Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Stacy Dellorfano--Building The Best Online Con in RPGs

At D&D With Porn Stars women in gaming is a subject that comes up a lot and playing RPGs on-line over Google Plus also comes up a lot, too.

Since it just so happens that the best, most has-its-shit-together on-line tabletop RPG convention is one that anybody can be part of but that's run entirely by women. I figured I'd talk to the lady in charge: Stacy Dellorfano of Contessa. 

So what's Contessa?

ConTessa is a year-round virtual convention and community where women execute all the games and events. 2015 is our third and most exciting year so far. In 2013 and 2014 we ran annual conventions over long weekends. In 2015, we've turned into an 'always-on' convention, and will be running several events over the course of the year. 

We've run contests, tournaments, panels, games, seminars, art jams, board game sessions, and just about anything you can do via Google Hangouts or the greater internet. 

Aside from the difficulties anyone faces trying to squeeze a hobby in between real life stuff, what have been the hard things about running Contessa?

I'd have to say that learning how to ignore the haters has been the most difficult thing about running ConTessa for me, personally. I can make the technology work when it fails, herd the hell out of cats, figure out how to do what we want to do on a budget of nothing, deal with flaky game developers who don't answer their emails, and still run my own events while juggling all of those balls, but I sucked at tuning out the negative and focusing on the positive. 

ConTessa has largely changed that for me. It's still a bit of a struggle from time to time, but I have a much better perspective now than I've had since the convention's inception in late 2012. I and/or the convention have been attacked for not being political enough, being too political, using a word that people didn't like (apolitical), choosing graphics and a design theme that was 'too cutesy', being 'part of the problem', ignoring women's issues, whitewashing women's issues, making too big a deal out of women's issues, excluding women we don't agree with, discriminating against men, not allowing men to be members of staff, run games, or run panels, and we got attacked for not saying certain things. 

I've been threatened with blacklisting more than once, my staff members have been told by people several times not to talk about ConTessa in their space, people have refused to work on projects if they're connected to ConTessa, and I got yelled at by a previous-year sponsor for allowing a 'competitor' to also be a sponsor. 

On top of that, I got severely ill at the beginning of 2013 while simultaneously dealing with a job layoff, and the fallout of a lot of very damaging personal shit brought on by my family. I sank into a depression so deep there were days I thought it would never, ever end. I wanted to die. I didn't want to kill myself, but I wanted to die. While the attacks didn't cause all of that, they certainly didn't do anything to make me feel better about myself as a human being. 

When I thought for sure I was going to give it up, something amazing happened. People showed up and told me stories about how ConTessa helped them get into GMing online, then in-person, then at conventions, then writing their own material, publishing themselves, and getting freelancing jobs for some of the best publishers out there. They told me about other women that they, in turn, inspired with their stories. They told me that their daughters couldn't wait until they were old enough to participate, and they kept asking me when the next convention would be. 

There were days during the worst of the depression when getting out of bed and getting ready for work seemed too hard, even seemed not worthwhile at all. On those days, I had a steady mantra that went through my head. One foot in front of the other. Keep moving forward. You may not see the end of the tunnel, but it's there. Keep walking. I made sure that stuck for ConTessa, too, and I've become a stronger person for it. 

I think the turning point was when a prominent blogger took an offhand comment I made and blew it up into an entire lie about our policies while trying to make the point that if I wanted success, I needed to invite men to run games. I corrected him in the comment thread of his post, but he ignored it and never even responded to me... then, the very same people who attacked me for being 'part of the problem' were suddenly on my side because a guy with MRA tendencies was attacking me. 

It was absurd. After both crying and screaming in frustration, I finally sat down and started laughing. There were all these people getting all worked up over a convention they did not have to attend or participate in wherein people were mostly going to sit in front of their computers and play pretend. 

Now, I'm on a much more even keel. I've finally found some much-needed perspective, and I'm glad for it. While talking about this interview with my husband the other day, I said, "You know what? I should probably thank all those people for giving me perspective." 
Eyes courtesy of D&D W/Porn Stars' very own Mandy Morbid.

How do you see Contessa fitting in to the larger game scene? The larger discussion about women in games?

I started ConTessa specifically because I want to see more women get into the creator side of the hobby. I strongly believe the best way to get more diverse content is to have more diversity in the people who create that content. While there are women out there creating games, there aren't nearly enough. We want to add more women to the pool, which will benefit everyone in the long run by giving us a more well-rounded group of creators who add their own unique perspective and identity to the work they produce. 

That doesn't just help women, that helps everyone. With the rise of independent game publishing, we're seeing more and more new games and supplements coming out that challenge our preconceived notions of what a game can and should be. Adding more voices, more perspectives, and more lives to that mix can only improve what we're already doing. Diversity helps everyone, hands down. 

The hurdles that women face getting into game design are different than the hurdles that men face, but instead of actually addressing that fact, we keep shoving women into the same box that the men have been partying in since wargaming's origins in the late 19th century. Or, we do something really stupid and lower the hurdles that men have to go over, thinking that helps women. It isn't that we need the path to be easier, it's that we have completely different hurdles to jump over. 

ConTessa addresses the hurdles that women face more often than men, and we do it better because we are women. We've either already jumped those hurdles, or we're in the process of jumping those hurdles, and we're more than happy to share the secrets of our success and the things we've learned through our failures with one another. Support networks are absolutely crucial to any creative environment, and doubly so when facing an environment where you feel so very underrepresented. 

Women come and GM at ConTessa because they feel more comfortable knowing that they're not the only woman there. They then take all of the confidence built up doing that and they funnel it into creating some magnificent things. ConTessa makes the entire community better by giving women what they actually need to succeed instead of just dumbing everything down. 

