Saturday, September 30, 2023

Saturday Q&A (sep 30)

Brody writes:

I run a 5th edition game set on some facsimile of Earth, although I put the timeline through a blender for the sake of including fun groups like 16th century samurai alongside 8th century vikings in the same setting. Most of us are in our early 20s and started playing with 5th edition. We've grown up in the era of shows like Critical Role, which have undoubtedly influenced how we play.

Personally, a game master, I have been drawing away from the modern style of play, and to a certain extent taking my players with me. While we do play 5th edition, the rules have been heavily modified to provide an experience that feels more like AD&D. That style of play comes with real risks to a party, and to me that makes the game exciting - it's just not something 5e has been engineered to do on its own.

That being said, your recent post on feedback really resonated with me, because the ultimate goal of the game master is to facilitate a game that is fun for everyone at the table, themselves included. Running a game of D&D is a practiced skill, and feedback can be an important part of developing that. I find myself in a similar situation to yourself. When I'm at the table, there's very little time to reflect about whether the performance being put on is everything I want it to be, and often I find myself not entirely satisfied after the game, only for my players to encourage me and insist it was a great session.

I suppose it can't be too far off from the self-critical thinking of anyone who works in a creative field or creates for fun. Although we as game masters aren't creating art in the traditional sense, there's a certain amount of responsibility and authority in being at the head of the table that makes me feel like an artist, and I always want to improve my craft.

Answer: Thank you Brody. I feel compelled to say that I feel the ultimate goal of the DM is facilitate a game that's immersive, satisfying and inclusive for all the players there. This "fun" thing you speak of eludes me. I've no idea how to invent "fun" or make it happen. This is much of the reason why I do find myself unsatisfied after a game. I have very little certainty about who's had fun or not. I always have to ask.

Take my word for it, you are an artist. That's a certainty.


That's all there is.  Starting this idea, I certainly expected that there'd be dead Saturdays.  My feeling is that by disabling the blog's comments, I feel better about expressing myself, not because I no longer worry about negative comments (I haven't had one of those in a year), but because there's less expectation in my mind of waiting for someone to say something when I'm finished.

I should guess that it would take a year or more for this Saturday thing to catch on, if it does.  It's often misunderstood, but this is how things are on the internet.  Anything successful comes with years of effort, of living in the weeds and putting out content until slowly, steadily, an audience is built.  Most who try haven't the wherewithal to keep at it more than a few months.  That's obviously not me.

Until next week.  If you have questions or would like to submit observations for next Saturday, please submit  to my email,  If you could, please give the region where you're located (state, province, department, county, whatever) as it humanises your comment.  Feel free to address material on the authentic wiki, my books or any subject related to dungeons & dragons.  I encourage you to initiate subject material of your own, and to address your comment to others writing in this space.

Friday, September 29, 2023


This is a difficult post to write.  This is because it would be so easy to misunderstand my reason for writing it.  Allow me to say that if it should occur to the reader that the reason why a person chooses not to read a book; or thinks to include a given book among their favourites; or fails to understand why some book is far better than they judge it to be, that I'm saying its because some person is stupid ... let me clearly state that this is NOT what I'm saying.  People read books because they have a reason to do so.  They like specific books because of their overall experience with books, and because some particular book speaks to them.  They dislike books not only because a book is "bad," but also because a book tells a story in a way that is unappealing ... and that is often because the book is difficult to read.  Books are not enjoyable when they're a trial; but the difficulty anyone has in reading a book comes from the number of books that they've read.  It's not necessarily a fault in the book itself.

For example, War and Peace is a very long book, with a complex narrative, containing many characters, which occurs in an unfamiliar time and an unfamiliar place, and handles themes that are themselves alien to many people in the present.  For this reason, for many people who don't choose to read a lot of books, who therefore haven't spent a lot of time reading books, War and Peace is difficult to read ... and therefore, not enjoyable.  But for those who have read a lot of books, and are familiar with books of the same time period, and related to the same culture, then in fact War and Peace is rather easy to read.  The gentle reader now may compare one's capacity to enjoy War and Peace with one's capacity to hit a 92-mile-an-hour fastball.  If we've been raised to play baseball, and we like baseball, so that we want to play baseball all the time, then once we've matured into a decent player it's not so difficult to hit a fastball for us, as it would be for many other people.  Think of War and Peace like that.

To speak for myself, I was raised in a home with more than 2,000 books, a great many of which were classic fiction from the 18th and 19th centuries, along with hundreds of technical and scientific textbooks.  I was also a child when television, for me, consisted of three channels, when home computers did not exist, when children were seen and not heard, and were not given money to see movies, and their interests were not considered when the television was turned on.  Therefore I had much time to read.

Moreover, of my own accord, I chose to be a writer, to spend a lot of my time writing, to fantasise that one day I'd be a famous writer, and for this reason I had cause to be a good writer.  Therefore, I spent a lot of time reading about being a writer, and practicing being a better writer and talking about writing with friends and teachers.  It would be natural, therefore, that I would accumulate more information about writing, and read more books, with an eye towards gleaning all there was to know about those books, for no other reason than that I passionately wanted this to be my profession.

This doesn't make me smarter.  It doesn't make other people, who did not fervently pursue writing, stupid.  It does not do, however, to merely say that my experience with books is merely subjective, and therefore no better than the subjective opinion of any other person; nor is it wise to say that we simply all possess a diversity of reading experiences, and that just because I happen to think a book is good, that doesn't make the book better than what another person thinks is a good book.  To wit: I can hit a "fastball."  Many others, for whatever reason, and certainly not due to incapacity, but because they have not taken the time to educate themselves about this specific field, or even care to have done so, cannot.  Not because they're stupid ... but because they had other interests.

If you're still with me, let's consider the process of assigning a book to a classroom of 16-year-old children.  Much consideration goes into which title to choose.  The book not only has to amuse those in the class who have spent much of their childhoods reading, but also those who have done a modicum of reading, and those who have done almost no reading at all.   An appropriate title is sure to be something like To Kill a Mockingbird, though that didn't used to be a popular title in Canada.  Other examples are Animal Farm, Catcher in the Rye or Lord of the Flies.  A particularly ambitious teacher might propose 1984.  As I remember it in my past, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, most chose Animal Farm in the hopes that it would encourage the student to read 1984 on their own.

If we imagine such a book being given to 30 students, it's reasonable to argue that about 10 won't finish the book, or indeed read it at all.  In these cases, these students most likely haven't any history of reading.  They didn't grow up in a house with books, they weren't read to by their parents, they didn't obtain good reading habits early and much of their background is affected by the way in which television deals with stories.  It's not that these 10 are stupid, or even that they wouldn't get something meaningful out of To Kill a Mockingbird ... it's only that they don't know how to hit that fastball, so they either try and miss, or they don't try.

Next we have a middle 10 students who read the book with various levels of discomfort.  This section represents those students who diligently read all they've been given to read since school began, and therefore have a collection of school-assigned books to their credit.  They know how to read, and they can do so if they have to, but they rarely have to.  These students then grow older and talk sometimes about the books they read in school ... and are sure to identify that lexicon as the best books should someone take a survey.  Among the thirty or forty books these people have read, Catcher in the Rye is the best book that's ever been written.  For what they know, maybe it is.

The next 6 are those people who read regularly, who are familiar with the assigned text but just haven't gotten around to reading it.  In general, these people have read more than a hundred books, though many of these fit the category of "light" reading, which we can tentatively classify, for the moment, as plot-driven novels with emotion-driven characters doing things that are either romantic, extravagant or action-packed.  I'll forego giving titles.  Well-trained in reading, this group quickly manages the assigned book and either enjoys it, or reasonably considers it not to their taste.  Because this group does read books on their own, for pleasure, they have read enough to decide which flavour of book they like.

Of the remaining 4 in our classroom, most of all have already read the assigned book.  Often, this happens because the same book was assigned at another school, or in another grade, but let's assume that because these four are avid readers, who read upwards of 40 to 100 books a year, it's more likely that they've read the book because they're older sibling did, and the book was lying around.  Prior to the class, and the discussion in class, they've made up their own minds about what the book says, or why it was written, and there's a good chance they disagree with the teacher.

