Rewriting History Is More Difficult Than It Seems

One of the choatic elements to come out of a recent D&D session was one of the players gaining the ability to get the answer to a question his character focused on, along with the knowledge required to use it in a way to solve the problem the question related to (essentially knowledge and the wisdom to use it as intended) along with the ability to change one event from the past, specifically by causing that event to not happen. This power was earned fairly early in the evening’s chaos, so while everyone else was laughing and joking about powers gained and reacted to how many times we drew specific cards despite the unlikelyhood that they’d keep showing up after I reshuffled the deck, this player was busy thinking about how to use this specific combination of powers. As much fun as I was having with the chaos happening to the other players, I was more excited to see what this player would come up with since he’s usually the one to push the envelop and come up with things that surprise me.

For instance, the first thing he suggested as a potential use for his reality-altering power was to prevent the death of the god whose name had been granted to the world in honor of her sacrifice. This god, according to the history the players learned, chose to save the mortals around her form a raging elemental titan that would have otherwise destroyed them. The titan wound up destroying her in its rage, but her death spurred all the other gods to action, thereby starting the creation wars between the gods and the elemental titans, the results of which directly lead to the initation of the godswar an unknown (by them) time later, which resulted in much of the damage and scarring the world bears in the present day of the players’ characters. Not to mention, of course, that the elemental titans had been killed but also left in the world for reasons unknown, which was causing real problems for the people in the time of the players’ characters. Preventing the death of that one god could have changed everything!

Except, of course, that it really wouldn’t have. As my players and I discussed, prompted by that idea and a few other ideas floated by the other players in response to that one, wars typically happen as the culmination of many events. Systemic problems frequently can’t be solved by the alteration of a single event, even if you have been given the knowledge you need to understand what event needs to change to prevent the outcome you know. An abusive and dangerous empire isn’t made by a single event. You can’t dethrone a godking by making one of his supposed miracles fail. You can’t stop a war by preventing the death of the first victim in one specific moment. The empire might falter or lose a step, but it’s inertia will carry it to victory eventually and nothing short of another series of events with a similar amount of inertia will properly topple it. A godking with a failed miracle will merely find a scapegoat and then prove their power via a new miracle since anyone willing to believe in a godking will believe that a godking’s enemies were out to make them look foolish in that momemt. If someone chooses not to sacrifice themselves to save others, thereby sparking a war, on one specific day after a long series of watching people they care for be hurt, they’ll probably do it eventually and the only real change will be that more people were lost before the war began.

I tried to provide as many examples as I could of how our world’s history could change with one or two events being shifted. It can be difficult, though, because there’s no way of really knowing how things would play out with a minor tweak. People are fond of saying that Hitler getting into art school would have prevented the rise of nazism and the second world war, but I think it would have just looked different. I mean, the US is a pretty good example, what with Trump and US facism. All the elements were already there, the situation was right for the rise of authoritarianism and reactionary politics and the fascism that seems to always show up after those do. The orange menace just gave it a kickstart and launched it into the open. It might have taken more time to get where we are today without the travesty that was the 45th presidency, but we probably would have. The shithead turtle leading the conversatives in the senate was already using the playbook, so it was just a matter of time. The rise and fall of movements, power, and societies aren’t quick or easy things, nor do they reduce down to single tipping points as often as we’d like them to, so changing one single event in a massive chain like that wouldn’t have a huge, drastic effect on the world.

What the player wound up doing was changing events so that his character was in a position to start a chain of events that would change the world. In ways that are both significant and that, from the perspective of the other players, won’t have any visible change until they start digging into things. It is entirely posssible, given what the player and I have discussed, that I’ll be able to pull a “the world was always this way.” I think I can even incorporate it into the side-campaign that gave the player the knowledge necessary to attempt something like this, though even that might have been a retroactive thing he only realized once he’d used his single answer to gain a bunch of information that wound up being connected.

It’s a little difficult to parse from where I am, if I’m being honest, since it has been so many years since I made this world and started the first campaign in it. I’m not sure I’ve kept all of the details separate, but I’m sure I’ll figure that out as I go along. After all, no one but the player and I know what his character did. No one but I knows what the future originally held that will now no longer come to pass. The campaign might be radically different, and the future might change again because of what the player might still do, but I’ll figure all that out as we get to it. That’s most of the fun, anyway, having to scramble to make everything fit as my friends and I roll dice while joking about how everyone got a card from the Deck of Many Things that granted them one or more levels except one player who drew a card that gave him a servant who was given card draws that then put him at a higher power level than the player character he was supposed to be serving. Good times.

The Dice Gods Are More Real Than Probability Seems To Be

Probability is a bunch of bullshit. I’m sure that, in the broad pools of data and the sort of large swath approach of the various social sciences and anything that else that makes use of statistical analysis, probability is a much more reliable reference for how things will play out most of the time. When it comes to dice rolling and the sorts of things that happen as a result of dice rolling, it really does seem like the dice are trying to tell a story or that the incredibly unlikely thing happens way more often than not. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve created various tables for random outcomes, done my prep work on the ones that are statistically most-likely, and then told myself that the Infinitesimal option I added for what amounts to shits and giggles is not something I need to prepare for, only for my players to immediately roll that exact one thing during our next session.

