Tag Archives: dungeonsanddragons

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery Part Three: Putting it all Together

In the last few weeks I’ve gone over some of the techniques for making battlefield terrain. The focus has been on buildings and structures and this week we’re going to finish that theme off by bringing it all together. I promised some multistory buildings too. Read on to see more of the good stuff and how I achieved the beginnings of some great results!

What am I doing?

I decided to make everything so that it would fit on convenient 15 x 15 cm tiles. This was so that I could orientate the same tiles to create different looking terrain, whether I’m playing Age of Sigmar, AoS Skirmish, Frostgrave or even some Dungeons & Dragons.

Similar tiles can be used to create urban scenery in Warhammer 40,000, which I’ll cover at some point in the future.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I also upgraded my hot-wire cutter. It was a little more expensive, in the £50-60 region, but the arm doesn’t flex, the wire doesn’t bend and it heats up consistently making its ability to cut through foam much better! Alarmingly, the wire does glow bright orange, which was a little disconcerting at first!

So how did I do, what did I do, and how did I do it? Read on…

A trial run…

I decided to test my formula for creating tabletop scenery with an unsuspecting volunteer. I quickly ran down the basic steps of creating the terrain piece, introduced the volunteer to a hot glue gun and Styrofoam, hefted a tonne of miniature bricks onto the table and allowed that person to run away with their imagination. This is the outcome so far (note, it still needs painting).

 

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As you can see, it really doesn’t take much to get stuck in and have a go. Once again, there wasn’t a huge amount of planning involved in the creation of this quaint little tower – imagination provided the blueprints and away they went!

The Tile Set Blueprints

OK, so creating as many 15 x 15 cm tiles as required. To make my life easier, I got hold of some 1 cm thick black Styrofoam. It was an eBay purchase and cost me about £16 but may be cheaper in other parts of the world. Why did I buy these? It’s quite difficult to thin down thick Styrofoam on account of the wobbly nature of the hot-wire cutter.

So, not everything needs be to broken or derelict, no, there needs to be more so I’m going to build some complete structures which fit on the 15 cm tiles; watchtowers, tall walls, dead-ends, bell towers, warehouses, pig pens, shambolic defensive positions – you name it!

Because each tile is essentially 6 x 6 inches, I can fit four in a single square foot. Multiply this by four and you’ve got yourself an interchangeable, customisable and modular tabletop terrain system. I’ll go to town on some bigger open plazas with ruined columns etc in the future (to make it easier and give any missile troops a chance).

Footpaths & Plazas

From a design point of view, I’d like to build some footpaths, essentially narrow death traps that must be risked to get to different places on the map.  Here are some images of the test pieces I worked on. It can take time to get it right, so give yourself an open mind when you’re trying out ideas – you won’t put pressure on yourself and get worked up by perceived ‘failures’ at the end of your crafting session.

 

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The dirt footpaths are 5 x 15 cm. By applying a lot of pressure with some scrunched up tin foil to the centre of the Styrofoam piece, and lighter touches to the outer quarters I was able to create the impression that the path had been used for many years. I cut some 0.5 x 0.5 x 15 slithers of foam and cut them up, weathering and aging them with the foil to look like curb pieces.

In the future when I attempt larger roads, I will use the ‘crazy pathing’ idea and simply trim the pieces down to compensate for the curb. I’ll also impress the foam in places to make it look like carts had been through, wearing down the road over the years.

The roads should be at least 10 cm wide and up to 30 cm long (the extent of my purchased Styrofoam sheets) – they will look good running through the centre of the board, or alongside the boards on bigger battle arenas. Details are important here, so I need to think about how I’m going to decorate the pieces to make them believable.

It sounds easy, but it’s actually very hard to make simple open spaces and retain the feeling of interest and wonder. Because there’s likely no focal point to grab the eye, it needs to have a few extra details to keep the area ‘alive’ and quirky.

I’ve decided on a single gallows with some stakes rammed into the ground to keep people away from ‘justice’ being served…

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I added some ‘crazy pathing’ for a bit more variety, weathering the whole lot with the tin foil method. To make the pathing stones I cut foam strips 2 x 2 cm then went over the corners, freehand cutting in irregular ways. I then cut the stones from the end of the strips at 0.5 cm, creating odd and mismatched but flat stones. In hindsight, I should have cut these narrow than 0.5 cm, maybe half that again to 0.25 cm.

Texture is also important, so I’ll likely be using some of the rolling pins from Green Stuff World. An example of my trial run with these can be found in the images below…

 

 

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Ramping It Up!

Finally, I decided to have a go at the multistory building idea.

I wanted to make this bigger, but I also wanted to be able to use different parts of it at different times. To achieve this, I started with 4 tiles to make a jumbo tile and began building a wall which would interconnect. I added a ruined wall around the edges of the jumbo tile, leaving plenty of gaps and debris for cover and interesting features.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I then started to make a second story of brickwork, which I could lock or lay in place and built this up a few times. Finally, I made a third story set of brickwork, but this time to accommodate half a roof.

The roof in these pieces was made from foam board, which is light and tough. I cut out rows of packing card (the sort of thin card your Amazon books are delivered in). Each row was 2 cm high with a cut  1 cm deep every 1 cm along the row. I then just cut and hacked out pieces to create the impression of roof slates. This was time consuming, but quite rewarding. You can see some of the details in the image below.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Finally, here’s a series of images showing you how to connect together.

 

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OK, so its not complete yet (I mean, I did just complete an entire week of a UK LARP event!) So I’ll post some images next week.

That’s it for now, and the end of this miniseries for terrain and scenery. If you’ve learnt anything, or if you have some advice and tips of your own, please leave a message in the comments below.

There will be more on tabletop terrain in the future, but for now, I really want to get these pieces finished and have them lined up for some gaming!

Good luck, and have fun!

Ferris

Part One…

Part Two…

Twitter @FerrisWrites or @TheCConsortium

Facebook page!

TABLETOP WAR-GAME TERRAIN & SCENERY: Part two, the basic steps

Thinking of making your own terrain and scenery for tabletop games? Here’s our take on things, free and easy to use!

Last week we brought you an introduction into making terrain and scenery pieces to your tabletop games like Warhammer Age of Sigmar or Frostgrave. In this article you’ll find a little more detail on the early stages of modelling terrain features, with some images of the pilot projects we have currently underway.

I want to to make it clear that I didn’t plan any of these pieces – no more than just a casual thought and a pencil line went into the design, highlighting the point that planning isn’t everything for small projects like these. It can be fun and highly rewarding if you’re open to learning from the process and as Bob Ross would say, have some happy little accidents.

Our approach should hopefully mean less headaches for you and we hope you will enjoy the fruits of our labour!

