Wednesday, August 31, 2011

6th Week of Constantcon

This is the post I'll be putting up every Wednesday for the foreseeable future about Constantcon--our neverending program of RPGs played via Google +'s free multiperson videochat feature ("hangouts").

The point of this post is:

1) you can sign up to GM a game via Google + video chat in the comments,

2) you can join one of those games in the comments, and...

3) hopefully every question you might have about Constantcon is answered on here somewhere.

The weekly post will also contain all the collected wisdom on running G+ games we have accumulated thus far. New tips/discoveries for any given week will be below in red.

Everything else in this post is old news if you read this blog every day, I just consolidated it into one post.


The current calendar of Google + games is on the right of this blog page just under my bloglist where it says "upcoming games on Google +". If you can't see it, reload the page--if you still can't go here and hit "agenda". Calendar times are in Eastern Standard Time because that's where I am today and I'm the guy who's taking the trouble to keep the calendar up.

You can subscribe to the thread and the comments if you wanna keep up as new games are added.
_______________________
FORMAT FOR POSTING AN ANNOUNCEMENT OF YOUR GAME BELOW IN THE COMMENTS:
Day

Time describe the time you're available using at least one western hemisphere and one eastern hemisphere time zone so peeps can figure out whether they're around.

System(s)

Level

Do we need to bring anything? (Like, say, a 3rd level character) and anything else you think might make your pitch intriguing--setting, etc.)(if your ruleset is unusual, it may be best to tell everybody to just show up with stats, a race and a class and smooth out the specifics once the game starts rolling.)


Contact info:
Please include a way people can contact you other than Google + so that you can tell who they are when they request you and you can discuss details if they're not already one of your G+ contacts. If your name is like "Jack Wilson" realize there's 200 of you on Google plus and you'll need to supply some alternate information if G+ users are looking for you. (Like: I'm the Zak Smith with the black and white picture and the asymmetrical haircut). _________________

Example:

Skooky McDungeonface will be DMing a Red Box game in Greyhawk at 1pm Italian time/4 am Pacific Standard time next Tuesday. Bring a 4th level PC and she can be reached under the name Skooky dawt McDee at yahoo dawt calm.

__________

How it works/getting started:

So step one is get a Google + invite from a friend.

Step Two: Once you get that you show up on the site and go "looks like facebook" then you leave.

Step Three: Forget you have it until you decide it's time to play GURPS Supers at 3 in the morning with someone in Madagascar who must be a good DM because he likes Motorhead as much as you do, at least judging from his comments on your blog...

Now what:


So once you have Google + you can get to your page by clicking like so...





...which takes you to a very Facebook-looking page.

Here are the important bits about this page:


-there's a green button on the right that says "start a hangout" which you can use to start a video session (only if you're not already in one on Google +)(though you can use Google + and Skype simultaneously--the people will be able to hear each other).

-If one of your friends has started a video session, there will be a green button allowing you to join in under their name, where this Larry Page guy has his message written in the picture. Click it and you're in.

This is what a video session looks like (only perhaps the people in your session may look a little less...festive...than the models in this Google PR photo I found on-line.) Anyway, important bits to remember are in red:

A-Hitting this button will make a little text chat window appear in the margin which allows you to type shit to the other people there. It's good for keeping track of dimensions of rooms, PCs names, etc. Also, if it's hard to hear someone talk you can type something in. Usually the audio's pretty good, though.

B-Hit this to invite new peeps to the session. You can do it by name or by "circle" (Google + name for a ton of people you've put in the same category)

C-This button theoretically lets you all watch the same youtube video but it doesn't seem to work yet.

D-The program senses whoever's talking and makes their head big. (Beardy is talking here, apparently). However, if, for example, the GM is holding up a map to the screen and you want the big camera to stay on one person, just click on their little head. To switch it back, click the little head again.

Glitches:

-Some people get asked to download a plugin when they first start a Google + vid chat and can't join until they've done it. After you download it, you should be cool.

-The thing freezes occasionally. If this happens, just use the text chat thing in the corner for a few seconds while it unfreezes. Sometimes people get kicked out by the machine. Don't worry, they'll rejoin seconds later.
_______________________

Tips:

-There's an all-Tekumel G+ gaming hub here now. (You can still post about Tekumel games below here, too, though.) (And, since many people choose games based on when they're available rather than by which game it is, I recommend not going too nuts with the "hub for each separate game" thing.)

-If you use the whiteboard at www.twiddla.com know now that you can roll dice on it. Just keep the little window that opens on the far right open when you start playing and type "d6" and hit enter and it'll roll a die. You can write like "d17" or whatever, too.

-Another twiddla tip: "control z" undoes the last thing you did, I believe.

-If Google + keeps kicking you out and there are 5 or fewer windows open, try shutting down your video so that you're audio-only. That might lower your bandwidth enough to keep you on.

-Alternative to G+: Skype offers a free 7-day trial of multiperson video chat--if your group has 4 players and a dm (5 skype accounts), that's over a month you can use multiperson video for free via Skype. (More if you can use a friend's Skype account, too). And of course, you can always pay for Skype.

-Some GMs have begun a practice of overbooking by one player (an alternate) since usually one person usually has to cancel by game time.

-5 people is the current vague maximum. G+ says it can handle ten but whatever, that's all lies. At one point, any more than 5 and it would go all screwy. Now we're getting mixed reports of larger games--sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't & people keep getting kicked off.

-It's possible some GMs may find individual initiative works better than group inititative on G+: With group initiative you have to decide who'll roll, they roll, then tell everyone what they rolled. People tend to talk over each other so it can be a little clumsy. However, with individual initiative, each player and the DM can roll, then immediately type the number they just rolled into the chat window (so it'll say "Zak: 2, Mandy: 6, Skooky: 4") and the DM and everybody can just go in that order and you can all see it right there on your screen. Cuts down on crosstalk and is easy. You might wanna try it.

-Don't point your speakers toward your mike. (You know about feedback, right metalheads?)


-If your audio's screwy, use headphones.

-If there's an audio problem, the person who sounds most normal on the audio is probably the one whose computer's creating the problem.

-Close as many windows as you can.

-Some people's computers or connections just hate G+ right now and their computer will lag or be gimpy and make the whole session screwy. If this is you, you probably won't be able to play today but don't be discouraged--speed of service ebbs and flows. If you're screwed today you might not be tomorrow. Also, G+ itself may figure out how to handle the volume of online heads in the future.

-If your computer is one of the unreliable ones, try switching from a wireless to a wireful (cable, DSL, etc.) internet connection if you've got one.

-PLEASE BE AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE WHEN ANNOUNCING A GAME: Please don't go: "Hey, if I run Palladium Fantasy, does anybody want in?" Go: "I will be running Palladium Fantasy RPG from 3-6 PM Eastern 8pm London time I can be reached at ConsiderateAndEfficient at yahoo dawt calm and if you want to play but that time is no good, tell me when is good and maybe we can work something out"

-Possible communications protocol: if everybody's talking at once and you need to say something, you can cover your camera with your hand so it goes all black so the GM knows you wanna say something.

-Consider consolidating all your recruiting responses in one place. i.e. you can advertise your game here and on your blog and on G+ and on twitter and whatever else, but it might make your life a little easier if you ask people responding to those advertisements to do it all in one place. It's easier to schedule if you're not talking in nine different places on the internet at once.

Of course, people will ignore you if you ask them to please respond in a certain place, so you might wanna close comments in any venue where you don't want to get responses.


-The video's a little fuzzy, if you want to show players a diagram or something, maybe use sharpie. Mappers may wanna do the same.

-Jeff's good idea: Once you have players for a game all ready to roll, create a new "circle" containing only the players in that game. Start a thread and have them post their character basics in that thread.

