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Friday, December 9, 2016


While on topic of Elven food, I came up with something nifty, wine that Drow Elves pay a lot of money to drink. Made by Drow Elves of the Underdark from surface ingredients expensive in the underwold, this wine is either made from almonds, apple seeds, or cherry pits. In keeping with the traditions of antiquity of our own world, this wine is fermented by a Drow non-magicsl process unknown to us, and then distilled so as ti refine its aromatic essence, this drink is known among the Necromancers as Leichwein, because it is one of the ingredients in making the potion to send a would be Lich into eternal existance. Among the scholars of the Underdark, this drink is known as Pit Wine of the Drow, since it is made form the seeds and the pits of the stone fruit, not the Pits of the Underdark, how laymen imagine it. Among the Drow, this wine is known as Almondine, of it is made from Almonds, Apple Green, if made from apple seeds, and Cherry Deep, if made from cherry pits. Almondine appears a clear liquid with a slight aroma of bitter almonds. Those with artistic talent will [erceive a barely noticeable green hue across the wine surface. Drow aficionadoes will claim that you can tell thhe high queslity Almondine because no two glimpses of that hue will be of the same shade.If one is trying to whiff the aroma of these wines, the smell will become sweeter, then cloyingly saccarine, then will make one nauseous and will make your head spin and you might even faint. Ironically, the Apple Green has no color at all. You can't see it, but you have the fragrant aroma of fresh apples, faint at first. And it is that aroma that the Drow connoseurs fall over. Cherry Deep has its own unique aroma as well, what the Drow think our cherries smell like, but it smells nothing like it. Most people won't amell anything, those whi can smell cyanide will smell bitter almonds. Drow Elves prize Cherry Deep for its powerful intoxication. Despite its complex aroma, Drow Wine tastes awful to humans. One sip will make you nauseus and give you a powerful buzz, two sips and you will be fighting to keep from passing out. Thirs sip, or a large gulp, and you will most likely pass out and die. The Elves, on the other hand, enjoy its intoxication. Like alcohol to humans, these wines serve to loosen the Drows' inhibition, making them more capable of enjoying themselves, making them more arrogant,.more reckless, morfe violent and more sadistic, more cruel among each other at their high fancy social gatherings. Drow wine has a different, but simlar effect on the surface Elves, who consume it. Surface Elves get drawn to its powerful aromas and subtle flavors and easily get addicted to it. The effect of the Drow wine intoxication on the individual Elf must depend on the elf's personality. On intellectual introverts it acts like LSD, mesmerizing them into catatonic stupor, from which they do not want to emerge. Drow wine has the effect of the PCP on the aggressive warrior leaders among the surface Elves. On the extraverts, it has a peculear effect not observed among the men. Elves, who tend to be socially outgoing, lose their inhibitions and all awareness of themselves as they set off to gratify their basest needs in the most desperate and immediate manner possible. Some haters of Elves among men have wryly commented that Drow Wine turns Elves into desperate sluts. In the surface world, Drow wine is as highly sought by humans in the know, as it is by the Drow themselves, except on the surface it is much, much more expensive. There are connoseurs of Drow Wine among humans, the Kingly set, who like to experiment with it, and this non-magical substance is highly sought after by all sorts of wizard who use it for study ad to make powerful potions from it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Once upon a time, a certain bit of Artificial Intelligence (AI), dedicated to playing chess has defeated a standing chess champion named Gary Kasparov. That was a first, at the time. Gary Kasparov complained that the computer had the analysis of every move ever made in any historic chess game at its disposal. No human player had that during a match. Kasparov went on to fund a freestyle chess league, where everything went - humans, computers playing each others, teams of players, and teams on players aided by AI. Today, any human chess player who is aided by AI is called a Centaur. Centaurs are the strongest players - consistently defeating both, the human and the AI players.

Historically, Centaurs were invented by the Myceans of the Ancient Greece, after they were invaded by horsemen - i.e. enemy warriors mounted on horsemen. Incidentally, other cultures invaded from horseback, also invented their own Centaurs. To them, Centaurs were real. Monsters were real in the ancient and medieval world, explained by means not available to the minds that invented them. So, the medieval and ancient worlds were rife with the Werewolves, Vampires and Witches, just as today's world is rife with today's monsters who scare people today, just as they did centuries ago. Today we have terrorists, serial killers, drug dealers, and child molesters. All of these exist, all of these are criminals who often perpetrate terrible and awful things, and just as in the past, the general public has a little or no knowledge as to the nature of the beast.

Werewolves were simple, by the standards of today - These were woodsmen, peasants living in the wilderness and their families, who learned to murder lone strangers on deserted roads, murder them, rob them, and take their valuables, disposing of the bodies. Few bothered with a stranger, unless they were noblemen, and nobody suspected anyone, who didn't have a personal connection to the victim. Of course, folks who murder and engage in predatory violence, develop predatory stares, which tends to unsettle others, hence the alien-ness that grew into a werewolf myth. Another name for a werewolf would be an economic serial killer. These proliferated well into 19th Century, where a friendly old lady inn keeper might poison her lone customers so as to enrich themselves. Witches of old, serial killer nurses of today, who intentionally kill patients in their care for whatever kicks that gives them.

Some of the most common creatures in D&D, such as Giants and the Dragons, have been imbued with philosophical and mythical meaning by the cultures that created them. Unfortunately mainstream D&D has none of it. Initially, it was a tactical miniature wargame, and the creatures were the mythological pawns for the battlefield, but then it became a more sophisticated role playing game with serious dramatic, plot and political elements, but the monsters did not grow up with the game, and it even retained its racist and/or colonialist tropes well into its Fifth Edition. Consider the way the game divides the non-human bipedal races into Demi-Humans, equal to or superior to humanity, and into Humanoids, sub-human and bestial.

When conceptualizing Midlands, in 2003 or so, I thought about making it a humans-only campaign precisely to avoid the racial stereotyping and race as character tendencies inherent in AD&D, which was superior in every other way to every other fantasy role playing game that I was considering for the campaign ruleset. Along the way I was deciding if I was going with no magic/low magic or with the standard AD&D magic spell system. Ultimately I decided in favor of realistic diversity and complexity, which meant that the human race had plenty of competition from other sentient species, some almost human, some not at all, and I came up with physics and cosmology for the campaign, that allowed spell-casting and I replaced the artificial concept of a level with a realistic concept of "Complexity", and thus, a first level Magic User can potentially learn a Fireball spell, but due to its complexity and lack of readiness on part of the novice Magic User, it will take a long long time to get the spell down, with a great teacher at the side, and chances of getting the spell are pretty slim, on the order of 2-5% per six months of full time study, but in theory, you can have a first level magic user throwing fireballs.

Regarding the non-human races, whether Elves and Dwarves, or Goblins and Orcs, I came up with suitable ideas for their origins, and I am sticking to the notions of the Pig-Faced Orcs, Pointy Eared Elves and Bearded Dwarves. I have also developed suitable ideas for the Goblins, Hobgoblins, and Bugbears. I was always fascinated as to what was the nature and differences of these three related creatures. Crappy work aside, I wanted to know if there was more to them, than the crappy artwork and varying degrees of Hit Dice to power these creatures. I worked out these creatures for myself, but I wanted to see what the official line was, so I stopped at one of the last few remaining Barnes and Noble bookstores to see what the Fifth Edition Monster Manual said about the Goblinoids.

I was quite disappointed, because nothing new has been added since the first edition. The Goblins are ruin rats, living in the darkness of caves and looted dungeons, sometimes riding wolves and breeding rats for household pets. They are weak and tend to be enslaved by the bigger Hobgoblins and Bugbears. Goblins are pictures as hook-nosed caricature of indiscernible origin, with large tubular ears, the kind plastic surgeons will modify for a fee. Next up are the Hobgoblins, they are bigger, stronger and better organized, than Goblins, and they fight an eternal war against the Humans and the Elves. Their identity is their military service. They have the same ugly faces as Goblins, but tend to wear their hair in a medieval Japanese topknot and are drawn dressed like the medieval Japanese men at arms. Interesting. Next, the Bugbears. These are big brutes, vaguely reminiscent of the great Bears, of course, these are cowardly and cunning, large sized and moving quickly. Again, these are portrayed as unidentifiable beast-men. We have one other interesting bit about the D&D Goblinoid race: Their armies are massed outside the human kingdoms, which serve as origins of the player characters. So, the Goblinoids are the literal D&D incarnation of the vilified enemies engaged in a war against the kingdom to which the player characters belong. The more interesting question is, why aren't PC's slaughtering human opponents, why are they looting and pillaging dehumanized humanoid enemies, evil by definition, to which the 5th Edition Monster Manual refers as an it? Could it be that the D&D writers are unknowingly perpetuating the stereotypes of the bygone era? I may be reading too much into a simple fantasy game, but the D&D writers also unknowingly perpetuate another dynamic, that of the weak and the dispossessed tribes. Consider that the Native American name Adirondack, means Bark Eater, at one time give pejoratively to a band of Native Americans who were forced out by other Native American tribes into a barren stretch of land, where they couldn't feed themselves. 

