Monday, February 28, 2011

Sea Hexes

Okay, I've confessed my brain doesn't grok scale very well.  So Charlatan's post at The Mule Abides is a great help right now.  He takes the great six mile hex and blows it up to seaworthy size.  What you get is a hex like this:
He points out that "Large sailing ships, galleys, and sail boats cover 72 miles in a day." which will work pretty nicely with one hex a day for travel.  So, I took a pic of the Mediterranean made it a layer and compared it to my world map guesstimated what a hundred miles would look like (roughly) and marked it on the map with a dot. Then I got some hex graph paper online resized it to be about right (again roughly) and pasted it on top.  I got this:
Crap, most land is only three days away.  When I cut this map out of the Mediterranean one I did it to hide the real world inspiration and the fact that the world is rather small.  But this may be too small of a section.  Any opinion from you experienced sea dog DMs?  How big should the "saltbox," as Charlatan calls it, be to work?  Weeks of sailing across, months?

Overheard

Last Thursday outside a hip coffee shop on open mic night, two young community college folks that are friends of friends of friends, talking about her brother:
"Yeah, he misses family functions, like Thanksgiving, because he has to play Dungeons and Dragons.  And he paints these little pewter figurines.  He's so weird."
Unbelieving head-shaking follows by all folks conversing.

Granted, I would never miss Thanksgiving for a game session, and I think I overheard later that homeboy may have dressed up as a vampire for some of these sessions (if you do, that's fine, but I can see folks considering that beyond the pale), but it was sad because any thought of D&D being hip again because of the OSR resurgence took a wet blanket right then.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

World Map III

I flipped the land/sea in the Mediterranean map to make an under world on the bottom of my regular flat world. I had to copy and paste in mountain ranges so they don't look quite natural to me but oh well, here it is:
Also, in the comments richardthinks linked to this nice map as his choice of Sea of Os'r campaign. I stripped all the names in case someone might want to customise it for themselves:
These are both public domain use them how you like.

Fiasco

I got the chance to play via Skype with ze Bulette and Risus Monkey last night.  The post title is not describing the results, but the game we played.  I want to thank them both for the opportunity, especially Risus who had three hours more sleepiness being on that other coast.

First, I'm not a fan of Skype gaming.  The picture I get is grainy, and choppy, we haven't managed to conference call with it so you can't see everyone at the same time (it seems this should be a basic technology by now, come on imaginary invisible hand ;), and, any communication technology that garbles crucial sentences isn't very good at its job.

Anyway, that aside it was fun.  Fiasco is a one-shot story game where you replicate the plans-gone-wrong genre typified by movies like Fargo and Burn After Reading.  Random rolls determining relationships and objects connecting players help everyone develop characters and start solidifying a sense of story.

Starting out, it seems you need to leave a little slack to allow for things to develop, as well as allow other players room to be creative.  When it's your turn there are scenes that you can choose to either set up or resolve.  This is crucial because if you get stuck you can throw the responsibility of what happens next back at the other players and then just resolve whatever they set up.

Scenes will either go well for the player whose scene it is or not.  Accumulation of these successes and failures will help determine the outcome of the story, although the tendency is for everyone to be screwed.

We played a short form of the game.  At its best I think the funny flashes of creativity were the same as those when something unexpected comes together in a D&D game.  For example, when presented with a way to a) affect things in the past and b) clay that could become anything, one of my players made a tentacle for the one-armed fighter in our party.  I could have never predicted that, it was cool, creepy and funny.  Actually, a better example would be when two players riff off of each other.  If, for example the one-armed fighter had suggested a replacement and the other player said: "No, I know, a tentacle!"  Fiasco feels like it has bottled that flash of collaborative insight.

It achieves this with simple, clever rules.  Although, I get the sense if the rules were a DIY product and not something meant for polished publication it could probably be represented on one 8x11 page.

I think the intention is for all the scenes to be role-played.  I haven't played any other story games, but I think Fiasco can get away with this because it doesn't take itself seriously. I imagine a serious game would be some combination of terrifying to try to perform in and tiresome in its pretentiousness.

I suppose its greatest strength is that it zeroed in on the perfect genre for that kind of ironic, light hearted play- the fiasco movie.  Although, it does offer "playsets" which allow you to set your story in other genres such as postapocalyptic and fantasy (which we used).  This seemed odd to me.  Not that you couldn't make a fantasy movie as a caper-gone-wrong.  Or a post-apocalyptic movie about irony.  But when the "Fallout" playset lists The Road as a possible source of inspiration I'm thinking the maker of that playset is losing sight of what makes Fiasco Fiasco.