-However and ironically: once you have a group ready to roll and you know who is in, if you have something important to say (i.e. "tomorrow's game will be shirts vs. skins, please roll d4 now to see which side you're on" or "Sorry, gotta cancel") you may be better off using email than G+ to say it. This is because on G+, like facebook, important messages you send to people can get buried in their feed underneath dozens of other people posting about their cat.

-Remember: just because you're in a given time zone, not all your players have to be. People keep weird hours.

-Alexander Osias points out you can use this to schedule time zones. You may think "oh, I'll just use a time zone map" because maps are friendly and fun. But beware: daylight savings time makes things all weird. Use something with a brain.

-If you have a blog and are running a game that isn't full yet (or would like to start up a weekly game), I suggest putting a little widget in the corner of your blog (if you have one) describing the game and saying all the details you put in the thread below.

-2 hours seems like a good time. Though allow some lead time for character generation if it's a system with meat on it. If you can get players to make characters before they roll, do that.

FAQ

-Who rolls the dice in a videoconference game?

It's up to the GM. The GM can roll all dice, you can use the dice robot app on the Dragonsfoot forums (you have to register) (I'm sure someone who isn't me can explain it), or you can just all roll your own dice and trust each other because we're grown-ups here.

If you use the whiteboard at
www.twiddla.com know now that you can roll dice on it. Just keep the little window that opens on the far right open when you start playing and type "d6" and hit enter and it'll roll a die. You can write like "d17" or whatever, too.

At this point it seems like most players and GMs would rather roll their own dice, though.



-What's the deal on moving PCs from one game to another?

We have an official agreement on that called The FLAILSNAILS Conventions. Check it.

-Is there some ap that allows me to draw maps everyone in a game can see?

You can use this. More info here...

Though it may be slow on some connections if you do it simultaneously with the hangout.

-I don't see any games I want to play yet on the calendar but I know they're going on...

A lot of GMs already have gotten continuing groups together over the last few weeks so there may be fewer "advertised" games than there were. Don't worry, people are always doing games, so just join Google +, add people to your "circles" and check them regularly--they will probably announce something soon.

-I keep getting kicked off the hangout!

Close all your windows and if it still happens, mute your video so you're audio-only. I have a crappy connection where I am now and the same thing was happening to me until I did that.

-I can't see the calendar that's supposed to be on the right!

If you can't see it, reload the page--if you still can't, go here and hit "agenda".

-Are Google + games fun? Are people liking them?

Yes. People have been playing on G+ for two weeks and the responses have all fit into one of 2 categories:

A) "That was awesome, when can we do it again" and

B) "I had technical problems so I couldn't play."

So, basically, if you can get your computer to do it right, it's fun and you'll probably like it. Some computers just take to G+ some don't. I don't know much about computers but have had no technical problems so far.

G+ seems to be an especially good place to playtest new game ideas.

-Whatever, buddy, I can't trust you--what does Jeff Rients think?


That.


-Why not use Skype instead?


Multiperson videochat on Skype is not, as of this moment, free. On G+ it is. But hey, you wanna list a Skype game here, no problem. If you want to list an all-voice game on any platform, that's cool, too.

-How many G+ games have
you, guy writing this post, played?

Nineteen before I lost count... Two were with all real-life friends. The GMs and systems were: Me 4 times(3.5/AD&D mashup), Tavis (Adventurer Conqueror King ), DarrenE (AD&D), Welcome To Dungeon (AD&D), Jeff Rients (Labyrinth Lord/Basic/Expert), 3 with Arcadayn (Swords & Wizardry), Il Male (Labyrinth Lord), Empire of the Petal Throne twice with Ckutalik, Ulek Xek (S&W), Ben A (Gamma World), Dungeon Crawl Classics with Arcadayn, AD&D with Allandaros, and Neoclassical Geek Revival with Zzarchov.

-Any noticeable difference between systems?

None at all. Systems all feel extremely similar so far. After playing we go "Wait, was that Labyrinth Lord we were playing?" Who is GMing seems much more relevant.

Played 7th Ed Gamma World which has 4e style tactical movement but GM Bennet Akkerman managed it fairly smoothly.
"How many squares away is the giant eyeball?"
"5."
Not that complicated, so long as the DM sets up the game so it can work.

Other than my mash-up and AD&D I'd technically never played any of those games before.

-I see an interesting-looking game on the calendar--how do I join it?

I have tried--when it seemed appropriate and privacy-respectiful--to put the GM's G+ name on there so you can contact the GM on G+. If that doesn't work, check the comments on this thread or the thread for the previous Wednesday for the GMs announcement--it should have his/her contact info.

-Why Google +, why not ______(some other platform besides Google+ or Skype)____?

It just happens to be what I know about and it's free--if you want to run a game on some other platform please go ahead and post it.

-Why should I announce when I'm running a game
here? Why not just announce it on G+?

Because, even assuming everyone who might want to play in your game is already in your circles, G+ still isn't perfect: on your feed, if one person in your "Online RPG pals" circle announces "Hey I'm starting a game in 2 hours" and then 12 people announce "Hey, here's something WOTC did today that pissed me off and/or a picture of my cat", then your game will get buried in peoples' feeds.

Even if every gamer in the world eventually gets on G+ and adds you, until G+ finds a way to tag posts (and everyone agrees to use that system) and/or people stop wanting to tell other gamers that they have a cat there will have to be an outside sorting mechanism for games starting up. This is the mechanism.

-Is there some certain game system I should run?


Run whatever you want. Please run whatever you want. Sooner or later someone's gonna try it, you might as well be a pioneer. GURPS, OD&D, FASERIP, FUDGE, Mechanoids, Kill Puppies For Satan--whatever makes you happy.

Tips: 1) Be prepared to explain the mechanics as you go along, many people will be new no matter what system you use--this isn't that hard. 2) If you like to keep your life simple, start with a rules-lite system. 3) The only hard part is character generation--if it's D&D-related you can just tell people to give you race, class and 6 stats before the video session starts and smooth out translation issues then. I do this all the time, it's easy.

-Isn't playing with people you don't know weird?


Yes. That's why it's fun. If the game sucks you can always say you hear your mom calling and have to leave.

-How long is Constantcon going on?

Forever.

-Can I start a campaign?

Yes. You can do whatever you want. Stop asking.

-I want to do a game where______ is that ok?

Yes. Everything is ok. It's your con, too.

-Would anybody out there maybe possibly be interested if I ran a game of_____?


Yes to whatever you were about to say. Pick a time and post it. If nobody else is interested, I am. I'll play anything once.

-I see all the guideline
s here about how to announce that I want to GM a game, is it ok if I just, like, totally ignore some of those guidelines?

Sure, just prepare for the possibility of people not signing up for your game and don't complain that I didn't warn you and that this G+ game thing is totally bogus and nobody loves you.

-Hey, I'm up to GM anything whenever, can I just announce that and wait for the game to assemble around me?


Well you can, but it will make scheduling really hard and take forever and require a million emails back and forth and re-announcements once you have a time and de-announcements to say you are no longer available "whenever" because you have games scheduled now and...

So if you actually want to roll you may be better off actually saying a day and a time if nothing else.

R
emember: The more specific you are about when you are running your game, the faster shit will get itself organized. If you're worried people won't be able to make that specific time, just say like "3-5pm(flexible)"and if anybody wants to change it they'll hit you up.

-Can I just say I'm available to GM any time?

No, because you're lying, because you sleep, and maybe work or go to school. If your free spirit just cannot be contained to one hour, at least put a range of hours you are available (in two different time zones, as usual). If you say "I am available whenever" then you are begging several questions--do the community a favor and answer them up front so as not to generate more noise (as opposed to signal) than you need to. Anyone answering your thread is immediately going to ask what hours you're awake
--please realize that ahead of time and deal with it.

-Help, I'm having technical issues with G+!