Stuff We Used (But can be swapped for similar stuff)

  1. Styrofoam sheets (or polystyrene)
  2. Hot-wire Cutter (optional but very quick and smooth)
  3. Craft Knife (essential)
  4. Rolled / mushed up tin foil (optional)
  5. Hot-Glue gun (or PVA glue if you have more time)
  6. PVA Glue
  7. Mod Podge, matte (Optional but a very good sealer)
  8. Acrylic Paint (Black, Tan, Grey & White)
  9. Grass Flocking, gravel (optional)

Preparing the Base

The Styrofoam sheets were too thick, making the round bases 2 cm high, so I cut them down to 1 cm. This gave twice the number of bases I wanted – a great stockpile for future terrain pieces. I reckon these 1 cm high round bases are still sturdy, more so when we apply the various coats of paint and sealers to them. For bigger projects, I may in the future use MDF board.

However, cutting tall pieces of Styrofoam sheet proved difficult – despite my best efforts to keep the pieces upright,  there was always some flexing which caused a few uneven cuts… check out the damage!

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I got round this by using some scrunched up foil and rolling / dabbling the foam base with it. This softens edges and adds detail. Be sure to use different parts of the foil so nothing looks uniform – or just get yourself a smooth cutting jig for sheets.

Perfect Bricks Begone!

In the previous article I mentioned that the bricks I cut were too perfect. And probably too big. This time we decided to cut smaller bricks than last time – they look better and if we want to make a curved wall, smaller bricks would leave smaller gaps. If we want to add foundation stones to anything, we could still use the larger bricks in the future.

To begin with, we used our very cheap Ebay purchased hot-wire cutter to make a lot of bricks and some bases out from our Styrofoam sheets. This took a bit of time, but now that there’s a box of ready-to-use bricks, we can focus on building and crafting!

To make life easier, I cut some strips from the sheets of Styrofoam and then simply cut the ends off, 1 cm at a time. With a bit of practice I was pushing 2 strips through the hot wire at a time, creating plenty of bricks in the space of an hour.

With the brick cutting process sorted it’s time to deal with the ‘perfect brick’ problem from the previous project. The best idea the internet had offer was to put those Styrofoam bricks into a tub, throw in some real rocks then seal the lid down tightly and shake for a minute. The result was nicely weathered, pitted and rounded edges on each brick. Perfect!

Preparation

Most of the prep work here is to ensure you can start creating great looking pieces of terrain quickly. If you follow our method, we think you’ll be all set up to get stuck in any time you fancy creating!

  • Cut out many, many 1 x 1 x 2 cm bricks. Don’t worry if they’re slightly out of shape – for ruins or even fresh built walls, a little variety adds some realism to the final product. You can go bigger if you’re after chunky masonry.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

  • Weather the bricks by tossing them into a container with stones as mentioned earlier or you could mush them about a bit with some scrunched up tin foil.
  • Prepare a base – for me a 1 cm thick circular base at about 6 inches diameter (inches because most tabletop war games use inches) was fine. The size is just right for some ruined walls without being a massive piece for the tabletop.
  • Mix paints and glues. We added a healthy dose of black to our Mod Podge, created mixtures of water and PVA and even prepared our flocking for creating moss. Cheap black paint with water will create a very simple and nice shade wash to douse your piece, this will offer depth of detail before you move on to painting it properly.

Now to have a think of what to make: to begin with we marked the base with very light pencil lines. These marked out where the bricks would be placed and glued and kept the bricks to a straight line. If you’re making a curved wall, find something to match the curve you’re after – such as a Pringle tube or a cup and trace around it. It’s probably more important for curved walls to trace the lines in.

So, without further ado, here’s our basic terrain formula. We use this formula to create terrain pieces speedily. Keep in mind that it’s pretty basic, but it should give a good coverage to your materials to enhance their structural strength.

Basic Terrain Formula

Hot glue gun. Glue each brick, one at a time. Give each row a few seconds to cool and harden so you don’t squash previous layers out of line. Build upwards, making sure you alternate the corners and rows – this isn’t just aesthetic, it actually builds a stronger wall!

Water down some PVA, about 60/40 (PVA/Water) and apply it to wherever you want to add gravel. Sprinkle the gravel on and leave it to dry. Drying times will vary. Give it plenty of time as the next layer will mess it up if it isn’t properly dry.

Mod Podge layer comes next. Get it right in the cracks, thin the Mod Podge down a little to get lighter coats and ensure full coverage. You can add a dash of water to the Mod Podge to thin it down. Allow to dry until it darkens all over.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Water down some cheap black acrylic paint with water, 60/40. Apply it all over! If you’re having trouble getting it into the cracks or its not covering properly you can add a literal drop of washing up liquid. Stir it in, don’t shake it! What you’ve made is essentially a shade wash – the paint will seep into the cracks and impressions, bringing out the detail. Don’t worry if it doesn’t stick to the whole surface, it’s not meant to! Allow to dry.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Dry brush with successive layers of tans, light browns, greys.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

  • Add any details such as grass, flocking etc.
  • Once you’re happy, give it a nice layer of hard-coat and allow to dry!

That is pretty much the basic formula used to create terrain pieces. It took a few attempts and some rescues in the first 3 pieces I made up, so don’t panic if you jump forward a step or miss a step – you can always go back, and reapply layers again. The important bit is Mod Podge first!

Details, Details, Details…

Weathering Foil

To weather our bricks, we grabbed some stones from outdoors, put them in a tub with a handful of bricks, and shook them about. Alternatively, we also rolled and scrunched up some foil so that it had uneven and sharp edges. Simply foll or dash the foil against the surface of the Styrofoam and you’ll get a stippled patina that looks like weathering.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Brickwork

When using bricks like this, it pays to get the first layer glued in properly. I lined up the bricks against a light pencil line drawn into the base. This allowed me to keep the brick laying straight, it also allowed me to approach the corners of walls without too much thought: make sure that each corner brick alternates with the row below it. You can see the detail in the images below.

I like to add some random fallen bricks and gaps in the walls to add a bit of life to the ruins… in my head I imagine the story behind them too…

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Pathing Stones

For pathing stones, I cut some strips of foam 2 x 2 cm and then just cut the ends off about 0.5 cm. Sanding the corners at this point saves doing it for each individual piece later – a nail file or fine sandpaper will do.  I didn’t need a lot of these but I cut more than I required. I think it looks better if the pathing stones are at an angle from the brick work. I traced some guidelines directly onto the foam base to get an idea of where to place them.

Moss (maybe Lichen)

To add moss, mixed PVA with water (75/25) and toss in a load of flocking so there’s a mulch of thin glue and flocking. You can add dashes of colour for a varied effect. With a brush, get a gloop and dab it in the brickwork gaps, hang it from beams etc. When it dries you can always add more. If its thicker, you can make it drip from beams, where, if you’re lucky, it will harden and look like hanging moss. If you’re feeling particularly special, you could add some tiny drops of colour to the dried moss, for flower details.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Extras

I’ve had an old sprue of assorted items from the original Mordheim game which contains a chest of gold and other bits and pieces. It must be older than some of our readers. I’ll construct, paint and seal these separately, but you can always add them into the formula above to make them look part of (and more involved in) the scenery.

