Posts tagged ‘dungeons & dragons’

October 18, 2013

Setup Questions for Nonhumans

So, when you’re running a game, you need to spend a bit of time coming up with what elves and dwarves and stuff are like, right? Or you could just let one or more of the players do all that and spend your time doing more important things, like thinking up exciting situations to put the PCs in. So here are some questions you can ask people playing elves and dwarves and children halflings to get them to tell you about their societies.

DWARVES

  • Do all dwarves have beards?
  • Do dwarves have books, or some other kind of writing? How do they make them?
  • How does one build up a good reputation for themselves amongst the dwarves?
  • What dangers do dwarves face, deep down below the earth? How do they deal with them?
  • What do dwarves think of halfling pipeleaf?
  • What does dwarven romance look like?
  • What does family mean to dwarves? What must a dwarf do to be disowned?
  • What is your favourite kind of stone? What does this say about you, compared to other dwarves?
  • What kind of music do dwarves like?
  • What place do oaths have in dwarven society? What happens when someone is branded an oathbreaker?
  • When do dwarves wear masks?
  • When dwarves leave their homes to live amongst humans, what do most of them do? Is there a guild for dwarves? Do humans expect you to all perform the same kind of work for them?
  • Where do dwarves get their wood from?
  • Which animals do dwarves keep in their underground homes? Do they have steeds or cattle, that are praised amongst other races for their ability to live and work underground?
  • Why do dwarves have such a rivalry with elves?
  • Why do dwarves live underground? Are there dangers on the surface, some kind of enemy scouring the earth for dwarves to kill?
  • Why haven’t dwarves poured forth from their halls to conquer the kingdoms of the other races?

ELVES

  • Are elves really as stoic as the other races think, or are there times where they express their emotions more readily?
  • Are musical instruments just as prized by the elves as song is?
  • Can elves really talk to plants? Why do people think they can?
  • Do elves change colour with the seasons, just like the trees do?
  • Do elves ever eat meat or are they strict vegetarians?
  • Do elves only live in forests? Where else do they live?
  • How common is magic among the elves?
  • How long do elves normally live?
  • How well do elves get along with dragons?
  • What are elven naming conventions like? Do you have a secret name, or more than one, even?
  • What do elves think of fire? Do they believe in a god of fire?
  • What happened the last time the elves went to war?
  • Who are the natural enemies of the elves? What creatures do they fear the most? Are these the same things the other races fear?
  • Why are elves so secretive?
  • Why are there so few elves?

HALFLINGS

  • Are there barbarian halflings, living in the wilderness, with no hint of civilized agriculture?
  • Do halflings tend to feel small and uncomfortable in the company of other races? Do you?
  • Halfling lawyers—you opinion?
  • How many songs does a halfling know? Do your people prefer to write their own, or do they borrow whatever songs they like?
  • Is there such a thing as halfling literature? If not, why not? If so, what is it like?
  • What are halflings like after they find religion?
  • What contributions have halflings made to human society?
  • What do halflings think of theatre?
  • What does red hair on a halfling mean? Are there limericks about red-headed halflings?
  • What is the most popular halfling sport? What do you think of it?
  • What kind of reputation do halflings have amongst the other races?
  • What’s the one thing no halfling would be caught dead without, when they go travelling?
  • Why are halflings such good gardeners?
  • Why do halflings love to gamble so much? Is it all halflings or just some?

cc-by unported 3.0

Oh, hey, if you want to take a bit of Red Box Vancouver cannon for your own game:
Dwarves all talk like Sean Connery.
Elves talk like surfer Keanu Reeves.
Halflings all have Italian accents.

Last post was this stuff for character classes.

October 17, 2013

Setup Material

Here’s a list of stuff to help GMs run character-driven adventures, arranged by class.
If you’re playing Dungeon World, you can use these bonds instead of the normal ones. If you aren’t, you can use these bonds to create links with other PCs or important NPCs.

BARBARIAN
Bonds

  • __________ does not understand me, or my culture. I will explain myself to them, no matter how long it takes.
  • __________ got me involved in a questionable adventure and I’m having second thoughts about it now.
  • __________ has seen the lands of my home, more recently than me.
  • __________ showed me how to get high.