Post here. Or, if you can, on G+. People will probably help you out. If I don't comment it's 'cause I don't know.

-How's the video quality?

It ain't Stanley Kubrick--but do you need Stanley Kubrick? It'll freeze for a second here and there, but relax, you'll live. Audio's pretty good unless there's an actual connection problem. I can go in the kitchen and make pasta and still hear what's going on in the game.

-Why do I have to send you an email saying who I am on G+, why not just add you?


"I always thought it must be quite handy being called John."

"Why?"

"You can tell when you're going nuts."

"Sorry? I don't follow.”

"I mean, a real sign of megalomania, when a John starts thinking that
'John' will do. 'Hi. It's John.' Or: 'Yours ever, John.' So what? Everybody's called John."
-
Martin Amis "The Information"

Plus if your screen name is DisplacerBeast28 and your G+ name is Fred Walsh I am not going to make the connection. And if I don't then I won't know who you are or why you started following me (art fan? porn fan? somebody's ex-boyfriend? Spambot?) and I will not add you to my "Online RPG People" circle.

A lot of people who follow me on social media are anonymous citizens who don't want to be followed back or play RPGs.
So if you want in, please send an e-mail to zakzsmith at hawt mayle dawt calm and type your actual Google + name into the text of the email using the letters of the alphabet if you want to be added. "Hi, RPG, Fred Walsh I am holding a sprite in my picture G+" is enough. "Hi, add me on G+" isn't.

-I'm shy.


Wear a mexican wrestler mask.

-Won't this Constantcon thread get hopelessly long and confusing eventually?

Nope. Once a week I am going to close comments on these Wednesday threads and post new ones where people can post games they're running that week.

-Wouldn't it be cool if James Raggi, James Smith, and James Maliszewski
all agreed to GM games in one week and called it JamesCon?

Yes.

-Do I need a webcam?

No, you could just use a mike and go audio-only. Do be aware that webcams are like 10 bucks though.

-The hangout window keeps shuffling from head to head and it's annoying.

G+ senses who is talking loudest and makes their head big. To tell it to chill just click on one person's little head below and their head will stay big.

-I need a G+ invite!

Complain here. Motherfuckers will hook you up.

-I like you, Zak, but I don't want all your weird readers hitting me up for my game. What do I do?

Then post your GM schedule game on your blog. And tell me you did so I can decide if I want in.


-I am grumpy/antisocial/a luddite/just really busy. Will you ever shut up about G+ games?


I am going to try to only talk about them once a week.

-When are you playing, Zak?

I get up whenever and am generally awake until 4am pacific time/noon London time. My schedule is totally unpredictable, especially on the weekends, but since I paint and play simultaneously I might roll whenever.

-Are the girls playing?

Yeah. Though their schedules are even weirder than mine. But, like, Connie, Mandy and Caroline Pierce have all played G+ games.

Catching The First Boat Outta Here...

Roll d12 to see who's got room for passengers...roll twice at larger ports, roll thrice in a real big place.

Boats have purposefully been described so that even if you know fuck-all about sailing you can still use them. The "number of sailors" refers to the number who can be called upon to actually do sailing stuff at any given time and is based on me making it up based on what are easy numbers to deal with if a vessel gets in a fight and if you want better numbers and are that kinda GM, use 'em.

"Handling" refers to Dex or Int or Sailing Skill, or whatever stat you use in your system to do sailing checks, on a 3-18 scale.

1. The Frogsgut A wee small ship. It'll be just the PCs and the captain, one Othrok Grood. A capable fellow--handling is 13.

2. The Rankle A suspiciously saggy fishing boat. Crew (d4+1 of them) is smiley, soused, and amused to have adventurers around--handling is 13 normally (happily drunk), but in danger it goes down to 7. The captain--Throllo Morrthra, keeps d100x30 gp worth of good in the hold. The crew will catch enough food for everyone to eat in all but the most desperate waters.

3. The Enormous Enormous: 4d6 + 3 crew. Handling is average. Sprooveyle Sprogan is the captain, and he has pet weasels. One of the sailors is a fetching and heavily tattooed lass. There are crewmen who'll be violently jealous if a PC flirts with her. If the PCs prefer the company of the strapping young seamen, this lass herself will be the jealous one--and will turn out to be a quite a capable duellist.

4. The Silence A lorevessel of the Church of Vorn--takes passengers. The monks and churchmen are average sailors--handling 10--but are 25% likely to have been gifted with a cure disease or cure light wounds spell on any given day. d4+2 crew.

5. The Drowner Crewed by fierce northmen, making a little cigarette money between pillagings. Handling 10 but 14 in battle. Three-toothed Captain Vorce has a raven, secretly tattooed with a treasure map beneath its ragged black feathers. 4d4 crew.

6. Grakthreel Exis Vail A merchant vessel far from its home in the archipelago ruled by the reptile-riding Dark Elf princes. The small elf crew (d4+1 sailors) is suspicious and does not speak common, but will take passengers for four times the normal price. They are excellent sailors--handling 15. They keep a strange lizard in the hold, and navigate by means of incomprehensible but curiously detailed maps.

7. The Dracolisk A stylish but unexceptional vessel. 3d4 crew. Handling 11. Two mad lords--straightjacketed--are among the cargo. They're being returned to their family for a considerable bounty but will offer the PCs thousands for their freedom.

8. The Prolix An odd-looking ship, patched with brass plates and tubing. The idiot captain--Chovo Whitewort--and his stupid crew (d4+3 of them, handling: 9) have been hired to ferry a wealthy but eccentric alchemist named Palaver around on his various researches. Palaver will pay half the PCs fare if they're going someplace "interesting" and will offer to buy any unusual substances off of them for a fair price.

9. The Vasty Deep An impressive vessel with a reliable crew--handling 13, 2d6 sailors. There is a very capable thief aboard, however, disguised as a pilgrim. She will use any distraction as an excuse to rifle through the PCs belongings and steal their most valuable items. If they're careful, she'll just backstab one as the PC's coming out of the privy. The thief's destination is closer than the PCs' and she'll attempt the theft as close to it as possible. If anything she's taken is important or magical, she'll run off and immediately sell it to the craziest, weirdest NPC villain she can find.

10. The Grackle Kind Captain Cork knows not that his 4d4 gangly, lotus-smoking crewman plot against him. They suck at sailing (handling 8) but fight as 3rd level fighters. They will mutiny at the first sign of trouble. Kind Captain Cork will pay the PCs mightily if they defend him, and will be a staunch ally thereafter.

11. The Glabrous A rickety-looking ship. Failed control rolls will result in two rolls on the ship gimping table. There is a rival adventuring party on board, mixed in with 2d8 other passengers. If the PCs are too loose-lipped, they may have competition during their next treasure hunt. The 3d6 crew are handling: 12.

12. The Butcher's Feast Captain Laszlo Groyle and his 10 crewmen (handling:10) are probably harmless, and the cargo is probably innocuous, but if you ever wanted to do a werewolf-on-the-ship or actually-the-whole-ship-is-nine-polymorphed-sea-ogres adventure and haven't done one lately, this is the time for it. If you would like something horrible to happen on board, have at it.

13. The Figgy Pudding It was fine until the ship's cat died. Now it's infested with rats (hard to figure out at first) and the diseases they bring. Food stores (including PC rations) will be nibbled away/spoiled by infection at 33% per day. PCs themselves must save or con check every 3 days to avoid catching something. Crew dies at 1 every 5 days. Starts with 2d6 of them--handling 9.

14. The Esquivel Currently hauling slaves. Lawful good characters may have issues with this. A slave revolt is eminently doable here and the 2d20 slaves will be grateful (though only 5% will speak the PCs language and only half will be able-bodied). One slave is a starved cleric devoted to (some of) the slaves' foreign god and may be the first to make contact with the PCs. The 3d6 sailors are kinda incompetent and drunk --handling 9.

