Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lexicon Devil

Click to enlarge
Scientists will tell you a ghost is no more than a memory and a memory is no more than a series of linguistic signifiers indicating some absent arrangement of sensations. What they do not know is that the language itself can become malevolent. The lexicon devil is a ghost composed of language, like a computer virus rewriting real life.

These incorporeal, invisible and untouchable ghosts are summoned when a violent soul does violence to language and those forms of language do not die with it—when the shape of the departed’s vocabulary and the particularity of their word choices is still powerfully active in the world: Dictators whose regimes carry on and deluded justifying mass murderers whose diaries are published for mass consumption, self-serving philosophers of injustice whose philosophies still influence the living can give birth to lexicon devils. So long as language is used in such a way as to make, for example, an immigrant “an illegal”, fascist death squads “freedom fighters”, or life-and-death facts into “nitpicks”, a lexicon devil may be loose. They seek to encourage in death the forms of iniquity they invented in life.

The soul of the devil is contained in a text, and that text will be the earliest still-extant text that expresses the violence of their creator’s intentions against the world—a diary, a speech, a private letter, even a note scrawled on a wall. The devil’s first act, once summoned, will be to take whatever steps necessary to hide at least one version of the text away and alter copies (including, if necessary, online and digital versions). The ghost can be exorcised only by finding the text and reading it aloud before witnesses in a room containing the devil. Beginning to read the text paralyzes the devil.

(Demon City Stats)

Calm: 0
Agility: 10
Toughness: n/a
Perception: 10
Appeal: n/a
Cash: 7 (via manipulation of online accounts)
Knowledge: 8

Calm Check: 6

Special Abilities:

Incorporeal and intangible: The lexicon devil has a physical location and moves at normal speed, but it cannot be touched or touch anything.

Sabotage language: Each round, the devil can transform one word per sentence of spoken or written language of any text in its presence, or one sentence alone on a given page of written text. It uses this ability to create false orders, requests and information in order to cause various unknowing pawns to carry out its plans. For instance it might change the address of a DEA raid to target an investigator on its trail, instruct a librarian—via email—to misfile the text containing its soul, or cause friends to offend each other with their choice of words. The ghost may (and will) alter texts in closed books in rooms it occupies but cannot operate a computer on its own—it can only change a text if in the presence of someone who accesses a page or file (the alteration will, however, affect the source code of that page, causing it to forever be altered whenever that page is brought up). Speakers who have had their words changed will not be aware of this.

Garble: Once per round, the devil can renders written or spoken communication impossible for chosen targets. The devil may make a target unable to be understood (including objects, like books, computers or phone) or unable to understand. Lasts one hour.


The devil cannot speak or touch anything and cannot speak.

The devil cannot move so long as the text containing its soul is being read aloud within earshot. Reading it fully in front of witnesses exorcizes it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pretty Good For A Droid

Check this place out (yes, there are many grammar problems, you'll see why in a second):
   The dungeon was originally a ship that is the nursery of illusionists, but has been forgotten by most civilized races for eons. It was rediscovered due to the recent earthquake. Near the Northeast entrance, a human male thief of unusual intelligence suspects it may contain Tiamat – one of particular interest – and so has dispatched humanoids with goat-like features into the complex. They communicate via telepathy.

     Meanwhile, a group of foppish elder xornmen who entered through a secret door to the Southeast suspects it may contain a diamond that they value. Their leader is said to be strangely zealous and is also a tactical genius with a dangerous pet – a meazel that appears to obey his/her every whim. It roams the halls seeking sustenance but is afraid of prophecy. It’s also far burning with zeal than the typical member of its species. This group uses a powerful but barely-mobile psionic medium to spy on the other group of intruders.

     (In recent weeks, the two factions have begun to notice each other in the halls.)

     Unbeknownst to either side, a jackal-headed warrior – wielding powerful magic – lives deep within, inside a network of tunnels leading eventually to a pair of gloves which it prizes beyond all things.

     It has built traps around its lair – for example, a sturdy cage ready to close on whatever steps inside - billows of steam are produced, heavily obscuring vision – but also two stranger traps, informed by its bizarre alien intelligence, which cause intruders to be destroyed by death. It can avoid the traps easily because of its unique abilities.

    The other factions have also made about two traps each, but they are cruder, since they’ve been recently and hastily thrown together.

    In addition, many hazards exist, the legacy of the dungeon’s original inhabitants. No-one has yet discovered the secret passage near the stairway on the second level.

