Posts Tagged ‘practice



04
May
10

sandbox lifecycle

Jesus's face is, like, 6 hexes in itself

I wanna run a couple of D&D adventures to highlight parts of the rules that the New York Red Box gang hasn’t gotten around to yet: wilderness hex crawling, naval battles, high-level delving, dominion type stuff.

And what’s killing me is that in D&D there aren’t very good tools for limited runs–say, 18 hours or less.

The classic sandbox style campaign, being open-ended and plotless, is no good for my purposes: the pleasures of sandboxin’ comes from watching structure emerge over time.  If you cut things short, the game simply ends without any satisfactory resolution.

(By the way, this occasional frustration with the long-term investment necessary for a payoff in sandboxy stuff was a pretty frequent concern of mine six months ago.  I think sandbox play has a lot to recommend it, but it’s built for – or at least really favors – massive time commitment, which in general I personally can’t sustain as it gets in the way of not just my regular life, but other gaming as well.)

You can slam stuff together in a railroady way – you have this encounter, and then THIS encounter – but that robs the players of agency.

Alternately you can handle this the indie way with relationship maps and keys and player flags.  But this involves grafting a lot of new stuff onto D&D which (a) sounds like work and (b) would, at least in my mind, distract me from figuring out how well the various under-used sub-systems work.

(As an example of new-fangled sub-systems I refer you to Clinton Nixon’s Sweet20 XP system, which was originally designed for later editions of D&D but could probably be tweaked for older games.  If you like it, you might like his game Shadow of Yesterday which is available free on his site if you poke around a bit.)

Has anyone had any great success with mini-campaigns?  If so, what worked and what didn’t?

26
Apr
10

blue box blues

Calling it this

But using This

Been prepping the Blue Box lately – or rather, the Cook/Marsh version thereof.

For a year now I’ve wanted to create a high-level adventure to showcase the famous monsters and some under-used rules.  So I’m hoping to design a 6-hour dungeon for four Name Level characters.

The High Concept is that this powerful group is on a delve that Goes Terribly Wrong: they get stranded on a much deeper level than they’d anticipated, a Horrible Monster strikes from ambush and decimates half the party in the surprise round, and now it’s a scramble  to safety.  (Yes, it’s contrived, but it’s basically a one-shot.)

But all I’ve really done so far is design an adventuring party and make a bunch of mistakes in doing so.

  • Creating Level 9 pre-gens is loads faster than in D&D 3e, but it’s still tedious.
  • It’s even more tedious to create their attendant mid-level retainers and kit them out with magical gear.
  • 4 PC’s + 3 retainers each = 16 characters in the party = real slow combat rounds.
  • Giving retainers interesting magical items really gives them personality, but that’s a bad thing!  Personality distracts from the unfamiliar PC pre-gens.  Plus the magic items make them mechanically complex.
  • Choosing the Best Monsters Ever is difficult!  Contriving a way to fit them all into a dungeon is hard.
  • I feel bad I’m not including Wilderness Travel or Dominion play, because I want to road-test those rules too.  But there’s only so much a guy can do.

That said: a party of four Name Level PC’s can defeat a 10 HD Red Dragon in three rounds, although they do get banged up pretty badly in the process.  I’ve designed a pretty nasty Beholder encounter, we’ll have to see if it fares any better against the full group.  (I suspect the Mind Flayers wouldn’t even last three rounds.)

It wouldn't be smiling if it knew it would be dead three minutes later

EDIT: It took too long to play out the whole battle, but a more-or-less full strength Beholder managed to kill three retainers in the surprise round, charm a fourth, and then got its central eye poked out.  I suspect it would have lasted about three rounds as well.  Disappointing!

22
Mar
10

The Game Is What Happens At The Table

Like a lot of kids back in the day, I owned a lot of RPG paraphernalia but rarely got the opportunity to play. After a brief faddish spate of Holmes Basic around ’79-’81, most of the kids I knew moved on to other things, so I read The Dragon, bought stacks of D&D supplements, and spent lots of time homebrewing settings that would never see actual play. Tolkien and Greenwood were my idols as I drew up royal genealogies and alien botanies and landscapes lush with purple prose. I am pleased that I can no longer find any relics of that juvenile work; I’d be embarrassed to look at it and I doubt it contains anything salvageable.

It’s taken me years to unlearn some of the lessons I taught myself during that dark decade without actual play. I continue to adjust my DMing so that I hew closer to principles that come much more easily to me in other games, principles that flee at the touch of D&D’s trappings.

Things to remember:

  1. Don’t plan too much. Sure, for a good sandbox dungeon you need to draw up a dungeon level or three and populate them, but beyond that, there’s no need to worry about which towns and countries are where, who all the NPCs are in town, what’s going on in the grand political arena of the game world, etc. If the players are interested in these things, you’ll find out in play, at which point you can fill in elements of the milieu ahead of them in the same way that you’d build out parts of your megadungeon as they descend new stairways to the lower levels.
  2. Don’t struggle too hard for consistency. Look at your mistakes as opportunities. Did the players notice that you’ve given three different names for the local lord over the last three sessions? Sure, that’s because you keep forgetting his name, but instead of “fixing the problem” by retconning the earlier names, just roll with it and say that there have been three different lords. Is this the result of assassins? Plague? A dreadful curse that the ruling family will pay your band of heroic adventurers oodles of gold to lift? What started as an error is now a plot hook!
  3. It’s just a game. Don’t fret over the structural integrity of your dungeon level or the exact details of the goblins’ food chain! Don’t get aggravated when your players give their characters weird names or declare that a PC’s life goal is to find and consume the perfect cheese. This isn’t a novel, and it won’t fall apart if the mood wanders a bit.

Once the upper levels of the dungeon have been set up and you’ve figured out the basics of the nearest town (if appropriate), the DM’s immediate work is done. The rest of the canvas can remain blank until there’s cause to fill it in. Such cause should come, directly or indirectly, from the players or as an extension of their interactions with NPCs. Every foreign land that a PC hails from, every distant dungeon marked on a treasure map, will fill in a bit of that canvas; don’t fill it in too early lest you clog up that open space!

09
Mar
10

Mastering Morale: Know When to Fold ‘Em

Conan wheeled, to see the girl standing a short distance away, staring at him in wide-eyed horror, all the mockery gone from her face. He cried out fiercely and the blood-drops flew from his sword as his hand shook in the intensity of his passion.

“Call the rest of your brothers!” he cried. “I’ll give their hearts to the wolves! You can not escape me—”

With a cry of fright she turned and ran fleetly. She did not laugh now, nor mock him over her white shoulder. She ran as for her life…

— Robert E. Howard, “Gods of the North”

When I played D&D as a kid, monsters had a habit of fighting to the death. After all, wasn’t that what they were there for? Realism—Gygaxian or otherwise—didn’t rank highly on our list of gaming priorities.

I got back into D&D in my early thirties, playing a heavily house-ruled version of Third Edition under a DM marinated in Second Edition tropes. Our enemies often fled or surrendered, but there were no rules for it; morale was a matter of DM fiat. Sure, it worked for our DM, but the effect wasn’t easily replicable.

Imagine my surprise, upon cracking open a copy of Red Box D&D, to discover a set of simple and straightforward morale rules! They tell you exactly how to determine when monsters decide to flee from combat. This has an enormous influence on play, both adding a valuable naturalistic element to combat and allowing the PCs unexpected victories.

A year and a half after starting my Red Box campaign, I decided to take a closer look at the details of the morale rules. Imagine my surprise at discovering that they aren’t quite that simple or straightforward. In fact, they’re both deeply mutable and—get this—completely optional.

At last the trolls broke and fled. Hotly did the elves give chase, cutting them down, driving them into the burning camp. Not many escaped.

— Poul Anderson, “The Broken Sword”

It’s right there in the section title: “Morale (Optional)”. You can completely ignore the morale subsystem, either determining for yourself when monsters flee or simply making them all fight to the death like the aliens in Space Invaders, and still remain completely within the rules.

