One of the enduring thought experiments
of this blog has been the pointcrawl, a concept which has passed into
my brain by way of point-to-point wargames and Zork. Though I pose it
as an alternative to hexcrawling in truth at the table for me it's
more of a supplement, filling in and enhancing certain ways of
running large spaces (hey there's probably a post in there). This is the second edition of my own-going annotated index project for the blog.
My first concrete attempt to adapt the
pointcrawl concept to something other than wilderness. The post
presents the known areas of Planescape's Sigil as a single pointcrawl
map. This experiment helped me gel further non-hypothetical
explorations in using pointcrawls to run undercities, megadungeons
and city ruins.
Not only are undercities and
megadungeons monsters of the horizontal dimension they can often
become quite complicated with vertical connections. Here is an
attempt to untangle that (and an experiment that only half-worked at
When you run a blog for several
years--and spend too many years abusing your head as a young man--a terrible thing starts to occur: you start losing touch with
the things you wrote about. It comes way too often these days but
long into gaming-related conversation in a strike of blindingly
internal light I will suddenly find myself thinking “waitttt, didn't I write a
whole mother-flippin' series of blog posts about that three
To stave off that “all that is solid
melts into air” feeling, I've finally started on my
long-procrastinated annotated blog index. As I do each chunk—and
they are pretty much going to follow in the order of what I consider
the best or most useful of the posts here—I will post about
them and add them to a larger index page. Likely next is the long index of pointcrawl and wilderness posts.
First up is one of my favorite (and
neglected) groups of posts: the on-again/off-again interview series.
A series which under pretext of presenting ideas, recollections, and
analysis to a broader audience, selfishly allowed me to dig into the
brains of people I have found interesting or critical to our hobby.
The Interview Series (in
The first interviews on the HC where with Jeff Berry aka Chirine Ba
Kal, a longtime player in M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel campaign and for a
time a mover and shaker in its business end. I had originally reached
out to him with the intention of doing a one-shot little piece on
what the early Tekumel games were actually like. The ongoing
conversation was so incredibly rich with insight and Jeff's memory so
exact in the amounts of detail that it spilled over into several
encores, all of which I still enjoy reading today.
If you pressed me for all my all-time
favorite computer game it would have to be King of Dragon Pass. Not
only was it a near-perfect blend of handpainted art, strategy,
roleplaying and big ticket mythic themes it was set against the
worldbuilding of Glorantha that I love (mostly from afar) so well. A
huge treat to interview David Dunham, creator of the game, and pick
his brain about the connections to KoDP to tabletop roleplaying.
Digging into the altnerative paths that roleplaying could have taken
in the 1960s and 1970s led me to places I had never known about
notably such great “world games” as that of Magira in Germany. An
interview with one of its participants.
Looking back at this interview three years ago which focuses on Jeff
Dee's then beginning drive to get his Tekumel rpg published, it makes
to happy to see that it is not only sitting on my shelf right now but
is helping re-raise the flag of Tekumel after Barker's passing.
One of the more controversial outings of the blog but one I am still
proud of running. The interview sprawls over great length but there
are fascinating bits spread through out. While one may like or
dislike the man, his recollections are important to our understanding
of the early days of the hobby.
One of my favorite interviews with one of my favorite people from our
side of the hobby. Trey on his post-Weird
Adventures victory lap. You better believe I will be banging on his
door again when his 70s space opera book Strange Stars sees the light of
“I happen to be interested in the hex
crawl sort of gaming, particularly in a sandbox fashion. I also
happen to be totally blind, so hex paper and so on isn't super
helpful for me. In fact, maps in general are kind of a pain in the
neck, because I can't read them easily, and I always feel like I'm
missing setting info of one sort or another.
