Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus

August 15, 2010

Schrödinger and Chekhov

The centerpiece of Project Slaughterhouse is the zone stat block. It is coming in just a moment, but first, I want to take a brief diversion to offer the rationale for some of the odd decisions about how populations work in the Slaughterhouse. If you are willing to just take my method and accept it, you don’t have to read this and you can skip to the next page. However, if you concern yourself with realism in D&D and will get upset when I start telling you to just magically pull populations out of nowhere, read on.

Erwin Schrödinger was a physicist who helped develop quantum theory. Within the scientific community, he is probably most well known for his equation describing wave function in quantum systems, but that’s not important here (thankfully). Outside of the scientific community, he is most famous for his hatred of cats and love of necromancy.

In order to describe one of the more baffling bits of quantum theory, he proposed an experiment in which a cat was put into a box with a vial of poison and a radioactive element. The details are not important except to say that, during the experiment, there is an exactly 50% chance that the cat will turn out to be dead when you open the box. However, according to quantum physics, before the box is opened, the cat will exist in a weird in-between state of alive and dead. The universe (at least on certain scales) really does behave like this. Things can both happen and not happen until an experiment conclusively shows whether they did or not.

The whole point of the Schrödinger’s Cat experiment was to demonstrate that, in our universe, unless we make a direct observation, we can’t say what is really going on. And, if we make any number of indirect observations, we will find that the universe behaves as if everything is going on all at once. That’s a gross oversimplification, but its well enough for our purposes.

Meanwhile, a playwright named Anton Chekhov once famously remarked that “if you show a gun on stage in the first act of a play, that gun had better be fired by the third act.” Basically, he was saying that, if you include a detail in a story, it needs to become important in the story. Otherwise, don’t waste your time on it. If you spend two pages in a novel writing about a gun, the audience will feel cheated if the gun never comes up again. This has become known as “the Law of Conservation of Detail” or “Chekhov’s Gun.” Oh, and by the way, a red herring is a fair use of Chekhov’s Gun, but let’s try to stay focused.

In D&D, the problem is that, as much as we’d like to follow Checkhovs Gun, we don’t know (as DMs) what the party is going to do or what is going to happen in the story. So, in D&D, we use a modified rule called ‘Schrödinger’s Gun.’ Schrödinger’s Gun can be stated very simply: nothing in the game is true until the party observes it.

For example, suppose you have an important NPC in your dungeon. You know that they will play a vital role in an upcoming encounter. And you know the NPC can always be found in a certain place in the dungeon. You assume the party will meet the NPC so that they can be important later.

But, suppose the party keeps turning left when they should right and it appears that they are in danger of never meeting the NPC. So, you finally decide that the next unexplored room the party enters is the NPC’s room.

That’s Schrödinger’s Gun. Basically, the party has no idea what is behind any of the doors in the dungeon (or at any of the locations in your adventure or who is really trying to do what) until they open the door (or visit the location or discover the motive). Until that point, it could be anything. The players will never know what you had written down, they will only know what actually happened. If you change the identity of the villain, the location or use of an artifact, or the number of orcs in a dungeon, they will have no idea.

Another way which Schrödinger’s Gun comes up is when the party doesn’t have all the facts and takes action based on an incorrect interpretation of what they do know. For example, suppose the party discovers an artifact that can imprison elementals and primordials. They discover only that it ‘binds and contains elemental magic.’ You are hoping that they will pull it out and activate it later on when they encounter a primordial much later on. But, in the interim, the party encounters a genasi wild mage and is getting beaten up pretty badly. One of the players decides to whip out the artifact to take away his magic. You can say “no, you’re wrong, it doesn’t do that.” But, you might instead allow it to work somehow. Schrödinger’s Gun again.

Tags: , , ,






43 Responses to Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus

  1. Armchair DM on August 15, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Are you kidding me? Are you FREAKING kidding ?

    I’m totally loving this system… It’s elegant,it has a sandboxy feel, it’s awesome.

    It seems more WoW or “Gold Box” D&D to me.

  2. Mark on August 16, 2010 at 9:14 am

    This is so fantastic. I don’t know if you’ve ever played Mordheim, but this has a really similar style: the abandoned city with factions vying for control. I want to run a game like this now!

