Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Session's Worth

So, what's "a session's worth" of stuff?

Now, we all know that one trip to the shield-polisher with the funny accent could end up as a session's worth, and, hey, if so, excellent. But assuming--as I do when writing and adventure--that the PCs are just gonna burn through every obstacle and smell no roses, how much do you need just to get through a day?

I pretty much do things a day at a time--throw enough down to keep the girls busy for a night, probably leaving some danglers, repeat the next week. So I'm often wondering: what's the minimum I can do today and still have D&D in every direction and no improvising. (Not that mind improvising, but I like scheming more.)

I threw together a dungeon (all crawl, no NPCs) a few weeks ago on an hour-and-a-half notice that, barring any outbreaks of outside-the-box genius, would have to break down to something like: 1 minor mystery room, 1 or 2 simple, shortish fights (party split two ways and did both of them), 1 major mystery room, 2 fights of varying degrees of complexity, one with tricks thrown in. I don't remember the layout and it's too hot in LA today to get up and look but I'm guessing it was 12-15 rooms.

So--assumign you want to plan everything ahead, and if you figure you might get an all rock no talk day, how much do you figure is a session's worth of material?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Some Random Odds & Ends

-Austin Osman Spare: One of my Cthulhu players clued me in about this guy. A real-life CoC character. Artist. Wrote grimoires. Pictures drove people insane. Beloved by notorious dictator.

-When Keith was in town we went to Aero Hobbies and he picked up some hit-location dice. I kinda wish I had, too. I love random die charts, but I like dumb gimmicks, too. Especially dumb gimmicks which replace having to find one more random chart.

-Then I thought: they have games with decks of custom cards and the whole game is in the cards. Someone should make a game with custom dice where the whole game is in the dice. No numbers, just story-parts. People I don't know or like would love it.

-That idea TM me, today.

-Mandy's on an epic medieval Chinese movie kick right now. In "The Emperor and the Assassin" a handful of guys roll a big (6-9 foot diameter, I'd say) iron ball up to a door and use the ball to knock it down. Does anybody out there know if this thoroughly rad and seemingly terribly impractical form of battering ram was ever used historically?


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

" that when all our kids are born Venusians we will understand them"

If I told you that this article where William Burroughs writes about Led Zeppelin and talks to Jimmy Page contains--to my mind--a great deal of RPGable material including a detailed discussion of sonic death rays would you care or would you just be like "Holy fuck! William Burroughs writing about Led Zeppelin and talking to Jimmy Page!"

Either way, you really should stop reading this and go read that.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Please Do Let Me Know If This Ever Comes In Handy...

Random Contemporary Object--roll D20*:

1-Hertz Rent-a-Car receipt.
2-Homemade post-apocalyptic car model.
3-Right leg of translucent orange Gamera toy.
4-Cookie tin full of cash, keys, cell phone, change, etc.
5-Fuzzy pink headphones with embroidered skulls
6-2 triple A batteries--Duracell
7-ipod in pink case
8-Empty Netflix envelope.
9-2 jelly jars.
10-12 mugs, 1 white, 11 black
11-Blue glass
12-Unidentified cosmetic in tube.
13-2 bottles of nail polish--1 gold, 1 white
14-Brand X newspaper
15-jar containing change and various pens
16-Top of apricot container
17-1/2 empty Dr Pepper bottle
18-4 jars of paint--blue blue red yellow
19-Digital camera, Canon
20-Empty box of raisins

*Based on extensive research made by sitting here and looking at my coffee table.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I Don't Know How YOU Do Interviews But...

...Keith Baker's sleeping on our couch tonight, so if you've got anything you're dying to know about Eberron or whatever, lemme know and I'll try to subtly work it into the conversation.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Your RPG Museum

So Alexis has been talking about putting together a sort of database/museum/wiki/library of the best DIY D&D stuff--both in terms of rules and setting materials.

Not all the stuff, just the best stuff. So I'm wondering what such a resource would consist of.

My very simple request for today for y'all is:

"Give me a link to at least one on-line DIY RPG resources you have found to be useful in creating a game."

This should be, if possible, something that you actually used.

You are NOT allowed to link to any commercial product, to a novel, to any .pdf longer than 3 pages, or to anything I--or anyone else reading the comments--can't immediately read from the comfort of his or her home computer right now. You also can't link to anything you yourself wrote or to anything on this blog (though that's sweet and thanks if you were planning to), since I already know about everything on this blog.

This list helped me write up a random book table--which, yeah, I use, since snakes are books, and also I liked the throwaway rule about how owning a book on a subject helps with knowledge checks on that subject.

