Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Pre-Mapped Dungeon

The pre-mapped dungeon has come up a few times in conversations on this blog.  I think one place was regarding heists and the other was involving tactile maps.  I thought of it again in regards to hobo signs and cadger maps (more on those later).  I thought it might be good to think a little about what qualities a pre-mapped dungeon would have that are different than the normal unknown dungeon.  What I'm talking about here is when players receive a map of a dungeon with rooms, traps, and creatures marked on it.

The pre-mapped dungeon is more about strategy than exploration.  Knowing what is in a dungeon means players can plan a course through it and decide which spots they most want to visit.  Or, more likely, which spot might hold the item they seek.  In this sense assaulting the pre-mapped dungeon is very heist-like.

Dealing with dangers you expect lends more of a fairy tale quality to this kind of dungeon.  Knowing there is a roper in a cave you must pass through means you can try to plan for how to neutralize it.  You have to decide what items to bring.  You might perform several side-quests to acquire items and people you'll need to succeed.  Maybe the Flute of Resting will put the roper to sleep, but it's in the Grove of Sighs . . .

Because the point is planning, I think it would be very frustrating for the map of a dungeon to be deceptive.  If, for example, it says "no traps here" on a corridor and you, as DM, decide a new kobold tribe has filled that corridor with traps.  Well, that kinda sucks.  Because you've taken away both the fun of discovering a new place and undermined the player's ability to strategize.  (Also, anything that would make the players want to ignore their map seems counterproductive if you're going to got to the trouble of giving them one)

It could be interesting if players knew that the map they'd been given of a particular dungeon was intentionally false.  They would still be able to strategize, just everything becomes more complicated.  Is the falseness of the map in saying there are traps in corridor 1 because there are none actually, or that the type of traps is incorrect (not pits but darts)?  I don't know that this added complexity is worth it.  It might be based on the context of who gives the players the map and why.

While giving players a map of a dungeon just to screw with what they expect doesn't seem worth it to me, the difference between expectation and reality in a pre-mapped dungeon can lead to surprise, which is one of the joys of exploration.  So, what are some differences that might be more interesting than frustrating?

I think changes that are not due to deception:
  • The dungeon has aged
  • the environment has changed (wetter, drier)
  • a new culture has moved in (elves, social insects)
  • the mapper misunderstood (he couldn't read the native language)
  • the map is from memory (and some things are slightly distorted)
I also think changes that allow for additional, on-the-spot strategizing could work.  So, if you know where traps are, maybe you can try to lead the ants into them.  If you know water has filled the Southern portion of the dungeon, you can revise your plans.  Was there anything down there worth retrieving?  If so how will you maneuver through the submerged halls?  Does this require leaving the dungeon altogether and returning with more supplies?

Change of function could be a quality to focus on, too.  I'm learning as a DM that a key aspect of exploratory dungeon delving is player recognition of what a place was for.  And there really aren't too many possibilities (probably less than 100 clear functions we humans use places for in a lower technology setting).  One way to change a dungeon that could be interesting is to juxtapose these.  Have what your map says is a shrine be the orcs' jacks now.  The jail is now a menagerie.  The old kitchen is now a crude alchemical lab, etc.  Discovering and interpreting this repurposing adds back some of the exploration element to the pre-mapped delve.

I think you can give players a sense of this repurposing in a dungeon without them having a map of the dungeon but, it's more complicated.  They have to discern both "This looks like their throne room" and "But I think it used to be a chapel."  With a map that has functions like "chapel" written on it, the players can have a sort of narrative of a place-- how a fortification is set up, how creatures lived day to day-- and the differences they discover will emphasize how things have changed, perhaps giving a sense of time passing and verisimilitude. 

Another way to make a dungeon feel real and have a sense of history is to give the map a history.  Where has the map been kept all these years?  Who know about it?  Has anyone used it before?  But most importantly: who made the map?  Were they famous?  Might there be other maps out there made by the same person?  What marginalia or quirks of drawing does this person have?  Did they leave markings or carvings in a dungeon that correspond to the map.  Maybe the map is more than a map-- a whole narrative, a journal, a diary.  Maybe there is no map but a narrative.  This could lead to players having to interpret metaphors "First, fly down the hall of the fire worms"  What the heck does that mean?  This seems like it would be more puzzle-like than allowing for strategy.  The payoff becomes less the sense of surprise than that of understanding.  Not "the altar is  being used as a bed!" but "Oh, the Plate of the God is an altar."