Goblins, dwelling in caves and looted dungeons, filthy and ready to eat anything, ripe for enslavement by stronger others, sound a lot like a dispossessed weaker indigenous nation forced to live in a barren or non-productive area by stronger tribe. Furthermore, Goblins correspond to the weaker member of the tribe - the elderly and the young, the last ones to take food at the table, the bottom of the pecking order, the ones living in most squalor and poverty. Eventually, some of the little goblins grow into adulthood, pick up spears and other soldierly accoutrements, and morph into martial Hobgoblins. With years, some of the Hobgoblin soldiers, or Braves, develop into Warriors and capable leaders of men...er Hobgoblins into battle. Notice how the Bugbears are imbued with the attributes of a capable warrior - they are large, intimidating, they are strong, as warriors should be, and they are also deceptively quick, in other words cunning, Speed is what makes a fighting pro, as well as all those other Bug-Bear-ish attributes, and the Alpha-Male-esque language of barely legible grunts, growls and hollers. The Life-Cycle of a Goblin.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


A couple of days ago, Noisms posted an interesting article in his Monsters and Manuals blog. It deals with the cultural context in which D&D emerged in the U.S. in the 1970's and 1980's and measures it against the cultural kitsch of the Tiki escapism. The post is here.

I just want to add, that Tiki was not all kitsch to the California people, who enjoyed it. This was late 1940's and 1950's, those dudes fought a horrifying and a brutal war in the Pacific, and when they came back, they got engineering degrees on the G.I. Bill and took on well paying engineering job in the Aerospace industry. In the meantime, they were enjoying themselves, and their social privilege, such as that they had, and having money and enjoying the world of sex, shiny cars, booze, and tobacco. And escaping into Tiki bars, lifiting weights on the muscle beach, and surfing, and martial arts and occasional bouts of eastern philosophy, that was just staring to take hold on the left coast. To their hippie offspring, they became squares, but they themselves were simply enjoying life after not dying in the horror of the Pacific. Skip a few years into the future, and you get a fairly decent, I enjoyed it, article about the context of D&D, and then Noisms wrote about his unique context of his D&D in 1994, and I got to thinking about my 1994 and the context of my D&D, The Midlands, and here it is:

D&D was on an eleven year hiatus for me in 1994. I started playing in 1981 with the Tom Moldvay Red Box basic set, when I was 13. It was a model hobby shop that sold it to me. I had no idea what it was, I ran a newspaper route for the guy, little did I know that I worked for next to nothing. The guy sold me the Basic Set and went out of business the next day. I heard of D&D scare among the parents and teachers and knew nothing else. By 1985 I was into Gygax’s AD&D 1st Edition.

I went to seventh grade at the IS 145 in New York, and they had a temporary building to handle the overcrowding. Someone painted a mural along the entire length of the temporary building facing he school playground. It was a mural depicting a panorama of the gray lakeshore and heavy pine forest featuring dark greens and browns. There was a silhouette of a castle in the distance against the backdrop of grey mountain peaks, and there were dragons! There was Red Dragon, and there was a Green Dragon, and there was a Blue Dragon and a Black Dragon. They were not life-size dragon drawings, as the temporary building was only one story tall, but they were definitely larger than man-size. In one corner, instead of the artist’s name, someone signed it simply as “Dungeons and Dragons”. The year was 1979-1980. I looked at it and was mystified, every time I went to that playground during lunch. So, to me, D&D was always about the Wilderness, the Exploration, and the Mystery, and dungeon building and room stocking was a guilty pleasure. That is why I always write my own adventures and settings to DM.

I quickly got disillusioned with D&D, because it did not have a realistic combat system, combat is never linear, and moved on to other games. I owned pretty much everything that came out between 1982 and 1988. AH Runequest, Man Myth and Magic, Espionage! Gamma World, hated Top Secret as unrealistic, Escape From New York was my favorite movie and Aftermath and Twilight 2000 (first edition), were my favorite two games. Also had Call of Cthulu and Chill! which was like Cthulu Lite. Somewhere there also were the Illuminati card game, and Car Wars and Battletech, both quasi-RPG’s. Met dedicated martial artists in high school, who were religiously playing the Iron Crown’s Character Law, Arms Law, Claw Law, Spell Law series of books, each was hard bound and cost a fortune, I couldn’t afford, so I never got into it. In the military I ran into a bunch of much older guys playing GURPS and talking how Steve Jackson’s ex-wife was driving him nuts and taking his money. By 1992 I got my college degree and found my first professional job. Idiot that I was, I gave away my treasure trove, thinking I will have a career and not enough time for D&D!

I never really stopped playing CRPG’s at home late at night, starting with the Gold Box games, and moving on to the Baldur’s Gate and Fallout, when they first came out. When Fallout 3 came out, it was transformed into a first-person shooter, and I didn’t like it any more. In 2003, I found some friends and decided to start gaming again. I thought for a while, decided on D&D, though a while longer, decided that between all of the versions, I will get into Gygax AD&D first edition, but it will be mixed with Runequest skill system and Vancian Magic had to go – not enough action for the Magic Users, also MU’s can learn the sword and the light crossbow, if they spend skill slots on them. Historically, the crossbow was the rule changer. It took a British Yeoman a lifetime to learn the Longbow, but the crossbow can be taught anyone in 1-3 days, and a mere untrained man can punch through a knight’s breast plate at a close range. For that reason, Crossbows were banned in the British Isles. Magic User with a Crossbow reflects that reality. I got everything ready and ran the first session in 2006.

Regarding music, it is a part of my writing process as a soundtrack to a movie. I have invented stories for songs, and found songs that complement the story. The first D&D Midlands campaign ran from 2006 to 2009, and I made a music CD for the with the songs to match the key moments in the story and in the game. It is an eclectic mix of obscure stuff and some unreleased cafĂ© bardic music. I like all of the songs, naturally; the players inevitably found a song or two that knocked their socks off, but did not like as much the collection as a whole. Notable songs on it were – Ashes to Ahes, live, by Steve Earle; Rainmaker, Sand and Blood, The Amulet by Planet P; Take Another Look, by The Cars; Still I Am Sad instrumental version by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow; Ice by Medeski Martin and Wood; Black Blue White by Wang Chung, and Betrayal (Sorcerer Theme) by The Tangerine Dream (that’s a 1977 tonka truck jungle adventure movie, not anything magical. This music sounds so scary and unsettling, I matched it to the moment, where the players burst into the Necromancer’s laboratory and discover evidence of human experimentation. One of the major treasure troves in this adventure was a set of antique silver vivisection tools that could be worth a small fortune to a Necromancer, unfortunately if the players were to get caught in possession of said tools, it would be the hangman’s noose for them. It never crossed he players’ minds, that the surgical tools can be valuable, and they did not take them.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


RPGPundit loves to insult others in the name of protecting hate speech. RPGPundit revels in Latin American racism and celebrates the fact that there are bigots at his Wild West game who like Cubans and look down on Mexicans, because they are darker people. That is what he wrote on his blog entry.

RPGPundit reviewed a Spanish role-playing game, called Walkure, which fetishizes Nazi imagery into cosmos and features an alternative history line, where Nazis won WW2. RPGPundit's review was remarkably restrained, tolerant, and well behaved, where he praised the production value of the game, where he could, and did not raise any moral or ethical issues of the game that celebrates Nazi Germany. Don't get me wrong, I would have reviewed the game, if anyone asked me, but I would have written on how the Jews and East Europeans are treated in the game. In his review of the game, RPGPundit showed remarkable ignorance of history, when it comes to Spain's neutrality in WW2 and of Franco's negotioations with Hitler during his attempt to get the Spain into the war on the Axis side.