  3. Michael on August 16, 2010 at 9:52 am

    This utterly kicks ass for sandboxing. It will give my own free roaming campaign plot-lines a further brutal shove in the Angry DM direction ;)

  4. the Jester on August 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Wow, this is simply fantastic. I’m going to use it for my next megadungeon for sure, and probably for big wilderness sandbox areas as well. Thank you so much for this system- well done!

  5. Slimboy on August 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    You, sir, are a wizard! You’ve crystallized an idea that’s been pinging around in my skull for some time! Amazing. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to co-DM with a friend for some time, and this might just do the trick. You need to publish, sir. We need fresh voices in the Adventure-Building market! Good job!

  6. Giving Places Character | Geek Related on August 17, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    [...] Posted on August 17, 2010 by mxyzplk| Leave a comment I read a really great article called “Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus” by the Angry DM that is really good and describes his “Slaughterhouse” system [...]

  7. user@example.com on August 18, 2010 at 7:19 am

    I just put together a quick-and-lazy PDF of this so I can keep it handy as a single file and print a copy for reference. I love the zone stats.

    I think I’ll be reading your site from now on!

  8. Flacco on August 18, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I really love this whole system, and I am developing my own version, where different fractions are fighting about a barony.

    I am also thinking about adding something else: Consequences that affect a whole faction, when having an Outpost somewhere, for example: If the orcs are holding the Mines near the City, they gain access to better weapons, making the faction stronger (maybe a bonus to AC or attack rolls)

    Or if the Human Freedom-Fighters gain power over the University-Distrit and its Alchemy-Labors, some of them start carrying alchemists fire, and so on, what do you think about this idea?

  9. The Angry DM on August 18, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Hey, everyone, thanks for showing up and commenting and stuff. I’d say it warms the cockles of my heart, but I haven’t got a heart and cockle sounds lewd. And none of you are warming any of my lewd bits, that’s for sure.

    Mr. User@Example – whom I shall call AFGNCAAP (look it up) – I’ve been encouraged by a couple of folks to do a PDF presentation and it might be in the future, but I’m also lazy, so we’ll see. Anyhow, I’m more than happy to see you thought it valuable enough to waste paper and printer ink on. Just please give me credit if you share it around. I’ve got a tremendous ego.

    Flacco – I think its a damned fine idea and you should run with it. Makes perfect sense and, again, brings the environment to life. That’s the most important part. When the PCs help the Freedom Fighters liberate Bobs Alchemical Emporium, they will be gratified to see a real in game effect.

    • Charles on May 3, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      Gravity is actually the weakest force.

      Just through I’d be a dick and point that out.

      • The Angry DM on May 3, 2013 at 7:46 pm

        Would it be dickish of me to point out “powerful” is not synonymous with “strongest?” One is a nice, vanilla adjective and one is a superlative. I sure hope so. Because dicks beget dicks.

        I am quite aware that gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces, but it is still extremely powerful, especially on a macroscopic scale, because gravity is always additive and because it operates over such long distances. Well, theoretically always additive, given the current hints that gravity may become repulsive at extremely long distances.

        Anyhoo, thanks for the constructive comments! Maybe work on that reading comprehension, though.

  10. Ms user@example.com on August 19, 2010 at 12:32 am

    I wasn’t planning on sharing it other than by linking people here, I just pasted the whole lot in word and spent five minutes tidying the formatting up. 14 pages, for the record.

    Thankfully I have to leave for work in a minute, so I was spared the usual hours of reading TV Tropes you tried to give me.

  11. The Angry DM on August 19, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    I see now I used a gendered prefix and I apoligize Ms. AFFCAAP. I was mainly just making an ego joke. Please share it around. I put it out here because I want people to enjoy it. Also, the ego thing.

    Yep, 14 pages seems right. I typed it up in Word first and I think I was at 13.

  12. [...] latest offering, “Giving Places Character“, inspired by the Angry DM’s article “Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus”, expands on the concept of city stat blocks originally introduced in D&D [...]