You said that women in games have a distinctive set of hurdles to jump over-- what are these? Or some of them?

Navigating male culture. I'm not talking about harassment or anything to do with sex, either. Most women are raised to communicate in a passive manner, while most men are raised to communicate in an aggressive manner. That has a lot to do with the fact that girls are raised to be nice, and boys are raised to (or at least given permission to) be aggressive. It's great to talk about and think about an ideological world where both sides come closer to the other, but we have to deal with how people are now in order to get more women playing, running, and creating. 

What that looks like in many gaming groups is one or two super aggressive neckbeard-types talking over, interrupting, making decisions for, mocking, and just plain disrespecting the one or two women at the table who get quieter and quieter, then eventually don't play at all. I don't see this addressed. Ever. Worse, I see men making excuses for their overly-aggressive players, and doing nothing to prevent the women at the table from getting walked all over. This, more than anything else in gaming, is what has to change. 

Experience. Many men my age started playing Dungeons & Dragons when they were children. They were either given it to them by a parent, or they learned of it from a friend. In that era, girls were given dolls, and boys were given war toys. D&D is a war toy. Plus, a lot of us had segregated play when we were young. We played with only other girls, so we didn't hear about this nifty thing called roleplaying games until we got older and started to develop male friends. 

As a result, a lot of women get started in gaming when they're adults or near-adults. That's usually a minimum of a decade worth of experience the guys have that the girls don't, and that's an important distinction. 

Permission to act like a kid. I've always felt weird being around a group of male friends with wives who don't game. They always say things like 'my wife won't let me play', 'thank goodness my wife pulls me away from gaming', 'my wife reminds me to spend time with the kids', etc. The default assumption seems to be: Boys can continue playing with toys well into their adulthood, but girls have to grow up and leave their toys behind so that they can 'mommy' their husbands. 

When I was working in the video game industry, I even encountered situations were women managers either had to act like mommies to their direct reports, or they chose to act like mommies. Many of the women I met who managed men (and there were very few of them as it was) kept toys, candy, and other kid-like things in their offices not for them, but for their men they managed. 

Women need permission to keep their toys throughout adulthood and play with them whenever they want without judgment. What this ends up looking like in our world is a reluctance by women to do anything that involves 'play' lest they be considered immature. 

Risk-taking and bouncing back from failure. As a result of that whole passive vs. aggressive communication style thing, a lot of women are also risk-adverse. Competitive sports, video games, and even roleplaying games given to children at a young age teach them the value of perseverance. That play didn't go as well as intended? Try again! Died fighting the zombies on level 23? Start over! TPK? Roll new characters! 

Zombies of Walmart--Stacy's very own attempt to kill you with zombies on level 23

Girls, on the other hand, are subtly and not-so-subtly told over and over again that we're not competitive, which is really a chicken and egg thing. Liking or disliking competition isn't a personality trait that's ingrained into your being. If girls played more sports and games at a younger age, they might not be quite as adverse to competition, which then translates into having less fear of taking risks, and a greater ability to bounce back from failure. 

You see it in imposter syndrome, women who are terrified of self-promotion, women who are afraid of GMing, women who insist they don't have the talent/skill/etc... to even start making games, and a whole laundry list of things that keep women out of leadership roles whether we're talking the boardroom of a huge corporation or as the GM at a D&D table. 

Here's another thing about that... women are much more likely than men to attribute their successes to outside forces (luck), and their failures to internal forces (I didn't work hard enough). Men are much more likely to attribute their successes to themselves (I'm awesome), and their failures to outside forces (I'm still awesome, there must be something wrong with everyone else). I see this all the time... 

Woman GMs a game that goes south, she blames herself not doing enough prep, knowing the system well enough, or creating a compelling enough story. 

Man GMs a game that goes south, he blames the system, the players, the adventure, the time of year, anything but him. 

There's good reason to believe that even when dudes are totally wrong about where the failure lies, it works as a shield to protect them from having constant drops in confidence when things don't go well, and choosing to try again. 

None of this is going to be changed by showing fewer scantily clad pictures of women in gaming books, adding harassment clauses to conventions, or changing the subject matter of adventures. Rather, all of those things will start to resolve themselves once we take the time to address the actual things preventing more women from getting into - and staying involved with - gaming. 

How have things gone recently?

Really well. I mean, really well. I have three fantastic staff members who have been cranking out some awesome content and coming up with great ideas. We just re-launched the website for the third or fourth time, now (I've lost track), and we've got a great group of staff writers putting out some great posts about gaming, interviews with game developers, and some round tables that have been really fun to write. 

We've got some new events coming up and a lot of momentum to keep putting out new events very nearly monthly. We've been refining the process as we go, so setting up events is becoming less and less about the logistics and more and more about the actual events. After the last annual convention, we decided to get rid of a lot of the extraneous goodies that were taking up too much staff time and taking away from our ability to produce events. Sponsors, door prizes, and contests were eating up all of my time. Now that we've dropped those aspects, my time is freeing up so I can do more events like the random dungeon tournaments I like so much. 

I'm really forward to what we have coming up around the bend. We've learned so much in such a short amount of time, and I feel like we're just beginning to hit our stride. 

What are some examples of events that went really well?

Both of the random dungeon tournaments went phenomenally. My only regret is that I don't really have a link to a page that describes them in detail. That should change with this round of tournaments. The first year saw two teams going head to head in different hangouts, but the same randomly generated dungeon. The second year saw two pick-up teams on one day and two organized teams on the second day. I'm now to the point where I want to have them every few months, starting with the elimination bracket tournament on Valentine's Day. 

