The Great Work is now at 787 pages, up 10 pages from 2 weeks ago, which averages to 5 pages per week which means I’m a bit ahead of my 15 pages per month average over the past 10 or so months. More details below the fold…
So the few regular readers here will have noticed that I’ve recently discovered Sarah Darkmagic’s blog and I highly recommend it. Especially since she just recently posted about life expectancy in medieval Europe (which is round about “health-wise” where most fantasy RPGs like D&D find themselves plus magic) and I had a few weeks ago gotten into a long drawn out email discussion about the same thing with my gaming group.
Sarah Darkmagic has it right on, in that the often-touted age of “35″ being the average life expectancy in the middle ages takes into account infant (age 5 and under) mortality. And that those that survived past age 5 (especially about age 15 +/- 5 years) would have a much higher life expectancy, usually around 55.
The reason it came up in my game was all because I informed my players that, for my campaign world, I had come up with rules governing (general all-inclusive) cancer (and the intent to write up Alzheimer’s). Understandably, my players did not really like the idea as no one wants their heroic character to die from such horrendous real world diseases. What got me on to making a “cancer rule set” is contained in the email below.
What prompted me to write in “full defense” mode in the email was because one player (who is, among other amazing things, a professional fitness trainer) responded that there is “very strong evidence that civilized diseases are linked to refined carbohydrates and sugar in the diet” and that his sage-like character in the game would espouse something like that. To which I [snarkingly] asked for evidence/sources. In not receiving anything from the player (and with other players adding to the discussion obesity, cholesterol, heart disease, etc.) I then went on to give my reasoning for including cancer (and Alzheimer’s).
In reading Sarah Darkmagic’s post on life expectancy, it made me realize that maybe some of my long-winded emails to my players would make for good blog posts, so the rest of what follows below the fold (attempting to use below-the-fold formatting) is from those emails with some editing for consistency.
Over the past couple of years the topic of sexism in D&D (and role-playing games in general and gaming in meta-general) has come to the forefront of online discussions (and hopefully irl conversations as well). Especially after Wizards of the Coast (WotC) artist Jon Schindehette publicly approached the topic of “Sexism in Fantasy” on WotC’s website last year (but overall, the topic of sexism in gaming is still very fresh, as can be seen by Aisha Tyler’s response to sexist comments about why she shouldn’t host E3 this year).
As a preamble note: when speaking about gender here, I am either referring to the real-world gender to which an individual identifies (including androgynous) or the in-game gender to which the player or GM assigns to a character or non-player character. Because the majority, if not all, the treatment of gender in role-playing games focus solely on female/male dichotomy that is what is primarily addressed here. However, it is my hope that with a more varied and equal treatment of the two opposites sides of the gender issue in role-playing games that we will see more inclusion for androgynous and other aspects of gender.
Now I know, in writing on a topic that’s a year old some may say I’m late to the party. But my perspective is; I’ve been at the party the whole time, I’m just a wallflower and I need to watch how others are dancing in order discern what the dance is about. In other words, as a cisgendered hetero white able-bodied male it is important for me to shut the hell up and listen to what non-[cis-het-white-able]-males are saying about the subject and then attempt, to the best of my ability, to empathically put myself in their shoes.
On the off chance that in reading the above articles it’s not clear what I’m addressing here is my central foci are around 3 points; 1. Art & Game-rule text in RPGs being either overtly sexist or failing to recognize that women also play the games. 2. Sexism within the game setting, “the world,” itself. 3. Self analysis of my own fantasy world both as it relates to 1 and 2.
1. Art & Game-rule text
Claudia Cangini has a wonderful post in which she talks about how she approached fantasy game art with sexual/sensual overtones (includes mildly NSFW examples of her art). Unlike Schindehette, who just passes the buck by approaching the issue of sexism in fantasy art and then saying “I’d like to dismiss the term sexism for a bit and get down to the meat of the subject. I think that the term “sexist” is convenient, inflammatory, and polarizing. It doesn’t actually address the issue that most folks are asking me to address—and that is the issue of the role and depiction of women (and I get a surprising number of requests about men as well) in fantasy.” Cangini hits it dead on by describing exactly how to address the issue; (paraphrasing) 1. Equal gender ratios of scantly clad individuals. 2. Avoiding portraying women as weaker/more passive/more victimized than men. 3. Action scenes over simple one-character posing which allows for more varied displays of the personalities (characters as “human” that are active in the world not as objectified things passively waiting for something to be done to them).
A fourth point I would include is focus on “realism” over “fantasy” for the portrayal of individuals in the fantasy art. The quotes are there because I mean for people to be drawn with a coherent internal-to-the-fantasy-world realism. The easiest example of this is how armor is drawn. Armor is for protection and if a female knight is drawn in plate mail that has her legs, midriff, arms, hell, any flesh exposed it says her sexuality is valued more than her effectiveness in combat. It says the artist, art director, and the game company value portraying women as sexual over realistic actors in the game-world to be taken seriously. It also implies that the customer who purchases such a book has the same values, whether it’s true or not, conscious or not, and the only way for the customer to disagree with the company’s choice in their portrayal of women is to either not buy the books or speak up and let the company know how they feel.
Now some at this point may think that I’m arguing that sensual/sexual images in fantasy game art is outright wrong, that there should be no depictions of scantly clad women or men in the game books. But this is an outright incorrect reading of this blog post. For example, if the art director needed the image of female knight and they still wanted to show sexuality/sensuality in the image, following Cangini points above, having the knight be in the process of removing her realistic armor with her male page to her side behind her pulling the spaulder off her shoulders, her one un-gloved hand resting gently on his leg as they look each other in the eyes tenderly…there you have a women in power in a sensual situation that implies there is more than just a “business” relationship between her and her page with a reason for showing her skin. But if the same knight is to be shown in battle, then what’s the reason for showing any flesh? The only reasonable reason would be because at some point during the battle some part of her armor had been destroyed and here the artist runs into a risk of depicting/fetishizing violence towards women (especially if the destroyed armor heavily sexualizes her at the same time). Having male and female allies in the same state of harm in the battle would help to mitigate that risk. At the very least, having another image in the book that presents a male character in the same level of harm would help to balance things out (role-playing games tend to be combat orientated so violence is, well, a fun part of the game but predominately showing women as passive victims passes into the realm of moral reprehensibility).
If art directors and artists kept those three/four simple points in mind when laying out a game book it would go a long way to saying “we value both our male and female customers.” Schindehette says about approving the Tisha character image that he “made a decision based upon the business goals, the sales channel, the audience as it was defined, and what was acceptable in the market at the time.” None of these are acceptable reasons for sexism (hint: there are none). Just as state run eugenics programs, slavery, and Japanese internment camps were morally wrong before, during, and after they occurred, agreeing to continue to promote sexism because of business goals, sales, the audience, and acceptable market practices doesn’t make it any less wrong. Producing white-supremacist literature with accompanying art meets the racists’ business goals, sales channel needs, pleases its intended audience, and is acceptable in the (racists’) market…it’s still wrong.
The text in role-playing games has, on one hand, come a long way. Most notably in the conscious use of gender-neutral pronouns or alternating between “his” and “her,” etc.
But there are other subtle issues that still exist. Sarah Darkmagic wrote up her impressions of the races handout for D&D Next where she points out that in the section on dwarves there’s the description that “Male dwarves value their beards highly and groom them very carefully.” But there is no indication of what the other half of the dwarven race “have,” the only gender distinction given as being males are slightly taller and heftier than females, and she sees this as implying that if female dwarves do not grow beards and are slighter in build then they will be seen as lesser. I tend to read it as uninformative (still sexist for being uninformative) rather than assigning any implication.
The 4th Edition D&D Player’s Handbook address both male and female dwarven grooming, “Male dwarves are often bald and braid their long beards into elaborate patterns. Female dwarves braid their hair to show clan and ancestry.” But the Pathfinder Core Rulebook entry completely supports Sarah Darkmagic’s assumption; “Male and female dwarves pride themselves on the length of their hair, and men often decorate their beards with a varity of clasps and intricate braids. A clean-shaven male dwarf is a sure sign of madness, or worse-no one familiar with their race trusts a beardless dwarf.” So the first clause of the first sentence talks about both genders, but then the rest of the description is all about male dwarves. There is no clear indication if female dwarves in the game follow the old-school “all dwarves have beards” or not and for those unfamiliar with the old school then they would assume female dwarves have no beards…essentially clean-shaven which would imply the women are the “mad” gender.
