Monday, January 15, 2018

Pre-Written Adventures and Me

Last night I was talking to my wife as we were cooking dinner and she made the comment that in the 11 years we've been together that she's only see me run a pre-written adventure a handful of times. I started to argue with her but it's true. The vast majority of the time that I've been running has been me starting the adventure by giving them a location, a few things around them they can shop at, and an assortment of adventure hooks. From there the players craft the story they would like to play by determining where they're going and what they're doing. 

The idea of a pre-written adventure being pushed through my own, weird sensibilities has a certain amount of appeal though. I think I would like to explore this option a bit more in the coming days.  And I think that I should do some actual gaming online again. 

Think of this as a heads up.

The Monument of the Oppressor by Paul Lehr
And the painting by Lehr as a sign of where my mind's at today.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

I Don't Believe in the Session Zero

One of the things that I've been seeing a lot of role-playing advocates proselytizing lately is the idea of a session zero, a session where players first get together to learn about the world and the sorts of characters they will be playing. I imagine that there are some people out there who have friends and players that are willing to indulge them in such a session - Lord knows that I read enough people talking about their session zeroes - but I have a hard time envisioning the people that I have played with ever being willing to partake in such a lackluster session. Don't take me the wrong way. The idea that you would sit down with your players and describe your world to them as they make characters that would fit in it, and that would work with each other, is a dream I would very much endorse. I've just never known anyone willing to take that sort of time to be involved in a session like that. It's too boring and our lives are filled with too much that requires our attention for such a session. We have kids, jobs, and countless other hobbies that take up our time. Sitting around listening to one person telling the rest of us how the world works and what our places in it will be isn't how I would spend my day off; and I couldn't imagine asking anyone else to do that either. 

If I don't use a session zero then what do I use?

When I first started running Dungeons & Dragons I tended to attempt to cram all the world information in while they were building their characters and then launch into the adventure. I quickly came to realize that it was a waste of time on my part. There's too much going on for them to retain anything important and often the only thing that matters is that they have a character ready to go and a connection to the other players. The world, and their place in it, will come as they play. 

So over the years I have begun to cull anything that isn't immediately relevant to them. The world, as far as they're concerned, is what is within their vicinity. The town and their connections to the world around them (family, teachers, and so on) are all I worry about establishing. Then I read them the short - like a single paragraph long - introduction to the adventure I would like them to play. After that I just let them go. They are the ones that will develop the story as they adventure in the world and shape it around them

In the last couple of years I've also started using pre-generated characters and a one page Quick Reference Guide that I give them during that first session. Using pre-generated characters eliminates that opportunity for that first session to bog down and allows me to get right into the adventure as soon as they come up with names and connections (something that typically takes about five to ten minutes); and the Quick Reference Guide allows me to give them a rough idea of what's around them without haranguing them. This has significantly sped up how quickly we can get to adventuring and has allowed us to get to the "good stuff," as my Lovely Bride calls it, in that first session. 

So what about you cats? What do you do?

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Book Shelf: Sumerian Mythology by Samuel Noah Kramer

Yesterday after work I finished Sumerian Mythology by Samuel Noah Kramer. The book provides a glimpse into an ancient culture that I know entirely too little about and the way that they understood the universe. Most of the myths are given summaries with key passages written out though there are a few which appear in their entirety (or at least as much as we had available at the time Kramer was writing this volume).

I really enjoyed this little book.

Kramer's writing style is often dry as he glosses over exciting events in the collection of Sumerian writings (like when a professor, I forget his name, climbed a plinth with ancient Sumerian script on it only to get shot at by World War I soldiers and captured) but you can palpably feel his excitement when he begins discussing the myths directly. It makes the myths feel more important than they are and causes what could otherwise be a slog to become a quick read.

If you like ancient mythology then this is an excellent book to pick up. Check it out when you get the chance.

Oh, and if you use the link above it's my affiliate link with Amazon. Even if you don't buy the book any purchases that you do make through the link will help add a little bit of revenue to the blog. So if you're looking for socks now's a great time to pick them up and help out the Dyvers in the process.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Greyhawk as a Post Apocalyptic World

At it's core the world of Greyhawk is a set in a post apocalyptic time period. The two great empires of old, the Suloise and Baklunish, waged a war that devastated both empires and reshaped the continents. The story that is told in official publications is that the end of these empires came about due to the "Invoked Devastation," a magical attack so devastating that it's like could never be seen again. The thing is that we're talking about an event that is millennia old within the timeline of the fictional world of Greyhawk and what could pass for magic today might have been advanced technology then. 