In conclusion, I wouldn't mind playing again.  It does distill out one of those things that makes roleplaying games awesome, and awesome in a way that is different than other games.  But I think that is just one of several aspects that made D&D awesomely unique.  Fiasco would not satisfy my exploration itch, or my making progress itch which adventure games do so well (I wonder if other story games are designed more to do those things).

And that is a lot of blather from someone who has played one shortened game of this and perused the rules.  Feel free to correct me on anything. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

World Map II

I almost have the map for the underside of my flat world done but I need to cut and paste some more mountain ranges and rivers from the original.  My players are finally, actually on a ship so I need a map for ocean travel decisions.

I took a portion of the previously posted world map and blew it up.  Then I rolled for map symbols and rolled for their placement.  This is what I ended up with.  I figure Nidus is the small island almost in the center.  I'll have some of the crew converse with the players and will have to decide how much they know about the map locations.  But what would interest you just from looking at it? 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Player Attendance

Here is a quick draft of who has attended our sessions since summer.  I may add pre-summer later.

Fighters are red.  Divine-petitioners are green.  Magic-users are blue.  Four female players, all of them came in a couple with one of the male players. Six of these folks I work with or have worked with.

I may have 9 or 10 players tonight.  I'm a little worried about keeping them all occupied and interested at this point.  Also, we are outgrowing our apartment venue.

Update: So this is after Friday's session.  I only had 7 players, but one was a complete newbie!  I can never predict.  My hosts said they may invite another couple from work, so this may be a trial by fire for me of how to entertain large parties of mixed experience/familiarity with each other people.

A few additional thoughts I had:

1) In more than 13 sessions I've only had the exact same contingent of players show up once. That makes me think even if it were absolutely fun, and the preference of DM and all players involved, a campaign that required all players to be present each session would be almost impossible to achieve.  Of course I'm assuming adventure paths and plot heavy games might require this, but it seems it would be difficult to hand wave why the party changes so often.  Its of odd for us and we have the advantage of time-traveling-city-battling-chaos and no real end goal.

2) My balance of magic-user/fighter seems about right.  The divine practitioners are under-represented.  But they are a little more abstract in my game (you can be a shaman, witch doctor, priest, ancestor worshipper, etc.) and there is no pantheon yet (you have to roll your own).  So there might be a kind of creative player tax on DPs.  I'm hoping as players get more experienced they may try the class more.  Also I will try to flesh out some orders and gods as we go along.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Battle of Nidus III

Our heroes:
Derick F
"G" F
     Le Bouche - hireling
     Janis - hireling
"Z" F
     Mika - hireling
     Fabrino - hireling
     Pita - hireling
Hugelina F
Toral DP
     Tory - hireling
Yestlick MU
Sara MU
Athydas MU

We return to the battle in progress.  Z is anchoring a shield wall with G and the last two red-sashes with shields.  They are holding back a tide of vulture-headed pygmies.  Tory and a few other shieldless red-sashes have been caught on the pygmy side of the shieldwall.  A orangutan with forks for feet is walking toward the warriors.  At each step a pygmy sacrifices itself by lying down in front of it so it can sink its fork into living flesh.

On the bridge behind the shield wall are the hirelings and Toral who just broke off chanting to move back.  Hugelina is at the opposite end of the bridge near a barrier she and Gail constructed.  Gail has gone missing in Nidus searching for more materials.  Derick, Sara, and Athydas were elswhere in the city and join the party on the bridge just as the red-sashes holding pygmies at bay in other parts of the city begin breaking.

Oddly, a long dead Pita, the bearded female hireling has appeared clutching the side of the bridge as well as a recently turned to iron Yestlick on the opposite side of the bridge.

The orangutan approaches the shieldwall and suddenly hundreds of rusty blades, axe-heads, nails and sharp objects rise up from the ground in a perfect cylinder around it before shooting out causing terrible damage to all around.  Several red-sashes are killed, G survives only by splintering a shield.  Tory thrusts a spear straight into the side of the creature and it does nothing.  One of the hirelings behind the shield wall thrusts forward with a 10' pole and surprisingly strikes it directly in the face while it was looking at Tory.  This knocks it back.