15. The Despot The crew looks like a bunch of fun-loving, mead-swilling vikings (as 5, above), but they're secretly religious lunatics seeking to sail to the Land of the Dead to recover the souls of their fallen fellows. They aren't sure where the entrance is, though, so they may believe the PCs if they say it's coincidentally wherever they're headed.

16. The Spinnifex A bunch of flighty nobles on a pleasure cruise who'll take the PCs on because they think they're funny. d8+3 servants man the small vessel and suck (handling 8). The kids are annoying and if the PCs have anything to do with them they may manage to get the PCs inveigled in a blood feud before the journey's over. 3d6X100 gold in the hold guarded by 2 surly 5th-level fighters named Chuk and Grubble.

17. The Bastard A small ship. D4 able crew--handling 13. One passenger is a wild-haired crone who kills seagulls with her sling and reads their entrails. She will pronounce the PCs fates for free. She will pay 300 gp each if they will sneak her behind the battle lines of the barbarian hordes that razed her land, to the site of her defiled temple so she can pronounce a curse that will slay every child born to the horde for 6o years.

18. The Manticore Yes, they're pirates (5d4 men, handling 13). But Captain Calrissian is an old friend of yours...

19. The Dead Sunrise The ship's leaving port despite a slight list to starboard (10 degrees). The crew is mundane (2d6, handling 11) but the cargo is exotic--rare jewelled snails, an ocelot, a blue tiger, an ink pheasant, etc.--all destined for the private zoo of Khan Ferox.

20. The Dumb Spike Remarkable mainly for how much the (2d10) crew suck. Handling 6. PCs must save or con check successfully every other day or be seasick. -2 to everything until they've spent 2 hours on land.

Alternate for if you roll the same boat twice-

The Fatmeat Captain Walther Fryne has a minor Ahab complex, and its object is a fishing boat called the Bleating Hobble captained by his ex-wife. His 2d6 crew are disciplined--handling 14. One sailor keeps an unusual object in a chest under his bunk which he acquired on the Isle of Oth: a fleshy sphere, the size of a grapefruit. It is covered in mouths, each of which constantly relates speaks--in a different language--the sins of a different random living denizen of the planet.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Avant-Garde Architectural Theory, Meet Megadugeons

A megadungeon (or "campaign dungeon") is a dungeon complex that is both the focus of a campaign -- a 'tent pole," as explained in the post to which I linked above -- and too large to ever be "cleared" by even several parties of adventurers. Megadungeons are designed to be an ongoing and permanent feature of a campaign, not used and discarded like most dungeons published in the past.
-James Maliszewski
__________________

Everything in bold below is from the essay

"Bigness or the problem of Large" by architect and theorist Rem Koolhaas from the book "Small, Medium, Large, Extra-Large". Monacelli Press, New York, 1995. The entire essay is reprinted below. Megadungeon-relevant commentary inserted by me.

Beyond a certain scale, architecture acquires the properties of Bigness. The best reason to broach Bigness is the one given by climbers of Mount Everest: "because it is there."; Bigness is ultimate architecture
.

I'm not addressing megadungeons because they're there (they're not). I broach the subject because they're fun. It is also possible to argue (as we'll see below) that the megadungeon is the ultimate dungeon--not just in that it is big, but that the features unique to dungeons take on greater importance in megadungeons and the features not unique to dungeons become even less important.

It seems incredible that the size of a building alone embodies an ideological program, independent of the will of its architects. Of all possible categories, Bigness does not seem to deserve a manifesto; discredited as an intellectual problem, it is apparently on its way to extinction - like the dinosaur-through clumsiness, slowness, inflexibility, difficulty. But in fact, only Bigness instigates the regime of complexity that mobilizes the full intelligence of architecture and its related fields.

It is this "regime of complexity" that is the primary appeal of megadungeons. If you read this and are like "what complexity?" then what I mean about megadungeon complexity is here.

One hundred years ago, a generation of conceptual breakthroughs and supporting technologies unleashed an architectural Big Bang. By randomizing circulation, short-circuiting distance, artificializing interiors, reducing mass, stretching dimensions, and accelerating construction, the elevator, electricity, air- conditioning, steel, and finally the new infrastructures formed a cluster of mutations that induced another species of architecture. The combined effects of these inventions were structures taller and deeper-Bigger-than ever before conceive, with a parallel potential for the reorganization of the social worId - a vastly richer programmation.

Obviously the megadungeon is not enabled by any such technologies, however the idea of the megadungeon is informed by the new tech-aided buildings of the 2oth century--malls, megahotels, office buildings, megacruiseliners, etc.. Buildings so large the inhabitants do not have to know each other despite depending on the same resources. (The merger of these buildings and the actual megadungeon is in the Shadowrun concept of the arcology.) Important idea: many of the most uniquely-D&D concepts (that is, not inherited from Tolkien, folklore, or Conan) and ideas are those which wear the dressing of medieval fantasy but are clearly "intellectually enabled" by 20th century ideas.

Anyone who has been in a late-20th-century hospital knows what it's like to be in a building so Big and therefore illegible that it functions as a megadungeon.

Theorems

Fuelled initially by the thoughtless energy of the purely quantitative, Bigness has been, for nearly a century, a condition almost without thinkers, a revolution without program. Delirious New York (one of the author's earlier books) implied a latent "Theory of Bigness"; based on five theorems.

l. Beyond a certain critical mass, a building becomes a Big Building. Such a mass can no longer be controlled by a single architectural gesture, or even by any combination of architectural gestures. This impossibility triggers the autonomy of its parts, but that is not the same as fragmentation: the parts remain committed to the whole.

A megadungeon version of this idea: beyond a certain critical mass, a dungeon no longer can be controlled by:

A-A single dominant in-game "ruler" or "faction", and, more interestingly for us here...

B-A single story or narrative thread or even aesthetic mood. Even if the dungeon is the most pathetic box-car-by-box-car linear bullshit, the mere logistical fact that different rooms will be cleared by different groups at different times (due to the fact that probably not exactly the same group of players will show up to every session) destroys any predictable narrative development.

As a counterexample, consider a microdungeon: Raggi's Death Frost Doom. Its moodiness and "weird tale" structure is dependent on a distinct small group of PCs encountering a small group of distinct threats and obstacles in certain ways. Certain decisions or mistakes "trip" send the story spiralling off into any of a few horror-movie directions and the tight construction of the dungeon (and the suggestion in the module that it be run in one session) support this.

2. The elevator - with its potential to establish mechanical rather than architectural connections-and its family of related inventions render null and void the classical repertoire of architecture. Issues of composition, scale, proportion, detail are now moot. The "art"; of architecture is useless in Bigness.

The architectural idea is that once upon a time travel through a building could be "designed" by the architect as a sort of parade of unveiled vistas. First we see a facade (from various angles), then an atrium, then a stairwell, now a view from the stairwell, now a hallway...you could not go from part to part without experiencing the whole. Now your experience is divided up according to where the 10 minutes waiting for- and standing in- the little metal box appears in your journey.

What creates a parallel issue in the megadungeon is not the elevator but the previous delve. i.e.: the DM or author designs the movement (the crawling) from room to room as an experience--usually one of rising tension and slow discovery. However, once a room is experienced by a party, it can easily turn into "a place we already mapped" and so, on subsequent delves, this area is no longer "experienced"--and the DM has (and should have) little control over where the party finishes a session. The next session begins either:

-in the same place (but with a possibly slightly different cast of PCs, some of whom aren't familiar with the previous rooms)
-back at the surface, with all the cleared rooms as rooms to be "elevatored" past, or
-back at the surface, with all the cleared rooms to be re-experienced in a new way, not (usually) predicted by the DM when writing or prepping the dungeon

The overall effect is: just as the elevator lessens the degree to which the architect controls the experience and "reading" or a building, the episodic nature of megadungeons tends to lessen the degree to which the "reading" of a dungeon is controlled by the DM.

