Saturday, March 30, 2013


Daily OSR Fix is a newer blog with some cool posts.  I wanted to take this post about sidequests and try and kick it up a notch.  So rather than just 20 archetypal options in your chart you get those and the possibility of many more if you roll twice and mix and match the columns.  (We need a name for this kind of chart like: two-layer chart to steal from burrito nomenclature, or something)

I abstracted some of the verbs a bit so they might work better with multiple nouns.  So, "clear out monsters" became "secure a location."  I had to change "Explore" to "Investigate" for the same reason and left out the old "Escort" standby altogether. 

Some of the actions are pretty similar, like "Spy on," "Reconnoiter," "Investigate," and "Research."  They have subtle differences that could still work.  I think of research as requiring books and resources, not necessarily the object of study itself while spying requires not just direct but surreptitious, observation, for example.  But if you can think of some alternative actions that might be a bit more distinct, please share.

There are some odd possible results. What does it mean to deliver a location?  Maybe acquire ownership and then hand it over to someone?  Maybe provide a way for someone to reach the location easily like magical travel?  What does get a relationship mean?  Maybe you have to get married or acquire a sponsor of some sort?  Ah well, this kind of chart will always require a little interpretation.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Vancian Spell Ideas

Our brains are weird.  I haven't even been thinking about spells recently but trying to fall asleep the other night Vancian spell slots popped into my head and a tumble of ideas:

With most of the spells I've come up with I've tried to build a cost into the casting of them, so that level might not matter as much. But the ultimate built-in cost of a spell might be a permanent limit on casting it: 

1. The spell you can only cast once.  What spell would be interesting or good enough to mess with if you can't cast it multiple times?  Maybe they are spells with permanent effects and the power is based on the level you cast it at.  Like a permanent Palimpsest Pack.  Do you want to have two packs at second level or wait around until 5th foregoing all the convenience the spell would give you now for more convenience later?

Then I thought what if there was a limit to how often spells could be cast at all, by anyone? 

2. The spell with 1d4 castings per campaign.  You might call them Grand Dweomers or something.  What the heck would be powerful enough to be so limited?  Maybe a gate to another plane or mass charm type spells or zombie armies.  In a way this is like an artifact with limited charges and would have the same potential for plots and quests.

The Vancian system, by definition, is one spell-one slot, but what if it wasn't? :

3. Spells that cost variable slots.  Rather than having weak monster summoning and strong monster summoning, what if a spell was just a type of reaction and the caster decided how many slots to use up in memorizing it.  Traditionally some spells scale with level, but these would only scale if you decided to use up more spell slots. This would take more bookkeeping, though, so your MU player knows they have 1 2 slot magic missile and 1 3 slot magic missile, or whatever.

4. Spells that cost variable slots II.  Another way to think of spells that have different slots costs is if spells were like computer algorythms: some might be more efficient than others.  So you find magic missile that costs 2 first level slots to memorize but you've heard of a version that only requires 1.  This would tend to make wizards weaker because the most common spells would probably be weaker than traditional in this kind of campaign.  It would fit the idea of wizards scouring old libraries for spells well, though.

5. Spells that increase in price.  You could have a cool spell that requires higher level memorization slots as the caster increases in level (you could also ratchet it up on each use but I'm averse to so much bookkeeping). So, either Cool Spell costs you 1 first level slot at first level and 2 at second level and so on, or it costs you 1 first level slot at first level and then 1 second level slot at second level and so on.  This is kinda topsy turvy because it means these spells would be cheaper for lower level wizards (while possibly having the same effect) but maybe that could still fit demon or fae magic.  It could be an interesting reason powerful mages seek out weaker ones: to cast these for them.

6. Contingent spell slots.  What if you could keep 2 lower level spells "on hold" in 1 higher level slot and then pick which one, but only one, to cast later?  Why would you want to ?  Well maybe the lower level spells are utility spells of some sort and you don't know what you'll need in the next adventure.  It would allow the caster to sacrifice some firepower for flexibility.  This breaks the definition of a Vancian slot technically if not in spirit.