     Due to the subtle influence of a crown (behind the cabinet on level two) with a powerful curse on it, nearly all the inhabitants have become increasingly panicked and some have gained additional bizarre physical and mental deformities. Some have become obsessed with a giant fire beetle for reasons unknown.
   Perhaps the most disturbing room in the dungeon is the so-called “Chamber of Nine Shadows” which the intelligent creatures in the dungeon fear above all else. However, beyond it there is a halfling nun who hails from the homeland of one of your PCs and may aid him/her, though s/he covets the PCs’ (whatever they have that’s unusual) and is repulsed by the sight of every great barrel containing alchemical component s/he sees in the dungeon.

    The dungeon’s architecture resembles an overgrown arena; however every elaborate finger painting in flammable oil in it is made of Moonbar and Meteorite.

     Moreover, it is said that, hidden deep within the complex where no mortal has been in eons, is the Throne of The Infinite Night and hills that walk and kill, the pieces of a great slow game played by tiny wizened beings.

...created using the random Dungeon Overview toy over at Abulafia.

Not only are the Abulafia random generators criminally under-utilized, they're the only successful collaboration between Story Gamers and DIY RPG people.

These are the ones I use:

 3d6 In Order NPC 
 Arabian Nights-Ish Scenario Generator 
 Available Dog Generator 
 Barbarian Tribe Generator 
 Creepy Fantasy Villain 
 Customs and Superstitions 
 Dungeon Area Name 
 Dungeon Overview 
 Dungeon Room 
 Exotic Landscape 
 Fantasy Adventure Locations 
 Fantasy Assignment 
 Fantasy Mansion Domestic Security Measures 
 Fantasy NPC (Basic) 
 Fantasy Person Of Interest 
 Fantasy Royal History W/Related Setting Info 
 Fantasy Town (Simpler) 
 Folks you might want to stab 
 Generic Dungeon Key 
 Grim gonzo modern fantasy horror plot generator 
 Hex Map Key 
 Hexes With Plot Hooks
 Intercepted Inter-Fantasy NPC Communique 
 It's Random Adventure Time 
 NPC Relationships 
 Nabokov On Dopplegangers 
 Nested Treasure Table 
 Orcinator 3000 
 Poetic Destinations 
 Psychon Citadels 
 Pulp Fantasy Nation 
 Quick Creepy Fantasy Villains 
 Quick Creepy Villains 
 Random Fortress 
 Random Humanoid Horde 
 Resting In Town Before Going Back Into The Dungeon 
 Situation Generator 
 Templated Dungeon 
 Thor Hex Element 
 Today At Sea 
 Tolkien Hex Element 
 Weird Fantasy Monster 
 Whats Up With This Palace 

 Wizard Tower

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Worst Tropes

Generic But Emotionally Unambiguous Music Communicating This Is How You’re Supposed To Feel About This So Why Is There Even A Scene Why Did We Have Dialogue Kill Me

The Ethnic Person Shows You The Ropes And Now Their Coolness Is Transmitted To You And Now They Aren’t In The Story Anymore

Oh They Were Promiscuous But Not Anymore Because Now They’re Good

I Am A Humorless PaleoConservative Setting You, The Marginalized or White Marginalized-Protector, Up For Your Self-Assertion Speech So We Can All ReTumbl That Shit Without Addressing The Underlying Structural Problem That, While It Does Not Necessarily Create That PaleoConservative Attitude, Positively Reinforces It Usually Through Economic Means When It Does Occur Thus Ensuring Its Longevity And Spread Despite Widespread Overt Popular Disapproval And All Your ReTumbling

Also Said Speech

Also Cute Webcomics That Are Just Said Speech Sliced Up In Panels

I Am Wise And Spiritual But Don’t Know Kung Fu And Yet Somehow Still Expect To Be Taken Seriously

Sympathetc Character Saying Politics Is Like A Vague Hurty Noise That Has Nothing To Do With The Problems In The Plot

The Power Of Rock Evoked By Clueless Writer In Any Era Where Hip-Hop Should Be The Dominant Mode

She’s So Sexually Aggressive He Is Not Into Her

TNG’s Sharper-Image-Catalogue-After-8-Minutes-In-A_Blender Aesthetic Bafflingly Replicated Despite This Property Not Having Syndicated TV’s Budget Constraints

George Clooney

We're Pretending The Traditional Garb Of The Not-White Culture Is Basically A Superhero Costume Already So Not Real Trying Here On This Not-White Superhero Character Enjoy Beads Until They're Cancelled

