Not That Hard, People

Stop trying to outsmart the genius of Cook, D&D nerds!  For the love of all that is Holy Gygaxian, hex crawls are not that hard.  DMDavid now has a series of posts in which he tries to fix unbroken sandboxes and hexcrawls.

Since he started with sandboxes, we will take that one too.  DMDavid misdiagnoses the problem.  He doesn’t understand that sandboxes have edges and locations and information baked into the adventure-cake.  Players have to get fed enough information to get started, just as they do in a railroad.  Players have to be given options, but those options are merely the opening selections in an infinitely branching flowchart.  A DM builds the mounds and the valleys in the sandbox and drops in a few rocks and plastic monsters and then sits back and lets the characters explore and interact with the thing.

That doesn’t mean staring across a DM screen and asking the players what they do first.  You still have to establish that the sandbox consists of a desolate desert or a valley shot through with caves inhabited by a wide variety of monsters.  You have to feed them some information about the lay of the land.  Where are the blank spaces?  Does anybody in Town want something done out there?  What’s the difference between heading east and heading west?

As the players explore the sandbox, they will be presented with additional choices.  Do they ally with the kobolds?  Do they follow the map to the lost temple?  Do they believe the priest who told them about the woman locked up somewhere in the caves?

Even the Caves of Chaos had too much box text and the all-important Rumors Table.  Even if you started as suggested – at the mouth of Monster Valley – you had ten choices before you in the form of ten very different kinds of cave mouths.

Consider the sandbox of a simple, locked dungeon door.  You tell the players the door is locked.  They now have choices.  They can do whatever they want, but first they probably need more information: How heavy is the door?  Are the hinges on this side?  Their choice to pick the lock leads to a new decision matrix that requires different choices.  Is there a keyhole?  Is there a padlock?  Is it locked on the far side, by like, a bar or something?

That’s how a sandbox works!  If your players stare at you gape-mouthed because you haven’t given them three clearly defined options for how to deal with the locked door, then you should get out of the retard factory and find better players.

As a player, if your  DM kicks off a campaign with the words, “You are in town, what do you do first?” then it’s on your shoulders to ask for more information.  You have to seek out the adventure.  It’s out there, I guarantee it.  And if it takes two hours of fumbling around before you finally stumble upon the one opening to the one adventure your DM expected you to find?  Abort!  Eject!  He sucks, move on, find a new table.

Not rocket science, people.

When it comes to hexcrawls, the issue is much the same.  The system of this downs is a constant info-decision feedback loop, and when you have a DM that doesn’t know how to dole out the info, the thing breaks down.  Now, to be fair, some of these guys provide the right advice (“better info”) they also tend to give a lot of bad advice (“just give the players the adventure”) too.

“There is nothing interesting about yet another forest of hexes.”

AngryDM

If there’s nothing interesting about that hex, it takes all of two minutes to resolve it. Then it’s time for the next hex.  The interesting hexes take a lot longer due to, you know, the interesting things in them. If you’re wasting time in an empty hex…don’t blame the system.  YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!

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Oh look!  It’s an AngryGM campaign – see how obvious the adventures are?

“Picking one of the six surrounding blank hexes is not a choice with meaning.”

– Robert Conley

As the DM – part of your job is giving those six hexes meaning. At a minimum, one takes you farther from your safe haven, and one takes you closer.  That’s a really important (and one would think really obvious) difference.  In some cases you can see the surround hexes. In some cases you can see the features in hexes ten hexes away. Maybe you see a peak on the far side of a forest, so you mark it in pencil and blunder your way through.  You got it a little wrong and come out of the forest a few hexes away, but now you’re closer.  When you get to the mountain, you find a monster at the top, kill it, and now have a great view for ten hexes in every direction.  Cool!  More information – you fill in a big chunk of your map and spot three hexes with interesting things in them that you can look for later.  Is that a crumbling tower over there?  That lake in the woods has a strange red glow coming from it.  Woah, did you see those trees wobble like something massive passed through?   That really tall tree over there has a giant nest at the top – bet it has valuable eggs in it!

Also, the following is garbage advice:

Most sandbox campaigns fail. Why? Because of the lack of a good initial context. Many mock character histories and background but if you going to get a sandbox campaign you are going to need a least a half page of specifics for each players and a half page of general information for the group as a whole.

Nobody cares about that stuff.  It’s doing the work backwards.  It’s building the map and the destination and then hoping the game time can adhere to the architecture that you’ve designed.  It completely negates the bulk of the fun of the game – there’s no mystery, no blank spaces, nothing to learn, and little to explore.  Don’t do this.  Instead, don’t allow any back stories from your players until they’ve learned enough about the world to make up a backstory that fits the sandbox.

Alternatively, make the backstory utterly irrelevent.  In the majestic X1 the players crash on a lost island.  What they did “Back There” matters not one jot when the only safe place is behind a thick wooden palisade with the jungle savages hiding from dinosaurs.  Yeah, your character can be the king Back There, but out here?  He’s just another piece of dino-chow with a pointy stick and a big, blank map.

Here’s the bottom stat-line.  This is a game of exploration above all else.  It’s a way to explore blank places on a map.  That’s your hook.  There’s your motivation.  Go find the fun – if you’re DM is worth the pants he wears, he isn’t hiding from you, he has left a whole string of information out for you to follow to get there.  And yeah, you might miss a few nuggets tucked away that can only be found by sheer dumb luck.  That’s part of exploration, too.

As a DM, if you’ve got players that don’t want to perform the basic task of exploration, you’ve got bad players.  They are doing it wrong.  Get new ones.

p.s. That picture is an edible cake that some degenerates eat because “tee-hee, it looks like poo”.  Probably the kind of degenerate that plays fourth edition.

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Dungeon Level H8

The Game Shop Gang rolls again!

We missed a few weeks due to low player turn out and my busy schedule of screaming at alt-reichtards* on Gab.  But this week?  This week I managed to host the eighth session of his highly acclaimed and much sought after dungeon delving campaign called, with the astonishing level originality commonly referred to as Scalzian, The Dungeon.

There’s only one, kids – delve or delve not.  There is no try.

Oh my, was this was one painful.  The two old hands didn’t show up.  The only returnee to the House of Wright with any experience playing Big Boy D&D was a follower.  To make matters worse, he blew his Morale check for his retainers (read up on what that means here – it’s harsh), so some of the loot from the last adventure that he was counting on went bye-bye.  He had to start over recruiting from scratch.

The most experienced player at the table was fully invested in Happy Fun OMG Slumber Party D&D, “Like, my character has a pet raccoon, so random!  Can I play a bard in Moldvay?  No?  Okay, so my fighter carries a didgeridoo that he plays to inspire his henchmen, and I’m not going to buy chain mail so that I can buy more retainers!  Oh, I’ll call him General Greaves and say he has a heart condition to explain away his garbage CON score!  LOL, like a Star Wars character!  So random.”

Did I mention this was a thirty-six year old father of three?

To make matters worse, the guy’s dice were on fire.  His Storm Guard, who had to be kitted out in white armor with black skull helmets – seriously, there’s a table playing some lame non-WEG (but I repeat myself) version of Star Wars right. Over. There – couldn’t hit squat with their bows, but tore up The Dungeon with two ranks of side-by-side spearmen.  Four guys with spears can shove their way through a lot of dungeon, but you rarely see parties use that tactic because of the special snowflake syndrome.  General Greaves amounted to little more than a torchbearer, but his henchmen henched like henchsupermen.

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Think, a less weeby version of this.

I’ve never wanted to kill a character so bad in my life.

Still, the fates as decreed by the dice are sacrosanct at my table, and the Girl D&D juggernaut rolled through The Dungeon for two hours.  It helped that they were running mop-up operations on the depleted goblin tribe.  Once new guy and a couple of drop-ins got the skinny from the experienced, they assumed there was some big scores relatively undefended in the goblin caves.  They locked up the fishmen again using their well-blocker, and set to work scouring the earthen tunnels and the goblin caves for survivors of the last session holocaust.

Three quick encounters, and they’d dealt with all but the goblin king, his best guard, and a last few mooks.  Even the king’s royal guards went down, but they bought their leader enough time to summon reinforcements in the form of the orcish hordes.  The players don’t know what’s going on at this point, only that the goblins are working with the orcs.  They fought the goblin king (a 2HD beast of a goblin) and his new found friends, who ran once the going got tough.  Then they got caught looting the last of the goblin gold by a wandering orcish patrol, one of whom ran for help.  They exercised a pretty good fighting withdrawal, opening the well and dropping a rock to wake the fishmen on their way out the door.

They hope the fishmen will fight the orcs, but they don’t realize those two factions have a detente.  In fact, the fishmen have a secondary entrance to their caves through the orc caves, but the orcs never let them use it to hit the goblin caves – the orcs liked keeping those two separated as much as possible.  That’s no longer a concern, though, and I’m not sure how things will play out on that front, only that it won’t be good for the players.

The denizens of the dungeon may not like each other all that much, but they are all on the same side.  Whatever happens, it’s going to make life for the party more complicated.

