Division Of Spoils

One of the things that leads most Role-Playing Gaming (RPG) Groups into the most arguments is how to divide up the spoils (treasure) of an adventure. I’ve seen many and varied a method of the years (ie read “decades”) and the method below is one that works very well, for both Fantasy and SF games, and all genres in between. But first, a small detour to set things up.

How Characters organise themselves into Parties is many and varied, but over the years (I’ve been playing and GMing since 1982) I’ve noticed that almost all Parties tend to organise themselves with the following “party positions”: party leader, mapper, quarter-master (QM), and treasurer. Now, obviously, not every Party is going to have these positions and some Parties have more, but these are the ones I’ve observed most often. It’s also interesting to note that the position of mapper still exists even though the use of electronic maps in various VTT (Virtual Tabletop) Software is on the rise and becoming more popular day by day – this is probably because I sometimes take the electronic map away –

Oh look, you’re so stressed-out you can’t remember the way out of this dungeon


– and so my Players tend to make “scratch maps” as a back up in case this happens. But that’s another story.

So, let me say first off that how Players divide up the treasure is entirely up to the Players – as Game Master (GM) I stay right out of it (as the Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and/or henchmen I have a say, but that’s always as the NPC, never as the GM).

However, I have also often found that Players, especially new Players, don’t really know how to go about it without a lot of trial and error. So with this in mind I often suggest to my Players the following method, which has been used since the early 1980’s. It’s not complicated (although some may consider it slightly complex); its fair in that everyone gets magic/hi-tech (Fantasy vs SF) and money and no-one feels hard done by; it promotes teamwork and heroics; and it tends to curb intra-party thieving. And finally, its self-correcting in that if people try to “play the system” or if they’re @ssholes then the system will “bight them in the butt” as the other Players will do the same to them. I’ve seen this method used with all sorts of groups with all sorts of personalities and all sorts of Characters and character types in all sorts of RPGs and it really works and works well. So here goes.

First of all treasure comes in two broad categories: magic/hi-tech and non-magic/non-hi-tech. We’ll deal with non-magic/non-hi-tech first.

Step one is to convert all non-magical/non-hi-tech treasure into a GP-equivalent (Gold Piece) or Credit-equivalent – ie sell it! Sell the gems, jewelry, art objects, rare books – whatever. Liquidate everything. If a Player particularly wants an item then they’re free to buy it (or buy it back – it’s the same thing) but everything is converted to gold/credits (or whatever) – no exceptions! Funnily enough, in all the years I’ve seen this method employed almost no-one bothers to purchase the art objects, etc.

Step two (actually, this should be Step 0 as you can do this once at the start of the campaign/adventure before any treasure is even found) is to determine the number of “treasure shares” the Party is going to have. This is where the Party can get really flexible in how they want to run things. A good starting point is to give every Player Character (PC) and each non-henchman (and non-employee) NPC a full share; Henchmen-NPCs get a half-share and employee-NPCs don’t get a share at all (they’re getting paid, after all – either by their PC Employer or by the Party as a whole). In addition to these shares the party leader gets an additional half-share and each of the other party-positions gets an additional quarter-share. Some parties also have a “party share” which is used by the Party as a whole to pay for lodgings, NPC-employees, gather info bribes, resurrections, etc. Finally, and this is the bit that encourages teamwork, etc, is a full share (or whatever is necessary to round-out all of the half- and quarter-shares into a whole number of shares) used as the “Most Valuable Player Character” (MVPC) Award. The MVPC is voted on by the Players as to which PC is the most deserving. It must be awarded and it must go to an individual, it can never be split between two or more PCs. PCs win the award for helping out the Party as a whole: this can be doing something heroic such as holding the breach while everyone else gets away; solving the puzzle that was key to completing the adventure; helping the Party stay on track; or whatever else the Party thinks is deserving of the award. Obviously, PCs who steal from their fellow Party Members won’t be getting the award, nor will those who are @ssholes.

Dividing up magic/hi-tech treasure is a little bit trickier. The best long-term method is to let random chance (ie a die roll) decide, because in the long run everyone’s got the same chance to get the first pick of the magic/hi-tech and people really can’t argue with the die. So when it becomes time to divide up magic/hi-tech everyone rolls 1d20 (a single 20-sided die), with people choosing in order of their roll. Once everyone has had a pick everyone rolls 1d20 again for the next round, and so on until all the magic/hi-tech treasure is gone.

A couple of “tweaks” make this system even more fair: first, if you get first pick in a round you have a -5 penalty to your roll on the next round, no matter when the next round occurs; similarly if you get 2nd pick in a round you get a -2 penalty. You can voluntarily give up your pick in this and every succeeding round of this “treasure divide up” to receive a +5 bonus to your roll for the first round of the next treasure divide up. Similarly, if the party runs out of magic/hi-tech items before you get a pick in a round you get a +5 bonus to the next round. All bonuses and penalties are cumulative.

Some Notes: People are generally expected to choose items most useful to them before picking more “expensive” items. Generically useful items (ie healing potions, med-packs, etc) belong to the Party as whole. Players generally offer up old items back into the magic/hi-tech divide up when they get a more useful version ie give back the +2 Sword when they get a +3 Sword, or give back the +1 Ring when they get a +2 Ring, etc. Some Parties actually allow a swap of low- for high-powered items, while others “buy back” the old item for the going price (ie the PC “sells” the item to the Party). If the situation occurs when everyone no longer wants to chose a magic/hi-tech item and there are magic/hi-tech items remaining, the remaining magic/hi-tech items are sold (and the money goes into the non-magic/non-hi-tech “shares” system).

So, there it is. I hope you’ve find this method useful. You can modify it as you wish, but what is presented above is the distilled wisdom of 100’s of Players across dozens of campaigns over 10’s of years.


Inspiration For Adventure:
Swamp Witch

I draw inspiration for the torture – sorry, adventures – I put my players through from many sources; movies, books, magazine articles, and of course, songs. Swamp Witch by Jim Stafford is one of my favourites – it’s a “southern, Louisiana-style” slow ballad that just drips with adventure ideas and plot. If you can, see if you can locate a copy and have a listen – you’ll be glad you did!

In the meantime, I’ve written out the lyrics here to provide my fellow Torturers – sorry, GMs – with some potential inspiration. See if you can come up with an adventure idea more evil – sorry, exciting – than what I put my players through.

Black Water Hattie lived back in the swamp,
Where the strange green reptiles crawl.
Snakes hang thick from the cypress trees,
Like sausage on a smokehouse wall.
Where the swamp is alive with a thousand eyes,
An’ all of them watching you!
Stay off the track to Hattie’s Shack,
In the back of the Black Bayou.

Way up the road from Hattie’s Shack
Lies a sleepy little Okeechobee town.
Talk of Swamp Witch Hattie
Lock you in when the sun go down.
Rumours of what she’d done,
Rumours of what she’d do,
Kept folks off the track of Hattie’s Shack,
In the back of the Black Bayou.

One day brought the rain and the rain stayed on
And the swamp water overflowed.
’Sqeetes and the fever grabbed the town like a fist;
Doc Jackson was the first to go.
Some said the plague was brought by Hattie,
There was talk of a hang’n too!
But the talk got shackled by the howls and the cackles
From the bowels of the Black Bayou.

Early one morn ’tween dark and dawn,
When shadows filled the sky,
There came an unseen caller
On a town where hope run dry.
In the square there was found a big black round
Vat full of gurgling brew.
Whispering sounds as the folks gathered round,
“It came from the Black Bayou.”

