Friday, May 31, 2013

Take Ten Minutes And Do This

Here's a map.

Key it.

Now you have a back-up dungeon.

Some day you'll be glad you had it around.

Here's mine...

Monday, May 27, 2013

All Mouths Lead To One Stomach (The Concentric Dungeon)

Ok, so megadungeons are fun, right?

But the problem is you have to tell your players like "This is where the action is, ok? Go in the dungeon a lot or else I've prepped all this shit for nothing."

And, in general, dungeons in a sandbox are like that: on the one hand you wanna dream crazy stacking dreams upon dreams, on the other hand, the players have to have the freedom to go wherever they want.

So often, instead of a big dungeon you end up with lots of little ones.

Now as you may or may not know, my solution to this in my game is that, just beneath a thin layer of opportunistic plants, my whole world's just solid dungeon. One big one.

The little ones all feed into the big one, like so...

So like ok first of all you know how one dungeon can have two geographically disparate entrances... then now imagine that points A and B below represent the location of two different small dungeons... imagine level 1 of dungeon A is, through tunnels, connected to level 1 of dungeon B. Making them, technically, part of one big dungeon level 1.

And both sit above (and are wrappped completely around) a level 2 that is smaller than this vast level 1, but which is accessible from many places on that big level 1.

And the still-vast level 2 leads (through various different exits) to a smaller level 3, and below that, a smaller level 4 etc etc on and on until at level 9 you have a really small dungeon with like Demogorgon and 3000 horribles and treasure and godhood.

Basically this allows each "separate" dungeon on the surface to maintain it's own identity (this is the lava dungeon, this is the undead dungeon, this is the dungeon under the mugwump castle...) while cutting down on your prep time as GM--you only have to make one big dungeon with lots of subgenrefied and differentiated "feeders".

There's no reason players even have to know this--they can go in, kill some local boss, find some treasure, then come back up without ever investigating that trap door underneath the sarcophagus--which is what will usually happen.

Also, in a sense, the megadungeon moves with the campaign:the players can sail from Pseudotolkienia to 1001Nightpasticheland and the megadungeon is still down there beneath them.

Now my campaign world is a cube, not a sphere, so it is more like this...
 ...but the idea's the same.

Here's a secret--this is my game's Big Diagram--it shows how various dungeons and dungeon entrances are connected. You have to imagine the big grey dots are ground-level dungeon entrances and the pentagram is at the center of the planet.
Click to enlarge
Each color is a distinct subdungeon, with its own stuff going on. Getting from one to the next usually requires tripping some lever or finding some feature the inhabitants don't know about.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Your Map With Numbers On It. Immediately.

So yesterday I did this custom numbered D&D campaign map.

And that took forever.

So then, of course, some guys used technology to make this which does it automatically--feed in any picture that's on the web and it spits out a version of it with numbers on top.
Note that if you put in an image big enough that the numbers start getting in the thousands then you need to adjust the spacing so the numbers don't overlap each other.

The code's here.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Duct-Taping The World Together

Ok, so this is kinda nuts...
Click to enlarge, otherwise you'll kinda miss the point
What you are looking at is the worldmap of our campaign that Connie drew with the numbers 1-3612 overlaid on top of it.

Now why would anyone want to do that and, more to the point, why would they then get excited enough about doing it that they then decided to write a whole blog entry about it?

1. Ok, so it starts off with the 3.5 Majestic Wilderlands Boxed set, which is several gazillion pages of Sword & Sorcery & Sort of A Stab At Some Sort Of Geopolitical Plausibility sandbox.

Advantages: It is large and has many entries.

Disadvantages: Like nearly all game products ever, it is formatted all crappy for use at the table, many of the entries are boring or written by hippies, the entries are subdivided into several different sections,  and a lot of hexes have nothing in them, which makes it less than ideal for any kind of campaign other than a "let's explore every single hex and see what's in it" type game.
2. So Awesome DIY D&D Computer Sorcerer Ram took this monstrosity and, using advanced negascience, reduced it to plain text and eliminated all the paragraphs of useless stats which bloated the fuck out of the thing.

3. I then sat on it for a few months fixing it up lazily when I had nothing better to do: auto-search-and-replacing boring monsters with interesting ones (giant otter---> flail snails), Wilderlands-specific cities to ones in my campaign, Wilderlands races to local races as well as chopping out egregiously boring entries, throwing in stuff from various blog sources (Hexenbrachen, some stuff Jack Dungeonsque wrote, a few of my own hexes) and generally putzing about with it. I got about 1/5th of the way through. It's a big fucking boxed set.