Girl D&D thanked me for a great game, but said he wouldn’t be back.  So his character and all his henchmen leave the game, too.  Along with all of that goblin loot.

It’s the same old story.  You show a girl a good time.  You shower her with cash.  Next thing you know, she walks out on you for no good reason other than you took out a restraining order against her mother and built a meth lab in the basement.  Sometimes my D&D art hews a little too close to the masterpiece that is my waking life.

At least I have Game Shop Game Night to look forward to every week.

*Seriously, you guys.  You’re shooting at fish in a barrel and missing.  Stop trying to make a foreign failed political regime that died before my grandfather was born happen.  Like ‘fetch’, it’s never going to happen.

 

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Who Said That?

Oh, yeah!  That’s right, it was meI said that.  I told you D5D was totally gay, but some of you didn’t believe me.  Well, here it is in black and digital white from those paragons of upright honesty and integrity*, Kotaku:

“Wizards of the Coast is making D&D more gay.” [Emphasis mine.]

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Strahd never looked more intimidating.

Once again, it’s left to old E. Reagan Wright to spell this out for you lot.  All the weak kneed surrender monkey conservatives out there are falling all over themselves trying to explain themselves and why they aren’t really X-ophobes, they just don’t see why WotC had to do this because blah, blah, blah, me so reasonable massah Antifa, please don’ dox po’ little ol’ me, I’s not agin’ they gay, I’s just wants to plays mah Dungeons and Dragons without the gay – not that there’s anything wrong with the gay – at mah table.

Bear in mind, this little announcement is not a change in direction.  As Kotaku hastens to admit, “Every adventure since Curse of Strahd has included one or several queer characters.”  WizAIDS of the Coast didn’t make this announcement because of any desire to actually DO anything, they just wanted to let everyone know that they are good people, please do not Antifa our offices.

This – like the toppling of (a select few) historical statues** – is not about increased representation or “having people in the games that look like me”.

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Seriously? D&D needs more in-game characters like this?  Gygax wept.

This isn’t about making sure the left wing crazy cakes feel better about gender swapping a few NPCs so that their fantasy game can include the fantasy of a stable and healthy gay marriage.  This is about making sure that people who aren’t left wing crazy cakes know exactly who is in charge here.  This isn’t about allowing some gay into some tables, this is about ensuring the gay at every table.  Even yours.

Now, they will readily admit that it’s easy enough for you, in the privacy of your mom’s basement, to gender swap gay couples to make them normal again.  For now.  “Weaving queer plotlines into D&Dgames is not hard to do,” the Kotaku article admits.  But when it comes to any sort of organized public play, your hands are tied.  You will choke on this tabletop dildo and you will like it or you will be considered anathem – forcing normal people out of the hobby is the only way to ensure its growth.

Hey, it worked great for Marvel!

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Oh.

The other common refrain that nobody has an answer to (until now) comes from the bleating left, “Why not?”

There’s a little thing called opportunity costs.  Everything is limited.  Time, money, energy, everything.  When you spend time and energy focusing on one thing, you cannot spend that time and energy focusing on something else.  Marvel is learning to their financial chagrin that focusing their time and energy on diversity means taking time and energy away from things like characterization, plot, story structure, art quality, proofreading, PROOFREADING for God’s sake!  Those are all kind of important things for stories, and Marvel has taken eggs out of those baskets*** to throw them all into the diversity basket, and the results are obvious.  Both subjectively in the quality of the works they sell and objectively in the sales figures.

And this is the future WotC has chosen.

They are converging at a stellar rate.  The mission of foisting their bizarro world views onto the general public is far more important to the leaders at Wizards of the Left Coast than listening to fans, increasing market share, increasing sales, and chasing after the almighty dollar.  They’ll get away with it for a while – heck, Paizo is still in business – because this sort of *ahem* business *ahem* decision takes a while to metastasize into full blown diagnosable cancer.

And as usual, as is the way of sinful behavior everywhere, those responsible for contracting the easily avoidable social disease that is leftism will scurry about like rats blaming everything under the sun EXCEPT for their own obviously terrible decision making skills.  They’ll blame external market forces.  Changes in publishing.  Pressure from “upstairs”.  Anything, ANYTHING! but their own short sighted stupidity.

And as usual their response will be to double down.  They’ll redouble their efforts to appeal to a smaller and smaller user base through increased visible signalling, more rainbow flags, more condemnations of badfans, and stricter control over organized play space.

