posted by Dareon Original SA post

You know, with all the terribleness in this thread, something needs to be done. Some remedial class that can save the DMs who think these horrible books are good ideas.

Something... X-TREME.

Xtreme Dungeon Mastery, Part One: Lose Three Levels For Downloading This Book


This ain't your mama's sorry, saggy old adventure supplement. We're talking the difference between 'bad' DMs and 'wicked bad' DMs. We're talking about taking your sleepy-eyed, hit-point-countin', wait-it-out-in-the-middle-of-the-party players, grabbing them by the front of their stained T-shirt and shakin' their world 'til their dice fall out.

Designed by Tracy Hickman (designer of a few products you may have heard of, like the Ravenloft module and Dragonlance campaign setting) and his son Curtis, and illustrated by Howard Tayler , Xtreme Dungeon Mastery (hereafter referred to as XDM , note italics) is, in essence, a style guide to improve the quality of one's DMing or playing. It actually doesn't address the books you choose to use, but at least guides you to not having a terrible adventure beyond the baseline provided by the source material. In theory, and I say this with tongue firmly in cheek, one could apply the teachings of this book and have a fun, engaging game of FATAL.


Why would anyone write a book like this? Because when we see a poor kid sitting next to a gaming table with a half-painted miniature in his hand, we think what you think. This room needs lasers. Big lasers, and possibly fire.

The book opens with a large striped-border disclaimer that many of the techniques and processes described in the book can be hazardous, both to yourself and others. That bit about lasers and fire? Not hyperbole. We then move on to a fictional (or is it? ) account of the Société de l'Ultime Maîtres , or XDMs (note lack of italics) through the ages. Notable developments:
And that brings us through the introduction. Chapter One is a test to determine your suitability to be an XDM. The test scores your abilities at die recognition, player involvement, math, rules arguments, your Communist Party leanings, and your willingness to cheat. Especially your willingness to cheat.

Chapter Two covers initiation into the secret society of XDMs, with do-it-yourself initiation rituals (The first step is buying the book or otherwise $20 worth of official XDM merchandise) and an explanation of XDM Levels. Upon purchasing the book, you begin as a level 1 Wet Newt XDM. This is actually the only part of the book with an obvious error, because it states everywhere that Wet Newt is level 1, but the leveling charts indicate Wet Newt is actually level zero, the chart listing for level 1 is 'Nub Newt'. Completely reading the Secret History of XDMs (my synopsis above does not count) bumps you to level 2, Festering Newt. Each numeric level is associated with a mythic animal, an adjective, and, at 100+, a noble title. I happen to be level 14, a Flashing Kobold. Howard Tayler, on the other hand, is a Grand Chief Number One Archduke Fanged Titan, or level 187 with cluster. Level 100 exactly is Archduke (or Duchess) Wet Newt, which amuses me.

It's worth noting that XDMs in general are against players leveling up.

Chapter Three: It's About The Players
There are three types of player. If you objected to that sentence as a gross generalization, lose a level. Then lose another one. Then lose a third four paragraphs later when it says most gamers will be composites of all three in varying degrees.
Warrior Player - "If it moves, kill it. If it doesn't move, kick it 'til it moves. Take its stuff. Buy bigger weapons. Kill bigger things." Give this player a pointy thing and a horde of squishy things in front of them and they're happy. Logic and setting are more or less irrelevant.
Social Player - "If it moves, talk to it. If it doesn't move, talk ABOUT it. Stay in character and speak with an affected voice." May attend game in costume. In parties composed entirely of this type, the book recommends setting them in a colorful tavern and going for pizza. They will probably still be talking to each other, in character, when you get back. Love campaign settings.
Thinking Player - "If it moves, how can I use that to help me win? If it doesn't move, how can I use that to help me win? The world is full of obstacles between me and winning, and I'll use whatever strategy I need to overcome them." This type requires a clear, perceivable goal, and enjoys puzzles and obstacles along the way.

So, each player type has a specific thing they want out of an encounter. For warriors, that's easy enough. Something to hit or the promise of it. It also includes suspense, the threat of doom all around them. Social players need something to speak to them. Not just dialogue, but something that tells part of a story. An example given later in the book is two decayed corpses locked in brutal struggle in the tomb of a third. Thinking players must feel like they've made progress towards the end of the adventure. This can be as simple as a puzzle or trap to bypass, or an environmental clue that indicates the end of that particular journey is nigh.

Which is all fine and good, but how do you apply it to your game? They suggest juggling. Not literally... yet. But examine your group silently, gauge which of them is restless or losing interest, and throw something at them to appeal to their type(s). The example given is a pirate attack to first appease the warriors, then one is only mostly dead and produces a sob story for the socials, and then admits to secret knowledge to tempt the thinkers. The point is to emphasize whichever element is most lacking at any given time.

Next: Frodo, Ewoks, sausage, Mount Everest, and Mad Libs. And that's only one chapter!

Ewoks, Hobbits, Same Thing

posted by Dareon Original SA post

Xtreme Dungeon Mastery, Part 2: Ewoks, Hobbits, Same Thing

It should be noted that if a joke is in quotes, it's lifted from the book. Everything else attempting to be funny is my own creation.

The main impetus for this book seems to be fixing problems that have been around since the dawn of roleplaying games (We're talking Gygax here, not the DM Shield of Kish ). You might think these problems had mostly been done away with, and you may be right. However, from my own D&D-centric experience, and the one espoused by the Hickmans (They never mention any other game), those same problems are still prevalent at least until the introduction of 4E. I have no data there.

