Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Serendipity IX

Before "Orc with Pie," there was "Leopard on a Chest."
Megadungeon exploration.
This is supposed to be a spider catching a fish, but to me it looks like a spider riding a fish. Which might be another nice pattern for dinnerware.


I was talking with my player at work about the D&D trip he missed to the mountains.  Well, actually I was telling him about this bold as hell raccoon that got so close to us by the campfire I thought it might run up and snatch a hot dog off the grill.  It showed no fear at all.  At one point it even did a flanking maneuver before eventually disappearing under our porch.  It came back again the next night, even with four players and a dog nearby..
My Player: Did you put it into the game?
Me: Of course . . .
 Haha, I loved that he knew I would do something like that.  I've used player initials on tombs, made a whole adventure based around the job many of us share, and probably other things that were amusing and now forgotten.  The raccoon went on the wandering monster list, showed up while the party was in the Villa of the Terratomancer, but, unfortunately for it, Z was in the form of a wolf and sent it packing.  The real raccoon still lurks. . .

Update: Actually is improv the write term here?  I'm talking more about weaving things about the audience and things the audience knows into the shared world.  Seems like there would be a term for that.  Probably Greek.  Seems like I should know it. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Faction Spice

Give your next megadungeon faction a little zing.  Hell, roll multiple times.
I tried to think of features that would make a faction (not necessarily demi-human/humanoid) interesting in the context of a megadungeon. What other traits would you include?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Flavor of Death

Last night, as I crashed, I had an image in my head of a circle with five positions- one for each sense- and a monster hovering near each.  The monsters killed using those senses of their prey.  The list was like this:

sight - medusa
touch - carrion crawler (ghoul)
sound - sirens
smell - ghast
taste - ?

Okay, the ghast doesn't exactly kill you with smell, and I suppose the others aren't as direct as petrification either, but I still wonder, what would be a monster that kills you through taste?  The most immediate idea that comes to my mind is some kind of poisonous fruit, but my creepier nature jumps to withered teats that are somehow addictive.  How about you?

Thursday, August 25, 2011


You want to know why the aliens have no mercy?  Attack us?  Treat us like cattle?  Because they know we will treat them like this:
Gettin' Milked At Aperture Labs
from here.

(work is kickin' my ass; 12 hour days for about another week and then I will blossom on here with creativity.  Too tired tonight for even silhouettes.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Silhouettes XXIV

Here is an alternate griffin, with eagle forelegs and griffin "ears" unlike the other I cobbled together:
And here is a fixed Giant Squid. I realized the original I posted was off, squid, unlike octopi, have those two longer tentacles, the original artist had not included them, so I did.
Another animal to populate your grasslands:
And it's been a long time since I posted any character silhouettes, so have a Manyuema warrior:
And, not too exciting but they didn't take long, have a tortoise and a narwhal:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

DM Best Practices

At the behest of I feel like every non-art post on my blog is striving to discover these, but it's good to stop and try to boil down what you know.  Take these with the usual caveats: I'm still learning, I realize I have a lot to learn, and I'm constantly reflecting and revising my practices.

One really important practice I was going to list Paul and Blair listed first: keep the game flowing, anything that slows or stops play should be ruled on quickly, handwaved, or revised to be quicker for next time.  The exception I would make would be when the slowdown is fun enough to actually become part of the game (see #4).

Here are some practices I don't think anyone mentioned yet and that I think are essential to my game and that I'm good at:

1 Describe Combat
For old school play the randomness of the dice is essential but sometimes puzzling.  It's your job as DM to meld these into some sort of sense.  Especially in combats.  You are in the best position to do this because, unlike players, you have to pay attention to what everyone is doing, you have a sense of what the monsters look and act like, and you have a sense of what tone you want to give players (isolation, desperation, victory).  So, I do these things:
  • describe hits and misses for both sides
  • every few hits/misses back up and reiterate what has happened
  • leave critical hits and misses to my own judgement (no charts) so I can come up with whatever ridiculous or awesome things fits the context
  • if players make a great suggestion run with it as always
I learned to elicit some description from players by being DMed by Tavis, but I don't want to put too much of a burden on them and (for the reasons above) I'm usually better equipped to evoke the scene as a whole.  I do try to ask spell casters what their spells look like because a) that seems very personal, and b) I can reuse that over and over with slowing the game down waiting for a player to be creative.