4. I then took it and had my computer do a search-and-replace for "any 4 digits in a row" and replace with nothing to get rid of every single hex number.

5. Then I used this on-line widget to renumber each entry from one so there were no skipped hexes (tech note: I also had to remove all the line breaks between entries first). This reduced the entire Altered Wilderlands to 3612 entries.

And, no: the geography doesn't necessarily make any sense now, but not in any way that can't be fixed by changing "isle" to "tower" and vice versa now and then.

6. Now what you'd wanna do, ideally, is use Co-Awesome DIY D&D Computer Sorcerer Random Wizard's method to turn my map into a hex map. Like you can do with the map from the Divine Right boardgame, like so...
click, enlarge, save, go nuts
...or with Iceland...

The problem is that Random Wizard's grid only goes down 30 ranks so while hex 2630 is on the map, hex 2633 and 2634 aren't.

While I'm sure there's some better way to do this (like write a program that numbers things 0001-0030 then skips to 0100-0130 then 0200-0230 etc), I just decided hey, fuck hexes and had this widget generate a continuous list of numbers, used this widget to format it the way I needed and pasted these numbers on top of Connie's original map in a text box. Which is what's at the top of this here blog entry.

(This was way harder than it should've been had I employed actual computer science because for some reason getting the numbers to line up by changing the font size does insane and seemingly random things to the spacing--thus the numberless band around the latitude of Vornheim on the map--so there was a lot of dumb trial and error.)

7. But whatever anyway what we have in the end is a map where every single point on my campaign map has something in it. It may be something dull ("Ocleots: 2") or something that'll need some work to be playable ("Unicorns _: A group of 3 unicorns has made a temporary lair in this open plain. One of them is badly injured. They have little to offer as a reward for help except to allow their saviors to ask one question about the good gods.") but there's something.

Some nice things this: 

-Every time I get (or steal) an idea anywhere for any part of the campaign, I can just type it into the existing key in the right hex. See something I like in Barovania? Just cut it and paste it somewhere, then read the surrounding hexes and figure out how it fits in when/if it becomes important.

-Any kind of trip between A and C is guaranteed to have some kind of B in the middle.

-I can cut out chunks of the text and search-and-replace for each ecosystem.  Like once you get into the 3300's that's all tropical, so replace "wolf" with "leopard" and up in to 0000's replace "leopard" with "snow leopard".

-All the utility villages where you can buy supplies or rent henchmen are already on the map without me having to make them up.

-I'm the GM and I don't know what's in most of the world. I love that. 


Monday, May 20, 2013

Thanks For The List, TSR

As blogland well knows, every sneezerag and post-it Tactical Studies Rules ever produced is secretly useful so long as you read it right.

And so, yes, that includes this.

What to do with TSR's list of things never to do? Well, obviously: do them.

But why? Because offending people with a D&D book generally only happens when people start acting nuts and people only start acting nuts when they start having genuine emotions. That's why they call crazy people "emotionally disturbed".

Offense is just the worst worst-case outcome for talking about things that people care about. So TSR's list is really just a list of things people care about.

Use them.

What'll Make Today's Game Interesting?
(Roll d20)

WHOA HEY: As everyone probably already knows, some players may have experienced traumas in their past which may make discussing some of the situations described below emotionally difficult for them. I mean, I guess--I've never actually seen it in real life. But, hey, I've heard about it on the internet and you have too. If you play with people like that then I guess, y'know, be careful and don't be a dick.

This session, evil may be portrayed in an attractive light and will be used to muddy a moral issue. NPCs present shall proclaim the antagonist as an agent of right. The PCs will be offered a devil's bargain--something they richly desire in exchange for committing an act with dire consequences. Satanic symbology, rituals, and phrases may  appear even more than usual.
The mixed-blessing bargain is an essential part of anything resembling intrigue. Even in the event that the PCs refuse the bargain, your campaign now has a new point around which drama can pivot and complexity can grow: the villainous would-be power broker can be hoodwinked, manipulated, blackmailed, used against itself. And they can do the same to you.

If you need a villain, here you go.

Go do research. Your adventure shall present explicit details and methods of crime, weapon construction, drug use, magic, science, or technologies that could be reasonably duplicated and misused in real life situations.