Girls Hate Seeing Tits

We’re In Japan And Should Be Fighting Mutants But Let’s Do RomCom Jokes And Talk About My Feelings First

The Japanese Boy With Access To The Giant Robot IS Coincidentally The Only Japanese Boy Who Doesn’t Want It

Unconflicted Hug As Plot Point


The Moral Is Don’t Hurt People Even If They’re Like Hitler Or Hitlers are Just Conveniently Left Off The Table As A Possibility

There’s An Explicit Moral But It Isn’t “Use Effective Tactics”

The Only Reason For This Dialogue Is To Point Out That This Place Or Time Has Different Cultural Mores Than Our Own

Things The Adult Says To The Kid That Are Expected Be Taken At Face Value By A Young Audience And Applied To Real Life That Aren't "Use Effective Tactics"

What Spike Lee Called "The Magical Negro" But Really Anyone Of Any Marginalized Identity Used Like This

This Is For Kids And Has A Positive Message So This Mountain Of Cliches and Failure to Innovate Which Will Rot Their Brain Into Uncritical Plasm Is Acceptable Because The Explicit Text Is Strangely Assumed To Be More Important Than The Subrosa Message That Media Can Be Trusted To Provide Guidance

Boring Disney or Disneyesque Characters Have Guitars Now Or Are Rapping In This Fan Art As If Like Popular Music and All Of Its Most Meaningful Content Didn’t Have A History Closely Tied To Gritty Class Struggle, Performative Sexuality, Corporate Exploitation And Celebrity-Culture Decadence The Likes Of Which This Property Wouldn’t Touch In A Bajillion Years

We Have Sexy Cyborgs But Wouldn’t You Rather Discuss The Overlap Of Philosophy And Bureaucracy?
These Are Supposed To Be Real Apartments But They Don’t Look Remotely Like Nick Waplington Photos

Relatable Kid Sidekick Point Of View Character

Oh Come Here Outwardly Nihilistic And Interesting Character And Accept This Affection From Those Of Us Who Are Going To Die While Our Ninth Child Brings Us A Home-Baked Tofu Bulb While We’re Writing To Friends We Met On A Harry Potter Shipping Forum


There Is Absolutely Nothing Visually Compelling About This Post-Bruce Timm Comic But Oh Man The Facial Expressions, The People Are So Expressing Emotions Obviously With Faces Its Therefore Somehow Good

There is Absolutely Nothing Visually Compelling About This New Yorker Three Circles And A Nose Art But Oh Man The Storytelling That Story Sure Is Getting Told Unlike Other Comics Where I Can’t Ever Tell What Happened Did Destro Fight A Boat I Don’t Know Storytelling

White Savior

The Climactic Fight Scene Is Abstract Zapping 

Brushed Steel And Clean Black

This Mediocre Artist Is Clearly A Genius Because There’s Music Under Them While They Paint

The Plot Is I’m Conflicted About Something Even Though There Are No Swords In This Movie

The Hot Girl With The Eyeliner Who’s DTF Is Somehow Less Desirable Than The Monogamous Momface Lead

Teenager Learns Things That Everyone Interesting Actually Knows Before They’re Ten

We Are Signalling This Person Belongs To A Subculture Using The Name Of The Only Musician The Mainstream Audience And Probably Screenwriter Has Heard Of, Get Ready For A Really Sharply Observed Character Fuck They Like The Clash Is Your Mind Blown Yet

Violence Is Bad And Also The Only Fun Part Of This Movie

Sex Is Bad And Also The Only Fun Part Of This Movie

The Ultimate Weapon Is An Emotion But Strangely It Isn’t Hate Which Is The Emotion At The Core Of All Weaponization

Tim Allen

Family Comedy About How Hard It Is To Have These Kids I Chose To Have

The Stylish One Is Evil or Vapid And The Dull One Is Therefore Honest Or Smart

They’re A Mary Sue Or Marty Stu But The Supporting Cast That Foregrounds Their Omnicompetence Keeps Chucking Softballs At Them And So The Audience Thinks Of The Smart Character’s Joke First And Is Being Flattered For Being Averagely Smart

These Women Are Having A Conversation About A Guy They Like But Don’t Talk About Fucking

They’re Frumpy, I Settled For Them, I’m Noble

James Brown Is Being Used To Signify Sex Occurred Or Shall

All I Needed To Do Was Believe In Myself

: The Musical

This Speech By The Protagonist Plus The Genre You’re In Lets You Know What Lesson They’re Being Set Up To Learn

Music-Accompanied Epiphany About The Beauty Of The Artform I Heretofore Disdained

But What About The Colonists???

