Thursday, February 29, 2024

Books, End of February

Three months have passed since my publishing this post, during which time I've continued my reading plan.  I've completed just 10 books in that time, far short of November's tally, especially in that two of the books were quite short.  I'm continuing through a longer novel at present, the title of which I won't mention until writing the next of these posts come the end of May.

It's not my intent to strut or puff myself up.  Anyone can listen to the audio version of a book; it's just a question of time spent.  I produce this list just to show what may have been on my mind of late, what things have been influencing my thinking and what I've learned about myself.

For example there are three books I have on this list that were, as regards the writing, bad.  For two of these, I expected that ... in fact, I intentionally read one book specifically because I knew the writing would be bad.  I've been investigating a theory; but first, let's have the list out.  Title, author, last time I read it.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens — 2010

Flying Colours, C.S. Forester — 2022 (I like this book)

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald — never

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein — 2002

The House on the Cliff, Franklin W. Dixon — 1973

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne — never

Split Infinity, Piers Anthony — 1995

Time Enough for Love, Robert Heinlein — 2008

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson — 2010

War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells — 2005

Some of these dates are guesses, based sometimes on having read the book when at a particular residence, or place of work, and sometimes because I read it aloud to someone else, as in the case of the Hobbit.  The Dixon book was in the drawer of my school desk when I was nine and was lost in the fire of my elementary school that I discussed on this blog some months ago.  Yes, it is a Hardy Boys book.

Which books were bad?  Well, Dixon's book, obviously.  I read a great many Hardy Boys' books when my age had single digits, not unlike many children of that time.  From the perspective that I have now, the book wasn't only juvenile and contrived, as one might expect, but painfully constructed in its sentence structure, the repetitive pattern it had of delivering exposition, it's going to the same well over and over again when building a dialogue between Frank and Joe — whom I'd always thought were equal characters, but no.  Joe's role is to set up Frank's exposition, and as a result the character is the worst kind of cardboard.

None of which should surprise anyone.  The books were made for children and Dixon may have been restrained by gawd knows what group of busy-bodies telling him how to write.  The larger point here is that for someone who eventually became a writer, it's clear these books were the worst guide I could ask for.  Worse, I could see dozens of bad habits that I used to have, and some I still have, grossly evident in the book.  Much of the pain I experienced dragging myself through the four-and-a-half hour audio came from identifying certain moments of myself in the writing.  A self-stabbing with a real knife could not have hurt more.

The impetus for taking up Dixon came from an earlier book on the above list, but I'll put that aside for the moment.  For the record, it wasn't The Great Gatsby or The Scarlet Letter.  Before getting into that, however, I want to talk about Split Infinity, which I read specifically to see what sort of repeat of experience I'd get after the Hardy Boys.

I adored Anthony in my teens, tearing through the books like A Spell for Chameleon and On a Pale Horse, but the bloom had begun to rub away by the mid-90s, by which time I was writing professionally.  Too often I found myself wondering at Anthony's choice of phrasing or the clumsy direction of his plot work ... but all in all, back then, I hadn't felt it was so awful.  Rather, I merely considered that I'd grown up, moved on, was harder to please and so on.

But I remembered that reaction those many years ago and wondered what I'd feel about Anthony now.

Oh my gawd.

I can't say for sure if it applies to other works, but for the book I read, Anthony has this execrable habit of stepping out of the story every few pages and giving the fucking definition for some word he's just used, or being sure to explain that yes, humans do/are this thing he's just claimed.  Fuck.  It is really head-pounding stuff.  More than once I found myself saying aloud, "Oh, for the love of Christ, shuuuuut up!"  It was all I could do to muscle my way through the book, which is exactly what it felt like.  I wouldn't say it was as bad as Robin Hood, but if I was given the choice of which one I had to read again ... I'd probably have to pick Robin just because, at least, there's an excuse for it's 1880s content being bad.  Editors existed at the time that Anthony wrote this!

I have to assume that it also had deleterious effects on me in my early efforts to be a writer, as I did like the book quite a lot when I was 16, as I bought it the year it was published.  It distresses me when I remember having read the book half a dozen times in my late teens and early twenties.  I have no idea what was wrong with me.  I'm glad it's not wrong with me now.

All right.  The Hobbit.


I know, I know, this is a D&D blog, and we're talking about a holy book and all.  This could lose me some patreon support.  All I can say is that I have other ... good qualities.

No, I didn't like the book.  Not, I'm thankful to say, because of the sentence or paragraph structure.  And I think that as a children's book, it more or less holds up.  I read it aloud to my daughter when she was 8, and to Tamara who had never read the book in 2002; and while the later reading didn't exactly impress me, it was all right.  I had no real complaints.

But reading it in December, right after A Christmas Carol, it really suffered.  The characters are pretty stale, and not just because the book's been part of my memory since around 1978.  I read it the first time after seeing the Rankin/Bass cartoon; my father had bought a copy in the early 70s when Tolkien's star was rising, so it had always been around.  But reading it now, there's not much to the characters.  The multiple dwarves don't have a presence except in the fact of their number, while on paper Gandalf is kind of a dick.  Things just "happen" to Bilbo that get him into trouble, and then they just "happen" again that gets him out of it.  I can see how various film-makers have tried to give Bilbo a sense of genius (the riddling part is the best in the whole book), but honestly this genius is made of the same cloth they use to make plot armour and magic character survival dust.  Smaug, on the face of it, is there, and then not.  Maybe it was an audiobook effect (its just a 6-hour book in voice), but I found many bits and pieces of the book that I'd once thought were "cool" coming out as very definitely meh.

For those who worship the book, I imagine that comes from having not read much else ... except along the same lines.  It's easy to see how Dicken's work maintains it's 181-year tradition, though as a book it's only 2 hours and 43 minutes.  Nonetheless, it's a rich, powerful read, with every line evoking life and visual cues.  The Hobbit, in comparison, feels like a book trying to squeeze juice out of a lemon that's been drying on the counter three days.  There's juice there, to be sure ... but not a whole lot of it.

I plan to write a short take on The Scarlet Letter, but not about the writing quality.  My thoughts on The Great Gatsby can be stated briefly enough.  It's a book that I knew virtually everything about going in, though I've never actually read it.  I've discussed the book with some as though I had, but heck, I can be honest with you folks.  At, least, today.  None of you like me now anyway because of the hobbit thing.

We should not be giving Gatsby to grade school students, certainly no one younger than 17.  It wasn't part of the curriculum when I was in junior high, but it was for my daughter — and that is way, way too young an age.  The themes are best understood by those who have had a little of Nick Caraway's experience — which takes until a person has reached their mid-20s.  It does well to teach it in university, because there's a good chance the student will read it again in their 30s; but giving it to kids in grade school, it pretty much assures that the book, and anything else like it, will be hated for the rest of their lives.

I think it does an excellent job of exposing the "self-taught" model, which is alive and well everywhere on youtube.  This notion that by absorbing great books, or travelling, or doing anything that would supposedly give insight through only the effort of experience is what makes Gatsby the utter worm that he is.  Not a monster; not a bad man; not a cad or a bounder, as he's often represented, especially in film ... but a pathetic fool woefully out of his depth, pretending to be witty and able.  All through the book, he's neither.  Which I think, for most people, and especially young readers, a difficult truth to accept, even when Fitzgerald states it as plainly as English allows.  People want to believe in Gatsby; they want to see tragedy in Gatsby, because they want to see that same tragedy in themselves.  I think Fitzgerald expected this; I think the book plans much of its ending around that.  But Gatsby is only a fool.  A fool that stumbled into money and didn't know what to do with it.  Oh, how often is that play played out by those who play online.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024


On most social media sites, which includes anything which can be jointly read by a widescale number of people, "likes" serve as a form of validation.  Posts and content with a higher number of likes are given more visibility, because algorithms, for all their evils, prioritise content that receives approbation.  More likes push content to the top of feeds and suggests its importance to other.  The more likes a post receives, the more likely it's going to be seen by a large audience.

Further, likes are evidence that a reader has actually engaged with content.  Liking a post requires minimal effort, yet it shows support, agreement, or simply to acknowledge that the content has been seen.

For content creators, like myself, likes serve as a feedback mechanism.  It acts as an encouragement for more product.   For a creator, the opinions of the reader are of great importance.  So please, in addition to giving your support in so many other ways, please consider taking a moment when you see something I've posted on Patreon and press the like button.  It may seem unimportant, but every metric matters.  Every vote counts.  In the long run, it could make a very big difference in the number of people I'm someday able to reach.

Monday, February 26, 2024


"Civilisation means something more than energy and will, and creative power.  Something the early Norsemen hadn't got — but which, even in their time, was beginning to appear in Western Europe.  How can I define it?  Very shortly, a sense of permanence.  The wanderers and the invaders were in a continual state of flux.  They didn't feel the need to look forward beyond the next march, or the next voyage, or the next battle.  And for that reason, it didn't occur to them to build stone houses, nor to write books."
Kenneth Clark, Civilisation

As I consider virtually everything about D&D, I find myself consistently thinking differently.  I'm not in the least interested about the "excitement" of adventure.  There's no skip in my heartbeat when I read about a new monster or spell, or character class, or upcoming splatbook.  I should think that with all the boredom these things evoke, my jaded self should have shuffled off the RPG coils of lost vaults, shrines and dragons long, long ago.

