Archive for the 'Dwimmermount' Category

17
May
13

Playing Domains at War and Papers & Paychecks

As a blogger and a signatory to the Joesky Accords I have a responsibility to talk about play. As a publisher I need to let you know that if you want to back the Domains at War Kickstarter but haven’t yet, you should do so soon because it closes tomorrow, May 18th at 3:32 pm.

These may boil down to the same thing. I’m helping create Domains at War because I enjoy playing it. If you’re also excited about what having a wargame integrated with a RPG system for mass combat and strategic campaigns will mean for your gaming, your Kickstarter pledge is part of that process of creation. Sharing excitement about D@W is good for Autarch as a publisher because it’s in our interests for people to get into the games we make, and it’s good for me as a gamer to learn from what other people are doing with the systems I’m interested in.

You might not share either of these interests, but as a reader of blogs I often find something of value even in reading posts about games that I feel no urge to play. In the case of posts about publishing with Kickstarter, that game is Papers and Paychecks. Here are some of the system-neutral insights it’s generated.

To be a publisher, one should first be a corporation. This is the difference between rolling up a player character to go adventuring and actually descending into a hole filled with deadly traps while wearing your own skin. One of the foundational mistakes in the Dwimmermount Kickstarter was that James didn’t incorporate Grognardia Games. Happily, the potentially dire consequences of doing business as an individual have been averted in this case. We’ve managed to warp the ship off the shoals, but even if it’s wrecked on some other obstacle having Autarch at the helm will mean that all the casualties among the crew will be purely fictional entities.

It is interesting to be running a player character in real life, although usually not in the ways you’d think. Playing a role that’s made distinct from your own by the rules of the game or the laws governing corporate entities gives you the chance to act as if it is you and is not you. I think it comes down to protection from risk. Doing business as a company means that you can always roll up a new character if the current one gets killed, which leads to the same kind of exploration-based, consequence-embracing play we celebrate in games that don’t implicitly require that your guy will survive until the final act.

Autarch is actually more like a chartered adventuring party, and I think that the robustness that comes from making this the fundamental unit of play is as useful in other games as it is in Papers & Paychecks. Original D&D is the story of the world rather than the story of the characters who explore it, but making the party the recurring lens through which this takes place focuses the cumulative actions of the players and makes it easy to bring new actors into the story.

One of the cool things about roleplaying games is that they’re not just an outlet for your DIY creativity, but a chance to participate in the creativity of folks who have talents you don’t. My Night of the Walking Wet game at this year’s Gary Con introduced me to Fred Liner, who had one of the original pieces of Jonathan Bingham’s art that the Adventurer Conqueror King Kickstarter made possible. For Domains at War, Fred pledged for a backer reward that let him choose the subject of an illustration for the book. His description nods to the Walking Wet party in which Mark’s hobbit has a special ability that makes him always appear to be a member of a group of 14:

The foreground of the picture is a small command group with a banner the banner bearer is a dwarf, Snorri One-eye, one of his eyes is a glittering black orb in the hand not holding the banner he carries an axe, his helmet is made of lizard skin. The headpiece of the banner is similar to a roman standard with “The XIV”, the banner, if it can be made out, is a griffon on a white field. The other members of the command group are 2 mages and a cleric. One of the mages specializes in fire magic and the other is a dark, necromancer. To the left and in the background are a of couple siege engines. To the right the rest of the company is in the middle distance advancing on an earthworks. There are 8 figures in this group all soldier types with various weapons with one exception. One of figures in this group should be a scout type in leathers and a cloak that is swirling around him as the cloak transforms into smoke.

Here’s Ryan’s compositional sketches for this idea:

Here’s the final piece:

I find it fascinating to be part of this process in the same way I’m amazed by people in my gaming groups who can do more than one funny voice. Of course, Ryan has a more than professional level of talent, and some of the people I’ve gamed with actually get paid as actors. Still, the personal involvement – the fact that it’s my character’s foolhardiness they’re talking about in that funny voice – means I value it much more than any exercise of skill I would appreciate as an outsider.

The last thing to say about Papers & Paychecks and other kinds of non-real-life gaming is that they fundamentally cross over. You can play Metamorphosis Alpha and you can play AD&D, but how much cooler is it to be transported from one to the other by a wish spell and realize that your campaign encompasses both of these multitudes? Likewise you could be a publisher and not play your games, or (more happily) a gamer who doesn’t feel the urge to aspire to what Gygax perhaps self-servingly saw as the ultimate level of player achievement in Master of the Game, but the greatest enjoyment comes from combining the two.

