Posts Tagged ‘carousing


non-violence (and slime gods)

As convention season approaches, New York Red Box Charter Member E.T. Smith made an intriguing remark while musing about convention games:

I barely even notice game descriptions [at conventions] anymore. They nearly always, to me, read like a variation of “Some dudes are doing something you don’t like. Stop them with violence,” so they don’t tell me anything about what might make the game interesting.

(emphasis added).

And he’s right.  It would be pretty neat to play some games where the primary conflicts couldn’t be solved through violence, if only as a change of pace.

Figuring out how to do a “non-violence” session of D&D:

  • Maybe violence is just a strategically dumb move, like if every monster in the dungeon is way tougher than you.  This becomes more of a stealth mission, either trying to creep into a place, or trying to escape.  For several years now I’ve wanted to run an adventure where PC’s are accidentally teleported into a much deeper level of the dungeon than they anticipated . . .
  • Maybe violence isn’t the focus of the adventure, though this begins to get into areas of play that aren’t well-supported.
    • A cross-country or oceanic race, for example, would offer the chance to overcome a lot of wilderness hazards.  (In D&D, most wilderness hazards take the form of monsters you have to kill; I much prefer Mouse Guard‘s approach to wilderness and weather hazards.  But I suppose with old-school “imagine-the-hell-out-of-it” principles players could try to cope with travel emergencies.)
    • An attempt to solve a particularly vexing problem by means of researching a new spell or magic item.  Spell research is one of those cool things that tends to happen away from the table, but trying to acquire super-bizarre metaphorical ingredients, like “the tears of the moon” or something, might require a lot of creative thinking from the players.
    • An attempt to build a stronghold.  I can imagine all sorts of stuff going wrong here: incompetent architectural design, labor trouble, low-key interference from neighboring powers who want to test the new guy on the block.  And of course the peasants are watching to determine if this new guy really deserves their respect.  Again this gets into social-style adventuring that isn’t always handled well by D&D rules, but would probably be an interesting change of pace.
  • Maybe violence is morally problematic – like, the whole scenario is caused by horribly wrong violence and its tragic after-effects can’t really be remedied by more of the same.

Some of this stuff, like magical research and stronghold-building, skirt pretty close to the carousing mechanisms that the New York Red Box uses between sessions.  (The workings of the carousing system has been pretty opaque to me as a player: Tavis uses some kind of Apocalypse World -derived 2d6 + Ability Mod system, where 10 is an unqualified success, 7-9 is a compromise somehow, and 6- is a bad failure; Eric I think is using something like a saving throw system.)

Anyway: as an RPG player I’d like to play in the occasional game that wasn’t predicated on solving conflicts by the application of superior force, that’s all.  (I am not saying that violence in gaming is bad; just that it’s boring sometimes.)

tax: 2e Slime Cult Specialty Priest

Been mucking around with 2e lately.  The 2e Cleric is ridiculously powerful.  Perhaps as an acknowledgement of this, the 2e Players Handbook introduces Specialty Priests, which are sort of like themed mini-Clerics.  The 2e Druid is arguably one example of this though they don’t explicitly say so in the text IIRC.

Anyway, specialty priest who worships primordial subterranean slime gods:

Restrictions: Constitution 15, Charisma 12.  Followers of the Slime God must be hardy to endure filth and ordure, yet they remain mysteriously compelling.  Alignment: any non-good and non-lawful.  The Slime God is indifferent to human welfare and scorns efforts at systematizing.

Weapons Allowed: Non-metal armor and weapons that are mostly wood.  Flasks of burning oil, acid, and poison are permitted.  The idea is to be immune from most Ooze attacks, while mimicking them in return.

Spheres: Major access to: All, Charm, Creation, Divination, Elemental, and Necromantic.  Minor access to Animal, Healing, Plant.  According to the cult, slime exists at the juncture between insensate matter and all living things–the protoplasmic goo is a link between plants, animals, and the raw elements, and the quintessence of life itself.  I’m throwing in Divination and Charm just because I like the idea of extremely charismatic priests driven mad by unspeakable insights.

