Monday, January 31, 2011

Tomb Entrances VI

Tusk Trumpet

Sound to open doors, stun foes, still waters;
Sound again to shatter shackles, make men flee, and part waters--
but bide the summoned Ettinson;
Sound thrice to shatter shields, make men fall, and shepherd waters;
Sound last to mend shields, raise the fallen, shatter mountains--
but suffer the summoned Ettinchief.

This pic and the previous come from Man and beast in eastern Ethiopia : From observations made in British East Africa, Uganda, and the Sudan (1911)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Unicorn Skull

The Battle of Nidus II

Our heroes:

Toral DP
     Tory - hireling
Gail MU
Hugelina F
"G" F
     Le Bouche - hireling
     Janis - hireling
"Z" F
     Mika - hireling
     Fabrino - hireling

The party woke to smoke and screaming.  There was some chaos until they figured out what was going on. A flotilla of strange black ships was disgorging hundreds of small, grey figures.  Most of the ships in the port was on fire.  Several groups of red-sash mercenaries were milling about trying to decide on a course of action.
I said pretend you're having fun.  They look psychotic.

A familiar naked figure rolling his huge pot back and forth in the street told the party about several choke points the invaders might be held off at.  To the north an archway, to the south a stone walking bridge, or a grand stair leading to the port where a ship might be saved from burning.

The party decided to send 20 red sashes north to hold the arch, 25 to west to hold the stairs and take 15 with them to try and hold the bridge.

There was dithering back and forth about what to do once they reached the bridge.  Finally, they decided to set up on the far end of it, allowing themselves the possibility of falling back across it.

The party quickly distributed their back up shield to red sashes and anchored a small shield wall on the doughty Z.  Red sashes without shield stood in front of the wall and while leery, soon had no escape.

Hundreds of grey, vulture-headed pygmies were swarming up the slopes toward them.  They had awl-like weapons: bone handles set with long rusty needles.  A hulking grey figure moved among them.  It was faceless, had several holes trepanned into its skull, and had a vulture pygmy riding its shoulders jamming a reed into the holes.

Behind the mass was a palanquin carried by more pygmies.  An orangutan's head peered out from time to time.

G, with arrows, and Gail, with magic missile, teemed up to take out the Pygmy riding the hulk, which caused the figure to slump and stand still.

Toral began chanting to the Allfather as the pygmies clashed with the first rank of red-sashes.  The party was surprised to find the pygmies, sliced open, spilled silver coins to the ground.  Soon the ground was littered with them.
G and Z in a shield wall with two red-sashes.  The blue and black beads are just a representation of the hundreds of pygmies.

A long battle featured the slow eroding of the allied troops up front.  The party and hirelings attacked from the second rank with spears.  G had several horrible mishaps with arrows before switching to spear himself.  Tory stumbled through the shield wall and found herself surrounded by the creatures, but with plate and shield has managed to survive.

Gail and the one-armed Hugelina made forays into the city bringing back materials to build a barricade at the far end of the bridge.  They could hear fighting and screaming coming from the north and north-west.

After slaughtering waves of the seemingly emotionless squawking creatures, the orangutan figure emerged, perturbed from its litter.  It had forks for legs and pygmies prostrated themselves on the ground before it.  It "walked" by sinking its forks into them and approaches the shield wall.  The party caught a whiff of cinnamon.

Some Thoughts

Seemed to go well.  Had to quit mid-battle because I knew it would take too long to complete and the orangutan emerging seemed to be a good break point.  I actually had 50 pygmy kills set as that point.  The party has several fighters with plate/shield/multiple attacks so I figured they would reach that in not too long.  But the npc buffer slowed things down.  It also helped keep the party unharmed.  The only injury was Mika the hireling getting shot in the butt by G's critical miss.

Two players said they can't come next week, so there was talk of a flashback.  I've never done one before, not sure how to handle it if one of the characters supposed to be in the battle is killed.

I was rolling for the npcs at the other two chokepoints and they held their own.  I rolled off in fives, five orange dice for the men, five green dice for the pygmies.  I compared the dice of similar type (d6 to d6).  Ties kept fighting, higher die meant the opponent was killed.  I flip flopped back and forth (to myself) but decided that one kill for the men was equivalent to two pygmies dying.  Even so, the party might have some pygmies coming up on their rear.

I figure the orangutan is unhurt by non-magic weapons and has some powerful magic (I rolled on the spell-like effect spur) so the party might be in trouble.  But, I figure it will dissipate if it touches the earth.  So, hopefully they'll get creative.

The pygmies are basically spiced up kobolds.  Boy, the party loved to hear that they spilled coins when cut open.

It's funny whenever we go to a battlemat the tendency is to get exact, precise.  The players asked me early on: "how many squares can I move?  Can I move and attack each round?"  I didn't want to go there.  I said "tell me what you want to do and I'll let you know if you can."  And you know what, it worked fine.  The only time it came up was obvious stuff, like: "No, you can't throw a dart 100 feet."

I made the change to XP for treasure safely out of the dungeon- no spending required- and three players happily levelled up.

I think I may implement the scroll-making rule Chgowiz mentioned in a recent post.  It would allow my mages to get more involved without getting too out of hand-- they have to know the spell already and it costs time and gold to do.

For the first time I felt a real tug towards simplifying the damage dice to all d6.  The confusion in the players of which die type to roll was a constant stumbling block and didn't seem to add anything to play.