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Learning From Experience At The Table

My weekly Sunday Dungeons and Dragons campaign is no longer weekly, nor is it necessarily happening on Sunday. After over a year of slowly decreasing session regularity, we’ve decided to swap from an expected-weekly game to one that is scheduled based on availability at the end of the latest session. Because of various scheduling conflicts and time constraints, we’re pretty much looking at only Saturdays, Sundays, and possible holidays. I work into the evening most days and some of my players are in different time zones, so our weeknight window is incredibly small, meaning we’d have to do two hour sessions and those really aren’t a satisfying way to play a game like D&D when you’re used to playing in four hour chunks (and can’t even trade your less frequent but longer session in for more frequent but shorter sessions since the frequency won’t change no matter what you do). Which is why we’re focusing on weekends and pushing out as far as needed to get the session schedule on a Saturday or Sunday.

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Picking Through Spelljammer Like A Content Vulture

Just as I was getting to the point in my Science-Fantasy D&D campaign that might include fantasy-flavored space stuff, the long-awaited Spelljammer expansion to Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition came out. For the entire time I’ve been playing fifth edition, I’ve seen people posting comments on every Wizards of the Coast announcement that amount to “Spelljammer when?” and, frankly, I’m pretty happy for that to finally be done. I bet it’ll continue in some capacity, of course, because that’s how people are, but I’m glad to finally have this out so I can inject some fun space-themed fantasy bullshit into my science-fantasy game and so people will finally shut up about it. I am a complex, multi-faceted being and I can enjoy things for multiple reasons.

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Introduction To The Leeching Wastes

My reviewers and I need another week to get ready to start posting the rewritten serial story, so I’ve got something else for you today! The following is an introductory story I wrote for a small Dungeons and Dragons campaign I’m running for a few friends, based on a bunch of very different ideas I had. I was actually creating this world and campaign when I was writing my posts about creating interesting tabletop RPG worlds, so you can see how I put a lot of that stuff into practice. I told all of the players that their character was the “you” referenced and even though they all sat this watch together, their recollection of this experience was exactly as this short story is written. I won’t add too many disclaimers to the start of this since it’s just a fun “get a feel for the world” sort of thing, but I felt like some context would help. Now, without further ado, welcome to The Leeching Wastes!

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Emotional Investment At The Table

During the many hours that I spend thinking about my various Tabletop Roleplaying Games (can’t just say “Dungeons and Dragons games” anymore, since I’m finally running and playing other games), one of the things I think about the most is my players’ emotional investment in our shared stories. I do my best to give them stories and non-player characters to care about, but I can’t exactly force it. They’re only going to care if they find something they feel is worth caring about and then make the effort to care. I tend to focus on the story elements, since I’d prefer that they care about the game as a whole rather than individual NPCs or one-time encounters, but it is usually a lot easier to make them care about an NPC than the game itself.

Most of the time, you can make an NPC sympathetic, interesting, and a little bit quirky without too much of an issue. It is a roll of the dice (pun absolutely intended) as to whether or not the players will care about any given NPC, but the nice thing is that you can always toss one aside if your players are not interested and make a new one. In any given TTRPG, you’re probably going to run through multiple NPCs in any given hour of the game, or session at the very least. NPCs fill the world and the players will wind up picking whichever ones interest them and you can just expand from there. For instance, I had an NPC rogue in one of my games that was around mostly to serve a narrative purpose in the first session, assist with some skill checks if the party chose to go somewhere they would need a trapfinder or the like, and provide a safety release valve in combat scenarios that involved the entire caravan the party was traveling with. Eventually, they also wound up providing a second voice for the caravan itself and a source of supposed romantic tension as one of the players jokingly shipped them with another player’s character.

Eventually, they died. It was a rough fight, also claiming the life of one of the player characters as well, and I thought that would be the end of it. I’d come up with some other stuff to give the character more depth, but I’m not precious with my NPCs. They’re there to serve a purpose and are easy ways for me to introduce threat without it feeling like I just hit one of the heroes with a bus. Instead of a hero, I hit the sidekick. The players eventually insisted on bringing the NPC back to life and, since they were willing to go through the rigmarole involved, I wasn’t going to stop them. Then the NPC died in the next major encounter after that and the party once again tried to bring them back. This time, the ritual failed and the party swore to bring them back, no matter what it took. Now they’re investigating how to bring someone back after a ritual fails and I’ve given them a nice little high-level quest for a massive diamond formed in the heart of a mountain. Good times.