At any rate, the guiding concept for the DMing advice chapters is, in essence, "Things should make sense." Chapter Four: Story Is Everything begins with a minor discussion of dungeon design in the early D&D era: Sprawling one-story dungeons, referred to here as ranch-style, with random encounter tables that often made no account of why a monster was in a room. The chapter heading art depicts such a monster: A dragon, reaching out of a dungeon doorway with claws the size of a halfling and a head that might fit through the door if it was greased, pleading with a pair of surprised adventurers that they can have its treasure, just help it get out! Considering these designs, Laura Hickman suggested that an adventure should make sense: If there was a vampire in a dungeon, there should be a good reason for a vampire to be in that dungeon. This was the inspiration for the Ravenloft module. Get used to that name, we'll be coming back to Ravenloft a few more times, as well as making an excursion or two into Dragonlance!

Roughly 45% of the chapter is devoted to discussion of the Campbellian Monomyth, the basic structure for an epic story as set forth by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces . The Monomyth consists of:
Rather than a list, this is actually a cycle, because now the hero is back at home (or at a new home), ready for another Mentor to come along and drag him on another adventure in Lord of the Rings 2: The Gray Havens. Also, many stories start in medias res , usually on the Road of Trials, but the earlier stages are usually related in the form of flashbacks. Most tabletop games have the players work out their Call to Adventure and Mentor stages, beginning with the group as a whole at the Threshold or just the other side. Personally, I've been kicking around an idea for a campaign based around the entire monomyth, where the players start out, say, as level 1 Commoners or Experts, have one adventure as such, then gain hero training. It would probably be horrible, I have no illusions about that.

The next 45% of the chapter is on mystery and surprise. It spends a little time on the concept of romance. Not boy-meets-girl, but the compelling, evocative type, like how the Old West or pirate times or feudal Japan are considered. It urges against exploring too deeply into that, or you lose the mystery. The old saw about not learning how sausage is made is referenced.

Surprise: The sudden revelation of an unknown or unanticipated truth. This naturally involves deceiving your players, but the book is quite clear that you must not cheat your audience. There are three ways to alter the truth in order to create a surprising deception:
It uses the stereotypical murder mystery plot as an example. I'll just quote it.


A wealthy old man is killed in the kitchen by his young butler Jerry after a scuffle with a gun. Jerry then also shoots himself. Our detective, Sir Wally Smokepipe, is investigating the scene despite the insistence of the police that the case is closed. After a series of events, each of which reveals several clues, we are ready to be shocked by the final revelation.
"The murderer is Jerry the butler!" Each eye turns to Sir Wally as if they were going to say, "You're joking, right?"
"However," Smokepipe continues, "this man is not Jerry! No! the real Jerry hasn't lived here for weeks has he?" The inspector looks down at the butler. The corpse denies nothing.
"Well how do you know that he didn't just shoot the bloke himself?" A woman says, kicking the cold body on the kitchen floor.
"His hands. You see, this particular pistol would have left a distinctive gunpowder residue on his fingers."
"But inspector," a bearded policeman in the crowd interrupted, "Why would anyone agree to pretend..."
"They wouldn't. Unless they knew that someone on the police force could help them escape, perhaps promising them part of the old man's hidden fortune. It would have to be someone new to the force, though, wouldn't it?" Smokepipe turns to Cadet Johnny Goodguy, and repeats, "Wouldn't it?" Goodguy starts to perspire heavily. "However, nothing went according to plan. The kitchen looks as if there wasa fight, but the old man could hardly get out of bed in the morning. No, as it turns out the man had no hidden fortune and in fact was a lot of money in debt. When things didn't go as planned, a fight between the two plotters ensued and shots rang out. But we couldn't leave the old man as a witness. No, something had to be done."
The first assumption that the audience makes is that the butler didn't do it-after all there wouldn't be much of a story here if he did. So we play off that assumption. Then we alter the truth by saying that the dead man on the floor of the kitchen is Jerry (which we will later learn he is not). Finally, we include the idea that the gun used creates a certain gunpowder stain on the fingers when fired. This is the unknown truth. Other assumptions and alterations are made: policemen are good, the old man was shot for the money, and there is only one man in on it.
We then get some handy tips for accomplishing these shenanigans with the truth.
Now it's time for the reveal, you've been building up to this at least for the whole adventure. Don't just blurt it out. Start by proving it. Good (and the book stresses good ) M. Night Shyamalan movies use a flashback, a rapid review of evidence, that supports the twist. Think of every time the color red shows up in The Sixth Sense. If you know the players remember it, it's more or less unnecessary, but for weird things, you may need to prod their memory by dictating what they remember. And slow down , there's no rush. Drop your final clue and give them a moment to work it out. If they sit there dumbly for more than a full minute, have orcs attack or something, you're running the wrong type of game. 50 Foot Ant provided a great anecdote of just such a reveal, 22 years in the making, in the best experiences thread . Regardless of personal feelings toward the man, it does adequately convey what can be done.

The remaining 10% of the chapter is a random storyline generator. It provides a Mad Libs-style sentence skeleton and several tables of appropriate entries. A sentence thus looks like:


A _2_ _1_ is _6_ing a _1 or 3_ with a _5_ _3_ in a/the _5_ _4_.
This is actually very clunky, because you can't use physical dice to pick anything without mental gymnastics similar to that needed to determine numbers of monsters encountered in AD&D. Table 1 has 70 entries, table 3 has 35... Still, thanks to the seeded random number generators (Otherwise known as dicebots), we can make the magic happen. I'll just run through the list of seven templates and mark which table each answer is from.
A silent2 wizard1 is plunder6ing a graveyard3 with a quarantined4 recipe5 in a foreign4 labyrinth3.

Near a/the silver4 grotto3 a destroyed4 quest5 is being damn6ed.