Because there were so many melee attacks to describe I followed Tavis Allison's wonderful example and started pitching some of them at the players: "What does your magic missle look like?" "What does your critical do to the pygmy?" It worked pretty well.  If a player faltered I jumped in and helped.  On one critical miss description I vetoed it (it sounded more like a boon to the misser!) and that is what got Tory surrounded by pygmies (heh, if you don't supply a good miss, I'll make it worse).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tomb Entrances V

Had a blast tonight, the party killed waves of vulture-pygmies and just earned the wrath of an ominous orangutan when we quit.  I'm pooped, I'll answer some comments tomorrow.  Have these tomb entrances in the meantime:

This one became more interesting when I saw the little figure to the right and realized its scale.

These two pics are from History of art in Phoenicia and its dependencies (1885).

Fairy Tale Spell Names II

I posted previously on the fact that fairy tale titles sounded like Vancian spell names.  In the comments folks posted some fabulous interpretations of what those spells might do.  So I went back looking for more cool candidates.  I think I'd really picked my favorite titles for that previous post-- the most evocative and interesting.  But I found a few more candidates:
  • The Night of Four Times
  • Toads and Diamonds
  • How to Find Out a True Friend
  • What the Rose did to the Cypress
  • Grasp All, Lose All
  • Smoke Bones
  • I Know What I Have Learned
  • He Wins Who Waits
  • Well Done and Ill Paid
  • The Three Precepts
  • Diamond Cut Diamond
  • Money Can Do Everything
If your players find a scroll you could roll randomly to determine one of these and then ask them what they think the spell would do.

Another thing I noticed was a lot of these sound like Jackie-Chan-Drunken-Boxer-type kungfu moves how about these:
  • The Thief and His Master
  • The Peasant in Heaven
  • Baskets in a Little Cart
  • The Princess in the Iron Tower
  • The Sparrow with the Slit Tongue

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Geomagic Squares

Lee Sallows has made a bunch of magic squares using shapes rather than numbers.  Each row of the center square above will combine to form a square of equal size.  Each piece in the rows also happens to be of equal size for this rarer square.  I like Lee's illustrations of his squares.  Go here to see a lot more.

This might be a little too fiddly for a dungeon puzzle.  I suppose you could have the shapes from one row lining a certain room in a mosaic signifying . . . something.  Or you could give the players actual, tangible shapes and see if they can figure it out.  But I just think it's cool.

Saw it first on Slashdot.

The Battle of Nidus

I'm thinking of having a flotilla of vulture-headed pygmies attack Nidus from several sides. The officers of the army will be orangutan lesser demons in howdahs. The party has no troops to speak of but since Nidus is pretty anarchic, if they take a leadership role I figure some people will follow them. That would include some red sash hirelings and maybe some foreign mercenary bands.

I'm going to try and play this out from what I gleaned from Zak's battle of the styrofoam cup bridge. There will be several battle hotspots and battle off screen will be handled in a fairly simplified dice off.

I would like the ares being attacked to be evocative and also have strategic consequences. Maybe an archway to the north of the city would allow the party to fight fewer of the beasties at a time. A broad stairway near the dock might allow them to save some of the ships being burned by the invaders. A small plain before a bridge into the city to the south would allow them to maneuver troops around if they really want to.

Of course they can also run off into the woods and leave Nidus to its fate, but then . . . no more shopping! hahah

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tomb Entrances IV

Do you dare enter?
Might have to crawl to enter here.
Something watches as you approach this dungeon entrance.

Orders and Guilds - Benefits

I want to make a general template for the perks joining an order or guild will give a character.  I say general, because I want to leave several possibilities open for each class.  In other words there isn't just one mages guild.

I'm thinking progression though these hierarchies would largely shadow levels.  That there would be certain fees & requirements to advance as well as advantages to being at that level in a hierarchy.

So, what would be perks that you would like as a player?  Here are a few ideas I have:
  • lodging
  • letters of introduction
  • goods & equipment
  • research assistance
  • travel assistance
  • loans
  • skilled henchmen
  • troops
If I use the idea of interacting with npcs through the 4 playing card suits, some of these could be, not just a one time perk, but a rising level of support.  For example, maybe the order will offer you financial assistance starting at level 5 and the amount of assistance would climb with each level after that.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tomb Entrances III

Here are a few more tomb entrances.
These are just what I was looking for, something relatively simple, but different from each other.  I will use these to represent the various entrances within the walls of the Maw.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tomb Entrances II

After hours of fruitless poking around I finally hit the jackpot, ladies and gentlemen.  Some more nice illustrations of tomb entrances.  These are public domain and come from: History of art in Phrygia, Lydia, Caria, and Lycia (1892).
There are more nice illustrations in the book if you don't want to wait for me to post them.

Return to the Sodden Temple, Again

Our Heroes:

Toral DP
     Tory hireling
Gail MU
Mollie DP
Athydas MU
"G" F
     Le Bouche hireling
     Janis hireling
"Z" F
     Mika hireling
     Fabrino hireling

The party started out  . . . shopping.  They'd found some pearls recently and were looking for a pearlmonger.  After some dallying in Nidus in which they heard two predominate rumors 1) a fleet of threatenting shipes was seen a day's sail out, and 2) people were disappearing on the outskirts of town.

After more dallying they encountered a weeping man who had two sons gone missing.  He paid gold to have them seek them out and pointed them in the direction of the temple.

The party set out porting their canoe.   The party being fairly familiar with the entrance to this temple they pressed forward to a room with an open well leading down.  They had gone down this once before, but only just before turning back.  Athydas shimmied down a rope and encountered thigh-high water.  And the party decided . . . not to  go that way.  They backtracked to the room of the 50 brass urns and through a west-pointing door.  A hallway, a damp plank over a muddy stream, a door.  Cautiously negotiating all these led them into a medium room with three rows of floating cubes which . . . they wanted absolutely nothing to do with.  A door led to a hallway, another door, a chamber with all the walls covered in velvet curtains.  A door, a hallway and a shimmering in the air.

