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The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

All discussions regarding Board, Card, and RPG Gaming, including industry discussion, that don't belong in one of the other gaming forums.

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Blackhawk
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Blackhawk »

There are. I don't love online games with strangers, to be honest.

So, I woke up about three hours before the alarm and couldn't get back to sleep. As I lay there pondering all of this, I think I realized a thing or two. As my problems so often are, my social anxiety plays a role, and I don't think I realized until this morning how much it has defined my game style.

When I'm running a game, I'm extremely tense. Not quite at 'panic attack' nervous, but definitely on edge. I'm always working to keep that in check while I run. In order to relax enough to think clearly and play smoothly I us the game's structure (IE - hard, defined, non-subjective mechanics) to help me along. It takes some of the pressure off of me to figure out what happens next by telling me what the outcomes are, and all I have to do is build off of it.

Those mechanics represent a lot of complexity, bookkeeping, and work, both behind the screen and between sessions. I used to thrive on working with that complexity, but I no longer do, and I haven't in several years. Prepping used to be a fun process that made me look forward to playing. Now it feels like I'm doing my taxes. Multiple times per week. That is sapping my creative energy, and what used to be a hobby about imagination and wonder has turned into a tedious, forced slog for me.

When I try running games that lack that type of structure, I tend to freeze up during the game. Without that support, my nervousness gets in the way of my imagination. That's the missing piece that explains why PbtA games have been so hard for me to run. The same goes for prewritten content (my own or published) vs improvisational storytelling. Written out, pre-defined options are the structure that eases my nervousness. It's thinking in a social situation that I don't have to do. But again it adds to the workload that I've stopped enjoying.

Maybe something extreme without the focus - say, a few months of weekly Fiasco - would help. I dunno.

The other thing that I realized is that if I knew someone else would step in and take over GMing long-term, I'd step down right now. Retire, whether long-term or permanently I don't know. But given the group and the small-town issues, there's a good chance that retiring would simply end the hobby for me. Now I'm trying to decide if that's what I want.
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Blackhawk »

And sorry to stink things up with 'issues'. I've also realized this week how much of what I do in my life has been centered around two things. Religion I gave up more than a decade ago. This is the other thing. Most of my other hobbies and interests for the past 30 years, from the books I read, to how I watch TV, to painting, to board gaming, to the things I collect, to literally all of my real-life friends. All of it has sprung up from and around tabletop RPGs. Yeah, it's just a game. But walking away from the hobby represents a fundamental shift in my life. It's been a core motivation for a long, long time.
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by IceBear »

That's fine Blackhawk...we all love gaming and helping people to game. I agree that playing with strangers wouldn't be my first choice (I don't really like playing online with my friends but what can you do? )

I'm an introvert but don't think I have bad social anxiety (just a touch) so my advice was coming from my point of view. Could someone in your group run the game for awhile to give you a break to recharge and give you another perspective

I know when work got more intense and my son was born I had to admit to myself that GMing wasn't going to be like it used to be. Luckily the others in my group picked up the slack and I I play more now than GM

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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Blackhawk »

I have officially retired.

My speech to my players:
Spoiler:
In my best Marcus voice: "So... You want to hear a story, eh?"I was introduced to D&D in 1982 by my then step-brother. It was only a game or two. I rediscovered it in 1989 after reading about it in the foreword of a Dragonlance novel. I sold my only valuable items (a couple of guns) to buy a set of dice and the core books.

For the first few months I played solo. I didn't know anybody, and was too shy to ask around. Eventually someone at school (I was a Junior in high school) saw my books and we started chatting, eventually leading to us joining a group. I played with them for a couple of months. Then my father stole me a D&D module for my birthday: Curse of the Azure Bonds (my father stole all my presents - go Dad!) I talked to my group, and a few days later everyone met at my house. I ran Azure Bonds. It was my first time DMing, and it was 30 years ago this month.

D&D, then later systems, became one of the core factors in my life. By my count, I've run more than 20 different systems, and played probably twice that. My love for the game, and for running it, had a hand in almost every lifestyle choice I made.

I met my first wife via a friend of a player in my group. I met my second wife at one of my games.

