Friday, April 30, 2010

A Month of Dungeons

I haven't followed Year of the Dungeon closely, I've stumbled across it a few times in my blogoramblings. But a recent compilation of Tony Dowler's microdungeons is really something worth looking at.

These dungeons are small and uncomplicated. In the past some of them have seemed more like puns or more lighthearted than is to my taste. But the dungeon above, The Old Crypt, caught my eye.

First, the way each room has a word or two as a description fits the One Page Dungeon philosophy to a T. Only what needs to be said is said: screams here, this is sealed, candles here. That makes sense and I'm sure you have maps that have similar notations to remind yourself.

I think the "Here" and "There" above is a wonderful example of this. I imagine it means the doorway at "There" leads to the isolated room at "Here." But it's such a clean way to note it. How would I have done it? Numbers, letters, matching symbols if I was particularly thoughtful. So these dungeons have this efficient evocativeness about them.

But what led me to write this post was something more. Do you see the word "brittle" in the Old Crypt? Maybe Tony has a clear sense of what that means. Maybe in the terseness of the notes it just doesn't get translated to me, the reader. But whatever caused it I don't know what the hell "brittle" means here, and I love it.

Maybe this is all pretty obvious, but I think it might be a great spur to me as a DM to have that kind of brief abstract note about dungeon chambers to help me generate or improvise. Maybe what that would look like wouldn't be much different than the dungeon dressing tables in the 1e DMG appendix I.

But in those, each table was for a specific subset of descriptors (sounds, container contents, clothes). I'm thinking of more general adjective; "brittle" in my mind could apply to scrolls in the room, to a crust or ice over a pool characters have to walk across, or even to the tension in the air.

How about:
  1. bitter
  2. strong
  3. faint
  4. sticks
  5. cracks
  6. teeth
  7. pick
  8. bark
  9. stalks
  10. broad
  11. early
  12. fair
  13. light
  14. open
  15. crook
  16. rasp
  17. ripe
  18. ill
  19. calm
  20. weak
I tried to pick words with multiple meanings and words that can functions as more than one part of speech. If you get stumped on a particular dungeon room you could roll on this table. If you have any suggestions of good words put them in the comments and we'll compile a bigger list.

Anyway enough of that, go check out Tony's microdungeons. Here's the compilation of a month of them.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Prophet of the Pot

I'd heard of Diogenes and his search for one honest man with his lamp. I think I even knew about his stoicism and challenge of convention. But somehow until this week I missed that dude lived in a pot!

I stumbled upon a line drawing online that showed this and I thought it would be a perfect NPC for Nidus, my own Striped Mage of sorts. He could offer information and maybe identify things. Only after searching did I realize it was Diogenes and that him living in the "tub" was famous.

Tub is a translation of the Greek pithos which was a big ceramic vessel, often sunk into the ground. Some web pages translate pithos as jug or jar, which makes sense for the smaller versions. But for my American ear pot sounds better for something that big.

Frustratingly, I somehow lost that first line drawing I came across. (If you find a good public domain illustration of Diogenes in his pot let me know) But there are several other illustrations.

There is a famous anecdote of Alexander the Great meeting Diogenes and the latter not being impressed. This doesn't interest me much because it's just the kind of anecdote someone would make up. It does point to the fact that the idea of Diogenes in his pot is archetypal enough in that it was considered for creating this kind of apocryphal tale.

Maybe the hardest part of DMing for me is acting as NPCs without going into cliche. It would probably be a good idea to have some clear guidelines of my Prophet of the Pots values and ideals.

Trouble is, I don't think Diogenes would give a fig about helping adventurers find treasure or identify their material goods-- he lives in a pot! But maybe that's the point-- he's a rich source of info that the players need to learn to tap, find out what matters to him, find out how to interact with him.

And also, my Prophet of the Pot is not Diogenes, maybe he has different ideas about things. Do you have any iconic information giving NPCs in your campaign? Any ideas on how you might run a Prophet of the Pot?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

No Origami Dungeons

In thinking about generating dungeons randomly I want a few things from the technique:
  1. It needs to randomize & do work for me-- not just be building blocks I move around
  2. It needs to use common everyday stuff
  3. It needs to be simple
These are all really corollaries of the idea that it has to do something and not be such a hassle that I would just be better off designing the dungeon myself. Pretty obvious I guess.

I thought origami might be really interesting because it has 2 and 3 down cold. But as far as I could figure, it falls down on one.

What I did was take a single sheet of paper and folded it various ways. The easiest fold is just to fold the paper in half. If you do that ~6 times you have a nice grid of squares on your paper. Congratulations, I re-invented graph paper, except it was all crinkly.