There are a tonne of suppliers online for bits and pieces to add to scenery. Even the expensive GW products come with optional extras on the plastic sprues which you can scatter about for extra detail – weapons, shields, skulls etc. However, if you want to get some extra bits and pieces, I’ve included a link for your perusal later on.

Try some Mantic Terrain Crates

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

What I’ve Learned this Week

  1. It’s been fun!
  2. I realised that the number of happy accidents are more common than first expected. This element of randomness and chaosivity (to quote a theatrical costumer I know) has given me ideas which I’m going to try and emulate – randomness in a brick wall makes things more interesting than a homogeneous perfection.
  3. You can always go back and change something if you make a mistake, cut out bits you don’t like and just make it look like a natural part of the decay. The process we’ve given is very forgiving!

Coming Next…

So I think I’ve mastered the basics of ruined buildings. Now, I’m going to be setting my sights a little higher by building a larger more detailed ruin. I admit, that not putting much planning into this project is going to be a challenge, but also fun and rewarding.

A simple two story, battle ready building with details is going to look cool – here’s a sneak peak!

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I’m away over the next bank holiday weekend, so I’ll get some steam rolling to bring you even more advice and tips on creating battle field terrain soon.

Good luck, and have fun!

Ferris

Part One…

Part Three…

Twitter @FerrisWrites or @TheCConsortium

Facebook page!

 

Exploration in RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons: Putting the Adventure back into Adventuring

It seems that much of the content out there today for role playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) focus heavily on dungeons and politics or rescuing the village and various other tired troupes. Whether this is the case for you or not, I’ve noticed that many adventures are lacking the element of exploration, which leaves a huge untapped reserve of mystery. Sometimes people refer to this as the sandbox game, where the players are going in their own direction and the GM keeps up, supplying the adventure as the game progresses.

For me, what has been lacking from games over the last several years has been the mystery in exploration. All to often it seems that exploring has been dumbed down or glossed over by the need to keep the story going, to keep the narrative on track, keep the momentum bouncing. This isn’t a bad thing, but the details, the efforts of travelling in a (fantasy) world are completely missed.

dungeons dragons adventure RPG DnD tabletop games

This is a shame, because years ago the old AD&D adventure modules contained heavy elements of exploration, where the players were encouraged to explore and reveal the mysteries of a forgotten land. Adventure modules such as the Isle of Dread (X1, 1981 & 1983), a wilderness adventure designed for beginners back in the day (a long, long time ago) were designed purely with exploration in mind.

In my hunt to recapture the feelings of excitement and wonder (a running theme in my blog articles at the moment) I did a thing. I’ve sailed the ‘net sea, battled excessive blogs and wrangled with the web in the search of good, wholesome and entertaining ideas to make travel and exploration exciting again. Here are my thoughts and the results of my search with some helpful links at the end for your own ‘further reading’ on the subject.

If you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin…

Perceived Problems with Exploration

Mention in-game travelling and most players will groan. Understandably, players have not really had a series of exploration adventures that has given them a fun game, even popular digital games such as Skyrim or the classical Baldur’s Gate allow you to travel instantly or in a series of chunks in seconds. But that’s OK, it’s why you’re here reading this article.

Exploration games are said to take their toll on the GM / DM both in preparation and in running the game session. This is a fair point – as the GM of any game you are responsible for hours of planning (or maybe just 30 minutes before the game, if that’s your gig), which often you don’t want to see wasted and unused in the event of player party mistakes. So why would you waste hours of planning on just travelling and exploring new locations?

Finally, keeping the flow and narrative exciting can be a challenge. Inclusive adventures must bring elements to the gaming table where any character of any build or design with even the most jaded of tastes, offers a challenge to each player, a chance in the spotlight.

Are these issues insurmountable? Of course not!

So here are the suggestions I’m putting forward for you, should you ever consider running an exploration themes adventure game of your own.

dungeons dragons adventure RPG DnD tabletop games

Setup & Writing

Character & Plot Hooks

It’s always important to have your players hooked into the concept of the game right from the start. How do you write or plan this sort of thing? Well I’ve written a previous article which you can find here, it gives some suggestions on how to approach a character hook by making the hook relevant to the character, which, hopefully, will entice the player too. As always, it’s best to get a feel for what your player wants from the game, and hook them in based on this information.

It may be that your party is simply travelling overland to get to a place that is uncharted, and the plot of your story is already written. This makes it very easy as the plot hook is the adventure idea you already have.

I’ve written a few examples here to give you an idea:

  • Searching for a missing person(s) of importance: perhaps they were kidnapped and the characters have been hired to locate and return them safely (imagine King Osric’s daughter from the Original Conan film, 1982).
  • Searching for a lost city or civilisation which may hold the key to discovering how to deal with a threat to a characters homelands.
  • Manhunt – a traitor, criminal, dangerous individual or group has evaded the law and must be hunted down to pay for their crimes.
  • The player characters are being persecuted either on their own or with a group of people and have been forced to flee into the wilderness or an unmapped land.
  • Expedition – the player characters are hired to explore the new world and discover its rich resources and lift the veil on its mysteries… and its threats.

dungeons dragons adventure RPG DnD tabletop games

Setting up the Player Party

Every expedition known to man has always had planning at the forefront. Without planning, any expedition is doomed from the moment it takes its first step, leading to a variety of disasters, starvation being the primary one. So it’s important to get your players into the frame of mind that travelling and exploring brings its own dangers. Sure, there will be monsters in the untamed wilds, but losing your food supply or drinking all of your clean water, brings challenges all of their own.

Ask the players some of the following questions before you plan to start your game:

  • How much can your character carry?
  • What food and water supplies will you be taking?
  • Are you equipped for exploration or a dungeon crawl?

An important aspect of any RPG is the role play, above all else it is what glues the game together. Some people find this awkward, but when players have something to talk about, the role play becomes natural. Asking player characters to assume one of several roles in a travelling adventurer party is a great way to overcome this, and also lends itself to more of a game.

These roles are real life examples of what we often overlook during play. In reality, how many of us note down how much of our rations we’re eating? Probably not that many because it’s considered a minor portion of the RPG experience.

Giving the players extra roles also reduces some of the work for GM / DM. By allowing the players to organise themselves and keep track of encumbrance, rations and other supplies, along with mapping duties, it frees up the GM to give a greater insight into surroundings and encounters.

Here are some of the role ideas:

Leader / Voice

The leader is responsible for announcing all final party activity to the GM with regards to direction and pace. Characters can still act in a solo fashion as normal. The leader also consults with and organises the marching order of the other characters present, including any allies that may be travelling with them.

Watchers / Castellan

Let’s face it, you will be stomping through unknown and wild lands, it pays to give someone the task of checking the horizon for trouble, the bushes for traps and the camp for snakes! Watchers and guards are also responsible for finding a suitable place to set camp and how the camp should be organised. For the GM, this gives them time to decide what happens in the night, or if the player party gets surprised.