There ain’t much pride when you’re trapped inside
A slowly sink’n ship.
Scooped up the liquid deep and green
And the whole town took a sip.
Fever went away and the very next day
The skies again were blue.
“Let’s thank ol’ Hattie for sav’n our town.
We’ll fetch her from the Black Bayou.”

Party of ten of the town’s best men
Headed for Hattie’s Shack.
Said Swamp Witch magic was useful and good
And they’re gonna bring Hattie back.
Never found Hattie and they never found the shack,
And they never made a trip back in.
’Twas a parchment note they found tacked to a stump
Said ‘Don’t come look’n’ again!’

Thanks to Jim Stafford for a fantastic song.

How Can I Help?

A simple question, and one that is asked in passing every day, usually by sales clerks in department stores or somebody else who’s job it is to try to get you to part with your hard earned dollars (or yen, or pounds, or shekels, or… “Alms for the poor? Alms for the poor?”).

And then there are those who claim to want to help you but are really looking to help themselves — again, usually by getting their hands on your money. Oh, they’ll provide the services they’re being paid for — sometimes provide it very well indeed — but there’s no… no soul to the relationship, none of the back and forth, the give and take that a real professional relationship between a consultant and their client or between an employer and a trusted employee really need to maximise the benefit to both — no “value add”.

(I swore to myself when I began writing this that I wasn’t going to use any business clichés, but there’s no other way I can find to express exactly what I mean — oh well, que sera sera.)

But what about those of us who genuinely are interested in helping our clients or our employers; who want to add that something “special” to the deal — that “something” that is so hard to put into words but which everyone recognises when they see it; when they experience it. How often are we drowned out or lost in the crowd of those who don’t provide that something “special”?

Take myself, for example: I know its a cliché but I get a genuine kick out of solving an organisation’s ICT issues; of helping an organisation cut through the ICT sales and technical jargon and come up with the right solution for that organisation, whatever the right solution happens to be; of providing my years of experience, knowledge, and learning in my own specialised area to my colleges in other area of business so as to help them achieve their goals, their objectives, their ambitions; of building that relationship and providing that something “special” (and even I can’t define it better than that, and I’m writing about it!); of, in short, leaving a place better than I found it.

And I’m no saint; I’ll admit it freely: I enjoy getting paid for what I do too.

And how do you, as a leader or a manager, find those rare individuals or companies that I’m talking about? Most, no all, automated recruitment systems — the “black holes” that the recruiters and the HR bloggers talk about so much on LinkedIn and other, similar places — those systems can’t capture that indefinable “something”; a large number of the recruitment agencies and agents don’t know how to express that special “something” that their candidate may have (when they even know their candidate well enough to identify it in the first place); and the candidates themselves don’t know how to express it; and so those individuals don’t make it through to the interview stage, or those companies never progress past the initial vetting stage, and so the trees with the sweetest fruit are lost among the forests of the mediocre.

And it’s particularly acute in my area of ICT, mainly because (I believe) there are so few ICT people who are any good at all in communicating with people outside their field, let alone the industry itself being around long enough to produce the number of Senior Executives that we need who understand and can interact with the other areas of business. That’s one reason so many ICT Projects fail (we’re still talking in the realm of a 70% failure rate, even after 35+ years of running ICT projects. Why?).

And because most business leaders and managers have no idea about ICT (and be honest with yourself here: how much do you really know about ICT — or, more importantly, about how ICT can help your organisation reach its goals and be a “value add” instead of a “cost centre” to your business — sorry, more business clichés) – because they know so little about ICT they end up taking the mediocre fruit (or worse yet, the sour fruit) while the sweet fruit withers on the tree or rots on the ground — and the saddest part about all of this is that people never know what they’ve missed out on, and that’s a real, real tragedy!

So, with all that said and done… how can I help?

If this essay has sparked your professional interest then check out

Coin Size & Mass

Results & Recommendations From An Investigation — For Fantasy RPGs


This article isn’t for everyone; some Roleplaying Game (RPG) groups aren’t that concerned with highly accurate or realistic world or social systems, being more concerned with simply having fun playing. On the other-hand, some groups find a highly detailed, realistic, and accurate “system” helps in their enjoyment and “suspension of disbelief”. This article is aimed at the later groups, and deals with the physical aspects of coins in an attempt to marry up the historically and physically accurate with our RPGs.

Ancient Coins


Those that know me and the way I like to set up my RP game worlds know that, while I am quite willing to fudge a value and/or round a number off to make it “more pleasing”, I look at the reasons behind why a given system was set up the way it was and then use that as the basis for the model to base all of a world’s “stuff” on. This then is the underlying principle I have used in my recent investigations and determinations on the size and mass of the various coins we use in our (primarily Fantasy) RPGs. During my investigations I have delved into different weight systems and also the historical basis of ancient currencies and coins, and also the value of beer, all in attempt to determine “proper” sizes and weights for coinage, in particular the coinage of the various D&D RPGs. This information I’ve presented here to assist anyone else who is interested in providing their games with realistic (Fantasy) RPG coinage.

Be aware that this article delves into a number of seemingly unrelated topics — hang in there, it’ll all come together in the end.

Pounds Troy

The Troy weight system consists of Pounds Troy (lbt), Ounces Troy (ozt), Carats (k, not to be confused with Carats for measuring gemstones), Pennyweights (dwt), and Grains (gr).

1 lbt = 12 ozt = 24 k = 240 dwt = 5,760 gr.

Troy weight isn’t used much any more, except in the measurement of precious metal, particularly gold and silver.

Pounds Avoirdupois

The “common” Imperial weight system most familiar to us today is the Avoirdupois system. It consists of Pounds (lb), Ounces (oz), Drams (dr, also known as drachms), and Grains (gr).

1 lb = 16 oz = 256 dr = 7,000 gr

The only common measurement between the Troy and Avoirdupois weight systems is the Grain, which allows us to determine that 1 lbt = 0.82 lb (approx).

Volume Of Coins

The volume of a coin is simply the volume of a cylinder, which is given by: thickness (t) times pi (Π) times radius (r) squared.

v = t * Π * r2

If we take the measurements in centimeters (cm) the resulting volume is in milliliters (ml), which is convenient because 1 ml of water weighs 1 gram (g).

While coins are not smooth disks (they are stamped on both sides and so have hollows and ridges) they start out as smooth disk and no material (volume) is lost or added during the stamping process, so we can safely ignore any stampings and treat them as smooth disks.

It is interesting to note that if you halve the diameter of a disk (or halve the radius) you need to increase the thickness by a factor of 4 to retain the same volume: an interesting fact to remember if you want to modify the recommendations below.

Ancient English Coinage

The English coinage of the 16th Century was based on the Silver Standard and consisted of Sovereigns (li, Pounds Sterling), Shillings (s), and Pennies (d).

1 li = 20 s = 240 d

This system was based on the older Roman system of coins. Note that Pennies were made of silver and not the more common (now-a-days) copper. The Troy weight system was in widespread use in England during this time and it was here when the English coinage system was standardised with respect to weight of silver content. Silver for coinage was refined to 222 parts in 240 parts pure (22.2K) while gold was refined to 22 parts in 24 (22K) – hence 22 carat gold. This obviously ties back to the Carat Troy and therefore the Pound Troy, such that a (silver) Penny weighed 1 pennyweight (1 dwt).

