Thursday, September 30, 2010


Yesterday, remembering Zak's great post about dungeons I felt like it would be nice to have a list of links to my OSR required reading.  I may make a static page and put up links.

I'm more interested in those articles that go into depth as they examine D&D.  I'm thinking the dungeon as Mythic Underworld, D&D as a picaresque, and D&D as a game about ambition.  Not so much how-tos, generation techniques, or lists of creative consumables.

I have a lot of these saved on my computer as text files, in a sort of commonplace folder.  But I thought if you are just joining the conversation, you might not have seen them yet.

What would your list of must-read links include?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

John D. Batten - X

It seems appropriate that my tenth post sharing the illustrations of JDB is a monkey writing a scroll.  Enjoy:

Wilderness "Dungeons"

It seems that the dungeon has one scale and once you exit it, the knob is turned back a few clicks and the wilderness has another.  The 10' square becomes the 25 mile hex.  But I wonder if there is a way to tap into something in between.  As a kid, I always loved those maps on the end papers of children's books that showed a locale that the book took place in (sort of like Winnie the Pooh and Watership Down, but I know there were better examples that I can't find now).

And any one who has done a little hiking knows the wilderness at a smaller scale is not just something you can breeze through-- there are ravines, rock fields, thickets, and bodies of water.  I wonder if these could be laid out like a dungeon.  I don't mean trying to constrain movement like video games do, with every tree acting as part of a wall.  But, if you want to force your way through those thorns over there, you can but it will take time to hack through and giant rats love thorn bushes.  Treasure can be present as well: abandoned shrines covered with offerings, magic berries, toad stools, the loot from the creature lairs etc.  Were there ever modules that explored this idea and I missed them?

Update: Anyone trying this should have Zak's post on dungeons as required reading. There's a lot there, but re-reading it, I think he gives reasons why people don't often go this route.  Sorry, I'd forgotten about that until my last post reminded me of his gigadungeon idea.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Growing Dungeon

I posted recently about a Sinking Dungeon and that made me think of the opposite: a tower rising from the ground, little by little, revealing new chambers over time (That's similar to a Floating Dungeon, but not quite the same).  Thinking of opposites like that is a good way to generate. Another good way is to force your mind out, to find as many variants of something as you can (like these different types of dungeons).  So here I'll try that with the idea of a dungeon that grows.

When I think of growth in this context the first thing that comes to mind is vegetation, crystals, and coral:

A vine or tree dungeon is attractive at first glance.  Imagine a huge vine that ancient elves have bred and pruned to grow in a certain fashion, just add water.  You carry a cutting into a desert and pour water and green pavilions and lush groves start forming.  But, what would be the point of exploring it?  If D&D is about finding artifacts (apocalyptic) what is the purpose of exploring the brand new dungeon?  I suppose this tree dungeon could have openings to fae realms, but it seem more like a cool magic artifact than a dungeon.

A coral dungeon in an underwater campaign could be the ultimate megadungeon: no need to suss out who built it, no need for a logic of room placement, it's organic and it keeps getting bigger.  It will also fill with beasties as it grows, because the lampreys and sea slugs are already there just waiting for new chambers.  But who has underwater campaigns?

A crystal dungeon would be cool as an extra-planar locale, and it would grow organically like the coral.  But when I think or crystals growing they fill spaces not make hollows.  I have a hard time envisioning new chambers being made.  Unless it was just platforms floating on a liquid matrix of some sort?  That makes me think of lava.

Lava would make for a more vicious Sinking Dungeon, but otherwise I'm thinking of it as being another New Dungeon forming lava tubes, or growing horizontally and chamberless.  I suppose if there was a structure the party really wanted to reach, say an obsidian chapel, and it was on a lava field, the lava field's growth could keep pushing it farther away.  But that doesn't seem too promising.  I've noticed that my first ideas of growth are all rooted in a sense of Gygaxian naturalism (I am a recovering simulationist), but what about other ways the dungeon could grow?

You could have a dungeon that gets larger in one dimension.  That sounds like the tower I started with at the top.  A sort of Rising Dungeon.  While I love towers, they're by nature linear, so I'm always hesitant to focus too much on them as adventure locales.  Maybe more interesting would be something like a whole palace rising from mud or sand.  It could come pre-filled with nasty mud skippers and slightly damp treasures.

That still seems pretty naturalistic, what if the dungeon grows by two dimensions at the same time (I think three would be hard to do without a computer)?  So imagine hallways and chambers get bigger over time.  It is an Expanding Dungeon.  Bigger rooms don't seem very interesting, but if you designed cleverly, I imagine you could have new parts of the dungeon open up as tiny cracks become corridors, as a thin stone arch fills out to a sturdy bridge across a chasm.  Of course small rifts in the floor could become chasms, too, creating new obstacles.

I suppose another idea of dimensional growth would be adding dimensions, a mural or blueprint that takes on a third dimension. That seems more like a magical artifact too, though.

There's also the dimension of time.  I love the stories of people disappearing into the fae realms and time working differently for them.  What if our dungeon has advanced time passage and players know this going in?  "Look, the sage said every hour in here will be like a month passing outside, so let's find the brass urns and get out!"  The opposite could be cool too, maybe they know a dungeon where time doesn't pass and they use it to hide out from powerful foes, but they have to deal with surviving the dangerous denizens of the dungeon meanwhile.  Or maybe the party-as-a-whole decides to fast forward your campaign time-line, that could get interesting.

This is related if you think of dimensional in terms of astral/ethereal planes.  What if a dungeon emerges slowly over time in solidity?  A party might need to hurriedly explore the misty walls in order to position themselves well for the final solidity.  This assumes they aren't just trying to escape, because then they could just run for an exit, right?  So why would they need to position themselves?  I don't know, maybe a temple or artifact will be emerging too and is unreachable when all walls are solid.  This dungeon be "tidal," cycling though solid and shadowy forms.