Noisms 25 word description of his Yoon-Suin setting: Tibet, yak ghosts, ogre magi, mangroves, Nepal, Arabian Nights, Sorcery!, Bengal, invertebrates, topaz, squid men, slug people, opiates, slavery, human sacrifice, dark gods, malaise, magic.

Always seems to me a marvel of precision and concision, and has helped me think about what different places in my campaign should be like.

Oh, and P.S...
it's Wednesday...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The 4 Horsemen Need Not All Ride In The Same Direction

Testing the hypothesis, Day 3...

Mandy and I are reading "Plague Peoples" by William H. McNeill.

Now any fantasy setting worth its salt has a Plague Lord or Pestilent Armies or whatever, but--to me at least--these have always seemed like moody, creepy, fun, but basically one-note villains. What desireth the Plague Lord? For people to have a disease and then be dead. Sweep across the land, infect, etc. The PCs job is mostly just to stop them from doing that while trying not to catch whatever whimsical ailments the DM has rigged up to fill out the Random Failed Constitution Roll Chart.

McNeill's thesis, however, makes me reconsider. He points out that the long-term survival of a disease depends not on killing every motherfucker but rather reaching a sort of equilibrium with the population of host organisms.

In other words: to a disease, humanity is not prey, but cattle, and you don't eat all your cattle at once, lest it fail to breed.

Seen this way, a Plague Lord or an evil cleric of the Plague Powers or Father Nurgle or a sentient disease or whoever has a rather interesting combination of motivations. For example, a pro-disease villain would desire the formation and maintenance of cities. Diseases love cities, especially medieval ones. So your plaguey villain might be just as interested in protecting the heroes' home as laying waste to their countryside (at least for a season or two).

To see the other Machiavellian possibilities here, imagine the four classic Warhammer Chaos Powers: Nurgle--the plague god forms easy alliances with Khorne, the war god, because invasions spread infection--however when war threatens to annihilate a whole city, Nurgle betrays Khorne. Likewise, Nurgle would ordinarily be inclined to look very kindly on Slaanesh--lord of depravity--however, if this depravity starts resulting in a miscegenated gene pool with disease-resistant hybrid vigor, then doublecrosses await. And, ordinarily, Warhammer suggests Nurgle opposes Tzeetch, god of intrigue, magic, and change--but they might temporarily team up to encourage some mass migration or displacement of people whereby all those virgin unimmunized bloodlines are exposed to alien pathogens.

And the disease god loves civilizations--chains of communicating cities--but will balk when these civilizations start producing minds that conceive of sanitary and medical advances--Nurgle backstabbed after collaborating with Thoth.

Point is, your Lord of Illness, via his or her earthbound evil-cleric and cult-leader representatives, can be a schemer at the highest and subtlest level. And the role-playing and deal-cutting and what-would-this-NPC-do calculations are pretty easy to figure once you start thinking: Ok, which result here would result in the most stable conditions for the spread of disease. A mysterious hooded figure agrees to fund our artifact-hunting expedition to the Jungle of Blue Leopards? Excellent!


More ideas came earlier in the day when a pal called up about maybe playing Paranoia. Thinking about it, I figured: I can fit this into the TMNT game. I came up with...

Alpha Complexe Soixante-- it used to be Montreal. Now it's like the Godard movie Alphaville + Alpha Complex from Paranoia. Everyone is sentimental, speaks French, and is trying to kill everyone else for reasons no-one can quite understand. Mass executions look like pieces of weird performance art. People smoke in noiry stairwells and commit suicide.

I also figure, in a D&D context, the same mix of ennui and inexplicable, enigmatic internecine warfare could easily be a hallmark of goings-on in Vornheim's neurotic sister city, Bellet Osc.

Then I took a short Google Image Search holiday and found out about Guild Wars designer Daniel Dociu...
I figure the cathedral at Vornheim looks kinda like this.
Sweet jesus this is awesome. This is either what Japan looks like in my D&D or in my post-apoc TMNT setting--depending on which campaign goes east first.

Then I figured, what the hell, might as well collect a few more pictures...
Interzone-Marioworld 1,001-1. Pointed arches, addictive mushrooms, sentient turtles with typewriters embedded in their shells issuing obscure orders to agents of nameless sects. Hallucinations, moths, junkies, dream viruses. All attempts to pursue the elusive Princess Scheherezade Peach result in endless recursive adventures for she is always in another castle.

Red Meridian. I found The Road a disappointment so Red Meridian is what I was hoping a post-apocalypse imagined by the guy who wrote Blood Meridian would look like. I think it's in Eastern Europe.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Omnipresent Inspiration Hypothesis, Day 2

Still testing the hypothesis...

