Monday, November 24, 2014

If Nobody Ever Asks For Your Ideas You May Not Realize Some Ideas Are Better Than Others

Sometimes you read people on-line--you read their game blog or in a forum or whatever--and you think: this is the first time anyone has ever listened to you about anything, isn't it? Some handle it with grace, and it's cool to see. Some don't--but they don't in a very specific way.


If people often seriously ask you for your opinion and then go do something with your opinion that affects something, then you might start to think of opinions as affecting things.

If nobody ever seriously asks for your opinion, then you might not think of your opinion as carrying much weight or affecting anything.


If you think of your opinion as affecting things, you might be incentivized start to try to make sure it makes sense.

If you don't think of it as carrying much weight or affecting anything, you might not be incentivized to think too hard about trying to make sure it makes sense.

("Makes sense"--that is: matches what you know or could find out.)


If you try to make sure your opinion makes sense, you might think of opinions in general as things people have thought out and really believe.

If you don't think too hard about whether your opinion makes sense, you probably think of opinions in general as inherently provisional things that you usually keep to yourself because they're not thought out.

(Like: if you don't think too hard about your opinions or value them much, your opinion of who is smarter might be, in your mind, about as meaningful as who is wearing a better shirt. The idea that one might be a thing you could go figure out and check on and the other isn't might never occur to you, if nobody much ever did anything based on your opinions anyway.)


If you think of opinions in general as things people have thought out, you'll tend to think of sharing opinions as basically just polite.

If you think of opinions inherently as provisional things people usually keep to themselves because they're not thought out, you probably think of sharing one as a bold, confident act.


If you're used to thinking of opinions as things people have thought out, someone sharing an opinion is (baseline) helpful, good, productive, polite, respectful, necessary and…inherently to be challenged by other opinions. And all subject to fact and being thought out.

If you think of sharing your opinion as a bold, confident act then someone saying what they're thinking is risky to everyone involved--it is asking for things to be put at risk, it is asking for people to make themselves vulnerable. After all--everyone risks revealing their opinion is not thought out, don't they?


You see people who seem shocked and alarmed not just to have their opinion contested (which is strangely common) but to be asked at all. This is frequently followed by a diatribe about how unimportant they are--as if that were the point. 

If people often seriously ask you for your opinion you won't see that request as hostile and won't see why people do.

If nobody ever seriously asks your opinion you may be scared. It's not just that you can't handle a conversation about your ideas, it's that you misunderstand why you're being asked to have one.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blood Frenzy and Larceny and Level Drain and Cute

Stokely missed a session. So we were updating her:


They want to see the Pale King because they want to collect their reward for rescuing the Sleeper ("that mouse"). The Sleeper himself was not forthcoming with loot.
The Pale King

It went like this:

A month ago they get into the dungeon, find a bunch of bottles with messages floating in them in a pool. One (the ranger could tell) was written by a mouse. It wanted to be rescued.

So then they spend like hours and hours and session and sessions roaming the dungeon...

…fighting demons and vampires and giant rooks, Mandy loses all her stuff, people almost die 2 or 3 time, Stokely loses 2 levels, Halloween comes and goes...
Yeah, I know, Tuxedo Mask sucks, but what am I supposed to do? 
…be all "Yeah, you guys can all go out as Sailor Scouts and I'll just stay home"?

...and then after like 5 sessions, they find the mouse, thanks to the druid's owl.

Chewie played the owl. Owls are good at finding mice. 

After all that shit, the party's expecting the mouse to give them a reward. Because, y'know, a writing mouse: it's probably rich, right?

And, frankly, the DM is expecting the mouse to give them a reward.

But then Mariah the cleric had found this teacup, so she's all "Tell the mouse we have a teacup it can rest in".

"The mouse comes out, crawls into the teacup…and disappears"

"No way…"

Y'know how sometimes you get to show your players your notes to prove you didn't just make up a gotcha because you're horrible?

Well I got to do that with my new book for the very first time...

Then I kind of just couldn't stop laughing for ten minutes because: seriously.