If you do employ the morale rules, you still have a lot of control over how to use them. Check it out:

* The rules indicate that you should check morale after a side’s first death in combat and when half of the side has been incapacitated, but these are explicitly called out as “recommended times for morale checks.” You may decide that one or both of these conditions doesn’t apply to a particular group, replacing them with new conditions of your choice. E.g.: the Five Ogre Brothers check morale each time one of them dies, while Morgan Ironwolf’s Irregulars only check morale if their leader falls. You may also call for morale checks on the fly if the situation calls for it; green hirelings are liable to bolt upon encountering the eviscerated remains of a prior adventuring party, while a gnoll warband may flee in the face of a dramatic phantasmal force.
* The DM is free to apply pre-planned or ad hoc modifiers to morale checks. The rules recommend that such modifiers don’t exceed +2 or -2, but otherwise the referee has a free hand to apply such modifiers. Such modifiers are easily suggested by circumstance—or by the players. Are the monsters winning or losing? Do they think they can outrun the party? Are they driven to fight by habit, hunger, greed or a desire for revenge?
* It’s up to the DM to determine what a morale failure means. Do the enemies fall back en masse to a more defensible position? Do they scatter in terror? Or do they lay their arms down and surrender, throwing themselves on the player characters’ unlikely mercy?

Interestingly, aside from the general optionality of the rules, the only inflexible component is retainer morale. After an adventure, each retainer must make a morale check. A retainer who fails the check will never work for that employer again! Of course, this check can be modified just like any other morale check, so be nice to your retainers if you want to keep them.

Hoom Feethos was beyond all earthly help, and Quanga, now wholly the slave of a hideous panic, would hardly have stayed longer to assist him in any case. But seeing the pouch that had fallen forward from the dead jeweler’s fingers, the hunter snatched it up through an impulse of terror-mingled greed; and then, with no backward glance, he fled on the glacier, toward the low-circling sun.

— Clark Ashton Smith, “The Ice-Demon”

Like a Bizarro-world equivalent of the Tenth Amendment, old-school rulesets reserve all powers to the DM that are not otherwise placed in the hands of the players. (This stands in sharp relief to new-school games which transfer much of this authority to the players.) As such, the DM should use the morale rules to supplement and enhance gameplay without letting them override one’s own understanding of the milieu. That gnoll is charmed? Let him fight to the death to defend his master. The enslaved goblins are trying to escape? Don’t roll a morale check to see if they keep fighting when you know they’re going to run away anyway.

Use the system. Don’t let it use you!

03
Mar
10

Knowledge is Power: Inquisitive Players and the Rumor Table

He had found Keshan, which in itself was considered mythical by many northern and western nations, and he had heard enough to confirm the rumors of the treasure that men called the Teeth of Gwahlur. But its hiding place he could not learn, and he was confronted with the necessity of explaining his presence in Keshan. Unattached strangers were not welcome there.

—Robert E. Howard, “Jewels of Gwahlur”

The earliest published D&D modules, B1 (“In Search of the Unknown”) and B2 (“The Keep on the Borderlands”) both contained rumor tables. Players rolled on the tables to see what stories their characters had heard about the dungeon. This information provided both color and context, giving the players something to keep an eye out for. These serve as what Tavis describes as “nudges”, offering the signposts that help keep a sandbox dungeon from being nothing more than a “Hall of 10,000 Identical Doorways.”

Of course, when you give clever players access to a few of these rumors, what do they do? They try and get hold of more rumors. This is only sensible! But what’s the point of rolling on a random table for rumors if the PCs are just going to pick everyone’s brain until they learn everything there is to know?

I’m a firm believer in the importance of meaningful choices in D&D and the consequences thereof. Deciding to track down more information about a dungeon seems like a great opportunity for choices and consequences. This, along with simple verisimilitude, demands that the PCs should be allowed to go to whatever lengths they desire to get more info than a rumor chart allows. But what choices do they have, and what are the consequences?

First, who do they ask?