Because of the fairer treatment to the genders in the dwarf physical description section of the 4th ed. D&D Player’s Handbook I thought I would check out the “Adventurers” examples in each class section to see how they come out. Here’s what it boiled down to:
Dragonborn: male warlord, female fighter, male paladin
Dwarf: male paladin, female cleric, male fighter
Eldarin: female wizard, male rogue, female warlord
Elf: male ranger, female rogue, male cleric
Half-elf: male warlord, female warlock, male paladin
Halfling: female rogue, male ranger, female warlock
Human: male fighter, female ranger, male wizard
Tiefling: male warlock, female warlord, male rogue
Cleric: 1 Female, 1 Male
Fighter: 1 Female, 2 Male
Paladin: 0 Female, 3 Male
Ranger: 1 Female, 2 Male
Rogue: 2 Female, 2 Male
Warlock: 2 Female, 1 Male
Warlord: 2 Female, 2 Male
Wizard: 1 Female, 1 Male
Total: 10 Female, 14 Male (5:7 ratio)
While they do a good job of alternating between male/female/male examples, they don’t alternate across the race sections (if they did then the ratio would be evenly split). Additionally, the two races that get the female-majority of descriptions are the Eldarin (the most physically attractive race) and the Halflings (the most child-like). I was surprised to see that across all the races there was one female and one male cleric represented. However, it was disappointing to see no female Paladins represented and that the one place where women outnumber men is as warlocks (the stereotypical witch-class) and where men outnumber the women are in stereotypical masculine roles (fighter, paladin, and ranger). So on one hand it’s good that female adventurers were described, but on the other there are still marks of sexism there.
I did not read each entry in-depth to see if there was a predominant passive-entry into adventuring for the female entries vs. active-entry for the males.
2. Sexism within the Game Setting
The game setting, the world in which the game takes place, is different from the rules. It forms the background in which the stories of the heroes take place. It is important for the game designer to explicitly state how cultures (purely fantastic or based on real-world cultures or somewhere in between) are going to be treated in their products. “Campaign books,” the books that set out to describe the world and its inhabitants, should include a disclaimer at the very least, a trigger warning of sorts, if some or all of the world contains sexism (and racism, sexual content, etc.).
Why? Because; A. By being up front with your audience (or possible audience) you are showing you give a damn about them. You’re letting them know, up-front, what kind of content your presenting and giving them the choice to dive in or walk way based on what they think is best for them instead of letting them stumble upon things that may upset, anger, alienate, or otherwise harm them. B. It shows you, the creator, are aware of the subject matter you’ve created, that you consciously chose to include such subject matter because you feel it is necessary for the setting. C. It helps to keep you, the creator, aware that sexism is an issue, you’re prone to it and need to actively work against it.
For example, in Sarah Darkmagic’s response to Schindehette’s “Sexism in Fantasy” article, she writes, “People often step in at this point and ask why I’m bringing “real world” issues into the game. I’d like to turn the question around and ask why they are insisting on bringing “real world” discrimination into the game. Whether they like it or not, the game world of D&D has a world full of women over the age of 25. The Forgotten Realms is supposed to be a game world where women are equal to men. In a world with magic and healing, there’s no reason why women would have to be relegated to a subservient role in the world.”
This is entirely the correct way to go about designing in-game content. For what reason are gender stereotypes being promoted within a fantasy world? If the designer’s answer is “they’re not,” then it becomes important to consciously work against that in the writing. Making sure there are inns that have equal distribution of male and female waitstaff, positions of power being split between genders evenly, especially as sample sizes get larger (if you’re only looking at one position of power, then that will be filled by either one or the other gender, but in looking at 100 positions of power then the distribution should be closer to 50/50, and so on).
If the designer’s answer is “they are,” then it becomes exceedingly important for the designer to explain why. If a designer is going to go to the lengths of including in the rules something like “male humans have a -2 penalty to Intelligence at character creation,” then an explanation as to why, in this particular game-world, this is the case as well as needing to develop the human cultures around this game mechanic with the understanding that this penalizes the game-play experience of any player choosing the play a male human. But flip that around, what if the designer includes the penalty for female humans and not males? This both plays into a real-world stereotype (which is utterly false) as well as penalizing any player choosing to play a female human. For this reason, in-game mechanics that differentiate between genders are best to just not include in the game (which, thankfully, most professional games no longer include).
But what about non-mechanic differences? There’s three basic choices for the designer (with a sliding scale between them). On one side is to just not include sexism in the world. As Sarah Darkmagic pointed out above, this is the default position of the Forgotten Realms (how well it accomplishes this is another matter) for the playable races.
In the middle is to add sexism in sparingly, which is closer to what actually happens in the Forgotten Realms where; A. The majority of figures in position of power are male but there are several notable exceptions (which appears to be an unconscious outcome of the creators of the world) and B. Where there is or has been cultures with inherent sexism it’s largely been in reverse (namely the drow matriarchal society, and the pre-4th edition D&D half-drow nation of Dambrath). What’s particularly of note about the reverse sexism is that it almost always portrays the ruling class (the women) as inherently evil as if acknowledging that sexism is morally wrong while failing to recognize the predominant male powers in the rest of the world. A more conscious application of this middle road would be to include some cultures that had varying degrees of sexism, some with males in the privileged position, some with females, and others more egalitarian all the while avoiding assigning any cultural-version a predominant alignment but those with sexism being slightly more evil than the egalitarian cultures (this is not to say that sexism isn’t morally wrong, but only taking into account that the culture is comprised of both those in power and those who are not so declaring the culture evil further ignores the rest of the society).
At the other end of the extreme, a designer could go full bore into including sexism into their game world and mimic it to the worst that real world humans have created throughout their history. For me personally, I’d only be interested in playing in such a game world if a central plot to the campaign was fighting against the oppression. But it’s still a viable option, especially if the creator openly outlines how and why the world is sexist while acknowledging that sexism is morally wrong.
While on one-hand I love the drow, spider-loving demon-summoning bad-guys from below, I think they only further harm gender understanding within the game. If Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms had more examples of non-inherently evil matriarchal societies, then the drow could be the deviate from the norm, but as it stands it’s a glaring “don’t let women into positions of power,” implication.
Drow lead into another issue: the majority of female enemies in role-playing games are often highly objectively sexualized to the point of that being their defining characteristic. Alu-demons, drow matriarchs, marilliths, nymphs, nixies, succubi/erines, all play into the “whore” archetype/stereotype as are just about any humanoid female enemy in the game, often stripped of agency (see Sarah Darkmagic’s “Drelnza, The False Disney Princess” write up). While hags, and similar monsters play into the “crone” archetype. And the damsel in distress playing into the “virgin” archetype. None of which being fully integrated complex individuals. Then, on the other hand, the monstrous races like orcs, goblins, kobolds, lizardfolk, giants, etc., predominately present masculine aspects while totally ignoring females of the population. For example, the Pathfinder prd entry on the orc only mentions gender once, and then only to describe the average male’s height and weight (implying female orcs are unimportant and won’t ever come up in game).
Deities are another area in which sexism can appear. In D&D 4th Edition, there are 19 gods detailed (the evil and chaotic evil ones only mentioned). Of those 19, 8 are female, 11 are male. Of the 8 female deities only one is Good (none are Lawful Good), 5 are Unaligned, one is Evil, and one is Chaotic Evil. Of the 11 male deities two are Lawful Good, one is Good, two are Unaligned, 5 are evil, and one is Chaotic Evil.
The female gods have the following key-words/portfolio aspects: Adventure, Autumn, Civilization, Death, Envy, Fate, Freedom, Frontier, Greed, Illusion, Knowledge, Lies, Moon, Prophecy, Scheming, Sea, Shadows, Skill, Spiders, Trade, Travel, Trickery, Treachery, Wealth, Wilderness, Winter.
The male gods have the following key-words/portfolio aspects: Artisans, Arts, Assassins, Battle, Beauty, Conquest, Creation, Darkness, Destruction, Domination, Honor, Jailers, Justice, Necromancy, Nobility, Poison, Protection, Secrets, Spring, Strength, Summer, Sun, Thunder, Time, Torturers, Tyranny, Undead, Underdark, War
So 10 out of the 26 key-words for the women are inherently negative traits (38.5%). While 10 out of 29 are for the males (34.5%, where, given the nature of the game, Battle, Conquest, and War are not considered negative nor positive).
Additionally, the female gods’ traits of Illusion, Lies, Moon, Scheming, Sea, Shadows, Trickery, and Treachery are particularly playing to stereotypes. As are the male gods’ traits of Battle, Conquest, Creation, Destruction, Domination, Honor, Justice, Nobility, Protection, Strength, Sun, Thunder, Tyranny, and War.
