Further lazy DM adventures with ChatGPT

photorealistic portrait of Belsnickel the blue skinned emaciated female bheur hag dramatic digital art trending on artstation behance

I was planning to run a wintry one-shot Dungeons & Dragons adventure this week. I had a basic concept: we’re in Exandria, so we’ll theme it around Winter’s Crest, the winter festival celebrated in Tal’Dorei. There would be games and shops for fun little mini-games. The real story is based around a type of hag called a bheur hag, which is particularly winter-y and cold-based. Taking inspiration from some existing folklore around the Krampus and Belsnickel, I decided to make her the “anti-Santa Claus” — she goes around deciding who is “naughty” and who is “nice”, but, because she’s a hag, neither is good. If you’re nice, she gives you cakes or sweets, but these treats are cursed so that you become violent and argumentative (basically making you “naughty”). If you’re naughty, she packs you up in a huge sack that she takes back to her lair. All the people she kidnaps become sacrifices in a ritual to her goddess of winter in an attempt to extend the winter indefinitely.

That was the pitch, and that was largely what I had. I knew I needed more details to sprinkle in. But I’m lazy and decided instead to see if the AI could do my homework for me. Turns out, it did a decent job.

The lair

First, I knew I would need a lair. Someplace that the party could potentially track her to with enough details to make it seem lived in. I set the stage with basically the pitch above:

Suppose there is a bheur hag named Belsnickel. Her favorite winter tradition is to visit the nearest town during the Winter’s Crest festival and asking (or deciding) whether the festival-goers are “naughty” or “nice”. If they say or she decides that they have been naughty, she puts them into a bag of holding and takes them away to her lair in the mountains where she will sacrifice them to Auril in a bid to extend the winter indefinitely. If they say or she decides that they have been nice, she gives them cakes or sweets that have been cursed to make anyone who eats them violent and argumentative.

I then copied and pasted the description of bheur hag from D&D sourcebooks to make sure the AI knew what I was talking about and could potentially pull details from it. Then I asked for what I wanted:

Describe the lair of Belsnickel the bheur hag noting specific details in each room, whether they are trapped, what the dimensions of the room are (in feet). There should be at least five rooms. One room includes a shrine to Auril, one room should include a holding area where she keeps the people she’s kidnapped, and one room should be where she concocts her potions and alchemical experiments and possibly also makes mundane food.

I deliberately referred to her as “Belsnickel the bheur hag” to make sure the AI remembered who (and what) I was talking about. ChatGPT had to go through a few iterations at this point. Server issues again. So I lost some details that it came up with that were pretty good. But what I ended up with was a pretty detailed lair with dimensions, all the details I asked for plus a kitchen and a bedroom as well as a main chamber that you enter into that wasn’t included in the five rooms I asked for. I pulled one of the details I remembered from a previous iteration into the version I copied into my notes; that the entrance is hidden behind a frozen waterfall.

Okay, I’ve got a location, but it needs some stuff inside it. The next thing I asked for was things to put inside this mini-dungeon. Again, I was specific and limited the scope of what I was asking to hone the responses:

At least one room of Belsnickel’s lair should be guarded and there should be at least one other room that contains traps. Which room(s) are guarded and by what type of creatures. Which room(s) are trapped and what types of traps. Use creatures and traps that exist in the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition SRD.

The D&D SRD is the open source stuff. I figured that by naming that specifically the AI would theoretically be able to access the information more readily. And it did so.

In Belsnickel’s lair, the holding area is guarded by a group of ice mephits. These small, humanoid creatures are made entirely of ice and are fiercely loyal to Belsnickel. They guard the cages where the prisoners are kept, making sure that no one escapes.

The third room, where Belsnickel concocts her potions and alchemical experiments, is trapped with several fire traps. These traps are hidden within the walls and are triggered when anyone enters the room. When triggered, the traps shoot out bursts of flames that can scorch and burn anyone who is caught in their path.

Additionally, the entrance to Belsnickel’s personal chambers is guarded by a winter wolf. This large, white-furred wolf is fiercely loyal to Belsnickel and will attack anyone who tries to enter her chambers without her permission.

This all sounded good and thematic except for the fire trap. I’ve altered them in my notes to ice/cold traps because it seemed weird for her to have anything fire-related.

The ritual

Now I’ve got a decently fleshed-out place, but what about the ritual? I don’t know much about that and that should be unique and flavorful if the adventurers track her down and interrupt it in progress. Again, lazy DM here, I don’t want to come up with all those details, so I told the AI:

Describe in detail the ritual to Auril that Belsnickel intends to use to extend the winter. Assume that we are catching her in the middle of the ritual. What are the components for the ritual, what does it smell like, how long does the ritual take and what happens if it is not completed in its entirety?