Navigator / Cartographer

The navigator and cartographer are responsible for guiding the player party on their adventure, keeping a look out for points of interest and landmarks. Their role also involves the blank hex map you will have provided them (more on this later), updating and annotating as they travel. In this way they answer the questions of other characters in a role play manner, rather than relying on the GM to constantly keep checking their notes.

For a character to create a worthy map in game will require some sort of cartographers tools (for D&D) or a surveyor’s kit. Get the players to roll any necessary skill checks to determine the quality of their notes and drawings in case they get lost, or someone else relies on the map in their absence.

Hunter / Quartermaster

Hunters and Quartermasters keep track of resources and the carrying capacity of the party and its allies. Their most important role is to keep track of food and water and find replacements when they feel times are getting desperate. This has a great element of role play as the characters fret over how much they are going to use and what happens if they start to run low.

Generally if the quarter master has no record of something, such as equipment, it does not exist within the party. And if there’s a tonne of things to keep track of, there’s no reason why two characters can’t assume this role together. All characters should have their own equipment list, but the quartermasters will keep a copy of that and update it, especially if one character is lost down a ravine while carrying all of the rope!

(Re)Defining the GMs Role

The GMs primary roles will have lessened from traditional expectations. The key responsibility, other than role playing villains and monsters and refereeing the turn sequence and dice rolls etc, is to keep a track of time. In an exploration adventure keeping a track of time gives the gaming session more purpose and also allows the players to note down exactly what they’ve used up or require more of. It also means the players are told when they are getting tired or possibly feeling the effects of fatigue.

mountain surrounded with trees

Friends, Enemies and Adversaries

It pays to have non-playing characters (NPCs) with the player party, at least for some of the exploration, particularly if you think that there may be character deaths likely to happen – you’ll need a way of introducing new characters for the players when this happens.

Adding allies to mix will also give the players some impetus if the motivation dips during play, because allies need help and tasks undertaken which they could not normally do on their own. Here are a few examples of NPCs to keep in mind, depending on the type of exploration adventure you’re writing…

Allies

The expedition financier or their representatives, the young noble out to cut their teeth, the enthusiastic but clueless scribe seeking lost lore, or the mysterious elf apparently seeking to discover the lost homeland of his or her people – these are all NPCs which can give motivation to the players when they are out exploring. It’s probably best if these NPC stay at base camp, several days behind the party. These can provide quests literally or inadvertently and give guidance if the player characters are struggling with concepts.

Collective Adversaries

If you want to quicken the pace of the adventure and give the players some tension when they are making the important choices, you can introduce another adventuring party who are seeking similar goals. This competition can be right behind, or always one step ahead of the ultimate goal, or they can be unfriendly and unhelpful if they’ve managed to get across the ravine but cut the ropes to the bridge!

Perhaps these other adventuring groups need rescuing instead, the price of their impetus or ignorance!

Enemies!

Perhaps the land under exploration is not entirely empty, and savage tribes use it as a hunting ground. Perhaps one of those tribes sees the party as a target for initiation into adulthood or worse, required components in a bloody ritual!

two person riding boat on body of water

Mapping: Hex or no Hex, you’re travelling

Hex maps have been around for decades and carry with them a nostalgic feel for the days of mystery. Whether you like them or not, the humble hex is a great way of mapping out where the player characters have been, are currently and where they will be, because a hex is more dynamic than a square and easier to handle than a circle.

A hex has six sides, allowing you to plan the direction of the party – there are 8 easily identifiable paths the party can take on a hex, using either a flat side of the hex tile or a point of the hex. If you make your map and overlay a series of hex tiles onto it, you can track the adventurer’s progress with distance, speed and direction.

I suggest you start by making a world map, nothing larger than you need for the landmass your adventurers are crossing or exploring. Each hex should cover maybe a half or a full days worth of travelling, so in theory the party is moving one or two hex spaces in a session. This gives you plenty of opportunity to write and pace the adventure.

Look at your map and make a note of the terrain type of each hex, or whichever is more dominant. Terrain types can be forests, plains, desert etc. You can go one level deeper than this to have varieties of these terrain types, such as adding a height or incline like hills and mountains or valleys which can block or provide a line of sight (more on this later).

Once you’ve got this sorted, you can begin to define potential problems with different terrain types – it can be as simple of slowing progress or speeding it up, using important resources such as food and water, or allowing the characters to restock. There may be monsters which lurk in certain parts of the map, such as green dragons in the forest, or trolls in the swamps (or whatever). Think about your land of mystery and get creative. As the adventure grows you’ll likely want to think about the same challenges repeating. This could get bland so be prepared to allow some hex spaces to be easier to get across.

pine trees by lake in forest against sky

Creating a Map

You’re going to want potentially a large map with plenty of areas and space to explore. Sometime over the next week I’ll write small tutorial on how to put in hex grids in programs like Inkarnate (the free version) and the GIMP . In the meantime, you could do some planning of your own and take into consideration some of the important aspects of your map.

Whether you’re creating something entirely home-brew or using a pre-written adventure or setting, you need to consider the ecology of your map. Just like anything in the real world, things in a region or area run alongside each other and effect each other like an ecology. This won’t apply so much in a fantasy setting, but your map should reflect a realistic expectation so that your players can make logical choices in how they travel and where.

Consider some of the following suggestions and ideas…

Travelling Speed

As a guide, you can break each day down into 4 hour slots, of which most characters will require sleep and rest for 8 hours. How far they can travel will depend on what they wish to do, and how fast they travel, such as by foot or on a horse. As the GM, you will know how far each hex is in miles or kilometers and can set the pace of travel accordingly.

Landmarks

Landmarks are vital to the exploration and travelling game. Without landmarks your players are simply making arbitrary choices based on cardinal directions on a compass. This is incredibly dull and likely to put your players off right away. Landmarks give the players a real choice, offering tantalizing bits of mystery and story to get them to move and explore.

But what can they see?

Well it’s fairly simply: when the players arrive at the edge of the map they will want to plan their direction. Did anyone pack a spyglass? Good – then they can start scanning the horizon. Are they in a forest, is there anything obstructing them from scanning the distant horizon? If so, they’ll need to get to higher ground… and already they’ve determined their first objective – find higher ground.

As a general rule, player characters can probably see about 3 miles over flat ground, far less in forests or hilly terrain unless they’re at a peak in the region.

The player characters should be encouraged to scan the horizon each time they stop to rest. As the GM you can now give them tidbits of information about the surrounding area (hex tiles) allowing them to assume control of their own destiny.

