Archive for March 7th, 2012


Everything is Flowcharts

Stop this recursive madness before it is too late.

Paul Hughes has launched a Kickstarter that must not succeed. If funded, he will turn the AD&D procedures for generating random dungeons into a dungeon, a section of which is shown above. Sure, it sounds innocuous enough in his description:

This intricately illustrated 36″ by 24″ playable dungeon map poster encapsulates the Dungeon Master’s Guide’s complete rules for generating random dungeons: Appendix A’s four pages of charts are rendered into a flowchart WHICH IS ITSELF A DUNGEON. It’s like the Platonic dungeon: from it, all other dungeons may be generated. Or maybe it’s the Dungeon of Ouroboros.

What he conveniently leaves out is that as adventurers go through this dungeon, there is a chance that they will randomly generate the same dungeon that encodes the procedures for generating new dungeons, creating an infinite loop. Being a known proponent of the $10,000 backer reward and idealistic bonus goal, I have been recommending that Paul combine these such that Wizards of the Coast could pick up the top pledge level and get enough posters to send some to every game store that will be carrying the AD&D reprints, or we could help him raise the necessary funding to do so just for the good of gaming. While this would hasten the process, the recursive nature of this project makes one thing clear: sooner or later we will be awash in endless, procedurally-generated nightmare mazes filled with gold, glory, and Paul’s inimitable illustrations.

You know what that means, don’t you? Yes, it means one reason we don’t embed music videos more often is that some of us can’t be trusted not to use them for cheap rim-shots.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this impending crisis. We need to fight dungeons with dungeons.

Holmes Character Creation as a Dungeon Map, by Doug @ Blue Boxer Rebellion

Compare to the 2e and 3e versions for a fantastic visual essay in how the complexity of chargen increases over the years, and become a follower of Blue Box Rebellion and pester Doug to dungeonize 4e’s Character Builder and map the planar nexus of Sigil from which those wishing to follow D&D Next’s ambition to unite the editions must certainly depart.

But that’s not what we’re here for. Our goal is to convince Doug to launch a Kickstarter to create dungeons to act as automatic spawners for adventurers to go into Paul’s dungeon and generate more dungeons, until every piece of paper in the world is covered with maps in which you can see little people making maps telling them which way to go to create a dungeon in which the Cave You’ve Been Living In Since 1977 connects to the Pool of Fluff.

Speaking of titles, the name of this post riffs off of Everything is Dolphins, which you should be interested in because:

  • the fact that the Play-Generated Maps and Documents Archive (PlaGMaDA) is starting a publishing arm is made of awesome and promises many other things of interest to old-schoolers, like reprints of old fanzines and homemade modules like Habitition of the Stone Giant Lord
  • the game part of Everything is Dolphins represents an interesting example of someone coming into RPGs cold in his twenties from a whole other world of music geeks, discovering OD&D, and running with it to make his own system to reflect a particular set of concerns and inspirations
  • said someone ran Everything is Dolphins at Games that Can’t be Named and a good time was had
  • the approach taken here – presenting the original handwritten notes and play materials, and then doing an exegesis of the text and the visions it’s inspired in others – is a promising model for how to publish lost RPG projects like Robert Kuntz’s Kalibruhn or Dave Arneson’s “Bluemoor” notebooks without losing the historical value under a layer of polish

It is an article of faith with me that the character sheets for the original Blackmoor were this cool. One of many ways that First Fantasy Campaign is awesome is that it publishes maps of the castles that characters in Dave Arneson's game built; let's get a new edition that has the architectural plans the players drew up!

  • the illustrations Tim assembled for the book to show what visions the game inspired include old-schoolers (Charlie Loving who illustrated the Bunnies and Burrows first edition in 1976), artists who were part of the Dungeons & Dragons in Contemporary Art panel last year (Casey Jex Smith and Sean McCarthy), and Tarn Adams of Dwarf Fortress who is like the patron saint of neckbeards who care way too much about imaginary worlds that procedurally generate adventurers who build their own dungeons
  • if the Dwimmermount Kickstarter makes its bonus goal of $20,620, James Maliszewski will donate his original campaign notes to PlaGMaDA; we hope the well-deserved immense popularity of his blog Grognardia will make this a notable a precedent for others to make similar donations and show that making the originals free to the public is not inconsistent with a successful commercial release expanding these notes into a form ready for others to use
  • Tim has an art show opening at the I-20 Gallery in NYC on March 22nd, which should be of interest to those who were interested in the stuff Tim had to say at the above-mentioned D&D art panel, and is planning a book launch party for Everyting is Dolphins in April, which may well also include the Adventurer Conqueror King System; details to follow.
On that tip and with the last of my breath, I should mention that there is also a Kickstarter for the Player’s Companion that expands ACKS with a host of new classes, procedures for making new classes, a bunch of new spells, procedures for making your own spells that characters can research (if Bonus Goal #3 is met, which seems like it will happen soon), and lots of the the ACKS class templates that Brendan at untimately calls “the apotheosis of the Second Edition kit idea“, presumably in a nice way.

marvel heroic – illustrated example of play

Here you can see why I have no future in the fine arts!  Also, I will teach you how to cheat at this game!  Plus random Steve Ditko art!