7. Multi-Slot Rituals.  Spells so powerful they require more than one caster are a cool idea that show up in the literature a lot, but not really in old school D&D.  What if you made a spell and said it requires X number of slots.  You could treat this unit, "slots," as first level slots so a ritual of 4 could be prepared for and cast by 4 first level mages or 1 5th level mage, using all their available first level spell slots. You might also convert slots by multiplying by level.  So that same ritual could be cast using 2 second level slots or 1 4th level slot.  Starting to get mathy, but if you wanted a world that had a lot of social, multi-caster magic I think you could do it with little trouble.

8. Multi-Spell Requirements.  What if to cast a certain spell you had to have other spells in memory?  That latter spell would have to be pretty good to be worth it.  The list of spells needed might make sense, for example a low level fire spell and and a low level wind spell required to make a high level firestorm spell.  If you had all powerful spells assembled from lower spells you might be able to do away with levels all together.  The lower level spells could be consumed or not.

9. Research branches.  This isn't related to slots so much as learning new spells.  What if you could only learn spell C after you've learned spells A and B?  These could be like branches of magic: fire spells or charm spells for example.  I suppose this could be a way to limit caster power without requiring levels at all as well.

10. Sacrifice spell slots for Permanency.  First edition made you lose constitution points and only allowed a greatly curtailed spell list to be cast permanently.  What if you made it much simpler: cast a spell at its level and then lose that spell slot permanently (even if someone dispels the spell).  That would be interesting and cause for some tough decisions I'd think.

11. Sacrifice spell slots for Psionic Powers.  If spell slots represent some inherent mental capabilities, what if you could sacrifice them for psionic abilities?  See this post.  You could use some kind of conversion like that mentioned in #7 and have each slot raise your power by one.  Would losing 2 first level spell slots permanently be worth having precognition that allows you to see the future several months ahead?

12. Spell slot fingerprints.  You might have players roll up a pattern of slots their wizard will be capable of memorizing at character creation.  This would make magic use more like a genetic ability.  Maybe wizard A has few low level slots but can hold more 5th level spells than anyone around while wizard B can hold tons of low level spells but few higher level.  I guess this would give MUs something like a Dragon ball Z power level.  It would make some mages much weaker at start than they already are for a payoff later that is already hard enough to achieve for old school play, though.  It also goes against the idea that through learning and practice you increase your ability to work with difficult magic.

13. Non-Slot spell limits.  The system of how many spells of which level you get per caster level is one chart I always have to check.  I would prefer something simpler.  You might use other numbers to limit spells cast per day.  How about: Int points, Int bonus points, Con points, HP, or even XP.  This is basically the simplest possible spell point system.  Of course you'd have to figure some conversion factor for high level spells or just convert all the traditional spells into your new units (e.g. magic missile = 1 Int point cost).  Using attribute points would result in much fewer spells.  HP would scale with level but change the tone of magic to one of strength as power rather than knowledge.  XP might be the most interesting possibility, it goes up but then whipsaws back down when you use your powers.  You would probably want to use your spells as little as possible.  That seems very like a Sinbad movie.

One of the criticisms Vancian magic gets is that it makes magic like bullets, but what if we embrace the idea of spells as ammo and see where it goes:

14. Shift spell type.  Just like you can load blanks in a revolver, you might allow for memorizing different types of spell "ammo."  Then you wouldn't need an illusionist class, for example, just make every spell also available for memorization as an illusion.  You could have other types of spell ammo, like fire, shadow, or poison instead of having to invent many different but similar spells for pyromancers and shadow mages the way 2e did.

If we think of spells as ammo you might wonder what the gun is:

15. Wands and Staves as foci.  Rather than giving magic items limited spell casting ability make them true focuses of power.  So, any caster without a focus has all spell range, duration, damage at 1/4, with a wand, 1/2, with a stave normal.  And these items could have requirements as to materials or value in your campaign.

16. Wands and Staves as spell slot holders.  Rather than charges you must place at the creation of a magic item, what if these had slots just like those in a wizards brain?  So a wand might have 5 slots and you could put whichever 5 first level spells in it each day that you wanted.  It could be interesting to have a campaign based on this, where no person is capable of holding spells in their head, only loading them into magic items.  Finding more powerful items would be a big goal.  Also, can non-wizards release the spells?  That would create an even differently flavored magic campaign.

