Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy Abulafia

So here's an adventure:

The Forsaken Keep

The dungeon was originally a vast city of snake-people but has been forgotten by most civilized races for eons. It was rediscovered due to the recent death of the medusa responsible for the statues from which the surrounding stone was quarried. Near the North entrance, a werejaguar of unusual intelligence suspects it may contain a female druid (-Lvl 5-) named Nixie Gott, possessor of an important book & rumored to possess a whetstone of unusual properties--one of particular interest--and so has dispatched hyena-like humanoids into the complex. They communicate via burning things.

Meanwhile, a group of tiny hyena-like humanoids who entered through a secret door to the North suspects it may contain a jade that they value. Their leader is said to be strangely cloned and is also a hulking bruiser with dangerous pets--a swarm of bats that appear to obey his/her every whim. They roams the halls looking for sustenance. They're also far faster than the typical members of their species. This group uses a powerful but barely-mobile psionic medium to spy on the other group of intruders.

(In recent weeks, the two factions have begun to notice each other in the halls.)

Unbeknownst to either side, a giant mantis--a superevolved, hyperintelligent, one--lives deep within, inside a network of tunnels leading eventually to a crown which it prizes beyond all things.

It has constructed traps around its lair--for example, magical sensors connected up to rotary saw blades --but also four stranger traps, informed by its bizarre alien intelligence, which cause intruders to be destroyed by their own depravity. It can avoid the traps easily because of its unique abilities.

The other factions have made about four traps each as well, but they are cruder, since they've been recently and hastily thrown together.

In addition, there are many hazards that are the legacy of the dungeon's original inhabitants. No-one has yet discovered the secret passage within the garbage pile on the fourth level.

Due to the subtle influence of a magic egg (below the fireplace on level two) with a powerful curse on it, nearly all of the inhabitants have become increasingly delusional and some have gained additional bizarre physical and mental deformities. Some have become obsessed with earthquakes for reasons unknown.

Perhaps the most disturbing room in the dungeon is the so-called "panic chamber" which the intelligent creatures in the dungeon fear above all else. However, beyond it there is a male author who hails from the homeland of one of your PCs and may aid him/her, though s/he covets the PCs' (whatever they have that's unusual) and is repulsed by the sight of every stairway s/he sees in the dungeon (sheesh, artists are so sensitive).

The dungeon's architecture resembles an overgrown prison, however every mirror in it is made of electrum and obsidian.

In addition to these things, it is said by some that, hidden deep within the complex, where no mortal has been in eons is the Crown of The Long Cold and a last enclave of Ancient Men, sleeping in suspended animation for thousands of years, ready to be awakened.

Sick of dungeons? Here's another adventure...

The Emerald Canyon

The PCs have heard that if they safely transport--A female warrior (-Lvl 7-) (named Galiana)--soon to be wed to a powerful saboteur & rumored to be the lover of a powerful jester--they will become rich. The bride-to-be must be moved from an inn: The Mug and King, (famous for its bacon-wrapped halibut) to a brutal temple of a primordial faith based on the worship of a god associated with daggers.

The perilous road will take our heroes through the site of an ancient battle where a group of chain-wielding jackal-headed warriors headquartered in a monastery rule. They are slaves of a bioengineered upper caste lead by one called The Lord of Despair.

The vast battleground also includes a treant fed on the blood of the ancient dead and a man-headed centipede.

Anyway as you maybe figured out I've been fucking around with Abulafia some more.

This post's purpose is threefold:

1-to tell you it's neat

2-to recommend you make some generators or add some depth or content to existing ones,

3-to be like 'I smear liquid plastic on paper and put my dick in people for money and even I figured out how to do this so it can't be that hard'

Here are the generators I've made so far and some things you could do to/with them:

Dungeon Overview: This is probably the slickest and most complete. And, for me at least, it produces stuff pretty useful right outta the box. If I was you and I liked dungeons, I'd clone it and modify it into a version that fit the kind of stuff in your world.

Fantasy Assignment:
This is like rumors and jobs basically. It's very uneven. It basically goes Verb Objective Location. The objectives are fairly decent since Abulafia already had a huge library of objects and monsters and NPCs to draw on and the verbs are ok but hardly cover every possible assignment or kind of assignment yet. The locations are the most uneven part--they come from...

...this Fantasy Adventure Location generator: there are like 50 kinds of locations, some with lots of detail for the DM (like the fortresses), some with a little--like the cities--"a cosmopolitan city, known for its ancient ruling caste as well as its monstrous buildings", some have none "a mountain". This is a place where I feel like people could really help out--What are some things you'd put in a swamp? A temple? A desert?

Today At Sea
As described before, it's a slightly modified version of the wavecrawl kit from this blog. It's pretty good, thinks me. But more options would never go amiss--particularly for the sea creatures subtable.

Random Humanoid Horde
Pretty decent version of the one from this blog. Includes options for the basic races (goblin, gnoll etc.) plus a less likely option for (random animal)man.

Fortress Generator
From this blog: does its job, I think.

Hex Map Key
Generates 100 hexes at once. Most are dull on purpose. It's perfectly functional for a lot of things (cut it, paste it, give it numbers matching your hexgrid) but you could easily add more detail at every level if you were so inclined. Also: there are no climate-specific versions of it and the monsters are as yet totally random rather than segregated to make sense (Encounter: a pack of hyenas (two, actually) killing a swarm of bats). In addition, many of the possible locations from the other tables (mansion, etc.) are not integrated into this table.

Dungeon Room
Ok as a springboard but could use some work: generates 2-5 exits, a room type (mess hall, stable, etc.), an encounter (possibilities: trap, monster, trap+monster, 2 monsters interacting) and the possibility of one other random object ("a grape""a sword").

Every room has an encounter of some kind--unlike the hex generator this is just meant to generate a room that's interesting, not a whole map full of exciting and boring rooms.

This could be improved in a lotta ways if one was so inclined. The monsters, again, are spectacularly random (" a mold (actually several) chasing a quaggoth").

Creepy Fantasy Villain
Generates 10 results which sound like the kind of "spooky occult phrases" the FBI's COINTELPRO used to include in anonymous letters to Alan Ginsberg and Bob Dylan-- of which about 8 are generally dumb ("The Huntsman of The Wolves " "The Knight of The Infinite Night ") and 2 are awesome ("The Merchant of Failure" "The Oracle of One Thousand Lunacies "). Not terribly complex at this point but probably not a priority.

Arabian Nights-Ish Scenario Generator
A less complicated prototype of the Fantasy Assignment one I made for Mandy's Al Qadim game. If you're inclined to tinker with this, its main virtue is it draws on abulafia's pretty decent middle-eastern-setting occupation generator.

These are more like utility generators, mostly just providing sub-libraries for other generators to draw on:

Exotic Landscape:
Cut and pasted straight from this blog ('Cobalt Reach'). Very simple. Could use more options.

Fantasy Mansion Domestic Security Generator Cut and pasted straight from this blog. Very simple. Could use more options.

Fantasy NPC (Basic) Race, job, gender. This one's pretty thorough, though it'd also be a good place to start if you wanted to make a new version of the generator weighted toward fighting or adventurign NPCs. Right now there as likely to be a barkeep as an archer.

Fantasy Person Of Interest
A simple, described NPC (race, job, gender) with one or two random things about them. If you want to fuck with this one you could add a few more options for the kinds of details. Like there's no option for, say "Wants to be ruler of ____" or "Despises ____" etc.

Fantasy Town (Simpler)
this is just a stripped-down version of one that was already on Abulafia. It provided a little too many unconnected details for my taste.

Weird Fantasy Monster
this includes every monster I personally would wanna use (including, now, all the monsters in the Folio, since I did all those posts dedicated to making those monsters usable to me). There are several other bestiaries on abulafia you could use instead if you want a more general list. Or make your own by cutting and pasting from mine and theirs and any other list you have.

Also there are no monster-by-environment tables yet. Could be very useful.

I also added a ".Weirdsymbol" directory to the "animal" generator which includes all the real-life animals I could think of that were creepy or vicious or symbolic. i.e. no squirrels, but it's got maggots and squids and lions and tigers.

Also of interest:

The Traps generator is ok, but could use a lot more options if you were so inclined and there's no way to generate a specific kind of trap only (magic, rustic, etc.) . Since it can be used to feed so many other generators it'd be neat to add more options, like "touching (randomobject) opens bars freeing (randommonster)" etc.