3. Self Analysis
So how do I hold up? From the outset of creating my fantasy world I began with the inherent decision to make the majority of my cultures (especially the human cultures) non-sexist and non-racist (where for me racism is applied to what would be called in standard D&D sub-races) but heavily species-ist (where in my campaign I define dwarves as a separate species from elves which are separate from humans, and so on). I essentially went with the idea that in a world where there are multiple sentient humanoid species then the demonizing of the “other” is going to more easily and frequently be applied to those other species than focused within the species own society (whether racially [D&D sub-races] or by gender).
No species (D&D race) in my fantasy world have gender-dependent game mechanics (like +2 to this or that attribute, skill, etc.), but I do include information on the sexual dimorphism of every playable species which includes average weights and heights for each gender or each species. I’m still open to the idea of sexual dimorphism in humans having arisen from cultural constrains, but as far as I have been able to discover there is ample evidence that sexual dimorphism differences in height and weight are inherent in our species (and even in our distant ancestors), but I just assume that even if there is a predominance of one gender being physically stronger or more resistant to pain than the other that, at least for my game world, these differences between genders translates to less than 1 point on the 3-18 attribute scale and so, rounding, there is no need to add game-mechanic modifiers based on gender. The height-weight averages are presented as just that, averages, and the players are free to choose the height and weight (within reason, no 10 ft tall, 120 lbs, humans).
However, intent does not always translate to reality. Surprisingly enough (to me), after reading Sarah Darkmagic’s complaint about no details about dwarven women in the D&D Next races write-up, I went and looked at my own write up of the dwarves and found I did the exact same thing. I described a bit on beard grooming but nothing about female dwarves (my campaign’s female dwarves are beardless). So I added in a bit about female dwarves’ grooming/hair styles. I then did a quick read-through of the rest of the species and if I mentioned only male traits then I made sure to include mirrored female traits but there were only two other noticeable (to me) instances (which I fixed). The description of dwarven grooming was the most glaring issue, where for the other species I largely don’t discuss grooming/dress-styles/etc., as I plan to address those within the specific cultural entries which I haven’t yet reached for the most part.
For my persons in position of power in the local region (human), where I’m play-testing the game-world, I wouldn’t give myself a terrible score (given my intent of making the society non-sexist). Of the 23 listed positions of highest political power, 13 are male, 10 are female, and 2 are not yet defined. But out of the 23 that are defined there are 15 noble houses (which includes the Marquis of the city), and of them, sadly, 10 are male that lead their noble house and 5 are female.
For the heads of the 9 churches in the play-testing region (where there is some overlap between noble houses), I do better, with 5 leaders being male and 4 being female where one male church leader is also head of a noble house and one female church leader is head of a noble house.
Two places that I utterly fail at are my kings lists and the deities. My kings lists are abhorrently (for a fantasy world that says sexism is minimal to non-existent) male dominated. Luckily all but one of them has been handed over to the players so I can make changes as needed before ruining consistency-of-play. For the one that has been presented to the players, there are 15 emperors of the fallen human empire, of which only 3 are female. With the empire fallen, and five major kingdoms emerging from the ashes, 2 are currently ruled by women (which I wouldn’t consider terrible if not for the 3 of 15 female emperors).
The deities have the following issues: There are 4 primal ancient and elemental gods, 3 are described as male and 1 as female where I realize that they should be dual-gendered with individual societies (and groups within those societies) recognizing/worshiping one gendered aspect or another or as a dual entity.
There are 4 children of those primal gods and they are evenly split, half male, half female. The god of day is male, the god of night is female and while the portfolio descriptions are light, day, and luck for the one and darkness, night, and dreams for the other, I have one negative epitaph for the female god, “the Sleeping Curse” and no negative titles for the male god. The other two gods, assigned to the two moons, are more neutral but their portfolios do play slightly into sexist/stereotypical ideals with the female god being assigned thought and patience while the male god is action and impetuousness.
These 4 children gods should be changed like the primal gods to be dual-gendered and dependent on the culture worshiping them.
Next I have the Progenitor Gods and the Gods of Civilization. The Progenitor gods are the gods of the species, considered by each species to be their creator, and with them I was intent upon the sexism inherent in the species. The minotaurs, lizardfolk, elves, and kobolds all have a dual-gender “father/mother” god that created them (at least as those species view themselves). The humans, dwarves, and orcs have both a male and female progenitor god, they were created by their two gods joining in some way. Finally the gnolls and goblins only have one god, male and female respectively which reflects the sexism inherent in their cultures.
The gods of civilization number 19 in total. 7 are female and 12 are male, which is a worse ratio than the 4th edition D&D ratio especially considering that the humans are supposed to be non-sexist in my world and I include the specific statement about the civilized gods that “Unless otherwise noted, the [civilized] gods are presented in the way that the…humans interpret them, both in their typical descriptions and their dogma.” Given the number of alternate universes out there it seems that, among those where the humans have non-sexist cultures, there should be a few whose pantheons are more female than male. In which case there are already 2 of the civilized gods that I can easily change to female and I’ll have to take my time to see which other one to switch.
It’s highly probably that other instances of sexism are in my project. But I will be looking for them with the intent of changing them where not appropriate/unintended and explicitly pointing them out as a moral lacking in the in-game society where it is intended.
Currently the endeavor is steadily working through the history timeline of the continent, but more importantly play-testing the campaign has begun, having started around July of 2012 spanning approximately 15 game nights of about 4 hours each.
The players are generally annoyed at not having gained a level yet, which on the basis of both of the number of game nights spent and the real-world time spent it is understandable. However, I have intentionally set experience progression at “medium” as defined under the Pathfinder rules and there has only been four “mini” adventures, so with about 15 sessions over 9 months, for an average of 1 2/3 games per month, and an average of 123 XP per night, it means that it will be about 5.5 months until the PCs reach 3rd level. Shorter if I increase the CR of the encounters and/or if we play more in the next five months (which usually happens over the summer months).
The players have access to a 222 page pdf that covers the basic race/species, class, skills, feats, deity pantheon, magic rules, equipment lists, etc. for the campaign as well as a 35 page regional glossary of the starting area (all including maps of the central city, the 3,300 square mile [50 mi x 66.67 mi] regional map, and the continental map).
The total current page count of the entire book is at 777 pages now which means there’s 520 pages of in-process material. The bulk of which, 226 pages, is the physical geography section. Second place is the cultural geography section, 69 pages, and third is the timeline, 65 pages. The glossary alone is at 48 pages, and the section on plants, animals, diseases, etc. is at 28 pages. The remaining sections (18 of them) are 20 pages or less each, the majority only being 1-page place holders.
The main concern (other than the pompous-ity of thinking anyone’s going to want to trudge through 777+ pages of my writing) is how pdf’s deal with files of that size. Already, the 222 page pdf is approximately 30 MB, and I’m worried about how easy it will be to navigate through the finished document.
So that’s the update and I hope to resume the once-per-week updates again. On a disturbing note, nearly three years ago I wrote the first Update (from the fringe). At least 777 pages is a good leap from 267; that works out to 15 pages per month, 0.5 pages per day. If I knew how many pages the work was going to be when finished, I could figure out how much longer I’ll be doing this for.
Recognizing a successful game night is more difficult than recognizing failed evenings and more importantly recognizing a successful DM moment, action, use-of-the-rules is more difficult than recognizing the times one fails. At the very simplest of definitions a success is when everyone at the table has fun through the accurate application of the rules of the game and a failure is when either some number of individuals at the table do not have fun or there is an inaccurate application of the rules or some combination of both.
In looking at the above definitions of success and failure it is quickly realized that it is far harder to achieve a success than it is to avoid failure for success relies on all present having fun while a failure occurs even if all but one individual is having fun. And by far, fun over-rules rules. Even if, like in my previous post on DM failure, a rule or some aspect of the game is forgotten, overlooked, etc., but everyone still had fun then the failure is minimal.
Additionally, determining if an evening was successful is far more difficult than recognizing it is a failure. It is far easier, as a DM, to notice frustration, anger, or disappointment in one’s players than it is to determine accurately if a player is having fun while thinking about their next move or neutrally bored with the situation.