Landmarks also give the players something to talk about, mark on their own maps or confirm their location if they get lost – everyone gets to use the role they have been assigned or chosen when they planned the expedition. Let’s hope they packed some sort of compass…

Landmarks can be constructed buildings such as towers, or natural phenomenon such as giant waterfalls, unusual rock formations or the sun bleached bones of titanic creatures!

white and black abstract painting

Locations

Locations  can be considered like any other encounter in RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. They will be the meat of your adventurer meal. Don’t overlook the dangers of exploring. Exploration is dangerous in real life, and so it should be more so in a fantasy RPG! Stay your hand though, exploring locations should be about the story and not everything should be dealing damage or killing off players! Instead, capitalise on the mystery and narrative of discovering a new land – temples, hallow cities, strange structures and signs of ancient battles – not everything will be covered in traps or occupied by hobgoblins.

This is the hardest part for the GM, but should also be the portion of planning that takes up the most time. Once your map has been created, you should start to focus on the set pieces of your adventure (because it is still your adventure). A location, like any good dungeon should offer potential challenges to each character type in your player party, whether that’s physical obstructions, strange traps, ancient lore, riddles, clues or puzzles which help unlock or reveal something about the area. This shouldn’t always be the case though – otherwise it may become a formulation of ‘we need to use the rogue, and now the fighter and now the mage,’ which takes the narrative aspect of the game away.

If you can tie the revelation of this location into other locations, you begin to knit your world together. For example, let’s say the player party successfully breaks into an ancient temple and reveal a mysterious artifact, such as a key. What does this key unlock? Does it tie into a different temple or building in the region? What does it unlock, treasure, monsters, a terrible and ancient evil?

By all means include things to fight and slay, but try to ensure that the fight isn’t just a random event. It makes much more sense to disturb a nest or lair, or tackle a timeless guardian creature than hack their way through hordes of pointless minions. Use the monster or creature wisely, build up to its big reveal and make the fight mean something. If they can’t defeat it, they must flee… but where do they flee to? Are they in any fit state to fight, should they fight? These are the tension building moments for your player party in an exploration game.

Throw in monsters and creatures that they clearly cannot defeat to get the player characters to consider their options more deeply, but again, don’t make a habit of putting in impossible odds all the time. That sleeping dragon can be left to sleep if they just tiptoe backwards slowly and come back another time!

beautiful countryside creek environment

So how do they explore a hex tile?

First of all, describe exactly what stands out about a region or hex tile – does that rock formation look like anything? Then, if they decide to stop and explore the area in more detail, you can begin a series of encounters. One very simple suggestion is to draw up a small chart based on how many hours the player party wishes to explore the area. You can begin by asking the players how long they intend to stay and search the area in terms of hours. Then, consulting your small chart you can determine that if the party stops and searches for say 3 hours, they will come across up to 2 encounters for that region. Here’s my example:

  1. Hour 1 – They find nothing, but are slowed by the forest and rough terrain
  2. Hour 2 – As above
  3. Hour 3 – They stumble upon the grotto of a forest troll, roll against the parties passive perception to see if either side is surprised.
  4. Hour 4 – They find a cache of old supplies and a few ripped up skeletons, likely the result of a troll attack.
  5. Hour 5 – A small hatch in the earth that looked like a bolt hole for a temporary encampment ( a micro dungeon).

The party may not stay for too long, or they may wish to camp, in which case the troll may come out at night looking for food (an encounter in itself) which provides something for the watchers and guards in the party to deal with before the attack starts in full.

How fast they move, how much attention they decide to dedicate to the searching and investigating is up to the players. They will soon learn that just stomping over ground in the hopes of bumping into something may prove detrimental!

Getting Lost

Sometimes even the most experienced rangers can get lost, particularly in a new land! Becoming lost should always be an option and you should never allow the players to simply retrace their steps if they’ve surged onward without paying attention or exploring different regions or hex tiles.

Perhaps permit them to roll for skills to see if they can get back on track by setting a high difficulty based on the terrain they are in, and any landmarks they can see from where they are, lowering the difficulty for each point of recognition they can muster. If they fail, they are lost and must spend time (and resources) trying to find their original path!

photography of mountain range during winter

Keeping the Motivation During Play

How do you reward characters in exploration adventures? We want to reward the players for exploring, because we want them to enjoy the exploration aspect of the game alongside all the other aspects of RPGs.

Well, I think it depends on the scope of your adventure and the desire driving the party onward. Beyond gaining experience for slaying monsters and villains, perhaps the player characters also receive experience for discovering new areas, locations and landmarks, BUT they then also get experience for making a region safe (multiple hex tiles in the same region) for anyone following them, such as the baggage train.

If you feel a particularly hard region to explore exists because it contains high powered monsters or traps, you could assign different hex regions a challenge rating to reflect the adversity of making it safe.

Perhaps early locations were inaccessible at the start of their adventure, but now they’ve discovered a key, a token or something which will help them get to the that earlier region. This is a great idea because it means that previously explored hex tiles and areas or regions are not simply redundant after use. It can also lead the player characters to explore for specific things, giving them even more motivation to search and explore areas!

Phew! That is quite a long article, apologies!

If you think you’ve benefited from any of this information, leave a comment below – it really helps us if people think we’re doing good, and gives us direction for future articles!

Further Reading

How to be the Dungeon Master (DM)

How to be the DM (new and old) Part 2: Setting the Atmosphere

D&D and Dice Manipulation – Two opposing styles of Dungeon Masters

The Retired Adventurer

The Angry GM (really angry and potty-mouthed!

Giants in the Playground

Killing in the Name of: Dungeons & Dragons and the unbridled passion of slaying the adventuring party – A few lessons learned

For the last three gaming sessions, I’ve been guiding my players as they attempt to uncover and solve the mystery surrounding the small fishing town of Sharholme. People have gone missing. There’s a taciturn lighthouse keeper who no one likes. Weird and exotic fish are turning up in the nets of the fishermen. What did it all mean?

Well I’m not going to give you all the details, where’s the fun in that? No, I’m going to give you an insight into when the adventuring party were fooled and the Dungeon Master commits to running the adventure to its inevitable end, whether that’s the final encounter or much sooner!

‘Some of your characters may die towards the end of this adventure – I’m testing the adventure on you guys.’

These were my first words when describing the adventure idea I had to my players, a week before they started. Perhaps subconsciously I was giving them a clue to play tougher or optimised characters, or perhaps I was trying to defend myself from any fallout that may occur if it all went wrong. Whatever the reason, the very next gaming session we started the adventure.

The beginning was cryptic – they were called north, along  the Sword Coast by a voiceless whisperer who would not allow them to rest unless they were moving. A brief stop at Candlekeep is all they needed. Get there, and perhaps some clues could give them answers.

But they will never know.

Dungeons and Dragons D&D D&D logo Wizards of the Coast WotC RPG Gaming Tabletop gaming
Photo by ahmed adly on Pexels.com

The first adventure was to warm them up. I was going to let them be goddam heroes and throw small hordes of easily defeated monsters at them. I was going to give them hostages to break out in a daring escape, maybe face off with the enemy leader and thwart the even stranger, deadlier nemesis who defines the backdrop of the narrative.

