Writing up Eero's Primordial D&D

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  • This thread of discussion punctuated by actual play to experience the techniques is so very cool. I kind of want this to become a thing on the forum.
  • Very true! And our game(s) involve discussion of the same topic, as well. It's a very healthy and informative way to discuss these issues. You can go from theory to demonstration back to theory to more experimentation, and so on.
  • This thread of discussion punctuated by actual play to experience the techniques is so very cool. I kind of want this to become a thing on the forum.
    It is done!
  • Would you happy to post transcripts of any of your sessions up? I'd be keen to see examples of the kind of play you're doing, but I don't think I can join in at the moment to see it first hand.
  • We're having a real problem maintaining a good player base and getting everyone together at the times agreed. Is IRC simply less of a commitment and easy to blow off?

    It's partially my fault. I was very committed going in but happily handed the reigns over to Eero when he wanted to take 'er for a test-drive - the idea was to pass back to me and get some continuity going but we had a few hickups and now the players are scattered.

    Maybe we need to advertise?
  • If I'm any judge of creative interests, some very basic maintenance work should suffice: a new clearly titled thread specifically about the online campaign, a clear mission statement, instructions for how to get online, dates and times published 2-4 days in advance of sessions, and some public after-action reporting so interested parties get a sense for what's going on. I would be surprised if these simple steps didn't fix the recruitment and scheduling difficulties. Obvious, really - of course we're having trouble getting a quorum of players if we're basically relying on people stumbling to the chat at the right time by accident. I don't think anybody expect Paul, Daumantas, Mike and myself even knew about yesterday's session, and of those both Daumantas and Paul showed up after Mike had already left :/

    Speaking of which, Daumantas has been making noises about playing more tonight or tomorrow. As it happens, my plans for tonight fell through, so I'll be available.

    I should clarify that the above is an observation and a recipe, not particularly a call to action; if I felt strongly about it, I would do the above myself. As you know, I technically speaking have plenty of other stuff to do as well, so I'm relatively agnostic about more play - I have enjoyed the sessions so far quite a bit, and would be interested in seeing more, but not enough to particularly worry about when or whether there is another session in the near future.
  • I've been following along with this thread since the beginning, and just as an example of how unclear things are to those of us who haven't joined in, I'm not sure if you're gaming in IRC or using an IRC channel as a staging place and then taking it to videochat or what. It seems like multiple modes have been referenced.
  • I saw an IRC game mentioned somewhere in the thread and simply assumed it was closed to the public. The thread itself is dominated (rightfully so) by subject matter experts; I figured those details were materializing in private email threads, phone calls, and so on between those same folks.
  • Aw man, I was trying to explicitly invite people and announce when we were doing things. :(

    There is an IRC game of D&D run by Eero (and sometimes me), all the staging for the game is the above threads. Yes, communication is furthered in IRC so the conversation seems to skip and make inferences. I'm going to make a new game-thread that, hopefully, will make the our business here and abroad totally clear. What should I call it? Eeroverse PrimoD&D D&D2.0
  • We are using IRC exclusively, and the game is open to all comers.

    Habavaara. We might have a game today, in fact, so feel free to join if you're interested.

    If you have a standalone IRC client, or want to use a different web client, the info you need is:
    server: open.ircnet.net
    channel: #habavaara

    If you have some kind of technical problem that's stopping you from connecting, feel free to contact me via PM, I'll try to help you through it.

    If you have doubts whether you'll be messing up our fun, don't. The more bodies we can throw at a problem that don't require payment upfront like retainers do, the happier we'll all be. I mean that sincerely!


    We might move to voice-chat in the undisclosed future and we might want fewer people if thousands show up. We'll post on this or a sister thread if that happens. In the meantime, the above holds true - everyone welcome, IRC only, Habavaara.
  • I'm a bit timid about joining in with a game with 'strangers' on IRC, when I haven't done this kind of thing before. That was one reason for wanting to see some IRC logs first, get a feel for whether I wanted to jump in, or whether I'd be completely out of my depth.

    Also, how long do you normally play for? That makes a difference to whether I have time.
  • You don't need to conjure with my name all the time, Mike - I don't actually have divine properties. The traditional old school name for the campaign is "Grey Sands campaign".

    (The traditional old school name for your fantasy adventure campaign is created by taking the name of the first home base or dungeon presented to the players. The more you know!)
  • edited March 2014
    Martin: we're all strangers. That's not an exaggeration, I've never met any of these guys. Didn't knew that Mike existed before he started being noisy here at SG. Daumantas there apparently didn't know that there are such things as IRC clients. I can't see how you could undershoot us in any conceivable quality of competence.

    The length of a typical session has completely depended on how long people have felt like playing. The shortest has been a hour and a half, the longest has been 12 hours (where I think I was the only one who was in there from start to finish).