So I'm wondering
if anybody has ideas for combining the point crawl approach, or one
which avoids maps, with randomized terrain generation? I'd love to
run something solo, like Scarlet Heroes from Sine Nomine, for
instance, but they all seem to presume hexes. Another way to look at
it would be an experience kind of like the Elder Scrolls video games,
which I can't play. It could be a lot of work doing something like
that solo, but…”
My first impulse was to rustle up some
online and published terrain generators, but scanning through my own
links I remembered my own frustrations trying to build such systems
last decade when I was primarily a solo minis wargamer. The key
problem for me being that many of them are too flatly random that is
they generate incoherently terrain without much rhyme or reason and
are boring as hell. Here is a dull little desert next to a bland forest
next to some “open.”
So where to start?
Fortunately I can think of two good
starting points: the ever-useful trainwreck that is the first edition
AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide and an old Avalon Hill Game, Source
of the Nile. Since my time is limited (the Dunes call) I will
concentrate on the first.
Appendix B: Random Wilderness Terrain
(page 173) has a nice framework, a relatively easy and elegant system
of charts. Promisingly these charts take into account the terrain you
are just leaving (and really this will work even better with a
pointcrawl or mapless system). So if you are leaving a hilly area you
are way more likely to hit more hills or mountains than you are a
Click to Enlarge
D&D is chalked full of random
monster encounters by terrain (hard to get past the first edition DMG
again) so no need to go there but it would be handy and nice to have
some places to generate random color. Fortunately there boat loads of
handy online generators that can cover that in an interesting way.
Take this page on Abulafia alone (especially this one and this one which you can
just keep regenerating when you need interesting places).
Before shoving off this is perhaps
an ideal question to extend to the collective brain trust: what
random terrain generators do you know about that fit this bill (and
please read the specific query)?
Far up, the sea-gales blare their bitter screed: But
here the buried waters take no heed— Deaf, and with welded lips
pressed down by weight Of the upper ocean. Dim, interminate, In
cities over-webbed with somber weed, Where galleons crumble and
the krakens breed, The slow tide coils through sunken court and
- Clark Ashton
Several months back I had, thanks to
the actions of a player in picking up a very-obviously cursed goddess
statue, the chance to finally run a full-on underwater adventure. In
my many years of running D&D this was the first time I have
designed and run an underwater adventure and I found it challenging
and interesting in equal measure.
Having thrown the idol into a specific
spot under the urging of fever dreams (and yes the heavy hand of
geas), the party returned 40 days later as commanded to the site. A
massive black pylon had--naturally it's D&D--risen from the sea.
A long-drowned city with wide avenues and step pyramids leading up to
a large glowing central dome could be vaguely made out in the depths
below. Sweet water seeping from the naughty bits of a now
gigantic (and lewd enough to make me still feel awkward) idol inside
the pylon allowed them to breathe sea water and away they went.
The party made it through a couple
sessions and then some of their own character-driven goals called
them away (such is sandbox life). This morning I randomly refound my
notes for running the adventure and thought they might be of interest
to a broader audience. So with some clean-up and context here they
Sources for D&D Underwater
Blackmoor OD&D supplement,
pages 48-49. Some rules and guidelines for running aquatic
adventures. Best line: “To entice the players into the water is the
easy part: simply leave maps, create legends, or sprinkle in clues in
the form of bizarre artifacts. Adventurers are notoriously gullible
and easily duped or led astray.”
Dungeon Masters Guide 1st
edition, pages 55-57. Nice comprehensive set of guidelines, I
used this as my starting point.
“Watery Words to the Wise”, Dragon
magazine #48. Interesting overview of what an aquatic civilization of
Mer-people would be like, but more useful for its thoughts on using a
hex map for 3D tactical affairs.
Dealing with the 3D Environment
One of the hardest things to remember
and plan for is the 3D environment. I found that it was helpful to
keep two sheets of graph paper handy to help keep track of the
relative positions of things:
1. A blank sheet that shows the
relative “marching” order of positions vertically. This
especially became necessary as the party had some encumbered players
lumbering over the ocean floor (see sinking rules below) and others
“flying” around at varying depths over and around these
characters. This also especially handy when encounters are met in
open water. Using clock descriptions is helpful (“the sharks are
coming in at “two o'clock high”) when describing those positions.
