Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Product Identity? In MY Monsters?

It's more likely than you think.

Notorious bird Prismatic Wasteland is up to his antics again trying to get decent, law-abiding folks to weasel their way around legal trouble, and I'm here to help.

I put together a similar list a while back and I figure it's worth sharing.

First, More Names for the Monsters He Covered

Mind-Flayer: Bathalian (Reaper Minis), Cephalid (Dark Sword Minis), Mind Lasher (Old School Essentials), Octopoid/Gastropoid (The Black Hack), Philosophers (Zak S), Brain Fiend (Fantasy Craft), and, arguably, Genestealers (Warhammer 40K).

Beholder: Eye Tyrant (the alternate, generic name they already have in D&D), Eye Beast (Reaper Minis), Eye of Terror (Old School Essentials), Gazer (Dragon's Crown), Watcher in the Dark (Fantasy Craft).

Personally, the name I'm using is an Oculus.


...Just... just get rid of the Orientalism, they'll be fine. Really.

I offer to you: Nagendra (Reaper Minis), Librarians (Zak S), and... that's all I could find. Really disappointed to see how many companies just go with "snake men" or "snake folk" for these guys.

Now, For Some Other Monsters

Bullywugs: Gullygugs (Old School Essentials), Boggards (Pathfinder), Squogs (Reaper Minis), Boglings (Greg Gillespie's adventures), and one of my own, Croaks.

Kuo-Toa: Deep Ones (Lovecraft, and seemingly the "default" name instead of "fish-folk" or something terrible), Dagonites (Otherworld Minis), Dagathonan (Dark Sword Minis), Pelagic (Darkest Dungeon).

Myconid (which isn't actually protected, but people like coming up with alternate names): Shrooman (Dungeon Crawl Classics), Funginids (Veins of the Earth), Fungoids (Reaper Minis), Sporling (Fantasy Craft), Mycelian (Old School Essentials).

Personally, what I really need is a good-sounding generic word for "bug-person." Can't (and don't want to) use "Thri-Kreen" or "Formian" from D&D, and everything else I've heard was way too setting-specific or bug-specific. What do y'all got?


Monday, December 26, 2022

Not All Balance is the Same

Artist Credit: Wayne Reynolds
This is a spiritual sequel to a previous post about crunch. Everyone uses the word "balance" in reference to something in RPGs but they frequently use it to refer to different things. Sometimes completely unrelated things. And yet it's become intensely emotionally-charged despite being, essentially, a non-word.

So while you very likely have strong opinions about this word, it might be useful to take a closer look. In this article, I'm going to examine six ways that the word "balance" commonly comes up when discussing RPGs, and why it's important to recognize that they are indeed distinct.

As usual, I will mostly be making reference to ol' D&D as my primary example, but don't mistake that for meaning that this only carries relevance to D&D alone. All kinds of gaming philosophies might benefit from a little bit of thought about these six different meanings for the word "balance," even if there are some that you can safely dismiss. So yeah, balance matters to other crunchy games like GURPS and Lancer and Genesys-system stuff of course, but it can also come up in your rules-lite games, story games, FKR games, lyric games, and so on. If you want to design a Star Wars game and you aren't sure about how to handle the Force, or if you're going to be running a Call and/or Trail of Cthulhu and are crafting a mystery for your investigators, or you're making a random mutation table for a Mothership adventure you're writing, then there's likely something in this post that you should be thinking about. It just might never have occurred to you before because you're only ever thinking of one possible definition out of many.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Enough Dweeb Adventures

I have a hypothesis: Wizards of the Coast's 5E adventures are for fucking weenies.

I know, it's a tall claim to make. Let's prove this through rigorous scientific analysis.

[Okay, in all seriousness, I recognize that I'm really preaching to the choir here. But use this article for 1) knowing how not to write dope adventures, and 2) explaining to your friends who are squares what the difference is between dope adventures and mayonnaise adventures.]

The principal variables I want to examine are villains and conflict. They reveal a lot about a designer's sensibilities towards what's cool. Because as we all know, the bad guys are always cooler than the good guys.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

You Suck at Keeping your One-Offs as One-Offs

Okay I'm sure that isn't true of all of you. But statistically speaking, it's probably true of you. Because I have never once met another GM who can run a game they say will be a one-shot and then actually finish it within a single session.

I have gotten pretty good at it, though. Pretty good. I still fail now and then. But I'm usually able to pull it off.