  • Random bar patrons are cheap and easy sources for information, but they’re unlikely to know much, and what little they know is mixed with liquor and misunderstandings into a potent cocktail of misinformation.
  • Local gossips and rumormongers will know more, but given that their knowledge equals more treasure for the party, they’re likely to charge for the information, either in money or favors. They’ll also spread the word that the party is looking for information on the dungeon, because that’s what gossips do!
  • Scholars and sages are a good source for solid historical data, but they may live some distance away and will charge for their time even if they don’t have the information the party seeks.
  • Other adventurers who’ve been in the dungeon have the most accurate knowledge, but they also have the most to lose, as they’re competing for the dungeon’s resources; any gain on the part of the PCs is the NPC party’s loss. So they’re inclined to be secretive at the very least, and are likely to lie.

Second, what are the consequences?

  • Information may be true, false, misleading or irrelevant. The more carefully the players choose their sources and the more money and favors they shell out, the more likely it is that they’ll get useful, accurate data.
  • The more people the PCs talk to, the more people will know what they’re up to and what they’re looking for. Rival adventurers may well try to beat them to their objectives or ambush them on the way out of the dungeon.
  • Depending on the nature of the dungeon and the town, some NPCs may simply be hostile to the prospect of adventurers digging up the place. Perhaps it’s a holy site, or the locals feel the treasure belongs to them and hope to recover it themselves, or too many farmers’ sons have gone to their deaths as hirelings. This can lead to trouble—even violence—between the party and the locals.
  • Some dungeons’ inhabitants have contact with the outside world. If the monsters’ traders and spies learn about the party’s inquiries, they can take advantage of that knowledge by spreading false rumors or arranging ambuscades inside the dungeon itself.

All of this is off the cuff, so I’m sure I’ve missed some obvious possibilities.

Do you use rumor charts in your dungeons? How have they worked out for you? What other mechanisms do you employ to deal with PC inquiries into the goings-on in the dungeon and in the rest of your milieu?

24
Feb
10

By the Book: Movement Rates and the Chain Mail Problem

According to the Red Box rules, an unarmored character moves at a rate of 40’/round, one in leather armor moves at 30’/round, and one in metal armor moves at 20’/round—or a mere 10’/round if also carrying treasure. But how fast is that?

A round is ten seconds, so an unencumbered man walks at a rate of four feet per second. Running triples one’s movement rate, albeit at the cost of temporary fatigue (-2 to attack and damage rolls and to AC), so an unencumbered man runs at a rate of twelve feet per second. These are reasonably accurate numbers, all things considered. (Sure, some people will walk or run faster than others, and there’s jogging and sprinting and so forth, but this is Basic D&D; we’re not going to fret the details.

How about a character in metal armor? Halved movement speed is pretty extreme. Personally, I don’t have much—or, in fact, any—experience with moving around in plate mail. A bit of casual internet research (and we know how accurate that is!) suggests that heavy armor doesn’t slow one down significantly; the main effects are an increased demand on the wearer’s stamina from hauling around the excess weight.

But let’s face it: sometimes we deliberately ignore realism to keep gameplay simple and to produce interesting tactical or strategic choices. The movement rules may not reflect reality terribly well, but they’re simple and they work. Want to move fast? Wear light armor or none at all, or run in armor and accept the resulting penalties. Want to hang tough on the front line? Wear heavy armor. Can you make it out of the dungeon laden with treasure? Let’s find out!

And here we encounter the one fly in the ointment: chain mail. By the book, there’s little reason for player characters to ever choose to wear chain mail. It costs only 20gp less than plate (a trivial savings) and weighs only 100 coins less than plate (allowing one to bring out a little more treasure), while providing significantly less protection in battle.

My solution has been to house-rule the movement table. In my game, characters in plate move 20’/round, characters in chain move 30’/round and characters in leather or no armor move 40’/round. Accurate? Unlikely. Playable? Definitely! Chainmail suddenly becomes a viable choice, as the character wearing it gives up protection to gain significantly increased mobility. (My players had an example of this last session, where the plate-wearers slogged slowly through a storm of arrow-fire to reach their opponents.)

Other solutions are certainly viable. One could use AD&D-style tables indicating which weapons are best against which types of armor, or one could modify the exhaustion-from-running rules to impose greater penalties on plate-wearers. I’m curious to see what approaches individual referees have taken in their own campaigns!

16
Feb
10

Flavorful Fighting: Behind the Screen

Player #1: I flank the bugbear. What bonus do I get?
DM: Bonus?
Player #1: To my attack roll. For flanking.
DM: Uh, none.
Player #2: We don’t do that third-edition stuff here.

One of the great strengths of old-school D&D play is the speed at which combat is resolved. Later editions add a bevy of maneuvers and modifiers, and reading and calculating their effects can slow play significantly. But you don’t need codified rules for this! It’s part of the referee’s job to incorporate the actions of the player characters into the system, either as house rules or by adjudicating on the fly. (For Moldvay Red Box players, this is explicitly stated on p. B25: “The score needed ‘to hit’ may be adjusted by … occasional special situations.”)

Some of these “special situations” might include:

  • Flanking/Encirclement: The thief’s backstab ability makes it necessary to consider the possibility of striking from behind, so why not look at it more generally? It’s very difficult to defend against multiple attackers, something that appears clearly in much of the sword & sorcery source material (especially that written by trained fencers like Fritz Leiber or Roger Zelazny). One might impose a penalty to AC equal to (defender’s HD – number of attackers). Additionally, attacks from the rear might ignore the defender’s shield entirely.
  • Charge: Barreling at full speed into the fray might give an advantage to one’s attack and damage rolls, or might even yield a bonus to initiative! On the other hand, being off-balance from the charge should result in a penalty to AC, and a defender who’s prepared for a charge may get similar bonuses on the counterattack as she uses the force of the attacker’s charge against him. The extra momentum provided by heavy armor might increase the charge’s bonuses and penalties.
  • Higher Ground: When you’re standing above your opponent—on a slope, stair, table, dais or whatever—gravity’s doing some of your work for you and you have easier access to your opponent’s head and torso; this may provide a bonus to attack and damage rolls, especially with heavy slashing or crushing weapons that depend on a powerful downstroke. The opponent on lower ground may suffer similar penalties.

Player: I charge into the fray!
DM: Okay, if you’re really going all-out, that’ll give you a bonus to hit and damage, but a sizable penalty to your AC.
Player: Um, in that case I’ll just attack.

If, as a DM, you’re going to make a practice of incorporating the minutiae of the imagined combat situation into the mechanics of play, I strongly recommend that you keep all of the modifiers to yourself. This isn’t about the DM being “in control.” In fact, an inflated sense of authority is a risk of this method! But hiding the modifiers has two big advantages:

  1. Speed of play: Codified modifiers slow down play as you and the players flip through the rulebooks to figure out exactly what modifiers apply. As long as you wing it, play should keep going at a rapid clip.
  2. Let it flow: If players know exactly what bonuses and penalties they’ll get from a given maneuver, they’ll be tempted to crunch the numbers in their heads before acting. Not only does this slow down play, but it takes them out of the action as they concentrate on the stats rather than on the imagined scene. By keeping the modifiers hidden, you help everyone focus on the action!

In general, it’s best to err on the side of the players when applying hidden impromptu modifiers. The power in your hands is all too easy to abuse. Don’t abuse it.

In addition, if an attack or other action succeeds or fails as a result of a specific combat tactic, remember to include that in your description of the results! If they only hit and downed the orc because of the force of their charge, let ‘em know; and if they’re pincushioned afterwards because they were off-balance from the charge, let them know that too! Feedback is critical to engaging play.

04
Feb
10

Flavorful Fighting II: Retroactive Justification

You know how when a cat trips or runs into something, it gives off this look of wounded dignity that says, “I meant to do that all along”? This is an important principle when handling combat in a tabletop role-playing game. Don’t worry what your character (or NPC) intended to do when you rolled the dice! When describing the result of a roll, act as though that’s what you intended all along.

Did you miss that club-footed kobold for four attacks in a row? Are you really such an inept fighter? No, you were just toying with him. Really!