You could do 45 degree folds to try to get diagonal corridors or passages but it quickly seemed like too much trouble for the effort.

I still like the simplicity of folded paper. I think you could probably make a solo map with flaps that are unfolded to reveal portions of a map, or something like that. But as far as generating dungeons I'm drawing a blank.

So, I give up here. If you've got any ideas for using paper folding to generate maps let us know in the comments.

Next, I'll regale you with adventures in mapping with stencils.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Stencils & Stamps

I like the idea of not just making stuff as gamers and DMs but making our own tools. I have a distant connection to someone who designs stamps for the scrapbooking market. And since I found that out last summer I've had the thought in the back of my mind of dungeon stamps.

It's just been in the back of my mind because it doesn't seem too useful. Maybe a more practical tool would be stencils. Stencils we could print on heavy paper and still share with each other without needing someone to manufacture them. (For a couple hundred bucks you can get a machine that makes stencils, but these are thin craft-style stencils meant for painting not tracing)

The last few days I've been experimenting with dungeon generation using stencils but it isn't working so far.

Anyway, I thought I'd put it to you. In making handrawn maps are there features you wish you could just trace or stamp?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Super Punch Tarot

A tarot deck being created by asking different artists to make one card each. Some cards are cute, some funny, some evocative. I picked three of my favorites but you should check them out.

Above is the Five of Cups by Santiago Caruso.

Ace of Swords by Jacob Green.

Knight of Cups by Timothy Lim.

via Metafilter.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Petalmind

The Petalmind is a palm-sized sphere apparently made of living petals. While soft and pliable, it is nearly indestructible; crushed it will slowly regain its form. It emits a beautiful smell that differs for each individual. If touched, all sentient creatures in range will share a communal mind. Secrets, abilities, even senses are shared. Petalminds will not hurt one another. Petalminds eat together. Petalminds sleep together. Petalminds decide together.


After the Golden Guide I was trying to come up with an artifact that would offer interesting gaming situations and seem equally alien but in a good way. My layman's conception of evil is basically selfishness to the extreme. So, an extreme state of good might be the complete dissolution of self.

I don't know if this would work in play. But I thought this might be extremely annoying and horrible for evil parties to suddenly know who stole what from whom, who was planning to murder everyone, who wasn't who they said they were, etc.

I also thought it might offer some interesting play options if the whole party shares each other's senses, or if every person could cast the magic-users spells (but still limited to the number of spells the MU could cast), or if every one had to unanimously agree before actions are taken.

Or, what if when the Petalmind is touched orcs, ilithid, or even cultists are within range? What might the party do with their knowledge and abilities?

But then, a party of Petalminds might be the most un-fun game ever. I would definately have clues of how to be rid of the Petalmind near it and allow players to do that relatively quickly/easily so they get the weird experience without getting too frustrated.

Let me know what you think. I found the picture above on Tumblr but tracked it back to here.

Geometric Sculpture

Bathsheba Grossman makes geometric art that might inspire your weird statues, magic items, or even dungeon levels.

There's a lot of interesting stuff on the site. I really like the one pictured above. It looks to me like something a dying Illithid might have in it's hand and it has its own proper name, the Noom.

This would make an intriguing set of dungeon sub-planes:

Combined, the two make a solid cube. But how would you keep track of that map!?

How about this:

"At right is a 3" carving of Antichron, in Indian aventurine. It was done by an expert Chinese jade carver . . . It's something of a museum piece -- the carver did it, I think, mainly to prove it was possible. "

I think spinning it will make something happen . . .

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Metafilter Found the OSR

Someone posted the One Page Dungeon Contest 2010 on Metafilter. It's a pretty popular site, one of Time Magazine's 50 best websites of 2009 and pulling in almost 7 million pages views a month.

Dwarf Fortress

I've never played, but I've read a lot of interesting post play narratives of the video game Dwarf Fortress. It is notorious for it's bad UI, but also for its eerily verisimilitudinous, emergent dwarf behavior.