My college major and minor (that was not a such good choice, but I was 19 and hadn't put many points into Wisdom…)

The books I read, fiction and non-, the shows I watch, and the video games I play are usually inspired by whatever game I'm playing at the time, to inform and enhance it. Even now if I sit down to play a video game and my brain drops into 'research mode'. I see a cave and start to think about how I could use it in an RPG encounter. I hear the ambient audio and consider whether I should record it to use as background ambience. I see a cool scene, then I stop and describe it to myself as if I were talking to my players.

RPGs really have defined my life. And it has been 30 years this month.

30 years is a nice, round number. And it seems like a good time to announce my retirement. We've got two or three more sessions of Plaguestone, after which I'm hanging up my screen, possibly (likely?) for good.

I'm not quitting RPGs. But I won't be behind the screen. I'm going to see what life is like when I'm not in research mode, not worrying about the next game. Long story short, I just don't enjoy some elements of being a GM anymore, and forcing myself to do those things has not led to good results.

It wasn't something I decided lightly or on a whim. It's been building for several years, and I've been agonizing over it for weeks, trying to figure out why I've been so unhappy with gaming lately. I've talked about it with friends, I've discussed it with people with similar experiences. And I've finally come to understand that after 30 years, certain elements of who I am have simply changed. Feel free to skip the next few paragraphs if you don't care about Psychology of Me.

---------------------------

My social anxiety is bad, bad enough that I'm legally disabled by it. When running games it is fairly intense, but it has always been that way. My coping mechanism is always that I've relied on the rules themselves to provide a nice, predictable framework that I could build my narrative around. Those frameworks, consisting of hard rules and mechanics, make designing and prepping for the game labor intensive, and they make running a complex task, full of math, minutiae, and bookkeeping.

Occasionally I've tried running games that don't use that kind of framework. Masks, for instance, or Dungeon World. And I've found that without the framework to support me, the social anxiety is much stronger, even overwhelming. Situations arise in game, and I freeze up. My mind goes completely blank. Its only in the last few weeks that I've realized that's why I had such a hard time with those games.

So I need those frameworks. And those rules, mechanics, and minutiae, technical and complex, are one of the things that drew me to GMing so much. I just loved taking a complex, convoluted system and making it dance. That's the thing that's changed, though. These days the math, bookkeeping, and complexity feel less like solving a puzzle and more like doing my taxes, and it's been that way for years. It's sucked the fun out of GMing for me, which has made it feel less like a journey full of wonder and excitement and more like a chore I'm forced to do.

I realize now that it's been that way for several years. I've tried to work around it by repeatedly taking breaks, starting a new adventure, trying a new system. People get invested in their character, in the story, in the system, then I pull it out from under them. I'd get excited for the next thing, then the weight of running it hits me. At the time I just knew that I wasn't having fun. I'd feel guilty because everyone else was and force myself to continue for a while, but I'd be miserable and start looking for a way out, thinking that it was the rules system, or the adventure. Nope, it was me. I know that now, and I accept that it is a fundamental change in my psyche that has made a core element of the job unfun, and that it probably isn't fixable. And that's a relief. It's a little like getting a diagnosis and realizing that the pain you've been suffering with is actually a thumbtack in your heel.

-----------------------------

Ok, done with the analysis.

So, what's this mean? Well, I've already got the next session prepped, along with the heavy parts of the next one or two after that, which should wrap up Plaguestone. After that… Well, this was one of the things that made this such a hard decision and has cost me a fair amount of sleep. I'd hate to see this group fade away after eight great years. I'd hate to see us all lose touch and everyone to lose their gaming outlet. Good groups are too hard to find, especially in rural America.

If someone else wants to GM, you'll have access to my library and tools. Pathfinder, Pathfinder 2 rules and adventures, D&D of various editions, Fate Core & Accelerated, Savage Worlds (including many Deadlands bits), Torg Eternity, plus the tools and accessories for Dungeon World, Masks, and so forth. Plus lots of stuff for other, older systems. Miniatures, dice, templates, props. It's there to be used.

If nobody does (and there's no blame or pressure there - it's a big commitment), maybe we could still get together for board games. I'm not talking Monopoly here. I have a number of deep, elaborate board games that have full ongoing campaigns, character building, and complex gameplay that can last for months. Sword & Sorcery with all the expansions, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game with all four base sets each with all the expansions, Core Space, Mice & Mystics, and others. Look 'em up!