So Mariah turned her attention to other things, like the manticore Joey Vs Skin had drugged in other room that was paddling in circles thinking it was a manta ray after rolling a 1 to save vs hallucinogen.

Mariah found this obscurely charming even though manticores are jerks.

All this interspecies romance got everybody talking about rolling on the carousing table.

Stokes' witch problem turned into a whole elaborate plot thread--Mandy dealt with her unexpected morning after a lot more efficiently:

Then they fell in a river and fought some dragonfish. But that's life.

No more cute stuff for like a year after this. It's all claws made from the dreams of dead men after this.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Behir In Name Only

Ok, first: announcement: So James Raggi had me rewrite his classic Death Frost Doom module (the one I started my own campaign off with) to create a new deluxe version with more new stuff in it (and less old stuff) with Jez Gordon ilustrations. I feel good about it "…this feels like the essence of D&D crushed into diamond. Overworld and Underworld. Pure myth. "

It is currently available as part of the Bundle of Holding charity thing, where you can get this along with the Labyrinth Lord Advanced, and +Dyson Logos 's Dyson's Delves (awesome maps) and much more--all together for like 8 bucks or whatever. Only available for a week.

If you have any questions about what the differences between the old and new Death Frost Dooms feel free to ask in the comments--I definitely think the rewrite is worth getting even if you have the old one, as there's a lot of new content you can scrape fro other dungeons.
Ok, now on to the main course, continuing to vandalize the 5e monster manual.

Behirs. Behirs are basically crappy semidragons as if D&D needed more of those dating back to AD&D Monster Manual 2. However, the new 5e illustration is very cool and salamandery, and I did was black-in the shadow to make it look nice and slimy.

I completely, if lazily, overhauled this monster:
The behir is now a familiar-type monster maybe a foot and a half long.

"Behir" is a nice, pseudo-Arabic Jack Vance-style name--so I figured chaos wizards of the Dying Earth thousands of years into the future send Behirs back in time to whisper spells into the ears of sorcerers while they sleep.

The Chaos Wizards hope to place the right spells with the right wizards at the right time in order to carefully manipulate timelines so that futures where they rule come about.

Since these effects are subtle and have a butterfly-wing-theory-like effect on the future, practically speaking it seems like the wizard's just getting random spells each night. Which, in game terms, they are.

This very speedy revision of the Behir is based on two way better ideas you should read:

1. False Patrick's Shaman class-which chases spells in dreams using a cool mechanic which you can totally port over if a PC gets hold of a Behir.

2. Arnold Punch's idea about where faeries come from.

Friday, November 7, 2014

ENTER THIS CONTEST! Make A Widget On Twine Or Whatever

So I made this, it's terrible…

…so why did I make it? Just to prove a point: here's a widget that generates random 3d6-in-order ability scores and walks a person through character creation and I made it in like fifteen minutes with zero programming skill using a thing called Inklewriter and the advice here. There are also ways to make it so certain options or ideas appear or disappear depending on whether you've passed "key" screens and to insert pictures and whatnot.

If I'd put a little more work in, I could actually plunk a new-to-D&D player down in front of the screen while I went and fished out dice and minis for them and they could make their first character for any edition with all the bonuses and thief percentages and spells and whatever. I can also see this interface being used for:

-Character lifepaths

-Interpret-the-picture style puzzle challenges

-Giving players characteristics or class/race based on hidden rules (i.e. like What Voltron Lion Are You?--style quizzes)

-Dungeon modules (click the option the players took instead of trying to find a page in a book)


So that point I was making is: there are several easy-to-use online story/text-game-writing tools that you  can use to make stuff that might be useful at a game table instead of for their original purpose.

Another one is Twine...

Since I managed to almost make a decent character generator and all I'm trained to do is rub colors into paper and jiz on people for money, I bet you'll be way better at this than me. So I am announcing the…

D&D With Porn Stars Official Digital Widget Contest

Due Date:

December 4th (but there's a bonus for turning your widget in early, see below).


Signed copy of Red & Pleasant Land goes to the winner.


