How to Keep Your Friends Alive When Everything Seems to Want Them Dead

Combat healing is a bullshit mechanic. Honestly, any healing that takes place during a session seems a little bullshitty to me. I don’t like to think of hit points in D&D like life bars in video games, going up and down constantly. Rather, hit points are like a character’s ability to hold their breath while diving. When the players are in a dangerous situation, hit points measure how long they can last there before they need to come up for air. (By which I mean, return to town, and rest up for their next delve).

Being low on hit points and having to choose between walking away or pressing onwards is an important experience. On the one hand, you’ve made it through this many rooms already, and treasure may be just around the corner…but you might die. On the other, you could return home and come back later fully refreshed, but the rooms might be restocked.

And yes, it could be argued that this situation still occurs when midsession healing is allowed. You’ve just gotta wait for the cleric to run out of healing spells. But that seems like a pointless complication to me. All you’re doing is delaying something that would happen anyway, and in the process, you’re burdening the party with spells and items, which take up spell and encumbrance slots. Those slots could be filled with more interesting options if the opportunity to heal from injury wasn’t so useful as to invalidate other spell/equipment choices.

All of that in exchange for essentially giving the players a communal pool of extra hit points. If all you want is for the players to last longer, why not just give them more HP to start with?

All that being said, I’m not against the idea of mid-session healing in theory. It’s the practice that annoys me. Healing potions and Cure Light Wounds spells are too reliable. You can pretty much always get your hands on them, easily keep them with you, and using them is always an unambiguously good choice.

Below are a bunch of healing and healing-adjacent mechanics that I think would be interesting to see in a game. I’ve avoided pinning any of these down into any specific means of conveyance. They could be turned into spells, or class abilities, or items, or purchasable services. At this point, what I want to do is come up with some interesting ways to replace healing. The vectors by which that healing is delivered can be worked out later.

As a small aside, several of these have been shamelessly lifted from the video game Atlas Reactor, which is why I used screenshots from that game for this post. I realize game mechanics can’t be copyrighted, but it does seem only fair to acknowledge my source.

Magic Shields, which act as temporary hit points for the target. So if I’ve got a shield on me with a rating of 5, and someone deals 6 damage, then the shield absorbs 5 of those, becomes dispelled, and now I take 1 damage.

I imagine the shields having a short duration. Something on the order of a single combat round, so that whomever is doling them out will want to be careful when they use it. It’s not something you cast on the fighter at the start of combat because they’ll get hit eventually. It’s something you save, until the fighter is surrounded by 12 goblins, and needs a little extra survivability for the coming round.

Healing is based on location, so that players must reach a place in order to heal. The simplest way to do this might be to have pools of healing water which exist in some places. I feel like a lot of older video games did this, and I always thought of it as a very video-gamey solution to the problem. But, the more I think about it, the more I think it actually fits D&D better than D&D’s native method does.

I particularly like how it fits into the “I’m almost dead” decision. Do you return to town, where you can rest and heal up in safety? Or, do you open just one more door, and hope it’s one of the places you can heal in.

The danger here is that once the party finds one of these healing locations, they can always return to it. But that could be solved by saying each person can only use the location once. And, of course, the locations can be as common or uncommon as the referee desires, based on the style of game they want to run, or on the individual area. (Ancient temples may offer more healing locations than vampire castles do, for example).

You could also make the location something very simple, but restrict it in other ways. For example, “While standing under moonlight, Dave can heal up to 30hp each month.”

Create a lifelink bond to your ally, so that some percentage of damage done to them is instead transferred to you. Something nice and even, like 25, 50, or 75%. This could last a single round, or until the bond is broken somehow.

I like the percentage approach because no incoming damage is actually being invalidated, the players are just shuffling it around to suit their needs. A character who is safely hidden away from the bad guys may end up dying through this transfer, and the character actually getting hit isn’t exactly safe either. They’re still taking hits, just fewer.

