Saturday, July 30, 2011

Silhouettes XXII

That dude should help fill the blank spots on the Sea of OS'R's map.  Here are two more OD&D monsters:
Ape is ambiguous. As readers of Tarzan remember, they aren't gorillas.  But I think a gorilla works okay here.  I'll have a baboon and other monkey silhouettes soon in case they fit your interpretation of ape better.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Adventurer Conqueror King

ACKS seems to be doing well on Kickstarter. They've reached two goals and are going for a third. If you're interested in the idea of integrating the endgame more into play or how the economics necessary for that endgame touch the early and mid game, $5 will let you enter in the discussions on their forums.

They seem really open to suggestions, so if you're a fan of my attempts at streamlining information transmisson, go give them a hand, make the product more like the one you'd find useful and get your name in the credits.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Silhouettes XXI

Here is an alternate pegasus (the first one I cobbled together from two pics). And the source pic was so nice, thought I'd share it too:
Now back to more OD&D monsters:
Giant Crab
Giant Fish
Yes, I realize that carp silhouette is not threatening in any way. Hey, I just work here. I'll look for one jumping at a fly or something. Also, have a bat:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

There's Still Meat on Them Bones

It's been more than thirty years, three corporations with all the bright minds they've hired, several years of OSR blogging and still interesting improvements on how to play D&D are surfacing.

Zak proposed (7/12) a simple twist to group initiative that might keep everyone interested tactically in combat and he gave us (7/19) the the practical way he keeps track of scrolls (which could work just as well for potions/random magic items).

Jeff proposed (7/16) a way to generate characters (also found in Epées & Socellerie?) that I think would be especially helpful when starting a game with all newbs-- rolling stats is an individual affair where you have to make a decision about class when you really don't know what's going on, and some of the fun moments, like rolling a 3 get shared with the group rather than scribbled in silence.  Jeff also spurred the push into vertical geomorphs which is heading into uncharted realms of awesome such as this (6/13).

This is all this summer.  (I'm sure there are more cool ideas, but these were most prominent in my mind).  That's probably enough for a blog post right  there, "Hurrah, what more can we come up with?" But, ever reflective, I'd like to think a little about why it's still possible.

Now the vertical geomorphs are a possibility because we have tools nowadays for working digitally and a generation of folks comfortable using them that TSR didn't.  But the rest is different.

I don't think that this is the result of pure genius, though all those chaps are sharp tools, or the result gaming hours put in, though that was probably necessary too, but being reflective of how the game plays at the table.

Our game has the unique problem of kind of sorta looking like a simulation of events in other times and places and it's really easy to get caught up in the logic of events and relationships in those places and forget what the group of people sitting around you playing are doing.  And it's really easy to forget what the DM needs to do to pull it off.  I've never seen a rpg product that told a DM how to make ruling in the inevitable offroad adventure that actual play involves.  I've never seen an rpg product that addressed how rules affected player attention, involvement, or player anything-- as if players were all robots running the rules as little OSes.  "Version 3.5 beep."

It may be that we are still at an advantage because of this here internet thingy.  It is hard to publish an adventure or ruleset in the abstract anymore.  It is much easier to hear how it played at the table through blogs, forums, and email.  It is also much easier to give that feedback through reviews, however informal.  So it is more difficult to say "My magic rules are thus because . . ."  without hearing "Well, my players often get confused by . . ." etc.  Writing up play reports could also make us more aware of what players were doing and why rather than just thinking of Friday's game in a fun or not binary.

But regardless of why it's been possible, my suggestion to us to keep the gravy train rolling is to pay attention to what happens at the table.  What got your players most excited?  When did they sit on the edge of their seats and get loud?  Also for you as DM.  What was a pain to keep track of?  What needed most of your attention and what could you count on players to handle?  Hell, if you're too busy just running things, have a friend who doesn't play (a spouse?) watch and have a conversation with them afterward about when people were most engaged, when people drifted off to get food or more beer. And I think we should experiment.  As long as you aren't changing up things every night.  Try the different method of initiative.  Try a different way of tracking monster hit point for yourself, or whatever.

