Designing Deeper Adventures

No, this article isn’t about dungeons or caves. It’s about a design lesson that I only learned as an adult. As a kid, I skimmed through the Dungeon Masters Guide and the Monster Manuals countless times, planning adventures or just perusing all of the intriguing stuff within. Though this wasn’t playing, it was still magic. I think the sheer number of choices in those books led me to litter each of my adventures with a wide variety of monsters and magical treasures. There were so many interesting choices, and I wanted to use them all (or at least a LOT of them).

Even those mildly interested in mythology can recognize the various cultures from which many stock fantasy monsters derive. From the Greeks, our fantasy games get their centaurs, chimeras, dryads, gorgons, griffons, harpies, hippogriffs, hydras, lamias, medusas, minotaurs, nymphs, pegasi, sphinx, titans, tritons, and others. From the Arabs, we get efreet, djinni, marids, and ghouls. Northern Europeans gave us bugbears, bogles, dwarves, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, trolls, and others. You get the idea. In my younger years, I mixed and matched these monsters without a second thought, dropping them into my various adventures. Most were a glorious mish-mosh of foul creatures. When making an adventure, I probably based my monster selection as much on novelty (those that my players had not yet encountered) as on a suitable environment (heat-loving creatures near volcanoes, cold-loving creatures in frozen tundra, etc.). I can admit that I gave no thought at all to atmosphere or mood. Monsters existed so PCs could kill them (or occasionally negotiate with them). They were stat packages with important tactical differences. The chief villains in most of my early adventures might as well have been the ‘United Nations of Monsters’.

Some of you may be thinking, Isn’t diversity good? Isn’t variety the spice of life and all that? Though diversity can be great, I suggest that the frequent (even constant) blending of so many monsters and treasures can actually rob an adventure of some flavor, much as blending six flavors of ice cream dilutes the flavor of each. Read more

RPG-ology #37: It’s Greek to Me

This is RPG-ology #37:  It’s Greek to Me, for December 2020.


Decades ago I was running original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for a burgeoning group that included a number of experienced players.  Experienced players of course bring knowledge from their other games, their other Dungeon Masters.  I have twice had the complication that one of the players at the table was familiar with a module I had decided to run, and multiple times had them recognize a magic item from the books—but that’s a different problem.

Magic items in the game can be rather complicated.  Find one, but you probably don’t know what it does or how to make it do that.  Swords and weapons seem simple, but often have hidden powers that can be activated with the right command word or the right combat situation.  Of course, such objects often have inscriptions or decorations, something that might hint or outright tell the new owner what to do with it.  On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that the old owner didn’t write something misleading.

In any case, my players began asking for just about every object they found, from the leather armor worn by the orc chieftain to the platinum statue of a horse in the dragon’s treasure horde, whether there was something written on it.

Well, I’m the sort of Dungeon Master who thinks that for something to be fair it should be consistent, and therefore there should be a rule.  I figured a roll of the dice could determine whether there were any markings on the object, and if so what if any significance they had.  You’ll find that table here  You’ll also find a second table.  Call me lazy, but when I roll up magic devices in random treasure hoards I don’t usually take the time to figure out the command words—for one thing, the characters might never find the thing, or might not recognize its significance.  So maybe my system is a bit complicated, but I identified different kinds of words that might be used by a wizard making such a device, divided them into categories player characters might guess, and gave a probability of success guessing the right word if they’re in the right category.  That seemed to me a lot simpler than having the players trying to guess a randomly chosen word out of the dictionary.  Pick a category, a type of word, and we’ll assume you ran a hundred or so words like that, and roll the dice to see whether you got the right one.

O.K., that’s pretty rough; maybe you don’t want to be so hard on your players.  But I did something else, too.  Sometimes my chart said there was something written on the object—but when did you ever hear of a magic item with an inscription in the common tongue?  Well, it does happen, I suppose, but I figured it wouldn’t be that often, so I combed through the books and found every language that was listed as something spoken by any creature.  After all, if I were a chaotic magician trying to create a device that I didn’t want my enemies to use, wouldn’t Slaad be an excellent choice for the language required to activate it?  But since I wasn’t writing backstories for these gadgets, I again created a table, weighted to favor more common languages.