The way I imagine it, this would be done by a willing party member, to assist another party member. But, it might also be possible to force unwilling people to become damage sponges. It might make the players too overpowered to allow something like that, but their obviously evil acts could have interesting consequences.

One player tags a target in some way, perhaps by throwing a special goo onto them, or casting a spell on them, or something. If the tagged target takes any damage, then whomever dealt that damage is healed. Not necessarily at a rate of 1:1, that’s a little much.

Perhaps the amount of healing could be determined by the tagging method. If you hit the target with a level 1 tag, each successful hit against them will grant 1 healing. Level 2 tags could grant 2 healing, etc.

This would have the interesting side effect of allowing the tagger to direct the focused fire of the party. “Hey everybody, attack this guy!”

An ally is tagged in some way, similar to the above. Any damage they take during some period of time is recorded. Lets call it the “recording period,” and it could last anywhere from one to three combat rounds, I think. When the recording period ends, the damage taken is totalled up, and the tagged player gains Fast Healing 1.

Every combat round, they regain 1 hit point, until they’ve regained an amount equal to the amount they lost during the recording period.

Essentially, any damage taken during the recording period will be returned to the tagged player. But, it’s returned at such a slow rate that they may not survive long enough to get it all back.

An area of effect damage spell, which also grants a small amount of healing to allies as a side effect. Much like a fireball would harm a group of cultists, but would heal the fire element they summoned.

Of course, part of the challenge of casting area of effect spells is damaging the most enemies you can, while not damaging any of your allies. This flips the problem a bit. You don’t want to cast it on a group of allies, because you’ll lose out on the damage (which is much more substantial than the healing). But, you also do want to get the benefit of the healing, so you specifically wait for a good mix of friend and foe.

Cause an instrument of violence to become incapable of causing harm. For example, a sword may be tweaked so that it cannot stab, or the ground may be adjusted such that if a person fell onto that bit of ground, they wouldn’t take any falling damage.

So lets say you’re fighting a goblin. One player does whatever they need to do to “break” the goblin’s spear. They’ll probably make a few attacks with that spear, and some of those attacks will hit. It might take two, three, or even more hits before the goblin realizes their weapon has been nerf’d, (almost literally in this case), after which they pull out their dagger, which probably deals less damage.

Healing potions exist, but they are incredibly rare. The players will be lucky to find a handful over the course of the whole campaign. This robs healing potions of their reliability. You can’t always get them, and so they’re something to be saved. There’s a worry that if you use a potion, then you may not have it sometime in the future when you really need it.

Healing potions exist, but they are incredibly large and heavy. Like, instead of something you drink, a healing potion is something you bathe in, and must be carried around in a huge barrel, just for one dose.

This exacerbates the problem of healing items taking up encumbrance that could be spent on something more interesting. However, this healing item takes up so much encumbrance that it stops being useful enough to invalidate other equipment choices. When a player asks themselves: “Do I bring a healing potion, or three iron spikes?” they’d be a fool not to bring the potion. But if they have to choose between bringing the potion or all the rest of their equipment, that decision isn’t so easy.

I think if I went this route, players would immediately start hiring people to carry their potions for them, which is fine! That presents an interesting set of problems all its own. What happens when these potion porters die? Do you leave the potion behind? What about when you’re in a dangerous situation (when you’ll need a potion the most), and all your porters flee? How many people will really be willing to do the job of hauling huge barrels of potion in the a dungeon? It sounds like an unpleasant and dangerous job with shitty pay.

Healing potions exist, but they’re poisonous. There’s no risk of death (or hey, maybe there is?), but there’s a lot of ways a potion could harm a character, while still increasing their hit points.

Maybe potions cause mutations? Maybe they artificially age the player? Maybe they cause a person to go blind for an hour after drinking them, or make a person incredibly flatulent such that they attract more monsters? The possibilities for side effects are pretty much infinite.

It’s also worth asking: are the side effects guaranteed, or are players allowed to make a saving throw?

If You’re Not Metagaming, You’re Not Trying Hard Enough

Metagaming Foolish Narrator!Whenever an obnoxious pedant decides that people on the Internet need to hear their opinions on RPGs, it’s only a matter of time before they pen a condescending diatribe about metagaming. And I’m nothing if not an obnoxious pedant. So, after six years of angrily foisting my RPG opinions onto the Internet, it’s about time I got around to this.

TL;DR, metagaming is fine, and trying to stop your players from doing it is bad. This is old fuckin’ news to a lot of you I’m sure, but after some recent discussions I’ve had, I feel compelled to explore the reasoning personally. Before we even get into what metagaming is, though, I want to take a look at the name of the game. Literally, “role playing game,” and specifically what is meant by “role playing.”

Some folks will argue that it refers to thespianism. That the player “plays the role” of their character, in the same sense a stage actor does. The goal of the game, then, is to get inside that fictional character’s head. To understand them, and to portray them as faithfully to that understanding as you can.

This interpretation makes a certain kind of sense. I can see where it comes from, but it ignores the fact that RPGs grew out of the miniature wargaming community. The people who coined the phrase “Role Playing Game” were trying to describe what made their game different. And the people they were describing it to had a background of controlling dozens or hundreds of toy soldiers on a field.

In this new kind of game, instead of controlling an army, the player controls a single playing piece. That might sound limiting at first, but, they’re controlling it in a much more intimate way. The player doesn’t simply issue orders to the unit, they are the unit. If the player wishes, they can make their playing piece dance or sing, or recite an endless string of references to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The playing piece will never lose morale and flee from battle, unless the player decides it’s time to flee. In other words, the player doesn’t merely control their piece, they take on the role of their piece.

Now, I’m not a historian. I don’t have factual evidence that this is where the term “Role Playing Game” came from. As far as I’m aware, nobody present at the time ever bothered to put their reasoning into words. I’m happy to be proven wrong if someone has a source, but until then, I find this to be a much more likely explanation than any thespian interpretation.

Of course, none of that actually matters. Aside from etymological curiosity, there’s no reason to quibble over why the name is what it is. After 40 years, and countless thousands of iterations, you can’t break down the name of the genre into its component parts and expect to draw any meaning from them. The phrase “Role Playing Game” has a definition separate from the words “role,” “playing,” and “game.” Much like the genre of Science Fiction is no longer strictly about fictional science, as it was in the days of Jules Vern.

I’m not interested in restricting what an RPG can and cannot be. Things grow, and change, and evolve from their original intent. That’s a good and beautiful thing. I only bring any of this up because it’s the source of so many misconceptions about the oldschool style of play. On more than one occasion, I’ve been told by very angry people that “if you’re not role playing, why participate in role playing games?” It’s a silly attitude, and it’s one that perpetuates the myth of metagaming into the modern day.

Angry Old ManSo…what is Metagaming?

Metagaming is bringing your own real-world knowledge to bear against game problems. A classic example would be using fire against trolls because you (the player) have read the monster manual, despite the fact that you (the character) have never encountered a troll before. Other examples would be making a decision based on the referee’s facial expression (“She’s smiling! Retreat!”); or their past behavior (“Don’t open the chest. Molly always traps the first chest in every dungeon.”); or even just genre convention (“Dead bodies always end up turning into zombies. I chop off all their heads.”) Some people will even argue that it’s metagaming to make good choices if you don’t think your character would make those choices. (“Obviously the dragon is too powerful for me to defeat, but I’m really angry it killed my parents, so I have to attack it anyway.”)

Within the context of this conversation, “Metagaming” refers only to knowledge a person already has, or comes upon incidentally. It does not refer to information a person intentionally seeks out. If a player goes out and buys the module their referee is running, and keeps it open on the table next to them while they play, that’s a completely different sort of problem. It’s called “being an asshole.” The solution is not to play with assholes, and there’s no need to discuss that any further.

“Metagaming” is an inherently pejorative term, in that it only exists as a way of identifying bad behavior. Or, in this case, what some people claim to be bad behavior. As far as I know, there are two basic justifications for why metagaming is a bad bad no no:

First, there are those who stubbornly want their games to be challenging, while refusing to put in the effort required to make them actually challenging. The trolls I mentioned above are a good example. This kind of thinking is rank laziness, and deserves no consideration.  Second, there are the thespians, whose first priority is to embody the character, rather than to play the game. Romeo kills himself every time the play is performed, even though the actor knows Juliet is only faking.

Advocates from both schools will make noble speeches about the importance of “staying in character.” In the latter case, those speeches will be more sincere, but regardless, what we’re actually talking about is asking the players to sabotage their own efforts in order to maintain the ideological purity of the game.

The whole concept of self sabotage undercuts the adversarial relationship between player and referee. It’s become something of a taboo to advocate for that relationship, but I believe it is essential for the players and the referee to sincerely try to best one another.* Not because the referee wants to “win,” but because the PLAYERS want to win.

In order for them to win, there must be conflict. In order for there to be conflict, there must be something to be in conflict against. As referee, I can give my players a fake conflict. A cardboard cutout that only exists to be knocked down. Invariably, they will overcome, and they’ll experience a cheap imitation of victory. Alternatively, I can give my players real conflict. I can create an environment that is trying to defend itself to the best of my ability. Then, IF the players overcome, their victory will be a truly meaningful thing. The result was not predetermined, it was earned.

Without real conflict, we’re just going through the motions. Kids with sticks, who are afraid to poke each other’s eye out. Except the sticks aren’t even real.

To expound on one of my examples above, lets say I’ve got a group exploring a dungeon, and they encounter some big bad scary monster I’ve created. One the players says they should attack, and I fail to suppress a grin of delight at the hell they’re about to unleash upon themselves. The players see this, and decide to take a more cautious approach.

Certainly I’ve made a mistake in tipping my hand to the players, but once that mistake was made, why shouldn’t they take advantage of it? The worst case scenario is that they waste some time, but ultimately, are satisfied that they followed up on every lead. The potential alternative is that they pretend nothing happened, get themselves killed, then resent the fact that they could have survived if only they’d been trying their hardest.

There’s basically no downside to encouraging players to metagame, which cannot be said of the reverse.

Now, obviously, people prefer different styles of play. It’s not bad-wrong-fun if you enjoy thespianism in your RPGs. If you’re playing D&D I think you don’t really understand the game, but, this post is not an angry rant directed at your existence. It really isn’t. You do you, and I sincerely hope you have fun doing it.

My frustration is that the thespian outlook so thoroughly dominates discussion of RPGs, that most folks take it as a given that metagaming is bad. To the point that any defense of metagaming is made out to be ludicrous.

But it’s not ludicrous, because I’m a very smart person who would only ever advocate for the correct viewpoint. Ipso facto, metagaming is fine, and trying to stop your players from doing it is bad.

d100 Materials your Post-Apocalyptic Armor is Made From

Armor made from soda can tabsFor each piece of armor found, roll once or twice on the table to determine what materials it’s made from. Everything on this list is super realistic. If you find something you think is unrealistic, it’s just because you don’t understand something that I do understand. Because I am a very smart boy.

  1. Street signs, such as “Stop,” “Yield,” or “Children at Play.”
  2. Car body pieces, like the hood, doors, or bumper.
  3. Rubber tires.
  4. Sheet metal
  5. Leather, perhaps in the form of an old world jacket, or something tanned in the post apocalypse. In the case of the latter, it may be human leather.
  6. Chain link fence.
  7. Cookware, like pots, pans, or baking sheets.
  8. Layered silverware or cutlery
  9. Plywood, probably from some old Ikea furniture.
  10. Books of any sort. Paperbacks or magazines work just as well as hardbacks or coffee table books. Don’t underestimate the stopping force of layered paper!
  11. A weave of cables and wiring.
  12. Folded duct tape.
  13. Regular old-world clothing, like a T-shirt, but stacked in layer upon layer upon layer until it’s formidable armament.
  14. Protective sports equipment, like football shoulder pads, hockey goalie leg pads, or a BMX biker’s helmet.
  15. Bones from various creatures, animals, beasts, and humans.
  16. The carapace of a giant, mutated insect.
  17. Soles from old shoes.
  18. Old plumbing pipes, made of metal or PVC.
  19. Carpeting torn up from a floor, possibly layered to make it thicker.
  20. Cut-up metal cans, like you would use for paint or oil, or Campbell’s soup. 
  21. Children’s plastic toy armor.
  22. Ludicrous cosplayer armor, which can be made mostly functional if you cut off all the extraneous spikes.
  23. Some piece of medieval reenactor armor. It’s probably not actually made of metal, or if so, it’s probably not made terribly well.
  24. Real medieval armor. Before the apocalypse, this would have been a valuable historical artifact.
  25. Police riot gear, well preserved from the per-apocalypse.
  26. Chain link made from belt-buckles.
  27. An old robot chasis that a human can squeeze themselves inside of.
  28. Animal cages.
  29. A lifejacket
  30. Old AOL disks, pinned together.
  31. Motorcycle safety gear.
  32. Safety gear from a construction site, like a hard hat, gloves, or reflective vest.
  33. Welder gear, either the mask, or the heavy apron.
  34. One of those lead-lined aprons dentists put on people when they X-Ray them.
  35. Firefighter PPE.
  36. Wicker, probably taken from some old patio furniture.
  37. Soft, thick pads, like pillows, couch cushions, or even just a comforter.
  38. License plates
  39. Chainmail made from carabiners
  40. Old, discarded plaster casts, like the ones used to keep a bone straight while it sets.
  41. A woven mesh of nylon rope.
  42. Old BDSM fetish gear. Some of that shit is fuckin’ sturdy, and you’re not in any position to be picky.
  43. A Halloween costume.
  44. Old bullet casings, strapped together in rows.
  45. Video game cartridges, pinned together.
  46. A trash can.
  47. Hair from humans or horses, woven into thick sheets.
  48. The skins of old deflated sports balls, like basketballs and footballs.
  49. A satellite dish.
  50. Soda can tabs. That’s what the armor worn by the woman in the image above is made from.
  51. Twigs, strapped into rows.
  52. Three ring binders.
  53. Tin cans.
  54. A hollowed out part of a taxidermied animal.
  55. LEGO bricks. Particularly some of the large flat plates.
  56. The boards from board games.
  57. Trading cards of various types, from baseball to magic the gathering.
  58. Nerf.
  59. Stuffed animals.
  60. Plastic plants, such as fake ferns.
  61. Computer parts, like circuit boards, keyboards, chassis, and CRT monitor housings.
  62. Food containers from the world before. Stuff like cereal boxes, or chip bags, layered together.
  63. Rulers and yard sticks, held together with pins.
  64. Window blinds.
  65. Clothes hangars, interlocked with each other.
  66. Silicone sex toys: dildos, butt plugs, vibrators…
  67. D&D 3rd edition splat books.
  68. Clip boards.
  69. The backboard from a basketball hoop.
  70. Cardboard boxes.
  71. Cleaning gear: rubber gloves, dustpans, or the heads from brooms and mops.
  72. A piece of some kind of experimental body armor from the pre-apocalypse. It looks like it was made by a doomsday prepper with more money than sense.
  73. Broken bits off of plastic shopping carts.
  74. One of those layered cardboard scratchers they make for cats.
  75. Bicycle parts, like the wheels, handlebars, or chain.
  76. Wine cork lamellar.
  77. Library card lamellar. (Also “club cards” from big box stores, or credit cards).
  78. Safety glass, probably pulled out of a door from a school.
  79. Matchbox cars.
  80. An old folding table.
  81. Giant letters that used to form the name of some long-forgotten business.
  82. Mail made from fidget spinners.
  83. Smartphone cases.
  84. Old metal tonka toys.
  85. Roofing shingles.
  86. Horse shoes.
  87. Hula hoops and jump ropes.
  88. Discarded plastic bottles.
  89. Circular saw blades.
  90. Dozens and dozens of “unbreakable” combs.
  91. Cheap costume jewelry: rings and bracelets interlocked into mail, draped bundles of necklace chains, and so on.
  92. Cardboard tubes, like the ones from toilet paper, paper towels, and wrapping paper.
  93. Vinyl house siding.
  94. Steel medical brace.
  95. Shovel heads.
  96. Fan blades
  97. Cutting boards.
  98. Dumb, cheap, fantasy weapons. They’re so ridiculous that nobody can actually use them as weapons, so they’re trying to put them to use as armor.
  99. A dartboard.
  100. Something crazy valuable that the “armor smith” apparently didn’t realize was valuable. Like a working gameboy, a floppy disk with secret information on it, or a bit of wood with a treasure map singed into it.

Free Adventure: Potatoes & Rats

Potatoes and Rats coverWhat is The Mongrel Banquet Club?

A gathering of cretinous alcoholics who only have two wholesome pleasures between the lot of them: pooping, and playing  D&D. They spend all day in their secret clubhouse, yelling obscenities at each other and making jokes about genitalia. And if I told you any more than that, they’d probably kick me out, because we’re just juvenile enough to still think Fight Club references are clever in 2017.

“The first rule of the MBC is…”

Sometimes, between hangovers, the MBC makes books. The first three were Secret Munticore, PeePee Soaked Heck Hole, and Baseball #1. I’ve had some hand in all of these, but given the incestuous, shitstained style of the MBC, I haven’t made a point of really promoting them on Papers & Pencils.

Potatoes & Rats PaintingSo, what’s different about Potatoes and Rats?

P&R is a book that I pushed along, every step of the way. I was the one who posted the prompt. I organized people, edited what they wrote, and helped with the layout. Only a single room of the dungeon is completely my work. But just about every single sentence has been massaged by me in some way. That’s even a photo of me on the cover.

In other words, Potatoes & Rats has been my mongrel baby, and I won’t rest until every single person in the world has read it, and acknowledged me as a good father.

Potatoes and Rats SOCKERBut what is it? Why should I buy it?

Because it’s free, ya dingus.

I don’t want any of your money. I just want you to read the wacky ravings of me and my fellows, chuckle once or twice, vomit three times precisely, and come away from the experience with a little less faith in humanity than you had going in.

As for what it is, well, it’s sort of a dungeon adventure. I say “sort of,” because it’s unplayable. It even says so, right there on the cover, next to the bit where we wrote the word “by” two times, and decided not to fix it as a joke.

The book is really more of a collection of weird, unfunny jokes, strung together in adventure module form because we’re all a bunch of hacks who are trapped in the conventions of our genre.

Anyway, I think I’ve written enough text to space out these images. So just go download it, and read it, and…like…tell me I’m good. Give me the love I never got from mommy or daddy.

Get Potatoes and Rats on RPGNow, or if you prefer, get it on DriveThruRPG, which are different websites, but also the same website.

Potatoes and Rats Will Power the Apocalypse

Yes, No, and Maybe

MaybeSometimes it’s useful to put your thoughts down in clear, precise language, even if those thoughts aren’t particularly novel.

As arbiter of the game world, the referee fields a lot of questions. Whether explicit or implied, these questions are usually of the form “Can I?” Such as “Can I climb the wall?” or “Can I sneak past the guard?” Even questions which don’t seem to follow this form often do. For example, if a player asks “What is the statue made of,” what they’re actually asking is “Can I tell what the statue is made of?” And while the full answer to these questions will be more complex, it will always boil down to either Yes, No, or Maybe.

