In 1980, John Eric Holmes, who was both an editor for D&D and an associate professor of neurology, published this piece in Psychology Today. It’s a fascinating look at what the game looked like 35 years ago, including a number of GM procedures that probably wouldn’t fly today.
The Hunting Grounds is a setting concept I’ve been mulling over for a few months. There isn’t much to it yet, but it’s about to time to start putting it in writing.
The world is a nearly pristine wilderness of dense, deep forests (called the Weald), sheer mountains, and roaring rivers. Think a kind of romanticized vision of barbarian Germania and Helvetia. Mankind’s cities are essentially fortresses, either lodged up in mountains passes, perched on fortified hills, or in some other strongly defensible position. It’s not a distopia; the cities are thriving in their own way and they’ve all adapted to the world in one way or another, but there’s a strong dichotomy between being enclosed within a settlement, and being outside, in the wild.
The world is beautiful and deadly, filled with sound, life, and ancient, slumbering awareness. The mountainous landscape is carved with valleys and ravines, sheer cliffs and sudden swarths of bracken. The forests alone can spell the doom of an untrained traveler, but the ruined settlements and lost relics of the old kingdoms buried in its heart often prove too much a temptation.
The reason mankind has barricaded its towns is not for fear of war. Although the cultures of the various cities have put them at political odds with one another, a true war has not broken out in living memory. The walls are there because mankind is not alone.
Within the forests and mountains roam hundreds of creatures, each one unique, each powerful enough to level a farmhouse and devour its owners before they’d have time to draw a weapon. These aren’t eldrich abominations. They are monsters, yes, but they are also as magnificent as they are terrible, imbued with the wild, untamable power of nature itself. Mankind would long ago have been destroyed by these creatures had it not been for the Wild Hunt.
The Wild Hunt are gods. They appear human, but stand twice the height of a man, have antlers of various shapes growing from their brows, ride steeds made of sunlight and moonlight, and live for nothing but the chase. They rarely interact with mankind, and seem more puzzled by their existence than anything else. Sometimes at night men can hear the unearthly sound of their horns, drifting over the Weald. Sometimes by day men find the site of their battles, soaked in the blood of gods and monsters.
That’s about it for now. One thing I like about this setting is that it immediately presents a number of questions.
Why are the gods on an eternal hunt?
What happens to the gods if they are slain?
What value might humanity place upon the blood or organs of a monster?
How were the old kingdoms lost? What secrets do they hold?
What is humanity doing in this world?
What kind of training is necessary to explore this world?
What are the cultures of the different cities like, and how do they answer the above questions?
Are there any gods who have taken an interest in humanity?
The Alexandrian posted a great article a few weeks back with a great piece of GM advice: Create lots of villains – develop the ones who survive.
This ends up solving a number of common RPG problems. It’s often tempting to make the villain invincible until the final battle in order to keep the story going, or to play up the evilness of a villain to a party that just doesn’t care much about him.
However, if you add a host of villains and let the heroes dispatch them where ever they can, you won’t get attached to them. You’ll keep player agency intact. Most importantly, as certain villains continue to survive, grow stronger, and really meddle with the player’s goals, their hatred of him will be natural and all the more satisfying.
There’s a connection here to Dungeon World concept of Fronts, but that’s another post.
I created this city for a new Pathfinder campaign I’m starting with Andrew over at Dawnforgedcast. It’s my first attempt to create a city map, and I’m pretty happy with the results.
A commenter on my last post asked to see an example of how to teach boardgames, so I created this as an example. Hopefully it’s helpful.
Shut Up and Sit Down, quite possibly the best boardgaming site out there, just put out a video covering tips for rules explanations. I thought their points were dead on, but I felt that I should add my two cents.
Wholes Versus Parts
Most of us have probably played at least a few games so many times that they feel like clockwork to us. We no longer see particular rules, we see a coherent whole, and we’re able to manipulate the game mechanics to try and nudge our overarching strategies towards a victory, if all goes well. On the other hand, new players are often unable to see the grand design. Instead they see only a handful (or in some cases, dozens) of individual systems, little islands of rules with only tenuous connections between them. A new player knows that there is a complete engine in there somewhere, but he can’t keep it in his head all at once.
The difference here is that experienced players have an understanding of the causal relationship between the different elements of the game. They have grasped the “why” of the mechanics. Beginners may understand how this or that subsystem works on its own, but they don’t understand the usefulness of that system as regards the other subsystems or its effect on the final objective.
Understanding the “why” of every mechanic in the game is essential to playing a game well. Without it, a player’s actions become random (“I’ll try this and see what happens”) or short-sighted. Games are goal-oriented activities, so if players don’t know how an action advances their position then they often end up irritated or bewildered. Of course, when most of us teach boardgames to new players, we do try to explain the purpose of each of the rules and how they fit together, but inevitably our explanations are a bit scatter-shot and incomplete. We’re always backtracking, re-clarifying, correcting ourselves, jumping ahead etc.
After teaching a couple boardgames over a dozen times, I had the realization that the best way to teach an activity like a boardgame was to do it in reverse.
In SU&SD’s video, Quinns points out that the first step in teaching a boardgame is to A.) Give them their components to play with and B.) Explain who they are, how they win, and why it’s going to be fun. I echo this advice completely.
However, after explaining the goal of the game, continue backwards from there, explaining firstly the actions that allow the players to win the game, then what actions enable them to take those actions, and so on. The principle here is that you should never at any point be explaining a rule if you haven’t already explained why it matters. Go from the why to the how, not from the how to the why.
This is the opposite of how most players (and rule books for that matter) go about it. I usually conceive of a game’s rules in tiers, with the goal of the game at the top and with levels of increasingly specific rules below it. The why of each rule is found above it, and its how is below it. The game’s objective is its own why. When teaching a game, the standard method is to begin with the game’s objective, and then jump back to the lower level rules and try to build up to the objective from there.
The problem with this approach is that after each rule is explained, the teacher has to constantly jump ahead to why it’s important, and the beginners end up feeling lost and ungrounded, because they don’t understand what the ultimate purpose of all these rules is. They know that the lower level rules relate somehow to the objective, and trust that they are working towards it, but they remain in the dark until the end of the explanation, when everything is pulled together. By that point the teacher often has to begin again, because the beginners start asking clarifying questions, trying to grasp the game as a whole.
In contrast, by starting with the game objective and working down through the hows, beginners are always grounded in the purpose of each rule and what the system looks like as a whole. In my experience, this greatly reduces instruction time and helps players to come up with long-term strategies right out of the gate.
Some games are easier to teach this way than others, due to highly interconnected rules or unorthodox structures. In cases like that I just do the best I can, and try to adhere to the principle of “why first.” With that in mind you can’t go too far off. You’ll want to be saying “Here’s how you’re able to do that…” a lot, rather than, “Here’s why you want to do that…”
Another difficulty is that rule books definitely do not help you out here. Rare is the rule book that give you any kind of strategic advice or explanation as to why you should take a particular action. Most rule books are organized chronologically, which is the direction in which we play, but not the direction in which we learn. This really grinds my gears, and I’ve been thinking about making some videos that explain rules in the proper order.
Let me know what you think. Are there any other methods you’ve found to be useful?
These characters are from the last two Pathfinder campaigns my wife and I played in. I’m currently playing Ruhkna and she’s playing Solveig.
Welcome to the new online home of Questing Beast! I’ll be using this site to showcase maps, drawings, game design ideas, and everything else that doesn’t fit too well into the Youtube channel. We’re still under a bit of construction, so stay tuned as I add more content. Happy questing!