Tips to make new thingies:

I don't know how you're supposed to make a new table, but I just do a search like "Mermaid Tail Types" then it tells me there aren't any tables named that but I can make one if I want and there's a link and I hit it. then I hit "Edit"...

A bunch of crap goes at the top which I can't type here because blogger automatically turns it into format code but you can swipe the stuff you need from an existing generator--just set "iterations" to "1" if you're new at this.

Then type...

Then you write a word in those brackets that describes your table--Tailtypes or whatever.

then you go below and go:


Then write a bunch of crap at the bottom of the table after a break you can swipe from another table...

...and then you're done. You can make it more complicated in lots of ways but if you take a look at some pre-existing tables you can probably figure out how it's done. If you want your table to draw on an existing one you put [Fantasy NPC (Basic).Main] for example in there. If you want to draw on a subtable of one of the existing tables you'd do like [ Fantasy NPC (Basic).Classes] and it should work. Be aware that hitting "enter" to make a new paragraph int he output doesn't work and just ends the thingy--you have to put in line break code--"

Here's what a finished one looks like:

(some code)

1,[Gender] [Race] [Job]


60, there's nothing here because this result is just "implied human"
1,possibly doppelganger
1,possibly not-entirely human
the numbers aren't all 1's because I've weighted this table

(some more code)

That'd produce a thing saying "Male cartwright" or "Female elven cartwright". If you want it to spit out lots of results you make the "iterations" number higher.


If you make anything, let us know here in the comments....

RIP Gleichman, August 12, 2011-Oct 28, 2011

Do two wrongs make a right?

"Let me tell you about my character..." that would be wrong.

"Let me tell you about my dog" that would be wrong.

But...let me tell you about my character's dog.

Once upon a time there were some people waiting for me to play game with them. They spent their time joking and laughing about a guy who was arguing, quite earnestly, that you shouldn't name fictional characters after real people.

And then my head popped up on their G+ windows, and they said hello and they told me this guy Gleichman had claimed the novel Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter was bad because it might make people think Abe Lincoln was actually a vampire hunter. I said my thief now had a dog and he was born here. I rolled up a war poodle. About the silliest thing on the table.

They said "What will we call him?" I said why don't we name him after the guy. Which was about the silliest way to name him.

This being a basic D&D game and my character being a level 1 thief, the predictable thing happened--everybody joked the dog was way more useful in a fight than my PC.

...and kept joking about it. Because the dog went everywhere my PC did and my PC went everywhere there was videochat D&D game on while I was awake and working at my drawing table for the last three months. And saving everyone. Everywhere from Bone Hill to a land of smiling halflings where he was dyed rainbow colors--which is about as silly a thing as could possibly happen.

In the Caves of Myrddin--where he died nobly, after helping kill a pair of giant shrews, covering two hopeless low-levels and his worthless master's escape from a pair of vampires named Lenny and Squiggy. Which is about the silliest way you could possibly die.

But despite all the intense silliness of Gleichman's entire existence, here's the thing: when the actual player characters die (especially these low level PCs in these videochat games played by mostly RPG veterans) the players are just right there in front of you going "alright--them's the breaks--haul out the 3d6"--maybe they're just putting a brave face on it and trying not to seem like a n00b, but they, the player, are still there in front of you, being alive, so it's like whatever (at least so far). But Gleichman? He had no existence except in the minds of 10-15 gamers spread all over the world, who will now imagine him no more. And he was so loyal and so brave. He always rolled better than me and he hauled us all out of the fire so many times. With infinite patience, he saw my 3d6-in-order thief up 5 levels in 3 months. We had his teeth silvered--near the end--to fight the undead, but it did him no good. Poor guy.

Gleichman is, to me, a little slice of pure Old Schoolness--slain by two 8th level monster and a DMs total lack of belief in balanced encounters, rolled up on a DIY random table by the guy who wrote the table, purchased by a player who hates pets in games out of pure mechanical practicality, completely devoid of background o, preposterously over-powered next to the PC who bought him, and ridiculously under-priced at 25gp, and yet, after a few sessions, I loved his dumb, silver-toothed, rainbow-colored carcass. And I don't think I was the only one. "Character background is what happens between levels one and six". What happened between levels one and six is at the beginning of every session when people saw my face pop up on G+ they said "Oh, Zak--you're bringing Gleichman, right?"

Go easy, little guy. You were a good pup. Your leash was Rope, 50' and your food was bugbears and goblinflesh. You died a soldier, because I rolled a 1.

DMs of my PC, Blixa, should know he now carries an extra quiver of bolts with the steel heads removed and replaced with wooden ones, 3 vials and one wineskin of holy water, 5 cloves of garlic, a mallet, and has five wooden stakes.

Oh, and...


"29 Wolfhound. +2 to hit vs. same-size foe. (11 hp)"

Wolfhounds look so dumb.

Almost as dumb as poodles.

I think I'll call it Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Slacker DM Adventure Checklist

I put out a "topic request line is open" thingy and got some responses. People asked me to talk about some stuff.

Thus the recent rigorous, and diamond-clear analysis of the bard class at the request of Kiel Chenier.

Another request from someone else was "...a post similar to your analysis of trap types would be cool, but on other campaign-creation/running topics." So this is that...

Particularly: different kinds of location and what you need, at minimum, to run adventures based in the kinds of places you get in D&D.

So let's assume the following things are a given:

-You are swift enough to think up stats on the fly or have a book with stats in them for any relevant monsters.

-You have a list of what monsters can go in which environment in some kind of form.

-This'll start as a location-based adventure. That is: first day the PCs are just going to a place for some reason and have a single thing to do and the adventure consists of obstacles and consequences resulting from meeting them. Obviously if you have more plot and interference from NPCs and acts of god and what-all you will need more stuff. But this is just what you need to get through that first day.


I also want to define a term I'll wanna use later:

Social obstacle: This is one or more NPCs that want things the players might be able to provide (the NPCs must believe or be able to be convinced the PCs can provide it) and are able to possibly inflict consequences on the PCs if they don't get it.


Dungeons are easy, structurally, that's one of the reasons they caught on. You'll need:

-Entrance points and ways to indicate them to the PCs. (Is there one and hey, here's the entrance! Or more than one? Are they hidden? Do they wake up in the dungeon?)

-Things that make movement through the space dangerous. You could also, theoretically, make a dungeon where nothing is actually stopping you from getting to the treasure, but will activate if the PCs assume it's hostile and attack.

Like: to the PCs, it's a dungeon, but to the orcs it's just an underground orc city and they've got all these stupid piles of yellow metal lying around at the bottom of it. PCs want yellow metal? No problem! But of course the PCs will assume the orcs are hostile and kill Benny while he's testing his crossbow and...oh dear. Now the underground city is a dungeon. Note that any city or building instantly becomes a dungeon if the population becomes hostile. Thus: zombie movies. This is one of the problems of "civilized" adventures--if your players are like most players and just sometimes kill people for no reason, you may suddenly need a map at any time of a space that didn't need a map a second ago.

-A reason to go in there. The default is that there's gold down there.

-Meaningful decision points. No decisions, no dungeon, really. And for a decent dungeon I highly suggest:

either clues in the beginning (that are accurate) about what kind of thing's down each corridor (so the choice has meaning the PCs can track--'cause that's fun)

a way to go back after a decision has been made
or both.

Without one or both of those things, the dungeony nature of the dungeon is not exploited--i.e. if it's a fork with 2 identical doors with nothing to chose between them: go left and you meet an ogre and if you kill it the game ends and you find treasure and are teleported home or go right and you fight an octopus and the game ends and you are teleported home then it's not really a dungeon--it's a random encounter table with only 2 things on it. A big part of the point of a dungeon is it's an adventure that exploits the fact that architecture creates decision points.

-Technically, you don't need a map, though without a map it may be hard to keep track of which portals/decision points/doors lead to which thingy.

Cities Cities are tough to run. You could write a book... It's not just that they are extremely complex environments in terms of both layout and available resources--it's that, as noted in "Dungeons", players have an odd habit of turning cities into dungeons. So cities can be both abstract (like wilderness adventures) and concrete and the DM doesn't entirely control which they are when. Even assuming you are using a map with every building in the city on it, you still don't have the interiors of every building (or what's in the basement)(or the sub-basement). So you'll need improvisational skill and:

-Either an objective and players sure to want to accept that objective
an ability to describe the city in enough detail that players will see interesting objectives they want in it just from your description and players proactive enough to be like "Oh, the mayor's beautiful wife, eh? I want to seduce her"
players proactive enough that they want something that could be in any city. Like: "I wanna take over a smuggling ring". Uh, ok.

-Obstacles. You could get through a city adventure with no described or improvised NPCs, buildings, security measures, magic problems, natural disasters, or monsters, but you'll need at least one of those things or something likewise obstacular.

-An idea about how the guards/constables/cops/whatever will respond to disturbances and how tough they are.

Castle/Fortress You'll need:

-An objective in the castle or PCs willing to, with no input from you, decide they want a castle or to get to someone who has one.

-Obstacles. A fortress or castle will commonly have any of 3 kinds of obstacles (one outside, two inside):

1. Breaking-and-entering type obstacles. Like this stuff (or, more specifically this stuff). Using premade B&E obstacles makes the adventure really easy to run--one of the reasons I wrote those tables is the bang-for-your buck factor is so high. A building with a decently described exterior security profile (walls and ceilings and people shooting at you) and a reason to bypass it can keep the PCs busy for a gratifyingly long time.

2. Social obstacles.

3. Dungeon-type obstacles. Note that you if you want to include these there's generally a "dungeonizing trigger"--that is, a thing that can happen that'll turn the place into a dungeon or a part of the fortress where movement starts being contested by traps/monsters/etc. You don't have to describe the fortress concretely outside this area--i.e. no map is that necessary until the dungeonizing takes place.

A fortress in crisis (earhquake, etc.) can have any kind of obstacle in the world.

Note also that if the PCs get in easily and the inhabitants are friendly it could suddenly turn into a dungeon if the PCs make the inhabitants mad (or if the inhabitants betray them).

The Wilderness
You'll need:

-An objective. Unlike many other locations for adventures, the objective doesn't need to be in the wilderness--the PCs can just be crossing it to get to the objective. In fact, the adventure will be way easier to run if the objective isn't in the wilderness. If the macguffin or whatever is in there then you suddenly need some way to mark out whether the PCs have found it or gotten to it either by searching for a given number of time intervals (and maybe rolling a random encounter per interval) or by having a map or at least some landmark ideas (i.e. "if they search near the hollow tree they'll find it, if they search near the pond they'll fight Nixies").

One simple compromise, if you already have a wilderness encounter table, is to just put the objective on it, possibly with a mechanic ("add +1 per day of searching") that makes it increasingly likely they'll find it. You could have a d20 table and have the goal be result 21.

-Obstacles and a philosophy about how to inflict them. The easiest but least interesting and most railroady is just to say "there will be these encounters before the PCs get where they're going". If, on the other hand, the PCs start to notice that they definitely have legitimate reasons for doing one thing over another ("resting here will get you your spells back but will probably result in more encounters since you're here longer", "going along the ridgeline means vultures, going through the valley means wolves") then you start to move into "fun and interesting choices" territory.

However, this can require more thinking and maybe prep. If you don't have yur map all hexed-out, a simple compromise is to definitely start with an encounter that offers a choice--you see an intriguing thingy, (its a trap set by an intelligent creature) what do you do? and base what happens next on that. That way you don't have to plan out a decision tree or encounter table but the PCs aren't getting totally railroaded by your lack of concrete world detail--the shape of the adventure immediately reflects their decisions.

-Contingency planning: you'll want an idea about how the PCs having or not having horses (or local equivalent) will affect the encounter scheme. Like does that mean fewer encounters? Different encounters? etc. Or you need to just know for sure that they won't have them.

-Not necessarily a map but an idea in distance or time or both about how big this place is. Or at least the distance between PCs and objective. 3 days away, 30 miles, whatever.

The Sea You'll need:

-An objective. These pretty much operate the same way as in the wilderness--it's easier if the goal's on the other side of the sea than somewhere in it. If you're using the wavecrawl kit or another random encounter table you could just replace one of the results on one of the tables with the objective, though.

-Obstacles--again, this is a lot like the wilderness, you'll need a philosophy about how to inflict them.

One difference is--in many cases (thought not all)(this is one of those things I type because I see the reader comment forming in my head already) it's pretty hard for another ship to surprise the PCs' ship--so you need to consider how it'll go down. So if the main obstacle you got is pirates, you need to know how trying to outdistance pirates is going to work, mechanically, in the game.

For completeness sake I guess I should also note that weather can more easily and frequently be an obstacle at sea than elsewhere.

-An idea about how the ship works. You don't need a layout of the ship that much--but knowing who is sailing it, how it can be damaged, what happens at night, whether and how the other PCs help sail it--all these things you'll probably want to know.

-An idea about armor in the water. How many rounds before you drown?

-Like the wilderness--not necessarily a map but an idea of the time or space distance between PCs and objective. If the possibility of being blown off course is in the cards in your game you'll want, if not a map, at least an idea of where that would lead.

Island An island adventure is basically about whatever you put on that island to explore (a city, a wilderness, etc.) however there are a few additional considerations:

-What (if anything) is going to happen to the PCs' boat while it's tied up and waiting for them to get done killing giant ants or whatever?

-Parking: most PCs will be able to find a way to make landfall wherever the hell they want on an island's perimeter. Even if the boat has no lifeboats or boarding craft and is too big to land anywhere but the one port you drew because you say there are big rocks under the water everywhere else and the PCs can't swim, they will find a way to come onto that island from some direction you didn't intend if they see any percentage in it at all. So you'll either need a map or to abstractly describe the area, mechanically, in such a way that this doesn't ruin your game.

Isolated Building
Haunted house, abandoned temple, etc.

One important difference from a fortress/castle--and this is only if you are using dungeon obstacles (as opposed to social ones)--figure out whether there's any way in or out besides the ground floor entrance(s).

Obviously you can make it so every window is locked and magically impenetrable and the walls are 9 feet thick and there's no chimney but if you do that too many times the smarter players will start to hate you. A small dungeon (like a one-shot haunted house) with an entrance where every window is that still works no matter which way the PCs enter is just a click or two harder to put together than a regular dungeon with one entrance. Seems obvious but people do forget this a lot.

Village or Inn or Isolated Building With Social People In It This is basically just like a city except easier for three reasons:

-Less cops. If the PCs cause trouble, you can always say the militia's too scared to come down on them if it suits you.

-Limited resources. A tough thing about running a city is: if PCs want it, they got it. With a little groundwork, you can make plausibly make anything scarce (oil, arrows, new armor, henchindividuals) in a village or lonely place.

-It doesn't have to be interesting other than the adventure the PCs are having. Sure: it can be, but there are good aesthetic reasons for having typical, innocent villages and inns once in a while, in most settings.

(Abulafia's random location generator tosses out the possibility of an adventure in an "enemy's encampment"--I assume the PCs are disguised or diplomats, or else it would be an "enemy's weenie roast"--which would be kinda like a town except the first and third of these "easyfiers" would disappear.)

River/Canal Why on earth am I bothering to list this as a separate thing from Wilderness? Because rivers make things surprisingly complicated...

-Like the wilderness on foot/on horse thing, you need to plan for encounter intervals that work on foot or at the boat speed. Unless you're railroading them off the boat--in which case why have a river as the location anyway?

-Also, if the river is wide enough, and if the land encounters are with a discrete, landbound foe (a specific group) then they will need crossings if they're gonna ever go to the other side of the river. And which side they're on should be a thing or else--again, why use a wide river as a location?

-You can also get a little fancier and put the river in a gorge during at least part of the adventure and then you have a sort of complicated when-can-we-get-in-or-out-of-the-river-and-when-can't-we situation.

All in all, a nice way to double your brainload for what at first seemed to be a nice innocent wilderness adventure spent rolling on encounter tables. Makes me glad most of the rivers on my map are frozen over.

Another plane Adventuring on another plane basically requires deciding which of these other locations that other plane is most like and running it like that. Plus having some ideas that make it weird and fun, like the children are made of angora or whatever.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


It has come to our attention here at D&DWPS that some readers do not understand about how bards suck. To clarify, here is a diagram (click to enlarge):

On Bards

Bards suck.