Anyway, its a pleasure and a privilege to be reading your blogs and comments, keep on rollin'

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dwarf Fortress in NYT Magazine

Saw this at Metafilter.  What I considered an interesting interview with the the brother designers of Dwarf Fortress.  I actually tried DF for the first time this summer.  It was complex, but not the rocket science I was afraid it would be.  If you've played rogue-likes and RTSs I think that's a good background already.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Silhouettes XX

Giant Squid
For the 20th post I'm happy to say I remembered that Pearson Scott Foresman donated a bunch of dictionary pics to Wikimedia and the public domain.  There's some cool stuff there.  There are a lot of nice pictures of deer and antelope varieties that you could put right on a map and not need silhouettes.  Anyway, These four OD&D monsters come from those pics:
That's 7 monsters in one post, a record.  The weasel was actually a mink, but I figure it looks similar enough.  And for those grasslands south of the equator:
And extra-special bonus evergreen tree (I didn't do more than blacken its trunk).  As always, I've added these to the zip file of all silhouettes linked in my sidebar.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Silhouettes XIX

Still trying to provide silhouettes for all original D&D monsters.  Here are three more:
Sea Monster
And another herd animal for your settled areas:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mire-O-Meter II

Still fiddling around with a dungeon to sink under transparent overlays, but here is how I would keep track of the levels.  Basically just a less granular rendering of the mire-o-meter I blogged about before.
I think this is probably the easiest way to indicate liquid depth for a DM to read quickly during play.  This silhouette is meant to represent a 6 foot tall man, so this gives you 2 foot dungeon flooding increments.

I would describe these to players as 1) thigh-high 2) chest-high 3) over your head 4) you can't feel the bottom.

You could use smaller increments, but the larger ones were meant to limit the number of overlays I would need and because you probably won't see much change in dungeon features with just a foot of liquid added.

ps trivia: the silhouette is based off a pic of Eugen Sandow

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Onesie Hex Crawl

One of my players is fit to burst with a little broodling.  Today she had a co-ed babyshower that I was invited to.  It was a DIY, crafty sort of affair where all the guests were expected to decorate a onesie for the soon-to-be little feller.  I had to keep it old school by drawing a hex-map with fabric paint pens.  My hex wasn't too regular, but that's what you get when you're using scissors as improvised compass.  I traced the city silhouette from my blog on my iphone :)

Here's the work of the other guests:

The Western, Law, and the Fuse

Thanks to Mr. Rients and his Boot Hill campaign I've had a mini-obsession with westerns recently.  I did some cogitating about how to DM a western game before, but never came to any conclusions.

After recently re-watching a bunch of films I think I better understand the genre.

Westerns are about Law and how we as individuals fit within that framework.  Often they are about communities on the frontier that are just outside the oncoming tide of Law (Tombstone, Deadwood).  You can gamble there, carry weapons, and pay for sex.  You can drink all night and shoot your revolver into the air.

Westerns are even more often about the individual seeking justice outside the Law.  You might call this revenge, but "revenge" has connotations of patience and guile.  Westerns are about dogged pursuit of the flown outlaw.  I think a better word would be Reckoning, a biblical style of answering for crimes.

So, how does this help with DMing within the genre?  Well, I think know this will help line up conflicts that feel right.  But for certain types of campaign I think it might even be clearer.

The Bad
Parties playing rustlers, train robbers, or shootists will eventually face two options: fade into obscurity or violent conflict with the Law.  I think a time limit will help foster this.  Say you give you players 5-10 sessions to do what the will, and you crank up the tension each session.  The Fuse.

Success will bring notoriety which will bring the inevitable Reckoning.  More posses.  Posses form quicker.  Homesteads and townships are forewarned and armed.

The Ugly
The time limit can also work for the person looking to bring the Reckoning (think the Searchers, True Grit).  It is "ugly" in the sense of being brutal and outside the civilizing Law.  Give players the same 5-10 sessions to track down leads and enact personal justice.  How much of a lead did the Comancheros get?  Can you catch the gunslinger before he crosses the border into Mexico?

Generally there is one person on this mission, but it actually makes for good roleplaying with sidekicks that question the vendetta and will need to sacrifice themselves for the hero or be sacrificed by them.

The Good
This one is more complicated and might require more artistry on the part of the DM.  With "good," I'm thinking of the westerns where there is a law abiding element, doing their best to accommodate those that chafe at the Law, and, eventually, things go to shit (think Tombstone).

Here the time limit isn't important so much as the tension the DM builds.  The opposition will push the players and push them and push them, until that invisible line has been crossed and violence ensues.

The DM will have to do that pushing. In a D&D game this might feel like the DM is an adversary, but hopefully players will know that if they roll up a shopkeep character who lives in Tombstone, they won't just be running a trading simulation, bad things will force themselves into their lives, tough choices will need to be made.