The party suddenly discovers casks of oil near the barrier (Hugelina and Gail had already searched there unsuccessfully).   Athydas grabs one runs toward the shield wall and pitches it at the orangutan.  Sara casts a sleep spell and then pitches another cask.  Athydas casts sleep.  A hireling pitches a torch and fire spreads across many sleeping vulture-pygmies.  The fire has no effect on the orangutan.  G shield bashes the creature.  It is forced back.  It's fork sinks into an already dead pygmy and it instantly turns to a red sand falling to the ground.

Vulture pygmies begin pouring from Nidus the members at the back of the party barely manage to pull the barricade across the bridge and set it on fire and then things get weird . . .

Suddenly tools and objects begin falling from the sky-- ladders, rope, chairs, poles.  Yestlick's neck is broken by a 50' coil of rope.  Athydas is killed by a falling lantern and falls into the ravine below.  Toral is hurt badly by a falling ladder.  The party is in a somber mood when a full-sized junk falls from the sky into the ravine next to the bridge.  On the deck are duplicates of the entire party, apparently from the future.

The future mages cast spells as the party decides it is better to live to fight another day and begins jumping from bridge, to junk, to ravine floor.  Except Tory, Toral, and future Toral.  There was also a grey hulking creature-- faceless with trepannation holes and a pygmy poking a reed into them to control it.  Several of these "drivers" have been killed.  Tory makes a daring jump onto a pygmy an then onto the hulks back and through trial and error begin operating the hulk, having it smash the vulture-heads.  Future Toral is chanting.  Toral fashions a lasso from rope prays, and snags an orangutan coming from the city-side.  He jerks it forward, its fork hits the ground with no pygmy under it and it turns to sand.

And that's where we leave off-- the bulk of the party (two each) are running up the ravine toward the hills.  The two Torals remain on the bridge with his hireling smashing vulture pygmies to the left and the right.  Silver litters the ground.

Some Thoughts
________________________________

I think this is the most players at one session so far, with eight.  With their six hireling and then doubles of all that it was just on the edge of too much for me to control.  You have probably felt that, when something is just about to fly out of your hands and smash into the wall but you manage, somehow to keep it together.  That was Friday's session.

One way I did this was order of battle determined by geography.  I know this simplification can screw over missile users and spell casters, but with so many bodies on the board about the only way I could keep track of things was start at one side of the bridge and work my way to the other.  It worked okay.

Another thing that helped is I gave the npc red-sash turns to the players at risk of being left out in the chaos, in other words, the newer players, the quieter players, the mages who had already cast their spells.   That worked well too, everyone was involved in the battle.  It kept me hopping though.

This kind of battle really pushes me to d6 only damage.  It is too much of a slow down to have to remind players every turn: "This red-sash has a sword that d8, your hireling has a spear that's d6 . . ."  I guess when it comes down to it, I care more about the dynamic around the table than longer term simulation aspects.  I will sit down and try to think about clear and interesting ways to distinguish weapons besides damage so that every one doesn't just use spears.

I had no preconceived time that I thought the equipment would fall from the sky or the ship.  I suppose I could have rolled randomly, but here I chose to pull those cards at the most opportune times, mainly when things were bogging down.

The players were bummed when the were killed by the falling tools, what an inglorious way to go.  And Z's player felt horrible because it was he who threw the crap at the diorama.   But when the future selves showed up they felt better.  None of them seemed to remember Z had even put the ship into the diorama but me.

I used the Rientsian big purple d30 rule for the first time ever.  G probably survived the falling crap because of using it for his save.  Toral was probably only able to take out the second demon with the lasso because he used the d30 to roll to hit.  The other forgot to even use theirs.

I had wondered if the party would 1) figure out that the demons would be destroyed if they touched the ground, or 2) try to take control of one of the grey hulks.  They did both, which was cool.  I wasn't expecting them to, they didn't need to to survive.  I just thought it would be cool if they did.

After rigging up this whole battle because some players were disgruntled because they wasn't enough fighting happening, now they are disgruntled because they didn't level up!  Blarrgh.  I told them these little things are not worth much XP (essentially kobolds).  The silver pieces they spewed on the ground is where the XP is at and the party left it all there to save their skins!  Torals player seemed pretty happy.  He had some heroic, cool action there at the end.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rome: Total War

Like every productive adult I spent the holiday weekend in a video game-induced coma. The game this time was an old favorite from 2004, Rome: Total War. It seems to be a popular series so I'm guessing you've probably played it. I would play it much more often (or have become tired of it by now) if I could get it to run on Linux. Alas, I have to play it on my brother's Windows box.

The Good
There may be other games that handle the different levels of abstraction in strategy and tactics as well as RTW, but I haven't seen them. In this game you manage your domain on a strategic campaign map and when battles occur you zoom to a 3D, realtime battle. It reminds me of Delta's Book of War play posts: you stay at the higher abstraction level until you absolutely need more detail then you zoom to a whole new subsystem of mechanics. It works well.

I love how playing different factions feels very different. Numidia with its cavalry heavy units is a different challenge than Greece and its hoplites. The desert regions have camel troops, the steppes have scythian horse archers.  Elephants are hard to come by if you aren't one of the few factions that can train them yourself.

The battles can feel real when you have thousands of troops affected by morale, terrain, the proximity of your general, fatigue.  Things can go in unexpected directions.  Imagine having a line of phalanxes attacked from both sides and somehow, through deft maneuvering of archers and cavalry, managing to pull out a win.
I love the way your generals are actual family members with traits and their children become the next generation of children.  It seems important when your 40 year old drunkard finally has a kid.  It makes it feel like time is passing in the game as these characters age and die.

The Bad
The game is pretty stupid on the historical accuracy front to pander to a greater audience.  Namely the Egyptian faction is given units that are centuries out of date because the average Joe thinks of chariots and pharaohs when they think of Egypt not the Macedonian descended rulers they had at the time of the game's campaign.  Other goofy units are available, Rome's gladiators, barbarian witches.  I tend to just ignore them and never train those units.  So this doesn't affect play too much.

The AI, like most, is stupid.  Nothing like sending one unit of cavalry behind a huge line of phalanxes and see the enemy jockey those troops around, spinning this way and that until they are all exhausted.  Or to have enemy general charge directly into your hoplites (you'd have thought they would have hard coded against such a horrible weakness).  You have to go up against armies twice you size or with tough units like elephants to really get the blood pumping.  I play factions surrounded on all sides for fun as they are always under the gun with tiny armies.

Diplomacy, which seems to add a layer of depth is useless.  The computer will attack you whenever they feel strong enough whether you are an ally or not. Which leads to:

The Ugly
The assumptions underlying the game world are so wrong as to be almost evil.  Essentially, everyone always attacks everyone if they are strong enough.  The only way to be safe is to conquer the world.  My brother says "yeah, but it's not Rome: Total Trade."  That's true, and I understand that they want the game to provide opportunities for epic battles.  But it actually undermines the play experience after a while.  When you know, for example, that alliances mean nothing it cuts out the drama of trying to rescue friendly cities.  When you know that you will be attacked from all sides for the whole game it cuts off any chance of being surprised, or at being shocked because you were betrayed.  Exterminate everything. Tiresome.  Sometimes I want to build my roads, build trade routes and live in peace.

Another fundamental assumption is that as a city gets larger there are only two results that will eventually occur 1) it will get overcrowded and get the plague and have its population decreased, or 2) it will revolt (see, your not even safe from your own people).  Your only options are to fill your cities with ever more military units to keep control with an iron fist, or decrease your populations by pumping the citizens into ever more military units.

Obviously, I find the game still fun to play, but as usual, I feel if it were tweaked just a little it would be exponentially more fun for me.  (If only I had a few million dollars of seed money I think I could produce some pretty good video games.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

World Map

For my campaign's fantasy world I want to be able tap into real world knowledge about climate and history without being constrained by it.  I'm interested in the Mediterranean.  One solution would be to use a map like this, which represents how the ancient Greeks supposedly conceived the world:
I've removed all the place names and added some color to the ocean. Thanks to Jensan's comment I think I'm making the world flat (maybe with another world on the reverse?).  Thanks to richardthinks' suggestion I made it square.  So, the River Ocean is a strong current but the corners of the world hold more ocean and presumably many islands:
But again, what scale should this be?  I suppose I should add a hex layer for my DM map to facilitate ocean hex crawls.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Have a Coracle

Hippo Trap

Hippo adventurers beware! They have set pitfalls in yon megadungeon.

Or, maybe this is a trap for human adventures that requires the victim to tumble into the hole just as a hippo falls on top of them.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ritual Islands

A comment on a previous post lead me back to Johnathan Bingham's funerary island.  I loved the idea because it has the potential to encapsulate a lot of interesting culture/history into a location.  So here is some noodling about other ritual island uses:

Human sacrifice: It's been decades since I've read Robinson Crusoe, but isn't that how he meets Friday?  A tribe is bring him to the island to ritually kill and eat?  You also might have an island that humans are losed on to be hunted.  This could be a last chance for a party overwhelmed and defeated.