The party advanced toward the shimmering and something clear and gelatinous was glistening with coins floating in the air.  A brief battle ensued.  One party member was dropped unconscious (Gail? Can't remember) the party collected the gold and decided to head back to Nidus without looking further for the weeping man's sons.

Some Thoughts

The session was sort of blah, for me.  I hadn't developed my ideas for the world map to the extent I was satisfied to give it to them.  I had an idea of having an invading army attack the whole city forcing the party to help the defense or flee, but changing things either way.  But again, I hadn't sketched out the details enough to where I would want to try to improv it with my tired brain.  But I thought it would be okay for at least one more session because:

I'd heard two different players mention exploring a section of the temple that they'd barely breached previously.  If they did I knew there was 1) lots of treasure 2) an interesting magic item, and 3) stiff opposition by some weird creatures.  Of course all thought of going that direction was forgotten sometime after play started.

Another possibility was that they would push a little further in a different direction and enter the temple's main chamber, where there is a bad cleric, a lot of fly worshippers, a baby brundlephant, and a floor literally covered with treasure (mostly copper pieces).  They have been in the chamber right next to this room.  But nope, they went a completely different direction on the first level and left after a single battle successfully yielded treasure.

I know you can't predict what players will do, but I was disappointed that their exploration was sort of random, even though they had several possible logical goals.  If playing this game is like being in a band I felt they were all playing flat, or out of time or something.

Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of laughter and fun was had, but I want to up our game.

Two important rule changes that have come from this session are 1) I'm ditching experience for gold spent, I might write a post on this, but essentially it undercut any feeling of achievement by the treasure found at the end of the night and seems to just push characters to buy crap (there's enough of that in the real world) and 2) an explicit guild system for each of the three classes.  I think this will give them logical goals, incentives, and a realistic way for me to offer them hooks and choices.

Also, my failure on the Angel of Color.  I guess it was hubris to expect them to interact with it when they had no gain from the last experience.  Maybe the angels should all drop gems or convey a vision or something.  I'm also remembering that these are organisms, as alien as they appear, not just tricks.  So maybe they will follow the party around and try to communicate or something.

Friday, January 21, 2011

How to Host an Empire

Alas, this post is not giving you rules to do just that.  I haven't actually played Tony Dowler's How to Host a Dungeon but I've read the pdf and watched youtube videos of people playing it.  It seems pretty fun and clever.  Thinking about my gameworld yesterday, I realized I wish I had an abstract, generative system for developing world history.  Anything like that exist?

I might develop this myself when I have more time.  As I imagine it it would track empires and peoples as they expand, contract, and interact.  Really what I'm looking for is: 1) a general idea of some cataclysmic clashes and loosely when they happened, and 2) general areas of influence that empires had i.e. where can we expect to find their ruins.  As with most systems like this, you could do it all manually but this would save me work as well as generating interesting situations I probably would never come up with

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Angel of Color

It appears as three rows of perfect, floating cubes.  These cubes are alabaster white.  If touched, they bob a little, but don't move much unless pushed horizontally or vertically toward each other.

When this is done far enough so that the two cubes touch, the cube being touched turns a brilliant color.  Also, all within 30' must save or lose their sense of direction.

Touching a colored cube with a white cube will drain its color leaving them both white. Touching two colored cubes together will make each turn new brilliant colors.

Returning all the cubes to their colorless state will restore a sense of direction to anyone within 30'.

The loss of direction may not be noticeable at first, because it will not affect the creatures ability to move just to conceive.  It will manifest itself in an inability to tell which way left, right, up or down is.  In a room with two doors an affected creature would choose randomly or by features other than direction, "The red one. The small hallway."


I'm thinking for the colors you could go to a hardware store and get some paint color cards.  The idea is not to confuse or trick the players, so you'll need to keep track of which cubes are colored in a way easy for players to see.

It would probably be good to have this in a chamber that isn't close to any right/left hallway or door choices so their predicament takes a while to set in.

I haven't tried this yet, but may this Friday.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Possible Cities cont.

Some thoughts on my previous post and your comments:

I have no idea why was I focussing on cities and not features in general. I guess because it made more sense that, from an island, they would travel to another point of civilization and not some random point in the wilderness. But sticking in the city is part of the problem, they do more shopping in Nidus than exploring.

A Newhon Ghoul
I just grilled 3 players that work with me about what they want in our campaign, what would be fun (does that mean I'm New School ;) Two things popped out, these guys are smart, they sit around thinking everyday, and they had a very hard time verbalizing what they wanted from a D&D campaign. With some prodding I was able to tease out some specifics. And . . . those specifics were three different things!

Anyway, back to cities.  I think a city that feels different to be in would be a good choice.  So a Sparta-like city with a lot of slaves would allow for awkward social moments where players have to interact with slaves or are mistaken for them.  A very religious pilgrimage destination would work too  (If the party members are some of the few non-believers around).  I like the idea of a city with most of the people lepers and visiting there means you'll probably get it too.

I also think a city which is ripe to be affected by game-world changes, so the two above might have interesting developments in a plague, or invasion.  I suppose any place would be affected by those kind of big changes, but I'm thinking a border city that's colonized by an empire, with foreign troops oppressing a populace, might be more likely to have "interesting" things happen than a trade center, port city.

With Zak's idea that the map I show the players is what their characters think the world is like, what would be some good misconceptions to play up?

Erroneous cultural beliefs. Maybe those cannibals really aren't.  Those evil, demon worshippers are just a different religion.

Unrealistic expectations. The condition of a place is very different, more squalid than thought, or maybe a savage backwater is in actuality a pinnacle of a different culture's civilization.

Wrong scale.  Distances should be off, maybe a continent is much farther away then it shows and the voyage there will prove harrowing.

Out of Date information.  That would more likely affect a an old found map than the character's conception of their world.  Although, I suppose news travels slow.  I think I'll reserve this for my "way out."  Instead of planning out of date features, my do overs can include city-erasing events that have happened since the characters have heard about a place.

The ghoul pic is public domain and a bonus to pay for the rambling.

Possible Cities

My players are growing disgruntled.  One keeps asking: "so there are only two places we can go?" I need to give them a world map so they can choose where they would like to go themselves.  In the past I would have made that all first.  Now I find myself clinging to the abstraction of the fantasy world because anything is possible until I start pinning down cultures and geographical features.  Oh well, got to make decisions sometime.

I thought I might just generate a whole list of possible cities before scattering them around on a map.  I'm not sure where I read it (I think Zak), but the idea is to give players some sense of what a city is about, a characteristic or predominate feature.

I'll just start with the categories from here and work from the bottom up:
  • Substance: City of Brass, baby.  My favorite.  Basically what a city is built from, brick, alabaster, iron, sandstone
  • Quantity: Um, city of a million fires, can't think of what quantity would be but lots of people.  A city of ten families, mostly deserted?
  • Quality: The greatest city, cleanest, filthiest, I figure most cities in my world would be filthy so maybe clean streets would be something special, hah. But maybe this is about refinement, or class, a city only of nobles?  Who is going to do the work?  A city of nobles and slaves.
  • Relation: Twin cities, cities right across a river from each other, or a gorge, on two levels of a cliff, in a huge tower, a Babel sized tower with multiple cities (that sounds like one big city though).
  • Place: In the snow, in the desert, marsh or swampland, coastal, plains, stony badlands, giant forest, island or port.
  • Time: ?? Ruins, used-to-be-a-city, shanty town becoming a city.
  • Position: How would this be different than relation?  Upside down city, highest city, lowest city, flattest city, hilliest city.
  • State (shod, armed, etc.): city in revolt, drought, famine, plague-stricken city (ooh, I bet the players will want to go there haha)
  • Action: ?? A city expanding, a city conquering new lands because it's a city-state, city rebuilding, the Winchester city that can't stop building, Nidus fits here with the merchants constantly shifting.
  • Affection (actually affected by, affected in some way): This seems similar to state, but maybe conquered, a city with imperial forces stationed there, burnt city, just after a big fire, trade fairs, the influx of people changing the state of the city in different seasons.

  • Opinion/Judgement: The friendliest city (haha), accursed, slavers and torturers, a beautiful city, the ugliest city, a city of harsh laws (hand-choppers),slow-paced, lazy, corrupt, decadent
  • Dimension (size, length, width): biggest, smallest doesn't really work unless you put this on the map somewhere, tallest buildings, I think a lot of what I put for position up above fits here, maybe narrow streets, a city on water like Venice, a narrow city stretched along a canyon or ceremonial route.
  • Age: ancient or new, a city of where the old go to die, a city where the blemished young are exiled to.
  • Shape: ?? A city in a a religious pattern, checker board, concentric rings, in a pyramid interlocking rings around wells or shafts
  • Color: color of the building materials? of the inhabitants?  Color words can be clues because of connotations, the White City, the Black City, the Grey City.  Not sure what would make them literal, maybe the Blue city paints its walls, a sign of religion? of magical protections, they live near dragons or demons
  • Origin: City founded by slaves, pirates, rebels, religious exiles, built around a shrine, an oasis, a trade center, a natural feature, shipwreck, where an armies commander was killed
  • Material: I think substance covered this.
  • Purpose: trade, military, political center, royal leisure spot, research/libraries/archives, religious magnet, frontier, resources: mining, lumber, fishing, manufacture of: textiles, metalwork,
  • Appearance/Condition: Silent, jubilant, reverent, rotting, sinking, splitting (on faults), painted/murals, draped, gilded, whitewashed, stinking, vaporous
Okay, not worrying about category whatever comes to my mind: floating city, nomadic, nocturnal city, city of ambassadors from other cities, freed slaves, zealots, cannibals, city of bells, city of bridges, city of balconies (is that Vornheim), city of musicians, city of spices, city of towers or spires, city of abandoned temples, rediscovered city, temple city, city of pools, city of fountains, city of waterfalls, city of gates, city of stairs, the Hanging city. 

Okay, enough for now, got to get to work.  I'll make another post to try and pick ~5 to get ready for Friday.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Indian Legends

"Beneath this world there were four other worlds.  The people who live here now once lived in each of the other worlds.  In each one of them they did wrong, and from each they were driven forth." - Navaho Legend

Bear Woman and the youngest brother
Tulchuherris killing Supchit the man-fish
Public Domain images from here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Mire-O-Meter

Last time my players went back to my sinking dungeon I call the Sodden Temple, I realized that I didn't remember how much the temple had sunk sense their last excursion.  It wouldn't be a big deal if the dungeon was simple, but it has a few different depths on a single level.  I think it will help if I keep track on a little meter like this:

I wouldn't mess with numbers, just use body words to describe depth to players, easier for us all to imagine that way.  So, those depths would be:

h - over your head
g - neck-high
f - chest-deep
e - hip-deep
d - thigh-deep
c - knee-deep
b - shin-deep
a - ankle-deep

Again, pretty simple, but if I label the dungeon map at starting depths (this alcove is the lowest at "a", this stair landing is "c", and the hallway here is "e") even if it starts out dry-- just assuming when the fluid or mud starts coming back that will be the first level-- then it will be easier to keep track of the current relative depths (just go up two places on the meter from the current depth of the landing to see where the alcove is at now).

