Archive for the 'Crass Hucksterism' Category



06
Jul
12

The Insane and Ambitious LotFP Campaign and I

Folks who have been following the LotFP Grand Adventure crowdfunding campaign closely will have noticed that, at one point, the Mule’s own Charlatan and I were slated to do one of the 19 adventures it will be funding, with illustrations by Ryan Browning. This post is to explain why I withdrew our project with the greatest regrets. In tomorrow’s post I’ll suggest some reasons why everyone who cares about the stuff we care about should indeed be following the Grand Adventure campaign closely.

The way that this all got started is that, back in March, James Raggi posted on G+:

My brain is exploding. ToC’s Bookhounds of London + ACKS mercantile system + XRP’s Silk Road detail + Warhammer’s Death on the Reik = Something, yes?

Like a mad scientist, Raggi seems to be perpetually fizzing over with the ferment of mash-ups like this. Note that he is unafraid to throw volatile elements in the mix. Expeditious Retreat Press (XRP)’s A Magical Medieval Society: Silk Road, although eminently useful for all fantasy and historical gaming, is a d20 supplement from the era when 3E was “The Edition That Shall Not Be Named” among the dfootians. And Trail of Cthulu (ToC) is a big favorite of the story-gamers I know in the nerdNYC community. But of course James scoffs at the idea that the OSR should be a firewall that protects us from contamination by TESTSNBN or Forge swine; he takes things that are awesome as he finds ’em. His getting Bookhounds of London author Ken Hite to do a LotFP adventure is a supremely awesome achievement that, for me, is one of the fruits of the OSR having won and a demonstration of what you can make happen with an insanely ambitious crowdfunding campaign.

So when I emailed Raggi with a vague affirmation of his G+ post – “yeah let’s make that mash-up happen!” – he came back with both a crazy way to achieve that, involving nineteen simulaneous IndieGoGo campaigns, and a tasty proposal for what it should look like:

You do a supplement updating the economics stuff from ACKS into the Early Modern Age – taking into account regular sea lane shipping, trading companies and the monopolies they secure (and the piracy they attract), the great risk/reward of exploration, colonies, realms that are ruled by parliaments or noble lineage but the age of small-time conquest/rulership is over, etc.

He gave me the go-ahead to add Charlatan as a collaborator, since I would never venture into the sea-lanes without his Saltbox expertise, and Ryan as artist because he can draw the inside of my mind better than I can see it. We started talking it over, and all manner of ideas started to flow. Some of the concrete results were the title “Register of the Deeps” and a concept for the cover:

Original sketch for the Register of the Deeps cover, by Ryan Browning.

Unfortunately, in the middle of this creative ferment, a development in my personal life arose that forced me to re-evaluate my ability to deliver “Register of the Deeps” by the deadline I’d agreed to. It’s nothing worthy of a Lifetime special, or even an after-school one. It won’t mean my departure from gaming, or even prevent me from working with Charlatan and Ryan to finish Register and release it via a different route at some future date, but it did make me feel I couldn’t promise to have it in time for the LotFP campaign backers with the right degree of certainty.

Lots of people are saying that crowd-funding is changing the face of the gaming industry for the better. If you’ll be at Gen Con on Friday at 3pm, you’ll see me among ’em. The key ingredient here is trust. When people back a project, they’re expressing their faith that it will come to pass. For the Kickstarter miracle to work, this faith has to be well-placed. I thought it better to withdraw from the LotFP adventures campaign than to run the risk of breaking faith with people who’d put up money expecting to have “Register of the Deeps” when I said they would.

Kickstarter may be a new thing under the sun, but gaming history offers plenty of tragic examples of what can go wrong with taking money now for a product later, whether via pre-orders (the Wormy compilation, Sinister Adventures) or a subscription model (Adventure Games Publications). To his great credit, James Raggi was totally understanding about my situation & the reasoning behind my (difficult) decision. He made good on his promise to find replacements who were bigger stars than the originally booked talent, and seeing the quality of the people who are filling the void makes me feel a little better. Nevertheless I’ll always regret having gotten folks, especially Charlatan and Ryan, excited and then yanking the football; also having come this close to saying I shared a stage with the lead singer from GWAR, metaphorically at least.

Next to come: why the LotFP Grand Adventure crowd-funding campaign matters.