This isn't just for combat either-- missed saves, made saves, reaction rolls, morale rolls-- you are the interpreter of the randomness of the dice.

2 Don't Worry about Time
The single thing that kept me from DMing for years was worrying about how to keep track of rounds, and when to roll for wandering monsters, and when a torch will go out, etc.  But I remember now, watching Tarzan movies on TV and trying to see if I could hold my breath as long as he could.  Invariably, there would be a cut to a commercial, a cut to a scene happening elsewhere, a flashback, whatever.  Tarzan underwater time was not literal time, we, the audience could forget about it to focus on something else for a bit and then be reminded of it with dramatic music and underwater closeups.  My D&D is just like that.  It isn't a simulation.  Time is emotional.  Time is narrative.  Some specifics:
  • If I forget to roll for wandering monsters then other interesting things were most likely happening and it isn't a big deal.
  • If I suddenly remember, "Hey, it's been a while since I rolled for encounters," then there is either a lull in action or, more likely, players are dithering about what to do next.  A fight to remind them of the danger of the underworld is just what's needed.
  • If there's a dramatic time for a torch to go out, a spell duration to run out, especially if players mention it, then I might roll to see if that does happen.
Now I realize that players need info to make decisions and I am always striving to come up with simple systems that will, for example, give them a better sense of when their torch will go out.  But for now this works and quite well: fast paced, tense and dramatic.

3 Try to Engage All Your Players
I don't see myself as a distant arbiter of rules, a neutral judge.  I'm there to have fun and see everyone else having fun.  The rowdy, confident folks that turn out to be natural party leaders are not a problem.  It's the person visiting and playing for the first time, the shy person, or even the person tired from work.  So here are some things I try to do:
  • I ask folks being quiet to roll initiative for the party
  • I ask quiet folks what they are doing.  To make sure they aren't talked over and forgotten.
  • I'll have characters with little to do (the 1 hp MU who's cast his spell) make rolls for hirelings or npcs in combat
  • If I roll a wandering monster I tell the quiet person that they hear something
  • I give one session visitors a perk and try to make them essential to the session
  • I try to make sure the players know their options "What was the spell you memorized PlayerNoobie?  Oh, you're saving it, cool, cool."
In a nutshell, the last thing I want to see is a player huddling in a corner of the couch, quiet and bewildered.

Here is a fourth for good measure:

4 Don't Worry About the 4th Wall
If breaking it is fun, do it.  This I learned from Jeff Reints.  My hireling traits chart can result in some real doozies: hirelings with no feet, bearded women, slobs and pervs.  It turns out players quite enjoy rolling to see the results.  So, I let them do that during the session when they get hirelings.  Other mechanics like pulling Jenga blocks or rolling a big d30 or whatever, if it adds choices, adds excitement, adds fun it gets added.  I don't worry so much about ruining the player's sense of disbelief.  The right mechanic will oddly make them more engaged. This all works better if you subscribe to my rule 1, because I will rewind a little and then narrate what the result of the goofy mechanic means in the game world, and this probably goes a long way to re-immersing everyone present in the shared daydream.

Other than that I'm not sure I have specific points for this practice. 