Back into the Maw

Friday's Session had a party of 6 adventurers heading back into the catacombs of the upper part of the Maw.  They have despoiled a lot of graves previously, but these were only of common folk.  It was a special find to come away with a shield or weapon.  Thinking they might find the burial location of richer folk, they pushed into some of the unexplored tunnels.

They didn't have any luck on that account.  At the end of one tunnel they did find a curiously floating pyramid.  Hugelina poked it and several of the party went blind.  Then someone touched the sphere that was in its place and several people went deaf.  And it was chaos for a bit as a Man of Wounds appeared moaning and approaching the party's dead end chamber.

Athydas cast a sleep spell on the creature which worked.  They then spiked its limbs to the floor. And forgot it for a while as they tried to get their senses back. Most of the party left the area of, what was now, a floating cube.  The cube was hit by a blind G, pinata style.  Nothing noticeable occured, except a ring was left floating in the cube's place.  Hugelina stepped up to the ring and thrust her arm through it, in an attempt to captured it.  The ring was now a pyramid again and Hugelina had a perfectly cauterized stump where her arm used to be.  

Athydas became interested in the wounded humanoid again.  He was successful in pulling out some of the weapons sunk in the creature.  He wanted to test whether it would be friendly, but on freeing one of its spiked hands, it struck him a blow that put him on death's door.  (Marcos the shaman later healed him).

And with that, the party had had quite enough of the Maw.  They gather the few meager weapons they'd liberated from graves and headed back in Nidus.  They did some shopping and then, on finding the animal arena won a ton of money betting.  The first fight was a Tasmanian wolf versus scorpions, then scorpions versus cobras, then a panda versus a zebra.

Some Thoughts

I didn't pretty lousy job as DM; wasn't prepared well enough and was tired from work.  Thank goodness I had the geometric shape, it kept the party quite occupied.  The pickings in the Maw have been so lousy compared to the risk, I think I'm going to have to start giving the players hooks if I want them to explore it further.

The skills being a DM requires of you seem limitless!  I was still getting the odds for animal arena wrong ( I'd forgotten about 3d4 monsters as opposed to 1d4 monsters in making my table of odds.) and felt like a bookie, wipping a little dry erase board updating odds for each round.

I had some interesting experiences with player vs. DM creativity.  I videotaped one guy amusingly BSing the culture and religion of his shaman (might put that online later) and after asking one player to describe the animal fights had a result worthy of the Thousand Drunken Tongues, with scorpions flying through the air and sound effects and everything.

Probably the most significant thing I noticed was the death of the Man of Wounds as a monster (I probably shouldn't have had it re-appear as soon as it did, made it rarer on encounter tables) or the "Shuffler" as my players named it.  What I mean is, in a matter of three sessions, it went from creepy and terrifying to no-big-thang.  Sort of respected as dangerous, but not mysterious anymore.  I might write a post about that.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Angel of Geometry

A perfect alabaster pyramid floats motionlessly.  If disturbed, anyone within 30' must save or go blind.  Those who save will see the pyramid has been replaced by a perfect alabaster sphere, floating motionlessly.  If disturbed all within 30' must save or go deaf.  The sphere is replaced by a cube - disturb it, save or go mute.  Next is a torus - disturb it, and a pyramid will re-appear, anyone still within 30' will have all senses returned to normal.

This is something I cooked up for playing my parents.  I figured it would be alien and curious in a non-creepy way.  I think it may be a 4 dimensional creature cycling through aspects of itself, or maybe through stages in its life cycle.  But who knows.

At first I was going to have the platonic solids, but I didn't want to have to explain what an icosahedron was to my parents.

It seemed to work well in the session last night, causing great consternation and chaos (I'll blog about that later).  I recommend having lots of little cards with B, D, & M on them.  You can place them in front of players, otherwise it's difficult to track the many different combinations of disability characters will end up with.  You might be thinking: "assuming they mess with it."  Trust me, they will mess with it.

There are other angels.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hall of Four Spheres

Designing a Tumbling Dungeon is proving more difficult than I'd hoped. At least, in balancing how interesting the turned chambers are with the complexity of explaining them. I thought I might put up some chambers piecemeal as they come to me.

The Hall of Four Spheres is first encountered as a hallway with domes in the flour. These domes are made of stone/iron/brass and have inscriptions of astrological signs on them representing four skies:

The domes are actually full spheres resting in hemispherical depressions in the floor.  When the hallway is rotated (or the gravity is switched to either of the two walls or the ceiling), the spheres will roll, blocking the passage.  Children, hobbits, and talking dogs may be able to slip between the spheres and the walls of the passage when blocked, but then they'll have to fight the grue alone.  There could be interesting inscriptions in those depressions revealed when the spheres roll free, you might need a child, hobbit, or talking dog to squeeze in there and see.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Couple From the Catacombs

The Holidays are officially over here and work is starting to ratchet back up.  I have a session tomorrow in a different house, not sure how many players to expect or what they want to do.  They may go back into the Sodden Temple, there are places left unexplored even though it is sinking back into the sea. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Problem with Psionics

is that it's trying to represent three archetypes at once.  I think this made sense, in that the three have many similarities and are all about "mind over matter."  But there are some differences that become problematic.