It’s a death spiral for the official brand, and one they cannot escape.  Wizards grabbed the urine-bottle throwing tiger by the tale, and they cannot now hope to let go or else they will be eaten alive by the very people they so desperately seek to placate.  They don’t know that this is a game they cannot win.  They don’t know that sooner or later some bush league locust woman will view the WotC scalp as the perfect trophy with which to adorn her wall.  (And it will be a woman.)  She will view taking down the house that Gygax built as a prime stepping stone to a bigger and better organization to destroy on her way to a fabulous life of middle management in her middle-age surrounded by a middling number of cats.

I bear no ill will towards Wizards of the Coast.  This whole situation doesn’t anger me at all.  Instead, I feel a profound sense of loss and pity.  Watching a loved one die of an easily preventable communicable disease is never pleasant.  But recognizing the self-inflicted nature of the death is important if one is to avoid falling into a similar trap.

Are you watching, Goodman Games?  Frog God Games?  Learn the steps of prevention and inoculate yourselves now – before it’s too late!

 

*Satire, ladies and gentlement.  I can haz it.

** MLK opposed gay marriage – that’s a hanging offense these days.  And yet, his statues go unmolested.

*** Those milkshakes aren’t going to pay for themselves, people.

 

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Congratulations to the Hoggo Award Winners!

Wait, that was last week?  Huh.

It’s really awesome the way that you wrote a thing and had a vagina all at the same time.  It’s all anyone can talk about this year.  You wrote a story, and you’re female and everything.  It’s so cute.  Yeah…polish up that shiny trophy, toots.  Your cats are going to love knocking it off the shelf on the regular. Any bets on how many of those silver trophies have already been fitted with batteries?  (If you know what I mean, and I think you do!)

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Apparently there is a weight limit for these things – a minimum one!  Maybe winners get a free all-you-can-eat coupon at Sizzlers, that’d motivate these writers.

It’s also worth noting how few of the articles covering your win talked about the high quality of what you wrote.  Instead they enthused about your plumbing – except for the ones that talked about your token black purse puppy.

You noticed that, didn’t you?  Just like you noticed how Nemisin won’t play in a playground where her lack of support among SFF fans might be exposed for the sham that it is.  Oh, she may enter the Dragon Awards someday, but not until they’ve been fully Converged and can serve as a nice protective purse guaranteed to shield her from the harsh realities outside the SJW bubble.

Enjoy your ‘wins’, ladies.  That trophy will be of great comfort to you in your dotage.  The rest of us will just have to settle for our three kids and sixteen grandkids caring for us and continuing to make our lives meaningful long after that plastic rocket has tarnished and been forgotten.

I like to think that I played a small role in helping Uncanning Magazine‘s win.  We are really tight, the editors of Uncanning and me – we share a lot of emails.  I mean…a lot of emails.  At least for my part.

Meanhile, I’m not just hungry for a Hoggo.  I’m hungry, and that’s a good sign.  It looks like I need to gain about 20 more pounds to make the cut.  It’s going to be really uncomfortable next years when I’m on stage accepting one of these things for my high-larious and oh-so-literary short story, Hugo Bait.  Not emotionally, just physically.  Sitting wedged in between other writers in San Jose, it’s going to feel like a United Flight to the fat farm.  World Con?  More like Hamplanet Con, amirite?

 

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The Dungeon: Lucky Number Seven

Somehow I’ve cobbled together a genuine crew of regular players at the FLGS Sunday night game meetups.  Five regular dudes, plus a rotating noob chair.  We’re really clicking now – one of them is an old OSR hand, so he fits in seamlessly, two have been in this campaign since the start, and two are still learning the Moldvay ropes.  We didn’t have a drop-in, so the empty chair was filled by a fat cleric (high CON/low STR) NPC and a bevy of henchlings.

During the usual pre-flight checks, one player asked for lumber, chains, and a lock.  A little odd, but whatever.  He wisely used these items to craft a hasty barricade that he chained over the top of the little well to the fishdude level.  The party was heading for the goblin caves, and didn’t want to worry about anything sneaking up behind them.

Smart.

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Aggravating, because it forced me to revamp my Wandering Fun Table on the fly, but smart.  After a moment, I realized that revamping the table was a cheat on my part, so I didn’t.  Instead, whenever the wandering monster check indicated fishmen were coming, I sort of treated it as a ‘no’ result.  That kind of clever play should be rewarded.  Specifically, if they neutralize a threat like that, the threat should actually be neutralized.  Replacing it with another monster would be no different from fudging a die roll.

Instead, I mentally checked off each time the Fishmen result came up.  Each time it represented the fishmen trying to wander around and finding the well blocked.  The first time was free, the second time, they would return with reinforcements, the third time they would leave to go get a shaman or some tools to clear the barricade.  The fourth time they would boil out of the well, hungry for revenge.

