Friday, December 31, 2010

What I Did While Everyone I Know Was Doing New Years' Eve

Mandy sick in bed. Happy New Year. I made this:

Random Treasure Found In The Megadungeon Table

d4: (1) nothing (2) d100 x dungeon level gp (3) Roll below (4) d100 x dungeon level and roll below, adding +1 per level down into the dungeon the PCs are.

1-Puppet. Long-lost childhood toy of subterranean humanoid monarch.

2-d4 all-wood crossbow bolts coated in holy water.

3-Attachable steel fangs. Enables bite for d4 (even if grappled, usually).

4-Mushroom. Tastes awful.

5-Cheese. Wouldn't provide a full day's nourishment alone but effectively adds 25% to the life of whatever rations the PCs already have.

6-Dagger

7-Throwing axe

8-Flask of drinking water.

9-20' of rope

10-25' chain

11-Net

12-Iron spikes

13-Short sword

14-Text of document in language of humanoid underground civilization indicating imminent plans to launch an assault on another humanoid underground civilization.

15-Marbles

16-Cestus

17-Shield

18-Grappling hook

19-Caltrops

20-30gp worth of gold trinkets. Infected with a virulent mold that'll spoil food in the pack it's stored in in 1 hour.

21-Week's rations, but (d4 1 elves, 2 humans, 3 dwarves, 4 halflings) will consider it inedible.

22-Random book.

23-Whip

24-Manacles.

25-Bar-sized piece of sweetened chocolate wrapped in scrap of paper with recipe. Substance unknown in local area. Worth d100 x d20 to any given confectioner back in civilization.

26-Gem worth d100x dungeon level gp

27-Small glass sphere filled with water and lodestone shavings. Works as a compass.

28-Vial of poison

29-Vial of acid. 1 dose.

30-Unusual pastry of toroid configuration. Still fresh.

31-Vial of chloroform, 1 dose

32-Bag of pulverized bone. A properly thrown bag will create a cloud of thick dust which obscures all vision and impairs the action of breathing organisms to the tune of -4 on everything in a 10' diameter area for 4 rounds.

33-Harpy's egg. If a witch or wizard subjects it to a certain alchemical process before it hatches it will give birth to a natural disaster. If not, a harpy the size of a cornish game hen will hatch and assume the nearest PC is its mother. It will act like an evil, flying child of its age.

34- Local key (Key #60+2d20)

35-Book of rare poetry. Prized by manticores.

36-Random Key (Key #d100)

37-Board game--go, chess, chinese checkers, etc. It's not magical but it is relaxing. A spellcaster playing (with someone else) gains a number of hours of rest equal to 1/2 the number of hours played. (Useful if they're adventuring alone and don't want to actually sleep.)

38-3 anesthetized bats held in individual baseball-sized cheesecloth nets. Throwing them with full strength will wake them up in midflight. They are bloodthirsty and will attack whatever they're thrown at.

39-Scroll: 1 spell. Level d4, Random.

40-Partial and crappy dungeon map. To simulate it, any player is allowed to look at the DM's map for a number of seconds equal to their PCs intelligence divided by 2.

41-Vial of Basidirond spores (4 doses) Causes hallucinations in d4 targets.
1-Individual in a swamp-strips off armor to keep from sinking
2 = Spiders attacking-individual strikes/attacks floor area to kill them
3=lndividual has shrunk-shouts for help to return to normal size.
4 =Item held is a viper-individual
5 =Individual is suffocating-runs gasping in random directions.
6 =Associates are diseased-avoids everyone.
7 = Leech on back-individual tears off anything worn on back and attacks it.
8 = Individual is HUUUGE, keeps trying to stomp everyone.

42-Mineral salts. Adding these to a pool of water and bathing in it for 20 minutes heals 2 hp of damage and grants spellcasters full rest.

43-An AD&D Fiend Folio. Written in a medieval style and with slightly different name (A Folioe Of Unusual Creatures or whatever), but containing all of the relevant information, whether or not any of it applies to your campaign.

44-Rare spices from the east. Worth d20xd100 gp to a sufficiently adventurous cook.

45-Vial of lubricant. Covers 5'x5' area.

46-Head of a morningstar. Light enough to throw. It is coated in a substance which makes it smell like fresh meat and stupid carnivorous monsters may try to swallow it.

47-Shadow-stealing scissors and bag. According to Mordicai, shadows are useful, you can't: (1d4) heal without them (1), gain xp without them (2), speak in any language except infernal without them (3), see sunlight without them (4). Roll once per species.

48-Oil of Brutal Noise. Anyone drinking this or stabbed with a blade coated in it becomes painfully sensitive to all sounds. Mechanics here are up to you. d6 doses.

49-Magic warpaint-- +2 hit and damage, -6 wisdom. d4 days worth.

50-Yellowish goo. Purifies water, makes water elementals docile.

51-Legal book written in language of nearby humanoid species. If read, it will offer general info on that species' habits, disposition, etc.

52-Dried octopus tentacle--10'. Will function as a whip.

53-Rumor dust: if you put it on you, no-one will be able to remember details about you after they meet you. Great for keeping folks from "sounding the alarm". Works d4 times.

54-Razor potion. 1 dose. Drinking it and then spitting it out allows the imbiber to spit a cone-shaped "breath weapon" full of gnat-sized barbs which does 3d6 damage to exposed flesh.

55-Crumpled musical composition in unknown notation. Any bard can roll an intelligence check + (level divided by 3) to understand it. Playing it will require will require 8 hours of intensive study as well as modifications to any musical instruments present requiring 3 hours of peaceful, solitary work. The song, when finally played, will cause all intelligent creatures within hearing range to go "Wow. That's a song alright. I'm so glad we brought you down here."
It resembles "Pop Goes The Weasel" in most important respects.

56-Vial of unholy water.

57-Bad dream in a bottle. 40% chance of being prophetic.

58-Scroll: Steal spell spell.

59-A form of waxy cosmetic made from crushed carmine beetles appliable to the lips. Using it and then kissing any object will cause a mouth to form wherever the kiss was. The new mouth will be sentient and can answer any questions that the thing in question would be expected to know (if a living being is kissed only the body part kissed will be able to speak) for d4 rounds before disappearing. The magic only works once, but the cosmetic itself is a sort of flattering muted rose and would look pretty good on you with maybe a slightly lighter foundation color.

60-Taskmaster dust--put it on yourself (first) and then someone else and you'll be able to copy their dex for the rest of the day. 2 doses.

61-Vial of a substance derived from mind flayer digestive juices. If a PC drinks it immediately after eating the brain of another living creature it will allow the PC to know everything the creature knew. However the PC must save or gain an insanity. 1 dose.

62-Diary of dead adventurer describing dungeon in sketchy detail (mostly worthless but has 2d20% chance of working on any device the PCs consult it about. HOWEVER, once it works, that's it.)

63-Scroll: 1 spell. Level d8. Random.

64-Mirror water. If dropped, opens puddle-shaped portal to anti-dimension. Anyone seeing their reflection gets attacked by a double who crawls out a la a Mirror of Opposition. Puddle can be cleaned up as normal.

65-Ordinary-looking (but fresh) apple. Cures d8 hp.

66-Consecrated dagger, +2 vs. whatever humanoid species the nearest hostile humanoid species considers its enemy.

67-A Goblin Key that'll lock any door.

68-Vial containing a form of sovereign glue. Sets instantly and covers 1' square area.

69-Vial of rust monster digestive acids.

70-74(Pack containing d4 identical Kojo cigarettes (courtesy of Noisms):
70-Love Cigarette
71-Red Eye Cigarette
72-Ghost Eye Cigarette
73-Cigarette of Judgement
74-Cigarette of Choking

75-Spell scroll: cures d8 hp but requires two fingers from a dead humanoid.

76-Elf ear with gold earring worth d100x2gp. Removing the earring from the ear causes it to turn to silver worth d10gp.

77-"Rosetta stone" book translating between ancient elvish and the language of rats.

78-Rope trick rope. Works twice.

79-Seeking dagger. Stab it into one of your own body parts and the next time you throw it it will unerringly seek the corresponding body part of the enemy. Works once. Runes on it explain it fairly well to a wizard, cleric, or anyone who knows ancient languages.