It's important to note that the teacher, however, probably hates the book, and not just because they've had to teach the same book to three different classes every year for the last 15 years.  The teacher has to follow an assigned syllabus that specifies what the teacher is supposed to say about the book, regardless of what the teacher might believe.  Often, if a teacher has any opportunity to teach some other book, that they haven't been able to teach before, they'll grab it.  This is the reason why I did not study Romeo and Juliet in Grade 10, like everyone else.  Our class studied Julius Caesar.

Yes, plays are books.

Where do I fit in the classification above?  Most often, in the did not read it category.  I learned early that I could achieve either a B or A- grade on a book I hadn't read so long as I wrote my reports according to some basic rules, based on the first 5 and the last 5 pages of a book, plus a visit to the library (where I was all the time) to read someone else's opinion.  This technique served me very well right up through university, though only in my English literature classes.  In Classics, there's no way to get around reading the book.

To this day, I've never actually read Lord of the Flies, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye.  Yet I've had hundreds of arguments about these books and never been caught out.  This is the first time I've publicly confessed to this dearth in my education.

Please don't write to make a query in the hopes that I'll answer.  The reason I haven't read these books is because the premise, as I understand it, sounds just awful.  Really, racism is awful and the frightening freakish boy next door is harmless?  You don't say.

My point to all this, to bring the reader on board with me, is to make a point about D&D.  Obviously.  But this is a big barn, and we're still walking around it.

Enjoining some ad hoc terms that have no application outside this post, let me start with a definition for "Story," a word I'm using for convenience and not in relation to any actual definition for the term.  A "story" (don't forget, a matter of convenience, Best Beloved) is a narrative that is plot-centric, in which a series of events are related one after another.  Chronological order isn't important.  Essentially, a story is a device in which the writer relates the plot's beats in this manner: "and then ... and then ... and then ... and then."  We went here, we fought that, we went there, we talked to him, we went there, we lost the fight, we ran away, we went here, we talked to her ..." and so on.  Nearly all of the narrative is taken up with events.

When most people talk about creating a "story" for D&D, this is what they mean.  A story works well in a video game format, because even if the game has a dramatic component, all the actual beats of the story depend on a computer's "if ... then" format.  If you say this to the girl, then she'll say that.  If you go here, then this will happen.  This framework fills about 95% of all the books that have ever been written, because it's easier to write a narrative whose focus is primarily what happened.

This doesn't mean that a "story" can't be a fine read, or even elaborate in structure.  I would consider Lord of the Rings or Asimov's Foundation Series to fit into this structure.  Asimov himself would be the first to argue this, and did often in essays he wrote.

Let's move on.  Our next definition is for an "Account" — which I'll use as a shorthand for a "character-driven" narrative.  These stress interactions between characters and the motivations of the characters rather than a series of events.  Funny thing; while looking about for a satisfactory term, the example list of accounts that I was given matched exactly the list I've already made above, for books assigned in school.  Coincidence?  No, obviously not.  Nearly everyone has either read, or sat in a class for a time, in which these books figured highly.  If we make an example of books, it's best to choose titles that most everyone's heard of.

A writer relates the account's beats in this manner: "he thought, she said, he felt, she wanted, she wanted ..."  What is thought or said or felt makes up the narrative, and from this the reader is meant to identify and related to the things being thought or heard or felt.  There's obviously nothing wrong with this.  It's difficult, however, to apply an account to D&D in any meaningful way, since the game depends greatly on what the players DO and not what the players feel.  Still, it's possible to encourage the players to feel things, and much saying and thinking is certainly involved in the game.  Unfortunately, nearly every attempt to "can" a meaningful account into a D&D adventure ends up producing a terribly maudlin, hackneyed, often laughable result, such that players are moved towards sarcasm and mockery rather than real emotion.

It's at this point that I'm going to step off a ledge.  It's a pretty high ledge, and there are pointy rocks below, but this is how writing can be.  The goal is to convey an idea that's hardly appreciated in literature discussions or classes, perhaps because of it's subtlety and perhaps because so few have read enough books to glean out what it is.  Generally, most discussions of books run to the theme of a book, or it's message, or the finer points of the character's interaction, or those incidents that remain with so precious to the reader that we're compelled to return to the book, to read it again.

This post is inspired by thoughts I had last night while listening to the audiobook version of A Tale of Two Cities, which even my daughter, who eats books like Les Miserables for breakfast, considers a fastball too hard to hit.  This is something like my third time, not counting the dozen times or so I read an abridged version of the book that was in my elementary school library.

I contend that the book is firmly about redemption.  As I go through it again, I hear proof of this in every chapter.  I won't elaborate ... it would take too long.  Suffice to say that each little glimmer that I encounter seems to fill me with a rather fine bit of pleasure.

I chose to listen to the book because, for reasons difficult to explain, I finished a 47-hour sojourn through Stephen King's The Stand.  Which is, by writing standards, a comic book.  King, as is his habit, spends an inordinate amount of time repeating details about the characters and about things that have happened to the characters in an aggressive, sometimes aggravating fashion.  He cannot make the least little reference to an event, or something a character said, without taking another three sentences to remind when it was said, where it was said, and why it was said.  There are no "glimmers" in King's works.  He whacks away with a hammer at a bell and calls it music.

The shift to Dickens is jarring.  Dickens says a great deal but never anything twice.  We are meant to parse every phrase, every word.  I find that as I listen, a revelation in the text will rush out at me that applies to the whole book, but doesn't especially apply to this scene.  There are characters who are affected, but these moments of revelation are not about what the characters think or say.  They're not about what has happened, or will happen.  They're about, in this particular case, redemption.  The process itself of being lifted out of misery or confusion into a better place, even if only for a moment or two.

However, the specificity of the "Nugget" described is of no importance here.  It's the nature of the nugget itself; that at various points of the narrative, something is said that elaborates on the matter at hand in a way that causes me to stop and review the author's intent, rather than continuing to read the book.  It's as though the author has just served an exquisite cut of meat in a deeply rich sauce, and before I can move onto the next course, I have to digest what's been said first.  It's much more rewarding that merely identifying with some character undergoing a struggle that I've also undergone.  It's far more compelling that seeing people go somewhere and do surprising things.

Yet I'm quite sure, quite sure, that most people have never experienced this "nugget" business while reading a book.  Not, as I say, because they're "stupid."  But because, I think, one must read a lot of books before finding it easy to read the sort of book that does this.  War and Peace, for example, does this quite a bit.

All this serves to make this very relevant point, however.  I think that Dungeons and Dragons does this.

As events unfold, in game, as part of the narrative both in the story and account sense, there are also narrative nuggets that cause players to stop, take a step back and say, "Whoa."  This can be any number of things.  The set of coincidences that are driven by random numbers, which can get freaky at times.  The startling moment of inspiration that one player has when threading a needle through some situation that seems the party cannot get out of.  The sudden comprehension that if A is true, B must be, which somehow seems to shake the pillars of the universe.

Have you had that?  Sometimes, D&D can function like a strange, narrative Ouiji board, with multiple persons pushing the events from here to there, painting out consequences or conundrums that would cross a rabbi's eyes.

And aren't they wonderful?

I think this is an intrinsic, unspoken reason why we play ... for the reason that often during play, we think of things, or do things, that seemingly come out of nowhere, in ways that defy our normal train of feelings and sense of chronological order.  It takes a very good writer to fit these moments into a narrate ... a better writer than me.  But I do just fine when I run D&D.  Stuff like this seems to pop out everywhere.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work. 

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023


At my last D&D running on Friday, we got slow starting because Tamara and I had purchased a treadmill ... and before we could start playing, I needed some of the younger bucks that run in the game to help me put it together.  Unfortunately, I'm getting too tired to manage 135 lb. mechanisms by myself.  The progress was slow; the screw holes were machined just slightly out of alignment and so it took pressure and patience to fit everything in it's place, before the machine could be put into its corner.