17. Multi-spell memorization packages.  What if you could quickly learn certain combinations of spells together?  This is like a banana clip.  It is similar to #8 above but meant to be an advantage.  It would probably only matter if you are a stickler for memorization times or conditions.  Might still be cool to have a magic statue in a dungeon that dumps 6 spells in your brain when you touch it, or maybe fills any empty slot with the same spell-- all of a sudden you have 10 more magic missiles.

18. Quick Swap spells.  Related to the last idea. Think of the way some FPS limit the kind of weapon or grenade you have and when you encounter a new one you have to decide which to keep.  What if you approached the statue in the dungeon and you could have a cool new spell only if you dumped one you had memorized.  This would be more interesting if you allow players to scribe brand new spells into their spell books from their minds.  Heck, what if you could swap with nearby casters.

19. Spell Slaves.  If spells were that easy to swap from caster to caster a powerful mage could keep a bunch of lower level "clip" mages around to grab spells from their memory when needed.  Why not just have all those noobs cast one their own, though?  Hmm, maybe the spells become more powerful when cast by a higher level caster or maybe they involve control of summoned monsters or something that the big wiz doesn't trust to the minions.

20. Spell Entities.  What if spells are not used up but must be removed from memory and stored elsewhere to allow for other spells to be memorized?  This would make spells more like pokemon.  It would also make wizards much more powerful if they could repeatedly cast something like magic missile (and it just returns like a boomerang).  Well, unless those kind of direct damage spells became much more rare in the world.  This kind of campaign/wizard would be more interesting if the DM really put pressure on storage and safety of those spells not in your brain.

Okay, that's all I got.  I'd be supremely surprised if a lot of these haven't shown up before.  But maybe one or two are new to you.  I think the multi-slot rituals and the slot-sacrifice permanency are actually things I might try in my game.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bloggy Weirdness

Not an important post.  Just wondering if anyone has similar experiences.

Spam Comments
Last few weeks I've been getting 4-8 spam comments a day.  They seem to be randomly assigned to posts throughout my blog history to try and escape my notice.  Because I have the option set that I need to approve any comment older than a week I've been able to catch and burn these.  I've had full-free anonymous posting open for, like, months, so it isn't that.  I guess I just ended up on a list somewhere? 

Don't worry about censorship, I'd never delete even a trollish comment, these are an easy species to detect because they usually have innocuous text that could apply to any blog and then a link to some scummy website for fat burning or sex toys.

Ghost Traffic
In the same time period (I wonder if it is related somehow to the spam) I've received a couple big waves of traffic that I have no clue as to the origin.  I've never fooled with Google Analytics or anything, just look at the Stats page in Blogger to see what folks are reading.  That way I know if someone has posted a link to Reddit or StumbleUpon.  In these cases Blogger would tell me I was getting 400 hits in a day on a three-year-old post but not the origin of those hits.  The most recent was for my Beasts of Burden look at encumbrance.

I was wondering if it might be someone sharing a link on G+ and it is hidden in traffic coming from Google (I get a bunch from there already from people looking for silhouettes in image search).  But I don't think even all the links from Google on those days adds up to the traffic it's showing.  Weird.  Either it's telling me I'm getting hits I'm not getting or I'm getting hits and somehow it isn't recording their source.

This isn't a big deal, but knowing who is in your audience and what they are most interested in is useful information.

Can you unlike something?  I've never tried.  I suppose it would make sense in case you accidentally clicked Like on something you didn't. But my last post, which has the most Likes I've ever got, suddenly dropped by 6.  Why would people like something and then change their mind?  Weird.  Oh well, back to making stuff.

Monday, March 25, 2013


   It's been almost four years since I started this blog and began to take part in the excitement of what we came to call the Old School Renaissance. It seems that the community has already coalesced around a narrative of what the OSR was.  The story that will probably be told in thirty years is something like this:

   In 2000 Wizards of the Coast created the Open Game License which several years later allowed folks like Matthew Finch, Daniel Proctor, and Stuart Marshall to create clones of old Dungeons & Dragons rules systems that were no longer being published.  These retroclones were unexpectedly popular and led to a flourishing of amateur and independent products designed for the older systems.  In 2012 WotC began selling reprints of first edition D&D hardbacks and 2013 made many of the old TSR products available as pdfs and discussion of the upcoming D&D release, D&D Next, indicated that some old school sensibilities were taken into account when developing the rules.  The OSR had succeeded!  A community of enthusiasts bridged the drought of old system availability and re-introduced a whole new generation of gamers to the fun of old school style play.

That's not my OSR.

The accepted history

    My OSR goes something like this: After a multi-year break from the game, I was hungry to play again and ready to try and find some fellow players.  About that time I stumbled on to the Swords & Wizardy retroclone.  I don't remember how, to be honest, but it was probably articles on the death of Gygax leading me to the Grognardia blog and then a larger search of D&D online.  My initial excitement was based on a misunderstanding.  You see, I missed out on the 3rd edition branch of D&D entirely, so when I saw some of the changes made to D&D in Swords & Wizardry I saw them as awesome revisions.  I didn't know that ascending armor class and a simplified saving throw were backported by Mr. Finch because of copyright infringement worries.  I thought he came up with those as house rules and included them because it made the game better.

   To me, the retroclone as a clone, allowing for playing the old systems, was kind of a silly idea since I had multiple copies of most the old D&Ds.  I'd seen them for years like flotsam on thrift store shelves.  No, to me the retroclone was a license to embrace the old rules while revising them.  Not nostalgia, but innovation.  Not carefully filling the gaps of a corporate product line but reinvigorating the idea that I could do it myself.

   Well, not by myself exactly.  The real thrill of the OSR, and it sure as hell seemed like this was shared by a lot of other bloggers at the time, was a conversation between a lot of makers about what they were making and why.  I had been thinking about the game on my own for almost thirty years and almost every blog I checked had cool approaches and ideas I'd never had a glimmer of a thought of.  So my OSR was the best combination of the permission to do my own thing and a community of people sharing and helping each other.
   Back to the accepted history.  I think the reason you see some arguments in the community about whether the OSR includes just D&D or other games from the old days is because this complicates the narrative.  I know there were blog posts about Tunnels & Trolls and Traveler back when I started, but those games had never gone away so they don't fit the story of the OSR as a bridge.  It's true that most conversation circled around D&Ds, but there were whole series of posts about Fantasy Wargaming and Warhammer Fantasy and porting some of their ideas back into those D&Ds.  If you focus on the fact that  the emphasis was on D&D in the OSR because you think it was the product we all wanted and couldn't buy, you are misunderstanding that it was just the dominant dialect in a wide ranging conversation about role playing.  We were looking everywhere for ideas with merit.

   Another common discussion is whether there are too many clones.  Again, this is based on the assumption that the service that was needed was to fill in for the lack of published older games.  And once you have a viable stand-in why would you need another?  But Vornheim should be the beautiful burr under that saddle.  It isn't cloning anything.  It isn't even a system.  And surely everyone agrees Vornheim came out of the OSR.  What about Carcosa?  What about Lamentations of the Flame Princess?  It is certainly a system, but it just as certainly isn't cloning an old D&D.  Even if you limit your view of the highly polished, published products of the OSR they don't really fit the common narrative.

   I guess the reason I wanted to make this post is that, while sure, there is truth in the story of the retroclones providing old school gamers with the game they loved when WotC wouldn't, it leaves out a lot of the best of what happened.  The open minded review of the old ways, the crazy innovation, the sharing, the punk rock ethos (we jammed econo!), was also the OSR.

   But I also realized that these narratives are the result of people thinking about roleplaying much the way people think about writing.

Process vs. Products
   In my day job I try to help people become better writers.  In that field there is the concept of Process vs. Products.  I'll spare you most the details, but the basic idea is that if you focus too much on the texts you're writing, you make it very hard to become better as a writer.  The most obvious reason is that if you write an unsatisfying text the way to make it more satisfying is probably not located in the particular sentences of that draft.  You really need to push the draft aside and explore the possibilities, the assumptions, the questions that aren't in that draft.  I don't know if this is because of Western Culture, a legacy of traditional teaching, or the fact that products are far easier to evaluate than how they were made, but all anyone ever sees are products.  I see this same thing with the OSR.

   If you find someone talking about the OSR, its impact, its value, its achievements, invariably they will focus on published products like stepping stones across a stream.  The exciting thing about Secret Santicore was not making stuff for others or the surprise of what someone would make for you, it was the awesome pdf at the end of the process.  The awesome thing about Petty Gods is not riffing on an old school product, the bunches of kooky gods many different people come up with, or even the cool way the illustrators interpret these.  No, it is the book that will eventually be published.  And if the book is not published all those drawings, all those ideas, may as well have never existed.

   But I'm not writing this just to lament the fact that people think of this all too commercially (Secret Santicore was free after all).  Product here doesn't mean something for sale so much as an object or artifact.  So many times on G+ I've seen someone pose a question that goes something like: "I want to run a game that is more Swords and Planet than Swords and Sorcery.  What system would be good for that?" or "I want to have a post-apocalyptic game with a strong element of survival horror, what system would be good for that?"  This assumes there are discreet systems that would fulfill every odd niche of a game a DM wanted to play.  And even if someone comes up with a decent answer to this question it assumes that's the best anyone can do. (People that ask "What makes for a good swords and planet game?" are framing it more in terms of process.)

   When folks proudly advertise what system they're playing it always seems odd to me because the system I'm playing has drifted so far from where I started, it is hard to call it anything.  And to call it Telecanter's D&D wouldn't even be right because I make changes to it after almost every session.  My "system" is better thought of as my goals for a night of D&D and how I go about trying to do that.  Rules are just part of the equation.

   And when people announce they are playing DCC or Tunnels & Trolls 2nd edition, or whatever, I always wonder, if I observed them DM, how much they would be bringing to the table from their own experience of gaming over the years?  How much of the "system" was all the things they'd had to figure out about making rulings, and improvving, and time management, and so on, but nowhere in the rule book?

   I'm not saying System Doesn't Matter, because I think that is often ham-handedly used to justify that rules have no effect on play.  I'm saying you shouldn't be talking about systems as if they were cooked dishes, things that no one can change.  I'm saying that a large part of my OSR was realizing that "Hey, all these D&Ds do a really crappy job of handling wilderness travel" and not only feeling okay about telling people about it, but feeling empowered to fix it myself.  I didn't need to hunt for a system that had solved the problem or wait in breathless anticipation to see if D&D Next would do a better job of it.  I could do my best to fix it myself the way I thought Matt Finch had fixed descending armor class.

   And isn't that what Vornheim was?  Zak saying "Hey all these D&Ds are crappy at running city adventures" and then doing his best to provide his solutions?

   The OSR was more than a bunch of objects.  It was a feeling of power.  It was a license to create.  It was a conversation.  It was about examining our beliefs and revising them.  It was messy and recursive.  There was no end goal.

   So, anyone writing about the history of the OSR that talks about Vornheim in terms of numbers sold or quality of printing anyone who writes about the OSR as a timeline of products or systems like OSRIC or ACKs, anyone who insists on framing discussion of the OSR in terms of WotC and decisions they made about what they would offer for sale, is missing, if not the real story, at least the whole story of the OSR.

   They'll be missing my OSR.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bard Songs

Bards don't get too much interest in the OSR from what I can see, not metal enough.  And while I'm not too interested in a Alan-a-Dale type troubadour in a deadly old school dungeon myself, I think there could be room for something like warrior-poets. 

The problem is that resolving music or poetry with an abstract die roll or feat is boring.  To make it interesting I want something actually happening at the table.  Of course we can't expect players to be improvisational poets or to whip out a guitar and start jamming.  Here are two ideas about how you might do it:

Real Songs
Have all the players independently bring in a list of "inspiring" songs or "get-your-blood-pumping" songs, or whatever you want to call them.  The bard player can talk with everyone about what genre of music they like maybe even what bands, but not what songs.  When combat comes around the Bard has to recite some lyrics from a song (maybe a single stanza/chorus).  Every player that has that song on their list gets the boon effects (whatever you decide them to be, probably should be a little better than the cleric chant spell).  This might be clunky but when I imagine the player starting off with "When I see lightning . . " or "Cruising down the street in my six-four . . ." , or whatever, and the players recognize their song getting happy because they realize they are getting a combat boost, I think it would be fun.

But do songs work more than once?  It would be interesting if the bard had to memorize some lyrics from songs they didn't know to get an effect.  So maybe they can only use a repeat after they've cycled through all the songs on everyone's list?  Maybe to simplify, they can never sing the same song in a row?

Patterned Songs
Most inspiring songs tap into shared cultural stories and symbols, but in an imagined world the made up histories and gods aren't going to actually be inspiring (the Ballad of Vecna).  But we do have the shared experiences our party has been through.  You could give the bard templates and have them extemporaneously fill them in at the time of recitation.  Something like:

Hireling Song
Remember ______the _______ who died by/who was  ___________ at _________
Remember ______the _______ who died ___________ at _________
Remember ______the _______ who died ___________ at _________
This battle is for them.

Here a tally of all the lives lost to get where you are grants power.  You might give more bonuses the longer the list.  That would make this song particularly powerful for ill-fated or experienced parties.

Victory song
When the ________ arrayed against us,
and hope was lost amongst us,
we still rose up in triumph because
You [character name] did _________________, and
You [character name] did _________________, and
You [character name] did _________________, and
Now rise up and do the same!

This is more about remembering a recent (maybe the last) victory and recounting it to instill confidence.  Telling which characters got criticals or landed massive blows, etc.  I like this idea because it makes the semi-random events of the gameworld feel more important and historic.

Anyway, some ideas.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Player-Built Dungeon

This is related to the Pre-Mapped Dungeon, so if you want you can read my thoughts on that first.

A few weeks ago I gave my good buddy a bunch of tools I made to help in DMing and asked him to use them to run me as a player.  I wanted to see how they might work for someone else.  Another big reason I wanted to do it was to see what it would be like to experience a Dwarven Outpost.  Would it feel different to run through a dungeon that I had made myself?

It was.  It was cool.  My hireling died in the first room to a panda-headed crab-thing and I desperately searched the place for what I knew I would recognize as the treasure corridor.  Once I found it, I was very cautious about the traps I knew to be there.  And once I'd found the weird treasure he'd put in there, I beat a hasty retreat knowing I had most likely found the best the place had to offer.

Because of the last few posts I got to thinking what if players could have that same experience-- not just of a type of dungeon they can become familiar with by encountering them several times, which the outpost kit was meant to facilitate-- but of a dungeon they knew well because they made it themselves?

Now, I don't think it would work to say "design a dungeon and we'll run through it" or even to take the more modern, indie route of "let's design a dungeon together that will be fun to run through."  I think the DM has this role because the fun of exploration requires not knowing what is behind the next door (and also having a single creator probably gives a place a more consistent tone and logic). 

But maybe what we could say is "draw up the manor house of your ancestors" or "make a map of the urban sewers you grew up in."  Then the DM can take that map and apply decay, add monsters, and traps left by the waves of inhabitants that have been there since the character left.  And if the party visits that location the player who drew the map would get a little extra spotlight that session: "The secret entrance should be just past the stables, but the stables appear to be gone . . ."

Now, my experience of uncertain familiarity with the dungeon worked in part for me because 1) it had been months since I made the outpost kit and it wasn't fresh in my mind and 2) the tetramorph aspect of it let it be shuffled around a bit.

So what might work here is to have players make something well in advance of them experiencing it.  I'm not sure about the tetramorphs bit.  It would make "familiar with, but not sure about" work better but it feels like a lot to pawn off on a player.  I suppose if you had enough players with magic-user characters you could ask each of them to decide on a room a typical Mages Guild would have.

Hmm, or maybe I could just design a set of tetramorphs stencils for each class, say typical sewers for thieves, typical church catacombs for clerics, and then give each out to players who choose those classes.  They could even have them in hand as they explore "By the shape of this room I think were are in the central junction."

You would think that high mortality games could cause a problem.  That having a player draw a map of a guild hall and then having that player's character die immediately would make the map a waste of effort.  But the goal here is familiarity for the player, not necessarily rigid narrative logic for the characters.  Heck, you could just say that player's new character had heard tales of such a place.

So, maybe I should have really titled this post The Familiar-to-the-Player Dungeon.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Building in the Dungeon

Just some fun brainstorming coming from the last post's idea of players leaving physical marks on a dungeon in the form of structures.
  • Iron ladders of various lengths with mineshafts or alcoves at various heights off the ground
  • Dwarven mortar I've mentioned before, but I think every portion should come with instructions and a pile of nicely chiseled blocks ready to build with.
  • Also these elf-stick thingies.
  • "Mirror" blocks that allow for building walls you can see through one-way.
  • Powder kegs that are unstable (I imagine them with chemical growths like old batteries) but still able to clear 1d4 10'x10' areas of solid rock.
  • The opposite of everflowing jugs, a magic sponge that will absorb all water in an area. *
  • Roll-out rope bridge kits
  • Heavy rope nets to allow multiple people to climb a wall at once (like you see on obstacle courses)
  • Heavy, cast iron "beacons"* on dollys or wheelbarrows that can be laboriously moved around the dungeon and have area effect magic emanating from them (like silence 10' radius).
  • Paint or powder that acts as a barrier to monsters like magic circles or holy water.  Players have a limited amount and must decide what areas to make safe for rest or passage.
  • Mobile, magically linked portals.  You can set them up to allow quick passage between parts of the dungeon, avoiding constant travel through very dangerous areas at the risk of sentient monsters moving the destination portal.  Maybe you could leave some guards . . .
  • Mobile, one-way, magic barriers.
  • Light emitting sand that can be thrown around but dims over time.
  • A worm creature or arcane machine that will bore holes through solid walls but at the cost of more frequent encounter check or weird effects on players from the energies involved.
  • A portable door.
  • A room of programmable Magic Mouths (or something equivalent like talking busts) that could function like a memorial site or message board.
  • Dwarven Constructs that can be given simple tasks like "fill any doorway in this hall with brickwork."
Can you tell I've been playing some Minecraft?  * Some of these are straight outta that game so I can't claim credit, but I thought they could be fun for players in our game.  What would be fun for you to build in a dungeon as a player?  Have your players ever tried to make permanent structures in your dungeons?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Pass-It-On Modules

Saw this post on Reddit about people passing on Minecraft maps.  Basically one person plays it at a time and then saves it and gives it up for another person to take a turn.  I thought it could be fun to try that with D&D modules.  Rather than one person playing you start with a dungeon, have a DM run a party through it, record all the marks they leave and pass it on.

Now that I've written that, I remember people doing the same thing with Dwarf Fortress to hilarious results.  (See the saga of Boatmurdered).

I know that an open-table megadungeon or Flailsnails campaign is already pretty close to this.  But the DM's time and resources are still a bottleneck.  With a Pass-it-On module, as long as there's a central location where it's hosted anyone could pick up the latest version and run with it.  (I suppose there might be some technical difficulty with preventing simultaneous turn-taking or enforcing time limits).

It would be cool if each DM would submit a concise post-play summary when they re-post it.  Not long narratives, but "party went left here, lost cleric to the trap" type affairs so there is a bit of context for the next DM to read up before running.  You'd need to provide lists of the gear left on player corpses and explanations of non-standard magic item mechanics as well.

I wonder if this would quickly result in a wasteland devoid of life or treasure?  Seems like tricks, or toy-like dungeon features that can't be moved or used up would work well.  Maybe a slightly higher level would work so that parties coming in bring some of their own magic items and treasure, and some of them die leaving it behind.  Maybe there could be 3-4 factions surrounding this area and players can never fully eradicate them just shift the balance enough that now one faction is ascendant, now the next.

Another thought that comes to me, is that both examples above involve building things so the map constantly has human-made additions.  That might be more analogous to DMs collaboratively making a dungeon by adding chambers and features.  But that doesn't seem as new an idea in D&D to me.  I think I've heard of people doing that.  But what if you could incorporate building into the dungeon by players?

Maybe a location on another plane or completely underground that requires work to secure food, safe lodging, or relatively safe travel from one area to another.  Hmm, has anyone done much with building in dungeons by players?  How long or difficult is it to block off an area with a brick wall, put in a sturdy door and lock, or build a bridge across a chasm?  That might be shifting the game a bit from post-apocalyptic exploration to settling in at the old megadungeon, but could be interesting.