I'm losing a big part of one of my favorite hobbies. I'd rather not lose the friends that go along with it!
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Zenn7 »

Hope they go for the boardgaming BH. I suck as a creative sort for DMing and immensely prefer playing, but I greatly appreciate all the work that goes into DMing a solid game!

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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Kurth »

Sorry to hear you've reached your D&D end, BH. I'm at the opposite place right now, just starting out with Lost Mines of Phandelver with my kids (16 and 12) at home during quarantine.

There's a bit of arm twisting to get them to sit down and play with me for a couple hours, but once they do, we've been having a good time. They're each playing a character, and I'm running two sidekicks who are basically just along for the ride. They've made it through the first part of the adventure, and now they're working their way through the Redbrands Hideout. I'm learning there's a lot more art to this DM'ing thing than I expected. I can be kind of rigid and a rule follower when it comes to gaming, and I'm realizing that might not be contributing to their enjoyment. For example, they're convinced that the best way through the Redbrands Hideout is to disguise themselves as Redbrands and pretend that the two sidekicks are prisoners (ala prisoner Chewie in Star Wars EP. 4). I think that's great, and I'm encouraging them, but each time they try this on a new group of Redbrands, they're failing their persuasion checks - my thinking is, the Redbrands would be skeptical of some new, unfamiliar guys claiming to be in their ranks. But maybe I should just forget the persuasion DC and just let them do it? I don't know. I want them to play within the framework of the rules, but I also don't want to discourage them.

Also, I find that it takes me a long time to set up encounters and figure out initiative and all that. I was thinking maybe I should explore an online tool -- Fantasy Grounds, R20, D&D Beyond -- that might help me better organize and streamline things. I know those are VTT programs, but I think I read somewhere that they can be helpful for in-person play as well. Any thoughts? Right now, I'm printing up large, scaled maps and we're doing most dungeons and battles with minis that I'm 3D printing. I'd like to keep going with that, but it would be great to digitize some of the character record keeping (inventory, XP, HP, etc.) and combat tracking. Any thoughts?
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Blackhawk »

Kurth wrote:
Sun Apr 26, 2020 2:37 pm
Sorry to hear you've reached your D&D end, BH.
No chance! I've reached the end of running RPGs, but I still plan to play as long as the universe will let me!

Kurth wrote:
Sun Apr 26, 2020 2:37 pm

Also, I find that it takes me a long time to set up encounters and figure out initiative and all that. I was thinking maybe I should explore an online tool -- Fantasy Grounds, R20, D&D Beyond -- that might help me better organize and streamline things. I know those are VTT programs, but I think I read somewhere that they can be helpful for in-person play as well. Any thoughts? Right now, I'm printing up large, scaled maps and we're doing most dungeons and battles with minis that I'm 3D printing. I'd like to keep going with that, but it would be great to digitize some of the character record keeping (inventory, XP, HP, etc.) and combat tracking. Any thoughts?
They can help, but will involve a bit of extra work, as you'll have to set up the encounters in both locations. The only way I've ever used VTTs with in-person play was to use them to reveal maps as they're explored (I used MapTool and had the GM's screen on my laptop with the players' screen on the TV.)

The way I handled initiative was to buy a super-cheap whiteboard, maybe 10"x12" or something like that. I used sharpies and a ruler to create a grid, something like this:

Code: Select all

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|            |   |        |
___________________________
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The first column is names. The second is initiative. The third is for tally marks to count rounds.

The grid is in sharpie.
The players names are written in at the start of the session in wet-erase markers.
Everything else is done with dry-erase markers.

In other words, the lines won't erase, and the player names will only erase if you use liquid (so you can change it if the party changes/campaign changes.)
You can just ask everyone's initiative and write it down, including adding the enemy names, then go in order. Each time someone goes, tally mark on the right.
After combat, use the dry-eraser (or a dry paper towel) and just wipe it off, which removes everything but the players' names.

The real secrets are 1) keep it in plain sight so that everyone know when their turn is coming and can be ready, and 2) delegate one player to be in charge of it. Suddenly keeping track of initiative, turns, and rounds is someone else's problem.

I'll see if I can find a picture of mine in use.
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

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Ok, not a great picture as it is partially obscured, but it shows the board well enough.