By then I was sweating and wearied a bit, so that we were late starting.  Throughout the running I felt rundown, doing what I could to maintain the game's tempo.  The party descended into some sort of huge forge built underground, the purpose of which is still uncertain.  They've determined that the drow have been manipulating coal and gems somehow.  All is deserted, and it seems to be evident that something's gone terribly wrong; there was certainly magic involved in the process.

While investigating, they were attacked by three flesh golems, who seemed to be functioning "guards," who became aware of the party and honed in on their position.  The party dispatched them easily (it would have needed six or seven to make it a "good" fight), but these weren't all.  There are grey ooze wandering about, who aren't eating the standing forges because these appear to be made not of metal, but some other kind of crystal.  This was part of the clue structure has led the party to believe that the machines are here not to create heat, but to somehow magically create molten gem-crystal ... but this is as far as they've ascertained.

As the short running wrapped up, the usual after-game bull session took place and I remarked on my depleted energy level.  Otherwise, I said, I'd have pushed the game further towards midnight.  But I'm not the young DM that I used to be and then apologised if it wasn't the running wasn't so exciting.

The players confessed that they're not the energy buckets they used to be either.  When they began in my game, most were in their early 20s; now they're in their mid-30s.  They're feeling the stress of families and careers and extra issues to do with health, as they're in that period when we stop drinking and start thinking more about our diets, realising we can no longer live on hot pockets and pop tarts.  Cheezies have largely disappeared from the game diet, to be replaced with deli meats, chickpea salads and veggie/fruit trays.

"Well," I said, "It's sometimes hard to admit that I'll never be the DM I used to be," thinking in my mind of those halcyon days when I'd comfortably play until 2 a.m. because some combat wasn't over yet, or even just because I wasn't working the next day.  It was at this point that I got an unexpected reply.

The newest player in the game has been in it now about ten months.  Kit's known the players for some five years and might have gotten around to playing earlier, but what with covid and some financial troubles I had up until 2021, when I didn't have the space to play, my running a game was out of the question.

Her comment went something like this, but obviously this isn't word for word: "I can tell you this," she said.  "Playing in your game, and comparing it to how your game was described to me before I played, it lives up to the hype."

I've been given to believe over the years that my players do hype my game quite a bit.  It's the reason why new players join, after all, and why I have eight players at present and not four.  Kit is the latest.  She's been hearing about my game, and about me, for literally years.

I know that for some DMs, the idea of having to live up to a reputation might be daunting.  But to be honest, I never considered it.  I've been running D&D  a long time.  I spent thousands of hours in "the chair."  I'm not paying attention to how I am during a game — that comes after, when I can take my hand off the stick and I begin to feel that I didn't do as good a job as I might have.  During the game I'm running; that's all.  I haven't the time to self-assess, or to give a damn about self-assessment.  I'm not in my own body, I'm elsewhere, in the room I'm describing, stacking one piece of information on top of another, parsing out every player's action and calculating the consequences.

I'll give an example of this last.  The players entered the "forge" through the ceiling.  The dead white dragon from our last running sat on top of an icy floor, and below that was a trap door, 4 ft. across.  After melting the ice, the players pulled out the trap door to find themselves above a great big empty.  With ultravision in place, they could clearly see 120 ft; but the walls and the floor were more than twice that far away.

Yet one character, Ivan the thief, has wings of flying (he's 10th level, after all).  He popped down into the chamber and measured it's girth and depth, though he had to be careful of hundreds of chains that hung from the ceiling.  Once he was done his reconnoitre, he was ready to go back.

"And where is the hole you came down from?" I asked.

He stopped, remembering that no one in the party has a lamp or a torch lit, because they're all using infravision.  He can see 120 ft. but the chamber is 720 ft. in diameter.  He shouted, but in the vastness of this space, it's all just echoes.

Thankfully, someone realised the shouting was for a light, so they lit one.  Ivan found his way back.  This is what I mean when I say, parsing the player's decision.  You can't write a meaningful note in a game module for this instance, because you can never be sure the players will have the same abilities without you giving it to them as part of the module, and because you can't know the player will do something like this.  As a DM, we have to think fast, and see the flaw, so they can see the solution.

The party decided that Ivan, who can carry 250 lbs., would lower each party member to the floor.  The halfling, played by Kit, offered to go first, so he took her down.  Then he went up to get the second character, leaving Kit on the bottom.  And when Ivan started his second trip down, what do you think I had to point out?

"Where's Tavrobel?" I asked.

He'd taken the halfling down 350 ft. to the bottom of the chamber, but he couldn't see her now, could he?  And wings of flying are not a helicopter; one has to swoop around.  Tavrobel had no torch or lantern.  The table whooped in laughter.  They'd got caught twice by the same mistake.

So he took a pass over the floor with the second character and didn't see her.  She is, after all, a halfling, and it's a big cluttered floor.  But she heard Ivan fly by and realised, "He can't see me."  Luckily, the halfling is a druid ... so she lit herself up with faerie fire.  Problem solved.

My role as DM is to see this sort of issue, to pluck it out, to wave it in front of the players and then have them solve it.  Constantly vigilant for this sort of observation, my head is absolutely invested in the game.  It's part of what I like about DMing.  All of my pistons have to be firing, all the time, until the game ends.

Whereupon I start to criticise myself.  Why?  No idea.  It's a combination of the exhaustion and doubts, and certainties that I didn't give as good a game as I always want to give.  Not through trickery or relying on someone else's info, but on being the smartest damn thinker I can be.

Kit's feedback is unquestionably the best that any players' ever given me.  And I've heard some awfully nice things from a lot of players.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work.  Take a moment and consider how valuable it is to express to others who read this blog something you've thought of, that you want to do related to D&D, or that has enlightened you as a player or DM.  Let this space be a conduit for that.

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Saturday Q&A (sep 23)

Le Tao du JdR

On Thursday I launched a French blog version of this blog, and asked about the veracity of the translation.

ViP writes:

Tracatar is the name of my first magic-user PC in '86, and the alias under which I do translation and proofing work for French OSR forum "ledonjondudragon" (DDD in short).

I did not compare both posts line to line, but the French version seemed perfectly serviceable. It is not a perfect one, mind you, because the rhythm of the English sentence is often kept unchanged, and a few expressions are transposed literally where a native speaker would use a different construction (although maybe not a French Canadian). Those small concerns accumulate and in such a long text, they may discourage the casual reader. But I could not spot one obvious mistake, spelling error or misinterpretation.

Most guys on DDD, included myself, don't do a better job on a first pass. I doubt many French majors in the US would.

Brody writes:

I'm admittedly not a native French speaker, but I have studied it for many years. The translation looks accurate to me, although it is quite possible that I missed something.


With some responses regarding this subject in the last week, I don't feel it's helpful to include.  There's quite a lot of dissatisfaction out there.

James in New York writes:

Thank you for your post "Paradigm Shift," I never thought to utilize ChatGPT to help write adventures. I haven't been using written adventures for several years now, but the ability to custom-tailor an adventure for a scenario might get me to start writing them in advance again in advance.

All in all, it was a very helpful piece about how AI can help write better adventures.

Lance in Louisiana writes:

Your examples of chatgpt are exactly the sort of content that I avoid. Wordy in the extreme to get across one or two interesting things. In the modern RPG market I have attributed this to the standard of paying the author based on the number of words written. New books are often touted as "200 pages! of new content for your game" or some such drivel. As if the page count has anything to do with the actual amount of content I can actually use.

The examples you provide, while pretty impressive given their origin, are in the same vein for me. A page of drivel with one sentence of usable content. The rest being a restatement of your prompt or "no, duh" descriptions. The iterative nature is the most intriguing parts of the tool to me, providing more useful detail the farther down you go.

I still find it marginally useful at best as a dm because the details it gives I could improv just as easily. The potential I see is as a virtual dm, it finally provides a solution to true solo play(if you enjoy that). I've seen several bloggers experiment with it in this way to some success.

The wordiness issue of chatgpt I've seen in other areas of interest not just DnD, it does tend to create long paragraphs to make it sound like a person when the info could be given in one or two sentences.

