Post by gronanofsimmerya on Jun 1, 2017 18:58:27 GMT -5
THE GREATEST UNSTATED ASSUMPTION In 2012 while living in New York City, I ran a D&D game there for a while. One of my players chronicled his impressions of it all in his “Blog of Holding.” I read these blog entries with amusement and great interest. After all, what animal isn’t fascinated by a mirror? Ook. Something Paul put in his blog caught me up short. He said, “I didn't realize until Mike Mornard spelled it out for us that mapping was intended to be one of the big challenges of D&D.” This absolutely rocked me back on my feet. This was a surprise? Surely everybody knows that… don’t they? I went back to my copy of original D&D and looked. Sure enough… noplace does Gary actually say, “The referee has a map of the dungeon which is hidden from the players. The players ask questions and the referee answers, describing what they see and encounter.” This assumption is definitely there; the example of play in Volume 3 clearly uses it, as well as briefly mentioning that outdoors terrain is known only to the referee. But NOPLACE in the 3 original booklets is this manner of play explicitly spelled out. One of the things that this resulted in was a lot of confusion over the Caller. The notion of “caller” in old school D&D seems to puzzle many players of more current editions. The common notions seem to include the ideas that the caller told everyone what to do, that somehow “the caller was having all the fun.” I’m attempting to explain a bit more about the “caller” and how games with a caller worked. The first thing that you need to make the idea of caller clear is how VITAL the map was. If the map was wrong, the party was dead, period. You’d never get back alive, and your names would be added to the list of those who went to find fame and fortune in “that damned pile of rubble” and were never seen again. You HAD to have a map, and it HAD to be correct. Next, you must realize that DUNGEON LEVELS WERE SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO BE DIFFICULT TO MAP. This is important enough to say again. DUNGEON LEVELS WERE SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO BE DIFFICULT TO MAP. Once more, DUNGEON LEVELS WERE SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO BE DIFFICULT TO MAP. Anything I tell you three times is true. Anything I tell you three times is true. To see what I mean by “difficult to map,” read OD&D or AD&D 1E for some examples; one way doors, sloping floors too gradual to be detected, curving passages with changing radii, etc. This combination of difficult conditions and the vital nature of the map meant that every player was watching the caller make the map and listening as intently as possible to the referee’s descriptions. Missing the smallest detail could make all the difference between fame and riches and an anonymous grave. There was not a lot of “cross talk” because we were all busy. The caller didn’t know what everybody’s abilities were, so if you had a sword that detected secret doors and you saw a likely place for a secret door, you’d say so. We’d also be discussing our strategy and tactics, but sotto voce; if we were loud, we’d draw wandering monsters. Also, our dialogues were very short; say what you have to say. If the passage west leads to a nest of giant spiders, say “Don’t go west, there’s giant spiders,” not launch into some long winding ramble about how your adventure there went. One person described this as similar to military radio communications; “low word count, high content.” In a way, it’s a “simulation” of the dungeon crawl. Practically speaking, only one person can draw on a piece of paper at a time, so you must have a mapper, and the mapper is the most efficient one to steer the overall course of the party… hence the role of “caller”. The rest of us were certainly involved, though. Our “lives” depended on it. Also, note that Gary very DEFINITELY incorporated elements of simulation in his reffing. I mentioned before that Gary would sit at his desk and pull out the drawers on his filing cabinet, and all we heard was his voice. If we were sitting around blathering, he assumed that our characters were standing around in the dungeon running off at the mouth – and attracting hordes of wandering monsters. Speaking, and acting, quickly and decisively was a highly prized skill. This is a really really important concept and key to understanding the “caller;” if you stopped in front of a door and got into an argument, then, by Crom, your characters were standing down in the dungeon in front of a door arguing. If they players started raising their voices or yelling, then the characters were raising their voices or yelling. Down in the dungeon. In a Gods-forsaken lightless pit full of unnamable horrors. After the first session of my NYC D&D game, Paul, the player who acted as the caller, said in his blog “it seems like the caller has all the fun.” I decided not to intervene, but to see how this evolved. By the end of the game in May or June, the dynamics had changed; the caller was mapping, one