Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Do you put too much importance on Fun in your games?
Do you give Fun too much respect?
Do you use the word "Fun" too much when discussing game elements?
Sure, it's generally true that, when viewed at a whole entity, any given game is fun – or has the potential to be fun – at least in retrospect, and probably during much of the actual play.
But that doesn't mean all the individual parts of a game should be fun, when examined individually. (Each separate rule, mechanic subsystem, monster, etc.) And it doesn't mean you should reflexively remove the un-fun stuff from a game.
Embrace a little bit of worthwhile un-fun!
There's nothing wrong with improving a game through the addition of things that are un-fun.
Sometimes we use un-fun mechanics specifically because they are un-fun.
Sometimes we use un-fun mechanics because they improve us as people (outside the game), or give us practice with useful real-world skills; play isn't necessarily about entertainment only.
Sometimes we eschew fun mechanics because it improves the atmosphere, simulation, challenge, or level of engagement in the game.
For example, tracking encumbrance in AD&D is definitely not fun, but I use those rules anyway because they improve the game in various ways. Ditto for level drain, mapping, character death, calculating experience points, and many other un-fun subsystems. As a non-role-playing example, the slapping part of the red hands game is not fun (ouch!), but it certainly improves that game! (This may seem like a juvenile example, but I have seen dozens of mature adults playing red hands while standing in line at amusement parks.) Of course, many contact sports contain copious amounts of un-fun elements (or the potential for un-fun experiences), and yet those games are improved through the inclusion of those un-fun elements.
Fun is not necessarily additive. You don't always get a more worthwhile experience by piling on more and more fun stuff. Sometimes the final benefit of an overall experience is increased through the judicious use of un-fun elements, and/or the removal of certain fun elements.
Don't be afraid to admit you use un-fun elements in your games. Don't be afraid to label them "un-fun" when you discuss them. "Un-fun" does not mean "bad." Labeling something as "fun" isn't the same as liking something; you can like un-fun things. Using un-fun mechanics does not make you a bad player or DM, despite the undercurrent created by others' prevalent use of "fun" as a justification.
Help quash that undercurrent by using words other than "fun" to justify game elements, even ones that improve through addition. "Fun" is a cop-out. It's almost a meaningless word, and you can probably come up with a more specific, more illuminating reason for doing something (or not doing something) than, "because it's fun."
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Deranged and Insane: The Lunatics of Stone Hold Asylum has been on the LotFP production schedule since mid-2008, but has not been produced yet. James Raggi made it as the starting adventure site for his 2006 AD&D campaign. A huge amount of information, backstory, and spoilers are already available for the module, and it looks pretty cool!
Note: Parenthesized letter and letter-number sequences below – e.g., "(C2)" – refer to the Footnotes / References section at the bottom. Some of the summarized information below includes direct quotes from James Raggi's writings in those sources.
Brief Module Details
Backstory / Summary: An old businessman, who was once committed to the Stone Hold Asylum for the Insane, claims he was tortured there (showing a missing thumb as evidence), but nobody believes him. He hires adventurers to search the Asylum for proof (A1, C2), and bring it back to him for a reward (C5). In addition to finding out what exactly happened at the Stone Hold Asylum for the Insane, there are clues to be found to involve the characters in the greater happenings of the campaign (A1).
It has potential backstory / thematic ties to LotFP's Hammers of the God product (note the reference to the Old Miner in C5).
Although currently written to be set in a mountain range, it might be changed to be on an island instead (Q). It might get reworked to combine with Raggi's "Return to the Old School" idea, or may tie into Iri-Khan, or something having to do with Dario Argento's Three Mothers trilogy (T).
Style: The module is for first level characters (C1), and should take several sessions to completely explore, with plenty of dangers and red herrings to distract those unprepared, the unfocused, and the unwise (A1). It's not a simple "kill them and take their stuff" dungeon crawl (C1, C4). The characters will know why they are there but not exactly what they are looking for. Monsters within the Asylum are an obstacle to achieving the goal (C1); they won't necessarily have treasure, aren't necessarily expected to be fought, and may be too strong for a typical party to handle (C3).
The Physical Product: Stone Hold Asylum is potentially a massive-scale adventure or micro setting, with multiple books (packaged together), poster maps, and handouts out the wazoo (V). It includes a significant prop: A 100-page doctor's journal, filled all sorts of medical information and some key snippets of backstory information and clues (C2). This might be delivered as a hand-assembled book, aged with special processes, and possibly with freakily-adorned leather covers (J). The adventure module itself may have a color cover, and the product as a whole may have a high price due to the nature of the materials used. The product may even include an actual squirrel skull (J). It may be released as a special limited edition (M). Map format / size is unclear, because the maps are too big for the standard LotFP page sizes (U). It is not suitable as a pdf release (G).
(Note that these details come from a variety of time periods, some over six years ago, and it's quite possible any eventual product varies from the above.)
James gave his players a number of maps and handouts pertaining to this adventure. At one time they were hosted on the lotfp.com web site, but he has since taken them down. Thankfully the Internet Archive still has copies of some of the resources:
More Content Details (SPOILER WARNING)
What follows is a list of features of the adventuring environment. Further info, and further spoilers, can be found by reading the corresponding linked thread in the footnotes.