A few ideas to leave you with:
  • a map made in stages by generation of monks
  • a map recovered from a corpse by their adult child
  • a found map that relates the tragic failure of an expedition
  • multiple maps of the same dungeon with slight differences
  • a metaphorical map: images of serpents indicate halls, birds chambers
  • map as a cultural artifact:  like the polynesian maps of currents around islands (maybe dwarven maps focus on veins of ore, not chambers)
  • Odd maps: the tattoo, the map woven into beautiful clothing, the map etched in the metal of a sword or shield

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Grab Bag Treasure

A comment from fluerdemal blew my mind.  What if you enlist players in determining treasure?  Here's the idea:

Print a sheet with potions, spell scrolls, protection scrolls, monetary amounts, and maybe a few minor magic items.  Let each player choose two and put them in a communal grab bag.  Next treasure found, a player gets to pull from the grab bag to determine what it is.

I think it might work better if each player doesn't know what the other players picked.  That way they can't game the system and fill it full of the same spell that the party mage most desperately wants (though, the other players might not want to do that anyway if there are items more attractive to their class).

I think it might work better also, if, when the players draw from the grab bag, they just hand their draw to the DM and don't look at it.  This allows for the risk and excitement of potions and unidentified magic items.

I don't think all treasure needs to be determined this way, maybe one player determined item per cache.  That allows the DM to balance risk to reward better and still include artifacts and cursed items that players might never pick.

Okay, with all those qualifications, why bother?  1) I think it might be fun and exciting to physically draw something out of a grab bag during play (though, the second qualification above undermines this, hmm . . .)  2) if you don't replenish the grab bag until it's completely empty it gives the game a quest like quality.  Players will know that they are getting closer and closer to a cache containing a scroll of mirror image and will be excited to search for it.

Have you done anything similar in your game?  How did it work out?  What if you let players come up with their own spell names, npcs, or traps too?  A lot of the burden of player creativity is having to do it on the spot, but spending some time creating together, putting off the reveal until later, and especially keeping secret who made what might make players feel easier about contributing to the imagined world.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Santicore

Santicore has come and left a shiny, free gift.  Go here.  The entries look nice & interesting.  Thanks to Jez and all the contributors.

If you already saw my post about goblin alchemical mishaps, know that the version in Secret Santicore is revised and expanded.  The chart of pre-made mishaps is now 40 entries.

For best results with my dice-drop chart, print two, cut out the inner circle and then secure it on top of the second with a paperclip.  Spin with each roll.  Otherwise you'll get overly similar results.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, friends.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Status Markers

Players running around maimed, drunk, or infused with cheetah DNA?  This might help keep track of all the shenanigans.  This pdf is a sheet of business-card size markers.  Print, cut.

To display in front of players, the two simplest ways I could think of: 1) take an index card.  Fold in half lengthwise like a little tent.  Cut two slots.  Insert relevant markers:
Deaf & Poisoned
Downside is it's limited to two, upside is you can write the PC's name across the bottom.

2)Second option,  just fold the marker in half and put a paper clip on it:

Downside is they might get shuffled around the table, upside is super simple, and your players can have tons in front of them.

I've seen Cyclopeatron use a little yellow slip with a lantern on it to indicate light bearer.  I need to make some of those. 

If you're using minis, Dan C. over at Dungeoneering Dad suggests the little color rings around milk and soda as easy to get, multi-colored markers.

What effects do you need?  I'll try to make them.


Look Familiar?  If you're a grognard it should.  I was trawling through the public domain books at when I found this picture by H. J. Ford in the Green Fairy Book.  I recognized it immediately as the model for Dave Trampier's cloud giant:

It's cool how many features he kept, though I think Ford's tilted torso seems less static, has more character.   And I'd always wondered a bit about those long canines, but it makes sense now, Ford uses them a lot to indicate non-human bugaboos: goblins, djinn, giants etc.

It's odd because I thought I'd gone through all the colored fairy books looking for art already.  But I must have missed the Green book, because I don't recognize the other illustrations.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Silhouettes XXXIV

I'm pretty proud of this one. I had a skeleton but, though its crawling pose was creepy, it wasn't a classic Harryhausen D&D skelly.  The source pic:
came from a Swords & Dorkery post I can't find any more.  As you can see, I gave him the sword, shield and did a little chiropractic on his spine.

I just methodically went through the zip file of silhouettes cropping, scaling, cleaning, and even renaming some.  I hope the tighter files will work better in Jensan's Telemonster generator and reduce the size of the archive as a whole.

These others aren't essential as monsters, but were easy to convert. The baboon can be another stand in for the "ape" monster:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Silhouettes XXXIII

The dreaded Dimetrodon:


And a War T-Rex:

And finally the dread of all sailors, the man-eating manatee:

And the formidable manatee-cavalry:

Map Insets

I watched the Lord of the Rings again with family over the weekend.  And when Strider points out Amon Sûl, something struck me.  An icon on a map isn't going to give players as evocative of sense of that place as an actual image.  And I thought of Victorian illustrated texts with their illustrations framed in circles and rectangles that nestle right into the text.  Why not do that for a player map?
I'm pretty sure I've seen these on tourist maps and historical ones, but I can't seem to find any.  And I don't remember ever seeing a module with a player map that utilized this kind of zoomed in insert.  I hope you correct me with a bunch of examples in the comments.  Anyway, I wanted to mock up a crude proof of concept:
I realize now that this is basically the same as Zak's illustrated dungeons.  But then those are meant for the DM, and what I'm imagining would be meant for players, to help them decide where they wanted to go in a sandbox.