RPG Coins

We now have a model we can use to determine the size of our coins. We know the volume of a disk (in ml, from above) and we can look up the relative density of the five main metals used in Fantasy RPG coins (platinum, gold, electrum, silver, and copper) relative to water, and then multiply the coin volume by the density to give the weight (remember, 1 ml of water weighs 1 gram (g)).

w = d * t * pi * r2

The density of copper and silver are both about 10 times denser than water, while the density of gold and platinum are both about 20 times denser than water (give or take). Electrum is a 50/50 alloy of gold and silver, so the average density of those two metals is the density of electrum: 15.

If we take 1/8 oz (3.54g) as a good weight for our RPG coins (based on the historical range of weights for real coins) and allowing only plus or minus 1/80 oz (0.35g) we end up with the the following recommended coin sizes (diameter by thickness):

CoinBestSecond Beast
Copper (cp)1″ * 1/32″ (25.4mm * 0.8mm)
5/8″ * 5/64″ (15.9mm * 2.0mm)
1/2″ * 1/8″ (12.7mm * 3.2mm)
Silver (sp)3/4″ * 3/64″ (19.1mm * 1.2mm)
1/2″ * 7/64″ (12.7mm * 2.8mm)
7/8″ * 1/32″ (22.2mm * 0.8mm)
5/8″ * 1/16″ (15.9mm * 1.6mm)
Electrum (ep)1″ * 1/32″ (25.4mm * 0.8mm)
5/8″ * 5/64″ (15.9mm * 2.0mm)
1/2″ * 1/8″ (12.7mm * 3.2mm)
Gold (gp)3/8″ * 3/32″ (9.5mm * 2.4mm)1/2″ * 1/16″ (12.7mm * 1.6mm)
3/8″ * 7/64″ (9.5mm * 2.8mm)
Platinum (pp)3/8″ * 3/32″ (9.5mm * 2.4mm)1/2″ * 1/16″ (12.7mm * 1.6mm)
3/8″ * 7/64″ (9.5mm * 2.8mm)
Recommended Size & Weight Of Coins

A quick cross-check with historical coins shows these values are all in the same general size range/area. Any of the above figures would be acceptable and can be justified due to imperfections in the casting process, clipping, etc.

1/8 oz is also a good weight to choose as that then means there are 128 coins in a pound. Setting a pound (of gold or silver) to be 120 coins (120gp or 120sp) means that our coins would be 15 parts in 16 pure (22.5K) — a good approximation for the actual purity of coins.

Based on the figures above I tend to use the following sizes in my games:

Copper (cp)1/2″ * 1/8″ (12.7mm * 3.2mm)
Silver (sp)3/4″ * 3/64″ (19.1mm * 1.2mm)
Electrum (ep)1″ * 1/32″ (25.4mm * 0.8mm)
Gold (gp)3/8″ * 3/32″ (9.5mm * 2.4mm)
Platinum (pp)3/8″ * 3/32″ (9.5mm * 2.4mm)
The Coin Sizes I Use (Based On The Recommendations Above)

I justify using the same size for Gold and Platinum Pieces because they are different in colour.

Justification (In Beer)

(Trust An Ozzie… 😁 )

The Beer Standard is a way of measuring the various values of commodities across countries and across time. The idea is that a pint (or litre, if you prefer) of beer cost the same in relative terms no matter where or when you are, and thus by converting something into the equivalent value of beer it makes comparing different things in different places and/or times easier. It has proven to be surprisingly accurate and thus we can use it as a second, independent method to see if our coinage (values) are “close”.

A mug of ale in D&D v3.5 cost 4cp or 0.04gp. Assuming a mug of ale contains a pint (a not unreasonable assumption), that means we can buy 3,000 mugs of ale for our 120gp pound of gold.

Based on the average beer price in New York, NY in 2020, a pint of beer is about US$7.50 (from NUMBEO) and so 3,000 pints of beer would cost about US$22,500.

There are 14.58 ozt in a lb, and Gold is selling for about US$1,550 per ozt (gold fluctuates widely day-to-day, but its not unreasonable on average to use US$1,550), so a pound of gold is worth around US$22,600, which is pretty close to our (beer) calculation of US22,500 (about 0.001% greater).

So our choice of 120gp per pound of gold and 128 coins to a pound of metal is pretty good.


So, in conclusion, for 3.5E D&D (and thus similarly in other Fantasy RPGs):

1 lb OfHas A Value OfMakes
Copper120 cp128 coins (128 cp)
Silver120 sp128 coins (128 sp)
Electrum120 ep128 coins (128 ep)
Gold120 gp128 coins (128 gp)
Platinum120 pp128 coins (128 pp)
The Value Of & The Number Of Coins Made From One Pound Of Precious Metal

Musings On Master GMs


How To Spot A Master GM

I’ve been around the RPG hobby now for quite a few years (when you see “years” read “decades”) and in that time I’ve come across a few very talented, very knowledgeable, and very sought after RPG Game Masters (GMs), and recently I’ve got to wondering what makes these individuals so good at running games. Sure, there are plenty of good GMs around, and there are even a reasonable number of great GMs out there too, but what is it about those special few individuals that we are justified in calling them Master GMs? This essay is the result of my considerations and observations on the subject and my attempt to define what well may be the indefinable qualities that go into making someone a Master GM.

So here goes.

Honor And XP

First of all, nobody who is a genuine Master GM ever calls themselves that. Sure, they’ll quietly acknowledge the accolade when others consider them worthy of the honour, but they’ll never claim the title themselves — He who claims to be a Master GM proves himself unworthy of the title by his own hubris.

As can be expected a Master GM has a vast amount of experience. They say it takes at least ten thousand hours to get really good at something, so of course a Master GM will have simply oodles of time under their belt. But just because a given GM is old (and crotchety — maybe) that doesn’t automatically make them a Master GM; I’ve known one or two Master GM’s who were only in their late 20’s. Still, no Master GM never had several years of experience running games.

Multi-Weapon Fighting

A sure-fire sign that your GM may be a Master GM is how well they know their game setting. If they can rattle of places and names, events, and occurrences at the drop of a hat, and make you believe that not only do they know what they’re talking about but even that they’ve actually been there… well, then they’re a good candidate for the Master GM title.

Hand-in-hand with their knowledge of their game world is knowledge of the game system. A good GM knows their system forward and backwards, inside and outside, and upside down and right-side up. A Master GM knows not just their system, but lots of systems. They can discuss the subtle differences between first and second edition D&D; second and sixth edition Shadowrun; and the various editions of Traveller. They’ve run Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Runequest, Middle-Earth Roleplay, and Earthdawn, or if not those particular games then an equivalent selection of others.

+5 Crafting

Master GMs tend to be creators: either they’re creating adventures, creating their own game world, or even sometimes creating their own RPG. Master GMs tend to create because nearly all of them have a love of creating things for others to experience; they gain immense pleasure in presenting to others their creations and in having others enjoy and explore what they’ve presented. They also derive great pleasure in presenting challenges to not only the Player Characters but to the Players themselves, helping them grow and develop as gamers.

Leadership And Bardic Lore

Master GM’s tend to also be nurturers and mentors, guiding those who are new to our hobby or less experienced then themselves. It’s not unusual for a Master GM’s gaming group to have newbies being brought in and nurtured in our hobby, for Master GMs have the ability to balance the needs of the experienced and the inexperienced to make the whole better.