A central problem or puzzle in the game will turn on it. Go google up how to pick a lock or make crystal meth, then build an adventure around the key ingredients or steps.

A certain level of detail is central to something in the essential nature of any really satisfying puzzles: the ability to admit more than one solution. The more detailed the mechanics of the scenario are, the more points at which the PCs can interact with it--if you and they know exactly which part of the thaumaturgic circle correspond to which part of the summoning, control and dismissal of exactly how many devils then they can alter any single part of a spell to create something you didn't anticipate and send the campaign in all sorts of new directions.

You could start here or here or here or wherever.

An agent of law enforcement (constable, policeman, judge, government official, and respected institution) will be depicted in such a way as to create disrespect for current established authorities/social values. 

Someone in power sucks this session. It's essential that the surrounding power structure be at least tolerably functional or else it's just another Evil Empire scenario (see 4 below).

One nice thing about this kind of hook is that while it can be used to surround the PCs with dangers to the point that they can't ignore it, it can still take many forms and respond dynamically to the PCs' actions--it isn't rigid. Start imagining every single thing the government could do to you if it decided it didn't like you, specifically.

However, lest this get railroady--another nice thing about this kind of plot is the PCs have a lot of options about how to handle it--after all, the party just has to find a way to get to one person to end it all. People move, they take holidays, they have schedules and eat lunch. As long as you more or less know how the government works in your setting (and you do, because you're a crazy GM and think about this kind of thing all day or else you wouldn't be reading this blog), the scenes write themselves and the number of ways the PCs can interact with them is infinite.

For a decent outline of how this kind of plot could play out, read this. And saying that would normally be a dickhead move because I'm telling you to go read a whole trade paperback collection just to think up a goddamn D&D adventure but in this case it's not at all a dickhead move because it's maybe the best comic ever written so if you haven't read it you're just holistically better off no matter what, ok?

Crimes will be presented in such ways as to promote distrust of law enforcement agents/agencies or to inspire others with the desire to imitate criminals. Crime should be depicted as a noble and pleasant activity. Criminals may be presented in glamorous circumstances.

In this situation, the entire ruling class is totally corrupt, oppression is universal and criminals are freedom fighters whether or not they want to be. Think of it as scenario 3 but universalized and turned up to 11. This provides a perfect opportunity for a heroic sandbox: players roam a target-rich environment while working for a common good. For a particularly fine example (from TSR of course) check this out.

Evil monsters will be unable to be clearly defeated in any obvious fashion. 

The players will either think of some way to stop the monster that you didn't (which is always good) or it'll be all about surviving a Call of Cthulhu-esque horror you cannot hope to destroy (which is always good).

Another nice bit about this kind of plot is it's easy to draw the PCs in: the plot hook is just everyone else running the other way screaming about how nothing can stop whatever the hell it is. Then imply there's treasure.

Profanity, obscenity, smut, and vulgarity will be used this session. While none of these things are interesting in themselves, the emotions they can produce are. The villains in this adventure are grotesquely decadent, but that isn't the point: the point is to keep laying on inversions and perversions until you hit a nerve--something that viscerally makes players (not PCs, players) want to fucking end these motherfuckers.

Once you've done that, the plot and mechanics can all be very simple: the players' intense desire to make it all go away will give the session a satisfying intensity that can push beyond the need for twists or inventions.

The use of drama or horror is acceptable and desirable. The detailing of sordid vices or excessive gore shall be not avoided. Horror, defined as the presence of uncertainty and fear in the tale, shall be permitted and will be graphically detailed.

The key word in the paragraph above is "use"--something graphic will happen and it will happen for a reason. Unlike 6 above, reasons are important here--the intent is not necessarily to inspire feelings of revulsion and horror in the players, the intent here is to emphasize the moral or supernatural excessiveness of the foe in question. Go ahead and write it down, detail the horrors, use a script, think of the worst things you can, and then, when it happens, read it to the players.
Generally the idea with gore is to make a point and it is often the same point: this is what really goes on. Or a metaphor for it. Gore as an aesthetic strategy is often linked to activism. As William Burroughs explained in the introduction to his gory classic Naked Lunch: "The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork."

The gore villain is the opposite of the sexy villain, and works well when juxtaposed with it: you want this? Then this is what you get.