As far as your French translation, I did study French, but it's been a few years and I'm a bit rusty. I only skimmed over the translated post. It seems fairly accurate, a lot of the words I'd have to look up... there are some odd phrasings here and there, a human translator is always needed to understand what is meant in context and not just a direct translation. Overall it seems better than Google translate, which can be good for one or two words but I've found is kinda abysmal with complex sentences.

Answer: I don't think this is entirely fair.  I'm as experienced as anyone with D&D, and as creative too I think, but I certainly can't afford to turn down ideas that I can produce instantaneously with a couple of queries.  Many's a game session when I've been forced to excuse myself from a game to "go to the bathroom" in order to have five minutes to think clearly and come up with something on the fly to fill the gap between what's just happened and what's further up around the bend, where the party hasn't gone yet.  If I can punch in a few details of what the party's just seen, plus what it's going to see later, and what might fit in between ... and get multiple answers in seconds, I think it's certainly useful to get my brain stoked.

I can't understand the resistance against using a better tool to build a house.  Sure, I like a hammer too, but if you give me a nail gun, I'm going to use it.

 And the Rest ...

JB in Washington writes:

I don't do "Session Zeros" myself, even though I've gamed with complete strangers in the past. I introduce myself (i.e. I tell them my name), ask them if they know how to play, and then we get down to it. If they've never played before (such as the friends of my kids who sometimes show up), I give them a brief spiel, along the lines of "you play a character in a fantasy world, searching for fortune and glory," and then we proceed to character creation.

No one seems to have any problem with this.

I think the origin of Session Zero comes from the 1990s, specifically White Wolf games which featured elaborate character creation and the need for the players characters to "fit," both with each other and the specific setting. The rule books for games like Vampire were explicit that there should be a "prelude" session in which the participants discussed the themes and expectations of the game to come so that, for instance, a PC created as a "combat monster" didn't end up derailing a "court intrigue" game, or a "melodramatic artiste" didn't feel left out of a combat heavy saga ("saga" being WW's term for campaign).

But D&D doesn't need this, because it's not about dealing with stories and themes of identity or darkness or struggling against one's own humanity/conscience. Or rather, it's not SUPPOSED to was not designed with that intention originally. "Make a fantasy character and explore a fantasy a team. Go!" That's really all there is.

SO, the idea of "Session Zero" has been co-opted in order to push this particular "safety" agenda. Which is silly. If you write another book, I don't think you need to address it; I think you simply need to address what the game's about. As you do.

Maxwell in California writes:

Do you allow the players to make use of equipment, sage abilities, spells, or other capabilities of a character whose player is not present at that session?

My rule has long been that if a player isn’t present, neither is his character. She is busy or preoccupied “offstage,” unable to be part of the proceedings. Harm can’t come to her (I couldn’t make her the target of an assassin, for instance), but the party also can’t avail themselves of her abilities.

A blanket ban on using character features is a powerful incentive for players to come to every session, and to pressure their fellow players to come along. Which I like. And the argument for not allowing harm to come to the character is plain — it’s no fair messing with a man’s playing piece when he’s not there to try and counteract it.

I recall bending my rule once to allow the use of an absent druid’s healing spell, during a time when the party wasn’t doing anything but passing several days resting and recovering somewhere safe. I might make that exception again under similar circumstances, but I’m hard-pressed to think of anything else I would allow.

Answer: There's always the classic moment from "The Gamers" where the absent player's character is just standing off to the side, present but not doing anything. Early on, when I saw the party differently, I'd allow the use of healing spells just as you describe, Maxwell, but I too have come to believe that the right this is to assume they've gone on ahead, or hung back, and somehow missed the encounter; or if the party's in a dungeon, they've backtracked to take care of business or catch some Zzz's, whatever might be logical that keeps them out of the party's company. I might, in a rare instance, provide the player with "special knowledge" that he or she has gotten in the interim, so that they return to the party with a rumour or something they heard "at the bar" while the main party was busy elsewhere.

A bigger problem is what we do when the player quits the campaign entirely. This isn't such a big deal if the campaign's been running for just a while, but I have two examples that I can tell where the player's exit meant an acknowledged change that's moderately meta.

The first revolved around a +4 holy godentag, in which the spike driven through the club was one that had been used to crucify Jesus, in the spirit of medieval European holy relics. The party needed it badly as one part of their eventual success against a hyper-powerful NPC villain (a fight that hasn't happened yet, and won't for a long time), and logically the item went to the party's 7th level cleric at the time, Widda, who was proficient. BUT, about six months after succeeding through a brutal dungeon over about ten runnings, the player running Widda bowed out of the campaign. Normally, in such a situation, I wouldn't allow access to the ex-character's wealth and equipment, but the situation required that the "christ-spiker," as the party dubbed it, had to stay in the party's possession. So an exception was made.

The other example is my partner Tamara, who after ten years of running her character Garalzapan, and reaching 11th level, decided that D&D was too slow and stressful and decided she was done. By this time, however, her character had been made a baronet over the small area of land the party owned and occupied ... and though its been 8 years since Tamara has played, I don't wish to depose the character. And so, technically, the mage is still around, still the baronet of the property in name, while the ongoing players make all the local political decisions like a council of elders. Garalzapan's baronetcy was the joint decision of the party originally, as someone had to be elevated to the title and Garalzapan seemed like the best choice. Wasn't my choice to make, it was the party's.

So, yes, it can be tricky. But I agree with your arguments, Maxwell. It is right to leave a player's playing piece alone.


Thank you all for your contributions.  I think everyone knows by now that the comments are disabled, but if anyone wishes to ask a question or submit observations like those above, please submit  to my email,  If you could, please give the region where you're located (state, province, department, county, whatever) as it humanises your comment.

I've largely adopted a policy of writing my answer in advance for the commentor's benefit, to give a heads up before it's printed here.  And so, unlike before, the reader now has the freedom to control both his or her comments and mine also.  This makes for a friendlier, less stressful environment in which one can engage here.

Feel free to address material on the authentic wiki, my books or any subject related to dungeons & dragons.  I encourage you to initiate subject material of your own, and to address your comment to others writing in this space.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Le Tao du JdR

Could someone who speaks French please have a look at this.

I have no way of knowing for certain that the translation is accurate, though I believe that it probably is.  Confirmation would be nice.

Thursday, September 21, 2023


My apologies; this post is for the benefit of just one or two of my readers, and anyone out there who has written a module and would like to widen their audience.

On Monday I wrote a post called "Paradigm Shift."

This included a number of generated passages, one of which dealt with how to run a pressure plate with dart trap in D&D.

Here is that passage again.  In Portuguese.  Generated by chat GPT.  Only I didn't enter the original English passage.  Instead, I asked the question, "How do D&D rules function with relation to the pressure plate with dart trap?  Give the answer in Portuguese."

As regras de Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) funcionam da seguinte maneira em relação à placa de pressão com armadilha de dardo:

Detecção: Em D&D, a capacidade de um personagem detectar a placa de pressão é determinada pelo seu valor de Percepção Passiva, que representa sua consciência inata do ambiente ao seu redor. Alternativamente, os personagens podem procurar ativamente por armadilhas fazendo um teste de Sabedoria (Percepção). O Mestre do Dungeon (DM) define a dificuldade (DC) para esse teste com base em quão bem a armadilha está escondida. Um teste bem-sucedido significa que o personagem detectou a armadilha.

Ativar a Armadilha: Se um personagem pisa na placa de pressão sem detectá-la, a armadilha é ativada. O DM decide quando e como a armadilha de dardo é ativada, dependendo da narrativa e das circunstâncias. Isso pode envolver um mecanismo oculto ou um fio de gatilho ligado ao lançamento do dardo.

Teste de Resistência: Quando a armadilha é ativada, os personagens afetados podem ser obrigados a fazer um teste de Resistência de Destreza. O DC para este teste é definido pelo DM, levando em consideração o design e a complexidade da armadilha. Um teste bem-sucedido permite que o personagem evite ou reduza os efeitos da armadilha, como desviar-se dos dardos que se aproximam.

Dano: Se o personagem falhar no teste de resistência, geralmente sofrerá dano dos dardos. O tipo e a quantidade de dano são determinados pelo DM e pelo design da armadilha. Por exemplo, pode ser dano perfurante causado pelo impacto dos dardos.

