LAW & ORDER: There are two sides to the criminal justice system in D&D- the BS Players do and the DM who has to put up with it


So what is law & order for an anachronistic European-esque generic fantasy setting? 

I've thought about this since reading A Time Traveler's Guild to Medieval Europe. It's a great book that covers all the things you would need to know if you found yourself transported back in time. The systems for maintaining order are quite different.

In brief, one person is designated the guardian of order in a village. Anything that happens, that person is called out by the sheriff (appointed by the nobility) to answer for the crimes. If they can't produce the perpetrators or keep order, they die. 

Now, after being sentenced to death, you can name your accomplices. This can end up with a lot of score-settling in town. But since a lot of people know each other in small towns and villages and have relatives in the next towns over, "strangers" currently in town will be the first suspects. Or best people to die.

Village/town defense might be served by the local population with torches and pitchforks. If the place is large enough there might be guards in the service of a specific person (or church) but not really for the "greater good of the community".

In terms of D&D, if the laws are too constraining or long they become a burden. Players already have to contend with a set of "meta laws" which are the rules of the game. Adding fantasy laws on top of those rules could easily flop.

I guess there is also an often unspoke set of law at most tables about players not performing certain actions with their characters that would be particularly onerous like violence against innocent babies or performing particularly gruesome acts of torture. 

So the layers are: Unspoken Laws of the Table (universal to all rpgs played) --> Laws of the System (specific to the rpgs: "Clerics can't use edged weapons") --> Law of the World (specific to the campaign)

Why do we want to include this?

Without coded laws, I think it becomes actually hard to define what black market, corrupt, decadent, privileged, and "DM's is just screwing with us" actually is.

  • How can the nobility be considered decadent & exploitative if there are no rules to flaunt or exploit?
  • How can you have a thieves guild or black market if there is no legal system to skirt?
  • How can religion be observed if there is no observable participation or taboos to avoid?
  • How can PCs be outsiders if there is no benefit to being born in town?
  • How can PCs be sure the DM isn't just arbitrary if there is no pattern to the enforcement of activities?
Now of course there are ways to demonstrate all of the above outsides of a page of laws, but at a basic level, an institution/group/person is corrupt when they ignore the rules that others have to follow in favor of their own code.

Laws also provide an environment where social maneuvering, concealment in all forms, and stealth become valuable as well as connections to in-world institutions. Which draws play away from combat/violence as a catch-all solution to most problems. People complain about combat/violence in D&D, but there is also little in-game fiction that constrains its use.

Stated laws might also help with alignment, in that player judge actions based on societal actions instead of inherent good/evil; factions some into play who enforce, create, and/or adjudicate laws. 

How do you run this last piece in an interesting fashion? 

False Machine has written a heist adventure that takes into account laws regarding dress, weapons, and the requirement for papers presented if asked:

Sumptuary Laws Glaem has basic laws of dress and behaviour which are… unevenly enforced, (though you could be checked at any time). 

  • No Heavy Weapons. No projectile weapons. (Unless you are a licensed bodyguard or ceremonial guard. Are you? Where’s your license?) 
  • Only ceremonial armour allowed. (Again, you need a license for this) 
  • Light blades only. (Only if your clothes are “noble”, and you need a license). 
  • Employment/Guild/Faction/City papers to be produced on-command. 
  • Your chances of being checked for licences and I.D. go up the more suspicious, poor and out of place you look, and are common on entering controlled areas. 

I think these help add something to the task of finding and stealing the McGuffin of the adventure. Immediately the value of wizards (as magic doesn't seem to have embargos) and characters who can conceal or have social strategies come to the front.

I guess this post is getting long. So in a Part II, I'll try to lay out some simple rules that also scale from village to town to city.

DYSON'S DELVE: "Hey babe, you wanna do some role-play tonight?"

 

Dyson's Delve: The Original Mini Mega Dungeon (2019)

SETUP: Partner occasionally likes to role-play a little bit and asked if we could have something set up so whenever the mood strikes we can just start playing. I was looking for my copy of Winter's Daughter, but the closest thing at hand was this Delve.

To shortcut, the character was made by arranging the following scores: 16, 15, 12, 11, 8, 8 which yields a total bonus of attribute bonus of +1. This resulted in the creation of fighter, Princess Rosa, who started at level 2 (2000 XP). Some random equipment later via my digital DM screen and we are off.

BACKGROUND: Deposed from the throne that was rightfully hers, Rosa seeks treasure to build an army and take back what is rightfully hers. 

SESSION I: 

Rosa (F2) took the obvious stair entrance to the old watchtower. Finding nothing in the pulled down broken statue, she heads toward the entrance.

Stopped by two goblin guard who demands she freely handover her gold or she'll be freely handing out her blood. 2 goblins are quickly dispatched as she does not suffer fools, nor goblin reinforcements and she retreats to the South Chamber.

Desperately trying to escape she makes her way down the stairs to Level 1 Main Entrance- noisily. Again she is stopped by one goblin as the other one rushing to bring reinforcements. Rosa ignores the goblin in front of her to throw her mace at the fleeing goblin [gambit- roll 2d20 and scored two hits]. Goblin hit in the back of the head collapses, and the remaining guard flees upstairs.