Imagine for a moment that our world as we know it were to end in a thermonuclear war tomorrow. The very landscape might change depending on how many bombs were used and their power. Everything touched by the radioactive fallout would be changed. Mutations would run rampant on those that survived as their bodies would have to develop new ways to cope with the radiation and the new environment that the world presents them. In the survivors of this nuclear apocalypse we would see new evolutionary developments. As the millennia pass they would slowly crawl their way back into the arms of civilization and as they did so it is inevitable that they would eventually discover ancient technologies. What would they think of our phones, computers, statues, cars, and air planes? Would they know what they were or would they think us wizards who bent the very fabric of reality to our whim?

I think that their reaction would be as Arthur C. Clark once said: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." They wouldn't have the understanding necessary to distinguish the difference between a gun and a magic wand. Our whole game world could be nothing more than the by-product of a civilization not understanding what they're dealing with. The monstrous creatures they encounter could be mutated animals and human beings or evolutionary excursions as life keeps trying to find new ways to exist. The various races of the planet could be aliens from the far corners of the galaxy who have been trapped here so long that they can't remember being from anywhere else. Demons, devils, and dragons could all be extra-dimensional beings who have made it here through tears in the fabric of space-time leftover from the nuclear devastation. Magic, in all its various forms, could be the expression of a particular mutation within the wider population that is either gaining prominence or being weeded out of the species. 

Art by Moebius

With this understanding of the world of Greyhawk we could easily imagine it being akin to M. John Harrison's Viriconium, the wildest comics from Heavy Metal, or from the works of Moebius. It could be Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars. However you liken the setting, the point is that the world has become far more exciting and wide open again rather than bound by the trappings of a semi-Medieval world and that makes it reinvigorating to my imagination. I hope it does to yours as well. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


By the time you read this my blog will officially have passed 1,000,000 page views!

Thank you guys for reading this strange, little blog and for making me fill like a the coolest kid in the room!

Reader Mail: Where Would You Start an Adventure in Greyhawk?

Last night I received an email through my fancy little contact box over there on the left of the page that was a really good question. So I thought I would throw it up on the blog, along with my answer, so that other Greyhawk enthusiasts could join in with some suggestions to help this reader out.

Hi! . . . I'm starting a campaign soon that's going to be set in Greyhawk. No one in the group has played In Greyhawk. I've been reading up on the setting, and I'll be using the LGG [Living Greyhawk Gazetteer] as my reference. What are the top areas to start a Greyhawk campaign for players new to the setting? There's so much information in the LGG that I'm having trouble choosing where to get started . . . 

Greyhawk Adventures Cover by Jeff Easley

Dear Reader, 

Without knowing what your group is into it's hard to give you a definitive answer as to where you should start adventuring. The World of Greyhawk has so much to offer your group from swashbuckling adventures on monster infested waters with the Sea Princes; to crossing a seemingly endless waste in the Sea of Dust as they search for lost cities hidden beneath the ash of a ruined civilization; to infiltrating the dreaded kingdom of that vile demigod Iuz; to the political intrigue of the Great Kingdom with its mad king and devilish lords; and of course there's the dungeon that gave the world its name. Greyhawk just is a land of plenty and you'll find something for every interest you could ever have waiting for you! 

But that isn't really helpful, is it? 


If I were to suggest a place to start adventuring I would pick the city of Dyvers. It's a free city located just on the southwestern portion of the Nyr Dyv (a lake of fathomless depths with monsters slumbering somewhere deep within that occasionally rise when particularly bad storms or earthquakes disturb their sleep) along the Verbobonc river. It's smaller than the more famous Greyhawk and has a natural rivalry with its sister city. I often describe it to my players as a city the size of Nashville; large and sprawling but not so big that you can't find your way around it. To the north you have the Kingdom of Fuyrondy (a land of noble knights standing against the ever present evil of Iuz and his demonic armies). To the south the Gnarly Forest where I usually put wild beastmen, goblins, and necromancers. Then there's the Wild Coast and the Orcish Empire of the Pomarj where all good adventurers go to die. 