In light of RPGPundit's self-proclaimed commitment to free speech, it comes as a surprise, that he gave a short shrift on his RPG game website to some supposed neo-nazis, who wanted to talk about some role-playing game, which apparently features a race war. Such self-censorship on RPGPundit's part is amazing, when you consider that everyone is entitled to free speech, especially those hated and ostracized by society at large. I despise any racism, prejudice, fascism, as well as authoritarianism, but I would have allowed the conversation to discuss the merits and flaws of the game, including its racism, so long as the discussion did not degenerate into slander and racism.

This is over RPGPundit's head, or more precisely, RPGPundit does not believe in free speech. RPGPundit's only purpose in blogging is to promote his writing, and he shies away from anything that would hurt the sales of his games. Any real or imagined association with Neo-Nazism may certainly do that, and so RPGPundit will give up on his commitment to freech speech, if he had any to begin with, for the sake of his bottom line.

He banned me from his blog, because I remarked that the Social Darwinist underpinnings of his Livertarianism and his disdain, for what he considers to be weak and decadent Western youth of the authoritarian mindset and of thinking in Nazi Germany. Nobody would overreact to a comment like that, unless it applied to them.

What prompted me to write about him today, was not his reprehensiveness, but his trashing of the Appendix N, in the Gary Gygax's Dungeon Master's Guide as totally useless. On the surface, this is more of RPGPundit's saying shit to draw attention to himself for the purposes of controversy and self-promotion, but underneath the surface, there are several reasons for him attacking the Appendix N.

RPGPundit will attack anything to make himself stand apart for the sake of name recognition and notoriety, he believes will promote his writing. He is too young and came the hobby in a different country and does not understand the significance of the fantasy books in the Appendix N on the conceptualization of the game. Underlying this is his position that D&D is just a game with no significance beyond the die rolling experience of the game. He does not understand that most people have a more complex relationships with their fantasy worlds. People typically invest a portion of themselves in the role-playing experience, and often grow and strengthen their identity as a result of that. There is hard scientific research that proves at least this much, not to mention the intangibles such as inspiration, escapism, and vicarious learning.

I believe that RPGPundit has this hardline position for two reasons (beyond making the grab for the OSR Torch-bearer). Fits reason is that he exists in Uruguay, a different country, where Catholicism is part of political ideology. He has a working relationship with some youth development center or such state run organization, and he may not want to scare the conservative powers that be with weirdness that can be associated with role-playing.

The second reason is that he wants to keep his potential competition ignorant. He made a statement, that the players can use the random adventure generation tables for inspiration, but not the books in the Appendix N, that inspired those tables. He can not be that stupid, so I am guessing that this is deliberate, so that no budding writer can threaten him. You read a bunch of sword and sorcery books, you might think out of the box. RPGPundit has used his knowledge of the comparative religions to his advantage to create a unique setting for his OSR clones. This gives his games the edge over competition.

However, one thing I noticed, is that his games lack spirituality and mysticism, or any sense of the unknown. His game set in Ancient India, has no mystery I associate with Ancient Indian religion and philosophy. His second game, dealing with witchcraft, treats the Cults of Chaos as Satanic and any deviatiomn from the Mother Church as a Heresy in the same way, that a medieval inquisition might view it. RPGPundit is probably too ignorant to know how and why the medieval inquisition actually functioned, but he penned a great game based on occult, where witch-hunting is justified, and witches have the evil powers, that were ascribed to them in the middle ages. I find that deeply disturbing. As a contrast to his ancient india game, I am actually aware of the 1960's hippie commune, that was centerd around the teachings of an Indian guru, who created a theater production company, to introduce the audience to concepts and idea oof the ancient indian religion and philosophy (ZBS Productions, Meatball Fulton) They did a number of radio shows into 1980's, that featured Space and Haunted Houses and explorations a la Indiana Jones). Their last offering was an early CRPG style text adventure in the early 1980's. This is exactly the opposite direction from what RPGPundit is doing. The real question is whether this behavior on RPGPundit's part is deliberate or he genuinely doesn't get it.

What I find fascinating, is that RPGPundit claims to be an occultist, a free mason, and a scholar in comparative religion studies, who has participated in esoteric rituals and has explored his past lives. He has got to be a poser, who does not really believe in anything. One thing that sets apart spiritual leaders from any tradition, is their universal kindness and tolerance of others. RPGPundit does not tolerate much, so his claims of religious enlightment are bullshit. The other thing that fascinates me about RPGPundit, is that here is a man, who claims to be an occultist, and yet he publishes a game, where occult is reduced to something inherently evil, something to be burned at the stake. How can anyone live in a free and democratic society, and betray his faith and his ideals like that? Either RPGPundit is utterly spineless and will do anything to get published, or he is so cynical that he doesn't believe in anything, and it's all an act with him.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


I ran the second game this Memorial Day Weekend. It was great, but it turned out a one-shot deal. Next time we get together will most likely be sometime in October. We played the game over the course of two day between watching reality TV, bouts of drinking, BBQ, and action movies.

My character generation and introduction are story-games. I think that someone has defined role-playing as consensus reality building, and this is what it turns out to be, a process, where DM and the player mediate and come turn with the setting, the player's desire and the die roll results.

Not only have the characters turned out to be amazing, but the older vets playing pushed the game way in the different direction. I thought that they would all want to be warriors, but behaved otherwise. The Alpha remained a warrior. I told everyone to come up with a basic character story that would fit in with the Alpha. Alpha rolled first and ended up with a STR 16 fighter, who had most scores over 12 and the lowest was 12. I told Alpha that his father was a full time house warrior and that his PC spent his life (short 17 years) practicing to be a warrior. Alpha immediately set up the group - Red is a best friend for life, they work out together, Wraith is the kid always getting into trouble (wink and a nod, a thief), Stephan is the kid whom Alpha defends from bullies (a bookish Magic User or a Cleric, anyone?), and the last player was the kid he practice archery with.

After much conversation, die rolling and picking of cards a la fortune telling, I ended up with four dynamite player characters. Leader if the pack was Solla Tere, baptized into Christianity as Exavier, known as SAVIOR, because he rescues people from bullies. This is a well-off fighter, son of a sergeant at arms, who believes himself to be a descendant of a legendary half-elf mercenary, a character in the fantasy novel that the player is writing, and indeed, THE SAVIOR is a striking 5'7" 200 lbs. strapping youth with natural platinum blond hair and steel-grey eyes, who can dance with girls, and is skilled with the long sword, long bow, dagger, and weapon and shield fighting style. He uses chain mail armor, like a typical man at arms and is skilled in Outdoors survival and Horseback Riding. It seemed to me, and thus became part of Midlands canon, that the parents (themselves of humble origins) spent their lives preparing THE SAVIOR to be a squire at the Baron's Court.

RED, Savior's best friend turned out to be of humble origins, a laborer's son. A tall and skinny youth with shaggy red hair, who decided to live by the sword and that he will never work in his life, and who sees violence as a means to that end. A dark character, but a straightforward fighter.

STEPHAN was a surprise. This was a natural 18(85) STR character with all other stats above average and a social standing slightly above Savior's. Now, how does someone like that get bullied? Answers came gradually from other rolls. There was a miniscule chance, but Stephan's father turned out to be a high-level adventurer. His random non-adventure skills were Gardner and Cook. I decided that Stephan was born out of wedlock to a local woman, sired by a fencing master from another and culturally different warrior house. The father never abandoned his son, but he set him up a good six-hour ride away from his own home. Stephan's father is well regarded as a go-to fencing instructor by the local men at arms and thus Stephan started getting trained by them as well as by his father, who trained him as a 2 Handed sword specialist and prepared him for Plate Mail Armor. When not practicing, Stephan helps his mom and grandma in the Garden and helps his grandfather, who is the Chief Cook at the local manor house. Stephan is another blond beast, also tall, who was bullied by others as a child, because he was different, also because he was shy, soft, and a fatherless bastard, according to some. Stephan grew up into a withdrawn squire, who writes poetry, practices martial arts, and lives Chivalric code and courtly graces.   