Action. Target. Location.

So 3-5 PCs walk into a bar...

Roll d8 here..

1 Free (person or creature)
2 Defend (person, creature, object, place)
3 Destroy (person, creature, object, place)
4 Investigate (person, creature, object, place)
5 Find (person, creature, object, place)
6 Safely transport (person, creature, object)
7 Acquire (this includes capture/kidnap) (person, creature, object, place)

Then, ok--you got a random NPC table, a random treasure table and a random monster table right?

There's your person, creature or object.

The places on your sandbox map have numbers, right? So you should be able to roll a random location where the PCs have to go for this to go down.

Now you can make a million rumors and want ads for your tavern in a few minutes.

Free Princess Leia from the Death Star. Acquire the Ark of the Covenant in Egypt. Kill Colonel Kurtz in his compound in Eastern Cambodia. Investigate a diamond-smuggler in the Netherlands. Transport this ring to this volcano. Acquire the Eyes of the Overworld in a land full of freaks. Seek out new life and new civilizations in the Alpha Quadrant. Capture a serial killer in the Eastern USA. Find The Holy Grail in the whole world.

This sounds facile, I know, but the idea is--if you already have a map and have already stocked it with locations and random encounters, these three elements are all you need to instantly generate a fairly complex adventure. Everything else that happens along the way in most of the stories sketched above is just obstacles the DM throws up (some of which were presumably already on the map), player tactics, and consequences.

Now there are also what I'd call "second order objectives" which would usually come up either because the PCs thought of them themselves as a means to one of the above ends or because a patron NPC has thought them up as a tactic to pursue one of the above ends, like...

Reconfigure (complex object)
Lure (person)
Incriminate (person or monster)
Terrorize (person)
Replace (person)
Hide (person, creature, object, place)
Confuse (person or monster)
Seduce (person or monster)

...the list could go on and on forever. Point is that a decent variety of adventures (certainly enough to offer your players some interesting choices) can be gleaned from just the first list, including, eventually, everything on the second list.

(Things like 'seduce' and 'replace' are obviously not necessarily just a means to an end if the PCs themselves think up these, but if your PCs are noticing things they wanna seduce or replace or just go see you don't need a rumor/want-ad table.)

*Props to Midkemia Cities for giving me a good starting point for this list.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Automatic Hex Stocker By Me

Stock 100 hexes at once--complete with landscape details, encounters (some simple, some weird), fortresses, inns, towns and underground complexes. Took a bit. A few of the widgets involved piggyback off what's already in Abulafia.

Hope you like it.

Hit refresh for new hexes.

Make The Robot Do It

So I went ahead and automated some of my more complicated and generators on Abulafia (the ones where it was like "roll here then roll here then roll here then roll here").

Anyway, here you go:

Seacrawl Kit
(It includes failed control roll results generate using your comments so if for some insane reason you don't want your content in there, lemme know and I'll remove it)

Random Fortress Generator

Intercepted Inter-NPC Communique

Humanoid Horde Composition

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Chain and Porcupine, famous for its Spicy Beef

Some of you know about Abulafia, which is a page of automated random generators. Some of you don't. Except now all of you do.

Though slower than dice tables, some of these are pretty good. Unfortunately a lot of them return pointless results ("Winddale""Sun Port") or randomly generate things it's hard to imagine needing in the kind of volume that'd justify going to a webpage just to make ("A doublet made of worsted wool emblazoned with an image of a red Orc").

For your edification and convenience I have gone though and picked out the better ones (locally defined as: 'ones which have produced at least one useful result for me on the first go'). They work fairly well to get the bones of a decent adventure, or (more likely) to flesh out something you've already put together which needs background details or secondary hooks.

The ones marked "oracle" are technically for use with "In A Wicked Age" but serve just as well as random D&D situation generators. Some have a tab marked "view source" which lets you see all the options and might actually be more useful than hitting "refresh" over and over. The ones not marked 'oracle' generally give you a few dozen results, a handful of which are usually decent:

A Nest of Vipers Oracle
"A precocious child disputing with philosophers and declaimers."

"Concise Theory of Chaomancy"

Arcane Books
"Experiments with Ether of Fate, by Rewan the Wizard"

Art, Grace, and Guts Oracle
"A corrupt guard, turning a blind eye to the illegal businesses that have paid him off."

Conan Oracle
"A mysterious cargo, arriving on a caravan from the far South, watched by many covetous eyes."

Elder Scrolls:
"The dark moon rises, the goddess of murder gathers more power."

Experimental Fantasy Generator
"Fountain of the Hundred Corpses"

Fantasy Place Name
"Brixstead Mire"

Fantasy Scenario Generator
"The story takes place in the Jagged territories. The scenario begins with a circus. The trouble is a direct attack against the adventurers caused by snake people pirates. To solve the problem, the adventurers must destroy/kill an object or individual. If a big fight happens, it'll be at Heavysky Bridge."

Fantasy Town
"The Sign of the Laughing Juggernaut, famous for its Herbed Oxtail"

Fantasy Town Event
"A city watchman was stabbed in the back near the St. Florus's Church but is expected to recover from his wounds."

Fantasy Town Feature
"Bedthorpley Crossing"

Fantasy Town Feature Description
"Crocodile Tabernacle is near The Sign of the Roaring Cook, which is frequented primarily by scribes."

Fantasy oracle compilation
"A hermit priestess, practicing obscure deprivations."

God Kings of War Oracle
"A prodigy-mage, still a maid, drunk with occult power."

Heavy Metal Fantasy Oracle
"A mighty six-legged feline, wicked and feral, acid saliva drooling from it's fangs."

Pirate Oracle - Black Sails on the Horizon
"A pet monkey, trained to do tricks."

Pirate Oracle - Cutlass and Dagger
"A smuggler's ship, with lights showing low on the water, signaling her contacts."

Pirate Oracle - Letters of Marque and Reprisal
"A fast ship, sloop-rigged and lightly armed, running before the wind, trying hard to escape pursuit."

Pirate Oracle
"A rapacious kraken, devourer of the mistress of a burly roustabout."

"Scorpions inside cleverly hidden pits - clouds of steam are produced, lightly obscuring vision"

The Treacherous Seas
"The aunt of a mighty priest, on the trail of a lustful nobleman."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ok, I'm Confused

I hate to step on Raggi's toes and steal his "let's discuss this discussion" thing, but this one honestly, honestly has me baffled.

Is Vornheim really that weird?

I mean, the only real difference I can see between it and other city supplements like it is they go:

"This neighborhood has the fish market. The fish market has fish. Boats with fish on them sail in and out of this neighborhood. In the words of Granar Blazonhelm 'I smell fish, I must be in Fishinghood'. There are many adventures to be had in this place--you might not realize it, but boats can be exciting! Sometimes there are things on boats in addition to fish! Like cargo! Cargo comes into this fishing neighborhood from all over Worldimadeuppia, from as far as Vaguelysketchedoutjapanequivalentium. NPCs you might meet in this neighborhood include people who sell fish, people who buy fish, people who pilot boats, people who are riding on boats and people who fix boats. Here's a picture of a boat."

And I don't.

If there is something actually confusing about the book--let me know. If I ever do anything other RPG stuff I'll change it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Their World At War

-Jeremy Friesen whipped up this neat Wartime Village generator. Since I'll probably use this for the Dracula/Bathory War thing I made a split-column version of a few of the tables in the Vornheim format for faster village-making (read once and read straight across or roll 5 times). The "interesting events" part isn't on here, but that's the best part, so definitely check out the original post.

I do think the indie gamer only-using-d6s thing is hilariouscute.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lingua Necrotica

...or plague tongues are hideous rotting servants of the Gods of All Flesh. They stand 3-4 feet above the ground, may be summoned by clerics of that faith singly or in cohorts of up to 20, and their pale, glabrous touch does d4 damage and (failing a save) transmits an unspeakable disease.

This malady causes the sufferer to be seized with the desire to lick the nearest living being. A successful grapple causes a network of thin yellow filaments to spouts from the sufferer's skin, attaching the plague victim to the unfortunate target of his or her affections. If left unbroken, these growths will eventually grow together into a viscid coccoon connecting and entombing both parties and transforming them--over the course of days--into a new cohort of lingua.