The past three nights that I ran my campaign1 (spanning over two months) were largely successful. The all-human party consists of Barakus Zarhadov (sorcerer, noble), Govan Evresi (magus, noble), Onzul Hjerngo (druid, commoner), Sadiri Medvela (cleric, middle-class/expert), Satili Norezhen (Inquisitor, noble), and the NPC Erkhan (rogue, commoner). The outline of the three-night adventure happened roughly as follows:
- 23rd: Concerned over the missing children mentioned in the 2nd Haradhiem Broadside2 of the year, the party travels from the city of Haradhiem north to the village of Vaulgren where they talk to the locals, the parents of the missing children, and meet with Sered Dolsh of the Company of the White Stag at the inn. They search the village and the surrounding region where Onzul’s wolf, Swift, picks up the scent of the children and possibly one of the strange hounds that had been seen. They follow the scent north out of the village, towards the Tiginfields (large farming region). On the southern edge of the fields they visit the hermit, Abdrun, who informs them that he has seen the hounds, always travelling north across the fields, for the past month or more. The party then picks up the scent in the farmland and travel across the Tiginfields to the northern end where the scent seems to carry on along a deer path that follows a small stream. They decide to camp there at the edge of forest. Norezhen (Satili’s noble family’s) guards, led by Captain Zamriv, talk with them on their patrols of the fields.
- 24th: The party is awoken by Zandin Norezhen, Satili’s brother and mayor of the Norezhen villages, who invites the party to come stay at the Tiginfields manorhouse once they’re done “playing in the fields.”
- The party heads out along the deer path, the morning growing dark under the heavy canopy of the forest. The scent turns eastward away from the river and soon the party finds themselves before an old abandoned farmhouse where the forest has grown quiet.
- Satili and Onzul approach the house while Swift is sent to check the barn. With Satili and Onzul at the front and back doors of the house, they are rushed by the strange hounds they have been tracking. The party rushes to their aid and after dispatching the two hounds, Satili and Onzul search the first floor of the house while Barakus examines one of the hounds with magic. Satili and Onzul then begin searching the second story while Barakus and Sadiri head into the house in order to search the basement where Sadiri had seen a light and heard something during the fight with the hounds. With Govan and Erkhan outside, Govan hears a powerful thump against the inside wall of the barn and calls for the others to come outside. Satili stops from opening the door to the basement and in walking towards the exit she falls through the rotted floor of the house; descending into the dark basement below. (End of the first evening)
- Sadiri is dragged through the darkness of the basement by something big. Onzul falls halfway through the floor just after returning to the first floor and then drops himself down into the basement. Two malnourished gender-less children composed of an inky nothingness sicken Sadiri with dark magical miasma and she is then dragged through the basement by unseen hands again. With difficulty, the rest of the party navigates through the house and down into the basement where Satili and Onzul confront the two strange otherworldly children while Sadiri, Govan, and Barakus confront a third. They manage to defeat the creatures, which dissolve into piles of rendered fat. The party then finds a ritual room, with the bodies of two human children which they believe are those of the ones they had been searching for. But the ritual doesn’t seem to be connected to creating the strange creatures. The party makes their way out of the house (but not before the stairs leading out of the basement collapse) and into the courtyard of the farm. Just as things grow quiet again, the thing within the barn slams against the wall again. (End of the second night)
- Sadiri, Govan, and Erkhan place the bodies of the children on their horses while Barakus, Onzul, and Satili step tentatively towards the barn. Barakus begins to detect for magic and feels there is an entity in the barn, fifteen feet up near the far wall. Onzul and Satili enter in the back door of the barn and begin making their way towards the front, where Barakus detected the entity. Satili attempts to cast a spell of light but it is unable to take hold as dark forces are smothering out such magics. Onzul then uses a spell of flame and lights a torch while Satili attempts her spell again and succeeds on temporarily enchanting one of her crossbow bolts to produce light. As they progress forward, Onzul and Satili see a ritual circle on the floor of the barn, near the main double doors.
- Erkhan is told to wait with the horses and Govan and Sadiri join Barakus and Swift at the front of the barn, while Satili goes to unbar the double doors. Halfway across the front of the barn a creature, with flesh of inky-blackness, and head like that of a boar, a body and legs like that of a bloated tick leaps upon Satili, biting her, only to ascend back into the corner of the barn through the use of some kind of web-tether. Satili manages to open the barn doors while Onzul climbs to the loft and the party, em mass, engages the otherworldly creature until Sadiri is finally able to cleave it in two with her sword.
- Barakus studies the ritual on the floor of the barn and determines that its purpose is for summoning, which the party then links to the creature they just fought and the sickly ink-like children from the house as well as possibly the hounds.
- The the bodies of the two missing children, the party heads back to the Tiginfields and then east to the village of the same name, where they rest at Satili’s brother’s manorhouse. (End of third night)
The first evening was a mystery/clue-finding night, culminating in meeting a crazy old man living in the woods who gave the party their final clue as to where to search for the hounds (which had been seen around the time the children went missing), and ending with the fight with the hounds and one of the players falling through the floor of the house into the dark basement below for the cliffhanger.
The clue-finding portion seemed to work well. I was on my toes as I had not expected the players to immediately go looking for the missing children on the very day that the broadsides were posted around town, but I had the ruined farmstead planned and ready, all I had to do was back track a number of days from when I thought the PCs would go there and figure out what was happening with the farm’s denizens at the current date. I was also happy to have introduced 4 local NPCs; the retired veteran adventurer at the village inn, the crazed old man in the woods, the captain of the local guard, and the brother of one of the PCs who is also the mayor of the three nearby villages.
But as for the players, how would they rate the night? Essentially the first portion was split between tracking and information gathering. Onzul, the druid, is the tracker and was assisted by Satili, the inquisitor. Govan and Satili are also conversationalists so they were engaged with the information gathering. Barakus and Sadiri were the two most left out, though Barakus (being an Intelligence-based sorcerer) made use of his knowledge skills to help the party out. Being a cleric of the god of war, Sadiri was essentially relegated to the sidelines until they came upon the hounds at the farmstead. But once combat was engaged, Govan became almost a non-entity. However, this is a role-playing choice on the part of the player. The player makes sure Govan is far away from combat, letting the druid and his wolf, the cleric of war, and the inquisitor take the glory…only stepping in when things seem dire.
The cleric failing a save and falling through the floor was one of those in-game events that is too perfect to pass up. It occurred near the end of the evening (I was planning on ending the night once all the players made it out of the house). Ending when Sadiri fell through the floor split the party into three groups, Onzul and Satili coming down the stairs from the 2nd floor of the house. Sadiri in the basement. And Barakus, Govan, Erkhan, and the wolf all outside of the house fearful of what was banging on the walls inside the barn.
With that wonderful ending I was able to really get set up for the second night. I picked out four musical tracks on youtube and just kept rotating through them;
Especially fun were the moments when the classic Psycho shower-scene portion of the piece would hit, which always seemed to be at appropriate moments when the frighteningly macabre children-things made their attacks or when a player would move around a corner and then encounter one of them.
Luckily for this, 2nd, evening I had a lot of energy which I channeled into pulling players into the side room quickly to frantically give them bits of information that others didn’t have. Especially concerning the “haunting” of the house. For example, when the Onzul and Satili rushed to the hole in the floor where Sadiri had fallen through they had to pass by the open front door but as they passed I explained to them the door slammed shut just as they made eye contact with the characters out in the yard. But to the characters in the yard, they saw Satili walk by the door, look at them in the eye, smile wryly, and then purposefully slam the door shut. During the night, just about every character saw some other character do something similar. All of which heightened the paranoia of the characters, making them wonder if other players had been charmed, mind-controlled, or if they themselves were under some dark spell. Sadiri, the cleric who fell through the floor, was subjected to something grabbing her by the legs, knocking her prone, and then dragging her through the hallways of the basement at least three times. But the one time other players saw it happen to her, they just saw Sadiri drop to all fours and then crawl backwards under her own power.
The creatures in the basement were also horrific; naked famine-starved gender-less copies of the missing children with swirling inky-black flesh who moaned hauntingly as they either slowly clawed at the characters or evoked a dark cloud of suffering that withered the roots of the plants growing through the walls of the basement and sickening the characters.
By the time the characters made it out of the house the players were quite stressed. The perfect time to slam my fist on the table indicating that what ever was in the barn still knew they were out there and ending the game for the evening there.
The third night was more frustrating than stressful, exciting, or fun for the players, I think. The thing in the barn was basically a “sub-boss.” Lots of hit points, high AC and attack rolls, low damage but the chance for additional effects on a failed Fortitude save (lucking the players made all their saves), as well as some “home-turf” advantages to keep it out of reach of melee attacks. The players decided to investigate the barn without resting and so carried with them the wounds from the hounds and the basement as well as the spellcasters being effectively out of spells.
So the spellcasters were out of their primary spells, no chance of being healed, and most of the players needed at least a natural 18 to hit, if not higher. I could see in a couple of the players’ eyes a futility when they picked up their d20 to attack.