WRAITH turned out another fighter, fascinated by demons (Midlands is essentially a frontier bordering on alien and demonic), and with a low charisma of 6. His random non-adventuring trade was animal husbandry. I was thinking, maybe, life-energy, Necromancer (a big deal in Midlands - Assassins, Slavers, and Necromancers), but the player was nice and not really a dark type. Then he picked Chaotic Neutral for his alignment and the die was cast. WRAITH was getting into trouble not because he was stealing or being a bad boy; he was getting into trouble, because of his abrasive personality and talking weird stuff. Here was a guy, his hands stained with the blood of farm animals and horses that he helped deliver, talking demons and obsessing about cleanliness! That was the source of his problems, and I made the character a Fighter/Self-Taught Magic User, an Abjurer (protective spells), practicing traditional White Magic. Player had no clue as to any of that, but I had him pick a protective spell and told him that he wants to advance any further as a Magic User, he will have to dedicate gamin, time, gp and effort in pursuit of that goal.

WOLF turned into another dark character. He had to be superior in Archery to Savior, and he rolled a natural 18 for DEX. He wanted to be an Archer specialist, so I made him into a Fighter/Thief. His background dovetailed naturally into Outdoorsiness - a Forester's son. Player picked short-sword and spear as his other weapons, and a bunch of outdoors skills. Other players assumed that WOLF is an outdoorsman and a fighter. WOLF is the only outsider in the group. he is 22, but he is passing himself as a 19 year old, to better fit in with the 17-19 other characters. Based on player's inclinaton and if the game went in that direction, I think that the player would have joined the Assassins Guild. Players have caught the hint, that there is more to wolf, but they aren't familiar with D&D concepts, and none of them, really cared.

Anyway, this older group rolled better and produced more colorful characters, that my regular group. Players too, pulled this game into an unexpected direction. I was going to run them through the Journey to the Rock Module. Sort of Outdoorsy, nice, but also D&D kitsch from 1984. I had to make it fit into Midlands. I decided to keep the corny names, such as the Krayzen Mountains and the Wizard named Arkayz, which sounds suspiciously like a 1980's chain of movie theaters. So, I decided that Out West in Midlands is a kingdom called MLODY AVOT, an anagram of Tom Moldvay, where all of the Basic D&D Elves and Dwarves and corny names and modules from 1980's are going to live. I wrote the City of Tuma into the setting and added a new nation to Midlands Campaign - a nation of Greckland (Old English for Greece) that sits south of 'Avot.

I wrote the module into the setting and further developed the different types of terrain that players will cross during the adventure, to make the outdoors adventure more vivid and to enable characters to explore off trail. I also created an end-of the line frontier large village cum town of Vilna.

Essentially it is a sprawling prosperous village that grew into a large town or a small city. I needed the place with all its interesting venues so that the players can recruit a Cleric and a Magic user for the adventure. They forgot about the Thief, but there were a couple of clandestine thieves as it were. The Patron of the adventure needed some fresh and unknown faces to recover the objective of the module, and so he contacted a wealthy merchant from a land a month's journey away by horseback. If the patron can resettle the City of Tuma, locked in a dimensional warp of sorts, he would be able to claim the region as an instant landed baron, the area will become a colony of Midlands and the Baron Of Blacklands will become the overlord of the area. To make that possible, he provided the merchant with the most promising future squires and men at arms that he could find - SAVIOR, RED, STEPHAN, WRAITH, and WOLF. He also made the merchant aware, that the merchant need not return should anything unfortunate befall the four.

The essence of the Midlands campaign is that it is a frontier  region to an alien world. On this side of the world, the humanity is holding the alien tide back for the corrupt and oppressive Ancient Realms of Humanity. On the other side of the divide, in the areas being colonized by the human settlers, the humanity adapts to the alien world it finds itself in by becoming a part of it. To give the frontier its spirit, I developed a bunch of intricate and detailed tables to give any NPC encountered and willing to talk, a point of origin, from all over the fantasy world, and a motivation. There are adventuring NPCs who are explorers, raiders looking for easy gold, people on personal quests of enlightenment, philosophers, missionaries and others. They total less than 3% on the encounter table, but they are there. They define the frontier. Also, there are delusional people. An NPC might think themselves a Ranger, but only be a Fighter with outdoorsman's skills, or they may fancy themselves a warrior, but only be a 0 level Normal man with a sword skill.

The players went to town to look for a Cleric and a Magic User to join their party. They had one of the adventure patron's NPC's act as their guide. The day was running late, and they entered a place called Asseghai, a high-level adventurers' brothel (picked from a dozen or so other venues). Of course, it wasn't just high level; adventurers there, just as there are Magic Buffs hanging around the Magic Shops, there are rich merchants, landowners, noblemen and their retinues, spending their gold at the asseghai. Players spent 45 minutes real time checking out the patrons and dancing with the local girls, before taking them upstairs. SAVIOR spent time conversing with a randomly encountered 9th level monk, who was sitting at the bar dressed in foppish finery. It was an interesting role-playing encounter. First one player, then the others started scanning the imaginary dance floor looking for the type of girl that they like. Most found what they were looking for, role played the dance and the small talk before taking them upstairs.

Next day they went to the Magic shop, where there was a lively crowd of eight patrons. They waited for someone to break away from a crowd admiring a newly arrived magic ring on display. The first person that broke away was not a charlatan or a zero level magic buff, as I hoped. it was a lower level Journeyman Wizard at the Guild. In practical terms, this meant more than the average number of spells in his spell book. I rolled the dice, drew his cards, and decided that this was an ambitious wizard, who joined the party and charged them a really bizarre contract, written in such a way as to satisfy the Wizard Guild's pay scale and make it affordable for the (largely) penniless players to hire him. His real motivation was that he wanted to work with a great wizard (the adventure patron).

Things got interesting thereafter: Players told him that they were looking for a Cleric to join the adventure. QUINT, the Journeyman Wizard told them that je knew a Priest who might be able to help them. The players encountered a Cleric, who ministered to their needs and they let him join. I was thinking a 3rd level Cleric, however, the dice decided otherwise. What I got was a delusional catholic priest, someone, who might function well in our world, but without any spell-casting ability or Clerical abilities. Oh, he could minister to the needs of the players and adventurers, and he even has the healing and herbalist skills to stabilize the wounded and speed the recovery, he just can't cast a Cure Light Wounds Spell or turn the undead. It was a brilliant roll of dice to complicate the game for the players.

Players also spent some time at the Magic Shop finagling a Healing Potion without having any money to make the purchase. After some decent role-playing, they dropped the adventure patron's name, and got themselves three free Healing Potions in case the Cleric gets hurt and could not cast the healing spells. SAVIOR insisted om giving the merchant all of his money and stating that he will pay fully for the three potions once they come back with some treasure from the adventure.

Just as the real adventure was about to start, the players called it a night, and we went to sit in front of TV and watch Jack Reacher. This was a bit of a disappointment for me, but I don't force anyone to play. I did as much with the wilderness setting of the module as I did with the town. I described the forests and the rest of the terrain in terms of topography and geographic features to give the unique feel to the wilderness, and I will run the adventure with my regular group at some later point. The Magnificent Five too, will be featured prominently as NPC's in the upcoming gaming. The one thing I am working to explain, is how the regular group and the Five have never come across each other previously. The regular group consists of a Fighter with an epic Strength of 18(00), of noble blood, and the rest of the players are his friends of humbler origins and poorer means, middling first level characters, a power gamer's nightmare. The Five, by contrast, are the ambitious, talented, and popular group of future men at arms and squires. I suppose that the characters in my regular group always were aware of them, but paid them no attention.  

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Life happens. Spring came and with it came the thaw. Like the ice breaking on the river, small events happened one after another, and before I knew it, I was swept into real life off my internet chair. I buried my father last October and was behind on rent for some months. God bless my landlord for his patience and kindness. Winter was a gray haze of overtime and my car’s engine burned out on Valentine’s Day 2016. Life is a free-fall in which things will get ripped apart like space shuttle Colombia disintegrating on re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. I used to have a great roadster. It lived long past the designed obsolescence, planned for it by the GM, until it literally started falling apart at the seams and I couldn’t find the spare parts to maintain it.