The long forgotten lightning5 of dishonorable2 plague1s has been blinded/desolated6 by a golden2 gnome1.

The legend of the goblet5 and the consecrated4 desert3.

The shining4 bow5 of the rogue1 city3 has been disenchanted6 by a group of satyr1s.

The righteous4 conjuror1 riddle5 has been taken revenge upon6 in an exotic4 oasis3.

The ghostly2 hero1 of the floating4 cliffs3 has been eliminated6.
So how do you use these things? As jumping-off points. Let's take the first example, the silent wizard, in the graveyard, with the candlestick recipe. It sounds okay up until "quarantined recipe". Let's consider synonyms. Something quarantined is dangerous, hazardous, and forbidden. A recipe is a list of ingredients and actions to take, much like a ritual. So we come out with a black magic ritual. You can plunder a graveyard in a couple different ways, but with a ritual, it's probably going to involve raising the dead. So we have a basic necromancer plot, complicated by a labyrinth. Given the "foreign" tag, and the strong connection of labyrinth with Greece, I picture a Chinese guy raising jiangshis in Crete.

You may have noticed the similarity in structure between the example and the first story thing. The quoted example is wrong. I think they wrote the chapter text at one time, then put the charts in later and renumbered them, because as written you'd get "an <adjective> <creature> is <verb>ing a <creature/place> with an <object> <place> in an <object> <adjective>." Which would admittedly produce some lovely Engrish.

In any case, sometimes you get something that's usable as-is, but that thing about the gnome with the lightning is just begging to reroll the verb.

Next: Railroading and the lack thereof, riddles, traps, and world/dungeon design.

Dwarves in Boats

posted by Dareon Original SA post

Xtreme Dungeon Mastery Part 3: Dwarves in Boats

Chapter Four was probably the largest except for the sleight-of-hand chapter, the others should go more quickly. Chapter Five: Designing For Story covers the types of adventure format there are.

It begins with linear design, also known as railroading. Each segment of story leads inevitably to the next, if the players decline the old man's offer to hunt a red dragon for him, they stumble upon the red dragon's lair anyway. This style actually has two benefits: comparable uniformity and economy. If you happen to be running several different groups through it, you can simply gauge how far each got and declare a winner. Ninja Warrior is cited as an example. And, as a designer, you know every single location will be visited, and none of your precious creative effort will be wasted. It should never be used otherwise, and the economy argument is deprecated.

Next comes the open matrix, the opposite end of the spectrum. The "adventurers in a tavern" joke has its beard shaved off and a new suit shoved on it in order to demonstrate that the PCs could go literally anywhere from that tavern. The book has very little good to say about it, but this is basically plopping your players into a campaign setting and asking where they want to go. It's wonderful for players, but it's a nightmare for designers, because you can practically guarantee that they will go everywhere except the place you just got done designing and feel is your magnum opus.

Finally, we have the closed matrix, which can be identified as Fallout or a Bioware RPG. A more effective simile would be the Way of the Samurai series of games, but Bioware has better market presence. You begin, give the players freedom, and gently guide them so their actions contribute to an ending. Along the way, choices they make that do not contribute to an ending encounter hard or soft edges, acting as rubber bumpers and guiding them ever-so-gently back to the plot. These can include countdown scenarios, removing available options, or sealing the PCs in the adventure site until they gracefully and of their own free will accept your gentle, gentle guidance and move towards the goal.

The book helpfully provides an example. The "adventurers in a tavern" joke is wiped clean, given fresh makeup, and put back on the street. They receive word that a princess is being held to the east, and her captor's armies are on the march. So, the players go west. They encounter a wounded messenger, who gives them an urgent message for the princess to the east before croaking. This is a soft bumper, trying to keep the PCs on on track and urge them to the east. So they continue west. They encounter army forces fleeing from the front lines, who tell them the forces of the invading army are insurmountable, and the princess (to the east, remember) must be rescued or all is lost. This is a more emphatic soft bumper. Being civic-minded individuals, our heroes naturally continue west. Now they encounter the battle-lines of the princess' captor. They are truly insurmountable, their lines impenetrable.


At this point, the players have encountered a hard boundary. If they insist on continuing west, well, they deserve to die in whatever way seems the most ignominious. Natural selection really should apply to heroes.
So, how does this differ from railroading? Alternate endings and more freedom in path choice.

Try and guess what Chapter Six: Selddir is about. Go on, guess. Riddles are supposedly one of the better ways to engage your players, but in practice one of three scenarios happens:
The advice here only covers the first two: Ask the players what their characters think of the situation. Unless one or more of your players has read the player advice section of XDM , you're on your own for the third thing. The example riddles are basically designed to keep the orcs out of your dungeon. Very simple, you have a few door puzzles, a few heads-i-win, tails-you-lose scenarios (One weighted for the players, another against), a few lateral thinking problems ("How much dirt in a hole 15 feet wide and four feet deep?"), and a rehash of the typical 'one lies, one tells the truth, another might be either' problem.

More interesting is the section on physical puzzles, segments of dungeon that include mechanisms or mystical artifacts that must be manipulated in order to proceed. Done poorly, of course, this leads to collecting colored keycards, chess pieces, mosaic tiles, and monster body parts in order to gain access to the bathroom wherein is held... another key! These must always have a reason to exist. No one builds an intensely-complicated array of levers controlling a door for no reason.

Traps are much like puzzles, but if used wrong (i.e. by a DM who wishes to assert his superiority and control over the players), will kill not just the player's fun, but their characters as well. Like puzzles, they should make sense, but they must also be foreshadowed, and not just by a pile of corpses (although that's okay too). Additionally, all traps must have a way to deactivate them "-and we're not talking about a thief character named 'Stinky.'" Some shutoff lever, located some place that makes sense. Also, if the trap is between the players and something they absolutely need to progress (and not just overweight stringed instruments), provide an alternate path.