 

22
Jun
12

The Shadow out of Providence

I am currently in Norway collecting data on wilderness encounters, which I will share when my internet access is less limited. However in the interim Ezra Claverie’s very worthy Kickstarter for a Lovecraftian meta-textThe Shadow out of Providence, is about to reach the end of its funding campaign, as he was kind enough to remind me:

Tumble out of your hammock, seaman! I’ve orders for ye!

Run aloft to the very top of the Mule Abides, and sing out that you’ve spotted _The Shadow out of Providence_. Tell the lads to row for it with all their might, and we may yet return with a hold full of oil.

I’m offering an extra measure of rum for all the crew if we exceed our goal by a thousand Yankee dollars. Videlicett, if we raise $8,500, “the hardcover will have marbled endpapers, and every backer’s name will appear in the book, on the roster of the lost members of the 8th American-Soviet Friendship Expedition (which, sadly, had no survivors). This list will be separate from the acknowledgments, and part of ‘The Vostok Dossier’.”

Update #9, which I just posted, contains the full details, if ye should forget, or if ye should find the lingo of an old sea-captain less than transparent.

–Cap’n Ezra

One of the main attractions of this project for old-schoolers may be the new illustrations by Erol Otus, see below. However there is much to be said (which I guess I also need to say in a future post) for the proposition that Lovecraft and his circle of correspondents invented a key component of roleplaying, the idea of a shared world which was gradually revealed by the stories of individual protagonists. Of course, many of these protagonists died horribly in proper old-school fashion because D&D and the Cthulu Mythos are both the story of the world, not the story of the heroes in it. I’ve written before about how seeing the Mythos appear in the Electronic Arts game Murder on the Zinderneuf was my first transmedia experience, and I think it’s not jus a fondness for monsters that causes Lovecraft is named in Appendix N and beloved of roleplayers everywhere. Ezra’s metatext promises to be a worthy and exciting addition to this canon; check it out, I think you’ll dig it.Image

10
Apr
12

Mike Mearls’ Magnificient Encomium

Recently noisms of the superlative Monsters & Manuals called The Mule Abides “the most consistently high-quality blog out there, in terms of theory and gaming history, probably.” I should thus be ashamed to use it as the ashbin for stuff I write that didn’t make it elsewhere, but one of the benefits of being a blog-collective is that no doubt one of the other contributors will come up with something brilliant to keep up our quality average.

A while back Ed Healy contacted me for some quotes for the RPG Countdown Best of 2011 show. I wound up quipping about a number of things I didn’t work on, but one that I did – Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium – caught the attention of the guys at EN World, who wanted me to expand on the quote for their D&D Next page.

I think – but am not sure – that it didn’t ever appear there. As was the case in 2008, being a playtester means that visiting sites where fans are talking about a new edition is as madness-inducing as wearing just one of the eye-cusps that lets you perceive the Vancian over-world. If y’all have already read this at EN World, I apologize for the repost and the out-of-context community in-jokes like the link at the end. Just in case this is its last chance to avoid obscurity, though, here’s me looking back on Mordenkainen’s:

As a lifelong Gygax fan, I was honored to be chosen as one of the designers of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium; how cool is it to be hired in real life to make magic items for Gary’s PC? And as a Dungeons & Dragons fan, I was thrilled to learn that Mike Mearls would be the lead on the project. At every step in my professional involvement as a gamer, Mike has been participating in the same communities I’m fascinated by and showing me the next step forward.

When I was at the Forge in ’04 learning how to start Behemoth3 to publish Masters and Minions, Mike was there sharing the design chops and OGL mastery that he’d soon demonstrate in Iron Heroes, and also proving that it was OK to be open to indie insights and still love D&D with all your heart.

When I was at the OD&D boards in ’08 discovering all the things the old-school renaissance could reveal about the game I thought I already knew, Mike was there posting session reports from his Kardallin’s Palace campaign and dropping science like the analogy that OD&D is a jam session while 4e is a symphony.

I haven’t kept up with the combat as sport vs. combat as war thread here at EN World but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Mike posting there too; he is a true member of this community and as appreciative of others’ deep insights bridging the edition gap as he is ready to bust them out himself.