Following an old cave tunnel, Rosa finds stairs that lead her to Level 2. Lighting a new torch, Rosa stumbles into a den of giant rats who attack her as a source of food.

Because of the goblin fights, Rosa finds the rats a little dangerous, at 2 HP she decides it's best to drop rations beat a hasty retreat back to Level 1. Exploring a ray of sunlight, Rosa returns to the surface and heads back to town.

❤️Princess Rosa- Alive;  💀: 3 Goblins (15 XP); 💰: 11 EP

DM NOTES:

  • Goblins hate Rosa and will fortify the upper areas due to goblin deaths
  • Goblins should normally demand GP to pass into the tower; extra GP is you want to take your weapons; or can make a bargain to kill corpse eaters on Level 2 (3 ghouls)
  • Will try to encourage hirelings given its a solo campaign
  • Need to sketch out a small town; maybe just use Beyond the Borderlands


THE ELUSIVE SHIFT REVIEW: The cosmic horror of RPG arguments & time is a flat-circle

 

Picture by the author himself Jon Peterson

Peterson's editors must have held strong behind their shotguns and shield walls to force a much slimmer volume out of him. But it lacks no less of the punch of Playing At the World. In the same manner as his previous book, Peterson dissects conversations around what exactly this new game Dungeons & Dragons really was by two methods: (1) highlighting critical voices & discussions in the fanzines of the time, such an Alarums & Excursions (still in print) and (2) cross-comparing the numerous fantasy, western, and sci-fi that emerged shortly after D&D. Everyone then too thought they could produce a "better D&D".

At the end of the book, I had come to the realization, on an almost cosmic horror level, that the RPG community as a whole has not advanced any large arguments about what RPGs are and their purpose in about 30 years.

Here is what I am talking about:

"We might observe the initial players of Dungeons & Dragons divided into two camps- with due caveats about overlapping membership and interests- that reflect the two cultures of wargaming and science-fiction fandom: there were games people and story people."

[Post publication of the Greyhawk supplement in 1975]: "D&D is too important to leave to Gary Gygax." 

[Lee Gold writing in her first issues of Alarms & Excursions 1975]: "In their midst, Gold found, that, compared to her own group, 'the Dungeonmaster is player much more against the characters'. Her assessment corroborated Kevin Slimak's concerns about the problems of antagonism incumbent on the power imbalance between the referee and the players."

"Play a Gygax game if you like pits, secret doors, and Dungeon Roulette. Play a game such as in Alarums & Excursions if you prefer monsters, talking/arguing/fighting with the chance met characters and a more exciting game"

[From Bill Seligman 1977]: "The problem TSR has is that the term 'D&D' is starting to refer to fantasy role-playing games in general, and not just those bound by the D&D official rules"

"Kevin Slimak, feeling 'tired of trying to kludge a good game out of Gygax D&D...'"

Another interesting bit is how Gygax shifts from commenting on D&D as an open system to AD&D as a closed and complete system. Distinguishing between the two. This further leads to another discussion about if AD&D lays down too many rules which destroy the free-form play of the early little brown books/white box. 

Peterson walks us up to the early eighties where there are hardened attempts at a unified critical theory about RPGs. Which contains this graph showing the alignment of power gaming vs. storytelling; role playing vs. wargaming


We also get a brief section on how with the publication of the Holmes' Basic D&D  box set and D&D in the media in the 1980's,  there was a huge influx of younger players who were not steeped in the prior editions of D&D. Jorden writes:

"By 1981, 60 percent of all TSR products would be purchased by or for players between the ages of 10 and 14"

These "munchkins" touched off the same, by this time, ~5-year-old arguments, while at the same time feeling discriminated against by the "grognards" of the time simply for not being born early enough. This just sounds like a similar discussion occurring around players entering only ever having experienced 5e D&D and Critical Role.

In total: A fantastic book! As authoritative and insightful as Playing At The World, but more tightly executed. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in RPG analysis and critique. I think it is an almost must-read because even if you hate D&D the book will provide a firm context for the game and illuminate resonating early critiques.

If you want to know how D&D was developed, I would hit up Play At The World first.


STRANGE BREW: 100 potions for old-school use


Not surprising that Goblin Punch can whip up awesome potions for use in-game. One of Castle Xyntillan's charming features is that standard dungeon potions are remixed as various vintages of wine, ale, and spirits found in the castle.

I've been wanting some off-standard potions to help enhance the castle's strangeness; Goblin Punch: http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-glog-alchemy-and-oozes.html

ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH: Are NPCs an underutilized "overlay" for choice in RPGs?



My previous Into The Breach post here, where I harp on the beauty of objectives: https://icastlight.blogspot.com/2019/04/objectives-for-combat-beyond-kill.html

Here is Chris McDowall on the same game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIknE3GLfbw&feature=youtu.be

In the video, Chris points out the supremacy of choice in Into The Breach. There are multiple, often easy to understand, choices that are provided at all layers of the game starting from the first screen. As you move from mech selection to environment selection, to objective selection, to combat screen, a player is given choice with obvious information or provided additional information just a mouse click away.