Again, I’m trying to ask for specifics, as many as it will give me, and the AI does a decent job of coming up with stuff that makes sense and fits the theme:

The ritual that Belsnickel is performing to Auril involves the sacrifice of several prisoners that she has kidnapped. The prisoners are brought to the shrine to Auril, where they are tied to the stone altar. Belsnickel then begins the ritual, which involves chanting ancient words of power and making offerings to Auril.

The components of the ritual include a large ceremonial knife, a chalice filled with the blood of the prisoners, and several offerings of food and other items. The ritual has a strong, metallic smell, as well as the smell of burning incense.

The ritual takes about an hour to complete, and must be performed in its entirety in order to be effective. If the ritual is not completed, the prisoners will be released and Belsnickel will be unable to extend the winter. However, the failure of the ritual will not reverse the winter or cause any other negative effects.

This is good, but one thing bugged me about this: I wanted specific details, so I need to know what “other items” were being used as offerings. This time, I just asked without a big setup:

What offerings are made to Auril as part of the ritual?

As part of the ritual to Auril, Belsnickel makes several offerings to the goddess of winter. These offerings may include food, such as fresh meat and fruits, as well as other items that are sacred to Auril. These items could include ice crystals, snow, and objects made of frozen water. Belsnickel may also make offerings of precious metals, such as silver and gold, as well as items that were taken from the people she has kidnapped. These offerings are meant to appease Auril and gain her favor in extending the winter.

The AI is giving me specifics here. Yes, it dances around it a bit by saying things like “may include” and “could include” but it still gives me the data that I want. But we’re entering into a territory that, I will learn, ChatGPT is not very good at navigating: that is, when you ask it a question without a lot of framing around it. Because the AI is literally making shit up based on absolutely nothing, it’s not sure if it’s right, so it adds a bunch of qualifiers. It does that even more when it’s less sure, as I’ll learn when I ask it about the light sources.

You see, I realize at this point that if the adventurers are interrupting a ritual in progress, how are they going to see anything? What sort of light will be visible and how will they notice the details of the shrine room if there’s no light? I try to frame the question back in the context that’s been established and also give the AI an out by allowing “welp, nothing, I guess” but ChatGPT is having none of it:

In Belsnickel’s lair, what is the light source, if any, in her room that is a shrine to Auril?

It is not specified what the light source is in Belsnickel’s shrine to Auril. In general, light sources in a fantasy setting can include torches, lanterns, magical globes of light, or even natural light from windows or skylights. It is up to the writer or game designer to decide what the light source is in the shrine, depending on the desired atmosphere and the story being told.

That is super not helpful. I wanted specifics and the AI gave me wishy-washy garbage. I tried again, this time by copying the description of the room, but got the same basic response. Finally, I decided to try to give it more information with which it could base some general assumptions:

Assuming the room is within a large cave network with no access to natural light, and the weather outside is cold and snowy with heavy cloud cover, and assuming that it is approximately 4 o’clock in the afternoon, what would the light source in Auril’s shrine room be?

There’s no room for wishy washy garbage here, right? It can’t say “uh well it depends on the windows or skylights, derp” because I’ve expressly ruled that out. The response was somewhat more helpful:

If the shrine room is located within a large cave network with no access to natural light, and the weather outside is cold and snowy with heavy cloud cover, then it is likely that the light source in the room would be some form of artificial lighting. This could include torches mounted on the walls, or a magical globe of light that provides illumination.

Assuming that it is approximately 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the light in the room would be dim, as the sun would be low in the sky and the heavy clouds would block out much of the natural light. The artificial light sources would provide some illumination, but the room would still be dark and shadowy.

Okay, that’s not exactly what I was looking for, but it’s okay, it’s something I can work with. I basically threw most of that away and decided that it would just have candles but noted that it was “dark and shadowy” in my notes.

The prisoners

Next, I needed a list of some prisoners taken by the hag. This is actually where it gets interesting and where I learned some things about how ChatGPT actually works. See, I knew that lists were exactly the sort of thing that language processing models like ChatGPT are really good at. The trick is in feeding it the right combination of information to get the data you want back. I started with this:

Assuming a relatively traditional fantasy setting with some eastern influences, name 15 people that Belsnickel has captured from Emon during the Winter’s Crest festival. Each one is someone she considered “naughty” or else described themselves as naughty. What are each of the prisoner’s occupations and why were they considered naughty. There should be a fairly even balance of male, female and nonbinary prisoners across all age groups and ethnicities.