other player was keeping an auxiliary map, and the other players were intensely focused on the maps and hanging on my every word. As I had hoped, the game naturally evolved in the same way it had forty years earlier. One last note on the idea of “low word count, high content.” Combats were described very minimalistically. “You take four points of damage.” “I hit him for five points.” “He’s still fighting, he still looks pretty strong.” Partially, this was because we were all wargamers. If, in playing CHAINMAIL, when two units got into melee, if you started warbling about “swords gleaming in the sun, the hero dodges and executes a deadly stroke” before you rolled each die, people would stare at you like you were demented. No, I lie. Somebody would say “Shut the hell up and roll the dice and get on with the game.” We also played this way because it was exciting. Excitement came from “getting on with the game.” Especially in a solo adventure fighting a single opponent, we could run a melee round in a minute or less; it was FAST. Tension and excitement came from the speed with which events unfolded, and skillful play was in part a matter of reacting to the quickly changing situation (rather like on the wargame table, no surprise.) Gary deliberately used time pressure to add to the excitement of the game; between this and the mental strain of hanging on every word and trying to build an accurate picture of the situation from verbal cues, by the end of a night’s gaming I’d be wringing wet with nervous sweat. I miss that; I miss that immensely.
Post by gronanofsimmerya on Jun 2, 2017 14:20:52 GMT -5
GARY LOSES CONTROL OF HIS GAME
When one writes a game – pretty much anybody – you form a mental picture of “how the game is played.” This is natural and logical; you’re writing the damn thing, after all, of course you’re going to have ideas about how it plays. Dave and Gary had definite ideas on the subject of how Blackmoor, and later D&D, should be played.
The highest level PC in Greyhawk during the pre-publication era was Rob Kuntz’ fighter, “Lord Robilar.” Robilar made it to the lofty level of 14! This was a mind-blowing, earth-shattering level of achievement. In roughly that same time period I made it to 9th level, and was exceedingly pleased! Rob played mostly solo and knew how to calculate risks to a nicety, which is how he reached that exalted level.
(On the other hand, Dave always thought Gary was way too generous with experience! It was not rare in Blackmoor for characters to take more than a year to reach 5th or 6th level!)
Some differences in play style are merely matters of taste. However, when a game designer… of ANY game… presupposes certain elements of play style, there can be mechanical consequences of going outside those suppositions. For most games this isn’t really a problem; nobody seriously expects somebody to try to use helicopters in a game of chess, for instance. But the deliberately open-ended nature of the D&D rules made it virtually certain that there would be people playing the game in a way not envisioned, or intended, by its creators.
What x number of consenting adults do around their own gaming table is their business. However, as D&D became more and more popular, more and more people wanted “official recognition” of the way they played. Starting a relatively short time after the original 1974 publication, TSR was bombarded by letters and articles. A good number of these submissions were things that were just plain outside the parameters of the game Gary and Dave had envisioned. Level inflation and “too generous” referees occupied a large part of this mail, and in-person contacts at the still-small GenCon. Gary and Dave had created a game where a 4th level fighter truly was a Hero, and people were complaining that the game didn’t include spell lists for 35th level magic users.
Tone matters. An article that begins, “Here are some things we invented that we think are fun” will be received differently from an article that states “This game has stupid limits and we did something better.” Such is simply human nature, and part of its result was a rather defensive attitude on the part of TSR, rather than, “Well, we designed the game to do such and thus, so if you are doing something else, good luck and let us know how it works.” Given a defensive posture on the part of the game’s publisher, those who wanted to radically change the game increased the stridency of their tone, which increased the defensiveness of TSR, etc, etc, etc. This is the background for the 1976 release of D&D “Supplement IV,” Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes.(GDGH)
Part of D&D had always been the fun of incorporating things we loved from literature. Since virtually all of us read not only SF and fantasy but any myths and legends we could get our hands on, it’s not surprising that we thought the idea of a guidebook for mythologies in D&D was a good idea. Besides, D&D had the notion of “gods” and “temples” and “clerics,” so it made sense to discuss who they were “temples” and “clerics” OF.