1925 aka Hell

1925 aka Hell (by Max Hattler) from Max Hattler on Vimeo.
An animation loop inspired by French outsider artist Augustin Lesage's 1925 work A Symbolic Composition of the Spiritual World:
Here is Lesage at work:
There is also a heaven.  Something about these reminded me of little netherwerks.  It really reminds me of the limits of language.  I'm not sure I could describe a passage like this to players.  I wish video game makers would focus more on this kind of thing than worrying about storylines.  If I lived closer to Cyclopeatron maybe I'd get to travel through this on a rickety, wooden, space-voyaging wizard's tower.

via Metafilter

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Temporal Dungeon

The dungeon that shifts in time is an exciting possibility to me.  I remember being thrilled when C.S. Lewis had Cair Paravel visited hundreds of years after it was abandoned.  That really made the world seem real to me.   Letting players explore the differences the passage of time makes on a place really makes that place a location too, rather than a one shot plot.  The best way to do this would be to let the natural flow of campaign time effect things.  This is difficult though, you aren't often going to get a campaign with generations of pcs that can revisit a place 100s of years later.  So, time travel.  And a dungeon designed specifically to be explored and enjoyed through time travel.

If I'm learning anything, these focused dungeons should probably be smaller, if not just a few rooms.  I'll assume here that we have about one dungeon level, maybe 10-12 rooms.  Remember, like the tumbling dungeon, the effective room number is multiplied when you apply the special effect.  In other words a dungeon of 10 rooms and four time periods is really 40 rooms.

How to Travel Time
If the dungeon is designed to be visited through time then there should be some way to travel on site.  You could have a mobile means of travel, say a ring.  That would mean players could flick back and forth through the ages while standing right in front of a feature that they want to investigate through time.  That seems interesting and convenient, it also seems like a pretty damn powerful item to let loose on your campaign.  Every battle might be subject to a rewind.  So I will settle on time travel through an unmovable location at the dungeon site.  You might think, should we limit its affect to the dungeon itself to avoid that kind of havoc time travel might play on your campaign?  I'm thinking no.  If you put the dungeon in a remote enough place and the players want to travel all the way back there to try and use time travel to save a hireling or stop an assassination or something, well that sounds awesome to me.

The Time to Be Traveled
Something I managed to get right with my one previous go at time travel in my campaign was that I didn't let the players choose the granularity of their travels.  In other words, they couldn't twist a dial and move back or forward 5 minutes.  I used our game sessions as a unit of time.  I think that idea of you the DM controlling where the party will be dumped in time is essential to this working, otherwise you basically have an infinite sandbox with no real way to prepare.  It will also be too easy for players to just jump around obstacles instead of having to think.

So, I suggest limiting the time in our dungeon to be traveled to 4 eras.  I'll name them after four stages of human age: infant, child, adult, aged.  And I'm going to have to get to work so now some quick brainstorming on what things might be cool to have in each age:

  • The architect of the place, can be persuaded to make some changes
  • children to be saved that will apear later as traders or helpers
  • places to plant seeds ala Ocarina of Time
  • Completly different fauna, the beasts that had to be cleared out to build the dungeon.
  • Some basements and parts of the structure started
  • a real need for certain structures like bridges or stairs in a cliffside
  • most rooms built, with furnishings, new and shiny
  • people living here or using it
  • perhaps the ruler of the place to interact with
  • maybe different fauna besieging the place
  • machines or contraptions that may break later
  • fountains and magical devices that have very clear uses in the context of their time, baffling later
  • the default time, first encountered by players
  • just abandoned, broken furniture, ransacked
  • stiff doors, bandits or unsavory types to interact with, hiding here
  • different fauna, maybe vermin and parasites
  • hard to reach spots behind portcullises or bricked up walls
  • centuries after the place was being used
  • ruined- ceilings collapsed, areas under water
  • different fauna, maybe undead or those things that live in stark, barren places
  • places difficult to reach without messing about with things back in time like shoring up ceilings or asking the architect to put in secret trap doors
  • maybe a powerful hermit to interact with

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Silhouettes XXIII

Giant Octopus
Only one official OD&D Monster tonight, too tired for anything else.  Also added the Portuguese Man-o-war, and crawling skeleton from recent posts to the zip file located in the sidebar to the right.  Here is another herd animal for your savannahs:
And here is some messing around.  For Trollsmyth:
Hmm, reminds me more of the rabbit from Donnie Darko than an antelope man.  I'll have to look for a different variety of antelope I guess.  And some more:

The Adjuster

Did you think you could travel time, traverse the planes, even jam the void with impunity?  That nothing would be noticed, imbalanced?  Many before you have thought the same.  And then the Adjuster came.

Is there just one?  Is it a race?  None know but that what comes looks like a jellyfish or man-o-war floating, its tentacles flicking over the object of attention while it trills.

And then things happen to them.  Here is a list of possible adjustments, from the trivial to the fatal.  Season to taste.

The idea come from this song by The Octopus Project:

But the more I think about it, the more I think it sounds like this (starting at the 30 second mark):

Monday, August 15, 2011

5 Skeleton Variants

The Fragile - Bones so old a single hit knocks out the spirit holding them together . . . temporarily.  They slowly reassemble.

Chor - The chor seeks only to re-cloak its frame.  The chosen victim first loses flesh, becoming motionless, then blood, losing consciousness, then skin, leaving naught but bones.  There is a chance, if the newly fleshed chor is turned, that the lingering soul of the victim can inhabit the new body.

The Shattered - On sighting a living thing all its bones shoot apart into a floating disc.  Each of these will then skitter along the floor, along walls and ceilings, coalescing around a victim to reform a skeleton and squeeze that victim to death.

Plures - The skeletons of children, hold hands, wrap arms, weave themselves tightly as a wall of bone surrounding their victims.  Some say they will even cross chasms and climb inclines in pursuit, by weaving their mass of bones together.

The Boneless - A limp mass of flesh and hair that looks like a de-boned human.  The first human to touch it will feel their bones called to it as their skeleton starts to rip out of their flesh.  Serious wounds result.

Okay the last one is kind of a stretch-- it's the victims skeleton that's involved-- but, hey, close enough.  I left off stats.  I'd give saves versus the real bad stuff (2,5) do a certain die of damage per round for the others or just treat as normal skeletons otherwise.

Back in the Saddle

I'm back from a journey to the greeny north. I don't know about you, but I pretty much see everything through a D&D lens when I'm out in the wilderness. On this trip I saw:
a very large sea cave and a sea lion skeleton.
A waterfall.
A whole field of carnivorous Cobra Lilies. (This pic isn't mine but taken by.)
A White Sturgeon bigger than me (a ze Bulette has been added for scale).
And lots of good food, check out the menu of this soul food place. I still think a comic book, visual style rpg rules would be cool.
I also had the pleasure of playing Portal for the first time and Telecanter the Vth and his poor chicken Rochester met their doom exploring an abandoned school. It was a nice time thanks to ZB for the hospitality.

Now, I have to get my head into work because the busiest time of year is barrelling towards me at full speed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Three Things

All from Neatorama and I thought cool enough to share.
This is a sculpture called Appearance/Emptiness. Neatorama calls it a Ribbon Man, which is begging to be some kind of serene, freaky monster.
What happens when you dump broken glass on a beach for decades?  Glass Beach.  I think this would be a cool feature to have on an island close to a sunken megalopolis.  Or maybe the cliff above this bit of shoreline has housed generations of alchemists.
Finally, nothing befits a Vampire Empress than diamond eyes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dungeon Bingo

I'm currently hanging out with ze Bulette in his stomping grounds.  Some travel Bingo in a tourist spot caught his attention.  We got to talking about several ways you might use it in-game and I ran with it to make this post.  Leveraging stuff people already understand is one of the things I'm really interested in, so, I wish I'd thought of bingo cards before.  Anyway, how would you use them in game?