Back when Rachel Ventura was still with Frog God Games, she held a panel for our first ConTessa on marketing your RPG that had a rather large viewership and quite a bit of interaction. I was watching it live while I watched the comments came in, and loving every minute of it. 

Lastly, the I Hit it With My Axe reunion panel I ran was probably the most fun of all the panels I've run. And no, that's not kissing ass. That panel was one of the really rare intersections where the people involved actually did a really good job drumming up interest in the panel and gathering a live audience that asked a lot of questions. That also happens to be why Rachel's panel was so successful. 

Come to think of it, maybe we need a post on how to be a good panel participant. 

What's an example of an article that went up that you really like (yes, you have to pick one)?

Ariana's in-depth look into forum roleplaying from her perspective: Typing in Character: All About Play-By-Post. While I've done some freeform roleplaying via MUSHes and MUXes, the Play-By-Post phenomena has largely passed me by. It's great to get a peak into something I don't do (and likely won't start doing anytime soon). That's the biggest benefit of bringing on more writers. 

I know you said one, but there's another one coming up that Sarah wrote about how she preps for Dungeon World games that I also think is great. It's not scheduled for release until 2/10, though, but I think it makes a pretty good example of the kinds of things we're going for. There are many different ways to do all the things we do, and I value being able to see through the eyes of others. 

What kinds of games or ways of playing games has running Contessa introduced you to?

Convention gaming as a whole, and running one-shots. In 20+ years of GMing, I always thought that one-shots served no purpose for me. It was a full-blown campaign or nothing. Plus, running for a group of people I only meet once seemed too intimidating to actually do. It tends to take me a little bit of time to warm up to people. 

Then, I ran a one-shot of Precious Dark for the first ConTessa, for a group of people who I didn't know, in a convention setting (even if just virtual), and followed that up by building one-shot dungeons for the dungeon tournaments. 

Now, I'm sold on one-shots, and have started building all my games to be modular in that fashion. One of the adventures I ran for the last Precious Dark campaign I put together 'Zombies of Walmart', I've now run three times, and I'm thinking about doing it again for Gen Con. It's great fun to see what different ways people approach the exact same adventure... and, well, I added my own touch of uniqueness to each experience by using a shit ton of random tables. 

How can women participate?

Now that we run year-round, we've got several different ways that women can participate: 

  • At larger ConTessa events. We're planning a handful of mini-convention gaming weekends and panel days throughout the year. The exact dates will be communicated on our blog, and at the ConTessa community. You can check our submissions page for the events we're currently taking submissions for. 
  • By writing for the ConTessa blog. We've got about a half dozen women currently writing for the blog. We like interviews, gaming materials we can share, how-to articles, regular columns, and pretty much anything that has to do with gaming. If you'd like to be a staff writer, drop an email to stacy AT contessa.rocks, and I'll get you hooked up. 
  • By running and participating in one-off events. We're just beginning to roll out some one-off events. These might be games, panels, or interviews... they're mainly opportunity events that we pull together whenever someone has a good idea. If you'd like to run one of these events, drop an email to stacy AT contessa.rocks, and we'll talk about getting it done. 
  • By creating your own recurring event / recurring series. For example, I'm currently running a campaign weekly of the game I'm developing, Precious Dark. It ties into a series of blog posts about developing the game as well. Ariana and Sarah are running a series of events where they ask the developer of a game to come and run the game for them, and the ConTessa crew all together is working on a monthly podcast complete with guests. We're up for anything like that. If you've got an idea, and you think it'll encourage more women to create, we want to hear about it! Again, drop an email to stacy AT contessa.rocks.
We just moved into our new website, and we're just getting rolling with events this year. As we get going throughout the year, we'll be adding more to what we have to offer and how best to get involved.  

How can everyone else participate?

Signing up for events involves going to the event in Google+ and leaving a comment. GM's then confirm their groups before the big day, and keep track of who might be an alternate. We're listing all of our events on our events page at the ConTessa website, where you can find a link to the corresponding sign-up event on Google+. If you want the news of new events as we set them up, follow the ConTessa Page and/or join the ConTessa community. It also doesn't hurt to follow myself, Sarah RichardsonAriana Ramos, and Solange Simondsen. The four of us make up the staff that runs ConTessa, so we share events and talk about ConTessa frequently. 

Are there any upcoming events?

Yes! Here's what we have coming up virtually: 

  • Wednesday nights at 6PM Pacific, I'm running Precious Dark live, on air, as I develop the game. I'm joined by a group of women who are eagerly jumping into the campaign. Their first adventure has so far involved befriending a group of psychedelic snails. I'll be recording the sessions live, then blogging the session notes and my development notes. 
  • On Sunday, January 25th at around 12PM Pacific, some of our staff will be playing Liz C's new game, WITCH in a ConTessa exhibition game. (Zak's note: sorry, this already happened before I could get the interview up--maybe Liz C has another event coming though?)
  • On Saturday, February 14th, I'll be pulling out the random dungeon tournament for the third time. This time, I'm shooting for 20 players so we can run a 4-team elimination round, break for dinner, then come back and run the winners of the first events through one more dungeon for a championship. 
  • Saturday February 21st, and Sunday February 22nd will be our first Game Weekend. We're currently accepting submissions from any women who want to run events on that weekend at the ConTessa website. This will be similar to the annual conventions, but instead of running both games and panels, we'll just be running games. 
  • Then, on March 14th, we'll be having a Panel Saturday. We'll do our level best to shove as many panels into one day as we possibly can. The same submission form above can also be used for panel day as well. 
We've got a pretty aggressive schedule lined up already, and we've barely gotten started. We're also spreading out to face-to-face conventions, starting with Gen Con. We've submitted one event already, we're getting our ducks in a row for the second, and we're planning on throwing a party. 

