Posts Tagged ‘Eric

06
Sep
10

Word from the Geofront

Just a quick update: I’ve been at Myrtle Beach for the past six days, hence my lack of gaming posts. I have, however, finished mapping out two levels of my megadungeon and wrote up the contents of 75 rooms, including assorted furnishings and bric-a-brac. I gotta tell ya, filling in all the fine details takes a lot of time! But it’s necessary to give the dungeon that “lived-in” look. Some of it actually counts as treasure, too! (This is a good reason to bring in the Trader PC: to assess the value of this chair or that tapestry!)

More later. Eric out.

11
Aug
10

Age Before Beauty?

This thread on RPGnet contains a discussion on why people still play early editions of D&D instead of 4e. Some of the options presented by the original poster seem to miss the point, but the debate looks healthy and energetic.

As for myself, I run old-school D&D because it’s clean and simple and flexible, requiring little prep and allowing me to wing it without feeling like I’m breaking the rules. The thought of writing up 3e stat blocks again makes my brain bleed, and 4e looks far too rigid in format and playstyle for my taste.

What about you? Why do you play old-school D&D instead of the newer editions?

16
Jul
10

DexCon After Action Report, Part 2

Saturday saw a major upswing in attendance. The halls were crowded, as were the gaming tables. The signup sheets for my sessions, which had been almost empty, finally started to fill up.

My Saturday afternoon game was packed, with eight people squeezed around a small round table. Character creation was slowed by having only two sets of the core rules, though that’s mostly because people took a lot of time to equip their characters. Strange that it takes so long even with Red Box’s limited list of gear! But they finally sorted out their possessions and special abilities—mostly combative knacks in the vein of “two-weapon fighting,” “quick shot” and “weapon master”—and the fighter-heavy party trekked out in heavy rain to the Chateau.

This was unquestionably the best of my D&D sessions at the convention. The players had a strong dynamic and were interested both in role-playing their characters and in exploring and looting the depths. After negotiating with the Chateau’s orcish guardians (aided by an excellent reaction roll), they delved into the dungeons, where it took them some time to realize that the map they were drawing of their exploration was identical to one of the pre-drawn maps they’d received at the start of play. They eventually found their way to the vastness of the Grand Stair that wound down through the center of the dungeon. A random encounter there turned into something resembling a set-piece battle, and a wild plan involving a rope and elementary physics saved the day from an otherwise invincible opponent.

One noteworthy situation that arose here was the trouble of resting in the dungeon. Distrusting the orcs, the party decided to hole up in a small dungeon room. As the room they picked had no door, they set guards in the hallway outside, and took apart some furniture from a nearby room to build a bonfire in the hall. Naturally, this brought multiple waves of wandering monsters down upon them! They only reconsidered this stratagem after a preponderance of the PCs had been paralyzed by ghouls.

Saturday evening was a slower session, with only five players, two of whom had played in the afternoon game. The resulting continuity resembled a real campaign, with the returning PCs farming out magic items to the new players and sharing maps and information about the dungeon. Sadly, their chosen path took them through empty room after empty room, while the random encounter die refused to cough up any monsters. Had this been a session at home with my own gaming group, that would have been fine—exploring a new area is a more meaningful reward in long-term play—but these people were paying to play a single adventure, so I fudged things to drop an encounter in their path. Things warmed up considerably after that, and the players seemed to have a good time despite a near-TPK at the end. (How many paralyzed adventurers can fit into a carrion crawler’s stomach? Roll 1d4!)

Sunday was spent on a final visit to the dealer’s room, where I acquired a copy of The Swordswoman and some old AD&D modules on the cheap, then headed home; I’m not a fan of Sunday convention gaming, as I prefer to get home early and take some time to decompress. I think I’m finally finished decompressing!

All in all, it was a good experience and a viable experiment. I plan to give it another try next February at Dreamation 2011.

14
Jul
10

DexCon After Action Report, Part 1

Whew! I’m still recovering from four days spent in sunny Morristown, NJ at DexCon XIII. Joe Bloch over at Greyhawk Grognard assembled an elite team of DMs—him, me and Rich McKee—to run old-school games, creating a gaming track with the delightful name of “Invasion of the Grognards.”