Veneno: Se a armadilha de dardo estiver envenenada, personagens que falharem no teste de resistência também podem estar sujeitos a dano por veneno ou a efeitos adicionais. Os detalhes dos efeitos do veneno são determinados pelo DM e podem incluir condições como envenenamento ou paralisia.

Desarmar: Personagens com proficiência em Ferramentas de Ladrão ou habilidades similares podem tentar desarmar a armadilha antes que ela seja ativada. Isso geralmente envolve um teste de Destreza usando Ferramentas de Ladrão. Um teste bem-sucedido desativa a armadilha, tornando-a segura para atravessar.

Evitar a Armadilha: Em alguns casos, os personagens podem encontrar uma maneira de evitar a placa de pressão completamente, como saltando sobre ela, usando um bastão longo para pressioná-la à distância ou usando meios criativos para contornar a armadilha. O DM pode recompensar os jogadores por soluções inventivas.

Impacto Narrativo: O DM deve descrever os efeitos da armadilha e as consequências de ativá-la de uma maneira que aprimore a narrativa e envolva a imaginação dos jogadores. Isso ajuda a criar uma experiência de jogo imersiva e emocionante.

É importante notar que D&D é um jogo flexível, e as mecânicas exatas e as consequências de uma armadilha de dardo podem variar com base na edição jogada e nas preferências do DM. A comunicação clara entre o DM e os jogadores é fundamental para garantir que todos entendam como as armadilhas funcionam na campanha específica.

I don't know what it says, or how accurate that is, since I don't understand Portuguese.  If someone would like to parse it, please do.

For myself, I find this incomprehensibly amazing.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work.

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Session Zero

"Session zero" has become a popular term in the role-playing community.  The concept, unnamed, had always been a part of gaming.  The campaigns I ran in the 80s naturally began with the players making characters and a discussion of house rules.  The term itself, however, begins to turn up on the Forge in the mid-2000s, but for the rest of the net, it's common usage doesn't begin until after 2012.  When I wrote and published How to Run in 2014, the term was hardly front and centre in the culture, though of course there would be many individuals who can remember adopting the term twenty years ago.

Today the term is defacto canon for anyone wanting to run D&D.  Upon starting a campaign, I'm expected to introduce myself, talk a little about why I like to DM, then go around the table and have the players talk a little about themselves. Then I'm to provide an overview of the campaign — including, of course, the setting, the "lore," themes and any unique features or house rules.  The players ask questions.  Then we settle down to character creation ... and by the session zero bible, because these things have to be included in any description of the process ... this includes the characters manufacturing backstories.

Then, together, DM and players, openly discuss our expectations for the campaign.  During this phase, we're meant to talk about how much "roleplaying" is expected, what the combat encounters are going to be like and the sort of balancing mechanism we'll be using.  The players discuss how they'll work together as a group, and then as DM, I establish the campaign's "goals" and objectives, and importantly the "theme."  This establishes whether the game stresses heroism or not, exploration of the map, political intrigue, the prospects for character survival and such.  I'll then be outlining the primary quest for the players to pursue, before discussing potential sub-plots and character-specific objectives that I've created for the overall "story."  This helps the players personally invest in what's going to happen.

Next, we need to interrupt this discourse so we can have a frank discussion about "session safety and consent."  Now, I know this idea has been thrown around for a while, but it helps if we understand just what's meant by this.  We want to know what's expected for a DM ... after all, if I were to write How to Run again, I'd have to be sure and include this content.

Let's see ... yes, it's expected that I'll listen to player feedback, I've certainly argued for that.  There's this part about my not including any content that might make a player uncomfortable.  Sensitive topics may trigger a player.  Safety and consent are, after all, an ongoing process.  If a player wants to pause the game and request a change in the ongoing scene, rewinding, fast-forwarding, or changing the tone or outcome, they have the right to propose that script change.  Lines should be drawn to represent any content that's strictly off-limits, so that it won't be included in the game under ANY circumstances.  And in case there's a mis-understanding, every player has an "X"-card that they can lay down at any time, stopping play.  It's only fair and proper.

Shall we stop?  Because I can get into the details of all these things at length; there are posts all over the internet that express why it's responsible to address the game in just this manner.

I'm tempted to go through a step-by-step description of what happens after the ball is snapped in football, and the practicality of using cards to stop play as mass slams into mass, but in retrospect that's probably not helpful.  Take note of the dynamic above.  These are rules for managing strangers ... and in most cases, strangers with a minimal or narrow perception of the game, such as that played in game stores, where rules about loud chatter and overt body language hold sway.  Some of the enthusiasm that one or more of my players might express in a normal running — pacing around the table, hooting when something dies, shouting and waving their arms because their blood is up — that's not acceptable behaviour in a cramped public space full of five or six gaming tables.

I play with my friends and family.  I've sat with them at the hospital, I've helped them clean their apartments, and move, and looked after their plants and pets when they've left town.  We've had Christmas dinners together and birthdays at the bar and gone for hikes and days at the beach.  I don't need to introduce myself, or explain what my game is ... they all knew what it was months before they were allowed to join.  Does anyone here think that after being my daughter for 34 years, that she's going to put an X-card down and stop play?  Ridiculous.  A sarcastic comment, sure ... but if she had any problem with my DMing, she wouldn't use a card.  She'd speak her mind.  Like a grown-up.

These are helpful rules if we're unable to find anyone to play with on a regular basis except strangers.  In some way, perhaps I might have done better with the online campaigns I ran if I'd held the players' hands a little bit more ... if I'd take the time to carefully warn them that I was going to use "themes" equivalent to those found in any mainstream action film, thriller, horror or drama.  Or equivalent to the daily public news, where actual real life people die in hurricanes, are carved up with saws inside embassies, invade foreign countries with artillery and tanks, or lie constantly and unrelentingly if they think it'll help grift money or get elected.

I've always kind of assumed we're all living in this world.  The one with homeless people slowly dying on bad streets, where a shooting at the nearby mall took place in the last few months, where the price of things are going up relentlessly despite our human need to eat food or live under some kind of roof.  This is the world that I and my players occupy, together, every day.  I don't want to play with people who are so sheltered and weak that they can't stiffen their lip, act bravely and face every challenge they're given, no matter what it is.

I don't want to play with these people and I definitely wouldn't want to write a book that catered to these people's fragility, so they could bring themselves around to play D&D.

Yet were I to write a book on the subject today, I'd be expected to do so.  And I'd be called irresponsible if I refused.

On the surface, the session zero seems like a reasonable approach to introducing new players ... but much of the "introduction" is about making people feel comfortable, encouraged, supported, protected and safe.  The only people who need this are those who are easily threatened or made uncomfortable.  Anyone else, who has already chosen to BE comfortable of their own accord, who don't need encouragement to talk, who don't need support because they've already got it, who don't need protection, who don't feel unsafe ... is bound to find all the elements surrounding the session zero concept as something like a group therapy session.

We don't want to talk meet and greet, or about our characters or debate party mechanics or deliberate on the overall campaign, or discuss rules in case something gets out of hand ... we want to play.  That's why we're here.  We have a limited amount of time, we already know the game, we're not children, let's get started.  That's how quite a lot of us think.

Research session zero and you'll find the argument that it's "about creating an environment where all participants, regardless of their comfort level or experience, can engage in the game."

This is a bald-faced lie, because the rules DON'T say that.  The "goal of inclusivity" says that any one single person who has a problem can ruin everyone else's experience, at will.  It says that the right of any one person to be completely respected supercede the right of any other person in earshot to go ahead and play the "uncomfortable" scene that they don't find uncomfortable.

For those people who might want to argue with me that it's my responsibility to provide a good experience for anyone who might be a would-be participant, keep this in mind:  I'm not a game store or an official league.  I'm a person who plays a game in my home, which no one enters without my say-so.  I play with my friends.  I don't make friends with weak people.  I did when I was young and I learned that it's drama-drama-drama all the time.  I make friends with people who can carry their own baggage.  