Boing Boing has a nice post today about artist Tim Denee's pics of the saga of the fortress Bronzemurder. The maps, the situation, the randomness of it all feel very oldschool to me. I thought if you never play the game you might enjoy taking a gander at these pictures.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Branwalather's Bridge

Branwalather's Bridge is actually a pair of heavy, lignum vitae chests. Carried, even one of these is heavy enough to slow and tire two strong men. Opened they appear mundane. If a person is shut up inside one, they exit the other.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fairy Tale Spell Names

I was planning on doing more with magical effects charts but work sucked all my mental energy. What I do sometimes when I want to be creative but that muscle is tired is trawl through online books for public domain illustrations. I was going through an old book of Perrault Fairy Tales when I realized that some of the titles would make cool, almost-Vancian spell names. Then I poked around online looking for more possible examples. Here are the best I found:
  • The Palace of Revenge
  • The Prince of Leaves
  • The Fortunate Punishment
  • The Impossible Enchantment
  • The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs
  • The Bright Sun Brings It to Light
  • The Crumbs on the Table
  • The Thorny Road of Honor
  • The Last Dream of the Old Oak
  • The Story of the Wind
  • Beauty of Form and Beauty of Mind
  • The Storm Shakes the Shield
  • Go I Know Not Whither and Fetch I Know Not What
Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to take the title most interesting to you and turn it into an actual spell.

Monday, April 19, 2010

One Page Dungeon Contest 2010

In case you didn't see, the winners have been announced for the 2010 One Page Dungeon Contest. All 63 entries are available for download. Alex Schroeder, one of the judges, has a nice post discussing his nominations and giving an idea of some of the strengths of a selection of the entries.

The Great Mosque of Djenné

The largest adobe building in the world. When I think of buildings built using mud, I think squat, even squalid, this Mosque in Mali is the opposite.

This post on Neatorama has a tourist's video that gives you a nice sense of the building as a place in a living community.

Mix n' Match Charts

I had a dungeon with a statue that produced minor negative effects on characters. I needed a chart. So, I basically revised the chart from the 1e DMG's artifact and relics section (which I think is one of the most beautiful innovations in that book).

I figured minor effects might be minor because they're mostly cosmetic, or they might be more serious but limited in duration. One thing that happened during play, was I'd made cards for effects that weren't obvious to observers and players had great fun roleplaying out the effects. So, one good guideline for any of these magical effects is to think of those that players might be able to, and be interested in acting out.

Because I had these cards, I needed a way to keep track of them (I wasted a lot of time at the table shuffling through them). The first thing that came to mind was to mark them with playing card suits. I thought Clubs might fit minor malevolent effects. Then I thought, why not finish out the other categories of effects? I could have major malevolent (Spades), minor benign (Diamonds) and major benign (Hearts). Heck, with all the suits, I could even have the option of players drawing cards to randomize.

So, I started working up my chart to share with you all. My original chart was just 20 effects. But I thought, for those of you that have d30s it would be cool to have that many options. So, my chart is now 1-30. But I was careful not to arrange it by power like a Stepped Chart. I tried to make sure each 10 result range had a mix of effects that are permanent, cosmetic, and affecting personality.

What I realized is, once you combine that feature-- a chart with vertical flexibility-- which allows you to use 10, 20 or 30 results, and thematic charts that are simple to keep track of -- the playing card suits, you have a lot of flexibility with how you can use them.

Mix n' Match Charts

If you think of a better name let me know, but here's how I think this type of chart could be useful. You have a Mysterious Stone in your dungeon that does things to poor adventurers. You need some effects. The most straightforward way is to custom make a chart for the Stone. And then you make a new chart for every new Stone. Another approach would be to try to abstract out all possible effects into a more generative type of chart, something like my Spell-Like Effects Spur. But it's hard to abstract, and those charts still leave some of the generative burden on your shoulders. Mix n' Match charts are somewhere in between.

First, make some charts of broad categories (like the four magical effect types).

Next, make sure those charts have fairly uniform distribution in the type of results (not Stepped Charts) and a simple way to label them (playing card suits).

Then, pick and choose the effects from your various charts for your Mysterious Stone.

If the effect isn't really variable you just label the Stone in the way the 1e DMG suggested labeling artifacts. We'll give our Stone effects A♣ and 2♦. If the effect is variable you can construct your chart thus:




If we add a fifth suit of weird effects, say Jokers §, then you could even roll d100 to give a completely random type of effect. Like this:


So, as long as we craft some charts with care, it seems like we can use them for a long time, vertically or horizontally, designing adventures as well as on the fly at the table.

Here is my chart of Minor Malevolent Effects.

Here are the cards to use at the table when ill-starred adventurers are struck with these effects.

I plan to make the other four charts (including the jokers) and post them, but let me know what you think, both about this Mix n' Match way of using charts and the specific minor malevolent effects.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stepped Charts

An idea bubbled up in my head to use different kinds of dice on the same chart. Some indie games apparently use a mechanic that steps characters through the types of dice to change probabilities of achieving success in skills. So it seemed appropriate to call these Stepped Charts.