The convention space, at the Morristown Hyatt, was pleasant and spacious, and Raul’s Empanadas down the street makes a mean empanada (surprise!). But that’s not what you’re here to read about, gentle readers! So, D&D:

I’d scheduled four sessions of play in my home megadungeon, the Chateau d’Ambreville, to provide a slice of actual old-school dungeon delving. I was a bit nervous; much of the fun of the dungeon crawl comes from being invested in the long-term development of one’s character and party. Would convention-goers enjoy the game without that attachment? (The answer turned out to be a definite yes. Read on!)

Thursday was slow; few people had shown up to the convention at that point, and the halls were all but empty. The sign-up sheets for my games were likewise almost empty, with four players spread across four sessions!

Only one person showed up for my first session. Not wanting to turn a player away, I let him roll up three characters and pick a destination. He chose the Keep on the Borderlands. Hearing from the locals that a party of adventurers had just visited the Caves of Chaos and trounced a tribe of orcs, his party went to the Caves… where they entered the cave that the PCs in my home game had just cleared of orcs. Instead of moving on to a more fruitful cave, he spent the next hour turning over corpses and searching rooms that had been picked clean.

This would prove to be a theme for the rest of the convention.

Thursday evening was spent as a player, roaming through the Castle of the Mad Archmage. The adventure was fun but frustrating, as teleport rooms confounded my mapping efforts and much of the party seemed bound and determined to get us all killed in entertaining ways. The characters were pre-gens, which saved valuable time from being spent on chargen but made it a bit harder to engage with the game.

Friday brought in more people wandering the halls and signing up for game sessions. Five players turned up for my afternoon game, including a father and his preteen son (player of the infamous “X the Dwarf”). The party headed up to the Chateau d’Ambreville, but decided the place was too dangerous to enter! Instead, they explored the Chateau’s infamous watchtower—long since stripped of valuables by prior adventurers—then went on to visit the ruins of Ambreville town, where they were encircled by undead and only barely cut their way out. They had fun despite only acquiring three copper pieces: a sure sign of success!

Despite my fears, no one had any problems with jumping right into the old-school dungeon delving mindset. There was no need for a grand mission; the quest for gold and magic was enough! Presumably some element of self-selection was in effect, as the adventure description was clear and straightforward in this regard. As to character creation, it went quickly, even accounting for house rules—especially coming up with special abilities for each character. More time was spent on buying equipment than anything else! The main bottleneck was a lack of rulebooks; I should have printed out copies of the relevant material beforehand.

For the evening, I played Shock: Social Science Fiction, one of those wacky new-school games that the kids are talking about. Despite only getting about a third of the way through the game due to time constraints and a surfeit of players, it was absolutely brilliant. We sketched out an entire setting in the first hour: far-future transhuman Earth academics visiting a lost colony where hunter-gatherers with elaborate marriage rituals are at risk of occupation by ore-hungry technocrats. The remaining three hours were packed with drama, largely centering around the technocrats’ discovery that according to the arbitrary measures of genetic “fitness” that defined their caste system, the hunter-gatherers would automatically be placed in the ruling caste if they were to be conquered and assimilated as planned.

Mind you, not only isn’t Shock an old-school game, it’s hardly a role-playing game at all. It would be better to describe it as a story game—that is, a game for creating stories. If that’s your bag, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re looking to play a character and get into his or her head-space, though, it won’t give you what you want.

Next post: Saturday!

22
Jun
10

Do Not Read Fight On #9 If…

Pity my poor players, for whom some of the content of this excellent zine is off-limits

The new issue of Fight On is out now. Among the many awesome things it contains is an adventure called “Caves of the Beast Mistress”, which I wrote both as a tribute to Paul Jaquays’ Caverns of Thracia and “Night of the Walking Wet” and a memorial to my friend Sang Lee, whose monster illustrations grace the adventure.

Players in my White Sandbox campaign are hereby forbidden from checking out this part of the issue until they’re sure they won’t want to pursue any still-unexplored directions within the “side entrance” to the Beast Lord’s cave!

When y’all finally do clear these areas, the reward for your patience will be seeing that the names of the characters from the last few sessions are credited as playtesters.