At Gen Con, we hope to do the following: 

  • A panel on creating and running virtual gaming events. I've asked Gen Con if we can get an internet connection, and we're renting a projector. If all goes well, I'm going to put up a hangout while we're at the panel for a live demonstration, and so that people not there can join us. Hopefully, it'll all come through! 
  • A ConTessa game night. We're pulling together GMs who want to run games with ConTessa. For this first time, we're planning on one four-hour block where a number of ConTessa GMs all run their different games in the same basic area. 
  • An Meetup. A group of us are renting a house in Indy for Gen Con large enough that it can handle social events. So, we're going to have a ConTessa meetup away from the noise of the convention. Depending on how many people we have, it may just end up being an informal game night. 
I can probably only afford the time and money to do Gen Con and possibly some local SoCal conventions. We're hoping that as we go, we'll be able to find women in other parts of the country who want to run ConTessa events at other face-to-face conventions.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Want More Women In Gaming? Make Better Shit.

"No school due to ice today. My six year old daughter spotted Red and Pleasant Land on the table and was drawn in by the blonde girl in a pretty dress and also the possibility that that might be blood dripping down in the background. 

I don't usually share my gaming books with her because of all the murder and horror. But I spent a short while this morning telling her all about R&PL. She loves vampires and Alice in Wonderland, she was very happy to see all the girls in interesting dresses through out,

...although equally interested in the green pigs....

....I realized just how perfect this book is for her. the contents are what she is all about. It all makes sense to her, crazy gravity, inside out rooms, lakes of blood on the ceiling. Best of all it inspires her. Which is what a good DIY D&D book should do. So we spent awhile this morning drawing vampires. 

Her vampires are a mother and two daughters, although the one with the ears is secretly a gremlin. They had to move out of the small castle (which is far away) and move into the large castle (which is close up) because "That place got all jacked up by gremlins". The squiggly lines are roads and or roller coasters that move people around and it doesn't matter if the vampires fall off the roller coasters because they can fly.

I'm going to tell her about the Vampire Brides who can change into kittens when she gets home."
See, ladies love quality.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Demon Prison of MadLibMount

So on Monday I wrote about how--since Dwimmermount is released on an Open Game License--you can make your own dungeon by MadLibbing it using content from your own campaign.

I used level 1 as a proof-of-concept. Today, instead of plodding ahead to level 2, I skipped ahead to level 8 which is the second to lowest level--because the actual lowest level has a lot of empty space to be filled in by the GM. 'Cause I figured variety is cool, y'know?

Directions for how to use the Search-and-Replace function on your word processor to instantly make a MadLib dungeon are here. Ready? Go:

(Device big enough to climb into)
Click to enlarge

MadLibMount Level 8

Wandering Monsters for this Level

1 (WeirdConstruct)
2 d2 (StrangeKindOfWizard)
3 (SeriouslyScaryGreaterDemon)
4 (DifferentKindOfBadassDemon)
5 (MostEpicKindOfMajorDemon)
6 (GrossConstruct)
7 d8 (ScaryMindlessUndead)
8 (SummonedFireCreature) 
9 d4 (DecayingUndead) 
10 4+d4 (RelictArchitectFaction) cultists
11 (GoopyMonster)
12 (CrazyDangerousAnimalIntelligenceCarnivorousMonster)

1. Fuck all.

2. (AutomatedConstruct) attacks anyone without (EmblemOfRankInChurchOfLocalDeity)

3. (MessageDeliveringDevice) says to place (ValuableItemOrBodyPart) into a niche.
-If someone performs the action and makes a save vs device, a (EmblemOfRankInChurchOfLocalDeity) appears
-If they fail a (StigmatisingMark) is placed on the (ValuableItemOrBodyPart) and also d4 (AutomatedConstruct)s come from Rms 8 and 9 and attack.
_If--after 2 minutes--no-one places their (ValuableItemOrBodyPart) into the niche, d4 (AutomatedConstruct)s come from Rms 8 and 9 and attack.

4. If the (MeansOfAccessingThisArea) has been available for more than a day: 8 guards from (RelictArchitectFaction)
If it has not, the rooms contains (Demon'sName) a (KindOfBadassMajorDemon).

5.(EsotericName) a (StrangeKindOfWizard) is here and, if (Demon'sName) isn't in Rm 4, (Demon'sName) is here, too.
(EsotericName) is trying to deactivate the (MethodOfPreventingEntryToARoom) that cuts off access to Rm 41from this room and Rm 27 and will try to cajole the party into helping. (EsotericName) has (ThreeBadassMagicItems) and two (MinorMagicItems). If (EsotericName) must flee, it will be to Rm 7 or, if that fails, to Rm 6.

6.  Preserved but violently mutilated (CommonIntelligentLifeform) corpses--failed (ScaryMindlessUndead) from
Rm 24. If you ingest the substance coating them you have to save or become (ScaryMindlessUndead).

7. (DifferentKindOfBadassDemon) placed here as a guard by (EsotericName). Will attack any mortal on site and do little to protect (EsotericName) if they appear here.

8. and 9. Each contains 4 (AutomatedConstruct)s that attack anyone with (StigmatisingMark).

10. Locked--can be opened with (EmblemOfRankInChurchOfLocalDeity). Contains bones of the dead.

11. Storage. Contains (ACoolMagicItem) however it's cursed so if it is used by any but (IntelligentHumanoidSpecies) it will have a 50% chance of backfiring and hurting the user.