That makes me think of ice melting and freezing.  It might be a different version of the sinking dungeon, the ice dungeon loses upper levels over time, dropping treasures and monsters on top of each other on lower levels.  But, wait, this started as me exploring growth. So, a growing ice dungeon seems like it would be similar to the crystal dungeon, or it could be similar to a lava field. Umm, I'm drawing a blank here.

Okay, I'm running out of steam and I realized I didn't talk about a meat dungeon, like being inside a beast. Any additional dungeons that would grow?

Monday, September 27, 2010

John D. Batten - IX

A Double header tonight.  I Like Batten's take on djinni.  Not your typical Disney turbaned dude, they look more like demons to me:

Danhasch carries off the princess Badoura

The genie carries the bride and bridegroom to Aladdin's house

Communal Creativity

I think the Telecanter law of blogging is that if I say I'll produce something at a specific date it will take me much longer than if I never mention what I'm working on.  Not sure why, maybe mentioning it at all somehow satisfies the need for audience.  Anyway, here are a few tidbits overdue, and both were produced with your creative help.  So, thanks.

First the Desiccated Font from July:

Pdf here.

And second, What's in the Brass Urns?:

Pdf here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Easy-Map Dungeon IV

Here is a revision taking into consideration The Rubberduck's great map.  It largely avoids the problem I was trying to iron out in the last post by having only one corridor turn.  This might actually be a good way to introduce that to a new mapper: when the party gets to that spot you pause and explain how you'll communicate distances at turns.

This draft I also muted the room labels and corridor walls to try and make the map easier to read on the fly.  It assumes wall sconces every ten feet, so the DM can just let the party know: "The corridor ends in a door three sconces away."

I would love to see people key this up to their own tastes.  Another advantage of having this first level all lit and having evenly spaced wall sconces, if you set up a nasty encounter that the party has to run from, presumably it will be easier for them to get their map bearings again once they've run to safety.  In fact, I wonder if it might be a good idea to try to induce that, so that a mapper can learn how to start mapping somewhere else on their paper and eventually make sense of how the two fragments match up. Hmm, maybe there's something really bad in E.

Level two, as I imagine it,will have no lighting, and no sconces.  It will have turns in corridors and doors that are not just at corridor ends.  I'd also planned on roughly 12 rooms total, so this could fill about a session's worth of play.

I know some of this is repetition, I'd intended to provide you with a spicy level two by now, but I foolishly merged all my levels in my image when I posted the last image.  So I had to start all over.

Ah well, the cool thing about DIY is that it forces you to learn new skills.  A year ago, I don't think I had a clue what layers in image editing software were for.  Now, for this last pic I'm working with 7 layers (like a bean dip, hah) and it makes it a ton easier to make changes to the map.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Easy-Map Dungeon III

I realized last night that I was making the same mistake in a few places on the map that Koren n'Rhys pointed out on Thursday.  Uggh, embarrassing to have problem with something so trivial, but I'll forge ahead and assume that other people might have the same problem.

It comes down whether you are counting the 10' corner square or not when you are giving dimensions.

So, using this little bit of wall I forgot to label on yesterday's draft, should that be 30 or 20 feet?  Should I always give the full wall distance, or, try not to double count that corner square?  How would you describe that passage to a player?

Regular Features

To cheat and avoid the problem, I realized last night, that if we say there are torches in wall fixtures, we could say they are equally spaced.  If there is one sconce per ten feet of wall, all we need to do is tell the new mapper how many sconces they see ahead.  (You might also do this with decorative motifs carved/tiled in the floor: "You see two more murals carved in the floor before the corridor ends in a door").

Torch Radius Distances in Design

Another idea is that if you don't have any regular features like sconces, and you don't have light, you will need to use light source radius as a measurement.  See a post here by Delta on torch illumination radius.  So at pretty good light at 60 feet, we should probably take that into consideration when designing a dungeon easy to map.  I mean, having doors or corridors at 30' would be easiest to describe: "You see the corridor turn to the right, just at the edge of your torch light." That seems pretty limiting though.  Ideas?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Easy-Map Dungeon II

Here is a second draft of a dungeon meant to help DMs convey map information to players and designed to be easier for players to understand and draw.

I took your suggestions from the last post, tried to make doors the terminal points of corridors, switched to giving distances to the farthest point in the corridor and made the doors all open in the center of room walls.

I'm going to cheat on lighting, and maybe for a beginning map it's better anyway, by saying that there is lighting in the dungeon.  Torches on the walls every twenty feet or so will simplify mapping.

There might still be a few rough spots, but I didn't want it to be so boring that no one would actually want to explore it (thus the river).

The entrance is at A.  The small rooms: b, e.  Medium rooms: D, F, G. Large room: C.  G has a shaft going down to level two, while C has a set of stairs down.

Let me know if you think this works better.  (It looks a little busy to me, but I'm tired of working on it right now)  If there are no big flaws, level two will have rooms with shapes other than square and a little more difficult mapping, i.e. doors that aren't terminal in corridors, etc.

Update: Damn, just realized I was inconsistent in the way I was measuring.  Sorry, I'll fix it in the morning.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Easy-Map Dungeon

If you were to make a map that was as easy as possible for a new DM to describe to players and as easy as possible for a new player to understand and map, what would it look like?

Keep in mind this would be for a first run or two, not a convention of publishing dungeon maps.