There was another purpose as well. To quote Tim Kask in the Foreword,
“This volume is something else, also: our last attempt to reach the “Monty Hall” DM’s. Perhaps now some of the ‘giveaway’ campaigns will look as foolish as they truly are. This is our last attempt to delineate the absurdity of 40+ level characters. When Odin, the All-Father has only (?) 300 hit points, who can take a 44th level Lord seriously?”
As the saying goes, “Nice try.” The effect was pretty much exactly not this.
Years later, I was talking with FASA’s Forrest Brown about why their Star Trek starship combat game had turned from “The USS Enterprise is the most powerful ship in space” to “The USS Enterprise is a third rate also-ran.” Forrest said, “We’re selling games to wargamers. Guns sell. Big guns sell more.” And indeed, this same mentality was already in effect, though I don’t think anybody at TSR really realized it, or realized quite how it would manifest. When Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes was published the vast majority of the D&D audience didn’t look at it as a statement of “this is as high as you can get;” they looked on it as essentially another Monster Manual. The Iron Law of Player Characters triumphed: “If you stat it, they will kill it.”
I can’t say with any certainty how much GDGH influenced the tone of AD&D first edition with its notion that “such campaigns become so strange as to be no longer “AD&D”.”(DMG, p. 7) What I can say is that it marked a moment when D&D became, in effect, bigger than its creators. It was no longer part of the “wargaming” community, the Castle and Crusade Society, the International Federation of Wargamers, a venue where a game’s author could say, “This is how you play the game,” and be taken as authoritative.
The game had exceeded the reach of its creators.
Last Edit: Jun 2, 2017 14:21:32 GMT -5 by gronanofsimmerya
Post by gronanofsimmerya on Jun 2, 2017 14:42:29 GMT -5
Much discussion has been generated over the last few years about “player skill” in OD&D gaming as opposed to “character skill,” and most of this discussion has been blissfully unburdened by facts. Blackmoor, and later Greyhawk, were indeed oriented around the skill of the players; this is only natural considering the derivation of those games from wargames, and the formation of the early player groups from wargamers. Player skill is a real thing, and is central to playing OD&D. What, then, is it comprised of?
Well, first and foremost – F*CKING PAY ATTENTION! One would not think that it would really be necessary to be quite so emphatic about that. One would be utterly, bathetically wrong. Running your mouth, daydreaming, etc, so that the referee has to repeat things, is a sure way to collect wandering monster checks. Since wandering monsters NEVER are beneficial, this means that your strength is slowly being ground away for no good reason.
What astounds me is how common this is! Go to ANY RPG forum on the internet and you will get mountains of complaints about players not paying attention… anything from playing games on an Ipod to sleeping. One wonders why people are even at the table. I’ve heard people complaining “it’s boring when it’s not my turn.” I find this, you should excuse the expression, “inconceivable.” If the game bores you when the spotlight is not on you, go play a computer game. I also have to wonder how much “teamwork” is exhibited in such games.
Also, there is a difference between “kind of listening” and actually LISTENING! A good example happened years ago. An adventurer was exploring Greyhawk solo, and forced open a door to reveal a large room, the entire floor of which was covered entirely with gems. He bent down and picked a couple up and looked at them. They were not illusions, they were the real thing, huge, shining gems of the first water!
“I’m going to run into the middle of the room and start throwing gems up in the air! I’m rich! I’m rich!”
“Yeah, it’s great,” Gary said. “You’re standing in gems up to your ankles.”
“I’m wealthy! I’m financially solvent! I’m comfortably well off! I’m going to grab handfuls of gems and hold them up and let them drop on my head!”
“Okay! More gems than you can imagine! You’re standing in gems up to your shins!”
“Wa ha ha! I’m rich! I’m going to build the biggest castle ever! I’m going to buy all the magic in town so nobody else can have any!”
“Fantastic! You’ve never seen so many gems! You’re standing in gems up to your knees!”
“Are they good looking gems? Is there any special pile that looks better?”
“Not that you can tell, your eyes are dazzled everywhere you look! You’ve never seen anything like it! You’re standing in gems up to your hips!”