    Really, this is an entirely informal arrangement that relies on people bringing their legos to the sandbox so we can build something and then play with it. Come as you are, as they say; I don't even wear pants.
  • You can also stop in and just watch (well, read, I suppose), and then decide if you want to jump in or not.
  • That's my plan. You folks intimidate the hell out of me.
  • Huh; and there you guys are, playing right now. :)
  • So we are. I'm not sure if they're conning the poor merchant with the ill daughter, or trying to help her.
  • You don't need to conjure with my name all the time, Mike - I don't actually have divine properties. The traditional old school name for the campaign is "Grey Sands campaign".

    (The traditional old school name for your fantasy adventure campaign is created by taking the name of the first home base or dungeon presented to the players. The more you know!)
    Ha ha, it's not sycophantic by any means (can you imagine if I was that guy?), I'm just using you brand to piggyback promote the game a bit. "Oh man, Eero Tuovinen?" says Johnny Public, "Doesn't he have wacky, publicised opinions about old school D&D?" As a descriptive Eeroverse is actually more communicative than originally thought. ;)

    Greysands Campaign is fine. At this point "the game we're in" seems to be working.

    How did play go last night? ...and I guess it's on me to start the new thread, huh?
  • When are you next playing? I might be free tomorrow evening or some time on Saturday (I'm speaking in UTC here).
  • edited March 2014
    Poor Veav!

    I thought you might find this useful:
    If any character
    does something which could trigger a trap (such as walking over a
    certain point), the trap will be sprung on a roll of 1-2 (on Id6). The
    DM must check for each character passing the spot until the trap is
    either sprung or safely passed by all.
    Seems like it gives the point-man a little safety and the rest of the party a little risk!
  • edited March 2014
    Christopher, those where the rules I was going on, personally. Did you fall afoul of some device?

    OK, NEW THREAD.
  • It looked like Eero was having the lead guy trigger the trap no matter what. Though I'm not certain of that.
  • I don't think it was "no matter what" so much as I consistently failed that roll before anyone else had a chance to. :D
  • Of course a decent principal might be to roll 1d6 against the marching order and that poor soul triggers the trap (if there are more than 6 adventurers, simply clump them and have the trap affect the whole group - teaches 'em for bunching in a dungeon - or roll a larger die?). The probabilities are the same so you could use whichever is more convenient. Another arrow in your DM quiver.

    Now I'm unsure, are we going to keep using this thread or are we going to jump altogether over to the new thread?
  • This thread should be about the extraction and "writing up" of the principles Eero uses and discusses. The other thread should be about the play of that campaign.
  • Of course a decent principal might be to roll 1d6 against the marching order and that poor soul triggers the trap
    I don't know that I like this - it means that with 6+ adventurers you are always going to trigger the trap - it's just a question of who. Seems a bad mindset for the GM to be in.

    Obviously with rolling 1d6 for each person the trap is *likely* to trigger, but it's possible it might never go off. In fact, just did a bit of maths - there's about a 1/3 chance that the trap wouldn't trigger if you roll 1d6 for each of 6 people.
  • edited March 2014
    Of course a decent principal might be to roll 1d6 against the marching order and that poor soul triggers the trap
    I don't know that I like this - it means that with 6+ adventurers you are always going to trigger the trap - it's just a question of who. Seems a bad mindset for the GM to be in.

    Obviously with rolling 1d6 for each person the trap is *likely* to trigger, but it's possible it might never go off. In fact, just did a bit of maths - there's about a 1/3 chance that the trap wouldn't trigger if you roll 1d6 for each of 6 people.
    There's something about the idea of 6 or more people trumping down a passageway in a group invariably setting off any trap that's faintly appealing, but I take your point. Ha ha, and yes, I'd hope that out of 6 roles, 1/3 would come up 1 or 2!
  • I'm aware of that 1/3 trap-springing chance in Moldway, so that particular bit wasn't an issue for Veav's unfortunate stair-delvers yesterday. (Not that I apply that rule literally - it should obviously depend on the level of maintenance and nature of the "trap" how likely it is to go off on you.) I was mostly intrigued yesterday by the realization that there is no trap-detection or general awareness check of any sort in the Moldway procedure - if you don't say that your character is being careful, and the trap triggers on you, it's an automatic hit and time for saving throws.

    Compared to rules that allow you a dice roll to detect or avoid a trap, the Moldway system is quite unforgiving about traps. (Especially and specifically compared to things like combat: your character does not generally speaking just impale himself on the opponent's weapon if you don't explicitly declare a dodge.) Basically the only credible defense you have is explicit fictional positioning: you've gotta say that you're watching out for traps, for the assumed default state of your character is optimistic idiocy. Of course the "watching" might not help much, either, as the only kind of watching the system knows about is taking entire Turns at a time to search things for that piddly 1/6 chance to find stuff.

    My own philosophy of mechanization for D&D generally runs towards more consistency in the player/character relationship, which usually means assuming somewhat more character autonomy - as I often say, the player is the character's superego, not the ego, and definitely not the acting mind. If he were, the character would forget to bring food, water and torches - heck, he'd probably forget to breathe, considering players :D

    Sometimes this spirit of "you're not your character and we cannot have you micromanaging his farts" makes life easier for the players, such as when I roll various wits dice to see if the character might have realized to do something the player didn't explicitly say, such as be on the lookout for traps. Other times it increases the challenge, as the player can't be assumed to have total control over the character's feelings, either, and therefore I find it legit to have players roll about things like fear, exhaustion, boredom, lust, and such, which all might cause the character to act against player desire when his control relaxes. I suppose I like to have the characters be a bit more like hapless lemmings than a glove the player wears :D
  • My own tastes run that way, too, Eero. I like the way you've phrased it: the player as the superego. Good stuff.
  • Eero,

    I have some more questions for you about this whole D&D thing!