I got a new awesome vehicle. I can’t quite classify it. Teal Ruby was my Roadster. This one is my Little Two Scoop. Only one air intake, actually, to feed the turbo. Not quite little, but compact as SUV’s go, a 2006 Subaru Forester XT, police uniform dark blue in color. Its turbo engine and the glass roof that it has for a Sun Roof (or Moon Roof or whatever) were selling points for me. I rode the Greyhound bus up north for a few hours to upstate New York to pick up my new car. Paid for it outright from my savings, no car payments to speak of. That was November 2014. The car had miles on it and its 4 cylinder turbocharged engine eats gas like my old Roadster that had the biggest V-6 engine the GM manufactured at the time when the car rolled off the assembly line in 1996. Two Scoop has more horsepower than the GM Roadster, and it is all torque and speed. All wheel drive and better ground clearance. I guess this be my scout car. And so, this thing needed an engine job.

The engine started overheating and my very experienced mechanic could not diagnose it in time – head gasket was failing and leaking compression gas into the engine water jacket, causing sporadic overheating. Ultimately, the engine block warped and seized thanks to overheating on one extraordinarily cold day in February. I took it to technicians at the Ramsey Subaru dealership in New Jersey for their expertise and for a loaner car that they can provide. I was ripped off by the tow truck company servicing the supposed AAA free tow, shame on the AAA incompetent road service operators who would not back me up and made me pay the driver $100 for the $64 dollars in tolls that it took to get me to the Subaru dealership. But, the car was fixed over a period of six weeks, and I was not without wheels. The costs threw me in the poor house, but I was able to get in debt to pay for the engine job.

When I bought the car, I foresaw the major systems on it failing and invested in a service contract, for all a service contract is worth on a used vehicle with over 100,000 miles. The company came through, and made a partial payment. It was a good return on my investment and made the repair affordable for me. I would not have been able to raise the full amount to cover the cost of repairs otherwise.

If I am to play a D&D character, I would not want to be a Dwarf, a human Ranger or a Druid. Real life being what it is, I would most likely wind up a Half-Orc (or a Bugbear) with brains. In Midlands, Orcs are pig-faced, and Bugbears have Ursine relatives. My more innocent and better half is basically a Malloy from Brikleberry, so that theme is prevalent in Brooser’s World, but anyway, even though I am not keen on Dwarves, I have a Dwarven outlook on life – There is no luck in my universe. Everything will go wrong and the point of all planning is to minimize loss and amortize damage. Every operation is an exercise in controlled attrition. Win or loss is determined by whether or not the damage and losses exceed the damage that was anticipated and planned for.

Spring crept up unseen and things started improving gradually. During the weekend of beer, movies, and board games I was asked by a friend to start running a D&D game again, and then my other set of friends wanted the same over a game of Scrabble. It was going to be a generic game, just some modules, but then I felt the call of Midlands and started work on the campaign again.

Another thing that happened, was that they opened a new LA Fitness gym practically across the highway from where I live. Keep in mind, that this is a stretch of the roads, where people drive like ass-holes, literally. You try to cross this stretch of highway across the urban no-man’s land, vacant lots and flood plains overgrown with sparse vegetation. You look at the driver behind the wheel, and it speeds up as if to run you over or discourage crossing before it goes past you. Other than that, a pleasant 16-minute walk or a two-minute drive (literally), if no traffic. This too, has crept unseen and accidentally. See, I don’t trust my checking account to gyms and gym’s contracts, but I participate in a program with my health insurance, that lets me go to any gym in their network. They dragged their feet for about six months, or, correction, nobody was running with the ball. One fine spring day I called up the offices to see why they could register the gym that I wanted to be in the network. Stayed on the phoned for three hours or so, made additional phone calls, but in the end of that afternoon, I got the gym and I started going the next day.

The consequences of that day on the phone were more profound than I thought. I am essentially doing triathlon training, I am a six day cycle and it takes me 2 – 2 ½ hours to get through the routine. Now I am juggling overtime and gym, and somehow D&D got sucked into the routine as well. Before you know it, I ran two game sessions with my local friends, and I got a session with the other group over the Memorial Day weekend. I am running Castle Caldwell with the local group and will run B8, journey to the rock over the upcoming weekend. Both are written into my midlands settings and NPC’s modified for local flavor.

Somehow, in between all this, I got a few interesting D&D projects going. First, I decided to write a Midlands Gazetteer and outline the flow of the campaign. I read the Grand Duchy of Karameikos Gazetteer to become familiar with a Gazetteer structure, and will review it later. I also read the mega-module B1-9 series, because they have an “adventure flowchart”, a rudimentary structure to be sure, but a good starting point. The second project essentially involves consolidating all of D&D text from the first White Box Booklets, through Moldway and Mentzger colored boxed sets, and core AD&D Books that were written by Gygax. It is a journey of discovery. I am working on two projects. The first one is the Compiled Monster List. I got a spreadsheet going, that lists every monster listed in the OD&D and B,E,C,M sets as well as Monster Manual, MM2 and Fiend Folio, all first edition. I keep track of where each monster appeared first and will see which if any ideas were lost by the wayside. Eventually, I will populate the Spreadsheet with the pertinent information such as the creature type, level, and areas it inhabits. Then I will drop it into an Access Database, and will be able to do searches to select my special monsters – I need the plains dwelling humanoid levels 2-3, and see what comes up. Every creature that has ever been invented for the AD&D game will come up.

The second project I am working on is the Dungeon Design Document. I love the Dungeon Master’s dungeon adventure writing section, Moldway Basic rulebook Section 8. I also have Gygax’s DMG appendices on the same topic, similar, but not the same. Moldway better organized it, but it lost the level of the descriptive detail. Normally, I scan the dungeon module, convert it into a word file, and edit it to write the generic adventure into Midlands. In case of dungeon design, it is a labor of love, and I type the relevant sections of text into the document by hand. I am scouring the Holmes Basic set, all the other sets and the Core Books for relevant tidbits of information, to see how it changed and what not as it migrated from one version of the game into another.

Some people study the Bible or other religious scriptures. Some people read up on String Theories and subatomic particles. My text, my passion, is Dungeons and Dragons.

Friday, April 15, 2016


I was with my Pennsylvania friends again, last weekend. I brought over Game Of Thrones season 5 and a bunch of board games, namely Loot Letter and Pandemic. We collectively kicked Pandemic's ass and then did a bunch of rounds of the Loot Letter. An awesome little game. I think that it makes more sense and has a better context for its cards than does its original version, Love Letter.

As we were getting ready to go out and eat and I was packing up the board-games, I heard the litany of what games they liked best - there was Escape From New York, Dungeon!, Elder Sign and Dungeons and Dragons. Wait, Dungeons and Dragons? That was the group that didn't want to play that game anymore after I finished my mega-dungeon in August 2009!

Did I hear them correctly? They want to play D&D again? I am not ready to run the Season 2 of Midlands again, but I can run them through classic AD&D Modules... they would like?... Really? Game on next time!

The other day I was playing Scrabble with a couple of members of my erstwhile New York City group. Same mega-dungeon ran out of steam with them back in the fall of 2012. This time it was because I got a new job and my G/F moved into my walk-up flat, and that brained me as a DM for a while. That and a loss of my arguably best player - mapper and caller combined - to an unhappy spouse who neded more quality time. For a year or so he was waiting for his player character to die, so that he could gracefulluy bow out, but he never got killed. That's how good that player is. Anyway,

I told them that I could run through my collection if AD&D modules, if they were interested... and they were.

So, I broke out my collection of AD&D Modules for starting characters. There are B1, B2, B3 on Horizon, Horror on the Hill. For my Pennsylvania group, I decided on the B8, Journey to the Rock as the first adventure. They are all former military, innocent of any knowledge of D&D rules or tropes. So, the wilderness adventure suits them better, to be followed by Horror on the Hill and Keep on the Borderlands, since they seem to like military patrol type of gaming. I was planning to use In Search of the Unknown as an opener to Season 2 of Midlands campaign. Of course, it wasn't going to be so easy, players will have to track the doomed expedition to that site, it will be a rescue mission, but before they can do that, they will have to investigare all over the Blacklands barony to figure out where the teen-age wouold be adventurers snuck off to. That was the big plan for the Quesqueton site.

For my New York City bunch, I will start with the clearing of the Castle Caldwell, from the B9 Module, to be followed by the Journey to the Rock. PA players already cleared that one way back in 2006.