EDIT: You may have trouble finding my contribution to this issue in the table of contents, as your attention is likely to be distracted by the familiar-looking name of  Eric Minton: Purchasing Potions (p. 25) and Grognard’s Grimoirs (p. 114). I am mortified to have forgotten to celebrate Eric’s pieces, which I hope will inaugurate an ongoing takeover of all printed matter everywhere by Mules.

27
May
10

we killed the beast lord. you missed it.

The Beast Lord enjoys his last meal

Tavis’s White Sandbox campaign is largely centered around Paul Jaquays’s 1979 masterpiece, The Caverns of Thracia.  On Saturday night, we defeated its arch-villain, Stronghoen the Beast Lord.

Thirty-seven players and fifty-five characters have played in the sandbox over its twenty-two session lifespan, and they’ve all been gunning for this moment.

What was most impressive to me is that defeating the villain was a beautiful team effort, in which everyone at the table that night played a part.

The Cast

Ookla the Mok, Elvish Ranger
Theos, Dwarven Magic-User (played by JoeTheLawyer)
Lotur the Scurrying Cur, a Fighting-Human (played by Greengoat)
Thales, a Faun
Arnold Littleworth, a Human Magic-User (played by me)
John Fighter, a Fighting-Human
Merselon the Magnificent, a Fighting-Human
Lucky, a Fighting-Hobbit (played by Eric)
THE SPIRITS OF ALL RED BOX CHARACTERS EVERYWHERE

Snapshots of Awesome

Ookla the Mok

Fred the Talking Fish (billion years old, made out of wood, you wear it around your neck, it never shuts up–in short, don’t ask!) cast an illusion on Ookla so that he looks like an Ixchel wearing a sombrero. Ookla would spend the next several hours going “Boogita-boogita-boo!” to every NPC in the game. (Dave had another awesome moment below, but I’m not sure if it was OOC brainstorming or in character.)

Theos the Renegade Dwarven Magician

Armed with our wand of paralyzation, Theos – unafraid to scout ahead – immobilized half a dozen slime-monsters which exploded out of barrels dropped by an especially pesky group of vines.  (He later made a pretty strong bid to operate the wand of wonder while high, which given Tavis’s glee at the idea would have been disastrous but showed massive courage.)

Lotur the Scurrying Cur

After overcoming a swarm of slime-monsters, Lotur ran up the side of a cave wall, and jumped down in front of a female Minotaur so impressively that she decided to worship him.

Thales the Faun, a Faun

Being half-goat means you can haltingly communicate to half-cows. (Who knew?) Thales managed to interview the female Minotaur, discovering much about their lair.

Arnold “Zolobachai” Littleworth

Armed with this information, Arnold cast Zolobachai’s Impertinent Invitation and strolled into a Minotaur Sorority Party. When his attempt to poison everyone failed, he made friends with their Druid-Queen Raven Gargamel.

(It turns out Raven’s gang views the Beast Lord as a sell-out to the lich roaming the dungeon, and she agreed to help fight the Lich if we first neutralized the Beast Lord.  She gave us a straight line of access to the Beast Lord’s palace.  I am pretty sure she didn’t want us to kill him, cannibalize his body for trophies, and then cook what was left in Arnold’s trusty frying pan, but all good relationships are built on keeping some facts strictly to yourself.)

John Fighter, True King of Thracia

With the help of our scouts, John found a group of ten were-bears whom we sorta knew.  After getting the bears good and drunk on Lucky’s dwarven ale, he promised them half the Beast Lord’s treasure if they would help us fight. Were-Bears are 6 HD monsters who cannot be injured by normal weapons – in other words, far more bad-ass than we are.

(So, with 8 of John’s soldiers, and 10 were-bears, we stormed the Beast Lord’s citadel. Everyone did brave things. Kudos especially to Ookla’s player, who ingeniously suggested using illusionary Harpies to trick the victims of a real Harpy’s mind-control powers. I don’t know if this was suggested in-character, so maybe it’s not an Awesome Thing for Ookla, but it was still damn clever, and built on an idea Joe had.)

Merselon the Magnificent

After the gang demolished six Gnolls, five Harpies and a Hydra, Stronghoen the Beast Lord and his group of Gnolls charged out at us. Though Theos managed to paralyze most of the Gnolls, Stronghoen incinerated all eight of John’s soldiers (including like 3 George Foremans) with a fire ball, which also put 5 of 7 party members at death’s door. When Arnold blinded the Beast Lord with the wand of wonder, MERSELON THE MAGNIFICENT magnificently vaulted into melee combat alone, and was the first of the Grey Company to draw the Beast Lord’s blood. For a round or two, Merselon fought the Beast Lord alone … until the Beast Lord slew him with single stroke of his enormous battle axe. It was an epic death.

Lucky the Hobbit

With Merselon down and the Were-Bears running away in terror, things looked grim. As Arnold desperately tried to revive the others, Lucky kept nailing the Beast Lord with critical after critical. As John, Ookla, and Lotur – all with 1-2 hit points – swarmed into melee, Lotur’s preposterous fumble managed to distract the Beast Lord long enough for Lucky to nail him straight through the throat with one of his deadly arrows, and as the Beast Lord fell to his knees, King John ran Stronghoen through with his blade, Heart of the Mok. (Then Arnold hit him upside the head with the busted frying pan.)

Lucky is more of a bad-ass than I'd previously assumed

Aftermath

We pretty much stopped right there: six survivors, each with one foot in the grave, gathered around the Beast Lord’s corpse in the depths of the Lost City. Though a Dog Brother was gathering reinforcements deeper in the palace and casting nefarious spells, the Slayers of the Beast Lord bowed their heads to honor all the brave souls who have soldiered at their side:

Merselon the Magnificent (Acrobat)
Christos, Assassin
Maldoor the M-U
Obscura the Illusionist
Lydio the Spider-Dwarf, M-U
Thisilyn, Cleric
Fostra, Archer
Caswin of Aeschlepius, Cleric
Emurak the multi-classed
Bartholomew Honeytongue, Cleric
Brother Gao, Cleric
Into the Mystic, Cleric
23, Robot Cleric
Myggle the Priest
Mallo Beer-bane, Cleric
Thorsten Skullsplitter (Fighting Man)
Garrett Nailo, (Cleric)
David Carradine, Monk
Colin, F-M
Tommy, M-U
Argus the Rat Knight, F-M
Narcissus, M-U
Elston, Elf
Sir Hendrik the Halfling
Garrock, Alchemist
Obamabiden the Druid
Fark the Dwarf
Dirk
Orb the M-U (and his spider)
Fletcher the Fighting Man
Janape
Bluto, F-M
Morena, F-W
Chance, Cleric
Billy the Rat
Nicholas, Cleric
Axum Maldoran (Axum)
Dr. Meridian Kaine the Cleric
Doghead the M-U
Tiburo, F-M
Wolfrey, F-M
Rebmik the Cleric
Balint, Sapper
Goo the baby Elf
Mariano the Fighting Man
Renaldo the Cleric
Florin the Dwarf
Oban the Cleric
B’Var the Fighting Man
Wallace the Caged (Fighting Man)
Mungar the Fighting Man
Tusk the Fighting Man

We could not have slain Stronghoen without their bravery, creativity, and fellowship.

07
May
10

Should I have killed Martin “Le Black”?

In last night’s game, while the party was fleeing a horse-sized giant scorpion, stalwart party member Martin “le Black” held the back of the line to give the others time to flee up a stairway. His player asked me if he could get some bonuses to AC for fighting purely defensively, having the high ground, and being better able than the giant scorpion to maneuver through the close confines of the rubble-choked stair. “Sure,” I said. But it was late and I was tired, and I didn’t actually determine what the modifiers would be. I just rolled the dice.

The attack roll for the giant scorpion’s stinger was a 19. Was this a hit? I didn’t know. Probably it should have hit—almost certainly, really—but that was meaningless when I was deciding on the modifiers after the fact. If I’d chosen the modifiers beforehand, this would be letting the dice fall where they may. Now, however, it was pure DM fiat either way.

I thought for a moment. If the attack hit and Martin blew his poison save, I’d be killing a PC by fiat. If the attack missed, I’d be going soft on my players, and that’s a violation of social contract; the old school DM must be harsh but fair, and this would undermine that crucial harshness.

Man vs. Scorpion

The scorpion in our game? Bigger.

What did I do? I split the difference, sort of. I let the attack hit but without the poison save; the giant scorpion’s stinger missed, but smacked Martin upside the head on the backswing for a few points of damage. Not much of a compromise, really, as he had oodles of hit points to spare, though it could have made a difference if the scorpion had gotten another set of attacks off before Martin clambered out of range. (Those two d10 pincer attacks can be nasty!)

