The Alexandrian

Alexander’s Rule

March 14th, 2011

CyclopeatronCyclopeatron wrote an interesting post t’other day regarding the fact that blog posts which are the equivalent of op-ed commentary tend to attract more comments than blog posts containing creative content.

To a large extent this makes sense: Commentary posts inherently serve as the opening salvo in a potential conversation, inviting responses which either disagree with that commentary or extrapolate upon it. Creative content, on the other hand, doesn’t have an easy response: If you liked it, there’s not much to be said beyond “nice” (and that seems pointless enough you’ll probably skip it). If you didn’t like it, you’ll probably feel no particular compulsion to be a jerk by saying “you suck”. (A critique might be useful, but if it wasn’t invited you’re probably wasting your time and likely coming across as a jerk again.)

But the point Cyclopeatron makes is that this has a real effect on what bloggers write: The only real payment we get is the social validation from seeing people talk about what we wrote. When commentary posts see so much more activity than creative posts, we’re being strongly encouraged to write commentary posts instead of creative posts.

Despite this predilection, I agree with Cyclopeatron that the RPG blogosphere is a happier and healthier place when it’s filled up with awesome creative ideas. Towards that end, I propose Alexander’s Rule:

If you use something awesome from a blog in your game, go back and tell the creator about it.

That might mean taking fifteen seconds to write a comment. (“Hey. I ran the Dungeon Crawl of Ultimate Doom last night and it killed three PCs. Nice work.”) It might mean writing up a full session report, posting it to your own blog, and sending the original creator a trackback or link. Or anything inbetween.

Lemme take a second to practice what I’m preaching. Let me just stick a little spoiler protection for my players (who should read no further here)…


Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been keying a hexcrawl. This was supposed to take a couple of days, but due to some poor decision-making on my part I quickly discovered I had bitten off more than I could chew. (Pro Tip: 16 hexes x 16 hexes = 256 hexes. 256 hexes = A lot of bloody hexes.)

When my creativity ran dry, I turned to the random tables of OD&D, AD&D, and Judges Guild to spur it. And when those random tables had been reduced to beating a dead horse, three particular resources helped me reach the finish line: First, the maps and adventures of Dyson Logos. Second, similarly great stuff from A Rust Monster Ate My Sword. And, finally, the collected annals of the One Page Dungeon Contest.

I’ve got a lengthy tale from the table scheduled to be posted in a couple of days that will delve into one of the scenarios I used from Dyson Logos in more detail, but for the sake of this post let me share some details on what happened when I used the Crypt of Luan Phien a couple of hours ago.


This one-page dungeon features multiple sections which rotate independently, constantly re-arranging themselves into baffling new configurations. Take a second to look at the original map, and now take a peek at the maps my players drew this evening:

Crypt of Luan Phien - Player's Map 1

Crypt of Luan Phien - Player's Map 2

You can click on the images to view them at a larger size.

To help you orient yourself, the letters on my player’s map are essentially the sequence in which they explored the tomb. The letters correspond to the numbered key of the original adventure as follows: A = 1, B = 2, C = 8, D = the trap counter-clockwise from 13, E = 7, F = 12, G = the midpoint of the tunnel through the center section, H = 13, I = empty room clockwise from 13, J = 6.

A few notes from my implementation of the module:

  • I placed the crypt into a cairn hill (of which there are many scattered throughout this particular region).
  • I used the random wilderness encounter tables from OD&D to determine the exact guardians of this cairn, which turned out to be 12 ghouls. I placed these in area 3 (“–and monsters!”) and split them into two squads. One of the squads remained with the treasure, the other exited this section of the crypt once the hallways started rotating (and, thus, gave them a path of egress).
  • The design of the crypt lended itself well to this: When the hallways moved, the ghouls would move into the section. (I kept track of their location by placing little mini-d6’s on the map so that the ghouls could just spin around as I turned the paper. The d6’s, tangentially, were table favors from my brother’s wedding.)
  • The first several times the corridors rotated, the timing coincidentally worked out so that a PC named Marrow happened to be touching the stone wall of a dead end each time. For quite a while they were convinced that the crypt was cursed so that the touch of an elf would have no effect (since the elf in the party would touch the wall and nothing would happen), with theories alternating between “it’s a trap for elves” and “elves are meant to be here”.
  • The ghouls eventually encountered the party because they rotated right to them: The corridor had started rotating while the PCs were split across sections, and the party member taking up the rear only barely managed to jump through. With his heart beating fast, he turned to the others to mention that they might want to tighten up their formation… and thus missed the half dozen ghouls who rotated into view a couple seconds later.
  • I also randomly generated the treasure. Much of this remains in area 3, but one piece of jewelry (a silver necklace with finely-wrought elven runes and studded with green alexandrites worth 5,000 gp) was placed upon a mumified dragon’s head in the trophy room (area 13).
  • The trophy room was dominated by the heads of orcs which had been mounted on the wall. There was also a curious wicker man in the corner. This opened to reveal a construction similar to an iron maiden, with thick, piercing thorns pointing inward.
  • Within the wicker man there was a strange figure which seemed sculpted from twigs. The players hypothesized that it was a demonstration (“this is what you put in here … and then it will hurt … a lot”).
  • It’s actually a full-grown (albeit dead) twig blight from The Sunless Citadel. Although influenced by the norska cairn traditions of the region, I’ve decided that this particular tomb is actually elvish and ties into the doomed dragon cult which was once based out of the Citadel. (At some point my players may notice the complete absence of any elves in this region of the world.)