Choice is important because it gives players agency. If something goes wrong, they generally will blame themselves not the DM, system, or (lesser still) the die. This is why Call of Cthulhu's "push" mechanic, where you can re-roll a skill check but failure is now even worse consequences, is quite nice. Players get a simple, open, and easy to understand choice: do you want to try again with the stakes for failure raised?

But Chris asks a very important question, what's the best interface to present layers of choice to players in a similar manner to Into The Breach? As he states, if you had three small dungeons: 

How do you communicate that choice?

This is not trivial given Barrowmaze & Forbidden Caverns of Archia, both are megadungeons with a lot of choices in the form of several mini dungeons, but little of it obvious until PCs undertake the travel to the respective sites and break open the respective entrances, which have differences, but they don't appear to be linked to any definite contents.

So what is the solution to the paucity of information in Barrowmaze & Archia and can act as information overlay a la Breach? I think tavern NPCs.

Roll 1d6 for what an NPC at the tavern knows (& wants):

1 | Dungeon location (can be hired a guide)
2 | Dungeon treasure (will tell the legend for libations)
3 | Dungeon monsters/traps (has related injury)
4 | Location & Treasure (looking for a  cut to give out both; more if expected to provide aid)
5 | Location & Monster (looking to get rid of the monster(s))
6 | Monster & Treasure (haunted by a defeat from the former & still in need of the latter)

While a rumor table could perform the same function, more life is given to the world and the time spent to build the NPC is not for naught. Additionally, it gives NPCs a reason to also go missing, die, or not always be at the PC beck and call because they go off looking for these things themselves.

I think rumor tables are better for seeding knowlege when PCs start a campaign. Give them additional goals to pursue and topics of conversation to bring up to NPCs.

Combining the dungeons above and the NPC knowlege table:

Red: Rolls 1: Knows the location of the dungeon known as "Wood's Hearth"; a dungeon entrance that is perpetually warm year-round (location of Bronze Golem); will lead PCs there for 20 GP.

Fish: Rolls 3: With enough red wine (every glass provide a +1 to a RxN check), will tell the PCs about how their leg was injured in a spiked pit trap; high quality wine will yeild knowlege about how to avoid the entrance trap of the "Red Door in the Hills" (location of the dungeon of traps).

Fetch: Rolls 5: A local thief who is looking for PCs to remove, bless, purify, or remove curse to eliminate the skeletons infesting the "Gray Arch" an old tomb on the outskirts of town off the main road; exact reasons are kept secret, but will pay 10 GP per skull +100 GP if nothing else is touched in the dungeon

CARCOSA: Moons & Seasons


This is a good post about the seasons and moons of Carcosa. I like the post because I don't think enough is done with seasons and astronomy in RPGs. They are some of the strongest representations of the passage of time. Their inclusion can really make a world feel alive and really doesn't require much work.

Angry Films Working with Frazetta on "John Carter of Mars" | WIRED

AMBER SORCERERS & ARCANE ANDROIDS: Put More Crystal Living Statues in Your Game

 


And like that amber-encased mosquito in Jurassic Park, my little idea's DNA spawns a monster by Patrick's Jon Hammond-like hand. Behold Amber Golems

http://falsemachine.blogspot.com/2020/12/amber-golem-galaxy-brained-update.html#comment-form

I think there are a lot of hidden gems in the BX (via OSE) monster line-up or at least their concept. For instance, in the realm of golem/construct/statue, I think most D&D adventures cycle through wood, stone, & metal. "Bone construct" is really just a giant skeleton and really already covered by Giant Skeleton.

But I think there are other good ideas:

1 | Amber Golem- 10 HD monster that tracks unerringly? I'd split it into 2x 5HD monsters and have them be the only thing in a level. Or as the previous link, insect sorcerers driving mech bodies.

2 | Crystal Living Statue- 3 HD; Treasure that fights back. Low HD, but I think these things would spice up a lot of low-level campaigns. Cool to encounter, tough enough, but made of tempting treasure

3 | Bronze Golem- 20 HD; spurts fire when damaged by an edged weapon. Big enough to take on an entire armor. Could make a cool mid-level problem. Enemy unleashes this thing on a kingdom like a smart bomb. Players need to stop it or take advantage of the distraction

4 | Iron Living Statues- 4 HD; metal weapons get absorbed. Again, not too tough by smart players but I think creates an interesting situation when all your weapons are slag while in the middle of a dungeon.

Here is another interesting bit:

Golems are immune to charm, hold, & sleep. While living statues are only immune to sleep. 

So what if "living statues" are more akin to arcane androids who don't know they are such. A whole Ghost In The Shell situation. Immune to sleep but vulnerable to the other spells because they think they are people or are the trapped memories of people.

Might be cool to have a dungeon room that is a dinner party of crystal living statues all carrying out a mimicry of humanity. Or maybe the royal family is nothing but crystal living statues, but they don't know that. Not divine beings as the state religion demands, but the result of an accident people have forgotten.