Questions to Ask

  • Have you brought anyone from your home with you? Who?
  • In what way is your home more beautiful than any other land you have been to?
  • Of all the other people from your homeland, who would you most like to see again and why?
  • What is the most dangerous creature that has stalked the lands of your home? Have you ever defeated one?
  • What is the strangest thing about the lands you live in now?
  • What precious thing does your homeland lack, that these lands you now roam have in abundance?
  • What protects your homeland from invaders (if anything)?
  • When did you discover your appetites?
  • Why can’t ever return to your home?

Situations to Introduce
A portly and venal merchant has come before you to offer you that which you have an appetite for, or a sure-fire way to get it. But this merchant has brought hidden assassins who spring upon you, in full view of the public. Precious spirits are spilled, braziers are dislodged, tapestries catch fire. Who’s ire have you attracted this time?

You stand before the enemy army, ready to fight their champion. But then you see your own side begin to retreat—they plan to leave you hear to fight alone! Why does the commander bear a grudge against you? Who can you call upon from your side to support you? What are the enemy troops fighting for?

BARD
Bonds

  • I told __________ all about performing inside a rich noble’s home and saw the greed in their eyes.
  • __________ helped me make some important contacts. I owe them.
  • __________ is my lover, or was, or would have been, or… it’s complicated.
  • __________ knows I have a secret map.
  • __________ started a fight while I was performing, and payback’s a bitch.
  • __________ would be an excellent subject for a ballad, if only they got into more adventures. So I’ll just help them out with that.

Questions to Ask

  • What are you running from?
  • What’s the best thing about performing for others?
  • Who trained and taught you the arts you know?
  • Why do you travel so much? Would you like to settle down, or no?

Situations to Introduce
Charlatans have been travelling from town to town, selling cursed magical items. You’ve just stumbled across their accounting ledgers, but their guards have just stumbled across you. Have you met them already? What did they think of you before?

For weeks now, you’ve been tracking a band of thieves who have stolen a fantastic artifact that falls right inside your area of expertise. And they’ve just ambushed you. That must mean you’re getting close! Where are you when it happens? What other business did you have here, that’s not related to these thieves?

The Crimson Enchantress has ensorcelled a mob to become violent. Who or what is she trying to provide a distraction for? Who wants you to prevent her plans from coming to fruition?

You’re in the middle of a brawl between the town’s two most powerful gangs. Rumour has it they want to celebrate different festivals on the same day.

CLERIC
Bonds

  • I have intervened with other priests on __________’s behalf before.
  • My deity has marked out __________ as someone important. I must help them fulfill their destiny.
  • __________ has been through hardships that would break me. They can stand against the darkness I see looming over the world.
  • __________ has worked with servants of my deity before.

Questions to Ask

  • Have you ever failed your deity? What did you do to atone?
  • How does your family feel about your calling? Is it a prestigious position, or something that is looked down upon?
  • What did you do before dedicating your life to your deity, if anything?
  • What did you do the last time a rival temple tried to move in on your territory?
  • What social restrictions are placed on the faithful here? How do you feel about this—are they voluntary restrictions, or forced upon you?

Situations to Introduce
Another follower of your deity has been performing miracles. Whispers that she is the “Chosen One” abound, but you know some of those whisperers would like nothing more than to take advantage of her youth and inexperience. Still, you don’t fully trust her. Why?

Demonic influence manifests itself upon the material plane! What’s your relationship to the person acting as conduit? What does your deity have to say about this influence?

The city’s hierophant has asked you to assist in the performance of an important ritual, involving some of the local nobles. Which of your friends and family are in attendance? What’s your history with the hierophant’s temple? Your deity reveals a nefarious plot, unfolding all around you. Which of your deity’s precepts is being violated?

You’re pursuing the kidnappers when they enter the catacombs below the city and a horde of the undead appears to block your passage. Who have they captured and what do they mean to you? What do the rumours you’ve heard say about these catacombs? What else is buried underneath this city?

DRUID
Bonds

  • Me and __________ are tracking the passage of a terrible monster through this land.
  • __________ has fought in defence of my lands before and has my respect.
  • __________ is familiar with the sickness that infects the land, which must be purged.
  • __________ seems suitably impressed by my powers and I just can’t help showing off in front of them.

