Monday, December 31, 2012

Silhouettes XLVI

Let's squeeze one last one into 2012, shall we?  The last few posts were filled with insecty stuff because I found them so easy to trace into svgs, but this post goes back to more the old school monster feel with a few pics I was lucky enough to find.

So, without further ado, for your charts, maps, and player handouts, these are all public domain, so use them as you wish:
I like this frogman, bullywug, vicious amphibioid.
A rat, suitable for giant or wererat depiction.
A creepy child skeleton with a bone club.  I toyed around with adding white eye sockets to this fellow but it kept getting worse and worse, so I'll just give you this.
A man begging or grovelling.  I think this will work well on the NPCs as lock sheet as an action players can take towards an NPC.
Another fop.  Maybe he's who you'll grovel to.

And now, a few more insects:

These have all been added as vector graphics to the zip file linked in my sidebar to the right.

ps, The santicore present I made was posted!  I'll write about it next year.  Hope 2013 is a productive and happy year for you all.  Thank you so much for reading and commenting.  I appreciate it very much.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Dramarama

I was never as excited about Jeff Rient's Carousing Table as everyone else because it seemed the only player that would roll on a table that takes your money and gets you into trouble is thinking a little more extra-diegetically than made sense to me.  Or maybe I should just say I doubt I would take the risk with any of my characters.

But then I got to thinking, what carousing is really doing is injecting some story complications from outside player or DM contributions into the game that has few ways to do that.  Well, the players are choosing to roll on the table, so you could say they are injecting these twists, but they don't know all the possibilities on the chart and they certainly aren't making up bits of story on their own.  Neither DM nor players have to be responsible for it making sense or being good, or all the things you might feel responsible for if you were plotting out a railroad.  This works because when carousing you are presumably soused out of your mind, so the player can feel okay about giving up some agency for any choices they make while carousing.

I realized this some time after making my table that let's you know what you did when you were a werewolf.  Which absolves players of responsibility in a different way.  And I started wondering if there were any other ways than carousing or lycanthropy you might inject some story-like twists without taking away the players' agency.  And I thought the one thing we can't choose and all have is Family, baby!  And thus was born the Dramarama:
Roll 4d30.  First tells you which of your family members is causing a ruckus, second what they are up to, third is for who else is involved and fourth is what they want from you.

There are nonsensical and gonzo results possible, as well as results that may require a little interpretation work on you part.

Why would players want to mess with this?  Well, it could be a "fee" for coming back into town.  That would keep players from shopping incessantly or hunkering down and not exploring.  I would probably roll randomly to determine which party member was affected once per session spent in town to go this route.

Or, you could balance it with reward: allow any player to gather a rumor per roll on the Dramarama or gather more information about things they want to investigate.  Presumably their sprawling chaotic families have heard lots.

Of course, the results from the table could be completely ignored by players.   But I would probably make the Second Parties involved or local authorities (for the more criminal results) put some pressure on PCs about  the issue somehow.

I'll upload a pdf when I'm back home.

Update: Here is the pdf.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Santicore came for me!  Here is what I asked for.  The gift I made hasn't been revealed yet.  I might post a few design comments when it has.  I've promised to run a New Year's Eve game for friends and have to figure that out.  I'm thinking trying out a time shifting dungeon would be appropriate.  I'm currently at my folks' just relaxing.  Hope you are all having great holidays.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Low Ghosts

Low ghosts are so old they've almost faded away.  Or, some say they're just the spirits of those most powerless and forgotten.  Either way they seem incapable of harming someone, only possessing them.  A low ghost will follow a person, moaning in the shadows, until they take possession of them (can attempt each round).  Once they possess a person they wander off and lose themselves in the darkness.  Even their ability to possess is weak, though; and the more souls nearby the less likely it becomes (every person touching a target gives it bonus to save).


More a distraction than a direct threat, but I had an image come to mind while falling asleep one night of a party all holding hands with these things all around them and then coming to a ladder or rope down . . .