Purification: the party lands on an island of all women living separately in huts.  These women are on their period and have to live separately for a certain length of time.  Language barriers might not make this clear.  Maybe it's an island for atoning.  I've wanted to make a location with thermal springs for a long time.  Imagine a volcanic island with a seaside view and hot springs-- awesome location.

Funerary: Two immediate possibilities are islands with caves full of mummies and an island with the cremated remains of folk placed somewhere (urns?).  Maybe the dead are cremated in the hot vent of a live volcano.

Rites of passage: You want to be a warrior in the tribe go bring back the horn of a unikong.  You want to become a shaman you must survive the psychadelic flora for a month.  Maybe young men must go through some sort of obstacle course.

Infanticide: The island of the unwanted, but someone living there saves them and raises them. Or maybe they are only dumped at age five.  Anyway you have an island of children. Language could be a barrier.

Suicide: Volcanic vent again or dangerous creatures.  Weird horrible machines like something out of Kafka.

Misc: Those were the ones I thought might Provide the biggest difference to players encountering an island.  But many rituals might require buildings, statuary, or stone furniture to perform.  Coronations, weddings, naming ceremonies could leave ghost structures that might be interesting if empty.

Here are three more islands for you to use at your whim:

What other rituals might make for an interesting island location?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Have a Maul

Public Domain.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's

Figure this one out:

From Jungle sport in Ceylon from elephant to snipe (1914). The caption reads:
"Crocodiles Dissembling
The monkeys swarmed up their bodies and disappeared down their capacious gullets as fast as they could be conveniently taken in"

Canopic Kiss

How about the opposite of my last post's idea of a spell.

Canopic Kiss
With a kiss a mage "hides" a bit of lifeforce with the kissed (1 hitpoint).  The mage may kiss as many individuals as s/he has lifeforce (hitpoints).  As long as the kissed remain alive the mage will be unkillable.  If wounded, the kissed will go into a coma at the last bit of lifeforce (1 hitpoint left).  The mage will know whether any of the kissed are living, dead, or in a coma, but not necessarily where they are.

What level would you make this?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

ad arbitrium censoris

ad arbitrium censoris

For each oath and mark the Censor-Mage collects, a measure of lifeforce may be called upon by the collector.  An oath can only be made by a signitor free of mind.  A Censor-Mage may not lie about the ramifications of signing.  Each score of signators will result in another level of lifeforce.  If the Censor-Mage calls upon the lifeforce it is pulled equally and permanently from that score of signitors.  This accumulation of lifeforce lasts only one lustrum (5 years) at which point all obligations become null and void.
________________________

Thanks to mike in the comments to the last post for the idea.  So, your MU goes around signing people up to your worldview/quest goals.  They sign on and you get some hitpoints you can burn through in reaching those goals.  I'm thinking 1 hit point for 20 every signitors.  That way you sign up one serf and it's in his best interest to try and help you sign up 19 other folks to share the burden of that one hit point permamnently lost.  The hope is that the difficulty of getting someone to offer you some of their hitpoints will balance the powerful gain of hitpoints.
Using the hitpoints logistically I imagine being similar to splintering shields-- you get hit and you can decide to burn up one of these communal hit points or not.

With spells like this, that incorporate costs or difficult choices within them, I have no clue what level to make them.  What level would you make this?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rorschach Proposals

Before reading further, what would you think if you were a player in my game and recieved this:
_









How do you interpret that?

I'm interested in the divide between Player and DM creativity.  Hill Cantons has had some interesting posts along these line lately.

Last night I was talking with a player as we walked to another player's birthday party.  I mentioned the idea of letting Birthday Boy create the magic-user organization that was going to offer him membership.  My question was, would that be cool or seem like homework.  My player suggested I put weird symbols in the offer as a sort of middle ground.  I thought that was pretty genius because 1) the player's attempt at deciphering the cryptic message might give me clues as to what he would enjoy (or not) in a Mages Guild without breaking the suspension of disbelief by realizing I have none of this hashed out for my world yet.  2) Barrataria's vague symbol effect would be in play-- meaning I myself would have time to figure these things out as the campaign advances and revise as needed.

I realized that the symbols I would pick would be shaped by my conception of what boons/costs a MU organization might offer, so I rolled randomly for the 6 symbols in the note.  Then I rolled randoomly for their position in the note.  I'd be curious what you thought they might mean when you first read them.

Tavis makes Boing Boing

Tavis Allison just made it to Boing Boing.  If you don't read it, it's pretty big, millions of readers.  Also, one of the contributors there is editor of Make magazine which is big in DIY circles. This was the awesome D&D birthday party it's about.  Congrats!