Questions to Ask

  • Were you always like this, or did something change to make you one with the land?
  • What kinds of people live on or next to your lands, and what problems do they bring?
  • What problem has brought you to leave your lands and venture into unknown territory?
  • Which animal is your favourite? Why?
  • Why does the wealthiest merchant around here welcome you with open arms, every time you show up?

Situations to Introduce
All the animals of the land pass by you, fleeing en mass from the terror that lumbers forward. What do you suspect this mighty monster’s ultimate goal is? What source of magic hereabouts could be powerful enough to draw something so dangerous? Of the people you care about, which ones are closer to it than you are, and why aren’t they fleeing, like the animals are?

The city guards have let you inside the walls, but now they’re demanding the “gate tax,” which you’ve never heard of before and also seems rather exorbitant. At the same time, they just let someone in strange black robes walk right on by them, and you smell something very, very wrong underneath that cloth.

FIGHTER
Bonds

  • Me and __________ were both hired by a boss who turned on us.
  • __________ proved a worthy ally in the last war, even considering that one mistake they made.
  • __________ saw me kill someone important.
  • __________ stood up to me and got away with it. That’s how it is, I guess.

Questions to Ask

  • Do people ask to become your apprentice or squire ever? What do you say to them?
  • Did you join the war willingly, or were you drafted against your will?
  • What did you do the last time someone challenged you to a duel?
  • What happened to all those coins you used to have?
  • What kind of oaths did you swear on the day your old mentor was murdered?
  • Which enemy (or enemies) do you spend the most time fighting against? What do they threaten that you want to preserve?
  • Who wielded your signature weapon before you? Anyone?

Situations to Introduce
Assassins attack you in a crowded marketplace. Why do they want you dead? How did you defeat their leader when last you met them? Do you owe someone, or did you take something that some villain wants for their own?

The festival was in full swing, and then the iron golem appeared, intent on kidnapping shrine maidens and delivering them to the evil warlock who hides inside a local mountain. What did the warlock hire you to do, and why did you have so many misgivings? What will happen if the shrine maidens cannot finish appeasing the local spirits? Which of them do you suspect is actually in league with the warlock?

You stand between the caravan and the bandits. They have some kind of monster with them, intent on seizing some “special” cargo. Why didn’t you kill the bandit leader when you had the chance? Did you know about the risks before you joined the caravan?

PALADIN
Bonds

  • For what they have done, I have sworn to guide and protect __________.
  • I have heard of _________’s exploits and am suitably impressed.
  • __________ gave me food and shelter when I had nothing.
  • __________ obviously doesn’t trust me, and this needs to change.

Questions to Ask

  • Are you dedicated to a particular lord, deity, or social institution? Are you on a personal quest, for yourself? Why or why not?
  • Is there something particular in your past that drives you to fight the good fight? What are you looking to atone for, personally?
  • What do you think about other local authority figures? Are they using their power responsibly, or are they corrupt and venal?
  • What was your first job, and why do they want you back?
  • Why did your family send you away?

Situations to Introduce
The innkeeper’s daughter stumbles back to the inn, clutching her neck, covered in blood. She collapses, dying from a vampire’s bite. Everyone staying at the inn begins to fight. Why did you keep an eye on those fur traders? What is that monk hiding beneath his robes? Why does the nobleman bear a grudge against you? What will you do about the innkeeper’s dying daughter? What will you do about the vampire, still on the loose?

The séance just turned ugly. Which of your dead relatives do you see, standing in the darkness before you? What don’t you want them to say to you? How did the ghost-talker convince you to attend, and what kind of bargain did the two of you agree on? Why is it so important that the baroness doesn’t die during this ritual?

You’re caught in a mob of beggars and vagrants, rioting against the king’s new laws. The mob is surging towards the palace. Where were you trying to get to, originally? You see a team of thieves in the midst of the mob, using strange magic to disguise their activities.

RANGER
Bonds

  • __________ and I took down a great beast once, and paid for it dearly.
  • __________ left me in a pinch when they were supposed to come through for me.
  • __________ once talked me into guiding some halflings on the run through dangerous territory, and never thanked me properly for it.
  • __________ was once my enemy, but we’ve since reconciled.

Questions to Ask

  • What did you lose that now you seek to regain, out here in the wilderness? Who took it from you (if anyone)?
  • What monster lives around here and why do you try to avoid it?
  • What’s the most important thing about this forest, that needs to be protected, at all cost?
  • When the dwarves petition to get their lands back from the king, which side of the argument do you support? What’s your relationship with the dwarves like?
  • Where did you first meet your animal companion?