“This is great! This is fantastic! Can I buy a tower in town?”
“If you have enough money you can buy anything you want! You’re standing in gems up to your waist!”
“I’m gonna go up a level! I might even go up two levels! I’m gonna have to save my map so I can come back here!”
“Sure, you can do that! You’re standing in gems up to your chest!”
“Okay, I’m going to fill my backpack with gems!”
“You fill your backpack, but you have trouble getting it back on because you’re standing in gems up to your shoulders.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“You’re standing on a layer of gems over quicksand. While you’ve been standing there, I’ve been telling you you were in gems up to your ankles, then your shins, then knees… you never noticed. You stood around in quicksand and now you’re stuck.”
“Guh… buh… wuh … “
“Yeah, that’s about all you can say as the quicksand pulls you under and you disappear. You’re dead.”
Now, frankly, I have no idea how that story hits my readers. However, every time I think about it, my first thought is, “Nice going, ya dumb Shoot.” That player got exactly what he deserved, and I have no sympathy at all. Back in 2012 I ran a D&D game in New York. A couple of my players wrote on their blogs about it. A phrase that kept coming up in one blog was, “We should have expected that, because…” And every time, the writer points out WHAT THE HINTS WERE.
The referee isn’t just running her mouth to hear her own voice. Pay attention.
Another part of Player Skill is THINK. Think about what’s going on, think about what you hear.
Gary told the story once of some players down in Greyhawk who came into a hexagonal chamber. Once they entered the doors sealed magically, and the ceiling started slowly grinding downwards. They tried the doors, etc. No result. Then they searched the room.
One of them found a dagger with a hexagonal cross section blade, about a foot long.
Another one noticed that in the very center of the ceiling was a hexagonal boss with a hexagonal hole in it.
And they noticed that the dagger was almost exactly the same size as the hole in the ceiling.
And nobody thought of putting the two concepts together. They stood there dithering until the descending roof crushed them and killed all their characters.
Gary was incredulous, and was incredulous every time he told the story. The secret to the trap was to insert the dagger into the hole; this reversed the direction of the roof’s motion. It would be one thing if they had discussed the possibility, and decided against it for whatever reason. But nobody in this group of supposedly experienced D&D players ever thought of the concept that the hexagonal dagger blade could have any connection at all to the hexagonal boss with the hexagonal hole in it on the ceiling.
It makes no damn sense to me that they’d miss something so bloody obvious, either.
Finally, UNDERSTAND IMPLICATIONS. In an earlier chapter talking about CHAINMAIL, I talked about how when I first read it I realized that the rules about routing units meant that driving weak units into stronger ones was a viable tactic, and I also mentioned that the OD&D rules are full of references to CHAINMAIL especially in terms of morale. For that matter, a 9th level fighter is called a “Lord,” which has specific implications in the medieval period, and segues nicely into the section on forming baronies and building castles. I learned about the implications of the term “Lord” the same way I learned about medieval tactics; I went to the library and checked out some books. I was sixteen years old at the time, and I wanted to find out more, so I did a little reading.
Sadly, expectations about figuring out implications led to some confusion that could easily have been prevented. For instance, D&D mentions various morale modifiers; Charisma affects the morale of NPCs working for you, goblins get -1 to morale in bright sunlight, etc. Gary simply assumed that mentioning CHAINMAIL in the introduction would be enough for people to figure that they would use the morale rules from CHAINMAIL.
It wasn’t. If you weren’t a wargamer, there would be no reason to assume you needed CHAINMAIL. It’s listed under “RECOMMENDED EQUIPMENT,” not “HOLY CRAP WILL THIS GAME MAKE NO SENSE IF YOU DON’T KNOW THESE RULES OR WHAT.”
The truly ironic thing is that the “Morale due to Excess Casualties” table from CHAINMAIL, with its attendant explanation, would have taken up less than half a page.
Another example of “understanding the implications of what you read” is a story Dave Arneson told me. Dave was playtesting a game back in the 80s. I think it was an early draft of “Bug Eyed Monsters from Outer Space,” but I can’t swear to it any more. In any case, it was a game where the aliens were attempting to kidnap human women. The humans, of course, were trying to prevent this by getting the women off the board before the aliens kidnapped them.