I don’t expect many of you will find these tables all that useful—it’s the ideas behind them that I think matter.  Your magic items can have decorations and inscriptions that mean something, or that mean nothing, or that will mean everything if only the characters can figure out what language that is, or that will send them down the rabbit hole looking for an answer that isn’t there.

And of course, remember that just as an object that’s magical doesn’t necessarily have to have a decoration or inscription, so too an object with an inscription or decoration doesn’t have to be magical.

Merry Christmas, or whatever gift-giving holiday you’re celebrating this time of year.


Previous article:  Phionics.
Next article:  Polyglot.

Roll for Teaching 2: Goals

Hi class! Good to see you all again. It’s been a while and much has changed. Some bad, like the tenacity of the COVID pandemic, some good, like finally being married to my very real dream of a wife! Last time we met was a bit of an introduction and an incomplete list of games that suit playing with kids. Today is time for a more theoretical approach, so let’s all grab a piece of paper and make sure your #2 pencils are sharp!

Goals. Purpose. Aim.

Imagine that I just wrote these out on a blackboard for you while saying them aloud. I might even underline them. Today’s topic is why we are playing the game. Why are we playing the game in class? Why are we playing the game with your kids at home? The game should be a means, not an end, when teaching. So what is the end?

If the game is a reward for good work, then this is not really important, but if the game is used to teach something, then we need to keep that in mind. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that teaching in the USA, or wherever you live and teach, at least resembles teaching over here in Belgium. I’m going to assume that you have something that resembles lesson plans, goals that need to be met in the year, or trimester, or other time period. For my lessons, I’ve got five periods in a school year and a list of goals for each period that my inspections expect me to accomplish, or at least to work towards. Read more

Faith in Play #37: Balancing on the Corner

This is Faith in Play #37:  Balancing on the Corner, for December 2020.


When “balance” is mentioned in connection with Dungeons & Dragons™ alignment, thoughts immediately leap to neutrality, and of course neutrality is frequently about balance—but not always.  As we noted in connection with the side alignments neutrality can often mean simply ignoring one axis in favor of the other.  Thus a character who is neutral in one axis can be religiously devoted to one value, whether Good, or Evil, or Law, or Chaos.

Yet there is another aspect of alignment in which balance is happening constantly, and players seldom recognize it.

When I was talking about the side alignments, I told the story of a Neutral Good cleric/fighter who tortured a criminal suspect in an effort to obtain a confession.  When I penalized him for violating his alignment, he said that he was “only” Neutral Good, and he could justify a penalty if he were Lawful Good.  What does a Neutral Good stand for, I asked, if not Good?

He might have been able to make an argument that torturing that particular acolyte ultimately would benefit the greatest number of people; he did not.  On the other hand, at least one of the characters who participated in this, who was also penalized, was Lawful Good, and he could have made a more cogent argument:  the preservation of order in the settlement demanded the solving of the murder, and so justified the use of torture to obtain critical information from one of the key suspects.  That is, in this particular situation my commitment to Law outweighs my commitment to Good.

That is the balancing act of the corner alignments.  If I am Chaotic Evil, in this particular situation do I stand by my commitment to individual freedoms or pursue my own selfishness?  Sometimes it looks simple.  When Chaotic Good Robin Hood robs from the rich and gives to the poor, he is fighting against an oppressive system that takes the rights—and the money—from the peasants by restoring it to the peasants.  When Lawful Evil Darth Vader kills people on behalf of the Emperor, he is both maintaining the rule of his master and securing his own position.  Yet when Lawful Good Ivanhoe comes to the aid of the Jewess Rebecca, it is because he has decided that Good—the benefit of Rebecca and her family and her people—is more important than Law—the authority of the Paladin who would demand her servitude.  Yet even as he takes this more chaotic stand, he does so in as lawful a manner as he can.

