Friday, 31 May 2013

Road Crew Games

I will be running Harley Stroh's excellent Sailors on the Starless Sea on 9 June 2013 at The Wizard's Cache, starting at 1 pm.

This is a 0-level funnel for Dungeon Crawl Classics, and a great introduction for new players.  All necessary materials will be provided.

This will be the first of several events, wherein surviving characters can continue to grow and prosper (or die horribly).  

333 Bloor Street West, phone 647-748-3433.  

Future games will include a mixture of new material, converted material, DCC modules, and material wherein participants can gain playtest credits!

Wizard's Cache has just negotiated a serious expansion at its current location, so this is also a "Grand Reopening" of the store!

I will be running The Imperishable Sorceress sponsored by Hairy Tarantula North on Free RPG Day, June 15th 2013.  

This is a 1st level module for Dungeon Crawl Classics; all necessary materials will be provided.

Location of this event is TBA, and may be either at the store location (6979 Yonge Street, phone 647-430-1263) or at a gaming event at George Brown University.  I will update this post as soon as a final decision has been reached by the game store.

The Well of the Worm

The Well of the Worm by Harley Stroh (DCC conversion by yours truly) has now been solicited at the Goodman Games website, and is available for a limited time through the Goodman Games webstore.

Why should you consider this one?

First off, because anything by Harley Stroh rocks.  Second off, because all of the DCC products Joseph Goodman has put out rock.  Thirdly, because I had a lot of fun working on the conversion, and I can say that this adventure rocks.

It is always fun to see an adventure for a different system through a DCC lens.  I have converted Gamma World, 1st Edition AD&D, 3.x Dungeons & Dragons, Labyrinth Lord, and other "compatible" materials for my home game.

It was really cool to get the opportunity to do an official conversion!

Thank you, Harley Stroh, for writing such a cool adventure in the first place.

Thank you, Joseph Goodman, for giving me the chance to do this conversion.

Thank you, all of you, who purchase and play it.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Bullshit Alert

Did you know that immersion doesn't exist?  Because people might use the word to mean different things?  Because it might have a very personal meaning?

(Which differs not at all from, say, "role-playing game" or "D&D", which apparently are also lies, if one follows that "logic".)

What does that have to do with playing with people who are your friends?  Nothing!  But, hey, no one can argue with that, so let's toss that in there to confuse the issue.

Let's say that you accept the argument that "the game was in the description! Of course it is!"  Then, does it actually follow that when you are dealing with that description, it is somehow "shutting everything down"?  Or, would it make sense that, if you accepted that the game was in the description, that "stopping play to force someone to describe the action of the game" cannot be "disruptive to play" because that description of action is, in fact, a major component of the game?

Or, let us imagine that taking the role of your character negotiating with a goblin (portrayed by the GM) is only immersive "if you wanted to be immersed in the player persuading the Dungeon Master, not the character persuading the goblin", 'cause, you know, when you are rolling for it, that's the character, not the player. 

"[D]ishonest and worse, counterproductive and not useful from a design standpoint" pretty much covers it.  Yet another post suggesting that you are only playing the game when you are rolling the dice, or working the widgets, from someone who just doesn't seem to understand that the widgets are there to support the fictive milieu and action, not the other way around.

There may be "many. . . unintentional misunderstandings of things" certain people say, or it may just be that bullshit has an unmistakable odour.  I leave it the reader to decide.

ADDENDUM ('cause I just can't leave well enough alone).  If you would be so kind, take a gander at this post.  
How come it's ok to use 'skill checks' for combat, and not for something like talking to opponents? 
Because at the table, I can't use my personal skill to swing an axe, but I can use my personal skill to convince a crocodile to let me pass.

(Actually, seriously, read the comments too!)

Now, go back and read the first linked post, and follow the links here.  And, if you want, you can find my response to that here.

Riddle me this, Batman:  How is it that -C in 2011 knows why combat is handled differently than talking, but two years later this has become a mystery?

Perhaps -C's answer in 2011 is the best one:  "This, is of course another strawman - a misrepresentation of the actual process of play."

ADDENDUM to the ADDENDUM:  Ah, hell.  You should read this one too.  In it, -C postulates, "Combat/feat build uses aside, there is certainly some room for a 'social conflict' system in D&D, but a simple D20 comparison check is a really really boring way to handle it!" so the seeds were sown by 2011.

Actually, there have been several systems in the D20 System written to handle "social combat", the best of which was probably Dynasties & Demagogues, which, if you ignore or are unsatisfied with "Because at the table, I can't use my personal skill to swing an axe, but I can use my personal skill to convince a crocodile to let me pass.", will allow you to consistently make all kinds of social interactions into a mini-game.  

If that's your bag, man, then this is a book that comes highly recommended.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Mulmo Preview - Spoilers Sweetie

If you intend to play through this module, do not read the following.  This is a very minor encounter area, an homage to Robert E. Howard, to give some idea of the flavour of the text.

First Review!

1-12 Storage Chamber: This chamber, roughly 50 feet in diameter, is filled with barrels, crates, and bundles, which have been hacked, with some of their contents strewn around the chamber in a welter of spoiled foodstuffs and broken glass.

These goods were gained through a mixture of trade, tribute, and theft. Most were foodstuffs, although there was cloth, glassware, and ceramics as well.  Nothing of value remains whole, and there are clear signs of animals large and small having been here.

A large urn decorated with a serpent motif and sealed with a heavy lead plug remains unopened. It will only be located if the characters spend at least 30 minutes searching through the debris. Runes on the lid declare it the property of the cult of an evil snake god. Although both elves and trow were wise enough to leave it alone, the PCs may not be – within is coiled a demonic serpent which appears as a 10 foot long crimson cobra with almost human facial features.

The demonic serpent’s bite is poisonous; any who is struck must make a Fort save (DC 14) or be paralyzed instantly, dying in 1d4+2 rounds unless the poison is somehow countered. The serpent can spit a line of venom up to 20’. In this case, the victim must make a Reflex save (DC 12) or suffer poisoning. If the Reflex save is a natural “1”, the victim is struck in the eyes, and must make an additional Fort save (DC 16) or be permanently blinded even if the venom is countered.

Demonic serpent: Init +6; Atk bite +6 melee (1d3 plus poison); AC 18; HD 6d12; hp 50; MV 40’; Act 2d20; SP poison, spit poison, demon traits (type II: speech, read minds, infravision, darkness [+8 spell check], immune to non-magical weapons or natural attacks from creatures of 3HD or less, half damage [fire, acid, cold, electricity, and gas], can teleport back to home plane at will, crit threat range 19-20); SV Fort +6, Ref +10, Will +6; AL C.

Friday, 24 May 2013


I am looking to send materials to 2-3 judges who would run Dungeon Crawl Classics playtests for me. If you can run a playtest with about a week's to two week's turnaround on a regular basis, please let me know. Sorry that I won't be able to take everyone who wants in (someone must be left to buy the materials), but if you want playtest credits, here's your chance!

Shoot me an email at ravencrowking at hotmail dot com.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

From Mercury to Yuggoth, and All Points Between

There came a point, when I was soaking myself in the delightful text that is the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game, that I decided to go back and read the Appendix N fiction.  I mean, I had read quite a few authors and novels on the list, but there were also many that I did not know, and works of fiction that had passed me by.  If you don’t understand what I mean by soaking myself in the DCC core rulebook, you either have not read it, or your appreciation for the genre is very different from mine.  Because you are reading this blog, I am going to assume that you know what I mean.