The inset pics would need to be things that were fairly common knowledge to the surrounding communities.  Essentially, the pics are a stand in for the rumors, descriptions, and lore people tell the players about locations.  If players are exploring new territories, and you feel up to it as a DM, you could add insets as players pass close enough to featured locations.

Update: I played around with the idea a little more.  Imagine these insets bordering the whole map, those near the starting point of the campaign filled in, those farther away unknown.  But, you know something is there.  You could give players XP for every Wonder of your campaign world they uncover.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Email Hacked

Apparently someone took over my Yahoo account last night and changed the primary email address by adding an extra "r" then spammed the contact list.  I got back in, changed the password.  But if you ever emailed that account you probably got a spam message. Sorry.

I understand people breaking into accounts and spamming to get $$, I don't get why they would then delete all my email and contacts in that account.  Unless it's a side effect of the hacking method, just seems spiteful.

Anyway, here are a few silhouettes to try and be positive and keep moving forward:
A second humanoid:
His forebear:
And where they live:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Spell Research for Players

Here's an idea to get players more involved with investigating new spells: reveal the actual spell info to the player as they successfully learn more and more.

It's not as exciting as a player coming up with their own spells, but not everyone wants to get as creatively invested.  It could also be good if you want more control over the spells that will be possible in your campaign, or even if only a single caster can know any one spell at a time (wasn't that Mr. Rient's idea?).

(Why make players go through the process of research if you already have a list of spells?  Well it can still be engaging as a mini-game, especially if you have some kooky random failures possible during research.)

Anyway, let the player see a list of possible spells they can choose to research. They'll have to make a decision based on just the name.  Maybe you'll allow them to research incrementally into different spells, finding out a little more about each one before sinking all their time and money into learning one.  Maybe you'll allow them to try casting a spell before it's fully researched, but if you, the DM, carefully craft the spell ahead of time you can make this very risky.

Let's take the Fortunate Punishment as an example.  And I should pause to say the last time I wrote about this spell, I made it seem like I invented the spell in the comments (hell, I didn't remember if I had, or one of my players, or . . .).  But it was actually invented by the brilliant Stuart. So thanks to him, and sorry about that, sir.  Now the example:
If each line of text corresponds to 100gp, or maybe a week of research, then giving players just a list of titles would prevent them from knowing even how much work they have to do to unravel that spells mysteries.  If you want to be easier on them you could start with the whole spell text blurred out.  In the case of our example it would mean about 5 successful steps to know everything about the spell.  Each week, or research roll, or however you want to do it, you show the player the next image with another line clear.
Now, this would take a lot of work on the DM's part to make each reveal dramatic or a tease.  But then, you could probably even take the standard spells and hide range, material components, and casting time, to be dramatic too, depending on the spell.

Silhouettes XXXII

Here you are, good people, finally a dragon. Below, a tower, a dragon turtle and few extras.I also clipped the halfling's feathered cap and tweaked the goblin to look more gobliny (big ear, big nose).  These are all in the zip file linked to the right.

Serendipity XIII

I've got some time off work now and so I went back through my hard drive seeing if there were any pictures I never shared that might be worth sharing. These are what I found:
These are some possible tomb entrances:
I really like this last one, a ship as a hut, or covering a tomb entrance, but the text from the page behind the pic is showing up as banding. Graphics wizards, is there a way to get rid of that?   I've tried messing with the contrast and the levels, but they're still there:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Silhouettes XXXI

Saw a cool Brontosaurus with howdah here so I wanted one:

I was going to put a rider on a T-rex but realize I don't have any riders (other than the camel nomads) , I'll have to try and rectify that.  Another OD&D monster:

A dragon of the Asian persuasion:
A little feller for the halfling rogue lovers among you:
And this cobbled together, demure, young female is what I used as the middle of the age progression I posted yesterday:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Blog Archiving

A quick question.  As far as I know the export blog feature on Blogger just saves the text and links to the pics, right?  It must, because my xml file is only 10megs.  Are there any good tools you know of that will archive posts pics and all?  Maybe even slurp down linked files?

Here's a little silo for your time:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Serendipity XII

Been a while since one of these posts too.  I like the colors of this first one.  I suppose it could be dear old Nidus.
Here is George Carlin investigating which of his apprentices hung the alligator:
The Tomb of Darius, Nahkli-Rustam: