Rule 0: One Rule To Rule Them All
Not to be pretentious, but the rules for D&D are like Aristotle's Poetics, if you will. They tell me how to put together a good play. And a [referee] is the playwright who reads these things and puts his play together. - Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons and Dragons, in Shared Fantasy, pg. 88
|New Players are encouraged to read Marshall Smith's Blog, Division Nihil .|
This Wiki introduces you to my own advaced version of D&D by outlining what you can expect from me, your Dungeon Master (DM); our shared world; our shared experience playing; and our rules. I have included a subheading on technology as well because this is a shared fantasy medieval world and not a historical one on Earth.
Unlike any other game, style defines a role-playing game rather than rules. This makes it an experience unique to each group. In my game, the players play the main characters in a story of my creation. I describe my world’s sensual environment to a lesser or a greater extent dependent upon player prompting. I bring to life the non-player characters and main villians; create the game story’s external turning points or theme; timeline plot points to progess the action forward; and supply action that rises, falls and arrives at denoument just like Aristole advises in his Poetics. The central conflict of my story will be political in the country of Celene, and this is where I have invested my preparation time.
You may have experienced other game styles that establish role-playing as a contest between players; power-gaming styles that over-emphasize dice rolling; or even player distrust with a DM-style that holds everyone accountable to every rule ever published. This game will be co-operative and different than those styles.
I ask you to remain in-character (IC) as awkward as it may feel with strangers at the beginning. The awkwardness some adults feel at being playful won't last long accompanied by supportive adults at the same table. Be considerate of your fellow role-players who sit while you take your turn. Describe your actions in the first person “I”. Speak to others, and the characters the DM controls, in-character. Use their character names. Use your character's name. When you do that, the other players will listen to you, sharing your fantasy, rather than waiting “their turn.” It will be entertaining in a way no other game can be. Just forget you are playing a game, a game with rules, and let your imagination take control.
You're supposed to be providing entertainment for yourself and all of your players, so I don't allow arguments at all, and sometimes [the players] will show me my own rules and say, "Look, it says this in the book," and I say, "Who cares? I just told you otherwise. It doesn't make any difference what the book says." - Gary Gygax, in Shared Fantasy, pg. 111
RA's Greyhawk Setting Bible
The Dungeon Master (DM) is the rules master. Rulebooks only advise the DM. The ultimate authority on rules is the DM. This will uniquely affect the style of this game, and every other RPG game.
My game has major differences from the Dungeons and Dragons’ game canon. These differences significantly affect the capabilities of fantasy races (Dwarves, Elves, etc.) as well as other rulebook suggestions. These differences are the particular flavour of my story world, which I reveal in this wiki. Veteran players should keep in mind that my world is not an artificial level-sensitive, character appropriate “tailored” setting but a “status quo” world simulation (PHB v3.5 p. 48).
All Players Characters (PCs) start at level 1, and all players will start with a lack of fundamental knowledge of my world that requires both the player and PC to explore their environs and its people through role- playing.
The DM co-exists with players in a symbiotic dialogue anchored by stimulation, rather than conflict or challenge. Conflict and challenge are parts of the players’ character (PC’s) stories but have no part of the relationship at the table. The DM creates and prepares a story within a world environment where role-playing is necessary for understanding. Players ask the DM what it is their PCs see or hear, taste, smell or touch. The DM gives out data rather than information in response to player requests. And when the DM interacts with PCs as a non-payer character (NPC), information is contained within the interaction. Each player’s task is to interpret this data for their PC and to interact with each other, stimulating the exchange of information as would their PCs.
The DM creates and prepares the overall/campaign story but players may also contribute their own sub-story to the narrative. The DM interweaves these interstitial stories into the tapistry of the whole campaign. Players’ individual stories may have PCs step outside of the prepared country of Celene as adventurers or base their PCs in the country and its power structure as landowners or simply wander the horizon aimlessly until purpose catches up to them. The strands of the yarn will lead players back to the DM’s story set in Celene and players are expected to be aware and vigilant to such clues and information while they pursue “other stories.” Otherwise, why would the DM prepare a story if not to be stimulated by the players active within it?
Personally, I want players to interact with me and engross themselves in both my world and its NPCs so my preparation is not a meaningless chore of gathering statistics and rolling dice. My creative juices flow from the players stimulating me, not from a table of challenge to the rules, to the players or to the DM.. So let me communicate the type of game I want us to play, together. I have created a “status quo” fantasy world that encourages player co-operation, especially playing low level PCs. The plot of the overall/campaign story centres on about politics in Celene. I have invested my time into this creative effort because how you, as players, react to the story will stimulate my further creativity.
OUR WORLD ENVIRONMENT
Our world is a huge “status quo” environment. Every hex of the world map (at bottom) is more than one full day’s travel on foot by road. Status quo means that the world does not adapt to PCs – PCs (and NPCs) adapt to it. It also means NPCs have a life when they are out of view of the PCs same as do PCs. NPCs may be enslaved but, without magic, it is impossible to entrall a mind. Our shared fantasy experiment is its own molecular organism of beating chaos inside a giant petrie dish.
Exploring our world together is a prerequisite to sharing its fantasy. Understanding that random encounters and events happen with no pre-determined outcome; a mentor to train under is an integral part of every PC achievement; rumours are facts coloured by belief and agenda; and Humans dominate our fantasy world is an important part of role-playing. Understanding that the consistency and impartiality of our world extends to both PCs and NPCs alike is the cornerstone upon which player and DM trust is built. Exploration can be done by players gathering experience first hand or from NPC travellers, by gathering rumours second hand.
A good way to understand our shared fantasy is to ask for data about it. I will answer without interpreting the data for you. You may ask: does the dog seem friendly? (And I may answer: well, he's barking, wagging his tail and kneeling in front of you. What do you think?) Is the Ogre looking at anything in particular? (He looks at you all but his eye is drawn to the tasty apple the wizard is eating.) Does the dragon notice us? (You don't think he has...) Notice that, like any good story is constructed, I am not telling information but showing data for you to interpret to your PC.
OUR ROLE PLAYING EXPERIENCE
PCs take risks all the time. It is the nature of being a part of an adventure. This requires players to roll dice to determine the success of mundane skill checks and combat, which play essential parts in a game; but converting data into information for your PC will be your most important task as a role-player. You will receive data on behalf of your PC’s 5-active senses of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Actively role-playing will have a much larger impact on your play than rolling dice because the game involves finding, gathering and interpreting as much data as is available for your PC to act on and survive.
In this game, you can expect plenty of role-playing in a political story involving events and characters that you (as player or as your character low-level) know nothing about. You will have to connect with the story by gathering rumours and information through your own direct interaction with the fantasy world and its people. Rolling dice will be a very limited help with this thinking task.
You will enjoy role-playing and find relaxation if you can let yourself regress from adult tensions and the worry of game mechanics. If role-playing feels awkward as an adult, remember you are making-believe and leaving yourself behind. The experience is supposed to feel different. Role-playing means looking directly at a fellow player and speaking in active speech as your character would: "Give you sword, Aragorn. Live long life!" Rather than use reported speech and rules talk, role-playing brings your character to life and entertains everyone at the table. So, role-play your character with abandon! You will be supported by others at the table who are no different than you, and just as entertaining.
As the DM, I sit back making a note of PC actions. I answer direct player requests for PC sensorary input and play NPCs, including mannerisms and bias, during dialogue where information about the world is passed on. I will roll the dice for all NPCs during encounters. NPCs are my characters. Many have personalities and personal agendas.
OUR USE OF DICE
We will use many types of dice together to represent the unpredictable and variable results of character creation, combat strikes and initiative, magic effects, fluctuations in health, and using Skills Checks. For most of these rolls, a number result is all that is required from the dice. But these numbers may only represent modifiers to actual role-playing at times. Our use of dice will never replace role-playing.
Many Skill Checks will yield data, but not information. I will communicate three examples of how skill checks will not take the place of actual role-playing.
A successful Sense Motive Skill Check will not determine an NPC’s motive, or identify the NPC’s purpose. It is the player’s task to interpret the NPC’s motive through role-playing to discover what the motive may be. An NPC may spread misinformation for any number of reasons that a successful Sense Motive Check will not reveal, including being a misinformed braggart. A good rule of thumb is to never take anything the DM says (while in character) at face value.
A successful Knowledge Skill Check will recall data to the player, preiously given to the PC. The Knowledge Skill will act as a player/PC memory check. Having an older mentor available to a PC is a boon to data access. Knowledge will initially be given through role-playing however. Rolling dice won’t replace the need to gather information through role-playing. If a player remembers knowledge given to his PC, no roll is required. If a player requires a successful roll on a Knowledge Check, the data will be given to the player in its original form. It is always up to the player to make interpretations.
A successful activity check, a Climb or a Detect Traps Skill Check for example, will be modified by the description of the PC’s actions narrated by the player. This modifier will rely on the player describing what he imagines happening. It is always advisable for players to equip PCs with such mundane tools as 50-feet of rope, a 10-foot pole, a set of thieves tools or ample magical components. These tools are often subsumed by games that rely too heavily on dice but they should not be taken for granted in my role-playing game!