Eventually, there came a point where I was not just reading the list; I was studying it.  Whenever I worked on a new DCC project, it became integral to my thinking that no fewer than three homages to Appendix N sources should be intentionally included.  I have tried to do this as consistently as I can…although I admit that I allow for a greater breadth in Appendix N sources than some others might.  For instance, I do not stop at the Mars and Venus books of Edgar Rice Burroughs…nor do I even stop at Tarzan, The Moon Maid, and other adventure fiction.  Works like The Oakdale Affair and The Efficiency Expert are fair game in my books.

Within the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, Gary Gygax mentions setting adventures on Jack Vance’s Tschai and Burroughs’ Barsoom.  Conversion notes are given for Boot Hill, indicating that perhaps the westerns of E.R. Burroughs and the weird westerns of Robert E. Howard might also have fit into Gygax’s vision of Appendix N.  What is very clear, though, is that a lot of stories in Appendix N fiction take place on other worlds.

And why not?  Who would not wish to adventure on the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, or C.L. Moore?  Who would not want to quest across the solar system as envisioned by Leigh Brackett, or travelled to far worlds like Skaith and Tschai?  Who would not want to be equal to – or even surpass! – Eric John Stark, John Carter, or Northwest Smith?  The canopy is vast, and the characters loom enormously over the landscape of their worlds and of our dreams.

The pulp magazines were full of stories like these.  John Carter could not adventure across Barsoom alone - he must also investigate one of its moons, and then travel as far as Jupiter.  Seeking out strange new worlds is a driving passion of many of the Appendix N authors.  These sort of stories even outnumber "lost world" stories, like those of the Pellucidar series, various survivals in Robert E. Howard stories, and the Caspak series that begins with The Land That Time Forgot.  Alien princesses and Low Canal Dwellers outnumber even the dinosaurs.

Likewise, Manly Wade Welman was not content to merely write about Hok the Mighty - he also wrote of aliens coming to take over that primitive world.

One of the first adventures I converted to the Dungeon Crawl Classics system was from Gamma World, as part of a funnel adventure.  I am actually playing this same conversion online, at Unseen Servant.  Fun, as far as it goes, but it does not go nearly as far as it should.

It has been suggested that the structure of the planes in AD&D was lifted from the works of Michael Moorcock.  Reading through Appendix N, I do not believe that this is completely accurate.  Moorcock’s work was influential, yes, but he was neither the first nor the best at using multiple planes of existence.  I tend to think that works like The Carnelian Cube and The Fallible Fiend, the Silver John stories of Manly Wade Wellman, and the writing of Philip Jose Farmer, Andre Norton, and Lord Dunsany, at the very least, were equally or more important. 

In the DCC core rulebook, Joseph Goodman suggests using other worlds as destinations for adventures, exactly in the same way as various heavens, hells, and elemental planes are used in many fantasy role-playing games.  I find this good advice, and I think that Dungeon Crawl Classics is admirably suited for such play.  Sure, you need stats for laser guns, blasters, or similar weapons – possibly specific critical and fumble charts as well – and unique classes for the alien races you might meet.  But those things are actually little more than local colour…the same sort of local colour, perhaps, that any fantasy world should be given.  The system remains intact. 

I am beginning to think that, running parallel to my regular DCC campaign, I should devise a setting that intersects, which is pure science fantasy of the type epitomized by certain Appendix N authors.  Not just a single world, such as Barsoom, Venus, or Ganymede, but an interconnected system of worlds.  Something that would make C.L. Moore or Leigh Brackett feel right at home. 

What do you think?  Is this an idea anyone else would be interested in hearing more about?

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Revelation of Mulmo

At the time of this writing, The Revelation of Mulmo has just been approved by Joseph Goodman, and should be available soon at the usual locations, such as rpgnow and drivethru.  

This pdf is 76 pages long.  Even including maps, a one-page advertisement, and covers, that is a lot of pages of adventure, with 60 described areas, a new spell, and three new patrons.  

(These are incomplete write-ups - no patron spells! - but I think you will find them useful.)  

Important information is reproduced from Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between for judges lacking that reference work.

If you backed Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between, well, this was the last piece in the puzzle.  Lead developer Sean Conners will be up late tonight sending emails and moving the project to a close. So good news there.

In addition to using the same terms as Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between and Tomb of Curses, allowing other writers and publishers to use the included patrons in their own approved DCC work, The Revelation of Mulmo adds several monsters to the OGC, allowing them to be used by anyone and any time and with any game system.

Why?  Because we love the Open Gaming License, and we think that you will want to use some of these monsters in your own work. Like the fellow to the right.

Art is by David Fisher, and I think it is quite good.  I have included a couple of samples in this blog post to whet your appetite.

While every monster is not added to the OGC, the monsters added follow a particular theme, and I truly hope that someone will pick it up and run with it.

Did I mention that the new spell (Scrying) is also added to the OGC?

In terms of price point, the prospective judge should find enough material between the covers to get a lot of reuse out of this adventure...if not by reusing the location itself, then by reusing some of the patrons, characters, creatures, and items within.  

From the back cover text:

Death comes to us all…But what price are you willing to pay to bring back one you have lost?

In The Revelation of Mulmo, brave adventures risk magic, monsters, and the passage of time itself to bring a fallen comrade back from the dead.

This module describes a fallen elf hill, with descriptions of 60 locations, additional patron information, and a new spell. It makes use of patron information from the DCC rulebook and Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between by Dragon's Hoard Press.

If you are wondering how to make patrons more active in your campaign, this is the adventure for you!

If you are tired of elves being treated as goodie-goodies who live in the forest being nice to each other and to everyone else, this is also a module for you.  The elves in The Revelation of Mulmo take their essence from all of the depictions of elves in Appendix N fiction, including some which go by different names.

Taken together with this author's Stars in the Darkness (published by Purple Duck Games), you are given strong tools to completely rethink elves - making them less what they are in Lord of the Rings rip-offs, and a hell of a lot more Dungeon Crawl Classics!

Or, at least, that was my intention.  Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

All I Have to Do is Dream…

Dream sequences are a significant part of the fiction that inspired the game.  Conan meets with the Epemitreus the Sage in a dream in The Phoenix on the Sword.  Frodo sees Gandalf escape in Orthanc in a dream in The Fellowship of the Ring.  The Dreamlands of H.P. Lovecraft beckon, and John Carter’s adventures on Mars occur while his body sleeps in a near-death state on Earth.  Dreams can reveal information, supply gear, or even be places to adventure in their own right.

I. Simple Dreams

The purpose of a simple dream is to supply information to the player/PC involved.  This is what happens when Frodo dreams of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings.  These dreams may be simply prophetic, or they may be the result of powerful supernatural beings trying to communicate information to the sleeper.  This sort of information is generally coded, and must be interpreted correctly to be of value.

As an example, in one Dungeons & Dragons game I ran, a paladin character was presented with some ethical problems, and was strongly considering acting as the party wished rather than as conscience dictated.  The character had a dream wherein he was confronted with a man juggling nine coloured balls, with the admonition that no one could hold them all at one time.

In another (online) game, I had a dream occur with a parable relating to the current situation.