I think it might benefit from these features:

  • Room shapes that can be described in a word or two (i.e. square, semi-circle)
  • A way to talk about Room sizes that are consistent and agreed upon.  I like Delta's suggestions here.  (These could even be color-coded on the map)
  • Corridors that follow a grid and have only 90 degree, or a few 45 degree turns.
  • A simplified layout without complicated intersections or corridors with doors all over the place.
  • An agreement on giving distance to doors and corridors in a standard way (I chose to their edges).
  • Distances marked on the map between features to speed up communication.
  • Maybe a reference map with descriptions written out so new (and young) DMs could see how grognards describe complicated intersections and door placement.

Anyway here is a draft of what my map might look like:

 I have a rougher draft of a second level that makes map features slightly more complicated, but I didn't quite finish it.  (Work was a bear today).

The scale is 1 square = 10'.  So the DM might say:

"You enter a hallway that is ten foot wide.  Fifty feet ahead, you see an opening on the right.  The hallway continues twenty feet past the opening before ending in a left turn." etc.

Let me know what you think, or any suggestions you might have.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

John D. Batten - VIII

The Flight of the Swan Maidens

Sand Storm

I think someone disturbed an ancient pyramid somewhere.

Incredibly ominous to see that coming, to see how dark it got, and to know it lasted for four hours.

via Neatorama

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Quick and Dirty Silhouettes

Note: I'm using the Gimp on Ubuntu, I imagine Photoshop or most image editing programs will be similar.

Step 1. Find a suitable picture.  This is where the art is, you need something of a side view that has limbs separated and will give a pretty clear idea of what the figure is and what it's doing in silhouette.  See this post for a possible place to look.  I'll use this as an example:

It's not a particularly good pose, but the spear will be clear.

Step 2.  Trim the image. Use the rectangle select tool to select enough space around the figure to give you some buffer and then go to the Image menu and select Crop to Selection.

You should end up with something like this:

Step 3: Homogenize the background. Use the color picker tool (you can see me hovering over it in the picture above) to pick one of the background colors. Use the paint bucket tool to fill in the background with that color. Now use the paintbrush tool to clean up any left over background details.

Step 4: Select that homogenized background. Use the select by color tool to pick the background color. 

Then go to the Select menu and pick Invert. Once you've done that you'll see something like this:

What that does is select anything that's not the color of the background.  But, since we've homogenized the background, it selects our figure for us.

Step 5: Paint the figure black. Without deselecting the figure, use the paintbrush tool to paint the figure black, giving you something like this:

Notice our figure isn't solid black, we need to take care of that.  You could just carefully and laboriously paint it all with the paintbrush, but this is supposed to be quick.

Step 6: Homogenize the background again.  This time use the paint bucket tool to turn the background white.

If there are any breaks in the line of the figure the white might invade it.  If that happens, like with the arm here, just undo the bucket fill, use the paintbrush tool to "seal" the holes with black and then bucket fill the background white again.

Step 7: Repeat step 4 and 5.  So, select the white background with the select by color tool, invert the selection and paint it black.

Since we turned the background white, the beige in our figure is not selected and we can finally have or silhouette.

Step 8: Resize your image.  I'm sure there's a smart way to do this, but I just reopen a figure I use as a benchmark and scale this new one to that.

Go to the the Image menu.  Select Scale Image and I always use the drop down menu to select scaling by percentage.  Resize it by trial and error. Save it.  I always save as png, although it results in much bigger files than jpg, it's a lossless format, so you don't lose any info in case you want to touch it up later.

And that should give you a silhouette like this:

Hope that's helpful to someone.  Have fun.

What's in the Urns?

In my last post I asked playfully what might be in the 50 brass urns Camaralzaman has found.  But how about some serious communal creativity?

You tell me what's in those urns.

Keep it succinct, so we can make these into a table, and limit yourself to two, so give me your most intriguing and interesting ideas.

I'll start off.  Inside the 50 urns you find:
  1. 50 smaller brass urns containing (roll again)
  2. 25 urns full of red-hot embers, 25 of flammable spirits-- battlefield hazard

Monday, September 20, 2010

John D. Batten - VII

This seems very much like D&D to me, too:

Camaralzaman and the Brass Urns

And what do you think is in those urns . . .?

Sinking Dungeon

How about a dank temple complex that is slowly sinking into the muck.  The players would need to know it was sinking and there would need to be something in the dungeon valuable enough that they would care.  Maybe there are a series of big brass gates that take a long time to ratchet open, each revealing treasure.  But the water level in the dungeon is rising each trip the party returns to open a few more gates.  Until, finally, it becomes the Submerged Dungeon and the party knows there are several unopened gates still there, under the foul water.

The rate of sinking would need to be determined.  I'd want it simple (as always), maybe half a foot a day.  If the ceilings are ~8 feet tall that gives the party 16 days to explore before complete submergence.  Although, those last couple feet might be just as bad as total submergence.  I envision a whole new wandering monster table once you get about half way.  It would be interesting to see the first inhabitants trying to get out during the submerging process, too: goblins on rafts, swimming ghouls, etc.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Articles of Agreement

Pirates have been a strong interest of mine since childhood.  I was gathering data for a long time to make my own pirate roleplaying game.  To celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day I offer hireling articles of agreement.

The articles of agreement, pirate articles, always fascinated me.  Here was a force of chaos and anarchy that was held together by a sense of justice and a form of democracy (more than the Queen's navy would ever give them).

Now, I am very leery of anything that makes dungeon exploration mundane.  Tales of the great adventurer guilds of the Forgotten Realms really leave me cold.  But I think there is room, in a civilized location (i.e. remnants of empire) for a similar set of expectations agreed upon for hired help.