I couldn’t have predicted they’d get this invested in the character. I thought they’d wind up more interested in the revenant they fished out of a river or the caravan leader, who was just some dude, who was entrusted with secret documents to take from one country’s leadership to another’s that were apparently so valuable that the caravan was attacked by assassins. None of which caught their interest for very long. They loved the Revenant for a while, but there was no talk of trying to bring him back, or finding out what happened to him after they learned he was the result of an experiment to see if a necromancer could artificially induce a revenant that would hunt a killer who had not actually killed him and he turned into dust when the necromancer concluded his experiment by slaying the person binding the revenant to unlife. They just moved on from the caravan leader, even though he was a family friend/relative to one of the player characters and clearly up to some shit. I certainly wouldn’t have planned it that way, but you make stuff, let your players pick what they like, and then do your best to run with it.

As far as the story goes, all I can really do is try to make cool stuff. I have no idea if they’re actually super invested in what might happen or just enjoying themselves on a per-session basis, and I’m honestly not sure it super matters right now. As long as we’re all having fun, I’m happy with whatever we’re doing. I’d love to be able to figure out what kind of stories they’re willing to emotionally invest in, since I’d love to overwhelm a player with emotion (not, like, in a mean way, just in a “dang, that’s some good storytelling” kind of way). I think that if I making sure I’m investing in their stories, building things out for them, and checking in with them regularly, I’ll probably get there eventually. None of my games are meeting weekly right now, at least not ones I’m running, so it’s difficult to tell if people are super invested because it’s difficult to retain details across multiple weeks without a session. Everyone asks questions like someone who wasn’t paying attention and that’s just because it’s been so long. Even the most meticulous of notes can only remind us of the details of what happened. They can’t make us feel that way again, nor can they entirely re-immerse us in a story that’s been set aside for multiple weeks.

Like I said, as long as my players are enjoying themselves, I’m happy. I’m going to keep doing what I can to get them emotionally invested because I think that’s a good focus for me to have as a storyteller (specifically to give them things they’re interested in investing in rather than manipulating them into investing), but I’m not going to be upset if it doesn’t happen on my time scale. These things take time and we’ve all got plenty of it (you know, probably).

Space Pictures and Tabletop Roleplaying Games

I love me some space clouds. Thanks to the advances of modern technology, a whole lot of science, and an even greater amount of international cooperation, we now have some pretty fucking cool pictures of space. I can only imagine that more and more pictures from NASA have come out since I wrote this and if I go online for anything over my vacation, it will have been to look at neat pictures of space clouds. I mean, just look at this thing! It’s so freaking fluffy! Which makes since, since it’s a loosely adhered cloud of space dust that is only visible because we’re so far away from it. Like the haze of humidity during a warm summer sunset, we can only perceive it because we’ve got light bouncing off every bit of it towards our eyes.

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The Devil Is In The Details (And The DM)

One of my favorite things to do as a Dungeon Master is to offer my players and their characters everything they want. Nothing like the temptation of having their goals handed to them for a price that’s probably too good to be true to really stir up some drama and inter-player discussion at that table. After all, everyone has different lines they’re willing to cross when it comes to what acheiving their goals is worth. Some characters are willing to sell their souls, some are willing to part with their life, some are only willing to part with things they have. Some are willing to sacrifice their health and comfort while others are only willing to sacrifice the health and comfort of others. And nothing ever makes that more clear than when you give one, and only one, character in the party a classic devil’s bargain for something that might impact the entire party.

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Turns Out Writing These A Week Ahead Has Some Drawbacks

[I write all of these a week ahead of time and rarely have I felt so at-a-loss for how to shift this one to reflect the time between when I wrote this and when I edited it before it went up. For this post, I edited it on Friday and added a bunch of notes to reflect my mind frame a week later. All of those notes are in brackets like this one.]

In the first draft of this post, I wrote about feeling capable and like I’ll be able to manage everything I want to do this week without having to borrow from days later down the line or by sacrificing my well-being in the moment. I went on about it for a couple paragraphs before I realized that what I felt was “rested” and that what I was describing was just my first time in months starting the week without already being exhausted because a single weekend wasn’t enough recovery time from the stress of weeks past. As it turns out, this past weekend was exactly the recovery time I needed to finish resting up from the pair of stressful months I had (two months of days, not two months by the calendar) and now I finally feel ready for the week ahead. While it is possible that something stressful and exhausting could happen this week [which it totally did, since I write these a week ahead of time] since most of the stress and exhaustion of my past few months has been the unexpected nature of what has happened, I think I’ve finally gotten to a point where I have enough stored up resilience to bounce back from one bad thing [haha, NOPE].

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Sustainable Characters and Short D&D Campaigns

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been playing (as a player, not the Dungeon Master) in a Dungeons and Dragons game. It was conceptualized as a sort of “last stand” type adventure, with four characters taken after the moment of their deaths by some powerful, godly figure, to see how long they could last against various challenges. Restored to the peak of their power (20th level) and given only mundane, non-magical gear, they are thrown together with no warning or preparation time and bounced from one scenario and battle to another, with only two instant-use short rests to allow them to recover. It has been a lot of fun to play a powerful character with no need to manage magic items or a vision for the future beyond how to mechanically apply my abilities and limited recovery from one fight to another.

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