Character Death in RPGs #ADnD #DnD #RPG #TTRPG #1e

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it, and please visit my 1st Edition D&D resources page.

Today, I kick off my death theme for the last throes of my one-year streak of daily posting to this blog, I’m going to reiterate and summarize the content from a couple other posts. More detail on my positions can be found by clicking through.

I’ve spoken about how dumb I feel the save or die mechanic is (though my stance has softened a bit since I wrote that and started playing 1st Edition D&D [“1e“]). Moreover, in that same post I’ve talked about how much I enjoy the way 4th Edition D&D (“4e”) applied their remedial mechanic (“save three times or die”) to one of my favorite creatures, the medusa: slowed on first failed save, immobilized on the second failed save, and petrified on the third failed save. In fact, I’ve adapted that mechanic to my medusa in my 1e game simply because I enjoy it. Even if you prefer save or die, petrification is far more dramatic when the character (and player) can feel it slowly taking over. That’s dramatic and immersive.

Seriously?

All that said, I never understood the aversion modern gamers have towards character death (at least among those that play D&D). I have a friend who refused to kill my character even though he knew I didn’t mind it. He minded. There are two reasons I’m completely okay with character death. First, without risk, the reward loses meaning (at least to anyone with an ego). Second, as with other forms of failure, it presents new opportunities. I can switch to playing a completely different character before having the chance to grow tired of the now-dead character. Moreover, the one time I convinced that friend to kill one of my characters, it was because I wasn’t enjoying playing the character. This character is the brother of two of my other characters, one of whom I played as recently as this year’s Winter Fantasy. His death was not only heroic, but has now enhanced my other characters’ backstories. Win-win. Besides, it’s not as if anyone is actually dying. This is a fantasy world and should be viewed as such.

Now, all that said, we can have overkill. I was in a 4e Dark Sun campaign where, over 9 weeks of gaming, I lost five characters. My barbarian died in week one, so I rolled up a new character that lasted two weeks, then another that lasted two weeks, and so on. Each of those deaths meant that I had to write one of my one-page-or-more backstories. To paraphrase a friend, I shouldn’t have to write that much for you unless the result is money or a university degree. Full disclosure: One of my characters was a reanimated revenant of the one that died the week prior. So, I prefer a balance between the two rather than choosing one at the exclusion of the other. As with most things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

This streak of daily blog posts is almost dead.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)



Online Gaming #Board Games #RPG #TTRPG #gaming

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

This is a short one. I really love that there’s technology available for people to play long-distance. It allows you to reconnect with friends or make new ones. It also proved very useful in the pandemic. We all know these things, but they just don’t matter to me. I hate online gaming.

Gaming is a social affair. It’s about sitting around a table, eating pizza, drinking Mountain Dew, and rolling a physical set of dice. I’ve done it online, and at times it was better than nothing, but only barely. I’m forced to do it again this weekend, as a player in my new home game will be dialing in from out of state. Our first session was about a month ago, and I don’t want to put this one off any further, but I just don’t like it. On the other hand, I like having online hangouts with friends. Perhaps the difference is that I grew up with a telephone that allowed for (quasi-)hanging out when not in person, but gaming has always in person. 

Whatever the reason, it’s just how I feel. I don’t expect you to feel the same way. It’s not an objective truth, so as with all things, YMMV. 

And that was your purely destructive post for the day.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc

Happy birthday, Alissa. R.I.P.

Bonus Post Today: My Last Lame AD&D Unboxing Video #ADnD #DnD #RPG #TTRPG #1e

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it, and please visit my 1st Edition D&D resources page.

This unboxing is for the very last thing I plan to purchase for 1st Edition AD&D. I have everything I want for sentimental reasons, and there’s nothing left that I need to actually run the game.

Finally finished!

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)



Puzzles and Cistercian Numerals @dCode_fr #ADnD #DnD #RPG #TTRPG #1e

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it, and please visit my 1st Edition D&D resources page.

It’s been a minute since I’ve written about D&D, and it’s going to be a little while before I do so again. (The next couple weeks of posts have been written.) So, I wanted to get back on track. I’ve talked about how I prefer to play D&D, and why that drove me from the game for a while, and in that post I discussed puzzles a bit. This expands on that.

I like puzzles.