So if players decide to seek help outside my city of Nidus.  I think from now on potential hirelings might rquire the pcs to sign an agreement.  What would the agreement include?  I think it should be simple, might vary for combatants and non-combatants.  Maybe as few as five points to the agreement would keep it manageable.  Here is a shot at it from the hireling's perspective:

This person upon setting out with the hirer:
  1. Will obey all orders that don't put themselves or innocents at risk of life, mind, or limb.  Unless refusal would interfere with the next tenet.
  2. Do their best to protect the hirer and the party's concerns.
  3. Keep any gear they are outfitted with.
  4. Receive a half-share of treasure found.
  5. In the event of death, disappearance, or mental destruction, will have a quarter-share of treasure delivered to their closest kin.
What would you add or change?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

D&D for Me

Pretty much all of the pictures in the first edition players handbook are indelibly etched into my brain. I don't know how many characters I rolled up or how much time I spent reading that book, but it was enough to be formative for me, for who I am.  But to answer Maliszewski's question: If I'm limited to covers, then, yes, I'm with him and go with the PHB.  But, if I can go to interior art, then this pic is what sums up D&D for me:

This small reproduction doesn't do it justice, it's a full page illustration in the book.

Some things I like about it: these guys are not heroes, but they are serious, wary.  The magic mouth is talking and they're paying attention, but not in awe of it, and not frightened by it.  They've seen this kind of thing before.  They have a goal and won't be denied.

Two side notes.  All the years I've loved this pic, I never noticed the eyes in the darkness below, until today.  And in searching for a digital image of this picture I found a post by Raggi, in which it seems we are in complete agreement on this picture.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Humorous Erotic Monsters

You might find this amusing as you cruise into the weekend.  From the website Something Awful:
"Two weeks ago we announced the start of our 2010 fantasy art competition. This year's theme: create erotic renditions of classic First Edition AD&D Monster Manual critters. Bonus points were awarded for humor and capturing the style of classic D&D artwork."

via Boing Boing

Interactive Middle Earth Map

I like the style of the map.  I also like that certain features appear as you zoom in; it isn't simply zooming in on a still image.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

John D. Batten - VI

Jack is just so insouciant ridin' his giant bird.

I love the name of the location:
The Castle of Twelve Golden Pillars

Blog Issues

Looks like my blog is not updating in peoples' blog rolls.  I have no idea why.  The only thing I've done differently recently was switch over to the new Blogger post editor.  It looks like there may be some issue with the FeedBurner feed.  I tried pinging that through their troubleshooting page, no luck.

I'd appreciate it if you could drop a comment if:
  • you can see my last two posts in your feed reader
  • you can see this post at all
  • you have any idea how to fix this issue


Update 9/17:  Thought I'd fixed it but apparently not.  I'm going to do some experiments but it seems my posts are consistently being delayed by about four hours before showing up in blogrolls. 

Spell Components

Tim at Gothridge Manor dropped an idea yesterday about using spell components as enhancers to magic, not requirements.  I'm so taken with this, if he'd written about it a week earlier I might have included it in my house rule anthology.

When I asked for what might need house ruling there was some talk of magic in general but it didn't trigger in my mind a memory of material components.  I love them-- eye of newt, toe of frog-- what could be more magical.  And yet from my experience 1e's material component requirements for casting spells were largely handwaved, you were either assumed to have them or maybe paid a lump sum to represent the value of the components.  (Maybe anything that was largely ignored in 1e, and seems worthy of saving, would be a great place to look for possible elegant solutions).

Anyway, with Tim's suggestion spell and potions work as normal.  If you add components they work better.  This is nice because 1) everything works as a baseline; don't want to mess with components, you don't need to 2) flavor can be easily injected without complicating things-- I'm thinking small bonuses or additional damage, range etc. 3) players get to decide when to do that: have a very important charm person attempt coming up, better gather some materials 4) players can also get involved creatively in working out what materials might work 5) this makes them interact with your world more, maybe even causing hooks as they seek out certain rare things.  That's a lot of good stuff for very little in system price.

I'm going to try to re-cast it a little in my own words.  This may be the only time I've wanted to add complexity to a house rule, but I think there is room here for a little more flavor without complicating things too much.  The thing about material components is what exactly makes any one material more likely to make a spell work better.  This is where we can get the flavor of sympathy, contagion and correspondences into our games.

These ideas can overlap a little but sympathy is when the material is like the effect you are trying to get, so, little wooden wings might help a fly spell, the sand used for sleep is reminiscent of the Sandman, etc.  Contagion is when the item is infused with what you want to affect, traditionally you collected fingernails and hair clippings to cast a spell on someone, the true name of a person etc.  The two can overlap when you start thinking, does salamander skin help a fire spell for one reason or the other, or both?  I think I would artificially simplify these concepts so that contagion meant only the thing you were wanting to affect has touched, owned, loved the component.  I'd say salamander skin helps in a sympathetic way; you can make fire better because the salamander skin is very fire-like, besides you're trying to make fire not cast a spell on a salamander.

Correspondences are more systematic, even arbitrary relationships.  Take a look at the tables in Fantasy Wargaming if you have it.  Certain numbers, star signs, gems, and woods are better suited for certain effects.  The material component might be a beech wand set with seven rubies.  None of these give much hint to their sympathetic effects, but if you are an initiate into the arcana you would know what the wand would be best suited for.

So, having explored that a little, here's how I might explain to a player:

"You can cast spells as written, but sacrificing certain items will make your magic more likely to take effect and more powerful.  Using the Principle of Contagion will make your spells more likely to affect a target, the Principle of Sympathy will make your spells more powerful, and using the System of Correspondences will allow you to choose either of those results."