Perhaps you can see what I’m doing here. I’m trying to insert some level of randomized diversity, combined with bits of story detail to flesh out these NPCs. I’m hoping here that the AI will understand what an “even balance” is, but my expectation is that it will rely on human biases because that’s what computers do. The AI gave me this:

  1. Akira, a young merchant who was hoarding food and supplies during the festival, while others were going hungry.
  2. Kaida, a blacksmith’s apprentice who was caught stealing from her master’s forge.
  3. Lian, a bard who was spreading lies and rumors about her neighbors during the festival.
  4. Ryo, a farmer who was caught mistreating his animals.
  5. Chiaki, a courtesan who was caught cheating on her wealthy client.
  6. Eiko, a seamstress who was caught selling knock-off clothing at the festival.
  7. Jin, a sailor who was caught smuggling illegal goods into the city.
  8. Kyo, a baker who was using expired ingredients in his pastries.
  9. Mei, a weaver who was caught stealing silk from her employer.
  10. Yuki, a young noble who was caught bullying her servants.
  11. Hiroshi, a fisherman who was caught polluting the river with his nets.
  12. Kimiko, a herbalist who was caught selling fake remedies.
  13. Daisuke, a scholar who was caught plagiarizing his research.
  14. Haru, a scribe who was caught forging documents for a corrupt official.
  15. Yui, a dancer who was caught performing at a forbidden gathering.

What’s interesting here is the AI completely forgot (or didn’t understand) the “relatively traditional fantasy setting” (what’s traditional?) and got stuck on the “some eastern influences” and took that to mean explicitly Asian, specifically East Asian. That’s interesting but also not what I asked. But, for now, the thing I wanted most was to get an understanding of the gender identities of the prisoners and I got back some “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave” responses.

Me: What are the gender identifications of the fifteen prisoners?

ChatGPT: It is not specified what the gender identifications of the fifteen prisoners are. In a traditional fantasy setting with eastern influences, it is possible that some or all of the prisoners could be male, female, or nonbinary. However, without more information, it is impossible to determine their gender identifications.

Me: What are the pronouns of the fifteen prisoners described above

ChatGPT: Without knowing the gender identifications of the fifteen prisoners, it is impossible to determine their pronouns. Some people may use he/him/his pronouns, she/her/hers pronouns, they/them/theirs pronouns, or other gender-neutral pronouns, depending on their individual gender identity. It is important to respect each person’s pronouns and use them correctly when referring to them.

What am I doing wrong? It turns out the thing I’m doing wrong is asking a question. Instead, what I needed to do was give a directive.

List the pronouns next to the names and descriptions of the fifteen prisoners described above

  1. Akira (he/him/his), a young merchant who was hoarding food and supplies during the festival, while others were going hungry.
  2. Kaida (she/her/hers), a blacksmith’s apprentice who was caught stealing from her master’s forge.
  3. Lian (they/them/theirs), a bard who was spreading lies and rumors about their neighbors during the festival.
  4. Ryo (he/him/his), a farmer who was caught mistreating his animals.
  5. Chiaki (she/her/hers), a courtesan who was caught cheating on her wealthy client.
  6. Eiko (she/her/hers), a seamstress who was caught selling knock-off clothing at the festival.
  7. Jin (he/him/his), a sailor who was caught smuggling illegal goods into the city.
  8. Kyo (he/him/his), a baker who was using expired ingredients in his pastries.
  9. Mei (she/her/hers), a weaver who was caught stealing silk from her employer.
  10. Yuki (she/her/hers), a young noble who was caught bullying her servants.
  11. Hiroshi (he/him/his), a fisherman who was caught polluting the river with his nets.
  12. Kimiko (she/her/hers), a herbalist who was caught selling fake remedies.
  13. Daisuke (he/him/his), a scholar who was caught plagiarizing his research.
  14. Haru (they/them/theirs), a scribe who was caught forging documents for a corrupt official.
  15. Yui (she/her/hers), a dancer who was caught performing at a forbidden gathering.

Boom. That’s exactly what I was looking for. Now to deal with the names. This is another one that we had to go around the bend a few times with.

Change the names of the 15 prisoners. There should be a diverse mix of names from traditional fantasy settings mixed with some southeast asian, arabic, eastern, african and south american names. List the names, the pronouns, and the descriptions of each prisoner.

  1. Zafir (he/him/his), a young merchant who was hoarding food and supplies during the festival, while others were going hungry.
  2. Nia (she/her/hers), a blacksmith’s apprentice who was caught stealing from her master’s forge.
  3. Amir (they/them/theirs), a bard who was spreading lies and rumors about their neighbors during the festival.
  4. Tariq (he/him/his), a farmer who was caught mistreating his animals.
  5. Zuri (she/her/hers), a courtesan who was caught cheating on her wealthy client.
  6. Keisha (she/her/hers), a seamstress who was caught selling knock-off clothing at the festival.
  7. Malik (he/him/his), a sailor who was caught smuggling illegal goods into the city.
  8. Anwar (he/him/his), a baker who was using expired ingredients in his pastries.
  9. Fatima (she/her/hers), a weaver who was caught stealing silk from her employer.
  10. Tasha (she/her/hers), a young noble who was caught bullying her servants.
  11. Xavier (he/him/his), a fisherman who was caught polluting the river with his nets.
  12. Kofi (she/her/hers), a herbalist who was caught selling fake remedies.
  13. Pablo (he/him/his), a scholar who was caught plagiarizing his research.
  14. Alex (they/them/theirs), a scribe who was caught forging documents for a corrupt official.
  15. Selena (she/her/hers), a dancer who was caught performing at a forbidden gathering.