One other point that added to the frustration, I think, was that I kept everything in combat initiative since the first night with the attack of the hounds. The second night wasn’t so bad due to the heightened anxiety, but the third night, it made the game slow as the players made their way across the courtyard, putting the bodies on the horses, and exploring the first half of the barn. I should have stopped the combat-round tracking for the minute or so (10 rounds) between exiting the farmhouse and being attacked by the thing in the barn.
On the whole, I’m rather happy with the Farmhouse-Adventure and how it turned out. And given where things ended, at the opulent manorhouse of Satili’s brother, the next game night should be a bit more relaxed for the players.
But they did leave the NPC, Erkhan, alone with the horses and the bodies while they dealt with the thing in the barn. They did leave Erhkan alone.
1 The campaign is set in the beta version of my own fantasy world. It’s using the Pathfinder rules with slight modifications. A major change being all characters must start with an NPC class (commoner, merchant/expert, or noble) and then start their “heroic” character-class. The characters start as 2nd level (1st level heroes), currently are 2nd level, and have completed four adventures (the 4th being the Farmhouse adventure described above).
2 Near the beginning and ending of each month (1 month so far in game time) someone secretly posts broadsides around the city of Haradhiem that are critical of the town’s leadership, the nobility, and also lists some notable current events.
The job of the DM is big. There’s a lot to keep track of. Add in a home-brew campaign world and the number of things to keep track of rises exponentially.
The last game I ran I made a massive mistake. Granted there was a lot to keep track of during the combat…but it was a massive mistake.
The player characters’ (PCs’) had tracked an unknown number of tribal orc slave traders as the orcs attacked various settlements and kidnapped their inhabitants along the humans’ borders.
Luckily for the PCs, the military cleric in the party had conscripted 10 mounted knights to travel with them and upon finding the camp of the orcs the PCs had found five guards from the last raided village who had tracked the orcs to the campsite. All of which I handed control of over to the players save for an NPC companion of the group.
The PCs sent the knights down to engage the 16 or so orcs only to find another 23 orcs rush out from over the other side of the hill where the first group of orcs were camped.
Battle lines formed and the 5 PCs, 1 NPC companion, 5 village guards, and 10 knights faced off against 39 orcs.
The druid of the party cast an entangle spell so that over 30 of the orcs were caught in the area; vines, grasses, and shrubs reaching up to hold the orcs down. The rest were stuck behind the entangled area.
In the first round of combat, the few orcs outside the entangled area moved around and fought with the knights.
After that round I made my mistake.
The druid’s turn occurred right after the orcs. On the orcs turn they are able to try to break free of the spell’s vegetative entrapment. On the druid’s turns, the spell attempts to re-trap the orcs.
Around 30 orcs, each receiving two twenty-sided dice (d20) rolls in an attempt to escape and then on the druid’s turn they must make a saving throw (rolling another d20 each) in order to not become entangled again if they’re still within the area.
So to make things go faster, I roll up to 3 times for each of the entangled orcs. If the first roll was a success the orc moved and most those got out of the area. If first roll failed then I rolled twice as even if the second roll succeeded, the orc wouldn’t be able to move out of the area by the druid’s next turn and so it will have to roll again then.
I quickly made my rolls, then moved the orcs that could move out of the area, up to the line where the knights were gathered. Sounds to me like great DMing, getting through 30-90 die rolls as fast as possible.
But I forgot to have the orcs, that could attack, attack the knights. For at least two rounds, and I’m pretty sure three, I forgot this major act on behalf of the orcs.
By the time I realized my mistake, well over two-thirds of the orcs had been killed by the knights and the PCs.
Epic, epic, fail.
With less than ten orcs left, I only drew blood on one knight and the NPC companion (both of which I was able to kill), and the tension was definitely changed after this realization.
On the bright side, the use of chits to track orc damage was a great success. Each of the 35 “grunt” orcs had 21 hit points. So I just used a chit where for every 3-7 points of damage was taken (the minimum the PC’s would do per hit) the orc got a chit that I placed under its miniature. 4 chits and the orc died. For smaller combats I’d keep track of each individual’s hit points, but for such a large combat (on both sides of the battle line) this kept things accurate and swift.
Luckily the orcs didn’t have any spellcasters in their ranks so that was one less thing to keep track of.
All in all, seeing the mounted knights in action, the players would have survived the encounter…but had I remembered to have the orcs attack there would have been a few more causality (and greater tension) on the players’ side of things.
See part 1 here for the set up to this, Nov 2nd 2012’s, game night.
The evening began where we had left off the previous game. The adventurers were in a side tunnel half-way down a wide 200-foot deep well in the sewers of the city. Viola, the half-drow rogue, set off a trap that released the scorpions in the small side passage higher up in the well.
Hearing the legs clacking against the walls of the well, the adventurers get ready for a fight. Lotus, the Shou ninja, moves near the opening to the well and Magora draws her mace but then steps back and pulls out her crossbow. Viola moves back to check the other side of the T-section hallway (opposite to where the trap was) and finds a room thick with mold, a crumbled wall, and passageway that exits with stairs going down, “smells horrible down here but there’s more room to move around,” she says. Rash moves down, away from the well, towards Viola. Lish, the human cleric, steps down the tunnel away from the incoming scorpions as the sound of the scorpions skittering along the well’s walls getting louder.
Lotus whispers, “prepare to pull back.”
Viola pulls out her rapier and peeks around the corner to get a complete view of the stairs leading down and out of the moldy room.
The skittering sounds cease as if the scorpions just stopped on the wall of the well some ten feet above the passage’s opening. Magora steps farther down the hallway and takes aim at the opening to the well.
Then, as if fading into view, having moved completely silently, a scorpion rounds the lip of the passage. It’s mandible open up wide, wider than what any normal scorpion should be able to, and it hisses at Lotus. Lish conjures water above the scorpion, the force washing it onto the floor. More scorpions follow after it.
“They’re coming down the walls,” Magora says and fires her crossbow, hitting one, but barely scrapes the chitinous hide. She reloads quickly and empowers her crossbow with magic.
Viola drops her sword and pulls out her shortbow. She moves back to the T-section and fires around the corner at one of the scorpions, hitting, but again it barely scratches the creature.
Rash bellows, “not on my watch!” and rushes in swinging his greataxe, cracking its hide but not killing it. It’s body elongates becoming a spiked ball of many eyes and wide mouth and it screams at Rash, confusing him, muddling his senses.
All four of the scorpions appear in the tunnel, but in their fiendish transformed state, screaming at Viola, Lotus, and Magora…only Magora seems unaffected.
Lish steps back even further and casts a spell of mental protection around her. Lotus, shaking off the affects of the creature’s scream, vanishes using her ninja abilities, side-steps the creature, and attacks with her wakizaski sword dealing only minor damage to it but enough to poison the creature. Magora fires her crossbow again, her aim true, the bolt sinks deep into it, it then swoops in, flying, and bites her wrist but she shakes it off. Rash swings his greataxe at the one in front of him, cleaving into its hide; blood now flowing out of the bizarre creature’s wounds, but it screams again at the half-orc which muddles his mind. Viola fires her bow again but misses, cutting her fingers on the bowstring.
Several of the creatures swoop in, biting at the adventurers. Lish rushes to Viola’s side and quickly bandages her fingers. Lotus begins babbling incoherently as if mad. Magora yells at Lotus, “keep yourself together!,” and fires her crossbow again but only scratches the creature floating in front of her.
Viola screams as if seeing phantasms. Rash raises his axe and bellows madly at nothing. Magora and Lish become concerned, seeing Lotus, Viola, and Rash acting strangely. One of the creatures again screams at Rash, keeping his mind in a confused state. The creatures then disappear while another screams at Lotus but she seems to be able to resist the strange effect that it has on the mind; it then disappears. She collects herself and looks out the edge of the well, up and down, for the disappeared creature. Viola collects herself, “what happened?” Lish tries to console her.
Magora eyes Rash yelling madly and brandishing his axe in the air, “Rash, calm down,” she says.
Rash, still yelling madly, swings his greataxe and cuts deep into Magora who moves just in time to keep it from being a mortal blow. As blood rushes down her tunic, Lish offers a prayer to her goddess, and then she bursts out in holy light which mildly heals the wounds of the others. Wary of the barbarian, the rest of the party readies themselves to constrain Rash but he quickly comes to his senses as Magora curses him, over and over again.
Curiosity and Half-Orc Cats
As the creatures seem to have fled, the adventurers bandage their wounds. Magora turns to the half-orc male and says, “Rash, if that happens again I’m going to hurt you.”
“Well…don’t get scorpions on ya!” He replies.