    1. I asked this in more detail in the other thread, but it probably makes more sense to talk about it here.

    How much do you prep as the GM for a game like this? Clearly, once the game is rolling, and things have been established, the work required drops significantly and becomes rather player-driven. But in the beginning, given your interest in offering multiple plot hooks, how much do you bring to the table right off the bat, and how much can be improvised as you go along? Do you have a 'stable' of modules on hand, for example, and just look for excuses to drop them in to the gameworld, or other techniques?

    2. On a related topic: you have explained that your own vision of D&D fantasy here is somewhat more "realistic", and draws more on real-world history and less on D&D tropes (like Elves and Orcs and magic swords). Given that, how do you justify the existence of horrible monsters, and bizarre dungeon environments? Is it all handwaved away, or is there a premise which is used to explain how a group of adventurers walking down the road can run into some supernatural beast, and why there are caverns full of traps, monsters, and treasure (and, more to the point, in several locations near wherever the characters turn out to be)? How do you approach this, and how much of it is thought through in detail, as opposed to just ignored as one of the requirements for play?

    3. On telegraphing difficulty to the players.

    When something is potentially difficult and/or dangerous, we have to carefully consider how it's presented to the players. Is it obvious that the danger is great, or should it "look" the same as the rest of the world, and or is this a case of "the players will find out about it the hard way"?

    I can see this being an important issue in two regards:

    a) When the players are presented with adventure hooks, how much do they know about the danger involved? Is it up to them to do investigate and pick up information, and, if so, how hard is it to do, how much is given away freely, and how much must be fought for?

    In our IRC game thus far, adventure hooks are presented more in terms of Colour (Hey, there's something about Love, and a sleeping princess! Hey, some halflings want an escort!), and the players following up on them can only guess at the level of danger/reward involved. How much effort do you put into telegraphing these elements to the players, and how much do you let them just figure it out slowly over time ("Ok, we've lost two parties in that cavern.... maybe we'll leave it alone until we've leveled up significantly")?

    I know that in some forms of hex crawl-style games, there's an expectation that things get more dangerous based on their location (e.g. the further away from "base camp", the more dangerous the adventures might be). Is there anything like this in your games?

    b) In a smaller scale, when dealing with scary or dangerous stuff in a dungeon (for example), you often to get more information from the players. Someone wants to fool around with the lever that you secretly know is connected to a deathtrap - you'll probably want to know what, exactly, the character is doing with that lever, and is there any chance they might pull it, accidentally or deliberately?

    In this kind of situation, asking for more details could be seen as telegraphing potential danger to the player. ("These skeletons are potentially a threat, not just Colour, so I'm asking you in great detail about just how you approach them.")

    Do you see this as potentially problematic or not? How do you deal with it in play? I've been trying to figure it out in our game, but I don't quite have a handle on your particularly approach to this (potential) problem just yet.
  • 1. I asked this in more detail in the other thread, but it probably makes more sense to talk about it here.

    How much do you prep as the GM for a game like this? Clearly, once the game is rolling, and things have been established, the work required drops significantly and becomes rather player-driven. But in the beginning, given your interest in offering multiple plot hooks, how much do you bring to the table right off the bat, and how much can be improvised as you go along? Do you have a 'stable' of modules on hand, for example, and just look for excuses to drop them in to the gameworld, or other techniques?
    The amount of prep depends on the artistic ambitions. For example, this IRC game is pretty light-weight stuff in that I'm not responsible for much in there; the setting is a joint project that relies on constructively interpreting Moldway, for example. Consequently my prep has pretty much consisted of moving a few key adventure modules closer to hand's reach in case they come up in play. I've refreshed myself a little bit about what adventures I have in my library, so I can select things to highlight in adventure hooks.

    Note that the reason for why I can go essentially "no prep" here is in the hidden, more general preparation: I have previously done work to become a reasonably skilled improviser with an interesting and literarily varied imagination, I have come to a peace with myself regarding how D&D works, and I have read through a sufficient number of adventures so I can have something to offer a selection from. I did none of these things as prep for this particular campaign, so they sort of don't count, though.

    The other extreme in terms of prep is an ambitious, uniquely colorful campaign where you create all the material yourself, and rely on consistent techniques over the entire campaign. For an example of what that might look like, consider Carcosa or Vornheim - those are based on real campaigns prepped by their respective authors, and successfully played. They're entire books. You can spend quite a while preparing for a campaign if you want to achieve something specific that can't be done by improvising and parsing together random materials.
    Eero, 2. On a related topic: you have explained that your own vision of D&D fantasy here is somewhat more "realistic", and draws more on real-world history and less on D&D tropes (like Elves and Orcs and magic swords). Given that, how do you justify the existence of horrible monsters, and bizarre dungeon environments? Is it all handwaved away, or is there a premise which is used to explain how a group of adventurers walking down the road can run into some supernatural beast, and why there are caverns full of traps, monsters, and treasure (and, more to the point, in several locations near wherever the characters turn out to be)? How do you approach this, and how much of it is thought through in detail, as opposed to just ignored as one of the requirements for play?
    Well, this depends on the setting. I mean, my D&D is not solely about historical fantasy, that just happens to be what we've been rocking recently around here.