Alas, it was not to be. They believed they had reached the final encounter. They had not. The Prince Under the Reef was not the monster’s commander as they thought. I’m chuckling as I write this because some of them will only realise as they read this… yeah, it gives me an amusing tingle.

The adventuring party had, in fact, only reached the third to last encounter in the natural dungeon setting. They had suffered some terrible wounds and faced some unsightly horrors, many of them surprises. Up to this point they had advanced in a somnambulistic way perhaps thinking that, being the first part of a what was promised to be a long running campaign, they would have it easy. To some degree this was right.

grey skulls piled on ground
Photo by Renato Danyi on Pexels.com

Allow me to explain:

As a DM I had done my research, read endless articles by other DMs & GMs, consulted the oracle that is Reddit and gone back to basics. I even wrote this article, which, if any of them had read it, may have given them a clue into what to expect. I threw low-challenge creatures at them, made the monsters act in a fantastically pulp manner, unthinking but not to be mocked.

Then I hit them with a monster whose challenge rating was a single point higher than their party level. He was a large humanoid, fighting on even terms. He didn’t even rush them, instead he paused and waited to see if they would parley, to see if they could talk to him and see if they could find peace. They outnumbered him but they seemed tired – his minions had carried out their task of killing the adventuring party with a thousand paper cuts. All he had to do now was thrust his trident into the open wounds and finish them off.

What followed was five rounds of bloody mayhem.

The bird-man monk fell first, the priest next, followed by the halfling rogue who couldn’t quite dash into cover, leaving the archer as last-elf-standing. It was a bold gesture to cast away that bow and draw a long sword, after-all, the enemy had thrown his trident at them previously, disarming himself in the process. Both combatants were heavily wounded.

Dungeons and Dragons D&D D&D logo Wizards of the Coast WotC RPG Gaming Tabletop gaming
Taken from media-waterdeep.cursecdn.com 6/2/19

The elf stood little chance.

While the fight continued, his comrades bled to death on the wet subterranean sands of the oceanic grotto. Some would stabilize but be useless to sway the flow of battle. As the sun’s final rays set against the turbulent waves above, my heroic adventuring party slumped to the ground in a final gasp below the waves.

As the DM, I had defined my dungeoneering destiny and finalised the characters fates by not holding back. I had lulled them into a false sense of security and then pounced upon them with a well calculated challenge. Or so I thought.

The daft thing is: I expected them to get to the final encounter and then suffer tremendously through a terrifying race across an underground, underwater grotto ala Indiana Jones’ cinematic dash, avoiding natural traps and pitfalls as they barrelled along heroically.

In a nutshell, the DM did not hold the player’s hands and guide them through. I realised that if there is to be any fun in the game, it has to be risky. I knew this already, but the temptation to guide the players through the story had flattened the experience for me… it had simply lost some of its fun.

As for the players, well the fun reached a happy height above our gaming table. Although they were getting ripped to pieces, bleeding all over the place and possibly facing death (well, actually they did) they all seemed happy to go along with it.

Here’s the kicker for the players though – that challenging encounter left the monster with just twelve hit points. TWELVE! That’s one good or two average hits with a long sword… but the dice rolling was poor, and I was using my specially reserved Dungeon Master Dice. They never let me down.

So there you have it:

Dungeon and Games Masters, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and kick their arses if it’s all going wrong, you’ll all enjoy it!

And Players; never trust the DM. Ever.

We’re sly a bunch.

J.D. Ferris

The Godless Realm – Update and Changes Made

We’ve been quiet on the social media and website front. We’re not lazy. We’ve been busy!

Four weeks ago I enlisted the help of an experienced RPG gamer and writer named Mr James, to bring some much needed energy and creativity. In that time we’ve packed a tonne of lore and story into the Godless Realm setting, making it meaty and plausible in equal measure.

Fantasy RPG Pulp Adventure Hero Knight Cavalry D&D
Edited Image, Originally by David MacKenzie from Deviant Art https://www.deviantart.com/jagged-eye/art/Lee-Warrior-4a-435067509

We’ve decided to make the Godless Realm system neutral, meaning it is chock full of lore content, with plenty of hooks and ideas to create your own adventures in whatever RPG system you desire. We still aim to release adventures and story arcs to fit into the Godless Realm, and we have planned several evolutions to the Godless Realm setting in the future as the world populates and widens.

The extra help from Mr James has given me time to rewrite the Pulp Core rules in two important ways; firstly it is streamlined and the probabilities now work properly. For a success, a dice roll now requires a single score of a 6. Secondly, we realised that the Core Pulp system has flaws and lost its direction. Based on the feedback we received, I’ve really hit the system hard and cut out irrelevant details and mechanics to tighten everything up. The development process, based on your feedback, has really helped us get this right. I am now much happier with the system and we’ve developed some interesting mechanics.

Pulp Fantasy, as it is currently called, comes in three documents which we are releasing to our reliable readers and testers soon. These will be a Player Guide, a Games Master Guide and a tome of Creatures & Inhabitants. We felt this would help keep the attention and excitement for players new to the gaming world, and keep some of the secrets for the GM.

mistings

The magic system has had a complete overhaul and now works in a fashion more inline with a ritualistic and narrative style. It is based on ritual preparations but also allows for desperate unprepared spell casting. We hope this makes it flexible and adaptive with countless possibilities for players and GM’s to create their own spells. We’re even encouraging the players to write down their spells as they think of and use them, essentially creating a tome of personal spells which will help them improve with character advancement. Best not lose that spell book, eh?

Bad Guys

Monsters have been a bit of a bugbear but we’ve settled on some nice ideas to break the mold of typical gaming habits. The biggest change we’ve implemented is the size and actions of larger creatures.

Larger monsters, though rare, will not act at a single point in the combat process each turn. Instead they will be able to act as several individuals, making special attacks based on the number of limbs and special abilities they posses. Now, a player will have to think twice about charging forward to get stuck in, because that Dragon hasn’t blown all its actions targeting the warriors in the party just yet, so getting too close is still dangerous. Players will have to think about their actions and weigh the chances of getting too close too soon.

femaleknight

Artwork Desires

On a little side project, we’ve been seeking artwork to help bring the world and documents to life and poke some imagination back into our minds. This has been difficult. We are not in a situation yet where we can pay artists to bring our world to life, so instead we’ve been relying on stock images and editing what we can get our hands on.

We’re working hard to make sure that the images we use are properly credited – we’re the Creator Consortium, we want people to be recognised for their hard work.

One problem we have encountered is the over sexualisation of female adventuring style stock photos. While this may prove titillating to some, it isn’t very inclusive. Since we’re looking for more realistic fantasy stock images, we may have to dig deeper to find something less bosom-heaving for something like more gritty realism. Watch this space!

We’re focusing on a process which will allow us to take any stock images and create some cohesion to make it less jarring to look at. Hopefully some nice black and white water colour effects will help the mystery blossom too. There’s a couple of examples dotted throughout this article, and we’re accepting criticism if you can show us a few tricks!

But we realise that people may want to print our documents at some point, so we’re going to be supplying some print easy options too. No one likes to spend a fortune on inks!

There’ll be a blog post this week to show how we’ve been editing our chosen stock images and I’ll go into detail about how to credit and reference people correctly for their hard work! It’s been a fun learning curve.

Until then…

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back with another update soon.

Mr Ferris

Here’s how we made our images!

Fantasy RPG Pulp Adventure Hero Knight Cavalry D&D

An Intro To The Pulp RPG Modular Framework.

An Intro To The Pulp RPG Modular Framework.

The Future Of Pulp RPG And You.

Dev Blog: Pulp Play-Test, Feedback, Zombies & Editing

Is Playing DnD Online Better Than In Real Life?

A new game of Dungeons and Dragons is always a nerve-wracking event as a Dungeon Master. There is so much to do, especially if you want to write your own adventure. Then you have to consider your players, you never really know what they are going to do, or if the content you’ve written will be “enough”.

Well last night I embarked upon a new campaign, written in about a week, using a digital tabletop which I’d never used before (I also haven’t ran many campaigns online), with an entire party of players I didn’t know. I don’t think it’s possible to present a DM with more of a psychological or physical challenge.

And frankly it was one of the best sessions I’d ever had.

This article is an attempt to get more people into DnD online. As a DM, you invest so much time and effort that it can be hard to step out of your comfort zone, but this session reminded me why that’s important.

We used Roll20: the free virtual tabletop which provides an absolute ton of functionality and really brings you as close as you can possibly come to being around a table. The dice roller even lets you roll big 3D dice!

https://roll20.net

As the DM, I found that every little need I had was met: I could set up encounter tokens, NPCs, new maps, handouts and even track initiative on the tabletop. This allowed me to involve the players in every part of my preparation. They could see the gears in motion so the session never really stalled or lost pace when I was setting up the next encounter.

For tracking characters we used DnD Beyond. An amazing official website by Wizards Of The Coast, which basically gives you every tool and rule to set up a campaign and actually play it. The site requires an entire article of its own, but suffice it to say that as a DMs and character’s toolbox, this site has it all.

https://www.dndbeyond.com

Then lastly we come to my players. I was so nervous about these guys, I’d never met any of them before, we just set up the game on a discord server I frequent before christmas then last night, there we were, confronted by a whole slew of new experiences.

As a DM, you always hope that your players are going to “get” your game, and certainly I was worried that my game style wasn’t necessarily going to be compatible with how they wanted to play. My fears turned out to be completely unfounded, as they really got their teeth into my session in a way that made the effort totally worth it!

This proves to me, that playing DnD online, with strangers is not such a daunting task as it used to be. The free tools are so good these days that you hardly feel divorced from the table. It certainly opened my eyes and I hope you give it a chance too! Especially if you can’t give up the time and effort it takes to get together with people on a particular day. As a 29 year old who works odd hours, that’s become of great concern to me in recent years, so last night’s session was almost a weight off my mind:
As long as you have a computer, you can play DnD.

Until next time,

Fozzie.

Panic & Perturbation: When Dungeons & Dragons came Under Fire

Dungeons & Dragons had a bad rep in the 80’s and 90’s and was subjected to the moral bashing of the Satanic Panic during those decades. I’d like to tackle some of those moral implications and compare to some of my personal experiences growing up with RPGs.

Moral panic, according to Google’s dictionary is determined as; “an instance of public anxiety or alarm in response to a problem regarded as threatening the moral standards of society.” Moral standing sometimes seems to be the self imposed mantle of older generations and I guess you could also describe it as a fear of the new, or a fear of change, or of the unknown.

Nearly a month ago I wrote an article on the benefits of games like Dungeons & Dragons for friends and family, outlining the educational needs of not only standard subjects such as math, but also of morals and ethics, which could be learnt through experience in a safe role-play game environment.

We have seen a lot of moral panic historically: Puritans and the fear of Witchcraft in the 1600’s caused the murder of both men and women, purely on superstition. The prohibition era banned alcoholic drinks, where normal people had to go underground to get a drink or two in polite society. Most drug propaganda is scientifically defunct, and has been for years yet people still believe the end times will be the result of drug use. Marijuana is now legal for recreational use in places like Canada.

Back to D&D. I touched on a subject in the original draft which I later removed because some readers thought it would alienate the crowd I was trying to help. This article is the debate I removed; why dungeons and dragons got such a bad in previous decades and is still considered sinful.

I wanted to find out where the bad rep for Dungeons & Dragons came from, and what sources I could muster to get the message across that it is not a masterpiece of the devil, and is actually good for people.

ash background beautiful blaze

A simple google search ‘problems with D&D’ finds material related to the moral and ethical implications of playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) for kids. Websites like this still exist, where people are denouncing the “dangerous” act of playing this wonderful game. They are also the sort of groups that are pro-life and offer little evidence other than their own testimony. Here’s an excerpt on their opinion of D&D:

“We have serious concerns about “Dungeons and Dragons,” as well as some of the other popular fantasy role-playing games (RPGs).

“On one level, “D&D” is about strategy and mathematical skill, and there are players whose interest would remain strong even if its mystical and magical elements were replaced with other kinds of imagery. That doesn’t change the fact the game includes occultic elements. Some former players have said that “D&D” brought them into contact with demonic activity. Such claims need to be taken very seriously.”

“A second problem is that this game can become an obsession. Some gamers have been known to play for 48-hours straight, forgetting to eat or sleep due to their intense focus on “D&D.” Responsible parents worry about this particular aspect of “D&D,” and maybe you should, too. Entering a fantasy universe and assuming a different personality can be addictive for some gamers, particularly those who tend to be isolated or who have a hard time connecting with people in the real world.”

I’m going to treat this game and it’s creators as innocent until proven guilty – like any good lawyer, I don’t have to prove their innocence, I only have to cast doubt on the allegations.

Now, I’ve been playing D&D for years. It is a wondrous game filled with mythical beasts and adventures that know no real bounds. The sky isn’t even the limit. There’s no evidence provided to back up the claims that this site has made, particularly when it says:

“Some former players have said that “D&D” brought them into contact with demonic activity.”

Who said that, and on what record did they find this? Is it something they have logged themselves and have they reported this to a local authority to investigate? I suspect the answer is no – because the real world does not believe in demonic activity, only human activity, which can be evil.

While I’m at it, have you ever heard the news say that underage smoking is on the rise? Kids will say things to look cool to their peers. In all the people I knew in high school in the UK, a fraction of them smoked, the rest of us didn’t have the money or knew it was bad for you. If you ask kids if they smoke and tell them their answer will remain a secret, a good number of them will tell you they do smoke. Because it’s funny to lie to the authority and get away with it. The same can be said for coming into contact with demonic activity- sure, the demon told me to smoke, take drugs and piss on the grave of the high school mascot.

“Entering a fantasy universe and assuming a different personality can be addictive for some gamers, particularly those who tend to be isolated or who have a hard time connecting with people in the real world.”

I was one of these people who found D&D addictive. But what this fails to realise is that in order for me to play the game, I have to have people with me to play. You can’t play it on your own. It is only as addictive as reading a good book, or spending time with friends. And yeah, I had a hard time connecting with people at school – most of them were dicks. The people I enjoyed spending time with got me into the hobby, it was our escape from shitty high school politics and social constraints. It did us good and they’re all still good friends 25 years later, with families of their own and jobs which help them pay for the stuff they like.

This is the sort of argument which still goes on today. I will freely admit there have been times where I would rather be playing D&D than getting drunk under-aged on cheap alcohol (marketed specifically at kids). And yes, there have been records of people running marathon sessions of D&D for 48 hours – is it no the job of parents to know exactly where their child is and what they are doing?

As a kid, it would be impossible for me to play a 48 hour solid game of D&D and get away with it. I think they are mistaking D&D with online games like World of Warcraft. This is likely another example of a misinformed accusation, a likely bad parenting.

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So where did the moral panic begin with D&D?

There was a tragic series of events which were blown out of proportion, sucked up by the media platforms of the 80’s and 90’s and amplified through TV and various fundamental groups – one of these groups starting with single instigator, probably the most famous.

I don’t have a problem with this instigators, personally. I’ll briefly explain why.

I have sympathy for her – she lost her son, a gifted young man who was considered a bit of a genius. Patricia Pulling lost her 16-year-old son to suicide and like any parent she wanted to find the cause of it. It’s a natural reaction. Since she did not understand one of her sons’ hobbies and likely had a religious upbringing herself, the game of D&D become the target of her concern. Likely she feared its nature – fantasy and fiction. As the Jedi say, fear leads to hate and hate leads to the dark-side. Right up until her death in 1997, she campaigned against role-playing games like D&D.

Why?

She believed her son had fallen foul of a real-life curse through playing D&D. Occultism played a large part in the moral panic of that era. People genuinely believed that D&D was a gateway to doom or the devil. But why? What events in the universe allowed this tenuous link to take hold?

The Devil, Satan or whatever you call the moralistically-challenged entity that some people believe exists to tempt mankind to hell, is seen in all manner of daily things. Large businesses and corporations are surrounded by conspiracy theories. Some people think the Starbucks logo is the devils head upside down, in the form of a goat-like being. Of course, Reddit was the source of much amusement for this one.

I digress.

People thought that playing in a fantasy world would allow kids of the era to lose control of themselves, lead them into madness and dark places, struggle with reality. The fact that the world was already a dark place, with war, corruption, famine, plague and terrorism on the rise, meant nothing to these groups – it had to be the thing they thought they understood and ultimately feared.

So, what is wrong with the argument that playing D&D is likely to end up with your soul lost in the other world, unable to escape (other than sounding like the main plot for Stranger Things)? Well, other than not believing in the popular misconception of the occult (I’ve read too much horror fiction), it’s that you would have to play the game with some seriously shady people to act as the third-party sales person to Hell.

I play with respected friends who are now doctors, teachers, nurses and therapists, how about you? We all started in the spare room of a family home, secluding ourselves away to enjoy an adventure of the imagination. I enjoyed the ride and not once did I feel my soul pulling away. But what about the moral implications of playing a game where the moral alignment of a character gets murky?

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To see an original copy of the text that Puller was circulating to police, schools and other authorities, check out the escapist, who has scanned in the text for you to read. There’s a good page by page critique if you’ve got the time to read it too.

Most of what is said or argued is pretty loose when it comes to examining the details, and evidence is really pushing it as a description. Now, admittedly this was in the time before the internet – people didn’t have as much information at their fingertips. Education was something you either got from school, the library or church. No offence people of the 80’s, it wasn’t your fault.

The moral ambiguity partly stems from the alignment game mechanic. In D&D there is an axis of Law to Chaos, Good to Evil, with neutral being in the middle of both. You pick one from each axis, for example you could play lawful-good (a really upright member of a community) or lawful-evil (most politicians today), chaotic-good (Robin Hood sort of chap) or chaotic-evil (rampant, crazy and undoubtedly evil). So, what is to stop us all playing chaotic and evil characters and indulging in some crazy killing spree?

Well, nothing really.

But here’s where it is interesting – D&D creates situations where you may not have considered your actions thoroughly. The referee of the game, the Dungeon Master (DM) acts as the storyteller and explains what happens by interpreting the dice rolls of the players, gauging the success or failure of their actions and endeavors. The DM also tells or shows the story, acting as the narrator. A good DM thinks ahead. This DM/Player interaction is shared between a group of people, so the chances of it turning into a descriptive, murderous, sex-spree is unlikely. People are normal.

If a player wishes to play an evil character, they are usually the odd one out, and the DM, as a good referee of the game will point out that acting in evil ways will always have consequences, often resulting in the death of the evil character.

There are safe moral lessons in D&D – we may think that killing Orcs and Goblins in their cave lair is the right thing to do, but what happens when we stumble upon their young? It makes your players stop and think for a moment, asking themselves if there is a different way to approach this?

There are some powerful fictional deities in the fantasy world of D&D – do enough evil and you will attract the attention of the lawful good gods, controlled by the DM. Your character won’t last long.

Finally, D&D is a cooperative game, an evil character in the adventuring party is usually at a ratio of 1:4 – they will be outspoken by the other players and their game will not be as fun.

Ethan Gilsdorf says it better than I can in his book on fantasy role-playing. It was given to me as a gift by a good friend when at University who I had introduced to the game. Gilsdorf says:

“For me, the most interesting D&D games ask players to face murky ethical and morals situations, and force them into questionable behaviour” … “Does your ‘good’ character torture a goblin to get useful information that serves a higher goal? Is it okay to use a magic item that exerts mind control over other creatures to defeat a foe? D&D poses all these questions and provides opportunities for role-playing and testing ideas and decisions, all in a safe way, one that has no consequences in the real world but does teach us important lessons about how we might, or should, behave in the real world ourselves. Triumphing over that evil force helps reset our moral compasses.”

Ultimately society has to become far more objective and skeptical when we are approached by people trying to help us out, who tell is that we need to fear something based on their knee-jerk reactions and anecdotal data – even those who act as scientists have fallen fowl to speaking up without actually collecting facts and viewing them with an objective eye.

Fortunately science was able to correct the problem in the mid 90’s and sort out much of the lies and misinformation and admit that some of what was said as fact by therapists and officials was simply wrong. Science is good, but is easily misconstrued by false prophets.

Ultimately we have to learn, as a society, to see a moral panic when it happens. If we can do that, and not get caught up in the stinking mess, we may actually stand a chance at peace and harmony. Particularly if we learn from the mistakes of our ancestors – something which we need to maintain now that the generations of the world war are nearly gone.

J.D Ferris, CC

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