This is an okay list except that Tasha is going to be a problem (for an obvious D&D lore reason, also because we ran Wild Beyond the Witchlight and my players actually met Tasha) and so will Malik, because that’s the name of a player’s retired character. The others are okay for now, but I’d like to know where the names are coming from.

Repeat the same list as above. Replace Tasha and Malik’s name with something new. Add pronunciation guides and the geographic region that the name comes from next to each name.

  1. Zafir (zah-FEER) (Arabic), a young merchant who was hoarding food and supplies during the festival, while others were going hungry.
  2. Nia (NEE-ah) (African), a blacksmith’s apprentice who was caught stealing from her master’s forge.
  3. Amir (AH-meer) (Arabic), a bard who was spreading lies and rumors about their neighbors during the festival.
  4. Tariq (tah-REEK) (Arabic), a farmer who was caught mistreating his animals.
  5. Zuri (ZOO-ree) (African), a courtesan who was caught cheating on her wealthy client.
  6. Keisha (KEE-shah) (African-American), a seamstress who was caught selling knock-off clothing at the festival.
  7. Sohan (SO-hahn) (Indian), a sailor who was caught smuggling illegal goods into the city.
  8. Anwar (AHN-wahr) (Arabic), a baker who was using expired ingredients in his pastries.
  9. Fatima (fah-TEE-mah) (Arabic), a weaver who was caught stealing silk from her employer.
  10. Alejandra (ah-lay-HAHN-drah) (Spanish), a young noble who was caught bullying her servants.
  11. Xavier (ZAY-vee-er) (Latin), a fisherman who was caught polluting the river with his nets.
  12. Kofi (KOH-fee) (African), a herbalist who was caught selling fake remedies.
  13. Pablo (PAH-bloh) (Spanish), a scholar who was caught plagiarizing his research.
  14. Alex (AH-leks) (Greek), a scribe who was caught forging documents for a corrupt official.
  15. Selena (seh-LEE-nah) (Latin), a dancer who was caught performing at a forbidden gathering.

There are a couple interesting things going on here. First of all, the pronouns are completely dropped (they never make a re-appearance even when the characters’ identities stay mostly the same. I ended up just re-adding them into my notes). The other thing that’s interesting is that adding the region shows a definite bias in certain geographic regions. What’s particularly interesting about that is that it was completely unexpected. How did the AI decide on a preference for Arabic and African names from “traditional fantasy settings mixed with some southeast asian, arabic, eastern, african and south american names“? I tried again. At this point, the server started having issues again, so there were a few attempts. One of them replaced all the Arabic and African names with names from Lord of the Rings, including something like 3 Aragorns and a Merlin. Let’s see if we can add a more diverse mix without whitewashing the list.

There is a heavy preference for Arabic names in the above list. Replace three quarters of the arabic names with names appropriate to a fantasy european setting. Keep all the other names. Ensure that Fatima is still in the list. Include the geographic origin of the name, the description, the pronunciation guide and the pronouns for each prisoner. Do not include any names from the published works of JRR Tolkein or Arthurian legend.

  1. Gwendolyn (gwen-DOH-lin) (Welsh), a young merchant who was hoarding food and supplies during the festival, while others were going hungry.
  2. Nia (NEE-ah) (African), a blacksmith’s apprentice who was caught stealing from her master’s forge.
  3. Rowan (ROH-wuhn) (Irish), a bard who was spreading lies and rumors about their neighbors during the festival.
  4. Tariq (tah-REEK) (Arabic), a farmer who was caught mistreating his animals.
  5. Zuri (ZOO-ree) (African), a courtesan who was caught cheating on her wealthy client.
  6. Keisha (KEE-shah) (African-American), a seamstress who was caught selling knock-off clothing at the festival.
  7. Sohan (SO-hahn) (Indian), a sailor who was caught smuggling illegal goods into the city.
  8. Anwar (AHN-wahr) (Arabic), a baker who was using expired ingredients in his pastries.
  9. Fatima (fah-TEE-mah) (Arabic), a weaver who was caught stealing silk from her employer.
  10. Alejandra (ah-lay-HAHN-drah) (Spanish), a young noble who was caught bullying her servants.
  11. Xavier (ZAY-vee-er) (Latin), a fisherman who was caught polluting the river with his nets.
  12. Kofi (KOH-fee) (African), a herbalist who was caught selling fake remedies.
  13. Pablo (PAH-bloh) (Spanish), a scholar who was caught plagiarizing his research.
  14. Alex (AH-leks)

That’s not a typo. It crapped out after Alex. But that’s okay because this is a decent list and I’m happy keeping Selena. My next task was to try to get the AI to give some detail about why she decided to kidnap these specific people, but it’s not super interesting to share because largely the AI said that she caught them doing whatever it was that they were doing.