    For the historical fantasy setting, though, I think that the key hangup, at least for me personally, is in how to imagine a real kind of world that is not changed into something altogether different by the presence of magic and monsters. (This exact issue might not be your big issue, but for me it's like 80% of the challenge of the genre - once I resolve this, I've got the rest in the bag as well.) How is it that we have this adventure module with genuine non-human lizard people, and still the Roman church refutes the existence of non-humans?

    My answer to making this work has been strict localism, and willingness to let the PCs change the setting. The first of those principles, localism, means that nothing in the world except my own preconceptions forces some supernatural phenomenon to be successful in becoming ubiquitous in the milieu. Sure there might be wizards, but who's to say that they're important to the world at large? Clearly they're not, as if they were, the world would be a different place! Logical application of localism ends up with the weirdness coming up in a sort of pulp fiction manner: there is this one village full of fish-people here in this distant place on the coast, but it never gets into any reputable newspapers, and even if it does, it'll just be explained according to the prevailing world-view.

    As for that second principle: it might be the case that the historical fantasy setting can't withstand the action of the player characters, and the setting might very quickly slip towards the fantastic. The traditional gaming answer to this is to use GM fiat of various flavours to protect the nice setting with the knights and princesses in their castles; my answer has been to embrace the change. When the ambiguously dead general succeeded in invoking Satan and the dead rose in Northern Italy, you can fucking believe that the world (or Europe, at least) changed overnight. Of course two months later the Pope still didn't quite take the news entirely seriously, but most anybody who actually had a clue did.

    So I guess my answer, as regards the genre of historical fantasy, is to treat every fantasy element like it was a Solomon Kane story, and if and when the players succeed in "breaking the masquerade", by all means let them. The fact that the world has managed to remain relatively mundane for the last two millenia (or at least the people right now think that it has; my historical fantasy is often very ambiguous about this veil of normalcy that ordinary people enjoy) doesn't have to mean that it will withstand the epic scale on which PCs tend to screw up.
    3. On telegraphing difficulty to the players.
    This is a good question. My theoretical answer is that we provide or withhold difficulty data for three reasons:
    a) To make play actually occur; this is "constructive unrealism", one might say - the medium just forces us to be practical at times.
    b) To negotiate challenges; without difficulty information players might not be willing to commit to an adventure, and without commitment there is no challenge.
    c) To provide legitimate information that characters should reasonably get, considering their maneuvers.

    Note that I say "provide or withhold" because the way I see it, these are just two sides of the same coin: sometimes you have to reveal or hide something for practical reasons, sometimes you have to reveal or hide something to make the challenge work, sometimes you have to reveal or hide something because of player maneuvers.

    From your musings it sounds to me like you're most concerned with my category "a", the information that has to be revealed for reasons of the medium. It is certainly true that on occasion you are forced to telegraph vague things to the players by the mere processes of play. For example, a player making a search check can tell that they succeeded or failed, and can thus distinguish between "there is nothing here" and "you haven't found anything yet". This kind of thing can be improved upon by choosing better or different procedures - some GMs routinely roll search checks themself, for example, so the players don't know whether their search is unsuccessful or if there's just nothing to be found there. It is a choice of mechanical implementation to strike the compromise you desire between different values, such as ease of handling, player psychology, robust treatment of fiction, and so on.

    The other facet you mention is about how much the players should get in negotiating a challenge. I think that they should get as much as they settle for, as long as the adventure is still legit, and there is a reasonable channel of information. What I mean by that last one is that black boxes are black boxes; if that mausoleum has never been opened since it was closed a millenium back, who's gonna tell you about what's in there? If you can't name a credible information source, then you've got a black box, and it's up to you whether you want to open it or not.

    I hope that the pool adventure from yesterday demonstrates in hindsight the above principles: I'm willing to part with information the players want, information they need, and information that is reasonable available in the fiction.
  • Eero,

    Excellent answers, as usual. However, I have a few small follow-up questions:

    1. In terms of campaign prep, that's a pretty thorough answer regarding the current exercise we have going. However, I'm taking this thread as being about your homestyle D&D, more generally. So how much did you prep, where along that spectrum you described, for your home campaign? That's what I was really curious about here.

    2. That's an excellent overview of "realism" and how it fits into your conception of bizarre D&D things existing in a "historical" Europe. However, I thought I read you earlier saying something about how you had these ancient snake-men, and somehow their legacy was tied into the existence of dungeons? Perhaps some idea about how moving underground was like traveling into another plane of existence, further and further from "normal" reality? Or am I imagining things here?