Every DM running a big dungeon has probably had the experience of having some players who leave a boss fight victorious but still baffled by half the dungeon's mysteries on account of having only been around for half the breadcrumb trail.

3. In Bigness, the distance between core and envelope increases to the point where the facade can no longer reveal what happens inside. The humanist expectation of "honesty" is doomed: interior and exterior architectures become separate projects, one dealing with the instability of programmatic and iconographic needs, the other - agent of disinformation - offering the city the apparent stability of an object. Where architecture reveals, Bigness perplexes; Bigness transforms the city from a summation of certainties into an accumulation of mysteries. What you see-is no longer what you get.

Koolhaas' idea here is that at one time, architects dreamed of a day when all buildings would announce their meaning and contents clearly to the public ( a legible city), all forms would announce their functions--and that this dream was annihilated once technology made it possible to have the center of a building so distant from its outer walls that the windows gave no clue to the life within and to have a building take on an exterior shape unrelated to the activities happening inside.

Now dungeons are based on this unknowability (all modern buildings are dungeons) however the idea of "exterior honesty" is important in a different way for megadungeon DMs:

It's almost impossible to get your shit together to write or buy and then properly prep a megadungeon unless you are fairly certain you are going to get to use it in your campaign. And it can be difficult, unfair and boring to put it in your campaign unless your players want to go into it--a lot. Making a megadungeon work requires a long term commitment from a lot of people. This is probably the real reason there aren't many and the few we see published aren't very complete or very good. You have to say "I am prepping a megadungeon, is everybody here ok with us doing pretty much dungeons for a few dozen sessions?" or else be running a regular game at your Friendly Local Game Store.

Thus: a megadungeon requires a commitment to commit to the unknown. "This campaign will be about...stuff you don't know what it is yet".

4. Through size alone,-such buildings enter an amoral domain, beyond good or bad. Their impact is independent of their quality.

Maybe the most interesting parallel here: just as the impact of a big building is often because it's big, not because it's good, megadungeons can be bad (that is: uninventive, unoriginal, mood-dead, aesthetically generic, bearing all the marks of creative cynicism) and still be fun, because they're big.

I ripped Ruins of Undermountain here for the "Three medusas waiting in a room" encounter (connected to nothing else important and yes, being among a million others just like it). However, I would never argue it wasn't fun to fight 3 medusas in a room. I would just say if someone was being paid to write it and you had to pay to get it from them then basic ethics demands most encounters be more than a free random dungeon generator could come up with.

(What's good dungeon design? For any DM:
-I couldn't have thought of it myself, and
-I like it.)

Point here is: the context of the megadungeon--its largeness, its disconnection from sources of resupply and succor (towns and taverns), its emphasis on basic survival needs (sleep, torches, rations), the density of its encounters, its constant intimation of something out-of-proportion-horrible about to happen--gives even "orc in a 10x10 room" a level of interestingness it didn't earn.

When you fight an orc in a 10 x 10 room after 3 hours in a megadungeon, it's mostly memorable not because it's an orc in a 10 x 10 room, but because it was after 3 hours in a megadungeon. Megadungeons are, thus far, a far better idea than what any publisher ever put in them. The megadungeon format--like whiskey, mood music and fast women--makes boring things interesting just by being there.

5. Together, all these breaks - with scale, with architectural composition, with tradition, with transparency, with ethics - imply the final, most radical break: Bigness is no longer part of any urban tissue. It exists; at most, it coexists. Its subtext is fuck context.This isn't much of a stretch: the whole point of the dungeon is its difference from the world above. However, more subtly: megadungeon delves are so unpredictable that, in most cases, attempts to tie them in any necessary way to the intrigues outside the megadungeon are extremely difficult. The megadungeon is not only a world apart, it is--by definition--a world that can be explored in a million different ways. While events below can be tied to the politics, disasters and dramas in the surface world after the fact, tying them to specific objectives in the world in a "get this now" sense somewhat violates the open, exploratory spirit of the thing.

This is not an ironclad rule, but there are basic tensions here:

-You have time to design and prep a megadungeon or you have time to prep and design the world aboveground and its intrigues. You very well may not have time for both. (May be why so many long-time dungeon merchants like published settings, even if they're total vanilla.)

-Either what's in the megadungeon is urgently important to the world outside it or it isn't. If it is, then the megadungeon may lose some of its "free exploration" feeling ("Just find the gold monkey and save the princess, dammit, forget the mystery portal in room 45!"), if it isn't then nothing in the world outside can be that world-shakingly important either, or else you'd be aboveground dealing with it. There are ways of dealing with this tension, but it's always a problem to be solved if a megadungeon isn't the only thing going in the campaign.

Modernization

Here begins an extended and jargon-filled historical digression I have half a mind to just skip 'cause it's sorta beside the point, but I won't because:

-what Koolhaas describes as responses to "Bigness" to some degree mirror the responses to D&D's idea of dungeoneering-as-central-to-RPGing

-examinations of things which aren't dungeoneering throw some light on the appeal of dungeoneering

In 1970s, Bigness seemed a phenomenon of and for (the) New World(s).

In 1970s, Megadungeons seemed a phenomenon of and for a small group of hobbyists.

But in the second half of the eighties, signs multiplied of a new wave of modernization that would engulf - in more or less camouflaged form - the Old WorId, provoking episodes of a new beginning even on the "finished"; continent. Against the background of Europe, the shock of Bigness forced us to make what was implicit in Delirious New York explicit in our work.In the second half of the eighties, the entire rest of the world was introduced to megadungeons via video games. Super Mario being an early standout example.

Bigness became a double polemic, confronting earlier attempts at integration and concentration and contemporary doctrines that question the possibility of the Whole and the Real as viable categories and resign themselves to architecture's supposedly inevitable disassembly and dissolution.


Now we got a lotta postmodern jargon here, but the idea for us is: despite the "cinematic" interpretation of running a game, the ideas about negotiating (rigorously imagined) physical space implied in megadungeons haven't disappeared off the radar of the popular imagination. The fun of the dungeoneers repertoire--resource management, outside-the-box-but-inside-the-system problem-solving, turning the system against itself, threat-of-death-as-spur-to-invention etc.--isn't as easily ignored as it might have once been when everyone was pretending old D&D was just a cro-magnon version of how games were supposed to work.

Europeans had surpassed the threat of Bigness by theorizing it beyond the point of application. Their contribution had been the "gift" of the megastructure, a kind of all-embracing, all-enabling technical support that ultimately questioned the status of the individual building: a very safe Bigness, its true implications excluding implementation. Yona Friedman's urbanisme spatiale (1958) was emblematic: Bigness floats over Paris like a metallic blanket of clouds, promising unlimited but unfocused potential renewal of "everything," but never lands, never confronts, never claims its rightful place. Criticism as decoration.

The architectural ideas Koolhaas is talking about here are techno-neo-utopian ideas which treat the whole city or environment as one big building--plug-in buildings, build-anywhere structures, mutifunction locations, etc.

This echoes various attempts in gaming to treat everything as a megadungeon--that is, a large-but-mappable space primarily defined by combat encounters and measured rigor. Citystate of the Invincible Overlord (every shopkeeper has levels), Ptolus (every shopkeeper is a bloodtroll), and various mostly-failed attempts to somehow turn every hex of a continent into simultaneously a battlemat and a believable wilderness space, mostly through random encounter tables which have you either fighting bears and wolves pretty much every hex or which make dragons and levelled-NPCs so ubiquitous that the world loses all its magic.

2e and 3.5 made everything measured and nailed down and then convinced nearly everyone that was a bad idea. The whole-world-as-dungeon didn't quite work.