As a DM I'm fine with making rulings on the fly, or negotiating this with players, but I want to do a little thinking ahead of time about how I might handle things.  Below is the order I might apply effects, so if a player has used multiple components, rather than giving a target a -7 to save I might click over and do all these things before coming back around:

Principle of Contagion:
names, things owned, parts of target = minus to target save > + to damage > + to range > + to duration

Principle of Sympathy
items that are similar in nature to the desired effect = + to damage > + to aof > + to # affected > + to range > + duration

These numbers, symbols, items are traditionally associated with the desired effect = player chooses which effect to enhance

For all materials, the harder it is to obtain the more effective.  Ubiquitous items may have no effect. Basically, more expensive is better.  But difficult to obtain comes into play here to: for contagion, finger nail clippings would be more powerful than knowing a target's name.

I want to make a nice, simple chart of correspondences to give to players.  I suppose you could also dish that info out as they climb in levels and are entered into the mysteries of their art, too.  Or let them find books with this info as treasure.  Lots of possibilities.  Thanks Tim!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another One

Another huge visage for your dungeon decor:

"Looks like there's something in there, let me just reach in . . ."

This was actually in the Hinsdale Health Museum, Hinsdale, Illinois.  Click here to see a horde of children lining up to enter the doom portal.

via Boing Boing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

John D. Batten - V

Artists, your challenge, to draw a moment involving an invisible protagonist.  Here's Batten's take:

The title of the image is "Jack With His Invisible Coat."

Ancient Roman Helmet

I love full face masks in intricate metal work.  Apparently one found in the UK is coming up for auction.  This was not meant for combat, but dress parade. Watch a video about it here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

John D. Batten - IV

Check out that crazy, hip throne, and under the footstool, looks like a crystal ball in a shackle and chains.  Don't mess will Solomon, genies.

Dungeon Room - The Ossuary

I had to curtail my ambitions for yesterday's pdf.  I'd originally planned a little map of a dungeon room that would nicely showcase several of the house rules at once.  But I'll share it now:

The Ossuary

A veteran legion lost in a dungeon found a defensive position and were able to survive, just barely.  But reinforcements never came and they defend that position until this day.

The Lost Legion is comprised of 12 skeletal warriors with shield and gladius.  They fight in a shield wall, but each soldier will sacrifice their shield if hit.  This breaks the shield wall temporarily.  The shield-less warrior will fall back between the lines and pick up another shield.  Another warrior will move forward to fill the gap in the line. 

The Lost Legion will attack any creature entering the Ossuary, but each attack will be an attempt to push the opponent back.  Their tactic is to pivot around the central column and push their adversary into the open pit.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Receding Rules - House Rules Selection

I've been blogging more than a year now but it seemed weird to celebrate that anniversary because I'd disappeared for three or four months when work got rough last winter; it wasn't a full year.  This is my 365th post.  And I realize that some of those posts were pretty trivial, but I figure it can still symbolically stand for me sticking this blogging business out.

To celebrate I wanted to share what I consider some of the coolest house rules I've encountered in that time.

Keep in mind, my blog has always been about simplicity, minimalism, doing more with less, and, really, how all those things might help bring new players and DMs into our hobby.  So, there are no charts, no lists of contextual bonuses, nothing you couldn't explain to a new player across a noisy game table.

Thanks to everyone for the fun ride so far and here is the pdf.

Update: Ahh, sorry.  Apparently I had a pdf splicing issue.  I'm working on a fix.  Until then here is the intro and here are the other 3 pages.

Update 2: Fixed due to the help of ze Bulette, scholar and gentleman.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Player Perks - Hard Core

My post yesterday was apparently a little too cuddly.  So, lest I lose my cred, here are some more hard core perks.  These aren't Metal, these are what Metal fears!

Obsidian Blade - By cutting yourself with this razor-sharp rock you can heal someone as many points as you decide to bleed out.  You will recover your hit points normally.  You can bleed yourself as often as your health allows.  Force your enemies to use it!

Thrall's Torc - You have a copper torc permanently encircling your neck.  In combat you are much harder to hurt (+3 to AC), but the torc constricts each round you're engaged in violent activity.  Half your constitution is the number of rounds you can fight before passing out completely.  Kill faster!

Widow Tattoo - When you die, your tattoo will bring you back to life by drawing hit points from surrounding friends.  It will drain as many as needed to bring you to full health.  This happens once, then the tattoo disappears.  These hit points are lost by those drained permanently. Surround yourself with tough guys!

Scapegoat - You own a goat.  If you strangle and disembowel it, its entrails will reveal to you the answer to a single Yes/No question.  The goat will slowly heal, returning to life in a day.  How badly do you want to know the answer?

Iron Hammer - You own a hammer that will give you a bonus to hit equal to the penalty you take to your armor class.  Want to hit your foe, let him hit you.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Player Perks - Animals

This is for Tim of Gothridge Manor. I reacted negatively to an idea of his to allow players interesting options because I imagined it was about power creep. But as I am wont to do, further reflection has made me do a complete 180 and totally embrace this idea of player perks.

It isn't anything knew, Jeff's Deck of Stuff is a big influence here too. Anyway, Tim mentioned a player in a campaign having an intelligent horse and I've been thinking of possible perks I could give players similar to those mentioned here. So here are a few more focusing on animals:

Trained Ferret

"You have a trained ferret. Before we start playing choose two tricks it knows how to do and one it's still learning. You should be able to call for these tricks with a few words (hide, fetch, go home, sic em!, etc.). Half of the time you ask for the newest trick your ferret will get it wrong and do one of the others."

I think the fun here is the player picking what the ferret can do, but also the potential chaos when it dances instead of sneaking, or something.

Talking Dog

"You have a medium-sized dog that can speak and understand your language at a basic level. This is equivalent to using one verb per sentence (3). It is more intelligent than a normal dog about equal to that of a young child."