Here's my advice:
  1. Ask for everyone to commit to a long session length to begin with. Last one I did, I said "at least 5 hours" and everyone braced themselves accordingly. I'm not saying it's impossible to run a short one-shot (people manage it at conventions all the time, I hear). But I just feel like saying "we're gunna have a complete adventure, with a beginning, middle, and end, by the time we all head home tonight" and then only giving yourself 2 or 3 hours to do it is just setting yourself up for failure. You might pull it off, but it's so much safer to prepare for a longer session and assume you'll need that extra time. Nothing wrong with an occasional big marathon session anyway (provided that you let your players take a break every hour or hour-and-a-half).
  2. Have as much prep done ahead of time as possible, especially player prep. They should have their characters finished, equipment bought, basic setting info learned, and quest established before you even begin. It is so easy to lose precious time at the beginning of a session to "pre-adventure" gameplay. Regular readers of my blog will know that player-driven, open-world sandboxes are my favorite style of play, but they are optimized for campaigns. If it's only going to be a one-shot, then it's okay to just thrust upon the players your choice of today's quest, and then kick things off as close to the good stuff as you can get. They won't mind the lack of agency regarding that kind of stuff, because they'll be too busy having fun actually adventuring.
  3. Have something in-game that escalates the situation and keeps things moving forward. The stuff that tends to bog games down the most is player inaction. People talk a lot about "keeping your world moving even when the players aren't" but that's not just a saying. That's actionable advice. Personally, I like to use a timeline with planned events that make the scenario increasingly dire as the session goes on. I find that when I'm keeping track of time, and I'm routinely updating my players whenever the clock ticks ahead, then that does the trick by itself. You might prefer a more time-independent source of regular pressure application, like introducing more monsters or fatigue or darkness or whatever. Dread has escalation built-in because you're literally just playing a game of Jenga but with a story attached.

    Most importantly of all, there should be a natural and visible conclusion to that escalation that will inevitably happen by the end of the session unless the players divert it. Think about it: how does a one-off end up needing 2+ sessions? Because you got to the end of that first session's scheduled time allotment but felt like the players still had more they could do. But if you decide beforehand that "the moon will crash into the PCs' hometown by the end of the session" and make it very, very clear to the players, then you can't be tempted into giving them a second session.

    And if they fail? Then fuckit, they fail. Honestly, failure is funniest and most easy to deal with in one-shots anyway. It almost always makes for a better story years later. "Remember when we all got together to play D&D at Bob's bachelor party and we went in the dungeon and the dragon killed all of us?" Fuckin' hilarious.
  4. Similarly, you can combat player inaction by giving them lots of shit to think about. You don't just tell them what today's adventure is. You give them rumors, relationships, personal complications, and lots of telegraphed resources and points of interest to seek out. I know it might sound like a lot for just a one-off, but think of it this way: 1) Bro, you should be re-using your one-shots on multiple groups anyway, and 2) Your players otherwise won't have much to invest themselves in knowing that this character they've made won't be seeing any more action after today, so giving them a handful of little things to grab onto can go a long way towards, in a sense, jumpstarting their investment in the game and churning their imagination. In a campaign, it's usually best for those things to emerge naturally over time. Players will befriend NPCs they like, build a mental picture of the world piece by piece, entangle themselves in drama more and more each session, and so on. But in a one-shot... it's surprisingly effective to just skip ahead and say, "alright, here's your character's life. Spend a few minutes catching up."
  5. If your game has crunchy tactical combat, then don't plan to have more than one fight in the session. I'm serious. Better to prepare one really cool and dynamic boss fight at the end of a short dungeoncrawl than to deceive yourself into thinking you can run a medium-sized dungeon with 4 or 5 combats in it. Only folks with fast-paced, rules lite combat get to have that experience.


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Computer Hacking in RPGs


Today I will once again be speaking confidently on a subject about which I am unqualified to discuss. 

I've been thinking about hacking a lot lately. Not "hacking" like hacking a rules system. Not even "hacking" like "exploratory programming." I'm specifically talking about our favorite x-tremely kool 90's heroes who save the world by breaching computer security (and occasionally rollerblading). It's a well-known challenge of game design.