Another sign that your GM may be a Master GM is the depth of their knowledgeable in areas not traditionally associated with RPGs. Here I’m talking about geography, history, cultures, psychology, climate science, astronomy, ecology, and a host of other disciplines; for a Master GM desires for their games to be as realistic as possible and a good working knowledge of all of these fields and others helps a Master GM in creating that “willing disbelief” so necessary in their Players — people will accept almost anything if its presented to them in such a way that it maintains “internal consistency”. Conversely, nothing will jar a Player out of their enjoyment of the game more then discovering inconsistencies with rules, settings, or styles of play.

Empathic Link

Master GMs tend to also be Master Players, but only rarely. Most Master GMs will not play in others’ games unless they too are being run by a Master GM. In this Master GMs can be thought of as “alpha males”, and most alpha males are too competitive to “submit” to the authority of another GM when they themselves can “do it better”. However, a true Master GM has no trouble playing in another Master GM’s game as the will to become a better GM overrides this natural “alpha tendency”. Most Master GMs are secure enough in their own GMing style to be open enough to learn from another Master GM. This is one thing does does separate the Master GMs from a “regular” GM.


The Players in a Master GM’s game are always in a quandary: they always want to take each path presented to them by the plot, for the Master GM has the talent and skill to make all paths seem to be “main paths”, and their Players always wish they could “reload” the game to try out the paths not taken.

Related to the above is the fact that a Master GM almost always has more Players wanting to play in their game(s) then there are slots available. Master GM’s rarely need to advertise for Players (unless they are starting up a brand new group) for word of mouth quickly spreads when a slot in a Master GM’s game becomes available — and Master GM’s normally have a waiting list of potential Players anyway.

Freedom Of Movement

Master GMs show a particular talent in getting their games and their carefully constructed plots “back on track”. All GMs know how to “railroad the Players”, either subtly or blatantly. Great GMs can make such “railroading” seem as if the “railroading” was the Players’ idea. But a Master GM can make it appear as if it was all part of the original story anyway, and that no “railroading” has taken place at all. If you’ve never been “railroading” in a game then you’ve been gaming with a Master GM — even if you’ve never realised it!

Seeker Of Knowledge

The Master GM is always learning something to help make themselves better. Perhaps this is by playing new game systems to examine new mechanics or story-telling techniques. Perhaps it is by taking a creative writing course to help them write better stories. Perhaps it is reading something in sociology or history or some other discipline to add that extra layer of verisimilitude to their games. Perhaps it is taking an acting course. Or reading RPG blogs. Or perhaps it is all of these.

Whatever it is, Master GMs are always always striving to improve, to provide a better story, a better experience, a better game. It’s one reason Master GMs are so humble — there’s so much more to learn.

Aura Of… Something

Finally, there’s that special something that is practically impossible to describe; that something that every Master GM has that is different from all the other GMs out there and different even from other Master GMs. That something that we all recognise when we see it but which can’t be read about or written down or recorded in any way, but which some posses naturally and some learn by osmosis.

So if you’re lucky enough to know a genuine Master GM then treasure that relationship, because your gaming is so much better for it. If you find yourself in the presence of such an individual then sit back and listen to whatever sage advice falls from their lips, and refrain from supplying your own, for in being a Master GM they have earned the right of your respect, though they will never demand it.

If someone you know is worthy of the accolade then be not timid in bestowing it upon them, but also be not too generous and bestow the distinction upon all and sundry, for in doing so you cheapen both the accolade and yourself.

If you desire to become a Master GM yourself — and there is no more nobler a goal for any GM — then hopefully this essay has placed you feet upon that path. Walk it well, and when the path fades before you and you are forging it anew, then you will know that you may indeed be worthy of the title: Master GM.

I welcome others’ points of view on this subject, whether you agree or disagree, or have other qualities to add or stories of a Master GM you know, so if you’d like then I encourage you to join the discussion below and share you views and stories.

Solar Power

Crowley and Aziraphale from Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens

Norbert Parkinson’s childhood was not outwardly exceptional, but his early experiences must have influenced his later maladaptive development; there are hints that he was shy, reclusive, and prone to reading too much. It was in early adolescence that his illness first became apparent to the trained observer, and this coincided with his taking up the intensive playing of so-called “role-playing games”. Recently, his psychosis has become manifest and he lives in a world occupied by elves, goblins, dragons, evil wizards and diverse other fantasy figures…

Dr. Daniel Feizenbaum read through the case notes again. A sad story; an academically promising young man, with the promise of possible brilliance. Perhaps, he thought, I should look at some of these role-playing games to give me some common ground for psychotherapy with him. He checked his crowded diary and decided to settle for the liquid cosh instead. At that moment his staff nurse — Scottish, red-headed, very attractive, and exotically obsessional — stuck her head round the door of his office after giving the usual reverential knock.

“There’s a Mister Basil something to see you, doctor.” Upon learning that Mister Basil something had an appointment, the doctor imperiously waved an invitation to send him in. The nondescript little man in the shabby Burberry coat shuffled in and sat down. The nurse went back to preparing depot injections for the patients.

“Mr…? I don’t think I caught your name.” He smiled with the professional unctuousness characteristic of the more liberally inclined psychiatrist.

“Baazerath, actually. Do you mind if I unpolymorph myself?” Feizenbaum casually looked down at the hypos and bottles of major tranquilisers. This was no ordinary fruitcake. When he looked up again, the chair opposite was occupied by a figure some 12 feet tall, with leathery wings, nasty-looking fangs and big talons, gently exuding wisps of smoke and a pungent sulphurous odour. Feizenbaum considered using a hypo on himself at this point.

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that. Long-term use causes brain damage, you know; burns out your mesocortico-limbic circuits. Permanent Feeblemind job. Not recommended.” The devil took a box of cigars from a stout pouch at its belt, lit one with a delicate fiery snort, sat back and inhaled deeply.

“I am not seeing this.”

“Of course you are — don’t be silly. In case you don’t know, I am a Pit Fiend, and I have what at this stage we may call a request to make”. There was a strong undercurrent of threat in the voice. Feizenbaum reached for his desk telephone, but the clawed hand swept it away from him, on to the floor. The claws then unleashed a single horny digit, pointing directly at him.

“I said a request. It will be much better for you if you co-operate.” The devil gazed at the sagging figure opposite, who sat sadly repeating “this is a hallucination” over and over, rocking slightly to and fro. Baazerath took another drag on his Havana and thought for a moment.

“This is a shock for you, I see. Perhaps I can… ah… soften the blow a little; it might make you feel a little less disturbed about things”, the devil said considerately. Feizenbaum broke off mumbling and stared at him. “Perhaps”, the devil continued, “a little epistemology might comfort you.”

“You think I’m a hallucination. Well, that depends on how you look at things. There are, more or less, three ways of understanding what’s going on in the world. The problem with people like you is that you’re one of the first type: people who believe that there is a real world which can be discovered as it really is through science and experiments and all that crap. Technically, this philosophical posture is known as naive realism but in the infernal regions we refer to such people as idiots. You know the sort; computer scientists, physicists, the type you treat for the chronic neuroses which arise from their sordid little emotional repressions. Boring aren’t they?” Feizenbaum nodded mute agreement, but felt mounting disbelief at being lectured on philosophy by a hallucination.

“Sorry, disbelief only works against illusions and I’m not one of them. Now, where was I? Oh yes, the second lot. Well, they’re the florid mutters who believe that material reality is an illusion, true reality is spiritual, the world as Maya and all that nonsense. They’re the fantasists. Of course, you give them the really heavy pharmacological arsenal whereas the idiots only get the minor tranks. Pity, really, because the fantasists are at least more amusing and less dangerous — they weren’t the ones who invented biological and chemical warfare, atomic weapons, and all that stuff. On the other hand, at least the idiots don’t force dead flowers and luridly coloured books containing the half-wilted writings of émigré Indian gurus on people at airports.” Baazerath looked with mild displeasure at the rapidly diminishing cigar. “The quality’s gone down since they ousted Battista, you know. Ah well, that’s the Prime Material for you.”