It is, I find, the characters on the corner alignments who make the toughest choices in following their faith.  Law does not always align with Good, nor Chaos with Evil.  Someone once pointed out to me that an American Soldier had to be Neutral Good, because usually for the sake of protecting people he became part of a very structured and orderly organization to maintain another social structure which was primarily built on Chaos, that is, on preserving the rights of individuals.  He of course still had to make difficult choices for his neutrality, but could more easily justify them.  Those who have chosen to commit to two separate values, one moral and one ethical, face the most difficult choices in balancing their distinct commitments.

That, it strikes me, is very like us, as we find ourselves committed to more than one value and have to make choices between them.


Previous article:  Thanks.
Next article:  Places of Worship.

Spreading Yuletide Fear: A Dark Holiday-themed Adventure

The following is a stand-alone holiday-themed 1st edition AD&D adventure for five to six characters level 5-6. Because this is an entire adventure module, it’s substantially longer than our usual fare.

A small group of adventurers stumble through a portal and find themselves in a snow-blanketed land of forested mountains. They find shelter in a tiny village, but they also find the villagers to be cursed and in desperate need of help. The PCs can assist the villagers in one of two possible ways in return for the knowledge of how to get home. Or they can venture into the wilderness to obtain this knowledge from a centuries-old crone.

Spreading Yuletide Fear

A Dark Holiday-Themed Adventure by Michael Garcia (2020)

Players’ Teaser

The scents of pine needles, wood embers, and roasted boar fill the air, but the pleasant aromas do not match the mood in the room. Mingled with the clinking of earthenware tankards, hushed voices fill the darkened great hall with anxious whispers. The thick oaken doors, barred against the many evils of the night, give the illusion of safety. You and your companions huddle together around a worn oaken table, not far from a great stone hearth. The roaring fire within it crackles and pops, causing shadows to dance eerily in the corners of the room. The reddish glow of the firelight reveals the nervous faces of your fellows. They look uneasily at each other, painfully aware that dozens of dour villagers, seated in  the darkened recesses of the hall, send hardened stares in your direction. They are awaiting your answer.

How have you come to this god-forsaken place? Twelve hours ago, you were skulking about in a mysterious dungeon outside of your hometown. One or two wrong turns, and you found yourselves outdoors, stumbling through a snow-covered wilderness of rocky forests and rolling moors. Unable to find your way back, you made a long trek through the deep snow to this tiny village. Stunned, exhausted, and seeking answers, you found instead only fear and mystery.

The fretful villagers told you that winter snows had already blocked the mountain passes until spring. Worse, they claimed that the power of the old gods had returned in recent years to haunt this secluded valley. To wit, a company of spectral horsemen supposedly gallops nightly through the snow-filled sky, sweeping across the moors and across the very treetops, killing all in its path. Moreover, in the tangled forests that envelop this tiny settlement, malicious elves prey on anyone foolish enough to enter their dark realm. Pondering all this, you begin to understand the villagers’ distrustful stares.

After much debate, your friend beside you clearly lays out your options. The villagers claim to know your way home, but their price for this information is your help in breaking a curse on their village. Another way to get their aid is merely to protect them against the Wild Hunt and other terrifying night creatures while they complete their year-end rituals, needed to drive away darkness and to bring good fortune in the spring. If you spurn the villagers, your only other option seems to lie in the goodwill of a monstrous crone, who dwells alone in the trackless forest nearby. Said to be a powerful enchantress, half-woman and half-demon, this crone seems little better than the dreaded Huntsman and his spectral company.

Disgusted by your predicament, you are tempted to do none of the above! Let them figure it out! Vengeful curses, heathen rites, and evil ghosts are none of our business! Yet the grim stares coming from all corners of the darkened hall make it clear that you will find no shelter here if you refuse their pleas for aid.