As for getting everyone together I usually start them off having just been released from the city militia or having just graduated from the various colleges, universities, seminaries, and academies that their assorted classes would use. Then I tend to provide them with a few close-ish locations for them to explore. Often I tend to tie their first adventure to a character's family or friends to help establish them in the world. I like adventures that have them hunting down someone missing as it's easy to connect them with the slavers of the Wild Coast or the machinations of Iuz's armies. Then I just let the players craft their story from there. 

The other good thing about Dyvers is that it's fairly close to many of the big adventure locations in classic adventures like Maure Castle, Castle Greyhawk, the Temple of Elemental Evil, the Bright Desert, and so on. So if you have access to those adventures it will be fairly easy to get the players there from Dyvers. 

Hope this helps and don't hesitate to contact me again if you need more, 


P.S. Oh! Before I forget you should always remember that while Iuz is the biggest threat to the world that the Great Kingdom is not to be discounted as an enemy if you want to avoid demons. The king is mad and periodically purges the nobility (and, well, if we're being honest here most anyone else he remembers exists). His agents are fanatical in their devotion to him and act on his word as though it were the Holy Word of a god. They're a great enemy to throw into the game even if only for a mild distraction.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Line in the Sand for One of the Oldest Settings in D&D

On December 19. 2017 Dungeons & Dragons Creative Director, Mike Mearls, did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit which I found an interesting read. Among the many questions he was asked was one about his favorite setting. Mike answered, "I'd love to tackle Greyhawk, but I'd want to approach it from the original [Gary] Gygax material, ignoring most everything post-1983 (unless he was the author)."

That's an interesting way to go in re-imagining the setting as it both eliminates a rather large swath of weak material but also some beloved adventures that came after Gary Gygax was forced out of TSR. Kick out the Greyhawk Wars, World of Greyhawk, all the Carl Sargent stuff, all the Living Greyhawk material, and all the stuff published by Wizards of the Coast throughout the tail end of Second Edition and all of Third Edition. Essentially it would reset the world at the Greyhawk Boxed set with the whole setting on a tenuous peace with armies posturing and occasionally raiding across the boarders but without the outright war that characterized the setting throughout the majority of its published existence. 

I'm conflicted about this proposed reset. On the one hand I hate some of the changes that came to the setting after the Greyhawk Boxed Set and really hate the way that the world was reshaped by the Greyhawk Wars; but on the other hand I really love some of the Carl Sargent stuff (seriously, Sargent rocks and to completely lose his influence from the setting would really be a bit difficult for me). Still, at this point the Greyhawk setting has been largely neglected and pushed to the side so often that just to have some light from someone who loves it would be . . . amazing. 

Rary the Traitor by Ben Wootten

Listen, as a setting the World of Greyhawk is just a few short years away from being a forgotten memory that used to be a place played in back when the game first started. It's a relic waiting to be discarded. That needs to change before it gets forgotten and left to those few of us still waving our flag out here on the boarders of ignoble oblivion.

Greyhawk deserves to have a new generation of players care about it the way that I do after reading Carl Sargent. It needs to have authors that love the setting exploring it and pushing the game in a way that the Forgotten Realms simply can't compete with anymore. It needs to have boarder wars and devils walking the face of Oerth again. It needs to be a place where players go when they've gotten over the triteness of Faerun and are looking for somewhere new to explore where the canon warriors haven't entrenched themselves on every hill and loudly proclaim, "That's not how it goes in the books!"

There is so much potential in Greyhawk for new players. It's the land where the greatest adventures are set and where the best game designers made bold choices. It's a place where the great experiments of D&D were often first tested and where many of the most beloved spells, items, devils, gods, and non-player characters were first pushed out in the world. It can be that place again, and if the way we get it there is to let go of things like Sargent and the post Gygax material, then we should. 

Come on Mearls. Make us proud and do something breathtaking with the setting. 

Pre-Written Adventures and Me

Last night I was talking to my wife as we were cooking dinner and she made the comment that in the 11 years we've been together that s...