“Now”, suddenly leaning forward and with a definite edge to his voice, “things get interesting. The third lot are epistemological interactionists. That’s a hell of a long term — no pun intended there — so we can call these people the wise guys. Some of the wise guys consider there is a real world of sorts, but it’s not directly knowable, and its nature is in some manner influenced by the construction of it made by the human mind. With me so far?” Another mute nod. “So, in some way, major changes in dominant theories of the nature of the world actually alter the world — or reality, if you prefer that dubious term. And they’re right, of course. Which brings me to my request. Norbert Parkinson.”

“Norbert Parkinson?”

“Yes. Strange as it may seem, Norbert Parkinson is a Reality Mutant.”

“What the hell is a Reality Mutant?”

“Droll little joke, doctor, but a trifle redundant to my previous usage. Well, Reality Mutants are people capable of producing major changes in dominant theories of reality and thus affecting it over a period of time. Newton was one — the idiots got him — then Einstein, obviously, and Freud to a lesser extent. Now, after Tom Cruise, there’s young Norbert”.

“Tom Cruise?” A shriek of disbelief.

“Oh, yes indeed. Perhaps you do not realise that for every 100 hours of watching the… ah… entertainment he appears in the viewer permanently loses one IQ point. The cumulative effects of this on consensually perceived reality may be quite impressive eventually. Of course, it’s not his fault directly; perhaps we can refer to that fine fellow as an Indirect Catalysing Reality Mutant.” Feizenbaum was completely slumped in his chair by now, glazed eyes staring vacantly at his desk. The devil continued its remorseless attack.

“But Norbert Parkinson – now he is a major Reality Mutant. In fact, he’s the most powerful Reality Mutant your world will ever know. Norbert has an unparalleled knowledge of role-playing games and he will invent a game so utterly and completely compelling that the nature of reality will shift, because the game structure and the currently perceived structure of reality overlap so insidiously that after a while nobody will be able to tell the difference. Get the picture?”

“I… I think so.” Feizenbaum was still in a state of shock. “But — aren’t you a thing from a game?”

The devil smiled happily. “Yes, that’s what most people think. The process has already begun, but Norbert Parkinson is the only person who can complete it. You must release him. You have 24 hours to consider my request. If, after that time, Norbert Parkinson has not been released, I’m afraid I shall have to put a Wall Of Fire under your chair, and since you’re only a second-level shrink, that’ll be the end of you. Make an appointment for me for the same time tomorrow, will you? I must teleport off now.”

The devil vanished, leaving behind only the smell of fire and brimstone, singe marks on the chair, and the stub of a Havana cigar smouldering in Feizenbaum’s ashtray. The psychiatrist cancelled his appointments for the rest of the day, went home, and consumed a generous quantity of Polish raw spirit.

“A Mr. Sharashta to see you, doctor.” Feizenbaum nodded vaguely; his head still hurt badly from the 140° liquor the night before and he still had to face the fact that his hallucinated devil had left some disturbingly tangible evidence of its visit. He hardly noticed the handsome young man in the Games Workshop T-shirt slip into his office.

“Ah, Dr. Feizenbaum. If I may use a motoring simile here, I think your brain is still in neutral. Try engaging it into bottom gear. Do you mind if I unpolymorph myself?”

Feizenbaum was beginning to get the hang of this by now. “No, of course not”, he replied with a trace of hysterical grandiosity. “This is about Norbert Parkinson, isn’t it?”

“Uh-huh”, replied the angelic creature opposite, comfortably folding his wings around the back of the chair.

“You’re a planetar?”

“Been reading the game books I see. No,” this with displeasure and a trace of tetchiness, “I’m a solar, actually. The point of my visit is that Norbert Parkinson must not be released. He is too powerful a Reality Mutant. Your world couldn’t handle it; you’re mostly evil and almost without exception chaotic and there’s no doubt the other side would gain the advantage. The devils would like it because they could rule a chaotic world with little trouble and the demons would make lots of converts too. So we in Elysium consider that Norbert should stay here in the bin.”

“I can’t do that. He’s not dangerous; he’s here as a voluntary patient.”

“Like hell he is.” said the solar sarcastically, “Come on, doc, I’m a supra-genius — don’t waste my time. He’s here as a voluntary patient because you’ve told him that it’s either that or a sectioning job under the Mental Health Act. Like most people, Norbert doesn’t know the legal limits on your powers and you certainly don’t tell him. So he can be a ‘voluntary patient’ for some time… I mean, we don’t want him to suffer. Lay off the electro-convulsive stuff and the drugs and the psychosurgery — although I gather that the lobotomies aren’t so easy for you to get away with these days.” The solar broke off to inhale from a tastefully gold-handed menthol cigarette it had lit. In desperation, Feizenbaum tried to change the subject.

“You shouldn’t do that. Think of the health risks!”

The solar looked contemptuously back at him.

“Don’t be dumb. What’s that to me when I’ve got a Wish every day? Smoking’s one of the fringe benefits of being on this miserable plane. That and the sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Definite deficiencies of that sort of thing in Elysium.”

“But… aren’t you Lawful Good? Isn’t that out of line?”

“Not at all. Fertility deity, very into intoxications and passions and all that sort of business; by the way, do you mind if I date your nurse tonight? I could only get tickets for U2, but it’s better than nothing and these Prime Material girls really go for a guy with a 24 Charisma. Oh, and it’s Neutral Good actually. You didn’t read carefully enough. Well, I’m glad you’ll be keeping Norbert here. I must be off now.”

“What am I going to do when the devil turns up? He’s going to incinerate me. There’s no saving throw. He’ll kill me.”

“No he won’t.”

“Yes he will.”

“Oh no he won’t.”

“Oh yes he will.”

“Look, doc, this is not a Punch and Judy show. Baazerath had a minor accident on the way home last night and he won’t be leaving his home plane for 666 years. You’ll be quite safe. But if you really feel it will make you better, I will cast a wish to protect you. But I was rather hoping to keep that for your nurse…”

“You foul chauvinist! How can it be right to coerce someone with such magic?”

“Well actually there won’t be any coercion. I have the psionic ability of precognition, so I know that. Don’t lecture me on ethics, Feizenbaum. Oh, and don’t drink so much either. That’s a health risk too and you don’t have wishes. Bye now.”

The freckle-faced girl smiled back at the handsome young man as he weaved his way to their table with two colourful cocktails in his hands. They sipped them appreciatively as they relaxed in the soft leather chairs.

“I didn’t enjoy presenting myself as a Pit Fiend first time round, I must say. Still, all’s well that ends well. Feizenbaum won’t he any worry now.”

Feizenbaum? But — Norbert Parkinson…?” The girl looked very surprised.

“Oh, Norbert was just the instigating problem. Feizenbaum might have taken him into psychotherapy and after a while Norbert’s stories just might have altered Feizenbaum’s thinking. Feizenbaum was the Reality Mutant: he was the danger. Although he has not yet taken up role-playing games, it has crossed his mind to do so. But now, while he currently believes that devils and angels are real, he is so utterly confused that he will be incapable of effecting any major Reality Shift by constructing that dangerous reality altering game he had inside his mind in latent form. And after a while he will come to believe that it was all just a hallucination: idiots always do.” He sipped at the potent cocktail again, relishing the mixed flavours of the 13 alcoholic ingredients. “I must get the recipe for this to take home.”