The rank and file seems concerned with what has been done; or more to the point, what they've experienced, or played, or read, all in the past tense.  There are a few living in the present, like JB, who fill me with interest ... but so much is given to the "lore" that was discussed in the last post.  Gawd, what a pretentious, self-righteous label that is, for something that's just a lot of half-assed writing shoved between advertisements for miniatures and game cons.  Somehow, I don't remember the advertising in my copies of The Iliad, The Faerie Queen or Dante's Inferno.  I must own expurgated versions.

That, or I have a higher standard for what I consider "lore" in the zeitgeist of human experience.

But that's me, absolutely not in the bag for the RPG community.  As Clark notes above, significance in a civilised condition is that which is considered as a whole over time.  It's not what we do today, or even the immediate goals for this Thursday.  It's in those things we contribute with the future in mind, with the encouragement of resilience in the face of adversity that it offers.  What's not wanted is a small, static society that never looks outward from its borders.  What we have done is never enough, especially if what we've done can only be understood by a very small number of people who consider themselves "in the know."  Approached that way, one day some small change in the way the real society functions will come about, and all that we celebrate and praise will be swept away like old food into a garbage bucket.  As Clark says,

"Such societies become petrified, anxious only to hold onto their own social order.  The great, indeed the unique merit of European civilisation has been that it has never ceased to develop."

These words, spoken in 1969, are anathema to millions of people who have decided everything about old European civilisation needs to be torn down one brick at a time.  All right, have at it.  I'm not here to defend it.  Resilience, yes?  A culture that managed to survive a thousand years, the Mongols, the Black Death, Holy Wars, Napoleon, two world wars and a holocaust can take care of itself when faced with the perils of social media.  I'm only interested in discussing the stultification of a great idea by reworking it's past incarnations over and over and over, in part through the glorification of same using ridiculous cool-sounding jargon.

I have created nothing of resilience, so far as I know, which is not to downplay the remarkable resilience of my supporters thus far.  But this is the goal towards which I move, ever so painfully and uncertainly.  Still, I prefer to live in the future ... not because it's an escape from the present, but because it gives weight and import to the present.  It causes me to think every hour of the present contains some duty I ought to be fulfilling.  I should think that after 40+ years of working on D&D that I should be tired, I should be ready to rest and stop troubling myself with such efforts — but strangely, the effort seems more imperative now than ever.  I feel less tired about D&D than ever.  Once upon a time, drawing things and writing out game rules in isolation, I may have felt it was all for naught.  I am far from that place now, when there are plainly listeners waiting for me to write.

It would be folly, however, not to recognise from time to time that I am different.  Oddly so.  I suppose there's something wrong with me ... though it's obviously not Aspergers or Autism, which I've been accused of having by people who have done the diligent research of watching the film Rainman.  Not an accurate depiction, by the way.  In any case, had I either of those syndromes, I could not now be writing this post, which certainly recognises social conventions, defies repetition and expresses a tremendous range of interests.

No, it must be something else.  Oh, I have it.  I prefer to be a better DM.

Saturday, February 24, 2024


Me.  for RPGs, define "lore."

Chat. In RPGs (Role-Playing Games), "lore" refers to the backstory, history, mythology, and overall world-building elements that provide context and depth to the game's setting. It encompasses everything from the creation myth of the world to the detailed histories of different regions, cultures, and characters within it. Lore often includes information about significant events, legendary figures, mystical artifacts, fantastical creatures, and any other elements that contribute to the rich tapestry of the game world. Players often engage with lore through in-game texts, dialogue, quests, and supplementary materials provided by the game developers, such as novels, comics, or online wikis. Lore adds immersion and context to the RPG experience, helping to create a believable and engaging fictional universe for players to explore and interact with.

Me.  If it defines "everything" to do with worldbuilding and RPGs, what's the value in using a different word for that?

Chat. You make a valid point. While "lore" does encompass a wide range of elements related to world-building in RPGs, using a specific term like "lore" can help to focus discussions or communications on this particular aspect. It's a shorthand way to refer to the collective history, myths, cultures, and other background details of a game world.

Additionally, using the term "lore" can convey a sense of tradition and depth, especially in the context of RPGs where immersion in the game world is crucial. It emphasizes the importance of storytelling and world-building in these games, distinguishing them from other genres where such elements might not be as prominent.

Ultimately, while "lore" does cover a broad spectrum of world-building aspects, it serves a purpose in RPG discourse by highlighting the significance of these narrative and contextual elements within the gaming community.

Me.  So, it's essentially a word intended to invoke a feeling, rather than actually defining anything to do with game design.

Chat.  In a sense, yes. The term "lore" does carry connotations of depth, tradition, and immersion within the gaming community, particularly in the context of RPGs. It's a word that encapsulates the rich backstory, mythology, and world-building elements that contribute to the overall experience of playing an RPG.

While "lore" doesn't have a strict, technical definition within game design, its usage has become ingrained in RPG culture to signify the narrative and contextual aspects that enhance gameplay. So, while it may not define specific game design mechanics, it does evoke a sense of the storytelling and immersive world-building that are integral to RPG experiences.

Me.  If it doesn't have a strict, technical definition, then it's pretty must useless for telling anyone how to design a game world in a functional, structured sense, yes?

Chat.  That's correct. While the term "lore" is useful for discussing and appreciating the narrative and world-building aspects of RPGs, it doesn't provide a structured framework or guidelines for designing a game world in a functional sense. When it comes to designing game worlds, developers typically rely on more concrete principles of world-building, such as establishing consistent rules, creating engaging environments, designing compelling characters and cultures, and crafting meaningful narratives.

While "lore" can inspire and inform aspects of game design, it's just one component of a larger process that involves careful planning, iteration, and consideration of various gameplay elements. Developers may draw upon established lore to enrich their game worlds, but they also need to ensure that the lore aligns with gameplay mechanics, player experiences, and overall design goals.

In summary, while "lore" is valuable for fostering immersion and storytelling in RPGs, it's not a substitute for the structured approach required in game design.

Me.   How is it useful? You just said it doesn't have a strict definition, it isn't technical and it's existence is primarily to evoke a feeling. None of this is utilitarian in nature, and therefore utterly useless for telling a dungeon master how to make, prepare or run a game world or an adventure.

Chat.  Apologies for any confusion. Let me clarify the utility of "lore" in RPGs:
  • Inspiration and Creativity: Lore can serve as a wellspring of inspiration for game masters (GMs) or dungeon masters (DMs) when crafting their own game worlds or adventures. Even though it doesn't have strict definitions, the existing lore in published settings or games can spark ideas for new stories, characters, or locations.
  • Establishing Atmosphere: Lore contributes to the atmosphere and tone of a game world. By immersing players in rich histories, myths, and cultures, it helps to create a more engaging and believable setting. DMs can use established lore or create their own to set the mood for their games.
  • Player Engagement: Well-developed lore can captivate players and encourage them to explore the game world more deeply. Players may be drawn to uncovering the mysteries of ancient civilizations, discovering forgotten lore, or interacting with characters rooted in the game's backstory.
  • Consistency and Continuity: While lore may not have strict definitions, it provides a framework for maintaining consistency and continuity within a game world. DMs can use established lore to ensure that their stories, characters, and events align with the established background of the setting.
  • Community Building: Shared lore can foster a sense of community among players and GMs who are familiar with the same game worlds or settings. It provides a common ground for discussion, speculation, and collaboration, enriching the overall gaming experience.
While "lore" may not offer precise guidelines for game design or adventure preparation, its utility lies in its ability to inspire creativity, establish atmosphere, engage players, maintain consistency, and build community within the RPG hobby. It serves as a tool for storytelling and world-building, enhancing the immersive experience of playing or running RPGs.

Me. Define utility.

Chat.  Utility, in the context of this conversation, refers to the usefulness or practical value of something. It's about how something serves a purpose or fulfills a need. In the case of "lore" in RPGs, its utility lies in its ability to inspire creativity, establish atmosphere, engage players, maintain consistency, and build community within the RPG hobby, as I mentioned in the previous response. So, utility essentially refers to the practical benefits or advantages that something provides.

Me.   Something that's "practical" is concerned with the actual doing or use of something rather than theory or ideas. In "theory," lore creates community building, consistency and continuity, player engagement, establishing atmosphere and inspiration and creativity, but you can't prove that it does so. You're just expressing a belief. That is not practical, and it's not utilitarian. It suggests that the whole concept of "lore" is an invented form of propaganda by RPG publishers in order to make participants feel better, while in fact not helping them DO anything.

Chat.  I understand your perspective, and I apologize if my previous responses didn't sufficiently address your concerns. Let's approach this from a different angle.

While it's true that the direct, tangible effects of lore in RPGs may not be easily quantifiable or provable in the same way as, for example, the rules of a game system, it's important to recognize that utility can also encompass less tangible benefits.

