On Megadungeon #2

Announcing the release of Megadungeon #2!!

Print and PDF and combo available!

In this issue, explore the labyrinth of Tethys while hunted by a horrible beast.

Also explore the chains of sorrow and the dark iron horror. New rumors, treasure maps, and quests. Fascinating dragons and NPC's, Numenhalla specific monsters like the Anthropophagi, Ranadin, and Prismatic Octohedrons. A new faction, the Hengeomoth.

Articles by John Bell on Wandering Monsters and Chris H on FLAILSNAILS memories. Prolifically illustrated by Kent Miller, Sean McCoy, and Todd McGowan. Cover art by the brilliant and talented Sam Mameli!

Kill two birds with one stone! Grab the latest in brillant gaming supplements and help me continue to produce great content like this.

Buy it now!

Hack & Slash 

On Overloaded Abundance

There is too much.

My daughter wanted music on the way home. Her in her carseat, "MUSIC!" she shouts. Can you imagine still having yet to hear Bowie or Radiohead? Knowing what I know, her excitement seems reasonable. I have music, burned on these tiny silver rings, hours and hours. Flipping through them, I saw "New Music" and thought about how nice I was to myself.

Upon insertion, the verberating tones of "On Call" ring out, I realize the new music I made to listen to is 10 years old. That's not new. What's new? Just how much music have people made in the last decade?

Let me tell you how much.

So much.

This is the world. Even if you are into a hobby, there's so much of so many of everything! This is the future writ large. Worlds unknown. Not metaphysically either. Take, for example, this gentleman, who spent his hours slaying the Dragon of Chaos, by determining through experimentation what the results of 100 Alkamos runs are. The fact that you may not even understand what an Alkamos run is, proves the point. New games and releases used to happen on Tuesday, with 20 or so titles. Now there are 100 new steam releases every day. There are 15,000 Dungeons and Dragons related releases on RPG.now. That database isn't getting smaller.

I mean, this is great. It's the universe endlessly reflecting and iterating on itself. But it can be a little overwhelming.

That's where the robot helpers come in.

I don't store things discreetly anymore.  How does a drive with music on it, or a DVD collection even work in this new world? Now, if I want to listen to music, I go to the music page and I type in the music I like.

Then it knows me, and what people like me like. And it gives me what I want. We are going to have to trust the computer, and that's terrifying*. But it's a lot of work keeping up with what's new. The people I follow on whatever platform, I follow because they are interested in what I am, and they use their time to present their explorations into the unknown. Yet now, the past has become so much larger with so much content because we do more and more each year. Every exponentially larger production of "content" slips into the past, year, after, year, after year. . .

What I'm saying is follow me on twitter (@Hackslashmaster). No. Wait. That's not what I'm saying at all. What I'm saying is that this is awesome?

Yes. This is awesome. And really, that's what this space and time is about. I am a complete person, but that's not really relevant to my hobbies. An issue I've been wrestling with these last few years is how to interact on social media. I am certain I am not the only one.

But the thing is, a knife is a knife and a fork is a fork. I tune into Star Wars for space opera. I like things. Especially when they are flawed. This blog, G+, twitter, facebook, they are about fractions of me. But the parts that are contentious and complicated, those that think deep and politically, those that seek change and desire—there is too much.

So maybe that doesn't go there.

I've been in freefall. I thought it started recently after crises. The insight from the crisis was that I'd always been falling. Terrifying as that is, after all the screaming and nashing of teeth, it's pretty fun. You might as well enjoy the terrifying descent. Those in the past only spent their time with so few ideas, in small communities or from people who wrote books. Now we have a chaotic flood of more everything than anyone, individually, can hope to process.

I'm enjoying the journey. I hope you are too.

Megadungeon #2 is finished and in pre-press! 
If you liked this article, you should feel completely free of any guilt if you're not supporting me on Patreon! Or, if you're not into that, I really suggest you check out Megadungeon and some of my other publications!