80-Mushroom. Makes you 2 feet tall until remove curse or similar is cast.

81-Vial of medusa tears. Application to a body part will turn it to stone for 5 minutes. 2 hand-sized doses.

82-Goblin-walking scroll. Speaking the words on this scroll causes the creature to stick like a fridge magnet to their own shadow--allowing them to walk on walls or ceilings so long as light sources in the room can be moved such that the shadow of the creature can be cast on the ceiling. (Generally, a creature can jump, causing the shadows of their feet to slide up to the wall, this will then cause the creature to be sucked toward their shadow.) Works until creature is exposed to sunlight.

83-(from Taichara) A small, white and friendly kitten with glowing eyes. The kitten will follow the party everywhere; if it is killed, the next night there are two kittens.

84-Pair of beads. Crushing bead A will instantly bring crusher to the location of bead B.

85-Web of Hands. Web, 2 feet square, with severed hands attached. On a successful hit the hands will resist attempts to remove the web, using whatever mechanics are appropriate to your system.

86-Fancy hinged box. Inside is an elaborately-wrought carved scalpel and illustrated instruction book (in a foreign tongue) in a velvet-lined case. The scalpel can be used to remove an eye from any creature (of roughly equal size) and insert it into another creature's head, enabling them to use any vision-related abilities or gaze attacks of that creature. The surgeon can't be either patient and must make a dexterity roll. Rolling over dex means the operation fails and causes d20 hp damage. Rolling under causes d20 minus (number of points under dex rolled) hp. Works once. Whenever the recipient of the new eye rolls a 1 it means the new eye has rebelled and will spend the next d4 rounds causing as much trouble as it can for the PC.

87-Vial of multicolored dust. When opened or shattered it creates a cloud filling about a refrigerator-sized area in mid-air. It lasts for 5 days. The mist affects any magic effect passing through it as follows: (d4 1-disperses effect 2-redirects effect toward randomly determined other target 3-Wild magic effect 4-Solidifies effect into a small mammal which drops immediately to the floor, where it sleeps for d4 hours.) The vial can be opened or broken in the middle of someone else's turn on a successful dex check.

88-Frost mask. This icy substance, when painted over a creature's eye will lighten and twist it into a shape which frightens fire. No flames, magical or otherwise will come within 5 feet of the creature. Lasts 1 day. 3 doses.

89-Hammer of Exorcism

90-Marble-sized crystal of Ice 8. Like Ice 9, but it'll only solidify about a 20 x 20 x 20 foot area of water.

91-Vial of liquid shadow. Not the kind in Ptolus, which just gives you a bonus to shadow magic (though it does that, too, why not?). This stuff can be used to create a deep shadow--about twice human-sized--where there shouldn't be one. A thief can hide in it as if it were an ordinary shadow, at -20%. It can also be used to move from any liquid shadow to any other pool of liquid shadow the character knows about. It can also be used to replace a lost shadow.

92-Codex of Unutterable Tedium by Ryne Bland. This book is so boring. Anyone reading it will fall asleep after a number of rounds equal to their wisdom for d10 rounds. Reading aloud from the book will cause anyone hearing it and able to understand it to make a will/vs.-spell save or just walk out of hearing distance. If the reader pursues the fleeing creature and continues reading, the creature will be affected as with a sleep spell. Anyone hearing or reading the book more than three times will attempt to destroy or discard it.

93-Vial containing an oily substance. If rubbed on any part of the body (5 square inches), spikes made of fused bone and hardened flesh will form there. A successful strike with these spikes will cause d4 damage or normal punch damage plus 2 hp damage, depending on system. 2 doses.

94-Vial containing an oily substance. If rubbed on any part of the body (5 square inches), a functioning eye will form there. Eyes facing backwards have predictable effects, eyes on the fingers or hands may allow a bonus to hit at the DM's discretion. 1 dose.

95-Sign of Antithesis. This talisman looks like the holy symbol of some local god or demon only upside-down and with a closed eye superimposed on it. It makes the wearer entirely invisible to the deity or power in question. Cleric spells and paladin abilities granted by the entity in question will not affect the wearer. The sign is made of ordinary materials and can be destroyed as easily as any piece of jewelry. Any cleric will recognize one.

96-Null paint. This substance will only function if applied to living flesh. Any part of the body covered in this paint becomes nonreflective black and intangible. Weapons cannot be held in a painted hand, clothing cannot be worn over a painted body part (it will pass through), etc. If painted over sensory organs they become useless. If painted in a stripe pattern on the skin then items may be held or worn and 50% of all piercing or slashing attacks will pass harmlessly through the wearer. Lasts one day.

97-Hypercube. This small, cube-shaped device (made of shriekglass)--when shattered--creates a megadimensional, non-Euclidean space in a 15'x15'x15' area. Anything passing through it comes out in a random direction at least 2 rounds later. Entering the space results in psychedelic Escheresque spatial distortions the DM is free to invent, noting that there is always much more space inside the cube than it would appear from outside.

98-Vial of bizarre pearlescent substance. When mixed with demon blood it will create a solution which, when rubbed on a weapon, allows it to be treated as a magic weapon for 10 rounds.

99-Hand of Glory.

100-Net trap kit. Tripwire activated, catches up to 4 humanoids.

101-Shield made of null-magic metal. Basically gives a reflex save/dex check against magic attacks that might be blocked by a shield.

102-Morningstar of Ridiculous Wounding. This magic weapon can hit gods, demons, etc. as if it were a +6 weapon (though it has no bonus), however a successful hit on an intelligent creature will strike the target as hilarious, causing them to laugh so hard their armor class is reduced by 1. Successive hits will seem even more hilarious, again reducing the target's AC by 1 for each hit. If the target survives the combat s/he/it will continue laughing for 8 more rounds.
The user becomes increasingly grim and humorless. His/her charisma is reduced by 1 for all purposes except intimidation checks for each foe slain with the morningstar.

103-Lachrymaxe. This weapon appears to be merely a very ancient and finely-made battleaxe, however, it feeds on misery, and gains a +1 for each intelligent creature whose tears are rubbed onto the blade (up to a maximum of +5). Each application of tears must be from a different species.
The Lachrymaxe is intelligent, though it will never engage in a duel of wills with its owner. It will, however, whisper to the wielder constantly, subtly encouraging him/her to slay, to conquer, and to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his/her feet.

104-Small softball-sized black sphere carved with runes and is obviously magical. It functions exactly like a WH40k Vortex Grenade except, in addition to the 10' diameter sphere of nothingness at the center, it also generates a wild magic corona 2o more feet in every direction.

105-Unimaginable Star of Yragnnngrelfffzzzikkrraxxllaarrrgghh

Some Pictures And A Mechanic

These are some parts of a megadungeon I'm working on...


(I realize the pic is blurry and backwards, but that keeps my players from figuring out what's going on in there.)

Here are some pictures I like today...



Down here is a picture I took while working on one of the maps for the upcoming book...

And here is a picture of me eating a frog-shaped cupcake:

Megadungeon Key Mechanic:

How many times has this happened to you:

DM: "The door is locked."
Player: "Oooh, try that key we found 4 days ago!"
Player 2: "Yeah, I try that key."
DM: "Ummmm...which key?"
Player: "You said it was an 'ordinary-looking brass key' and found it in the north turret."
DM: (fuck) "Uhhhhh...surrrre, it fits."

Let's face it, there's a lot of locked doors in your megadungeon, and there's a lot of keys, too, and most of the time, which key matches which door isn't really the point. What's important is just that the key be far away from the door it's supposed to be unlocking so that the locked door seems mysterious for a while.

Like if the door's on level 5B behind the tapestry of the goat farm, the key is on level 9c in the belly of the spherewhale. But who has time to keep track of all that?

Here's what you do: when the PCs find a key, tell them they've found (roll %ile) "Key 37".

Now what they think is that you have at least 37 keys. Which should freak them out.

However, what it really means is that it has a 37% chance of opening any (or almost any) locked door in the dungeon they try it on (roll secretly). However, the first time the key works, that's it, it's no longer useful. It was the key for that door.

Assign a high number if it's probably just some dead monster's "house keys", assign a low number for that "Holy fuck, that key we found waaaay back on level 2 opens the Temple of 9000 Terrors!" effect.

This way you can put keys in with monster treasure without worrying what they open and you can have unpickably locked doors without worrying where the keys are gonna come from.

Can't open a door? Kill a few more bugbears and you might find the key...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

How To Actually Market RPGs To Women

Products that have been successfully marketed to a large audience of women:

The Movie "Bring It On".

What it promises:


What it delivers:


Vampire, The RPG.

What it promises:

What it delivers:


Products that have not been successfully marketed to a large market of women:


AD&D.

What it promises:

What it delivers:


New D&D.
Promises:

Delivers:


Dragon Magazine.
What it occasionally promised:

What it delivered:


Eldritch Wizardry.
What it promises:

What it delivers:


The game of chess. (Only 10% of chess players are female.)
What it promises:

What it delivers:


__________________

My point?

Make the fucking thing you want to make. Make a game you wanna play. Market it honestly. Don't blame the artwork if women don't like it. Blame the retarded players at cons, maybe, blame society, blame the genre-as-it-has-traditionally-been-perceived, blame the game, but don't blame the goddamn pictures.

If you end up making a thing women don't like, slapping proud, powerful women on the cover won't help (and yanking the tits off the cover won't help either). And if women don't like your game but you want to meet women anyway, I hate to break it to you, but you're just going to have to get out more.

And as for the game: changing what you want to do because you think it'll appeal to someone else won't make them like it, but it will make it suck.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Joey Johnny Tommy Dee Dee

I want to talk about this comment on my last post:

"I like the elements you mention the players needing to earn in D&D - plot, personality, differentiation, cinematicness, meaning, destiny, and players having Narrative Control - to exist right from the start in my games so I as the GM feel like I'm playing with the players and not at them. I like the idea that the New School approach is often more collaborative."

-Barking Alien

So, leaving aside
leaving aside
Leaving. Aside. (got it?)...

...the question of whether any of this is true, and whether players want narrative control (Mandy just DMed her first game last night and I can tell you I was ecstatic not to have to be the DM) or meaning or personality or destiny or what-all, I want to simply talk about the concept of "collaborative creativity".

So:

Case One (The Bad Kind of Collaborative Creativity)

Those of us who write books and draw pictures for a living have an association with the phrase "collaborative creativity" that maybe other people don't. That is: you write something or draw something, and then some Creative Director insists on bringing in 99 other people to give "input" and Jim shoots Fred down and Fred shoots Jack down and Tom shoots Dick down and the project suddenly becomes not the sum of its parts, but the lowest common denominator--the thing every creative head at the table can agree on. Or you're supposed to be in a big happy communal group art show and you come together and bitch at each other for 5 days and, at the last minute, grab a hammer and a paint roller, do what you can, and when people look at it and notice that, all together, it pretty much looks worse than anything any one participant could've done alone, you just shrug and sigh and smile like Fozzie Bear.

This is how sitcoms get written. This is how Hollywood movies with 9 screenwriting credits get written. This is how shitty murals get painted. This is how every single crappy mass-produced thing with any element of "design" in it--from cars to tv commercials to websites--gets produced. We hate this. We think we are good enough to make things, and we like what we make, or try to, and the process of hybridizing our ideas is essentially just chopping away things we like and other people don't. Or: making it less unique.

A brief look at the history of painting or writing will show you that too many cooks does seem to spoil the recipe. How many masterpieces in these fields have more than one author? Some, sure, maybe even the Oddyssey and the Iliad, but not most by a long shot. People posting their favorite exceptions in the comments will be mocked for being so eager to display their education that they've missed the point.

I don't think this is really how games--old or new school--get played. I only mention this example because it points up something that I often think when RPGs are presented as "essentially just collaborative storytelling" (not to say that Barking Alien is doing that, just that sometimes people say that). I think: If that were all there was to it, I wouldn't play the game. I got enough collaborative storytelling in art school and I'm pleased to be out of it. And if I wasn't, I'd call up some of my pals and we collaboratively create a goddamn story rather than order pizza and pretend to be gnomes.


Case Two (The Good Kind of Collaborative Creativity)

There are creative fields where collaborative creativity has a fantastic track record--especially in the last 100 years--and they're easy to talk about because they're very familiar to everybody: music and movies.

There's a very clear illustration of why this works in a documentary someone did about Metallica recording a terrible album called "Some Kind of Monster".

Before we go on, let's reiterate what all goodhearted people are born knowing: once upon a time, Metallica rocked, and now, sadly, they do not.

Anyway, the documentary shows us, in excruciating detail, why. Each member used to just come in with something, they'd throw lyrics on top, Lars would drum under it, and there was a song. They'd play it and change bits until it was right. Now, instead, they democratically focus group it--every lyric, solo, and riff goes up for a vote. Sucking occurs.

Bands and movies work (when they work) because it isn't just everybody being creative all over everyone else, they work because everybody has a domain and, within it, they have control, and then they unite in the center and shoot the robot-lion-heads and kill Robeasts. Hold on, mixed the metaphor, sorry, it's early--example is better:

-So you have the lead singer, the lead singer in a band is like the lead actor in a movie (I know you want to say the lead singer is like the director, but bear with me). Without a good lead singer, any band with a singer will suck. Without good acting (or at least interesting acting) in the lead role, a movie will suck. Neither good singing nor good acting guarantees good, but a lack of it guarantees bad.

The GM is the lead singer/actor. Not because s/he's the star, but because if s/he is bad the game will suck. Now, note I don't mean technically bad: Mandy last night was by far the worst DM, technically, that I've ever seen or heard of, largely due to it's her first time--but she was creative, conscientious, charismatic, and fair and so we all had a blast. (Seriously, I was doing all the thing I hate when players do like going "OhmygodOhmygodDowegetexperience now? How much?" So fun. Play report soon.) If a DM isn't those things, the people they're playing with, the players, even if they like each other and the game and are having fun, will realize they're having less fun than they could without the GM GMing.

A very important note about the singer (I was the singer in most bands I was in): the singer/lead actor/GM often asks for things from the other people in the band/on the set/at the table and gets them. The singer goes "Can we do this sort of like....?" and the rest of the guys go "Yeah, sure". This can easily delude the singer or actor or GM into thinking they are the true creative engine at the table. They are not. The others are not agreeing because they have no ideas of their own, they are agreeing because they are so busy doing their own job (the point of which is often obscure and arcane to the lead) that they are happy to let someone else make whatever decision this is that the lead thinks is so important. While Mick was saying "Hey, can we do a song inspired by The Master and Margarita where you guys just go 'Woo-woo' over and over?" Charlie Watts said "Sure, Mick, whatever you want." and went back to trying to get the high-hat to sound right. Likewise, I'm sure all you DMs have the experience of going "Well I have a sort of wilderness thing with Howardian overtones and also a sort of more political/swashbuckling adventure with a hint of Ashton Smith..." and your players just go "Whatever you want, man! Let's go!" and go back to figuring out whether they want their guy to have a halberd or a bec-de-corbin.

What happens when the Lead forgets that s/he's not the only one at the table with brains and thinks they can do it all themselves? Sting's solo career. Bridges of Madison County. That is to say: atrocities.

-The guitarist is the director and is also the player with the strongest personality.The guitarist is characterized by four characteristics:
-the guitarist is convinced that s/he's the one who's really in charge,
-the guitarist has poor communications skills,
-the guitarist is happy to let the Lead think they're in charge since communicating with other people is so exhausting.
-the guitarist has the goofiest ideas in the world.
The guitarist makes things rock. Without the guitarist, nobody is dueling with the lead, nobody is making sparks fly, nobody is ensuring that the conflicts created by the lead have any resonance for anyone else. When the DM goes to great lengths to establish the intimidating and fearsome Major NPCness of Duke of Horribilia, the guitarist is the player who slaps the Duke with a glove and calls him a coward and goes "Alright, we're taking this prick out.".

Without someone like that, the Singer really would be better off just writing their own story. The game or the film or the band is a unique art form because the lead is not left alone with his or her ideas, but has them challenged in an interesting way. The failure of the DMs vision to be just one thing is why a story produced alone and the exact same story produced by playing a game are completely different experiences in all important ways.