Granted Powers: command Oozes, Otyughs and Fungi (as evil Cleric commands Undead).  At Level 7, transform into Ooze (as Druid’s shape-changing ability).

Ethos: To the anti-priests of the cult, we weren’t created by any gods in the service of a divine purpose.  We crawled into the sunlight after countless eons of muck for no discernible reason.  If you’re puzzled and confused by the world you live in, that’s perfectly understandable: it’s not supposed to make sense.   We’re just globs of muck, doing what globs of muck do: eat, shit, puke, ejaculate, and die.  There’s no relief from that: it’s the bedrock of our existence.  And if the social institutions of the surface world appear corrupt, hypocritical, and historically contingent–almost as if there was no divine plan at all–well, that shouldn’t come as a surprise .  If you’re expecing our society to be pure and wholesome, you’re misunderstanding who and what we are.  There’s no destiny.  There’s just the continuous consumption of rotting flesh to shit out nightsoil to keep the thing going.

Amid all that mindless biological twitching, there’s a lesson to be learned.  Don’t let people tell you to do stuff on the basis of some goofball ideology.  Here and now is what matters.  Being left alone, and leaving others alone even if it means they’ll drink their own piss, is a cardinal virtue: you don’t have authority to tell others what to do.  And that applies to yourself too.  You have to reconcile yourself to the fact that your life and its attendant suffering is pointless.  Don’t have hopes, or daydreams, or wishes for anything other.  Just this: over and over, just this.


Historical Accuracy Demands A Cave Beneath Your Castle With a Brothel & Caveman Ghosts

Cave below Wawel Castle

I just visited Krakow, Poland, where I had the pleasure of meeting with some local RPG gamers who deserve a post of their own. This one, however, is about a cave they urged me to visit, called the Dragon’s Den. Here are some of the many awesome things about it:

  • It is directly under the early 16th-century Wawel Castle – we entered the cave by descending a very narrow spiral staircase on top of the castle hill.
  • Legend has it that the cave used to contain a dragon,  Smok Wawelski, who defeated many great warriors before being brought low by an adventurer (with the cobbler background skill) named Skuba Dratewka, who fed it a sheep stuffed with sulfur.
  • It used to contain a brothel. The fact that the denizens of the royal palace could nip down the hill to a house of ill repute may have something to do with the fact that at one point 25% of people in Krakow had noble blood (according to these Polish gamers at least).
  • The part we walked through is just one part of a larger complex, which was discovered in 1974:

The left arrow is the cave mouth; the right is the spiral staircase

  • The part of the cave you can’t go into contains an honest-to-God troglobyte, a rare crustacean from the Tertiary
  • The signs in the cave suggest that people were living there in the Stone Age; although the Wiki translation of this page seems to say the oldest traces of man found there date back to the end of the 16th century, people were certainly living on the hill above the cave in the paleolithic era.

I believe this is the side tunnel - certainly I didn't get to go into anything like this.

Moral of this story: more historical accuracy = more dragons kicked out of their caves to make way for whorehouses conveniently located to castles.


Expedition to the Upper East Side

don't make fun of this guy's nose

Honda Tadakatsu, 17th C.

Dig it: from now through January 10, 2010 the Metropolitan Museum of Art is running an exhibit on the arms and armor of the samurai from the Heian through the Edo Period–basically, seven centuries of katanas, o-yoroi, kabutos, and all those other crazy things we ogled in the centerfold of Cook’s Oriental Adventures.  If you’re in New York, or planning to visit for the holidays, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

We hit the place this afternoon, but because one of our traveling companions was a bored little kid, we didn’t get to see as much as I might like.  Since the items on display change every week, I’m going to organize a Red Boxer expedition sometime soon.

There is some genuinely cool stuff there, including a video of the forging of the sword-blades.  This included a guy whose family has been sword-polishers for fourteen generations.  The method seems to involve a series of stones, decreasing in size until you’re polishing the thing with grains of dust.  Also, during the forging, the swordsmiths placed types of clay onto the molten steel, creating patterns of discoloration that could only be seen when the sword was perfectly polished: basically, a kind of invisible ink type of deal.  There are zillions of sword blades on display, to the point I got bored looking at them, but they also have naginata (glaive) and yari (spear) blades as well, and several suits of incredibly cool armor which surely was too fantastical to ever be used in battle.

