Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dwarven Outpost Kit

I was kinda wanting to enter something in this year's One-Page Dungeon contest, but the visual dungeon I had in mind has been requiring me to learn more to even be able to make it.  When I saw Roger's cool outdoor location he entered, though, it inspired me and I really wanted to submit something.  I made a push, but after working many hours yesterday and today I just didn't make it in time.  It wasn't a stocked dungeon anyway, and I still get to share it with you.  So onward.  Let's recap a little:
  • To justify using a stencil it needs to do something extra for us or it would be faster and easier to just draw a dungeon by hand.
  • I think a few things that stencils might help with are hard to draw shapes like perfect ovals and triangles and such, repetitive structures, and my latest discovery-- adding depth with a pseudo-isometric view.
  • Keep in mind stamps and linocuts like here.  I think they would function similarly but be easier to use, while being harder to make.
I tried to combine all these ideas into a cool tool.  It still takes some time to use; it isn't for use at the table, really.  But I'm hoping it could make for some interesting location based explorations missions.  Here is what I came up with:
And here are some pics of me eatin' my own dogfood:
I used a discarded report cover that had a pretty tough but flexible black plastic back.
After the surgery.  Yeah, the fish ponds gave me some trouble.  The good thing is these should last a while so you only have to cut them out once.
Here's me trying them out.  I didn't finish the map, but you can see I added a hallway linking the Barracks to the Smithy.  I tried randomizing, but I think the best way to use these is just arrange one of each tetramorph to taste.  You could put more space between them and intersperse other rooms if you want.  Anyway, let me know if any of you try it out.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Visual Dungeon III - Stencil Rivers

I got very excited because I was going to mash together Roger's idea of tetramorphs with stencils and iso-like map making.  I made some mistakes, didn't exactly get what I wanted, but learned some stuff.

The five basic shapes from Wikipedia:

I like using stuff for these tools that is easy to get, so index cards etc. But I found index cards a little too thin to make good stencils. So, I cut out 3x5 bits of manilla folders instead, which I have a lot of at work:
The first thing I thought of was waterways, underground rivers. So I drew some and cut them out. I added a little register hole so that when I shift, I shift them all the same distance:
I remembered some blog commentator pointing out the d8 as a good way to have a pointer, so I number the tetramorphs 1-8:
So the idea was to throw the d8 on your paper, the tip at the top of the # would indicate how to lay the first tetramorph, the number would indicate which one:
Then I rolled and just matched up the later tetramorphs to the ends of the first one in a clockwise manner. Shifted, erase to make an iso-like waterway (sorry for crappy pics):

And, this is where, astute reader, you might be thinking, "Wait, why did they need to be tetramorphs, you didn't use their best feature which is fitting together in a puzzle-like way?"

Yep. I only realized that after making these. I want to do a second draft where I do just that, making the stencils actual tetramorphs that you fit together.  But I'm realizing size might be an issue. If you want to base the squares in the tetramorph on the 5 squares to an inch graph paper scale, and you want to make a stencil out of that, you start running out of space to draw rooms.

And as for using these shapes for waterways. I love underground rivers in dungeons. Love. Them. Not sure why, but yeah, forcing into these 5 shapes for something that can be so much more sinous seems too limiting. I'll be on the look out for better alternatives.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Visual Dungeon II - Simple Stencil

Last post, B king gave a link to a Jonathan Roberts tip on how to make isometric maps (I hope that link isn't G+ only, can't find it on his blog, here it is.).  Oddly, two example iso maps I was looking at were by Mr. Roberts but I didn't know they were by the same person.  Anyway, that tip was cool, but I wanted to know how to vary the appearance of steepness and wasn't sure how.  Last time I visited my dad I got to talking to him about it.  He was trained in drafting.  We fiddled around with the distort tool in Gimp as a pretty good way to get a look you want digitally, but he pointed out the D&D coloring book map was simply shifted up diagonally.  Aha, we like simple.

So, want to do something with your hands?  Here's a quick and dirty way to use a stencil to make iso-looking maps. Get some coins and trace them for quick circular rooms.  Cut them out:

You can do other room types too.  Stencil them onto your map:

Then shift it diagonally to a degree that looks good to you and stencil again:

Now erase the underground lines and shade the upper walls for your false perspective:

Not too shabby for a first try.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Rule-Based Dungeon II

Work has been trumping blog lately, but I did a little more noodling on dungeons that would change based on certain rules.  I got interested in the Law/Chaos distinction I mentioned last post and tried to envision more specifically what those might look like.