I probably should have read Chapter Seven: Thou Shalt Prepare! before I started writing. XDMs do not believe in winging it. On the other hand, XDM cautions against over-preparing, where your campaign never gets seen. Mapping is a big concern. Again, everything needs to make sense. Castles need housing and access for all staff. Medieval towns had convoluted streets in order to confuse invading armies. Your medieval towns should be intentionally confusing.

Profile views of dungeon-type structures are useful. Castle Ravenloft (See, I told you it would come up again) was reverse-engineered from the layouts of French and German castles, and then the exterior view was drawn and the interior spaces cut to fit. It not only looks and feels like a castle, but all the stairs up and down had the added benefit of confusing the fuck out of the players.

Exterior geography should conform to real-world physics as well. Mountains create rain shadow, civilizations follow the course of rivers, and ruins were something at one time, nobody builds 'ruins'. If monsters move in, why, and what have they done to the place?

And now, a wizard did it.


You have exactly five seconds to launch into an extensive discourse on how magic works in your world, why this magic still works after all this time, and why this particular piece of magic isn't just some weak, milquetoast, pansy-sissy DM whining to excuse his way out of a bad design. If at any point in your explanation any XDM within the sound of your voice gets even the slightest feeling that you are somehow channeling Doug Henning saying 'It's Magic!' then you lose two levels as an XDM and must immediately make a saving throw for your design or start all over!
That quote pretty much covers that section, so instead of covering no less than two personal anecdotes and a software recommendation, I'll just gripe about the number of personal anecdotes in this book. About once a chapter, they veer off into a personal example: "We did this, and that's why you should too." Usually it's accompanied by "<firstname>* and Tracy" "*<firstname> <lastname>, <superlative> <profession>, look how cool we are that we can call them by their first name". Hell, one chapter is entirely a personal anecdote: "Here's a thing we did at a con!" I get that you should write what you know, but come on .

Onward. There are two basic restrictions on the players when going through an adventure, and you must choose between them when designing for the closed matrix. They are the option lock and the time lock.
Option locks are easily identified as the majority of underground dungeons: As the players clear each room, that room ceases to have any interesting content, meaning as long as they continue to explore, they'll eventually reach the conclusion of the adventure. These option locks are more about space and choices than time.
Time locks are just that: A countdown of some sort that motivates the players to finish up before Bad Things happen. This could be a sinking ship or an astrological convergence or any number of other things that can serve as a definite boundary between Before and After. Or Before and Game Over, if you prefer, although that's usually not a good idea.

And the last section of this chapter covers tricks for adventure writing. Treat the adventure text as a script to base a performance off of, not a list to read. Think about providing scripts for your players to act out cut scenes with (I would assume these are scripts for the behaviors and lines of NPCs, but it really doesn't say, they could honestly be advocating giving your players a list of what you want their characters to say). Add implied story to your scenes, bits of scenery that hint at activities beyond the looting and plundering your PCs are there for. Lay foundations by referencing or hinting at the ending of the adventure near the beginning. And occasionally throw in some nice, detailed little bit that means absolutely nothing: "No, you don't see anything unusual after inspecting the thirty-foot tall clay statue of the grim man whose eyes stare down at you with hollow coldness despite the oppressive heat in the room... at least for now! "

That brings us to the end of the theoretical section. Next up: Acting! Ethics! Cockblocking your players!

So where did "Dwarves in Boats" come from? One of the anecdotes I skipped was about the Dwarven Road, a huge underground river.

Roll On Ben Stein's Treasure Table

posted by Dareon Original SA post

Xtreme Dungeon Mastery Part 4: Roll On Ben Stein's Treasure Table

Chapter Eight: All the Game's a Stage begins the section on practical XDMery, the previous 59 pages out of 158 were on theory and setting up for a bunch of in-jokes whenever the book's purchasers get together to call each other wet newts. The book now spends a page telling us that the role of an XDM is that of a modern bard, telling a story that can connect with people on a more personal level than the mass entertainment we find today. Granted, this is not a hard task, people these days personally connect to cleverly-constructed collections of computer code.

Even so, the book does provide some useful tips. For starters, exposition can just stop your party dead, leaving them standing there while you take a big old steaming infodump on them. One suggested method of dealing with this is the scripted and player-acted cutscene, mentioned in the previous installment. Again, no reassurance that you're not sticking words in their mouths, although it does say that if you have a good group, you can just give them the piece of info you want brought to light and let them improv it, which I find much more appealing. Props are also mentioned, but I'm pretty sure by now almost everyone has heard the "soak it in coffee" trick. Find weird things in stores run by ancient Chinese men and hope they have no mystical powers of their own, because you're about to assign them some and hand them to your players. The third option is YouTube. Well, specifically producing your own cutscene with video equipment, but hopefully this won't just be a fat geek in a dress reenacting Princess Leia's hologram to Obi-Wan.

How you use your voice can help with pacing and atmosphere, too. No one wants to be DMed by Ben Stein. Keep your voice low, slow, and hushed in standard dungeon crawling. It will help moderate the volume at the table and serve as a baseline. Go slower and lower with emphasis as you prep for something to happen. Then, come combat, trap, or other exciting circumstance (The monsters remembered it was a PC's birthday! Surprise party! Roll initiative versus pinata!), pitch and pace must increase tremendously. The only problem is, usually this is when the combat rules take place. The slow, plodding, combat rules. Offloading is the suggested way to combat this, and most play-by-post games (at least here) do that by default, with either DMs asking for or players providing unasked their relevant modifiers and damage. Of course, at a physical table there is more the players can do.