Off the shelf...

"The Penguin Book of Curious And Interesting Mathematics" By David Wells.

Looking looking, ok...there's a story in here about Charles Babbage and a pal almost accidentally ordering 50 eggs at a rural french restaurant due to an accent mixup. Then, before he'd gotten to Paris the story had already gone through telephone-game flanderization until the story was that he and his pal had ordered and eaten 52 eggs and a pie.

So here's a spell:

Viral Lie

Level: Cleric 1, Wizard 7
Components: V
Saving Throw: No

The caster casts this spell and then relates a true story to someone. This someone (who must be able to understand the story blah blah etc etc) will be compelled to re-tell it to at least one person and exaggerate it. Everyone who hears the story will, in turn, re-tell it and exaggerate it in turn until the caster chooses to end the spell. When the spell ends, reality will be altered such that the exaggerated form of the story is now true, with all the effects on reality that would imply.

The caster must allow the story to grow for at least one week, but may allow it to expand for months, years, decades, or even centuries--if s/he is able to find a way to stay alive that long. The longer the story is left to grow, the more exaggerated and thus powerful it becomes. (GM's discretion on exactly what form this exaggeration takes.) The caster may check the "progress" of the spell at any time by asking appropriately gullible locals if they've heard the story and what exactly they've heard.

The only way to prevent the spell from taking effect is to kill everyone who knows the story before the caster ends the spell. Under ordinary conditions, the story will spread at a rate of one new believer per day.

This spell cannot be recast by the same wizard or cleric while a previous enchanted story is still circulating.


In other random-inspiration news, I walked the dogs today.*

Ok: Gerard De Nerval used to walk a lobster. This, in turn, was, I believe, derived from the practice of aristocratic women of earlier centuries walking lobsters as a show of conspicuous time consumption.

The nobles of Vornheim walk small flail-snails, naturally.

Implying they have breeds, varieties, subspecies of flail snail. And painted shells. And beadazzled shells.

Common expression in Vornheim: I wish I could walk that lobster. Meaning, like, to expend effort on a frivolous task.

Also, Mandy watched Warlord with Jet Li. It is chock-full of D&Dable ideas. I hesitate to enumerate them here lest it prevent you from being forced to watch it yourself.
*(Bug and Drax The Destroyer).

Sunday, September 5, 2010

It Came From The Bottom Of The Page

I read all the comments. Right now I'm combing backwards through the ones on the Alphabetical Monster Thing and writing down adventure ideas--there are a lot of good ones--check it:

Jeff Rients said... I've always thought of the Xorn as food tourists. The rubies from the Prime Material taste different from those back home.

I'd use the Xig-zag/Xim-zum combo with the Mutant Future radiation rules. The antimatter version would mutate undead only.

LurkerWithout said... I think Jeff Rients is on to something about the Xorns. Maybe worked gems and gold and stuff just tastes better than raw from the ground. So like a faceted gem is like getting food prepared by one of the people from Top Chef: Masters while just digging up your own is like just pulling stuff and eating it from the garden direct...

Eric M said... I like to think that Xorns raid the prime material for these things out of jealous rage, as if precious metals don't belong outside of the plane of earth.

Kind of like africans who protest blood diamonds, except they're unintelligent earth-monsters with mouths for heads.

Erin Palette said... It's probably poor form to toot my own blog and homebrew fantasy setting, but in my world of Pellatarrum, the Xag-ya and Xeg-Yi are alien, inscrutable "angels" and "demons" of the setting, as there are no gods and the people worship the Energy Planes themselves.

worgs, well. I basically just describe them as goblins who have been lobotomized & surgically altered to be quadrupeds, so other goblins can ride them.

Derek Upham said...

"The scariest thing about a giant wasp from my players' perspective is embodied by the "spider eater": that it will paralyze you and lay its eggs inside you, so that eventually you are eaten alive by its larvae."

*Temporarily* paralyzed. You are then mind-controlled into protecting the developing larvae.

spiritoftherain said...

The coolest undead monster I've ever seen with the word wight attached to them are the ones from the Myth: The Fallen Lords series of Real Time Strategy games by Bungie. The official description of them is a "stitched-up corpse, given new life by dark magic as a breeding ground for virulent disease and foul decay." They're basically huge fat undead creatures made practically buoyant by all manner of nasty, virulent pathogens, barely contained by their huge fleshy bodies. Their only attack is to stab themselves in the gut and release the toxins in a massive, devastating explosion, and the same thing happened if you managed to kill them.