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Beginner Sandbox

Where is it?  By beginner sandbox I mean a small setting set up to help a DM run 1st level adventurers through a wilderness.  A place to locate various lower level dungeons and let players make choices about where they want to go.

It seems the closest we've ever had to this was B2 the Keep on the Borderlands.  This gives a pretty clear run down on a home base where players can buy supplies and rest and heal safely.  It provides one major pocket of adventure and several small encounters scattered through the wilderness.

I know people have said they used T1 The Village of Hommlet as a home base.  That does a good job of fleshing out some npcs and buildings in the town but doesn't even have an overland map to get to the local adventure area.

There are Sample Dungeons
It may be that this was never provided because the assumption is that every DM would create their own and it wasn't needed.  But this isn't the assumption made for dungeons, which I consider the much easier problem to crack. 

Starting with the original D&D you get examples of what a dungeon looks like.  You get an even more fleshed out one in Holmes and a smaller but still helpful one in Moldvay basic.  Module B1 is actually set up to help a DM learn to stock a dungeon.

It seems that the place to look for a similar helpful approach to wilderness adventuring would be the Marsh and Cook Expert book.  And we are given a map with 6 mile hexes and an example gnome lair.  But that's it.  I'm not even sure where the map maker is assuming characters would start, Specularum?  The information given seems more appropriate to a geography text book than an adventure setting.

Wilderness as Gazeteer
I've never owned the Forgotten Realms (I've seen its map and have played in the Realms under other DMs) but I did own the World of Greyhawk boxed set.  I remember reading that set so closely and puzzling about what I was supposed to do with the information on how many thousands of demi-humans lived in different areas.  Was it about army formation?  Was this necessary if players get into the endgame and have to raise an army of gnomes?

This is the same approach the Expert sample world takes; some of the most prominent information is how many thousands of troops the Duke can raise.

What these products seem to want to do is give you a whole fantasy continent complete with history and the current political situation.  These seem to be trying to fashion their own Middle Earth, more than setting up a place you can run your players through.  Because you are being given a whole world, the information is presented as a gazeteer. 

As I said, I don't own Forgotten Realms so maybe I'm mistaken about it.  Does it give a starting area?  Does it give any guidance on where you might start play?  Another product that might be relevant is the Wilderness of High Fantasy.  It's one of the few roleplaying standards I'd never heard of until joining the OSR.  But the way it is talked about it sounds to be set up in a similar way.   Does it give a starting area?  Does it give any guidance on where you might start play?

I suppose one thing these products might be trying to do is allow DMs to set up a starting point for a campaign in many different areas.  Allowing choice and possibilities.  But I kind of doubt that's what's going on.  It's like these kinds of setting products are based on the assumption that by the time you need a setting map the players will be high enough level that they'll be interacting with armies and whole populations-- that up until that point various dungeons are enough.

Wilderness as Infinite Hexes
Another way of dealing with wilderness, possibly the result of how little use you get from the gazeteer-style continent overview, is to treat each hex as a dungeon room.  Each hex has one thing in it and I assume the idea is the party will encounter that thing no matter how many square miles the hex is.  What is in the hexes seems to be just a more detailed encounter.

Coming up with encounters is not difficult for me.

I remember early on in my blogging career someone on the Swords & Wizardry forums saying that they treated the wilderness like a big-ceilinged dungeon.  Which is the clearest surrender on trying to make wilderness play work I've ever heard.

What Would a Beginner Sandbox Look Like?
You might be thinking, well, what is it you actually want Telecanter?  I've done a few posts about this.  How about a sandbox:
Have I missed something?  Does a product exist that does some of these things? Were you also puzzled by the gazeteer type set up that was the default for TSR settings?  How do you solve this problem?  Do you create a new sandbox every time, or do you have a got to product like B2 that you always use when starting new parties?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


After my post about making the sandbox accessible I've been thinking more about ways you might do that.  I realized that it works in Morrowind because the assumption of an empire and civilization.  Knowing there will be an Imperial Cult shrine in the next town is the benefit of empire.  And soldiers keep the roads safe.  But empire is usually the opposite of wilderness.  And I want wilderness.