Situations to Introduce
You can see the orcs, just across the river. They have the ferryman and his family captive, and they’re chopping up his boat. The sheriff is itching to get at them. Did he tell you why? What kind of dealings have you had with these orcs before? If they enact their plan, you would benefit in some way—how?

You’ve been poking around some ruins next to the city of Tyr for a few days now, and right in front of you there’s some traders making a deal with a band of monsters. Where do you know these traders from? Do they know you’re there? How far away is the city they’re headed for (and is it Tyr)?

THIEF
Bonds

  • Me and __________ are the only survivors of a dubious adventure.
  • __________ helped me steal something really valuable from someone who is really dangerous.
  • __________ knows where I stashed some loot.
  • __________ still owes me for some stuff they were supposed to fence for me.

Questions to Ask

  • Are you part of a thieves’ guild? Why or why not?
  • How were you involved with the notorious criminal who just turned up this morning, dead in a ditch?
  • What’s the biggest score you’ve ever taken down?
  • Who’s your competition?
  • Why did you return the last thing you stole?

Situations to Introduce
A friend of yours gives you something to stash for safekeeping—something you’ve been trying to get a hold of for months. What sort of danger is your friend in? What job did you already take on in an effort to raise the money to buy this thing, and how soon do you need to complete the contract?

The room begins to fill with water and the manticore emerges from a secret doorway in the ceiling. What other traps did you find here, that haven’t been triggered yet? What were you hoping to find in this dungeon? What do you regret most about bringing the blacksmith’s only son down here with you?

You find your poison dealer dead at home, apparently by suicide. But there is something suspicious—where have you seen that faint bluish tinge before? Which two books are missing from the house’s library, and why would no one else but you notice their absence?

You’re stuck in the city jail. What did they catch you doing? The guards throw a shopkeeper in with you. From the way they talk, a wealthy merchant has bribed them because he doesn’t want to pay the shopkeep for goods delivered to his manse. A very wealthy merchant…

WIZARD
Bonds

  • __________ and I shared a mystical vision, after drinking the blood of the demon world together.
  • __________ has supplied me with forbidden tomes.
  • __________ once brought me safely through the Haunted Forest.

Questions to Ask

  • A wealthy stranger offered you a fat purse of coins to perform some kind of ritual. Who do you think they were and why did you refuse?
  • How do people treat you usually, when they know you are a wizard?
  • What did you miss out on by studying magic?
  • What magical mystery have you been yearning to solve for years now?
  • What strange vision haunts your dreams, night after night?
  • Who taught you magic, and what kind of terms are you on these days?
  • Why does your mentor want you to collect parts of rare monsters?

Situations to Introduce
An arcane tower has suddenly appeared on a nearby hilltop. The local militia broke through it’s gate only hours before your arrival and have not emerged since. Now the overseer of the Stevedore’s Guild is collecting “taxes” and the children of the town implore you to rescue their fathers from the evil-looking, magical tower. Why did you come to this town in the first place? Who do you know amongst the missing? How much do you owe the stevedores?

Finally, you arrive at the magical centre of the Great Forest, a place of power if ever there was one. But the elves have arrived here, too—hot on the heels of a monster. What can this monster offer you for your aid? Why does the leader of these elves dislike you so much? Why is the Elf Queen so interested in your arcane research?

You’re in someone else’s arcane laboratory. Why aren’t you supposed to be here? What would be most useful to you? Were there any defences you had to overcome to get in here? Who’s with you and why did you bring them?

cc-by unported 3.0

Next post is questions about fantasy races.

May 21, 2012

The Metamorphica: A Book of Random Mutation Tables

As promised, the book is finally done!

This is a picture of the cover.

The Metamorphica is a very large system-agnostic collection of random mutation tables, for any table-top role-playing game. The digest-sized PAPERBACK VERSION is available from lulu.com for only US$6.66 plus shipping, but you can download the pdf version for free (either FROM LULU or FROM HERE for less hassle) from DriveThruRPG HERE.

How did this happen? Good question!