Wights were always trouble in that game; you had to make sure your army was safely away before sending out archers to blow them up from afar. And the fact that they could hide underwater meant that they could just creep up from behind while you were distracted and take out half of your army.

Norman Harman said...

When I saw "shriekers as spells" I thought of shriekers that cast a specific spell rather than shrieking when disturbed. Just the thing for a fungal forest fed from the wizard's tower effluent.

richard said...

There should be a "make shrieker" spell that you can cast on ANYTHING, that makes it grow a screaming mouth and freak players the fuck out. Also, "make unsettling whisperer."

( I like the following subthread fun merely because it's so typical. In a nice way. Jame being James and BigFella being BigFella...

Original entry:

Shambling Mound

The shambling mound is the DnD version of the Man-Thing. The carrot/tuber nose is the giveaway and makes it more like the Man-Thing than the Swamp Thing--who was invented a year later by the roommate of one of the guys who invented the Man-Thing. Both of these, in turn, derive from an older character known as The Heap and The Heap no doubt derives from an even earlier monster which I have no idea what it is but I'm a hundred percent certain that someone in the comments will let me know all about it as soon as I post this entry.

James Maliszewski said... FWIW, Gygax claimed that it was in fact the Heap, not Man-Thing or Swamp Thing, who was the inspiration for the Shambling Mound. Take that as you will.

BigFella said...
Regarding the Shambling Mound, there's also an old Theodore Sturgeon novella called "It" which was about a swamp critter formed around a submerged skeleton which I think was the inspiration for all of the moss men that cropped up mid-century. )

Charles Ferguson said... Stag-head-candle-guy = totally cool.
I imagine it with yellow goat eyes with those freaky black vertical slit-pupils, that maybe when you get up close you see are actually in the shape of hourglasses or stretched out inkblots that resolve into a shreiking face (probably your own). I figure its a Predator-style trophy-hunter: the candles are made from the rendered down fat of its most prized victims, and the flames are their trapped souls. Maybe it has a number of lives = the candles, and as each candle is snuffed out it loses a life? It would very likely flee by arcane means if it lost a candle, only to return (extremely pissed off with the snuffer for denying it one of it's trophies) to exact revenge & replace the candle with whoever inflicted the terrible indignity of defeat upon it.

Testing the Omnipresent Inspiration Hypothesis, Day 1

How many times have you heard this one form some smiley guy:

"You can get inspiration for adventure ideas from anywhere."?

I am going to try it. I'll start with my bookshelf.

A random book: "A Void" by Georges Perec, translated by Gilbert Adair. It's about a lot of things--the main deal, though, is it has no letter "e" in it. In the original French or in translation.

Anyway, circa page 5 here's my favorite part. Poor insomniac Anton Vowl, examining the patterns in his rug, desperately seeking some meaning in it.

"For four days and nights Vowl works hard at his oblong rug, squatting and crouching on it, languishing and lying in ambush, straining at his imagination so as to catch sight of its missing strand..."


Easy part:

The Oblong Rug

This item is a seemingly ordinary black and white rug possessing an intricate pattern, anyone looking at it...ok...a series of wisdom rolls or perception checks and if you fail one you gain an insanity, if you make them you gain a point of wisdom or you gain a vital insight into the nature of some in-game mystery one time.

If you manage to gain a wisdom point and then keep going and gain an insanity after that then--and only then--can you unlock the rug's true and transcendent metaphysical secrets--which should allow you some thoroughgoing grasp of some major bizarre thing underlying the entire campaign. Like: Mount Vrothgeist is the shape it is because creatures from the stars carved it that way with light beams. (Of course everyone will think you're crazy and because the DM already gave you an insanity, not even you, the player, know if this "insight" is actual real campaign info or if it's just a delusion your PC now believes to be true.) Keep staring at it and things get multi-planar: a demon from another world begins to build a home for itself inside your mind or a portal to another plane opens or nonEuclidean beings from Zrgyvvle begin to climb through. Et cetera. Maybe make a chart.

Harder part:

Let's see if we can build an adventure around the rug. Ok, not so hard, really. The Duke/King/Queen/local wiseman/eccentric PC friend is behaving erratically, won't leave his/her room (which has the rug)--or won't stop visiting some local drinking establishment which has this rug--everyone who investigates starts to behave strangely. Various crimes or improprieties result. PCs are called upon to investigate. That's a decent one-shot in a castle or urban environment or a Cthulhu thing.

All you really need is a middlingly-complex environment with a few hazards--multiple rooms, moat, fireplace, some stray weapons, high roof, and then release a few insane people and possible interdimensional effects/interlopers into it... That's cake.

