Sunday, 30 August 2015

Dragon World

Oh yes, I'm running games a lot .. consolidating my 52 Pages and megadungeon projects... new ideas here and there. It's just that the will to blog about them is not there yet.

Here's something I can show - another themed encounter table. I was writer's blocked on filling a whole table with dragon stuff. Then I had the idea to mix it with classic/cliche dungeon stuff as well. That let me finish it out quickly.

(As with the rest of these, the details are not quite D&D and not quite not D&D.)

Monday, 3 August 2015

Consolation Ability Bump

Observation 1: New players often ask if there is any way they can increase their ability scores. Old school dogma states that only magic can do the trick (often, literally through a magical trick feature.)

Observation 2: The visible frustration in old school games when a player rolls 1 on their hit point die at a new level.


Well, this works because all my classes roll d6 for hit points with various modifiers. But in a more standard game, it would end up giving benefits to small hit dice types over bigger. YOu can either roll with that as a feature, or try this hack; you gain the ability bonus:

d4: on a roll of 1 ,and 3-6 then rolled on d6:
d6: on a roll of 1
d8: on a roll of 1, or a roll of 2 if 5-6 then rolled on d6.
d10: on a roll of 1, or a roll of 2 if 3-6 then rolled on d6.
d12: on a roll of 1-2.

For monks' starting HP roll, if you're not using "maximum HP at first level" or similar, the stat gain ison a roll of 2 or 3 on 2d4; for rangers, 2 through 4 on 2d8.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Five, No Six, Weird Gem Phenomena

Follow up to the table ...

1. Looking at a particularly large piece of banded malachite that had been set as the centerpiece of a table, the land-baroness Xuvena pareidolically descried a more-or-less accurate topographic map of a tract of land she recognized as bordering between three nearby baronies. The treasure she buried there is marked on the map by a small, cross-shaped incision in the malachite.

2. The loose shell of a flail snail, irritated by a chip of crystal, dropped a pearl of like scintillating colors. Viewing it from close up does not lead to confusion, but rather a pleasant, subtly addictive disorientation. The value of this nonesuch is inestimable.

3. Gromstones and hellstones are autoluminescent green and red gems, respectively, that legend says, carry a terrible curse. Their wearer or bearer over months will grow ill, sometimes disfigured by tumors, sometimes by a suppurating rash, or else simply wasting and shriveling away. Only a lead casket, traditional remedy against magical emanations, can keep the stones safe.

4. A new aesthetic fashion in the capital, spread by itinerant philosophers of impermanence and fatalism, has got all the most novelty-crazed courtiers eagerly buying up gems with flaws. The flaws are supposed to represent the inherent imperfection of the universe. Actually, the philosophers are shill adventurers hired by the gem merchants' guild to help offload their faulty product at a premium price. Or so says the rival jewelers' guild, who hires another group of adventurers to discredit the new trend, whether by violence, unmasking, or more likely slander and mockery.

5. Dreading the denouement of a cliche, you nonetheless climb up the idol and pry out its gem eyes, two enormous citrines each worth a bishop's ransom. Your companions steel themselves, but the idol remains blissfully inert, in spite of your many backward glances on the long journey home. You wake up without eyes. The idol can see again.

6. A piece of amber, a trapped fly inside. If magical light shines through it onto a clean white wall, a tremendous shadow-fly is formed, and does its caller's will for a while before dissipating.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Drop a Gem on 'Em

Yes, this table of gems as found object is cool but it's intended to work backwards, after you've determined gem value rather than before. And running Castle of the Mad Archmage as I do, more than once I've been brought up short by a treasure description that reads just, "6 gems."

The first time, I devised some method of multiplying d20's and d10's that generated rich enough gems to insta-bump the party a level or so.

The second time, I thought "Let's roll 3d6, take the lowest as the number of zeros, and d10 as the lead digit." Then after rolling a couple of gems, "OK, lowest minus one."

(Later, I figured out that the first method gives an average gem value about 50,000 and the second, 5,000. Lowest of 4d4 x d10, however, gives an average value of about 700. All heavily skewed, ofcourse; the typical gem will be closer to 50.)

And then I really wanted a gem table, and of course because AD&D or 3e is not good enough I had to roll my own. Including fantasy gems. It's weird that all the gem tables in D&D have not included otherworldly gems. Like the glowing green "gromstones" I imagined as a teenager, or some possibilities that arise from the infrared spectrum. And there are real stones that sound like the products of fantasy - iolite (renamed here "Jolite" to stop being misread as "LOLite") and alexandrite.

The true gems are really rare (only about 6% chance) but you can bump things up for richer hoards by making some or all the dice d6, maximum 4.

Uncut gems are a cool find. Will they discover a flaw, or a rare inclusion? Can scrying magic bump your sales price?