Well one way to do it is to make these routes the remnants of an empire, like a lot of post-apocalyptic D&D settings.  You have nice Roman-like roads with bridges.  These could be patrolled by locals.  This would allow for safe travel between close towns and, at least a faster route through the wilderness.

Then I started thinking about canals.  Has a D&D setting ever used them?  They would be perfect for a Western Marches style game.  You discover an oddly straight waterway, even though over grown, banks crumbling, and you know it will lead to something interesting.  Probably both ways. 
Canal going into a tunnel
Some canals will lead right underground.  Maybe through some rough, hilly territory. Or maybe into an underground city ruin.  I can't think of anything more D&D than finding one of those, loading up a narrowboat, and setting off into the dark.

Canals and locks leading over a mountain seem a perfect way to get over a mountain with horses and gear in a much safer way.  And a perfect reason to go into the mountain ruins: to try and get the locks and reservoirs working again.

Towpath cut into stone
Even if a canal functions pretty much as a river in the present of your setting it could have interesting features left over like tow paths and ruins along it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Towards Visual NPCs

For me, keeping track of who the players have met, what they talked about, and what those npcs want, is one of the last big bookkeeping hurdles that gets in the way of my game.  I want the world to be about more than just exploring dungeons but to do that I have to set up some simple infrastructure to help me deal with all the information.

This is a rough draft trying to get at that.  I talked about npcs as locks before.  That was thinking certain topics would unlock new information and finding the topics would lead players to talk more with npcs.  Here, I made it a little more video gamey; a specific approach or activity will get you new knowledge.  So, you can see with this gentleman if you drink with him and you learn something.  Gamble with him a bit and the conversation will reveal something else.  You might find out what activities work best by asking a different npc: "Hey what's your boss all about?"

But I could easily see a different set up with a topic-unlocks-topic focus.  Some of the things revealed could be npc secrets

The bottom two bits are another idea where what is revealed isn't a rumor or bit of personal info but a hook that leads to something in the world. So, intimidate the guy and he'll reveal the location of a rare spell he's heard of.  Seduce him and he'll tell you about a treasure trove, or maybe the purse is more a score you can make if you want to rob someone.

Under his name are some traits.  I see no reason to list out full stats for every person in the world.  I'll assume they are all average unless noted otherwise.  We can see he is not talkative but quite strong.  If you want to generate some more from these terse details-- maybe the fact that he can be intimidated even though he is strong means he's a coward, or maybe he's just a pacifist.  Uhh, maybe not if he's involved in Nidus' brutal animal arena where exotics go to die.

This is assuming some prep-- you know they might interact with the heads of the big animal fighting clans or whatever.  But I can see a totally different set up for impromptu npcs that would allow for recording bits you generate each time they show up like this.  I guess it's not good to have too many different npc forms, but we want the tools that help us do the job.  Actually, I could just put that on the flip side of this 3x5 card.  It might actually help me keep track of which npcs players have met and which they haven't.

You know what, let me go and mock up something to use that make-them-as-you-need-to format of Zak's. . . .

Okay, about forty minutes later here's what I've got:
Blank spot to sketch or paste a portrait in.  Blank spot for name and for traits underneath.  Then the spots to record info for each additional meeting with the npc.  (and I'm thinking space age again-- a tablet app that randomly came up with the result from the appropriate chart when you tapped those line would be sweet.  Then it would let you lock it in or re-roll).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Accessible Sandbox

My conception of a sandbox has always involved a "starter" village that has a few roads or routes to bigger settlements all set in a wilderness that get increasingly dangerous the further from civilization you get.  The difficulty of the sandbox could be seen as concentric circles emanating from that first village, because even the roads and big urban areas they lead to could have encounters and dangers.

