing die in that moment.

Makes me want to invent a everybody-roll-at-once-matched-attack-rolls=crit mechanic

In a few days, if it still seems like a good idea, I'll write about what you have to do with games to make sure these moments can happen.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Vornheim, Stonehell, Eldritch Weirdness, The God That Crawls, Warm Inner Glow

The Bundle Of Holding has packaged up some DIY D&D classics--and that thing I wrote--to sell them to you and help those in need while doing it.

In order to get Vornheim you have to pay more than average for the bundle--so more than like 12 bucks or so at the moment. But the faster you do it, the cheaper it is.

Also in the bundle:

Swords & Wizardry and Adventurer Conqueror King (no need to pick your clone! Mash 'em up)
Matt Finch's Eldritch Weirdness (the most inventive and inspiring collection of spells the Old School's produced)
Tomb Of The Iron God (also by Matt Finch so probably awesome)
Stonehell (the only big dungeon you can actually use at the table!)
The God That Crawls (cute map tricks and bad blobs!)

and more...

So, yeah, if you've ever had any interest in any of this stuff, I recommend doing it now, while it's cheap and helps people with cancer and feeds the homeless.

Only 4 days left...

And now, the best promo video in the history of selling stuff


Never Run Out Of Dungeon...

I draw these on the backs of index cards. I've got like 20 of them so far.

Each one has 4 exits on the outer edge so I can just line up another random card if the players walk off.

They're good for when the party goes past what you've got planned--I stole a lot of these ideas from Undermountain.