The Content Of This Inspiring Speech Is That We Won’t Give Up, Like That’s It, Like: Was There A Question About Whether We’d Give Up? We Can’t That’s Not The Genre We’re In Seriously Was There Not Any One More Specific Twist You Could Put On It?

White Person Referencing R&B And Becoming Therefore Sexy 

Nerds Vs Jocks

Jazz Therefore Sophisticated

Crying But It's Not Funny And/OR Not Over An Evisceration

Family Is Really Important Despite The Fact This Isn’t A Mafia Movie

The Chosen One

I Was Serious But You Have Undermined Me With Farting

The Interesting Character Secretly Likes the Boring Idiot Character That Created The Problem By Being A Boring Idiot

The House That Signifies I’m Happy Is A Ballardian Nightmare of Bed Bath Boring and The Plot Does Not Acknowledge It

I’m Hot But What If He Doesn’t Like Me Because I Ate Spaghetti Wrong Or Some Shit?

Faith Is Worthy Of Respect Without Asking What It's Faith In Exactly

Nature Is Good


Happiness Is Integrating With A Friendly Community

Schoolwork Is As Important As Checking Out About These Space Murders

Heartwarming When You Most Expect It

White and Grey Morality But Not Funny  

Comfort Satire (“…its real purpose is just to congratulate the audience for believing things that they already believe" -Paul O’Brien)

The Disdainful Technocratic Skill Of This Hero Makes The Nerds In The Audience Be Like Hey That’s Me When I Have To Reboot Windows For The Assholes In Sales, Fuck Yeah I’m That Guy

Tattoo Revealed To Have Meaning So Now It’s Ok

and, worst of all…..

We Made The Setting A Liberal Utopia So (1) You Can Get The Escapist Thrill Of Hearing Imaginary Powerful People Agree With You And (2) You Can Vicariously Indulge Your Passion For Unquestioning Submission Through Our Protagonists, The Utopia's Agents, Without Being Reminded That Those Desires Are Both Fundamentally Fascist Impulses When Applied To Public Life


Monday, July 24, 2017

The Zak Hack (Old School 5e D&D)

How to play fifth edition D&D old school style:

Character gen like this

8 hour rests to get spells/abilities back

No cantrips

No bards

No feats

No inspiration

Group initiative (each side rolls a d6)

Old school healing + Death & Dismemberment

"Concentration" spells sometimes require literal concentration--depends on the spell. It's not just "you need to be awake", sometimes you won't be able to do other stuff.

Starting at 5th level non-casting classes and monsters add their naked d20 to-hit roll to damage (to counter Caster supremacy once fireballs kick in)

Monsters are custom-built when the players are over 5th high level, the monsters roll d20s and d30s for damage.

Rangers like this

Paladins like this

Witch/Warlock like this

Clerics like this

...ideally I'd like to rewrite all the classes and spells and so not have to do the +d20-kludge, but this works for now better than any other game so there we go.

Friday, July 21, 2017

HOW TO DO A CREEPY VOICE (also, last day of Ennie voting)

Don't breathe through your nose while talking.

Flatten your tongue.

Place the tip of your tongue about a half inch behind your upper teeth, try to touch your upper teeth on either side with the sides of your tongue.

Speak slowly

You want to get metal "vocal fry" (there are youtube videos) the idea is you make a continuous sound out of your throat and pull the muscle at the base of your tongue inward toward the back of the throat as much as you can.

Try not to use the whole range of movement of your mouth when you talk, stick to just moving your lips and the tip of your tongue. Try to keep your mouth relatively closed.

The overall idea is you are channeling a relatively loud sound through a relatively small opening.
Also, last day of Ennie voting:

For judges:

Rob Monroe
Sean McCoy
Reece Carter


A. Miles Davis (Anson Davis)

Best Adventure

Kiel is up with 'Blood in the Chocolate'

Best Electronic Book
Mike Evans is up with Hubris

Best Cartography

Jez  (Red & Pleasant Land) and James Grognardia are up for 'The Cursed Chateau'

Best Free Product

'Santa is Dead' by In Search Of Games, is up.

And Veins of the Earth by Scrap and Patrick (Maze of the Blue Medusa) Stuart is up for;

Best Monster/Adversary

Best Rules

Best Writing


Product of the Year

Vote VoTE

Monday, July 17, 2017

Efficiency is Beautiful, Efficiency is Art

First--there's been some really great stuff out lately online:

-Nick Whelan carefully handcrafted d100 Bandit leaders, half of them are an adventure hook all by themselves.