Initially I was looking to run these adventures separately from the Midlands setting, but the more I think about it, the more stuff I come up with to incorporate these adventures into Midlands Season 2. It looks like I will be running two parallel campaigns in the same setting.

Thursday, April 7, 2016


They say that silence is acquiescence. If I can't call Pundit on his vileness on his blog, I will do so on my own, where this will get wider dissemination.

RPGPundit is beneath contempt. He wrote a good article on Tantric Buddhism, and got zero comments. Wrote a few more mediocre posts and got the same results. He then proceeded to ridicule and trash a rape victim and got a lot of comments. He then did a subsequent post and did more of a the same. Before I offer a glimpse of what RPGPundit actually is, I will address the original comments, which he ridiculed.

Comments here

While I don't agree with author's point of view, and I am well aware that there may be some political context behind this, I do not doubt the veracity of what she is describing, because I have seen much of the same over my years in gaming.

She confuses terrorism with mundane daily bullying and intimidation, which under U.S. law amounts to hostile work environment and makes employers liable for not providing people like her with a safe work environment. Secondly, this type of bullying harassment, in which RPGPundit freely engages, serves to drive the outsiders, the non-whites from their hobby community. The kind of crassness, which she describes is not accidental, but deliberate, and that type of rude boy harassment on the internet serves to deny access to outsiders to discussion forums. Again, if the internet space is employment base, the administration of the site may be liable for such harassment.

I will second the game store incident with one of my own. I was once talking to a similar kind of a clerk about the communication and cultural exchanges in antiquity, and that particular person started glorifying the rape and pillaging of yore. I was taken aback by the glee, and later understood, that this was a sexually frustrated individual, who was stuck in the same dead end low salaried position twenty years later, product of a white middle class household, where he could not afford the lifestyle of his parents in our modern shrinking economy. She is right on the money on that one. The ugly underbelly of suburban middle class geeks doomed to economic destitude if not for their parents.

I am not sure what to make of her Keycon rape incident. It sounds like she is describing the effect of Rohypnol on her body in accurate detail. This was Canada. had this happened in the US, presence of Rohypnol confirmed with a blood test and with the proper measures taken by convention staff and the police to identify the alleged rapist, would have gotten a mandatory minimal 8 year sentence if this was prosecuted in the U.S. Sounds like something had happened to her at that convention and she did not get justice.

Racism is real. I was talking to some otherwise sane Australian cops once, when the subject of the Australian Aboriginals came up. It was as if a dam burst - the stream of disgust and derision that poured out, driving the point that aboriginals are something less than human. Most angry boy D&D gamers are too insulated inside their geekiness and their parents' suburban homes to actually be aware of what racism is and how it is played out. Case in point: I am with some of my friends at an archery range. They are decked out in camouflage hunters tactical gear head to foot. All of a sudden a dozen or so LRP archer march on the range, all dressed as elves. They got simple wooden bows you can get for 20 bucks. There is a black guy with his white girlfriend, who is dressed as an Elf. The black guy is handsome, obviously former military who spent a few years in Germany. He is uneasy and is giving us nervous looks, thinking that we might be trouble. The entire LRP contingent is oblivious. They had no clue.

Regarding the RPGPundit, he is a shameless opportunist who will do anything to market his materials. Notice how he will never criticize any publisher, who could potentially help him. This is a man, who never threw a punch in anger, dug a ditch, or put in a full day of real physical labor. Despite his obsession with supernatural, spirituality eludes him, the way empathy eludes a psychopath. He is a short fat man with a scraggly beard, reminding one of an Ettercap, a Forgotten Realms mythical humanoid spider creature, hiding behind a mask on a photograph, and hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet. Make no mistake, he is a right-wing racist. Just look at his description of his wild west game - he thinks in terms of racial and ethnic stereotypes. If his writing offends you, do not buy his products. Boycott him, until he apologizes to your satisfaction. I understand that everyone has a right to make a living, especially, when you can't make a decent living doing what you love best, but the vileness of his recent posts does not allow me to ignore him.

Friday, April 1, 2016


By now we have established that to bring a truly two-dimensional sandbox campaign to life, we need a keyed area map, backed with a well developed setting of your own design, that you will know like the back of your hand, and also a Timeline for the place that exists outside your players and is largely independent of their actions. The goal of the campaign, the measure of the players success, is how much and in what direction the players were able to affect the events in Timeline with their adventuring. The players need not be aware of this, by the way. If they develop interest and what is known as Player Agency, they will figure out what they need to accomplish and will align themselves with one or more sides involved in the events.

The one last thing that is left to do is to breathe life into your sandbox. You do this by requiring players to play through the lives of their characters between the adventuring - leveling up, acquiring knowledge, spending wealth, healing, and keeping track of the time that they do. Gary Gygax writes in his DMG about the importance of keeping track of days between the dungeon expeditions for the purposes of keeping track of the party members as they go about their separate ways between the adventures and have to get together for the next adventure.

The way you set your sandbox in motion is by creating a set of random events tables to cover your world. Usually yearly events at national level, seasonal events at regional, and monthly events at the local level of the city, town or village, where the players are based. In addition, there should be weekly events in the lives of your players. This, and the wilderness map key, is your real and only chance to immerse your players in your world and show them what is in it. Does your world have volcanoes or purple mountains? Dark forests or elven cities with landscaped wilderness? Your area maps should show these details. Events likewise, should show off your unique setting. Pick up Gary Gygax's Oriental Adventure supplement, that he published in 1985. In it he invented the use of random events to make the players' setting be reminiscent of the classical Chinese literature that he bases the setting on. He breaks the major yearly events into three tables - Sociopolitical events, natural events, and special events. There are weddings, princely births, comets, famines, peasant uprisings ands visiting armies. This is your chance to express your unique and original setting in terms of major events that happen in it.

The second book that you may find helpful in The Insidiae, which I reviewed previously, the Vol. 5 of the Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds series. Essentially, that book is the version of the Oriental Adventure created for the more storyline centered conventions of the AD&D Second Edition game rules. It features NPC centered adventure design - you create NPC's, give them a role in the story of your players, and the adventure hooks come out of their motivation. I don't like it for many reasons, primarily because it was written by someone who is neither a literary scholar, nor a genuine gamer, so the ideas seem a bit abstract and generic. Also I don't like the casualness in which powerful magical items, demons, and other fantasy elements are treated. Everything is mundane and is taken for granted. Where the Insidiae book works wonders for me, is in setting the timeline for each area in your campaign setting. You get to flesh out the underlying issues and the direction of the historic development for each individual region. When I tested it on my own Midlands campaign setting, it coalesced beautifully with my own ideas about the place and formed a rich backstory for the place, a neighboring Barony to the east of Barony, where players are based. I could also use the Backstory as the inspiration for the random major events that will be scheduled on the campaign calendar, that will include fairs, celebrations, religious festivals, that happen regularly in that fantasy world.

Finally, with the fantasy world in motion, we need to create events that affect your players to distract them from their daily business of life. Keep in mind that your thieves and magic users will be affiliated with guilds, your players will be somebody's warriors or men at arms or knight errants, if they have the money to afford it, etc etc, every player will have his or her routine and some kind of minimal affiliation with the outside world. Into this routine, you throw random events, which cover events at their guilds or places of business, encounters with friends, enemies, patrons, family members - NPC's of significance. Players own backstories are a great source for random events for the player characters - mostly people from their claimed (by the player) past coming to visit them and sometimes player characters' past coming back to haunt them. That is why I say, anything that is said in the campaign is CANON, whatever players want to claim for their charters is fine - exiled princes, demons, sons of King Arthur, it's all good! No need to roll for 3d6 starting gold if your dad is a rich vampire! Of course, a good DM can twist all these fairy tales into deadly and terrifying adventures for players! Another thing I like doing, making players roll 3d6 or 4d6 pick the highest against each ability. Players can roll up a smany sets of stats as they like until they get the character that they truly like! DM saves all of the rolled sets of stats. These all will come into game as NPC's from the player character's past trying to kill them.

And there you have it!

A Sandbox!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


It is a mistake to think that Sandboxes and Railroads are opposing styles of play or mutually exclusive. The two styles are separate levels of play, and the difference between the two is that at times, players in a Sandbox campaign will end up in a hot pursuit, whether of their own choosing, or being chased by the setting itself, in which case the adventure will cease being two-dimensional and will become linear. In the linear campaign players are characters in the DM's story and the segments of the game that are sandbox exist in the story telling and negotiation between the DM and the players.

