Friday 1 August 2014

How to run a Raggi.

So there’s been a fair amount of stuff around of late about Negadungeons and the use thereof, with Death Frost Doom being the ultimate example. You have no reason to go deeper, and yet you do in the hopes there's something at the end.
Raggi Screwjobs are a slightly different genre, God That Crawls is a Raggi Screwjob but isn't a negadungeon. Going deeper does not damn you and unleash unspeakable evils, and there is a fuck ton of treasure down there let me tell you, but once you're in you're not getting out in a hurry. Raggi is screwing your players, but isn't screwing your campaign world.
I’ve run a bunch of them now and have made my share of mistakes, so I feel like I have some authority with the subject matter. For instance, don't be drunk when you run the God That Crawls.
Alright, so first thing to know about Raggi Screwjobs/Negadungeons is that you can’t just throw these at people and expect them to stick. “This is the adventure today, chaps” is not how you go about this. That’s just being a dick. Here's an old blog post of Tao fucking up royally by doing just this and to be fair he'd never seen a Raggi Screwjob before and so hadn't prepared properly.
The bit at the beginning of the God That Crawls about how to railroad people into the dungeon? Trash. Nobody’s going to believe a priest who asks them to jump down a hole. You can’t trust bishops, everyone knows that. They move in diagonals. And worse, it feels really fucking unfair. You can't laugh at players for going down a hole if you forced them in there in the first place. Same with Death Frost Doom, anybody in their right mind will see the horrible trees and the swirling mists and the faint cries of the souls of the dead and go “fuck that I’m outta here”.
No, the whole point is to make them want to go there themselves. They should get to the church and fucking leap down that hole with slime at the bottom. They should see the abandoned inn and go “shit yes, this is the trapmaster’s place we’ve heard about, got the map? Let’s go in”. They should hear about the magical mystery house on the hill and go “Sure, Derleth Lovedoom’s mansion sounds like a great night out, lets do that”.
You've got to get them committed.

And that starts many sessions before the negadungeon.
Jack Mack goes into it a bit here. See, the whole point of a Raggi Screwjob is that it's a reversal of the status quo. It's weird because the regular dungeons are normal and non-hateful, or at least not actively trying to fuck the players over. You can't do a LotFP campaign of Raggi module after Raggi module because your players will never trust you with anything ever again. It's like filling every room and hallway in every dungeon with a Grimtooth trap. Sooner or later they're just not going to bite.
There's that thing where you should make sure the vast majority of NPCs the players meet are honest, truthful people so that the one guy who betrays them is a surprise, not the norm.
So in the same way you should make the majority of dungeons honest, truthful dungeons with fabulous cash prizes and mysteries to solve and depths to delve and traps to die to and weird monsters to avoid and all that good stuff, so that when they get to a Raggi dungeon they're like "Fuck yea! Dungeon! Let's see what's in here!"
If they're not in a mindset where they think all dungeons contain a whole lot of treasure they'll never keep going deeper into the mountain in the hopes of finding the one haul that will make this all worth it.
If you're throwing Raggi Screwjob after Raggi Screwjob at the players they will start telling you to fuck off, and worse, get wise to it and stop fucking touching everything.
So here's some things to do first.
Start with something else 
Don't begin your campaign with a Raggi Screwjob. That's going to set the tone forever and make it much harder to screw the players again.
Better Than Any Man does this perfectly. Weird shit for the LotFP vibe, but the dungeons aren't screwjobs except for the insect god's home and who the fuck has ever managed to get there? Regular dungeon crawling can be deadly so long as you're not fucking them around every corner. Start them with BTAM and throw in a few negadungeons later once they've left the area to spice things up.
Place the locale on your campaign map.
Put it down somewhere. If you're not doing a sandbox it's time to put down the Raggi module and pick up an Adventure Path and never darken my doorstep again. The players have to be in control of their decision to seek the place out, otherwise you're being a dick.
This is why the God That Crawls advice is trash. Priest throws you down the pit by hook or by crook and you've been fucked over with no choice in the matter other than "let's check out this church". My players Charm Person'd the guy and he told them everything and they still went down the pit. That's commitment.
And for god's sake, if you're trying to bait people into the Scarecrow module make sure it's in an area with lots of beautiful swaying corn so they're not immediately suspicious. One day I will bait someone in there. One day.
Put it on your rumour table
Put a bunch of rumours and shit around it. "The Church at place has an underground complex full of demonic artifacts! It's gotta be the biggest black library in the world!" really sold my guys on God That Crawls, "Mr Foxlowe, a rich trader, hasn't been seen for months, his house stands unguarded" got people champing at the bit to raid Death Love Doom, and the Cleric was super pleased to hear his party god's mug of infinite beer was rumoured to be up Mt. Death Frost.
Add impetus. Bait them there in the same way you bait them towards regular dungeons. Raggi Screwjobs are like spiderwebs, they wait for the fly to come to them. That way it's technically the player's fault, even if they didn't know it was going to be a player fucker going in.
Touching stuff should usually be good
You know how touching stuff in a negadungeon is usually bad? Only effective if touching stuff is usually good. Not to say that your regular dungeons shouldn't have bad-to-touch stuff in them, put mysterious magic fountains and cursed stuff in there as much as you want, just balance that shit out. In a similar vein, if you're running a campaign I'd put Tower of the Stargazer post-BTAM rather than as a starter adventure. It's very good, but there aren't any people to talk to other than the plainly evil wizard who tries to betray them from the very beginning and there's something about save or die doorknobs that makes people not want to touch anything with their hands ever again.
Use encumbrance and stuff before they get there
If you foist encumbrance and movement-per-turn and light source penalties on the players only when it matters, like God That Crawls, they'll know something's up. Same with Death Frost Doom - if you're never rolling for wandering monsters in a regular dungeon they won't be spooked by the silence. And if they don't have that mild but insistent worry about light sources burning out they won't be scared of the dark and careful to make sure they know where the exit is.