-The Coins and Scrolls blog has been killin it lately--and in this case eating it, too.

-Weather, names, and groups of NPCs--these are pretty decent and the names are funny. The weather generator allows to adjust climate and includes "magic weather" (and you can decide how much of it you want.

-And remember those random level up versions of character classes I did? Well Jeff went and finished the set and threw both sets together in a doc--along with Rey Madrinian's Paladin and Anti-paladin.

-And, big Demon City news...
click to enlarge
Alright, so, 4 months, 80,000 words and 300 typewritten pages and a dozen paintings later, Demon City is a game now. Or at least a playtestable first draft.

That's like a novella a month.

God damn I'm exhausted.

There are some cameos and co-stars:

Paul D Gallagher, who turned my Vornheim into a book of cyberpunk tables graciously allowed me to use some of his stuff to help build a modern setting.

Patrick Stuart wrote up Demon City's financial district for me, and gave me some rituals.

Scrap Princess gave me a very disturbing monster with  some great a great adventure hooks attached, and

Evan Elkins helped fill out what happens in Demon City when you get outside the city.

If you were a Patreon backer at the right level as of last night you should've got this monstrosity in your email. If you didn't let me know.

If you missed out but now want to see it--you can still get access to it if you sign on at at least 10$.

If you just want to wait for the next draft, I have a new reward at the 3$ level for that.

I also added a new goal: I'll be running a solid week (from when I get up until when I go to sleep every day) of Demon City public online test games if I reach the next monthly goal.

I also changed something bug: before I was promising deadlines for the art, but the art's going so well and is so fun I've decided that regardless of when the text is done I'm just going to just keep doing Demon City art up until layout time as long as I've got Patrons.

Friday, July 14, 2017

When To Use Dice

1. If an outcome is not in doubt, don't use dice.

"The door is locked."
"I have the key."
"The door opens."

2. If an outcome is in doubt but failure could not produce any result with interesting consequences, don't use dice.

"The door is locked and, like we said before, you're really drunk."
"I have the key but maybe I dropped it?"
"Sure, but you get in there eventually and get to bed before your phone goes off at 7 am the next morning when you hear your brother's been murdered."

3. If an outcome is in doubt, and success and failure could both result in different interesting consequences, use dice.

"The door is locked, like we said before you're really drunk, and behind the door you hear your brother--'Marty, Marty, I've been shot!"
"I open the door!"
"It's not so easy since you're drunk--roll!"

4. If an outcome is in doubt, and success and failure could both result in the same interesting consequences, use dice but only if you want to ratchet up the tension--and only do this sparingly and to point out something strange is going on.

"The door is locked, like we said before you're really drunk, and behind the door you hear your brother--'Marty, Marty, I've been shot!"
"I open the door!"
"It's not so easy since you're drunk--roll!"
"THE LOCK HAS BEEN CHANGED! You're too late!"
"Why has the lock been changed?
"Why indeed? That's part of the mystery."

5. If an outcome is in doubt and success could not produce any interesting consequences, the GM probably wrote the adventure wrong.

"The door is locked, like we said before you're really drunk, and behind the door you hear your brother--'Marty, Marty, someone's trying to kill me and ps this whole adventure is going to be about figuring out who killed me!'"
"I open the door. Natural 20! Door's open, who's killing my brother?"
"Oh, fuck, umm..."

6. If someone at the table thinks using dice would be more fun than just making a decision normally alotted to them, use dice

"The door is....roll roll....locked"
"I have the key, I open it."
"Behind it is...(rolls on a table)..holy hell it's your brother, he's bleeding out on the floor!"
"I...(rolls on a table)...tell him I never liked him anyway."
p.s. Yes I know about Vincent Baker's "Say yes or roll dice". It doesn't work for all games.

"The door is locked."
"I have the key."
"Umm, no you don't you don't even know whose house this is?"

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Moral Panic Guide To Ennie Voting

The annual Ennie votes start today. Who will Contessa's all-wise all-knowing Stacy Dellorfano bestow the plaque and ribbon upon this August before our awesome Ennie-night party? None can say.

But I know where to throw a vote. To find which products are the most innovative and deserving just look for the game designers who are the most conservative and abusive--and do the opposite of what they say.