I have never actually played a cyberpunk RPG like Shadowrun or... Cyberpunk. Hacking was in Star Wars: Saga Edition but I kinda bullshitted (bullshat?) my way through those parts because I was like 16 when I ran that game. But I have read lots of different hacking rules and I've read lots of other people discussing their experiences using them, and these are my takeaways for the most common problems:

  1. It's complicated and a headache to learn, especially for the GM who has the rest of the system to learn as well.
  2. It's usually only for one player to participate in while everyone else waits on the sideline, and in Shadowrun especially is notorious for taking a really long time.
  3. Either it's realistic and confusing or it's abstracted and unsatisfying.
  4. The GM doesn't consistently integrate it into the game world, treating it almost like an afterthought.
This is really tricky because the easiest way to integrate hacking would just be to tell the players "make a hacking roll" whenever they want to cheese a device, but then there'll be a player at your table who wants to be the hacker, and they need something more in-depth in order to fulfill their fantasy.

So I have some thoughts about how to address this. Partly, this results in me creating my own loose ruleset for hacking gameplay. But also, think of this more as guidelines for how to create your own rules based on your personal design philosophy and priorities. I'm here to spotlight for you the kinds of important questions you'd want to ask and answer if you tackled this yourself. Especially the questions that'll help you avoid the kinds of mistakes that lead to something as unpopular as Shadowrun's hacking rules.

Also, prepare for some semantic satiation.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

8 Opinions about Spider-Man

Per the demands of Prismatic Wasteland, I have to write a blog post about Spider-Man. So what do I say about Spider-Man that hasn't already been said?

I decided my best bet would be to just create a shitty clickbait post with no real substance and lots of bad takes.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

HeroQuest: The Tourney of Champions

The best thing about HeroQuest is pitting your friends against one another in a vicious deathtrap!

I've just designed my first custom scenario for HeroQuest, which I intend to play with one of my board gaming groups when we meet in a few weeks. It's a big group, so I had the idea of a competitive scenario where you split the players into two teams and have them fight one another in the dungeon. I have no idea how well this will work, if it's balanced at all, if we'll be able to get through it in one session, etc. It makes use of lots of materials from all the expansions because I backed the crowdfunding campaign and got them all as rewards, and I want to try using those pieces finally. I figured I would make the zaniest funhouse dungeon I could, y'know?


Saturday, July 23, 2022

A Primer on Star Wars RPGs

If you've received a link to this article, you may have just asked the question, "what's the deal with Star Wars RPGs?" The first part of this post is a succinct overview of all the major (and some minor) options out there which cover this need.

I decided to write this because in the last two weeks, I've seen at least 4 Reddit posts and a couple Discord messages where people asked that very question, and I get tired of explaining it. So if you see someone asking that question, link them to this article.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Traits of the Mythic Underworld

The "Mythic Underworld" is a term popular in the OSR that I believe was coined by Jason Cone in Philotomy's Musings. Cone argued that the rules of OD&D can be interpreted to suggest that the "dungeons" that adventurers delve into aren't really to be understood as real, logical spaces created by normal people or natural processes. Rather, they're more like a surreal, dreamlike, and hostile realm that runs on its own twisted logic, which might be inconsistent. It gives the referee some leeway to make a contrived, game-y, "funhouse" dungeon instead of stressing about accuracy or rationality.

Much of what Cone describes are just traits of megadungeons, or even simply dungeons in general. Things like, "non-linear pathways" and "lots of connections between levels" aren't really mythic, they're just good level design. So, extracting from his original writings on the matter, here are the traits he identifies that are actually mythic (in my view):