When I talk about the levels of play, I mean that there is a simple level of the Dungeon Crawl - stay at the inn, catch rumors at the tavern, go to store, outfit your party, go to the Dungeon, kill the monster, get the treasure, buy more stuff, back to the Dungeon. So goes the Dungeon cycle. As the players advance in level, they can Hex Crawl and go to other places in the fantasy world, and find other taverns, chase more rumors, and find another dungeon whilst exploring hexes. The DM's world expanded as the players advanced in level. The level of the Sandbox occurs in the story space between the adventures, and the gaming that takes place involves the players interacting with the setting, while spending gold and skill points to develop their characters. Let's say that your 5th Level Fighter wants to step up to the next level of his weapon specialization. Through role play, the player realizes that he has surpassed his current fencing instructor, but the Master tells the player of HIS teacher, and now the players must journey a long way on a quest for the Fighter to find his new teacher. This kind of gaming was not provided for in the vanilla editions of D&D, everyone sort of levels up automatically and acquires new abilities. This is the Sandbox, it helps the D&D cvampaign side-step what Dave Arneson criticized about D&D - get treasure buy bigger sword to get even more treaisre to buy even a greater sword.

The biggest fallacy of the OSR is that there is no story in traditional D&D - Dungeon Crawls and Hex Crawls. After all, a DM draws a map of the labyrinth, keys the areas in it, makes notes as to what Monsters, Traps, and Treasures the labyrinth contains. DM then creates a small towm to serve as the base for the players cum adventurers. Simple world, then as the players advance in levels, the DM craws the map of the adjoining areas and the players engage in hex crawls or wilderness exploration. This creates an illusion that there is no story in an old school D&D game, but it is wrong. This is a form of story-telling - where the rooms provide critical incidents and the corridors connect the incidents with each other. It might be a non-linear, non traditional story, but it is still a story. It becomes even more of a story, when a DM desides to flesh out a theme or a back-story for a dungeon, when DM creates an adventure for the players that gives them a reason to enter thr labyrinth, and defeat what is there. DM doesn't even think of how he or she is telling the story within the parameters of the Dungeon Adventure. The unique format of the Dungeon Crawl and the way it formalizes and processes the DM-player storytelling interaction is the reasom behind the remarkable success of the Dungeon design/Dungeon Adveture format. The further we move away towards representing more complex adventures and situations, the harder it becomes and the weaker the game mechnics of adventure design become. Gygax and Moldway did not write anything as good for Wilderness design as they did for the Dungeon Adventure, and the Second Edition folks and beyond did even less for the non-linear non-tactical adventure design, ot the node-based adventure design, that represntes the schematics of an Event-based as opposed to the site based adventure design.

Brooser's Sandbox partly consists of fleshing out the setting in which event based adventures and character development can take place, and then forcing the players to traverse the wilderness between points where critical encounters in the adventure take place in accordance with the traditional rules for D&D travel.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


To pull off a Sandbox, you need a world that lives outside the players. Your D&D setting must flow through time like the river from the beginning of your campaign to the end. You need to set those boundaries. It could be a War, it could be an Age of Exploration or a historical period. It doesn't have to be precise. Maybe at the beginning of your campaign, the players are living through the Late Period of the Renaissance, and by the end of the campaign, the Renaissance Kingdom will collapse, unless your players will change history and Save The King. Literally. But this is where the Sandbox and Railroad part ways. Typically, the DM may design a string of adventures from the humblest beginnings to the Epic conclusion, much like running the AD&D players through the Against The Slave Lords A-series of D&D Modules, then Against the Giants, G-series of Modules, the Against the Drow, the D-series until finally against the Queen of the Demonweb Pits, 11 or 12 Adventures later.

There is nothing wrong with this, this is how Gygax intended D&D to be run, minus the story and the context. D&D Second edition made it more of a story game where Gygax kept it at the level of military style hack and slash raids. But this is where a true Sandbox goes deep beyond AD&D First or Second Editions and beyond the OSR, where any story is stripped and the game is purely an old style so-called site-based adventures and Hex Crawls. Sandbox goes beyond all this by offering the players a world without the storyline. This is not the world of the tavern, the adventure supply store and a dungeon awaiting the players, James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount and Gygax's Cstle Zagyg being the apex of that. Unlike the previous two, the Sandbox has the potential to sweep the players off their feet and drag them towards oblivion like an avalanche. An example of this would be the players charcaters cast as Jews in Poland just before the Nazi Germany invades it. Unless the players act and act proactively, they will end up in a death camp by the end of the campaign. Your Sandbox should be set up in such a way, that if players keep on doing what they normally do, the world will swallow them. Players as Mayans greeting Cortez. Players as Elves on the verge of men taking over their ancestral lands. This is but one theme, players can be adventurers clearing the frontier of monsters and treasure, but eventually the land will be cleared and the King and Ruling elite will seek to enslave the adventurers and take away their wealth and power. Players can be on the edges of the conflict between the Wizards and Priests for dominance over the Sandbox.

What I am saying is that if the players don't deal with the Sandbox, the Sandbox will deal with players. What you need for your Sandbox to successfully engage with players is Conflict, and you need a historic timeline for that conflict engulfing your campaign setting, as well as some consideration how the players' actions can alter that timeline by successful adventuring, if the players pick up on the clue and take appropriate actions. The need for the players to act should be made more and more clear as the campaign draws closer to its end, but the later it gets, the harder it should be to turn the tide of the adverse events. In the beginning, the threat is vague and barely perceptible, but their chance to thwart history gets better the earlier the players get involved in the conflict. It is not true that there no winners or loosers in a Sandbox D&D Campaign. When the campaign ends, the players are bound to arrive at its conclusion, however many dead player characters later. The ending for them will be anywhere between the two poles - On one side the timeline of the conflict did not change and the players had no impact on it. On the other, the players were able to thward the march of history and save themselves and their world. Most likely the players will have some impact and how far they got or didn't get, is the ultimate degree of their victory or defeat.


By now it should be clear, that the only way your players will interact with your Sandbox is by the Event & Encounter. The difference between the two is that players face typically living and active opponents in Encounters, while Events are incidents involving mishaps, weather, and obstacles that are passive and non-living in nature. Every role playing game is presented to played via encounters. It is the depth and quality of Events and Encounters in your game that determines how good your game is! Most games feature generic number of goblins who will attack, be killed, and will have on them x amount of coin and possibly a magic item or two, that the players can identify, use, or sell in the proverbial Adventurers Mart that carries a complete selection of bull's eye lanterns and ten foot poles listed in the Player's Handbook. Same encounter can give the self same goblins a context in your world, a mission, a set of skills, and some tactics and an agenda to better challenge the players. Same goblins can also be willing to communicate with the players under the right circumstances, offer useful or interesting information, their possession can offer the players useful clues about where these goblins come from, as well as revealing something to players about the world. This depth, detail and texture of the Encounters is even more critical to a non-linear Sandbox campaign, because this is the only way that players can explore your world. For it is only by exploring your Sandbox, that players will find goals to pursue in your world and bring to life the adventures of your Sandbox. In the real world, we are immersed in our world with all our senses and we learn about our environment all the time. In a game, the only chance that players get to contact your Sandbox is through the Encounters that the DM throws at them. Of course, there is also the DM's narration and story of the DM's campaign setting, but in this instance, the players are passive listeners and there is a greater chance that they will miss the crucial clues about the campaign that DM offers them, then if the same crucial clues are made part of the encounter, and the players are required to ROLE-PLAY through it, coming across the important information. Role-Playing to D&D is the same as the "Show Not Tell" in creative writing.