Could they possible be so exercsed about Blood In the Chocolate--a light-hearted, if lethal, body-positive and LGBT-friendly romp by Least Offensive Man In The Western Hemisphere Kiel Chenier?

So, that's settled--Vote Blood In The Chocolate for Best Adventure.
Now, you may be thinking--Zak, I know you don't have anything out this year and that sucks, because not only do we not get to play it, but when you're nominated fun things happen like Cam Banks compares you to Hitler

Well, fear not! Cam is at it again, this time--he's trying to compare my publisher Lamentations of the Flame Princess to......Donald Trump?

And what about Cam Banks' brothers-in-harassment over at Something Awful?

 And the grumps within the OSR...?

 The choice here is clear: Vote Lamentations of the Flame Princess For Fan Favorite Publisher.

The Ennies also have a rank-voting system, so you can also give shout-outs to LotFP allies Satyr Press, Hydra Collective, Frog God Games, Goodman Games et al as well as other totally metal DIY RPG goodness like Hubris for Best Electronic Book and Santa Is Dead for best free product.

But you may be wondering--on the LotFP hate-front--Blood In the Chocolate received but one nomination, Cursed Chateau is nominated for Best Cartography and Jeff's Broodmother Sky Fortress got a Judges' Spotlight Award

....but that's just three awards? So what has earned this veritable frenzy of sour grapes and right-wing spite?

for Best Monster/Adversary
and Best Rules
aaaaand Best Writing
and Product of the Year

...we have Veins of the Earth my Maze of the Blue Medusa co-author False Patrick, and hardest working witch in games, Scrap Princess.

So, vote for honor, vote for dignity, vote for quality, vote to disappoint bigoted psychopaths who mope on a hateforum all day thinking of ways to harass LGBT creators (and Patrick)...

Monday, July 10, 2017

You're Breaking My Heart

games designers:
make weird games
make political games
make uncomfortable games
make games people don't like
make games that speak to you

Somebody tweeted that. I love it. I want to do all these things.

I love this language--but then, I'm a painter, I went to art school for like a decade, this is in many ways is my native language.

If the Indie Gamers or Story Gamers or Narrativist Gamers or PostForge or whatever you can call the clique that makes the arty games without offending them have one virtue, it's that they brought this language--a language about creativity and art--to game design.

I am eager for a world where this language is normal in game design circles--and used and taken seriously.

The same storygamer who retweeted this decided it was #rpgtheoryjuly. The usual orgy of discussion (or at least assertion) began on the hashtag...

I appreciate the earnestness of the attempt. I am as glad the idea of theory is there as I am glad for the importation of the language of personal expression.

So this is my question for these earnest theorists and dreamers here in this #rpgtheoryjuly, in 2017, on the brink of yet another Ennie Awards night where some tight-as-fuck, eminently playable, megacreative, well-written, carefully-thought-out, lovingly information-designed, beautifully illustrated RPG stuffs from not-them are going up against (yet again) some postForge product written by people who don't play the game they wrote and won't in the future that was drawn lazily by a parrot holding a cintiq and graphic-designed by someone with no game experience or fond-feeling for fellow humans in their heart and with the profits going to line the same old conservative white dad's pockets as usual....

Looking at the promise of this language and the promise of all this theory--does the failure of the postForge game community to live up to any of it ever bother you?

Fifteen years of talking about how games function and yet so many in your scene play other games instead--or don't even roll outside cons?

Fifteen years of theorizing about how much more y'all know about what The People want and how to make the table share a vision and nobody in the postForge seems to have gotten to talk to a decent illustrator? Maybe even one who also likes games?

Fifteen years of talking about games as art yet every other part of tabletop gaming has attracted  a larger proportion of talented writers and talented artists?

Fifteen years of talking about how pumping out tiny bad games will lead to big good ones and the only person who seems to be able to make a design as functional as the rest of gaming is Vincent Baker and maybe Epidiah on a good day?

Fifteen years of talking about making games less sexist and y'all still sit by and watch Contessa do all the heavy lifting?

Fifteen years of talking about incentives and mechanics and you got people who still don't understand what random encounters are for or why combat usually has more rules than talking?

Fifteen years of talking about diversity in games and fucking James Does Not Give A Fuck  Edward Raggi IV is better at hunting down diverse talent than y'all?

Fifteen years of asking for "weird games" and y'all are still stuck at "which movie genre can we imitate this week" while Fire on the Velvet Horizon is shrieking past on your left?

Fifteen years of asking for "uncomfortable games" and yet whenever we do you've produced and supported moral-panic after moral-panic?