Only lurid scenes of excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, filth, sadism, or masochism, presented in text or graphically, are acceptable today. Scenes of unnecessary violence, extreme brutality, physical agony, and gore, including but not limited to extreme graphic or descriptive scenes presenting cannibalism, decapitation, evisceration, amputation, or other gory injuries, should be actively sought out.

This is not in order to provoke an emotional reaction (6) or to express an idea (7) but just to provide atmosphere. In this adventure everything will be exceptionally bad all the time. 

Lay it on thick all day. Play Raining Blood and Cattle Decapitation. Whether this ends up as a majestically Howardian violence-opera or just funny is up to you and your players, but if every lost hit point is another eyeball rolling across the floor it'll be fun either way.

You'll need terrible vikings, cannibal halflings, maggot zombies or something.

Sexual themes of all types will not be avoided.  Arranged marriage, seduction, droit de seigneur, unrequited attraction, teratophilic and/or sociopathic sexuality might be discussed.

The original TSR guidelines advise against the portrayal of graphic sex scenes and this is good advice given for the wrong reason: narrated sex in games should be avoided not because of The Children but because it appeals mostly to boring people who aren't getting properly fucked and you shouldn't be playing games with them.
However, sex as a dramatic element in intrigues and crimes can be very useful. As Romeo and Juliet cleanly illustrates: the nice thing about sex in drama is it can show up and work at completely cross-purposes with anyone's material interests. The princess wants the pearl: so what? She goes and takes it, it's a heist. The princess wants the pearl but also the pearlbearer's son? It's suddenly gotten very complicated. This may require deception, invention, research, persuasion, disguises.

Any conscientious game master has wondered, now and again, how could this nigh-omnipotent Dark Overlord eight levels higher than them end up letting this party anywhere fucking near the prisoner/command center/treasure hoard? Desire to produce an heir or seduce a subject are answers as good as any--and realistic, too.

Nudity is never acceptable, graphically, when done in a manner that complies with good taste and social standards: it is as hypocritical as the cleric's mace. Degrading depictions are impossible (this is fiction, nobody's grade is going anywhere) and salacious depiction is unavoidable (tastes vary wildly across the spectrum of all known images). Graphic display of reproductive organs, or any facsimiles will appear this session.
Why is up to you. It might be gory, it might be funny, it might be sexy, it might simply emphasize someone's helplessness, but here's the trick: whatever reason fuckorgans usually show up in your game (rust monster, crit chart, succubus shenanigans), don't use that reason this session. Pick one of the others and do it a different way.

Disparaging references to physical afflictions, handicaps and deformities are common throughout human history and will appear in the mouths of thoughtless NPCs.

Even today, people are often cruel and thoughtless toward the crippled, the diseased and the otherwise organically unlucky. In this session, this ugly facet of human nature will be on display.

Fairness is the most important thing in the world and unfairness is the most common thing. Biological unfairness is the most elemental--and gods and superstitions were largely been invented to excuse it. It is thus the source of a rich vein in folklore--and the game is based on folklore.
The mangled can be Tyrion Lannisters, Phantoms of the Opera, Todd Browning Freaks or island-bound Lost Souls. No matter what they achieve or fail to, they immediately highlight the central theme of RPGs: what you roll vs what you do with it. Put some damaged people into play, make them important this session, and see what happens.

Human and other non-monster character races and nationalities will not be depicted as inferior to other races, or superior to other races, or equal to other races: they will be depicted as individuals struggling with individual circumstances in a world which wholly fails to recognize this.

No races and nationalities shall be fairly portrayed by any other, and racism will be rife: the elf has a distorted view of the dwarf, the human a distorted view of the orc, the gnome a distorted view of the tiefling, the android a distorted view of the cyborg.

Imagine the patchwork of your PC party: imagine none of them are recognized as an individual by the next villains they encounter. One is taken to the mines, one is chosen as a concubine, one is made a vizier, all based on nothing but blind prejudice. Of course your players will fuck it all up, but that's the point.

This session, slavery is depicted as unremarkable; though we can trust our players know it's a cruel and inhuman institution to be abolished, we can't trust the NPCs to know that.

Are they the Southerners in Django Unchained? Are they the Nazis in Inglorious Bastards? Likely neither: the institution is unremarkable to them and they take it as a matter of course, not a matter of debate and justification.
Are the PCs Nat Turner or Spartacus, or just trying to keep out of the way, or are they cynically weaponizing the slaves to use against the masters? Point is the institution will be there this session, and loom large in the plot.