-The drummer is a lot of people on a movie set, and is the one at the game table who just wants to playyyyy. The drummer is the unconditionally enthusiastic one. Animal in the Electric Mayhem. In movies, the drummer is the producer or art director or director of photography or whatever anonymous person that the other guys thank during the Oscar ceremony because "We couldn't have done it without you." The drummer is unconcerned with the philosophical pretensions of the guitarist and lead singer but therefore rarely has those "artistic" moments where actually making it all happen seems just too complicated to bother. Let's play let's play, let's do it, let's go! I wanna kill owlbears! Come on you guys, get it together,get in the van, let's go!

Mayyyyybe the game would be fun without the drummer, but you'd probably never play it. In a game, the drummer is extremely happy to do whatever it is "playing the game" is supposed to do. Somebody needs to guard the door? No problem, guys, I'll guard the door!

The drummer is the most convinced that the whole endeavor is in itself worth it--they know playing a game is fun, being in a band is fun, making a movie is fun. Because the drummer has initiative and remembers the whole point is the fun, the drummer sets the pace. The drummer likes fun, and if its not fun, the drummer speeds things up. Everybody's interest can come and go, but when the drummer's interest fades, the project is dead.

-Ahh, the bass player. The bass player is the screenwriter is the player in the corner who boils away with dreams s/he dare not speak aloud. The bass player is sensitive and observant but lacks confidence. The bass player is the one who keeps saying "No, really, I really do like playing" because it's hard to tell. Like the screenwriter, the bass player is full of ideas, but doesn't necessarily want to throw them out there with their name on them. Especially with the singer and the guitarist prowling around growling at each other.

The bass player always shows up, though, and is reliable, and is invested and is paying attention. And the bass player is capable of surprising everyone because people forget the bass player is even there. And when there's a problem, the bass player generally knows exactly why because s/he can see stuff everybody else is too wrapped up in their own thing to be able to see.

Once in a while a bass player will get total control of a band (or become DM)(or direct a movie after years of screenwriting) and you get a kind of full-bore confident genre-defining creativity that singers and guitarists are too busy "experimenting" to put together and that only someone who's sat around thinking "Why am I even playing this game?" for years on end could've come up with. Motorhead, Late Floyd, Bootsy, etc.

__________________________________

Which is all a very roundabout way of saying that "collaborative creativity" doesn't necessarily mean the Lead singer or DM going "Hey you guys, what should we do today? Gimme input!" and then singing a quartet. It can mean letting people be creative in the way that they want to be creative, (or, more often, rotate around) and having the way a game is put together support that.

Just because everyone doesn't have the same job producing the game does not mean they aren't all being "collaboratively creative". And I don't think it's a coincidence that the two media--film and music--that have figured out how to give the creative people involved different jobs rather than giving them all the same job have managed to consistently produce good collaborative work, and the ones where nobody's sure which person in a collaboration is supposed to do what--art and writing--have not.

Only a DM would be dumb enough to think that just because the DM gets to make the kind of decisions DMs like making that the DM is in "control" of the game.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Riddles In The Dark (or, Earn It)

Once upon a time, years ago, I had this girlfriend.

She almost exactly matched the picture that pops into your head when a porn actor/painter with a tattoo on his head says "my ex-girlfriend".

So: she was a bit of a mess. High Int, Low Wis, Chaotic chaotic.

And she had trouble sleeping.

So she would listen to books on tape to help her sleep. And she didn't have that many--so, after a few months, I knew all these books back to front and sunny side up.

Her collection included a very very long work by an author some of you may be familiar with named JRR Tolkien, called The Lord of the Rings. If you have not read this story--as I had not before I met this particular girlfriend--I will now summarize it: "On and on they walked, silently through the glade, moving as men who, silently, walk on and on through a glade."

God there's a lot of walking in those goddamn books. Anyway: point is I know the books well.

This was also the era of the Peter Jackson Rings films coming out, which I liked much better, since Jackson seemed--with gratifyingly few exceptions--to choose the most metal and least hippie possible interpretation of any given scene. And Pippin was funny.

And also let me say I was not 100% immune to the vastness and misty epicness of Tolkien's story, and once in a while he even had good lines. I liked the Ent's poem:

...Bear bee-hunter, boar the fighter;
Hound is hungry, hare is fearful,
Eagle in eyrie, ox in pasture,
Hart horn-crownéd; hawk is swiftest,
Swan the whitest, serpent coldest...

Point being that during this era my brain was totally--if unwillingly--steeped in the fucking Ring story.

I liked "The Hobbit" best. It was the most linguistically playful and the least ponderous. For me, it had that light-hearted-without-being-light-weight thing that Fritz Leiber went for and achieved more often.

To come to the point here--or closer anyway--my favorite part was the riddle game.

"Riddles In The Dark" the book-on-tape-guy would say to me (in the dark)(Tolkien does sound better in the dark), announcing the chapter. And by this point maybe The Ex was already passed out. And I would listen and be strangely fascinated.

I say "strangely" because somehow, for a long time, the fascination went beyond anything I could immediately figure out. Much more than when I'd seen the Gollum scene in Bakshi as a kid or in a school play or whenever.

Long story short, I did eventually figure out what the fascination was, and it was this:

In this little fairy-tale scene in this little fairy tale, Bilbo falls ass-backwards into getting The Ring from Gollum. And you might know the ring later turns out to be kind of a big deal.

And somewhere in my brain I was unconsciously aware that this quiet little game in the dark resulted in all the chaos and lunacy and walking and slaying and people "going off into the west" and sturm und drang to follow. And Bilbo didn't know it. That was somehow terribly affecting. Innocently starting all that just by playing a game in a cave.

It's also possible to argue--or at least to think--that Tolkien didn't know it either. He wrote The Hobbit first. I'm no Silmarillion expert (I've seen the book jacket, basically) but I don't know if Tolkien knew where the daisy chain started by the riddle game would end.

Anyway now my real and definitely RPG-related point:

That "Riddles In The Dark" effect is why I like the Old School approach to plot and character and epicness and awesomeness.

Which is: you start with none of those things. You start by sucking. You start by sneaking. You start with one hit point. You start with no plot. You start anonymous and meaningless and arbitrary. You have three torches and a short sword and whatever armor you can afford and no feats or skills in a dot on a hexmap hitting another dot on a hexmap.

Nearly every thematic innovation in RPGs has sought to remedy this situation. You start with a plot or a purpose or superpowers or a personality or a faction or an internal struggle or a moral dilemma or something to tell you who you are and where this story's going.

Bilbo didn't, really. A wizard knocked on his door and said "Listen schmuck, you're going to go on an adventure" it made no sense, he did it anyway, and slowly, by degrees, he discovered--and we discovered--what his adventure was. And what it meant. And then, when it's all over and the Witch Kings and mad wizards are dead and the minor characters are married you look back at the early bits and go "All this--who knew? If only he'd known what was in his pocketses..."

In Old School D&D, plot, personality, differentiation, superawesomeness, cinematicness, meaning, destiny, epic adventure, and players having Narrative Control are all possibilities, but you have to earn them. And you have to start in the 3-hit-point-2 spells-no-items mail room. You have to earn power, but you also have to earn meaning and plot. These things are rewards you get for surviving and solving problems.

You have to kill a million gnolls if you want more than one attack per round or if you want your own castle or if you want to be able to shoot fireballs or if you want your character to be powerful enough to be in charge of the Thieves' guild or you want to be a Master of Disguise.

And some people like that. They like not knowing whether they'll fall in love or what magic items they'll get or what prestige class they'll be when they grow up or whether it was all for naught or whether they'll get bitten by a werewolf or whether it'll all end in a 29th-level battle on a mountaintop or in a ditch under the blade of some 2nd-level crap out of the Fiend Folio they can't even spell. (Addendum For Barking Alien: or knowing how they got there or who they are in the first place or why they're being killed. These things extend like a novel--from ignorance to knowledge in any direction, not just forward in time.) They like going out their front door and not knowing where they might be swept off to--to use a cliche.

And they like the fact that if it turned out to be anywhere in particular with any kind of distinction or rhyme or reason then that's sort of amazing, because they earned it, in the face of brutally unfair experience tables, the indifference of dice, and the malevolence of easily-bored DMs.*





________
*Two afterthoughts:
-This may be why people famously can't shut up about their characters no matter how boring it is to whoever's listening. In Old School play, a character with any coherent story to tell at all is an achievement.

-The difference between the old and the new approach makes me think of the difference between painting and photography. In photography--like in newer games--you see a picture and it could be of anything--a cheeseburger, a hooker--and the trick is to make it a special and poignant iteration of that thing. In a drawing, the real miracle isn't the address to the subject, the drama is watching how all the dribs and splotches and drabs and swirls--which by themselves are just colored goo on paper--end up even managing to look like anything.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Actually Using The Dungeon Alphabet

Most reviews of The Dungeon Alphabet I've read go like this:

Have you seen that blog, Society Of Torch, Pole, and Rope?
(Yes, it's good.)
Well that guy took his entries about The Dungeon Alphabet and made them into a book!
(Well ok.)
Then they tell you it has these descriptive little entries on the possibilities of various dungeon features (statues, altars, etc.) (which either:
A-you've already read on the blog, or...
B-you haven't and can no longer read on the blog)
and that it includes "awesome illustrations and inspirational random tables."

Now if you're like me, you know where you're thinking the meat here is. I like a good picture as much (actually, more) than the next guy, but there's about a million man-hours worth of RPG art I still haven't gotten around to looking at on-line, much less in things I'd pay money for and as for the little mini-essays, hey, I already read them.

So let's take a look at these here tables...

As you may know, my standards for dungeons are obnoxiously high, or at least very particular. As you may not know, it's Christmas Eve, I can't sleep, and when I can't sleep I design megadungeons in my head...

So I am going to review The Dungeon Alphabet page-by-page, based solely on the following criteria:

How many ideas from this book am I going to steal?

Cover--Erol Otus drew an eyeball monster riding a snake. I might steal this idea. I will admit that despite having heard "The End" approximately 4 million times since I was 14 it never occurred to me to have a monster ride a snake. Jesus I'm stupid, but still: 1 Point.

Now some charming drawings of excellent dungeon stuff but they're all oldies-but-goodies, so no points here...table of contents and legal stuff...Pg. 2 Zeb Cook's intro. While having someone who used to work at TSR write an intro to your book is definitely an idea worth stealing, it's not going in my dungeon, so skip that...3-4 is Curtis' intro...

5 is an evil priestess with slicey arms sacrificing a guy...

What's actually happening is she's cutting him open and his spirit is going into a wiggly demon, but when I first saw the picture I thought the whole demon was coming out of him when he died because he was originally containing it for some reason. That idea has legs. Since, to be fair, it's based on me misinterpreting the picture, I'll give half a point.

Ah, A is for altars, first table...

Appearance: ok, one entry says "stone slab held up by preserved corpses" oh, a that's good one-- point...Accoutrements...2...3...special properties...4...5...

So: 5 ideas. That's 6.5 ideas in 6 pages. Doing pretty good here.

7 B is for books...1...oh and there's a book title chart on the next page...1 point there...8.5 total

9 C is for caves, no points, though, to be fair, I hate caves.

I should stop giving away the list I guess...

10 some standard stuff here...zero....
11 One...two...
"incredibly, the echoes are not in the original language spoken. Instead, the party hears their conversation repeated in dwarven, goblin, or a long-dead language. The content remains the same, only the language has changed."
Nice.
12....one....13 zero
14...15...16...one...
17: one
18, 19, 20: 1
21--1
22, 23, 24...1
26--1
27, 29-1
30-1
36-1
37-2

22.5 ideas 48 pages. That's almost an idea every other page. Aaaaand...in pdf (the preferred format for those of us who are non-collectors and who are ignoring whether the art's any good...) that's $5.35.

So I did the math and even for this jaded soul The Dungeon Alphabet comes out to better than 4 ideas worth stealing per dollar. I haven't seen value for money like that since Deadwood got cancelled. Rock.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Gift of Fear

"As he pries the gem out of the eyesocket, gas sprays out and he falls to the floor-kthud-"
"AAAH! FUCK!"
"...then these black leeches start falling, one by one, out of the eyesocket onto his face. -thhup, thhuupp--the statue must be full of them."
"Aaaaaohmygod! Let's get out of here!"

And then, a few rounds later, the White Octopus...

"OhMyGodI'mSoScared. I'm. So. Scared. I. Don't. Even. Think. I. Can. Keep. Playing."

But, of course, she did.

_________

Do your players still get scared? I hope they do. It's the finest gift a DM could ever get--once they're scared, it's all cake after that, really. They win, it's awesome because they overcame their fear, they lose--well, they felt it.

Jaded, wisecracking nachomunching grognards are all well and good (or they'd better be or we're all in big trouble), but my Christmas wish for each and every DM reading this is that you still have at least one high-strung brave little toaster with an overactive imagination at your table.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why Caverns of Thracia Is The Best Published Dungeon And Shouldn't Be

When I was a kid, I never read published modules--and for the most part, neither did anybody else I knew. The only published adventures I ever came across were the little introductory ones stuck into core rulebooks and I and everyone I knew knew that those were lame. We wrote our own.

So the first time I picked up a published dungeon, I'd been making homemade dungeons for years--and, Lo and Behold, I picked it up And It Was Lame. I picked up another, Lame Again.

Adventure modules are only slightly above PC-build splatbooks on the RPG-product chain of being. Compared to the imagination fuel you typically get out of corebooks, monsterbooks, and sourcebooks, they suck a lot. Once in a while there's a good one-shot, and there are tons of great monsters that first appeared in published adventures, but beyond that, modules suck to a degree not seen since titans walked the earth and dogs could talk.

Now, when I first saw Paul Jaquays' Caverns of Thracia (the link is to the d20 update, but I read the 1979 original) I was an adult, I was aware of its reputation, and I had played a lot of D&D and made a lotta dungeons.

My reaction was (and still is):

1) This is the best large dungeon module I've ever seen, and...

2) that is sad because this isn't that great.

omgblasphemy. I am sure I will now be burned in effigy on boards I don't read.

Don't get it twisted: if I ran Thracia tomorrow as a player or DM I'd have a blast, for sure. It's good. It's solid. It's lovingly constructed. It's...

Ok, let me put it this way: Whenever I design a large dungeon, and whenever I was in a dungeon designed by someone else, the default assumptions are:

-There is a wide variety of monsters in the dungeon.

-It's really big.

-The design is nonlinear so you that you can end up doing the dungeon in any number of different ways.*

-There are traps. These traps make sense considering who built them and what they were protecting.

-There are weird nonstandard tricks--these things are weird but they have a reason they're there. If all else fails its some kind of "test" and if even that fails then maybe it was designed by an insane wizard.

-There are enough traps that PCs look at every single thing in the dungeon sideways. Therefore every detail--even if harmless--is potentially important.

-The culture(s) that built the dungeon aren't the ones who live in it now (that's why there are traps and tricks guarding ancient hidden treasures rather than just guards in front of what amounts to a bank vault.)

-There is more than one intelligent faction living in the dungeon and controlling what goes on there (that's why 3-8 random adventurers have a chance of getting in and out--the enemy isn't inept, they just have to simultaneously deal with other shit besides you.) (That's also why there's more than one kind of trick and trap.)

-The whole dungeon functions together. A lever or key in location A can affect things that happen in location B. You have to go back sometimes to find these things.

-Dangerous features of the dungeon can be used against the dungeon inhabitants by clever PCS.

-The tricks and the traps alternate with monster fights but--more than that--they are integrated with monster fights so that they can work together. You never fight the same monster twice because environmental factors make a difference.

Now, like I said, these are the defaults. It's possible to build a good dungeon with one of these switches turned "off" but it's like tying your hands.

More than that though, a lot of these features are why I like dungeons in the first place: the complexity, the mystery, the interfactional drama and multidirectional possibilities for problem-solving.

When I say almost all our dungeons were like this, I am not claiming to be special--I assume anybody who knows what they're doing would do dungeons this way at least once in a while. It seems like the cliche. A good cliche. This is what the DM guide in the Red Box and AD&D DMG had trained me to expect, it's what video games, from Zork to Super Mario Bros had trained me to expect, and it's what actually playing the game for years had trained me to expect and I was always kind of mystified that whenever I looked at a module it was never like this.

There were repetitive dungeons that were just one-note orc-and-ogre bullshit, or "theme" dungeons where it's all about some specific cute gimmick, or (especially from WoTC) dungeons which were just a bunch of fights linearly strung together in order with inhabitants apparently too dumb to help each other, or funhouse dungeons designed by wizards whose idea of a good time was making you fight a chocolate moose in a Corridor of Living Succotash, or fortress dungeons where the whole thing was controlled by one entity so that it didn't really make sense how easy it was to get past the traps and stuff.

I think most people's fond memories of "classic" dungeon modules comes from nostalgic memories from times when they were happy to be playing D&D at all. A goblin in a room? Awesome! And treasure, too? Holy gobstoppers! TSR's Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure is just linked fights with--if I recall--not a single secret door or real puzzle (as opposed to the occasional "that spell won't work, what about this one" puzzle) to be found, the Temple of Elemental Evil is just like random monster manual entries strung together, the only thing special about the small Village of Hommlet dungeon other than the neat picture showing the possible entrances is the lack of stupid gimmicks, and Ruins of Greyhawk and Ruins of Undermountain both seem really high on the Arbitrary Feature Justified By A Crazy Wizard quotient--and although I don't mind a crazy wizard one bit you'd think: A-the crazy wizard would think of something crazier to do other than install yet another device hidden in a random dungeon feature that does a little bit of damage, B-Even a crazy wizard might want to make rooms that have something to do with each other on occasion, and C-TSR might've eventually thought of some non-crazy-wizard justification for unusual features in a megadungeon after a while.

Not to mention the fact that TSR dungeons are so larded with descriptive text that almost always just amounts to "this room has various mundane objects you'd expect to be in here and, also, a monster that tries to kill you" that by the time you've finished reading them you've already thought of something at least as good.

Watch:

"120. Kitchen. This place is 20' x 30' OH MY GOD THAT'S ON THE MAP DO I NEED IT HERE TOO?...."Within the darkest recesses of the..." HOW ABOUT A SNAKE? "...fireplace dwells a giant poisonous snake. It is coiled and..."IT'LL ATTACK AND THERE'S SOME LAME TREASURE LYING AROUND "may strike by surprise (50% chance). It has not eaten for a long time, and is very hungry. It can strike to 8 foot range, half its length, and attacks any creature coming within that range. Near the ogre skeleton is a usable shortsword (its "dagger") and a leather sack containing 84 gp. These are hidden under a small pile of nondescript debris. The ten-foot-square rooms were used for crockery storage and food storage, respectively for the south and west areas. Their contents are broken and smashed; food- stuffs are spoiled."

Thanks, 240-word room description! It's hard to figure why anyone would use these dungeons: it takes more time to read and prepare them with a highlighter than it would take to make an equally involved dungeon on your own.

A DM perusing Ruins of Undermountain, comes across this message and eagerly leans forward:
This is a complex encounter; the DM must be totally familiar with everything in this room before the PCs begin exploring the area.
What have we here? Sounds cuh-Rayzeee...Oh: A vampire with a lot of spells, and some other undead helping him. And pillars that trap you if you touch them. And some pits. What's in the pits? Zombies.

And in case you're wondering: the pillars don't work on the undead, so that's a layer of possible complexity (pointlessly) removed. Is there any self-respecting D&D-playing 12-year old anywhere who couldn't have thought of that on their own? Does that not sound exactly how Chad Blerkenwald killed your dwarf fighter in 8th grade?

Next room: a necrophidius in a partially magic-proof room. Next Medusas: 3 of them. You paid money for this. Couldn't they have just had a line in the Monster Manual: "Medusae occasionally appear in rooms".

This kind of points up the whole problem with most dungeons: publishers seem to put most of their creativity into the monsters, classes, magic items, and spells. Most of these come from the core books. When dungeons are published, they stick a monster or spells or item into a room and assume that's enough to charge money for. And, yeah, that'll make a fun encounter--but they forget that we can do that on our own since they already gave us the monsters and spells and items in other books before. The dungeon has to include encounters that are new and interesting beyond that. And they don't.

Then (years ago) I saw Caverns of Thracia.

Look at this: Everything you think is supposed to be in a dungeon! Finally. That's nice. Next...

To be fair now, Thracia has a couple features that I hadn't seen before:

-fun tables to roll on to see what the PCs have heard about the dungeon before going in, and...

-maps that are complicated and eccentric enough to resemble genuine layers of building floorplans (though this second doesn't really add that much more to play at the table.)

-a couple wonderfully described (but mechanically ordinary) unique boss monsters.

Now it's obviously possible that all the dungeon cliches I like so much actually came from Caverns of Thracia and its ilk and that's why, ten or fifteen years after it was published, none of it seemed too terribly mind-blowing.

Sure, but put it this way: Caverns of Thracia is the best big published dungeon I've ever seen, but it should be the worst.

What should've happened is people looked at this thing and how it was built and said "Look what we have here, a fine dungeon, full of depth, variety and even a few moving parts! Let's remove the Greek stuff and replace it with Viking stuff, because that's cooler, let's remove the underground forest because seriously who cares? there's already a gazillion magic forests above ground...and lets replace this trick with a more elaborate one and move this one over here, let's replace the umpteenth skeleton fight with an eye-of-fear-and-flame and..."...and basically build on the chassis provided in Thracia the way that game designers built on the chassis of D&D.

Instead what it looks like they did is went "Ok, here's a a fine dungeon, full of depth and variety! Let's now try to only ever publish things that are worse."

Am I being hard on the old boy? Here are some of the more elaborate ideas in Thracia:(SPOILERS)

-A rope bridge you have to go across while baddies attack

-A room full of corpses frozen in prayer position--some have treasure, but one of them is a "very patient wight".

-A skull that will answer 1 yes/no question from each PC but which marks the players with a symbol that affects whether certain other dungeon features activate at their approach and causes an undead monster to appear when the PC is low on hp.

-Curtains that stick to whatever they touch .

All good stuff, all fun, but, in terms of imagery and mechanical novelty, none of it is better than the sort of ideas I've been reading for the last week when I ask for random ideas--or what I expect to read at least once a week on somebody's blog.**

Jaquays main achievement here was thoroughness and hard work: there's craftsmanship on every page, creativity on every third or fourth page, and there's seventy-eight pages. Nothing at which to sneeze, but it's sad that, more than 30-odd years later, nobody's managed to do better than that and get it published.








__________
*There's a popular Old School meme where someone went and analyzed the possible paths through Paul Jaquays' dungeons, pointing out how part of their distinctive design was that they were nonlinear. This struck me at the time as a lot like someone pouring through old Minor Threat bootlegs and announcing that, after careful analysis, they'd discovered Minor Threat songs are really fast.


____
**
Examples? Here's two without even thinking about it:
Here's a room Jeff made: two doors, one big one small. Opening the small door and putting anything into it makes the same object come into the room through the other door, massively enlarged. I've never seen anything that good in a crazy wizard dungeon.

Sick of crazy wizards? Chris Lowrance inflicts this punishment on PCs captured by evil humanoids, in a random comment on this here blog:

The bearer of this mark is to be sealed inside the skull of a giant, which is then filled with either:

1. A mild acid (will ruin cloth and paper, removes all body hair, permanent scarring over entire body),
2. Cave Bees (like normal bees but deal with fungi spores instead of pollen),
3. Jackalhead pups,
4. Cave Honey Mead (think bourbon with traces of LSD in it),
5. Blood,
6. Snakes and chicken eggs,
7. Snakes and live chickens,
8. Hallucinogenic Mushrooms,
9. Rotting meat,
10. A candle, some dice, a couple hunks of meat and a kobold who just happened to draw the same sign that morning.

Why can't anybody gainfully employed in the RPG industry have their orcs do that when they capture you?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gygaxian Democracy #7: The Lottery in Babylon

So we're still doing this thing where we crowdsource campaign material...