Related Genres
I think that a Pirate game would be just like the Bad above, the Queen's navy is on your trail and evetually your crew will be dispersed or hanged.  A more tangible monetary threshold might be more fun in that case though-- raise 20,000 doubloons and you "win."

American gangsters are so similar that they almost seem like modern westerns to me.  Pretty Boy Floyd and Curly Bill Brocious serve the same function in relation to folklore and the Law, well except with perhaps a tad more hero worship in the grueling economy of the 30's.  It seems to me you could put a 5-10 session limit on a Gangbusters campaign and have it work well.

One subset of the gangster genre is different though, this is the mob boss that falls from power.  What eventually becomes the Scarface movie.  Law wins even against those who have built up entire power structures outside of it.  But this is more modern, the gangster never had long even if they were the only ones who didn't realize it.  I realize now though, that the same pressure cooker approach for the "good" above might work with these.  Small troubles snowball until the boss' empire slips through their hands all at once

And how about Cthulhu games, are they similar in that there is a Fuse, just that it leads, not to violent confrontation, but insanity?  I've never played CoC so I can't say much about it.

In conclusion, if any of this has merit it goes a long way to explain why I've never heard of a long Western campaign- it's actually contrary to the genre.  It explains why Westerns, Pirate games, and Gangster games will always dwell in the realm of the one-off.  It also explains why D&D's long, ongoing progress building makes for the most popular genre, it takes more time and its goals rarely satisfied; we can have a shoot out in a night and feel like we scratched the genre itch, but if your fighter never got their own keep, your wizard never made their own spell, there will always be that unfulfilled goal.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Transparent Overlays

I had a fat encyclopedia as a kid that illustrated the human anatomy with stacked, transparent overlays.  The top was an illustration of a man.  Pull it back and it was the muscles.  Pull it back and there were the arteries and veins.  Pull it back and see the bones.  It captivated me.

What if we used a similar idea on maps?

The problem is that the home printers we're using are limited in the colors they'll print and they aren't capable of a truly solid color.  My encyclopedia used something more like cell animation, with layers higher in the stack, meant to obscure, painted solid.  Screenprinting could do this, if the ink would stick to clear vinyl and if the vinyl would hold up to the 350 degree F curing my plastisol inks require.

But we might still be able to make something cool with just black line printing on transparencies.

Think of your campaign map, any extra "layer" of information you would like to incorporate could become a literal layer overlaid: trade routes, trade goods, demi-human demographics, religions, climate zone, etc.

Or, at a closer scale, a transparent overlay might be handy for a dungeon/location that goes through changes that are hard to keep track of.  Time travel.  The players get a hold of some way to travel through time and you can flip your overlays of the manor and surrounding region to show how things get built up as they bounce back and forth.

Or, here are two ideas that are exciting me the most 1) an overlay to use on my hex geomorphs to represent a special, like a stream crossing the geomorph 2) the sinking dungeon at various water depths.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Live Bear Trap

This has nothing to do with gaming, well, unless you have a pretty gonzo game I guess, but I'd never seen one of these and thought you might find it interesting:
I guess a bear has been a nuisance 'round here, trying to get into the trash cans.  I found bear scat right across from where I'm staying but that was a couple weeks ago.  They have a bait bag in the front of this that is hooked to a trigger that will close the back door.  Though, every time I've seen it the back door has a padlock on it.  Maybe they set it at night.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Modular Danger Room

I love pictograms and symbols and trying to convey meaning in its simplest form.  And I always loved the idea of the danger room for heroes, because, well it's a lot like exploring a dungeon-- you don't know what to expect.  Also, you can play it solo.

I think Zak posted a random danger room generator in the last few months.  I know I made one for DC Heroes years ago, but I'd have to dig it out because I don't remember anything about that attempt.  Anyway, what if you took the hexagonal geomorphs I've been posting, throw in a plethora of cool hazard symbols:
and make a modular danger room:
This time when a trigger fires, heroes have a specific hazard to negotiate.  Lasers, poison gas, acid, magnetic fields.  I know it should probably be a bit more specific than the damaging energy type for the danger room hazard, but maybe you could devise symbols to represent turrets, walls, robots and the like.  Instead of treasure heroes might need to get flags or such.

Hexagonal Geomorph VI

Looks like some family visitors are going to postpone my screenprinting trials.  Frustrating, I'm afraid if I don't get this done in the next two weeks or so I might lay it by for a long time again (last time was two years).