Morrowind has me re-thinking this.
Map edited from here.  The red dots are the Mage guilds which all can be accessed from each other.
You start the game in Seyd Neen in the South West.
From the very beginning, as a weak first leveller, you can access a huge portion of the existing sandbox, and safely.  The world has Silt Striders that look like big fleas which you can ride from some towns to others.  There are also boats that can be taken from most coastal towns which allow for circumnavigating the island sandbox completely.  This is all safe and relatively cheap.  With a tiny bit of effort you can even become a member of the Mage's Guild which allows for teleportation between the five guilds on the island (again, for a small fee).

Magic available in the game helps with the ease of travel too.  There are spells (and magic items) that allow for teleportation to both native and Imperial temples.  Crafty use of these can let you take shortcuts in travel-- popping over to a temple that is near a Silt Strider port, for example.  There is also a Mark/Recall set of spells that allows you to set a specific anchor you want to easily return to later.

The danger is still present between these points of civilization, but there is much more flexibility in travel and exploration than I have experienced in any other video game sandboxes.  If you don't want to mess about in the grimy swamps along the coast you can spend time in the dry ashlands further inland, or head to the grassy grazelands far to the west.

Danger is fairly well signaled; any old ruins are likely to have things you shouldn't mess with and as you near the center of the island more of the creatures are blighted and contagious.  So your choices about where to travel can be informed choices.

The settlements offer pretty much redundant services, for example temples and Imperial garrisons.  This means if you have a particular kind of character you like to play, you can take of advantage of all these travel opportunities without being penalized.  The cities aren't identical, though, and you often need to travel around to find a spell or item you need.

I think one way this is possible is the sandbox is circular and several hops of travel doesn't take you so far away as to be unable to still access other environments.  In a more traditional rectangular map, traveling towards a desert environment most likely leads you farther and farther from your original location.

I suppose a traditional D&D sandbox is also bigger, though, in-game this world feel huge.  I wouldn't want to have to walk across the island real time.

I guess it all comes down to how much prep you can do.  The video game all has to be ready for players from the moment play starts.  So, as long as you can compartmentalize real danger (shove it into ruins and underground) you can let the player amble about all over.  For a DM, having multiple areas that players could choose to start from sounds like lots of work.

But I will certainly think more about safe, clearly marked, ways players can move about so they can have choices where they want to explore.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Liar's Broom

The Liar's Broom or Storyteller's Brush is just simple brush made from animal hair and a beaded cord.  The user brushes a circle in the dust around them.  Anything that understands stories can be kept at bay outside that circle for as long as the user can tell one.  The story must be about the creature held at bay and starts with the teller saying "I know a story and it's got you in it.  Listen and be still."  All creatures, great and evil will wait out to see how the story goes (every 30 seconds a player can actually keep spinning a story = a round in the game).  At the end of the story the the teller can make the listener leave by saying "Now you go away" (listener gets a save minus number of rounds the story lasted).

Some say that practiced tellers can even make things happen.  After a story the teller can say "And that's nothing.  Listen to what happens next" and then proceed to lay out what the listener will do (These events are limited to within earshot of the teller, say, unlocking a cell door, or having the listener drink a potion).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Silhouettes XLV

More silhouettes for your charts, maps, and player handouts. These are all public domain, so use them as you wish. (I've been playing Morrowind like a Skooma fiend and pulled myself away to post this just so I feel like I accomplished something.)  Here are the five images I used in recent posts plus three extra.  I'm not sure how to label these things in the file, maybe just "insect"?

Note: this next one is actually a mosquito larva:
And this was some kind of jellyfish:
And here are the new ones, starting with gesticulating spider, which should probably be a player race:
Last but not least, Mr. Eugen Sandow, but mirrored, so his body wasn't quite perfect enough for me:
These have all been added as vector graphics to the zip file linked in my sidebar to the right.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Complex Monsters III

The titles of these posts are a bit of a misnomer because what I started exploring was what kind of monster would require a page to explain or run.  Taking up a page doesn't necessarily require complexity.  Here is an example that is not mine but something quite simple yet would benefit from pages premade and xeroxable in a bestiary.

It comes from this post way back in the olden times of yore.  Basically it is a simple visual hit location system.  I wanted to try my hand at it, so above is my image of a hydra with heads that do different types of damage.  Boxes are all filled, that particular head is dead.  Determine where a hit lands the way Zak suggests, toss a d4.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Complex Monsters II

Here's another attempt at a monster that would require more explanation to run.  In the last post the monster was complicated because it had something like a biological life cycle.  Complexity can also come from Magic and its quirky rules and steps, so let's explore that angle.  An older monster that might fit the bill is the Nested Golem.  I can imagine a seperate illustration for each stage making even more than a page possible to present it.  Here is a similar but slightly different Golem.  This one doesn't have actual physical stages but magical rule stages:

Hermetic Golem
The most learned of Kabbalists could not only make inert matter come to life, but make it impervious to harm.  Not completely impervious; always one secret way remained to make the creations able to be harmed.  Refinements to the process led these sages to layer the dweomers so that even if a person were to dicover the secret to harming the golem, another different secret awaited underneath.  Like tumblers in a lock these secrets must be presented in the right order:

Hit it with:
  1. a blunt weapon
  2. a sharp weapon
  3. magic
  4. wood
  5. iron
  6. earth
  7. water
  8. fire
  9. salt
  10. acid
Cause it to walk across:
  1. a map
  2. a piece of clothing that was worn by its maker
  3. a singular book
  4. salt
  5. accidentally spilled wine
  6. a poem written in chalk
  7. its shadow
  8. the shadow of a child
  9. the clothes of someone you love
  10. the hair of a dead family member
Do this aloud:
  1. speak it's name
  2. speak your name
  3. speak the name of its maker
  4. rebuke it in the language of its maker
  5. speak a secret word
  6. sing a song in the language of the maker
  7. recite the story of its making
  8. give the just reasons that you must pass
  9. laugh genuinely
  10. lists the names of your children awaiting you
Assign a d10 of a particular color to each list and roll them.  Determine from how they land what order they will be in.  This gives 1000 possible combination to get past the  Hermetic Golem.  Obviously some research or divination might be required.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Complex Monsters

It's funny, as many times as I've thought about monsters there always seems to be a new angle.  Yesterday's post got me thinking, what would a monster that takes a whole page to explain be like?  I mean if it needed the page and it wasn't adventure hooks or other useful but extra stuff.

Here's one attempt:

Thrig are human size bugs found underground.  Their hives are made of paper like a wasp's, though the cells are ellipsoid, smell of ginger, and have thin mithril threads running through them as support.

They are protective of the territory of their hive.  Hundreds will come swarming and biting if intruders are detected.

Here's the catch, if a thrig is killed by physical harm its corpse will start shuddering the next round and hatch out a Floater.  These will attempt to attach to warriors and carry them off to suitably distant locations in the dungeon, often dropping them from heights.

But, if a Thrig is killed by magic, it will metamorphose into a Layer and attack any spell casters nearby, thrusting its long abdomen down their throats to lay Thrig eggs in the victim's stomach.

If a Floater or a Layer are slain their husks remain on the ground.  If any additional Thrig are killed while both Layers and Floaters lie dead, however, and killed in any way, all the corpses will begin scuttling towards each other and in a matter of rounds form a Thrig Queen.  Then things start getting ugly.

Well, I guess that's not quite a page.  I could go into more detail about how to handle the two grappling-type attacks and maybe even complexify the cycle a bit with more ways to kill them and new Thrig that result.  Oh and I never explained the Queen . . . yeah that could be interesing maybe a chart of effects it could cause in characters.

And in the end, it isn't really one monster just several subtypes with an interesting way to produce them.

Anyway, now it's your turn, what would be an interesting monster complicated enough to takes some room to explain?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Visual MM II + Fonts!

My last post was really about quick look ups at the table and using silhouettes to speed up the process of finding the right monster.  I realize that many monsters would benefit from more info in a prep-type book.  Here is a mock up of me trying to see what that could look like. Imagine the big silhouette replaced by an actual cool illustration.

I envision this and the other to be completely different books.  This one could be a bigger format.

I don't see the perfect Monster Manual as one of those comprehensive tomes with an entry for everything.  I think most monsters could be easily handled by a short section with one example monster for each hit die and example special attacks allowing DMs to extrapolate and mix and match.  Only weirdly interesting or complex monsters would get full write ups (I'm not claiming this is a great example of that-- think Man of Wounds, or Vomiter type stuff).

So, this page is still busier than I would like.  Maybe being in columns would help that.

In thinking of its use for prep work, I broke it into explicit sections with: the overview, what you can use this thing's body parts for, adventure hooks, and a map.

I should have probably put a size comparison like you mentioned, but forgot about it while fighting to make this much happen.  A good place for that would probably be in the lower outer corner, then as you flip the pages of your book you can see the little sils at the bottom or the monster name at the top edge of the page (thinking of this as a left-handed page, consider the illo and name to be switched for the opposite side).

I did get a Morale underlay thingy-- the flag.  I was also thinking about a second line of smaller numbers under the  creatures stat line.  The idea with the stat line look is that you will easily recognize this beastie in your at-the-table-book because it's the same.

I'm torn between the idea of the text being in character as a kind of bestiary that you could easily share with your players and a DM aimed text with a clear voice and practical tips "My players farmed these for their feathers until one of the huge flocks almost TPKed the party, now they respect them," or whatever an experienced DM would think another DM should know.

Some things I know I don't want: glossy paper, a watermark underlying the text and making it hard to read, and probably too much in-character text-- I don't want short stories, just text that sets a tone and is evocative.

Jacob over at Swordfish Islands tipped me off to some interesting free fonts he mentions in this post.  That's Fell's English Roman in the draft above.  I like that it has more character than Times New Roman, which can seem pretty sterile after a while.

The fonts are free and only require you attribute them and if you redistribute, keep them bundled.  If you know of similarly cool fonts let everyone know.  Thanks Jacob.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Towards a Visual MM

What do you think?  (I wouldn't worry too much about these monsters I needed some examples, though I did try to make them interesting.)

I think a coil-bound A5 book full of monsters like this would be cool.  Of course, this might be limiting the amount of info you can use to describe a monster a bit too much.  I could probably double the space between monsters to allow for more text.

It might be useful to have symbols to represent common special attacks like poison.  But I'm not sure that Level Drain and Paralysis, for example, are ideas that would have very recognizable as icons.  In this draft I just put them as words in bold.

Color could be helpful too.  I love some of the stuff Roger has done with it.  But I've always been thinking about the home DIYer with just a laser printer, like myself.

What else would be necessary?  Save is tied with HD in my game and would be redundant.  Move?  Usually not interesting unless it is out of the ordinary and then it could be listed in the text.  Ah, morale.  I forgot, I was going to use a little flag underlay for that stat.  XP and treasure probably too.  Roger has size. For my personal use I could just skip most the text and use the extra space for more stats.

Imagine a tablet app set up like this where each column could be sorted and tapping on each part of the entry would zoom in for more info.  Tapping HD could automatically roll HP.  Tapping Dmg could roll the appropriate digital die.  The text could blow up into a full ecology if you wanted, maybe with a sample lair.

I'd make it so you could sort for monsters with special attacks (give me all the constrictors), type ( let me see the reptiles) or whatever (allow the user to add tags to entries -- maybe Creepy, never used, or OGL).

I like the challenge of paper but if digital tools are inevitable it would be cool to have something which uses the spreadsheet's strengths and trys to address its weaknesses.