Fifteen years of talking about "political games" --and about how alternatives to abusive power structures are encoded in these games and they're radical documents--and yet you have the most abusive, harassing subculture in tabletop?

Fifteen years of asking for "games that people don't like" and you've got a political dynamic where nobody Indie can admit to not liking each others' games?

Fifteen years of saying "make games that speak to you" and...what have they said that genuinely changed anyone's mind about anything?

Does all this talk and so little action ever bother you?

And, even if it doesn't: What is all this chatter for?

Because, honestly: I want to believe. I want to think that a game can have all the things of art inside it, and I want to think we can change how people think with them. I want games to interact with every idea in the philosophical firmament. And you're telling me it can be done.

But when I step back and go "I'm excited, show me!" what do we get?
And now, a word form our sponsor:

Donate to the Demon City Patreon.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Retropost Sunday: Dungeon Types

Some kinds of dungeons I'm interested in:

The Lesser Crazy-Wizard (or Funhouse) Dungeon

So this guy (often a wizard, though it can be a demi-lich or an innkeeper or just some jerk) threw a place together for largely the purpose of fucking with people. Full of puzzles. Un-full of internal logic. Room follows upon room for no particular normal-architectural-function-serving reason. Egregious genre violations are likely but not essential. (The Crazy Wizard being the traditional catch-all excuse for all D&D genre-violations). The worst parts usually have stupid puns, old jokes and references to showtunes in them but these, likewise, are not essential.

A slightly more "sane" rationale for a puzzle dungeon like this can be: "Evil force treating the PCs like test subjects in order to plan future attack on humans/earthlings/surface-dwellers/air-breathers/two-legged-ones etc."

Either way, this sort of dungeon is among the easiest to write. (Though the hardest to master.) Perhaps the best thing about puzzle dungeons is it's very easy to pull individual rooms, gimmicks, or traps out of them and stick them into other puzzle dungeons. So if your players miss a bit of it, you can stick one onto the next lunatic mage tower.

It's kind of pointless to buy a published one of these and just keep the structure and re-skin all the details, because all the designer's work generally went into the details, not the structure.

The Greater Crazy-Wizard Dungeon

This resembles the Lesser Crazy Wizard Dungeon only there is a structure and that structure is as crazy as the details.

That is--some over-arching meta-puzzle or meta-challenge profoundly affects everything you try to do in the dungeon. The rooms all spin independently of each other so it's a mapping challenge or you can only see what's in a room if you enter from the proper direction or you have to kill everything in the blue rooms but not everything in the red rooms. These can be awesome if done right but are highly taste sensitive--if the gimmick doesn't fit what you or your PCs want to do, the whole thing's pretty much useless.

Working Palace

This is any kind of big residence of some people/monsters/entities that are alive and active in the world and have built a big place to hang out in. The logistics and aesthetics of the place tend to match whatever race inhabits it.

These dungeons put the most pressure on the DM to actually make some sense. (DM's are free to ignore this pressure, but whatever, anyway...) Locked doors have keys, the inhabitants have bedrooms or other quarters, and there should probably be whatever things a big residence is supposed to have just in order to function normally as a residence like, say, a kitchen.

All this, PLUS the fact that it should still be fun, PLUS you need a way for the PCs to get in there without immediately being killed by guards, PLUS trying to give it enough monster/NPC variety so that, say The Palace of the Lizard Prince isn't just endless fights with Lizard Man Guards makes this the hardest kind of dungeon to write. Plus it's really hard to buy a published adventure of this kind and re-skin it because if the featured monster/NPC race doesn't particularly fit what you're trying to do, then a lot of the other elements might not fit either. Like, sure the Red Dragonmen have a magma bath but if I want to re-skin it as a Kenku palace then you've got to re-write the bath, too, which sucks because the magma bath was kind of cool...

It is usually easier to write by making the monarch insane, therefore giving excuses for making parts of it into a Puzzle Dungeon.

I have yet to see a good, published Pure Working Palace dungeon. Yes, that's a challenge.

One-Shot Funnel Dungeon

This dungeon can be gotten through in a session or two and never lets you forget the main objective. You know "Den of the Moldy Ogre Who Is Like Ten Feet Away" or whatever. There's a big bad or quest item or major gimmick in there and the rest is just roadbumps and the PCs generally know it. These are useful to have around but a good DM can write one in his sleep.

