Sunday, December 26, 2010


I'm no expert, but from observing my own process of learning it goes something like this:
  1. completely unaware of something
  2. begin noticing something
  3. able to repeat outcomes based on that knowledge
  4. theorize about that something
  5. experiment and fail often in trying to pin it down and its boundaries
  6. act intuitively and largely unconsciously, but pretty consistently now
  7. finally act consciously and build on that knowledge. Learned it.
Also from my experience these things seem to happen in stages that feel like plateaus to me. And parts of the process are very frustrating and uncertain especially around 5 when you are starting to have the hunch something is true but can't quite express it or replicate it yet.

But I'm writing about this now because I just realized something about the Man of Wounds.  I realized that creature can evoke sympathy in players.  Their first reaction can be: "Oh my god! What happened to it?!"  if it isn't just snarling and leaping immediately to attack. I had a realization about this with the Vomiter a while back and even sat down to try and craft a creature based on making players feel sympathy.  But I forgot.

Looking back at the session my players encountered the Man of Wounds, it seems I was working off of this idea unconsciously.  For example: It had no weapon of its own in hand, so it seemed less of a threat; it shuffled along slowly, again less of a threat; but most importantly the sounds it was making were closer to those of pain than anger.  When a random encounter roll brought a second of these beasties into the tale I decided at the drop of a hat that it would be female.  Now, even though my players knew these things were hostile and violent, they seemed to pause a bit.  I even had tears streaming down the Woman of Wounds' face.

I think I must be a stage 6 with this idea of trying to have sympathetic monsters because I'd completely forgotten the post on the vomiter and the peasant king.  My natural reaction is to be frustrated with myself, but hey at least I caught on eventually.  And if this is the way learning happens, why be disappointed?  Now, it seems really appropriate, at the end of the year, to go back and reread some of my meatier posts to try and remember what I'm in the process of learning as a DM and dungeon designer.

p.s. What is the value of one good idea?  For example, one monster, one treasure?  I'd say pretty high.  My players now dread going back into that section of my dungeon.  With one monster the imagined world became fleshed out, the risk of exploration was made real, the Mythic Underworld was manifested in all its strange danger.


  1. That's why I like the random factor so much. If you let the dice decide, wonderful unplanned miraculous things can happen during adventures. Thanks for the post!

  2. Of course you then get the bitter, jaded players wary of every "sympathy trap" they suspect the DM to lay for them. So not every occasion for sympathy *should* be a trap ...

  3. Thanks for the comments. I should clarify that, even though the peasant king probably makes it appear so, my goal isn't to exploit the players' sympathy-- to use their humanity to trap them or hurt them. That would kind of suck and, yes would turn them cynical very quickly.

    I'm just looking to make their engagement to creatures in my world more complex and interesting.