She just stares intently with her deep half-orc eyes, “I will hurt you.”
Rash just growls, “bring it!” but she lets it go.
Bringing the focus back to the tasks at hand, Viola says, “What ever those things were, they sure did a number on our minds. I’d sure hate to run into one of those in the temple.”
The adventurers then head into the moldy room and down the stairs. It winds around, spiraling deeper into the depths with Magora leading as she has magic that helps to detect traps. She finds one, a pit-trap, in the floor in a hallway after the stairs and Viola comes forward, studies the trap for a while and then is able to disable the trap.
They continue onward, finding another trap which Viola disables, which Rash walks over first to test the rogue’s handiwork. They come on a third trap and Viola breaks the mechanism of it as well.
Further down the hallway they can hear water dripping and they come upon a chamber that has two five foot square grates in the floor with dark oily water below. In an alcove in the chamber is a cot and a chest. In the center of the room, near the grates, is a large worn bronze gong with a mallet hanging on the stand. The party enters the room and begin searching it.
“Viola, what do you make of this?” Magora says about the grates and the gong.
“Hmm, those grates on the floor can’t be good. Is this a dead end, is this all there is?” Viola asks.
“I believe so,” Magora replies.
“There must be more here than what we see. A gong, two grates over liquid,” the rogue continues.
“And apparently a place where someone sleeps.” Magora points to the cot.
Looking at the grates, they are set with wide-spaced bars and have hinges but no locks. Viola then searches the chest, doesn’t find any traps but it is locked. She then pulls out her tools and sets to unlocking the chest which resists opening to her half-drow fingers. Lotus comes over to help her and the two of them together are able to discern the difficult mechanism.
With a click the chest opens and inside they find some blankets, a sack with sewer-workers guild clothes, and at the bottom are four vials with magical liquids inside. The sack contains several different guild badges and a sowing kit.
“I think we found the living quarters of a doppleganger,” Viola says.
“We should leave, then,” Rash says, “how do we know one of us isn’t the doppleganger?”
“We came in together,” Magora says indignantly.
“I have faith and assume that you’re not,” Viola says and then turns the party’s attention to the gong. Magora and Lish divine that it is not magical.
“They come here to dispose of the bodies, they bang the gong and throw the bodies down the grates and what ever is listening for the gong comes and gets them,” Lish suggests.
“Why would they drag the bodies all the way down here?” Viola asks. “What should we do?”
“We shouldn’t go down into the waters. I believe we should go back and report on our findings,” Magora says, “there’s nothing left to do here, other than banging the gong.”
“Yeah, about that…” Rash says as Magora begins to protest. The barbarian goes over to the gong and takes the mallet and slides it under his belt. Magora positions herself between the gong and Rash.
Lotus does a final search of the room.
Viola says, “You think we should ring it?”
“No,” Magora says.
“You know…eh…I’m afraid of what would happen but it would almost be a shame not to play the game through, wouldn’t it?”
“Not really,” Magora replies dryly.
“We’ve come this far…” Viola says looking at the gong.
Magora just says, “I like my life as it is.”
“Are you so sure something bad will happen? How do you know something bad will happen,” the rogue presses the half-orc woman.
“Because it’s a gong,” Magora says, “in a room…that is hidden…by many traps.”
“It does seem to be that the gong is meant to summon something,” Lish quietly says.
“Right, but what?” Viola asks. “Do you truly believe everything in the world is evil?”
“I never said that…” Magora says.
Rash speaks up, “You can bang it then,” and hands the mallet to Viola under Magora’s deadly stare.
Viola takes the mallet and says, “I would not bang the gong wihtout the consent of the entire group, I’m just saying…”
“I do not think that is a wise idea,” Magora states sternly.
“What do you think, Lotus,” the mallet wielding rogue says to the Shou woman.
“We really haven’t learned anything about what is happening with the missing sewer-workers,” she says.
“Rash?” Magora asks.
“What?” The barbarian says.
“I think I know what you want to do,” she smiles at the half-orc.
Rash laughs, “give it a good one!”
“Lish,” Viola asks, “what do you think?”
“If you wish to bang the gong, I will do what I can to heal the wounds…”
“Do you think we should bang the gong to see what happens or do you not? Yes or no?” Viola interrupts softly.
“Well if you want…” Lish begins.
“That is not what I asked, what do you want?” Viola says with a little more force in her voice.
“Well,” Lish says, “what I want is for us to be finished with what needs to be done down here so we can get out. If you need to find more information then banging the gong may be what you need to do. Is it safe, I would say no, but this whole place hasn’t been safe. Do what needs to be done.”
“A simple yes or no would have been sufficient,” Magora says.
Lotus pulls out a coin, “heads we bang the gong, tales we don’t.” She flips a coin, walks over, takes out her sword and bangs the gong with its hilt. No one hears the coin hit the floor and no one sees what it came up.
Against the Odds
As soon as the gong is struck, the floor undulates as if made out of water but it still is solid. Between the two grates, coming out of the stone like a watery statue of a woman with subtle piscine features. She says, “welcome back, please come and kneel. The master will be with you shortly.” She looks around the room but doesn’t seem to focus on the adventurers. The floor subsides.
Lotus kneels. The rest of the party stands looking on in silence.
“We will not be able to assist you if you go down into the water,” Magora whispers to Lotus while eyeing the grates in front of them.
The woman looks down at Lotus, “the master will appear soon,” and then she dissolves back into the floor.
The water below splashes and a tentacle comes up through the grates and then another through the other grating.
“Back up,” Magora says and takes a step towards the exit. Lish quickly obeys and backs out of the room.
As one of the tentacles heads towards Lotus, she quickly steps away. Rash steps up and swings at one of the tentacles but it dodges out of the way.
“Viola, I think it’s best we leave now,” Magora says and heads out of the room swiftly.
Lotus swings at a tentacle, hits, and tumbles across the room towards the exit as a dark ichor oozes from the wound. Viola glances around and follows Magora.
The tentacles flail around, as if performing some intricate motion in front of Rash. The half-orc steels himself against the phantasmagoric display. He seems only phased, dazed, for a split moment and then steps away from the tentacles and swings his greataxe deep into Lotus’ flesh, “kill them,” ringing in his head.
The rest of the party continues running down the hallway and up the stairs. Lotus goes on the defensive and runs from the half-orc, following the rest of the group. As she runs, Lotus vanishes and while invisible she hums a tune for Rash to follow.
Rash continues his pursuit, “follow your friends as you would normally do,” he hears whispered in his head as he rushes on after them.
At the top of the final set of stairs into the moldy room, Magora, having waited for the others, asks Lotus (who is now visible), “Lotus, what’s happening?”
“Move!” Lotus commands, “Rash is taken over, we’ll have to deal with him when we get to the edge,” they both move on, “I will stand between him and you.”
“No. I think I will stand between him and you, I have a way of dealing with him if necessary,” Magora says. Lotus protests but she acquiesces.
Rash comes up the stairs and yells, “I’m sorry Lotus, I’m sorry.”
“Follow me,” Lotus says and notices that his greataxe is on his back. Rash follows but does not try to close the distance.
As they near the T-section they hear the screeching of the things which were originally in the form of scorpions. The party readies to fight them as Rash then closes in on the party. The creatures appear at the well’s end of the passage. Viola fires her shortbow and hits but its hide deflects the arrow. The four foul things swarm Viola, attacking her with their fanged maws but she is able to deflect all but one of their attacks. Lish steps up to Lotus and heals the wound that Rash’s axe gave her.
Magora steps forward, using the power of her god, she fires at one of the creatures and deals a hefty amount of damage but its hide deflects much of it. Healed, Lotus runs past Lish and jumps over the floating creatures, landing on the other side of them to somewhat block the exit to the well. Viola takes aim and fires again but misses and the arrow flies past Lotus’ head.
The creatures then disappear.
“Cut the rope, do not let them ascend,” Rash hears whispering in his mind.
An Axe and Half-Orc to Hold Her By
Rash says, “out of my way,” and he comes down the hallway that exits at the well, “Is everyone okay, I’m sorry, that thing had control of me!”
“We should keep moving,” Viola says.
The party approaches the bucket and Viola offers for Magora to go up first. Rash says, “Let me take the lead, you all have taken enough damage…there’s no more traps.”
“I appreciate the concern but I will go up first,” Magora replies.
“If you must,” Rash says.
“Those things are still out there, maybe Rash should go first so he can pull the rope…he is the strongest,” Viola says, “besides he weighs the most…”
Rash then steps up to the bucket and grabs the rope. He says, “come on,” as they hurriedly gather in the hallway near the edge of the well. “Come on,” Rash says again then takes his axe and swings at the taught rope, severing it and letting the bucket and rope fall hundreds of feet into the dark waters below. “Guess we better go back down,” Rash says.