In 1972, Beaubourg-Platonic Loft-had proposed spaces where "anything' was possible. The resulting flexibility was unmasked as the imposition of a theoretical average at the expense of both character and precision-entity at the price of identity.Basically: drow-and-mind-flayers-everywhere "world-as-dungeon" situations only end up showing how unique and unreproducible a real megadungeon situation actually is.

Perversely, its sheer demonstrativeness precluded the genuine neutrality realized without effort in the American skyscraper.


By creating situations where monsters serve a specific and integrated function in the aboveground world as a way to make the game about more things than just dungeons, what ended up happening more often than not is the true "they could be or want anything, who knows?" situation created by having most monsters be mysterious denizens of a "meaning-neutral" underworld was lost.

So marked was the generation of May '68, my generation, supremely intelligent, well informed, correctly traumatized by selected cataclysms, frank in its borrowings from other disciplines- by the failure of this and similar models of density and integration-by their systematic insensitivity to the particular-that it proposed two major defense lines: dismantlement and disappearance.

Translation here: gaming had two responses to the failure of dungeoneering to meet everyone's gaming needs...

In the first, the world is decomposed into incompatible fractals of uniqueness, each a pretext for further disintegration of-the whole: a paroxysm of fragmentation that turns the particular into a system. Behind this breakdown of program according to the smallest functional particles looms the perversely unconscious revenge of the old form- follows-function doctrine that drives the content of the project--behind fireworks of intellectual and formal sophistication--relentlessly toward the anticlimax of diagram, doubly disappointing since its aesthetic suggests the rich orchestration of chaos. In this landscape of dismemberment and phony disorder, each activity is put in its place.

This is the narrative approach: physical structures aren't important--what players do in them is. Though in reality, they are obeying an entirely different order: order imposed by ideas about how story arcs and character development work. Old Blah blah blah on this subject here.

The programmatic hybridizations/proximities/frictions/overlaps/superpositions that are possible in Bigness-in fact, the entire apparatus of montage: -invented at the beginning of the century to organize relationships between independent parts-are being undone by one section of the present avant-garde in compositions of almost laughable pedantry and rigidity, behind apparent wildness.

Translation: "Some people make games that try way too hard to promote specific values". But, really, fuck those people. They aren't reading this--they can't read.

The second strategy, disappearance,transcends the question of Bigness- of massive presence-through an extended engagement with simulation, virtuality, nonexistence. A patchwork of arguments scavenged since the sixties from American sociologists, ideologues, philosophers, French intellectuals, cybermystics, etc., suggests that architecture will be the first "solid that melts into air"through the combined effects of demographic trends, electronics, media, speed, the economy, leisure,the death of God, the book, the phone, the fax, affluence, democracy, the end of the Big Story...

Preempting architecture's actual disappearance, this avant-garde is experimenting with real or simulated virtuality, reclaiming, in the name of modesty, its former omnipotence in the world of virtual reality (where fascism may be pursued with impunity?).

Translation: World of Warcraft and its cognates. The physical mapping and full descriptive rigor of a megadungeon isn't important in these situations, only the experience of being in one.

Maximum

Paradoxically, the Whole and the Real ceased to exist as possible enterprises for the architect exactly at the moment where the approaching end of the second millennium saw an all-out rush to reorganization, consolidation, expansion, a clamoring for megascale.
All the concentration and craft required to produce a megadungeon was on the one hand downplayed by WOTC D&D and, on the other hand, demanded by a generation raised to think of "video game designer" as a plausible career option.

Otherwise engaged, an entire profession was incapable, finally, of exploiting dramatic social and economic events that, if confronted, could restore its credibility.

The absence of a theory of Bigness-what is the maximum architecture can do- is architecture's most debilitating weakness.


Is the absence of "Megadungeon Theory" the most debilitating weakness of megadungeons?

Maybe not, however:

No published megadungeon is that good. A body of shared knowledge about what-hasn't-been-tried-but-might-work, what's-already-been-done-so-don't-do-it-again, what-works-pretty-well-and-is-adaptable, might one day contribute to whatever the first actually soup-to-nuts inventive, original, interesting and near-maximum-fun megadungeon open to public view.

Without a theory of Bigness, architects are in the position of Frankenstein's creators: instigators of a partly successful experiment whose results are running amok and are therefore discredited.Because there is no theory of Bigness, we don't know what to do with it, we don't know where to put it, we don't know when to use it, we don't know how to plan it. Big mistakes are our only connection to Bigness.

Because nearly every published megadungeon is little more than a sprawling trail of disconnected rooms designed by crazy wizards containing devices hidden in random dungeon features that do a little bit of damage what we know about how to actually make a megadungeon work any other way is limited.

But in spite of its dumb name, Bigness is a theoretical domain at this fin de siecle: in a landscape of disarray, disassembly, dissociation, disclamation, the attraction of Bigness is its potential to reconstruct the Whole, resurrect the Real, reinvent the collective, reclaim maximum possibility.

Maybe you really like your crazy wizard dungeons full of devices hidden in random dungeon features that do a little bit of damage but can you argue with wanting to reclaim maximum possibility? No you cannot. There is no devil's advocate position for Think Harder And Be More Creative. There's more than one way to skin a cat, and it would be nice to get at least 2 or 3 more methods on the dissecting table.

Only through Bigness can architecture dissociate itself from the exhausted artistic/ideological movements of modernism and formalism to regain its instrumentality as vehicle of modernization. Bigness recognizes that architecture as we know it is in difficulty, but it does not overcompensate through regurgitations of even more architecture.

It proposes a new economy in which no longer " all is architecture," but in which a strategic position is regained through retreat and concentration, yielding the rest of a contested territory to enemy forces.

Ignoring the rhetoric and focusing on the end bit there: to commit to a megadungeon in a campaign means other things aren't going to get worked on. This is perhaps the toughest hurdle for everybody: the commitment on the part of GM and players--this thing is definitely gonna get explored, so it's definitely gonna get prepped and/or written.

Beginning


Bigness destroys, but it is also a new beginning. It can reassemble what it breaks. A paradox of Bigness is that in spite of the calculation that goes into its planning -in fact, through its very rigidities-it is the one architecture that engineers the unpredictable.

We all know this. Despite the attention to torchlight, distances, hit points, armor class, encumbrance and all the fiddly bits, it is this attention to detail which makes what happens on the dungeon so unpredictable. Oh if only you hadn't run out of oil...oh if only you hadn't slept in the shrine... Since you pay attention to details, any one of those details can fuck with any other one of them.

Instead of enforcing coexistence' Bigness depends on regimes of freedoms, the assembly of maximum difference

Translation: the isolation and largeness of the megadungeon allows for the antlion to lay down next to the spiderlamb. (Without spoiling the verisimilitude of the world above.)

Only Bigness can sustain a promiscuous proliferation of events in a single container. It develops strategies to organize both their independence and interdependence within a larger entity in a symbiosis that exacerbates rather than compromises specificity. Through contamination rather than purity and quantity rather than quality, only Bigness can support genuinely new relationships between functional entities that expand rather than limit their identities.

"Through contamination rather than purity and quantity rather than quality"--there you go. The Megadungeon is exciting precisely because you do not know what story your 2 fighters, 2 clerics and a dwarf will hitch up between what independent factions while careening through your deathmaze in search of filthy lucre.

The artificiality and complexity of Bigness release function from its defensive armor to allow a kind of liquefaction; programmatic elements returns with each other to create new events-Bigness returns to a model of programmatic alchemy.

The ogre wants this, the witch wants that, they know each other because of you.

At first sight, the activities amassed in the structure of Bigness demand to interact, but Bigness also keeps them apart. Like plutonium rods that, more or less immersed, dampen or promote nuclear reaction, Bigness regulates the intensities of programmatic coexistence.