- covers the entire sanitarium grounds, with initial design work focused on how the site operated, so that it is still appropriately dressed now that it's abandoned.
- multiple buildings & multiple levels
- rumors & clues in the form of songs
- hillside nearby from which the players can look down on the Sanitarium complex (possible illustration handout)
- gate to the complex is closed and sealed
- massive bear on the other side of the gate (within the grounds), with an explanation for how it got there
- guard tower
- old tennis courts, with a 5-headed hydra
- doors & windows are boarded and shut
- main building has at least three floors, with at least one window on the second floor
- library covered in huge, thick spider webs
- main hallway with a great painting of Bartholomew Sebastion Gainsborough XII, who is missing a thumb
- third floor is dusty, except for some obviously-used areas
- door tripwire to gong alarm (on the stairwell)
- a room turned into some kind of den, occupied by patchwork human & animal creatures
- five doctors' offices, already ransacked
- doctor's journal (the prop) with notes on their experimentations on people, including part-swapping,
- doctors were experimenting on people; limb rearrangement, part-swapping, trading places, etc.
- three large buildings connected to the main building
- north-most of the connected buildings has a gate puzzle / predicament
- patient cell blocks
- bodies of various personalities referred to by the journal
- elevator, which is something of a puzzle / predicament
- blacksmith's shop
- treasure in the form of old items hidden on individuals' remains, plus some scrolls
- big constrictor snake
- giant ants outside the building
- wild dogs outside the blacksmith's shop
- kitchen with freezer-cellar underneath
- cold, smelly ape-things
- room filled with water to waist-level, with hooks hanging from the ceiling, suspending bones of corpses hung long ago
- weird polyhedral razors
- bloody carpentry tools
- 500 gp reward
Bibliography / Info Sources
In the below, James sometimes refers to the module as "Stone Hold Sanitarium," and frequently as just "Asylum" or "Sanitarium."
A: 2006 Mar 27: Genesis of James' AD&D campaign which features Stone Hold Asylum, including comments from one of his players (pretty far into the thread)
B: 2006 Mar 27: James' Campaign Site, with an advertisement looking for players (no info directly related to Stone Hold Asylum) (date based on mention in thread)
A1: 2006 Mar 30: (within rpg.net thread) Adventure Concept summary, with backstory and brief physical description of the adventuring environment
C: 2006 Apr 2: Start of parallel, longer-lasting thread on Dragonsfoot on the genesis of James' AD&D campaign which features Stone Hold Asylum
C1: 2006 Apr 13: (within DF thread) More basics about the adventuring site / module:
C2: 2006 Apr 21: (within DF thread) Some very brief physical details about the Sanitarium:
C3: 2006 Apr 29: (within DF thread) First play session report for Asylum, with lots of details on the site / adventure:
D: 2006 May 3: Details for how he made the prop book / journal:
C4: 2006 May 13: (within DF thread) Second play session report for play within the Asylum, with details about the elevator, blacksmith's workshop, treasure (scrolls), big snake, and some philosophical details regarding the design
C5: 2006 May 20: (within DF thread) Third play session report for play within the Asylum (sorta), with the initial plot seed wrap-up:
C6: 2007 Mar 15: (within DF thread) Fourth play session report for within the Asylum, with reveal of Mongrelmen as one of the occupants
E: 2008 Jun 14: Asylum currently in production, with most location writing done, and a hopeful release in Summer:
F: 2008 Jun 17: James anticipates excitement when the artist begins turning in the illustrations:
G: 2008 Jul 1: Asylum can't be done as a pdf because of how the release is being formatted:
H: 2008 Aug 3: Stone Hold adventure hook (likely unrelated to the original 2006 campaign or the module):
I: 2008 Aug 20: Work on Asylum has stalled due to personal issues:
J: 2008 Nov 19: Many details about Asylum including intriguing possible physical details of the book/product (squirrel skull!), and very small summary; also the commissioned journal-writer never started:
K: 2009 May 3: Asylum still in the future plans:
L: 2009 Jul 28: Sanitarium mentioned as a possibility to release after Insect Shrine:
M: 2009 Aug 18: Asylum writing finished except for the diary handout; planned release after The Grinding Gear, with "special limited edition" possibility:
N: 2009 Sep 11: Asylum still a planned release:
O: 2009 Oct 25: Sanitarium described as a "larger project" still on the horizon:
P: 2009 Nov 5: Sanitarium to come after Hammers of the God (née The Old Miner's Shame):
Q: 2010 Jan 14: (in the comments) Asylum still planned, and may be changed to set on an island (instead of in the mountains):
R: 2010 Apr 1: Sanitarium described as a "larger project":
S: 2010 Apr 27: Goals include Sanitarium release during 2010:
T: 2011 Feb 7: The possibility of tying Sanitarium to either a "Return to the Old School," a Iri-Khan, or a Three Mothers concept:
U: 2011 Nov 17: Asylum maps are too big for his standard page size:
V: 2012 Apr 23: Mentioning Asylum as a possible next thing, including format details