  • What you make is supposed to be a useful tabletop game tool, not a game or story in itself. Edge cases acceptable.
  • Enter as many times as you like.
  • Tools can be for any tabletop RPG but since I'm the judge I'm probably biased towards ones I like.
  • You can make your widget using Inklewriter (some tips here) or Twine (available here--a little more complex instructions here) (some tips here and advanced tips here) or any other program you like so long as I can make the final product work on my mac.
  • Your widget cannot be extant and available on the web as of yesterday (i.e. no submitting old stuff)
  • More info about how to do things available from the RPG community here on Google +--add me if you haven't. (Not necessary to enter the contest).
  • Submit your entry by emailing me: zakzsmith at hawt mayle. If you don't email me, it does not count.
  • Entries will be judged by me on the following criteria:
  1. Usefulness: 1-100 points. How likely would I be to use this at the table for a game? Does it duplicate something already available or is it genuinely new? Do the writing and pictures (if any) make it more useful? 
  2. Speed of Entry: 1-27 points. For each day (Pacific time) your entry is received before December 4th you will receive an extra point. So if I receive your widget on December 3rd you get one bonus point. If I get it today--Nov 7--you get 27 bonus points. 
  3. Attractiveness: 0 points. Does it look lovely? If it doesn't make the thing work better I don't care. 
  4. Dorkness: Negative 100 points. Oh my god your widget is actually a Turing Test! How cleverly you have subverted the contest paradigm! If you do anything that tries to be funny but actually just makes the widget less useful you will end up with negative points which means I have to come to your house and take whatever you value most away from you. Exhausting for everyone involved.
  • Special Handicap Rule: Fancy smart actual programmers are totally allowed to enter with super-advanced widgets utilizing skill and programs far beyond that available to the average blogger. However, if this results in one or more stunning Lebron-shows-up-to-the-playground entries, these will be judged separately and I will award both "n00b" and "Jawa" prizes
Uh, I think that's it, you can ask questions here or on Google+.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

That's The Way To Do It!

Try this game:

Tell WOTC how to renew their settings for 5th Edition in two sentences or less. You have to do at least three settings. Extra points if it seems like something they might actually do.

Here are mine...


Still a high-fantasy adventure path--but gamify the players' attempt to stay on the path and play their character: each player gets an objective slipped to them secretly ("Kill at least four draconians before reaching Mindenhork") and they level up when they achieve the objectives--at which point they get a new one. Also subsidiary objectives worth xp--but monsters alone are worth little or nothing.

Kara Tur/Oriental Adventures

All the Kara Tur classes are feat-heavy 4e-style variants on the core classes. Lots of shoving people around the scenery, tactical combat and crazy stunts and all the feats have names like "Thousand Golden Mantis Lock".

Dark Sun

There's no good reason not to just release Dark Sun as a complete Carcosa-style hexcrawl from the get-go, accompanied by random tables (like these) for generating weird locals and villages. Without these details, the setting can be summed up in like 4 pictures and there's no need for most of what's in the boxed set.


…is redone as essentially Call of Cthulhu Medieval. Or the Dark Country. Ravenloft itself is just a big gothic country or alternate earth but the characters start out as Old School-style useless 0-level funnel-fodder in a place with terrible communication and supply lines and have to scrabble and scrimp for class features and spells.


Start by releasing it not as a standard setting book but as an alternate monster manual--with each standard creature rewritten--with no stats (or collapsed stats) but with info on how they fit into the politics and ecology of Eberron.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

We Need Your Help On Vornheim 2nd Edition

While the pdf of Vornheim: the Complete City Kit is still available *, the hardcovers sold out very quickly and people have been asking after them for years.

So: finally we are shooting to have a new physical version out this winter. We want to make a few very minor tweaks--one of which is fixing typos.

The only one I already know about is that the "Where's Eshrigel?" table appears on page 11 for no reason.

If you know of any typos in Vornheim, please send 'em in. You can post them in the comments here, or e-mail me.
*Also: if you don't have one, get one, it's award winning and stuff. Here's a detailed review.