(A subgenre of this is the Strongly Implied Plot One-Shot Dungeon, where the PCs not only are moving toward some simple goal, but have few enough options that they have a decent chance of tripping certain predictable plot events on the way. This doesn't have to be a railroad.)

When you buy one, you tend to go "I could've written that in my sleep", unless it has some really clever stuff in there which allows the PCs to "use" the place in more than one way.

When you buy a full-length adventure that turns out to be just one of these stretched out to ridiculous proportions--say, not just Dragon + A Handful Of Sucksmear Kobolds And Not Much Else, but, say Dragon + Several Thousand Sucksmear Kobolds And Not Much Else, then it can make you want to not buy a published adventure ever again.

Re-Purposed Forgotten PlaceThere once was a mighty empire, then it sucked and died and now blobs and tribes of ratmen crawl around their Once Mighty halls. Relatively easy to write because if you don't want to write in the Once Mighty Kitchen or Once Mighty Horseshoe-Making Room then you can just say there was a cave-in or it's been emptied out or lost to the mists of time or whatever. However, they're more fun when you write in some politics among the new inhabitants--like the ratmen hate the blobmen who are servants of the cheesemen who are imprisoned by the Elephant Pig who worships the Demon Pheasant who possesses the Fairy Cow. If they bump around long enough, the PCs can do a pretty good job of unwittingly stitching together their own plot.

(This is a good place for Schrodinger's motive--i.e. there's several mcguffins and several mcguffin-wanting NPCs/intelligent monsters, but which of them wants which mcguffin is left in the air 'til the PCs actually show up. Whatever the NPC/critter wants inevitably forces the PCs to go to some part of the dungeon they haven't been in yet or go to some place they have been and try harder.)

It also allows you to throw in bits of Crazy Wizard Logic but you don't have to carry them out to their conclusion because maybe part of it has Fallen Into Ruin. So like this room fills with water if you try to cast a spell in it but the next one just has some orcs and a pine cone.

Also, this kind is really easy and fun to re-skin if there's some politics since you can just change the factions around and pin any uncongruous element on the long-dead "architect" culture. Like I pointed out yesterday while re-skinning Tomb of The Bull King.

The Dungeon Where Something Just Happened
This dungeon can be any of the other kinds of dungeons, but then some large and transformative event just occurred--invasion from without, meteorite strike, experiment-gone-awry. An important function of this change is to create an easy in-game reason why a horde of supposedly powerful, intelligent, dungeon-dwelling beings can't keep 3-12 adventurers of levels 1-3 from just waddling up to their front door and stealing all their stuff.

Once you come up with a good event, this kind of dungeon writes itself. Plus it provides an instant in-game excuse for rooms to radically change if things get boring. The only problem is it can get in the way of the default "delve/loot/rest at inn/delve/loot/rest at inn" default-OD&D type adventurer-whim-centric dungeoneering schedule. Things in this kind of dungeon have to have a little bit of a life of their own.

The Place That Wasn't A Dungeon A Second Ago But Now Is

Basically, it's like Alien. It's an ordinary (to the PCs) place and something bad just got loose and so now every corridor is infused with primal terror and whatnot. Generally I kind of hate this kind of dungeon because it's hard to make the environment "come alive" for an extended period of time (In a game, I mean, not in a movie. I like Alien just fine--I'm not a psycho) and, to me, D&D is as much about the place itself as the things in it. I've yet to see a really good one. However, it is closely related to...

The Dungeon that Used To Be That But Now Is This

This place was, long ago, something interesting but benign, like a zoo. Then it became horrible. Some malevolent and probably supernatural thing has evilified every inch of it. Like the Greater Crazy Wizard Dungeon, it's all about the premise. Unless you like that, a published one is probably going to be kind of useless.

The Dungeon of Beings Who Are Completely Weird

Unlike the Crazy Wizard/Puzzle dungeon, the entities in charge here are not necessarily hostile or cruel, they just behave or live in such an alien way that it's a big pain in the ass to go around finding stuff in their house. Like the Bath House in Spirited Away or Lewis Carrol's Wonderland. Again: the premise here is everything, and there is a huge possibility of genre-dissonance. If you don't like the premise then you won't like the dungeon because the premise affects everything about it.

Obviously there are other kinds of dungeons--and most dungeons have elements of more than one "species".

Anyway, can anybody think of excellent examples of dungeons that fit one of these bills (aside from the usual suspects--like we already know about White Plume Mountain)? Are there types of dungeon you like that I've left out?

(Not "types" in terms of what specfically is in the dungeon, but in the sense of the structure of the dungeon.)