The 1000 Frog Chambers
I mentioned that knowledge of rules could be a potential frustration/problem for players.  I think you can avoid this by making the fact that there is a rule discoverable, if not what the outcome of the rule will be.  What I mean is "This chamber will have a random monster in it every time you shut and reopen the door" is a rule, and players can quickly find out about it even if they don't know what a particular door opening will result in.

I had an idea of a horrible, chaotic dungeon based on a discoverable but random rule.  Imagine a small entrance room with a 10'x10' hole in the floor.  Peering into the hole with a light source, you see a vast space with a slimy, wet mass of frogs of every size hopping and croaking.  Every turn or so a giant frog with an iron chamber strapped to its back will arrive directly beneath this hole with a clang of iron on the stone.  The chamber is basically a hollow cube with a square opening in the ceiling.  If you drop down into this bare iron chamber you can reach a different area of the dungeon by the frog's hopping.  Once under an new opening, players will only have a minute or two to decide to leave the chamber or not before the frog moves on.

Clambering up into random sections of the dungeon will take away some choice players have in the order they want to visit areas, but it might juice up the resource management aspect of play enough to make up for it.

I think the trick would be to have different parts of the dungeon that are important to each other, and the order you find them in.  So, a key in one area opens a door in another which makes survival much easier in that area.  Although, this could turn into a tedious "waiting for the frog bus" epsiode.  I would have to try it in play.

The Tabernacle of Resolute Egalitarians
On the flip-side, a dungeon based on invariant, inflexible law.  Every being will have a 10'x10' of free space around them enclosed by a 10' high solid granite wall.  This moves with them.  This wall trumps other features in the dungeon.  Imagine cloud of war but the "cloud" is a solid stone barrier right around you.  Except, the wall of two beings will cancel each other out. A party walking four abreast will perceive an open hallway 40' wide. 

This might be too fiddly for a DM to track without a computer program, but if you could keep it simple enough it might offer interesting  tactical challenges:
  • sources of strong winds that walls will need to be maneuvered to shut off
  • foes with distance attacks
  • gaping spaces that open up in front of the party
  • features you can hear/feel and track toward without seeing

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pink Marble Tokens

These oddly shaped tokens of pink marble will induce two magical scrolls to create an offspring scroll.  The tokens are consumed in the process.  The new scroll will contain a spell combining aspects of both parents.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Elves' Gift

Elves grow their buildings from trees, over decades, shaping oaks and olive trees to their needs.  Rarely, in times of need, they will plant a special seed that grows to a structure in a night.  But they know that the Dwarves have no love of trees and, being great builders, have refined tastes, so when the Ambassador needed a gift he brought them bundles of special beech wands. Tied together in the frame desired and burned, these left solid granite structures in their wake.  The Dwarves are said to have dammed the great river Storbära in four days using them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

St Colvin's Key

Faith is the Key.  St Colvin was a humble miner trapped in a cave in.  He dug a hole in the ground in the shape of a cross.  This cross slowly filled with water as from a spring and on lying in it Colvin was transported to safety.

(Critics that question a simple miner having such an ornate spade, or remarking Colvin was digging his own grave are wrongminded and will burn forever when the trumpet calls us home.)


A hole of a specific shape dug with this spade will fill with water.  A second hole dug in the same shape will fill with water and form a gate to the first.  This will only work in substrates that the spade can dig: sand, snow, coins, dung, earth, gravel.  This will only work as long as the holes keep their shape-- a square in sand might not even be possible, a circle in turf might last for decades.

I'm hoping this could be a fun tool for players giving them mobility in exploring and a little safety in that they can flee to a home pool.  It might be too powerful for low level parties, but then maybe something is camping by your return pool, or maybe it's been filled in or frozen over.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Rule-Based Dungeon

I have more to do with modular dungeons and stencils but I want to take a little detour to think about what a dungeon location that changes based on certain rules might look like.  This seems risky because a) the rules might be hard for players to discover, and b) it might be really frustrating.  Let's see what we come up with anyway.

Okay, imagine a dungeon with set dimensions, maybe a page of graph paper or so that changes depending on the answer to certain logic statements.  Now we aren't randomly generating a dungeon here; if you make sure the same statements are triggered the dungeon should be exactly the same each time.  What do I mean?  How about, If a cleric is in the party then the Altar room will appear.  Or, if there are more than 2 in a party the stairs to the second level appear.

Who would build such a place?  I'm not sure, it might depend on what rules you set.  In some ways it seems very chaotic-- the shape of the dungeon shifting constantly-- but in others it is the definition of Law-- when these strictures are met the dungeon will always be a certain layout.

This reminds me of Vows, and those could be the rules that are involved, for example if no blood is shed in the dungeon then a fountain will appear.  But it also reminds me of fairy tales: On nights of a full moon there is a city in the bottom of the lake.  Actually the fairy tale route might be a good way to go because by telling players some of these rules ahead of time you might avoid our problems a and b above.  And that would make it more vow-like, because players would know what the rules were and hopefully they would be challenging or amusing rules to try and not break.  Hmm, yeah not very different from that oaths and vows post after all.  But what about coming from the other direction?  What dungeon features might be interesting to pop in and out of existence.
  • Access.  In one example above I used stairs.  Doors, bridges, hatches, ladders, stairways to heaven, haha.
  • Resource areas: altars, fountains, mushroom fields,
  • Geological features: geysers, waterfalls, springs, rivers, pools, stalactites/mites
Hmm, this is seeming more local than I first imagined, but sort of like the invisible dungeon maybe this would be better in small doses.  It makes sense, that if rule knowledge is a potential problem for players you would want to limit the number of rules.  So instead of a whole dungeon that shifts around because of a variety of rules you have a relatively normal dungeon with a very special feature affected by some fairy tale like rule-- "the seven pools will only appear on moonlit nights when a virgin is near."

But maybe we're shutting down possibilities too early, let's backtrack and think of more, non-vow-like things that could trigger dungeon statements:
  • I mentioned party #, party make-up, level, gender/age mixture, cultural/ethnic (only a true Women of the West will see the door)
  • party gear- if they have magic items, familiars, relics
  • time of year, season, weather, day/night, moon cycle
  • Whether party uses light, is noisy, camps, eats/drinks in the dungeon
  • Multiple visits-- whoa, that's a whole new idea-- the dungeon that shifts somehow with each visit
Now I'm reminded of the idea of "your true heart's desire" from fantasy.  A warrior sees a glorious battle, a mage is met with a vast library.   I could be very dream-like or heaven-like, in that it shifts based on who is there to experience it.  I especially like that idea for a solo adventure.  Imagine a hard to reach tower that players can quest to/enter when they are the only ones to show up on game night, but what is in it differs depending on who it is.  This might be strictly based on class or alignment tendencies, but if you wanted to get a little fancier, you could shape it to what you know about your player-- If Jane like puzzles and everyone else in the group hates them, it's a puzzle tower.  If Bob likes combat, he's like Bruce Lee in the Tower of Death.

What about contexts outside the gameworld itself?  This would be harder to trigger with busy schedules and such, but you might have a dungeon that only has certain features if you go there on the real Halloween.  Or, visit the dungeon on your birthday and the birthday fountain is there, or hah, the Flagon Wagon, travelling brew pub and eatery.  But now I'm drifting more into events than structures (like Santa Claus showing up in Narnia).

Back to how the dungeon might change.  I realize I focused above on what could be true or not, but what about continuums?  These also might change in the dungeon based on certain rules:
  • ceiling height
  • light level
  • temperature
  • water depth
  • room dimensions
  • creature population densities
  • wind intensity
  • sound/smell
Anyway, what do you think?  Have you shifted a dungeon on rules before?  What shifts might interest you as a player?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Serendipty XVI

When I go looking for pictures to make silhouettes I often don't find what I wanted . . . but something better!  These are all public domain pics, use 'em or lose 'em.  This post is dedicated to all you folks for the conversation.  Thank you.

I'm constantly on the look out for illustrations of a certain, similar style that I can use for NPC portraits.  This guy just became a rich prince leading a faction in Nidus' Animal Arena:
For your next dungeon: "It's a 30'x30' room, empty. Oh, except for the small statue in the corner bleeding."
A nice, multi-cave dungeon entrance (I think it was labelled as Virgil's tomb):
Talysman just posted about a Church from OBI Scrap book blog. Here is one from a similar book:
I love it. I can imagine it in a city supplement. You can find the book here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Visual Dungeon

I'm frustrated.  I have an idea for a way to illustrate dungeons but I just don't have the ability to pull it off.  Or at least I don't have the patience to try long enough so that I get better at it.

I think a lot of information can be conveyed on a map visually.  I'm not talking glossy, glitzy, colorful maps you want to frame.  Just isometric.  Something like this:
Although it could take advantage of height differences more, you can easily see that the entrance stairs lead up, see the slime is on the ceiling, see the water running just below floor level, see webs, see the broken coffins.

I know this idea isn't new, the example pic is from '79, but imagine the room contents were monster silhouettes and below the map you have a visual key-- no room numbers, no room letters-- just a spider silhouette with its stats that your eyes can quickly flick to.  Treasure items could be handled in a similar way, if not by silhouette, than by small image-- look below and the ring's magical power is right there next to its image.

Wandering monster chart could be just as simple, a set of silhouettes similar to the monsters in rooms.  If they duplicate a room monster you don't even have to add a new entry for stats, maybe just a new "# appearing" in the encounter chart.

