Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pointcrawl Series Index

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. 
It's worth clicking on this. 
The meditation that kicked off the ongoing thread. An introduction and counter-position to hexcrawling.

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.

An attempt to break down the horizontal hugeness of an undercity into a manageable form. Should be read in conjunction with this post

In which I admit to having a difficulty in running city ruins and start to wrap my brain about how to do so. The comments are interesting and not surprisingly start pointing to pointcrawls.

Real needs in the Hill Cantons campaigns lead me to put into practice the stuff above. Some methods and guidelines for putting it all into practice.

Second part to the above post with a crowdsourced unique structures table and other practical bits.

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 the table).

An example of how I use hexcrawl and pointcrawl maps in tandem, in this case how I often break out the contents of a single hex into a small area pointcrawl.

Win a Wargame Contest Results
Despite the unlikely title relevant as concrete examples of how to describe and present a point on a pointcrawl. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Interview Series Index

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 years back?”

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 Chronological Order)

Jeff Berry
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.

David Dunham
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.

Jeff Dee
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.

Kyrinn Eis
Kyrinn Eis talks about her fascinating worldbuilding and quirky attendant game.

Robert Kuntz
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.

Dan Boggs
A look at Champion of Zed and its creator before it became another casualty of the rpg crowd-funding bubble. 

Trey Causey
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 published day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reader Query: Random Solo Wilderness Generation?

Yesterday I got a compelling piece of post-necromancy, this time on my kickoff pointcrawl post. Zack asks:
“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 swamp.
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)?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Running Underwater Adventures

Above its domes the gulfs accumulate.
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 gate.
- Clark Ashton Smith, “Atlantis”

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 are. 

Sources for D&D Underwater Adventures
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 water.)

Unencumbered 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 the effect.

Water Pressure
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:
Effective Visibility
0-100 feet
200 feet
101-150 feet
100 feet
150-200 feet
50 feet

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.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Tiger Wrestling Mini-Game for Labyrinth Lord or B/X

They 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.

One 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).

Tiger Wrestling Mini-Game
Jarek 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.

Contestants 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.

The Tigers
Old Slinky Panc (Hit Dice: 4, AC: 6, Hp: 13), Bounty for Win 300 gold.
Simka (Hit Dice: 5, AC: 6, Hp: 20), Bounty for Win 600 gold.
Pan Meow-Meow (Hit Dice: 6, AC: 6, Hp: 25), Bounty for Win 1000 gold.

Each 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.

Rear Claw Rake

Contestant Results
Dodge = contestant +2 to attack in next round if the contestant is not hit successfully this round.

Punch= 1d3 (plus STR modifier) stun damage on the tiger.

Kick = 1d3 (plus STR modifier) stun damage on the tiger.

Grapple = 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.

Tiger Results
Pounce = 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.)

Bat= contestant takes 1d3 damage from paws.

Bite = contestant takes 1d4+1 damage.

Rear Claw Rake = contestant takes 1d6 damage. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hill Cantons Bestiary: the Wereworm

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 project. Yip-f*ckin'-iee.

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 Desert."
― Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit

No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d4)
Alignment: Chaotic (Evil)
Movement: 120’ (above land), 60' (burrowing)
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 2d6
Save: F5
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: XX
XP: 550
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 look.

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 ambush.

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.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Art for the Misty Isles of the Eld

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.

But let me show you and not tell.