The Ascetic
This archetype is about renunciation, especially of the natural comforts of the body, in exchange for otherworldly powers. These can come from all cultures, but the most vivid imagery seems to come from fakirs, swamis and the western view of yoga. Renouncing, though, is not easy and requires mastering the body and mind.  A swami is "He who knows and is the master of himself."  These masters of yoga would be able to perform incredible feats known as siddhi. (Interestingly, when psionics were introduced in Eldritch Wizardry it was as "powers commonly known here as Yoga" and 18 of the possible devotions were called Siddhis.)

The Warrior Monk
This archetype is about "excellence achieved through long practice," where excellence here means the ability to walk up walls and make part of your body iron-hard.  The mastery of the body is similar to the Ascetic's, but almost always toward martial ends.  The Shaolin monks of Shaw Brother movies and those possessing the abilities of wuxia fall into this category.  (The 1e Monk is an alternate approach at fulfilling this archetype by giving a standard set of wuxia-style powers at predictable levels.)

The Psychic
While there have always been seers and fortune tellers, this archetype comes from much later and is related to exploring the hidden powers of the mind. The Psychic's powers are often couched in terms of science and the discovery of abilities existent but unknown.  Like the Warrior Monk, practice can play a big part in mastering this hidden potential.  Unlike the other two archetypes, the Psychic's potential is often portrayed as hereditary.

Now, the idea to smoosh these all into one system isn't bad. The archetypes actually share several themes quite strongly.  First, they are all about our minds mastering matter.  Second, there seems to be an element of fatigue involved when exercising these powers.  And finally, the selection of powers available to individuals, while astonishing, are limited in number (sometimes only one).

And there is evidence in popular culture of the conflation of these archetypes.  In Master of the Flying Guillotine we see a practitioner of yoga using his abilities to fight in a tournament.  In Star Wars, the Jedi start out more as Warrior Monks but in the prequels the Midichlorians shift them toward hereditary Psychics (notice also the scientific aspect of detecting the presence of the ability).

But I would argue these conflations are muddled (who liked the midichlorians?).  And there are two very large differences in the archetypes that are hard to ignore.  The first is the hereditary nature of Psychic abilities.  Psionic ability in 1e D&D is based on this premise: that you either have the potential or you don't.  And yet, the lore of the other two archetypes is that through hardwork and sacrifice anyone can unlock these powers.

The other difference is the kind of powers.  I'm guessing that many of you, like me, were surprised the first time reading the 1e PHB's section on psionics by such powers as "body weaponry" or "expansion" because those aren't traditionally psychic powers.

So what now?  I think a kind of Choose-Your-Own Psionics is probably possible where you as DM would decide which of the archetypes you are most interested in.  I imagine this as three partially overlapping power lists and, at least, two systems for obtaining powers from them.  Another challenge I think is possible to surmount is designing a mechanic that works well for the idea of powers that fatigue.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Joined

It is not uncommon for groups of communal organisms to share their senses.  The Joined go farther and can share aspects of themselves among themselves. If, for example, 8 give up 1 foot of height, a ninth will become 8 feet taller.  This applies to all aspects, the joined able to obtain photographic memory or become hypergendered, for instance.  These changes are completely reversible and are only limited by how much the donating individuals are capable of giving up.

It is said wizards have replicated this ability in magical rings known as Bands of the Joined.  Each person wearing one can partake in the same sharing as the joined normally do.

Random Encounters Record Sheet

I was at my folks' this weekend scrambling to get something ready to DM them.  My stepmother wasn't feeling up to snuff so it was all put on hold in the end.

Are you ever ready to DM?  I suppose there's a stage you reach when you can roll with a moments notice.  I am not at that stage.  I always seem to be trying to figure out what the trap in room 3 is as my players show up.  Time constraints can be helpful in generating, but they can also lead to crappy results (my trap the night I'm thinking of was boring).

Anyway, I've found that this here blog is very helpful because whichever player's house I'm DMing at I have access to a lot of ready to go magic items, monsters and handouts that I'm familiar with.

It was like that this weekend, I took the Easy Map Dungeon flipped it horizontally and started randomly stocking it.  The one document that I've found helpful in the past that was not on my blog was an empty random encounter chart.

So, I'll rectify that now.  This pdf might not be very useful to you, but I still need something like this:
I've arranged the die results to give me an assortment of frequencies for encounters.  It would probably be more flexible to just leave the die roll part of the chart blank, but as a learning DM I need to be thinking how likely these results will be or my players are going to get bored dealing with the same things over and over.

The spaces below are for fleshing out what the encounters are and even pre-rolling hit points if there are a bunch of individuals involved (the dashes to the right).  I think this is necessary for me because I almost never use the same creatures in two dungeons.  It's always: "These are sort of white, tough kobolds," or, "these are weaker stirge with this other magical power."

I often scribble XP in the right hand margin and then triple it to get a gold piece value before trying to turn that amount into treasure items.  I suppose it's not a very random way of stocking a map.  I realize I'm shooting for a certain sweet spot of reward/risk. In other words, there is loot to be had, were it's at is random.  Maybe as I get more experience I'll change that but it seems to be working splendidly so far.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Pools of the Ancients

I want to make something almost toy-like for players to interact with in my dungeon.  Sort of tools that they might use in ways I can't predict (hopefully without breaking the campaign).

My current idea is containers that do things.  The type of container could vary depending on the vibe of your dungeon: jars, chests, stone alcoves, or pools.  I like the idea of containers with lids.  That way you can't watch what happens to what you put in the container, it's a mystery until you open it again.  But I like pools too, maybe the liquid in the ppols will turn opaque when something is placed in them.  Other features of the liquid in the pools could be determined as a potion.