It seems like you might be able to use them for two things, but both have some problems.

Concentration of Effect

If you have a chart of bad magical effects, say, and you order it in degree of badness. By using different dice types you can adjust the badness of your result. So, let's say your chart of bad effects looks like this:
  1. death
  2. crippling
  3. blindness
  4. amnesia
  5. muteness
  6. shrink 6 inches
  7. body odor
  8. hair loss
If you want your super-duper evil altar to make really bad things happen when good players touch it you roll a d4. If you medium-evil altar isn't quite as bad you roll a d6, etc. Because the chart is so small, the effect is minimal, but the chance of rolling death goes down the bigger the die you roll.

If you went from d4 to d30 it would go from 25% to 3.3%. If you were ambitious enough to have a 100 entry bad effects chart then stepping from d4 to d100 would change the chance of death from 25% to 1%, a pretty significant change.

I don't know how useful this is, because it's random, and just because you roll percentile, it doesn't mean your poor players won't roll a one. The concentrated effects are always possible, just less likely.

The other possibility I can think of for using Stepped Charts does deal with a kind of certainty:

Exclusion of Effects

If you roll a d4 on the badness chart you can never roll a 5. So, if we look at the chart from the other perspective we might segregate powerful/desired effects at the high end of the range.

Maybe your evil high priest has a Touch of Evil that he rolls on a table for. If you put the most devastating effects higher, you can limit the priest to smaller die types as he climbs in power. If death is entry 30, he can't even possibly kill someone with his touch until he works his way from d4->d6->d8->d10->d12->d20->d30.

The problem here is that uncertainty is still there; the EHP might have the chance of Death by Touch, but if he has to roll on a chart with 30 entries, it's only a 3.3% chance.

Maybe this would still be useful for mercurial domains like divination, or psionics, or wild magic. A psionicist growing in power would have new doors open up to her, new possibilities, but the powers of the mind would always be unpredictable.

Kind of a bummer it doesn't seem more clearly useful, but I thought of a different way to use charts that might be much more helpful to a DM in designing and playing on the fly. That next post . . .

Friday, April 16, 2010

Weird Treasure Containers

I'm always trying to look a lists of stuff to abstract out categories in order to make a chart. That usually entails pondering over the outliers; how do you get categories broad enough that they might include them. Anyway, I thought maybe I should go at it from the other end-- think of the weirdest outliers I could think of and just make a chart of them.

So, to celebrate my newly acquired pair
of d30s here is a chart of Weird Treasure Containers for you all. Some are more circumstances or conditions than containers, but, hey, they're weird (there are 40 in case you like some more than others).

The treasure is found:

1. submersed in a barrel of brine
2. in a dimensional pocket visibile from only one direction
3. as parcels, each piece, including coins, individually wrapped in silk
4. sewn inside a limbless, headless, mummified torso
5. suspended in the air from long bamboo poles, each individual piece on a seperate pole
6. completely encased by an insect hive
7. in a tapered coffer carved from a giant tusk
8. completely encased in mineral deposits
9. completely encased in amber
10. in a Japanese style puzzle box
11. enclosed in a bag woven from hair
12. inside the hollow brass figure of a common animal
13. inside a carved, giant nut
14. completely encased in tar
15. in a bag sewn from the whole hide of a humanoid
16. inside a living shellfish
17. fashioned into a moving automaton
18. arranged on the floor as a treasure map
19. arranged on the floor encoding a rare spell
20. in a coffer fashioned from platemail welded together by lightning
21. bricked up in a small shrine
22. sealed inside clay spheres
23. fashioned into windchimes
24. rolled up in a musty carpet
25. stacked precariously around a deep hole
26. sealed in sheets of crimped lead
27. arrayed on the petrified statues of the original owners
28. sealed in a clear glass sphere
29. in a cage constructed of bones
30. hidden in wooden dolls arranged in dioramas
31. in a continuously writhing clump of worms
32. levitating
33. strapped to the backs of several monkeys trained to evade
34. in a coffer carved from a giant oak burl
35. wrapped in a parcel of fresh, green leaves that sting and numb bare flesh
36. encased in a cube of wax
37. in the chitinous husk of a giant insect
38. floating on crystal rafts in a pool of acid
39. bound together in a clump with platinum wire
40. just tossed into a fire

What the . . . ?

Ran across this top pic a while back and thought, hmm kinda gonzo must have been selling toys, but this:

I'd say this has the volume turned up to 11! Ultra Monster art by Takayoshi Mizuki.

via Metafilter.