12. Damaged (Artwork) representing actions characteristic of (Alignment) any cleric of (Alignment) praying here for 10 minutes will have their spells refreshed.

13a-13b Cell off of 13a can only be opened with (EmblemOfRankInChurchOfLocalDeity). Otherwise touching them results in 8d6 (SomeKindOfEnergy) damage--save for half. Inside there is (AwesomeMagicWeapon) belonging to the (KindOfWarrior) in Rm 49.

14 Area at 14a controls cell at 14b. If two (EmblemOfRankInChurchOfLocalDeity)s are used here, a (MessageDeliveringDevice) will ask if 14b should be unlocked. Answering 'yes' will release a (CrazyDangerousAnimalIntelligenceCarnivorousMonster) from suspended animation in 14b which will try to eat whatever it finds. Closing 14b also requires two (EmblemOfRankInChurchOfLocalDeity)s--whatever is locked inside will be placed in suspended animation.

15. Two (AutomatedConstruct)s attack anyone without (EmblemOfRankInChurchOfLocalDeity).

16. Door to this room is visible and usable by creatures of (Alignment), invisible and impassable to those of (OtherAlignment), and visible but impassable to those of (ThirdAlignment). Contains fallen hero with 3270 gp and (ThreeGoodMagicItems).

17. Shrine to (LawDeity) and (WiseDeity), their statue (BodyPart)s are here. 30% chance of containing d8 (ScaryMindlessUndead).

18. A (KindOfFurniture)--using it prevents the user from (PerformingOrdinaryButNonSurvivalEssentialActivity) for 3o mins.

19. Contains 600gp, (EmblemOfRankInChurchOfLocalDeity) and (DeviceThatProtectsYouAndServesAsABadgeOfOffice). If (MeansOfAccessingThisArea) has been available for more than a day there are three members of (RelictArchitectFaction), one of whom is a wizard.

20. Four (AutomatedConstruct)s attack anyone with (StigmatisingMark). Any (AutomatedConstruct)s summoned by alarms trig- gered on the southern half of the level will be drawn from this room and/or from Rm 28.

21. Mostly empty. Clear liquid marked "In case of emergency" in (RelictArchitectFaction) language. Contains (KindOfIngestivePoison).

22. (AmbientDisturbingEffect) save or be disoriented. 4 (ScaryMindlessUndead).

23. Door to RM 24 is locked from the inside. Sign reads, in (RelictArchitectFaction) language "In case of emergency, activate (ArchitecturalFeature) . Out in the hall, there are 4 nooks, instructing the reader to perform the same action as in Rm 3.
1: If the user is a cleric of (LawDeity) or (WiseDeity), the northwest (ArchitecturalFeature) reveals a (SweetMagicWeaponForClerics). Otherwise, the (MessageDeliveringDevice) says “Intruders! Intruders!” to summon 1d4  (AutomatedConstruct)s (Room 28) to slay them.
2: If the user is (alignment), the southwest  (ArchitecturalFeature) reveals a (SweetMagicWeapon). Otherwise as 1
3: If the user is a cleric of (LawDeity) or (WiseDeity), the northeast (ArchitecturalFeature) reveals a (MagicItemForClerics) otherwise as 1
4: If the user is (alignment), the southeast (ArchitecturalFeature) reveals a (VeryCoolMagicWeapon). Otherwise as 1.

Make  wandering monster check each time a(n) (ArchitecturalFeature) is activated. It's loud. 

24. Any failed attempt to unlock or force open the doors alerts the room’s occupants. Prison containing (DemonPrince)--who is fucked up from being imprisoned. There are six (RelictArchitectFaction) hooked up to the prison being transformed into (ScaryMindlessUndead) in d6 rounds unless cure disease or neutralize poison is used.
(StrangeKindOfWizard) inside holds the keys to the doors and oversees this process, protected by 4 (ScaryMindlessUndead). The (StrangeKindOfWizard) has (TwoNeatMagicItemsOneOffensiveOneDefensive).

(StrangeKindOfWizard) will flee to Rm 26 if things go poorly and will immediately flee if (DemonPrince)'s prison is shattered. It will shatter if successfully struck (v. AC 0/20) with a deliberate attack from an enchanted weapon that deals at least 5 points of damage, or if the tube sustains 25 or more points of damage from being in the area of effect of spells.

If the holding tube is shattered, (DemonPrince) will begin to return to its former state, gaining 10 hit points per round until it reaches 100 and has full powers and intelligence, fucking everyone up.

25. 13625 gp worth of treasure.

26. 6 (ScaryMindlessUndead). Complicated barrier to next level down having to do with what happens in Rm 40 level 6B.

27. Area controls (AutomatedConstruct)s. Anyone with (EmblemOfRankInChurchOfLocalDeity) and (ItemFunctioningLikeAKey) can change the (AutomatedConstruct)s with a successful Int check at -4.   Each successful check allows a user to command them to attack a specific type of target or stop targeting a specific type of target as the user wishes—but not both. 
A (StrangeKindOfWizard) is here along with 2 (AutomatedConstruct)s. If the (MeansOfAccessingThisArea) has been available for more than a day there will be 4 (RelictArchitectFaction) guards, if it has not, the rooms contains the (MostEpicKindOfMajorDemon) from Rm 34.

28. Four (AutomatedConstruct)s attack anyone with (StigmatisingMark). Any (AutomatedConstruct)s summoned by alarms trig- gered on the southern half of the level will be drawn from this room and/or from Rm 20.