Ok, done.

Maybe try another one soon...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Roughly the Though Process I Use When Sketching Tricks And Traps

1. Is the trick/trap sane or insane? i.e. Is this an actual security system or testing device or whatever that a rational actor would employ?

1a If yes, who put it there?

1b If no, is it a trick or a trap? i.e is there a possible reward, or does it just hurt people?

2. What's the general atmosphere here? Spooky with organic components like living spider webs or is it one of those lever/button kinda setups or occulty circle-of-salt-around-a-demon or what?

3. Is this going to be one of those paranoia things where the real action is not the danger itself but rather all the stuff the PCs have to do to try to detect the trap? If so, do you need to do anything to let the PCs know there might be some kind of trick or trap going on here to get them paranoid? Because if you don't then they will probably just fall into it and it won't be any more interesting than a non-custom designed "hey-I-checked-for-traps-did-I-find-it?" garden-variety trap.

4. Is it going to be one of those things where the obvious randomness is part of the fun? Like "Oh, you walked through the door, roll d6..." In which case, how will you set it up so that it'll get used more than once so that the fun of the randomness actually is on display to the PCs?

5. Can it be reversible? Like can the PCs "use" it in some obvious way? If so, can it just be something really simple that work in conjunction with other parts of the dungeon?

6. Will common sense be rewarded?

7. Will boldness be rewarded?

8. If you went ahead and made it make no sense after question 1, then, now that you've made it, do you want to retroactively go back and find some reason it actually does make sense?

8a. If so, does that imply anything else about the dungeon you can use?

9. If it's a rational security system, why is it so weird? Can the fact that the trap designer had limited resources explain it? Did they expect a different kind of intruder? etc...

10. Did any of that help?

11. Is the only solution some totally obscure fucking arbitrary thing?

11a. If so, is Kimberly playing?

11b. If Kimberly is playing, how are you going to keep her from gouging everyone's eyes out with frustration while they run around trying to find the totally obscure fucking thing?

11c. Should there be a clue? Should the clue be some insane-wizard arbitrarily-placed-there clue "Like 'Roses are red, violets are blue, copper bumblebees like to screw" or should it be something that could end up there by rational means (i.e. a note found scrawled on the body of a dead adventurer in another room)

12. What about illusions? Have you thought about that, Zak?

13. What about feedback-loop-consequences? i.e. failure to do it results in not death but escalating entertaining inconveniences?

14. What about hands-on problems: like "Here's a maze, solve this maze in 12 real-time seconds or die"?

15. Can I kinda make it half-good, but then throw a monster into this room and jsut let the PCs monster, and trick/trap interact in some crazy way for a while?

16. I'm hungry.

17. Ok, really, really, this will be the best trick/trap room ever, Think, Dammit!

18. Is it possible to design this trick/trap such that it will affect the PCs yet they will never know it because they--more or less by sheer luck--did the right thing? If so, do you want to change that,or just let it go?

19. Did you think of something yet? If not, grab a book off the shelf and start reading...

20. Whoa, I didn't know we still had this. Oh look, I underlined something here..."...within that complex of nylon and starched cotton lay a large inert nipple, its pink face crushed by the scented fabrics..."

21. Wait, I'm supposed to be making a trap here. Ok, let's say they go into the room and there's this pink face and it's crushed this going anywhere?

21a. If no, return to 1.

Here's What You're Missing...

...because nobody wants to watch a show about porn stars, strippers, and some random guys they know playing D&D.

(Ricky, 2nd level Cleric of Captain Beefheart, from today's game.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

This Land Is Red In Canine And Claw

Brainstorming stuff for the Post-Apocalyptic Setting for the TMNT/Mutant Future game...


Ice Station: Despot
Puerta Brujeria
The Red State
Gigastructure Euro Alpha
The CryoMart
Dead Euclid
New Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico
Red Meridian
Interzone Mario World 1,001-1
Labyrinth of The Black Wyrm, District of Columbia
5-Fold Fortress, Virginia
Fort Devilution


Gene witches
Necrotemporal Flux Dispersal
Ice 2-8
Ice 5 injection fumble table
Rustborne pathogens
Aquatic Vampires of Drowned Los Angeles
The Archivore
Destructor Gorguts
Hydra Factory
Sonic Reducers
Transatlantic Landbridge
Sisters of Vorn 40k
Geneseeking Virus Grenades
Sentient Spore Mines
Harajuku Brat Gangs
Princess Scheherezade Peach

Those pictures up there by me, ones down here not by me...