You're all in this together
Once they're inside, take off the blinders. If they go "what the fuck" say "yea I know, what the fuck". You can safely deflect blame. You're with them in this now. If the players get fucked over it's not you, it's the module. "Yeesh, sorry about this guys, er so you touch the thing and - ".
This is especially important in Death Love Doom where reading things all cold-dispassionate and being disgusted with them (not at them) is part of the fun.
Not that you'd give the game away or tell them the way out, of course. You've got standards to maintain.


  1. Many excellent thoughts! It seems a little weird, when you sit back and think about it, that there's all this stuff that is somehow worse than simply trying to *kill* the characters, so much worse that you need to be more careful about how to put it in a campaign. There's something for the psychologists to mull over and write papers about, perhaps.

    That said, there are a couple points of contention where I think you could make this train of thought better and more coherent:

    1. "If you're not doing a sandbox it's time to put down the Raggi module and pick up an Adventure Path and never darken my doorstep again."

    -There's no need to be so exaggerated and exclusionary about it. Do you really think that just because someone isn't running a sandbox *right now,* that you'd never want to talk to them in any way? Especially when they may simply be doing a megadungeon bash (or otherwise limited campaign) that the party could later grow out of? Ludicrous. Yes, I'm aware that you may well be being tongue-in-cheek. In which case let me remind you that tone of voice simply doesn't translate well in text. [Source: tumblr; every online argument ever]

    -"If you're not doing a sandbox, it's time to put down the Raggi module" is all you need to say there.

    2. "And for god's sake, if you're trying to bait people into the Scarecrow module make sure it's in an area with lots of beautiful swaying corn so they're not immediately suspicious."

    -I feel like this contradicts your other arguments about telegraphing the negadungeon. You literally just finished talking about your players walking into a Raggi module with open eyes after they had gathered information on exactly how horrible it was going to be, and suddenly you're advocating subterfuge? Why *not* have a totally bizarre unexpected circle of perfect beautiful corn out in the middle of an otherwise uncultivated stretch of waste? Why *not* follow your own advice and mention it in your rumor tables; give the players a hint there's something nasty there to prepare against; give them a reason to go there anyway? The last point is how "bait" works, after all, and the middle one is what makes it an *honest* negadungeon rather than a straight-up screwjob.


    3. "Use encumbrance and stuff before they get there"

    -Well, I agree, but the point is more general: if you're using encumbrance or rations or light-tracking (etc. etc.) in a campaign, use them consistently. Don't have that stuff be a switch that gets turned off and on arbitrarily.

    1. Thanks!

      On the first point, chill man you have been on tumblr too long. If you're doing a megadungeon bash (or a railroad, blech) do not use these modules. Anything where the players have limited choice of destination do not work well.

      On the second, good pickup. They shouldn't be suspicious before they enter the negadungeon though. They should just think it's any other dungeon. Tale of the Scarecrow's a bit different too because the setup necessitates NPC's having turned up fairly recently. Having it on the rumour tables could lead to it being uninvestigated for weeks! It's not really a Screwjob though now I think about it, just a "regular" Raggi module where bad things happen.
      On the third, point is if you're running one of these you should use proper encumbrance and stuff from the start, rather than getting into a more general handwavey thing until you're there. Even if you're going to keep using it properly after that point, they've got enough to worry about without new mechanics to worry about.

  2. I continue to repeat this. I did not "fuck up."


    How does it demonstrate anything, to anybody, if I run the module with the flavor of Alexis Smolensk fixing every bullshit thing in DFD? Yes, obviously, I could have run the module in a way that would have worked, but that would have been because I am an excellent DM, and not because Dumb Raggi is an excellent module writer.

    By running the module AS WRITTEN, I feel I demonstrated perfectly what a piece of shit screwjob the module is. This does not reflect on me. I buy a piece of shit car from GM, the fact that I might be able to make the car run does not change the fact that GM is totally, absolutely and completely at fault.

    I'd like an apology.

    1. I didn't say you ran it badly or it sucked because you were a bad DM, I said you fucked up because you hadn't seen a Raggi Screwjob before and didn't realise how it should be set up.

      gave them no choice about whether they had to engage with the module.
      "They wanted nothing to do with the site, with its treasure, or with any investigations thereof. It seemed like the stupidest idea in the world to go anywhere near the place, and they only did because I railroaded them."

      It's only a "fun" screwjob if the players are complicit, is the point.

      I apologise if I made it sound like you ran it poorly due to your skill as a DM, I can't imagine that's the case.

    2. I had seen dozens of modules like this. Raggi is not that special. This has no bearing on the way a reviewer treats the material being reviewed. There is a Protocol, here. Raggi's special status does not exempt him from that protocol, which has been in place since at least the 16th century.

      The players WERE given the choice of whether or not to participate in the review. Their decision to have nothing to do with the site, or its treasure, came about because the module DID NOT WIN THEIR INTEREST, not because "they had no choice." They had a choice. They chose not to poke the very obvious bear.

      If a module depends on the players "being complicit" with acting like moronic, blind, insipid fools lacking a survival instinct, then that's a pretty steep requisite for something being "fun."