While reading the rules, Dave noticed a few things:
1. If the aliens killed a woman, they automatically lost the game
2. On the combat table, a unit was either killed or unharmed. You could not capture an armed unit.
3. There was no rule against arming women. They were lousy in combat, but it could be done.
So, Dave promptly gave all the weapons to the women, had them form a line to protect the men, and fought a fighting retreat off the board. The aliens were absolutely helpless to do anything.
The game designers said “We never thought of that” and promptly modified the rules. Dave said it was the obvious strategy based on how the rules were written.
THAT’s what I mean by “understanding implications.” Also, I really need to say, very loudly and clearly, that although the example above is a great story and very clearly illustrates a point, we ALL practiced ‘sideways thinking’ like that. What do the rules SAY; what do your victory conditions SAY; what was the BEST way to achieve your victory conditions. The best players did this well; those who did not learn to do it never became very good.
So, from a wargamer’s understanding, that’s what “Player Skill” is. Pay attention, listen, think about what you hear, and look for implications.
Post by gronanofsimmerya on Jun 2, 2017 18:22:50 GMT -5
UNSTATED ASSUMPTIONS -- DIPLOMACY
It’s really, really hard to describe the effect that the game “Diplomacy” had on D&D, not the least because I’ve only played it a couple of times myself.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Diplomacy, it is a game that in many ways resembles a multiplayer game of Risk – you have a map, and players, and armies and fleets and you want to win the war. What makes Diplomacy different, though, is… well… “diplomacy.” Diplomacy is a game that allows, and in fact assumes, negotiations and alliances between players.
It also allows, and assumes, lying through your damn teeth.
Here is what the original rules set of 1959 said about the “diplomacy” part of the game:
“Diplomacy Combinations and agreements among the players may affect the course of the game a great deal. These are determined during the diplomacy period which takes place before each move. This period lasts 30 minutes before the first move, and 15 minutes before each move thereafter. These periods may end sooner if all the players agree at the time. During these periods a player may say anything he wishes. Usually the players go to another room or off to a corner in two’s and three’s. They try to keep the contents of their conversations secret. They may try to overhear the conversations of others. The conversations usually consist of bargaining or joint military planning, but they may include such things as exchanging information, denouncing, threatening, spreading rumors, and so forth. Public announcements may be made, and documents may be written and made public or not as the players see fit. The rules do not bind a player to anything he says; deciding whom to trust as situations arise is part of the game.”
A full discussion of DIPLOMACY is beyond the scope of what I’m doing. Also note that as of this writing, I have NOT read Jon Peterson’s “Playing at the World.” For a serious look at the history of DIPLOMACY as it influenced D&D, see there.
“Well then,” I hear you cry, “why did you bring it up at all?” Remember, Eager Young Space Cadet, this is a memoir. It just happens to be a memoir about a ton of people who played DIPLOMACY. D&D arose from the wargaming community, and wargamers played DIPLOMACY. So how did it influence what we brought into D&D?
DIPLOMACY is a game with a winner and a loser. The winner of DIPLOMACY is the person who has the majority of units. Period. There is no “forging a lasting peace” or “forming a coalition of allies.” The object of DIPLOMACY is to control the major portion of the world represented by the game board. The rules explicitly state that a player is not bound by his (sic) words and learning who to trust is part of the game. In other words, the “fine art of the backstab” is key to winning DIPLOMACY. DIPLOMACY is a very ruthless game; there will be ONE winner, the person who controls the most units. Alliances continue precisely as long as they are useful.
We were wargamers, and DIPLOMACY players, and many of us were members of the “Castle and Crusade Society.” We were not a “true blue fellowship of Adventurers,” we were rivals for power. Usually friendly rivals, but rivals nonetheless. There was no trickery or double dealing in the dungeon, because such actions would be frankly suicidal; the dungeon was so dangerous that you could not afford to weaken your party. But in the larger game of political maneuvering, we were rivals. We were all going to build our own castles because there is only ONE Lord of a castle.