“We will climb,” Lotus says.
“I think we better go back down,” Rash says, concern dripping from his half-orc lips.
“Drop your weapon!” Magora says, casting a spell at the barbarian who immediately complies.
“Kill them,” Rash hears echoing through his mind. The barbarian takes a drink from his whiskey flask, growls with rage, steps forward, and grabs at Lotus but Lotus throws a martial punch at the unarmed half-orc which bloodies his nose as Viola fires an arrow at Rash which slices a wound on his shoulder but fails to strike true. Unphased, Rash continues to try to grab a hold of Lotus but she spins out of the way, dives between his legs, grabs the barbarian’s axe, drops it down the well, winks at Magora, and then vanishes from sight.
Magora casts another spell at the barbarian, “Stop attacking!” she commands and Rash stops in his tracks looking dumbfounded.
Viola fires again, striking another wound in the half-orc and says, “We’re going to miss you if we kill you, Rash.”
Lish casts a spell and and the barbarian becomes held immobile by the cleric’s sorcery. Immobilized, Rash just stands there.
“How long will this last?” Lotus asks.
“Only a few seconds,” Lish responds worriedly.
“No,” Lotus says with concern, “this mind control he is under?”
“I said, only a few seconds,” she says again still thinking about the mind control she placed on the barbarian to keep him held in place.
The party then begins discussing ropes, who has one, who is the best climber, and so on.
Lotus throws two shurikens at Rash, both of which hit the half-orc but their poison does not affect the raging barbarian.
Magora pulls one of two 50 ft. length of ropes from Viola’s backpack. Viola then starts climbing up the wall of the well. She slips, falls, but catches herself on the lip. Rash continues to be held. Magora moves up to Rash and ties him up. Viola, focusing herself, climbs up fifteen feet along the well’s wall. Lotus and Lish keep an eye on Rash and Lotus nicks the half-orc with another poisoned shuriken but again, the poison is not strong enough to affect his still raging mind. Viola keeps climbing but it’s slow going, she’s twenty feet from the scorpions’ passage. Rash begins to twitch, Lotus readies herself. Lish and Magora both cast spells but Rash shakes them off. Rash growls and rips his arms out of the ropes. Lish attempts another casting at Rash but again it doesn’t take hold to his enraged mind. Magora casts again but the spell again fails. Viola keeps climbing, pulling herself up to the passage, she comes face to face with the scorpion-creatures which are back in their holding area, 30 feet away.
Rash, free of the spells and the ropes, raging, lunges at the female half-orc, Magora, and grabs a hold of her. Lotus vanishes again and stabs at Rash but the barbarian’s elbow accidentally knocks the ninja nearly unconscious. Lish commands, “release her,” and casts a spell but her casting is not strong enough to work.
Viola ties the rope to a rung that is just above the scorpions’ passage.
Magora struggles, attempting to break from the barbarian’s hold, but she is not strong enough.
Rash drags Magora down the hallway then leaps with her wrapped in his thick arms down the well after his axe; the half-orc inquisitor screaming as they descend into the darkness. As the fall, Magora is able to kick free of the barbarian’s grasp and then they hit water.
November 2nd, 2012 was one of the most exciting game nights I’ve had in a while. Not that previous game nights haven’t been good, just that Nov 2nd was streets ahead. Since the player, L., was absent the group was sworn to secrecy about what happened so that we could relate the story in person, hence the great delay in publishing this post.
The adventurers1 consist of:
Lish: Female human cleric (played by me)
Lotus: Female human ninja (played by P.)
Magora: Female half-orc inquisitor (played by K.)
Rash: Male half-orc drunken barbarian (played normally by L. but he wasn’t here so I ended up having to run his character)
Viola: Female half-elf (drow) rogue (played by A.)
The back story:
Rumors have surfaced of city sewer workers going missing. The adventurers searched for answers which led to the discovery that the guild master of the sewer-workers may be the source, or at least the conduit to the source, of the missing workers.
The characters camped out in the sewers below the guild master’s home to see if he’s using any secret entrances to go about his, alleged, vile deeds. After much waiting, the group saw a figure in the sewers who accessed a secret door. The group followed him found the secret door led to a set of stairs that descend some fifty feet into a small circular room with a large well in the center. The figure was descending down into the well via a rope and pulley. The adventurers trip an explosive trap, and though they survived instead of confronting the mysterious individual who is dangling on the rope down the well, they hastily returned to the surface to inform the people they’re working for.
After several hours the party then returned to the sewers, reaches the secret door, and headed down into the well-room. Looking down into the well they found a small bucket-like platform at one end of the 200-foot long rope that can be lowered down around 100 feet. Rash, the half-orc barbarian, got in and lowered himself down. 50 ft. down he found a 5 ft. x 3 ft. tunnel in the side of the well-shaft that led down a small hallway with a grating some 30 ft. down. Behind the grating scurry 4 large scorpions, about the size of dogs. He threw some food at them, one of them ate it, and then they all move up to the grate and stop moving to watch Rash watch them. He threw some more food but they don’t react, they just watch him. Rash could just make out a small ledge and another passageway another 50 ft. down but headed back up to inform the others about what is down there.
After some discussion, the party lowered the bucket with a magical light source to it’s full length to see if it sets off any traps. 100 ft. down they can see the other, larger, passageway. They pulled the bucket back up and Rash headed back down. He cautiously passed the scorpions, which were still lined up watching from behind the grating, and then reached lower passage which was 8 ft tall by 5 ft wide and had a set of stairs descending 30 ft. down to a T-section. Rash got out of the bucket and looked around the T-section. To his right it dead-ended after about 30 feet and at the end, in paint, is a symbol drawn on the floor. To his left the hallway opened into a moldy smelling room that’s covered in slick mildew.
Magora, the half-orc inquisitor, then descended and reached the lower passage with no trouble. Lish then descended with the three above helping lower her down. On passing the scorpions, when they saw her and the light from her enchanted mace, the scorpions began ramming their heads against the grating as if to burst through. Lish screamed. The scorpions stopped when Lish passed out of sight and finally Lish arrived at the lower passage visibly shaken. She gets out and the others raised the bucket back up while Lish relates the story to Rash. Viola, the half-drow rogue, and Lotus, the Shou ninja, got in together. The scorpions did not rush the two, but the two adventurers take a moment to examine the tunnel. They could make out some kind of symbol near the grating. They then lowered themselves the rest of the way, reaching the lower passage with ease.
The party convenes at the T-section, Rash threw some chalk onto the symbol on the floor at the right end, but nothing happened. Viola then headed down to check it out, and as soon as she entered the hallway the symbol lit up, sparked, and disappeared. Then they heard the sound of the scorpions’ legs clacking on the walls of the well behind them.
Part 2 comming soon.
1 For those interested, this is a Forgotten Realms campaign and is based out of the city of Waterdeep. It consists of two groups of adventurers. The higher-level adventurers, The Mystics, are all around 10th level. Each player has one character in this group, except for P. who has two. The second group consists of 15 4th-level characters where every player controls three of them. This second group works for the Mystics, performing tasks for them. Every time an adventure arises for these lower-level characters the players pick one of their three characters to go on the adventure.
Star Wars sucks sarlacc ass! At least it’s out of fuck’wit dipshit George Lucas’ fucking fingers. It now has the possibility of being better…but probably not.
Star Wars, the remastered IV – VI and I – III are the 4th edition of D&D; shit piles of filth trying to capitalizing on recapturing lost youth and misplaced dice bags. For 15 years Lucas has ruined everything he’s touched, the world must burn to cleanse us from his putrid malodorous unwashed rotting taint, that fucking fuck-fuck fuck-wad of immersurable fuckheaded fuckness!
Some of you may laugh, but you only do so to hide your tears of sorrow for all the evil that Lucas has wrought.
Others may ask, “where IS the Sarlacc’s ass?” It is us! We are it and Lucas has been the ever hungry tentacled maw of perversion swallowing every random vile thought to pass through his fuckholed brain so that we may experience the constant diarrhetic flow of the excrement his rancid bowels produce.
Star Wars died when Greedo shot first.
But if Star Wars is truly out of the terrible grip of George Lucas and in the dark jaws of Disney at least then we can look forward to a J. J. Abrams time-travel style reboot. For even Innocence of Muslims is better scripted, acted, directed, and better effects than episodes I – III.