Outside, the wind moans loudly and rattles the oiled parchment that covers the nearby window. Forceful drafts, like icy fingers, seem to seek you out, creeping beneath the barred doors and around window coverings. Standing abruptly and pushing the oiled parchment aside with your finger, you gaze outside. Wind-driven snow swirls frantically in the pale light of the full moon. An icy blast causes you to shiver, and you back away from the window. It is time to decide.

Read more

RPG-ology #36: Phionics

This is RPG-ology #36:  Phionics, for November 2020.


I was conversing with someone via messaging and he misspelled a word.  I recognized what he meant, so I overlooked it—but it got me thinking.

The word he wanted was psionics, which had just been mentioned in our conversation, but he misspelled it phionics, which is probably more intriguing to me than to most of you because I do a bit of study in Greek, and I know that psionics comes, indirectly, from the Greek word psychos, which has several meanings but we usually take to mean soul, and it begins with the letter psi.  We get a lot of words connected to the inner person from that, including psychology, psychiatry, psychic, and of course psionic.  But in my mind he had replaced the psi with a phi, a different greek letter and the first letter in the word physis, which literally means natural but which is connected into our language with things that are physical, including physics and things that have to do with the body, like getting a physical or engaging in physical fitness.

So why not a category of special powers called phionics?

My first thought was the D.C. Comics joke hero Super Elastic Plastic Man, who could stretch his body in all kinds of crazy ways—and you could certainly go there if you wished.  Yet we all know people who can bend and stretch in ways we find unthinkable.  One of my sons from an early age would sit on the floor, lie forward, and put his chest and face against the rug between his legs and go to sleep like that.  Now full grown and taller than my six feet he still sometimes puts his feet behind his head and walks on his knees.  In terms of what people do, though, that’s out there.  Do a Google images search for contortionist and you will see bodies that look as if they must have been sawn apart and glued back together.

And while these are certainly due to special talents and plenty of exercise, they are obviously all within the realm of humanly possible.

As with psionics, you can parcel these out in small doses—Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon 2 can dislocate his shoulder to escape from a straitjacket.  The titular character in Kick-Ass feels no pain and so enhances his ability to take damage.  You could go beyond these, with physical powers that seem supernatural such as the Iron Fist, or those which actually are impossible, such as the aforementioned rubber body.

In the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, psionics were rare gifts with which some characters were born (or perhaps otherwise accidentally obtained prior to the beginning of the game).  In 2nd edition they became primarily techniques taught by masters in which individuals were schooled, working from the simpler, less potent, to the more powerful.  With phionics, you could do either—or both.  Just create a list of incredible through impossible body skills, and rank them from the simple to the amazing.

So here’s a short list to get you started:

  1. Hyper-flexibility:  the character can bend and stretch in surprising ways, such as putting his feet behind his head, and so can fit through narrow spaces and such.
  2. Double jointed:  Some of the character’s joints bend in unusual ways.
  3. Hardened musculature:  the character can cause muscles in some part or parts of his body to become excessively hard, such that they can withstand blows or deal significant damage.
  4. Adrenal control:  the character can give himself a brief boost of strength and/or speed.
  5. Disconnecting joints:  one or more of the character’s joints can be disconnected, permitting the body to take a different possibly useful altered shape.
  6. Reduced pain response:  the character’s ability to feel pain has been reduced or eliminated such that although he can be injured he does not feel it.
  7. Expanding ligaments:  the character can stretch his arms and legs by expanding the joints while holding them together with stretched ligaments.
  8. Rubber body:  the character can stretch and reshape his body in nearly any imaginable way without reference to bones.

Call it one more tool to enhance your game without using magic.


Previous article:  Believable Nonsense.
Next article:  It’s Greek to Me.

Christian Game-ism

Editor’s note: As usual, opinions of Guild members do not reflect the position of the Guild as a whole. As an organization, we neither condemn nor endorse any given entertainment product. However, neither do we discourage members from offering their own opinions.


What makes a game “Christian?”