In retrospect, the best choice would have been to discard that attack roll, solidly establish the ad hoc modifiers, and then roll the attack again. But I’m not embarrassed by my choice. Strictness isn’t a goal in and of itself; it’s a means to an end, and its goal is a more enjoyable play experience at the table. Player characters should never die for ambiguous reasons. Killing Martin while I was playing loosey-goosey with the rules would not have made things more fun.

The lesson I’m taking away from this is not that I need to be harsher, or that I need to kill off a PC to make up for it. The lesson is that letting the dice fall where they may only works if you know what the roll means before you let the dice drop.

31
Jan
10

Spellbooks Without Spells: A Vancian Variant

In a recent post, Tavis discusses Vancian magic, both in terms of Jack Vance’s original work and its translation into the familiar Vancian spellcasting found in D&D. I’ve done some tinkering with the magic system in my Red Box campaign. I hope that you, gentle reader, find something useful in this implementation that you can take away for your own game.

—-

I: A Magic-User’s Own Idiom

In this setting, magic is idiosyncratic. One’s spells must take into account all the elements of one’s magical nature: one’s true name, the astrological signs ascendant at one’s birth, the peculiar alchemical affinities of one’s own blood, the entities that one’s magical lineage has pacted with, etc. Thus, no two magic-users employ the same version of a given spell.

To use computer programming as a metaphor, view each spell as a program and each magic-user as an operating system. Unlike the real world, no two of these operating systems are identical! Whenever one magic-user wishes to learn a spell from another, he must revise the spell so that it works on his “operating system”—his personal magical idiom. Still, it’s easier than researching a new spell from scratch.

II: Initiations and Pacts

This magic-user is performing an initiatory rite to add a new spell to his repertoire.

The power for spells comes from extra-planar sources: gods, demons, elementals, fairies, timeless arcane intelligences, etc. It is not enough to know the words and gestures of a spell. One must also perform an initiation into the mysteries of the spell, forging a pact with an extra-planar entity to power the incantation.

Such initiations are complex rites. The magic-user must draw intricate diagrams with pastes made from crushed gems, burn exotic woods and incense, don ritual garments sewn with gold and silver thread, and so forth. Whereas most of the time involved in performing spell research goes to devising the spell itself, procuring the components for the initiatory rite takes up most of the money. (When one acquires a “free” spell upon leveling up, this may be justified by one’s mentor or another friendly magic-user supplying the components needed to perform the initiation.)

Sometimes these rites are unsuccessful. They might not be devised properly or executed correctly. Hence the possibility of failure—even catastrophic failure—in spell research.

III: The Spells Themselves

Unlike the magics used by Rhialto the Marvellous, Iucounu the Laughing Magician and their fellow thaumaturges in Vance’s work, these spells have no volition; one does not struggle with them lest they wriggle out of one’s mind and into the world. But they are not simply “memorized,” either.

A spell is a matrix of magical forces that exists within the magic-user’s mind. In a sense, it is a single-use magic item, and it obeys similar principles in play. An enterprising magic-user might even find ways to strip away an opponent’s prepared spells, although it will take something more impressive than a mere dispel magic to do so.

For a good example, look at how spells are “hung” by Merlin of Chaos in Roger Zelazny’s second Amber quintet. “Then I spoke the spell, slowly and clearly, leaving out the four key words I had chosen to omit. … The spell hung before me like a crippled butterfly of sound and color, trapped within the synesthetic web of my personal vision of the Logrus, to come again when I summoned it, to be released when I spoke the four omitted words.”

IV: Spell Scrolls

A magical scroll is not simply a bit of writing. It is essentially identical to a prepared spell, except that instead of keeping the spell matrix inside her own mind, the magic-user binds the matrix to a roll of parchment. Now, instead of reciting the trigger words from memory, the magic-user reads them off the scroll—or gives the scroll to another magic-user, who can do the same.

V: Spell Valences

One does not simply cram spells into one’s head willy-nilly. They must be fitted together into lattices. As magic-users grow more powerful, they can accommodate increasingly larger configurations of spells.

