Lucky Dip DM’ing

Gary Gygax was famous for his love of filling books with tables, specifically tables where you would roll a dice (or two) to find an outcome or a prompt.

This summary on Futurama was both brutal but indisputable.

Tables for random encounters, tables for treasure hoards of the recently slain monsters, tables for magic items in the treasure hoards and even tables for sex workers to spend the treasure on. Indeed, long before procedurally generated video games were a trend, Dungeons & Dragons was a game where you could leave huge parts of the story in the hands of the RNG gods through dice rolls.

Notably though, this is not how Gary DM’d. By all reports he rarely looked at the books, never limited himself to the rules and almost never rolled on a table himself – instead relying on preparation and improvisation. Some people will say he included the tables for lesser DMs, or to pad out the books, but realistically he probably figured it was a more engaging way to provide prompts and information than just a plain list.

Today tables for random outcomes continue to be a regular feature in role-playing games, expansions, modules and even comic books about those things. To many the outcomes are so sacrosanct that, even in the privacy of one’s own home and a single player story, bypassing them is a biblical sin.

They’re an inescapable part of the hobby, and many people spend no small amount of time making their own tables for their own campaigns. Now, that includes me, so I’m not about to tell you that they’re inherently bad – but rather that a classic mistake is to rely on them – up there with relying on “a rare roll must always have an extraordinary result”.

Both are symptoms of assigning too much authority to dice, usually out of insecurity about one’s ability to perform their role – so instead outsourcing it to an inanimate object or two.

Continue reading Lucky Dip DM’ing

Common and racial tongues in D&D

D&D has always had an odd approach to languages. While J. R. R. Tolkien can probably be blamed for the normalizing of racial languages in the fantasy setting, D&D never limited itself to that approach – taken as a whole, the classic D&D approach to language was…

…it was weird.

There were specifically nations, separate cultures with separate histories… but no languages associated with those – instead we had:

Racial Languages: Elf, Dwarf, Orcish, etc
Profession Languages: Druidic
Sub Languages: Thieves Cant was a form of coded language that required speaking a base language
Alignment Languages: Yeah, you could speak Lawful Good. The premise was that alignments were real cosmic forces, their were cults built around them, and hence their were cults who had their own languages to communicate in secret (which every adventurer knows one and only one).
Default language: Common, Trade Tongue… like there’s just a language made to be lingua franca, the Esperanto of these fantasy worlds… only it actually is wide spread.

I’m not going to touch on the Sub Languages or Alignment Tongues, but I did want to address what I consider the weirdest parts: Common tongue and racial tongues.

Between universal languages and cross compatible currencies – the distinctions between nations were usually alignment, and aesthetic. That kind of functioned for simply dungeon crawls, but didn’t lend itself well to world building or lore creation – because these don’t hold up to how language works in any shape or form – I mean, when was the last time you spoke “Human”?

These days there’s an effort to mix in cultural languages etc, but it always seems to fall back on depending on Common… the weirdest language. This is a real shame since it essentially locks the value of languages behind specialist scenarios, and eliminates opportunities like needing translators, confusion or ambiguity in translations, culture shock in language, etc.

Continue reading Common and racial tongues in D&D

D&D Currencies – Five approaches

Perhaps one of the greatest bane’s of the mid-level Dungeons & Dragon party is trying to sort out and determine all the money they have so they can determine how much they need to spend on provisions for the next adventure, whether they can afford that hot pink magical backpack and how much they will have for amnesia inducing carousing afterwards.

Without a doubt, the problems magnify exponentially if you limit yourself to the traditional currencies and then use encumbrance rules – creating scenarios where parties are actively spending all their coins before going out on adventure again so that they can have capacity to carry loot out of the next dungeon that they visit.

The default system has many drawbacks, one being that it makes actual estimations of value and pricing a nightmare to track – which has invariably led to bizarre economic situations where parties crash local economies due to insisting on carrying only the most valuable coins in the vast hoards they keep in interdimensional pockets, or spend staggering fortunes before going out on another adventure purely so they can have capacity to carry out treasure after their next victory but are never sure how much anything costs without looking up a book out of character.

Continue reading D&D Currencies – Five approaches

The Open Gaming License (OGL), and what you (probably) missed during the outrage

So, a whole bunch of people are congratulating themselves for having helped Paizo increase their market influence through a new open license ORC (it’s… just a catchier term for OGL).

Naturally the Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum and Wonderfilled have the worst take on this:

A screenshot from the Facebook page of the Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum, it is an image of flat blue with text on it: "(Attention all Publishers) It isn't truly an open game License if you have to acknowledge the owner's illegal claims of owning a game system."
Apparently you can’t own a system, but Ernie is the divine heir of Dungeons & Dragons, so it belongs to Justin LaNasa’s companies… and definitely not the rest of the Gygax family because they very understandably do not support Justin profiteering of their name.

However a few things are apparent.

Most people who commented and campaigned on this, didn’t understand how any of the following work:

  1. Copyright
  2. Licenses & Contracts
  3. What the OGL is
  4. What the OGL isn’t
  5. What motivates corporations
  6. What is not a victory
  7. What they didn’t see in the OGL because they were too busy screaming about royalties and repealing OGL 1.0a

So… it would take… forever, like college level text book length to explain all of that… so I’m making a primer from a law student who is not your lawyer and so definitely not giving you legal advice and my advice regarding firm statements on law is the same as my advice for rodeo riding: If you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, leave it well enough alone.

If you haven’t set, but you want to read the document for yourself, Stephen Glicker, aka Roll for Combat, made a sanitized copy available in the description of his video. One thing you’ll notice is there’s a lot of signs its an early draft (there are placeholders, definitions aren’t clearly spelled out, etc). So keep that in mind.

Now, I tried to explain this before and people… pretty much ignored it, and it’s heavy stuff so I don’t expect anyone to come out of it thinking they understand perfectly now. If nothing else, what I want people to understand is that it is more complicated than what people have been saying, and if someone tells you that they definitely understand it and it clearly means x… they’re probably wrong on both points.

The reason this is frustrating is when people get into the mob mentality they make decisions they later regret, both things like burning bridges or signing up for inferior deals, and in actively spreading misinformation and social pressure that leads to other people doing that.

I’m not here to tell you what to do, but I do want you do whatever you do for your own reasons and with good information.

What is the OGL?

This seems to be the biggest point of confusion since a lot of people seem to think the OGL 1.0a was useful for making all kinds of games – including games completely unrelated to Dungeons & Dragons like sci-fi adventure games etc.

What it actually is a kind of license to fan-wank provided that you don’t use particular terms and don’t impinge on Wizards of the Coast’s market share or use some terms they’d rather you didn’t for… strategic reasons I could get into later.

Things covered under the OGL include the basic character races, classes, class abilities, feats, spells, magic items and some monsters. These are all laid out in the Standard Reference Document 5.1 (or “SRD5” as it is officially known because… that was a really weird decision by the people who drafted it and the OGL).

It’s very convenient if you want to skip over a lot of work, but it is also very specifically for promoting D&D – and that’s why it’s there. If there is a bunch of stuff that is 100% compatible with D&D available – that’s more incentive to play D&D, even if you never use any of it. It seems cool and like they care about the fandom and that there’ll never be a shortage of material if you start to get bored or want a change of pace.

Continue reading The Open Gaming License (OGL), and what you (probably) missed during the outrage