I'm not sure what the advantage should be here. A smaller dog could scout and go places a human couldn't. This would be really handy in an urban campaign where dogs are expected, but not so much in a dungeon where a dog is just as likely to become a snack as its master. Maybe a keen sense of smell and the ability to track as a bloodhound would be a boon. But you don't really need to speak with your dog for that to work. What would you want as a player?

Parrot Linguist

"You have a parrot savant able to produce language with perfect pronunciation in five of your world's most common languages. Its vocabulary is limited though. Before play starts decide on five phrases it knows (Where is the gold?, Put down your arms!, Would you like to see my engravings?, etc). When you say one of the phrases to it, it will then repeat the equivalent phrase in all its languages in turn."

Again, I'm thinking the fun is for the player to have to predict what phrases they might find potentially useful. I suppose this and the ferret could be taught something new later at the expense of some gold.

Snake Spell Book

"You have a reticulated python that functions as a spell book. A crystal lens set in a brass ring allows you to read its arcane lore and cast a spell normally unavailable to you. It is twenty feet long and weighs 150 pounds (10 stone)."

This is Zak's idea. Although, he suggests dragons would be spell books, snakes more mundane. But I think the awkwardness of having to carry this around might balance out the power of it.

I'm not sure what the power should be, a randomly determined spell from the level above what the character can cast? What the hell am I thinking?! I was assuming this was for a magic-user, what if it was for any character, then any spell would be something unusual. But who would want to deal with that encumbrance for one spell? Any ideas for spells you might find worth it?

Camera Cat

"You have a light grey cat. When it enters a room an image of the room appears as darker fur on its coat, (imagine a pinhole camera view of the room). It sneaks as a master rogue and has nine lives."

Okay, the name is sort of cheesy, I've always thought of cats as familiars for wizards, and I don't know how you are going to get a cat to scout a room you want it to short of tossing it in . . . but it just seems like it would be cool for the party to be crouching around a cat trying to decipher what the image on its fur means: "Are those bugbears!?"


One thing about all of these is that they are awkward magic items just for the fact that they are all alive and players will want to keep them that way. Maybe a reason to make their perk powers a little better than a inert magic item-- tarp, bucket, shovel, might have.

Also, the more I think about these, the more I think their power is in distributing them randomly. I don't think I would let players pick them.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dungeon Heat Maps

I know I've read different folks comment on how they hate post play narratives and don't read them. I don't understand this, because as a DM that's really the only place I get to see other DMs at work. It's the closest thing we have to a shared corpus of play data to explore and experiment with.

After the SoCalMini Con I thought about how it would be cool if I could, not just tell you about the events, but show you where the party went in the dungeon. I didn't end up doing it because it would have taken a lot of work (and thus it's probably a no go from the start). But the idea was to show you the dungeon map and then the party's movements on that map through time, animated.

I don't think heat map is the right term but it would be related. The session I have in mind had a lot of backtracking and circling, so I thought I might draw a line showing the party's progress and decay the color as they crossed and recrossed their own path. Maybe show the most recent location of the party in a nice orange and turn it to a gray or brown as the animation progresses.

Why do that? Well, we have modules we share in common-- B1, B2, Tomb of Horrors, Caverns of Thracia, all get a lot of mention on blogs and seem popular at tournaments. What if you could look, literally look, at how 20 different parties ran through B1? You might see, "They always turn left here," or, "This intersection always causes confusion."

I know, unless someone makes an app that would do the animation after we just punch in room numbers, this will never happen. But maybe, if we had a kind of conventional way to note party movement we could still share the data. I'm thinking something like:

2 > 4 > . > 2

where the numbers are rooms and the "." is a pause of a turn or so (to show confusion or decision making). I suppose that wouldn't capture a lot of corridor exploration. I know that as a player I tend to try and get the lay of the land before I open any doors. Oh well, it's a thought.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Trick Types

I think it was Zak that made an offhanded comment about it being impossible to make a random chart to generate tricks, which I took as a challenge. I haven't succeeded, but I haven't given up yet.

My idea was to create a roll-all-the-dice spur, which would be fairly abstract and let you, as DM, figure out exactly what it meant in detail. One column would be "origin"-- where did this thing come from--because that really informs tricks and puzzles. I did some thinking on origins and thought I'd share.

First a bit about nomenclature. "Traps" are easy, they are set intentionally and are meant to capture or kill you. I don't really like the word "trick" because it seems to focus too much on the aspect of these things as intellectual obstacles that the DM places in front of players. Delta has explored the preponderance of these things in the early game charts and texts. But features of the dungeon can be more than chutes, slides, and elevators. Another term often used is "puzzle" and while it seems more appropriate in that all these features are puzzling, it has the connotation, for me at least, of something that must be solved for the adventure to continue. Maybe not necessarily, but these things take mental effort on the DM's part and I think that means they are often central to exploring parts of a dungeon or retrieving a treasure.

I don't have a better term to offer, so I guess I'll call these tricks. Whatever we call them, they seem really important in that these are the spots where the Mystical Underworld gets right up in the faces of the players and makes them deal with the fact that things are not normal. And knowing that as DM can be enough to design them-- think of interesting weird ways to make players interact with the dungeon environment. But I think if there isn't too much of a price to pay, including verisimilitude is always a plus. In other words, interesting features first, but if we can answer "Why is it here?" it would be a bonus. Hmm, maybe I'm contradicting myself here; the Mystic Underworld doesn't need reasons. Well, if nothing else, thinking about the "why" can help us generate. So, what are the types of tricks?

I. Arcane Test
These are checking to see if you know what the maker thinks you should know. All the tricks in my Alabaster Tower would fall under this category. Getting through the tower is supposed to mean you have passed an initiation, and each trick tests particular tenets the wizards thought initiates should know. But more than that, it is testing a mindset, "Are you the type of person who studies the world, examines things thoughtfully? Or, will you start hacking at stuff and get yourself stung to death?"