RPG Taxonomy

I don't think taxonomy is the right word here, maybe you can help me out with a better one. I think it would be cool to have an extensive look at the various approaches to the fundamental RPG situations. I'm sure parts of this already exist. For example, it seems Forge gamers have spent a lot of energy thinking about different mechanical approaches to Task Resolution in RPGs. I remember the 2e era D&D book Player's Option: Spells & Magic went into various systems of handling magic- spell points, at will, Vancian, etc.

But I would be fascinated with a book, or maybe a wiki would be more appropriate, that systematically looks at these common RPG elements and how you might approach them, and how they have been approached historically.

Lets take saving throws as an example: First what do you call this? Last Ditch, maybe. And how might it be/has it been handled?
  1. A general buyout where players have a kind of trump card or fate point-- Did Marvel Super Heroes do this? How about Savage Worlds?
  2. A general "luck" roll equal to all characters of all abilities-- examples?
  3. A more general roll modified by ability. So, the more dexterous characters, regardless of archetype, are more likely to dodge a fireball-- Norman, you said C&C's SIEGE system is like this?
  4. A general roll modified by severity, i.e. how Last Ditch it is-- Delta's system that Chris kindly pointed out.
  5. A general roll modified by archetype. So, wizards are considered more resistant to magic-- Swords & Wizardry
  6. A more specific roll based on archetype. So, wizards are considered more resistant to wands, spells and petrification, but less so to breath weapons-- classic D&D. Jeff lays out the classic D&D save categories here.
The last might be considered a roll modified by archetype and severity, but I think there is a distinction between Delta's idea of severity and that of save category types. What I mean is, you could have equally severe categories, which you felt different archetypes should have different chances at surviving. Also, traditional D&D seemed to have mixed feelings about this, thinking Death Ray from a wand and Death Ray from a magic-user, though equally instantaneously severe, were somehow differing in survivability. (unless I'm misunderstanding, did wands, staff, rods apply only if there was no more specific save category?)

This is why doing this is really interesting to me, when you start trying to categorize and lay something out in a system you are forced to encounter dimensions you hadn't seen before. When I started the numbered categories above I was working with the general assumption that they would progress from more abstract to more specific. In actuality, the different ways games have handled Last Ditch mechanics vary in different dimensions: the actor (wand, creature), those being acted upon (ability, archetype, experience), and severity (poison vs charm person).

One interesting thing this tells me is that we have competing features in our minds for what makes something more "realistic" for us. As DIY DMs we may feel that abilities seem much more important in the scheme of Last Ditch things than archetype or vice versa. And this is separate from how the mechanics play out in the game system. And these can be deviously hard to predict. Trollsmyth has a great post on trying to achieve certain goals through different mechanics (bonuses vs dice rolls).

Although, there may be general rules we can say are true, for example, the more of these categories a Last Ditch mechanic tries to incorporate the more complex it becomes. But then, perhaps that complexity can be "cooked in" or moved around various places in the system.

And Last Ditch is just one example. In trying to categorize and systematize all RPG situations, surely we would encounter some we hadn't even noticed. I think one example is the generation of hireling traits, which I've mentioned before. That is typically considered part of pre-play preparation, but that I've brought into play and handed off to players at Jeff Rient's suggestion.

So, hope that is more productive than my last post on saves.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Thought this street performer looked pretty cool. Maybe a visualization of some kind of elemental or alien. Saw it here.

The Price of Complexity

James Maliszewski recently posted about how one of the reasons he switched from Swords & Wizardry to Labyrinth Lord + supplements is his dissatisfaction with the way S&W handles saving throws.

Let me just present this scenario: You have a 12 year old nephew learning to DM. His friends are playing and their party comes upon a hostile party of npcs. The player mage casts charm person on the npcs. What is the npc's save?

Assuming everyone's human, for Swords & Wizardry you have one question to answer: is the targeted npc a non-wizard (15 to save) or a wizard (15 +2).

I did that from memory. Do you remember the Labyrinth Lord saves? Here's a refresher:

So, for the 3 core classes, you have three answers and different answers still, if the charm person is coming from a wand.

You want to play that way because it seems more verisimilitudinous to you, cool. But don't kid yourself that you aren't paying a price in simplicity and playability. With Labyrinth Lord I guarantee your nephew is going to have to stop play and check the book. Hell, I would.

I know this sounds awfully like me saying James is "doing it wrong." If James want to play that way fine, but he's more than just a DM he's got hundreds of people following his blog. It's frightening to me that we have this opportunity for a fresh look at D&D with these retroclones and the main tendency seems to be to figure out how to slap all the old cruft back on them.

It's frightening, because if everyone starts playing it that way, that will be my only choice of campaign to play in (the way my only campaign to be a player in now is 4e, because that's the dominant form of play).

So, do you really need to turn S&W and LL into AD&D? Why not use Osric? Or, why not just play AD&D?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Travelling DM Kit

Bored? Got some time on your hands? Want to make something with your hands? Ladies and gentlemen, make your own Travelling DM Kit in a matter of minutes.

Okay, this may not be generally useful. Keep in mind, I always DM at other people's places and I use scrabble tiles to represent PCs and Hirelings by the first letter of their names. Looking for the right letter when PCs are being generated (which, trust me, has been every session so far) can be an annoying time sink. So I was ruminating for a long time trying to come up with a solution. This is what I came up with. Simple and cheap.

First, you need some supplies. I got this rubbery, grip drawer liner and adhesive backed velcro strips at the 99 ¢ store. The little plastic baggies came from Walmart. The whole bunch was only about $5:

What do you do with it? I cut the liner into strips 2.5' x 7.5" then I cut the velcro into a bunch of little strips, stuck one on the liner and one on the back of the plastic baggie folded in half:

I don't think it will take a lot of abuse, it might be better made from canvas with the velcro sewed on, but think of it as a first draft. Here they are from above:

I use the darker Anniversary Edition Scrabble pieces for hirelings, the poker chips to track ammo, the glass accent beads to represent monsters and the Perquackey dice just in case I need another letter for something. You don't really need this fancy solution for the beads, you could easily just use bags. But it's good for anything with little details that you don't want to spend time hunting for.

So, all your junk in place, you roll the liner up and store it in a tote:

I also got it at the 99 ¢ store. Oddly enough it was holding hamster bedding. I bought it and tossed the bedding around the plants outside. And the brand name is auspicious for a gamer: Tengu!

If you're transporting just a few miniatures (say for the PCs) I've found doubling the drawer liner and just rolling them up in it evenly spaced is a good way to transport them safely. Hope this might be useful. Have fun!

DIY is Infectious

I work with one of my players. He 's also my 4e DM. Today he looked up from what he was doing on his computer with a big grin and told me he was making a chart in Grim's Roll All the Dice style for magic-users.

I think it's a way to interpret how your mage produces magic-- whether it is a Dark Gift, a Science you have to master, a Sorcerous Art, etc. It is more flavor around the mechanics than new rules. I showed him this post here as an example of alternatives to spell books. He seemed to like it and started abstracting categories from it to incorporate in his chart.

But the point was, he was making his own chart! And not just a chart with set-in-stone results, but one which allows for interpretation- a DIY style chart. I didn't try to convert him or anything. I guess he just liked the way the Hireling Traits Spur works in play.

I thought that was cool.

Exquisite Corpses

You've probably already seen this on Beyond the Black Gate, but I wanted to put in my two cents on Steven Poag's Exquisite Corpses.

It's a flip-book you use to create your own monsters. It has anatomically correct drawings of nude humans. Both of these things are rare if not non-existent from a corporation selling gaming products.

I bought it.


I'm sure I must have seen thirty sided dice advertised in Dragon; my high school DM had a whole shelf of the magazine and I read them religiously, even borrowing some to read at home.

I even managed to pick up a d34 somewhere, but I never physically saw a d30 until this week.

I'd completely forgotten about them until I read a post on Dungeon and Digressions that gave a 1-30 chart and mentioned the Order of the d30. I knew vaguely that The Armory was one of the only companies besides Gamescience that made precision dice and that they'd gone out of business (or at least stopped making dice).

Anyway, surprise, surprise, you can still get precision d30s. I just bought 2 on Amazon. I'm happy with the quality.

Now the question is, how do I use them. What I mean is, I can make charts for myself all day long but I really enjoy sharing with others. But I don't know how common d30s are among people out in the world. Should I incorporate a d30 in Grim's Roll All the Dice method, for example? Should I start making d30 charts?

Do you have a d30? Would you use a chart that required one?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Golden Guide

The Golden Guide is a chalice with an ornate, hinged lid. Sometimes called the Oracle of the Cup, if the lid is lifted it is revealed that the cup is filled with strange flesh, and straining in this, a lipless mouth baring teeth. This mouth makes one-word utterances in a raspy hiss. If fed fresh blood it will answer a yes or no question. Everything it says is a lie.


I came up with this sweet little puppy back when I was brainstorming for the bachelor party Ziggurat, then forgot about him.

How I'll use it in play. If I know the answer to a question, I'll just lie. If I don't know I'll try to wing it. If it is a detail that doesn't seem megadungeon-wrecking one way or the other I'll roll:
  1. Certain
  2. Decidedly
  3. Likely
  4. Yes
  5. Perhaps
  6. Doubtful
  7. No
  8. Never
And if the player's question is muddled or two questions, etc, it will say "Unclear." Those answers may seem reminiscent.

Now the fact that it lies sucks. But once the players determine this is will be a very powerful object. Am I setting myself up for problems?

I'll leave myself two escape hatches: 1) they have to feed it fresh blood, hopefully making it at least an annoyance to ask constant questions and 2) it is not omniscient.

Have you used any kind of oracles in your games? Or had problems with players using too much divination?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Invisible Dungeon II

Last post, I focused on what cool features an Invisible Dungeon might have. What I came up with was mostly sensory details and plays on the in/visibility of different parts of the dungeon.

I realized that one of the senses I neglected was that of motion. Here are some ideas it might be cool to experience in the invisible:
  • a trapeze
  • a rowboat on invisible water
  • swiveling or rotating platforms (think gears)
  • draperies hanging from a ceiling
  • breezes & drafts
But after some more pondering I think one of the really cool things about an invisible space is trying to decipher it, figure out what is there, what it means. So, how about:

A long table set with strange and alien fruits . . . turns out to be some sort of banquet. Hopefully this will intrigue players "Why is this food still fresh? Who was this table set for?" and play with their expectations-- "This fruit is a grape-like cluster of what feel like peppers. Tastes like . . ."

Watch out! broken glassware on the floor, pungent fluids spilled . . . must have been some kind of laboratory. How do you safely walk through here? Is this gunk on our feet leaving tracks? Is there anything in here that could follow them if it is? What can you find that may be of value? Unbroken glassware? Stoppered phials partially filled with liquid?

Shelves full of books and scrolls . . . a library. But which ones do you take? Is this gold embossing? This one has a bunch of dog ears, must have been useful to someone. Or do you just go for the biggest, or smallest? (I remember fondly spending time in my university library's section of over/undersized books. What were they fff, uu?)

And how about rooms/environments so puzzling that even you're not sure what they were meant for:

A room of evenly spaced, waist-high, granite posts about a hand's breadth wide. Imagine trying to fight amongst these, or flee through them. But the adventurous soul that walks along top of them finds certain posts taller than the others, that lead to other even taller posts-- a sort of hidden stair.

A chamber filled with shallow troughs of liquid in patterns on the floor and large stone spheres nestled in them. Rolling the balls in various directions in the troughs diverts the liquid in different ways, revealing a passage, a chest, a . . .? Or maybe they do something somewhere else in the dungeon?

What would intrigue you to find in an invisible room?

Murder Maps

These maps on the back of mystery and detective books might be just the thing for fleshing out Call of Cthulu campaign. Check out the story at Strange Maps.

via Boing Boing

Weekend Recap

I had quite a few posts last week and some might be of interest to you. So, a quick recap.

Want a quick and simple way to:

generate a dungeon map by tracing your dice? Here.

generate a campsite topo map using 4-siders? Here.

track player ammo in a game with poker chips? Here.

confound your players? Invisible Dungeon. Here.

design one session of play using a 12 room template? Here.

Please feel free to comment here on any of these ideas with questions or ideas of your own. Also, more on Rune Magic soon.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Sierras

Here's a pic of my corner of the world. Close to it anyway; my dad shot this near his house an hour away from where I live. It's rare to see the mountains from the Central Valley because the air quality is so bad. This was after a rain.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The 2 Minute Dungeon

I think you'll like this. Your players have a gone a different direction than you thought they might. You have nothing planned. What do you do? Or maybe you're stumped on a new dungeon level. This might be the key. It's more a one session lair, or sub-level, than true dungeon, but enough picking of nits. Here's what you do.

Combine my toss and trace map technique along with T.Fosters suggested encounters for one old school session of play:

1. pick up 12 of your dice- any kind
2. toss on paper and trace
3. roll a d12 for each of the following:
  • Major Encounter +
  • Major Encounter
  • minor encounter
  • minor encounter
  • Trap
  • Puzzle (or Trick)
4. as you roll for 3. note each result on your map

Don't worry about numbering the rooms, just place the results as quick as you can. For the above example, my M+=1 and my M=12 so I just slapped them down in what looked like the first and last rooms. The only other thing of note is the trap. I moved it from room 11 to the corridor between 11 and 12 thinking that would work better.

That's your dungeon.