“Are you sure about this?”

“Oh Yes. I didn’t explain in detail the key fact — that gating into this plane would be a lot easier, so far as this world goes, if that Reality Shift we were worried about took place, and he never asked. He may have inferred it, but I don’t think so. But keep an eye on him. Can you arrange to get Parkinson transferred to another ward?”

“No problem — I can get him transferred to another hospital next week.”

“Fine. Feizenbaum’s going to spend the rest of this week in an alcoholic stupor so that deals with everything perfectly.”

“So can we go and see U2 now?”

“If we must. You owe me twenty quid for the ticket.” The girl protested. “Come on, these are the liberated teens. I’m a bit short until Friday. Anyway, look,” continued the solar, checking his digital wristwatch, “the concert starts at 9 but U2 won’t be on until 10 — 10.12, to be precise. Arsenal kick off at 7.30 and I’d rather like to see the first goal for Manchester for real — you never do get the fine-grain detail with precognitions. And the second-half brawl is a beauty. I can teleport us to the Wembley in time to see U2. The support band are awful anyway.”

“It’s a deal if you treat me to the concert”. The redhead looked big-eyed and persuasive.

“Oh, alright, let’s go.” The solar got up disconsolately, and walked off into the night with the 16th level cleric on his arm.

“So I was right to Gate you?”

“Oh, sure, the problem needed looking at. Anyway, visiting the Prime Material has its good points”, the solar said, cuddling her close.

“Beast. But what about poor Norbert?” He’s quite cute and completely harmless.”

“Oh, no problem. He’ll be released in 14 days; no harm done. Actually, his hospital experiences will have shocked him so much that he’ll give up role-playing games for good. He’ll end up as a chartered accountant.”

“Poor little sod.”

The solar and the cleric meandered off towards the river, secure in the knowledge that the vast majority of humanity remained totally ignorant of extraplanar reality.

This story contains numerous Very Long Words and a helpful glossary is provided.

  • Consensually Perceived Reality: What gets published in the tabloids.
  • Drugs, Brain-damaging: See major tranquilizers (qv).
  • Electro-convulsive Stuff: The technique of passing electrical current through the brain in the hope of putting it right when it isn’t working properly (well, more or less). Cf the time-honoured practice of kicking the television when it doesn’t work.
  • Epistemology: (1) Theories of knowledge acquisition. (2) The study of people affected by polish raw spirit (qv).
  • Hallucination: A veridical perception other people are too stupid, stubborn or unobservant to notice.
  • Liquid Cosh: See major tranquilizers (qv).
  • Major Tranquilizers: Chemicals of the phenothiazine class (but also newer substituted benzamides, thioxanthenes, etc). Used in the ‘treatment’ of persons with Serious Problems usually involving Hallucinations (qv) and failure to observe Consensually Perceived Reality (qv).
  • Meso-cortico-limbic Circuits: Interesting and complicated bits of the brain which connect the frontal bits to the bits in the middle, usually linked with emotion, perception, cognition and other Impressive Terms ending in ‘ion’.
  • Pharmacological Arsenal: See drugs, brain damaging (qv).
  • Polish Raw Spirit: See drugs, brain-damaging (qv).
  • Prime Material Girl: Madonna in the best of health.
  • Psychosurgery: Lopping bits off the brain in the hope that this will put it right when it isn’t working properly (cf Electro-convulsive Stuff (qv)).
  • Psychotherapy: The practice of extracting large sums of money from people in return for mystifying conversation. Pioneered by the famous Viennese Sigmund MacLaren, known for his summary formula ‘Pounds from Platitudes’.
  • U2: A rock band liked by people taking major tranquilizers (qv).

This article is a blatant plagerisation of an article by Gary Holland that appeared in White Dwarf Magazine #78, June 1986, and it as been used without even considering asking for permission (but with many thanks).

The Confusing Country

– Or –

Understanding Australia

On the grounds that some of you may end up traveling to the Land Downunder some day, I thought I’d post a bit of a “Survival Guide” to ensure that you understand us Ozzies and enjoy your time here.

Australia is a very confusing place, taking up a large amount of the bottom half of the planet. It is recognisable from orbit because of many unusual features, including what at first looks like an enormous bite taken out of its southern edge; a wall of sheer cliffs that plunge deep into the girthing sea. Geologists assure us that this is simply an accident of geomorphology and plate tectonics, but they still call it the “Great Australian Byght” proving that not only are they covering up a more frightening theory, but they can’t spell either.

Part Of The Great Australian Byght

The first of the confusing things about Australia is the status of the place. Where other landmasses and sovereign lands are classified as either continent, island, or country, Australia is considered all three. Typically, it is unique in this.

The second confusing thing about Australia are the animals. They can be divided into three categories: Poisonous, Odd, and Sheep. It is true that of the 10 most poisonous arachnids on the planet, Australia has 9 of them. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that of the 9 most poisonous arachnids, Australia has all of them. However, there are curiously few snakes, possibly because the spiders have killed them all. But even the spiders won’t go near the sea. Any visitors should be careful to check inside boots (before putting them on), under toilet seats (before sitting down), and generally everywhere else. A stick is very useful for this task.

A Part Of Australia That’s NOT The Coast

Strangely, it tends to be the second class of animals (the Odd) that are more dangerous. The creature that kills the most people each year is the common Wombat. It is nearly as ridiculous as its name, and spends its life digging holes in the ground, in which it hides. During the night it comes out to eat worms and grubs.

The wombat kills people in two ways: first, the animal is indestructible. Digging holes in the hard Australian clay builds muscles that outclass Olympic weightlifters. At night, they often wander the roads. Semi-trailers (Road Trains) have hit them at high speed, with all 9 wheels on one side, and this merely makes them very annoyed. They express this by snorting, glaring, and walking away. Alas, to smaller cars, the wombat becomes an asymmetrical launching pad, with results that can be imagined, but not adequately described.

The second way the wombat kills people relates to its burrowing behaviour. If a person happens to put their hand down a wombat hole, the wombat will feel the disturbance and think “Ho! My hole is collapsing!” at which it will brace its muscled legs and push up against the roof of its burrow with incredible force, to prevent its collapse. Any unfortunate hand will be crushed, and attempts to withdraw will cause the wombat to simply bear down harder. The unfortunate will then bleed to death through their crushed hand as the wombat prevents him from seeking assistance. This is considered the third most embarrassing known way to die, and Australians don’t talk about it much.

At this point, we would like to mention the Platypus, estranged relative of the mammal, which has a duck-bill, otter’s tail, webbed feet, lays eggs, detects its aquatic prey in the same way as the electric eel, and has venomous barbs attached to its hind legs, thus combining all ‘typical’ Australian attributes into a single improbable creature.

The last confusing thing about Australia is the inhabitants. First, a short history: some time around 40,000 years ago, some people arrived in boats from the north. They ate all the available food, and lot of them died. The ones that survived learned respect for the balance of nature, man’s proper place in the scheme of things, and spiders. They settled in, and spent a lot of the intervening time making up strange stories.

Then, around 200 years ago, Europeans arrived in boats from the north. More accurately, European convicts were sent, with a few deranged and stupid people in charge. They tried to plant their crops in Autumn (or ‘Fall’ for those who don’t know any better — failing to take account of the reversal of the seasons when moving from the top half of the planet to the bottom), ate all their food, and a lot of them died. About then the sheep arrived, and have been treasured ever since.