Much like electron shells in an atom, each lattice contains a fixed number of spells of each level. Thus, a conjurer may encompass no more than two first-level spells and a second-level spell; the first-level spells may not be replaced by a second-level spell nor vice versa. Scholarly magic-users may refer to the nodes of the lattice as “valences,” a term shamelessly stolen from Sepulchrave’s Tales of Wyre.

These spell valences are of a fixed order of power and complexity. Thus, there are no “third-and-a-half level” spells.

VI: Spellbooks

A page from a wizard's compendium.

Magic-users don’t generally have “spellbooks” in the sense we think of in D&D, with each page filled in with the specifics of a given spell. Instead, they have compendiums of magic: occult encyclopedias full of information, diagrams and formulae regarding alchemy, astrology, necromancy, theurgy, and all of the other recognized schools of sorcery. When preparing a spell, one pores through one’s compendium for the specific elements of the spell—the appropriate diagrams and formulae—and impresses the magical matrix of the spell upon one’s mind.

Some magic-users do take the time (one day per spell level) to transcribe the exact formulae involved in their spells, thus creating a “spellbook” much like the typical AD&D spellbook. Such spellbooks are often used by magic-users when traveling or adventuring, or to loan out when trading spells. Not every wizard the party defeats will have one, however, and if a PC magic-user steals or borrows one from an NPC, he must still research the spell to translate it into his own magical idiom and perform the necessary initiation.

A spellbook that only contains a few spells is much smaller than a full occult compendium, as it contains only a few specific formulae. Beyond a certain point, however, a spellbook becomes larger than a compendium, as a given occult chart or diagram may be repeated a dozen times for use in a dozen different spells. Thus, magic-users with large repertoires may not wish to rely on spellbooks!

One may attempt to prepare a spell from memory if one has neither compendium nor spellbook at hand. This is very dangerous! If one constructs the spell matrix with even one incorrect glyph or syllable, the spell will go awry. If one is lucky, it will simply fizzle when cast; worse, it may come out warped, backfire on the caster, or even provide an opening for an extra-planar entity to enter the world.

29
Jan
10

Alignment and Misalignment

Alignment tableD&D’s alignment system has been causing problems for DMs since its inception. This is, in part, because no one can seem to agree on how it works.

If you’re playing by the book, arguments and confusion over alignment is an issue because even at low levels, one’s alignment has measurable impact on game play. There are alignment languages, the effects of the protection from evil spell, and—perhaps most importantly—the significance of alignment when dealing with intelligent magic swords. So unless you want your session to devolve into an argument over whether a PC can wield that +3 sword without taking 1d6 damage per round, it’s important to get these things straightened out before play begins.

Are alignments descriptive or prescriptive? If a player writes “Chaotic” on his character sheet, is that an acknowledgement of the character’s leanings or a statement of intent that will drive the character’s actions? The Moldvay Basic rules suggest both; one’s alignment is a “way of life,” but it merely provides “guidelines for characters to live by.” If the DM thinks a character isn’t being played in accordance with her alignment, he may either suggest that the player change the alignment or impose a “punishment or penalty,” but he cannot actually declare that the character’s alignment has changed.

Whether it’s prescriptive, descriptive or both, alignment can lead to problems:

1) “I’m just playing my alignment.” Many players mark their characters as Chaotic, Evil or Neutral as an excuse for antisocial behavior. Then they murder your PC, steal all of your gold or simply abandon you to die at the bottom of a pit. On the flip side, players who denote their characters as Lawful or Good may then go on to play the Morality Police and shut down the rest of the party’s efforts at muddling through the morally gray areas of the adventuring world. This behavior is justified—after a fashion—by a prescriptive reading of alignment. Sadly, even good-natured players can succumb to this error; choosing an alignment that seems interesting, they follow its prescriptions only to find that this spoils the fun of other people at the table.

2) “I’m not evil, I’m just misunderstood.” Conversely, some players perceive their PCs’ alignments very differently from the DM and/or their fellow players. Typically this involves a Neutral (OD&D / BD&D) or Chaotic Neutral (AD&D) character consistently demonstrating selfish, deceitful and cruel behavior. More dramatically, I still remember how the first session of one failed D&D game I ran several years ago devolved into a twenty-minute argument with the player of a paladin over whether it was appropriate Lawful Good behavior for her character to use poison or torture.