Gygax looked into the real world research, when he created Character Ability scores. The clue is in his mention in DMG of STR being measured by the amount of weight the character can lift in a Military Press exercise. That is straight from the Human Performance research of his day. It moved on since then, and got MORE interesting. You picture of the Gymnast's strength is the perfect example.
Human abilities are grouped into two distinct categories, which behave differently: Physical Abilities and the five forms of measurable Human Intelligence. Human abilities can all be improved by training and exercise and can all be brought up to be "All 18's". Human Intelligence consists largely of latent talent, influenced by one's genes, and also required constant practice for improvement, but presence of latent talent makes a quantum leap in how much the intelligence ability can be developed, and also, Human Intelligence is more of a Zero Sum structure - you CAN NOT get "All 18's" with the Human Intelligence abilities, though fully developed Renaissance Men have existed and were clearly exceptional in two or three areas. The abilities themselves are as follows:
Physical abilities are STRENGTH, FLEXIBILITY, and ENDURANCE. STR is the amount of weight one can dead lift off the ground and over one's head. Men can get stronger in this than Women. FLEX is the ability to do splits and to contort one's body. Women are can be superior to men in this and there are male dancers who take female hormones to match women in FLEX. END is how heavy a burden one can carry on the back and for how long, also how long one can run or stay in a physical fight before getting winded and exhausted.
Human Intelligence abilities are as follows: Verbal/Arithmetic Intelligence, measured by the IQ test; Artistic Intelligence, ability to draw a 3D picture and correctly maintain the proportions of the objects in the drawing; Mechanical Intelligence - Manual Dexterity, ability to take apart an engine or a watch mechanism, and put it back together again without relying on schematics; Tumbling Intelligence, Agility - awareness of one's body in 3D, allowing one to do complex choreography in dance, gymnastics, and acrobatics; and Emotional Intelligence - allowing the person to read facial expression, pick on non-verbal behavioral cues, and successfully interact with people. So, ART, DEX, INT, CHA and all forms of Intelligence. AGILITY is the most complex of human abilities. It is a function of human intelligence, but requires high physical development in the areas of STR and FLEX to be developed. The minimal requirement for gymnastics is the STR to lift one's own weight, and women need less of it since they are typically smaller and lighter than men, and exceed them in FLEX.
This leaves two other abilities, Constitution and Wisdom. WIS is Gary Gygax own brilliant design. He defines it as the inherent discipline to do what is good for that person. Not smoking on the emotional level, because it is not good for you. This would be crucial for survival among various Saddam Husseins and other fanatic tyrants, as well as in the universe where exist many fickle and cruel gods. There is a large amount of literature written in Philosophy, and Gygax's contribution in on the level.
Constitution is in a class by itself. Human Endurance is not really the CON as defined by Gygax. However, there is a Genetic Trait called HARDINESS. A while back Cattell proposed that human behavior is the expression of people's psychological traits, and later it was proposed that some traits are learned while other traits are genetically inherited. Later still, some psychologists set out to find and define Genetic Traits, most were too abstract and too removed from everyday life to be readily thrown into a game or a self improvement book, but one such trait is called Hardiness. HRD is the ability to resist infection and how fast one recovers from injury. That sounds like CON to me. As a side note, people with exceptional Hardiness tend to be optimists, with a sense of humor, and they can not hold their alcohol. They suffer more acutely from hangovers, and they start feeling it sooner than the rest of us. For that reason, they typically are non-drinkers. My father ones said that they are extremely healthy individuals. Another side-note is that aspirin is the chemical agent that boosts Hardiness, speeding up certain metabolic processes, that produce high Hardiness, The Anti-Aspirin is the ARACHIDONIC ACID (AA), an Omega-6 fatty acid typically found in meat and egg yolks. For it to be bad, you have to mix it with the frying oil or grease, in which case the AA is bad for you, promoting inflammation. Moral of the story - Eggs are healthy, but fried eggs in excess are bad for you, especially if you got arthritis, asthma, allergies, or other inflammation based diseases.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


By now you should have a little world that is all your own. You have a nice setting with bits of geography, bits of backstory, some story hooks, and key NPC's. You could write a story, but that is a different creative process. You can also write an adventure for your players, but they may choose not to ride your railroad. How to proceed? You must build a Sandbox, of course! There are several ways that you do not want to build a sandbox. You do not want to have some hills with the B2 Keep on the Borderlands in them, then a Forest that has B1 Exploring the Unknown in it, and a desert, which holds the I-series of modules. This is commonly done, but what you have done is instead of a Sandbox, you've built a large railway hub.

What you need to realize, is that just like in writing, your campaign setting needs exposition (literary descriptive process) to your players. Your setting consists of different types of the wilderness on your world map, settlements of various sizes, dungeons (loose term denoting actual dungeons, potential adventure sites (bandit camps, temples, Wizards Towers), and man-made and natural terrain features - Rivers, Roads, Trails, etc. Scattered across your map are various NPC's, whom your players can encounter. NPC's can be friends or enemies, long term and short term, but they all have a story to tell about your world. Some are tales and confessions made to your players, even if at sword-point, but the NPC's themselves, what they do and what they say, how the look and act, tells as much about your world as your description of the place, which the players are exploring.

Note that any D&D adventure module starts at some safe place, where a role-playing encounter takes place with a friendly NPC, who will sink the adventure hook into the players. I see nothing wrong with the DM bringing the players up to speed on what's going on, but I prefer that most information be revealed to players through role playing encounters with NPC's. Role playing also includes social encounters, where the NPC's will swap stories with the players. Now, this is more than just rolling a random rumor and reading it to the players, you can tell all kinds of stories about your world to players via the NPC's. You can filter it by role playing through the NPC's level of knowledge and personality, but if you just built your own world from scratch, there is plenty you want to tell your players about your world, much more, than your players can absorb and retain.

So, you go into tavern and you meet an NPC. But what if the players are bushwhacking and there are no NPC's, or your players are knee deep in slaughtered NPC's? You can still tell your story through Encounters. One thing that I like about the Post Second Editions of D&D, is that they moved away from the Wandering Monster Table and replaced them with the Encounter Tables. A Wandering Monster Table is essentially a Combat Encounter Table, but there are many other types of encounters you can come up with. There are Skill Encounters, where you do skill checks, Exploration Encounters (like exploring a room in the dungeon, but a locale in the Wilderness), Adventure Encounters - encounters that have story hooks to draw the players into an adventure - anything from an NPC with a mission to the players, to murdered loved ones, slaughtered caravans, treasure maps, incidents out of the blue - mistaken identity or deliberate malice - any events to draw the players into an adventure. There are Role Playing and Social Encounters, and there are Encounters peculiar to wilderness exploration - Exploration Encounters, Monster/Animal (Combat Encounters (a Bear in the woods is a Combat Encounter, but whether or not it will lead to fighting remains to be seen), and also Expedition, Terrain and Weather Events. This is how the DM shows his world to the players during the wilderness adventure. Expedition events are sprained ankles, cabin fever and conflicts between the players and NPC's, small incidents of discovery and revelation between the players and NPC's, running out of food, gear breaking, etc. Terrain events - the sights and obstacles of your world. Within the bigger forests, there are bogs, thickets, Oak Groves and Pine forests, stands of trees. In the real world, these might shelter beaver dams, deer and wolf dens, old human camp sites, ruined buildings. In Your World, these too have significance - whether Druid Groves, Elven hideouts, Giant Spider lairs and old villages wiped out by the Undead - these all are really Adventure/Combat encounters, but what the Terrain Events do, are offer a descriptive variety and Exploration Encounters, which MAY lead to Adventure Encounters, but what they really do, is that they offer you a chance to describe your world, and provide you a useful narrative randomizer, that will prevent you from running out of ideas, describing the 100 hexes on your map classified as "Forest". In addition, Terrain Events provide Obstacles for the players to overcome - Deadly Crevasses and Rivers that need to be crossed, impenetrable brush and thickets, where players can be lost, iced over rock fields, where players can slip and fall and break legs, swamps, tall grass hiding svakes and other hazards, forest fires after lightning. Weather Events test players survival skills, slow them down, and drain their resources. Weather adds description to your world - Mostly sunny days, windy days, hot and cold days, rainy days, which will require players to obtain comfortable and weather appropriate clothing, of course, there will also be extreme Weather Events - blizzards, lightning storms, heat waves, extreme wind, unique events of your choosing creating special hazards. Lightining can set off forest fires, blizzards can frost-bite and kill unprepared characters, in my world I have special events, which will animate any unburied corpses in the area, and will wreck the flying ships with monsters peculiar to Midlands. And what is in your world?

100 EVENTS: When my players do wilderness travel, I come up with 100 various events, some only happening if the players are in the right location,a nd if the special conditions occur. All different events and encounters are mixed together, and I use the Gygax table for the Wilderness encounters. If the random event misses the players, then nothing happens.