Also, in there is the first business idea involving playing D&D that sounds like it might work (at least in a big urban area).  Hope it is wildly successful.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Island Maps

That part of my brain that deals with scale doesn't work very well. And these maps didn't list them in the book. So what would you make the scale for these?
These are part of the Azores
flipped around for fantastization.
And this is Tenerife
flipped to camouflage it from your TinerfeƱo/a players.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Floating Islands

You gotta have one.  But what makes them special.  A rumination:

A floating Island could prove problematic if it drifts away from your ship.  But is there ever a time that everyone is off a ship at the same time?

A floating island could be cool if you are marooned and then the island you're on takes you to weird seas.

A floating island with a legendary location seems most interesting.  Some rare thing that might break the campaign if too easy to find.  "Yes, we found the fountain of youth, but when we return to civilization we won't be able to lead anyone back to it." Some ideas:
  • magic fountains
  • shrines to forgotten saints
  • trees with magical fruit
  • rare beasts
A floating island that's a creature is cool in its own right.  More interesting if it might eat stuff like ships.  Or if it's sentient and might know important things.

A floating island is the ultimate place to build a wizard tower especially if I can figure out some means of propulsion.  Then I can travel to the icy north, visit various lands offering my services and gathering ancient texts.  Of course by that level maybe I can just teleport around.

What would interest you about a floating island?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Serendipity

So I go searching archive.org specifically for a certain type of island map and here is a sampling of the things I actually do run across:
These guys are badass, already killed one bear.
Pagoda on a boulder, check the onlooker for scale.

And last, but not least the pugnacious boar family.  You may not find this one as cool but I'm dying to paste these puppies on pygmy bodies.

Actually, I did find a few island maps, but I'm still cleaning up the labels.  I might use them myself to make some islets for the Sea of OS'R.

Darwin & Dragons

One cool thing about islands is that they're isolated.  So if you're a simulationist that want your ecosystems just so, you can really run wild and put some crazy stuff on a island and just say it can't swim, or that it needs something in that island's soil to survive.

Related to this isolation is that islands can become a kind of biological laboratory.  Something that immediately springs to my mind is Darwin's finches and how a single type of creature that ends up on an island may end up evolving to fill lots of different niches.  I'm thinking this would have the most impact if we started with some very iconic creature and then morphed it into things very different from that.  See Dougal Dixon's After Man book for that kind of familiar become strange weirdness.
So what is iconic?  You might start with:
  • Dragons
  • Unicorns
  • Elves
  • Fairies (but they're already so varied I don't know if it would have the same impact)
  • Drow (haha)
  • Hobbitses
And what would be some island niche they might fill?
  • snake
  • monkey
  • turtle
  • seed-eating bird
  • nut-eating bird
  • seal
Yeah, I'm not sure feel free to offer any ideas.  But even with that short list you might end up with an island of dragon types- fire-breathing snakes, dragon turtles (little ones), little dragon birds and the dragon-headed treeclimbers with hands, which will eventually lead to sword wielding and world domination.

You might also get beutifully pure horned monkeys (they don't throw things at you, just look on in disappointment), the ever tasty turtle hobbits, or the isle of the evil drow things all tentacles and squawking drzzz drzzz drzzzz.

It could get really weird if you start letting them morph into plant types.  Coconuts have that big floating seed so they can populate new islands.  What would elves that used this same technique be like.And what would elves that evolved to prey on those elves look like?  (hahaha.  I need to play a wizard in someone's campaign and make some of these wierdities).

What weird morph would you put on an island?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Islets in the Sea of OS'R

Yeehaw, the giant of OSR creative energy is awaking once again.  Look here for the rundown and get involved with an islet of your own.  Thanks to Paul for gettin' it rolling.

In celebration, have a pic of Ceylon:
Now stripped to some evocative place names:
And now stripped clean, ready for a scale change if you like:
Update: As per Spawn of Endra's good suggestion I flipped it to make it look less like Sri Lanka. I cleaned it up a little more too:
And another:
This is pretty trivial to do in a photo editor but maybe it will save someone some time.

Into the Black Pylon

Toral DP
     Tory - hireling
Athydas MU
Hugelina F
"G" F
     Le Bouche - hireling
     Janis - hireling
"Z" F
     Mika - hireling
     Fabrino - hireling
Yestlick MU

About a week before the Battle of Nidus a strange black pylon appeared north of the city.  It was a truncated pyramid of black basalt.  There was a square opening 6 feet off the ground. Our intrepid adventurers were hesitant to bother it, but curiosity got the best of them.