The Lottery in Babylon


Like all men in Babylon I have been a proconsul; like all, a slave; I have also known omnipotence, opprobrium, jail. Look: the index finger of my right hand is missing. Look again: through this rent in my cape you can see a ruddy tatoo on my belly. It is the second symbol, Beth. This letter, on nights of full moon, gives me power over men whose mark is Ghimel; but it also subordinates me to those marked Aleph, who on moonless nights owe obedience to those marked Ghimel. In a cellar at dawn, I have severed the jugular vein of sacred bulls against a black rock. During one lunar year, I have been declared invisible: I shrieked and was not heard, I stole my bread and was not decapitated.

-- from Jorge Luis Borges, The Lottery in Babylon(translation by I actually don't know)

The Babylonian Library still exists, though now it is practiced mostly by jackal-headed men who live beneath the earth.

All who would pass through the doors that stand at the entrance to the territories of jackalmen must first draw a fragment of carved bone from a Well of Fate.

Each bone marks s/he who drew it with a symbol (on the forehead, usually, if the creature has one), and the faith of the jackalmen demands that all jackalmen obey the mark until it fades (usually after one day), treating each visitor as the mark demands, no matter how s/he behaves.

The bond is not magical (though the forces that keep the doors of the realm from opening for any traveller who does not bear a mark and the forces which cause the mark to appear on the bearers skin are) and the jackalmen obey these marks in obedience to sacred custom, rather than mystic compulsion. The marks never literally grant the bearer abilities or compel them to commit acts.

The marks are:

1. The bearer of this mark must be ignored.

2. The bearer of this mark must be given fresh meat three times. (The bearer may be slain, but must be fed first).

(your turn)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gygaxian Democracy #6: 37 Villains

More Gygaxian Democracy

Here are 37 villains--not just foes, but arch-schemers.

I rolled up random traits for each one using Jacquays' "Central Casting".

All you have to do is pick one and make it make sense. Elaborate in any direction that will make the villain usable and interesting--including tying one villain to another.

Making it goofy is easy--a manticore with a mold allergy is already goofy. Making it not goofy is harder...

1. an unusually intelligent, independent eye of dread born in a bar, serves a harvest god

2. blubeard, a drunken pirate king, someone important died when he was born

3. mad king from a foreign land, left hand is scaly claw

4. a young witch betrothed in a political marriage to be consummated upon reaching age of majority

5, a red drider queen living peacably among humans

6. immobile whispering statue* (crow tattooed on face) knows magic

7. eel medusa (married)

8.albino (intelligent) flail snail who serves an infamous master

9. pudding, skilled at math, controls animals has adopted a young human

10. Chasme with mind control powers served by a gobiln

11.seahag who lusts after luxury

12. fishwife who is an informant to a higher power

13. goblin attempting to end his life of villainy skilled at duelling

14.maggot naga with healing abilities

15. (ordinary) naga once enslaved and forced to bear children

16. sorceress medusa whose lover's parents were slain by an artist

17. nephilidian vampire queen who serves a baron as part of a complicated wager

18. unicorn-head guy who is a friend of a much older character

19. mind flayer whose ally died of a disease

20. demon who will inherit a kingdom if it can first produce an heir

21. giant centipede with excellent hygiene

22.vampire vengeful and EXTREMELY (rolled it twice) angry

23. depressed white elf sorcerer

24. white tiger rakshasa female w/ a phobia about magic

25.manticore with a vulnerability to mold

26. succubus with an unconscious physical tic

27. necrophiliac slaad

28. marilith allied to a half-elf

29. eye of fear and flame that's also a baron

30. beholder served by a cat

31. an orange eye of the deep

32. lich who was told to seek out his sibling companion by a mysterious voice (my guess is the sibling is the eye of fear and flame)

33. demilich obsessed with a half-elf rival (same one marilith is allied to?)

34. Glasya (from MM2)--who is allied to her second cousin

35. jubilex-allied to a dragon

36. demogorgon--a marquis

37. tiamat--served by an serpent



_____
*courtesy of greypumpkin's response to the last Gygaxian Democracy post

ChicagoWiz Vs. Evil

This is completely awesome.













Carry on.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gygaxian Democracy #5: The Tower

You know the drill...






This Is The Tower
(click to enlarge)

(feel free to fill in more than one, there's like 60-some things on there)

Just Not A Farmer, Owen

I have nothing against halflings, really, per se. I mean, I'd play one. Connie plays one. I bear her no ill will.

However, I keep not putting any halfling settlements on the map anywhere. There aren't any in the random tables I draw up, for the most part. Like if you were like "Where do halflings come from?" I'd be like "Fuck if I know."

I don't mind them. It's just the comfortableness and sandals, really. The Tolkien.

Anyway I figured out what I'm doing with them--in the macro sense (and I have to do something with them, Connie's got one, ergo, they exist on Planet D&DWPS):

Connie's rogue halfling is actually a rogue. An aberration.

The Preferred Class for Halfling is Paladin. Cavalier, really, if you have that, because they're not religious, or Knight, if your system has knights. Or just Upper Class Prick, really.

Here on Earth-Gigastructure, the typical Halfling isn't Bilbo, it's Napoleon. With a side of High Elf. They see the rest of us as "giant-class" monsters at best. They have colossal empires that stretch across parts of continents I haven't drawn yet. They sneer in their shining plate mail from atop their ponies and warboars. They keep griffins in cages and force them to tell jokes.

They're the sort of self-deluded-worm-ouroboros-monologuing-Nietzsche-quoters. As is usual with this sort of thing, it's all pretty funny until they start in with the genocide.

Unlike your bread-and-butter High Elf there will actually be an identifiable underclass keeping these aristocrats aristocratic, but they'll never be halflings. A halfling would never be caught dead pitchforking straw around like some Breughel yokel. They have half-orcs for that.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gygaxian Democracy #4: The Dead End


More fun with crowdsourcing...

The Dead End


It appears to be a dead end, which is impossible because you know the monster ran in here...

And, oh fuck, the door just closed behind you. And it won't open.

Show the players the image on the left (click to enlarge), this is where they are, the details are as follows...

A: The halfling knight's shield is real and can be used as a buckler. However, it was actually made from an ancient gong, and if struck it will summon d4 Chasme (demon fly) larvae, who will crawl out of the nearest body of water and move toward the sound s fast as they can.

(your turn)

The Complete Text Of A Sticky Note I Have Filled With Notes On Old D&D Products

-Elemental planes, in Planescape = marioworld

-Caverns of Thracia--players having rumors, some false, good way to skip boring bits, incl. speaking some of the language as possible rumor roll result
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-DM DESIGNERS KIT:

-villain weakness: lack of familiarity, love, secret embarrassment, villain related to hero
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-Unsung Heroes of rpg art: nicholson in the Folio, people in slaves to darkness & lost n damned, guy in tmnt Camelot and tmnt Australia.

-Fiend Folio: Why doesn't your new monster have some weird new power? What's the point?

-Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in Polish--I can't read polish why do i own this
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Caverns of Thracia

-illusory walls-boring? maybe. think about it. decide.

-"Unless cut open, there is a 05% chance that the egg sack will burst open, unleashing a torrent of mouse and rat-sized baby spiders. Most of the youngsters will busy themselves with eating each other, but 10 - 100 will attack something else, adventurers most likely. Each baby spider has I - 2 hit points and is AC: 7."

-item in room A affects conditions in room B. Usually visit B first (otherwise who cares?). There are always monsters between A & B.

-PCs find ancient unconscious adventurer with WTF are you talking about interpretation chart

-"The frescoes in this room are intact also and show images of a giant winged Lizard Man (the Immortal King) devouring huge numbers of Humans, Lizard Men and Dinosaurs"

-TRAPS CREATE MYSTERY OUT OF PROPORTION TO THE MYSTERIOUSNESS OF THE MECHANISM itself because they make everybody look at every dungeon feature from then on sideways. Everything gets poked w/stick.

Density of traps required to provoke this reaction is Classic Dungeon design.

-Room 87).
"An ... Empty Room: Yes! In every dungeon complex there has to be at least one. A room with nothing interesting in it. A space to rest momentarily from pursuit. A place no monster would think to look. This is one of those places. Except for a giant pair of baleful, glowing amber-colored eyes on the north wall and secret doors hidden in the east, west, and south walls, disguised as unadorned marble panels, there is nothing here. Did I mention that the eyes radiate a definite feeling of evil and seem to chill the very soul? Well, they do. Any character staying in this room more than 3 melee rounds must save vs magic or he will think he is being paralyzed (a delusion"

-At this point jacquays seems to go mad. 87 rooms into the module the writing gets real "loose"...