Battle Bingo
At first I thought you might have cards with just numbers and, as rolls are made for combat/damage, players would check them off, achieving a cool in-game effect when they bingo. But, that seems like it's doing the opposite of what we really want.  I want players excited and leery about the battle they're in not distracted by the layer on top of it that the bingo would be. Maybe this could work for huge battles

Dungeon Bingo Leveling
Now I'm thinking maybe it would work more closely to the original car bingo concept.  So you have a card with various dungeony things and you cross them off as you encounter them (Hey, Googling shows Risus Monkey's player used the term in a similar way, hah).  When you get a bingo what happens?  I'm not sure.  This sounds remarkably like Achievement Based Level Progression.  Hah, maybe this is the way DM and players could recordkeep as well as a way players could have an idea of things they might do without a strict hierarchy of them, because Bob might need X for a bingo, but Jill needs Y.  Of course that brings out a flaw, the whole point of bingo is one person gets it before the others and that it's random.  So if you did advancement this way one random player would go up before everyone else.  Seems suboptimal.  Another problem that comes to mind is that drawing out the filling of the bingo card over several sessions seems like it would ruin any exciting tension that might build.

NPC Bingo
[Ok, several hours and a road trip later] maybe you could use the cards for NPC bingo.  You make cards with vague things like:
  • is an orphan
  • was robbed in the last month
  • despises a neighbor
  • has an unrequited love
  • complains about an ailment
and you set the party loose in the city, they try to get a bingo by talking to various npcs.  (Hmm, that sounds more like a scavenger hunt, which might work better; everyone working together rather than competing).  It might be interesting to have different players want to take  conversation with one npc in different directions: "So, tell us about your childhood" "No, no, tell us how business has been."

The big unanswered question for me is what is the bingo prize?  Free rumors?  A secret about an important NPC or local spot?  Maybe a discount on lodging and equipment for the day? Or, I suppose the most straightforward would just be XP.

Update: The bingo might be a little too clunky and gimicky to be useful, but I thought of a place where it could be quite fun.  At a convention give bingo cards for each game table.  Have all the bad stuff that can happen to a party (TPK, death by poison, death by trap) and for each group that gets a bingo, every player gets a consolation prize.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Small but Vicious Rules

If you haven't seen it yet, go check out Chris at Vaults of Nagoh's Small But Vicious Dog. It's a mashup of BX and Warhammer fantasy.  I know nothing about Warhammer fantasy but there are several really interesting subsystems you need to see here.  A social status system that affects combat, saves versus poison that have varying degrees of debilitation, and probably the most elegantly simple rules for addiction I've ever seen.

I'm leaving on a trip in a few hours but this has got me excited about tweaking this to come up with poisons, drugs and diseases for my own campaign.  I think I'll be able to fit each on a single page or less.  And that, my friends, is right down my alley.

p.s.: I think folks could learn a lot from the voice of his rules, too, not treating them as if they exist in a vacuum or as if an abstracted corporate voice is necessarily the easiest to understand.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Washed Ashore

Friday night I ran my friend through my alabaster tower solo.  I need to revise that thing because some of the puzzles are still too confusing or obscure.  But it was fun.  He ended up naked but for a loincloth and a turban stuffed with gems.  The most fun I had was when he explored the grey drapes in the hidden treasure room which is a gate to the ethereal plane.  He was creeped out in the muted twilight of the place and thought he was in the land of the dead.  I have never DMed anyone in the etheral, so I had to decide what it was like.  I finally decided it was slightly askew from reality, a little off-sync.  So the water of the ocean was jelly-like and he could walk across it.  He ended up dragging a stone canoe full of treasure across this ethereal ocean to another island that he saw in the normal plane of existence.  Once there he found a crystalline looking crack and was able to squeeze through it into the mundane world.

The next day some of his mates woke up on the shore near him. So We had:
Toral - DP
Z - F
  Fabrino hireling
  Mika hireling
  Pita hireling
Yestlick - MU
Spike - F

The party found themselves on a steep, terraced island with what looked like a structure of some sort at the top. They found a path in the jungle and started following it.  A branch off the path seemed to lead toward drumming, they ignored it and pressed on.  They soon came to a sandy spot with a skeleton half buried in it and lots of weathered white sticks.  The skeleton had a beautiful cap on and something glistened in the crook of its arm bone.  Toral and Spike immediately set out to investigate.