Go and reread the section from the DIPLOMACY rules above. It is 172 words long, and it is a complete description of how negotiation works in the game. A good portion of those 172 words are taken up with mechanicals – how long the diplomacy period lasts, etc. But that’s it… that’s all there is. The actual hard and fast restrictions are very few, and “a player may say anything he wishes.” In other words, everything not forbidden is permitted! This is plainly the intent in this part of the rules, and we carried that assumption into D&D.
Furthermore, look at the actions that are possible; negotiate, deal, demand, threaten… in short, “role playing.” DIPLOMACY represents a fairly big chunk – not all, of course – of the sort of conversations a player character would have with an NPC. This makes the rule about “saying anything he wishes” even more important. And it’s more than just that players lie, so NPCs can too; more to the point, in DIPLOMACY both parties have their own interests in a conversation, so we expected in D&D that NPCs had things that they wanted too.
Lastly – and perhaps most important – DIPLOMACY is a wargame, and when playing a wargame, it is assumed that playing well is a learnable skill. Therefore, if negotiation, intimidation, bluffing, and figuring out who you can and cannot trust is part of DIPLOMACY, and DIPOMACY is a wargame, then learning to negotiate, intimidate, bluff, and read people is part of the skill set that you’re trying to learn. A skill for “fast talk” or “bluff” is anathema to this sort of mindset; it would be like playing CHAINMAIL and making a “command army” roll to flank your enemy… rather than actually maneuvering your troops to do it! The reason D&D didn’t have rules for verbal skills was not, as has been so often, erroneously, and farcically stated, that we didn’t role play; rather, we actually DID bluff, and fast talk, and negotiate, et cetera, rather than “I roll on my DIPLOMACY skill.” If you wanted to use tactics, you learned tactics; if you wanted to learn negotiation, you learned to negotiate. The idea of having “skill points” instead of actually role playing was not even suggested.
Furthermore, I’m going to go as far as say that “skill points” for things like fast talk, diplomacy, bluff, etc., actually hamper rather than enhance role playing. Many rules sets I’ve seen suggest a “bonus for good role playing;” a +2 seems to be common. Well, if I have 8 or 10 skill points in “bluff,” and don’t role play at all, I’m going to consistently outperform a good role player who doesn’t have that many points.
“I roll my BLUFF check” is NOT roleplaying. It is the OPPOSITE of roleplaying.
Nobody is a born wargamer, and being a wargamer means that you will lose sometimes. For us, that included losing verbal encounters as well as physical ones. The notion of “we have to have rules so people who aren’t glib can play glib characters” would have been laughed to scorn as much as the idea of “we have to have a “MAKE GOOD CHESS MOVE” skill so that people who are poor chess players don’t lose.”
You want to be good at something, practice. Otherwise – tough Shoot.
Last Edit: Jun 2, 2017 18:24:02 GMT -5 by gronanofsimmerya
Hey @gronanofsimmerya, this is great stuff and very much represents the way we played. BTW the rules for Diplomacy is the way we played Risk with 6 players and added a piece of posters board and islands in the Pacific Ocean to force a change of strategy and tactics.
RE: "(On the other hand, Dave always thought Gary was way too generous with experience! It was not rare in Blackmoor for characters to take more than a year to reach 5th or 6th level!)" Do you remember roughly how much game play in hours or game sessions it took over that year+?
We played 20-25 hours a week and about 30 weeks or 600-750 hours of gaming got you to about 5th level for someone who survived the whole school year and it was not till late the 3 year that someone got to 8th level.
I'm El Borak the New Admin.(I reset the post count and karma when I assumed the office)
TPD's last post as Admin was Jul 12, 2018 at 23:35
My first post as Admin was Jul 13, 2018 at 09:43
So if you want to know which Admin made a post, that is the dividing line.
Post by gronanofsimmerya on Jun 2, 2017 23:15:01 GMT -5
***WARNING*** VULGAR LANGUAGE ALERT!!! FREQUENT AND REPEATED USE OF "F" WORD, "S" WORD, AND OTHER OBSCENITIES AS REQUIRED!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!! ***WARNING***
After 43 years, this is still my favorite gaming story.