    3. That's a great answer, again. One more followup question: do you ever concern yourself that attention to detail might "clue in" a player about the danger inherent in a certain situation? For instance, someone crossing a bridge without a trap on it might just say, "I cross the bridge", and the GM is free to carry on describing what's on the other side. However, if the GM knows there's a trap on the left-hand side of the bridge, he or she should logically ask the player: "Hang on, are you walking on the left, or on the right?" This can potentially "clue in" the player to the existence of danger (or opportunity, at the very least). How do you approach this aspect of play? I've noticed that you handle it quite well in actual play, but I'm not sure what your guiding principles might be (I'm not as confident of being able to recreate your GMing style here, in other words).

  • 1. In terms of campaign prep, that's a pretty thorough answer regarding the current exercise we have going. However, I'm taking this thread as being about your homestyle D&D, more generally. So how much did you prep, where along that spectrum you described, for your home campaign? That's what I was really curious about here.
    In that campaign the prep was similar. I read a bunch of adventure modules for other reasons (for my webstore, and academic curiousity) during the preceding year, so didn't need to reread them to start play. Most time was spent in doing the geography, as I developed the hex wilderness and locations of adventures in it in advance. I spent maybe 4-8 hours in prep before the first session in enumerating the adventures and developing the map, and then about the same twice or thrice more later on when expanding into new theaters of operation (that required new geography and partially new adventure selections).
    2. That's an excellent overview of "realism" and how it fits into your conception of bizarre D&D things existing in a "historical" Europe. However, I thought I read you earlier saying something about how you had these ancient snake-men, and somehow their legacy was tied into the existence of dungeons? Perhaps some idea about how moving underground was like traveling into another plane of existence, further and further from "normal" reality? Or am I imagining things here?
    Yes, those sorts of themes made an appearance in the campaign. The snake man thing for me was a way of casting doubt on the orthodox histories of the world - it was an alien presence that did not merely cast history into doubt, but actively fought with mammalian humanity over a mutually contradictory right of existence. I still have a bunch of snakemanny adventures in my skull waiting to get out - a campaign arc, if you will.
  • 3. That's a great answer, again. One more followup question: do you ever concern yourself that attention to detail might "clue in" a player about the danger inherent in a certain situation? For instance, someone crossing a bridge without a trap on it might just say, "I cross the bridge", and the GM is free to carry on describing what's on the other side. However, if the GM knows there's a trap on the left-hand side of the bridge, he or she should logically ask the player: "Hang on, are you walking on the left, or on the right?" This can potentially "clue in" the player to the existence of danger (or opportunity, at the very least). How do you approach this aspect of play? I've noticed that you handle it quite well in actual play, but I'm not sure what your guiding principles might be (I'm not as confident of being able to recreate your GMing style here, in other words).
    When the stakes are high, I generally start these types of situations by affirming the fictional positioning among the group. This positioning includes current character intents and such. This process of affirmation may indeed clue the players in on there being something awry, but it's also sort of too late for them to anything about it at that point; there is technical meaning to shouting in a quick "I back away!" or something of the sort, as it illustrates the mentality of the character, and his ability to react quickly and decisively, but it's not a panacea that'll automatically save you, because when the GM needs to ask you're presumably already in the deep of it.

    If a player tries to contest walking into a trap due to the GM introducing it in the wrong order somehow from player viewpoint, then I just patiently go over the fictional sequence of events at hand, and have the player judge it with me: how is your character actually making any choices here, or could it be the case that you're rapidly reacting to meta concerns, such as your knowing what just now happened to this other character around the corner? The vast majority of players will be reasonably fair when faced with such a Socratic method, and I personally feel like my hands are somewhat tied from doing anything more than insist forcefully on my own opinion; if a player is absolutely committed to having their own character live unreasonably, the only recourse I have is to state the situation clearly to the floor (the group, that is), declare my opinion that the player is in my opinion not attempting to achieve a good faith realistic resolution, and then let them have their way. After that a lot depends on the nature of the creative relationship - could range from continuing play with the rest of the group sort of mocking the pisshead subtextually for being unwilling to take the game like an adult (sort of "he's playing with training wheels" attitude), to being understanding and accomodating towards the child among the group, to the player being subtly shamed so that they'll be very keen to prove their fairness in the future.

    To be clear, those last parts of that negotiation progression are extremely rare, I have had to give up on fictional positioning negotiations like that for real like one time in a thousand resolution situations, between several scores of players. It is much more common for it to be the case that once I've explained how I think the situation went, what I thought the player had voiced as their action, and the player does the same, that we find that we have reasonable grounds for compromise. It is definitely the case that the GM's personal control mania or tendency towards taking sides is a much, much bigger potential issue in these discussions than a player being genuinely unwilling to have their character face the consequences of a fair scenario. (A fair scenario is one where the fictional event is clearly a valid possibility to occur, and the process of resolution is being fair.) The key is to recognize that how the player perceives the game matters too, and even if you feel like they had fair warning and a beat to react to it, it's possible that their attention was distracted, or yours was, and you're simply seeing the situation in different light. The mature individual makes way and compromises, instead of trying to enforce absolutely perfect obedience to his own vision for the sake of polishing your authority.
  • Considering the IRC game, we haven't had any real big to-dos of this nature (disagreements about what is happening), but I think that if you think back you might be able to remember some small situation where something harsh is going on and I'm leading the process of fiction discovery. I think that I generally tend to go slower and have the players affirm the legitimacy of the choices more when the stakes are higher. For example, when we were doing the stairway traps in the pseudodragon adventure, I asked the players explicitly if they thought that we should consider some specific mechanical constraints in Moldway that I seemed to be ignoring, and only once nobody contested my call, had the trap take effect to lethal consequence. In other words, I first procured player agreement to the fact that the character had in fact stepped on the trap unassuming, and only then progressed to revealing the exact effects of the trap.