They climbed up into the entrance to find that the 60x60 pylon was hollow and, in fact, opened down into the earth.  It had 10' wide tier of smooth, solid basalt and then fifty feet down another and then an open shaft.

They made sure to tie off their rope to a sapling and paid a beggar boy to watch it.  The party then began cautiously descending into the darkness. Once in the central shaft their lantern revealed openings in each wall of the square shaft.

Athydas the mage was lowered into the shaft and eventually swung into the entrance closest to the party.  He saw the shimmering of broken glass down a 30' hallway.  Cautiously proceeding he found a medium sized circular room, the floor covered with broken glassware and six iron pipes with levers on the wall.  He tied a rope to one lever he could get a good angle on, backed down the hall and pulled.  A syrupy, brown, bubbling liquid oozed out onto the floor.

The party came down into the room one by one and experimented for some time.  They found that each pipe released a distinct liquid.  They also found some unbroken vessels on the floor and filled them with equal portions of the liquids.  Some timid taste testing revealed the liquids to have magical properties.  After unsuccessfully lobbying the party to leave right then and sell their bounty, G sent Janis back to Nidus to buy vases to fill with more of the strange liquids.

The other three opening at this level led to similarly shaped, but empty chambers.  The party preceded down to the next level which also had entrances on each of the four walls of the shaft.  The first Athydas entered had pigeonholes carved in the basalt of the circular room.  The floor was covered with tattered remnants of velum and paper.  He and Yestlick did manage to find several strange scrolls intact enough to be usable.

The next chamber Toral saw a body on the floor with something small hovering over it and left it alone.  The next chamber had paper scraps on the floor similar to the first.  Athydas and Yestlick promptly entered and began searching.  Footlong black and white beetles patterned like ladybugs were uncovered in the mess.  They began flying about.  Yestlick was struck and turned to solid iron.  Athydas cast sleep and crushed the fallen beetles.

The last chamber was empty.  Descending another level showed the first break from symmetry a door with a strange symbol opened to the blank basalt wall.  In the opposite wall the 30' hall led, not to a circular room but, to a 10x10 room with two pools, one a ~12' oval the other a fist sized circle.  Athydas dipped himself in the big pool and pulled out before a strange effect took hold.

And then a mass of joined people, some with eyes fused shut, some with mouths fused shut, crawled up out of the dark shaft.  It eventually hit Athydas and he began fusing to it.  Hugelina with a mighty stroke, lopped the fused arm off, freeing him.  The party from the level above poured oil and set it alight.  The strange mass lost its grip and fell screaming into the darkness.

Another round chamber had silver wire sticking everywhere out of the floor, small models of objects- chairs, coils of rope, ladders- speared on the ends.  The wires were set in a spiral and at the center of it was a pedestal with a silver cover.  Toral moved to the cover, removed it, and found a soft white substance.  He tried modelling some shapes and pushing them onto the wires but nothing happened.

The round chamber opposite was smooth basalt, empty except for what looked like turnstiles sticking out from the wall hip-high all around the room.  Toral eventually pushed up against one and they all rotated, clacking, and revealing three backlit dioramas.  It took some time but the party eventually figured out that each diorama represented a different scene from their previous adventures.

Eventually they tried molding a sword and putting it into the tiny backpack of Athydas, who was now carrying a sword, of course he always was.  A frenzy of item molding began, shields, rings, what were supposed to be chests but looked like logs.
What the hell are these supposed to be, I have to know for Friday.

Eventually the party learned the knobs could be pushed further.  They found a diorama that included Yestlick-the-Iron and moved him up to what appeared to be a battle in the future.  They then began to make items for the battle in earnest: casks of oil, bales of straw, etc.  Toral crushed many of the little pygmy figures with his hand.  Just before the party left Z thought to click the dioramas back all the way to where his beloved hireling Pita was still alive and moved her figure up to the future battle.  And then, on impulse, rained small objects from the other chamber onto the battle scene and, finally, from moved up to a scene of a ship sailing and lifted the whole ship out, placing it in the chasm under the bridge in the battle scene.

Some Thoughts
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It got a little railroady.  I feel the party was uncomfortable to go down into the pylon only because that was what I had planned.  I thought the dioramas would be a fun toy and was happy for them to do whatever they wanted with them, but I did sort of expect them to encounter them during the session, which doesn't seem to be a recipe for good DMing.