THE GENIE, THE BALROG, AND THE PANCAKE OF THREE WISHES
One of the great thing about tabletop RPGs, one that I do not ever, EVER conceive of computers being able to do, is the ability to cope with players inventing things – specifically, the ability of players to solve problems in unforeseen ways. I’ve said many times, “If I think of ten ways to solve a problem, the players will promptly think of the eleventh.” Of course, this can have unexpected results, but that’s usually OK.
One time, though, it resulted in actively making the game un-fun for the referee. In several different campaigns we’d gotten ahold of djinn summoning rings. Now, at least back then, djinni could conjure materials out of thin air; soft materials like rope or cloth would be permanent, gold would disappear the next morning.
Not only did we have djinn rings, we had rings of X-ray vision. So, look into the room, see the monster, have the djinn conjure a 10 x 10 x 10 foot stone block over the monster, and squish. No more monster. A cubic meter of water is one metric ton, and granite has a density of 2.7 grams per cubic centimeter, so a 10 x 10 x 10 stone cube is in the neighborhood of 55 tons. Plus, since it was not natural stone but stone conjured by a djinn, it counted as a magic weapon.
Well, this sort of thing loses its amusement for the referee quickly; there is no challenge. Various of us who were refereeing arrived at various ways of stopping it. One said that he would have people start making accuracy rolls for conjuring the stone block, and if any part of the block was conjured in solid matter there would be a nuclear explosion. Okay it’s not necessarily “realistic” but it worked. My method was to just start having the monster sitting atop the treasure. After ruining several rare magic items, most players stopped using that stratagem.
One group of players kept doing it, though. One day, therefore, I told them that the only thing they found was a very thin disk of silvery metal. “Too bad,” I said, “it was a Ring of Many Wishes. But you can’t use it now.”
“Because it’s a ring, it was enchanted to function as a ring. You have to wear it by putting your finger through a hole in it.”
“So if we drill a hole in this we can use the wishes?”
“Sure!” I said happily. You see, I was taking a class on either ancient or medieval technology … and I had just learned about “work hardening” – the hardening of metal from stress. So I reasoned that the metal that had just been hammered by 50 tons would be very work hardened indeed. And since it was a magic ring, only the most magical of metals would be used.
So there the players were with this palm-sized, paper thin disk of work hardened mithril.
Their first step was to go to the village blacksmith and ask him to drill a hole in it. When they came back a week later he threw the disk at them and complained that it had ruined three of his drill points. (Medieval drills were very crude affairs using a small chip of sharpened wrought iron. Obviously no match for work hardened mithril.)
Then one of the players had a bright idea. “Hey, let’s have the djinn make a drill bit for us!” The djinn was quickly summoned and a tungsten-carbide drill bit requested in a manner that preempted the old “Okay, you’re a tungsten-carbide drill bit!” joke.
“We’re going to take it to the blacksmith.”
“Okay… he takes it, stares at it for a minute or so, and asks you what the hell this thing is.”
“Doesn’t he have some sort of hand drill or something?” At this point some of the other players chimed in.
“Even with a hand drill, do you know how long it would take to drill through this thing?”
“Well, what do we do?”
“Hey, can the djinn make a drill press?”
“Sure thing,” I replied. The players indicated that this was their desire.
“Okay, the djinn makes a drill press. And the drill bit disappears.”
“The harder a material is, the shorter time it lasts. Tungsten carbide is pretty hard.”
“All right, all right. Have the djinn make another drill bit.”
“The djinn makes a drill bit. The drill press disappears because it’s so complicated.”
“All right, make a drill press.”
“Poof! Drill press! And the drill bit disappears.” Amazingly, it took two or three more times through this dance before the players figured out to get the djinn to make BOTH a drill press AND a drill bit at the same time.
“Now we put the mithril pancake in the drill press?”
“Using what? A drill press just has a flat plate, you need a work vise.”
“Okay, have the djinn create a work vise.”
“The drill press and drill bit disappear.”
“. . . asshole.”