    This kind of approach obviously relies on a certain basic level of creative cooperation skills or (alternatively) trust among the group; I've had players who have stewed uncomfortably at the table due to personal self-worth issues, for example, which make them unable to see that their difficulties in the game might be in part because they don't assert their rights and own understanding about situations strongly enough. This in turn leaves them sort of in a potential position to be a GM punching bag, as the GM does make human errors, and he doesn't have the time to make sure even players who don't defend themselves are treated fairly. The game's nature is such that you are at times your own legal counsel, although most good groups tend to have at least one or two players who are interested enough in the process qua process that they'll counsel everybody else about precedent, positioning and possible arguments in their favour (or against them, as the case might be). It's not a magically perfect system, though, so it's possible for the table dynamic in a certain session to be such that a wise GM paddles backwards especially much, paying particular attention to drawing out genuine player concord and cooperation on slaughtering their characters in amusing ways. The goal of the process is not to have dead characters, but rather to have the players enthusiastically agreeing with you about how fair and legit even the most astounding outcomes in the game have been. That goes for both the horrible and the heroic outcomes - you need everything to be legit in the eyes of the group for the play to be real.

    (With players who can never accept that bad things happen to their own characters and smile about it because it happened legitimately according to the spirit of the game, the only choice in the long run is not to play, as they will only be disappointed by my GMing, and I will be disappointed by their lack of intellectual honesty. Asking about such would be akin to asking about the guy who can't play tennis because from their viewpoint it's ultimately all about bullying the others into accepting their wide balls as being in. I have met a few people who are fundamentally opposed to high stakes gamism, and we simply don't play games like this together.)

    Anyway, as you can see from my long explanation of seeking mutually guaranteed concord in a situation with high stakes, I see your original question more in terms of creative agenda cooperation than as a technical matter; I'll just go as slow as needs be, have my GM judgements verified as explicitly as needs be, and listen to complaints as long as needs be for there to emerge a true consensus that your character deserved to fall off that bridge. If that consensus doesn't emerge, odds are that your character doesn't fall off the bridge, and either I forgive you because you had good cause to complain, or I'll dislike you for being so childish about it. More likely though we'll just agree that in the interest of brevity you'll acknowledge that I'm not fundamentally wrong and the game process is basically right, you get an extra Dex check to make sure no local injustice has occured, and then play proceeds.

    In the end this entire process doesn't really care massively about the GM signalling danger, because at the point he's signalling it by asking for extra rolls or whatever, character intent is usually already locked down. Of course some players are more subtle about reading GM signs than others, but the GM just needs to train themself to signal less, and the players need to play more fair, so that the true and realistic character intent gets room to breathe. If you always react to the GM asking about marching order by having your character leap to the side, you'll either train the GM to give false alarms (to discourage you from over-reacting), or train the GM to argue more strenuously against choices predicated upon meta-information (can't jump aside without fictional signals of danger), or you actually succeed and have broken the game by making it impossible for your character to ever fall victim to marching order related dangers - congratulations, you lost the game by making it so that your character and tactical choices are no longer being evaluated fairly within the fiction (a result very much like winning in Chess by taking so long to move that the other player goes home).
  • Avidly taking notes here... or at least attempting to internalise for mental regurgitation next I'm at table. I enjoy the clarity with which you walk us through the methodology... pedagogy?
    The game's nature is such that you are at times your own legal counsel, although most good groups tend to have at least one or two players who are interested enough in the process qua process that they'll counsel everybody else about precedent, positioning and possible arguments in their favour (or against them, as the case might be). It's not a magically perfect system, though, so it's possible for the table dynamic in a certain session to be such that a wise GM paddles backwards especially much, paying particular attention to drawing out genuine player concord and cooperation on slaughtering their characters in amusing ways. The goal of the process is not to have dead characters, but rather to have the players enthusiastically agreeing with you about how fair and legit even the most astounding outcomes in the game have been.
    Last you were a player under me I recall you picked up the Moldvay "suggestion" of being the party's Caller, legal counsel for a players if ever there was one. Obviously there were practical concerns - new players who mightn't know Moldvay's tight dungeon legal-defence positioning - but I'm interested in how you see the roll of Caller, whether you use it in your OSR games elsewhere and if you see any merit in a broader use of this play-feature? Could the Caller take on DM rolls of a certain kind (wandering monster, say) and lift a little of the work-load?
  • The caller isn't a particularly Moldway phenomenon - rather, it's just a sensible organization concept. It's also not a particularly counseling position, or particularly nurturing of the other players; when you're the caller, or party leader, your attention is always on moving the decision-making process on, getting the game to move quickly forward, and getting results. Doing that, you don't really have time to worry about whether the other players are carrying their end - in my experience the caller is just about the last person after the GM who's likely to notice when a player is e.g. zoning out and not paying attention. D&D is a game where it is very easy to ignore the disinterest of other players, in this way.