Although Bigness is a blueprint for perpetual intensity, it also offers degrees of serenity and even blandness. It is simply ; impossible to animate its entire mass with intention. Its vastness exhausts architecture's compulsive need to decide and determine. Zones will be left out, free from architecture.
To quote Borges: "A memory of unspeakable melancholy: at times I have traveled for many nights through corridors and along polished stairways without finding a single librarian."

Team

Bigness is where architecture becomes both most and least architectural: most because of the enormity of the object; least through the loss of autonomy -it becomes instrument of other forces, it depends.
Unlike a palace or temple or castle, a megadungeon isn't defined by what it was built for, it is defined by what's going on in it.

Bigness is impersonal: the architect is no -longer condemned to stardom. Even as Bigness enters the stratosphere of architectural ambition-the pure chill of megalomania -it can be achieved only at the price of giving up control, of transmogrification.
Possibility: because of all the difficulties of producing one, the first actually good and publicly-available megadungeon may have to be a collective effort, not an individual one.

It implies a web of umbilical cords to other disciplines whose performance is as critical as' the arehitect's: like mountain climbers tied together by lifesaving ropes, the makers of Bigness are a team (a word not mentioned in the last 40 years of architectural polemic).

Maybe we'll have to work together. People make monsters, people make trick rooms, people make triggered events, people make maps, people make tables.

Beyond signature, Bigness means surrender to technologies; to engineers, contractors, manufacturers; to politics; to others. It promises architecture a kind of post-heroic status--a realignment with neutrality.

The serial and unpredictable nature of megadungeon exploration suggests a lessening of tight control over the aesthetic of the dungeon. An attention the engineering and organization of tools for possible experiences rather than a dedication to a single kind of experience.

If the megadungeon does become a truly collaborative project, then you have to be even more open to the possibility of aesthetic swerves--from the gritty to the spooky to the whimsical to the nerd-puzzly to the hack to the slash.

Bastion If Bigness transforms architecture, its accumulation generates a new kind of city. The exterior of the city is no longer a collective theater where "it" happens; there's no collective "it" left. The street has become residue, organizational device, mere segment of the continuous metropolitan plane where the remnants of the past face the equipments of the new in an uneasy standoff.

As stated earlier: true dedication to the megadungeon is going to deplete attention to the rest of the campaign. The tavern just turns into a meeting place. We know all this.
Bigness can exist any where on that plane. Not only is Bigness incapable of establishing relationships with the classical city--at most, it coexists--but in the quantity and complexity of the facilities it offers, it is itself urban.Bigness no longer needs the city: it competes with the city; it represents the city; it preempts the city; or better still, it is the city. If urbanism generates potential and architecture exploits it, Bigness enlists the generosity of urbanism against the meanness of architecture. Bigness = urbanism vs. architecture.

If the megadungeon is itself urban, this opens up the possibility of whether it can be done like the city kit: as tools for making a space rather than a space. My instinct is that this defeats the purpose in most cases. The possible portability of certain tools is not excluded...

Another important consideration: relationships between cities and other cities are essential to the nature of cities. Relationships between megadungeons are--at best--an underexplored phenomenon.

Bigness, through its very independence of context, is the one architecture that can survive, even exploit, the now-global condition of the tabula rasa: it does not take its inspiration from givens too often squeezed for the last drop of meaning; it gravitates opportunistically to locations of maximum infrastructural promise; it is, finally, its own raison d'etre. In spite of its size, it is modest.

We all know this about megadungeons: of any adventure format, they require the least outside context to function.
Not all architecture, not all program, not all events will be swallowed by Bigness. There are many "needs" too unfocused, too weak, too unrespectable, too defiant, too secret, too subversive, too weak, too "nothing" to be part of the constellations of Bigness.
And not everything can fit in a megadungeon.

Bigness is the last bastion of architecture-a contraction, a hyper- architecture.The containers of Bigness will be landmarks in a post-architectural landscape-a world scraped of architecture in the way Richter's paintings are scraped of paint: inflexible, immutable, definitive, forever there, generated through superhuman effort. Bigness surrenders the field to after-architecture.

The megadungeon is the exaggeration of every possibility unique to the dungeon. The crawling, the darkness, the unknown, the trapped, the unfamiliar.

Problem: Once we do a megadungeon right, it'll be done. Then we'll have to figure out how to do everything else.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Attempt To List & Employ All The Random Tables I Like

Random tables I use (New ones will be added to this post as they come up. ).

-Familiars
-Random Fortress Generator
-This guy does a new d12 table every day, I'm not going to list them all but I am going to call him awesome
-Random busted goblin machine
-Assignment Generator
-Secret Santicore (incl. mutations, secret doors, traps, bandits, merchants, etc.)
-Dead humanoid's pockets
-Weird city encounters
-Creepy witch spells
-Dungeon origins
-Bizarre urban locations
-Wizard obsessions
-10 potions
-Potion mishaps
-Men at arms
-d30 Scrap Princess Mutations
-100 More of those
-Random islands
-Hex dressing
-Random Castle Shenanigans
-What are the wandering monsters up to?
-What are the goblins up to?
-Carcosa situations
-Magic Candles
-Magic Ropes
-Peddlers of the Deep Dark
-Chaos Patrons
-Creepy combat commentary
-Dungeon Motivation
-The D30 tables
-There are several we gave Gary Gygax for his birthday
-Elf village traits
-Original Warhammer Realms of Chaos Mutation Table
-Hack Vornheim Contest Winners: including Random Tavern Entertainment, What's in That Grave, Random Criminals , Rival Adventuring Parties, Creepy Idol, The Theater Amphisbaena and Rural Inn Tavern
-The Too-Many-Too-List-Here Fruits of My Own Unfortunate Addiction Now Handily Grouped Under One Tag
-C's awesome Tricks, Empty Rooms and Basic Trap Design
-100 Reasons PCs are together
-Mutant Future Gear
-Random level 1 gear
New:
-Random nonmagic scrolls
-Telecanter's 20 Random potions w/identifying details
______
So my PCs are sailing south toward the Goblin Empire. I am going to try to use as many of the random tables here as I can to figure out what will happen once they arrive there.

What I actually roll for my PCs next session will be in white so they don't espy upon it. Highlight it to see what I'm planning...

-Random islands
This'll be..roll roll...on an island with an old mine. I hate mines (in games--in real life I knew miners so I got to play in them as a kid and actually loved them. Whole other story.). But hey:
-gotta start somewhere, and
-it is, I'm told, dark as a dungeon down in the mine. Which is a start.

-Hex dressing
...in an area marked by a boulder with a face carved or naturally in it.


-Random Castle Shenanigans
...the castle has a strong ally--another house? a creature? wizard?
More to the point: there's a castle.

-What are the wandering monsters up to?
When the PCs arrive, monsters are returning to their lair with treasure

-What are the goblins up to?
This is the Goblin Empire after all...they arrrrre...
"Playing tenpins with a skull and some legbones."
So: oblivious to the goings-on of the wandering monsters.

-Carcosa situations
"At least half of the village is ill to some degree or another. Rumours abound that someone has been poisoning the well." This would be the goblins worrying.
-Magic Candles
Glory Glow (30'R, 4 turns)- each of these candles is tied to an alignment. All within the radius of the candle light of the same alignment are +2 to saving throws and attack rolls.

This treasure will show up. I'm gonna say allegiance to the same cause or god since I don't use alignment...

-Magic Ropes
More treasure:
"Weightless Rope: this rope simply has no weight of note (1 coins worth), a man could manage 500 feet of it before the volume of the rope becomes too unwieldy."

-Peddlers of the Deep Dark
This guy's down in the mine...oh a pair of peddlers: gnome(reroll fuck that) human (what are humans doing here?). The haulers of the stuff are albino cave-bronts, they have a magic candle (oh, that's where that came from) and glow grubs

-Chaos Patrons

This'll be for the owner of the castle. And the patron is the powerful ally...
follows Mabelode the Faceless (ah, thus the disturbing faceless face carved into the rock), Chaos gift: "Rise, my servant!" - The next time the character is reduced to 10% of his hit point total, all his hit points are immediately restored. Albino -4 con. Ok, so we have to figure out a way this isn't Elric.

-Creepy combat commentary
During combat this chaos-worshipping albino is....
A self-cheerleader: says "you can do it, there a lot of them but your poison will take care of that" and things like that. "Worry not, The Lord Who Has No Face will smite them all in the end!"

-Dungeon Motivation
"Family member of PC afflicted with disease that can only be cured with the waters from a sacred subterranean spring."
Which makes sense, as the PCs are delivering a family member to the goblins.

-The D30 tables...
This is from the city events table:
"The army/navy needs soldiers/sailors. Pressed into short term duty." Basically: the goblins are assaulting the chaos-worshipping albino. They need help.

-There are several we gave Gary Gygax for his birthday

This is one for finding the origin of wizards...
Created using fire and the bodies of d20 children who were sacrificed explicitly for the purpose. Found magic item of clothing via sheer luck.

And one for elementals, so the villain has a pal...
oversized ice/water elemental--intelligent and curious

-Elf village traits
Assume goblin civilization is built on the ruins of an elf civilization:
"Bomb shelter type bunker, actual village destroyed by orcs forty or fifty years ago, new village blueprint still under review by planning committee"

In the mean time, goblins moved in. The albino elf came above ground (from the mine) and instead of telling the other elves their home had been stolen, just established some kinda Chaos-worshipping tyranny over the goblins.

-Original Warhammer Realms of Chaos Mutation Table

Half brain-leaf plant. Ok a brain-leaf plant is a plant that makes you a zombie. In D&D that ecological niche is filled by the Yellow Musk Creeper zombie, and here in my campaign it is filled by the Violet Leopard Orchid Zombie. Which explains why our albino elf abandoned his or her fellows: s/he's half zombie creeping vine monster and probably turned them all into orchid zombies by now.

Now according to the table above they are returning to their lair with treasure. What treasure?

-Hack Vornheim Contest Winners: including Random Tavern Entertainment, What's in That Grave, Random Criminals , Rival Adventuring Parties, Creepy Idol, The Theater Amphisbaena and Rural Inn Tavern

So, in the plague-blighted goblin town beneath Faceless Rock...

A bard troupe retells PCs previous exploits, in...

The inn of the Yellow Dog (not "Hound"--I renamed it after a German grindcore label). The food is amazingly good, due to the fact that the cook is a captured fae creature. It will plead for rescue (removal of iron horseshoe over kitchen door) through messages in marbled fat on meat, steam rising from stew, etc.

PCs (especially Elves/Magic Users) are attacked by vicious bedbugs in their sleep. These will inflict 1 damage every third round, ignoring armor & clothing. Observant PCs will note a trail of them leading to the innkeeper’s room. If they force the door, they will discover the innkeeper lying in bed, his eyes glazed over, a stream of bedbugs scuttling in & out of his mouth.

A group of travelling players are putting on a performance in the village square, costumed as the PCs. They are performing an episode from their adventures, though misrepresented. If the deed was noble and valorous, it is depicted as treacherous , cowardly, and bloodthirsty, and vice-versa.

(This makes sense, the PCs fended some goblin pirates on the way here, no doubt the pirates have been sailing home claiming to have been attacked by hideous human witches.)

We have, Tuan The Forsaken whose brain's in a glass case, who is an extorter.

(His racket today is actually more just blackmail: he knows who the PCs are and will tell the fellow goblins if they don't pay up.)

A coffin is filled with blood and puss. Spills out onto players and starts to burn. (ummm...chaos magic, I guess)

There is a competing adventuring party in the form of: The Progeny of Lorbis Vul. Core members consist of 4-6 vat-grown male and female humanoids, with skin dyed in a range of colors from sky blue to Vermillion, and marked on their foreheads with a seemingly random number from III – XXV. They are physically perfect, athletic specimens except for one glaring, disturbing flaw on their respective arms. Not readily apparent. They are seeking the whereabouts of Lorbis Vul, a notorious sorcerer. For now, they pay their way by adventuring. in possession of an enchanted object or talisman, not readily apparent as such.

Other events in the Yellow Dog:
Satireveritas escapes.
Satirevertias is "a giant amphisbaena greets guests from a gilded cage, twin heads bantering suavely sibilant evil with a voice like wasp stings in honey. Their palindromic name is Satireveritas and they adore gossip and scandal – learning it, spreading it, instigating it. The serpent’s other priorities are general mischief and the seduction of beautiful women. Its not unpleasant musk pervades the room."
Daytime: auditions (for future goblin entertainments)
Nightime: "The Wise Man’s Journey To Hell"
Random NPC there: Mullen Poag, Stagehand/Roustabout
Agent of rival theatre here to spy and sabotage. (Of course PCs will think he's an agent of The Faceless Lord.)

Creepy idol (worshipped by our villain): limbless female torso w/severed phalluses giving birth to monsters. it gives birth to monsters once every 20 days, contains evil genie 2 wishes remain.

-The Too-Many-Too-List-Here Fruits of My Own Unfortunate Addiction Now Handily Grouped Under One Tag

Also:

d4 Othuagg baboons (drugged, dyed, crazed babboons used as shock troops by goblins) (+1d6 goblins) eating tiger fly scouts

Intercepted letter: To my most clever and unfortunate friend, Lord Vortullak of Spine, I send greetings from both myself and from your hilarious mother. This past season has been no doubt, a black joke perpetrated on this family by the omnipotent author of all things. I trust you received the map I sent earlier, for otherwise you would be entirely unable to read the words I now set down. Though I am indeed made weary by the strain of maintaining this deception, I see the necessity in it, as, I am certain, do you. You must destroy the four lunatics in Orgus Waarg. To do otherwise is to risk what little you have left. Your most humble servant, Natasha

P.S. Before this is over, I will have what's rightfully mine, no matter what you've been told.

(Question: is the villain this "Natasha" or is it "Lord Vortullak"? Let's assume the lunatics are the PCs and Orgus Waarg is the name of the town. This means Lord Vortullak is the villain and this mysterious Natasha is either off-screen or the name of the limbless idol he worships.)

No security measure per se, but the only valuables in the house appear to be in the bedroom along with a young and attractive NPC who's tied up and gagged. Sophisticated PCs may realize that s/he's not necessarily a prisoner.

(um..ok, Zak, whatever you say)

Villain characteristics: Aura of silence, Murders mice and eats them.

Ok, so Lord Vortullak sits there eating mice all day. And he--and all his orchid zombies--project an aura of silence. I really like that--the pale undead straggle forward and crack your bones and eat your brains all without making a sound. That's obviously how leopard orchid zombies work I guess.

Hex describing table tells me:
Weird landscape, damaged city, intelligent monsters, light rain, humans want help from PCs, anarchy, goblins, they speak in iambic triameter. "When I insult the king, The frogs erupt in song"

Random treasure: Level 8 spell scroll (Drunk reversal--no save). Small carved figurine or chess piece of one of the PCs, precise in every detail, 25-28mm tall. Purpose unknown. Actually the figurine is a spell scroll and it is the artifact the rival adventuring party carries.

A corpse:
Major local importer. Trade is all screwy until the power struggle to replace him/her is over--everything costs 3 times as much locally. (this is the blood and pus filled coffin. Obviously this death was not natural.)

An npc:
helpful frightened likes fried food --an herbalist. Probably the sneaky stage hand spy.

So, altogether: sick goblin village and PC's relative, plagued by silent undead revenge elves and chaos magic sent by a mouse-eating albino elf villain while beneath the faceless rock a tavern below boils over with escaped snakes and friendly spies.