Here's a possible lay out of pools and what they do:
Aa: Item placed in A will disappear and appear in a, reduced to a 10th in size.  Item placed in size a will disappear and appear in A enlarged 10 times.
Bb: Item placed in B will disappear.  A tiny replica in brass/plastic/wax will appear in b.  Removing and replacing the replica in b will cause the original item to appear in B.  Think a 4th dimensional wharehousing device.
Cc: Item placed in C will disappear and reappear rejuvenated/younger in c.  Item placed in c will disappear and reappear in C aged.
Dd: Item placed in D will be coated/plated/painted with material of whatever item is in d, using up that item completely.
E: This pool will subject whatever is placed into it to temperatures from hot enough to melt metals (1) to cold enough to flash freeze (2).
Ff: Item placed in F will be transmuted completely into material of item placed in f, using the item in f up.
G: Item placed in one of these pools will appear completely disassembled, its constituent parts floating above the other pool.  Parts placed in one of the pools will appear assembled floating above the opposite pool.  Living objects can go through this process generally without harm (a human re-assembled without their heart wouldn't do very well, for example).

Now, I know these seem a little too rational, like microwave ovens of the elders.  And I toyed with the idea of pools that did weirder things, like cover objects in hair.  But as a player myself, I don't think I would ever use that kind of device after a laugh or two.  These others I might make a dangerous trek just to use.  F is potentially campaign breaking, but if it is in a dangerous enough place, that and encumbrance might make it feasible.

I like B, and can envision a dungeon with little wax crowns and royal regalia scattered about it befuddling players.

What would fascinate you in an alien machine as a player?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Perfect OSR Product

As we enter a new year the thought of where the OSR might or even should go next is natural.  There seems to be a lot of dissatisfaction with "retreads" and the possibility of "too many retroclones."  Which is fine, I can understand the thinking there.  What is problematic for me is the assumption that the solution here is for people to find just the right kind of product to put out and everything will be swell; an innovative product, a artful but familiar product, a useful product.

This feels to me like I'm sitting here in my AC Cobra watching the buggy whip salesmen fighting tooth and nail over the last of the dwindling market of buggy owners.

That AC Cobra?  This here blog community.  I understand the sentiment that something doesn't exist in the gaming world if it doesn't exist on a shelf in a brick and mortar store.  But that is just not true any more.

I've learned more in the last year about playing rpgs than I had in my whole life prior.  Part of that was because I was reading all the awesome stuff you've posted, part of it was me working to come up with something equally cool to give back to you.  It wasn't because I bought all the key products put out by OSR designers.

I don't mean for this to be an anti-capitalist rant; if you want to package your cool blog stuff into something people can buy, fine.  In fact the weakness of a blog is that cool things can be spread all over it, difficult to find, and in draft form.  Editing and polishing can be essential for ideas. 

The problem is when people start thinking unless their ideas have been packaged into a product and unless they have sold well, they are not valid, or useful, or not somehow real.

I'm reading your blogs.  I'm using your ideas in my weekly game.  I'm even posting in praise of those things that seem really interesting or game-changing to me.  Your ideas are real for me without me having to pay for a pdf.

One bad aspect of focussing on products is people keeping things hush hush so that the product, when finally released, will make a bigger splash.  "I'm working on a cool thing but I can't tell you anything about it." Lame.  Why are you blogging about it if I can't know what it is until you finish it and sell it to me?

The worst case scenario for me is when someone has blogged about something, received the benefit of an attentive audience, received helpful comments (even if only in the sense that they are encouragement), and then after turning it into a product they yank it all off their blog so you have to buy it to read it. Man, that sucks.

I guess in a nutshell what I'm saying is when you put something on a blog you are in fact publishing.  You can have an audience without needing an sku or a distribution company.  And I think that's pretty damn cool.  That was supposed to be the point of the Internet, right?  So why then is everyone scrambling around trying to come up with the perfect OSR product when it's right under our noses?

Okay if you've made it this far (and in keeping with the spirit of this post I might add) here is my coin for the boatman:

Nested Golems
Being difficult and costly to create, a few savvy wizards have learned to make golems one inside another, the outer layers made of the cheapest materials.  Meant primarily as guardians, the idea was that least amount of resources would be spent in dealing with any individual threat.  Usually of humanoid shape, when one layer is destroyed the next slightly smaller golem will step free as from a shell and continue assaulting intruders.  The particular layers are varied, one know configuration follows:
  • 1st layer: 1hd, 8ft tall, clay- impervious to electrical attacks
  • 2nd: 2hd, 6ft, brass- impervious to fire, successful hits on it inflict 1d4 heat damage on attacker.
  • 3rd: 4hd, 4ft, silver- impervious to acid, ray or beam attacks reflect back on attacker.
  • 4th: 6hd, 2ft, lead- 1/2 damage from weapons. Successful hits on it must save of have the attacking weapon stuck in the soft lead.
  • 5th: 8 hd, 1ft, gold- impervious to electrical, acid.  1/2 damage from weapons.  Successful hit on it cause all creatures within 30ft to save versus charm or feel they should just leave the area.
All damage based on weapon type.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Tumbling Dungeon II

Here's a draft of a pretty simple dungeon that rotates around one axis.  To keep it manageable it will have four states.  The first is the way it looks when the party first enters and pokes around the place:

To visualize state two, print this out then pull the title toward you until the page is vertical.  What was hallway BCF now become a vertical shaft.  To get to state three continue rotating the title toward you and down and you get this:
What used to be the floors of all these chambers are now their ceilings.  What goes in those rooms and halls is for another post, but I wanted to try and convey what I had in mind.

Some additional thoughts.  I struggled with doors; at one point I even had a draft map with stairs leading up to the door from each of the four directions.  I think it is simplest to just say the "doors" are square openings in the exact center of the walls.