  13. 1of3 on August 24, 2010 at 3:34 am

    Very interesting. I’ll at least show it around.

    To make a suggestion, I’d lay down methods on how the players can learn the details of the zone cards. It’s one of the prime questions that I always miss in published adventures: When the PCs question this or that goon, what can they learn?

    With this set-up DCs for knowledge checks might also come in handy.

  14. [...] sent me the Angry DM’s slaughterhouse system of region/campaign building. The system is inspired by zoned video games like Metroid and provides [...]

  15. Carl on September 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I absolutely admire your post…brilliant. I’m gonna use this on my next campaign.

    Sorry to ask here, but I don’t find anywhere else to: is there an RSS feed to catch all your updates on this blog? I’m following more than 50 D&D blogs on Google Reader and don’t want to have to use bookmarks on top of it. :)

    Thanks and keep up the good (great) work.

  16. The Angry DM on September 2, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    Hey Carl, thanks for the compliments. As it happens, there is, in fact a Feed. Its: http://angrydm.com/feed/ . There is also a seperate Feed just for the comments. Its: http://angrydm.com/comments/feed/ .

  17. Gedanken über Dungeonsoziologie « Rorschachhamster on September 16, 2010 at 3:21 am

    [...] sogar das Layout des Dungeon. Irgendwie bin ich auf einen Artikel des Angry DMs gestoßen, der, LinkyLink, eine gewisse Struktur für die Bewohner und Zonen eines solchen großem Dungeons vorstellt – [...]

  18. William C. Pfaff on October 16, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Speaking completely without hyperbole or sarcasm, I can honestly say this is the most single useful piece of DM advice I’ve read in at least five years. You sir need to be nominated for something…an Ennie, a Nobel Prize for RPGing, something! Kudos and my players and I thank you for the incredible effort! I’m making wholesale use of this in my next campaign with very little modification…simply brilliant stuff!

  19. Ben on December 17, 2010 at 1:28 am

    Bravo. I’ll integrate this into my current campaign somehow, I vow it.

    Sorry for the necromantic commenting, but I was hoping for some AngryDM insight into adapting the system.

    I’m trying to conceptualize how this system could be modified to allow for coexistent zones at different levels. My meaning is a sort of vertical stratification, where from level 1 to 8 you might be most concerned about which street gang controls which block, but from level 5-13 you also care which noble claims suzerainty – but in exactly the same territory, and with overlap between the street gang threat and the noble threat. A zone with two (or more) owners.

    The simplest answer is writing up multiple zone stat blocks for the same territory, but that wouldn’t capture the possibility of running into the Count’s tax collectors right after a brush with the Fat Tony’s street toughs, unless you had both rosters represented in each zone. Which I guess isn’t such a bad thing, come to think of it, but it seems an inelegant solution.

    I’d love to hear it if you have a better take on how to implement this.

  20. Raddu on February 21, 2011 at 11:04 am

    @AngryDM Love this idea! I just stumbled up on it, good stuff maynard.

    @Ben, even more necromantic commenting (nice term!). I’d say just add another parameter to the stat block, at level 1-5 this happens at 5-10 this happens, etc, etc.

  21. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Scott, Robert Adducci. Robert Adducci said: @TheAngryDM Loved your Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus article! Wheels are turning about a city of Celik #DarkSun adventure http://me.lt/0zB6 [...]

  22. T.W.Wombat on February 22, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Schrodinger’s Gun. That’s the framework I’ve been trying to verbalize. THANK YOU.

    Awesome system. It’s nice to find something that really speaks to the way I want to GM. I’ve done this with more handwaving and improv, but the Slaughterhouse looks like it’ll take some of the drudge work out of the process.

    Bravo, sir!

  23. [...] They decided the Orc Warlord was important, and so he was, but he may as well not have been (see another excellent article by Angry about Schrödinger’s Gun in [...]

  24. Natespank on March 8, 2011 at 6:35 am

    How would you suggest using this system with time constraints and/or adventures? Is it primarily intended for player-driven games?

    The reason I ask is because I enjoyed the “winning D&D” article and without adding win conditions and adventures and time constraints to the sandbox game, it’s hard to allow the PCs to “win.”