I just can't draw the isometric part to my liking and my gimp skills always seem to be just shy of what I want to accomplish.  Pretty bad when you can't even produce a proof of concept.

I'm pretty bad at revising or even finishing things in general.  I know I've got a lot of unrealized posts here (like just yesterday).  I always hoped that ideas would be a valuable thing to share with a community but as I blog on I realize implementation is more valuable because it's just as hard as the initial idea if not more.  It's kind of a bummer because I always wanted to provide tools to help others make things, to provide the spark, the innovation, not just make products.  But the making is the hard part.

I think I need to take a break.

I apologize for the drama.  And I hope it didn't seem like I was fishing for compliments.  I went and had a super fun and funny D&D session on Friday, chilled a bit building some rail line in Minecraft and recharged my batteries.

As always, it's more complicated than I first lay out.  Some thoughts for me:

  • Even if my ideas are sometimes too undeveloped to be usable in game, I enjoy the process of coming up with them, and
  • I can't revise these, push them forward, and make them workable if I don't get at least a kernel of an idea down.  So, quit worrying about having a pristine professional product before sharing it (I know this but have to keep re-learning it).  And,
  • It's not just about me (this is really interesting point for a Do It Yourselfer): someone else make take the idea and run with it in a direction I never saw, with an implementation better than I could have ever done. And,
  • Hell, I probably enjoy the conversation more than the idea generation anyway, so even if an unworkable idea gets a bunch of comments saying how it won't work in your game, that's enjoyable for me.
  • I do still need to try and explain the ideas enough so that people know what I'm getting at, and be willing to learn new stuff like drafting and more complicated photo editing.
 Thanks for all your comments. I'll soldier on and see if I can eventually make what I have in my head.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Procedural Dungeon

Take the idea of index card geomorphs, geomorphs that are stencils, dungeons built by certain cultures, and I think you've got a recipe for quick, DIY dungeons with a sense of logic and history.

First, think of a culture that's left structures peppered around your game world.  Let's pick Dwarves.  Second, decide on some features their strongholds/outposts almost always have.  Let's say:
  • cave fish pond
  • barracks
  • smithy
  • ore storage
  • smelting room with chimney
  • throne room
  • hidden gem storage
  • secret emergency exit/bolt route
Now, decide on the most common design for each of these features-- and they can be tetronimo shaped as long as each fits on a single index card-- and cut them into stencils. I realize that step might be trickier than it sounds but am confident the gross features can be caught even if you have to hand draw in finer details.

Then you should be set for the next time players go off map or an encounter roll calls for creatures to be in lair.  You pull out your stack of stencils for Dwarven Outpost (you can keep different types bundled with rubberbands) roll dice, or shuffle and draw the cards, then trace them on your graph paper.  It might take a few minutes but you'll have a consistent dungeon with a map for your campaign folder.

If it works as I imagine players could learn things about these dungeons that would add a sense of verisimilitude to the imagined world:  "Wait, this looks to be a Dwarven outpost, they almost always have a secret gem room."  Or "These Dwarven outposts tend to have smelting rooms with chimneys, so we might find a small but definite exit to the surface there."

If the stencils work as I hope, the next design challenge would be to make sure all of your recurring dungeons have features that players would find interesting, like the examples above.  maybe cultists have libraries, outposts of the old magic-rich empire always have a brass head mounted somewhere, and tombs of the old empire tend to have map rooms with a diorama display of the surrounding countryside (and the location of more tombs).

(I plan to try to actually produce some of these but I'm currently house sitting for friends so it may be a while.)

Update: I had a hard time titling this, Procedural isn't right.  I think I probably should have called it Template dungeon (but that sounded kind of boring) . Oh, well. That makes me wonder what a true DIY procdeural dungeon would look like, too.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Three Furry Friends

I couldn't think of any more terrifying things, so I thought coming at it from the opposite direction might shake some things loose.  What's the opposite of terror?  Wonder?  Hmmm, maybe something more like that Awww sound when you see something really cute: 

Longtailed Bunny
This creature is plump and covered in warm fluffy fur.  It hops around a bit (but not so fast it would scare you) and eats grass in the sun.  It purrs when close to people friendly to you.

Barking Otters
Long and flexible, these critters frolic on dry land the way otters do in water.  Well, they'll actually do it in water too; they are all around playful. They are very sociable, thriving in groups of four, and are always excited to see you when you come back from the dungeon.  They only bark when there is a trap around.

Fuzzy Percher
This plump little ball of yellow feathers likes best to clamber around on a friendly shoulder.  It peeps every now and then (but not so much as to be annoying) to let you know it's still there and likes to nuzzle into the side of your neck closest to home.