Go to Update from the Crypt of Luan Phien

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19 Responses to “Alexander’s Rule”

  1. Jacqueline says:

    Damn it Justin, *not* reading is not a particular skill of mine. (I managed, but I’ll be twitchy for a good 20 minutes now…)

  2. -C says:

    That is really all I ask from people who use any of my contrubutions.

  3. cyclopeatron says:

    Alexandrian Rule is a great idea of course, and only common courtesy. I think there are deeper problems and better solutions, however, concerning how the OSR can take full advantage of its constituents’ creativity in the blogoverse. Useful methods for reference, access, and credit are all basically undeveloped.

  4. nobodez says:

    Well, that’s just awesome. I’m not running any home games right now (and my online PbP game is the Kingmaker Adventure path from Paizo), but otherwise, I’d comment on how much Id be using your stuff. That spells post from yesterday is just plain awesome.

  5. Da' Vane says:

    Courtesy is a missing factor in today’s society, on and off the internet. This is evident not just in how the RPG blog network reacts differently to creativity and op-ed content, but also to how such commentary is received.

    In many cases, the blogs themselves are just shout-outs for their own work, hoping to engage conversation with their own sychophantic fans, whereas even raising a question or criticism that there might be a flaw or error in the article or opinion will have such people ostracised as a troll, however constructive it may be.

    This opinion will then be carried across to other comments, regardless of their actual content – as the sycophantic fans will either percieve you as being for or against their “God” – that is, the person who’s blog you are reading.

    With this sort of atmosphere, what is the point in commenting on any sort of creative post? As you state, there is little point in just saying nice – although comments on how you are using the material are often desirable. Any perception of adapting or adding too said content are often deemed to be criticism of the original creative effort, and often treated just as bad as criticising an idea, whether it’s raising concerns, acknowledging merits but realising it’s not complete, or pointing out that the work does not do what it is being claimed to do.

    For example, Chimera RPG recently announced a change from using absolute XP to an advancement check in the following article: While I had a few concerns about this, one in particular stood out in Erin’s post – he claimed the change solved the conundrum of when to dole out XP. What he had actually done, however, was put a definite answer – and answer that already existed under the rules for XP – and then claimed that it was the change that provided the solution, rather than the definitive answer. I commented, and proved otherwise – after all, a lot of what was being considered for the Achievement check was equally applicable for absolute XP – and all I got for my efforts was condemnation and disrespect for criticising Erin.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve had trouble on there though – Erin even went so far as to write about being heckled by trolls on his forum, as seen here: The thing is there weren’t trolls – there was just a single “troll” – me. My crime: I dared to question and criticise Erin over the Initiative rules in Chimera RPG, after something was brought up by my group I said I’d ask him about. I made the mistake of mentioning other games, including D20, and having him going off on an anti-D20 rant at me. I mentioned other games, a variety of systems, but apparently I was being disrespectful because I questioned him and criticised him, when “nobody else” was having any issues. Add in his sychophantic fans who do literally treat him like God, who also labelled me as a troll, simply for questioning and criticising elements of the system rather than believing it was perfect because Erin designed it.

    Not all blogs are like this – but quite a few are, and with that in mind, is it really worth commenting on anything creative? It can be just as bad even when the designer themselves aren’t involved – and it’s just the fans taking part in the discussion. Most reasoned discourse is long gone when people go into these things assuming you don’t have any respect, and therefore treat you without any respect.

    That said, I try to comment when I use anything creative from someone else’s blog, but I don’t use much these days. Instead I just comment so that I can absorb and develop my skills, and hope that maybe my comments help others develop theirs. I don’t do it on everything – I don’t have the time, which is a damn shame.

  6. kelvingreen says:

    I approve thoroughly of this rule.

  7. Rich says:

    I like it.

    As it happens, I used your “Halls of the Mad Mage” in a game a while back. The after action report for the two sessions in the Halls can be read here, in the form of a list of PCs and NPCs from the game with notes describing events that happened in the sessions.

    I placed the Halls below a wizard’s manse in “the rainy city,” where my home campaign is set. I tailored the trappings of the dungeon to the wizard’s vainglorious personality, but otherwise ran it with little modification beyond the usual improvisation of details and NPC actions.

    The players turned some items from the halls to profitably clever use in follow up sessions. One thing they did was remove one of the Moebius portraits and use it as an escape route/ad hoc “bag of holding” in a convoluted heist. The after action report for the heist is in a following post, “Personalities of the Rainy City — Part X.”

