Friday, January 27, 2017

"d100 Dungeon Master Tips" Critiqued - Volume 3: #s 53, 32, 34

We continue riffing off "d100 Dungeon Master Tips" by Mike Shea, as featured in Dragon+. Three tips critiqued, every Friday!

#53: "Name every villain the characters face."

Yeah, do that. Don't tell the players that the villagers want the PCs to go deal with "a fearsome orc chieftan." Rather they need to go deal with "Grognor Dripping-Fang, Scourge of the Weald." When they get to them, Grognor threatens to "tear your throat from your neck and drink your blood as from the fountain of a fallen city!" (...depending on how fluent your orcs are in Common or whatever language the PCs speak. Mileage may vary.)

#32: "Describe histories and storylines in small slices discovered by the characters as they explore the world around them."

Definitely yes. It's important to avoid large "info-dumps," as the proportion of information retained by a player decreases as the amount of information increases. SMALL pieces are important.

On the other hand, it's also important to make sure the lore you reveal is "grabby" and clearly interrelated, as players easily lose track of which pieces fit with which and are unable to assemble a clear picture of the story or world you're trying to describe. Make your lore reveals punchy and memorable: use brevity and flavor to accomplish this.

#34: "Learn your players' birthdays and celebrate them with an adventure focused on their character's goals. Who is the next player with a birthday coming up?"

Um, ALL adventures should be focused on character goals. That needs to be gotten out of the way first. (If your players are lame and don't have clear goals, then your adventures must force themselves on the characters and essentially MAKE THEMSELVES goals.)

But okay, sure, IF your players are all able to make it on a day, and IF that day is a player's birthday, give that player a chance to shine.

Overall I feel like this tip is geared more towards teenagers or younger people, but personally I DM for adults with busy lives, and that kind of flexibility is hard to come by. (And birthdays mean less the older you get.) So, might be fun, but this tip is FAR from important.

Previous volumes:
Volume 1
Volume 2

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Diseases Are Demons

In some of the more liberal branches of Christian theology (and the theologies of other religions, for all I know), it is often thought that the appearances of demons in the Scriptures should not be taken literally - that is, the liberal theologian often disbelieves in personal, sapient spirits of malevolence and rebellion.

So, what IS the interpretation of references to demons, if not literal demons?


The liberal theologian sees Scriptural references to demons as actually referring to diseases - sometimes physical, but often mental: diseases like epilepsy, schizophrenia, or depression. And if a person is healed of that disease, the "demon" has been "cast out."

Now, that's coming from a modernist worldview that is seeking to reduce pre-modern conceptions to merely "natural" (rather than "supernatural") explanations (and some liberal theologies do away with the notion of a personal, sapient God, too!). BUT, since we're interested in playing tabletop RPGs where magic and the supernatural commonly appear, we aren't interested in this approach. In fact, we can SUBVERT it, and REVERSE it.

See, I titled this post "Diseases Are Demons," not "Demons Are Diseases." What if we conceptualize the diseases and maladies in fantasy game settings not as pathogens or psychoses as we moderns understand them, but as actual, personal, sapient spirits of malevolence and illness? That schizophrenic over there? His psyche is regularly invaded by a demon. That epileptic? she's assaulted by malign spirits. That leper? A devil dwells within his flesh, rendering it dead and white.

Deicide - In the Minds of Evil

Given that assumption, it makes a GREAT explanation to how healing magic in RPGs work. See, it's often divine magic - channeling the power of a deity to cure disease and illness. But, if diseases are demons, what's actually happening is an EXORCISM. This is COOL!

So, next time your party comes across an individual suffering from "scurvy," emphasize that she is suffering from Scurvy - an infamous demon who emerges from the deeps of the ocean and drains the vitality of its victims! Watch your players start trying to exorcise it with salt, holy water - and perhaps limes!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Metal Monster Manual Monday - Volume 3

Continuing a weekly series of posts wherein I share several album covers (mostly by death metal bands!) as brainfood for encounters in your tabletop RPG. Expect this every Monday!