Spike's instincts kicked in and he jumped back.  Toral found himself sinking in quicksand.  Z used his Turban of Climbing to create a walkway to help. Just about then some skunkbats attacked.  The party fended off the attack and retrieved the treasures from the skeleton.  Spike took what turned out to be a silver scroll, Z put on the cap.

Creatures immediately started streaming out of the jungle attracted to it.  There were rats with the heads of gulls, black swans with the heads of black vipers, more skunkbats, and a jaunty parrot-headed pig.  Z, worried, walked out on his still-stiff turban, dooming the walking creatures to the quicksand.

A group of burly headless natives came out of the jungle dancing around Z and his cap (it turns out they had heads, just the heads of ants).  When they saw the silver scroll in Spike's hands they started genuflecting. A battle ensued when more skunkbats showed up. Spike, Yestlick, and Fabrino ended up unconscious.  Toral ended up 6 inches tall when he unknowingly drank a potion of Dimunition.  Z was puking his guts out after being sprayed.

The headless natives scooped up the unconscious and took them back to their crude village where dancing began.  They had two similar silver scrolls that they appeared to worship.  Remarkably, they gave up these scrolls when asked by the party and, after healing the unconscious enough to wake them, followed the party along the jungle path.

They passed a waterfall and up into another, dryer, terrace.  There they encountered giraffe-flamingos and were attacked by a panther with a pheasant tail.  It was dicey for a bit as several of the party were entranced by the beast's beautiful tail. After that they made their way to the top of the island where a two story villa stood with several outbuildings.  I'll tell that story later . . .

Some Thoughts
It was really fun because this was all played out by the campfire, no maps, no books, just dimly seen die rolls, BBQ hot dogs, s'mores, and cheap cerveza.

What turned into a running joke was how I was so proud of the parrot-pig and intended to annoy the party with its salty sayings and oinking when Spike . . . pushed it into the quicksand to die. Hehe, so much for piggy sue.

I was astounded by my reaction rolls.  I had assumed the headless natives would be dangerous but I rolled two 11s and a 12 for various reaction checks. Never had rolls that high before.  It turned from tense into some sort of Balearic islands session with bongos and dancing.

Another running joke was poor Toral stuck at 6" tall.  I kept refering to him as Thumbelina.  Also, one of the other players said, "Hey, wouldn't all his clothes stay big?"  Realizing the amusing potential of this and seeing the look on Toral's player's face as he said "You don't give the DM ideas," I made it so and Toral was naked for the rest of the game.  It gets weirder in the next session when he's riding around on a compelled donkey.  Then I started calling him Mr. Godiva.

Another note: I hadn't seen my players for weeks.  Apparently that was too long for them to go without D&D so one of my players started DMing.  He had never played D&D before me, but is pretty confident.  I asked "What version is he using?"  They said some of your stuff, some of his, and I think he got a 4th edition book.  Those 4th addition monsters have a lot of hit points!"  Haha.  I'm telling you this DIY, kit bashing, run whatever, culture is contagious.  Long live the Resurgence.

One player was also asking, how much of this stuff is random and how much is in the books.  I don't think he realized until encountering 4e that pretty much everything in my game I made or borrowed from other bloggers.  So all that effort to make stuff and they didn't realize I wasn't just pulling it out of a book, o_O

Friday, August 5, 2011

Animals Island in the Mountains

Seems like everyone is focused on Gencon.  I'm heading up to the mountains to DM my players up there, have some BBQ, show them the giant Sequoiahs etc.  First time I've managed to get someone up there to play D&D and I'm looking forward to it.

I'm not really prepared because I procrastinated as always, but I'm planning on finally trying out the Ark Island/Animal Alchemist site I started a while back.  Players should expect to encounter skunk-bats, flamingo-giraffe hybrids, the beautiful snake swans, and the obnoxious parrot-pig.