In the realm of RPGs, the practical use of lore lies in its ability to enhance the overall gaming experience for participants. While it may not offer step-by-step instructions or concrete tools for game preparation or world-building, it contributes to the enjoyment and immersion of players and game masters alike. Here's how:
  • Engagement and Immersion: Lore provides players with a rich tapestry of history, mythology, and culture to explore, which can deepen their immersion in the game world and enhance their enjoyment of the experience.
  • Inspiration and Creativity: Lore serves as a wellspring of inspiration for game masters, sparking ideas for new stories, characters, and plotlines that enrich the game world and keep players engaged.
  • Atmosphere and Setting: By establishing the background and tone of the game world, lore helps to create a vivid and immersive atmosphere that draws players into the story and enhances their enjoyment of the game.
  • Consistency and Continuity: While not strictly enforceable, established lore provides a framework for maintaining consistency and continuity within the game world, helping to ensure that the stories, characters, and events remain coherent and believable over time.
  • Community and Shared Experience: Shared lore fosters a sense of community among players and game masters who are familiar with the same game worlds or settings, providing a common ground for discussion, speculation, and collaboration.
While these benefits may not be as immediately measurable or tangible as those provided by more concrete game elements, they nevertheless contribute to the overall enjoyment and satisfaction of participants in RPGs. So, while the utility of lore may not be as readily apparent as that of other game elements, it nonetheless plays a valuable role in enriching the RPG experience for all involved.

Me.  I'm not speaking of things that are either measureable nor tangible, but practical and useful, as per your own definition.  Once again, you've only offered "ideas," not "practical" things of use.  Engagement, immersion, inspiration, et al, are subjective concepts.  I'm asking what objective use lore has in defining what a I ought to do when sitting down and starting to define my game world.  I can't just "write lore."  That's a totally useless prescription.  I can't "create atmosphere."  Without knowing what atmosphere is, or what I want, I have no way of knowing what to create.  Moreover, because it's subjective, the "atmosphere" of my world may in the end be totally different from any other, because I'm different, my players are different, and our goals are probably different as well.  So in essence, you're just spouting a lot of desired qualities for a world, but nothing in the way of actually making the world.

Chat.  I understand your frustration, and I appreciate your patience in clarifying your concerns. Let's delve deeper into the practical utility of lore in the context of creating a game world for RPGs.

When it comes to defining your game world, "lore" can serve as a foundational tool to guide your creative process. Here's how:
  • Establishing Context: Lore provides context for your game world by defining its history, cultures, geography, and other key elements. This context serves as a framework for your world-building efforts, giving you a starting point from which to expand and develop your setting.
  • Creating Consistency: By establishing a coherent backstory and mythology, lore helps you maintain consistency within your game world. This consistency is essential for creating a believable and immersive setting that resonates with your players.
  • Generating Ideas: Lore can inspire ideas for characters, plotlines, conflicts, and other elements of your game world. Drawing upon established lore or creating your own can spark creativity and help you generate interesting and engaging content for your RPG.
  • Setting Tone and Atmosphere: Lore influences the tone and atmosphere of your game world by shaping its history, cultures, and mythology. Whether you're aiming for a gritty, realistic setting or a whimsical, fantastical one, the lore you create will help set the desired mood for your game.
  • Enriching Player Experience: Well-developed lore enhances the player experience by providing depth, richness, and texture to your game world. Players are more likely to become invested in your game if they feel immersed in a richly detailed setting with a compelling backstory and mythology.
While lore alone may not provide a step-by-step guide for creating your game world, it serves as a valuable tool to inform and guide your creative process. By establishing context, creating consistency, generating ideas, setting tone and atmosphere, and enriching player experience, lore plays a crucial role in shaping the world of your RPG and making it come alive for your players.

Me.  Am I to wave a magic wand to create context?

Chat. Of course not. Creating context for your game world involves a deliberate and structured process. Here are some practical steps you can take to establish context using lore:
  • Identify Key Themes and Concepts: Determine the central themes and concepts you want to explore in your game world. This could include elements like magic, politics, war, exploration, or morality.
  • Develop a Backstory: Create a backstory for your game world that explains its history, origins, and major events. Consider factors such as the creation myth, ancient civilizations, cataclysmic events, and key historical figures.
  • Define Cultures and Societies: Flesh out the cultures, societies, and factions that inhabit your game world. Consider factors like government, religion, economy, social structure, and cultural practices.
  • Map Out Geography: Develop a map of your game world that outlines its geography, including continents, regions, cities, landmarks, and natural features. Consider how geography influences climate, resources, and travel routes.
  • Create Legends and Myths: Craft legends, myths, and folklore that add depth and mystery to your game world. These stories can provide insight into the beliefs, values, and fears of the inhabitants of your world.
  • Establish Relationships: Determine the relationships between different elements of your game world, such as nations, factions, religions, and species. Consider factors like alliances, rivalries, trade routes, and conflicts.
  • Iterate and Refine: Continuously iterate and refine your lore based on feedback from players, playtesting, and your own creative insights. Be open to making changes and adjustments as needed to ensure that your game world feels cohesive and immersive.

By following these steps and engaging in a systematic approach to world-building, you can create a rich and immersive context for your game world that enhances the overall experience for your players. While it may require time, effort, and creativity, the end result will be a vibrant and compelling setting that captivates the imagination and draws players into your RPG adventure.

Me.  Okay.  I use lore to identify a key theme, as per your instruction.  Tell me the first practical "step" that I need to do.  Don't give me an instruction about a goal I'm trying to obtain at some unknown point.  Explain a step I can take according to this instruction.  For example, "to turn on light, flip switch."  Give me that sort of step.

Chat.  Got it. Let's break it down into a concrete step-by-step process:

Step 1: Identify Key Theme Instruction: Use lore to identify a key theme.
  • Concrete Step:  Review Existing Lore: Examine the lore of your chosen RPG setting or any source material you're drawing from. Look for recurring motifs, symbols, or themes that resonate with you or that you find particularly compelling.
  • Brainstorm Themes: Based on your review of the lore, brainstorm potential themes that align with the world's backstory, cultures, and events. Consider concepts like power struggles, redemption, survival, exploration, or the clash of civilizations.
  • Select Key Theme: Narrow down your list of potential themes to one or two that you feel most strongly about or that you think will resonate best with your players. Choose themes that offer rich storytelling opportunities and that you're excited to explore further in your game world.
  • Define Theme: Clearly define the chosen theme in a sentence or two. For example, if your theme is "power struggles," you might define it as "the constant battle for control and dominance among competing factions in a world torn by conflict."
  • Reflect on Implications: Consider how the chosen theme will influence various aspects of your game world, including its history, cultures, characters, and plotlines. Reflect on how the theme will shape the tone, atmosphere, and overall direction of your RPG adventure.
By following these concrete steps, you can effectively use lore to identify a key theme for your game world and lay the groundwork for further world-building and storytelling.

Me.  Oh, I see!  I need to build my game world on existing game worlds based by other people.  I need to look at their written material (the word "lore" is a buzz-word for "stuff written by others") and decide which things I like and which I don't, selecting the "theme" I like, write a sentence or two about it, then reflect on that theme.  You do realise this requires that (a) I want to use other people's ideas; (b) I know what a theme is; (c) I know how to define a theme; and (d) I already have "aspects" of my game world to fit this into, which I don't, because I haven't created anything.  Your "first step" assumes that I've already done a heap of work first.  What if I haven't done that work?  What if I've never played or run the game before?  What if everything that's been written by other people is not what I want, because I want to create an original world.  If that's the case, then all the "lore" written by others is pretty damn useless, isn't it?

Chat.  You raise valid points, and I appreciate your feedback. Let's address each of your concerns:
  • Using Existing Game Worlds: While using existing lore can be a helpful starting point, it's not the only approach to world-building in RPGs. Many game masters prefer to create entirely original worlds from scratch, drawing inspiration from various sources including history, mythology, literature, and their own imagination.
  • Understanding Themes: If you're unfamiliar with the concept of themes or unsure how to define them, it's important to take the time to learn about them. Themes are underlying ideas or concepts that recur throughout a narrative, and they can provide coherence and depth to your game world. Resources such as writing guides, online tutorials, or discussions with experienced game masters can help you develop a better understanding of themes and how to use them effectively.
  • Starting from Scratch: If you're starting with a blank slate and haven't yet created any aspects of your game world, it's perfectly fine to begin by brainstorming ideas and concepts that interest you. You can explore different themes, settings, cultures, and plotlines without being constrained by existing lore or preconceived notions.
  • Creating an Original World: If you're committed to creating an original world, you have the freedom to build it according to your own vision and preferences. While existing lore can provide inspiration or serve as a point of reference, you're not obligated to use it if it doesn't align with your creative goals.
Given your concerns, here's a revised first step that doesn't rely on existing lore:
  • Revised Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas
  • Brainstorm Themes: Spend some time brainstorming potential themes, settings, cultures, and plotlines for your game world. Consider what interests you, what kind of stories you want to tell, and what themes you want to explore.
  • Research and Inspiration: Draw inspiration from a variety of sources, including history, mythology, literature, art, and personal experiences. Explore different genres and styles to find elements that resonate with you and that you want to incorporate into your game world.
Define Your Vision: Clearly define your creative vision for your game world. Think about the tone, atmosphere, and overall direction you want to take with your RPG adventure, and begin sketching out the broad strokes of your world-building efforts.

By starting with a brainstorming session and drawing inspiration from various sources, you can begin to shape your original game world according to your own vision and creative preferences.

Me.  Let's revise your definition of "lore." It doesn't mean "the backstory, history, mythology, and overall world-building elements that provide context and depth to the game's setting." It means, stuff other people have written in relation to existing RPG content.

Chat. Thank you for the clarification. Let's revise the definition of "lore" to better reflect its commonly understood meaning in the context of RPGs:

"Lore refers to the body of knowledge, stories, and information created by authors, game developers, and community members within the context of an established RPG setting. It encompasses the backstory, history, mythology, and world-building elements specific to a particular game or fictional universe, as documented in official publications, supplementary materials, and community-generated content."