A Perfect World

To start off

The Platonically Perfect Sandbox would have the following characteristics:

1. The places are interesting.

2. The places are distinctive enough in the DMs mind that s/he can refer to them and think up details about them when they're off-screen. S/he knows what each one is "about". (This can be either because s/he is intimately familiar with them or because they are based on ideas s/he can grasp "This is the place that's like Vienna", "This is the lava dungeon").

3. Travel between any place and any other place involves going through another, equally interesting, place.

4. There are at least 2 choices about how to go on any trip and both/all are attractive for different reasons. There are, however, few enough choices that the PCs--as a group--can parse them.

5. Every place contains at least one good reason to visit every other place.

6. The NPCs are interesting, but--more importantly--each has as many connections (possibly hidden or through intermediaries) to the other NPCs as the players' suspension-of-disbelief will allow. (Practically speaking this number is very high since the players will probably not find out every connection for every NPC.)

7. There are enough locations and NPCs that the players don't exhaust them and new ones never have to be made up (the possible relationships are already latent in the places and people from the point of creation, meaning the DM never has to tweak), yet there are few enough that the DM can call them all to mind whenever necessary and the PCs--while not needing to be able to remember all of them--can keep track of enough of them that they basically know what's going on and can make decisions. (This is, in most cases, impossible.)


How I got there and some related ideas:

So I was thinking about how well this worked out.

Another Dispatch From The Department of Obvious:

When you're DMing, things you can remember are good.

Whenever you hear about someone rolling with Professor Barker or Ed Greenwood or some other pillar of the hobby, they always talk about how the person just seems to spin it all out, noteless.

This is because they know how the gameworld will respond to PC actions. Because they know the gameworld like the back of their hand (better, actually. How bored do you have to be to know the back of your hand?). Because they wrote the gameworld.

Those of us who do not have time to write an entire gameworld will take solace from the knowledge that these folks also know it because it tends to act like earlier analogues. Ed Greenwood knows Waterdeep because he wrote it but also because it acts a lot like Lankhmar which in turn acts a lot like noir-era Manhattan wearing Medieval London's clothes.

Details you can't remember and must write down are not bad: they often indicate (say, in a dungeon puzzle) a level of interesting complexity. However: the more you can remember, the more you can improvise, so rememberability is essential in a sandbox.

Here's a formula that's, again, obvious, but is useful to lay out at this point:

On any given game day, the value of whatever worldbuilding was done behind the setting you're using is equal to all the details you can easily access on paper for where the PCs actually are plus anything you can remember that day.

An example of often useless (in a game sense) world knowledge: the extended Cthulhu mythos in a Call of Cthulhu game. While conceiving the adventure it might be useful to know or have access to which Lovecraftian power has which modus operandi, but while actually running a given session at the table all you really need to know is what's going on with whatever single aspect of the Mythos you are trying to freak your PCs out with that day. Knowledge of offscreen pantheon (or panexodemoneon) elements doesn't come up much since Cthulhu is basically a horror game, not a game about magic and astral exploration. Usually.

An example of useful world knowledge in Cthulhu would be: knowing what the 1920's were like. Every single detail you have about the era--its politics, technology, social patterns--might come up if the PCs start getting creative. If you know the world, you can counter-punch confidently.

To some people, history is memorable to begin with and things that happen in real life constantly reinforce various historical facts ("Hitler was bad and his friends wore leather"), so it's easy to remember. History really all does weave together seamlessly so if you can manage to remember it you can get a lotta mileage out of it. A more interesting test-case of what makes a world-as-sandbox work is when the world is fictional.

As a thought experiment, here are some fictional things I can remember and how useful they'd be as templates to re-skin for use as D&D sandboxes or (more likely, at least in my case) parts thereof:

-The basic Lord of The Rings set-up. Not as useful as it seems at first because many interesting things about it are already integrated into the game (dwarves v. halflings for instance) and most of the other relationships are so powerfully centered around the central Evil Empire Vs. Everyone conflict that most locations don't relate powerfully to anything but that. Exceptions: Gollum is swipable (creepy NPC wants magic item even more than you and the Big Bad do) as is Denethor, the steward of Minas Tirith (NPC in temporary control of an important place doesn't want to give it up and is father to two PCs or good NPCs).

-Lunar: Silver Star Story, the video game. Very useful because the games's made up of a set of "themed" areas that are interconnected in ways that are pretty easy to remember if you played the game as well as several broadly-drawn NPCs that likewise are all inter-related. Plus it's already a fantasy setting. You can take the idea of like "High Priestess of a local vanilla religion who turns out to be a member of an evil humanoid race and ally to the big bad" and every other element in the setting has a relationship to that built in.

-1001 Arabian Nights. Not so useful because really no-one in the stories is connected to anyone else and no place is connected to any other place. It's full of good ideas, but none of them automatically imply any others.

-Alice's Adventures In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass. Kinda useful because I can remember the "schticks" fairly well but limited because: 1-Most of the problems aren't "weaponized" (like, the Mad Tea Party is great, but turning that into a D&D scenario is as complex a problem as simply inventing one from scratch)(which problem you see graphically illustrated in the Dungeonland module whose solution is: everything is a monster you fight) 2-The relationships are fairly simple: everyone either works for a Queen or escapes her notice. Outside the opening shrinking/growing chapters, the geographical relationships aren't interesting.

-The original Star Wars. Somewhat useful because, unlike LOTR, the relationships aren't solely built around the Empire vs. Everyone axis. Like if I said "Do an adventure that's basically a fantasy version of what happens on Endor" you could pretty much write that adventure yourself: PCs sent to sabotage baddies in their base, notice or are noticed by superstitious natives, must recruit natives to help them (or succeed despite them). If I say "Jabba the Hutt but in the Middle Ages" you've got a bad guy, his characterization, a location (with a trap, a kind of monster, and some of the map), an environment, a plot (revenge against your party's rogue). However, unlike in Lunar, Jabba and the Ewoks aren't really related to each other.

-Game of Thrones. Semi-useful. The locations are really just based on real-world analogues or familiar fantasy archetypes, so they don't provide details you wouldn't have already like: how would a random encounter in King's Landing be different from one in Lankhmar? Exception: maybe The Wall. The castles are interesting but not, mostly, in a this-dungeon-is-unlike-that-one sense. The NPC inter-relationships are kinda useful but half of them are fairly good guys with uncomplicated desires, which doesn't give a DM much to go off of in terms of adventure fuel. The "bad half" of the cast is pretty good. If I put on a random encounter chart: "this NPC is basically Cersei Lannister and everything that implies" you basically got a whole gob of plot to play with, plus several NPCs with reasons to do things. Provided you can keep it all straight in your head.

-Shakespeare. Inter-relationships: good. Geography: bad.

-Superhero comic books: Most comics I can think of have simultaneously too many and too few relationships between characters: like Doctor Doom has been both ally and foe to Reed Richards many times but basically one's bad and one's good and that's that. They're probably related by marriage somehow at this point if you count future continuity, but not in any way that seems actionable over-all. The good guys are all allies, the bad guys are (often) all allies. The thing to do would be to zoom in on one story arc and use the relationships there. The individual bits of geography in comics are interesting, but movement between them is not really an issue so there's nothing to build a sandbox structure out of.

-Fafhrd/Mouser stories: inside Lankhmar they're useful, ones outside are less useful.

-Zork: Hardly any NPCs. The scale is too small--basically what you get in a Zork game is a single dungeon. Not much to base a "how this world would react" algorithm on.

Ok, so taking a look at all this, the ideal "rememberable" template for an open D&D world would be:

1-It matches the requirements at the beginning of this post as well as possible

2-It has conflict, but the conflict isn't just along an axis where all the good people are lined up against all the bad ones

3-It's got pre-modern technology, so that: 1-movement between places can't be instantly negotiated by airplane or starship and 2-the obstacles don't require a lot of "translation" in order to be usefully D&Ded

4-The DM is familiar enough with it to remember it all

To me, most published RPG settings don't really fit. They are so worried about making the world real-seeming enough that they don't provide adventure fuel. Places are hard to keep straight ( like I know in real life Ottawa is a lot like Philadelphia but in a game I need them to be different, travel from location to location is barely considered (even in something like the Majestic Wilderlands, most routes between points of interest in a given area basically present similar challenges), connections between places are generalized beyond usefulness ("Dorkendale is a major trade hub for the area south of the Scrublands".