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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Kurth »

That dry erase board looks like a great answer to some of my issues, and a lot less complicated than Fantasy Grounds. Downloaded the demo of that last night and spent three hours or so messing with it. That is not a user-friendly piece of software!
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The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Zarathud »

I use StatTrackers which are little bookmarkers with player/NPC/monster stats the DM folds over the screen. The preprinted monsters are limited to the OGL set so I have to write up the specialty monsters. They give plenty of blanks and it’s been easier prep than I thought. Very nice to keep track of stuff in game, avoid the surprise + to a roll after reading the result, and I can pull out ones pretty easily so far for random NPCs.
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by IceBear »

I made my own stat trackers with index cards...that and used a whiteboard or boogie board

Over the past month I've been using Fantasy Grounds as a GM and player (Savage Worlds not D&D) and other than the initial learning curve it hasn't been too bad. Best place to learn is their forums and various videos linked there

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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Blackhawk »

I have used cards on my screen in the past, but these days my GM screen is my laptop!
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by IceBear »

If I had a laptop, I might have used it, but only have a desktop and a tablet (which is what I use most of the time, but generally just for the pdfs of the rules)

BTW, I just came across this TV commercial for D&D from the 80s. I had never seen it before

https://youtu.be/4ttFvjY6zJ0?fbclid=IwA ... XBV1ivuxB8

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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by IceBear »

FYI, I just assume everyone knows about 5etools.com, but it's a great resource, especially for playing VTT. There's a token for pretty much every 5E monster than you can download and use in your VTT of choice. They even have most of the content of the released modules there (not sure how they can do that, but they've been around awhile and not shutdown yet...)

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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Blackhawk »

They're invaluable. They replaced most of my GM screen and my Player's Handbook after I found them.

And you can download the entire site in a convenient archive. Which makes me think they're expecting to get shut down. Although why it hasn't already happened is beyond me.
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by IceBear »

Yeah, I've been downloading it too...which reminds me I haven't recently so I should do that now

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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Blackhawk »

They're too invaluable not to have. And it shows just how out of touch WotC is with how modern gamers play, including refusing to release pdfs out of fear of piracy in favor of a subscription service (and just like games, pdfs of all of their stuff is out there within days of release anyway.)

To contrast it, Paizo has what is essentially the same thing out there called The Archives of Nethys, except it is legal, official, and supported (save for not having the plot content of adventures in it - although it does include items, enemies, and rules.)
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by IceBear »

Honestly, based on comments from Mike and Chris I feel like that's more Hasbro than WotC, but yes, they really need to allow more electronic tools / formats. So I suspect they are fully aware of 5etools (how could they not?) but turning a blind eye to it and keeping their overlords in the dark :)

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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Madmarcus »

Reading this thread makes me feel like a poser. I consider roleplaying to be a pretty big deal in my life but I really only actively played for 12 years (78 - 90). I moved when I got married and the combination more or less ended my face to face gaming. I"ve done pbem and play by forum of course but a few years ago I realized that the asynchronous nature of pbem and pbp just didn't work for me. Most likely I should jump into Roll20 but inertia (and a roughly 12 hour time difference from the US) means I haven't quite done it yet. I I still love reading rules, thinking about games, creating settings, and so on. I still think about myself as a roleplayer.

Blackhawk, I know what you mean when you talk about running MASKS. I appreciate the various PbtA games. I love the innovation they have brought but I can't imagine being a GM in one. I can do the improv and on the fly stuff just fine. Giving players more author ability with regards to the worldbuilding is fine. But the shift from rules as world simulation to rules as inter- and intra- personal relations is a huge jump. Its the revenge of all my high school and college literature classes forcing me to care more about symbolism, meaning, theme, and metaphor more than plot!

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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by AWS260 »

Diversity and D&D.
Throughout the 50-year history of D&D, some of the peoples in the game—orcs and drow being two of the prime examples—have been characterized as monstrous and evil, using descriptions that are painfully reminiscent of how real-world ethnic groups have been and continue to be denigrated. That’s just not right, and it’s not something we believe in. Despite our conscious efforts to the contrary, we have allowed some of those old descriptions to reappear in the game. We recognize that to live our values, we have to do an even better job in handling these issues. If we make mistakes, our priority is to make things right.

Here’s what we’re doing to improve:

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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Skinypupy »

Very cool.
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Smoove_B »

Yeah, pretty interesting -- not something I expected to read.