It is interesting to note here that the Europeans always consider themselves vastly superior to any other race they encounter, since they can lie, cheat, steal, and litigate (marks of a civilised culture they say) — whereas all the Aboriginals can do is happily survive being left in the middle of a vast red-hot desert, equipped only with a stick.

Eventually, the new lot of people stopped being Europeans on Extended Holiday and became Australians. The changes are subtle, but deep, caused by the mind-stretching expanses of nothingness and eerie quiet, where a person can sit perfectly still and look deep inside themselves to the core of their essence, their reasons for being, and the necessity of checking inside your boots every morning for fatal surprises. They also picked up the most finely tuned sense of irony in the world, and the Aboriginal gift for making up stories. Be warned!

There is also the matter of the beaches.

A Typical Day In Australia

Australian beaches are simply the nicest and best in the entire world. Although anyone actually venturing into the sea will have to contend with sharks, stinging jellyfish, stonefish (a fish which sits on the bottom of the sea, pretends to be a rock, and has venomous barbs sticking out of its back that will kill just from the pain), and surfboarders. However, watching a beach sunset is worth the risk.

As a result of all this hardship, dirt, thirst, and wombats, you would expect Australians to be a dour lot. Instead, they are genial, jolly, cheerful, and always willing to share a kind word with a stranger, unless the stranger is an American. Faced with insurmountable odds and impossible problems, they smile disarmingly, and look for a stick. Major engineering feats have been performed with sheets of corrugated iron, string, and mud.

Typical Australians

Alone of all the races on earth, they seem to be free from the ‘Grass is Greener on the other side of the fence’ syndrome, and proudly proclaim that Australia is, in fact, the other side of that fence! They call the land “Oz”, “Godzone” (a verbal contraction of “God’s Own Country”) and “Best bloody place on earth, bar none, strewth”. The irritating thing about this is they may be right.

Another Typical Australian

There are some traps for the unsuspecting traveler, though. Do not under any circumstances suggest that the beer is imperfect, unless you are comparing it to another kind of Australian beer. Do not wear a Hawaiian shirt. Religion and Politics are safe topics of conversation (Australians don’t care too much about either) but Sport is a minefield. The only correct answer to “So, howdya’ like our country, eh?” is “Best {insert your own regional swear word here} country in the world!”

A Typical Australian Pub – BEWARE!

It is very likely that, upon arriving, some cheerful Australians will ‘adopt’ you, and on your first night take you to a pub where Australian Beer is served. Despite the obvious danger, do not refuse. It is a form of initiation rite. You will wake up late the next day with an astonishing hangover, a foul-taste in your mouth, and wearing strange clothes. Your hosts will usually make sure you get home, and waive off any legal difficulties with “It’s his first time in Australia, so we took him to the pub.”, to which the policeman will sagely nod and close his notebook. Be sure to tell the story of these events to every other Australian you encounter, adding new embellishments at every stage, and noting how strong the beer was. Thus you will be accepted into this unique culture.

Most Australians are now urban dwellers, having discovered the primary use of electricity, which is air-conditioning and refrigerators.

Typical Australian sayings:-

  • “G’Day!”
  • “It’s better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick.”
  • “She’ll be right.”
  • “Bloody Poms!”
  • “And down from Kosiosco, where the pine clad ridges raise their torn and rugged battlements on high, where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze at midnight in the cold and frosty sky. And where, around the overflow, the reed beds sweep and sway to the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide, the Man from Snowy River is a household word today, and the stockmen tell the story of his ride.” — See Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg

Tips to Surviving Australia:-

  • Don’t ever put your hand down a hole for any reason whatsoever. We mean it!
  • The beer is stronger than you think, regardless of how strong you think It is.
  • Always carry a stick.
  • Air-conditioning.
  • Do not attempt to use Australian slang, unless you are a trained linguist and good in a fistfight.
  • Thick socks.
  • Take good maps. Stopping to ask directions only works when there are People nearby.
  • If you leave the urban areas, carry several litres of water with you at all times, or you will die!
  • Even in the most embellished stories told by Australians, there is always a core of truth that it is unwise to ignore.

See Also: Deserts: How To Die In Them; The Stick: Second Most Useful Thing Ever; and Poisonous And Venomous Arachnids, Insects, Animals, Trees, Shrubs, Fish, And Sheep Of Australia, Volumes 1-42”.

Originally by Jeremy Lee

Play It Again, Frodo

As someone who’s been playing Role-Playing Games for neigh on 40 years now, and with the recent upsurge in popularity due to Dungeons & Dragons v5, plus the fact that we Twitch Stream our weekly games and then post the videos onto YouTube, this article has always tickled me in just the right way, so I’m re-posting it (and others) from an old blog — enjoy!

But Only Because It’s True

Still confused about role-playing? Having trouble convincing your “serious” friends that you don’t dress up in a frock and wave around a foam-rubber sword? Dulux-Oz (your esteemed and humble Game Master, YouTuber, Twitch Streamer, Torturer Of Players, and all-around general nice guy, etc) shows how closely role-playing and literature are entwined…

My awesome assignment is to say a few words about the joys of role-playing. “Some burks out there,” mentioned our esteemed and not-so-humble Moderator, “think role-playing games are nothing but throwing hordes of complicated dice and sticking four-foot broadswords into innocent bystanders.”

“Aren’t they?” I asked. “Ouch”, I added. “Of course I’ll write about role-playing”, I concluded, laughing heartily at the way his four-foot broadsword wittily pricked me in the jugular.

We’ll pass over the regrettable fact that my most impassioned role-playing efforts are the (not yet perfected) sobriety simulations that I act out when the pubs close. Let’s approach the subject in a roundabout way:

Have you ever joined in audience shouts of “Behind you!” as a pantomime villain twirls his mustache behind the goodie’s maddeningly oblivious back? After reading a comic in which Superman diverts the orbit of the Earth, uproots mountain ranges and burst noisily through the light barrier, only to fall victim to dreaded kryptonite… have you sniffed, “I could do better than that”? Are you irritated when the heroine of a traditional thriller obeys the mysterious unsigned note saying ‘Meet me next to the bottomless well at midnight, don’t tell anyone where you’re going, and be sure to tie a 58-pound weight around your neck’?

The essence of role-playing is to scratch this particular itch by entering a ‘narrative’ and doing it your way (of course, the resulting fantasy, though fun, may not prove as artistically plotted as Tolkien’s). Here are some familiar scenarios as they might (and have been) perverted in role-players’ hands. Your Moderator, never responsible for his underlings’ excesses, considers himself especially irresponsible for these.

“Hellfire!” erupted Thomas Covenant, his raw, self-inflicted nostrils clenching in white hot, stoical anguish while his gaunt, compulsory visage knotted with fey misery. His lungs were clogged with ruin. A hot, gelid, fulvous tide of self-accusation dinned in his ears: leper outcast unclean… To release the analystic refulgence, the wild magic of the white gold ring he wore, could conceivably shatter the Arch of Time, utterly destroy the Land and put a premature, preterite end to the plot!

Yet what other way was there? The argute notion pierced his mind like a jerid. Only thus could the unambergrised malison of Lord Foul be aneled. Only thus. Hellfire and damnation!

At that point he was struck by a swift, sapid lucubration. “But I don’t believe in the Land,” he shrieked with a sudden caducity, lurching and reeling as though from an overdose of clinquant roborant. “So even if it’s utterly destroyed… what’s the odds? I’m a leper, I can do what I like.”