This definition highlights that lore is indeed tied to existing RPG content and encompasses the collective knowledge and creative contributions of individuals involved in the RPG community.

Me.  Which may or may not be useful in worldbuilding.

Chat.  Exactly. While lore can be a valuable resource for world-building, it's not the only approach, and its usefulness depends on various factors such as personal preferences, creative goals, and the specific needs of the game being developed. Some game masters may find existing lore helpful as a starting point or source of inspiration, while others may prefer to create entirely original worlds from scratch. Ultimately, the utility of lore in world-building is subjective and contingent upon the individual circumstances of each game designer or storyteller.


I'm tempted to write a number of these. 

Saturday Q&A (feb 24)

There's no Q&A today.  These dearths are simply unavoidable.  I don't wish to cut readers off entirely from making comments, while at the same time I simply don't have enough readers willing to comment to keep this post active every week.  So here we are.  I can endure the humiliation.


If readers wish to ask a question or submit observations upon any content of mine, including things seen on the Authentic Wiki or Patreon, please don't hesitate.  Please submit  to my email,  If you could be so kind, please give the region where you're located: state, province, department, county, whatever.  Feel also free to address my books or any subject related to dungeons & dragons. 

Friday, February 23, 2024

Assigned Encounters

Suppose that instead of proposing a "random" encounter system, we made instead an "assigned" encounter system ... and that this assignment would occur according to established precepts that went some way towards a wide elaboration of situations and adventures.  Suppose further that we start with some known attribute of a given hex, so that the encounters could be assigned in a "hex crawl" format.

What might those attributes be?  The most obvious, that used historically by D&D, is "terrain type," which breaks the map down into mountains, hills, plains, coasts and so on.  I don't suggest this; it's covering old ground that I began experimenting with in my early days of D&D, more than 40 years ago.  I've not seen any effective distribution of the sort I've proposed in all of this time, by anyone, that fundamentally improves upon familiar 1970s design.

But what else?  We're left, unfortunately, with time of day, weather conditions, unexpected events produced by the die, the presence of landmarks, caves, ruins, magical sites and what not.  These are interesting sign posts, but in themselves they don't suggest a framework that in turn suggest actual situations or adventures — except of the sort long descended to cliche.  What we want is a new, rich and promising proposal, that would appear to build upon itself if only the right sort of thinking could be suggested.

Suppose, therefore, that we create an area map of a sort, with hexes, offering some degree of specificity, not nearly that of a halled dungeon but nevertheless tactile in scope.  Suppose then that we establish some selective framework for these hexes, based upon, say, the presence of a certain kind of habitation, or degree of being civilised, which would include knowledge of each hex's wealth, available food and existing facilities.  Such a structure might suggest a sort of "logic" for where situations ought to exist ... and more to the point, what kind of situations ought to exist.  And if the initial distribution of hex "types" and contents was already built upon a somewhat random generation, the situations wouldn't need to be also generated.  We might, instead, create a list of situations that would feasibly or rationally occur in certain kinds of hexes ... and then, as a matter of course, assign the situation that felt best in a given moment while the game was going on.  Or, overall, assign situations over scores of hexes ahead of time, with the idea that the situations complimented one another in a grand scheme.

Okay, stick a pin in that.

Let's review, first, what sort of things would specify hexes.  To begin with, stark topographical features: mountains, hills, untapped forests, karst, dry plains or deserts that deny farming, rivers, lakes and coasts.  Next, access, from stone roads to cobblestone, dirt, cart tracks, cart paths and foot paths.  Habitations, from thorps through hamlets, villages, with different sorts of towns and cities.  All this needs to make better suggestions for us than "put a ruin where the hills are," as there are potentially hundreds of hexes with "hills" — and a "ruin" has to be more than a place on a hill.  For a ruin to exist, it must have at some point been a place that people wanted to build, who had a use for that thing, and then a reason to abandon it.  So some sort of historical, cultural, sociological and economic framework has to also exist, which is strong enough to give definite concreteness to any ruin we want to conjure into being.  Not because there aren't ruins on hills, but because we want a good reason why a ruin should be on this hill and not that one.

Further, we should define what ruins are, as there are ruined temples and settlements that occur because of war, disaster, plague, famine, social unrest, persecution and, in D&D, the wrath of other beings.  While D&D is usually taken to having simplistic premises for why things exist, what I'm proposing is a framework dense enough to give even seasoned players a nuanced, novel, enticing situation, while enabling ourselves to enjoy a structure that makes the invention of those situations within our grasp — particularly, in diminishing the skull sweat normally involved.  I propose that by adopting a new way of thinking, we might see what situations suggest themselves automatically.

It's a dead-end, at least as my thinking goes, but consider the following ecological elements that a small frame game topography suggests.  Micro-habitats, for example, allowing a mix of single hexes that variously contain wetlands, rocky outcroppings, a single mountain, even a very small desert.  We might establish the presence of keystone creatures whose presence greatly defines a small hex group — thus making dozens of naturalised non-political "provinces," some of which monsters control and some of which civilisation controls.  We could define migration routes, the non-civilisation modification of habitats and areas of ecosystem death, which parties would encounter as they crawled from hex to hex.

For myself, this is no better than putting a ruin on a hill.  We've given no logic to why a particular hex should contain a particular keystone being.  We're still just making a list of things that might exist; we're not making a list that suggests what things should exist.

Suppose, then, we change the standard precept.  Instead of thinking what sort of creatures exist where, suppose instead we think of what sort of motivations might exist universally among all creatures — at least, in a generalised manner.  Obviously a lich has very different motivations from a gelatinous cube ... but we can at least accept that both have a motivation, which is turn is shared by other creatures capable of the same general nature.

Thinking along those lines, we might propose creatures seeking to enhance their own survival, defending their territory, increasing their territory, increasing their number, prioritising cooperation or investigation, exploring, securing resources, producing beauty and so on.  This list bears little value as it is, however, as the examples are far too expansive.  We want a framework of ongoing motivations that would potentially involve small enough groups that the party could encounter, and be affected by.  

I'd suggest, off the top of my head, eight basic motivations encountered in D&D on a normal, predictable basis: convert, recruit, reform, trade, raid, forage, fortify and build.

Convert would seek to change minds, promote a cause, propagate beliefs, spread religions, build coalitions among residents, encourage good will, defend the faith, encourage growth of the people and their institutions.

Recruit would be less about changing minds and more about changing professions — thus, offer incentives or rewards to increase the army, increase the number of artisans, replenish population, organise for war, encourage immigration.

Reform imposes order on chaos, providing food, improving health, rooting out criminals, adjusting taxes, changing existing governments, pursuing heresy, purging the unwanted, enacting new laws.

Trade improves relations with other lands, encourages peace, brings in money, provides work, introduces foreigners, increases the supply of goods and gives opportunities, affecting the rebuilding of roads and other facilities.

Raid seeks immediate gratification at the detriment of others, makes parts unsafe, disrupts supplies and trade, threatens life, moves a region towards war.

Forage seeks new food sources, encourages exploration, opens new land, drives speculative investments, gives opportunity for adventuring, social mobility and status, eventually drives emigration from more populated areas.

Fortify strengthens existing power structures, moves a region towards the defensive, unifies villages and towns upon great projects, encourages distrust of outsiders, strengthens communities while isolating them from each other.

Build is separate from fortify, as the direction is towards scholarly and cultural pursuits, in the expansion of learning, literacy, artistry, philosophy and a general "renaissance" of thought and purpose; but on the whole, also the general improvement of everything, from sewage systems and the bringing of fresh water to the expansion of commercial facilities and recreation.

These are by no means comprehensive of all the motivations that might exist.  I'm just proposing eight to start.  Additionally, some of these have very large sub-motivations that could be a group all their own.  Others might be expand, dominate, exterminate, escape, rebel, enslave, rob, terrorise or sabotage.  With all the implications those might suggest, beyond their more obvious definitions.

We can later adapt ourselves to be more precise, but for now it's best that we generalise these categories.  For example, by keeping a wide definition of "raiding," which we can define as any sudden, swift incursion into an existed structured society with the intent to pillage, plunder or EAT the residents, we can include everything in our supposed "situation' from a scaled army to a horde of rats.

Okay, stick a pin in that and we'll address the earlier pin regarding structure.

From our pre-generated wilderness, let's suppose eight basic hex types:

Wilderness dictates a distinct lack of civilisation by the dominant occupation in that area.  This is to say that to the humans of a kingdom, an "wilderness" means there are no human residents, permanent structures or deliberate forms of infrastructure.  It doesn't mean there are goblins there, with their intact lair and personal facilities ... wilderness just dictates that whatever's there, it isn't part of the trade or culture of the main.  The lack isn't "complete" ... the dominant civilisation may have built a road through the wilderness, established trails, temporary hunting camps and such.  But these are especially maintained, so any road through a wilderness will be at its worse as regards condition.  Moreover, the road won't be patrolled, so we may count on nasties using that route also for their own purposes ... and being perfectly aware that humans and other civilised persons are bound to be coming along semi-regularly.  Naturally, should any character wish to establish themselves in a non-occupied place, choosing a wilderness with a road is a really good idea.