You can never guess what other people will do, can you?  I figured they might place tools, and objects in the dioramas to help past "thems", and was trying to figure out how to handle that.  Essentially they could have made a failed mission into the Sodden Temple successful.  I also made the doorway expecting they might search for a door among the objects or even craft a door with the same symbol on it, allowing them to travel back in time themselves.  I wasn't really sure how to handle each scenario.

But at first, they just made items to gift their current selves with.  Then they hit on the idea of moving figures from diorama to diorama.  I hadn't thought of that.  I was curious to see if the player who had lost his hireling would go back and try to save her somehow.  She had fallen to her death in the maw.  I wondered if he might give her a parachute or travel back in time to try and catch her.  Of course he just moved her figure to the future.  I liked that.  Of course that violates the barrier between life and death and I hear when you do something like that black ships of creature appear out of a mist ;)

So, next session the battle continues, a bunch of crap-- including a ship-- is going to rain down from the sky causing damage.  A bunch of pygmies will be crushed by an invisible bigby-like force and the party will have a bunch of oil and straw but no magic weapons for the demon-orang.

Oh yes, the body they saw but were terrified to investigate was just that, a body of a former adventurer with a weaker Ioun stone and a magic sword.  And the pools were basically a shrinker.  I thought they might want to send real stuff back through time (like the magic sword) but they didn't mess with it after Athydas made a save.  That was a goof on my part, on the fly I made a ruling that he should get a save, but I should have just had it shrunk him.  Then they would have had to figure something creative to do with him.

Oh yes, (a lot happened) Toral craft a tentacle and put it on Hugelina's little figure where she is missing an arm.  I wasn't sure what to do with that-- or all the shields and swords they were giving themselves.  It seems too easy to make them magic, but then they actually took the trouble to literally sculpt these things and that is what they chose to give themselves.  So maybe I should make them weakly magical?

Tl;dr: Give your players a reason to use playdough.  I had everyone at the table head hunched over, furiously crafting things.  They enjoyed it.  Next I think I'll try Zak's Jenga skill attempt idea-- keep 'em on their toes, always mixin' it up.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Symbols

If you don't know about http://www.symbols.com/ you should go poke around the site.  I remember this being an early reason to be interested in the web for me.  I really like the way they've organized the various symbols by their symmetries.  Anyway, I was tinkering around with a possible world map and as per barrataria's suggestion went looking for some vague symbols I can put on it to be fleshed out/ interpreted later.

I just flipped quickly through all the symbols and pulled some that were visually appealing to me.  I may look closer at the meanings later as possible spurs to their interpretation.

Some I'll just use once.  A few I think should appear multiple times.  Also, I'll try to do them in different colors as if they were added to the map at different times by different hands.  If you were looking at a map, which of the above would you want to go check out?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Time Travel

Okay, some players involved in the last session's big battle aren't available this Friday.  We talked about what to do this session and the idea of a "flashback" came up.  We would play a session that jumps back a week or two before the battle.

But what happens if someone who is supposed to make it to the battle dies this Friday?  And that got me thinking about time travel in general.  That reminded me that I'd made a joke last session referencing Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (I am truly a sophisticated DM).  And that seemed perfect.

What if I have the party encounter a location that allows for time travel, or at least sending objects through time.  Then they can send something to their beleaguered selves-- maybe put some healing potions or scrolls under that bridge.  I'm thinking of a round tower that players can cycle dioramas through.  Some of these dioramas they will recognize as past events, some as the future battle.  And they can alter those events by placing things in the diorama. Maybe a room has thousands of little golden objects and they have to choose from them items they want to place.  Or maybe I just give my players a lump of modeling clay and ask them to sculpt what they want to place.

That would be a little limiting, in that they couldn't visit their future or past selves, but it seems more interesting to try to come up with items that might help.

Have you ever messed with time travel in your campaigns?  If you were involved in the battle of Nidus and had an opportunity midway to "stack the deck," what would you want to place?

Chariot Stolen - Recovered

Call at 2AM "Did you loan your car to anyone?" Nope.  "Can you come pick it up in 30 minutes?" Yep.  I'm starting to think my chariot doesn't want me for a master-- 3rd time it's wandered off in the last year. 

Okay, make it game related.  Give me a curse for the next guy to take my chariot.  I'll start:

1) Any gold you touch will turn to silver.

2) Dogs will bark constantly in your presence.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thieves Enter the Guild

Okay, not really, they're just Maltese women.  But I thought you might like this color pic:
Public Domain from Malta (1910).