There’s a well known dictate of improv comedy: “Always say yes.” As a fundamental rule, it’s useful if you need to create a coherent narrative for an audience. Unfortunately, some misguided folk have spread around the idea that the rule works just as well for D&D. It does not, for the simple reason that D&D is not a performance. The game is not meant to move smoothly through the familiar narrative notes of exposition, action, climax, and resolution.

In D&D, it’s important that it be possible to fail. Not just once, at a dramatically important moment, but over and over again until the failure becomes boring and you have to choose between continuing to bang your head against the wall, or going off to do something else. (The beauty of D&D, of course, is that you can go do something else in the game). If all the referee is needed for is to say “yes,” then they should just be another player at the table. The group can all participate in improvised fantasy theater for the amusement of themselves, or an audience. Given the proliferation of minor celebrities streaming their games on twitch, I suspect we’re going to see a lot of that.

That being said, I don’t want to make it sound as though saying “yes” is bad. If anything, I think the above misconception is so particularly dangerous because it’s so close to the truth. If you take the “always say yes” motto and apply it to D&D, you will have a good time. Then, if you’re observant, you’ll start to notice how all these dice and rules and systems are just getting in the way. You might reasonably think they’re getting in the way because they’re bad, when in fact they’re getting in the way because they’re meant to support a D&D game. But if you “always say yes,” you’re not playing D&D; you’re playing an improv game, with unnecessary baggage.

A better dictum might be “Try to say yes.” Think about the situation the players are in. Is the thing the they asked to do something they reasonably could do? If so, then say “yes!” Don’t muddy the game with unnecessary barriers, but do bear in mind what barriers exist, and enforce them. Never say “no” just because saying “yes” would trivialize a challenge. Taking clever action to trivialize a challenge is half the fun of good D&D.

This isn’t all that difficult to do. As referee, you have all the details of the game world in your head. Even the ones you haven’t bothered to come up with yet are in your head. And, as an adult human, you’ve spent a not-insignificant portion of your life observing other humans. You’ve got a good idea of what they’re capable of.

So when your players are in a room with a statue, and they ask “Can I push the statue over?” just look at the image in your own head. What kind of statue were you picturing? Do you think an athletic person could push it over? If so, say “yes”. If not, say “no,” and explain why. Is the statue too heavy, is it bolted to the floor, or is it just magically un-push-overable? If you’re not sure whether a person could push it over or not, say “maybe.” I’ll talk more about maybe a little further down.

First, while we’re still on the subject of “yes,” I want to talk about qualifiers. Qualified yeses give the players complications to overcome, and are almost always more interesting than a simple “yes” or “no.” Which isn’t to say you should invent complications that don’t exist, but you should take a moment to think about the specifics of your player’s proposal. What problems might they encounter?

A chainlink fence is a good example. If your players want to climb over a chainlink fence, you can’t really say “no” to that. Climbing over a chainlink fence is easy. You yourself have probably done it many times. But, it’s also noisy.

Instead of just saying “you make it over the fence,” you can say “Yes, you can climb the fence, but someone may see or hear you.” Razorwire is also a common feature of chainlink fences, so you might say “yes, you can climb the fence, but you’ll take damage from the wire, and there’s a chance you’ll become tangled.” The more you try to spot these hiccups in your players actions, the more your players will think about their actions. Your game challenges them, and they’ll be more engaged with it as a result.

Which brings us to “Maybe.” Maybe is easy: if you don’t know whether you should say “yes” or “no,” roll a die.

In a lot of cases, the die you should roll is spelled out by the rules. “Can I stab the goblin?” roll an attack. “Can I find food in the wilderness?” roll a Bushcraft skill check. These pre-established cases are easy to resolve, but just because the rolls are established in the game’s rules, doesn’t mean the referee shouldn’t consider whether “yes” wouldn’t be a more appropriate answer. “Can I stab the sleeping goblin?” Yes! Anyone who makes you roll for that is an asshole.

It should be noted that the inverse is not generally true. If the rules have established a roll that determines the success or failure of a specific type of action, it’s almost never appropriate to say “no.” Better to simply penalize the roll. After all, skilled foragers may still be able to find food in a barren landscape, it just probably won’t taste super good.

Then there is the other kind of maybe. The ones without any pre-established resolution mechanic. You still need to roll dice, but which ones?

Some folks use roll-under ability score checks. They figure out which of the scores best represents the kind of effort needed to successfully accomplish what the player wants to do, and have the player roll a d20. If the roll is equal to or under their ability score, the check is a success.

Roll under checks are an elegant solution. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just about the only good justification for having ability scores at all. But, since I think the ability scores are kinda sloppy, and want to move away from using them, I avoid this method. Instead, I just pick a chance-in-six that seems appropriate for whatever the player is attempting. I default to a 50/50 chance (1-3 success, 5-6 fail), and modify up or down based on circumstance, and any clever planning the characters put into their attempt.

That is all I have to say. This post is done now.

Hashtag DIY30

Over the past month, a lot of folks have been participating in the “30 Days of RPGs” meme. It’s one of those classic Internet things, where someone wrote up a list of 30 questions, and participants are supposed to answer one each day.

Over on the googleplus, there have been a lot of rumblings about how boring/annoying it is. Don’t get me wrong, if you have fun answering these questions, then I’m sincerely happy for you. But the specific questions asked never seem to produce the kinds of answers that I (or others) enjoy reading.

A big group of us decided to put our money where our mouths were, and see if we could put together a more satisfying list of questions. We Gygaxian Democracy’d a list of 30 questions, and have been sharing it around g+ for a few days now. If you’re interested, head over to #DIY30 on Google+, read some of the answers, and get to writing some of your own!

30 Days of Questions for DIY D&D:

  1. What is a heretofore unknown secret of Troll ecology?
  2. What’s a campaign you would love to play in, but nobody is running it?
  3. How can a monster harm a character in a new and unusual way?
  4. Make a monster based on your deepest fear
  5. What sort of abilities would a Bug Knight class give to a character?
  6. There are six kinds of vampires. Don’t be boring.
  7. What happens when you water fruit trees with goblin blood?
  8. “Mommy, what are tooth faeries like, and what do they do with all the teeth?”
  9. Who rules the deepest ocean floor?
  10. What is beyond the Wall? (So help me, any of you who makes some lazy-ass Game of Thrones reference is kicked out of the OSR.)
  11. Why is the stone circle on the hill top broken?
  12. What is there to do when stationed on an interstellar lighthouse?
  13. Three sports that wizards play.
  14. Roll a D20 and count down that many photos on That’s your prompt.
  15. Write a pitch for how you would turn a shitty game into a good game.
  16. Make an equipment list for a post apoc setting, using only things in 1 room of your home. Garage and kitchen are easy mode.
  17. What political situation existed 500 years ago, and how does its fall affect the world of today?
  18. The wizard has researched a new spell named “Chance Minutia.” What does the spell do?
  19. What single change would you make to a popular D&D setting and why?
  20. Describe a mechanic you would put into your Science Fiction Heartbreaker.
  21. Most unexpected spell that helped you get past the walls of the Fortress of See.
  22. Describe Milk Demons for me. What do they do, what are their names, what do they taste like?
  23. How should gods work in a game?
  24. If the object closest to your left hand right now was a magic item in your campaign, what would it do?
  25. The last thing you drank is a potion. What are its effects?
  26. Your childhood pet is now a monster. How is it going to kill me?
  27. So what’s with that overly-elaborate locked box?
  28. What’s a really cool imaginary place you’ve made up? Draw a map of it. Don’t worry it’s just a map. E’rybody can make maps.
  29. Goblins are great. Why or why not?
  30. Share something cool you made if you can at all justify it as RPG related.
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Thoughts and theories on tabletop games.