The use of religion in this session is to assist in complicating the struggle between good and evil. Actual current religions might be depicted, ridiculed, or attacked in any way that promotes disrespect. Ancient or mythological religions, such as those prevalent in ancient Grecian, Roman and Norse societies, may be portrayed in their historic roles (in compliance with this Code of Ethics) but only if you go read some shit and come up with at least one thing you didn't already know before running the game.  

In any case, make irrational demands the center of today's session. Like sex, faith is an incredibly convenient excuse for villains to allow for a crack in the armor of their pragmatism. "It is a gibbous moon: we must throw open the gates for 16 hours in compliance with the dictates of Norglyph The Frenetic!"

Fantasy literature is distinguished by the presence of magic, super-science or artificial technology that exceeds natural law. The devices are to be portrayed as fictional and used for dramatic effect. They should, however, appear to be drawn from reality. Actual rituals (spells, incantations, sacrifices, etc.), weapon designs, illegal devices, and other activities of criminal or distasteful nature shall be presented or provided as reference in this session.
This is different from 2 in that you are totally going to fake it. Make every effort to make the thing look plausible, then print it out and show the players.

You'd be surprised how much GMing you can get out of an idea if you understand it well because you made it up.

Narcotic and alcohol abuse shall not be presented solely as dangerous habits. Such abuse should be not dealt with by focusing only on the harmful aspects.

In Phillip K Dick novels they let you see the future, in Palladium they make your stats better, in Deep Space Nine they control the spiky-faced guys, in most world religions they improve your relationship to the deity (wine anyone?). At any rate, useful drugs are a quick-and-simple devil's bargain and they'll feature prominently in today's session.
What will the players do when faced with juiced orcs? Flee in terror? Join them in their intoxicated orgies? Steal their supply? Do that thing where you trace a square in the air and go "You're in the box, you can't hear anyth..." and wait for them to freak out? It'll be a pip.

The distinction between players and player characters shall not be strictly observed.

It should not always be clear that the player's imaginary character is taking part in whatever imaginary action happens during game play.

You know that trick in Death Frost Doom where
SPOILERS!(highlight to read)
the GM passes a note to the player saying what the thing says and if anyone reads it aloud then something bad happens?
...well that trick is cool. Do something like that this session. Keep your players on their toes by making their actions map to character actions.

It is my policy to not support any live action role-playing game system, no matter how violent the style of gaming is said to be, until I meet someone hot who does it.

However, right when the players go into, like, the trap in the Temple of the Arachnid Fathers you should say "Hold on, I have to go to the bathroom" and then on the way back go and grab that bag of rubber spiders you bought and when you are about to sit down you should empty it on top of whichever player has the PC in the front.

Things like that. 

So, yeah, time for a trip to the 99¢ store.

In this session you'll depict certain historical situations, institutions, or attitudes in a game product that should not be condoned. However: they happened. Pick one. Read up. Learn all about it. Then just translate it into your campaign.

Here's one.

If you're at work, make sure your boss isn't watching because you're about to roll on the floor crying with laughter.  So, ok--I know half you were thinking "I bet the rubes at Story-Games would, even today, totally sign off on half this list"
Turns out they would. Jesus.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Comic Book Guy's Razor

Comic Book Guy's Razor Principle

The most insulting possibly explanation is rarely the correct one, but it's the first one you'll hear on the internet.

Self-Loathing Academic Anecdote Corollary (SLAAC) 

...when the evidence for applying the Razor is: "I know because I totally would've totally done the same thing, too, until I, like, grew up, man."

Terrain, Weird Sharks, & A Homemade Tank

Somebody asked so here's some of our homemade Warhammer 40k terrain. The picture will get pretty big if you click it.

It's made of random plastic stuff, hamster toys, military model kits, whatever was lying around.

I took a bunch of cameraphone pictures of it, to draw sci fi stuff from
I posted this yesterday but I'm posting it here for scale and so you can see how it's kinda fallen apart
This I didn't make: God did. It's called Helicoprion.

It either went extinct 250 million years or ago or never existed and isn't an exceptionally well-constructed internet hoax.

As you can see, nobody's quite sure what it looked like.

...though they are all sure it was fucked.
Speaking of fucked sharks, God also made this: it's a goblin shark

What exactly were you thinking, God?

It is indeed a lonely creature, being the only remaining representative of the Mitsukurinidae family. That's right: these things are still around.
This tank was made by Syrians.

They control it like this. The world is weird.