Read the descriptive text of the adventure, but only to yourself. Instead, put it in your mind and issue it in your own words, so you have both knowledge and control of the situation when (not if) the players ask you questions beyond the scope of the written text. Also, keep the entire situation in mind, especially in combat. Half a dozen dudes slugging away at each other in neat, orderly turns stretches credulity. Get actions from everybody, put them all together, and describe them all at once, keeping in mind that the archer missing from the back might have had his arrow batted out of the air by the paladin in front, who in turn might have his arm jostled by the rogue trying to flank... and keep shifting emphasis from combat to talking to puzzles as each of your player archetypes gets bored.

Above all, act realistically. You should understand the correct reaction an NPC, environment, or you yourself will have in response to a player's actions. Your wizard just launched a fireball on the city streets in the dead of night. Most people aren't going to sleep through that! Is anything on fire? What about the city watch? Or the enemy suddenly confronted with not-so-subtle, yet still-quick anger? What do the city ordinances have to say about late-night fireballs? Are the PCs about to be chased out of town, or just pay 5 silver for disrupting the peace? I just condensed two pages into that paragraph, and spared you an anecdote about Tracy lynching his son's party in Ravenloft. Also, laugh if they're funny.

Chapter Nine: Living Through The Revolution (What to do when your players turn uglier than they already are!) ( ) covers dealing with rules lawyers. Two pages, relatively painless. A character has the audacity , the nerve , the unbridled gall to question you on a rules decision, deluded somehow into thinking that their memory and rulebook access is somehow greater than your own knowledge and vision. What do you do?

Speaking of which, next up: Frickin' laser beams!

In Which I Break From Both Title Format And Descriptive Format

posted by Dareon Original SA post

Xtreme Dungeon Mastery Part 5: In Which I Break From Both Title Format And Descriptive Format

Hello and welcome to another episode of Domestic Blitz. Today, we'll be taking this basement lair, with its bare concrete walls, mildewy carpet, and odor redolent of pizza and masturbation, shoveling the anime figurines elsewhere, and turning it into a bitchin' rave party dance floor. To start, we'll need a DJ booth. Here is where our DJ will control lights, sound, lasers, holograms, and fog. It is also where the pyrotechnician will control the flash pots. We run as many speakers as this sound system can take from it, then set up two media-player programs, one full of sound effects, the other background music. We keep these at low volume, so our XDM can be heard over them.

Now for our dramatic lighting, easily accomplished on a shoestring budget. We have here an assortment of clamped lights, white Christmas lights, and materials. A few of these materials are used by professional lighting technicians, but the rest can be found at any large chain store. These bedsheets will drape nicely and serve to both hide the unsightly walls, and also form dramatic shadows when strongly lit. This black fishing net can be laced with Christmas lights for a beautiful ceiling reminiscent of the night sky. Now, this is black wrap , basically thick, tinted aluminum foil. A roll like this will set you back about 20 to 30 dollars, but you could use kitchen foil and spray-paint it. We punch holes in it, bend it around one of these clamp lights, mount the light, and, once the fog is going, we'll have some gorgeous streams of light coming off it. And finally, this china ball - like a Chinese lantern- will provide soft, diffuse light across the whole room. Costs about 5 to 10 bucks. We'll want to wire all these into the DJ booth, too. You can get a good light-control board, or just daisy-chain multi-plugs. Remember not to overload them, and have a fire extinguisher handy.

Fog is a staple of many of these effects. Foggers may be found at practically every superstore during the Halloween season, and at party supply stores at other times. Floor foggers will create more of an eerie atmosphere, while air foggers will set off our lighting and lasers better. We'll want water-based fog, for ease of cleanup, and of course the control for this is in the DJ booth.

Now we come to lasers. We have to be careful to set these up so they won't be shining in anyone's eyes. Handheld laser pointers will serve just fine, and most of the rest of our gear can be produced from things lying around the house. Small motors, small mirrors, speakers, and springs. Green lasers add that extra bit of visibility, but at a commensurate expense and chance of eye damage. Now, here we have the simplest thing. It's a mirror on a spring, attached to a block of wood. We apply fog, aim the laser at the mirror, and give it a flick.

For more advanced effects, we can use diffraction grating or textured glass attached to a motor and shine the laser through, or stick a mirror directly onto a speaker and bounce the laser off that.

For our next trick, we've blocked off part of this basement for a black art set, which we can also use for Pepper's Ghost , also known as the Dircksian Phantasmagoria. This is an advanced maneuver, rather expensive, and those playing at home may wish to omit this illusion and the black art setup entirely. We've blocked off a square, a quarter of which will be storage or otherwise unused. Let's just stick all these wallscrolls and figurines in here, safely out of sight. Another quarter is our black art set, covered in black felt and with a black chair and lights in it. Those wishing to go whole hog can use velvet, but felt is the most cost-effective solution here. You'll need a solid investment in lint rollers to keep it from collecting hair, though. In any case, this is our "realm of the dead." The opposite corner contains the "realm of the living," a dimly-lit chair in the same relative position as the one in the black art set. Between them we have a large sheet of plexiglass, at a 45-degree angle. This essentially serves as a half-silvered mirror. When the lights come up in the realm of the dead, the audience, in this case our gamers, see a ghostly, transparent man sitting in the chair in the realm of the living. The black art set itself can be opened to the view of the players and used for sudden appearances of, say, the pizza guy or a beloved NPC.

Tune in next time, when we start burning things!

That was Chapter Ten: Atmosphere (Enough Fog, Lights, Music, and Lasers to Cause All Manner of Seizures) . I'd continue with the pyrotechnics chapter, but the jokes don't hold well with the faux tv-show format.


posted by Dareon Original SA post

Xtreme Dungeon Mastery Part 6:

Chapter Eleven: Devil's Touch (Pyrotechnics and Other Ways to Make the Fire Department Mad) opens by belaboring the point. First there is a large fire safety disclaimer in place of the chapter art, then the rest of the page also discusses fire safety. The gist: Don't do anything in this chapter, except maybe flash paper, and be damn careful with that. This warning is mostly unnecessary, because of the joke they proceed to belabor, and I shall also belabor, because damn it, you should suffer as I suffer. Also, XDMs that are irresponsible with fire lose four levels. Also also, the authors would like to thank the BATF, NTSB, Department of Homeland Security, and Smokey the Bear for their gracious help in editing this chapter.

Flash Paper
Flash paper has a myriad of uses for the creative XDM. You can fling fireballs in the faces of your unsuspecting players, write self-destructing notes, fling fireballs at the miniatures of your unsuspecting players, use sleight-of-hand to make quest items appear more dramatically, fling fireballs at the crotches of your probably-expecting-it-by-now players, etc. You can buy a flash paper launcher used by professional magicians, but since it costs as much as at least one, possibly two game books, I'd settle for just the flash paper and maybe something cheaper .

They suggest simply buying your flash paper, but if you simply must make it:

Flash Pots
You're all familiar with these, these are professional pyrotechnic gear, what they use to make the explosions in movies. Great for scaring the piss out of your players, but these aren't exactly made to be used in a basement. These can be useful for LARPs or other large-scale, outdoor games. "It is important that you get your mother's permission to use these if you are an adult under the age of fifty." You can buy them online, costing about 50 bucks. Or, you can make your own, instructions can be found at I'm pretty sure they blacked out a URL here or but not here . They are easier to operate than flash paper, however. Just a teaspoon of the appropriate powder in the receptacle, hit the switch, and boom!

You've got three choices for powder. Flash powder makes fiery explosions and is usually made of marshmallow cream . Black powder is safer than flash powder and gives you more of a smoke bomb effect. You can add some bufotenine for greater effect. And finally, we have magical pixie dust , which creates fiery bits of sparkle in your explosion. You can make your own with a coffee grinder, rock tumbler, or other methods, but they really recommend just buying the professional-grade hookers , for consistency.

A Giant Fucking Incredible Fireball!


If you are a diehard XDM gamer and want to continue your gaming career in prison, this should do it. Say that you're running your XDM role playing game in the middle of a plowed field, or open desert space one hundred yards square on a side Naturally, you would want the attack of your giant flaming dragon to have a visceral impact on your players. What you need is the giant Incredible Fireball! This should all be done on your favorite game site, just past the middle of nowhere. I'm sure you regularly play your game in the middle of an open, barren place.
The instructions are all about "Don't make it too big," "Don't use too much," "Seriously, use JUST THIS MUCH, NO MORE." Minimum distance 45 feet.

The Armageddon Hellstorm

First, obtain a large microwave-safe casserole dish.
Second, My god this joke is getting tiresome. At this point 80% of the 'recipe' is blacked out, but since it mentions international flights and weapons-grade blank, I'm pretty sure this is supposed to be an atom bomb.

The joke literally continues for multiple paragraphs of blacked text. The entire joke is summed up by the art at the beginning of the section: Smokey the Bear yelling "REDACTED!"

So, how 'bout that local sports team?
at a minimum distance of five miles.

I may or may not have mentioned that Curtis Hickman is a Vegas magician. As such, it's not entirely surprising that Chapter Twelve: Wonders of the Gods deals with little bits of closeup magic you can work.

The chapter begins with contact juggling , which is damned impressive if you can pull it off, but be warned you'll be flinging your balls all over the place while you learn it.

It moves on to black art, which I covered in the previous installment as it struck me as a better place. Other than what I mentioned there, the concept is that if light is shining directly at an observer, they can't determine details of what's around it, which allows a man under a black sheet to stand in full view on a black stage and be unseen before he drops the sheet.

Then come card tricks, including forcing the volunteer to draw the card you want, fans and shuffles and other manipulation tricks, as well as a few possible uses for forcing a card. The most intriguing is a use of time displacement: The PCs acquire something with premonitory abilities, but it makes its predictions such that they cannot be read before it has made a certain number. The first prediction it makes details a card force. The rest of them detail actions that occur during the game (and are then written down by the premonitory thingie), and once you force the card on the players, the premonitions are complete and the "predictions" can be read and will all be TRUE!

After that we have a few die tricks, mostly vanishes, but it does go into detail about the Volatilis Sors, or 'Winged Fortune':


Effect: You roll your d20 and don't like the result so you make a small waving motion over the die and it literally and visually re-rolls itself. If you don't like that result you can always wave again, or snap your fingers, getting the die to float back up into your hands, ready to be rolled. If someone complains feel free to hand them the d20 to see just how utterly normal it really is.
This trick is worth more than the price of this book to magicians, and so I will not reproduce the method here.

So we move from great value into worthlessness. Chapter Thirteen: Killer Breakfast To Go is ten pages detailing a con game. Killer Breakfast is a rapid-turnover, comedy-reliant, massively multiplayer session of an RPG. Players are given weak, pitiful excuses for characters and demanded to be funny. "As soon as your death is funnier than you are, you die!" This chapter is of virtually no use, save for a small bit at the end about Murder in the Dark. MitD is a party game that, when translated into an RPG, makes it into Paranoia. Players are given secret missions to accomplish, often in conflict. The twist from a normal game of Paranoia is that they're handed out randomly, and not always at the start of the game, so the DM doesn't even know who's doing what.