(I’m using bold text for the GM (a/k/a the Watcher).)  Okay, so let’s cut to a new scene.  Spider-Man, you’re on top of the Fisk Building.  Since you stopped to threaten the Kingpin a second ago, I’m going to say that the Vulture’s had a few minutes to take to the air.  I’m plunking down Asset: Far Away, and I figure the Vulture flies fairly fast but not supersonic, so it’s rated with a d8.  (I’m allowed to do this to set up the scene; later it might cost me from the doom pool.)  The Vulture looks over his shoulder at you and snarls, “You’ll never catch the Vulture, wall-crawler!”  What now?

(I’m using regular text for Spider-Man’s player.)  Well, I guess I could try to web him up.  But I’m running low on plot points.  You know what?  Screw it.  I’m activating the limit on my Web-Slinging power set.  I’m out of webs!


Yeah, I mean, I really wanted to ruin the Kingpin’s upholstery back there.  You should see the place.  Webs everywhere.  I guess I shouldn’t have been so wasteful.  Anyway, I’m shutting down those powers, and you have to pay me with a plot point.  Thanks.  Spider-Man thinks to himself (makes thought-bubble gesture) “Without my web-fluid, he may be right!”

Okay, so you’ve shut that group of powers down, but what about for your action?

There’s probably heavy industrial stuff on this rooftop, right?  Like A/C units, satellite dish, water tower, that kind of thing?  I’m gonna rip up a big chunk of roofing machinery and chuck it at the Vulture.  That’s my Solo d8 + Superhuman Strength d10 + Wisecracker d8.

Man, don’t spam the Wisecracker trait.  You gotta give me something.

Fine.  “Hate to wreck property, but I gotta keep the HVAC unions in over-time!”  I notice you don’t force the Black Widow act out her Dangerous Liaisons trait. Anyway, that’s a . . . roll of 8 on the d10, and 6 and 3 on the pair of d8′s.  I’m going to keep the 8 and 6 as my total, for 14.  That leaves me with a d8 for my effect die.  What have you got?

There’s nobody to oppose you, so you’re rolling against the doom pool which stands at 3d6 + 1d8.  Rolling that, I get 6, 6, 4, 2.  My reaction is 6 + 6 = 12.  You beat me, and rip up the AC unit.  Now what?

Let’s use my d8 effect die to create an Asset: Torn-Up AC Unit d8.  What’s the Vulture doing?

Um, getting away but I’m honestly not sure.  The rules don’t say precisely how to increment assets like Far Away or Raging Wildfire.  Let’s try this: the Vulture’s gonna roll against the doom pool too.  If he wins, and his effect die is greater than d8 (so, a d10 or d12), then his Far Away asset takes on that value.  If he wins but his effect die is a d8 or smaller, the asset’s value bumps up by one.

Sounds okay.  That’s like the stress system, isn’t it?

Yeah, I guess so.  There’s a lot of self-similar stuff in this game, which is kind of confusing, but also, once you learn one trick, you can apply it elsewhere.  I still don’t know how I feel about that.  Anyway: Vulture’s got Solo d10 + Cowardly d8 + Feathery Flight d8.  He’s also trying to coax a little more performance out of his flying harness, so that’s probably +1d8 for his Tech Expert specialty.  Dang, this game uses a lot of d8′s–let’s pretend this Tens dice is a d8 and I’ll re-roll a 90 or 00.  I roll 7, 5, 5, 1, for a total of 12 with a d8 for my effect die.

Here, I’m rolling the doom pool: 3d6 + 1d8 . . . 8, 6, 3, 3.  The reaction is 14, beating your 12, so you lose.  Maybe the Vulture has gotten a little overconfident and still hoping to stay within gloating range?

Sure.  So my Asset: Far Away stays at d8.  And I rolled a 1, that’s an opportunity.  Do you want to buy it for one plot point?  It will let you bump up any push or stunt on your next action.

Nah–I have something else in mind.  Okay, so I’m going to throw the AC Unit one-handed at the Vulture and break those smelly wings.  “Vulture, if you’re flying south for the winter, you’ll need air-conditioning!”  Solo d8 + Wisecracker d8 + Superhuman Strength d10 + Asset: Torn-Up AC Unit d8.  Hmm, you do need to buy more dice!  I hate this stupid Tens dice thing you do.  Anyway, that’s an 8 on the d10, and 5, 4, 2 on the 3d8.  I’m gonna make my total 13, and use 1d8 for my effect die.  And maybe something else… but let’s see how you roll.