Acrostics, sudoku, crosswords, Wordle . . . you name it, I love to solve them or write them. I also like to be challenged, which means if I always succeed, I lose interest. I’ve noticed that many players don’t like puzzles, and that many who do like them will get frustrated unless they always succeed. That’s fine, of course; play what you like, but it’s part of why I stopped playing altogether, and even now am just running games. I seem to be in a small minority among the nerd circles I frequent. Crafting puzzles is as much about finding the right level of difficulty for the group as it is about the logic of its design.

I think I found the basis for a puzzle that many people can enjoy. I present to you the Cistercian numbers.

If you have a group that doesn’t like hard puzzles, then simply writing a number can be the puzzle itself. To make sure you get it write (intentional typo, because I think I’m funny), here’s a converter care of @dCode_fr. If you have a group that likes hard puzzles, this can throw a wrinkle into the mix. If they need to calculate or otherwise decode a number, make them read the puzzle, or write the answer, in this system. You could also provide a hint that the characters must add the appropriate markings in the order in which they appear in the Arabic numerals (i.e., if the number is 12, add the horizontal line running left first, and then the one running right second — 10 than 2). Perhaps a Cistercian clock could be counting down, so that you don’t know how much time you have. That would probably require some software engineering on your part, but if you can code and you like puzzles, why not?

I like puzzles.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow dCode @dCode_fr

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)



Bonus Post Today: Yet Another Lame Unboxing Video, but This One Is Worth It #ADnD #DnD #RPG #TTRPG #1e

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it, and please visit my 1st Edition D&D resources page.

Okay, I know I burdened you with a lame unboxing just 5 days ago, but this is a good one. This is without a doubt the nicest collectable I now own. Behold, the unboxing of a 1st Edition D&D Wilderness Survival Guide with James Ward’s signature in the inner cover.

So nice.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)



My favorite D&D Mods @ChrisPerkinsDnD @LawrenceSchick @JeffLeason1 @monkeyhousejeff #ADnD #DnD #RPG #TTRPG #1e #3e

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it, and please visit my 1st Edition D&D resources page for character sheets and links.

I’ve done a lot of lists on this blog. A lot of people have done lists of the greatest D&D mods*** ever. So, I’m going to do a list of my favorite D&D mods. One comes from 3rdEdition D&D (“3e”), but the rest come from 1st Edition D&D (“1e”). However, unlike most people, I’m not going to attempt to give you an objective analysis as to why these are the best mods. This is a purely subjective topic, and I’m not one to deny my lizard brain nature. I fully admit that the reason a mod is going to appear on this list is emotional in nature. Still, you should consider running them in whatever system you’re using. If for no other reason, you’ll witness the inspiration for your favorite adventures. In terms of the 1st Edition D&D (“1e”) mods on this list, these were the pioneers.

*** I once used the word, “mod,” for what others call adventure or module and received an odd amount of pushback. One person even accused me of lying that it’s what I called them growing up, as if there could possibly be a motivation for something like that. I grew up in Montgomery County, MD, and every single person I gamed with called it mod. We also occasionally used the terms adventure and module, but the point is that “mod” was the standard term. Your regional dialect, or even your specific gaming group, may have a different experience. I don’t care. I shouldn’t have had to write this aside, but if I didn’t, I might receive the same pushback over something that shouldn’t matter at all.

Sons of Gruumsh, by Christopher Perkins, 3(.5)e

I left RPGs in 1982 due to the Satanic Panic. I returned in 2005 during the days of 3e. The first homebrew campaign I ran started with an adaptation of this mod. For what it’s worth, several of the players told me they enjoyed it quite a bit. It was nothing groundbreaking, so my sentimental attachment can get it only so high on this list, but it was very good, and it was written by one of the best DMs in the business.

S2: White Plume Mountain, by Lawrence Schick, 1e

Starts with a puzzle, which we got right, and I’ve had to change ever since. Then you’re given three paths to take, each of which leads you to one of three magic weapons you’re tasked to retrieve. These three weapons have maintained their iconic status in every edition of D&D since. There are more puzzles, both direct and logical (easily modified for repeat players), and some iconic monsters. The mod was the first one I played or ran that made great use of hindering terrain. Acknowledging that aspect of the writing, I was particularly proud of my conversion of the kelpie encounter to 4th Edition D&D.