    Note that the caller is not a relevant role in crisis situations, where one might need legal advocacy or other types of detail-oriented play; the caller is most useful and relevant in getting the game through the routine events of environment exploration, whether dungeon or hex crawling. When a special situation unfolds, the caller is not relevant (the tactical leader of the party might still be, if the party has good organization), as every player is queried for their actions in turn, and everybody's moment to moment contribution matters independently.

    In my tabletop play the caller is used routinely, although we call him the "tactical leader" (roughly, that's a translation from Finnish). His task is essentially to handle the routines so everybody else can lean back with a slice of pizza and observe the developments. In our tabletop sessions over the last winter I've often been the strategic leadership, while Peitsa (familiar from the IRC channel) has been the tactical lead. Our local circle has a bunch of other capable tactical leaders, so the roles are and can be switched around depending on who's playing and what everybody's inspired to do.

    As for distribution of the workload, I personally think that there are many possibilities in D&D in this regard, and from what I've seen and heard of other people's play, it seems that they regularly choose to distribute workloads less than they could. The caller isn't really a relevant thing here (Mike sounds like he's a bit excited about the caller, in fact, the way he tries to fit him into situations that have nothing to do with tactical dungeon task flow) per se, as it's a role used in routines of play, but there are other roles that are important to fluid play and sharing the workload. My own favourite is the "logistics manager" or "NCO", who centralizes supply management and can buy and sell routine materials to the party, thus freeing up the GM from answering questions like "what does a lantern cost" or "can I buy chain mail in this town".

    My ideal for a D&D crew these days consists of experienced players who work efficiently together and have established, eager experts running the tasks of strategic lead, tactical lead, logistics and mapping/secretarial. Often these roles are combined in practice, especially as it seems to be rare to have a team with more than two or three active and competent players. A good team of players can reduce the GM bottleneck considerably, as a GM who can trust the team to take care of routine matters can focus on the interesting stuff more. And of course such a team gets more done per unit of play, and to a greater degree of quality.
  • My own favourite is the "logistics manager" or "NCO", who centralizes supply management and can buy and sell routine materials to the party, thus freeing up the GM from answering questions like "what does a lantern cost" or "can I buy chain mail in this town".
    I know there was some interest in some sea-hex crawling this weekend. When I've been doing that, I explicitly ask the players to appoint a whole bunch of roles along these lines. Some are best handled by experienced players, but some are a great ways for low level people to get in the game too. We have the boatswain as logistics manager, some combination of captain and mate as strategic and tactical callers and often negotiator and morale checker, a lookout who establishes direction and distance and other stakes for encounters as well as weather, a steersperson/coxswain who has to make constitution checks if you want to pull advanced maneuvers and also tracks rower endurance in long engagements, etc.

    Usually nowadays there's someone who's been transformed into a wind or water elemental to make the boat faster too. Last night it was a level one dwarf who went mad in a spree of boat-crushing and they had to leave him after he took their enemies' treasures to the deeps with him.

    Having a job is fun.
  • So Eero, this discussion came up a little bit last night on IRC about whether goblins are people or monsters. Does this decision have any connection to hygiene or your processes, or is it merely an artistic decision about the setting?

    I'm not exactly sure how it works if you're trying to portray them both realistically and also as unthinking monsters since they clearly (as normally depicted) have culture, material and traditional which seems like it's enough to make them people. But Mike seemed to feel quite strongly about it and since you weren't around at the time I'm just wondering if you have any thoughts on the matter. (Or, y'know, anyone else...or related topics...)
  • That decision about goblins is totally artistic - I would be a fucking idiot of I said that yeah, you gonna not be able to have folklore critters like goblins in your game :D

    Then again, it should be obvious that this being an artistic choice means that one is a better choice than the other for different games and situations. For example, in our big campaign, set in a "fantasy-Europe" essentially similar to that in Ars Magica and such, it is simply not possible to have tribal monster goblin like TSR does - it's just too weird to have like this intelligent non-human civilization living liminated with human communities, while also pretending like this is the Netherlands in the 16th century. So in that kind of context you gotta split the TSR goblin in twain: all adventures where goblins are tribes that live in ruins or dungeons become encounters with "human goblins", essentially forest-living ethnic groups of humans; goblins that come up in mystical, magical, folkloric contexts can then be "real" goblins of the fairy tales.

    For a different campaign where it's cool to have green pseudohumans hanging around in broad daylight it might well be perfectly sensible to use the Gygaxian goblin concept. There is certain grandeur and majesty in the Greyhawk vision, really - I could see myself running it at some point, but I would go all in with it in that case, making it all about the ethnic cleansing and racial wars and so on. (If that sounds strange, you should read up on what Greyhawk is like. Topic for another day, no doubt.)