In ancient times, dream interpretation was taken very seriously, because it was known that the gods sent messages to dreamers.  Dream interpretation was a valuable service, if one could do it well.  Even today, there are many books on dream interpretation available at bookstores – although we tend to believe that dreams are messages from our subconscious, rather than from gods.

I find that these sorts of dreams are best represented by writing the dream out, printing it off, and then giving it to the player to read.  Importantly, after the player is done reading it, I take the sheet back.  It is up to the player to note the salient points and write anything down he or she may wish to remember.

Some of these dreams should be red herrings – they are just dreams, and not messages from beyond.

Simple dreams can have effects on the waking characters as well, such as lack of rest or even physical damage, if they arise from a choice the players have made.  See James Raggi’s Death Frost Doom for an excellent example of how choices made by the PCs can have consequences when they sleep.

II. Complex Dreams

If the character has something to gain other than simple information, it may be worthwhile to briefly play the dream out in-game.  This allows the GM to judge just how much should be gained, if anything at all, in the same way as occurs in other parts of the game.

For instance, imagine that your PC(s), like Conan, gain an audience with some supernatural patron while dreaming.  In this case, how your players choose to react, and what they have their characters say, is probably important enough to the outcome of the sequence to spend game time playing it out.  Character sheets are probably not needed…most dreams of this sort can be resolved simply through description and role-playing.

The simplest form of complex dream allows the character to choose between two options.  For example, imagine that a character is being haunted by a dream hound, which hunts him throughout his sleeping hours.  After a brief description of the hound and the scene, the GM asks the player what he will do.  If the PC confronts the hound, it is rendered powerless, and the haunting ends.  If the PC runs, the hound is empowered, and some debilitation occurs to the PC in the waking world.  Again, the simplest form is that the PC gains no benefit from rest.

Within a complex dream, there is something to be gained, something to be lost, or both.  In order for the choice to be meaningful, it has to meaningfully affect the game in some way.  Otherwise, you are much better off simply treating the sequence as a simple dream, above.

In these sorts of dreams, objects can manifest from the dream world into the material world, as was the case in The Phoenix on the Sword, but that is not the only option.  A dream might unlock the key to a wizard’s spell if the player chooses wisely, or it might grant luck or supernatural patronage.  The level or type of information gained from a dream might be linked to choices made in the dream itself.

Characters can die in dreams.  They may or may not die in real life as a result.  Dream creatures can cause physical injury, or eat away points of Intelligence, Personality, Wisdom, or Charisma (depending upon your game of choice).  At this point, though, dice are going to be rolled, and you are probably looking at a full-on dreamscape.

III. Dreamscapes

A dreamscape is a dream which seems to have a physical, objective reality of its own, even if the rules do not conform to those of the waking world.  My module, Through the Cotillion of Hours (Purple Duck Games), is an example of a dreamscape.

When devising a dreamscape adventure, the prospective GM must determine (1) why the dreamscape has formed, (2) what the rules of the dreamscape are, (3) how the characters enter the dreamscape, and (4) whether or not they are transformed by entering the dreamscape, and if so, how.

Answering (1) will help in answering the remaining questions.  If there is but a single player involved, the dreamscape can spring from that character’s mind.  Otherwise, some supernatural or psychic entity is probably responsible, and that creature can determine to some degree what the conditions of the dreamscape are.  A demon-formed dreamscape is hellish, while that formed by a goddess reflects her theology, portfolio, and symbolism.  If a dreamscape is formed by the mind of a PC, its texture and details arise from what the GM knows of the PC and her experiences.  There is also the possibility that the dreamscape is another plane unto itself, and needs no creature’s thoughts to sustain it.  H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, and the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs can be treated in this manner.

So then, what are the rules of our dreamscape?

A dreamscape can be temporary, or recurrent, or enduring.  A temporary dreamscape is intended to exist only for a single adventure.  A recurrent dreamscape is used as the location of a number of adventures, or even the same adventure repeated multiple times until “solved”.  An enduring dreamscape, like Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, can host entire campaigns.

The prospective GM will have to answer, at the very least, the following questions.  It should be noted that, in a game in which dreams play a major part, the answers to these questions can differ with each and every dreamscape encountered, if the GM so desires.  In fact, giving dreams their own rules is part of what differentiates dreams from other adventures.

1. Can the characters will the dream to change?  Can they introduce elements?  Can they change the wallpaper?  If so, how?  What are their limitations?

2. How does magic work in the dream?  If the game system has a cost for magic, does that cost actually get paid by the character, or is the cost part of the dream as well?

3. How does combat work in the dream?  What happens if the character is wounded?  Do the wounds manifest on her body, or are they healed upon waking?  What if the character dies?

4. Are there limitations on the character’s actions?  For example, in a nightmare, the character might attempt to flee, but be unable to move.  This could be given game statistics by reducing movement speed in some or all parts of the dreamscape, requiring a saving throw to act, or other means.

The GM should remember, when describing a dreamscape, that the rules of the waking world need not apply.  Within a dream, it may be entirely possible to have conversations with ghouls, for example, without worrying about having your face eaten.  Characters may be able to fly.  There are no limitations due to time or distance – architecture need not make sense.  It is even possible to have the characters abruptly find themselves in an earlier part of the dream again. 

Think about what your own dreams are like.  Use them.  Buy some dream interpretation books.  Use the symbolism in them.  Think up gonzo shit, and have fun with it.

(3), How the characters enter the dreamscape, is important, because it is entirely possible that the characters do not know that they are dreaming.  The Doctor Who story, Amy’s Choice, has the Doctor, Amy, and Rory experiencing two dreams sequentially, with a challenge to discover which is the real world and which is the dream world before they all die.

Randolph Carter enters the Dreamlands intentionally.  John Carter is paralyzed in a cave when he feels his soul detach and head towards Mars.  Through the Cotillion of Hours occurs at some point when the characters are already sleeping.  If the dreamscape actually exists as a plane unto itself, there is no reason that the characters cannot enter it bodily and awake.

Which leads into (4).  Characters entering the dreamscape need not use the same statistics as they do in waking life.  Different dreamscapes can also use different statistics.  There is no reason not to devise a dream in which the PCs are all talking ducks, or panda bears, or goblins.  They could be disembodied, stronger than normal, weaker than normal, or as normal.  They could have to reroll their statistics, and use the new stats in the dreamworld.

In an extended campaign with an enduring dreamscape, each character may have two sheets – one representing his waking self and one representing his dream self.  These need be nothing alike.  They need not even be using the same game system.  They need not even involve the supernatural.  It is easy to imagine, for example a Traveller game wherein there is a machine that allows characters to share dreams.  When hooked up to the machine, characters dream themselves into a Dungeon Crawl Classics game.  If their DCC personae die, they wake up.  Either they can choose to start over, or they can pay X credits to “restore” their personae.

Even within the above scenario, there is no reason that a character cannot have a “dream within a dream” or a separate dream, that uses different statistics and/or follows different rules.  In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the holodeck functions as extended dream sequences, but this did not prevent Jean Luc Picard from experiencing a more visceral dream in The Inner Light.

When a character has more than one set of statistics, and is not aware he or she is dreaming, the GM need not tell the character to switch sheets until game events make statistics relevant.


Dreams are a part of life – once considered an important part – and they can easily be used in role-playing games to offer insight, a sense of connection to the larger supernatural world (in fantasy games, anyway, and perhaps in others, depending upon your tastes), and variety in gaming experience.

Use the different levels of dreams to have different effects in your games.  Use them sparingly or often, use them appropriately, and have fun with them.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

More On Adventure Design

It would be really nice to have a big get-together and raise a few pints and talk about adventure design.  This post came about as a result of some conversations I have had on that topic recently.

I've cut the specifics out, but otherwise it is as I said it the first time.

I caution you against thinking about adventures in terms of story.  There is a story....what happened before the PCs became involved....and there will be a story after PC involvement is done and the players are reliving the events, but I do not believe that the GM can or should know what is going to happen at each point along the way.

I would like to talk a little bit about layers and trigger events.  Also about overt and covert threads.

What most people do when they start working on an adventure is the covert thread...what is really happening that the PCs must uncover in order to bring events to a satisfying conclusion.  Most adventures need a layer of overt threads...things that happen out in the open, the ways that the players (and locals) first view the events and places in the adventure.  If you think about an adventure as a mystery, the covert thread is what really happened.  The overt threads are all of the other side issues, the alibis, the red herrings, and the daily life that conceals the covert thread from the detective until the mystery's climax.

Some rules of thumb:

  • For every part of the covert thread that the characters must uncover, there should be at least six clues.  
  • For any part of the covert thread that it would be cool if the characters uncovered it, there should be at least three clues.
  • For every location you want the PCs to go to in order to discover these clues, there should be overt reasons for them to go there.  Note that NPCs saying not to go there, even if there is a hoard of gold lost on those old burial grounds, is almost certain to make any PC walk into a death trap, let alone a creepy swamp.

As an example of what I mean here, consider ADVENTURE  The characters are going in to GOAL.  That's an overt reason for action.  They need GIZMO to get in the LOCATION.  That's another overt reason for action.  Along the way, they are given many clues about the covert thread (the nature of the CREATURES in this area) which should lead them to a second covert thread (maybe we shouldn't DO SOMETHING THEY WERE PROBABLY PLANNING ON DOING).  The presence of various treasures and things to manipulate give the players more overt reasons to explore beyond a strict linear progression to the pool.

As the PCs examine the various clues, their understanding of the adventure changes.  Some of what was covert becomes overt.  This continues throughout the adventure.  As a result, the players' understanding of the adventure (and adventure location) develops a layered depth created through interpreting and re-interpreting what they encounter and whatever events occur.  We all experience this in film or fiction, and we all know how shallow a movie or novel is that fails to cause us to reinterpret what has gone before.  It is the difference between Dark Knight and Batman Forever.

There is nothing like peeling back those layers, as a player, and suddenly seeing the whole thing clearly.  It is a great feeling, a moment of sheer exhilaration.  Of course, it has to be the players actually doing the work, or it is meaningless.  The GM telling you Bert is Evil is nothing like putting the clues together and realizing that, very much in contrast to what you've been thinking all this time, Bert is actually the evil mastermind who is controlling the entire street.

A note on clues:  Different people can be pressured to play the villain's game in different ways.  One might be promised gold, and his greed makes him do vile things.  Another might have a shameful secret he is afraid will be exposed.  Yet another might simply be trying to prevent the villain from targeting his baby sister.  Various NPCs, being made to do the villain's bidding through various means, offer more clues than do the same NPCs if they are all doing it for gold.  Different motives give rise to different behaviours, which in turn give rise to different chinks in the armour of the mystery, and more ways for the players to crack the shell open.  You want to provide as much context as you can, without overtly spilling the beans, because you want the beans to be spilled.  And it should not matter if they are spilled early or late.

That these different motives also raise the spectre of not all the "bad guys" being bad; that "fighting them" in some cases means (or can mean) "rescuing them" is all the better....because, if nothing else, it allows the players to have moments where they must make ethical decisions.  It also means that a rescued "enemy" can become an ally, and can impart information (context) to the players.

Instead of imagining a climax where the PCs figure out what is going on, try to imagine the climax where the players learn the covert thread earlier, at the time, or never, and it still works.  It is better to offer clues at the end, and give the players the opportunity to either figure it out or not, than it is to spill the beans.

Never knowing is better than knowing because the GM told you.

Knowing because you figured it out yourself is best of all.

Trigger events are things that happen after a particular condition is met.  I.e., after the players ask at the Rusty Fox about the creepy old lighthouse keeper, they are attacked by thugs dressed like ghouls.  Trigger events, when at all possible, should follow as a direct consequence of whatever triggered them, so that the timing is a clue to the covert thread.  Even the dimmest of players will eventually realize that the priest is a spy if, after every time they go to him for help, the Temple of Chaos seems to know what their plans are.

Layering requires paths to explore that are not the main thread.  Each of these paths, in some way, points back toward the major issues and what is moving below the surface.  Both layers and trigger events are used to create the impression of things moving below the surface, and to give the players clues to finally peer below the surface and discover just what is going on.

This relates rather directly to a recent blog post.

Anyway, I am beginning to blather here.

Best of luck with your designs.

Monday, 13 May 2013

20% Off

Get 'em while they're hot!

Footprints and Offstage Material

In my argument with Alexis, I pointed out that gaming material is not meant to simply be hung on the wall; it has no value until used.  In an earlier discussion, I had pointed out that material has meaning even if it is not brought directly into play.  These might seem to be contradictory positions.  I would like to explain why I think that they are not.

Let us imagine that a perspective judge is going to convert Keep on the Borderlands, Tomb of Horrors, and White Plume Mountain to include as part of a DCC RPG campaign.  The judge imagines that the game will start in the vicinity of the Keep, and that the Tomb and the Mountain will be locations within the campaign milieu, the first hidden and the second not-so-hidden.

All of these areas are in play immediately, in the sense that the 0-level PCs could decide to tackle, say, White Plume Mountain as their inaugural adventure.  The implication of a larger world is useless unless that larger world is actually there, and can be explored.  The judge can (and should) offer clues as to the relative risks of various campaign areas, but in the end, it is the players, not the judge, who decide whether or not to venture where angels fear to tread.

More importantly, they are in play in the sense that they have a “footprint” on the surrounding area.  The wise judge knows how to use this footprint to give areas meaning, so that when they are brought “into play” in the second sense (actually encountered at the table), they already have acquired depth, meaning, and history.

The evil priests in the Caves of Chaos have a spy in the Keep.  This spy never need appear “on stage” for his presence to be felt.  If the characters have loose lips around the Keep, the spy will learn whatever they say.  That means that the priests in the Caves will learn it also, after some delay, and will be able to prepare for it.  The group should be able to deduce the existence of the spy even without ever encountering or identifying him.

So, on the one hand, none of this material is meant to be a work of art, hanging inviolate on your wall.  You are meant to make use of it, directly or indirectly.  The elements of the campaign world that are not directly encountered can and should impact on those which are.  This is an important factor in allowing the game milieu to gain “a life of its own”.

On the other hand, being used does not always mean being brought directly into play.  The spy in the Keep is important even if never encountered directly.  Knowing that the Tomb of Horrors is out there gives players options even if they never choose to explore them.


An interesting post on Hack & Slash  really drives home the differences between our gaming philosophies. 

It is clear reading –C’s article that –C believes that the game stops when one considers the fiction in order to resolve things without rolling dice.  There are others, of course, who view the fiction as the point of the game, and believe that the fiction is impeded by rolling dice unnecessarily.  For those of us who view the game in this manner, dice are only rolled when the outcome is in doubt, or when the action cannot either be modelled at the table or sufficiently described as to remove doubt as to the outcome.

If rolling dice is the game for you, -C’s position here will surely resonate.  I have never read clearer advocacy for roll-playing over role-playing.

-C attempts to use the attack roll as an example “of selecting a move without deciding the fiction first”….but here, “deciding the fiction first” is conflated with “deciding the outcome”, which are not the same thing.  Where the outcome is in doubt, dice are rolled, but the fictive purpose of the die roll (“I attack the minotaur with my axe!”) is decided beforehand.

The die roll arises from the fictional context, and the result of the roll is tied into the fictional context immediately, allowing others to continue to make decisions from the context of that fiction.

Weirdly enough, -C makes a claim in that article that dissociated mechanics are a problem caused by considering the fiction first, which is ass-backwards (as following the link and reading the linked article will readily show). 

An associated mechanic is one which has a connection to the game world. A dissociated mechanic is one which is disconnected from the game world.

The easiest way to perceive the difference is to look at the player’s decision-making process when using the mechanic: If the player’s decision can be directly equated to a decision made by the character, then the mechanic is associated. If it cannot be directly equated, then it is dissociated.

In other words, and more explicitly as the article goes on, a dissociated mechanic is one which does not consider the fiction first.

Finally, -C correctly notes that some people like non-fiction-based games.  Some people even consider games where you are rolling dialogue like combat to be role-playing games.  But it is incorrect to imagine that Pathfinder is not “fiction first” in its aspirations, and it is plainly bizarre to both use Dungeons & Dragons as an example to counter “fiction first” games when trying to discuss the relative sales values of games, while listing it as an example of where the “problem” of fiction-first is encoded in the rules.

In an honest discussion, it should also be noted that the Alexandrian article on dissociative mechanics discusses how the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons specifically and explicitly stepped away from “fiction first” in several of its mechanics…and no one following the industry or the D&D Next materials released by Wizards of the Coast will rationally conclude that the company found this to be a solid financial decision.

A game where the players control elements of the fiction that their characters could not – such as one where the outcome of combat is determined as whatever best meets the “story” or where the players can determine who the NPCs are – steps away from being a role-playing game by virtue of making the players make decisions outside of their roles.  This is why dice (or other mechanics) are used in role-playing games to determine outcomes.

Conversely, a game where die rolls make decisions for characters is not a role-playing game either, simply because the dice, not the player, are making decisions for the character.  Where the results of these decisions – or the nature of the decisions themselves – do not map to the fiction, the result is dissociative mechanics as described by Jason Alexander.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Spoilers for The Name of the Doctor


That is all


Related to this post, I have been thinking about what to create for my birthday "mathoms".  

This is what I've come up with.  

Please note that the cut-off date for posting is now July 1st in order to determine the number of participants, but August 3rd in order to determine if you get something.  This is just to give me adequate time to prep materials.

Note also that, unless someone volunteers to help with maps and art, you are stuck with what I can do myself.  Which isn't complete suckage, but isn't completely great either.

Under 10 participants:  Patron:  Hizzzgrad, the Daemonic Lord of Crawling Things  (This is our current level)

10 - 25 participants:  Add patron:  Yallafial, Queen of the Birds

26 - 50 participants:  Add adventure:  The August Sun

51+ participants:  Add adventure:  Under the Moons of Zados

Saturday, 11 May 2013

DCC World Tour Query

If you live in the Toronto area, and are interested in playing in one or two World Tour adventures I ran....what time is best for you on (say) a Saturday?  Should I be targeting an earlier start time or a later?

Also, right now I am looking at Duelling Grounds and Hairy T North as possible venues.  Any others I should know about?  I sent an email to the good folks at OSR Con, but I haven't heard anything back.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Wisdom From Doctor Who

I found this floating around Facebook.

I always liked Tom Baker's version of the Doctor.

Ray Harryhausen for Dungeon Crawl Classics

Last blogpost included images of some of the wonderful creations of the late Mr. Harryhausen.  But what if you wanted to include creatures like them in your DCC game?  If you wish, you can use the statistics below.

Remember that, in DCC, there are no “right” or “wrong” creature stats, so feel free to modify these (or change them utterly!) to meet your own conception of Mr. Harryhausen’s iconic creature work.

Calibos: Init +3; Atk Whip +6 melee (1d3) or trident prosthesis +4 melee (1d4) or bite +0 melee (1d3); AC 12; HD 5d10+5, HP 30; MV 25’; Act 2d20; SP mighty deed (can perform Mighty Deeds, primary to disarm or knock prone, with whip only), son of Hera (can cast invoke patron to call on Hera 1/day), magical knowledge (Calibos knows how to use the blood of medusa to create giant scorpions, can summon giant vultures, and may have other magical abilities given to him by Hera, as the judge deems fit); SV Fort +8, Ref +3, Will +0; AL C.

Harryhausen Medusa (2): Init +2; Atk Short bow +5 ranged (1d6 plus poison); AC 14; HD 2d8+4, HP 12; MV 40’; Act 2d20; SP petrification by gaze 1 target/round (Ref DC 12 to avoid) and any creature attempting to attack must make this save, poisoned arrows (Fort DC 10 or die), poisonous blood (1d6 damage by splash, Fort save DC 10 or die with greater contact); SV Fort +4, Ref +6, Will +8; AL C.

Harryhausen Cyclops: Init +0; Atk Claw +10 melee (2d6+8) or bite +6 melee (2d8+8) or by weapon +6 melee or ranged (by weapon +8); AC 15; HD 12d8+24, HP 72; MV 40’; Act 2d20; SP grab (with claw attack, opposed Str check vs. +8 bonus to escape); SV Fort +14, Ref –2, Will +2; AL C.

Giagantic crab: Init +2; Atk Claw +4 melee (2d8+4); AC 20; HD 6d8, HP 24; MV 40’; Act 1d20; SP grab (with claw attack, opposed Str check vs. +4 bonus to escape); SV Fort +6, Ref +2, Will +0; AL N.

Gwangi: Init +2; Atk Bite +6 melee (2d10); AC 15; HD 12d8+24, HP 80; MV 40’; Act 1d20; SV Fort +8, Ref +2, Will +4; AL N.

Giant walrus: Init –2; Atk Bite +6 melee (2d12+4) or flipper +4 melee (2d8+4); AC 17; HD 15d8+15, HP 75; MV 30’ or swim 50’; Act 2d20; SP crush 5d12 damage to all in 10’ x 10’ area (Ref DC 8 avoids), immune to cold; SV Fort +16, Ref –4, Will +6; AL N.

Allosaur: Init +3; Atk Bite +4 melee (2d6); AC 13; HD 8d8+16, HP 48; MV 40’; Act 1d20; SV Fort +6, Ref +4, Will +2; AL N.

Ray Harryhausen created many other wonderful and memorable creatures over his career.  Any of them would fit well into the Appendix N feel of the Dungeon Crawl Classics game.  

Thursday, 9 May 2013

On the Passing of a Genius

Ray Harryhausen passed away recently at the age of 92.

There are a lot of things I could say about his work.  In many ways, the films of Ray Harryhausen are as influential in my personal conception of the game as any of the Appendix N authors.  Whether it was work in the Sinbad movies, the various films based off Greek mythology, Jules Verne's novels put to film, or a host of others, Ray Harryhausen's work had a sense of depth and character that all-too-often computer animation - although spectacular - fails to capture.

Like the early Hammer Horror films, Ray Harryhausen's work had a far-reaching impact on generations that is difficult to overestimate.  Certainly, it had influence on fantasy works like David Drake's Lord of the Isles series.  Even more certainly, it had a strong influence on the creation of Dungeons & Dragons and the early role-playing game scene.

I don't have the words or the skill to properly memorialise the man.  But I do know that, directly or indirectly, his pioneering vision will influence generations to come.

Rest in peace, Ray.

House Rule: Daggers to Finish Fallen Foes

Quick Houserule: "When used on a fallen foe, a dagger can automatically critical with each successful attack. On an unsuccessful attack, the dagger does 1d10 damage. This reflects the wieldiness of a dagger for precision work."

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Tao of WTF?

On May 7, 2013 at 12:42 PM Alexis Smolensk said...
The debate is being repeatedly muddled by mixing "compulsions" and "circumstances." It is being argued that if a DM creates a circumstance (oncoming war, where the party starts at the beginning of a campaign, an authority figure giving the party an order, etc.) that this is the same as the DM defining what things the party will compelled to do. 
A "circumstance" is a fact or condition connected to an event or action, but it is not the event itself. Yes, the party must start somewhere. Yes, authority figures give orders. Creatures and the setting itself provide limitations to character agency continually. 
Nevertheless, parties who happen to find themselves subject to the orders of superiors, or who are caught in wars, or any other circumstance, must not feel that there is no other possible option to their action except to follow what the DM has determined is the best, most suitable, and ultimately 'expected' action. 
To make the DM world, one must, yes, create many, many circumstances, which are out of the player's control. Designating that something is out of the player's control does not dictate that the world is a railroad - though I've now seen that argument made about 30 times this last week, to say that therefore, every campaign MUST be a railroad because it is impossible to create a world that doesn't have things out of the player's control. 
The issue is not that the player has total control, it is that the player has FREE WILL. Regardless of the circumstances, the player must be free to do whatever they will. 
Of course, occasionally, ignorantly exercising that will at the wrong time and in the wrong circumstances will get the player killed. Having free will does not automatically exempt the player from the circumstances. 
BUT ... that free will MUST not be restricted by the DM's wishes for what the campaign ought to be, or what the game should be about tonight, or what the DM has 'prepared' and is ready to run. That free will means that the player deserves to follow his or her own agenda, and not merely to act as expected by the DM because the DM happens to have done a shitload of preparation, or because the DM has bought a fancy new booklet from a store. The player should be free to pursue the course of action that interests the player. 
I've said it, and I still haven't heard the argument against it. Free will, player agency, the sandbox campaign begins when the player says, "I don't want to do that," and the DM says, "Okay, what do YOU want to do." 
And everyone is happy.
To which I replied,
Frankly, if your blog posts had said what your last comment said (7 May 1:04 pm), that clearly, then you would not have had any argument from me.
Excepting, of course, that the player shouldn't be in a position where he has to say, "I don't want to do that" in the first place.
To which Alexis replied,
So, after eight or nine really badly stated comments on this blog, two really badly written posts on your blog, a lot of cheap shots against me in your comments field, attitude, etc., you admit you're wrong ... but not before making this all about me and my inability to say it in the kindergarten terms you require. Huh. Not to mention, how do you know when a player is going to say "I don't want to do that" ... magic? You're as annoying as a raven. I'll give you that.
Okay.  Let’s go from here.

There are a lot of things that I read on the InterWebs that I could quibble about and do not.  For example, I am willing to say that your meeting with Bob the Patriarch who sends you on a quest is not an “event”, for the purposes of a discussion only, in order to follow a line of reasoning, although I know, and most players know, that what is really being attempted is to delineate between different kinds of events.

So, while I could have quibbled over terminology, I would not have, because, until Alexis’ response, it would have served no purpose. 

I still quibble over whether or not the players should ever have to say “I don’t want to do that” because, even in the context of Alexis’ comment above, quibbling serves a purpose.  It doesn’t take any magic to figure out when players don't want to do something.  I don’t need the players to tell me what they do not want to do, because the players tell me what they do want to do.  It is not, ever, in my opinion, the GM’s job to say, “You do this”, so they never, under any circumstances, have to say, "But I want to do that".  

It is the GM’s job to say, “Here are the circumstances.  What do you do?”  The player never has to tell you that he doesn’t want to do X simply because you are never trying to force him to do X.  Clear, simple, and effective.

“You admit you’re wrong?”  About what, my dear Alexis?  I told you, repeatedly, that you were not listening.  I told you, repeatedly, that you were answering something I wasn’t saying.   I am not saying that I was wrong.  I am saying, aforementioned quibble aside, you finally got it right.

I suspect that has something to do with one of your former players posting about how hypocritical your posts on this topic has been.  Now, me, I was wondering, “Sour grapes or accurate assessment?” until you posted the bit above, which clarified the issue.  Accurate assessment.

You have said that you find these posts hard to follow.  Others do not.  I have received emails from a number of folks (which I wish would have appeared in the blog comments), including some which give me a clear idea of why you sift through comments to your own blog before posting them.  For a self-proclaimed genius, it would seem to be a failing that you cannot understand what so many others clearly do.

And, yes, that is personal.  It is not polite.   Politeness has gotten me nowhere with you.  Your head is so firmly lodged up your ass that politeness cannot help.  Besides, I’ve read your blog.  I know that you think politeness is crap anyway.   So let’s look at reality, out in the clear air, and not listen to the little voices in our colons, shall we?

I can hardly admit that I am “wrong” for arguing against player agency, when I have never argued against player agency.