It’s worth noticing here that not all of the descriptions make actual sense. “A fisherman who was caught polluting the river with his nets” feels like a stretch (I guess the nets were poisoned somehow?) and “a scholar who was caught plagiarizing his research” seems difficult to prove. But, whatever. I’m not going to sweat the details about what’s essentially background information that will almost definitely never come up.

The festival

My ongoing campaign takes place in Exandria, so I wanted this one-shot to be in the same setting. Within Exandria there are basically two known winter holiday festivals — Winter’s Crest, celebrated in Tal’Dorei, and Harvest Close, celebrated in Wildemount. Harvest Close actually made it to the stream in campaign 2 of Critical Role, and is described as a somewhat more somber and reserved end-of-the-harvest sort of festival. Winter’s Crest, on the other hand, is described as being big and loud and it felt like the kind of celebratory atmosphere that would work best to contrast with my “anti-Santa” character. It would also be a good place where “naughty” behavior might just happen in the background without anyone really noticing, because people are already in the streets being loud and drunk. The problem is that when Vox Machina witnessed a Winter’s Crest festival it was pre-stream — the players had seen it, but it was before Critical Role existed as a livestream (and therefore before they were actually called Vox Machina), so there’s not a lot of information available about the lore of the holiday.

Again, fighting with server errors, and therefore making several attempts in between, I wanted to see if I could get the AI to write me an opening into the type of scene the players would see:

Using information publicly available on Critical Role fan sites and transcriptions of the Critical Role stream, write a description of the Winter’s Crest festival in Tal’Dorei to a new visitor from out of town. Describe the sights and sounds as well as the history of the festival.

What I’m going for here is to see if the AI actually has knowledge of CR and the plethora of fansites and wiki pages from which to pull some actual info. I don’t think it does, though, because what I got was nice, but relatively generic.

Winter’s Crest is a beloved annual festival in the fantasy world of Tal’Dorei. It is a time for people to come together and celebrate the end of the year, with a variety of games, food, and music. The festival takes place in the city of Emon, which is the capital of Tal’Dorei.

One of the most popular attractions at Winter’s Crest is the large bonfire that is lit in the city square. People gather around the bonfire to keep warm and to enjoy the entertainment provided by musicians, jugglers, and other performers. The smell of roasting chestnuts and other tasty treats fills the air, and vendors sell hot drinks and delicious foods to help festival-goers stay warm.

Another highlight of the festival is the Winter’s Crest parade, which features floats and other decorations. The parade winds through the streets of Emon, giving people a chance to see the city in all its festive glory.

Winter’s Crest has a long history in Tal’Dorei. It is said to have originated as a way for the people of the city to come together and celebrate the end of the long, dark winters. Over the years, the festival has evolved and become a beloved tradition for people of all ages.

In addition to the bonfire and parade, the festival also features a variety of games and activities. Some popular games include a winter-themed scavenger hunt, ice skating, and a snowball fight tournament.

Overall, Winter’s Crest is a magical time in Tal’Dorei, filled with fun, food, and entertainment. It is a time for people to come together and celebrate the end of the year, and to look forward to the new year to come.

Now, there’s a couple things that were interesting about this. I liked the idea of a big bonfire, especially given the history of the city of Emon — where I was basing the one-shot — which was attacked and sieged by a red dragon who claimed dominion over it in campaign 2 (sorry, spoilers) before being defeated by (more spoilers) Vox Machina. I like the idea of having a bonfire as a way to say “fuck you” to the dragon who once enslaved the city. Obviously the AI doesn’t know any of that (probably) and just picked a bonfire because it made sense as a thing you would do in winter to stay warm.

The other thing that’s interesting is the parade. Again, Vox Machina encountered the Winter’s Crest festival pre-stream, but it’s known that because of good deeds done for the city of Emon that they were celebrated during the Winter’s Crest festival with a parade. I don’t know if the AI knows this, but it fits with existing lore. I decided that since I wanted to set the one-shot post campaign 1, more in the time period of Exandria Unlimited, that the parade has evolved from becoming an opportunity to celebrate the heroes of the realm to celebrating each other, where everyone is encouraged to join the tail of the parade and follow it through the streets with noisemakers and instruments until it ends at the bonfire situated in the district right in front of the ruins of the castle district where Thordak the Cinder King made his throne. In this way, it could symbolize that everyone is a hero to Emon, because everyone was part of the defense and rebuilding of the city.