Cults, secret societies, and lost tribes seem likely makers of this type of trick. They should be based on some kind of principles, philosophy, or shared knowledge that the group would be expected to know. They might not necessarily be deadly if someone interacts with them incorrectly, but there should be enough of a disincentive to not allow someone to experiment and discover how to pass the test through trial and error.

And because these will often be about preventing access to the hallowed chambers of the makers, these types really blend into the next type:

II. Fantastic Lock
I see these more as a combination lock to allow only certain people through. But while they may use the trappings of philosophy or historical knowledge, the only test the user is expected to pass is: "Do you know the combo?"

I think these would be more likely to be used by individuals-- powerful mages, or chieftains-- and if by groups, most likely secular organizations. I think they are more likely to have dire circumstances if you get the combination wrong. And these, because they serve the practical task of opening a door (however convoluted each implementation), they blend into the next category:

III. Alien Machine
If you strip our knowledge and context about things everything becomes weird. Imagine someone from 1300 trying to figure out a microwave. Domestic appliances, tools, apparati manufactured by ancient elves, or aliens, or shoggoths seem equally ripe for puzzling magical weirdness. A chest that dehydrates anything put in it, a cabinet that gilds objects placed in it, or even weirder things.

These would more likely be found in the remnants of long dead civilizations. They seem least deadly of all tricks, and potentially useful to the crafty party that figures them out.

This category would also contain things that are not actual machines, but had a purpose at one time, or are the evidence of past intelligence even if they have no particular function. I'm thinking of B1's pools now. The next category might be similar in that it is perfectly logical, and only odd because we lack the context:

IV. Environmental Oddity
The difference is that these are not manufactured they are geological, biological, or maybe meteorological effects. I think some of my creature features could fit here. Geysers, musical algae, whatever.

V. Whimsical Obstacle
This is the classic Zagyg is just screwin' with ya. Sure the fountain of gender exchange may be an alien machine long abandoned by the shoggoths, but it's more likely some insane mage or trickster god is having a laugh at you.

These could be completely random, both in their location and their effects: anywhere from certain death to butterfly swarms.

Can you think of other categories than these five?

One difficulty for players having to make decisions is how do you tell a type III from a type V, which might drastically affect your longevity. I'm thinking a DM would need to be careful about what decision signposts they give players.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Weekend Recap

On Monday I offered Sivith the Beautiful as an artifact NPC. I should probably mention that when I say NPC I'm thinking any sentient thing players might run into and choose to interact with. I'm not thinking villains and I'm not thinking uber-powerful players that a sand box would require to function. Sivith, for example, I imagine as very powerful, but the brief bit of info given should give players at least two very strong levers to protect themselves from it, or to manipulate it: 1) its vanity and, 2) I assume any lich will have a weakness for either a) knowledge, and that's why they prolonged their "life," or, b) mortality, they really don't want to die (who doesn't? But they did unspeakable things to avoid it).

On Tuesday I tried to brainstorm some actual physical ways to help players remember/experience effects on their characters. No breakthroughs there, but I appreciated the comments.

On Wednesday, and Thursday I finally started putting in action something I've wanted to do for a while: compiling a selection of my favorite house rules to share with everyone and spread the word about them. I've contacted a lot of people and everyone seems pleased to be involved. I've even started thinking about commissioning some art for this little puppy (don't worry, it will still be a free download and include any art). If you want to send me info on potential house rules of your own you can comment here or send them to thirty 6 and rising at yahoo's email thingy.

I feel a little awkward because I won't be including every house rule I know of, but this is meant to be about those that really caught my eye for being simple while adding a lot to sticky parts of D&D. I also may include a few of my own, hope that doesn't seem toolish, but I'm thinking of it more as sharing some ideas that I hope fulfill the goals that I know the other house rules do.

Give me at least a week to make some progress on this. I want to lay it out in a simple, clean way that matches the rules. I also want to have time to let me buddy look at it and give me feedback before I make it public.

Anyone know how to get a hold of the Werral who posts on Knight's and Knaves Alehouse?

On Friday I pondered treasure types and thought about how they could be more useful for DMs, especially DMs designing to share with others. I would be interested to see someone attempt this. I might, but that would have to be later.

On Saturday I posted some Mad Libs to create spells. I started very seriously, but every blank seemed to be ripe for innuendo. I don't know if the end result will help any one playing D&D, but your submissions cracked me up and it was good for my heart. :)

Okay, I might take tomorrow off. Peace.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mad Lib Magic

Next time you or one of your players wants to make a new spell this might speed up the process. Answer these 20 questions before peeking below the picture:
  1. Cool name for a wizard.
  2. Color you'd paint your car if you could.
  3. Something that moves through the air.
  4. Horrible symptom you would never want.
  5. Number from 1-9.
  6. Funky football star name.
  7. Adjective that would probably catch your attention.
  8. Something difficult to get rid of.
  9. Something you would never want to happen to your magic-user.
  10. Your favorite biblical name.
  11. Verb that would hurt if it happened to you (past tense).
  12. Gross adjective.
  13. Something that would freak you out if it surprised you in your bed.
  14. Verb you would be embarrassed to do in front of others.
  15. Pop star that goes by a single name.
  16. Number from 1-4.
  17. Body part it would be kick-ass to have another of.
  18. Verb you wish you could do better.
  19. Different number from 1-4.
  20. Pet name you hate.

[ 1 ]'s Wrathful Vengeance

Your foe is struck by a [ 2 ] [ 3 ] and immediately has [ 4 ] for [ 5 ] rounds.