Now, in honor of Jeff bestowing a ruckus award on ZakS here is a video that cracks me up. Keep on ruckusing!

ps I'll try this new design for a bit. I'm tired of being constrained by the narrow column. Let me know if it causes you problems.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Invisible Dungeon III

I got a chance to play test an invisible dungeon.  I could have done a better job of describing the environment to players, but even so I think I learned some things that could apply to all invisible dungeon spaces.  Here are some things I learned:

What can be seen?
As with most these things it seems rather obvious but takes some brain cycles, so it would be better to think about before hand rather than try to improv.  So, can the floor be seen?  If not what do the players see?  The earth beneath, empty void, a level below? Can the ceiling be seen?  If not, do they see the floors above?  If multiple levels are invisible does looking across these boundaries just reveal emptiness as far as the party's light carries?

Objects inside a room a most likely invisible (or what's the point?), but what about living things?  You probably want the creepy factor of players seeing monsters through walls.  So are all living things visible?  What about plants?  Molds or Fungi?  If players kill an orc will the corpse become invisible?  If players drop a dagger or 10' pole on the ground will it become invisible?  If so, how long will it take?  And the invisible objects in the rooms, if players pick them up will they become visible?  If so how long will that take? 

Invisible exploration is tiring and time consuming
A hallway with two doors requires a glance and a party decision on whether to open one of the doors or proceed down the hall.  An invisible hallway requires careful prodding with poles, hands on walls, determining dimensions and that it is, in fact, a hallway and then finding the doors.  The second door may never be found.  Whole features of the dungeon may not be noticed.  If your players can explore 12 rooms in 3 hours, they can probably only get through 4-6 invisible rooms in that time.

Oddly, it takes more attention and brain power to build an image of this invisible imaginary dungeon in a player's mind than a visible one.  Eventually, a see-able room will come as a great relief.  In my play test I made some rooms visible that I hadn't intended to be, because I saw the fatigue.  Also, like in cooking or art, variety is important; if all rooms are invisible, it isn't special when you encounter an invisible room.  Because of these lessons learned I have decided that there shouldn't be an invisible dungeon, but invisible rooms in dungeons.

Invisible dungeons require different design
For example, door priority is right out.  Decisions on which way to go will result largely from chance; if the party turned left, while feeling along the wall, they will enter the door on the left, even if a treasure chest sits in an alcove to the right.

Patterns and symmetry might help, though even those are hard to discern unless the party is very thorough.  But certainly there isn't any need to try to obscure patterns.  What I mean is, that in designing my dungeon I made a place that could be livable, with bedrooms, kitchen, dining room and was largely symmetrical.  Then I pulled one of my usual tricks which is to distress that normal layout to make it more interesting.  I collapsed some ceilings and hallways.  But what that left the poor party with was an invisible space that wasn't a natural cavern and wasn't a cleanly cut dungeon.  Very confusing and added to the time exploration took.
The path of the blind on level 2
I don't think normal room filling techniques will work, because the invisible dungeon is not scoured as thoroughly.  My heart ached when a treasure cache I carefully crafted with magic items, potions, and weird spell scrolls was missed because the party decided to enter the room right next to it!  Corpses, chests, and piles of treasure can normally be seen from a distance, here they'll only find it if they literally stumble into it.  In an invisible dungeon you might want to place 2 or 3 times as much treasure and maybe have no empty rooms.  If empty rooms act as buffers to make the eventual encounter more special, the time it takes to unravel the invisible room is probably buffer enough.  Besides, what is the point of an invisible room with nothing in it!?  Nothing to stumble or puzzle over, nothing to feel.

So, with all that, I still love the idea of invisible areas in a dungeon, because the invisible dungeon is the dungeon of the four senses.  It lets players experience the dungeon more vividly through touch and smell than they would otherwise.  But it needs to be used with restraint.  Hopefully in the future I will be able to post some invisible dungeon room that can be used individually-- the invisible library, dining hall, and laboratory.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Serendipity VIII

Playing some kind of Dick Tracyesque game?  These two would make excellent npcs.  They came from some kooky phrenology book so I crudely shopped out the labels "Revenge" and "Danger" on their heads.
The silent god's shrine, ugh.
Hard to get that sense of detail and grandeur just verbally.   wish adventures had more pictures of locations you could show to players.