The vision that Mike showed in his leadership of the Mordenkainen’s team is everything that I want from D&D Next. His eagerness to celebrate the game’s rich history meant that no artifact was too obscure or silly for us to find its hidden treasure. I’d done five other 4e projects at that point and never expected I’d get a crack at the iron bands of Bilarro or the bone of bruising. I didn’t have to tell him why it was important to have mundane items like mules in the game, Mike already knew. He pushed me to define caltrops or glass marbles with the same clarity and concision as the best 4e design, and let me write about how players and GMs can work together to adjucate the flexibility and concreteness that lets OD&D characters retrain their mule into a warbearer donkeyhorse or a pitfinder donkeyhorse in the blink of an eye.

The other thing Mike taught me with Mordenkainen’s was how to be honest and direct and still discreet. The book went through a lot of changes – I lucked into being interviewed by the Gamerati because Amazon still has the version of the cover that had my name on it, and for a while it wasn’t going to come out at all. Mike gave me some time at Gen Con, and after I rattled off all my conspiracy theories about what was going on behind the scenes, he kind of sighed a little. “Sometimes we come up with these clever stories that sound good until people start asking questions, and then it all gets complicated,” he said. “I don’t understand why we don’t just tell the truth.”

D&D Next’s promise is as huge as the job it’ll have overcoming the misgivings fans have in trusting a new set of promises. Because I want D&D to grow and thrive, I am overjoyed to see Mike in charge of that job.

When we were doing the Kickstarter for Adventurer Conqueror King, seeing that Mike had become one of our backers was a shining moment that all the great reviews since can’t equal. Autarch is taking up the space that freelancing used to for me – getting to do Dwimmermount with James Maliszewski is also making me feel like the big kids have agreed to let me roll up a character in their game – but I’d gladly put it aside for a second and pitch in to Wizards’ great project to end the edition wars. Send me that contract for the Quintessential Mule, D&D Next is the perfect system for it!

02
Apr
12

D&D’s Original Iconic Characters

Doesn’t this look like an adventuring party you’d like to be part of?

Illustrations by David C. Sutherland for the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide

Stat one of these characters up using the Adventurer Conqueror King System and you can play ’em in a session I’ll run via G+ hangout! Plus, if the Kickstarter for Paul Hughes’ Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map poster succeeds in raising more funding than Autarch’s Player’s Companion did, the backers of that worthy project will get to admire your character-making handiwork as part of a bonus goal I offered Paul in the foolhardy belief that it’d never happen. (It is now less than $300 short).

Here’s the backstory. The designers of 3rd Edition D&D went to remarkable lengths to reference 1st Edition AD&D. This is something I’ve been saying for a long time, but the more I learn about 1E the more examples I discover.

One of the defining aspects of 3E’s art direction was the use of iconic characters whose illustrations were featured in the section introducing their class and were then re-used in other books, the D&D miniatures line, etc. For example, here we see the rogue Lidda, the wizard Mialee, and the fighters Regdar and Tordek planning a dungeon-heist:

At Gary Con, we were talking about things we liked and didn’t like about 3E. Iconic characters made it onto both lists.

  • Plus: The way that the same heroes would turn up in different contexts created the sense of the books being a window into another world, the way that elements of the Cthulu Mythos like the Necronomicon showing up in different stories made it seem real (and a precursor of roleplaying games and transmedia).
  • Minus: We weren’t convinced that the 3E iconic characters emerged from actual play; their inception had the whiff of a clever memo from WotC’s marketing department.

Until reading this post at Blog of Holding, from which the top picture was taken, I didn’t realize that the idea of a party of characters recurring from one illustration to the next had its roots in David C. Sutherland’s drawings for the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. I don’t know whether they represented a real party of player characters, but certainly the DMG illustrations show them doing the kinds of things adventurers do in actual games of D&D. (The planning illustration above is an exception to the normal kind of thing the 3E iconic characters were depicted doing: standing around on their own, looking iconic.)

Given that I care about things like illustrations reflecting actual play, let’s make sure that the ACKS writeup of the AD&D iconics reflects characters that a player created (albeit to match a pre-existing visual image) and played in a game! Reply in the comments to claim which of these five adventurers you’d like to stat up and play, I’ll email you to work out the details and schedule the G+ hangout.