[6]'s Wonderful Ward

A wall of [ 7 ] [ 8 ] rises from the ground, encircles and protects you from [ 9 ].

[ 10 ]'s Acrimonious Avengement

Your foe is [ 11 ] with a [ 12 ] [ 13 ] and must [ 14 ] until exhaustion sets in.

[ 15 ]'s Inveiglement

You suddenly gain [ 16 ] [ 17 ], and this allows you to [ 18 ] with such facility that any hostiles in [ 19 ] miles will immediately call you [ 20 ] and follow you adoringly.

Have a nice, relaxing Saturday.

Friday, September 3, 2010

John D. Batten - III

Treasure Types

I was always fascinated by treasure types, they strike something in me that likes categorization and organization. At the same time I always had a sense that they were a missed opportunity in D&D.

It seems the two approaches you might take when making a table of treasure types are:
  1. List ever possible permutation so that the system will be useful for a DM / monster designer in whatever type of treasure they need. -- If this were true, knowing the first few entries of a table should allow you to recreate the whole table.
  2. List "types" of treasure in the sense of a bandit hoard being different from an undead hoard, so that the system carries meaning about, not just the treasure a monster has but, probably why it does, or what type of monster it is. -- If this were true you should be able to predict that similar monster types will have similar treasures.
As best I can tell, all the D&D treasure type tables I've seen do some of both and thus are not really useful for either.

It seems like they are a kind fancy footnote. But the data they record is really pretty small, a series of what, 6-12 numbers? Wouldn't that be more useful to have closer to the monster entries themselves?

It could have been worth the DM's while, if turning back to the table gave a more extensive treatment of what treasure type A meant, for example. Okay, this is the treasure of a bandit's wilderness camp, tell me what kind of commercial goods they may have on hand, stolen from merchants: how many barrels of ale, how many bales of cotton, pounds of spice. Tell me if there is any seasonal variation: are the camps richer during the time of the big regional fairs? When would those most logically occur? If your thinking, "A DM could figure all that out," you're missing the point; a DM could much more easily decide how much gp/sp/cp a bandit wilderness camp would have, and thus not need the table at all.

If we had a treasure type table like that it could be useful communicating with each other in the community, too. Maybe my Rebelling Peasants have a variation of type A because they leave travelers with all coins, but take their goods to live off of. Or whatever.

What "types" of treasure might there be? Here are some ideas:
  • intelligent creatures more likely to have books and scrolls
  • undead hoards or bands of humanoids more likely to have personal jewelry and armor
  • lairs of gross stuff like jellies and such, less likely to have much but magic items that would survive
  • giants and ogres might have a bunch livestock and foodstuffs stolen from locals
  • cults would have candlesticks, and other religious paraphernalia in precious metals, maybe carpets.
  • It seems like the classic pile of coins would be pretty much unique to dragons
  • animals lairs like bear caves might only have incidental treasure left over from previous victims.
In the end, it doesn't seem like there are really too many possible types. Wouldn't it have been more useful to categorize the treasures like this?

John D. Batten - II

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Call for House Rules - Requests

After reading your comments to my last post I remembered another aspect of the rules on my shortlist: they often deal elegantly with an issue that DMs have been fussing and fighting with for years.

I think these are often the places that D&D is just a little too abstract for most people. Examples are critical tables and skills. Since the moment I was told about D&D, I've seen people reinvent those wheels a hundred times, trying to find a sweet spot between playability and satisfying detail.

Remembering this, I thought it might be a generative way to think of great house rules: what areas are you, and DMs you've seen, constantly house ruling. Which rule sections are almost guaranteed to get house ruled or have a question asked in a forum "How do you handle . . . ?"

I'm thinking two things might result from this 1) you may see someone commenting on X always being troublesome and remember "Hey, Joe Blow's rule really handles X well." 2) In the back of my compilation I could put a section called Requests, sort of millennium challenge for awkward D&D bits.

So, what always gets house-ruled?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Illustrator - John D. Batten

One of my favorites. I like the way he packs in a lot of detail without confusing my eye (usually). I like the moments he picks to illustrate from stories. These in media res, weird moments are intriguing in the same way that "Emrikol the Chaotic" and the "Paladin in Hell" were for me growing up. I thought I might share a few of my favorites in a series of posts. Starting with this:

But this one seemed appropriate as Zoopocalypse!

Call for House Rules

I am in the process of compiling a document of what I think are elegant, and excellent house rules. Basically, the best I've encountered in about the last year. I wanted to give you all an opportunity to nominate rules to be included.

While I think a house rule gazette, or even better yet, a wiki of all possible house rules would be cool, right now my interests are much more specific.

The rules I want:
  1. Can be explained to a new player in one sentence. (Two at most.)
  2. Are simple to keep track of and implement.
  3. Add verisimilitude, possibilities, or interesting choices for players in a way that far out weigh the cost of implementing.
Let me give you an example that is probably the most well known:

Shields Shall Be Splintered

"Any time you take damage you can opt to sacrifice your shield to avoid it."

I'll be as bold as to say that simple sentence made shields real for the first time in D&D. Oh, they were always there, the way helmets and gauntlets are there, assumed in the abstraction. But now players can feel the heft of it on their arm, or they'll want to as they enter battle. They'll remember to buy shields and their shield will be on their mind each round they fight, each time they get hit.

I want more rules like that. I currently have 5, but one of those was hidden away on the Swords & Wizardry forums and one on Knights & Knaves Alehouse. I figure there must be other elegant rules lurking on forums I don't frequent. Feel free to nominate your own rules. Thanks.

Every Dungeon Should Have One

Thought you all might enjoy this. Climb on in. It's a pizza oven in Vancouver.

via Boing Boing