As it went, they only came up twice, but that was still two “Get out of jail free” cards that the players sorely needed.  They were focusing on the goblins again, making good use out of the things they had stolen in previous runs – even though most of the party remains first level, they have inherited some pretty decent look that allows them to punch above their weight.

It also allows them to punch some wights.  They were ready to infiltrate the goblin caves, but first had to deal with the guardian wights chained up in the earthen tunnel section.  The thief found them, undetected, and fat cleric dropped a silence spell to cover the sound of combat.   Not really combat, as the party drew back from the furthest extent of the wight chains and pincushioned the wight guards using missile weapons.

This allowed them to bust into the main goblin complex unannounced.  Had they not covered the well, wandering fishmen would have appeared to ruin their day – the sound of combat would have drawn the goblins from the surrounding areas and turned a regular fight into a disaster.  I even told the players this:  “Wandering monster check is good.  And I rolled for the fishdudes, but they are locked up, so nothing happens.”

It might seem odd to tell people what doesn’t happen, but only if you are an idiot that doesn’t understand how people work.  If you want your players to play smart, you can’t hide rewards like that from them.  You have to tell them that being smart has rewards that go well beyond smug satisfaction.

Anywho, the party used their previous map (also inherited from those who had come before, Gods rest their souls) to hit the largest goblin barracks.  A second silence covered the resulting slaughter.  There must have been something like 20 goblins in there, with another six showing up halfway through the fight.  The wizard popped his sleep to keep the accidental goblin reinforcements from ruining things.  The front line fighters in the barracks were backed by spear wielding henchlings, and together they were able to hold off the hordes of goblins.  This left the rear unprotected and vulnerable, save for the 1d4 thief and magic user.  They dropped five of the reinforcements with a spell, then double teamed the survivor to keep him from sounding the alarm.

Oh, I should mention, the silence was dropped on the doorway – the players were specific about wanting to know if the spell blocked all sound or if sound passed through it.  I’ve always played that it blocks all sound, like a cork in a bottle.  And what about that spell cast by the wizard?  He stepped back out of the radius to cast the spell into the silence.  It blocks sound – not math.  (You do know Vancian magic is just pure hyperadvanced math, right?  If not, hie thee to Appendix N and learn from the progenitors, youngling!)  So it doesn’t block spell effects, just the ability to cast spells.

These are the sorts of tactical decisions my players have begun to make, anticipating trouble before it arrives.  Makes me need to pause to wipe a tear from my proud papa eyes, it does.

So they came out of the fight in pretty good shape.  A little hurt, but raring to keep cleansing the caves of goblin kind.  They hit a wandering patrol, then had two forces converge on them for a fight that went much less well than the fight in the barracks.  The tides of lady luck turned and all the bad rolls started showing up late in the session.

They pulled back at that point.  Before more reinforcements could arrive, they cut out.  On the way past the well, they noticed that their barricade had been damaged, but was holding.  After peeping down the dark well, they unlocked it, and took it with them to repair it for reuse.

They were a little chagrined that they had killed so many goblins, but only came out with a few coins to show for their trouble.  What they don’t know is that they’ve killed nearly 75% of the population of the goblin caves, and all of their best guardians; the dogs, owlbears, and goblin-wights.  There’s only a dozen or so left, and the goblin king is terrified.  He knows the fish dudes are no threat – they stay down in the well and rarely raid his territory – but he doesn’t know that the fish dudes are furious about being caged up and blame him for it.  All he knows is that once the orcs find out he doesn’t have the manpower to resist them, they’ll move in and take over.  He also knows that one big push by the PCs will be enough to wipe out his little tribe.

If the players are smart, they’ll hit the goblins while they are reeling.  And my players are smart.

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For Those Not On Gab.AI

What the hell is wrong with you?  By not following me on Gab.ai you are missing out on glorious memes like this one.  Get it now before some basic normie reskins this idea to make it more palatable to the Fake D&D Fangirls.

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Richard Spencer Looks a Little Mongoloid

I’m just saying.  Has anyone ever checked his name against a list of Special Olympics gold medal winners?  Bet he’s on there.

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Look, I didn’t want to do this, but people won’t stop hassling me about the Alt-Riechtards and where I stand on the issue of punching Nazis. I’m against it.  It isn’t right to punch people with such obvious mental disabilities.

But mostly, I don’t even want to talk about it.  Especially here.  Is there a d20 involved?  No?  Then get the hell outta here – haven’t you figured out yet that I don’t think the D&D table is an appropriate place for politics?

Seriously tho – this is a pretty good analysis of things.  Better than most that you’ll read.

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