I decided to be cheeky and, again, test the AI to see how much it knows about real people and the actual Critical Role lore and see if it could actually write an introduction as if it were being narrated by Matt Mercer:

Describe the opening scene in the voice and tone of DM Matt Mercer of Critical Role as a scene of revelry unfolds in the evening of the Winter’s Crest festival.

As the sun sets on the city of Emon, the streets come alive with the sound of laughter and merriment. The air is filled with the spicy scents of roasting chestnuts and hot cider, and the glow of the bonfire illuminates the faces of the revelers. People of all ages and walks of life have gathered to celebrate the Winter’s Crest festival, and the excitement is palpable.

Musicians play lively tunes on their instruments, and jugglers toss flaming torches into the air. Children run about, their cheeks flushed with the cold, chasing each other in games of tag and laughter. The parade floats make their way down the streets, bedecked with colorful lights and decorations.

In the city square, the massive bonfire blazes, casting its warm light over the assembled crowd. People dance and sing, their voices raised in joyous celebration. It is a night of revelry and joy, and all are welcome to join in the festivities. So let the Winter’s Crest festival begin!

I don’t know about being in the voice of Matt Mercer, exactly, but this is pretty decent. I had issue with “the spicy scents of roasting chestnuts” and replaced that with “spiced meats” in my version, and I omitted the “So let the Winter’s Crest festival begin”, but otherwise, this is worth keeping.

The taverns

With ChatGPT doing such a good job of lists, I decided to ask it to list me some nearby taverns. This took several attempts due to server issues, and a couple different passes for different info. But in the end, I did get a list of seven taverns I was pretty happy with. Again, I had to make several attempts. Many taverns were lost in the process. Eventually, while I lost the prompts, I started copying some of the text as it was written, so I could back it up, because some of the stuff I was seeing scroll by was pretty good. Unfortunately, when the AI craps out due to memory errors, or whatever, it loses everything it wrote, which means you have no real way to save as you go. And there’s no log or history, it’s just gone, the AI’s forgotten it, you need to start over. And usually (at least in my experience) it’s even worse than that, because once it starts failing like that, the easiest way to kick it back into gear is to start the entire session over, where it’s going to lose any context it may have had from earlier prompts.

So the prompt I have left is after I asked for five, copied two from works-in-progress (and then lost the rest due to ChatGPT errors) and then re-asked for the remaining three. But the prompt was more or less the same(ish) for each attempt, it started with:

Name five taverns in the Central District of Emon that would be within walking distance of the Winter’s Crest bonfire. Describe their interiors, typical clientele, the bars’ owners and their signature drink. Also include any special drinks that may be available during the festival.

…and where I ended up was:

Name three taverns in a medieval fantasy setting that would be within walking distance of the Winter’s Crest bonfire. Describe their interiors, typical clientele, the bars’ owners and their signature drink. Also include any special drinks that may be available during the festival. Assume a mix of various human and nonhuman fantasy races from the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition SRD in the owners and patrons of the taverns as well as a balanced mix of ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities. Exclude any details that are specific to geographic regions in real life, but do include any influences based on those diverse backgrounds.

At some point in there I realized that it had lost the context about Emon and Critical Role and gave the generic “I don’t know anything about that” responses. I added the “exclude any details that are specific to geographic regions in real life” because one of the (failed) answers included something that referenced Aztec imagery, and while I liked the idea, there’s no way I could describe something in a fantasy world as having Aztec designs.

This is the full list of the five, including the two that I pulled from previous attempts and the three from the above prompt:

The Drunken Dragon: This tavern is located just a few blocks from the Winter’s Crest bonfire. It is a popular spot for locals and travelers alike, with a cozy interior decorated with tapestries and dragon-themed knick-knacks. The owner is a friendly halfling named Rosie, who is known for her hearty ales and ciders. The tavern’s signature drink is the “Dragon’s Breath,” a potent mix of ale and spiced rum. During the festival, Rosie also offers a special winter ale brewed with honey and cinnamon.

The Wandering Minotaur: This tavern is located in a quiet corner of the city, a short walk from the Winter’s Crest bonfire. The interior is cozy and rustic, with rough-hewn wooden tables and benches, and a fireplace that blazes in the winter months. The owner is a gruff but kind-hearted minotaur named Gragg, who is known for his hearty stews and hearty ales. The tavern’s signature drink is the “Minotaur’s Fury,” a potent mix of ale, whiskey, and honey. During the festival, Gragg offers a special hot apple cider spiked with cinnamon and cloves.