*I mean, clearly we had better be on the guy who's setting up and running the damn computer no?

Hack & Slash 

On the Dungeons & Dragons Problem

Recently Gus wrote this rather comprehensive article about the history of gold for experience and utilizing it in modern play. He discusses murder-hoboism in this context and ends with this statement.
Murderhobos aren't a problem unless there's a prescribed end point to you campaign and a set of scenes that the GM is willing to force to get there.  
Which is sort of a signal drum for the OSR ascetic to rally around and decry. For good reason, yet it leads to a certain myopic view that doesn't fit the needs of a lot of players.

The problem is that logistically, Dungeons & Dragons is a social tribal ritual. There's nothing insightful about this statement. It is simply factual. It involves a group of people, led by a member of that group, who follow a strict set of rules to have a shared experience.

I speak as plainly as I can. This requires a group of people, and a facilitator.

The "Group of People" while somewhat of a challenge, is a surmounted problem due to the influx of new wave Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts. Critical role, HarmonQuest, and increased televised exposure have translated into more people buying and playing Dungeons & Dragons then at any point in history.

Secondarily This requires* a facilitator. The facilitator, and I mean this in the most clinical sense, must act as Shaman for the group. This is not mysticism. Factually, the way humans structure their societies include the ideas of wise men, artists, priests, and entrepreneurs who's purpose is to direct and lead group experiences. The most ancient of titles is aidraz. Ealdormann who are, fundamentally, the people in front.

The Dungeon Master is the people in front.

This ipso facto is the problem.

Trivially, it requires someone who can manage group power dynamics and someone who is emotionally mature enough to take on the responsibility of facilitating the exercise as a neutral arbiter, without perverting it by their own unexplored or unmanaged psyche.

Again, concretely, this translates into things such as: failing to kill characters due to fear of—or inability to manage negative feelings about—confrontation. Failure to provide real stakes trivializes the importance of the shared experience. If failure doesn't matter then it is not a very engaging vision.

However, people do not like to fail!

I know this is a sequence of obvious statements, but it's rarely addressed in this manner. Here is the problem.

Almost universally, people running a game have little relevant training in acting as a shaman. They aren't versed in social power structures, conflict resolution, negotiation techniques, clinical theory, psychology, et. al. This makes nearly everyone who has a game subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

It may be difficult or impossible for them to articulate what is actually occuring during play.

An example, from the 5th Edition Group on Facebook
tldr; dm is stole my social security money because I missed a session due to mental problems and is now punishing my player character because of it
I do not want to leave his game because it's my first ever DnD character. He has threatened multiple times to have other players play my character who are known to be reckless and have been through countless characters due to their reckless and stupid choices. He also stated that I will be getting 3d10 upon awaking from my next sleep in game. He stated as well that no matter what happens to my character now, he will go to his versin of hell in his world. My character is lawful good. 
I do not understate my case. Examples abound**!

Granted, the readers of this blog, and indeed most gamers will skew higher in IQ, which as an objective determiner, helps with the process of acting as Shaman. Generally, you would want your spiritual guide to have at least a reasonably high assessment of general functioning.

Yes, you probably can articulate what occurs and what is relevant in play. Your ability to do so is not relevant.

So many people are playing D&D now. Six million people have watched Critical Role. I haven't watched Critical Role. But somewhere six million other people did.

Is there an non-arrogant way to say this? You got a lot of dumb monkeys throwing shit at each other. The first time this happened in the early 80's, most of the experiences, weirdness, and offensiveness about these failures that drove people away, (which the OSR communally have extensively documented). The second time, this didn't happen.

Because following a linear path and killing monsters in battles you are supposed to win with extensive objective rules for in game actions is wayyyy easier then leading a group of people to a  powerful shared vision quest. Which, again, is just the literal statement of fact. There's a quest, and everyone imagines a shared vision.

This isn't a slam. The linear paths do provide superficially similar experiences to the vision quests, at the cost of being heavily scripted and naturally neutering player agency. And they are simple to use. You start at the top and work your way down to the bottom. We all learned that in school! Thanks Uncle Sam! In addition, neither the players nor the Dungeon Master has to seriously consider the risks of failure. Nobody likes to lose.

The independent games movement (indy games) and the Old School Renaissance have been approaching the core issues like two halves of a turning fork, with most of the hard work being done by a few singular innovators (e.g. Vincent Baker for fronts, ChicagoWiz and Sham for the one-page Dungeon Template), who are then widely copied and iterated upon.

The work, of course, being producing usable tools that assist the facilitators in running a meaningful vision quest. Concretely, tools that insure agency, allow access to the collective unconscious***, and provide enough structure to create emergent gameplay.

It is this emergent, unplanned chaos that makes the vision a quest. The unknown self-developing reality that we auger, provides a dragon of chaos, again, literally just the darkness and the unknown, to threaten our success. More directly; the adventure we recount had an actual threat from the unknown that one overcomes. That unknown is unknown and meaningful, because it is emergent, making it truly unexpected and chaotic. A literal real threat from the void.

Fifth edition makes a surprising and brave attempt. Granting the Dungeon Master an official mantle of power. Dungeon masters are in charge. Coated thick with warnings and explanations of value, along with examples, and plenty of guidance, with a stern warning about not being dicks. Don't do it! Being a dick is bad! Then it takes an extra step and spends thousands of words talking about what that concretely means  in terms of play. In addition to an official twitter to interact with the entire world of players in a conversation about how to engage with the game.

That power people have invested in the Authority has been granted back to us, TSR is dead, Long live TSR. Many squander it, but we become better and better at creating a world and tools where that becomes a much less attractive situation.

Hi! This is literally my job now. The end of the year came with surprise unemployment, along with the rest of the trials of the past few years, cancer, divorce, custody fights, the death of my father, and let's not forget surprise unemployment! I'm not complaining though: if you liked this article, you should feel completely free of any guilt if you're not supporting me on Patreon! Or, if you're not into that, I really suggest you check out Megadungeon and some of my other publications!

Hack & Slash 

*  Of course we are all aware of "DMless" systems like mythic, and play against automated or programmed opponents (Arkham Horror, etc.), but less clinical and more colloquial, they lack tactical infinity, which really places them into a different category. tl; dr, Dungeons & Dragons cannot exist without the Dungeon Master

** Just trivially taking apart this post; "He also stated that I will be getting 3d10 upon awakening from my next sleep in game". Ignoring the fact that this is nonsensical, what was the actual social situation at the moment that the DM communicated that. Is that what he said? Under what context are the conversations occurring?  I'm certain that all statements aren't represented accurately. Digging down into meaning could require thousands of words.

*** If you're wondering how you know if an adventure is tapping into the collective unconscious, it's almost always when you feel something is really cool, alien, and interesting. Patrick Stewart and Arnold K. are virtual machines that act as conduits to our collective psyche and nightmares. A large focus on the "Weird" in the OSR is that it's a very direct way to tap into things that resonate with the unconscious of the audience. Specific hooks redirect to vague outlines of memories in childhood, movies seen once on VHS, dimly remembered, a cloud of knowledge just out of our vision, primal and modern fears.

On Megadungeon #1 in Print

Megadungeon #1 is in print!

Get it here at rpg.now with a bundled .pdf for free!


Or pick up a slightly more affordable print copy from Lulu!


Megadungeon #2 is going to be even larger, and is on target to be finished before the end of the year!

Hack & Slash 

On a the Secret of Megadungeons

"But it's just Hack & Slash Gameplay!",
"You can't role-play in a dungeon.",
 "It seems like a lot of boring, empty, rooms.",
"There's nothing exciting about a megadungeon."

Not a lot of people play or have played Megadungeons. Those that have, know people who deride megadungeons haven't played in a megadungeon campaign.