22
Mar
12

There and Back Again

Timothy Hutchings has a gallery show at I-20 opening tomorrow night, Thursday March 22. I’ve noted before that Timothy is

known to White Sandbox players as the dwarf Mallo Beer-bane and to others as (among other things) the curator of the Cursed Chateau exhibit, the editor responsible for the animation wizardry in the Kickstarter video for Adventurer Conqueror King , a panelist in the Dungeons & Dragons in Contemporary Art discussion, and one of the Doomslangers artists.

Since then Timothy has also been been part of the role-playing-themed art show Big Reality, where he exhibited his own work as well as selections from the Play-Generated Maps and Documents Archive, which he created and curates. Folks who are following the Dwimmermount kickstarter have also recently heard from Mr. Hutchings, on the subject of why the donation of materials from James Maliszewski’s home campaign to PlaGMaDA matters:

Tabletop role playing games completely revolutionized game play. Our multi-billion dollar computer game entertainment industry is built on the shoulders of pen and paper RPGs. With the popularity and overwhelming cultural presence of computer games comes the need for their academic study, and academic study demands original sources for research. The materials preserved by the Play Generated Map and Document Archive and other collecting institutions are being held in trust for those researchers and the important work they have just begun, and just as importantly these materials are disseminated back into popular culture so that the gamer of today can see the traditions and innovations that developed into the contemporary landscape.

Like many of my posts do, this one makes a blah blah sound. Here, then, are some charts Tim and Ezra Claverie who I am proud to call our mutual friend came up with for a game of Burning Wheel that I didn’t get to play in, but sounded delightfully old-school and Dwarf Fortress-inspired:

Inspired by:
http://joeskythedungeonbrawler.wordpress.com/

a giant’s poop contents chart

  1. Giant poop worms.  Like rot grubs but they don’t kill you so easy. The worms burrow into the PC’s flesh, reproduce, then send thousands of progeny out each end of the character’s digestive tract.  If this happens in front of NPCs then get an Infamous trait with that group.
  2. Gold coins.  Why would the giant eat gold coins?  1D of cache.
  3. A knife.  And bloody poop!  Ha ha, dumb giant pooped out a knife.  Is the knife magic?  On a 1-3 roll on the “what’s with this sword” chart, on a 4 it’s proof against acid, on a 5-8 then no – it’s not magic.
  4. A humanoid skull.  Bury it for a reputation 1D Friend of spirits
  5. A living troll arm, it makes half-hearted attacks. (I love this.)  Only fire can destroy it.
  6. A perfectly intact head sized egg.  (it was planted here by something else)
  7. Poop eating giant centipede.  Agility test or your probing arm gets bitten.  Yes you get an armor roll.  Learn that you don’t push your arm into the poop, you dork.  If you said “Oh yeah I was wearing my armor!” then you have poop all over your armor too.
  8. A bunch of springy worms.  Each worm’s belly contains a pearl-like gem (value, properties to be determined by GM).
  9. Seeds.  Are they magic?  Are they giant?  Are they just giant tomato seeds?
  10. A giant’s tooth.  This giant got beat up in a fight and swallowed his own tooth.  1 in 6 that it has a silver filling or is gold or whatever.
  11. An idol!  Geerwyn the Unfortunate.  This poor idol has the worst things happen to it and it’s possessors, but it also gives them help in getting out of these situations.  While carrying Geerwyn, any random thing that can happen to the possessor does, the more bizarre the better.  But, Geerwyn will Help the possessor out of these same situations with +1 or +2 Advantage dice, depending.  Geerwyn will also halve random damage from the bad stuff he causes, trading off injury for shame – rather than a B10 burn from the irate fire toad, the character will receive b5 but will have his beard burned off.  Bearing Geerwyn automatically gives the holder a 1D “pathetic bumbler” trait.

What does that worm pearl do?  (Gem Appraisal or whatever)

  1. Crap, it’s a worm egg and will hatch in your gem pouch.  And it eats gems!  Which become worms!  Will only hatch when there are other gems around.
  2. It’s a pill.  +2D to your next health test.  Good luck figuring out that this thing actually does that.  Maybe you noticed that it was an exceptionally healthy worm.  If taken the pill stays inside of you until you die, you don’t actually digest it.
  3. It’s actually a gem worth a little bit of money.
  4. Invisible things are reflected in the gems surface, but the surface is so small and round it doesn’t help much.  +1D to seeing invisible things, but you must be working Carefully as well.
  5. It’s a unique gem the likes of which adorn the crown of the dwarven prince.  If it gets around that the prince’s crown is adorned with worm poop pearls, it would cause quite a ruckus.