Monday, August 1, 2011

SoCal Minicon 4 was a Blast

Got back last night after midnight.  Had fun DMing and then playing in a session DMed by Cyclopeatron.  It was amusing to see the Knights and Knaves guys trying the figure out what I was using Scrabble tiles and Jenga for. They asked me what version we were playing, haha. I should'a said "5th."

My Session
In my session 7 folks stricken with the red plague managed to find a cure for themselves in the Redoubt of the Red Mages.  It was a perilous journey beset with giant ticks, crawling skeletons, and death mimes.  Every time a player did somethnig aggressive or violent, like take part in/witness a round of combat, they had to pull a Jenga tile.  If the Jenga tower fell everyone would have had to save or go into a mindless blood rage.  Everyone paid close attention when tiles were being pulled :)

We used Jeff's cool party game to generate stats which meant everyone at the table had three stats with negative modifiers.  It was a lot of fun, we laughed a lot.  My buddy that drove me down took it upon himself to be the drinker of water from all the magical fountains and ended up at one point roped to the party because he was deaf, afraid, disgusted by the scent of the party, and permanently shorter by four inches .

I felt bad because my session went too long.  But I learned valuable stuff from it.  One is that I had too much invisible stuff in the dungeon and I realized it takes quite a bit more time to traverse invisible sections of a dungeon, probably at least twice as much time as the equivalent visible section.  I think I'll post my thoughts on the invisibility in a separate post.

I got to try out a Stitcher for the first time but, as it was closing, the bowmen in the party managed to score three crits on it, blinding it and severely wounding it.  Then the party won initiative and hurt it some more, enough that it just rolled up into its pillbug shell and mewled.  I never got to stitch anything.  Next time she will appear in close quarters (I should have known that). The party then rolled it into a nearby jail cell they'd found and locked it in.

We had to explore a set of star coordinates and return in 4 hours.  We managed to succeed by finding two possible new power sources for our space vessels and important intel on the location.  We met a head in a basket called Butch that would climb on the mages' shoulders and whisper into their ears to teach them spells.  The corny voice butch had, and the way hands emerged from his beard to primp it delighted me.  His take on the space hobbits as dim, simple workers was fun.  I also liked the conceit that we, the party, were the greatest mages and clerics of our land.  Hell, if we couldn't succeed, who could?

The 15 story high embryo of a cacodemon having its embryo being mined for yolk was creepy and wondrous.  I simultaneously had an overwhelming urge to try and wake the fetus and a sense of terror that it might wake up.

I wish I lived closer because the idea of an infinite universe to explore is irresistible to me.  I think he had a great innovation in that you could only travel to coordinates that you already had.  So, coordinate scrolls became more important than treasure, really.  Also, there were windows of opportunity to make a destination and get back with a certain amount of fuel.  It's like Cyclopeatron added just enough NASA back into Spelljammer to make it better.

It's interesting to me that to say he was running OD&D is almost superfluous.  I imagine that gameplay to an observer of Cyclopeatron's and my own session would have looked very similar.

Another thought: being a player in a one-off with a pregen character feels almost like a different game than campaign play because you are thrown an assortment of magic items you probably have never used before and it's like a puzzle to figure out the most efficient ways to utilize them.

I hope to be able to visit again next year.  Alas, I was so busy gaming I forgot to take pictures, I hope someone else posts some I can link to.

Update: I should have said that all the folks I met were nice, smart,  and fun to game with.  I wouldn't blink if asked if they could play in my games regularly.  Also, I forgot to mention that I got to meet Allan Grohe, who flew out from Kansas.  A pleasure to meet grodog and be able to play beside him.

Update2: Go here for some great pics and a recap by Cyclopeatron.