Vulture’s reaction is Solo d10 + Feathery Flight d8 + Acrobatic Expert d8 + Asset: Far Away d8.  I can’t think of a distinction that applies.  So that’s 8, 5, 5, and 2.  My reaction is 13, equal but not greater than yours, so you hit the Vulture.  You’re going for d8 physical stress with your effect die?

Yes, but I’m also spending that plot point, which lets me use a second, unused die on my roll for an effect as well.  So in addition to d8 physical stress with my first (free) effect die, I’m going to damage his Feathery Flight trait with my second effect die, a d8.  Try getting away now!

Hmm!  Let me mark off the stress.  The Vulture’s Feathery Flight is rated at d8, so you’ve demolished that power completely!  The Vulture groans in pain and plummets from the sky!  Okay, for his action he’s going to try to recover. I’m going to take that d8 out of the doom pool and use it to reestablish my flying trait.

Wait, I thought you can only try to heal yourself during a transition scene?  In an action scene someone else can try to heal you, but if you’re doing it all on your own you need to wait until things quiet down.  Unless you’ve got healing powers like Wolverine.

Huh!  Let me see, I thought I could do that.  (Checks rule book.)  Looks like you’re right.  Okay, well, let’s just say he’s falling toward a building helplessly–thinking maybe he had a spare power pack somewhere and realized he forgot it at home.  What do you do now?

I’m going to eliminate the distance asset.  That’s Swingline d8 + Solo d8 + Acrobatic Master d10–eh, you know, I’m going to split that d10 down to 2d8.  And can I fold in the Vulture’s d8 stress because he’s still hoping to get away?  Yes?  Okay, that’s me rolling 5d8 . . . 8, 8, 4, 3, 1.  Do you want to buy that 1 off me?  My total is 16, with a d8 for my effect die.

Sure.  Here’s a plot point, and I add 1d6 to the doom pool, which is now 4d6 + 1d8.  And for his reaction, the Vulture rolls Solo d10 + Acrobatics Expert d8 + Asset: Far Away d8.  I’m going to include my Cowardly distinction at a d4, because that lets me step up the lowest die in the doom pool, making it 3d6 + 2d8. 

Come on, man, how are you cowardly?

The Vulture’s screaming out, “My wings, my wings!”  He’s unsure whether to be more scared of Spider-Man or hitting the rooftop, and so isn’t able to prepare well against either.  Hmm, that’s 4, 4, 4, 4.  My reaction is 8, you beat me.  In fact, you beat me by more than 5, so your d8 effect die steps up to d10.  What were you hoping to do, again?

Eliminate your Asset: Far Away d8.  I’m closing in on my web-line.  Thwip!  Thwip!

Okay.  And–hey, wait a minute!  Weren’t you out of web-fluid?  You didn’t reactivate your Web-Slinging power.  I think your dice pool was wrong!

I, um, forgot.  Yeah, forgot.  Say, you know what’s interesting about the Vulture?  He’s like Spider-Man’s evil grand-dad or something.  They’re both gadget-guys, they’re both acrobats, but Peter Parker is a nice kid and the Vulture’s this mean old ex-con.

Oh man, don’t get me started.  There’s this whole anxiety about fathers in the Silver Age Spidey stories.  Jameson exploiting his astronaut son, Robbie worried about his kid’s politics, Harry freaking out on drugs and becoming the Goblin.  Captain Stacy.  It’s frequent and really sustained.  What’s kind of cool about the Vulture is that he’s got that same thing going on with his super villain career, but in reverse: passing the costume on to the younger Blackie Drago who has no respect for his elders.  A hero with no father and a villain with no heir.  Vulture and Spider-Man really deserve each other.

Gee, how about that!  So, um, what’s he doing on his round?

Trying not to splatter on the roof, I suppose.  He’s rolling Solo d10 + Acrobatics Expert d8 + Spry Geezer d8.  And I’m going to spend 2d6 out of the doom pool to add to my roll.  That’s 6, 6, 4, 4, 1, total of 12.  Want to buy that 1 off of me?

Sure.  Here’s a plot point, now I can push harder or stunt better on Spider-Man’s next turn.  The doom pool is now 1d6 + 2d8, right?  And also maybe the Vulture’s d8 stress.  Let’s roll: 5, 4, 3, 2.  Reaction of 9.  So I guess you don’t get splattered.

Okay, so let’s say you’re clambering onto the rooftop where the Vulture landed.  He’s all banged up and looks like he’s seen better days.  What now?

(play continues)

Past Adventures of the Mule

March 2012
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