Intent

If I handed you a rock and said, “Here you go, this is a Christian rock.” You would likely respond with, “How can a rock be Christian?” Yet if I were to hand you a DVD, CD, video game, or book, then said the same thing about those items, you would not question my meaning like with the rock. The question at hand is “why?” I suggest that it is the understanding of the intent of the item. Christian entertainment is by definition understood to be influenced by Christian ideology. This leads us to another question, “Can a rock sculpture be Christian?” If we can agree that it’s the intent that allows the title “Christian” to be applied to inanimate objects, then I would say yes. The rock sculpture can be a Christian sculpture. Let’s go back to the rock at the beginning. If I handed you that rock and said, “This is a Christian rock because we’re going to build a church with it.” Now, the intent of the rock is to create a building that is supposed to exemplify Jesus and Christian doctrine. I, for one, would say okay. Like the sculpture, I can now agree this rock is a Christian rock, through its intent and purpose. Before you giggle, remember what Jesus said in Luke 19:40 that even the rocks would cry out. Read more

Faith in Play #36: Thanks

This is Faith in Play #36:  Thanks, for November 2020.


Later this month Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving, a secular holiday established for religious people to give thanks to God.  Canadians did the same in the middle of last month.  Most cultures and nations historically have had a harvest festival celebration to express gratitude for the food; indeed, Pentecost was originally such a celebration.

I’m not going to ask why we don’t have these in our games; as holidays go, this is an obvious one, and I’d wager many of my readers have had an in-game harvest celebration at some point in their gaming calendars.  Nor does it make much sense to discuss cultural details, as feasting and frolicking are the obvious choices.  Rather, I would raise the fundamental point and address gratitude.

Years ago we ran a miniseries on Faith and Gaming about how to express faith within the game; it began with playing the Good Guys and ran through quite a few very different ideas over the course of eight articles.  To those perhaps we can add having your character express gratitude to his deity for good things, from food on his plate to the outcomes of battles or adventures.  Such thankfulness ought to be natural in those who believe that a god is involved in their lives, and a natural expression of it within the game world makes perfect sense.

Further, as we said of a number of those other ways to express faith in the game, what is true of your character ought also to be true of you.  Express your real-world gratitude in real-world ways.  Let your fellow players recognize that you are grateful to God for the good things that come, and that you know that all things which come to you come from God and are good.

I trust you all will have, or have had, a happy Thanksgiving filled with gratitude for all God’s good gifts.

On a related subject, let me express our gratitude to you for reading, encouraging, and supporting this ministry.  Some of you have promoted our efforts by purchasing what our webmaster calls “swag” from our Christian Gamers Guild store.*  Many of you have registered for and attended our worship services at various conventions.  Apart from support of the guild, I would thank those of you who have supported me (I may be chaplain of the guild, but I am a volunteer in all I do here) both by encouraging posts and by support through Patreon or PayPal.me.  These contributions keep me online and writing, and are greatly appreciated.

So thank you.


*Editor’s note, for the purposes of transparency: The purpose of the store is to provide branded materials to members in order to advertise the Guild. Most items are priced at just a little bit over cost. We do make a small amount on each purchase, but so far the account hasn’t earned enough for Cafe Press to send us a check.


Previous article:  Seekers.
Next article:  Balancing on the Corner.

Starfinder Stuff for Pathfinder Second Edition

Conversion rules for the inclusion of Starfinder content in a Pathfinder Second Edition game, if you like to mix your chocolate and peanut butter.