With an effort, he unclenched his teeth and took the aegis of his cynosure. On his hand, the white gold ring began to flare darkly… “Hang on a moment,” said Lord Foul nervously. “Perhaps we could negotiate on this?

“G’rot gazed up lovingly into the whirling, polychromatic eyes of his great bronze dragon. “You can do it, can’t you, Filth?” he said proudly.

“Do what, G’rot?” asked Vanilla suspiciously.

G’rot gulped a flagon of Benden wine before answering. “As we Dragonriders of Pern have discovered, our wonderful dragons are not only telepathic and able to fly instantly between from one place to another, they can also fly between times.”

Flattery… I love it, said Filth smugly.

“Tell me something I don’t know or I’ll scratch your eyes out,” snapped the lovely but peevish Vanilla.

G’rot sighed. “Well, you remember our song The Ballad of Moron, Dragonlady of Pern, in which the lovely but wilful Moron comes to a sticky end thanks to flying too much overtime. My idea’s this: why don’t I and Filth fly back in time to prevent this stupid tragedy by kidnapping Moron just before her last, fatal flight?”

“Take me with you, G’rot, or I’ll kick you right in your underdeveloped masculinity,” retorted lovely but bitchy Vanilla.

“All in good time,” said G’rot. “Ouch!”

“The only problem,” mused lovely but foul-tempered Vanilla, “is that if we do this to her great tragedy plot, Anne McCaffrey is going to be a bit upset…”

Fifty plate-armoured men confronted him at the door of the throne room, but Conan struck full upon them with as deafening crash of steel and spurting of blood. Swords leapt and flickered like flame. His blade tore through bodies as it might have torn through a doner kebah, ripping them open from spine to groin to broken breastbone to shattered shin. Then Conan was through, leaping over the steaming welter of blood and entrails that scant moments before has called itself The Picked Guard Of The Supreme Emperor. Only one torn and rent survivor howled like a dying wombat as he clawed at the crimson stump that had been his nose.

Then it was the Emperor’s turn. Cravenly, Ming the Merciless cowered back against his throne as Conan’s blade sang towards him. His foul sorceries and mirror-mazes were of no avail against the avenging Cimmerian!

“But why, why?” the Emperor wailed as the sabre sank to its hilt and far beyond in his vile, overfed belly.

“Dialectical analysis of historical change inevitably predicts the decay of lickspittle capitalist imperialism and its replacement by enlightened socialist collectives,” Conan grunted.

Despite the wonderful sunshine and their wonderful victory over the terrible White Witch, Edmund couldn’t help talking about some things he’d learned in Scripture class at his progressive school.

“It’s like this,” he said, thinking hard. “According to the consensus of modern theologians, God never actually shows up in person (except for movies like Dogma), because if you know God exists, then having faith without actual proof wouldn’t be much of a virtue any more. In other words, providential manifestations are actually detrimental to religious faith!”

“It’s very clever of you to remember all that,” said Lucy.

The great, golden Lion gave a worried growl. “I really hadn’t thought of that, child. I’ll have to check with Head Office about current policy…”

And Aslan slunk furtively out of Narnia.

His course of action was clear. It was simply a matter of split-second timing: ducking the poisoned arrows, leaping lithely between the rotating knives, dodging under the arching cataract of molten lava, fording the piranha-infested lake, sprinting through the blazing refinery, using guile to sidestep the crazed onslaught of the entire Sioux nation, taking advantage of available cover in the ground-level nuclear test zone, holding his breath for the final dash through the airless vacuum of space, and triumphantly seizing the prize before nonchalantly returning by the same route.

“On the other hand,” thought Indiana Jones, “I could always order my pizza home delivered.”

A surge of strange, eerie power thrilled up through Arthur’s arm as he laid hand on the sword’s mighty hilt. The words of Merlin boomed again in his mind: Whoso shall draw the sword from the stone shall be rightful King of all England…

He pulled — and smooth as butter, the sword slid from the deep cleft where enchantment had locked it for so long.

Arthur looked at the gleaming blade with awe. The prophecy was fulfilled at last. He cried aloud: “Kay! Kay! I did it! I’ve drawn Merlin’s sword from the stone! I’m the rightful King of England!”

“Another bloody sexist role-playing game,” muttered his sister Kay (a founding subscriber to Spare Rib — and that shows both my age and how long I’ve been role-playing for 😋 ). “You might at least have let me have first try — even if Merlin does insist on discriminating against queens.”

“I’ve just *wheeze* had an idea,” said Darth Vader in his hoarse whisper (he wished there was some way to get throat pastilles through the awesome helmet). “Rather then *wheeze* sending attack ships to follow those silly people along the trench in the Death Star’s surface, why don’t we *wheeze* move the Star away from them under its own power, and *wheeze* have a go at them with the planet-busting doomsday weapons?”

“No need,” murmured the Grand Moff Tarkin. “As soon as it became evident that the ‘weak spot’ in our defences had been spied out, I took the opportunity of ordering a slight modification to the Death Star’s sewage outlet trench. Observe.”

As the Mellennium Falcon shrieked towards its goal, a terrific barrage of laser fire crackling and exploding on every side despite the lack of sound in the vacuum of space… Han Solo screamed.

“In space, no one can hear you scream,” said Chewbacca reprovingly.

Ahead, blocking the narrow way entirely, was a vast brick wall carrying the airbrushed slogan BYE-BYE, SUCKERS.

With microseconds to go before oblivion, the entire crew shouted: “Luke! Use the Force!”

Dutifully, Luke Skywalker shut his eyes…

“On second thoughts,” said Gandalf, “these are matters higher and deeper and darker than Hobbits in their small Shire can know. Perilous though it may be, I must make a trial of it for at least a little time. Frodo, kindly lend me the Ring…”

They descended a thousand dank steps below the shuddering sub-cellar of the strange high house whose gambrel roof brooded over the oldest quarter of time-cursed Mordheim. The fitful light of the gibbous moon sent no rays into this fungus-ridden abyss, where blackened and disfigured stonework was tortured into eldritch, cyclopean geometrics, as though wrought by some race of nameless abominations that frothed in primal slime for unhallowed aeons before the birth of mankind.

“These stairs”, whispered Marcus Whately, “are of no human shape.”

“What do you see?” said his companion, holding the lantern high. The crumbled, blasphemous vault was heaped with evilly mouldering tomes, their mere covers a threat to sanity. An unnameable, charnel stench pervaded the nauseous air, seemingly a foul exhalation from some abominable lavatory of the Great Old Ones themselves.

Trembling, Whately stooped to peer at the awful texts. “By the Great Sigmar,” he croaked in a paralysed voice. “Here are copies of the sinister Liber Ivonis; the infamous Cultes des Ghoules of the Comte d’Erlette; von Junzt’s hellish Unaus-Sprechlichen Külten; and the Ludvig Prinn’s remaindered De Vermiis Mysteriis. The forbidden Pnakotic Manuscripts; the unreadable Book of Dzyan… and there, see! Bound in human skin, nothing less than the abhorred Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred!”

There was a terror-laden pause before the eldritch reply smote upon Whately’s fear-crazed ears — “We’ve got all those: can you see a copy of the WordPress Users’ Agreement?”

“That’s not what I meant at all,” thundered the Moderator. “Role-playing games are serious!”

“Oh, are they?” said Oz… his last words.

This blog post is a blatant plagerisation of an article by Dave Langford that appeared in White Dwarf Magazine #79, July 1986, and it as been used without even considering asking for permission (but with lots and lots of thanks).

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