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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by hentzau »

The rumblings of this change have been going on for quite a while. The old curmudgeon in me likes the racial bonuses idea, but it will be nice having this as an options for people who want to run a dwarf monk or something.
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Blackhawk »

I had to go do some reading on why drow/orcs are such an issue. Ok, I get it. It isn't that the culture or the race itself has racist parallels, it is the simple fact that members of these races, by the very fact of being members of these races, are 'bad' and 'heroes' need to actively work against the race itself. Hopefully they can work around it without throwing out 40+ years of setting history and lore (for some settings.)

The one advantage I see with the rules change is that the min-maxers won't be so tied to a single race anymore, making race more about flavor than which one gives the biggest bonus. It'll make games more interesting, as long as they also boost the rules that keep each race unique (IE - dwarven stone cunning, for instance.)
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Zarathud »

The famous existing exceptions being Drizzt for Drow and Obould Many Arrows for Orcs.

I’m a bit old school on the racial bonuses. I don’t want to let min/maxers free reign with the stat but system and racial abilities. Maybe your Dwarf mage isn’t 100% maxed but you can get close under the existing system. And the variety bonus for humans shouldn’t get lost.
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Blackhawk »

Zarathud wrote:
Fri Jun 19, 2020 2:34 pm
The famous existing exceptions being Drizzt for Drow and Obould Many Arrows for Orcs.
Yep. I can see them writing in a 'renegade' drow nation or some such. But given that fiction in D&D settings is more or less dead, who knows?
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Zarathud »

And let’s compare 5E to Basic/Advanced where your race dictated class.
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Blackhawk »

Cross posted to the trade forum.



Humble RPG Book Bundle: Pathfinder Second Edition by Paizo Inc


If you've any interest in the Pathfinder 2nd Edition RPG, this is an excellent deal. PF2 is the most recent game I was running, and it is an excellent game.

For $5 you get the Core Rulebook and the Fall of Plaguestone, plus some novellas by Dave Gross to get you into the setting (I've read others in this series by him, and they're actually pretty good), plus some maps and one-shot adventures. Pathfinder doesn't split the rulebook, so the Core Rulebook is all you need (IE - it is the PHB and DMG in one.) I've run Plaguestone, too, and it is an excellent introductory adventure.

For $10 you get the Lost Omens World Guide (this the setting guide for PF2), plus more novellas, one-shots, and maps

For $20 you add the Bestiary, the Lost Omens Character Guide (and excellent book with more character options - D&D folks should think Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide), more novellas, maps, and one-shots.

And for $30 you get everything above plus a physical copy of the Core Rulebook. Given that this is $60 retail, and currently $38 on Amazon, this is a steal.
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Zarathud »

About to start our second session of Roll20. Looking forward to seeing how the tomb spelunking turns out.
"If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts." - Albert Einstein
"I don't stand by anything." - Trump
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” - John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St Andrews, 2/1/1867
“It is the impractical things in this tumultuous hell-scape of a world that matter most. A book, a name, chicken soup. They help us remember that, even in our darkest hour, life is still to be savored.” - Poe, Altered Carbon

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Zarathud
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Re: The Randomness of the Pen and the Paper

Post by Zarathud »

I am realizing that my kids don't share the same Tolkien fantasy tropes. My youthful gaming groups generally killed every non-sentient creature, and used goblin hostages to find traps at spear-point. While dungeons sometimes contained Tomb of Horrors instant-death traps, we were basically murder hobos.

My oldest daughter is excited about starting to play D&D again in Roll20 with her friends. Partly because she'll now remember to use the wolf she tamed in the Goblin Caves. My youngest daughter adopted a Gobllin who was being abused by other "evil" monsters, and is calling him "her baby." Like in Baby Yoda from the Mandalorean. It was the kid who led them into the woods that they didn't trust -- because no one asks strangers to follow them into the woods without evil intent.

I'm pretty sure that they'll try to take over the town. Which is what we did to the Keep on the Borderlands -- several times.
"If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts." - Albert Einstein
"I don't stand by anything." - Trump
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” - John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St Andrews, 2/1/1867
“It is the impractical things in this tumultuous hell-scape of a world that matter most. A book, a name, chicken soup. They help us remember that, even in our darkest hour, life is still to be savored.” - Poe, Altered Carbon

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