  1. Starfinder Stuff can be taken from the Starfinder Core Rulebook, Armory, and any other official Starfinder resource with GM approval. Normally, these would be located or obtained through events in the story, not during character generation or in markets.
  2. Damage Types: Bludgeoning is a subset of Kinetic. Kinetic is a subset of Force. Ballistic is a subset of Piercing. Lightning is the same as Electrical. All other energy types (sonic, fire, cold, etc.) are subtypes of Energy. Light and Darkness damage are subsets of Spiritual damage. Evil, Neutral, “Negative Energy,” and Chaos are also subsets of Darkness. While Good, “Positive Energy,” and Lawful are subsets of Light. Other damage types are subsets of existing Pathfinder 2e damage types, and GM may need to rule on which ones if they are not obvious.
  3. Weapons and Armor: Weapons and armor are to be used AS IS, including level, etc. The GM may need to modify a specific armor or weapon for a specific character in a given story element. Pathfinder 2e weapons work similarly to how Archaic Weapons are described in Starfinder; with Archaic weapons doing 5 points fewer Weapon damage on a strike against Modern or Starfinder Armor. Archaic only effects Weapon Damage, not other kinds of to damage that may be added to a Strike such as Precision damage from a Sneak Attack, etc. In Pathfinder 2e, unless otherwise stated, weapons and armor are level 1 and are Archaic. Uncommon, Advanced, Racial, and magic are not Archaic. Weapon Damage is capped at 6 damage dice. This does not affect other kinds of damage that are applied to a weapon’s total damage done in a successful strike. Armor is capped at a +10 Armor bonus. This does not affect other kinds of bonuses to AC. KAC and EAC from Starfinder is in effect for Starfinder armor, but not Pathfinder 2e armor. EAC is only applied to a Starfinder armor wearer being targeted by energy damage.
  4. Modern Firearms: Modern Firearms are a subset of Projectile weapons and do Ballistic damage. Modern Firearms are not as advanced in technology as Starfinder Projectile weapons. Modern Firearms will typically have more ammunition per magazine than Starfinder weapons, but they also produce Report Shock and Recoil. A separate article covers damage, range, and conversion of Modern Firearms to PF2e.
  5. Handguns/Small Arms Proficiency: Unlike other ranged weapons, Handguns can be used to make Reactions, such as Attacks of Opportunity, if the Reaction is available to you. Likewise, they do not provoke Reactions, such as Attacks of Opportunity, as other Ranged weapons do. You must have the Small Arms Proficiency to use Reactions with a Handgun.
  6. Story Weapons: Force Lance, Light Saber, and activated Heritage Katana do Light damage. The GM reserves the right to add or delete story element weapons and modify their statistics as needed to keep the game balanced.
  7. Skills/Proficiencies: If you have access to a skill/proficiency (as determined by the GM), then you may be able to take it from Starfinder, so long as a Pathfinder 2e Proficiency does not cover the same area of skill or knowledge. Most of the differing Proficiencies are subsets of existing proficiencies. For example, Lore: Computers in Pathfinder 2e is the same as Computers. Crafting is the same as Engineering in Starfinder. Society is the same as Culture (except it does not grant a language, as it does in Starfinder). Security Systems is Thievery. Lore: Piloting is the same as Piloting. Lore: Driving is the same as Driving. Once you have access to a skill, even if you have not actually trained it, you may attempt untrained actions if an action is allowed untrained. Humans may apply their Improviser feats to the newly accessed skill.
  8. Classes, Class Features, Races, Racial Features, Feats, Spells, etc. in Starfinder are not available to Pathfinder 2e characters.
  9. Enhancements for armor, weapons, etc. are treated like Runes in Pathfinder 2e.
  10. Economics: 1 Credit in Starfinder is equal to 1 Silver Piece in Pathfinder 2e for the purposes of price listing and development costs. However, converting them back and forth may prove to be very difficult as Silver is a commodity. One day 1 Silver may be worth 0.2 credits, and the next day worth 2.3 credits depending on the market and location of the characters.
  11. Non-Pathfinder 2e Weapons Proficiencies: Once you have access to Modern or Starfinder Weapons (and an instructor to teach you), and when you gain a Class Feat, Skill Feat, General Feat, or Ancestry Feat, you can use it to take the Elevated Weapon Proficiency Feat. The Elevated Weapons Proficiencies are Small Arms, Long Arms, Heavy Weapons, and Sniper Weapons as described in Starfinder. Modern Firearms and non-Pathfinder 2e weapons fall into these. The Elevated Weapon Proficiency Feat allows you to become Trained in Small Arms or Long Arms. You can take it multiple times. You can take it again if you are Trained in Small Arms or Long Arms, and gain Trained in Small Arms, Long Arms, Heavy Weapons, or Sniper Weapons. At 1st level or higher you can take it to increase Trained to Expert in an Elevated Weapon Proficiency you are Trained in. You can also take it at 7th level or higher and gain Master in an Elevated Weapon Proficiency you are already Expert in. At 13th level or higher you can take it and gain Legendary in an Elevated Weapon feat you are already Master in.
  12. Non-Pathfinder 2e Armor: If you are trained in Light Armor, and you have access to Starfinder Armor (and an instructor to teach you), you can take the Powered Armor Feat as a General, Skill, Ancestry, or Class Feat, and become Trained. You can take it again at 1st level or higher and become Expert. At 7th level or higher you can take it again and become a Master. And at 13th level or higher you can take it again and become Legendary.