2. A rough cross section of whatever
static sites you have. Sites can be approached from a wider set of
directions and it's fun (and challenging) to play this freedom up
with multiple vertical entry points and elements. I had a little
step-pyramid with a top entry, chimney and a bottom floor entry.
Having an overall sense of where everything is vertically is very
important to staying oriented.
Characters encumbered with more than 20
pounds of gear and/or metal-armored characters sink to the bottom.
Characters with high STR or CON (13 and over) are able to swim up 10
feet for two rounds every other turn (and will naturally sink again
if there is nothing solid below their feet). Others will need to shed
their weight before being able to swim or float upwards. (Bundles of
gear can be pulled upwards by ropes if the character is out of the
characters swim at their indoor, dungeon movement rates horizontally
or vertically. Encumbered
(as above) characters move at 60 feet per round.
Fly, Levitate, Free Action, Spider
Climb (when on a surface) spells and abilities will allow the user to
move at their normal land speeds without sinking for the length of
Having blown out an ear drum on an
overly-quick descent on a dive in Cozumel I am painfully aware of the
effects of pressure on the human anatomy. At depths lower than 100
feet (30 meters or so) nitrogen narcosis becomes a real thing for
humans without protective gear.
Because this is a fantasy game (and it
it's fun to be able to run adventures with a wider tolerance of
depths) I assume that Water Breathing and similar magics at least
double the depth that pressure can be withstood.
Compression/decompression issues are totally handwaved.
Characters dropping below the depth can
withstand the pressure for a round. After that they will suffer the
same effects as being seriously intoxicated for 1d4 rounds and then
start to take 1d4 hp damage each round after.
Light, refraction, physiology, etc
conspire against us seeing far underwater unaided. While I didn't
want to totally handwave this, the rules given in AD&D are way
too restrictive (100 feet up to a depth of the same). A DM especially
with a large area like my underwater ruined city is hard pressed to
be able to signal interesting sites and thus reduces meaningful
exploration choices. My handwave was similar to that of the depth
considerations and I made a simple chart to give a wider range:
Naturally lighting will reduce this
especially inside structures, caves, crevasses, kelp forests etc. In
that case I limited visibility to the normal effects of artificial
lighting (light spells mostly) or
Aquatic critters auto-win initiative
against the land-born.
Most missile, bashing, and slashing
weapons are useless in this environment. Piercing weapons such as
spears, tridents, daggers are highly effective however and will deal
out normal damage. Reduce swords to 1d4 damage to represent them
being limited to stabbing.
The vocal component of spell-casting is
assumed to come with the ability to breathe water. Page 57 of the
DMG has a relatively complete run down of restrictions and changes to
spells. Significant changes in my own were to increase the damage of
electricity-based (150%) spells.
say that it takes putting out a food 8-10 times for a toddler before
they will eat foods they are reluctant to try. Though my own lived
experience with Stormchild has me doubting that as bullshit from time
to time I find myself floating the same adventure hooks again and
again in the campaign until the players take a stab at them.
of the most outstanding hooks is an offer from Marlinko bon vivant
and philosopher Jarek the Nagsmen to come wrestle tigers in his tiger
pit for cash prizes. With Pickle the half ogre finally showing some
interest—and a whole Marlinko city supplement coming into being—I
finally got to dust off and expand a mini-game. (And yes this will
appear in a playtested and polished form in the published adventure).
fields three tigers of varying strength. The tigers claws and teeth
are filed down and blunted to give the wrestler a sporting chance
though the tiger is still quite deadly. Jarek will have his
beast-handlers step in and prevent the tiger from eating (over much)
a dead contestant.
are barred from the use of magic (Detect Magic spells will be cast by
Jarek's valet-mage). They are allowed to take leather jack (AC: 8)
into the ring with them.