Needing an environment that will care for you, or that you think ought to exist for other people, regardless of their comfort level or experience, sounds quite a lot like people who can't carry their own baggage.  People like that are hard to have around.  Emotionally, they're very needy.  You show up at their house to help them move their stuff, and find that they haven't packed anything or rented a truck for the day.  They're supposed to show up and help you move, and they don't.  You help them work on their resume and then they don't use it.  Or you get them a job at your office and they quit after a few weeks.  You're at the bar for your friend's birthday and invite them along, but then they get upset by something the bartender says and then its a three-hour pity-party about them, until someone has to leave the party for awhile to drive them home, because they don't feel "safe" taking a cab or using the bus.

I know, I know, this isn't what we're supposed to say ... but anyone who's reading this, who carries their own baggage at least most of the time, learns sometime in their 30s — especially if they have kids — that there just isn't room any more for the kind of inclusivity that seemed possible in high school.  You invite these people to play D&D, and for the whole night every has to put their game on pause for this one needy person.

Cruel as it all sounds, this is what we call straight-talk.  Those who need to feel included, who need support, who need attention, who need someone else to make them feel empowered, who need little cards, who need and need and need, should get a therapist.  I'm not a therapist.  I'm a DM.  You may think me an asshole, but since my baggage-carrying family don't think so, and I have plenty of players, and I don't need support or an X-card to give my opinion, I guess it really doesn't matter if other people think I'm also cruel.

I give plenty of support on this blog all the time.  People write me and I do my best to answer questions.  I think it's my responsibility to be open-minded and flexible, and to provide what benefits I can for my reader.  But this doesn't include telling me what I'm allowed to talk about, or what content to include in my game, or what's over the line, or even what information I'm obligated to give my players when we start playing.

Roll your characters.  You're in a small village on the French coast, about 60 miles south of Nantes.  You have no idea what might happen next.  There.  We've had our session zero.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.  Feel free to introduce new subjects or present your own work.

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Paradigm Shift

I can appreciate that many people may wonder at my recent posts about chatGPT, and perhaps they're owed an apology.  I've heaped my own disparagement of the program's output, and certaintly there's a low level contempt that permeates the popular media.  It's even true that the present writer-actor strike is deeply tainted by this program, and programs like it.

Nonetheless, I feel compelled to return to the subject again because the practical uses I'm finding compare in scope with wikipedia and google books.  I'd be foolish not to take advantage of that, and selfish not to share my findings.

For decades now, I've seen D&D pundits compose lists of "adventure" ideas, usually in groups of 20 and not usually as many as a hundred.  Most items of this kind are of minimal value.  It's honestly very hard to produce a good, new idea, unless one has spent a lot of time practicing the effort.  Still, there's no way to fault these efforts, as the demand from DM's far outweighs the supply.  Everyone has, at one point or another desperately gone onto Google to search for some idea that can be used in an upcoming game.

Unfortunately, such ideas are thin and cliched.  I don't like to base my adventures around some entity that conveniently appears, hands a magic item over to the players that can be used to make them invincible enough to walk into a predictable dungeon and succeed in rescuing someone or obtaining a different Mcguffin.  I like adventures based on intrigue and difficult moral choices, not on treasure —which may also be included regardless.  As well, I like adventures that take place in populated areas, not just the wilderness, as situations where the players are surrounded by real people tends to require greater imagination in problem-solving than hacking apart the Gordian knot.

For these reasons, the internet is of very little use to me.

BUT ... not so CGPT.  The thing is, one has to understand how the program works.  See, the more precise the phrasing, the better something can be searched for in Google.  But the more verbose the phrasing, the better results one can get from CGPT.  I'll give an example.  Suppose I want to set an adventure, of the kind I like, in a guild-ridden neighbourhood of, say, Budapest.  Here's what I type into CGPT:

"Set a D&D adventure in a guild-neighborhood of Budapest, with the following parameters: I don't like to base my adventures around some entity that conveniently appears, hands a magic item over to the players that can be used to make them invincible enough to walk into a predictable dungeon and succeed in rescuing someone or obtaining a different Mcguffin. I like adventures based on intrigue and difficult moral choices, not on treasure —which may also be included regardless. As well, I like adventures that take place in populated areas, not just the wilderness, as situations where the players are surrounded by real people tends to require greater imagination in problem-solving than hacking apart the Gordian knot."

Note that I searched the exact wording of the paragraph above, rather than bothering to tailor my search in some precise way.  CGPT doesn't care.  Not only is it not limited in the content it can search, it's not limited by the use of any English word I use, nor idioms, nor anything.  It has a complete apprehension of all these things.

Would you like to see the answer?  Should I withhold it and put it on another post?  Admittedly, there's still some cliche here, but I could simply write another line below saying, "please remove [cliche] and repost the same adventure."  And CGPT will.  Instantly.  Be afraid.  Very afraid.

Title: "Shadows of the Guild"

Adventure Overview: In the bustling guild-neighborhood of Budapest, a web of intrigue, politics, and moral dilemmas entangles the players. This D&D adventure is set in an urban environment, focusing on complex social dynamics and the consequences of difficult choices, while still providing opportunities for treasure.

Plot Hook: The players find themselves in Budapest, a thriving city known for its diverse guilds and merchant factions. They receive a cryptic message from an old acquaintance, Lucian, who urgently requests their help in a matter of great importance. Lucian has been involved in a clandestine guild, and his life is now in danger due to certain sensitive information he possesses.

Key Locations:

Guild-Neighborhood: A bustling district with numerous guild halls, merchant stalls, and inns. Each guild has its own interests and secrets, and alliances are ever-shifting.

Lucian's Safehouse: A hidden location where Lucian is hiding. He provides the players with vital information about the situation and his adversaries.

Market Square: A central hub of activity, filled with merchants and townsfolk. Here, players can gather information, buy supplies, and interact with various NPCs.

Guild Halls: Each guild has its headquarters, including the powerful Merchant's Guild, the secretive Thieves' Guild, and the influential Mages' Guild. Players may need to navigate the politics of these guilds.

Plot Progression:

Lucian's Revelation: Lucian reveals that he possesses evidence of corruption within the city's ruling council, involving some of the most influential guilds. This information has made him a target, and he fears for his life.

Intrigue and Alliances: The players must navigate the complex web of guild politics, forming alliances with certain factions and making enemies of others. They may uncover hidden agendas, power struggles, and betrayals within the guild-neighborhood.

Moral Choices: The players face a series of moral dilemmas as they gather evidence of corruption and injustice. They must decide whether to expose the truth, potentially destabilizing the city, or keep the information hidden to preserve the status quo.

The Confrontation: As the players get closer to exposing the corruption, they become targets themselves. They must confront Lucian's adversaries, who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

Resolution: The adventure's outcome is shaped by the players' choices. They may choose to expose the corruption, leading to significant changes in the city's leadership, or they might opt to preserve the delicate balance, allowing the guilty to remain in power.


Reform: If the players expose the corruption, they trigger a series of reforms, and the city undergoes a period of transition.

Status Quo: If the players choose to protect the city's stability, they may receive rewards from powerful figures while leaving the corruption untouched.

Personal Gain: Alternatively, the players can manipulate the situation for their personal benefit, gaining wealth or influence at the expense of others.

This D&D adventure in the guild-neighborhood of Budapest is built around intrigue, political maneuvering, and difficult moral choices, with opportunities for treasure woven into the narrative. The urban setting challenges players to use their imagination and diplomacy to navigate complex social dynamics while avoiding the predictable dungeon crawl.

What's hilarious is that the answer is essentially a sandbox, not a straightforward adventure.  It's loaded down with "if the players choose" rather than "the players have to."

Naturally, what concerns people on first glance is the argument that it's "not very good."  Of course it isn't.  On the other hand, it's a million times better than anything we're going to get out of google or randomly searching D&D blogs and videos ... because this gets so much closer to what we wanted.  Again, with google: precise input, hugely varied inconsistent output.  CGPT: haphazard, complicated input, precise output.  Which is better?

Moreover, the above is a first draft.  No one expects the first pass at something to be good.  Here, we can either address the writing itself, or we can simply return to the program ... which remembers our last search term (unlike google) so that all we need to say is, "expand and elaborate on Lucian's safehouse; pay attention to the details it would have in the 15th century."