I was originally inspired to make this when I started using the old Realm of Chaos mutation tables while I was running old Red Box D&D. We had a lot of fun with mutagenic substances so I decided to make a much larger collection that included mutation ideas from a whole range of other role-playing games. Along the way I added a lot of new ones as well, and when it became too big to be a stapled booklet, I decided to add procedures for creating all sorts of monsters and mutants. And also to make it available as a printed book and not just a pdf.

The Metamorphica is system-agnostic, meaning there aren’t any rules in it per se: no attack bonuses, no hit points, and no task or conflict resolution systems. I intend to use this for more than just D&D, but making the book compatible with such disparate systems as Metamorphosis Alpha, Burning Wheel, Apocalypse World, and Diaspora would make it way too long, and take way too much time. You can just make up rules in play if you need them, that’s what I do. It’s really not that hard.

Art preview!

The Metamorphica was written by Johnstone Metzger and illustrated by Andrew Gillis, Nathan Jones, Johnstone Metzger, and Nathan Orlando Wilson. If you need to get in touch with anyone about this book, Red Box Vancouver (no spaces) has a standard gmail address that will accept your inquiries.

Also? It’s free!

Yes, this is (essentially) a free book. But if you would like to not-so-subtly encourage future products of a similar nature, or just buy me and/or the artists a drink by way of thanks, feel free to donate whatever you feel is appropriate. I will also happily accept pdfs, which you can send to the above-mentioned gmail address (the name of this blog, no spaces).

Or, if you would really like to do me a favour (warning, real-life bummer stuff follows):
I find the violence surrounding coltan mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the economics of the electronics industry that encourage it, particularly concerning. Especially since this book would not have been possible without such electronics. However, I have neither the time nor the expertise to track down and properly vet charitable organizations working to solve this issue. If you know of one, and can make an adequate case as to their accountability and their work in the DRC, please let me know. If you don’t know any charities working in this area specifically, don’t worry about it, just enjoy the book. And if you are unaware of this issue, please look it up, the information is readily available. Thank you.

January 17, 2012

And these arrived as well…

ACKS original art by Ryan Browning

Shown with eraser, highlighter, and one of Blair’s old digest-sized Planet Algol booklets for scale.

January 7, 2012

Revenge of Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown

I received the actual physical books in the mail not too long ago. Aside from a few typos here and there, the art and layout is quite pleasing, but you have likely seen other peoples’ pictures of them already.

A couple of observations:

1.
Isle of the Unknown isn’t a fully-conceptualized setting, but Carcosa is. However, it’s a minimalist setting, with a fairly tight, singular premise around which the whole book revolves. And while I admire that, artistically, I actually prefer maximalism, when it’s done right (i.e. integrated maximalism, not pastiche overcrowdingism). Not that I think either book should be less minimalist and more maximalist, it’s just a personal preference I’ve noticed. Luckily for me, I don’t think either product is too weird to be easily incorporated as one layer of a maximalist setting.

2.
In the poster map, the races of men are colour-coded, which is interesting because there are three fictional colours on Carcosa.* While this adds to the book’s tone of otherworldly strangeness, it is also somewhat difficult to actually imagine and picture mentally. To take a couple examples from other sources, when I imagine garrow, I think it looks like both black and yellow simultaneously (not mixed together), and I think of Terry Pratchett’s octarine as looking similar, but with blue and orange, also simultaneously.

(*Never mind that adding one new primary colour actually results in at least five new colours, that’s something to take up with David Lindsay.)

On the Carcosa poster, Dolm Men are colour-coded with light blue and cream, Jale Men are coded with dark blue and red, and Ulfire Men are coded with cream and deep purple. But when I think of ulfire, I think of red, green, and white at the same time (this might be partly due to some bird that was covered in ulfire-coloured flames in one of Blair’s early Planet Algol reports). Jale and dolm, though… I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes I imagine dolm being a bit like olive green, and other times I can’t imagine what either of them looks like. Maybe jale is similar to yellow and pink and neon colours. I mean, sure, it’s “dreamlike, feverish, and voluptuous,” but so is purple.

If there is just one fictional colour, then it’s easy to imagine, because every person’s different interpretation can stand without interfering with each other, as long as they imagine some kind of fictional, hitherto-unimagined colour. When you have to differentiate between fictional colours, that can start to get weird.

That’s not a criticism, just an observation. What do you imagine dolm, ulfire, and jale look like?

I do have some actual criticisms of the two books, though. There are a few things that could have made the books easier to use, at least for me.