Treasure’s one of those things that everyone loves in Dungeons & Dragons, but frankly all I usually care about is its value in gold: the idea of appreciating this stuff for its own sake, or marveling at it, is completely foreign to me.  “Emeralds?  Uh, okay.  I rush straight into town and find the emerald guy.  What’s he give me for it?”  As Ben “Mr. West Marches” Robbins mentions, players will actually listen to exposition when it’s described through treasure.  But also, players will appreciate fancy descriptions of art, if it’s art that can be used to kill dudes.  Collecting the life’s work of a particular swordsmith could be a pretty neat quest, especially if the stuff is forged so well that it’s practically magical.

does this helmet make me look like a bug is pooping on my head?

Kabuto with mantis crest, 17 C.

As an example of ridiculous art objects which definitely say something about the setting they’re embedded in, here’s a helmet where, for some reason, the guy wanted a gilt praying mantis on his forehead.  In person, it looks freaky as hell and also completely ridiculous.  If you poked him in the forehead he’d fall over and never be able to get back up.  The mantis’s body is made from wood, the wings are papier-mache, and both are coated in a fine layer of gold.

The Met, of course, also has a couple centuries of European arms and armor too, along with just about every single pole-arm Gygax ever fetishized, so you can do a compare-and-contrast.  (Does anyone else think it’s weird that you’re in a museum, looking at Fine Art after Fine Art, and then suddenly there’s this room full of Full Plate?)  And also, recreations of ancient Egyptian temples, as well as zillions of works of art from Medieval Europe.  (There probably ought to be more religious-themed art objects in D&D – it seems like for about a thousand years the only works of art Europeans knew how to produce were pieces of Jesus fan-fic – and in a game like Tavis’s explorations into the Caverns of Thracia, we ought to be tripping over generations of religious iconography, all of which will be mined for expository information and fitted into Maldoor’s database.)  But until then, here’s a sword:

I too would get married if this was my wedding gift

short sword, swordsmith Yoshimochi, 17 C.


sign of the green goat

We have business cards! Specifically, one thousand business cards.  This means I have 999 more business cards for Dungeons & Dragons than I do for my professional life.  C’est la vie!

Chris, also known as Greengoat, whipped these suckers up on the Red Box forum; here’s the small version:

And then he contacted a printer and got a thousand of the little guys printed up on really heavy stock for a bit under fifty dollars plus postage. We pooled our money together and paid him back; Greengoat foolishly turned down a chance to make a profit on this deal, which is a pity because the cards themselves are very beautiful. Here’s my stack, but we literally have hundreds more…


Now the question is, what do we do with one thousand Dungeons & Dragons Club business cards?  Other than feel superior to those of you who don’t have cards of your own, that is…


Wine, Women, and Song = Experience Points

This summer at EN World, the Jester asked: “A while back someone mentioned a game that gave xp for burning money on drinks and whores. This sounds like a very interesting way to inject a certain ‘gritty fantasy’ element to the game- if you get xp for spending money on stuff that gives you know material benefit, you sometimes have to choose between gaining xp and improving your armor! Anyone know what game this is, or have any experience (ho ho) with this system for giving out xp?”

I’m reposting & revising my reply here as a prelude to future discussion about my carousing rules in the White Sandbox campaign:

The game that gives you XP for spending money on ale and whores later became D&D. This idea is literally as old as roleplaying itself.

In 1977, Dave Arneson published The First Fantasy Campaign, in which he looks back on the development of the Blackmoor campaign beginning in 1970/71. It’s a weird, fascinating, and confusing book because somewhere in that time span what started out as a campaign of PvP miniature battles turned into the modern RPG. This seems to have appeared as natural to the group at the time as it seems bizarre to us, because Arneson discusses some aspects about the ongoing evolution of the game but takes many others for granted. One thing that was established early on was that you got 1 XP for each gold piece you discovered and brought safely out of the dungeon.