The Tipsy Dwarf is a cozy tavern located just a few blocks from the Winter’s Crest bonfire. Its interior is warm and inviting, with a low ceiling and wooden beams. The walls are adorned with tapestries and mounted animal heads, and the air is filled with the sounds of laughter and clinking glasses. The typical clientele of the Drunken Dwarf includes dwarves, humans, and halflings, and the bar is owned by a gruff but friendly dwarf named Grommash. Grommash’s signature drink is a hearty ale called “Grommash’s Hammer,” and during the Winter’s Crest festival, he also offers a special spiced mulled wine called “Winter’s Warmth.”

The Golden Goblet is a larger tavern located near the city gates, and it is a popular spot for travelers passing through Emon. Its interior is spacious and opulent, with marble columns and elaborate chandeliers. The Golden Goblet caters to a more upscale clientele, including nobles, wealthy merchants, and other VIPs. The bar is owned by a half-elf named Elora, who is known for her charm and sophistication. Elora’s signature drink is a sparkling champagne called “Elora’s Elixir,” and during the Winter’s Crest festival, she offers a special hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

The Fabled Stag is a rustic tavern located in the old part of the city, near the docks. Its interior is dimly lit and cozy, with a fireplace and a low stage for live entertainment. The Fabled Stag is a favorite among sailors and other rough-and-tumble types, and it has a reputation as a bit of a rowdy place. The bar is owned by a human named Jaxon, who is a former sailor himself. Jaxon’s signature drink is a potent rum called “Jaxon’s Jolt,” and during the Winter’s Crest festival, he offers a special eggnog infused with brandy.

I know for a fact that there were good ones that I lost, but those last three were pretty good. Notice that the final three lost the formatting of the initial attempt. I don’t know how to force that (without dictating a specific format, and even then I might not get what I want) but it wasn’t an important enough detail to nitpick over. I did appreciate how some of the signature drinks and Winter’s Crest special drinks were non-alcoholic, something the AI just threw in there without me asking for it. The drinks it invented all sounded reasonable — there isn’t anything that’s totally disgusting or out of place. (It’s just a shame that the one player character that ended up going into one of these bars — The Wandering Minotaur — ordered the stew and nothing to drink.) I will note that “The Tipsy Dwarf” was originally “The Drunken Dwarf”, because it was from a different response. I renamed it to “tipsy” because I didn’t want both a Drunken Dragon and a Drunken Dwarf.

Now, remembering the early days of the Critical Role stream, I decided that what this list needed was a couple of brothels. I had no expectation of my players visiting one, but I thought having them around could add some flavor. Because I was pretty happy with the output, I was pretty minimal with this prompt:

Describe two taverns as above that are also brothels and what passersby might see walking past them.

The key thing I was looking for was exterior appearance because, again, I’m not actually expecting my players to go into them (but if they did, hopefully I have some details to expand on). Again, possibly probably because I only asked for two things, it delivered what I asked for without multiple attempts, this time, because I sort of asked for a list, it gave it to me in list format.

  1. The Velvet Rose is a luxurious brothel and tavern located near the city’s entertainment district. It is known for its opulent interior, with plush velvet furnishings and ornate decor. Passersby walking past the Velvet Rose might see well-dressed men and women entering and exiting the establishment, and they might hear the sound of laughter and music emanating from within. The brothel is owned by a human named Madam Rose, who is known for her beauty and charm. Madam Rose’s signature drink is a seductive red wine called “The Velvet Rose,” and during the Winter’s Crest festival, she offers a special spiked hot cider called “Winter’s Kiss.”
  2. The Red Lantern is a seedy brothel and tavern located in the seedier part of the city. Its exterior is dingy and run-down, with a red lantern hanging above the door. Passersby walking past the Red Lantern might see a variety of people entering and exiting the establishment, including sailors, thieves, and other unsavory types. The brothel is owned by a human named Madam Lily, who is known for her ruthless business practices. Madam Lily’s signature drink is a strong whiskey called “The Red Lantern,” and during the Winter’s Crest festival, she offers a special spiced rum called “Winter’s Fury.”

The names of the madams running these establishment are a bit cliche, as are the special drinks (both including “winter” in the name). But because this is just basically background noise, stuff to populate my city to make it feel real and lived in and provide opportunities, I’m not sweating the details, because the details aren’t super important. What’s important is that there’s enough here that I can improvise based on some general prompts and these are giving me enough to work with.

Now the last thing that was missing was what do the signs look like? An earlier iteration just did this magically for me, and that was great, but that got lost and subsequent attempts did not add it back in. At this point, the server was doing so bad that I had to open a new tab and ask it blind, without any context. I was hoping I could provide enough context in the prompt to get something usable, but I was afraid of flying blind and totally missing the mark.