29. The hatch to this room is locked and barred from the outside. If a character presses themself (or is pressed) into one of the niches, they must immediately make a saving throw or become (alignment). The alignment shift is a zealous one, meaning that anyone who uses a pillar will no longer associate or cooperate with anyone of a very different alignment. The effect can be reversed through the use of remove curse or similar spells.

30. The hatch to this room is locked. Inside one of desk drawers is a(n) (EmblemOfRankInChurchOfLocalDeity). Books worth 5000gp.

31. Pieces to make (PrettyGoodArmor) and two (PrettyGoodMissileWeapons).

32. Angry (GreaterDemonOfSomeSort). Scent of burnt wood coming from Rm 33.

33. Brazier burning incense which causes (NegativeEffect) if a (SpellcastingClass) tries to regain spells within. 4 more blocks of incense.

34.  (MostEpicKindOfMajorDemon) 

35. Remains of dead creature wearing (CursedItem)

36. Scorch marks leading toward Rm 37.

37. (SummonedFireCreature) bound to remain within 100 feet of (HeavyButMundaneObjectHere) unless that object is destroyed.

38. Fuck all.

39. Mural of individuals suffering (MagicalPunishment) anyone observing the windowlike structure on the far wall must save or suffer that punishment.

40. Wreckage-fixable using tools from next level down.. (ItemFunctioningLikeAKey).

41. Barrier to entry has 3 states:
A-Impassable. It starts this way.
B-Anyone may enter, but only (Alignment) characters may leave. Achievable using mechanisms in Level 6b, Rm 40.
C-Passable to all. The bad guys on this level are trying to do this.

41a. Roll:
1-6 (LocalDeity) in (ArtificialBattleConstruct)
7-24 (StrangeKindOfWizard) with (FemaleName)
25-42 (StrangeKindOfWizard) with (MaleName)
43-60 (StrangeKindOfWizard) with (NameOfIndeterminateGender)
61-00 Empty

42.  (StrangeKindOfWizard) with (FemaleName) 25% here if not encountered in 41a, 33% Rm 45, 32% Rm 49, would die before allowing harm to come to (LocalDeity).

43. (StrangeKindOfWizard) with (MaleName) 25% here if not encountered in 41a, 75% Rm 45. Despairs of ever escaping open to possibility of mutiny against (LocalDeity).

44. (StrangeKindOfWizard) with (NameOfIndeterminateGender) 25% here if not encountered in 41a, 75% Rm 45.  Would sacrifice (LocalDeity) if it meant they could escape this prison.

45. (LocalDeity) if not encountered in 41a, 30% of being here, otherwise Rm 51. If here, (LocalDeity) will not be alone.  Whenever outside this cell, (LocalDeity) wears a (ArtificialBattleConstruct). Within his quarters, however, it is just a head.

46. Door to here is locked, (LocalDeity) has key. Bones of martyr. If an (alignment) worshipper of (LawDeity) carries a bone fragment it grants a (KindOfBoon) vs opponents of distant alignment.

47. Fuck all.

48. Circle on floor--any being not native to this plane who passes over its edge will become imprisoned and powerless until the circle is broken by someone not bound by it.

49. Locked; the key is kept by (FemaleName). An heroic (KindOfWarrior) is kept here and periodically tortured with (ExoticTortureDevice). If freed, the (KindOfWarrior) will ask for a weapon and help the party.

50. Stasis-(Device big enough to climb into).

51. Locked (the key is kept at all times by (LocalDeity). Circle on floor--any being not native to this plane who passes over its edge will become imprisoned and powerless until the circle is broken by someone not bound by it. Inside the circle is (AngelicCreature) trapped and opposed to (LocalDeity) who'll help anyone who isn't (ThirdAlignment).

Monday, January 12, 2015

MadLibMount--You Now Own A Megadungeon

"By an agreement negotiated between James and Autarch, we are proud to release the entirety of Dwimmermount as open game content under the terms of the OGL, a great contribution to the OSR effort that was suggested by cartographer Robert S. Conley."
-Dwimmermount, p. 17

Once upon a time there was a blog called Grognardia. Everybody in the Old School D&D Renaissance read it. (Some of them complained about it and read it, but whatever--it was free.)

Grognardia was really important--it was the go-to place for reviews of cool new DIY D&D products and retrospectives on old ones, introduced tons of people to great D&Dish authors like Jack Vance, and was occasionally wonderfully insightful.

So when Grognardia author James Maliszewski announced he would be crowdfunding the publication of his homemade megadungeon (did he coin that term?) Dwimmermount a gajillion people were eager to hand over tens of thousands of dollars.

To make a long (and much argued about) story short, although most of the levels were sketched out, James had a personal crises midway thru and stopped blogging and Dwimmermount got all messed up and the guys at his publisher had to finish up the project.

Anyway, it is out. And it is big and it is a dungeon and, as it says above, cartographer Rob Conley made sure there was one very special thing about it: it is the only colossal dungeon released on the Open Game License.

What this means in practical terms is anybody can make their own version of Dwimmermount.  The blog that brought so much of the Old School D&D scene together has, after a lot of bad blood, spawned a dungeon which we can all share. Dwimmermount is all ours now.

Which is fucking awesome because it allows us to take it and do stuff like this...


MadLibMount is a project which transforms the huge ruined pile that is Dwimmermount into a search-and-replace dungeon. Basically allowing you to re-skin the dungeon to fit your own campaign in just a few minutes.


Step 1
Cut the entire text below the map and paste it into a word processor--without reading it first!

Step 2
Use the Find-Replace function on your word processor to replace each of the descriptive terms below in parenthesis with one that fits your setting in the text throughout the entire document. So, like if you were running an Egyptian setting you could replace (MainVillain) with "MummyLich" or ~(InterestingSubstance) with "blood from the sun".

Step 3
Pick or make a map--the maps in Dwimmermount are open-game content but you can use the map I made (which is totally different but has the same number of rooms and the important connections are in the same areas), or you can draw your own 68-room map (with rooms anywhere). I have marked rooms which need to be connected in order for the dungeon to make sense in bold below

Step 4
Enlarge the map and read your new dungeon. Report any bugs here. Add in any stuff you like (the Uncommon Perplexities table in Red & Pleasant Land is good for making things weird fast). Note that since only level 1is shown here, obviously references to other levels lead off the map to stuff I haven't done yet.

Step 5
Pick an entrance and run it.

Step 6
Repeat and alter method as needed.

(wandering monster check)
(he rules those creatures)
(Or make up another effect)
Click to enlarge--you can use this map, it's part of the
Dwimmermount Open Game License

An alternate map--Click To Enlarge

MadLibMount Level 1 

Wandering Monsters

1. 4d4 (WimpyHumanoidFaction)s
2. 2d4 (EvilHumanoidFaction)s
3. 3d6 (SacredConstruct)s
4. 3d6 (GiantVerminMonster)s
5. 2d4 (GiantVerminMonster2)s
6. d4 (AnimalIntMonster)s
7. (StealthyMonster)
8. d8  (HungryAnimalIntMonsters)s
9.  d6 (GoodHumanoidFaction)s
10. 4+d4 member NPC party
11. (OozyMonster)
12. Roll twice, with 2nd result coming to investigate d4 turns after 1st result


1. (KindOfSculpture) , (BodyParts)s are not original. Replacing (BodyParts) w/(BodyParts) in dungeon grants boon appropriate to deity.

2. Fuck all.

3. 6 (EvilHumanoidFaction)s, w/leader. Scouting area, from Level 2A.

4. Dusty. Save or sneeze/cough for d4 rounds. Wandering monster check for every sneeze.

5. 5 (SymbolsOfAuthority) on wall. One on floor. Save or die (-2) gas-trap behind ones on wall. (SymbolsOfAuthority) give a bonus to reaction roll from creatures traditionally subservient to (RelictArchitectFaction).

6. 2 (GoodHumanoidFaction)s turned to (InertSubstance). Weapons usable if bodies smashed. 3 dead allies of theirs in Rm 16, 1 survivor in Rm 68, 2 survivors in Level 2a, Rm 22

7. Door locked, pickable or key in Rm 25. 8500gp of treasure, treasure map worth 16000gp. 3 magic random items. (NastyGreedyUndead)

8. Chapel to (LocalDeity) 3 (SacredConstruct)s attack anyone not bearing symbols of (LocalDeity). Secret door to 9 behind altar.

9. Approx 700gp worth of treasure. Head of (LuckyDeity) usable in Rm 1. (HorriblyCursedMagicItem).

10. Fuck all.

11. (KindOfSculpture) (WarDeity), head is (LocalDeity)

12. 70gp scattered around.

13. Fuck all.

14. Murmurs in ancient language of (RelictArchitectFaction), bones of same. Burying bones outside dungeon results in (Blessing) of (WarDeity).

15. Stairs down to level 2B Rm 1.

Six (MundaneItems) in (ExoticMaterial) touching them releases memories of this place:

1st: Battle between (RelictArchitectFaction) and evil creatures controlled by (EvilOutsiderSpecies)
2nd: Fighting in the dungeon between (RelictArchitectFaction) and chaotic defenders
3rd: A visit from (RelictArchitectFaction) emperor.
4th: Wizards being interrogated by soldiers.
5th: Wizards commanding soldierd.
6th: Soldiers around an (OrdinaryMetal) head of (LocalDeity)

16. 3 (GoodHumanoidFaction)s turned to (InertSubstance). Weapons, mundane adventuring equipment. Wineskin is printing cylinder--if inked and rolled reveals map of this level, worth 880gp. All the  (GoodHumanoidFaction)s listed in Rm 6 know how this cylinder works.

17. 10 switches. 1-9 activate (MinorLocalConstructs) and seal door to room. 10th deactivates all switches.

18. Fuck all.

19. Library. Useful texts:
-Text on subject specialized in by (CharacterClass). Member of (CharacterClass) reading it gains 500gp.
-Map to birthplace of (LocalDeity) worth 500gp to a sage.
-Partial wizard scroll: 50% of (ProtectionSpell) 50% of erasing lowest level spell of user.
-A book about (TechnicalSubject)

20. Storeroom. Lair of 11 (WimpyHumanoidFaction), sent to patrol by (MinorDemonBoss). Approx 1gp treasure total.

21. 3 small machines. Messing with them triggers d4 rounds of noise (wandering monster check) and gust of scalding steam d10hp save for half.

22. Eastern 2/3rds of room is (ActivatableTrap). Defends room 23.

23. 10 (WimpyHumanoidFaction)s possess means of activating trap in Rm 22. Approx 2gp treasure.

24. Many (InconspicuousRoomFeature)s one is hollow, containing 110gp.

25. 3 Murals of (RelictArchitectFaction). Carefully examining one reveals key to Rm 7.

26. Dead victims of (AnimalIntMonster).

27. 3 (AnimalIntMonster)s.

28. Concealed shaft on ceiling up to surface. Pool of (MagicLiquid). If drunk, save vs spell. Failure=no effect and can't be affected by pool for # of days proportional to degree of failure. Success=effect that lasts for # of days proportional to degree of success.
Effects (d10)
1-4 (PrettyBadCurse), (PrettyGoodBoon)
5-7 (Curse), (Boon)
8-10 (MinorBoon)
11-15 (ReverseOfCurse), (ReverseOfBoon)
15-20 (ReverseOfPrettyBadCurse), (ReverseOfPrettyGoodBoon)

29. 3 (AlarmMonster)s

30. Stairs up to surface. Fresh adventurers corpses--gear, weapons, lantern.

31. Freshly gnawed bones.

32. Ambush--10 (WimpyHumanoidFaction)s. Less than 1gp total. They will retreat to RM 33 and then 34.

33. Storage used by (WimpyHumanoidFaction)s containing 5 barrels of (UsefulMundaneLiquid) and 2 barrels of (UsefulMundaneSubstance)

34. 27 statues of (GoodHumanoidFaction)s. An insane (GoodHumanoidFaction) named (NameOfADerangedMemberOfGoodHumanoidFaction) in Rm 40 has been animating them into  (WimpyHumanoidFaction)s . 8 (WimpyHumanoidFaction)s w/ less than 2gp treasure.

35. Search reveals alcove in which is hidden reliquary containing (MinorHolyRelic).

36. Shrine to (LuckyDeity). 82gp in hands. Adding coins grants donor blessing of (LuckyDeity) for 24 hrs. Only may be received once. Take coins: rocks fall 2d6 damage, save for half. Resets. (WimpyHumanoidFaction)s avoids this room.

37. Spring of (ScaryMagicLiquid) . One gallon. If you travel down the tube to the source, there's a chart which I haven't got here yet.

38. 16 (WimpyHumanoidFaction)s, zealously guarding area leading to 41 and (MinorDemonBoss) about 2gp between them. They have flaming oil.

39. Between Rms 38 and 41. 4  Negligible treasure. (AnimalIntMonster)s which attack anything that isn't a (WimpyHumanoidFaction).

40. (NameOfADerangedMemberOfGoodHumanoidFaction), a deranged  (GoodHumanoidFaction), protected by 6 (WimpyHumanoidFaction)s (he rules those creatures) and a pet (AnimalIntMonster). (NameOfADerangedMemberOfGoodHumanoidFaction) has 60gp and (MinorDefensiveMagicItem) (MinorOffensiveMagicItem).

41. (MinorDemonBoss)--will attempt to seduce PCs with promises of power. 110gp and (Shape)-shaped, runecarved item that operates the elevator in Rm 56. Can only be entered from Rm 39.

42. Fuck all.

43. Crates. One contains (MinorDefensiveMagicItem2)

44. Door toward stairs down to level 2 (Rm 45)  is locked and trapped. With (NonMagicTrap).

45. Stairs down to Level 2A Rm 1. (FungoidMonster).

46. 9 (GiantVerminMonster), 1050gp worth of treasure 2000 of which is in copper coins. Lawyer tears.

47. Mosaics depicting area outside dungeon. 6 (EvilHumanoidFaction)s  2375gp.

48. Fuck all.

49. Clean, untouched-looking room. Detects as magic.  Time does not pass here. (Or make up another effect).

50. Secret doors from Rms 52 & 48 lead here. Illusion of (IntimidatingMonster) fights as 4hd creature until hit (AC 9).

51. Can only be entered from  50. 450gp of treasure, (UsefulMagicItem).

52. Fuck all.

53. 7 (HungryAnimalIntMonsters)

54. Crack. 6 bubbles of (ScaryMagicLiquid) . Do d6 damage to anyone coming w/in 5 ft and failing a dex check. Each exploding bubbles has a 2 in 6 chance of setting off another bubble.

55. Access to rat-sized water pipes.

56. Contains an elevator. Symbol matches (Shape) from Rm 41. Leads to Level 4  Rm 13 and Level 0 Rm 1. Elevator doors can be opened with the(Shape) or by force. Only using the (Shape) and restoring power in Lvl 4 Rm 14 or Lvl 6b RM 40 allows you to operate the elevator but there's a 250 ft shaft full of slime you could climb thru.

57. 6 (GiantVerminMonster2)s

58. Access to rat-sized pipes.

59. Voices debating (TechnicalSubject) . Placing a book about it on table makes voices disappear and grants boon of (CleverDeity).

60. Fuck all.

61. (SpookyObject) carved with runes decipherable to those who learned the language in Lvl 5 Rm 19. Touching it causes (BalefulEffect) to a creature for d6 turns. Roll wandering monster check every turn PCs are here.

62. Fuck all.

63. 6 (EvilHumanoidFaction)s. 1000gp. Door here to Rm 65 is locked.

64. Metal face of (AnyCreatureWithAMouth) emits unintelligible sounds. Lubricating it will make it say, in the language of (RelictArchitectFaction) : “Ask a question, if you have one. I’ll answer truth- fully, but then you’re done.” It answers one question per day in the language of (RelictArchitectFaction) . Only knows that language, only knows out of date info about this dungeon.

65. (MinorUsefulMundaneItem)

66. Secret door to Rm 68.

67. 7 (EvilHumanoidFaction)s.

68. 4 (EvilHumanoidFaction)s performing (AHostileAct)ing on a (GoodHumanoidFaction)--an ally of the (GoodHumanoidFaction)s in Rm 6 and elsewhere on this level. The (GoodHumanoidFaction) will pay 500gp if rescued and brought back to his/her nearby home. Secret door to Rm 66.

The words “Autarch” and “Dwimmermount” are product identity in accordance with section 1(e) of the Open Game License version 1.0a and are trademarks of Autarch LLC and Dwimmermount is a trademark of James Maliszewski