C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan, by Jeff R. Leason and Harold Goodman, 1e

D&D didn’t get me into mythology. Mythology got me into D&D. I wasn’t terribly familiar with Central American mythology, and even less familiar with other aspects of the culture. According to Jeff (who I spoke with through Facebook), Harold was the one that did research on the cultural aspects of the mod. He did a decent job, sprinkling in appropriate imagery and language. I used his work as a springboard to provide even more immersion. As I mentioned previously, I acquired sound files of Nahuatl phrases, both common and specifically used in the mod. I love this mod so much, I own two physical copies, one of each version. I’m always prepared to run it.

And the gas mask! Don’t forget the gas mask!

S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, by Lord Gary Gygax, 1e

I loved Star Trek. I loved D&D. If it weren’t for the next entry on my list, this would be my favorite adventure ever. It was hard for me to run as a kid because there are a lot of rooms to prepare, and it was essentially a hack-and-slash dungeon crawl, but what a “dungeon” it was. Malfunctioning androids and robots, strange natural creatures from other worlds, but also an intellect devourer, a mind flayer (with what effectively amounted to a phaser), and a bulette to keep it grounded in fantasy. Love it.

Not the real cover.

C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness, by Allen Hammack, 1e

This is my favorite mod ever, in no small part because of the artwork of Jeff Dee, which always makes mods more memorable to me. However, the mod’s content stands on its own. As a competition mod, it was designed to kill off everyone to assure that there was a clear winner at the end of the adventure. Sure, there were hack-and-slash encounters amounting to nothing more than resource drains, but there were also puzzles, which I love. The tower itself had a clever theme, with each level (before the last) representing a different element: air, earth, fire, and water. The water level has a nice twist to it as well, and the earth level has one of my favorite monsters from mythology.

By the way, this arrived today.

It’s not in the best of shape, but you should expect that from something so old. Note, though that it was reasonably priced, and I haven’t found any coffee stains yet. Will this make it into the top 5? Probably not, but I hear it’s really good, and it’s next on my scheduled mods to run after Keep on the Borderlands.

There are a bunch of other mods I love, but I’m not going to make a top 50 list.

Follow me on Twitter at @gsllc
Follow Christopher Perkins @ChrisPerkinsDnD
Follow Lawrence Schick @LawrenceSchick
Follow Jeff R. Leason @JeffLeason1
Follow Jeff Dee @monkeyhousejeff

Help!

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

An Adventure Idea #RPG #TTRPG #DnD #ADnD #1e

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

Yesterday, I spoke out against dawdling, and how 1st Edition D&D dealt with it. Here’s an adventure idea that takes that to the ultimate level.

Someone posted an encounter idea on Facebook. The gist of it is an adventure where the PCs are asked to retrieve an item at an adventure site. They arrive at their destination, and it’s littered with dead bodies. The wander through the entire site towards the room where they know the object is kept. When they get there, they run into another party. They have the item and are drinking some brandy in celebration of their accomplishment. In other words, another party got there first. How do you handle it?

Honestly, I don’t care because I think the opposite scenario is better.

My Scenario

The PCs’ benefactor hires them to retrieve the item. When they agree, the benefactor hands them the bottle of brandy and says, “This is for when you succeed in finding the staff. It’ll make it easier for you to get back to me.”

That makes it sound like the brandy has magical properties, but all the benefactor means it that it gets you drunk. This is a flimsy way to try to get the PCs to get drunk once they’ve accomplished their task, but it’s not critical. Moving on, allow the party to do what they expect. They arrive at the site, fight off the creatures, and retrieve the item. Ideally, they’re the ones drinking the brandy, and that’s when the other party arrives. The party face asks, “Did you really think your benefactor was the only one that hired parties to retrieve such an important item? There are several of us.”

Coming out to Play

Obviously, absent miraculous role-play, the other party attacks a (hopefully drunk) party. When the PCs have dispensed with the other party, the adventure pivots to something like the movie, The Warriors. The job now is to avoid as many fights as possible against rival adventurers (as well as the occasional wandering monsters) while returning the item to the benefactor.

There’s a reason I prefer my scenario. First, the PCs get what they signed up for. They were told they were going to infiltrate, for example, a mind flayer necromancer’s stronghold, and that’s what they got. It doesn’t mean they can’t be surprised by what they find there, but it’s what the players were anticipating.

Second, I’m going to assume that the scenario I rejected doesn’t consist of just one fight, but instead, several planned challenges on the way home. However, if the spirit of the twist is respected, those challenges on the way home are one adventuring party after the other. Repeatedly facing five to six classed humanoids will quickly get boring. Keeping the bulk of the adventures in the stronghold has a potential for far more variety of challenges. Lastly, the rejected scenario’s “dead time” consists of just walking through a dungeon following a map, noting the already looted corpses along the way. That’s also boring. In my scenario, the “dead time” is still very much alive; it’s just a different kind of action. The PCs must use skills and logic to avoid those fights. Maybe that’s boring for some players, but it’s not as boring as the rejected scenario, and it’s a great change of pace for those who enjoy it. It also doesn’t handwave a part of the adventure that’s generally handwaved (returning home), which means the players are given more to do. This is a general idea that can be tailored to your adventure’s mission and, if necessary, to your RPG’s genre and setting.

While I’m sure this has been done before, I don’t recall having seen it.

Follow me on Twitter at @gsllc

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Wandering Monsters #ADnD #DnD #RPG #1e #3e #4e #5e

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

They have more claim to being here than your PCs do.

I left D&D in 1982 due to the Satanic Panic and didn’t return until 2005, so my recollection of 1st Edition D&D (“1e”) isn’t precise. When I returned during the days of 3rd Edition D&D (“3e”), rolling for wandering monsters wasn’t a common mechanic (though I occasionally saw it in published mods). Without appreciating why it was used in 1e, I simply thought that the use of wandering monsters was stupid. If you have a cool monster on hand, use it. Otherwise, it’s a waste of a perfectly good encounter. On the other hand, if your wandering monster is the same creature that the PCs are facing from time to time in the planned encounters, then they add nothing to the game, so don’t waste time on them. That could make the game tedious. Now that I’ve reacquainted myself with 1e, I realize their point: They’re designed to discourage dawdling.

Hurry Up!

Searching for secret doors, examining magic items, counting your loot, and sleeping are time-consuming activities. DMs are expected to keep track of time so that, when a given interval of time has passed, they know to roll for wandering monsters. These random encounters often didn’t result in any treasure and drained valuable resources from the party, so they weren’t something that the PCs wanted. However, they didn’t make the game tedious because 1e combats were quick. So, the concern I mentioned above that they may not add anything to the game isn’t a serious one. Their primary effect was to drain resources, which, as I’ll discuss in the next section, serves a couple of connected purposes.

This isn’t something that goes over well with modern gamers. Modern gamers (and legacy gamers that have moved on) tend to explore every single room and grab every single piece of treasure they can. Anything less than complete is seen as a failure. I’ll give you a specific example. When discussing playing experiences with Lost Mines of Phandelver, the adventure from the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set for 5th Edition D&D (“5e”), players that failed to obtain the Staff of Defense would always be frustrated when others discussed it. Several of them that I knew would play the mod again with a character specifically designed to make use of that staff. Players would also take note in that adventure (and others) of forks in the road (so to speak), always promising to double back so that they covered the entire complex. Because of this mentality (I’ve been guilty of it myself), the D&D Adventurers League living campaign changed its rules such that every player could take a magic item found in the game even if there was only one. Everyone wants everything, so that’s what’s given despite how little sense it makes.

But Why Shouldn’t You Dawdle?

If this is what makes you happy, that’s fine, but my problem with this approach to the game is that it discourages immersion in the game world and can’t possibly work unless the risk of character death drops so low as to be negligible. As to the first point (which is a tangent from my main thesis), the logic of the game world becomes inconsistent. I can suspend my disbelief and accept a dragon that breathes a cone of cold, but I can’t accept the notion of a Rod of Cancellation spontaneously generating multiple copies of itself because multiple characters want it. The latter just doesn’t make sense, and no attempt is made to make sense of it. There’s no drain of resources to make it happen. There’s no need to visit the local archmage to make copies of it. It just happens.

As to the second point (now we’re back on track), a game where I know the DM will never kill me bores me. A game where I’ll get killed if I don’t think things through logically is far more fun. Sure enough, I’ve rarely seen character death in 5e. In fact, I saw far more character death in 4th Edition D&D (“4e“), and 1st-level 4e characters are intentionally durable. The more gamers become unwilling to suffer even the smallest of setbacks, the less we see them, which is why I stopped playing. There’s none of that in 1e. Can your characters survive? Sure, especially if you send the henchmen and hirelings in first. As I’ve been told, PCs can survive an entire campaign even despite the save or die mechanic (which I still don’t like). However, if you truly immerse yourself in the game, you’ll see that some actions are downright stupid and should get your characters killed. Game mechanics like wandering monsters discourage such stupidity, and as a consequence reward true immersion in the game world.