What’s in that egg?  (did you let it hatch?  If not then you might just get goo)

  1. It’s hardboiled, magically, and is delicious.
  2. A baby harpy, full of spite and can fly as soon it’s hatched.  It will flutter after the PCs cursing and drawing attention to them until killed or frightened off.
  3. The yolk is solid gold!  (worth 2 cache)(everyone make a Greed test)
  4.  It’s full of molar teeth?  What the hell?  (if you plant these they’ll grow into chickens)
  5. Rotten, cracking it open gives you and your stuff the Stinky trait for awhile.
  6. A tiny, perfectly formed homonculi.  Who does it resemble?
  7. It’s not an egg but a solid piece of ivory.  (worth 2 cache)  If you crack it open there’s a miniature, living elephant inside.
  8. Nog!  How bizarre.  (works like regular nog)
  9. The liquid inside the egg shines with the brilliance of a wizard’s spell for 1d4 days.  If you drink it your eyes and orifices all glow.
  10. A tiny dead looking guy in robes run through with a tiny sword and stuck with tiny arrows.  He has miniature everything a wizard adventurer would have.  (worth 2d of cache to middle aged lady collectors)  He will rot away once removed from the egg.
  11. The egg is full of pearl bearing poop worms.

Tim gave me permission to post these charts a while back. He perhaps didn’t mean “at the same time as mentioning an occassion in which he is doing a serious artist thing”, but as I am the kind of person who would pay a Joesky tax with stolen Joesky-inspired coin, clearly nothing is beneath me. Tim and Ezra made many more tables like this which I will post the next time I get behind on the taxman!

I will not be able to make the show’s opening tomorrow night, as I am taking my son to his first GaryCon, but I hope to make it after we get back.

16
Mar
12

Dungeons & Dragons Metal Messiah Radio

For your Internet listening pleasure, tune in to Metal Messiah Radio tonight from 8-10 and enjoy a musical interpretation of the sound orc skulls make upon brutal contact with one’s warhammer.

Don’t let the 4e-style logo fool you, I suspect it was just chosen for extra blood-and-gold metalness. Neither DJ Hoyt’s old-school cred nor his dedication to the rock gods are in doubt. He is one of the GMs who will be running Dwimmermount at Gary Con, and yet in order to bring you and I this D&D metalness tonight he is giving up the chance to play in James’ G+ session and learn the dungeon firsthand from its creator . Truly, this act of self-sacrifice is worthy of a metal messiah.

16
Mar
12

Last Chance to Back the Adventurer Conqueror King Player’s Companion

Cover for the Adventurer Conqueror King System Player's Companion. Art by Michael C. Hayes, design by Carrie Keymel.

The Kickstarter for the Player’s Companion ends today, Friday March 16th at 10 pm EDT. After Autarch’s crowdfunding campaign for the Adventurer Conqueror King System wrapped up, we often got comments from people saying they wished they had known about it while the Kickstarter was still going. I hope that this announcement can help save people from a repeat of this terrible fate!

It’s worth noting that, if you haven’t picked up ACKS yet, by backing the Player’s Companion backer you can choose rewards that’ll get you both the core system and its first expansion. Two Sought Adventure gets you both books in PDF, each of which has a coupon that’ll give you a discount on a future upgrade to its hardcover equal to the price you paid for the electronic copy. Pair of Kings gets you ACKS in hardback + PDF and the Player’s Companion limited edition softcover pre-release, shipping together as soon as they’re available (weeks before they’re in stores), after which you’ll get the final Player’s Companion in hardback + PDF once it completes its final development based on feedback and playtest reports from backers. You can also add to your Player’s Companion pledge to get various other combinations of ACKS and its new expansion, including using the coupon in the ACKS PDF you may already have for a hardback upgrade. Email support@autarch.co if you have questions about how to do this!

Yes, you may say, but what is this Player’s Companion of which you speak? Good question! It’s an expansion for the widely acclaimed Adventurer Conqueror King System, designed to give players new tools for creating the kinds of characters they want to see in their campaigns. Because ACKS builds directly on the legacy of the original fantasy roleplaying game, the material in the Player’s Companion will also be useful to groups playing other variants of that lineage. No conversion should be necessary to use the Player’s Companion with Moldvay/Cook’s original B/X and its inheritors Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy, and adapting the material to other TSR-era editions and their retro-clones will likely present no problems to those hip to the essential similarities between all OSR systems.

Here is what is in the pre-release version of the Player’s Companion that we will have at Gary Con IV. Thanks to the backers who helped us reach the first three bonus goals and thus enabled this list of contents to be much more expansive than originally planned!

  • 16 new character classes to expand your campaigns, including the anti-paladin, barbarian, dwarven fury, dwarven machinist, dwarven delver, elven courtier, elven enchanter, elven ranger, gnomish trickster, mystic, paladin, shaman, Thrassian gladiator, warlock, witch, and Zaharan ruinguard.
  • 238 character generation templates with pre-selected proficiencies, spells, and equipment options to create archetypes such as the Aristocrat Bard, Buccaneer Thief, Gladiator Fighter, or Runecaster Shaman.
  • A host of new spells, including never-before-seen dweomers such as dismemberearth’s teethand trance, as well as ritual spells including cataclysmplaguetemporal stasis, and undead legion
  • A point-based customized class system that lets you create the perfect blend of fighting, thievery, divine, and magical power. The custom class creation rules are 100% backwards compatible with every class in the ACKS core rules and all of the classes in the Player’s Companion.
  • Additional equipment and proficiencies to provide options for character classes new and old, plus prices for building traps to defend your stronghold
The final edition will have still more content, including guidelines for creating new spells through magical research and a system for side effects from experimentation we’re developing using Gygaxian democracy.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Player’s Companion is the explosion of player-created content it’s heralded, either because it gives many tools for custom creation to the user, or simply because it coincides with the ACKS PDF having been out there long enough for people to start sinking their teeth into it. Every game designer wants to know that their stuff is being played with, so it’s really gratifying to watch this happening. Check out the Autarch forums for a sense of the creative ferment that’s out there!
12
Mar
12

Roll for the Caller: Using Initiative for Faster Group Decisions

Delta’s D&D Blogspot has posted a session summary of Saturday’s expedition into Dwimmermount. He notes:

Tavis may have more courage than I do, because he had something of an open call out to players, and once we had dinner, piled into the Brooklyn Strategist, and set up to play around the custom gaming table there, he had no less than nine players ready for the session… About the first thing that Tavis said to me was, “You can have 4 henchmen, does that appeal to you?” Does it!? (I’m semi-infamous for gleefully playing multiple characters. Here I would get to play a whole crew of 5 dwarven plate-armored fighters. This was a very good sign.) With similar rulings around the table, we had a total of eighteen characters assembled and marching up to Dwimmermount.

I'm glad Stefan insisted that we actually put all the miniatures into the layout; the work he put into wrangling them was well worth the visceral sense we got of just how insanely stretched-out our marching order was.

This weekend there is indeed an open call for players at the Dwimmermount sessions I will be running on the evenings of both Saturday 3/17 and Sunday 3/18. After that, the expeditions will continue every Saturday until 4/14, but I will be passing my spot at the big Sultan gaming table on to other GMs.

I am famous for running groups of up to 15 players, but normally those are shambolic affairs in which we are glad to spend six or eight hours chatting and chewing the scenery and not getting much done. The Dwarven Forge scenery we have at the Brooklyn Strategist is so appealing that it begs out to be played with right now, so I evolved a way to get this big group moving faster than I normally do. I hope this house rule will be useful to those who come after me.

Because we were using the Adventurer Conqueror King System, when combat occured I would ask everyone to roll for initiative at the start of each round by holding up a d6. This part is standard, and with the possible exception of the kobold massacre, each of the fights on Saturday was sufficiently complicated and high-stakes to make it worth paying close attention to who got to go before the monster(s) and who didn’t.

When we weren’t in combat and the next course of action wasn’t obvious – basically whenever the flow of action seemed to pause a little as people wondered what to do – I would hold up a d20 and ask everyone to “roll for the caller”. (Actually I said “roll for initiative” here too but that led to confusion. Do as I say, not as I did.) Only the high roll counted, so once I heard a pretty high number I’d say “OK, can anyone beat an 18?” I didn’t have the players modify the dice roll by anything, so that all participants had an equal chance of winning. I don’t think it makes sense to have charisma modify the roll – this is a procedure for the players, not their characters – but it might be interesting to keep track of how many times this call for callers had been issued, and tell everyone who had not yet been a caller to add that number to their roll.

Once a high roller had been established, I would find a way to describe the scene to explain why that player’s character now found him or herself in a position to set the next course of action for the party. The first time I called for a roll was in town as soon as everyone had a character sheet ready. Stefan and Peter tied with an 18, so I said “OK, Father Roy and Dewdrop Morningwood, you were the survivors of the previous expedition. As you’ve been here in the Fortress of Muntsberg healing and re-equipping, you become aware that news of your exploits has brought a new crop of adventurers who are looking to repeat your success. Do you want to lead them to the dungeon right away, or spend more time in town seeking out special equipment or pursuing the truth behind some of these rumors?”

It was intentionally implicit in this setup that all the new and old characters would form a party together, but I think Pete picked up that it was not actually covered by anything we’d roleplayed, so he had Dewdrop’s henchman Lafonte Shimmersky give an elaborate recruiting/motivational speech, and then Stefan and Pete read the mood of the group and decided to head for the dungeon right away. (This was what I thought everyone wanted, and also what I wanted myself – all that Dwarven Forge terrain begged to be marched upon – so the caller procedure worked!)

At the top of the landing, we rolled for caller again and the dice chose Miguel. His character was a prestidigitator named Obed Marsh, so I said “As the group reaches the head of the stairs and the metal Thulian doors, a feeling of eeriness settles over the party and they unconsciously look to Obed for his expertise in arcane matters. How do you direct your fellow adventurers?” Miguel chose to have his characters take the lead and investigate the situation, asking questions that let me feed the group information. But just as you can see in historical accounts of parties using callers like the example of play in the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, the caller was the decision-maker but not necessarily the spotlight player. Other players might speak up to contribute – when Obed learned that the mountain was protected from tunneling by some kind of enchantment, Dan said “My dwarves put away their axes and picks, disappointed that their plan is shot” – and sometimes the caller would designate another character to perform a task, whose player would then take the spotlight (for example, Carl’s thief who led the exploration of the rockfall that exposed the gorgon cave).

I felt like this procedure worked very well for speeding up decision making by giving the power to the dice. As the Judge, I didn’t have to think “how can I get the players to start moving and stop debating; I only had to recognize when it was time to call for a roll, and then hand off the problem to the randomly appointed caller. A key part of the method was to set up the caller’s authority by setting the scene for their character. By describing to everyone how and why Obed had emerged as the leaders for the other characters, I was encouraging everyone to start thinking in character as well, which thus included accepting that their character was going to be regarding the caller as the natural leader for the moment.

I think the caller procedure would work even for smaller parties. If you try it out in your games, let me know how it goes!

07
Mar
12

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.
06
Mar
12

Rumors of Dwimmermount

Here is the rumor chart I made to bring events from the inaugural G+ session of the Dwimmermount Kickstarter campaign into the continuity of the game I subsequently ran at the Brooklyn Strategist. The idea is that Locfir having gotten busy with other projects, Locfir’s Man (formerly known as the candlemaker Ungril Ungfarm) escaped from being charmed. Scuttlebutt is now echoing from the tales he brought back from the dungeon expedition he participated in with Pigfoot the Hog (human fighter), Burgoth the Mage (human you-guessed-it), and Locfir the Astrologer (elf). These are a little Locfir-centric because Locfir’s Man is making out like a bandit on his association with the elf and in fact refuses to answer to the name Ungril any more.

Photos by David Ewalt, aka Old Axehandle, from the last Brooklyn Strategist session

  1. Pigfoot discovered material components that make the ventriloquism spell lethal AND merchants are buying up all the fortress-town’s supplies of chain, caltrops, oil, and torches.
  2. Locfir made Burgoth lick a Thulian pillar of submission AND Burgoth is now hemiplegic and enslaved in Locfir’s sanctum.
  3. The party all cast charm person on one another to protect themselves from outside influences AND when they returned from the dungeon one of them had been turned into a gnome nonetheless.
  4. The bearded face of a Man spoke to Locfir AND taught him how to initiate himself and others into Thulian wisdom.
  5. Locfir filled a wineskin with a fluid he found very interesting AND pouring it on Burgoth brought him back to life.
  6. The party was attacked by metal skeletons AND Burgoth controlled them using a lever.
  7. The party found the petrified body of Turms Turmax’s courtesan AND she revealed to them the secrets of the Thulian doors.
  8. The party found a renegade Dwarf AND the others of his kind are searching for a cemetary of their kind that is being desecrated.

All of these are potentially knowable to characters in the Fortress of Muntsburg. I had the players roll a d8 apiece to see which rumor they had heard just because I didn’t want to read them all out at the start of the session, but I don’t think any of these are spoilers at least for my own approach to embracing meta-knowledge. If you read this post and then play in my game that’s awesome you saved some reading rumors aloud time. We’ll work together to imagine the reason that your character is particularly well versed on what’s being talked about in Muntsburg’s taphouses.

Step one of my approach involves acknowledging meta-information the players might have – some of the stuff above you can guess at if you’ve read Zak’s post. The reason the the map of the first level can be seen in the picture to the right is that I placed it in the dungeon as treasure, knowing at least one of those present had seen it in the Dwimmermount teaser in the Adventurer Conqueror King rules we were using.

Step two is then using this to screw with the players. James beautifully set the stage for this by changing the dungeon since the ’09 PbP game, so that the first time Locfir entered after three years away he freaked out that none of his maps were quite right. Part of the reason these aren’t spoilers is that each has two parts, separated by AND. Either part could be true or false. The idea is to give players some ideas about things that might be interesting about the dungeon – in this case, things that our group of players actually was interested in (well OK maybe just me, Locfir was always either running away or having to be dragged away from things only he cared about). Then if and when they do encounter something that might relate to the rumor, their dread and paranoia is entertainingly multiplied by the bad things they’ve heard or the likelihood that I made a false good rumor to trick them into doing something foolish.

The way I figure this works for the Judge is that if the players want to try to investigate the rumors further, they can spend some time (I recommend a week) in town rolling against an ability score or however you like to do this kind of thing. The results are, using an assumption that you’ll wind up with a range like the Apocalypse World-type system where a total failure is a modified 6- on 2d6, total success is 10+, partial success anything in between:

  • Total success: you learn whether both parts of the rumor are true. (If you like to be more stingy with information, decide which part you want to pursue and you confirm or deny that half.)
  • Partial success: you learn one false part of the rumor, Judge’s choice, or that no part is false. (Or maybe you learn it all at a cost or complication.)
  • Total failure: the Judge gets to invent and spread a rumor about the investigating PC. (Or trigger a town adventure, rival party attack, etc. if your group is in the mood, or impose a penalty on the PC’s die rolls due to too much buying of drinks in town means bad hangover but no info.)

Judges, if you haven’t read the adventure yet just decide “true or false” depending on what sounds good to you. Discreetly make a note on the rumor table to help you figure out what you said later when the party finds that thing in the dungeon (if it even exists at all). Likewise if you are about to prep the dungeon, thinking about these rumors as you read should help you keep your eye out for cool stuff (even though James has hit on what is for me just the right level of evocative detail vs. easy to read). And if you think your players know too much about the dungeon, these rumors are meant to be a good guide to which switches to flip to change things up.

Finally, you don’t have to pay any attention to this continuity in your version of Dwimmermount. Pigfoot and Burgoth and Locfir don’t have to be in the setting at all, they are non-canon for sure and I am pretty sure it will make James frown thoughtfully if you start tossing canon around so don’t do it. If the party goes to investigate what’s going on with Burgoth and he exists he can be whatever you want, I recommend secretly a polymorphed dragon living in some kind of polyhedral melting pocket-plane.

Empty Kingdom if you are a home for media artists make it easy for me to credit this painting to Ryan Browning with name and year and stuff the way galleries do.

The one thing you should be sure to respect in your campaign is that if it has a Locfir he is fantastically wealthy but no PC will ever find where it is hidden, and he has like a million hit dice and just started that one HP rumor to tempt fools to disrespect him so he can do weird elf things with your still-beating heart.

I liked the way this worked and will be doing it for the Keep on the Borderlands events we’re doing with ACKS at Gary Con IV.




Past Adventures of the Mule

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