RPG-ology #35: Believable Nonsense

This is RPG-ology #35:  Believable Nonsense, for October 2020.


This article is named for the lost Game Ideas Unlimited:  Believable Nonsense, whose original ideas are recalled here.

Years ago I assisted two of my sons in burying a beloved cat, somewhere along the outside of the fence around our yard.  That event inspired the original thoughts for a number of articles, most recently Faith in Play #16:  Mourning.  However, the aftermath of that event inspired an entirely different line of thought.

On my way back into the house I left the spade on the deck by the front door.  I should have known better, merely because it’s the kind of thing my wife would consider unsightly and inappropriate—you don’t leave garden tools lying by the front door.  It wasn’t long before she saw it and objected—but her objection completely surprised me.  Didn’t I know, she said, that it was bad luck to track dirt from a grave through the front door of the house?  Did I not know that this was why whenever you returned from a funeral you entered the house through the back door?

In fact I did not know any of that.  Dirt is dirt, and its origin is not particularly interesting to me most of the time.  Perhaps it would be different were I a geologist or a forensic scientist, but these things are of only general interest to me.  When I return home from anywhere I always use whatever door is most convenient for me, which is usually the front.  I can usually fathom the origins of most superstitions—walking under ladders has a chance of dislodging tools from above or knocking someone over, breaking mirrors in dressing rooms where you’re likely to use them probably means slivers of broken glass which will be in the floor boards for a long time before vacuum cleaners are invented, and black cats are easy to overlook particularly in the dark.  I’m afraid, though, that I don’t grasp the danger in grave dirt.

What intrigued me at the time, though, was the realization that the world is filled with superstitions, every culture having developed its own.  I wondered, how do you bring these into the game?  How do you create believable nonsense for your non-player characters, taboos some fully believe and others claim not to believe but are still wary about?

It strikes me that many of these would have a forgotten origin story—someone got sick eating a melon on the new moon, and so now it’s bad luck to eat melons on the new moon; someone was fishing from Long Point at high tide and got swept away, so it’s bad luck to fish from Long Point at high tide.  Or reverse it:  the only crewman to survive the wreck of the Sarsaparilla was also the only one wearing a blue shirt, so it’s good luck to wear blue shirts aboard ships.

Of course, if you can keep your wits about you you can slip these into non-player character interactions, even invent them on the fly:  “Don’t do that!  Don’t you know it’s bad luck to…”  It’s more difficult if you want it to be a superstition of a player character race, because you have to give these summary versions to the player and discuss to what degree his character believes them—fully, or only in that incomplete way in which they make us nervous, or truly not at all?

That then leads to the tougher question:  how many of them are true?  What happens if the player characters ignore the seemingly nonsensical superstitious wisdom of the locals?  There might be something to the local belief that you shouldn’t touch the rock at the end of the village, or drink from the fountain on the side of the mountain.  Superstitious nonsense might be true; there might be hidden dangers in the claptrap spoken in the village.

Anyway, it can make for a good story.


Previous article:  Invisible Coins.
Next article:  Phionics.