Your mission is to save the noble, not to grab an extra 5 copper pieces. Once you’ve got the noble, get the hell out of there. If this were a scenario in the real world, and you went for the coppers, your friends at your funeral would be discussing whether to submit your story to the Darwin Awards committee.

Be smart. Get in; get out.

Follow me on Twitter at @gsllc

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

My Permanent Maps @schley #ADnD #DnD #RPG #1e #4e #5e

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

My favorite 1st Edition D&D (“1e”) adventure is C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness. Also up there in the ranks is C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan. I’ve converted both mods** to 4th Edition D&D (“4e”) and 5th Edition D&D (“5e”). I’m always eager to run either one, and because I’ve done so multiple times, I made (and saved) maps for them.

** The last time I used the word, “mod,” for what others call “adventure” or “module,” I received an odd amount of pushback. One person even accused me of lying that it’s what I called them growing up, as if there could possibly be a motivation for something like that. I grew up in Montgomery County, MD, and every single person I gamed with called it mod. Some still do. We also occasionally used the terms adventure and module, but the point is that “mod” was the standard term. Your regional dialect, or even your specific gaming group, may have a different experience. I don’t care. I shouldn’t have had to write this aside, but if I didn’t, I might receive the same pushback over something that shouldn’t matter at all.

Ghost Tower

Dungeon Tiles were released during the 4e era, and I had tons of them. So much, in fact, that I had enough to spare. So, when I created the Dungeon Delves for synDCon 2011, I decided to take some of those Dungeon Tiles and permanently affix them to foam core. I’ve since used these for 5e as well. In other words, I’ve made good use of them. While unpacking recently, I discovered them. SPOILER ALERT! These cover only the Ghost Tower itself and a few iconic encounters along the four paths that lead you to it. Here are a couple of images of them.

The Earth Level

The Fire Level with a Friend

For the other encounters, I can always use these. I bought a set.

Hidden Shrine

With Hidden Shrine, I took a different approach, though not until 5e. I bought the hi-res images of the maps directly from their creator, Mike Schley. (You can see his work at https://mikeschley.com/.) I printed almost every room and hallway in the entire dungeon to cardstock (in color) so that I could use them as Dungeon Tiles. They’re exactly the correct size for minis. I also have several sound files containing phrases in Nahuatl that are either common (e.g., “Hello.”) or specifically used in the mod. They further helped set the mood. Here are some samples.

A Couple of Rooms

The problem with both of these mods is that they’re designed for competition. Each is designed for a set number of pre-generated PCs, 3 for C1 and 5 for C2 (though I created a 6th for C2), and the risk of death was unreasonably high — even by 1e standards — so that there would be one clear winner at the end of the convention. With both adventures, you can probably solve the “unreasonably high” problem (if you think that’s a problem) by having a normal party size.

In the foreseeable future, I plan to play only 1e, but I’ll make use of these maps nonetheless. “Theater of the mind” (i.e., gaming without maps) doesn’t bother me — it can be quite convenient at times — but I’m a huge fan of using maps. They help with the immersion that I often discuss, and they correct mistakes I make as DM in describing the surroundings. That doesn’t mean my 1e games won’t otherwise be theater of the mind. To me, that’s an inseparable part of the 1e experience. At least for now. 🙂

We won’t be breaking out the tape measures.

Follow me on Twitter at @gsllc
Follow Mike Schley @schley

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Edition Wars! @ansonmount @WilliamShatner #DnD #RPG #4e #5e #Pathfinder #Shadowrun #TTRPG #StarTrek

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

Going forward, Sundays are lazy for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, it’s explaining myself, then picking a fight.

I’ll start. From left to right:

1st Edition AD&D and 4th Edition D&D
Anson Mount’s Christopher Pike and William Shatner’s James Tiberius Kirk

You give it a shot. In the meantime….

I never said I wasn’t a dick.

Follow me on Twitter at @gsllc
Follow Anson Mount @ansonmount
Follow William Shatner @WilliamShatner

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?) Shadowrun and Pathfinder are also trademarks, but I have no reason to believe their lawyers are jackasses.