“I love you too. Yes, the djinn can make drill press, drill bit, and work vise all at once.”
Thus equipped, the players got ready to go to work. “I’m going to press the green button on the drill press,” one said.
“The drill press sits there, unmoving,” I replied.
“Well, you don’t know. You examine the drill press and it looks fine, except for this weird black rope hanging out the back with two little metal blades at the end.”
One of the players shook his head. “Right. No electricity.”
“All right,” the leader said, “have the djinn make a hydroelectric power plant and a power grid.”
“Right. The drill press, bit, and work vice disappear.” At this point the leader of the PC group does a passible imitation of Yosemite Sam and then calls my parentage, probable future, and phylum into question before asking for a new drill press, bit, and vise… whereupon the power system disappears. Repeat for a few more iterations, until they finally get everything they want at the same time.
“I press the green button,” the leader said.
“The drill bit starts to turn satisfactorily.” The player indicated that he was going to pull the lever on the drill press, whereupon I mimed the drill bit hitting the disk of mithril and bending double. Work hardened mithril was way, way harder than a tungsten carbide drill bit.
Some discussion ensued, and eventually the players decided that a 100-megawatt laser focused on the center of the disk would be sufficient.
“Okay,” I said, “you turn on the laser. It runs for a while with nothing much apparently happening. Then the crude iron vise attached to the workbench turns red hot and melts.” Some time is taken to pay the smith for his ruined vise, and have him smelt the vise and extract the mithril disk.
“Maybe we should have the djinn conjure up a mithril vise.”
“No problem. You put the disk in the vice and turn on the laser. After a while of nothing apparent happening, the heat transferred through the mithril vise causes the wooden workbench it’s attached to to burst into flames. And the mithril vise disappears.”
“We aren’t going to touch the disk for an hour until it cools down. And then we’ll have the djinn make a mithril workbench with a mithril work vise.”
“Okay, fine. You do all this, you start the laser, and it’s humming along. (pause) Still going…. (pause) … still going… (pause). After about three days, nothing has happened.”
Now, the players are starting to get pissed.
“All right, freak it,” the leader said. “We’re going to have the djinn conjure up a hundred 100-megawatt lasers in a perfect circle all focused on the same exact spot on the coin.
Sadly, I do not have, and have not ever had, a poker face, and the PCs saw what Paul Hughes in “Blog of Holding” characterized as a “beatific expression - that of a DM who's thought of flaws in PCs' plans,” and thus to my great disappointment, quickly added “And we’re going to be in a reinforced concrete blockhouse two miles away watching by TV monitor when we push the button.”
I assumed that “perfect circle” meant that the lasers would be directly across from each other, and I decided that with that much power, the mithril disk would be vaporized in an instant. Now, let me state for the record that I am not a physicist, nor do I play one on TV. I have, in point of fact, absolutely no freaking idea what would happen if you beamed an incredibly powerful laser beam into the lens of another laser.
But this was Dungeons and Dragons, not “Elementary Laser Physics,” so I told the players that when they pressed the button there was a bright flash and the closeby cameras disappeared, and the distant cameras showed this huge fiery cloud ascending as it formed into a rather odd shape reminiscent of a mushroom.
The players then decided to go investigate. I told them that they saw a huge crater, and a cloud of vaporized mithril at the bottom. The leader of the PCs said, “I’m going to stick my finger into the cloud and make a wish.”
I said, “Nothing happens and then a puff of wind dissipates the cloud. The ring of wishes is gone forever.”
Thinking back years later, I now wish I had done something different. When the PC stuck his hand into the cloud of mithril vapor, I should have said,
“The superheated mithril burns your hand away in an instant. In unthinkable agony you scream “OH HOLY Shoot I WISH I HADN’T DONE THAT!” and your hand reappears as a puff of wind dissipates the cloud of mithril vapor, and the wishes, forever.” Oh, well, can’t win ‘em all.
There is a school of thought out there that referees should “never say ‘no’ to players.” Why on Earth would I want to? It’s far, far more fun to simply keep handing the players more rope.
Last Edit: Jun 2, 2017 23:18:31 GMT -5 by gronanofsimmerya
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