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Security Through Oldschoolity

Recent discussions started by Kiel and continued on G+ have got me thinking about why completely separating an adventure's text from its map, or printing the map devoid of details, still seems like a viable idea to publishers. Is it just tradition?

Looking at the design of the first TSR modules, it seems clear that one goal was to have the map contain as little information as possible, so that an accidental peek by players behind the screen would not reveal too much.

Thus, the need to constantly flip back and forth between the big map and the numbered section of text, rather than using map insets in the text or text notes on the map.

This technique is what security experts call "security through obfuscation." By making things hard to find for yourself, you try to make them impossible to find for others. Closely related is the idea of "security through obscurity," which you also saw in old school Advanced D&D with the injunctions that players not be able to access the DM book or monster manual. And of course, the very cerulean color of the old-school maps is another security device, to make them unreadable by the xerographic technology of the day.

Today, with everything available online legally or illegally for most published modules, the best defense is just to assume that players are their own security; that they play not to defeat you, but to enjoy discovery and surprise;and that you the GM help them in this goal by keeping the map discreetly covered, but with whatever marks are necessary to help you run the game smoothly.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Road Warrior Backwash

Mad Max: Fury Road is as great an adventure scenario and visual production as everyone says it is. But did it ever show out the concept of backwash: when an idea developed in one medium (say, fantasy literature) incubates andmutates in a derivative medium (say, roleplaying games)  until the mutant breed becomes the new standard and washes back into the originating medium.

The derivative medium is, as others have pointed out, Games Workshop's 40K and in particular its Orks and their Gorkamorka subgame, spawned from the unholy union of The Road Warrior and football hooligans. But damned if by parallel evolution or homage over 35 years, George Miller hasn't returned the dividend in the form of tribal skinheads called Warboys (or is it Warboyz?) and even a musician stand.

Now you get it.
Indeed, the way 80's and 90's franchises are clawing out of their shallow graves these days, I'm wondering if the keepers of the Aliens world wouldn't do well to inject a little Space Hulk and undo their last few regrettable outings.

The "Citadel": just me overreading, or a really high pitched dog whistle for nerds?

Thursday, 14 May 2015

This Monster Has No Picture

If you doubt the value of art, look upon the creatures in the AD&D Monster Manual that have no illustration. When you leave out the "you know what they look like" (bears, lions, etc.) and the hard to see vermin (cerebral parasites, ear seekers, floating eye, slithering tracker, gelatinous cube), and the "souped-up version" (ghasts but tell me why, why the neo-otyugh gets two illustrations of its own) and the inexplicably passed-up opportunity to illustrate a nymph ...

and the masher, already humiliated enough from losing the purple-worm status it enjoyed in Blackmoor (but it had art, it just got lost) ...

you are left with the monsters that have no illustration because there is nothing to illustrate. There is the shadow, which is visible but shadowy and also would have made a fine illustration. And then there are the monsters that are invisible by nature.

Also inexplicably, there are three of these. You have the aerial servant, the invisible stalker, and the wind walker. Each of them is spun off from the air elemental with a few variations in immunity.

Ral Partha's Aerial Servant. Funny.
Does nature create redundancies?  Ask the dolphin, tuna and penguin. But art demands unity; novels reuse characters, though it stretches the credibility of coincidence; and so, there is something more satisfying about surmising that these three creatures are all just different aspects of the same elemental being.

Otherworld's Invisible Stalker. Funny.
  • The aerial servant responds to a cleric's high-level spell. With the wisdom of holy magic, the spell only contracts the servant for a clearly defined short-term mission of capture and return, using the power of religion to control it. As a result, the creature serves willingly and commits more of its essence to the task, appearing with a nigh-unstoppable 16 hit dice.
  • The invisible stalker responds to a magic-user's high-level spell. This contract of service is more loosely defined, and tempts the wizard to push his or her luck at the risk of having the stalker undermine the instructions. Under these terms, the creature commits less essence, appearing with only 8 hit dice.
  • The wind walker is one of these creatures, loosed from service by the death of its summoner a long time ago, or bound to this plane because of some mishap. It is easier to hit because it abandons its dutiful silence to howl and rush, and weaker because of its long residence on the material plane (implying that there are fresher, larger specimens roaming around.) Alienation from their homeland has also turned wind walkers evil-natured and indiscriminate in their destruction. Their telepathy is something implicit in the description of the aerial servant and invisible stalker, else how would those creatures understand instructions in all the possible languages of wizard-dom?

Wind-powered walker is much cooler, anyway.
So, although naturalism in a magic world may breed a huge variety of invisible monsters, from the players' point of view the whole game of figuring out "oh, what invisible monster is attacking us today,or maybe it's a normal monster turned invisible by that darn mad wizard" is not really worth the candle. As well as being disrupted, very simply, by the handy bag of flour.