    Do you know what I’m getting at?

  25. Chris McNeil (a.k.a. Gwarh) on April 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I’ll add another “me too” thank you.

    I’ve got a pile of notes for a lvl 1-30 sandbox campaign area thingamabob, but was feeling that it was to daunting a task to stat it out past the notes and maps I’ve already made.

    But with your “Slaughterhouse” system, I think it just map be the trick to getting it all down in a workable/playable format.

    P.S.
    Did this ever get put into a PDF format. Or more importantly have you placed your campaing notes into a PDF format for us all to paruse?

  26. [...] found on ENWorld through reference from an RPG.net post), was from a blog post by The Angry DM: Schrodinger, Chekhov, and Samus.  It’s a bit longer of a post than I think it needs to be (much like all of mine!), but it [...]

  27. Telarus, KSC on June 28, 2011 at 6:16 am

    Whoa! This is innovative and brilliant. I’m going to slam this together with the Company system from Reign (ORE) like chocolate and peanutbutter.

  28. [...] was working on a 4e conversion of Gary Gygax’s Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works, using a set of quick-and-dirty stat blocks devised by The Angry DM to make an open, sandboxy dungeon very easy to manage.  It’s proven to be a fun experiment [...]

  29. Elibus on September 15, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Hey Angry DM,

    Really love this idea and I’m going to use it in my game to run most of the paragon tier. What do you use to make your zone stat blocks? Is it a file you can make available?

  30. The Angry DM on September 16, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Elibus. I did the zone stat blocks in MS Excel. Nothing fancy.

  31. [...] in his Schroedinger, Checkov, and Seamus article, this last campaign planning tool is something that I may or may not end up using.  [...]

  32. [...] is a different type of run site based entirely on the ideas of Angry DM’s Slaughterhouse concept.  In this case the run site is not a discrete location but a broad region that is [...]

  33. [...] Here are some links to further reading that will be of value in setting up your own dungeons: Angry Dm’s Project Slaughterhouse Alexandrian’s Jacquaying the Dungeon Simon C’s “How I draw [...]

  34. Drakonius on September 3, 2012 at 7:07 am

    Hello mister Angry DM,

    May I have a Core rules copy of this system in PDF format, if of course isn’t too much of a trouble?
    And also, I would like to know what have you used for the nice and clean stat blocks for Lairs and Outposts, again if it isn’t much trouble.

    Thank you very much.

  35. [...] I didn’t want to map out the whole darn city I used two of The Angry DM’s systems – Project Slaughterhouse and the Abstract Dungeon.  The city was currently contested between three factions – Minotaur [...]

  36. Iggwilv on August 4, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Since the stat blocks are kind of like monsters, there could be “elite” and “solo” zones. They would have more XP, and so have more monsters, and thus be tougher to take down. In order to not just have it be a grind, such zones would be reserved for changing/terraforming or especially large zones so that it would remain interesting. Just an idea!

  37. […] First, it is fun. I like the topic and I like writing thousands of words about things and I like ridiculous, hyperbolic names. Remember “Project Slaughterhouse?” […]

  38. Dragonbro on December 4, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    I wish you where my DM. Great stuff. Wright more please.

  39. SimonP on December 12, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    I’ve been using groups (factions) and areas (zones) for about 15 years, as I wanted my sandbox campaign, Tovanion, to be dynamic. You, Angry, have just organized neatly what my disorganized brain wasn’t able to put together in a cohesive fashion.

    Thank you!

  40. Jeremy on April 17, 2014 at 9:13 am

    This is very similar to how I create a world… I do the same type of thing with countries and cities, mainly to describe how political factions interact with each other.

    It is simple and elegant, thanks for the writeup… Now I can just point to your explanation rather than use my own.

    Also I seem to have wandered here, I never knew about this blog until yesterday. It has become my favorite source for DM information.

    Thanks.

  41. The Allure of the Mega-Dungeon @ RPG MUSINGS on June 8, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    […] Schrodinger, Chekhov, and Samus, a multi-page article from The Angry DM blog, about how to create zones and factions in your mega-dungeon. His system uses a more modern approach to mega-dungeon design. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *