The Palace in Death
(August 24, 2015)

About 12 miles north of where the Cane Road crosses the river Malakha, a great earthen mound rises malignantly from the plain. Centuries ago, it was the Palace in Death of the Anmalakhan sorceror-kings, a monument clad in platinum and obsidian. Since then, its outer shell has been stripped, and time and nature have whittled its stone facade into earth and gravel. However, legend whispers of unnumbered treasures — and unspeakable perils — behind the Palace’s Six Gates and One. Deep in those silent chambers, too, the sorceror-kings’ most prized relics throb with arcane malice, casting a shadow of dark magic for miles in every direction. All the righteous kingdoms would pay dearly for the destruction of those instruments of evil; others would pay even more dearly for their possession.

The town of Ombridge, at the bridge across the Malakha, exists principally as a waypost for the traders that ply the Cane Road. Its second industry, however, is serving and supplying the adventurers who travel from all around to try their skill against the dangers within the Palace. Half the able-bodied adults in the town have traveled at least as far as the semi-permanent camp before the Silent Maw, the most commonly used of the Six Gates and One. Many of them know some of the Palace’s secrets, either from experience or from whispers gleaned from adventurers who survived at least one foray into its hazards. Or, some whisper, from hidden lore handed down to the celebrants of the forbidden cult of Anmalakhan, still unquelled after so many years.

The Palace is a very large dungeon complex, comprising the tombs and appurtenant chapels and treasuries of at least a dozen sorceror-kings. There are extensive, and extremely deadly, traps all through the complex. A frontal assault will probably be the death of all but the most potent adventuring parties. However, an equally important part of adventuring in the Palace is to engage with the people of Ombridge, become part of their lives and their politics, and tease out the myriad hints and clues to the Palace’s secrets that are known among the townsfolk.

Originally published on Google Plus

Aesthetics of Play: An Occasional Series

Theorizing about roleplaying poses me a difficult challenge. I’m generally dubious about totalizing theories of playstyle like the GNS scheme or the older Adventurer/Problem-Solver/Roleplayer triad — I think they all tend to highlight real and interesting issues, but they tend toward the Procrustean, trying to cram all game styles into a fairly limited space with questionable success.

On the other hand, I gravitate to stylized categories like a moth to a stroboscopic bonfire. It’s a character flaw. 

The way I’ve decided to wrestle with this particular issue is to keep my theorizing on a lower level, focusing on value clusters that prize particular types of gameplay experience. Borrowing, folding, and spindling a term from the MDA framework, I’m going to call these clusters aesthetics of play. These aesthetics are not intended to be exclusive; multiple aesthetics can be, and usually are, operative for any player at any time. I’m going to try to avoid constructing opposing pairs of aesthetics, as I’ve had limited success with that in the past, but I may present two different approaches to a single issue at one time.

I’m also going to take this opportunity to note some stylistic ground rules. In all Aesthetics of Play essays (and, probably, other future theoretical works), I’m going to be using bold for emphasis. Italics are going to be reserved for introducing terms of art. I’m certain that my choices of terms of art are going to seem questionable to someone at some point; I recommend Jargon and Definitions before writing me snide emails about my choice of terms. You can write the email regardless, but I’m going to ignore anything along the lines of “That’s not what X means!”