Let’s look instead at what I said:
In this case I will have to disagree with you. There is really no difference between using a module to help fill in a region, and using a map from Google Earth or a portion of a book on spelunking to do the same. If I accepted that "someone else's dungeon is a 2nd-hand interpretation of knowledge they have about something you're not connected to" as a strong enough reason to not "read other person's interpretations", that would apply to using Google Maps or a book on spelunking as well. We all could "go find the hard data from scratch", but finding the hard data is what life is, and it would take a lifetime to find all of the hard data used in this game. Some of it, of course, is fantastic, and can never be found "from scratch". You rely upon data gathered by others. Your series on how you map demonstrates as much. We all do.
"The only thing you can learn from them [modules] is how better to take away player agency."
Not in my experience. As you say, "There is more to data that where it comes from; it matters WHICH data is relied upon." If I include elements from The Keep on the Borderlands in my game, for example, I need not include a talking raven that pushes the PCs back on "the path", just as I do not have to leave the Castellan nameless. It is not simply a matter of where the information comes from; it is very much a matter of what you do with it. Nothing in your response indicates that what you are doing is more doing "the damn thing right" on the basis of what materials you are using to craft the work. Nowhere have you demonstrated that using Google maps is superior to using modules in terms of player freedom.
All the application of written history, geography, science, design, economics, etc., is not of the same level as a module....but the module may be of the same level as any give piece of said written history, geography, science, design, economics, etc. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But, a module is as valid a part as most others, depending upon the module, and depending upon the other source. I don't think that using modules can quite be delineated down to attempting to trap the players in a Dark Dungeon. Nor do I believe that the dungeon is "the principle problem of the game". YMMV, though.
I am even reasonably confident that, if you were as secure in your position as you are trying to appear, you would not have suggested that KotB "is NOT consistent with the vast majority of modules." The minute you have to say, in effect, "Well, of course we cannot use THAT module as an example" your argument begins to break down. Nor is it true that in KotB "each part is a combat formula for entering, hacking and hauling away the loot". I have, as I said, run this module many, many times, and with different results each time. Sometimes that meant negotiation. Once that meant a PC becoming the leader of an orc tribe. Creation does not occur in a vacuum. You are creative when you react to your players' desires. Your players are creative when they react to the milieu you present them with. As far as I know, only the Alpha and Omega claims to have been creative from nothing, and, frankly, I don't believe in that. You are a smart guy, and I agree with a lot of what you say, but I think you have the blinders on here.
You still aren't listening. You are still hearing something other than what is being said, and answering something other than the positions that are being presented.
You aren't stepping on toes for writing against the use of modules, or the use of dungeons. You are stepping on toes because you are parading a straw man to burn. And you are burning him without presenting even a smidgeon of reasoning that demonstrates why the straw man - let alone the actual positions of people actually using dungeons and/or modules - needs burning. When you do that, you take yourself (in any meaningful way) out of the conversation. You are coming across exactly like those people you speak about, who don't want to hear anything that takes effort to understand. It should be obvious at least that, if you believe that the DM is supposed to react to the players, you should also believe that he should react creatively. And, as an example, when you use the dice to discover that there is literally a potential gold mine on land the PCs are holding, they are reacting to information you are presenting. Hopefully, they are also reacting creatively to the information you are presenting. Because I am almost certain that over 99% of your readers know that presenting and destroying creativity are not the same thing. Likewise, the game is a volley of actions and reactions, from all sides, with both players and GM introducing ideas and reacting to the ideas of others - even if those ideas are no more than "wandering monsters....people needing brave souls to defend their villages" or strangers to make "either friends or piles of meat". All of which are, please note, presented by the GM by necessity for them to be introduced into play. Your readers all know this. I cannot understand why you do not.
What is interesting in this, to me, is that I repeatedly say, in various ways, "You do not seem to understand how people use modules" and you seem to think I am saying "Make your players dance for your amusement."

Lets look at some things Alexis did say:
But I cannot help but point out that the principles behind the 'contest' per se represent one of the saddest elements in the gaming community ... the idea that somehow, competing with one another in an activity which is primarily done solo - on your own table, by yourself, in so-called preparation for the game - is a part of the game.
Quibble the First:  I invite you to examine, if you would, The Tao of D&D, in which Alexis has detailed quite precisely what he is doing in terms of his own prepwork.  “Painstaking” is not an adequate term.  I quite admire the level of prep he does, but the smell of head-up-the-ass-hypocrisy is overwhelming.   Prepwork is not part of playing the game, but it is part of the game.  
Random dungeons are useless.  A specific dungeon designed for a specific instance, where both players and DM know why its there and how it fits in the campaign, are useful.
Quibble the Second:  Did you examine those previous Tao blog posts?  Did you notice how often Alexis referred to using random generators to take his ego out of the equation?  

Quibble the Third:  While the GM needs to know how a dungeon (or any other structure) fits into the campaign milieu, the players do not.  Oh, they might discover why it is there and how it fits in, but they certainly need not know this to begin with.  Nor do they ever “need” to find out.  Unless the players are interested enough to find out. 

Quibble the Fourth:  Why this focused rancour on dungeons?  The same principles of design, and the same potential pitfalls, occur with towns, wilderness, etc.
The certainty that someday will be the right day to use this dungeon is a pervasive, even addictive justification to DM solo-produced, solo-conceived dungeons until doomsday.  But such dungeons demand shoehorning the players into the DM's headspace, and do not recognize the need for the DM to apply their dungeon-making skills to the player's headspace.
Again, Quibble the Fourth applies.

Also, there may be a fundamental disconnect here.  In any game I run, or in which I am interested, the world is the world.  I do not have treasure packets of wish-list items follow the PCs around until they find them.  A ruined city which holds the Geegaw of Ages is not going to appear simply because Black Leaf is interested in ruined cities while Elfstar wants to find the Geegaw.

The concept that “the dungeon - or any adventure - as a work of art to be hung on the wall of the campaign” or “the DM's creation of the adventure is the 'point' ... the game is the applause” is so alien to me that I cannot even see it clearly.  No part of the game has any real meaning unless it is introduced into play.  No part of the campaign milieu is “to be hung on the wall”.  It may be art, but if it is, it is more like a child’s tower of blocks, which is built merely for the pleasure of seeing it smashed by others.

And, hell, because I know you will read this out of context, let me be clear that the same tower of blocks is there to be rebuilt into something else, ignored, or whatever else the players want to try to do with it.

Even then, I would have just shrugged and said, “Well, that’s Alexis being Alexis”.   I personally think that both GMs and players are important…good ones doubly so.  I certainly do not think that contests like the One Page Dungeon “celebrate DMs while subtly discarding the value and importance of the player.”

On the other hand, to be clear, I don’t think any GM has an obligation to run any game they do not wish to run, or any player to play in any game that they do not wish to play in.  As long as you can find someone else who wants to play the way you want to, that’s exactly what you should do – no matter how foreign it may be to what I want from a game.

I have the impression that this is another fundamental disconnect between Alexis and myself.  I have strong ideas about what makes a good game, and I will argue them until the sky turns bright green, but at the end of it all, if you disagree with me, I also strongly feel that you can and should disregard what I say.

Alexis doesn’t like dungeons.  Okay.  I knew that.  He’s opinionated.  Okay.  I knew that, too.

What actually made me respond was this:
someone else's dungeon is a 2nd-hand interpretation of knowledge they have about something you're not connected to; so if you REALLY want new ideas, don't read other person's interpretations, go find the hard data from scratch. You do better to read a solid book on caving (spelunking) than you do to read through someone's cave representation. That's the problem with the "I learn things" argument. You're not really going to learn all that much. There are far better sources than this.
So, to reiterate, I argue that there is really no difference between using a module to help fill in a region, and using a map from Google Earth or a portion of a book on spelunking to do the same.  Moreover, interest in how someone else used other materials to create a module is no different than interest in how someone might use Google Earth to fill in a portion of a campaign region map.

Alexis asks “Is the a structure I am using the data for imposing order on the players?” and the answer is tautological.  Creating structure imposes order.  You can pretend otherwise, and wallow in that hypocrisy, but that doesn’t make it so.

Alexis then asks, “Is the map a playing surface designed to allow movement in the least number of directions, or the most? Does the map limit freedom of action as do hallways and traps, or does the map offer that freedom?”

But these questions side-step the argument.  Alexis made a claim that using modules was a relatively bad decision because they presented material second-hand.  Well, so does Google Earth, and so does that book on spelunking, and so does reading Alexis’ blog on how he used Google Earth.  My point was not that Alexis’ blog was useless, or Google Earth, but simply that this is a crappy argument about why you shouldn’t use modules.

And then we get to this:
Over and over, and I'll beat this drum forever, the DUNGEON and its 2-dimensional structural element, presented to the players as a maze and a puzzle, is the principle problem of the game. The best dungeon in the world is no better a representation of good PLAY than is the worse dungeon, as neither are about play at all! Dungeons are about imposition and rule by the DM; they are well named, for they imprison players in the DM's trap. The only thing you can learn from them is how better to take away player agency.
And this
The module is a limiting mechanism for game play. The module is premade, and therefore produces a predestined game play. The module includes the creativity of ONLY the DM, and therefore discounts added creativity from all the players. The module is a maze, with a beginning and an end. The core idea of D&D, that the module (bought or personally made) is CENTRAL to the game is the innate flaw in the game. We both believe the DM should create an experience for the player; but I believe that the player brings substance to the game, by making a decision about what the player wants to do, that cannot be addressed by the module mentality. You clearly disagree. Most of the gaming community, no doubt, would disagree, because the gaming community has bought into the "DM PRESENTS GAME" fundamental structure. I don't believe that's right. It is perfectly fair to create a setting. But one should not pre-create "Events" in that setting ... which is the form, purpose, methodology and habit of the dungeon principle. It has had its run. Let's move on from that principle.
And here, too, we clearly disagree, and I think the smell of shit is strong.  

A good module does not produce predestined game play. I have used Keep on the Borderlands, for example, with many gaming groups, and game play was markedly different depending upon how the group approached the material.

Again, game play was markedly different not because of the GM, but because of how the group approached the material. A module, like any prep, is limited in how it introduces creativity during prep, but that does not mean that it uses ONLY the GM's creativity during play.

And the play's the thing.

A module is not necessarily a maze, with a beginning and an end.  Again, Keep on the Borderlands can be used as a consistent part of a campaign setting during its entire run. So can any module, really. Like all parts of the campaign world, the elements of any prep - your own or that of a module - progress and change as time goes on.

Alexis may feel that "The Keep on the Borderlands is NOT consistent with the vast majority of modules" but this is an inconsistent response if he continues to also claim that "The best dungeon in the world is no better a representation of good PLAY than is the worse dungeon" - suddenly we are equivocating because the best and the worst are, apparently, not equal as examples.

When Alexis finally said something I could agree with in his comments, it was a strong step away from the things where I thought he had his head up his ass. He was no longer saying that "the the principle problem of the game".  He was no longer making a claim that modules, because they were secondary sources, or because you would be forced to use them in specific ways, were the problem.  Or that because there were things to react to in the game, the players could not be creative.  

Players deserve the ability to say No is not controversial.

In fact, when Alexis says “Twice now, you've said, reaction is creativity. That is such unmitigated bullshit.” he is mistaken.  I said that reaction does not prevent creativity.  In fact, having something to react to is often a spur to creativity.

Alexis says
And still, once again, you're all missing the point.
"Presentation" is the limitation. The DM should be reacting to the players, not the players reacting to the DM. To present is to make the player's passive.
Worse, the wise player to which you present your presentation can see it all coming, like a telegraphed boxing punch. But none of you see how the game has become a series of expected roles the players must play to keep the DM happy.
All I hear is how the DM is happy with the dungeon, and what the dungeon does for the DM. But the post is titled, "the player's piece." You're all so cocksure - but I'm hearing nothing about the player who is sick to death of having to run in your maze, because you present nothing but mazes. And I STILL haven't heard any other idea advanced.
I'm sitting at your table. What do you have for me that ISN'T a dungeon?
To which I responded
You still aren't listening. You are still hearing something other than what is being said, and answering something other than the positions that are being presented.
You aren't stepping on toes for writing against the use of modules, or the use of dungeons. You are stepping on toes because you are parading a straw man to burn. And you are burning him without presenting even a smidgeon of reasoning that demonstrates why the straw man - let alone the actual positions of people actually using dungeons and/or modules - needs burning.
When you do that, you take yourself (in any meaningful way) out of the conversation. You are coming across exactly like those people you speak about, who don't want to hear anything that takes effort to understand.
It should be obvious at least that, if you believe that the DM is supposed to react to the players, you should also believe that he should react creatively. And, as an example, when you use the dice to discover that there is literally a potential gold mine on land the PCs are holding, they are reacting to information you are presenting.
Hopefully, they are also reacting creatively to the information you are presenting.
Because I am almost certain that over 99% of your readers know that presenting and destroying creativity are not the same thing.
Likewise, the game is a volley of actions and reactions, from all sides, with both players and GM introducing ideas and reacting to the ideas of others - even if those ideas are no more than "wandering monsters....people needing brave souls to defend their villages" or strangers to make "either friends or piles of meat". All of which are, please note, presented by the GM by necessity for them to be introduced into play.
Your readers all know this. I cannot understand why you do not.
Alexis would later say
It isn't a sandbox dungeon if the player's can't look at it and say, "Let's not."
And no one, I think, disagrees with that.  You'd be stunned at the number who don't get that no one is disagreeing with that.  Hint:  it is a whole number less than 2 but greater than 0.  That the players have, deserve, and need the right to say No is not controversial in any way, shape, or form.

So, finally, we get back to 
A "circumstance" is a fact or condition connected to an event or action, but it is not the event itself. Yes, the party must start somewhere. Yes, authority figures give orders. Creatures and the setting itself provide limitations to character agency continually. Nevertheless, parties who happen to find themselves subject to the orders of superiors, or who are caught in wars, or any other circumstance, must not feel that there is no other possible option to their action except to follow what the DM has determined is the best, most suitable, and ultimately 'expected' action. To make the DM world, one must, yes, create many, many circumstances, which are out of the player's control. Designating that something is out of the player's control does not dictate that the world is a railroad - though I've now seen that argument made about 30 times this last week, to say that therefore, every campaign MUST be a railroad because it is impossible to create a world that doesn't have things out of the player's control.
Wherein the GM can suddenly present "circumstances" for the players to react to without limiting their creativity, and without creating a railroad.  That these "circumstances" are remarkably similar to the very things that modules provide that Alexis rails against has, apparently, eluded him.  That he has seen that argument "about 30 times this week" is not because people are arguing that it is true, but because it is an obvious consequence of the GM being unable to present things which the players can react to.

Another way of saying that, and far simpler, is this:  Alexis' entire argument against modules is hyprocritcal bullshit.  And it is bullshit predicated upon his own admission that, if he used modules, he wouldn't feel he was able to avoid using them to railroad.  

That makes sense if Alexis' game is as "highly scripted" as I am told.  People trying to give up smoking are often the most critical of smokers.  Criminals see anti-social behaviour where others see community service.  A pessimist can see success as failure....and in that light, be warned that I am an optimist and perhaps sometimes see failure as success.

I do think that his comments on “buy in” also deserve some serious examination, because I think that there are some serious flaws there as well.  But I also think that he has walked far enough out on the edge that I don’t feel any compelling need to do so now.  

But no, Alexis, you moronic self-proclaimed genius, I am not saying that I am wrong.  I am trying, one last time, to make you listen to the actual argument.  And then, if you address it, and address it well, you might convince me that dungeons, modules, or GM prep are problems.  But you won't do it by addressing only the areas where we agree - or by pretending that those are the areas where we disagree.

I know you've said that you are having a hard time following this.  Hope that clears things up.