  8. Andrew says:

    When I read this:

    “If you didn’t like it, you’ll probably feel no particular compulsion to be a jerk by saying ‘you suck.’ (A critique might be useful, but if it wasn’t invited you’re probably wasting your time and likely coming across as a jerk again.)”

    I wonder if that means that reflecting on the content here is coming across as a jerk if it includes anything besides praise, no matter how many caveats and qualifiers surround it. One of the things I like about this site is thought-provoking content, and reflecting on it can either clarify my understanding or possibly trigger further content. I figured that’s valuable. Or, maybe, not. Hm.

  9. Justin Alexander says:

    @Rich: Thanks! Awesome stuff! I’m really digging the Rainy City.

    @Andrew: Nah. I welcome critique. Somewhere in the archives around here you’ll find me saying that upon occasion. But I’ve certainly had my head bit off enough times (even when critique has been welcomed) that I can believe people think twice before commenting on something.

  10. Rich says:

    Thanks, Justin. I’m nice to hear that you like the setting!

  11. Andrew says:

    After reading the bit about “catch” instead of a baseball league, I contacted a bunch of people who play my home grown system and built a list of 12 who are interested in ad hoc dungeon crawls. This is much expanded from the 5 players I allow to play in the “league.” Combining that with the mega dungeon reframe and the role of wandering monsters, I have a whole new play style in many regards.

    I think I’ve noted similar in comments in the past, but that’s the most direct benefit I’ve gotten. My players appreciate the break from byzantine plots and dastardly long-term foes with brilliant schemes–they can get bite sized violence filled gleeful sprees with minimal long-term investment. And I get to play with my settings in new ways. It’s great to reverse from building my plots around player goals to building settings that players explore that don’t care about them at all…

  12. 24-hour Tweet-a-thon for Japan! | Cult of Da' Vane says:

    […] on Facebook about 4th Edition or preserving gaming information on wikipedia, the advocation of Alexander’s Rule, or simple commenting on the state of the industry that will result in is some of the greatest […]

  13. Hradek says:

    I regularly use your three clue rule, definately helps with gamers who get distracted easily. Other than that, for the most part pretty much everything you say is what I would say, except better expressed than I can manage.

    I think there is a definate meme right now going through the gaming community that I don’t particularly agree with that has been making RPG’s unfun for me, and it’s nice to know there are a few others that don’t agree with it either.

  14. Auroch says:

    Looking at the Crypt map, I’m quite sure that, as printed, the passage that got labeled “G” will never connect rooms 12 and 13. If the central disc never rotated, it would work, but as it is, with the central disc rotating 1/8 turn CCW and the middle disc rotating 1/8 turn CW, they move right past each other.

    If the central disc is made fixed, though, that fixes the problem entirely. Also, it is convenient for Luan Phien, whose central resting place is now undisturbed.

  15. dzanis says:

    According to this rule: I will be using house rule “Shields shall be splintered” that i read on your blog. And I am probably sometime in future planning to run “E(X)” system. also as written here.

  16. dmbryan says:

    Hi all,

    First off–great idea! I can’t wait to run this adventure for my players. X-D

    To the creator/anyone who’s run this adventure, how did you pull it off? Did you only roleplay it (i.e. only describe the rooms/what’s happening, never drawing maps)? Did you only draw one room at a time, never showing adjoining hallways?

    I imagine you can’t just put a blown up version of the map down on the table… they’ll immediately know that the dungeon is a series of rotating circles (and I’m guessing half the fun is getting them to figure out that’s what’s going on).

    Any help would be appreciated!


    PS–I printed out the map, cut out each section, glued them down to separate cardboard circles, and attached them in the middle with a brass pull apart push pin so I can keep accurate track of the rotations behind my DM screen. Seems like it will do the trick!

  17. Justin Alexander says:

    I relied on verbal descriptions. If you use a battle map for combat, I recommend only drawing the immediate area of conflict (for exactly the reasons you site).

    I also recommend the push pin diorama behind your screen. It’s the only way you won’t mess up the rotations. 😉

  18. Charlie says:

    Well, I’ve been lurking here for the past month and the reasons I don’t comment are basically because sometimes I don’t think I have anything meaningful to add other than “that’s nice/great/awesome” and because I never thought it was important for the author. But I do find a lot on the Gamemastery 101 incredibly useful and insipiring, preparing a game session has been so burdensome for me that I stopped playing for 8 years, and the reason I had such a bad time is because I was prepping plots and a lot of useless and unnecesary background only to find them completely derailed once the players touch them. After reading this series, I can’t wait to create a scenario because now I have tools and specific enough guidance on how to do it. So your blog has been priceless!

    Now that I know it’s important, I will write back once I have used any those tools and report how they went on the gaming table.

  19. arete says:

    Wow, a rotating dungeon. It has so much potential, but I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it sooner!

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