Okay, there are a few more details to think about. First, what a major vs. minor encounter is, is kind of hazy. As a shortcut, we might say a minor encounter is a level appropriate monster while a major encounter is a group of that monster or something that would normally be found much deeper. So if this were a first level dungeon I might make m1= a fire beetle and m2=a bandit guard and make M+= wererat in human form, and M=a bandit camp with ~6 bandits. But that's just off the top of my head.

Next, what do you do with traps? Well, it would be nice to have a list of smaller, not-super-fatal traps to just roll on, but until then, how about roll 1d6 and:
  1. pitfall
  2. deadfall
  3. dart trap
  4. arrow trap
  5. obstruction (like iron bars falling)
  6. gas
And for puzzles? Again, I think I'll need to make a list of at least 10 to have on hand. Foster recommends some kind of permanent effect on characters for old school feel. If it's an emergency you could just default to a magical pool and roll the d4 and d20 on my Hireling Traits Spur to see what permanent results occur from drinking.

Hope this is useful.

Turner's Cubes

After posting about Chinese Puzzle Balls I stumbled across a post on the Turner's Cube:
"The Turner's Cube is a fascinating object. In the old days, novice machinist's were handed one and told to work out how to make one of their own. It was considered a good test to give a budding machinist to see whether they could first understand how to go about making one and second to see whether they could operate the machinery to the level of precision needed to produce a nice cube."
The definition comes from a site that also walks you through making one. Although, the fact that the cubes aren't free floating seems boring to me. I looked for examples that were but couldn't find any. I suppose we'll have to imagine them.

I did find this object made By Jared Tarbell. It isn't a Turner's Cube, but I found it and it's 2222 holes cool:

Jared's Flickr page has more photos here.

And in the original cube post a commenter shared a link to this awesome site about whittled whimseys. There you can see chains whittled from a single piece of wood including balls whittled inside cages:

There's also a mention of our old friends the Welsh love spoons.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Invisible Dungeon

The Invisible Dungeon is almost the same as the Pitch Black Dungeon or the Dungeon of the Blind Adventurer. So let's think about those two first.

The other senses will and must come into play:
  • sounds of water
  • sounds of thrumming machinery
  • the sense of size of hollow spaces
  • heat and chill
  • smell of smoke
  • smell of animals or acrid monsters
  • smell of fresh air or stale, still air
  • water vapor in the air
  • feel of gravel or sand underfoot
  • feel of grass or sludge underfoot
Okay, so what could an invisible Dungeon have above and beyond all that? It seems like it would be, not just not seeing, but confounded sight. So, what you see is giving you incorrect or unhelpful information:
  • a sheer cliff that has invisible stairs
  • a ravine with invisible bridge across it
  • a vast open space with claustrophobic, tiny tunnels throughout
And maybe the idea that invisibility doesn't play by the laws of nature so, for example, within the Invisible Dungeon there are pockets of visibility. Suddenly you see a bunch of furniture or an altar, but leave the room and they disappear again. Or, you look through a window in a central room and see all the walls/rooms outside it.

Another thing that could be different and confoundingly cool, is characters are not invisible to each other. So, a fighter slips down a chute to a different level and the party can see him wandering around. He can see them wandering around above, but they can't hear each other as they fumble around trying to find stairs. Same with potential foes. You see an ogre pacing below you. Can he see you? Is this the same level with a ramp, or is there a floor between us? etc.

Any ideas to share?

Pyramid Campsite

One of the difficulties I was thinking about back when my players were braving the great outdoors, was how to shift from the abstract of travel to the specific of an encounter location. Or what about campsites? If I were out in my campaign world a defensible campsite would be the first priority come dusk.

Following the All the Dice Mapping technique from yesterday, here is a way to generate encounter locations and campsites easily and on the fly. Grab all your four siders. Toss. Trace.

Read the d4 results as elevations and you have a very simple topographic map. I needed about 10 d4 for a normal size sheet of paper to look interesting (thus I had to borrow some non-precision dice back from my brother-- yeah, I'm sort of anal about precision dice). Et voilà!

That looks pretty cozy. Wanna camp here? Your elf can sit cross-legged on one of those spires and keep watch all night while we hobbits cook up some potatoes and bacon.

One thing you might do is vary the scale of the map-- say every level is 6'' on a beach but each level is 10' in the rocky badlands.

Another thing you might do is have players generate their own campsites-- I like this idea. Have them spend a set amount of time, say 30 minutes, searching the area for suitable sites and they get to throw the dice and everyone can look at it. If it seems reasonably defensible, you trace it and they set up camp. I think it adds a simple way to give players another tactical choice, while anchoring some specific "real-feeling" locations in the abstract wilderness.