Most gaming experience is with adventure paths or loose sandboxes. A Megadungeon campaign is significantly different from either of those. I will say that again, because it is important. Megadungeon campaigns are significantly different from Adventure Paths and Sandboxes. Attempting to run a Megadungeon like either of those types of games will result in a bad end.

If you run a megadungeon campaign like an adventure path, then it immediately becomes a tedious slog of combat after combat. If you try to run it like a sandbox, the structure of the megadungeon itself works against you. Not only can you not see the other areas of the sandbox, most other actors within the dungeon have plans who's scope likely excludes the characters. Who cares what happens into the depths, when they are trapped in the mythic underworld? Megadungeons are not designed to facilitate player driven goals that are necessary for a sandbox to function.

Megadungeons are about The Mythic Journey

They have the player
(in the guise of his character)
Sit down at a table,
Race his peers and unknown threats
To retrieve the most valuable things,
from the darkest, secluded, places
and the denizens who live there
Who are not human
Who are not kind
Who do not care

There are elements of strong game structure in megadungeons, particularly revolving around encumbrance, time and light, movement and vision. These don't make any sense in Adventure Paths and are frequently less useful in sandbox games.

These are important because they provide weight to the idea of the Megadungeon as an inimical place. If you go 120' forward, You've caused a hazard die roll and resources available have decreased. Every step has a cost, and trying to get something—anything!— of value out this place is hard, because it pulls on you, weighing you down, refusing to leave.

It makes it mean something to the players. Territory explored is not only revealing the map; it's gained knowledge, that allows you to descend deeper in the depths of the mythic unknown. It is compiling this knowledge that empowers the player to engage in every more risky challenges in the depths. 

Megadungeon Meaning and Roll(e)

Megadungeons are mostly empty, because they are a Stage.
And us, the players.

It must serve three functions. It must obstruct and confuse characters in a way that challenges the player, it must be mostly empty so it can hold the emergent drama between players and dungeon actors while exploring, and it must contain treasure at intervals to provoke a reward response in players.

What happens is that while the players explore, they quickly become aware of other groups of monsters or players that are moving through the same dungeon area as they are. Most are not immediately hostile, but everyone in the dungeon is an opportunist. Fights against equally powerful non-player character parties are often fatal, but after they've fought a manticore, it might be a different story. It's likely they think the same about you.  These relationships and rivalries persist from session to session.  It is a sea filled with pirates and sharks. And since the door only opens once each week, you're stuck dealing with who you run into this session, while you're trying to accomplish your goal, meaning things usually go one way. . . or the other. 

Sometimes, there are dragons. 

Have you ever been hunted as a mouse? If your character survives to tell the tale, it will be memorable. If they could slay such a beast? Unforgettable.

So, no. Not like a Sandbox or Adventure Path. Yes, more focused on some unusual rules. More like an emergent adventure that challenges the player themselves. 
A fun game to play with a rotating group of friends. Friendly rivalry.
Sort of like a party game with dares. 
You know—a Megadungeon!
Are you going to cast Fireball or Protection! Which one! Quick!

Megadungeon #1 is in print!
Get it here at rpg.now with a bundled .pdf for free!
Or pick up a slightly more affordable print copy from Lulu!

On Megadungeon #1

I decided if I didn't take steps to get this done, it wouldn't ever happen.

Introducing Megadungeon #1
.pdf is 5.99$, print version coming very soon* at 9.99$.

It's awesome.
What is it? It's a magazine about Megadungeons. It details the famous OSR megadungeon Numenhalla, but material is usable in any campaign. It is dual-stated for B/X and 5e.

I drew all the maps

*Very soon for values of I've had trouble with RPGnow's POD before. It's processing now. Assuming it's a success, it'll take 7-10 days for the proof to arrive. So if there are no problems, expect POD on the 18th (and knowing how things work, that's really probably after the start of the year.)

Hopefully #2 will be much faster. :-)

If you're a Patreon  you should know you've already received your free .pdf this weekend!

Hack & Slash 
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