What does fit is--maybe not that surprisingly--video games. Even something simple like Super Mario Brothers punches way above its weight class here. This is what I can remember from the first game:

you start above ground
then go into a fungus-infected dungeon
the dungeon can lead to an ocean but also has 3 connections to other places, one of which is sort of Halloweeny and I can't remember the others
proceeding by the most direct route across any place gets you to a lava dungeon, one of which has an eternal-loop puzzle
there's a princess who is moved from castle-to-castle by the big bad, she is allied with fungus people
there are also cloud cities accessible via beanstalks in certain places

That's already more rememberable adventure fuel than I got reading all through the entire Forgotten Realms set. And that's just what I remember without looking at the game. Imagine if you actually went back and played and drew a map. Or, perhaps more to the point, played the Super Mario RPG and remembered that.

Maybe this seems like a depressing conclusion to you: computer RPG environments make better templates for sandboxes than anything else out there. I don't think it should be, though. The Fortress of 10,000 Mists can still be as weird or literature-damaged as you need it to be, the only thing it's borrowing from Cloud World is the plumbing. As long as it doesn't leak, who cares where the plumbing's from?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Silver Star Sandbox

Basically, the plot of the videogame Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete goes like this:

-You (3 PCs at the beginning) go around looking for adventure ("Hey, why don't we go here?"etc.).

-Eventually you run into major villains. They take away one of your PCs.

-In order to get her back, friendly NPCs explain one of your PCs must become The Dragon Master by going to 3 places and getting 3 artifacts. This'll allow you to have enough power to defeat the villains.

-You get the items. (Meeting obstacles along the way.)

-Then you meet the major villain again, who you chase through various lairs, until you finally catch and defeat him.

Since I remember the plot and monsters fairly well, and since it involves a lot of moving from place to place, I drew up these notes to examine the possibility of:

-re-skinning the Lunar world, and
-turning it from a plot-based world into a sandbox

Since the name of the game in a wide-open game is to have a general idea of what's in each area and then zoom in and add detail when your PCs go there, it seems like starting with a world I know well from spending 25 hours in it might be useful...

This map shows the connections between locations--not the precise geography, just what is accessible from where. Only places in the same box, adjacent boxes, or connected by an arrow are accessible.

, a Boring Hometown containing:
Larval White Dragon (looks like a flying cat)
Annoying singing peasant girl (actually reincarnated goddess)
Annoying laconic peasant boy (fated to be a dragonmaster)
A pragmatic fat kid (fated to own a store)
A monument to the dead dragonmaster with a sword in it--it'll come out if you have all the other dragon items and will turn the larval dragon into a regular dragon
Some Wise Parents
No place to sell gems--you'll have to go to Meribia

White Dragon Caves, An Ice Dungeon containing:
White dragon (friendly)--if you lead the albino here he'll attempt to enslave the dragon and reveal himself to be the armored "Magic Emperor" and capture the annoying singing peasant girl
Wendigos/White Apes
Green slimes
Evil Flies
Crystal Monsters
A trick-the-white-ape-into-smashing-the-obstacle puzzle
An ice ring

The Weird Woods, A Forest containing:
An impenetrable mist that can only be dispersed by magic
Trapped treasure
Evil bugs
Evil plants and fungi
Poisons and antidotes
An ancient drag0nmaster, reincarnated with a beret

Saith, A Port Town containing:
A drunken sea captain who lost his sea chart to a gambler
Said gambler, who traded said sea chart to a hag
Sea captain's boat, which is being menaced by a ferocious bubble elemental

Hag's Forest, A Forest containing:
Evil bugs
A helpful hotshot wizard (lightning specialist)
Traps that suck
A hag's hovel
A hag that will trade items with you for a bit, then get annoyed and curse you.

A Boat, containing:
Fuck all

Meribia, A Big City containing:
A boisterous but friendly bruiser--a beastman--who is in charge of the city, father of the priestess in Lann
A street of magic stores, including...
A fortune teller who is also a mysterious femme fatale with a tattoo over one eye who knows and works with the helpful hotshot wizard
(Triggered event: if the albino is turned into the Magic Emperor then the city will be overrun with gargoyles and weird floating evil wizards and priests and the doppleganger sorceress will show up and try to turn anyone who opposes her to stone)
A bar where the waitresses wear Playboy bunny outfits
An unscrupulous owner of said bar who will try to steal your stuff and flee into a sewer dungeon

Beneath Meribia, A Sewer Dungeon containing:
Bridges operated by hidden switches
Shrimp/water-insect monsters
Floating biting white-flame sphere monsters
Fat toad/snakes
Evil hopping fish
A sludge dragon controlled by the guy who took your stuff

Althena's Shrine A Church containing:
Gossipy priestesses
A secretly evil high-priestess

Spring of Transmission, A Magical Spring
...allowing teleportation up to Vane, a floating city, via the...

Cave of Trial A Magic Cave Dungeon meant to test your magical prowess containing:
Evil bugs
A guy whose head is a big eye that shoots lasers
Fungus monsters
A really big fungus monster with tentacles
Some kind of magic restriction preventing you from using any items (but not weapons)
Once you've gone through this place once you can go back and forth between the Spring and Vane without going through it

Nanza Pass, A Wasteland surrounding Nanza in all directions containing:
Trapped treasure
Sleep moths
Giant ants
Fire-breathing mud heads
Stupid dog monsters

Nanza, A Bandit Outpost controlling access to Marius Zone to the south, the Eastern Sector, and Lann, to the west, containing:
A helpful but drunk bandit prince who rules the place and is in love with a priestess who is in Lann
Some gargoyles led by the femme fatale from Meribia who tries to kidnap him while he's dressed as a girl
Several useless fucks

Marius Zone

Reza A thieves' guild town containing:
Several jackasses who will try to steal your stuff
(If you are a member of their Theives' Guild they have to give it back)
A hidden black market where you can find anything that was stolen from you plus hot air balloon blueprints and hot air baloon spare parts
Houses connected to each other by tunnels
A singer in the midst of being captured by the femme fatale.
A guy at the bar who will allow you to get hot air balloon parts for free

Althena Springs Magical healing springs

Meryod Woods
A spooky forest between the Marius Zone and Meryod containing:
Evil insects
Evil Plants
A floating sort of shrimp thing with a giant eyeball and mouth called a brain-licker
A sort of cross between an eye of the deep and a fish
Evil fake versions of anyone turned to stone so far who will fuck with you
The Femme Fatale again, who will appear and try to turn you all to stone

Meryod A town built on stilts over water, connecting the Marius Zone to Lyton, containing:
A bridge that'll break as soon as you step on it
Dumb hicks
A guy who administers the thieves' guild test: the current test is to steal something from Damon's Spire. He'll give you the password.

Damon's Spire, a (password-protected) Wizard Tower containing:
multiple floors, each requiring a riddle to ascend to the next level
floor panels that open doors
a library on the top floor
things that look like knight-helmed heads with bat wings
big blue bruisers with horns
some floors where monsters are only susceptible to magic and some where they are only susceptible to physical attacks

Iluk a town of crazy inventors including:
one who will make a hot air balloon for you if you can get him a certain bug
a field containing a million bugs that are kinda like the one you need but are the wrong color and have sleep powers plus evil plants and insects

Red Dragon Cave, a Lava Dungeon, only accessible by flying, containing:
A red dragon (friendly)
Blood ooze
Giant scorpions
Weirdoes wielding red-hot pokers
Fire elementals
Traps cursing you to fall from one level to the next
A thing where you have to run through fire
A pair of bronze dog statues which turn into powerful flaming dog foes
The femme fatale will briefly show up and gloat


Lyton a town full of horrible music, containing:
a guy who will explain the music problem is due to something going on in the shrine
a shrine which is an underground dungeon containing...
cracks in the floor which'll cause you to fall down to a lower floor
a wind-music puzzle
glowing black eyeballed floating electricity monsters
access to the Blue Dragon Cave

Forbidden Forest a Spooky Forest, containing:
Monsters that look like the monsters everywhere else but are insanely powerful
A spring where hot naked chicks bathe

Blue Dragon Cave, a Water-Themed Dungeon, containing:
An entrance that will only emerge from the sea if two people who are in love sing in unison
Teleportation pools that are the only means of moving from one part of the dungeon to the next but which are camouflaged among other pools which contain water weirds
fish-tailed "aqua genies"
blue spinning wolf/sonic hedgehog things
gelatin creatures
a blue dragon--or, if the albino has become the Magic Emperor, its spirit (which will explain that it has been captured)


Tamur Pass, a Wasteland connecting the Meryod-Lyton-Blue Dragon Cave-Forbidden Forest area to the Stadius Zone, containing...
Bug monsters
Plant monsters
Ferret monsters
The doppleganger sorceress, who sics dark sorcerers and evil knights on you
A pair of helpful pseudo-Sioux

Tamur, a stupid town, where people complain, containing...
the access point to Myght's Tower
a man about to be hanged by one of the righteous pseudo-Sioux--who will fight you if you try to stop him and will respect you if you win

Myght's Tower, a Wizard's Tower, containing:
An entrance that can only be accessed by solving a combination puzzle
Elevators that are part of a maze
Magic hats that attack--can only be attacked with magic
Creepy puppet monsters with wheels
Mirror monsters
Crystal monsters
An inventor who will make you an airship if you can find his lab (it'll take a few days)--if you try to follow the Magic Emperor in it, the Hotshot Wizard will try to sabotage you and reveal himself to have been a spy all along.

Lost Forest, a Spooky Forest between Tamur and Myght's Tower and Pao, containing:
evil bugs
evil plants
evil mushrooms
illusory trees making it hard to figure out how to get out of the forest

Pao, a pseudo-Sioux village, containing:
an evil voice which will attempt to put all female characters to sleep
a village elder who controls access to the Black Dragon Cave

Black Dragon Cave, a Stone Dungeon full of undead, containing:
Treasure chest traps that suck your ability to do magic
Floating balls of undead heads
Floating liches
Undead sludge monsters
Evil floating priests
Other weird undead and demonic monsters
A black dragon friendly unless the Magic Emperor has been revealed in which case its body is under his control and it attacks. If you survive, the Magic Emperor briefly appears, then heads off to the frontier.



(This area appears to have no atmosphere, like the moon. In the original game this is because the whole game takes place on the moon and only the "fantasy" areas have an earthlike atmosphere, but in my gameworld it conveniently fits the spherical-atmosphere-cube-planet model.)

Talon, a Mining Town full of evil humanoids

Talon Mines, a Stone Dungeon containing:
steampunk tanks
rock scorpions
armored guys
an injured miner guy that you can help
The evil high priestess
Healing statue to Althena despite the dominant religion being evil anyway
The evil high priestess from Althena's shrine forces you to fight the...
Shadow spectre
And each other

Cadin, an egg-like structure, containing...
Althena statue
The priestess, who relents and tells you the password for Ruid

Ruid, a Technological Tower, containing...
A space-looking guy
Tread tank with a drill
Electric wand dude with generator on back
An evil inventor
Hotshot wizard traitor in a suit that makes him more powerful
Activation switches for the Grindery
Maybe the albino, if he's been revealed to be the Magic Emperor


Lann, A small town containing a helpful half-beastman priestess, in love with the aforementioned bandit prince. The town controls access to an island containing:
A swamp full of poison water,
Traps that confuse you so you walk into that water,
Floating devil-squid monsters
Eyeball-head guys
More of the monsters that were in the Meribian sewers
An evil guy pretending to be a dragonmaster who actually just rides a giant toad

Vane, A Floating Magical City containing:
A wizard school
A helpful ice witch, daughter of..
A sorceress-queen, locked in the dungeon wearing a magical mask that confuses her
A doppleganger sorceress-queen that rules in her stead--she wants you to check out reports of a dragonmaster in Lann. She's actually the leader of a tribe of evil humanoids. When you return she'll lock you in the dungeon.
A metrosexual long-haired Lotor/Elric-type evil elf wizard who pretends to be good
(Triggered event: if the albino turns into the Magic Emperor, you'll find a giant crustacean attacking this place--it's immune to magic)
The entrance to a tower dungeon, described below--in the same palace as the magic school and the government--the Crystal Spire.
The Silver Spire allows vane to be piloted like a giant spaceship.

Crystal Tower, A Crystal Dungeon containing:
An enchantment making it so you can only use magic, not weapons
Treasure you can see but only get to by regressive paths
Mirror monsters
Evil crystals
Floating balls of plasma
Hovering magic guys called blood lords
A star chamber where the albino (still pretending to be good) and the femme fatale, disguised priestess, and doppleganger queen will reveal themselves and then make you fight some gargoyles
After that, the albino will ask to be taken to the white dragon

Grindery a moving tech-dungeon, containing:
4 colored dragons as power sources
Floating wizard
Flying steampunk devices that are evil--some of whom shoot bombs
Tank-treaded golems with swords
Razor cats
Teleporting tubes
A hidden garden w/healing statue and brainwashed fairyies
The priestess, who helps you by fending off the sorceress and femme fatale
A fake Magic Emperor with 4 elemental attacks
Then: the singing peasant girl turned evil and hot and the real albino laughing at you--they cause the floating Goddess Tower to appear high above the earth
If you lose: transported to Meribia while unconscious

Goddess Tower A floating multidimensional fortress dungeon containing:
Fat quadrupedal demons with wings and snakes curled around them
Cannons with angel wings
Floating crushing stone mouth monsters
Stone Viking Warriors
The nonflyers prevent doors opening--kill them and the doors will open
The femme fatale disguised as the peasant girl--she casts a curse: from now on, during any battle a random 2 of your party will be asleep
More monsters...
Then the Femme Fatale shows up again and fights you with witch powers
Dragon color order puzzle
Confusing door puzzle
Evil doppleganger sorceress makes you face your fears
Then you fight her head on
Then the magic emperor for real

Somehow this post got deleted, so I'm re-posting it with some comments that got swallowed

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Now what I know about computers can be summed up as: "What you guys and Wikipedia tell me." but this (probably authentically accidentally publicly posted but no less germane to this here post if it isn't) Google employee rant struck a chord with me, once I sifted through the technical jargon.

The gist of the thing--which I do dearly hope I'm getting right--is that each little part of Googlecorp has been focusing on building ace products that work, rather than on building "platforms"--that is: architectures that anyone inside or outside of Google can use to make their own products that are Google-compatible.

His example is (don't groan yet) Facebook and Farmville. Basically: Facebook did not anticipate Farmville (the current most popular computer game on Earth, literally, I have heard), but they made their code architecture available so that a thing like Farmville was possible.

i.e. Rather than anticipating all possible products and trying to outcompete everyone to find the next product, they built their product (Facebook the website) on a platform (Facebook the platform) which products like Farmville or Mafia Wars could be designed to fit on top of and shared that underlying architecture. And they did this by assuming from the beginning that the architecture they were going to build Facebook on would be transparent.

Probably by now you're already anticipating the first point I'm going to make: D&D is a platform. Third parties have been able to design their own products and "products" (noncommercial things like custom encounter tables for strictly local use) for RPGs since day one.

What I'm thinking about here are some ideas brought more closely into focus if you look at D&D, and RPGs in general, as platforms:

-Every time you hack D&D instead of writing your own game from scratch, you are essentially acknowledging the usefulness of D&D as a platform. Either because it works or because it's so popular that it's easy to get a group together or because you're too lazy to shop around or whatever. Point is: this is one of the keys to it being around.

-WOTC: What makes 3.5/Pathfinder not just a philosophical stepping stone between TSR D&D and Type IV is that 3.5 seems to represent the last time the people at WOTC thought of D&D as a platform. D&D Type IV, is, as I have said, fun. However, its hackability and extendability are compromised by:

*The third-party license problem (which, actually, is the least of it, and largely none of my business)

*The complexity involved in building monsters. This was already kinda nuts in 3.5 for DMs who (unlike me) were not willing to just throw feats, skills, and "yes-that-+5-attack-bonus-is-teleologically-justified" out the window. It's not that it is impossible to build the monsters with simple math--it's that it takes a long fucking time. Here's Jeff talking about how "building opposition was a chore" in an abandoned 3.5 campaign (and if Jeff Gameblog can't on-the-fly something you know it's a mess). In TSR D&D you can just go HD 6 AC 7 Atk 2d6/2d6 and you got yourself a foe.