Slinky Panc (Hit Dice: 4, AC: 6, Hp: 13), Bounty for Win 300 gold.
Meow-Meow (Hit Dice: 6, AC: 6, Hp: 25), Bounty for Win 1000 gold.
round the contestant can pick a maneuver from the list below. The GM
selects (or rolls a d4) a maneuver for the tiger. Both maneuvers are
crossed indexed for attack modifiers for the round: the contestant
modifiers are on the left and the tiger on the right. Attack rolls
are on the standard LL combat tables and are considered to be
simultaneous during the round. A successful hits sends either party
to the results table below the matrix.
Dodge = contestant+2 to attack in next round if the contestant is not hit
successfully this round.
1d3 (plus STR modifier) stun damage on the tiger.
= 1d3 (plus STR modifier) stun damage on the tiger.
= Tiger is in a hold and may not make a move in the next round other
than to break free. The tiger must roll a d10 under its hit points to
break out. If the tiger is successfully grappled for 2 additional
rounds the contestant wins.
= knocks contestant down, pinning him. He may not take an action
until he breaks free on a roll of 4d6 under his STR. The tiger will
attempt to bite him at +4 to hit for 1d4 damage each round he is
pinned. (If the tiger successfully pins on a round that the
contestant successfully grapples the two maneuvers cancel each other
for no effect.)
The write up for the unique Slumbering
Ursine Dunes pointcrawl nodes for the high-roller Kickstarter backers
is finally finished. Since the regular main adventure is functionally
laid-out and ready go that spells an end to all my work on the main
To celebrate here is a free critter for
you; the subject of the last “Full Brad” encounter and special
session macguffin, the dreaded wereworm.
"Tell me what you want done,
and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of
East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last
― Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit
No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d4)
Alignment: Chaotic (Evil)
Movement: 120’ (above land), 60'
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Hoard Class: XX
Thought only to be myth even by the
most rigorous of borderlands sages, Wereworms do--sadly for
humankind--eke out a twisted (no pun intended) existence on the edges of human
civilization. In human form they appear to be perfectly normal human
specimens with the notable exceptions of their mouths which seem
uncomfortably circular and matched with a fetid, corrupted smell and
In worm form the creatures will appear
to be 7-8 foot long miniature versions of the dreaded Mauve Worm (a
mutation of the more common and equally dreadful Purple Worm). There
gaping mouths cause considerable damage. In such form they will
frequently be found burrowing underground in hopes of setting up an
Wereworms are subject to the same
advantages (magic/silver weapons can only effect them, disease etc)
and disadvantages (wolvesbane, lingering doubt about body image, etc)
as other lycanthropes in Labyrinth Lord.
More than once already through the
whole production of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes I have made a
happy dance (not literally, because dignity) over the artwork. It's
deeply gratifying about working with others who have immensely more
talent in the visual arts than you to bring something appealing to
life out of the word jumble madness in your head.
And by mad jumble I don't think I
exaggerate, art direction especially at the has been at the highwater
marks of work a strange free association. Describing the Eld to David Lewis Johnson and Luka Rejec at one
moment I think the phrase “oh they bulb-headed Melniboneans in
Geiger-like stormtrooper armor plus Bowie in his cocaine-fascist Thin
White Duke/Man Who Fell to Earth period" passed someone's lips.
Strangely that not only seemed to make
sense at the time but was something both of them could riff off of. I was pleasantly surprised to see where Luka went with his
imagination with the early concept art for the Dunes stretch goal
adventure, the Misty Isles of the Eld (an
expansion that covers the pocket dimension with vat complex and
“pagoda” city). Even the early work (keep in mind that these are
quick photo sketches not the finished works) hit all the right tones,
the dark fairy tale plus acid science fantasy vibe.