  1. It's so large it might have infinite levels.
  2. The deeper you go, the more dangerous it is.
  3. Its layout may change over time.
  4. Doors are locked/stuck for PCs by default, but automatically swing open for monsters.
  5. Related, it is shrouded in darkness, but all monsters have infravision.
    • It should be noted that when a monster is persuaded to join the party, they lose these two privileges! This strongly suggests that the space itself is intentionally rewriting its own rules to oppose the players.
  6. Torches and whatnot might be randomly blown out by a strong gust of wind, despite the fact that you're deep underground in, like, a tomb or something.
And... that's it. I always thought this idea was much cooler in theory than in reality. I agree with Cone that this is really the only reasonable way to interpret the rules, but I always wanted there to be more. So I've compiled some:
  1. Party incurs fatigue/stress the longer they spend in the dungeon (taken from Basic D&D).
  2. Rations spoil once you enter the dungeon (BECMI D&D, thanks to ktrey from
  3. When the players open treasure, monsters might pop out of the walls, generated from thin air (taken from the board game HeroQuest).
  4. Monsters don't exist until the players first observe them. Thus, exploration should be slow and methodical or else the players will too quickly surround themselves in monsters (also taken from HeroQuest).
  5. The monsters cannot set off traps (HeroQuest again but I wonder if this might be encoded in D&D somewhere in its history).
  6. The scenery and room features attack you (countless haunted house media, but in this case I was inspired by the 2006 movie Monster House).
  7. Stairs turn into ramps, doors start randomizing where they lead to, hallways become endless, secret doors appear and then disappear (no, I don't mean they become hidden again. I mean they stop existing), etc. (more haunted house shenanigans).
  8. Weird M.C. Escher gravity rules.
  9. Advanced Darkness.
  10. Every hall keeps leading back into the same room no matter what, and it's full of horrible doppelgangers (the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks).
  11. Doors to rooms that would overlap each other, doors into rather thin walls, windows to the outside world in an interior room, doors/windows/entrances moving which side of the room they’re on, etc. (the Overlook Hotel from The Shining).
It's a start. Now of course, I don't necessarily advocate only using the Mythic Underworld. I quite enjoy "reasonable," well thought-out dungeons. But if you're going to make a Lynchian funhouse, then you should commit. In the Mythic Underworld, the dungeon is a living organism and the PCs are an infection. It has its own natural immune system that wants to drive them out. For the PCs to feel as though they're fighting the environment itself, I think it needs to put up a better fight.


Sunday, June 26, 2022

Stranger Things and "Puzzle Monsters"

[This post will contain spoilers for Stranger Things up through season 4]
The best monsters are not merely a big sack of hit points you hack-n-slash your way through because of a random encounter table. No, they're something more. They have qualities possible only through the conceits of fantasy. They challenge your brain just as much as your stats and dice. They stick in the mind. They're not just a one-and-done encounter. They're grounded in the world and its rules, and can't be understood merely with numbers. And maybe most of all, they're robust enough that reckoning with them is the whole adventure, or at least could be the whole adventure.

A very popular piece of advice in the OSR is "Just Use Bears." The basic argument is that, "monsters which don't have elaborate special abilities could probably be represented sufficiently with the stat block of a bear, since the minutiae of individual stats rarely has a significant enough impact on a fight to be worth the trouble of always having a custom stat block prepared."

As practical advice, this is good. But in spirit, I feel like it's a concession. A failure. If you're using a monster that could be substituted with a bear, then maybe you shouldn't even have that monster at all. Monsters should be special. You could be running a better game where you never use that advice. Not because it's bad, but because you've made monsters good enough that the advice isn't applicable.

To illustrate what I'm calling "puzzle monsters," we're going to go through the monsters used in the Netflix show Stranger Things as well as some examples I've created for my own adventure scenarios. After that, I'll walk you through the steps I take to create a puzzle monster, and other considerations that help a lot in the creative process.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Tabletop is Theatre, Videogames are Film

Theatre and film are intimately linked mediums of artistic expression. They use many of the same core ingredients (visual, sound and dialogue, time, performance) and even employ most of the same optional conventions (experienced in a single sitting lasting a couple hours, uses non-diegetic music, usually presents the action in its own space and told in roughly real-time for most or all scenes, etc.). Obviously there are exceptions where one medium is used to do something quite different, such as documentary for film or an interactive murder mystery dinner theatre for the stage. But they are closely related media, with film arguably descended directly from theatre. Early film even copied most of theatre's conventions, such as all the action taking place on a "stage" viewed from a single, fixed camera angle straight-on, as though the screen at the movies was meant to be used as an illusion to replicate the "stage" that the audience was used to sitting in front of.
This clip is from King John, filmed in 1899. When movies were new, one of the first things they did with it is adapt Shakespeare, naturally. But as with all art, eventually film went on to discover its own strengths, doing things that you can't do with theatre.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Hidden Grove of the Deep Druids: an adventure I drew for

Longtime reader Harald Maassen just released a really tight dungeon adventure called "Hidden Grove of the Deep Druids," which I contributed artwork for!

It's available as a Pay What You Want download on the Dungeon Master's Guild. Worry not though. It's a decently system-flexible adventure good for all medieval-ish fantasy dungeoncrawlers. If you are a 5E player, it provides some lite mechanical support to run the adventure in a more old-school way.

The premise? "Evil druid cult." An ever-elusive archetype but one that I think Harald has nailed here. If you've never used druids as villains, you should really give it a whirl.

It's a medium-sized dungeon that's non-linear, has lots and lots of dangers (especially weird fungi), and has clean and helpful formatting. It'll make a fine addition to anyone's collection of solid, vanilla-yet-tasty dungeons to slot into their game.