MAGIC & TECHNOLOGY
CLARKE'S THIRD LAW: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Arthur C. Clarke in Profiles of The Future, 1961
Our fantasy universe hosts a myriad of immortal spirits vying to control the world, using supernatural power and superior intelligence to help or to hinder Mankind like chess pieces. Our world is home to Elves who live a thousand years and Dwarves who live underground; to nightmarish monsters; and to powerful counsellors who bend natural laws to their will with praeternatural magic. This environment shifts within nine manifest alignments and the latent struggles between good and evil, order and chaos; played between supernatural players who can quicken the diffusion of innovation unlike our real medieval period where illiterate Man lived an average of 30 years.
And with demonic or angelic influence, information gets a push from the gods. The scales tip but do not spill their entire contents. It does not suit the Archæus’* purpose to totally obliterate the chessboard and its pieces. The knife becomes the sword becomes the great sword but does not become the firearm. The arrow becomes the crossbow becomes the ballista but does not become the Inter-Continental Ballistic missle. The rock becomes the sling becomes the trebuchet but the atom is not split and connections between innovation, technology and weaponry are hidden from Man in our world. Our fantasy world will never endure an arms race.
|"We add to that inextinguishable lamp a host of other marvels of human and magical origin – that is miracles of the demon’s black arts performed by men, and miracles performed by the demons themselves. If we choose to deny the reality of these, we shall ourselves be in conflict with the truth of the sacred books in which we believe. Thus either human ingenuity has devised in that inextinguishable lamp some contrivance based on the asbestos stone [carbon] or else it was contrived by magic art…." Saint Augustine on the invention of an electric arc-light in City of God, 354-430 AD|
A list of all technology in our fantasy world would follow, indexed by country, if such a list were feasible in a shared imaginary world. Instead, we have the framework of one ideology to explain why technology exists at the level it does. Not everyone living in our fantasy world believes in the supernatural. For these residents it is useless to explain why something does not exist that they have never seen.
For us, who never lived in such an era, it might spark our curiosity to see what technology was available in our own Medieval period: amphitheatres, aqueducts, monumental arches and true arch bridges, Archimedean screw, automation like vending machines, automatic doors, and crude entertainment systems, block printing, boat mills, book (Codex), cast iron, cement, central heating systems, closed gutters, concrete, crossbow, cranes, dams and arch dams, diving bells, domes, dry docks, floor and wall heating, fountains, The Gallic reaper and multi-tube seed drill, gears and differential gears, glass blowing, glass windows, harbours, hydraulic mining used extensively in deep underground mines, multistory apartment buildings called insulae, iron plough, keyboard mechanisms, laws providing for individual ownership, lighthouses, looms and spinning wheels, maps, matches, magnetic compass, magnifying lens, mechanized, mass production of food, metalworking, movable type, natural gas as fuel, odometer astrolabes, paper made from papyrus and refined parchment, perfumes demonstrating some knowledge of chemistry – particularly distillation and purification processes, phosphorescent paint, piston pump and double-action piston pump, pneumatic catapults, pottery, porcelain, propeller, public baths, public flush toilets, Qanat (system of water management 2,700 years old and still working in Iran), ramps, advanced road-building (exceeded only in the 19th century), Roman baths, rutways, screws, seismological detectors, showers, spectacles, spinning wheel, steam engine demonstrating basic knowledge of mechanic and pneumatic systems, advanced stonemasonry technology, street paving, suspension bridge, torsion catapults, university, vaults, vegetable dyes, water mills, wind power machines like windwheels, mills and organs to name a few better known “ancient technologies.”
What would have happened if our Dark Ages were not dark? The question of what could have been extends all the way back to Archimedes’ Screw, to Heron’s primitive steam engine, to Vitruvius’ hydraulic mining, and beyond to ancient technologies only re-discovered in Earth’s own 20th century. The Romans developed many technologies which were apparently lost in the Middle Ages, and were only fully re-invented in the 19th and 20th centuries. What wonders could our world have produced in our Medieval period were these technologies not lost to superstitious fear and time
Look for these ideas to appear in the technology of our fantasy world.
'*Archeus/Archæus is the personification, given by Paracelsus, of the spirit dwelling in and controlling all living things and processes. – Chambers’ 20th Century Dictionary.
Because we are a multi-national group, we use a standardized Alignment Questionnaire to determine PC Alignment.
For new players, excellent Blog explaining how RPGs work: http://divisionnihil.blogspot.com/2011/07/shared-fantasy-chapter-6.html