Oh well, the good news is that all the planning and making these by hand made for churning digital versions out quite quickly.  I haven't even printed/cut/tested all these out yet.  Here are two more:

Which gets us to 12.  We have a funny shaped die to handle that.

One thing you might notice is that I am sticking to hexes that have to 3-6 sides used as viable exits.  This is for two reasons 1) aesthetically I didn't like the look of stranded island of dungeon, the little pockets that an unreachable one-side-accessible path would make, and 2) I was never able to figure out mathematically the increase in probability of ending the catacomb that each dead-end added to the tiles made, so I'm just going by intuiton here until I playtest these more to see how big a catacomb can get before you hit all deadends.

Another thought, I am torn between having a small set of pretty re-usable tiles and interesting, individualistic tiles.  For example tile 11 above could have a little room to the right instead of just the two loculi.

The problem is, the more unique you make one tile, the less useful it is a a generic part of a dungeon generator.  It becomes very recognizable instead of a something unknown to be explored.  I also have to remember these were meant to be used on the kitchen table, so you can't have too many.  Though, if you have a big selection you could choose your own "deck" before play, so to speak.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hexagonal Geomorph V

These two are for Ohio Metal Militia.  It brings us to ten tiles which is quite convenient:

Hexagonal Geomorph IV

Okay, once I got more familiar with the program and got my layers all set up, the rest of the tiles rolled out pretty easily.  Here are tiles 4-8:
And here is a pdf with all 8 tiles if that's more convenient for you than fooling with the pngs.

My intent is to have 4 printed tiles with these on them back to back.  You can print them back to back for the same effect or just use a d8 to try them out.  You can use hex paper to record the catacomb you generate.  Just write Tile #, Face # with a little tick showing where the face connected.

I apologize if any of the triggers are wacky, I was just pulling these out of my derrière to get the prototype done.  I'd be happy to hear any feedback about how these work out for you, even if you ignore the whole trigger thing and just generate some catacombs.

Update: I fixed a couple little glitches.  And, you know what, here have the svgs too.  That way you can hide the layer with the triggers if they bug you or apply filters to make the walls more rough looking or whatever.

Update 2: Whoops, I had Tile 7 with a Even trigger and it has no even entrances. I fixed the png.   I'll have to fix that in the pdf later, I'm away from home now.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hexagonal Geomorph III

Okay, I felt myself getting bogged down with trying to make the walls perfect, so I stopped that.  I went back to a more abstract, game-boardy look for now so I can just get enough done to play around with them (I know myself).

So, here is Tile 3:
and I redid the first two as well:

And here is a key to the trigger symbols:
Traps function like pits in old school D&D; 1-2 on a d6 and its triggered.  But the solo player can see them and decides whether to risk them.  Eventually I should make a little chart of trap type (didn't I do this in a post once?).

For the rest of the triggers, take the number of the face you exit a tile, and the number of the face you're entering and mash them together.  If that number is odd, the odd triggers fire, if it is something like 55, double triggers fire and double odd triggers.

Specials are rarer events, they might affect a whole tile like a cave in, or indicate that it's web-filled or something.  I will need to make a chart.   Actually, I eventually want specials to be unique tiles, like chapels, or large ponds or something.  But I mess with that only after I have enough standard tiles done.

Triggers only fire once, when you first enter a tile.  All triggers fire at once, so if you got two encounters . . . well, maybe they'll fight each other.  I know knowing where the treasure and monsters everywhere on the tile are is not realistic, but it seems the most streamlined way to do this so someone won't game the system.  I'm guessing you could easily graft on more complicated systems if you wanted.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hexagonal Geomorph II

Here is another of the catacomb geomorphs.  I thickened the walls a bit.  I was initially thinking of keeping things as simple as possible and saving ink for those of you printing at home, but I added a gradient to try and give the solid stone some heft.   I don't know how this gradient will screenprint, I do have pretty fine screen.  I'll have to see. 

I don't know, looking at it as I post the pic, the gradient looks awful "computery," too clean and regular.  I wish I could get some kind of spatter going.  Why does it seem like this would be so much easier by hand?

Hexagonal Geomorph

I haven't been making as much progress as I wanted to.  Some bad news: somebody broke into my car and inexplicably stole my little screenprinting screen I made 2 years ago.  I was planning on making 2 bigger new screens anyway, but it would have been nice to have it to do little stuff and test things with.