1.
I think both maps could have benefited greatly from the addition of roads being marked. Even without them, Isle of the Unknown’s keyed map is pretty good, but Carcosa’s is slightly less so. The poster has a map keyed with the locations of rituals and Great Old Ones, but there is no map with settlements or the colours of the men that live in them. When the locations of certain colours of settlements—such as we find around the other lake (the one that isn’t Hali)—are mentioned as plot points in the hex descriptions, it would help to have this information in map format. Likewise, there is a mention of a trade route road winding around the icy wastes, but no indication of where this road is coming from or where it is going.

The political situation isn’t the most useful aspect of this information, however. Terrain, and especially roads, determines how fast characters can move across the map, and how fast characters can move across the map determines how much the DM has to prep between sessions in order to respond to the players’ choices. If there is a road that stretches across three hexes, on either Carcosa or the Isle, it’s entirely possible that the PCs could travel the whole way in a single day, walking from dawn to dusk. Without having roads on the map, the DM basically needs to prep three hexes away from the PC’s present location in every direction, in order to get an idea of where to even place roads. It seems to me that adding even just major roads is not much additional work when all major settlements are already plotted out, which is the case for both books, and some hex descriptions even mention roads, which is at least the case for Carcosa.

Being able to see the roads helps to envision the possibilities of PC movement, which makes the DM’s job easier.

2.
Any hint of motivation or personality is missing from most of the magic-users and clerics in Isle of the Unknown. They are treated simply like monsters—if you want to kill them, all the problems you’ll face and the lack of rewards you’ll receive (in most cases) are listed, but not much else. It makes me wonder why anybody would want to interact with these characters in the first place. Even a little bit of information would have been useful, evocative, and inspirational—the way threats are summarized in Apocalypse World, for example. Describing a warlord’s personality with “Dictator (impulse: to control)” or the character of a landscape with “Maze (impulse: to trap, to frustrate passage)” goes a long way with a short amount of text.

While Carcosa has numerous settlements with motivation-less leaders and populations listed, there are also many characters who do have goals, connections to other parts of the map, and even some small semblance of personality. It would have been nice to have a little bit of that in Isle of the Unknown as well, though it’s by no means a dealbreaker. And while I think including something like the Carcosan Ethnography supplemental material in the book itself would have been fantastic, so that DMs can just randomly generate genre-appropriate population details and character motivations, it’s good enough without it that I’m not really upset.

3.
Similarly, there are a few occasions in both books where the material is essentially a tableau to be presented to the players, with little opportunity for them to interact successfully with it, or to use it in combination with other setting elements. When the text describes something the PCs can see but never do anything with, when some magical effect can only happen once in one location by accident, or when the benefits of braving obscene risks turns out to be a measly +1, I’m a little underwhelmed. I much prefer the part of Carcosa’s premise that includes finding a giant laser cannon and deciding to kill Cthulhu with it. Especially if it doesn’t work because you used up all the charges destroying castles and fortresses that asked you to pay tithes for safe passage, and now you’re facing Cthulhu with no ammo and no castles or fortresses to hide in. There’s slightly less of that in Isle of the Unknown, but both books should have had a little more, in my opinion.

Those are all relatively minor concerns, though. Overall, I think the good things everybody says about these two books are pretty accurate.

December 17, 2011

Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown

In case you are unaware of these two titles, they are a pair of books written by Geoffrey McKinney and published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Naturally, I picked them up and have been perusing the pdfs of late. I have an earlier version of Carcosa, but am very pleased with this new edition, while Isle of the Unknown is completely new. They are both old-school D&D hex-crawl campaigns, although Carcosa has a certain amount of premise and theme built into it. There is some controversy about this, which I have no interest in and do not want to know your opinion of.

Instead, I have a completely different problem. In a word, my problem is: Blair.

You may know Blair as the guy with the Planet Algol blog, as a local Vancouver gamer, or as a regular Vancouver Red Box player and DM (or all three). He’s the one who got me to check out McKinney’s Carcosa in the first place, so it’s no surprise he’s had it longer and read more of it than I have. He’ll no doubt get this new version as well, which means running it for him may lack a litle bit of surprise and mystery. I can assume he’ll be likely to pick up Isle of the Unknown too, if he can stop himself from spending too much money on obscure black/death/doom metal LPs that can double as DM screens. So, while he won’t be memorizing either book in their entirety, if I were to run either of them straight, some of that “unknown” would be slightly less so. Like when I decided to run Tower of the Stargazer without knowing he’d read it already.