Here’s a game I ran in which the players led armies across the original outdoor map, seeking to be the first to extract the riches of Dwimmermount:

You can read more about the session from Tenkar’s perspective here. The thing I learned from it as a gamer is that I tend to make my scenarios front-loaded with choice. As a player I love the stage where we spend a long time coming up with a plan after considering all options and making elaborate preparations, and there’s a legitimate argument for including some of this even in a one-off game. Given a finite amount of time for play, though, spending more on these choices means having less room in which they can become meaningful by creating consequences at the table.

Something I’ve been doing with the character generation templates in the ACKS Player’s Companion might suggest a workable intermediary. You roll 3d6 for starting wealth, and this gives you the package of thematically-related equipment and proficiencies that your village elders or whoever have invested in providing for you. The option I give players if they don’t love that template is to swap it for any of the lower ones on the table and pocket the difference in gp value. This is awesome not just because it creates choice but because it immediately creates a context in which it can become meaningful. Why did your forefathers want your Dwarven Fury to be a Foehammer? How did you become a Vermin Hunter instead? These are juicy questions to launch directly into from character creation.

Here’s a snapshot of the final turn in my spur-of-the-moment recreation of the Battle of Arsuf with Paul, which you can read more about here.

The thing I learned here is about limits of attention rather than time. When I ran a Domains at War battle at Gary Con, it was the switch between playing a commander of units and zooming in to focus on your leader’s actions as an individual hero that I found most exciting and immersive. At that game, we had multiple players per side so each of us could manage the decisions about when to make that switch. When Paul and I played we were each running a general and three commanders, and the tactical decisions they were making for the divisions of thousands of troops each one led occupied our complete mental bandwidth.

One mark of a good game is that it can expand or collapse to meet the circumstances around the table. For me, Domains at War does this really well. I enjoyed the ebb and flow of battle lines seen entirely from an eagle-eyed commander’s view as much as I did the more heroism-focused game at Gary Con in which characters sometimes duked it out man to man. If we didn’t have enough attention for either we could have used the abstract resolution system in Domains at War: Campaigns, and the game was fun in the Dwimmermount session above even when no mass combat ensued at all!

This flexibility is one of the key features of Domains at War’s inspiration Chainmail – sometimes you use the man-to-man system, sometimes the fantasy combat table, sometimes it’s purely unit-based. In the afterschool class when we started out playing 4E, I saw the importance of collapsibility. I’ve had great times with 4E’s uber-tactical resource management, but it breaks down when you play it with a group of kids with the attention span of 8 to 12 year olds and in the confines of an 80 minute session. I’m eager to use D@W more in my life as a gamer because of the extra degrees of expansion and contraction it offers, letting the story of the world be told at a number of scales from player characters in nightmare mazes to rulers of mighty hordes.

16
Jan
13

On Dwimmermount, And Failure

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, maybe in the comments to this post about Gygax, Arneson, and a music video. My mom was a little girl when Hawaii became a state. She’s about the age of D&D’s original gangsters, and the vogue for Hawaiian shirts and hula hoops affected her the way Tractics did them. The world wasn’t changed by my mom’s lifelong devotion to hula dancing, but it did mean my childhood was surrounded by the paraphernalia of a hobby most people left behind decades ago.

In 2000, her halao, a hula group made up of dancers who commuted between Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio (for non-Texans, this is a whole lot of six-mile hexes) to practice together, was the first in the continental-US-other-than-California to be invited to the Merrie Monarch festival. This would be hula’s equivalent of Gen Con, if Indy had this big contest we all cared about so much that just being allowed to enter was a big deal.

A women’s group competing in the Merrie Monarch festival. We had all these kinds of cowrie shell necklaces and coconut shell bras around the house when I was a kid.

The day my mom was getting ready to go on stage – braiding all those grass skirts takes a long time – the rest of my family,  my fiancee, and I went swimming at a black sand beach on the big island. After a while the rest of us went in to build sand castles while my dad looked for coral with a snorkel. At one point we looked up and wondered if he was swimming a little far from shore; when we looked again a minute later he had drowned. My brother and I swam out to try to rescue him, but our attempts at CPR failed.

Kehena Beach can be seen in the background of this shot. Most of the folks who helped with the rescue weren’t wearing any clothes.

Like many gamers I grew up devoted to science fiction, especially everything Robert A. Heinlein ever wrote, and I was strongly influenced by its cult of competence. Years later, in a class on SF, Chip Delany identified this as one of the genre’s fixed ideas – the delusion that an exceptional person should be able to do everything exceptionally well, whether it’s to skin a squirrel with your boot or fix a gourmet meal or repel an alien invasion – but it was gospel to me as a kid. I never built a bomb shelter using rolls of toilet paper as radiation filters the way Heinlein told me to in Expanded Universe, but I did lots of other stuff, from taking karate lessons to getting certified as an emergency medical technician, for the time when my training might mean the difference between life or death. When the time came, I failed.

One failure followed another. The Ph.D towards which I’d invested five years of my time and a bunch of other people’s money stalled and eventually sputtered out, a long painful process of disappointment for my mentor, my friends, and others who’d counted on me to deliver my thesis. For a long time I felt like a loser, hiding myself away in shame to avoid evidence of how I’d let people down or fantasizing about grandiose ways I could re-establish myself as an exceptional person. Eventually I got over the idea that I deserved to have life suck forever; the decision to get myself into therapy was a key step, but that and its interesting relationship to what we do in roleplaying sessions is for another post.

This one is about Dwimmermount. If you supported its Kickstarter, or if you’re reasonably attuned to an online community that contains folks who did, you’ll have heard that the project is in some trouble. As the person at Autarch who’s been the public face for the Dwimmermount crowdfunding effort, I’m doing all I can to make sure that what it promised is delivered – although, since James has both the funding and the copyright that are required to release his work, I’m not in the best position to do so. Autarch is still looking for solutions, but everyone’s best efforts can never banish the possibility of failure.

I can’t talk about what’s going on with Dwimmermount author James Maliszewski and how it relates to the project’s problems – mostly because he’s not telling me, and the desire to respect his privacy covers what’s left – but here’s what I can say from my experience following my father’s death.

  • There are worse things in the world than a delayed Kickstarter or a pre-ordered gaming product that fails to ship. People have to take responsibility for their actions, sure, but the reality is that life contains some tragic fucking shit and the only thing that makes it bearable is our compassion for one another.
  • Sometimes failure is a way to realize you’re on the wrong path. I’d been going nowhere as a grad student long before my dad died, and although this isn’t the way I would have chosen to get there, I’m now happier than most of the people I know who continued down the track I got jolted out of.
  • You have to fail if you’re going to learn from your mistakes. The biggest thing I had to overcome was the feeling that I was a failure, and since that’s all I’d ever be there was no point in trying. The flip side of this is the science-fiction fantasy that I should be good at everything, meaning the best way to evade the sneaking suspicion that this wasn’t so was to avoid doing anything at which I might fail. Either way, I was shutting myself off from the opportunity to see that you win some, you lose some, and meanwhile it’s fun to play the game.

Autarch is a new company, and we’re still making rookie mistakes. Going into the Dwimmermount project, I felt like Autarch’s success with the Adventurer Conqueror King Kickstarter, and the failure of mine for the Arneson Memorial Gameday, had given us considerable expertise. I see now that those those were relatively smooth hits or misses. We’ve learned a lot more from a project that’s been rocky and whose fate remains uncertain; we won’t again put ourselves in a position where we’re holding the bag and have left ourselves so little control over the outcome. Although I still think there’s a valuable role for crowdfunding to act as the testing ground and collaborative inspiration for projects early in their development cycle, the Kickstarter currently on Autarch’s drawing board, Domains at War, will have a basically finished draft ready to give to backers as soon as they pledge and will explicitly be seeking funds just to illustrate, print, and ship a thing that already exists.

Kickstarter is a new thing under the sun too. Without being privy to their process, the fact that they are growing successfully means they must be learning from their mistakes. I’d like to think that the requirements for project creators to discuss risks to backers, which have been put in place since we launched Dwimmermount, might have helped us avoid another serious mistake in not being transparent from the start about Autarch’s contract with James and the ways it could go wrong. But hindsight is misleading, and there are still many ways that Dwimmermount could come out right.

To bring this back to gaming and pay the Joesky tax, roleplaying lets you make mistakes and learn from the consequences in a safe space. I’ve written before about my frustration with party optimization in 4E, where I felt like no feasible amount of play time would give me enough observations to statistically distinguish successful group strategies from sub-par ones. Tim Harford’s fascinating Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure shows that it’s not just statistics that can be make it hard to recognize when you’ve made a mistake (this being an obvious prerequisite to learning from it). Some of the unconscious biases he points out are kind of a benefit for roleplaying: the tendency to retrospectively cast our bad decisions as good ones can make the story of a gang of insanely greedy, stupid, merciless cowards trying to bullshit their way to a wholly undeserved victory seem a little less undeserved.