Certainly, in a 15th-century setting in Budapest, Lucian's safehouse would be a hidden and well-concealed location, designed to offer him protection and anonymity in a bustling city filled with intrigue. Here's an expanded and elaborated description of Lucian's safehouse:

Location: Tucked away in the heart of the guild-neighborhood, Lucian's safehouse is situated within a labyrinthine network of narrow cobblestone streets, nestled between tall, centuries-old buildings. The safehouse itself is unassuming, blending seamlessly with its surroundings, making it nearly impossible to detect without insider knowledge.

Exterior: The building housing the safehouse is a four-story structure made of sturdy medieval stone and timber. It features a modest wooden door with intricate carvings, providing an entrance that draws minimal attention. A small, weathered sign nearby reads "Antiquarian Bookshop," serving as a clever guise to deter prying eyes.

Interior Layout:

Ground Floor (Bookshop Facade): The ground floor serves as a legitimate-looking bookshop, cluttered with dusty tomes, parchment scrolls, and faded maps. A counter with an old-fashioned abacus hints at a potential shopkeeper. This façade ensures that casual observers see nothing out of the ordinary.

Hidden Passage: Behind a concealed bookshelf at the rear of the bookshop lies a hidden passage. By pulling on a specific book, the shelf swings open to reveal a dimly lit corridor leading deeper into the safehouse.

Main Living Quarters: The safehouse's main chamber is a cozy living area. Rough-hewn wooden beams support the low ceiling, and a large fireplace dominates one wall, providing warmth and ambiance. The room is furnished with simple, sturdy wooden furniture, including a table, chairs, and a comfortable bed covered with embroidered linens. The walls are adorned with tapestries depicting ancient myths and legends.

Study and Library: A smaller chamber adjacent to the living area is Lucian's study and library. Shelves line the walls, filled with meticulously organized books, scrolls, and parchments. A large, ornate desk occupies the center of the room, covered with quills, ink pots, and maps. A window with heavy curtains overlooks the bustling streets below.

Secret Room: A hidden chamber within the safehouse contains Lucian's most sensitive documents and personal effects. Accessible only by a concealed door behind a tapestry, this room is protected by additional security measures, such as traps and a locked chest.

Basement: Below the safehouse lies a concealed basement. It is well-stocked with food, water, and supplies to sustain Lucian during extended periods of hiding. A trapdoor beneath a rug leads to a subterranean escape route that connects to the city's labyrinthine sewer system.
    • Security Measures: The main door is reinforced with heavy iron bars and multiple locks.
    • Each window is fitted with sturdy shutters to block prying eyes.
    • The hidden passage is cleverly designed, with a mechanism that prevents accidental discovery.
    • Traps are placed at key entry points within the safehouse to deter intruders.
    • A hidden cache of weapons and defensive tools is strategically placed.
Lucian's safehouse, in this 15th-century setting, is a well-concealed sanctuary where he can gather evidence, plan his next moves, and seek refuge from those who wish him harm. Its unassuming exterior and cleverly hidden features make it an ideal covert location for navigating the intrigue of Budapest's guild-neighborhood.

Allow me to remind the reader that we pay upwards of $40-60 for this level of detail.  Though it should be pointed out that no bookshops existed in the 15th century, as the printing press was invented in the 15th century; and certainly no "antiquarian" books.  CGPT does have a time problem this way; but a different front could be asked for and gotten.  Instead, however, I'm going to ask the following: "Can you give me a list of traps placed at the key entry points?"

Certainly! Here's a list of traps that Lucian may have placed at key entry points within his safehouse in the 15th-century setting:
    • Pressure Plate with Dart Trap: A hidden pressure plate triggers a mechanism that shoots small, poisoned darts from concealed holes in the walls or floor when someone steps on it.
    • Tripwire Alarm Bell: A thin, nearly invisible tripwire is stretched across a doorway or corridor. When tripped, it releases a loud ringing bell, alerting Lucian to an intruder's presence.
    • Falling Net Trap: Disguised as a section of the ceiling or wall, a net is released to drop onto intruders, entangling them and making escape difficult.
    • Hidden Pitfall: A concealed pitfall trap is triggered when someone steps on a specific floor tile. It leads to a chamber below or simply creates a fall hazard, possibly causing injury.
    • Gas Emission Vents: Opening a door or entering a particular room activates a mechanism that releases a non-lethal but disorienting gas, impairing intruders' vision and mobility.
    • Blade Swing Trap: A tripwire or pressure plate activates a pendulum with sharp blades. When triggered, the pendulum swings across a doorway or corridor, potentially harming anyone in its path.
    • False Bookcase: A section of a bookcase is rigged to swing open suddenly, revealing a concealed passage behind it. This can be used for quick escapes or as a surprise barrier.
    • Concealed Arrow Slits: Small, narrow openings in the walls near entry points house hidden crossbows. When triggered, the crossbows fire a volley of arrows in the direction of the intruder.
    • Lock-Activated Spike Pit: Attempting to pick a locked door can activate a trap that opens a hidden floor compartment, revealing a pit filled with sharpened spikes.
    • Alchemical Fire Trap: A vial of alchemical fire or other incendiary substance is rigged to break when an intruder opens a door. This creates a fiery hazard in the immediate area.
    • Water Release: Triggering a switch or pressure plate causes a torrent of water to flood the corridor or room, potentially dousing torches and extinguishing light sources.
    • False Stairs: Certain stairs within the safehouse are rigged to collapse or become slippery when someone climbs them, causing intruders to lose their balance.
These traps are designed to deter and impede intruders, offering Lucian an advantage in defending his safehouse. They are not necessarily lethal but aim to disrupt and delay unauthorized access, giving Lucian time to react and protect himself.

At which point we can try, "How do D&D rules function with relation to the pressure plate with dart trap?"

In Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), the functioning of a pressure plate with a dart trap typically involves the use of game mechanics to determine if a character triggers the trap and how it affects them. Here's how it works in the context of the game:

1. Detection: A character's ability to detect the pressure plate is determined by their Passive Perception score, or they can actively search for traps by making a Wisdom (Perception) check. The Dungeon Master (DM) sets the difficulty (DC) for this check, depending on how well the trap is concealed.

2. Triggering the Trap: If a character steps on the pressure plate without detecting it, the trap is triggered. The DM decides when and how the dart trap activates, depending on the narrative and the circumstances.

3. Saving Throw: When the trap is triggered, affected characters may be required to make a Dexterity saving throw. The DC is set by the DM based on the trap's design and complexity. A successful save allows the character to avoid or reduce the trap's effects.

4. Damage: If the character fails the saving throw, they typically take damage from the darts. The damage type and amount are determined by the DM and the trap's design. It can be piercing damage from the dart's impact.

5. Poison: If the dart trap is poisoned, characters who fail the saving throw might also be subject to poison damage or additional effects. The specifics of the poison's effects are determined by the DM.

6. Disarming: Characters with proficiency in Thieves' Tools or a similar skill might attempt to disarm the trap before it's triggered. This usually involves a Dexterity check using Thieves' Tools. A successful check disables the trap.

7. Avoiding the Trap: In some cases, characters might find a way to avoid the pressure plate altogether, such as by jumping over it or using a long pole to press it down from a distance. Creative solutions can be rewarded by the DM.

8. Narrative Impact: The DM should describe the trap's effects and the consequences of triggering it in a way that enhances the narrative and engages the players' imaginations.

Remember that D&D is a flexible game, and the exact mechanics and consequences of a dart trap can vary based on the edition being played and the preferences of the DM. Communication between the DM and players is essential to ensure everyone understands how traps work in the specific campaign.

What does it take to convince?

Some rather sordid people have invented a gadget that saves hundreds upon hundreds of hours of game prep, tailors the adventure exactly to our specifications, teaches which questions to ask and which ways to expand on the knowledge given, and even gives guidelines on how to run the procedure in the game ... at the speed of typing a sentence, so that if you have to ask the question IN GAME, you can get your answer instantly.  So not only does it do your prep work for you, it's your extra DM on the side while you're running.

Are you going to turn your back on that?