Monday, April 25, 2022


Artist Credit: Kieran Yanner
My blog output has been slow this year. Partially this is because I've started several very long posts that are each taking a while to finish, but mostly it's because I spend most of my time working now and have very little time left each day to do anything. I wanted to come up with something a bit smaller that could work as a good blog post to get out before the end of the month that isn't one of those huge posts, but I struggled. Everything I came up with was too small. So why not just offer all of them at once?

In this post you'll find seven really small RPG-related things I'd like to share which are all completely unrelated to one another. I hope the comments are chaos. They include:

  1. An idea I had for a particular take on the "Grit vs Flesh" mechanic
  2. A weird experimental PC I recently tried
  3. Possibly the most famous example of the power of tactical infinity in RPGs
  4. A world map I've slowly been working on
  5. An idea I have for a new monster type to fit into the traditional D&D schema
  6. How I would run a sandbox in a superhero game
  7. Doppelgängers

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

How to Make Combat Spicy

I have bigger, better articles in the works but I noticed my output has slowed down, so back into the vaults I go. I've dug up this list from many years ago and adapted it. This was inspired by a recent claim I made that there's such a thing as "system-agnostic combat encounter design" that you can and should learn, which many people were resistant to. Here was the original pitch I wrote for this:

I've talked to many people who think that combat in 5E isn’t really fun. There are many arguments for this, some of which are perfectly valid and some of which just come down to subjectivity, but by far the most common argument is this: they say that because it removed so many mechanical elements from the process (e.g. flanking mechanics, using miniatures and grids by default, having to take feats and shit to move in conjunction with an attack, having to spend actions on drawing weapons and reloading crossbows and shit, no full-round attacks, etc.) that there aren’t enough options in combat to keep it interesting. And they say that, because of this, every combat is just, “I make a basic attack. ...I hit. …alright I attack again. ...I hit. ...alright I attack again. ...I missed" for like 10 rounds.

But I can’t say that I agree. My own group doesn’t have this problem and it’s not like we're working that hard to avoid it, either. No, it doesn't have a bunch of "cool power buttons" to press like 3.5E and 4E. But you still can do all sorts of creative things as long as you think of something useful and cool other than “basic attack,” and the DM thinks they can run with it.

The goal of 4E D&D was to have the rules do all the heavy-lifting for you. It has intrinsic tactical depth, but the effort they put into that came at the expense of pretty much everything else. 5E asks you to put in some extra work if you want to have an action-oriented adventure, but it does so because it's also granting you the freedom of tactical infinity.

To put it shortly, are you really all that surprised that your combat hasn't been fun when you keep throwing your players against 5 regular goblins in a blank, flat room with no secondary goals or complications to the situation? Doesn't it feel a little silly to blame the rules when that ends up being a boring experience?

Of course, I know you believe me. You know what I'm talking about. There've been many other writers who've developed some theory as to what makes this work. Chris McDowall has "Information, Choice, Impact." Patrick Stuart has "Game vs Threat" (found in his book Silent Titans. [EDIT: I've decided to just splice the page in at the bottom of this post since it was bugging me that I couldn't find anything about it on his blog]). The Monsters Know What They're Doing has made a career of their theory. Runehammer has a great series on "Room Design" that covers what I'm talking about. 4th Edition D&D made use of one of my favorite game design concepts innovated by DOOM: "Orthogonal Unit Differentiation" (watch that video, it rocks). I even once claimed that there are literally only two enemies you ever need (which is a lie, but a good lie).

But this was my own effort from years ago that I think holds up pretty well. It's just a list. Not a theory or a formula, just a list of elements to include.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Women Warriors

Credit: Malaysian artist Qistina Khalidah, who
you should all go check out immediately

Female Fighters

Lady Lancers

Nonbinary Knights

I have a ton of folders of collected artwork for D&D inspiration. I was just thinking to myself that they could make for a good post. Why not start here? 

I hope you like women in armor, because I have many digital binders full of 'em. This collection skews towards European knight aesthetics because I'm a hack. Feel free to correct that in the comments by contributing more pics. 

I've tried to credit everyone. This isn't exhaustive or anything, these are just the pieces I've come across over the years that I enjoyed enough to save.

This one goes out to all the thirsty lesbians reading this blog. If it's popular then I'll do more of these posts (but with different subject matter).