But the fear of failure is what drives these attempts to airbrush away one’s mistakes, and it makes for bad gaming. Fudging the dice robs us of the ability to learn. The wisely titled Play Unsafe presents techniques like holding ideas lightly (because they might be wrong) and not planning in advance (because no amount of worrying will never eliminate the possibility of rolling a natural 1) that I think are at the heart of the old-school approach. Best of all, they’re things you can try out and see if they work for you right away, no statistical analysis necessary.

19
Dec
12

Landscape Painting Around Dwimmermount

DwimmermountWilderness_Sample2

The Opening of The Starfall Desert

In the midst of relocating across the country and becoming a first-time father this Fall, I had been asked by the esteemed Tavis Allison of Autarch to put some of my hedge-wizard illustration skills to work for one of their projects. I had the pleasure of being asked to develop a colored hex-map showing the region around James Maliszewski‘s infamous/legendary Dwimmermount.

James had already enlisted the mapping mojo of the influential Rob Conley of Bat In The Attic to create a play-reference black and white map for the region around Dwimmermount proper, but Tavis called for a large colored map that could be printed on durable vinyl. It was to be sans locations and named areas so the map could function for mysterious player exploration and utilitarian play at the table much like the old wilderness survival map.

I had my earlier methods for making colored hexmaps, similar to the style of the Judges Guild Wilderlands map sets and detailed in my overly long series of posts on this very blog, but I wanted to stretch the process some more and see if I could move the technique into more of a hand-made affair. (At least in appearance, anyway.)

I decided to make the thing entirely of scanned watercolor paint-strokes. If it was going to be in big printed color, I thought I would savor the opportunity and forgo using the color black for creating outlines or details and try and have it look like everything was painted on in color. A lot of published game maps start life in digitized B&W and can have a “coloring book” feel to them. I wanted to see if the whole thing could be done with hand made colored strokes and textures.

In the end you can still see the digital-ness of the whole affair, and I used black for putting the hexes on, but the intent is to have it organic/quirky enough that the machine qualities don’t register to the viewer.

Hills, Mountains, Grasslands, Forest

Hills, Mountains, Grasslands, Forest

The raw painting used to create a "big" mountain pattern for use in GIMP.

The raw painting used to create a “big” mountain pattern for use in GIMP.

The steps were numerous and I won’t detail them unless there is substantial internet begging, but they involved much tracing, painting, scanning, buying a recycled socialist computer, pattern creation, GIMPing, Hawkwind, Ice Dragon, and beer.

My goal next time is to create 4 inch sized hexes with oil paint on a wood panel.

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!

07
Apr
12

Mixing Virtual and In-the-Room Players in a RPG Session

Tomorrow, Saturday April 7th from 3pm to 6pm Pacific Daylight Time, I will be running a Dwimmermount session using Adventurer Conqueror King on G+. In addition to the usual 4 other players that G+ bandwidth supports, my son Javi and from 1-4 of his cousins aged 10-14 will be joining the party.

When I played 4e with George Strayton’s group, one of the players was often George’s brother in LA, participating via videoconference. In this case, there were so many more people physically present that having one there virtually didn’t make much of an impact. I am interested to see what it will be like with a more even mix of PCs in the room and not. Does anyone else have experience with a similar setup?

As someone who likes to play with big tables, one of G+’s limitations that I chafe at the most is the bandwidth restriction that causes video to break down after about five different channels are active. However, a promising way around this is to have each channel represent multiple players. Following up on my recent exploration of using callers, presumably each group of people gathered around a computer would have one of them announcing their sub-party’s action to the Judge, who coordinates the inputs of everyone on G+ (as well as the players in the room with the Judge) and then describes the results to all.

This is something I’ll be looking to experiment with more in weeks to come. For now, if you’re interested and available Sat April 7th from 3-6 PM Reno, Nevada time  (which is to say, Sunday April 8 from 7-10 AM Seoul time) let me know in the comments or drop me a line at tavis.allison@gmail.com – if you can get some other players together to play in the room with you while we G+ with the players in the room with me, so much the better!

ADDENDUM: We’ll roll PCs at the start of the session, or you’re welcome to use a first- or second-level character from whatever fantasy RPG you like; I’ll work up more detailed FLAILSNAILS conventions if there’s demand. We’ll do mapping on paper held up to the camera and to the people in the room; dice will be done physically by whoever is making the roll, we’ll trust you.

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.

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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