This is, I think, a good time for the comments on this blog to be turned off; it means that some other person's prejudices aren't likely to affect the answers of anyone who wants to email me.  This is a revolutionary upheaval to everything in D&D ... sitting there on a shelf, gathering dust, because a media that's fast becoming obsolete doesn't like it.


If you wish to comment, please write questions, ideas or opinions to and they will be posted on Saturdays.

If you wish to make a donation to Patreon, it will be greatly appreciated and help with costs for illustrating the Streetvendor's Guide.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Saturday Q&A (sep 16)

Chris writes: 

What are your thoughts on VTT?

Answer: I feel that virtual table tops are a great idea but a bad format. I have a large, 90 inch table for my eight players, who come in and spread papers, dice, food, drinks and whatnot, drowning the top of this very large surface. It's the primary reason why I don't like a game map that covers the table, as I used to use. I first moved to a white board, which is a vertical surface which takes no space, which everyone can see and permits players to use the table for its purpose. Now I use a computer screen, duplicated for the player's benefit. All movement and combat is played on this screen.

The virtual table top pretends to give space for players to place their character sheets and drinks, but this space is comparatively tiny and also assumes a set number of people. If I need to, I can crowd two or three more players on my ordinary table, because the space is flexible. What are we to do if there's another player and there are only six ports for use? Naturally, set up other tables around the room, or have the players keep their content on their lap, or the floor. This strikes me as convenient for me, perhaps, to show the game, but very inconvenient if players have so much character material that it won't fit into an 18 in. by 10 in. space. And because my players generally have multiple characters, and each character comprises a folder of material, or they use a laptop, which wouldn't leave much space for anything else in these ports I've seen, again this doesn't strike me as convenient.

But most of all, every couple of years I change the rules of my game, or some part of the design, in a way that's a simple fix for me. But with a pre-programmed table top, which would assume I'm playing a standardised game (which I don't play by a long shot), there'd be many visual cues in the system that wouldn't apply to my system at all. I don't need those, mucking up my plan. Plus, I want hex maps. I dislike the square map use that's become standard, simply because it's easier to print and program for the publisher.

For the cost of a VTT, I could buy a 72 in. television screen cheaper, that would replace the 24 in. that's presently on my wall for the players to see. This would be a better way for me to spend my money.

Dennis Laffey in South Korea writes:

Your post on Mechanical Design got me thinking right away, but I waited until I had a chance to watch the lecture before considering what I wanted to say in response.

I think you do a great job delineating the differences in goals between players and DMs, and put a pretty significant stake through the heart of the argument that "The DM is just another player." Because while the DM is a participant in the game session, they aren't playing the same game. The players are playing their characters, following the algorithms of the game session. If they manage them well, they succeed. If they don't, they fail. The DM, however, as referee and facilitator of play, has completely different goals and desires. Just like the badminton players and the Olympic Rules Committee members.

I haven't had time to scour the internet or my game books to take up your challenge of a printed source describing the DM's game goals, and honestly won't any time soon. But I do think there are a few other obvious "wants" for the DM besides just running a good game. There is the desire to build their world, but not just to build it, to present it to the players. That produces a lot of satisfaction. There's the mental challenge of creating adventures or locations that are just hard enough, but not too hard, for the players to manage. There's the emotional response that the DM gets when the players are hanging on your every word, there's tension in every die roll, the rush of release when the group finally triumphs or fails. But as you say, none of these are easily quantifiable. But just because they aren't quantifiable doesn't mean they aren't important. And they do explain why people take up the challenge of DMing.

There's a gamification framework called Octalysis by Yu-kai Chou. (I have his book and have read it.) [link] In general, having implemented gamification into a course once for a study, I think gamification is just glorified Behaviorism. But I do think Chou's framework may show what it is about RPG gaming that keeps people playing. The reward system in the game: gold, XP, magic items, levels, etc. are all in the lower regions or on the left (ownership, scarcity, unpredictability, avoidance, accomplishment). That's what the players are outwardly seeking in the game. But everyone, DM and players alike, are seeking the goals on the upper and right sides of the diagram when they play. The experience of playing the game produces feelings of creative expression, ownership, achievement, accomplishment, social standing, and empowerment. And while there's some overlap between the domains triggered by in-game goals and goals of play in general, the specifics of them are, I think, different. In game achievements lead to feelings of achievement and empowerment outside the framework of the game, for example.

I have no idea how to try and measure any of this (yet), but there's a framework there to test the hypothesis if a means to operationalize the DM's goals presents itself.

Answer: I can’t disagree with the sentiment here.  I certainly gain a lot of satisfaction out of building my game world and I’d say that the game’s tension and interplay of player fascination with my efforts is a tremendous drive behind my being a DM.

But these things are not in the common mainstream where the process of dungeon mastering is discussed.  Convenience of modules, the need for “stories,” servicing players, getting them stuff and social concerns are far more prevalent.  I was addressing the general desperation I see on Reddit and other sources regarding the desire for an amorphous, “good game,” not potentials for the game itself.  Fundamentally, I think with personal changes and work on the setting, the game is mostly fine.  But it’s been degraded by those who won’t do the work and are concerned with catering to the players in the way the company desires.

Maxwell in California writes:

I quite liked your post about showing work in progress for DND, as with renovation videos. I’m fond of the primitive technology channel and its various imitators … there is something very, very satisfying about seeing a skilled craftsman transform an area from underbrush into a functioning cabin, say, with underfloor heating and a tiled roof.

I was sufficiently taken with the idea to begin recording my own video along the lines you proposed. I took about an hour of screen footage with accompanying audio. Things I got up to in this first round of recording include mining the 1921 Colliers encyclopedia, a bit of 6-mile mapping, and a lot of explaining how my different computer programs fit together into a gestalt brain enhancer I can use at the table.

I think this first experimental run was too rough to be worth cutting and releasing, but it was exciting and I’m going to try it again next week with a bit more attention to producing a good video, and with every intention of releasing this one.

One of the reasons I’m excited about doing a process video is because it’s sort of like me DMing and you (and your readership) playing, as you brought up in your response to my comment last week. While it’s not the same as participating in me DMing a session, or even watching me DM, it *is* watching me be a DM. In the role of game designer. And I expect there’s plenty you and the others could comment on. I’ll do the same if anyone else takes a try.

But! The idea of renovation videos, merge together in my head to form this:

Suppose a DM were to, with player permission, record a game session; edit it down to just one or two sequences which he felt could have gone better; and then post that for review. With enough context to understand the scenario at hand, and some questions:

“I thought these descriptions fell flat, how would you have done that differently?”

“I had some trouble mediating this player conflict that seem to get out of hand, what have you done situations?”

And so on.

I’ve NEVER seen ANYONE do this. But if a few of us could find the courage to do so with our home tables, and comment on each other’s recordings, I think it could go really far.

Answer: I doubt I'd have the wherewithal to carefully record a video of my DMing with the purpose of cutting out the worst parts and posting them on the internet, hoping someone would tell me what I should have done.  I see that producing some really bad, bad results.  People usually try to make themselves look good, and fail at that.  I suppose we could succeed in making ourselves look bad, but the fallout ... *shudder*

I haven't recorded a video to date, though I've been playing around and, frankly, building up the courage.  The expectations I have for myself are unreasonably high, and I'm trying to lower them.  My daughter has expressed that a low-key, slow video related to crunching numbers on a page to describe unit prices for D&D equipment could be considered an ASMR triumph.  I'm not sure if she's joking or not.

If you make a video, Maxwell, I'm sure everybody here will want to see it.  Let us know.

Thank you all for your contributions.  I think everyone knows by now that the comments are disabled, but if anyone wishes to ask a question or submit observations like those above, please submit observations and questions to my email,  I've adopted a policy of writing my answer in advance for the commentor's benefit, so that it can be approved before it's printed here.  And so, unlike before, the reader now has the freedom to control both his or her comments and mine also.  This makes for a friendlier, less stressful environment in which one can engage here.

Feel free to address material on the authentic wiki, my books or any subject related to dungeons & dragons.  I encourage you to initiate subject material of your own, and to address your comment to others writing in this space.