StormbringerCommon solutions to these problems involve either removing all mechanical support for the alignment rules, so that they’re simply descriptors that the rest of the group can ignore, or by cutting alignment out of the game altogether. But this isn’t wholly in the spirit of our exploration of old school play—and more to the point, it doesn’t help us play around with Moorcockean tropes involving sentient magical artifacts swaying our characters towards Chaos, Law or Neutrality!

My current take on alignment in the Glantri Red Box game is that most people are Neutral; they’re concerned with their own personal interest and that of their loved ones, and are not prone to grand gestures of altruism or treachery. On the whole, they prefer Law to Chaos because an orderly society benefits them more than it stifles them. The Lawful and Chaotic alignments are generally the province of ideologues, priests, madmen and the champions of supernatural forces.

When the alignment of a PC actually has an impact on play—such as through the acquisition of an intelligent magic sword—I’ll use the alignment on the character’s sheet as an indicator of the player’s intent, but if the written alignment is a serious mismatch for how the character has been played, I’m ready to declare that the written alignment is, in fact, incorrect. This is a tricky approach! I believe that it requires the DM to give the player every benefit of the doubt. To do otherwise would be terribly unfair; there’s an enormous amount of subjectivity here, and it can be arrogant and offensive to elevate one’s own opinions about a character over the opinions of that character’s creator.

(And when it comes to magic swords, I’m perfectly happy to allow a sudden alignment change to match the sword if the wielder is willing to swear allegiance to Law or Chaos. And that’s where those punishments and penalties come in…)

01
Dec
09

How I Rebuilt My Sewer Temple to the Chaos Frog

Procedurally generated content is a great way to prep for a game session in a hurry. Early D&D is rife with procedural rules; the earliest rulesets contained wandering monster tables for generating opponents and treasure tables to determine what phat loots those monsters have. The 1e DMG goes even farther by presenting a set of tables for generating a random dungeon map!

Computers, of course, are great for speedily generating random content. Community-oriented players have put up all sorts of free web applications for DMs. One such is “donjon”, a program that generates dungeon levels to your specifications in the blink of an eye. Not only can you set the parameters for how the place should be laid out, you can populate the place with monsters and treasures as well.

Computer-generated procedural content is not without flaws, of course. One is its lack of flexibility. If you’re sketching a dungeon map by making random rolls on a table, you’re free to diverge from the table results and interject your own ideas while drawing the map. A computer-generated map is not so flexible. Nonetheless, you can make changes—if you have the right software.

Map of 'The Temple of the Frog' (original)It was the day before the session and one of the players had decided to bite on a plot hook involving a group of Chaos worshippers congregating in the sewers of Glantri City. After a desultory attempt at sketching a map for a section of the city’s sewers, I decided to try an online map generator. After several minutes of fiddling with donjon and learning its settings, I came up with the map on the left. Since I wanted a short dungeon (as per David Bowman’s “One Page Dungeon”), I’d made a map with only a handful of rooms, but they were encircled by lots of winding tunnels to give that “lost in the sewers” vibe. (Click for a better view.)

But I was unsatisfied with the map as it was. It was too flat, too static. It also needed connections to the rest of the sewer system. So I started up Adobe Photoshop and started tweaking.

Map of 'The Temple of the Frog' (modified)First, I filled in the sewer tunnels with gray to represent sewage. Several rooms and corridors remained white to indicate that they were above-water cellars, and I added stairway segments where they connected with the sewers proper. With only a few more water squares, I joined up some otherwise unconnected tunnels and provided links at the borders to the rest of the sewer network. The dark gray gridmarks in the sewer system’s dead ends indicate street access points via drainage gratings. Lastly, I added a couple of new rooms, including a large “sump” room (#7 on the modified map on the right) designed for a dynamic fight scene against Chaos-tainted frog monsters, with a walkway around the edge of the water and a treasure on the stump of a big broken support pillar in the center.

The whole mapping project took less than two hours from start to finish. Another one would go faster now that I’ve gotten a feel for how to go about it. I think, though, that my next map will be completely procedurally generated, as I’m looking forward to being stuck with a premade map and having to find a way to use it as-is. Limitations and restrictions are important for any creative endeavor!




Past Adventures of the Mule

July 2020
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