Don’t get me wrong, I like having Blair running and playing RBV games, but this is another one of those awkward points of overlap in our collections. The rest of the Red Box crew might have some interest in McKinney’s works, but are more likely to ask Blair or I to DM them than they are to buy and read them. It’s just that I’ll need to modify them somewhat in order to bring back the uncertainty and suspense lost by Blair’s familiarity with them (or at least Carcosa), which unfortunately can sometimes be as much work as making up a new setting from scratch.

However! The books themselves offer up an interesting suggestion for circumventing this awkwardness, in the simple fact that they both use the same numbered hex template.

The obvious solution is just to run both of them. At the same time.

That’s a McKinney Combo Platter, kids. You might remember what’s in this hex on Carcosa, and you might remember what’s in this hex on the Isle of the Unknown, but you have no idea what will happen when worlds collide.

November 20, 2011

What I Have Learned from Random Mutation Tables

Here is a lesson I have learned from using random mutation tables in D&D. I normally use the old Realms of Chaos books for mutations, and usually it’s because characters come into contact with a mutagenic substance like warpstone or liquid derived from it.

First, let me define a term: All fiction, including role-playing games are composed of certain elements: characters, setting, props, and situation. Props are things that are important to the story but aren’t characterized, and aren’t just part of the setting. Right? Mostly, I’m ‘a talk about props here.

One of my main joys in being a DM is putting the players into a strange situation, with a whole bunch of moving parts they can interact with, and seeing them invent solutions to their problems that I would never have thought of in a million years. When you introduce a puzzle, the payoff is pretty minimal, because either the players figure out the solution you’ve already devised, or they don’t and there’s failure and disappointment. But when there’s no set solution, you can be surprised and have to improvise. This is one reason why I like random tables as well, and certainly other DMs will agree. I know Tavis Allison has written a post or two about improvising based on random tables.

However, random tables are a means to encourage improvisation on the DM’s side. What I want to discuss here is improv on the players’ side, and one of the key ways to do this is to introduce complicated props.

In a typical D&D game, your average treasure haul will include mostly coins and swords +1. The problem with these is that the only thing coins actually do is buy stuff, and the only thing a weapon or armour +1 does is change the probabilities of your dice rolls. Having a magic weapon or not might make the difference between fighting a certain creature or running away, but it’s a pretty minimal encouragement to creative problem-solving.

Props that Do a Thing

Better is a prop that does a specific thing: A sword that glows when goblins are near, a staff that casts cure light wounds, a sword that bursts into flames. Now you have a prop that does a thing, and the player’s options just increased by one (and a very visible option, too).

Sometimes, doing a thing can put extra work on a DM, though. Take an example from Playing D&D with Pornstars: Snakes are Books. The one disadvantage to this prop is that whenever the players read a snake, they look at the DM and ask “what does it say?” If you don’t have a random table for book subjects, that can be a lot of stuff to think up. There’s a magic spell from Postmodern Magick (the Unknown Armies supplement) that lets you read any book you know of, just by opening any other book. It’s pretty cool, as long as you don’t have to sit there inventing books and texts for hours on end to entertain the players. But if you have some really awesome random book tables (or a really cool library), this is dope.

In essence, though, these are props that create more props. They get your character access to information, which hopefully leads to some sort of action, because the action is where the game is really at. I want to see how the players combine the various props and spells and stuff that they have, and create some sort of plan. Especially when it involves props I introduced, and the players use them in some way that totally surprises me. And a sword +1 is never going to do that. What will? Let’s think of some examples…

Ring of Protection
Your average ring of protection +1 gives you a slightly better armour class. Whoop-de-doo. How about a Ring of the Untouchable? Whoever wears this ring cannot be touched by another living being, or by that beings clothes. This is an effective mosquito repellant, and it protects against viruses and bacteria that are not already infecting the wearer. Other creatures cannot touch the wearer, even if they are wearing metal gauntlets. Natural attacks, such as claws or bite, have no effect. The wearer cannot be pushed around, unless the pusher uses a tool. Weapons still have full effect, even lassos. Whatever the wearer is wearing or carrying is also affected, so it defeats pickpockets as well. The wearer can be touched by the undead, and by demons and other extra-planar entities.