How does she keep hitting you? You’re in plate armor and have a 17 Dexterity! Could it be that she recognizes your fighting style, perhaps from training under the same swordmaster that you did? Then again, it could simply be that the cobra bite that you thought you shrugged off earlier is still slowing your reflexes.

So you were trying to take that bandit alive, but you punched him too hard and now he’s dead. Sure, maybe you just don’t know your own strength, but it could also be that knowing smirk on his face that dared you to do it. He must have wanted to die. Why? What secret do the bandits hold that’s worth dying for?

The game’s fiction need not be wholly defined in advance. Adding things retroactively can be a good thing. Writers and storytellers do it all the time, so why not do the same in your game?

16
Dec
09

are we there yet?

Cover of basic rules

Thanks for buying this game! You'll do this many years from now! (by Larry Elmore)

How long does it take to play Dungeons & Dragons?

Several m0nths ago, James Malizewski observed that the Mentzer Companion Set effectively codified the much-needed “endgame” for Dungeons & Dragons.  I respect James, but it’s not much of an endgame if it never arrives.

I’m going to say that Level 12 effectively qualifies as hitting the endgame.   Under the Moldvay/Marsh/Cook version of the Basic Game, most classes need about 600,000 points to reach Level 12.

How long does it take to get there?  For a game that’s been in play, in one form or another, for about 35 years, there seems to be very little hard data, though Maldoor made an early attempt.

I’ll take a guess based on a semi-official pronouncement.  The Holmes Basic Rulebook states that it should take about six to eight adventures to level up.  I don’t have my copy with me; I’m going from memory.  Holmes, unfortunately, doesn’t explain whether this means six to eight sessions of play, or six to eight completed dungeon-adventures.  (In any event the most helpful measurement would be points acquired per hour of play.)  But let’s assume Holmes is talking about sessions of play.  In that case it would take the player 72 to 96 sessions to reach Level 12–somewhere around three to four years if you’re playing twice a month.

Frankly I think Holmes’s math wasn’t intended to apply beyond the first few levels, which after all were his main focus in the Basic Rulebook.  As an example, a Magic-User needs 40,000 points to go from Level 6 to Level 7.  To do so in eight sessions would require earning an average of 5,000 points per session (maybe 20-30 thousand for the party as whole).  That’s not impossible, but it’s a very steep pace to maintain given the adversaries you’d have to fight.  I don’t have any hard data to suggest another rate of advancement, but presumably it gets a lot slower around high-level play.

But even at lower levels, Holmes’s estimate of 6-8 adventures to level seems way off for our group of players.  Eric’s Principalities of Glantri game has been playing for about 20 sessions, and nearly all of the participants are still Level 1 (this is in large part due to turnover, both of characters and players).  Tavis’s White Sandbox game has had about 15 sessions with a more stable (but larger) cast, and maybe 50% of the regulars have gained one level.  Also, we’re playing with what amounts to double-XP-for-treasure rules, and Tavis is using the 100 XP per hit die of the enemy, so our advancement is considerably quicker than it would be if we were playing by the B/X rules.   And we’re also playing using published modules (B2 and Caverns of Thracia).

To me this suggests that Holmes’s estimate is too generous by a factor of 2 or 3 (or it could be that the “adventures” he’s using as his unit of advancement are maybe 2-3 sessions in length).  So that would mean hitting Level 12 would take anywhere from 144 to 288 sessions.  Playing twice a month, that’s anywhere from 6 to 12 years.

So in order to reach the endgame of a D&D campaign, we’re talking about a time commitment of at least 3 to maybe up to 12 years.  For a casual social activity, competing for attention with one’s professional and familial obligations, as well as whatever other interests one might have, it approaches absurdity.

Now, I’m assuming (1) that we’re playing from the low-levels to my arbitrarily imposed cap of Level 12, and (2) we’re advancing at a rate more-or-less as the rules intended.  Either assumption might be wrong.

But to the extent that you’re measuring your game against some idealized mode of play where folks go from Level 1 dopes to Level 12 super heroes, that is a long haul.  Maintaining your own interest, to say nothing of your players’, is going to be a serious challenge.

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

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