Great surreal atmosphere on this one, with the red sky and blue ice. (Why is the sky red? The smoke of distant fires? The aurora borealis? The setting sun struggling to pierce clouds of ash and gas?)
Man, that ice looks lethal, though. Don't slip. (So, the terrain functions as a trap, where clumsy characters fall and take piercing damage.)
On the left, a strange, strange city. Notice the ice encroaching upon it - was this area once warm and habitable,  but now being threatened by glaciers and the long winter?
The city itself is kind of how I imagine Charn to look. What magics and treasures may be found in its ruinous mazes?
On the right, some black silhouettes on a hill above the ice. (My imagination immediately pictures them as ants on an anthill.) Do they live underground for shelter now? Are they former inhabitants of the city, or new arrivals on the wings of winter? Are they hostile or neutral?
There really is a story behind this scene. But it's up to you to tell it.

"The tree is withered; its roots are rotted and weak -
they grow through the skulls and the ribs of the children murdered at its feet!"

This has a BEAUTIFULLY psychedelic atmosphere. It's tough to tell whether the location is underground or merely in a deep, dank wood - though I lean toward the latter. (It reminds me of the Weald locations from Darkest Dungeon - a HIGHLY recommended game, BTW.)
Obviously this is a very old, very autotrophic forest - one that has even gained the malevolence to feed upon civilization and its denizens. What magics or supernatural forces have given it such ravenous life?
I shudder to think that the skull on the upper right might speak. What would it say to a party of adventurers?
(The album itself is also highly recommended - it was in my top 3 albums from 2015!)

Alright, time for the BOSS BATTLE:

DEPRIVE (Disfiguring the Goddess)
So, obviously this could be the object of a "go kill this quest," which would work fine. To slay this... THING, you'd need to destroy or disable those spires or pylons on either side, which are obviously feeding some sort of energy to the... THING. (And then, probably venture WITHIN its maw and KILL IT DEAD from there.)
What would be even COOLER is if that maw were actually a gateway or an entrance to some deeper, darker region - then, player options would include: 1) killing the... THING as normal, 2) negotiating with it (in which safe passage would be accomplished by... bringing it something it wishes to devour? Accomplishing a task beyond the reach of its writhing tentacles?) or 3) running REALLY fast past those spiky tentacles and massive teeth!
It's worth considering what this area looked like BEFORE the... THING grew or emerged or otherwise got there. Those curving objects in the foreground seem to be warped and ruined pillars or totem-poles, and some of the objects in the background could be massive dead trees. Was this once a mighty forest? Did the... THING poison the earth and blacken the sky with dark energies? Did devour until it could move no more? WHAT LIES BELOW?

How would YOU use any/all of these monsters, encounters, and scenes in your game, Reader?
(Let me know how it goes if you do!)

Previous volumes:
Volume 1
Volume 2

Sunday, January 22, 2017

One Month of Ars Magisterii

Well, it looks like I made the first post on Ars Magisterii a month ago!

A recap of where it's been, and where it's going:

This is a blog about running (and playing) tabletop RPGs (Dungeons and Dragons being perhaps the most notable example). It also incorporates influences from history, philosophy, theology, and death metal - especially death metal, as evidenced by my ongoing Metal Monster Manual Monday series!

Speaking of series, I have two ongoing, and several more floating around in my brainspace to either replace or supplement what I have going now.

Currently, Metal Monster Manual Monday updates every Monday (obviously), and is an experiment in drawing inspiration from album covers (mostly from death metal) in crafting encounters and scenes for a tabletop RPG.
"d100 Dungeon Master Tips" Critiqued is my other ongoing series, in which I sample a couple of tips every Friday from "d100 Dungeon Master Tips" by Mike Shea (as featured in Dragon+) and use them as a springboard into discussion as to the tips' value and related issues. (Essentially, a couple of mini-rants - but better!)

In the future, I hope to present a series on my previous campaign, which inspired Metal Monster Manual Monday, in which all the scenes the players encountered WERE album covers. (It was a successful experiment, by the way. More detail to come.)
I also am considering providing updates on my current campaign - although, truth be told, I find campaign bulletins to be fairly uninteresting (they often end up being "you had to be there"),  but I'd do my best to do it well if there was demand.
Finally, I have plenty of material on creating and evaluating house rules - probably enough for its own series.

In addition to my Monday and Friday serial posts, I will continue to deliver a miscellaneous (but AWESOME) post every Wednesday. Stay tuned ("follow" this blog to make it simple)!

Oh, and one more goal - get someone to actually comment on one of my posts, haha. (Here's a try: let me know in the comment section what you'd like to see more of from this blog!)