Episodes VII – IX cannot, in anyway possible, be worse than the shit storm which is episode I. They could be just as bad…but nothing could be worse.
Some may argue that II and III are worse than I. To this I say, “As above, so below” II and III cannot be the shitburgers that they are without the epic fail foundation of episode I. Episode I is therefore worse because it paves the way for II and III to enter this world.
Some may argue that Star Wars, and LucasFilm, being sold to Disney is a sign that it has gone to the darkside. But there is no darkside. There is no lightside. Not anymore. There’s just the side that is the un-wiped ass of the ever defecating George and we’re sucking on the orifice until our minds grow cold in death. But like Vader’s armor, Lucas has left us all in a perpetual state of dying…for ever kept alive by the incessant marketing of the craptastic Star Wars franchise.
But now it is in Disney’s hands. Help us corporate fangirls, you’re our only hope.
[This post consists of my slightly edited remarks to a group text conversation with friends that occurred over the course of the day.]
One of the largest concerns for gamers, especially DMs, is the time it takes to get through each round during combat. This concern can be seen in the Angry DM’s post as well as several of The Id DM’s posts (in fact the reason for the creation of his blog).
Now I fully agree that combat rules contribute to the length (short or long) of a combat round. And because of The Id DM’s data analysis of combat rounds I have, in fact, been left with a man-crush not unlike Dr. Plait’s Will Wheaton man crush.
But my praise of both of the above bloggers does not stop me from arguing (politely, academically, of course) with their ideas.
Or more specifically, to meta-argue a point.
Now The Id DM’s analysis of D&D Next combat rounds would indicate that, so far, they are faster than 4th edition (and by extension 3.5/Pathfinder). But without a fully comparable system this analysis is purely hypothetical in regards to how the finished product will work.
When D&D Next approaches the quantity of options given to players and monsters as in 3.5/Pathfinder or 4th edition only then can an accurate analysis be made (but again, I stress, I’m not faulting The Id DM in any way: preliminary analysis will help to understand later data gained from the finished system). For an extreme example, it would be absurd to compare combat speed (or character creation for that matter) between the Hero System and TWERPS. And to be fair, the Id DM does a good job of pointing out that his analysis of D&D Next is as the system is “currently presented.”
But here’s the crux of my argument: After careful consideration, and looking at the past data provided by The Id DM, myself, and new data that I have but haven’t put up on the blog yet, my hypothesis is that it is not the game system, or the specific rule-sets that are inherently frustrating in regards to the time it takes to play through combat…it’s the people playing the game.
In my nearly 30 years of playing D&D and other RPG systems there’s always been those players that take a long time during their turn (myself included, especially when GMing Shadowrun). After learning of The Id DM’s work I have since become hyper aware of how long each player and DM in my group takes during their turn.
Now there’s two types of gamers, engaged and not engaged. Neither of these types are set in stone, meaning that a player can be engaged one evening and not the next. Real world concerns are especially significant as external problems or concerns can cause a normally engaged player to become un-engaged. Just as turning off other player’s cellphones/laptops/etc. at the table can increase the probability that they become engaged.
There is also another type of gamer; decisive and indecisive. This type can overlap either way with the engaged or un-engaged players. A normally decisive and engaged player can become un-engaged if going through a personal issue like a break up, finals, divorce, lay-off, etc. Just as indecisive players can be constantly engaged. And external problems can cause a normally decisive player to question their every move and become indecisive.
The best gaming session is when players are both engaged and decisive. By being engaged they are following the combat, listening to the DM and other players, and constantly formulating and updating their character’s (or the NPC’s) plans for their next turn. And by being decisive, when their turn comes they state their actions, get up to move their miniatures on their own, roll their dice, state the results, and indicate clearly that they are done.
The worst is when players (or DMs) are un-engaged and indecisive. By being un-engaged they are not following along with what the other players and DM are doing (whether they are concerned with external life issues or because they are checking Facebook on their computer-device or because they are just so self-absorbed that they find paying attention to others boring). By being indecisive they second guess every possible action during their turn; performing some internal monologue as to the best action, moving their miniature (or worse, having someone else move it and saying something like, “no, on the other side…no not the rock…no not the tree, the other side of that goblin.”) and then deciding to make a different move (often forgetting their starting location), rolling the dice and stating the result and then saying something like, “no, wait, I forgot to add modifiers from X, Y, and/or Z,” and then once their turn has ended and the next player is acting they say, “Oh, wait, I forgot to…”
A DM can work to keep the players engaged by descriptive narration during combat to quickly relate how the current action by a player or NPC affects the other player (“Gregor swings at the goblin who ducks out of the way while still clutching the wound that Bothik gave him just moments ago and the other goblins scream at the wizard and cleric as if they have blasphemed their goblin god directly”).
Eye contact is also key for the DM. Make sure to make eye contact with each player as you’re giving descriptive text, even if it’s just expounding on the results of a single player. By making eye contact with each player, or at least attempting to, you’ll then become aware of the players that are not making eye contact back and you’ll get a feel as to whether they are getting ready for their character’s next move or if they are un-engaged. If they are un-engaged, try adding a bit of description that mentions their character by name. For example, if you’re relating the outcome of Gregor’s attack against the goblin and Lormath’s player appears un-engaged you can say, “As Gregor’s blade comes down hard on the goblin’s make-shift armor, bits of metal fly off, one peace even striking Lormath on the cheek, leaving a red welt.” Of course some may feel that if the player still seems un-engaged, that causing a small amount of damage would help to “wake-them-up” but I am loathe to pursue such actions unless I am very sure as to the cause of the player being un-engaged. If they are feeling picked-upon, bullied, etc., outside of game and that is the reason for them not being wholly present at the table then arbitrarily damaging their character could increase that feeling rather than helping them be in a space where they are accepted for who they are. But if you keep them a part of the action then they will have to work at focusing on the game to know whether it’s just a “flavor text” moment for their character or the character is really being attacked.
However, there is not much that can be done with an indecisive player. Pointing out a positive path to take may make them resentful, as if you’re trying to control them. And yelling at them may make them withdraw or become more fearful of taking action. I’ve seen DMs try to time the indecisive player’s turn, “you’ve got 30 seconds,” but the problem with that is that unless all the other players are timed similarly with equal time then it can appear as favoritism or as antagonist towards the indecisive player. Also, some players don’t work well under pressure and timing them just increases their indecisiveness. Otherwise, all that can be done is politely make them aware of their indecisiveness and ask that they attempt to rectify it.
So far, in the games that I’ve played in (and recorded) the average length of a round is about twelve minutes and the average player’s turn at around 1 minute 20 seconds. With this in mind, a DM can inform all players (but specifically doing so for the indecisive players) at the end of their turn that they now have only about 10 minutes to figure out their next action.
Through all of this, I am assuming that I’m talking about players/DMs that want to be at the game. If a player doesn’t want to play then they’re prone to being un-engaged and, not just indecisive, but uncaring. At the very least, the indecisive players are indecisive because they are concerned (maybe overly concerned) on the outcome of their turn. And they shouldn’t be faulted for their concern. But the uncaring player, if after sincere attempts to fix the problem(s) have failed, then they need to leave.
The engage/un-engaged and decisive/indecisive problems can be complicated by other personality problems; shy people can appear un-engaged and indecisive, scene-stealing over-acting players are made even worse when indecisive as they make in-character speeches only to ask to retro it and make a renewed speech, etc.
In the moment, at the table, these problems can be infinitely frustrating. Just 5 seconds of pause on a normally indecisive player can make everyone’s hair stand on end when a rare 30 second second-guessing moment by a normally decisive and engaged player can evoke little or no frustration all because it is known beforehand that the indecisive player is indecisive. But on the other hand, looking at the data and extrapolating, if an average (leaning towards longer combats for this example) combat is around 5 rounds and the average indecisive player takes an extra minute per turn. That’s only an extra 5 minutes per combat. And 5 minutes, split over 5 rounds, is largely nothing…unless it’s 5 minutes watching the microwave count down.
Knowing and understanding which of your players are indecisive allows the DM to take advantage of that time by thinking ahead for what the NPCs are going to do. Think of it as the indecisive player giving the DM a gift of time to plan ahead. I mean, if all the players were always engaged and decisive then clearly the frustration for how long combat takes falls squarely on the DM’s shoulders.
As a final note, a player’s time, I suspect, is also determined by the character class/roll they are playing. Controllers and classes that have abilities that affect multiple targets, require marking areas of effects on the map (if playing with miniatures), animal companions, etc., all should take longer than straight-forward melee attackers. As more data is acquired I’ll be able to make more accurate round lengths by class (from different players) to see how this hypothesis stacks up.