-A dog brother, Wark, AC: 6, Move: 12", HD: 4, Damage: sword for 1-8 and bite for 1-4, HP: 20, is being entertained by a trio of comely (to another dog brother) young dog sisters, Flashtail, Prettyclaws and Pinkfang,

First of all: Mandy would totally name a PC Flashtail, Prettyclaws or Pinkfang. Maybe not Flashtail.

More disturbingly: This is an old school module, therefore tableaux aren't supposed to arrange themselves in rooms just because the PCs showed up to see them. Therefore this must mean Wark is being entertained by Flashtail, Prettyclaws and Pinkfang all the time.

-"the walls will seem to sprout hands on long arms. The hands will be the temperature of rock but will be fairly soft. All they will do is feel anything passing through them...The hands are harmless unless they are attacked" Seriously the girls would attack them.

-"The Mysterious Missing Chamber: Look as you might you will not find this room on the map. It never was there and exists only in the mind of the designer, who refuses to admit that he may have made an oversight when numbering his creation and doesn't feel like sticking the number "102" somewhere on the map and letting it go like that" see?

-"of skulls and scrapfaggot green"

-Mordenkainens Big Adventure...

-"Arley says they are socks of fire walking. They are actually socks of sweating." Damn!

-"Within this area are two large chests, positioned across from each other along the east and west walls." I know the feeling, Rob.

-Fiend Folio: tirapheg. show them the Tirapheg picture. They will be disturbed.

-Book of Lairs I: rakshasas

-PTOLUS:
"The Ptolus Campaign is the d20 rules with the volume turned all the way up. I created this world with the game rules in mind. The conceits of the game were the conceits of the setting. The feel of the rules was the feel of the city. If the rules suggested that something might happen a lot, then in Ptolus, it happened a lot...
I loved it when one day a player of mine said, “I polymorph myself into a troll and run out into the street after the thief.”
Another player said, “Dude, you can’t go out there like that!” And the first player replied, “Don’t worry about it! This is Ptolus—they see this stuff all the time.”
I knew then that the first player really got Ptolus.
...

Every player should have a copy of this guide to learn about the place and get a good feel for the setting. This Player’s Guide is required reading for a player creating a character for the Ptolus Campaign."

all that is pretty much the opposite of what I got planned...
"If you like Ptolus, you'll hate the Vornheim City Kit".
(shouldn't tell Raggi, he'll stick it on the front of every copy...)

*<----ASTERISK
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Mordenkainens Whatever Adventure

-"a whip shaped like an octopus tentacle" why just "shaped like"?

-"This is where Tomorast readies himself to visit Kerzit, the demon of the caverns. Tomorast always dons the vestments seen on the table: a pure black undecorated robe, a solid silver face mask (worth 450 gp)carved in the likeness of a leering wolf-head"

-"Then, resuming his chant, he returns it to Key #67b. His stamina wanes-if he makes a but a single mistake (1% chance upon initial entry and 2-127’0 upon his return), the demon will attack him with great vigor."

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Dwellers of the Forbidden City

"Unlike many other adventures, a party may find the presence of a druid helpful."



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*Since this is the fucking internet I feel compelled to point out that despite all that, I think Ptolus is a fine and impressive piece of work with some good ideas in its 7 million pages. It's just the overall conception is totally different than what I'm aiming to do. Blah.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gygaxian Democracy #3: Like 'Diamonds Are Forever' Only Not

Still doing the thing where we crowdsource some D&D stuff...

Like 'Diamonds Are Forever' Only Not

Shriekglass is a translucent lurid greenish substance made from the solidified cries of dead virgins. It is being smuggled into the city/country/etc. by a ring of thieves (most of whom think it's merely a strange form of amber or emerald).

Do the PCs steal the shriekglass away to interrupt this grisly trade or merely to sell it for themselves? It's not important.

What is important is that the stones are an essential ingredient for the Marilith demon who secretly runs the ring to unleash some form of ritual awfulness on the unsuspecting gameworld.

What's also important is, in addition to the Marilith and her dupes, several other parties are also interested in the shriekglass, for reasons of their own.

All will use guile and deception to approach the PCs and determine whether they have the glass.

The various interested parties and their means of approach are...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Because It's Christmas...

...I will be posting WAY MORE than usual, since I am in the Frozen North with the pornstar-in-laws.

But also because its Christmas, I figure we could all help each other figure out what game stuff we want.

SO:

Say below the single best roleplaying supplement you have ever seen and why--in enough detail to convince someone to try to hunt down a copy.

"Core" books (dm guides, player's guides, and monster books) are not allowed. Adventures, sourcebooks, setting books, and suchlike stuff are.

For me it'd be the original Games Workshop Realms of Chaos books. Why? The finest RPG art ever produced (particularly in the second one--Adrian Smith). d1000 random mutation table. And the last word in Metal villains. It was all chaotic and it totally worked. Demon with grenade launcher for a hand and it totally didn't break the mood. Breathtaking.

Gygaxian Democracy #2: The Many Heads of Lord Eisengeth

Yesterday's experiment in Gygaxian Democracy went very well.

Ok, I mean I always say some shit like that when I do these reader participation things, but seriously, that was some quality RPG material we got there. Eventually I'll write it up proper like a real table.

Anyway, for now, here's another...
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The Many Heads of Lord Eisengeth

Immobile and decapitated he sits, eternally preserved in the Basilisk Throne...

Basically, the deal is, the PCs have to find his head (somewhere in your sandbox) and put it back on him. When they do, he'll come back to life and all will be well in the kingdom/they'll get a lot of loot. (Depending on which School your players attend.)

Problem is which head? Though the forces of evil could not destroy the head of good Lord Eisengeth, (neither the head nor body can be destroyed so long as the body sits on the Basilisk Throne--they both become invulnerable stone) they pulled an old leprechaun trick and manufactured several false heads, each containing an isolated, confused, dark, and disoriented portion of the good Lord's soul.

So the schtick is: every time the PCs find a head, they try it. (The first time they won't know there's more than one head). The Lord stands up, stops being stone, and if it's the right head, yay, game over. If it's the wrong head, however, the PCs have to deal with the consequences. Each wrong head:

-has some unusual power/ability/knowledge/tendency that makes it a fearsome opponent, and
-possesses some clue that narrows down where the real head is

Some will be obviously the wrong head--their eyes will open red and they'll belch forth flame or whatever, but others will seem to be the true Lord, until...

Anyway, if the PCs decapitate the evil-headed lord and return the body to the Throne, the body will become stone and sit patiently while the PCs find the next head.

Also you'll need to figure out some mechanics or plot contrivances so that the PCs can't just have a whole army standing there waiting each time they try a new head, but that's not too hard.

When the PCs try a head, roll D(HoweverManyResponsesWeGet--if it's more than 20, roll d10o giving equal chances to each result)

The heads are...

1. Red eyes, murderous wrath, voice deafens all who hear it. Knows whether the true head is above sea level or not.

2. Appears to be the true Lord, but will have the PCs banished from the kingdom/castle/part of the dungeon he rules as soon as it is convenient and then rule with a cruel and arrogant hand. Knows whether the true head is north, south, east, or west of the current location.

3...(your turn)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gygaxian Democracy #1: Hammer of Exorcism

Had one of those revelations of the obvious today.

Why do we blog? Because thinking up DM stuff is hard fucking work and blogging about it makes it more fun. Anyway, cutting to the chase.

New feature, Gygaxian Democracy. Not complicated. Here we go...
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The Hammer of Exorcism

This item appears to be a weathered warhammer covered in dried blood. It will function as such.

However, when wielded by a cleric, it can be used to exorcise possessing spirits or drive away insanity.

For it to work, the cleric must beat the afflicted individual unconscious with the hammer. (Not all blows must be with the hammer, but the final one must be.)

However, for each blow struck with the hammer, there is a chance of a side effect. This chance is equal to 20 minus the patient's constitution per blow struck...

(roll DHoweverManyResponsesWeGet--if it's more than 20, roll d10o giving equal chances to each result)

The possible side effects are as follows: (your turn)