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Alternative Economics (Part 3: Treasure-Driven Adventure)

Return to part 1

Continuing from part 2, I'm exploring some alternatives to the traditional role that money and economics plays in D&D, inspired by real-life situations found in history, with the occasional creative liberty taken here or there to make things more gameable. It's fantasy after all, we're not going to stress about accuracy here. Last time I just talked about small-to-medium adjustments to the existing economic situations your players engage in. This time I want to think bigger picture. In traditional, OSR, "XP for Gold" schemes, dungeoneering is a path that leads to domains being built up for each individual player. But what other campaign arcs shaped by treasure can we imagine?

An important caveat for this: all specific numbers and variables are intentionally left ambiguous. I wouldn't know the optimal figures or ratios for these ideas to work, especially with the pricing schemes written into your RPG of choice. All of these are simply described in the abstract. What I will say is that most of these schemes work better if you simplify capital into large blocks rather than penny-pinching. When you're a pirate crew raiding a merchant vessel, you'll win enough treasure to buy whatever mundane equipment you want. So the real measure of wealth is in big abstracted chunks that you can use to buy ships and fortresses whole.

All of the following ideas would almost certainly need to be implemented and communicated to the players from the very beginning, as they're all meant to shape the entire campaign for everyone. In fact, I would encourage anyone out there to design a whole RPG or adventure scenario after your favorite examples here, since that's what these really are. The caravan-XP system from Ultraviolet Grasslands I described last time is a really good example of the sort of thing I'm here to offer you.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Alternative Economics (Part 2: Interesting Choices)

I have previously talked at length about the virtues of "campaign-level play." That is, rather than only ever running your game as a series of mostly-isolated scenarios in episodic fashion and then calling it a "campaign," you actually flesh out all the connective tissue between adventures. There are certain gameplay structures you can incorporate which aren't really interacted with on a scenario-to-scenario basis, but which nonetheless have an impact on the campaign as a whole. Examples I give are things like a calendar and downtime play, usable maps and travel gameplay, complicated NPC relationship charts that'll change over time, and of course, domain play and some slightly more in-depth economics than just a menu of regular adventuring gear.

Most of this post's contents will be schemes describing entire economies and how they function. There was a bit of that in Part 1, but it rarely extended beyond small communities. Everything here will be stuff that works at the scale of whole kingdoms, and oftentimes is most effective when contrasted against neighboring kingdoms which don't share these traits. If nothing else, it's decently educational for folks who find this stuff interesting and it's very often good worldbuilding fuel.

A common theme for these is new choices that players can make to acquire or use their rewards. The classic options are 1) go on an adventure where treasure is found, or 2) get paid treasure to go on an adventure. The former is self-directed, the latter is NPC-directed. Sometimes the DM will offer other avenues of gaining rewards though, like running a modest business in downtime, gambling, or swearing patronage to a demon lord in exchange for dark power. I think players should have a buffet of these options to indulge in at their own discretion. But to do that, you need novel options. Well this post expands that list and complicates a lot of what was already on it.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Alternative Economics (Part 1: Money)

Much has been made of the weird underlying assumptions of general "liberal American capitalism" woven throughout mainstream D&D economics gameplay. It's called "anachronistic" by most and "great unique setting flavor" by the generous (usually in regards to Greyhawk or the implied setting of OD&D). It's an artifact of D&D's 1970s American Midwest origins and is, ultimately, probably useful for the same reasons that it was inevitable: it agrees with all the most common assumptions the general audience will have about economics going in. It makes the game more accessible and simple. Following from this is where we get "Gold for XP," a rule whose utilities I'm sure I don't need to expand on here.

But I like worldbuilding. I like when I learn new information and then get to use it as a DM. I also like when I learn new information and have to use it as a player. So "alternative economics" are inevitably going to interest me as a potential design space. The most common alternative that people explore when addressing D&D's inexplicable "industrialized free market" is to attempt to gamify feudalism or include provisions for bartering. I, too, will be addressing those in this series. But I'll be doing a lot more, as well.

Strap in.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Game Theory and Uncertainty

This goes beyond just Tabletop RPGs, and is much less organized or fruitful than most of my posts. Hope you find it interesting though. I apologize for anyone who hasn't played many of the games mentioned in this post, but take it as a list of recommendations. Well, except for Puerto Rico. Fuck that game.

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.

[UPDATE: just finished the campaign. In the second to last session we attained Theodicy by confirming that God isn't omnipotent. Can't believe that joke prediction actually happened.]