OD&D indicates that you were meant to get the bulk of your XP from treasure-hunting; the example of experience awards is a troll whose treasure is worth eight times the XP you get just from killing him. In Supplement I: Greyhawk, Gygax called the previous combat award of 100 XP per hit dice of creature killed “ridiculous” and bumped it down, so that from 1975 onwards you got maybe 8 XP for killing an orc instead of 100. This attempt to focus the game on finding creative ways to seek profit and avoid combat was carried over to AD&D, but the message was totally lost on me & I think most other AD&D players – I don’t remember ever giving or getting XP from treasure, and I do remember thinking that it’d take forever to make second level by killing orcs.

Anyway, looking back on the development of the proto-D&D game, Arneson mentions that his group soon evolved a new approach to getting XP from GP. Bringing it out of the dungeon was no longer enough:

“Character motivation was solved by stating that you did not get experience points until the money had been spent on your area of interest. This often led to additional adventures as players would order special cargos from off the board and then have to go and guard them so that the cargo would reach their lodging and THEN the player would get the experience points. More than one poor fellow found that his special motivators would literally run him ragged and get him killed before he got anything.” – Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

Note that the FFC list of prices includes both kegs of wine and two different grades of pleasure slaves, so that you could quantify how many wagons worth of wine or women you had to shepherd through the wilderness to your barony in order to earn the XP you’d paid for!

Like many of the essential innovations in RPGs or any other DIY field, this idea seems likely to have been independently invented a number of times. Also in 1977, an article called “Orgies, Inc.” appeared in issue #10 of The Dragon magazine that also outlined a system where gold was awarded for gold spent on character-class-related activities. Basically, you get XP equal to gold spent divided by your level. You can spend on the following categories:

– Sacrifices, to a god or a demon or his representatives. Any classes, no more than 1/week, no limit.
– Philanthropy. Lawfuls only, no limit.
– Research. Magic-users and alchemists, up to 250 gp per level per day. Spell research counts, but magic item / poison / potion creation does not.
– Clan hoards. Dwarves & other clannish folk, no limit but must travel to location of clan & its hoard.
– Orgies. Fighting Men (not rangers & paladins), bards, thieves, and all Chaotics. Max spent is 500 gp per level per night (“250 if recuperating and under 50%” <- hit points I presume). A player may orgy continuously as many days as he has constitution points, but then must rest for as many days as he has orgied.

Here’s David A. Trampier’s magnificent illustration for this article, rendered safe for work (sorta) by the guys at Head Injury Theater:

And the EN World thread linked above has a player report whose DM used XP-for-gold-spent as a way to balance out stronghold expenditures; those who had invested their treasure in their demesnes got XP for the GP of taxes collected, while those uninterested in stronghold-building got XP for investing their treasure in wine, women, and song instead. It’s possible that DM was inspired by Arneson or “Orgies, Inc.”, but it seems equally possible to me that he thought of it on his own as a solution to the stronghold XP issue and a way to to emulate stories like Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser where heroes are always broke at the start of the next adventure.

In my White Sandbox campaign, I award XP for treasure twice – once for getting it out of the dungeon, like in core OD&D, and once for spending it as per Arneson’s inspiration and Jeff Rients’ “Party Like it’s 999” carousing rules. I’ve tracked down “Orgies, Inc.”, but it’s mostly useful to me as a way to define the canonical activities each class might indulge in. In practice I’ve allowed carousing to cover spending gold on a wide variety of stuff that’s not immediately useful than the PCs, rather than just awarding XP for money spent raising hell or donating to temples.

I’m really happy with the ways it’s helped characters develop unique personalities & expanded the campaign beyond the dungeon. This New York Red Box thread talks about some of the ways players planned to use it. More recently the gold-for-XP rules have led to an assassin PC founding a ASPCA-style animal shelter, and to another magic-user having to taste the giant eagle dung he was passing off as giant roc guano. Good times!

Past Adventures of the Mule

May 2023

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