*(Insidious and maybe beside-the-point corollary of point above:) It takes so long to build an according-to-Hoyle 3.5 or Type IV stat-block that it seems to trick many product designers into thinking they've provided a lot more content than they really have when they give you a monster.

*Though skill challenges can be cleverly designed and thought-out--they have to be in order to work. Although Type IV is designed to be "easy to DM" and it probably is in many ways, it isn't easy to make a skill challenge fun. Once a situation is re-designed as a skill challenge it takes effort to back-engineer it into a situation again and figure out what other ways could provide tension and meaningful challenge. This problem doesn't occur in a situation where a situation is just a situation.

-Platformyness isn't just about making a game hackable (all games are hackable) or about Open Game Licenses (even without them, nothing's stopping you from sharing tools with your friends or with GMs online. Unless you're playing Palladium games.)--it's about making that hacking so easy and fast that the usefulness of the game as a platform is as meaningful as the usefulness of the game as IP.

Savage Worlds seems to have gotten this idea, D20 has this idea, GURPS and Rolemaster were built on this idea--but Warhammer and WOTC seem to want to go a whole other way.

-Vornheim is a platform product--it's a thing, but it is also a set of (hopefully) transparent tools for making things--and when I keep saying I hope I don't have to write another RPG book because I hope other people look at it and make things like it, that's what I mean. Things plus platforms that can be used to make more things. Thought about in that way from the beginning.

"Half and half" books. How many times have you read on some blog about a nifty subsystem buried in an ancient module for a game you never saw? Why not explicitly design the thing that way: here is the thing I thought up, and here are the tools I used to think it up or extend it.

Since we know that hardly anyone uses these things right out of the box anyway, why not start out assuming a toolkit of extensions is step one in helping GMs use your module?

-Modularity is not exactly the same thing as platformyness but it also seems to be an idea implicit in the way we handle game stuff that seems like it could be more explicit in the way adventures are actually put together--by companies and individuals. "I took the pygmy trap from Mountain of The Devil Peach and I took the three-headed ghost from Wheel of Unexploded Fungi and..." well if we all know this is going to happen, why not put together dungeons and adventures as if we knew that to begin with?

Write a little something about why tab A goes into slot B and what you'd lose if you moved them around. Sometimes nothing, sometimes something--if you know your dungeon's going to be hacked, talk about the hacking opportunities. Make the design process transparent.

You don't lose anything by explaining that the pool is in front of the door so the rust monster has a natural barrier between it and the needle-mice. If a distinct area can be completely lifted without interfering with interactions in a module, point it out and graphic design the thing overall so it can be easily chopped into parts.

-Half the time you see a new table or chart on this blog it's because I went "Ok, for my next session I'll need a fortress--hey why don't I spend the amount of time I'd spend designing that fortress adventure making a little subsystem to generate fortresses." This isn't always the best approach but when I do it that way it generally works out--the brainstorming I do to get the entire table might give me ideas I wouldn't have thought of if I'd just been focused on building one location. And, naturally, it saves a lot of time down the road.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Notes On The 52

My guess is if you're reading this you've maybe seen some part of the rest of the internet at some point this year, but if you haven't: DC Comics has relaunched all of its comics from #1 (also: Steve Jobs died, everyone on youtube thinks Justin Bieber sucks and music was better in whatever decade the song they are commenting on was first recorded in, and people really like cats and pornography). They sent me all of them. I read all of them. (Now here's the part where you say you don;t read comics much but you always liked Marvel better, except Batman. Thank you, I did not know that.) Here are some notes on the best ones...


Starts with a faux text piece in real-life magazine The Believer which I am skipping. And now some very nice art. See, this is how you do "clean line" art--you use the open areas to organize the negative space into patterns and then cinch each panel together around a short burst of interesting detail. And this is how you write not-costume-wearing scenes--make them matter in the context of a superhero comic: Animal Man's daughter can't get a dog because if he's around any one animal for too long he bonds with it and his powers don't work right. That's cute. Oh, his costume completely sucks though. Nice sound effects "Thok". Animal Man's eyes bleeding (second bleeding eyes in the 52 so far). "Weight of a bumblebee so as not to wake the kids" nice. Now some cryptic Vertigo shit. I'm on board.


JH Williams III uses shadows rather than line weight for inflection and variety. What's that mean? It means he's better at night than during the daytime. Which is kind of like all the Bat characters--at night they're fun and during they day they moan about their parents. Oddly, JH WIlliams is responsible for most of the starring-female-superheroes-but-have-good-art-anyway comics in all of history--Chase, Promethea, and now this. Anyway, go read Batwoman, it's good.


You may know this as the comic which has the two pages in it that get reposted all over the internet with stories about how a 7-year old is sad. You may not know that it has several other pages in it that are actually better than most of the other 52--and most things this year--put together.

Here are some things that are usually boring in comics that are not boring when they are drawn by Kenneth Rocafort:

-an army base
-army guys
-an establishing shot of a creepy locale
-a night table

Kenneth Rocafort made a night table interesting. Give the kid people in technicolor costumes performing actual actions, he works wonders.

Yes, there are these awful "let the digital colorist handle the rendering on my tits and ass, I'm sure it'll all work out" pages and I'm sure Starfire saying shit like "Those two humans make me laugh, when I can tell them apart" instead of insane drivel like "Love and caring don't leave when you become a hero. They're always a part of life. If anything we can appreciate the good emotions more." (Teen Titans Spolight #19) will corrupt all children everywhere--but if you're not a Clintonite neoconservative there's only one real genuine problem with this comic book:

The Red Hood looks and sounds too much like Deadpool. Who, in turn, looks and sounds too much like Spider-Man.

P.S. If you would like to complain about this comic book, complain to Mandy, not me, I've already done my shift in Explaining Art To Sheltered Parents purgatory and it's now her turn. Trust me, she is eager to discuss the issue with you.


Sweet wild scribbly scratchy unprecedented monsters. SHADE headquarters is amazing. Frankenstein looks badass. This comic rules. Frankenstein quotes Milton instead of Shelley. He has good taste. His boss is a little girl in a domino mask. His wife has 4 arms. He speaks with grim clarity. His mission is clear. Holy fuck Vincent Velcro the vampire from the Creature Commandos is in this comic. Did you know that during World War II the allies were aided by a unit consisting entirely of monsters? Did you know one was a vampire? Did you know this vampire was named Sgt. Vincent Velcro? Did you know that the people who made this comic knew that and brought him back so he could be in it? Now you know that! Oh my god all comics need to be exactly like this. Ok: the mummy is kinda stupid and the fishwoman kinda looks like Abe Sapien, but I never like Cyclops or Longshot either, so whatever. Alberto Ponticelii have my children. If you like weird monster things or things that are good in any way, you should take a look at this. Extremely impressive (and very D&D-able).

Some notes on the 52 in general:

-Jim Lee's Justice League is surrounded by satellite books drawn by several would-be Jim Lees, which is strange: you keep checking to make sure Bush Senior isn't president and the Berlin Wall isn't back up.

-Aside from Batwoman, the Woman-and-Minority Report is kind of gruesome. The most interesting art on a not-white character is Batwing (Africa's Batman!) a character doomed to forever play second fiddle to a white guy if ever there was one one. They use this same make-an-established-white-character-not-white-instead-of-making-an-original-character trick four more times in the new 52: Blue Beetle, Mr Terrific, half of Firestorm and the original experiment-in-planned-obsolescence, Green Lantern John Stewart. (Cursed to always be the second most famous guy with his superhero name and his real name. He must hate Google.) As for the original black guys, Cyborg is in the JLA from the beginning--which is nice--though his new costume seems a little charmless, and the pretty-original(-if-you-don't-count-his-prototype-Black-Lightning) Static gets his own comic again.

Following DC tradition, the female characters get wonderful art on the covers and...also some art inside. And they made the only fat woman skinny. And far be it from me to complain that the only black female character in her own book is an exotic dancer--the only black female on my lease is an exotic dancer--but so far Voodoo is really just some lackluster cheesecake coupled with extensive evidence that neither writer nor artist know what happens in a strip club dressing room. Seems like people would wanna complain about 20-odd pages of that before 2 pages of Starfire.