Assuming the fantasy city of Emon during the Winter’s Crest festival, describe the signs and exterior appearance of these fictional taverns assuming a snowy, winter evening nearby to the bonfire. The Velvet Rose and The Red Lantern are both brothels in addition to taverns. The output should be in a list format, with descriptions specific to their respective tavern.
The Drunken Dragon:
The Wandering Minotaur:
The Tipsy Dwarf:
The Golden Goblet:
The Fabled Stag:
The Velvet Rose:
The Red Lantern:

I’m trying to pull out all the stops, giving enough detail that it would be difficult for the AI to screw up. Even mentioning “the fantasy city of Emon” can be a risk, because naming things, without previous context, can trip the AI up and give you a “I don’t have any information about the city of Emon or the Winter’s Crest festival, I am just a language processing AI, blah blah blah.” Luckily, the information I’m looking for is relatively generic, just give me what the exterior of some fantasy buildings and their signs look like. Surely that couldn’t be that hard…

The Drunken Dragon: The exterior of The Drunken Dragon tavern is made of sturdy wood and has a dragon carved into the sign above the door. Snow is piled up on the roof and around the base of the building. The windows are frosted over and light shines warmly from within.

The Wandering Minotaur: The Wandering Minotaur has a thatched roof and a sign depicting a minotaur holding a tankard of ale. The exterior walls are made of cobblestone and snow has accumulated in the corners and crevices. The windows are foggy from the heat and noise of the patrons inside.

The Tipsy Dwarf: The Tipsy Dwarf is a small, squat building with a stone facade and a sign depicting a drunken dwarf. Snow drifts against the walls and the windows are lined with icicles. A warm, yellow light glows from within.

The Golden Goblet: The Golden Goblet is a grand, two-story building with a gilded sign hanging above the entrance. The exterior is made of polished marble and the windows are framed in gold. Snow has been cleared away from the front of the building, and a red carpet leads up to the door.

The Fabled Stag: The Fabled Stag has a rustic, wooden exterior with a sign depicting a majestic stag. Snow covers the roof and piles up against the walls. The windows are foggy and the sound of laughter and music can be heard from within.

The Velvet Rose: The Velvet Rose has a red, velvet curtain covering the entrance, with a sign above it depicting a rose. Snow is piled up against the building, and the windows are covered with red curtains. A soft, pink light glows from within.

The Red Lantern: The Red Lantern has a red, paper lantern hanging above the entrance, with a sign depicting a burning candle. Snow is piled up around the building, and the windows are covered with red paper. A warm, red light glows from within.

This is more or less what I was after, although I missed how, in some earlier incarnations of this data, The Fabled Stag had more of a mystical, fey vibe and The Tipsy Dwarf was a bit quirky, but again, the details aren’t super important for running a D&D game because half of this stuff is never going to get used. However, the detail I did appreciate was the paper lantern outside The Red Lantern. I’m not sure how that would hold up in the snow, but it was another twist on the idea of “Red Lantern” (which, I was reading as just “red light” as in “red light district”) that played with language in an interesting, unexpected way, and it played with that further by blocking out the windows with red paper.

Running the one-shot

Most of this stuff didn’t make it into the actual one-shot, which I ran last night. There was the bonfire, there was a scene where one of the 15 prisoners was actually seen being captured, there was obviously the hag doing her thing, there was the intro — which I read almost verbatim — and the hag’s lair, which ended up having enough detail that it worked pretty well for the final encounter. I ended up using some of the myths about her when the players asked some of the revelers about a blue skinned hag. I didn’t use any of the games or events that the description of the festival included, instead I pulled things from Wild Beyond the Witchlight that my players ended up not doing, as well as some of the things from the descriptions of the Harvest Close festival from the campaign 2 stream.

Full disclosure: besides my partner and our kids, only one other person came to the one-shot and our group is normally up to 8 players, so I tend to scale encounters pretty high. I wasn’t entirely prepared for scaling down so much, so I was kind of expecting a TPK (total party kill) by the end, especially given that the AI added some additional enemies in the hag’s lair (per my request, of course). We just barely missed a TPK when the paladin rolled a natural 20 on a persuasion check to convince the former prisoners to rise up and join them in trying to defeat the hag. At that point, 2 of the 4 PCs were dead dead, and both remaining PCs were very low, but because they had convinced this collection of arguably selfish, horrible people who’d been imprisoned because of their misdeeds to overthrow their captor, they managed to survive and defeat the hag. All in all, it came out pretty well.

In the future, however, I need to remember to ask the AI to give me names for everything, because I realized the winter wolf guarding her bedroom was obviously a pet, and would have a name. I had to come up with something on the spot, and “Malfeasance” popped into my head, and it was fun to say, in a crone’s voice “is everything alright, Malfeasance? Do we have guests, Malfeasance?”

a winter wolf guarding a warm and cozy bedroom in a cave dark photorealistic dramatic trending on artstation, image by dall-e
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