Homesteads are hexes that the main civilization occupies but does not control.  Such places aren't cleared and have a low civilian population.  Some effort has been made to root out any baddies in the area, but resources are scant and there's a constant effort to live and let live with the former occupants.  For the most part, the homesteading peoples are considered threatening.  Not always the case, obviously.  Again, there are no patrols, and parts of the hex may definitely be considered "wilderness" ... though aid and refuge is more generally close at hand.  Homesteading is a risk, but it's also free land, so there's reason for those wanting a better life to try their hand.

Hamlets represent an expansion of homesteading, in which the civilised presence is greater, and apt to fortify their habitations.  Thus, as their number does threaten the former inhabitants, there's greater reason for conflict.  Hamlets even try their hand at forming parties meant to clear out the hex — but it needs to be clearly understood that this is in the process of doing so, and not having succeeded yet.  There are still plenty of monsters hidden in the nooks and crannies of the hex.  Using a hex that's 6.67 in diameter (along the apothem) allows an area of 38.4 square miles, so there are plenty of locations to hole up.

Large hamlets have been (mostly) cleared.  40% of the hex has been settled or features some sort of control, including gamewardens and patrols that have established peace.  The remainder experiences daily incursions in the form of hunters, woodcutters, foragers, herders, herbalists and the like that any serious conflict with former residents is little more than a temporary trouble to be put down.  More likely, it would come from an adjacent hex, rather than that surrounding the large hamlet.  At the same time, within the civilising population, the actual governing entities are weak and forced to manage a population that are but one or two generations removed from homesteading (when no law existed).  This creates conflict within the existing culture, rather than without.

Villages have begun to overcome the governing difficulties of large hamlets, now being 3 or more generations since those far off settlement days.  Very often, a single family has established a hereditary right over the hex, through good actions performed by a fore-ancestor.  However, the comparative presence of wealth that exists through the village's trade, plus problems related to general health and a larger population (some thousands, including main centre and adjoined farmlands) have begun creating problems of theft, drunkedness, incidents of violence and in some cases, blood feuds based on slights that may have occurred a hundred years ago.  On the whole, however, villages are peaceful, productive and managed.

Country towns are villages that have steadily grown but not due to either manufacturing or commerce.  This does mean the arable lands are good enough to allow continued expansion and intensification with irrigation, the creation of food ponds, widespread orchards, market gardening and a more diverse food supply — which, though greater, hasn't led to an increase in exports, and the increase is consumed locally.  For the gentry, life is good.  Institutional thinking and traditions have calcified.  Serfdom and social obligations for most of the population has been fixed, framed and forced.   Nonetheless, sporadic resistance occurs, poverty is endemic, times of famine may be catastrophic and administrative crackdowns on religious heresy or economic improprieties are brutal.

Manufacturing towns are transformed villages that benefit from resources, regular commerce and an industrious, expanded working class.  Mechanical workshops and transport are in constant use, bringing about the presence of a small middle class and the expanded influence of guilds and independent merchants.  Traditions are cast aside for the sake of work, as is religion to a lesser extent, though many locales observe sacred days and religious holidays zealously.  Organised crime is rampant, as is begging, fraud, smuggling and sometimes arson.  An influx of outsiders over time has produced a fragmented, patchwork cultural mosaic, with workers from different parts of the world living in their own neighbourhoods and outlying hamlets or villages.

Commercial towns and cities have everything a manufacturing town has, heaped even higher with a bureaucracy comprising of scribes, bankers, lawyers, royal officials, procurators, provosts and judges.  Factions compete with one another, often working with the criminals in order to gain an edge on competition.  Art, architecture and other cultural improvements, even the creation of gardens and monumental structures, especially temples, may occur as a demonstration of wealth.  All is hustle and bustle.

Not the first time I've listed these stages, but it does well to do it in context.  It should be easy to suppose the existence of these things for those who don't want to generate a map randomly, or according to some established precept.  What matters here is that each is clearly different from the one before, giving us a sense for what sort of situations might occur therein.  This is much better than the traditional concept purported by D&D, where there's a wilderness, a village or a big town or city, with no effort whatsoever to describe any of them.  It's just assumed we know.

Now suppose we dig into our pile of motivations and pick out a simple one: "raiding."  Popular with players, comprehensible, quite adaptable to any of the hexes above.  Let's run through those hexes again and this time assign encounters for each in accordance with this one motivation.

Wilderness.  Most obviously, the players themselves are the raiders, heading into the wilderness to plunder from a dungeon or some other lair.  Nothing new here.  But thinking in terms of raiding, we may suppose that one pre-existing group in a wilderness might be raiding another, a situation the players could walk into, not knowing any better ... a sort of ongoing local war.  Additionally, the players could be "raided" by the unexpected appearance of a swarm of giant rats, ants, zombies, whatever, existing in numbers too large for the players to handle.  This sets up a series of initial battles, followed by the players retreating and (hopefully!) warning the next hex over that there's an invasion of whatever on its way.

Homesteads.  As explained above, raids are fairly common here, with the players potentially joining the local settlers to root out some lair, or the reverse where the farmlands are being attacked by small groups of uncivilised humanoids or pests.  Raids in this environment could go back and forth for some time, with neither side really winning, but always urged to try and do so from self-preservation.  So long as the players are rewarded in some fashion, either by plunder found or the homesteaders embracing the players as people and fellow residents, there are lots of opportunities for what's found in those wilderness parts of the hex.  Naturally, the players could just loot the homesteaders and wipe them out, thus moving on.

Hamlets.  Here the players are benefitted from a palisaded fort when helping defend the inhabitants from a raid.  There are more residents of the hamlet, and it's more organised, so potentially gifts to the players could be greater.  The raid that happened might be launched from the next hex, and thus represent a larger lair, meaning more treasure and prestige.  We might also suppose the characters as ongoing raiders, clearing out lair after lair, each time gaining more appreciation from the hamlet.  Raiding the hamlet itself is more lucrative still, and for higher level parties, but would definitely have repercussions that would lead to pursuit of players, who must afterwards vacate the area.

Large hamlets.  With the absence of monsters to raid, the party may nonetheless be the target of groups wanting what the party has, striking at the party while they're at an inn or on the road leading into the hamlet.  Such things might be organised by local bandits, formerly farmers who are taking advantage of newcomers, who are liable to bring money as they look for places to settle or start a workshop.  They might also be arranged by cultists who have taken refuge in these hexes, as they're safe from most monsters, but haven't much of a constabulary.  Players may also get caught between large original families who are vying to be the dominant voice in this "wild west" sort of environment.  Think the Magnificent Seven, where bandits target a specific village to gather food for themselves each year.

Villages.  Despite the settled aspect, wealth is a growing factor in these sort of hex.  Plus there's the manor estate itself, which is a tempting target for players who can't find good horses or who possess little respect for authority.  Villages are also good targets for large bandit parties, or even friendly army units who must forage for food, or find a place to temporarily bivouak while on their way to somewhere else.  A raid could also occur with forced conscription, as armies must be raised from time to time in moments of need.  More likely and common, though, a "raid" is more likely to be a group of local toughs setting out to taunt or harass outsiders or people they don't like.

Country towns.  These may experience some of what goes on with a village, but the larger population is likely to challenge even a large bandit party, while members of the town might have sufficient pull at court to preclude a random plundering of stores or persons by a passing brigade.  Raids are more likely to consist of persecution of unwanted or heretical inhabitants or the desire to seize a few serfs for temporary forced labour.  Here, it's the constabulary that "raids" the locales on behalf of the manor lord, who often imposes heavy taxes that aren't paid, or has other expectations that aren't met and results in small moments of rebellion that must be controlled.  This can be done methodically, but occasionally a house is turned upside down and arrests made, or a nearby hamlet, still in the same hex, is entered and generally threatened.

Manufacturing towns.  Much of the conflict is factional now, between different guilds or associations competing for raw materials, labour, space, recognition or customers.  Shops not paying their dues are turned over, there's arson, destruction of property, upsetting and sabotage of wagons and storehouses ... and duels between town watch that are paid by two or more entities as private constabulary.  This is not to suggest that this sort of thing goes on all the time, only that should an adventure be sought after, the protection of a lone shop from a larger syndicate, or being met by a group of "officials" whose job it is to steal on behalf of one guild in the manner of privateers on the bonny blue, offers possibilities for combat, treasure, intrigue and moments of courage.

Commercial towns and cities.  Here, any sort of street fighting is possible, from incidents between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, established gangs à la Romeo & Juliet, attempts at usurpation, spontaneous killings of unwanted town council members, widespread blasphemy, street riots over food, whatever ... along with the usual small gang activities and trade disputes described above in manufacturing towns.  Cram a lot of people in a small area and there's opportunity for moments of raiding one's neighbours or members of some deeply disliked ethnic group, religious sect or philosophical society.  Such moments may consist of not more than 7 people, victims included, right there the open street, or the whole neighbourhood might be in an uproar.

Feasibly, we may take any motivation described above, and using a loose definition propose a group of possible situations to be met by players moving through one of the hex types herein described.  The problem has always been one of imagination ... but with a few crutches to lean on, knowing what sort of motive is driving the event and what sort of environment the event is taking place in, we could train ourselves to make good guesses about what sort of things we, and the players, could expect to happen ... and thereby be interested in the outcome, and how they might take advantage of that. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Blue Mud

"It’s worth noting that in medieval-Renaissance times animals were viewed as resources to be utilised for human needs, including food, clothing and labour. The practicalities of survival, as fur clothing was in many parts of the world essential for warmth and protection, superseded modern ethical ideals. Further, religion heavily influenced medieval attitudes towards animals and their treatment, stressing man’s dominion over animals while denying their moral significance. In no way is the use of fur in the present encouraged by the following material; it is here for the sake of interest, comprehension and the adding of material substance to the game world."

 — The Streetvendor's Guide

The things we must write so as to reflect the sentiments of present day attitudes.  There's really no way to keep some persons from feeling that the subject material is morally problematic.  Someone is going to be offended.  This is even dearer with the matter of slavery, and to a certain extent with indentured or prison labour, debtor prisoners and deportees, all of which were daily facts between the 12th and 18th centuries.  A large part of me wants to be honest to history, while another part asks, "Are you out of your bleeding mind?  Leave it alone!"  Chances are, I will.  But I don't like it — in part because its putting our heads in the sand to pretend that if we deny a problem, or refuse to acknowledge it, as if that solves everything.  Yet it's realistic to ask, seriously, if such belongs in a game.  Arguably, no.

I've tried to walk the line as much as possible in the manner of the above, when such things have arisen.  I consider myself an empathic, considerate person, one whose fully able to understand the desire to remake and rework society so that it becomes a more just, freer place to live for every kind of person, regardless of the labels we might attach.  On the other hand, I'm resistant in many cases to the temper and approach that's being taken in the present day to FORCE this behaviour from those who don't want to adhere.  Force isn't going to work; it never does.  In fact, it makes the problem worse; which is why it's so aggravating to have to couch ideas in language that avoids any sentiment of condoning a cruel, abusive thing, because of a tendency towards cruel, abusive language being directed against someone doing that.  It's all hypocrisy and it's not getting us anywhere.

Which leads me back to the finished module of Ternketh.  Much of the description is, um, unpleasant.  Part of the reason why I think my ideas for adventures and modules fails to produce any positive effect is that I insist on being an adult, and dealing with adult themes, according to the source material.  Harpies are not cute little beings who fly and sing a song.  The Greek origin of the creature is clearly awful, and of course ethically problematic because some Greeks were very definitely denegrating what they saw as women's nature and poisonousness in the mythology.  Essentially, "women ruin everything," as no doubt seen through the eyes of males who were themselves just awful.

In general, harpies are viewed with the same lens as, say, furs, because D&D is a fantasy setting where creatures like harpies exist as part of the game's lore and narrative.  They're adversaries for the characters; they behave as they do according to their alignment; therefore the considerations that apply to real-world beings do not necessarily apply to fictional beings.  Which is to say, most people are utterly ignorant with regards to the mythological symbolism invoked by the imaginary existence of harpies, therefore it's fine.  But as people are not ignorant as to the existence of fur-bearing animals, however fictional they might be in this context, they must be assuaged in their lack of ignorance.

It's all kind of stupid.  Inevitably, some group of people will cease to be ignorant about harpies, and what they stand for, and will suddenly and apparently without cause launch an attack against anyone who dares present the fictional creature, because obviously it's insulting and hurtful to ... well, to whomever launches the moral assault.  There's fertile ground here for some group to make a name for themselves, to paint signs and stand outside the WOTC's headquarters, or Paizo, or some video game company, with the result that harpies will be quietly removed from websites and whatever else for the sake of "the good of all."  War won, we can move onto sirens.

I'm not cynical.  I firmly believe that with a generation or two, there's going to be this terrific blossoming that embraces all the hunted down "immoral" ideas of the present, gleefully crushing the aging, helpless proponents of modern day rule-making, so that they raise their hands in the air and shout about the immorality of "children today."  Because force doesn't work.  It just invents a fetish.  And fetishes are extremely powerful, because it's wonderfully fun to SHOCK adults by refusing to acknowledge their ideals.

I always feel like I'm standing outside, looking in at this jazz.  Somewhat humorously.  I don't include the paragraph above because I believe it, but because like all the others rubbing blue mud into their belly buttons, I must do the same — soberly, religiously, because that's how it's done.  But I'd be just as happy to stop having to rub blue mud, as I suspect the majority feels.

Ah, but, c'est la vie.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Ternketh - Basement & End Notes


1. Stairwell. These black stone stairs will lead down into a small room with two doors, one of which will be hopelessly wedged open by plant and molded material generated by the yellow musk creeper in room 2. In all, there are 20 zombies, these having 4 HD because they are so near to the empowered creeper. Though they will occupy the stairs, they will not climb above the doorway, as they exist to protect the creeper itself – the party will have to fight for every inch of ground it wishes to gain, however.

2. Torture Chamber. This room is completely occupied by the yellow musk creeper’s generated growth, but the creature itself is approximately in the center of the room. It is able to ‘see’ through the open doorway at any intruders coming down the stairs.

This creeper has 10 hit dice and can use its prime attack as often as it needs to. Once it can see its opponent appearing at the bottom of the stairs, the creeper can fire a grenade bomb through the doorway that will explode into a small cloud of spores, affecting everyone within a 10-foot area. These spores will burn the skin, both outside the body and from inhalation (causing 1d6 damage) and will reduce a character’s intelligence by 1d4 if save is not made against poison. This is an area affect spell and the creeper does not need to ‘roll to hit’ to fire its bomb.

Characters that have their intelligence reduced to less than three will move towards the creeper and embrace it’s tentacles. Others that come within reach of the creepers tentacles can be attacked from any direction (up to six combatants at a time may attack the creeper, once they have positioned themselves in the torture chamber) for 1d6 damage if a tentacle hits.

The creeper is vulnerable to fire but is damp enough that it will require more than a torch or a brief application of magical fire to set it alight. If it does burn, however, it will release a black, toxic smoke that will act as an acid on the skin, causing 4-40 damage to everyone that is affected (the smoke will bloom outwards at 20 feet per round), half damage if the character saves vs. breath weapon. The toxic smoke will then hang in the room and passages for 2-8 hours, causing an additionall 1d6 damage per round to anyone or anything in its reach.

As the door from the chamber to the stairs outside cannot be closed, the creeper will continue to harass any movement it sees until it is finally killed. This will make it difficult to haul out treasure from 5 if the party attempts to ignore the creature.

3. Basement Passage. This wide passage offers a respite from the other dangers in this part of the Keep. It is surrounded by reinforced doors. The door that leads to 4 is about six inches narrower than the other doors, which should be mentioned. The party should also be told that the hinges of the door to 6 are partially broken and that the door opens outwards and not into the crypt.

The strongest odor will be from the yellow musk creeper and the doors will deny the characters hearing any noise (largely because the creatures in 4 and 6 make too quiet a sound to be heard through a thick door). The characters moving through this passage will be heard, however, if they speak in ordinary voices or do not indicate that they are talking quietly, alerting the giant slug to their presence. If this is the case, no surprise should be rolled for the monster once the crypt door is opened.

4. Treasure Passage. Upon opening the door, the characters will discover that this space completely suffused with green slime. Due to the narrowness of the passage, and the slime coating the floors, walls and ceiling (and able to drip), it will be impossible to move through the passage without being attacked. The slime was never the intent of the makers of these passages, but it has arisen since the first bodies were killed here (its formation would remain a mystery to the party). It extends only as far as the door to 5 and can be destroyed in the usual manner.

There are two pit traps in the hall, which cannot be detected except by means of a thief’s searching for traps. Each is only a ten foot deep pit but the spikes are fitted with additional blades designed to be truly deadly, so that falling into the pit will cause a victim to suffer 4d10 damage. Characters who step onto the pits unaware are entitled to a dexterity check before falling in, but as the floor next to the pit is also designed to tilt, this dexterity check is with a -4 penalty. There are two such traps; they must be identified separately.

The door to the treasure room (see 5, below) is wizard locked, so that it can only be opened with dispel magic, knock or a magician of at least 15th level. As a result, the harpies have never successfully opened this door.

5. Treasure Room. This very large room has plenty of treasure in it. The amount should be equal to what’s necessary for one character newly become 6th level to reach half-way to 7th, times five or six characters. As such, the room should contain about 90,000 g.p. worth in value. About 20,000 of this should be in jewelry worth an average of 1,000 g.p. each; another 10,000 should be present in gems (30-300 in number). I should estimate that about 25,000 g.p. be amassed in non-perishable items, such as highly valuable wine, pieces of art, enamelware, art pottery, gold cups and crystal vases, jade statuettes, ivory idols, medallions, musical instruments, rare books or whatever else of that nature seems appropriate. This would leave some 35,000 g.p. in coins, mostly in gold but with a considerable mass of silver and coppers. It is imagined that the DM is best able to decide what these things are.

I am stingy with magic, so I would likely have three pieces of magical armor and two magical weapons, a +2 suit of leather and a +2 shield, with a suit of +1 chain mail, a +2 spear and a +2 short sword. Another DM might offer more. As there are pieces of magic in the crypt, I would be satisfied with these objects in the treasure room. The only reason for them being here could be that they were more valuable to the original inhabitants of Ternketh as heirlooms and proof of lineage than they were as weapons of war (in which case there is a possibility of their being destroyed). To the players, of course, these are just tools.

6. Crypt. This circular space of eight rooms and a central foyer is most notable for the giant slug. This creature has been strangely altered and transformed by a diet of the occasional yellow musk zombie, harpy filth and licking up whatever green slime is able to emerge out from the treasure passage (see 4, above). These incursions have caused it to break open the door leading into 3, which closes again when the slug retreats to its lair. The slug is huge, double normal density (but not size), so that it has over 100 hit points. It’s mouth has mutated into a larger, more terrifying orifice so that it now does 2-24 damage on a strike. It is able to spit acid up to three times a day, for 4-32 damage (half damage if save against breath weapon is made).

The slug will choose to combat intruders in the narrow passageway between the foyer and the door into 3, where it is able to completely fill the passage but it is difficult to bring any more than two attacks per round against it (one melee and one using missiles or magic). The party may, if they wish, choose to seal the slug into the crypt and leave it there, but by doing this they will miss out on the additional treasure that is contained in the surrounding tombs.

Five of the tombs contain nothing of note except the skeleton of the buried. This includes the impressive circular tomb, which has a roof shaped like a dome, where a nine-foot statue of a naked wrestler stands over the coffin. Only the tombs marked by a number contain anything of value. The one tomb with a entranceway along the first passageway into the crypt’s foyer is the only one that does not contain a skeleton.

Though the harpies did once enter the foyer, they did not disturb any of the bodies; any evidence of their filth was long ago gobbled up by the slug.

I’ve not made up any stories for any of the unimportant dead (as far as treasure is concerned) if the players choose to use a spell to speak with them. If it happens to me, I will simply wing it.

7. Carved Tomb. The walls of this tomb are etched in shallow geometric symbols which seem to bring a strong sense of peace. Upon entering, the room will become alight with a soft blue light, emanating from the jewel that has been emplaced in the staff that lays on top of the sarcophagus in the room.

This is the Staff of Aryabhat, an artifact that acts like the staff of the withering with unlimited charges. It can only be employed by a spellcaster. It will function in combat as a +2 quarterstaff with no negative effects. Before it can be used to wither an opponent (in which it would normally use two or three charges), however, the wielder must be fully investigate the item with identify and must attain the 9th level. Thereafter, the staff can be used to age or wither limbs – but every time a power is used that would use up a charge, the staff will instead permanently reduce the user’s maximum hit points by the same amount. Thus, to wither an opponent’s limb would cause the caster to lose those three hit points, forever. While the caster can gain new hit points from going up a level, those that are lost to the staff cannot be regained by any means whatsoever.

There is no evidence as to who the occupant of the tomb is or how they died.

8. Ornate Tomb. Along with the marble sarcophagus in the room, there are three trunks and several weapons hanging from hooks on the wall. These are a +1 hand axe, a +1 mace, a +1 dagger and a +1 crossbow. No bolts can be found in the tomb. There are a dozen stone busts of various sizes (five in the trunks, seven standing on the floor), each carved in granite, all of the same person, that would be worth an average of about 150 g.p. per bust (though each weighs between 40 and 140 lbs). A name deeply etched into the wall above the tomb reads Baurchuk Idiqut of the Uyghur.

9. Couples Tomb. This is a stone tomb with a hammered bronze leaf, representing perhaps 40 lbs. of the metal. If the lid is removed (it weighs four hundred pounds), it will be evident that the corpses inside were buried alive. What’s more, after being buried, they killed each other – apparently over a huge ruby gem that was buried with them, worth approximately 15,000 g.p. The skeletons of the pair will be seen gripping each other, the gem laying in the coffin between their rib cages. One skeleton is a woman and the other a man.

From this it might be assumed that the gem is cursed. It is not. The tale of the two is that they resented the other’s feeling of ownership over the gem so much that it filled them with jealousy, causing them to murder others who were perceived as part of a conspiracy to steal the gem. Ultimately, this couple coldly slaughtered some forty people before they were caught and buried together.

Final Notes on the Adventure

The level of treasure that I’ve added to the Keep is meant on some level to compensate for my present party having fought several battles without any real treasure. Another DM may see the number of weapons offered as too many and favour some other magic form or perhaps that there is not enough magic overall. I stress that the amounts found of everything should be a suggestion and that DMs should feel free to adapt the amount of coin to their own campaigns.

I also realize that in a number of systems a strong wizard could easily walk through much of the dungeon. I hasten to remind the reader that this was designed for an AD&D campaign, where an 8th level mage was much less powerful than later edition counterparts.

No doubt some will note that it is possible to enter the Keep and make off with the treasure without directly encountering the harpies in the barracks or the assembly hall and temple. It should also occur to some that these creatures do not themselves sit on a big pile of treasure. This is intentional.

Most thinking parties will realize that the Keep isn’t secured unless all the rooms are explored and cleaned out. If they don't do this, the DM should feel free to have the harpies create an encounter of their own, using stealth to attack the party unawares. I can think of two ways that the harpies might try:

As there is a great deal of treasure to haul out, weighing a lot, an attack made when players are burdened with heavy objects such as stone busts, barrels, bronze or whatever would be very effective – particularly if the party was staggered along a route from the basement treasure room to the front gate. If this were the case, the harpies might be able to kill two or three party members without the others being present.

Secondly, it should be reasoned that some harpies from the Keep are out hunting the surface of the world for edible victims. The undiscovered harpies in the keep may wait for these (presume another six total), then attack the party’s airship (if they use one) while it is moving away from the keep. This would be particularly effective, as the attack could be made while members of the party are sleeping – and doing so in the belief that they’ve gotten away with their plunder, safe and sound!

One way or another, it can be assumed that the party will have to earn treasure discovered in the keep from the harpies as well as any other monster within. By not painstakingly cleaning out the Keep, the party are simply giving the initiative to the harpies to choose when it is best to attack for them, rather than rooting them out and trapping them inside the assembly room and keep.

Saturday Q&A (feb 17)

Maxwell in California writes,

Overall, the session went well despite a rocky start.

During character creation, there were technical difficulties with recent upgrades to my trade table; I made some progress fixing it on the fly, but couldn't finish, and I lost my cool a little. I asked the players for a few minutes to try and fix it, but after I couldn't, I calmed myself down and suspended proper equipment buying until next session, telling them that for now they could pick clothing, any two weapons each, a suit of armor, X lbs of food and so on. (This worked out fine; AP and carry weight weren't a concern in the night's gameplay. I'm excited about the upgrades; I'll say more about those after we've used them at the table next session. Since last night I've fixed them and have begun thorough testing.)

The Catholic paladin wisely chose to make his henchman a Catholic cleric. My GF made an elf mage, with a gnome thief as hench. I started them off in the paladin's last location, on the island where his original party had spent the entire campaign so far. After discussing whether to stay on the island or travel to a different one, they let the tarot cards decide. They drew The World, so they decided to travel. After quite a bit of roleplay in the port, and then on board ship, we ended the session with them a few hours out from Tenerife, and with trouble brewing on board (paladin detected malevolence in two of the other passengers, then the mage had her thief distract them while she stole something via an Unseen Servant...)

Assorted observations:

I'm slowly getting more adept at travel and landscape descriptions, but still haven't gotten the hang of detail-rich descriptions of urban environments. I habitually gloss over nearly all the sensory details of being in a town or city, whisking players to the POIs they want to find (if they're publicly known, of course.) The same goes for urban interiors: shops, government buildings, residences. I'd appreciate advice on these topics -- the general issue of giving too little detail and the specific issue of urban environments.

The most important change with a two-player group is that I no longer feel like I'm constantly fighting for players to pay attention to descriptions. With four or five players, there was rarely any dead air, but in a negative way. It was hard for me to seize the opportunity to speak up authoritatively, and I wasn't always able to get undivided attention. With these two players, I feel like I have the floor by default; correspondingly, they seem to hang on my words more, and eagerly await the moment when I deliberately hand control back to them with the phrase, "What do you do?" Whether this change stems from avoiding some negative phenomenon engendered purely by a larger group, or from refining my group down to the highest-quality players, either way I'm much more satisfied.

The players were satisfied as well. The mage had only played in one campaign before (over Roll20! Barely a real RPG experience, in my opinion as an expert on RPG-enhancement digital systems...) Her exact words were that that campaign was incredibly boring and its DM had a real-life Charisma of 6. She had more or less the exact opposite remarks after our first session. My GF is hardly an unbiased source, but it's good to be appreciated.

One more thing. After the session, I read them the section from your last post concerning the Nine of Swords tarot pull in your campaign. The size of the opposing armies you've described boggled their minds a little, especially the mage. She was showing signs of wanting to draw cards every session, possibly multiple times, and your cautionary tale may have given her pause. Still, I think I'm going to be scrambling to create interpretations for as many cards as possible so that I have something like your Swords chart to go on ...

Sterling in Maine writes,

Thought you might get a kick out of this. In the last session I ran the PC were reconnoitering an enemy advance and though I already had the weather (using historical weather for the location from 2013 as the weather in the game year), I hadn't expected them operating at night (which, while helping them avoid detection, hampered their assessment severely).

I made an off-the-cuff moonlight call a couple of sessions earlier and a few days before this session in in-game time. At the end of that session I called that my ruling over the lighting that night would of course stand, but that in future I would use true-to-life moon phase even if it conflicted with that call. In the after-session hour I figured the moon was just past last quarter on that date, and the moon would have not yet even risen at the time in question. I shared this with the players so they'd have a reference for game world moon phase too.

In this past session I remembered that previous research and quickly extrapolated the moon phase to be "just about new moon" moments before one of my players Googled "moon phase on September 4, 1478" and confirmed it to be 1% waning crescent. For the record, this player's character is a druid. I figure he's in tune with the moon.

In the future, I can ask my familiar ...


Not really "questions & answers" but I think that doesn't matter.  Sometimes, the writings here having a visible effect on how others run their game, and their enthusiasm for talking about that, is all that matters.  I'm pleased to be able to post the above in place of the traditional internet conflict resolution agenda.

If readers would like to reply to the above, or wish to ask a question or submit observations like those seen here, 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, February 16, 2024

Shields Shall not be Splintered

Because they're not made of wood. Such arms are made of leather.   After having been boiled and macerated, or rendered perfectly soft, is moulded, stamed or otherwise worked into a tough, rigid form. While hardening of its own accord, leather becomes like wood or horn when backed with varnish or shellac.

Unlike wood, which can splinter or crack upon impact, armour made of boiled leather offers flexibility and resistance to damage, absorbing and distributing the force of a blow more effectively. This makes leather shields less prone to breakage and provides more reliable protection over time. Moreover, cuir bouilli shields weigh less and are easier to wield and maneuver in combat, permitting warriors to react quickly to incoming attacks. As such, only those cultures unfamiliar with this technique of transforming leather would use wood as an alternative.

Felt it needed saying.  

Feelin' Rough

I've been sick this past week, which has been a serious undermining of my physical exercise routine, one I'd managed to keep going for three weeks.  I've still gotten in 200 minutes of walking — and let me tell you, exercising while sick is really the worst — and I think that my physical response to this cold has been unusually strong, which I attest to the exercise.  My body fat has dropped about 6%, and though I haven't lost any weight I've toughened up all over.

But no one is here to hear about this.  Between dragging myself through my day job, the exercise and simply crashing for naps, I've only written a little more than 2 pages on the Streetvendor's Guide.  As such, I'm not going to post two pages on my patreon today, kicking that can down the road.  It just is what it is.  I feel better today, feel like I can write, and I've got no assignments due until Tuesday.  I plan on getting some floor stretching in and more walking.  The cold clearly resulted from my going to the pool last weekend, so I'm not going there for a bit.

I trust the Ternketh content has been suitably interesting.  I have one more section of that to post, which I'll do after tomorrow's Q&A.  This is all the news I have.  I should be in normal shape, and productivity, by Monday.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Ternketh - South Rooms

South Rooms

16. Armory. This large room is the suiting area for guards and soldiers of the keep, used in old days primarily for ceremonial duties – so along with the swords, spears, axes and a wide range of other weapons, there are dozens cloaks hanging on the bare walls (and scattered over the floor, most of these with rents in the fabric), sashes, helmets and armours that were shiny and polished. These things, of course, have all be despoiled. The room is nominally empty, but a wandering monster encounter should be rolled if someone enters: a 1 in 6 will indicate a giant rat that sits and looks at the party from about 20 feet away. It will squirm away under the far right side door into room 19 (it only needs the one-inch space under the door to fit in.

17. Artisan’s Room. While most making of materials such as weapons, tools or other goods in the castle are made in the town, there was one Keep inhabitant who’s job it was to mend or repair objects, particularly armor and weapons. This is the room where that skilled person lived. There is a comfortable bed, a bookcase that is filled with low-quality works (popular writings) and two books about armor and repairing things. There is also a trunk in the room, unlocked, that contains clothes, some hammers and tongs and a pouch with about 50 c.p. and 30 s.p. The harpies have done their work with the room.

18. Soldier’s Quarters, Wu. These are barracks for soldiers, not guards, but the distinction might be easily lost on the party. The wall over the table indicates gives a brief history of the Wu Clan, giving no details that are especially important (make something up if you feel it is necessary, but this is all two thousand years ago). I would tell the party that it is propaganda for the soldiers and of no importance, being quick to reassure them that there is nothing in the passage to overthink and waste time with, as players will if they think its a clue. The passage is primarily decorative, to motivate the soldiers.

There are four chests in the room. These are locked and contain clothes, blankets, one weapon in each (a dagger and 3 hand axes) and small iron coffers that will rattle with coins (not many, perhaps 3-30 s.p. and 1-10 g.p.). Because of the locks, the harpies have not defiled the contents.

Somehow, a chink in the outer walls has allowed a family of giant rats to make their home in the room – these have spread into 19 also. The party will hear the rats before seeing them. There are 35 giant rats that will attack from this room. These will be aggressive and rabid. If characters remain in the room for more than one round, those present will be swarmed by four rats each. After the first round, this will increase, until up to eight rats will attack medium sized characters every round (leaping from the bunks and tables if necessary) and up to six against small characters. Their number will keep the door from being closed or force it open, as the door swings both ways.

19. Soldier’s Quarters, Yao. See 18, above. This room is also occupied by rats. There are only 21 giant rats in the room, however this is where the king rat dwells (treat as a rat that has grown fat, with three times the size of a normal rat, twice the damage done on attack and a level of intelligence bordering low). If the party is attacked in this room and manages to kill ten of the attacking rats, the king rat will call all rats from 18 to join the fight. The door of this room also swings both ways, like that of 18.

The history of the Yao Clan on the wall has the same lack of importance as that of the Wu Clan, but it is a completely different story. There are four chests in the room. These are locked and contain clothes, blankets, with a short sword in each and small iron coffers that will rattle with coins (not many, perhaps 3-30 s.p. and 1-10 g.p.). Because of the locks, the harpies have not defiled the contents.

20. Priest’s Room. As the party can only reach this room through the assembly hall (see 21, below), it should already be evident that the religion practiced by the original inhabitants of the Keep was Buddhism. The priest’s room is lush and unusually luxurious, with a marble floor, rich bookshelves, silk bedclothes, a couch and other furnishings. The room is empty but is polluted as expected. There are gold coins strewn over the table and floor, at least 200 in number – there are other signs that a struggle went on here, with little spatters of blood (but nothing excessive) on the walls and floor.

There are two chests, both of which are completely empty. The books in the room are common tomes containing sayings, mantras, moral tales, tantras and records of the keep. We may wish at this time considering the inclusion in the room of a secret compartment, one that the harpies never discovered, that might conceal a scroll with a raise dead spell, cure disease, restoration or heal spell (or some combination thereof). It depends on how generous we wish to be. I would likely include the raise dead spell, even if the party didn’t need it, just because it is nice to have. Obviously, the secret door would have to be looked for and found.

21. Assembly Hall. This is the giant room where the Lord of the Keep would address the subjects. There is a large table where the Lord, the magician, the priest and two others sit, perhaps the commander and the Lord’s spouse. There are four other large tables with 31 chairs, several carpets, the statue of a dragon by the front entrance (towards room 16) and two Buddha statues (unseemly, but perhaps acceptable for Ternkethians – heresy is strange). The heads of the Buddhas are only an inch below the ceiling of the 13 foot high room.

The hall also has five harpies. These will attack any intruders together, though they will have to come from all over the room to do it – unless they perceive they are outnumbered (there are more than five opponents, regardless of how strong these may be. If this is the case, the harpy nearest the door to 22 will push open the door and let loose a bloodcurdling scream. This will call in the remaining harpies from the temple. If the number of intruders increases to more than ten (or two of the harpies are killed during the combat), all harpies will retreat out of this room into 22.

This is the chief residence of the harpies so the stench and filth is greater here than any other part of the Keep. All players that enter will suffer -1 to their strength and -2 to constitution (with corresponding loss in hit points) for as long as they remain in the room (or in the temple beyond). The harpies do not feast here, they prefer to do that outside, but they do use the assembly hall as their toilet.

22. Temple. This great chamber served both as a place of worship and as a sleeping area for more than one hundred residents of the Keep. The chamber has 26 foot high ceilings, which are supported by stone arch rafters where the harpies will hide if pressed hard by combat. The floor is covered with carpets and large comfortable pillows. The black altar at the west end of the room is simple, about eight feet off the floor with a very low dais, surmounted by a cluster of incense lamps. In the lower east corner, opposite the stairs, is a beautiful ten foot high female buddha carved from an unidentified blue stone, sitting in a pool of water with blue tile beneath. Though this has been defiled again and again by the harpies, it has somehow retained its appearance and the water within seems able to purify itself (and the whole font) regardless.

The area is made for a great missile combat. There is no actual place where a harpy can completely hide without a chance of being struck by arrows or bolts, but shooters suffer a -5 penalty to hit if a harpy is hidden up there – and they must move to where they are underneath the rafter where the harpy is hiding. The location of the rafters is indicated by the pillar bases depicted in the side walls.

During the combat, harpies will dive at their enemies on the floor (roll initiative, giving the harpies +3) and seek to break up their enemy by moving from rafter to rafter. Combatants on the ground must look down if they don’t want to trip or fall over a large pillow (two feet in diameter) as these make the floor uneven – this will also contribute to the harpies’ +3 bonus to gain initiative, as they will selectively pick their moments when an enemy moves to a better position. 

Any harpy engaged with an enemy on the floor will prefer to fly up again into the rafters than continue the fight (in some systems this allows an attack of opportunity but in mine I consider the character’s attack prior to the harpy flying to be the only chance the character gets). The characters should be required to count their shots, as ammunition may be important if they have bad luck in killing harpies. Most likely, the spellcasters in the party will be needed to finish the harpies off.