    I should note that Mike is an originalist of sorts regarding D&D, from what we've discussed - he seems to derive some sort of pleasure from seemingly arbitrary aesthetic choices like "D&D is about dungeons" and "you gotta be after golden treasure for it to be D&D" - and apparently, "greenskins gotta be monsters or it all falls apart". Needless to say, I don't agree with him on any of these points.

    (And because this is the Internet, I should note that I have no problem whatsoever with disagreeing with Mike. I'm adult enough to, you know, accept that not everybody wants the same exact things all the time that I do. Aesthetic judgements are allowed to differ, at least in polite society. I would feel Mike's D&D constraining and a bit less than it has potential to be, the way it limits itself artificially to a strict set of dungeoneering challenges, but that's no judgement on the man himself.)
  • edited April 2014
    I think it's disingenuous to say I feel strongly about whether Goblins are sympathetic or not, it's just that the Finnish game-culture that's agreed that Goblins are this European aboriginal People (or at least this is how I understand their usage here), who are human for all extents and purposes except in their treatment by the White Man, and this strikes me as a radical creative departure from the norm. An Interesting departure, yes, but one I'd want to weigh up at length before implementing it in my own game. My current feeling this that Goblins can be interesting as monsters in their current form and I'd have to be persuaded of the necessity of the change.

    My "D&D purism" - or whatever it's being characterised as - is essentially this principal. I'm not slavishly tied to the Gygax/Moldvay/et al conception of the fantasy genre out of a desire for Gnognard authenticity, rather I'm much more interested in the historic creative decisions of these writers with a view to watching them operate and then deconstructing them.
  • Mike, what does monster mean? And what do goblins as you envision them do, day to day?
  • Everyone knows they capture babies and take them to David Bowie.
  • Mike, what does monster mean?
    Monsters are beings who appear in the Monster section of the rule book and they mainly do what their descriptions state they do. Mostly this is to lurk in caves, assault intruders and be associated with a random amount of gold.

    Goblins are the arch-perpetrators of this behaviour (or at least are regulars on Wandering Monster tables universally) and have been enshrined in our culture as a subterranean-dwelling, diminutive race of mischievous, green humanoids that are motivated by violence and gold (which, interestingly, is the default motivation for everything in OS D&D...).

    This is a longwinded way of saying that I, personally, don't envision Goblins. Gygax envisions Goblins, I read Gygax. The reading is important. I want to try examine what those dudes were thinking about in, like, an art history/anthropological sense. I'm a nerd, I like words. The OSR has this approach in regard to rules ("playing like it was really played!") but I'm interested in what the text implies about the setting ("seeing like it was really seen!"). Sure, this would be easier if I weren't just going off the B/X books (which are skimpy on the detail), but that restriction is part of the...fun? Challenge?

    Hm, not sure I actually feel as strongly as the above might imply about all this. I'm just trying to avoid bringing my own setting intentions into my reading of the text. If Moldvay implies bitter and eternal race-war, I gotta face that.
  • An important amedum here, before the trail begins, is that I'm not against the Finnish School of Goblins at all. It's a great way to breathe new life into a tired cliché. I'm just also interested in why they choose that way too, like I'm interested in why Gygax chose another.
  • I'd do like to introduce a personal definition, which may help a bit. I prefer to define as a monster any creature encountered that can't be reasoned with. Otherwise, if it has a culture, it has a language and then there's a chance to avoid a confrontation (and even obtain something else) if the PCs can communicate with it. For me it takes then the identity of a person, despite the social situation around them.
  • edited April 2014
    "what does monster mean?"
    Literally: An entity which is considered unnatural by humans, by virtue of its being: (a) wicked or cruel (to humans), (b) ugly, grotesque or deviant in appearance from the norm (as judged by humans), (c) of unusually great size, or some combination thereof.

    The dictionary definitions of this word are not only humanocentric (obviously), but some are psycho-social as well (as evidenced by the fact that a human psychopath can rightly be called a "monster"). So we really must say "by normal humans" (whatever "normal" means). Certainly this leaves in a species-ist element, whereby any species considered "ugly" or "wicked" (by normal humans) could rightfully be called a "monster" (by those normal humans).

    (Despite this, it seems that literally speaking, a giant could be called a monster even if it was handsome and friendly.)

    Etymology: from the Middle English monstre < Latin mōnstrum -- portent, unnatural event, monster, equivalent to mon ( ēre ) [to warn] + -strum [noun suffix]

    The etymology suggests that a monster is simply "something warned about".
  • The etymology suggests that a monster is simply "something warned about".
    Something warned about in, say, a Monster Manual?

  • One of the most powerful and fascinating things to me about D&D cultures are the political-aesthetic decisions like what goblins mean, and how they are interpreted differently. I use a different solution than either of you two (Eero & Potemkin), I think, on this particular problem, but it's really neat how it is a Question That Must Be Answered, in a way, when you engage with the game.
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