Some good news: I just got three new ink colors in the mail yesterday.  Now I've got black and all 4 browns the company offers.

I have been trying to re-learn what I knew about Inkscape 2 years ago.  Spent several hours today.  Here is an idea of what I'm shooting for:
The grays will be a light brown, the blacks a dark brown, printed on canvas.  The game boardy spaces are meant to simplify movement for solo play.  I'm thinking 5' per space and per inch.  That would mean a 60' light source would just show you the tile-length as you enter it.

My question for you: do you like the way the walls look?  (I fractalized the lines and then distorted the result with "torn edge") I wonder if I should add some hatching.  I'm not really an artist and working with Inkscape is difficult for me, but I am determined to forge ahead.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


The funniest thing about capitalism (and by funny I don't mean "ha ha," but "What is that smell coming from the fridge?") is how, in pursuit of making a product saleable, it is crippled for its intended purpose.  I think game books are a perfect example of this.  In two ways.

First, if you buy a game you want all the rules you need to play the game and a reasonable assurance that the rules won't change any time soon.  Thus, the proliferation of what became known as splatbooks, while selling lots of books for the company, undermined the very game they were for.  This was happening way back in 2e and you could argue that it started with Unearthed Arcana and the Survival Guides.

If you're reading this blog this is not new to you.  But the second way the books the industry sells are anti-game doesn't seem to get much press.  Game books are like big, heavy, showy butterflies.  They are meant to open their hardcover wings for you at the book store and bewitch you with their multicolor art.  Have you tried lugging these things somewhere to play?  My poor buddy's stack of 4e books was a foot high.  They had to sit on the floor by his feet when he DMed.  These features do not make for a product useful when we game.

Zak, Raggi, and Stefan Poag have actually thought about this stuff and that is exciting.  Here is some unsolicited advice to the Industry (Maybe useful for 5e):

Set the rules in stone, no additional products will change, add, or delete rules.  Then sell various useful permutations of that set of rules (and location based adventures, but that's another point).
  1. Have a single volume complete rules like Osric.  This can be more expensive, because it's all the player will ever need.
  2. Have a set of books aimed specifically at players and one for each player class your game has.
  3. Compartmentalization can help keep things simple.  No first level player needs to know how to cast Finger of Death, so have multiple books for various levels of play.  You should be able to have three books per class (beginning, mid-game, endgame), but maybe four depending on your scope.
  4. Have an introductory book for someone new to roleplaying completely.  This can have the pick-your-own-ending style explanation of the game.  Have people write this in conjunction with observations and discussions of actually newbies trying to understand your game.
  5. Have a book for the DM meant for use in actually play.  Think Vornheim's cover, quick-use charts, summaries of spells etc.  Only what's necessary.
  6. Have a book for the DM meant for creation and preparation of adventures.  This could have sections on geomorphs, dungeon design, stocking tables, etc, etc.
  7. You can have other divisions of the same rules, though I would question how necessary some of the old standbys are.  For example, a chart of example monsters with stats can stand in for the tomes and tomes a whole monsters we're always given.  A more useful approach might be sections on special abilities, like fear, paralyzation, entanglement and how to DM these, and then tips on designing your own monsters.
Is that enough, Industry? That's ~17 books right there. But more than what is in them, they need to be in a useful format, to fit in my backpack and behind a screen, to be usable at the table during the hecticness of actual play.  So, these books (except for #1) should be:
  1. Small
  2. Durable
  3. Professionally indexed
  4. Color-coded
  5. Spiral Bound
  6. Round Cornered
Want an example of what a book made as if it were actually going to be used away from the library?  Look at field guides.
The cover looks woven, it's flexible and waterproof.  Where are the gamebooks made for use?
Color coding of sections! Look at the nice round corners on the top one.
In fact, A DM's Field Guide has a nice ring to it.  Maybe the book created for actual DMing could be called that.  That one's on me, Industry.

Check out Ze Bulette's sweet mods of LL and S&W:
It lies flat!
Nice protective cover.
I'm lucky enough to have one of the latter, and let me tell you, once you go 7x9 spiral bound, every other game book seems clunky as hell. Hell, just hire him to design your products.

So, will, people essentially re-buy the same rules over and over?  I don't know, but when I'm modding my own game I'm having to create a lot of those different books (player pamphlets, spell books etc.)  So, if people play anything like me, then yes, buying the different formats could save them a lot of work and time.  And, anyway, you know the normal splatbook strategy doesn't work.  So why not give it a try?