The central spherical chamber is the reason for the dungeon.  It could be made larger.  I'm toying with the idea of corrugating the walls of those 45 degree halls that become chutes, so that they actually become stairways.  I mean, I'm not trying to make a death trap here.  On the other hand, it might be interesting and nervous-making for players to start sliding down a slick chute.

Update:  Doors are still a problem.  I forgot the rooms as drawn here are 30x30x30, which means a 10x10 opening in the center of the wall is 10 feet off the ground!  I guess we could put rungs leading to the opening from all sides, but that would sort of give away the rotational nature in the first room.  I'll think more about this.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Tumbling Dungeon

I don't mean tumbling in the sense of rolling down an infinite hill (I'll leave that for someone else to explore), but turning through the vertical plane; "rotating" and "revolving" make me think more of movement in the horizontal plane.
A horizontally rotating dungeon seems to be more about trickery-- the puzzlement of identical rooms being switched out as a means to confound players.  I'm more interested in the dungeon already explored becoming an alien place by being turned-- in essence extending the exploration of the same place by making it new with each rotation.  Well, that and just the wonderment of a huge turning place.

The Rotation
Going along with the idea of extending exploration, I think a tumbling dungeon should turn 1) slow enough so that it isn't trap-like and dangerous to explorers, 2) at predictable intervals, 3) at intervals far enough apart that explorers have enough time to explore each turned state.  The last point will depend on the size of the dungeon, but I'm thinking 1-2 hours between rotations at least.  And this is really important because it places a practical limit on the size of our dungeon.

Dungeon Size
My first sketch of a possible tumbling dungeon was a cube of 5 rooms by 5 rooms.  I quickly found out it would be extremely difficult to not only represent this visually, but for players to form a mental mindscape of it while exploring.

So, I reduced it to a cube of 2 rooms by 2 rooms.  Still too complex.  I think tumbling dungeons of this size might work in a video game, but I want something simpler.  I think it should be just complex enough for a player to hold in their mind while providing interesting things to investigate on each rotation.  The perfect size would also allow for at least one rotation to happen during a session of play-- otherwise memory and player churn will become a problem. Remember, a cube rotating will have 4 states, so you'll multiply the number of dungeon chambers by four (and then need to design those rooms).  I'm thinking a dungeon with four rooms and four passages might be just about right for me.

Building Blocks
As far as I can tell there are four classes of elements that will come into play in a tumbling dungeon:
  • Rolling Elements-- balls and cylinders
  • Fluids-- water and sand
  • Hinged Elements- these are connected at two points, doors and shutters
  • Swinging Elements-- these are connected at one point.  Unless you're rotating in more than one direction they'll function very much like hinged elements.  Although there may be some differences, the ability to push them aside and such.  Think chains and pendulums.
All of these can function to, not just change the look of a room but hide and reveal features and channel travel by making areas traversable or not.

If this place is a feature that has existed for a while, then it will most likely be sparsely decorated and with the building blocks above.  Anything loose would have been tumbled to bits.  So any treasure items will have to be ingeniously secured.

I like the idea of magic producing anti-gravity effects which the tumbling dungeon can't, and thus I would reserve magic for that effect and keep my tumbling dungeon a physical apparatus turning with huge gears or pivots somewhere in a cavernous void.  But using magic to shift gravitational direction would yield essentially identical results as having the dungeon actually physically turning.  So, it's really up to your preference as a DM.

Misc. Thoughts
The first rotation after entering should probably block the entrance the party came in by, forcing some exploration of this strange place.

I think it would be a bonus if it isn't obvious at first that this dungeon rotates, i.e. no chairs on the ceiling.  hat way you get a little extra surprise from players on that first rotation.

For those of you that have a simulationist streak that's wondering why the hell someone would build a place like this, two ideas: an alchemical formula that needs blending for a 1000 years, eldritch eggs that need a source of heat evenly applied to keep them viable.

I can't do a post about rotating dungeons without directing you to Grim's idea of using a Rubik's Cube to generate dungeons with geomorphs, and Norman Harman's further exploration of the idea along with a proof of concept.  Awesome, but it seemed more about generating the dungeon on the surface of the cube than experiencing the effects of those rooms moving through three dimensional space.  Of course, all the ideas above could be applied to a Rubik's Cube dungeon, although I think Norman, like me, found it to be quite difficult to map and represent to players.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tomb Entrances cont.

I liked those entrances so much I went back and looked more closely at the source book.  Here's another entrance, flanked by lions:
Apparently, one of those entrances was an imagined reconstruction based on sculpture fragments, the other two (including today's) I couldn't find online.  But the third is a Temple to Mita in Midas ┼×ehri.  More info here.  Here's a current pic:
and one with a person for scale, it's 17 meters high:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

One-Page Factions

I got to thinking you might share factions with other DMs much the way you share dungeons.  I envisioned something like an illustrated family tree with brief, abstracted notes on the members.  So I whipped up a draft:

The lines are meant to provide space to record traits and poker personality information.  The meter in the corner is meant to record the party's reputation with this faction as per rorschachhamster's suggestion.  Put them all together and you might use it like this (partially filled out):

A few problems: a faction like a guild or abbey will be very large and so these would only be the most powerful members or the lowest rung that low level characters are most likely to run into.  Second, after reading about medieval monasteries for about an hour this morning, I realize that working out these traits and relationships is a piece of cake for me as a DM, what I really need help with is abstracting the heirarchy and roles within these various historical organizations.  So, this is sort of a solution in search of a problem.  I suppose it might still be useful for DM record keeping.

I think I mentioned wanting an abstracted village long ago, add to that a convent/monastery, mages guild, thieves guild, etc.  I think I'm going to have to make them myself.