This brings us to the end of the XDM's portion of the book, save for a small bit on GMing the XD20 System later. For our next installment, we have the advice they give players saddled with one of these flashy, omnipotent, tricksy, epic, and yes, xtreme DMs.

As a side note, every mention of XDM levels, specifically those of Tracy/Curtis/Laura Hickman and Howard Tayler, gives different numbers and titles that conflict with the table.

A Door!

posted by Dareon Original SA post

Xtreme Dungeon Mastery Part 7: A Door!

Here's a quick test of your dungeoneering mettle. As you explore the deep, stygian depths of the dungeon, slogging ankle-deep through black, foul waters, you hear the scream of a kidnapped princess from the rotting wooden cell door nearby. Do you:
So, how'd you do? What was your answer? Hmm? WRONG!

Too often, players become complacent, cautious, cowardly . Chapter Fourteen: How You Play The Game aims to correct this, and Tracy Hickman will be with you every step of the way! Occasionally a party may wind up mostly composed of forensic accountants, determined to find the absolutely safest means of traversing a dungeon, determined that no encounter would result in death or even mild delay, no matter how long they had to spend poking the door to ensure it wasn't trapped. Trapped in a party such as this, Tracy once spent an entire session in a room covered in literally unreadable writing, but you couldn't convince the party of that.

This anecdote is covered much better in the art, so I will instead describe that. The chapter art, on page 112, shows a halfling carefully picking a lock while the wizard and cleric (Or paladin, he's wearing Templar crosses and wielding a warhammer) look over his shoulder. The barbarian, however, is a short distance away, facing the other way, hefting his axe, and grinning. On page 115, the wizard is seen running frantically, holding his hat on with one hand. Page 116 has the halfling running past a severed orc head, while 117 shows the cleric describing the barbarian to a friendly skeleton, who responds "page 119." Page 119 is the frontispiece for the XD20 Roleplaying System. Now, each of the frontispieces has shown a door of some sort. The door on page 119 has been smashed off its hinges. We don't catch up with the barbarian until page 140, as he gleefully chases a goblin into Chapter Eighteen, the monster section.

So, yes, Tracy's character, the barbarian, opened the door. And then the next. All of them, pausing only to let the party recover slightly. They must have gone through thirty rooms that night, culminating in a wizard who his fellow adventurers were settling in for a nice, peaceful, boring parley with. The barbarian proceeded to develop a hitherto undisplayed hatred of wizards, that somehow did not extend to the wizard in the party, and spit in the ancient bathrobe man's face. The battle resulted in the party's wizard accidentally casting Fireball into a 30x30x10 room. I'm pretty sure the rules text for Fireball in 2E had a line that said "If this spell is cast into a space that cannot quite hold it, kill the party." That is the only explanation I can think of for why so many game stories of that era end with "And then Hibbert The Ineluctable cast Fireball." and the dude just stops talking.

2E was my first RPG, so I know the rules for Fireball, that was affected ignorance for humorous effect.

In any case, the book proceeds to talk about how, at some point, the players of tabletop RPGs began to associate surviving with winning. People have given up heroics for security, and hence become boring. With the possibility that something heroic could fail and thus kill their character, people have just stopped being heroic and instead settled into the much safer world of adventuring accountants. This way, they can be assured of long, healthy, high-level lives.

Admittedly, I'm often guilty of this. I once had a druid faced with sharks, and the reason I didn't charm them and ride them was because it was D&D, not OctaNe. Trying to ride a shark untrained without a saddle would just result in floundering and horrible thigh lacerations.

To combat this sad, sad, lack of heroics, XDM recommends you think of a few things about your character:

If the game is dragging, change that. If you haven't done anything in the last five minutes, do something. If you can't solve a puzzle in ten, leave it. Use your voice to dramatic effect: The fat guy behind the screen shouldn't be the only one who gets to do funny voices. Use your environment to your advantage: Tracy once stole some orcish pornography and used it later to distract some orcs. And keep your party members in mind. You may be having a gay old time tearing through door after door, but give your cleric some time to catch up so he can heal that last trap and at least try to talk you out of charging through the next door.

Those seem very concise and rapidfire points, but that is literally how they are presented, sans personal anecdotes and a little belaboring of the point. Finally, the book tells us there is no real statistical difference between being careful and being balls-out, hang-ten, to-the-window-to-the-wall gonzo. This is intentionally ignoring first-round surprise factors, which is a main reason parties are so careful. It then goes into a full page anecdote that has absolutely no bearing on the difference between careful and brave.


posted by Dareon Original SA post

Xtreme Dungeon Mastery, Part 8: WAH WAH WAH WAAAAAAAH

Chapter Fifteen: The XD20 Basic Game begins like the introductory chapter of virtually any other RPG book out there. This game is truly basic, and so it provides infinite flexibility, limited only by what the XDM wishes to allow into his game. Gandalf with a machine gun? Perfectly fine. Light Yagami wielding the Seventh Holy Scripture? Anime as fuck, but possible. Commander Shepard with a chainsword? Voted five, go hog wild! You can do anything, because it truly know no limit.

At any rate, they make the case that this can be used to get family members into gaming without handing them three dozen sourcebooks and a logarithmic table for die results. All you require is a 20-sided die, a character sheet, and an XDM.

To create your character:

Play is conducted by the XDM setting target numbers in the event an action requires a roll. These are based on the characters' STAT, and must be rolled at or above the STAT plus or minus whatever modifiers may be in play.

This is all very nice, but a trifle... simplistic. Basic, if you will. For those desiring a more complex system, fear not! Chapter Sixteen: The XD20 Advanced Player's Guide is here! To create an advanced character, follow these steps:

Now we can determine his equipment. This is actually done on-the-fly, as needed. To see if your halfling hauled a ladder into the dungeon, your space marine has the skull of an enemy on hand, or your 16th-century Caribbean cabin boy has a tactical nuclear weapon, you roll at or above the target number set by the XDM. He'll set various modifiers, but it will never be outright impossible.

To do skill-like stuff, roll 2d20. The first die is your success or failure, compared to a target number set by the XDM which is in turn based on your relevant stat. Your stat will be subtracted from or added to to apply a bonus or penalty to the target number. Remember, lower is better here, but you still want to roll high. A natural 20 is (almost) always a success, a natural 1 is always a failure. The second die determines the degree of success or failure.

Combat works the same way. (Imagine four PCs on the edge of a cliff... ) Everyone gets to act in a round, but when they act is up to the XDM. So is weapon damage (Which replaces the degree of success roll). Death occurs at 0 health.

When dealing with puzzles or other mental tasks, you may take the best of your or your character's intelligence. If you don't know the answer, you can roll to see if he does. Contrariwise, if both you and the XDM are forensic pathologists (With an option for the rest of the party to be as well), feel free to autopsy any corpses you find in the dungeon.

Magic works like combat for damaging spells, or like skill use for utility spells (Success roll, effect roll, possibly another roll or two for other random effects). What are your spells, you ask? Whatever you want them to be. There's no Vancian system of "Well, I cast Oleander's Fluffy Bunny three times today, but I still have a single casting of Dulcinora's Malevolent Steamroller and Grignr's Groin Kick." You just need to describe what it does, then cast it! Naturally you will be very unlikely to successfully cast a doomsday spell from first level.

Speaking of first level, here's how to level up! You will gain XP from just about anything you think would provide it. The XDM will determine when you gain XP. The XDM will determine how much XP you gain. The XDM will determine how much XP you need to level up. The XDM will determine how many levels you gain. Usually just one.

All right then, moving along, Chapter Seventee - huh? What does levelling up give you? What, you're not happy to be level 2, you need something else to go along with it? Well tough titty, little kitty, the milk's all gone. Leveling up doesn't make you any tougher, stronger, or smarter than you already are. That would be unrealistic. All your new level does for you is maybe cause the XDM to revise his target number a little because you're now a little bit better than you were before.

Right. Chapter Seventeen: XD20 Dungeon Mastery Handbook is cursed.


If you are not an officially sanctioned XDM and you are reading this section of the book, then you should know that this part of the book is protected by an ancient Tibetan curse, passed down from Sun Tzu, which will affect all of your die rolls during periods of the full moon and many of your die rolls at all other times. Woe unto you who look upon the words of the XD20 Dungeon Mastery Handbook without first having been purified, or possibly having purchased franchise rights, or at a minimum paid full cover price for the book rather than just reading it in the store. For you will be subject to this curse. All the powers of the gaming spirits shall withdraw and leave you desolate. You shall search in vain for a game that will satisfy your lust for entertainment, and each shall turn to dry cardboard in your hands. You have been warned!

This chapter actually puts the advice in the first nine chapters to some practical use. Establish the framework for your story in accordance with the Campbellian Monomyth, define the matrix you're using, develop encounters, then wing it. You can translate published adventures into XD20, but you should take only the best things and bolt them onto your own framework.

They provide a table for guidance in setting difficulty modifiers. The only real entry of note is Clown Shoes Ridiculous, the entry for stunts so stupidly improbable that death is almost totally assured. In this case, the automatic success on a 20 rule is suspended. If you roll a 20, roll another. If that one is a 20, you have, against all odds, succeeded. All other results on the second die indicate degrees of failure.

Skill-like activity, combat, and magic require you to interpret the results in terms of the game world. Never say things like "You hit, and deal 5 damage." Instead, you should describe things along the same lines as: "Cocking her right foot backwards, she leashed it desperately outwards with the strength of a demon possessed, lodging her sandaled foot squarely between the shaman's testicles." Okay, maybe a bad example. Also, you need to decide how relevant magic is to the game, adjust it all for relevance, and treat it as solidly within the rules, rather than an exception. Treat it consistently.

Also, kill your characters.

Chapter Eighteen: XD20 Creature Codex begins with a note: They were going to put in bunches and bunches of creatures, but you already have all these books full of creatures already, so why not just use those? Still, they have provided a few creatures, and you can even fill in the details themselves, including names! The creatures provided are: Some kind of dinosaur, a three-legged, four-eyed robot with a chainsaw and a gun for arms, a primitive one-eyed creature, a teddy bear golem, a dragon, and a carbosilicate amorph with a plasma cannon .

The Appendices contain officially sanctioned XDM merchandise ($20 bucks buys you franchise rights), answers to the test in Chapter One, answers to the riddles in Chapter Six, a glossary, and an overly complex table (Designed to let you use a d20 to simulate all dice from 2 to 100).

And finally, we have the Afterword: Waiting For Gygax . Here they wax nostalgic for the early games of times long past, and bemoan the loss of such pioneering, heroic spirit which transmuted into business sense.


Like Godot, we began waiting for another Gygax, but that good man was sadly gone from us and our radical games had transformed into a business.
It's time to take back our play, time to rediscover, once more, why we played these games in the first place. They were once thrilling, exciting, and fun. they could be again.
That's why we are game players who still believe there are frontiers to be won in role playing games. That's why we are XDMs.

Instead, we get THE SECRET FIRE.