Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Literary Allusions

This is another one that's more just about fantasy fiction in general, not specific to RPGs. Take it or leave it.

I'm not going to try to claim there's some brilliant and noble reason why this is a good or effective writing tool. I think it's just a lizard brain thing somehow. But let's say you're writing a work of fiction. Maybe some fantasy worldbuilding stuff, maybe not. But you need to impart some ideas and you want them to really resonate with the audience. Isn't it weird that one of the most reliable ways to do this is to just, like, reference an older, familiar work that talked about the same thing?

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

My (Untested) Theory of Nautical Campaigns


You know what I'm talking about. "The pirate campaign." "The wavecrawl." A "saltbox." "Maritime adventures." A notoriously elusive type of D&D campaign, for reasons fathomable only to those poor fools who've attempted it. And me, for I have infinite wisdom.

No really, I've casually mentioned this as being a "famously tricky" thing on several occasions and gotten a mix of confused stares from some and knowing agreement from others. But it's true. This shit is deceptively hard to pull off right. Today, I want to talk about the reasons why and the angles of attack to combat this. Because it's something nearly everyone who's ever been in this hobby has dreamed of at some point: buckling your own swash like a pro. Yarrr.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Top 10 Philosophical Conundrums We Were Forced to Resolve in our D&D Game

Don't let anyone ever tell you that D&D 5E (or any high-magic game, for that matter) is easy on the DM to run. You think crunch is demanding? Try this shit:
  1. The definition of Personhood
  2. Zeno's Paradox (specifically the famous "dichotomy" one with the whole "before you can reach X you have to get halfway to X, but before you can get halfway..." thing)
  3. Affirming or refuting the Labor Theory of Value
  4. Basically any question raised by the Holodeck in Star Trek
  5. ...As well as the transporter
  6. The Ship of Theseus (many, many times)
  7. Related, the Sorites Paradox
  8. The Trolley Problem (duh)
  9. Can you "take" a hole?
    • God I love that such a large portion of the Wikipedia article on "holes" digs right into this and other problems
  10. The existence of God (duh)
Place your bets now on whether we'll have to confront the Simulation Problem or attain Theodicy first, folks.

-Dwiz

Friday, December 24, 2021

Subterranean Thoughts


So I recently took greater notice that many of my favorite gaming writers will post little snippets of what they've been working on to their blog. Even if it's incomplete, it's still a solid preview, can build hype, and is probably somewhat usable on its own. So why don't I try that?

My home campaign setting is called Underworld, and is all about that sweet, dank Underdark, baby. When I first started working on it, I spent a long time thinking about how to bring more out of the Underdark experience in D&D. How much depth would need to be added in order for that one trope to carry an entire campaign? And I like thinking in terms of rules and mechanics at least as much as lore, when it comes to worldbuilding and reinforcing themes.

The following materials were mostly written around 2016 and 2017 but I was heavily sidetracked by worldbuilding and "higher level" game design. Oh, and getting a bachelor's degree. But I consider all of this to be stuff that I one day will return to and do justice, because it's important (in fact, I made a couple edits as I copy/pasted it here). I anticipate eventually either putting this stuff into a Brave supplement that'll have rules, systems, and tables for Underworld stuff, or I might just compile and publish my setting outright and put this stuff there instead. Contained within the following thoughts are some implied setting assumptions that may not be true for the "default, vanilla" Underdark, but you'll still enjoy it. Plus, I included lots of great pictures you'll want to expand.

And yes, the release of Veins of the Earth did stifle me a bit. But while that book is indeed excellent, I also think you'll agree that much of what follows builds onto it quite nicely and covers things it doesn't address.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

A Thorough Look at Skill Challenges (Part 2: Analysis)

The moment I started seeing this meme everywhere, I knew it was inevitable that there would be a
D&D blogger who'd riff on it. So I decided to be that very blogger.
After my last face-meltingly long post compiling every variation on Skill Challenges (SC) out there, it's time to do a critical analysis of this concept. When I started this project, I was just imagining that I'd be making a simple pros and cons list. But after all that research, I have a lot of things to say.

So, this post will sorta have three main sections. Firstly, we can talk about Skill Challenges just, like, as a concept. Then, we can start reviewing each of the little variations on rules and deciding which ones are good and which ones are bad. Lastly, the results of this thinking, which ideally should be "the best version of how to do Skill Challenges for a D&D 5E game, at least in the style that Dwiz enjoys," but which is also the part where I note some things I feel like stealing for my OSR game Brave.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

A Thorough Look at Skill Challenges (Part 1: the Rules)

Who's ready for another stupidly long post? That's the spirit!


The "Skill Challenge" is an interesting type of generalist gameplay procedure that's not a core experience of many games, but which often comes recommended as a good level design trick for all sorts of reasons. Here's kind of a funny game you can play: try asking a question on any RPG thread or forum or Discord community about "how would you adjudicate so-and-so challenge?" and see how long it takes for someone to recommend using a Skill Challenge (SC).

But even though there are so many people eager to recommend them, I have more... complicated feelings about them. So maybe it's worth taking some time to explore their design in a more dispassionate, neutral fashion.

Another reason I thought this could be of some value to write out is that, to my surprise, we cannot all agree on what precisely a Skill Challenge even is! Yes, individual variations are actually very common, and some of the seemingly-minor changes people make have a huge impact on the end result.

I'm splitting this post into two parts. Here in Part 1, I'm comparing and contrasting different versions of the SC, with occasional observations about them beyond just stating the rules. Once we've covered every major iteration of the SC that I can find, as well as a few similar systems from other sources, in Part 2 I'm gunna do a deeper analysis of the pros and cons of this system and its greater role in game design. Expect that article in a couple days.

I hope you like mechanics, because these two posts are detailed. There are tons and tons of "introduction to Skill Challenges" articles and videos out there if you want something quick. But this here is for the game design nuts. Even with me already splitting it in two, you'll still probably want to split this first part up into a few separate reading sessions.

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Two Worlds of RPGs


Obviously, the in-game experience for game masters and players is very different from one another. But something I think about a lot is how the out-of-game experience of RPGs, like, as a communal phenomenon, is even more different.

The two main examples of this that stick out to me are 1) the materialist experience, and 2) the social experience. Almost everything about the player-side of these two things is so completely alien to me, because they're just so weirdly segregated. And perhaps more than merely being different from each other, they're incredibly unbalanced. GMs get so much more from RPGs than players get, by and large. At least, I think they do.

I wonder if anyone else has considered these things before. Let me delve into some examples.