Sword +1, +3 versus Gnocchi
This sword may or may not give a bonus to hit and damage. However, it hates all gnolls and gnomes and anything else whose name begins with a gn-, even Pietro Gnocchi. Anytime it hits one of these creatures, the wielder may immediately make another attack against anything close enough to hit. If the wielder chooses not to make an attack, he must quench the blade’s thirst with his own blood. Even a small amount will do, but he must take 1 point of damage.

Stonecutter
This sword does not actually cut through stone, it’s blade just ignores all non-organic material. It can pass through stone, metal, fabric, dirt etc. as if it were not even there. Stonecutter ignores AC bonuses from metal armour, but not leather, and can attack through doors and walls that are thin enough. Keeping it in a scabbard can be a problem, although the hilt of the sword does not share the properties of the blade. The hilt can be strapped to a belt and will not pass through walls, doors, or armour.

Potion of Mutation
If you drink it, you gain a random mutation! Actually, this is a lot like the snake-books, in that it’s a prop that makes new props. Instead of, say, a book that tells you how to kill trolls, it gives you, say, a third arm which ends in a giant lobster pincer. Good thing I have some random mutation tables!

That was pretty rambly, but I’ve got stuff to do so there it is.

November 4, 2011

Under the Chimera, another home-made module

Here is another short module I made for Red Box Vancouver. We enjoyed this one for a total of four zany sessions, mostly owing to the mutagenic liquid. You can read the session summaries starting here.

This one was also created using Dave’s Mapper and the Moldvay Basic rules. There are no mutation tables provided in the adventure, but I would recommend either this or these, since the giant system-agnostic compilation of all mutation tables everywhere that I’m working on is not yet finished.

So, here it is for you. Again, the last two pages are just the map on page 2, but bigger, just in case you need it. Anything I haven’t provided, use that book you see to the right!

Under the Chimera

October 14, 2011

The Hidden Ziggurat, a home-made module

This is a short module I made for Red Box Vancouver. I ran three sessions of it, and short summaries can be found on the RBV forums, starting here.

I used Dave’s Mapper to generate a random dungeon map, and made a few slight modifications in Photoshop. I then stocked the dungeon using the rules in Moldvay’s Basic D&D, then added my own ideas so that the dungeon made sense in the end, including some nice colour text culled from a previous phase of black ziggurat enthusiasm. And with the addition of a few short wandering monster tables, I was done.

So here it is for you, if you want it. The last two pages are just the map on page 2 but bigger. If you don’t need them, don’t print them out. There are no monster stats here, because you can get those from the Moldvay Basic book.

The Hidden Ziggurat

September 16, 2011

If your adventure says “by now the PCs will likely investigate”…

… you don’t play with the same kind of people I do.

I kid, but only a little. I was reading an independently produced module, XP2: Song of the Beast Gods, when it occurred to me how spoiled I am by the OSR’s emphasis on exploration and sandboxes. It’s rare that I read what I used to think of as “an adventure” before I got the OSR bug. Even good adventures–and Song of the Beast Gods is a very good adventure–tend to assume a certain amount of player engagement, simply because if you’re playing adventures and not a sandbox, it’s not cool to blow off whatever the DM prepped.

On the scale of assumed engagement, where 10 is Death in Freeport and 1 is Tavis Allison’s White Sandbox, Song of the Beast Gods is definitely on the low end. It’s a location-based adventure, so that means that the author, Thulsa, does not assume any sort of time-line or sequence of events. Instead he lays out some NPCs conspiring to conduct a ritual sacrifice, three separate and detailed locations for the action, and three or four suggestions on how to involve the PCs in the conspiracy.

In this, he’s my kind of adventure writer, because instead of assuming the players care about a Chaotic outpost (B2), some amnesiac priest (Freeport) or the threat of being executed if they don’t murder a bunch of giants (G3), Thulsa gives us a Situation and a couple of ways into it.

The PCs can either cross swords with a venal slaver and rescue some sexy handmaidens–getting as a reward the instant enmity of the cultists–or they can find themselves caught up in an attempt by the cult to kidnap victims for their upcoming crazy-ass ritual. Unfortunately for DMs like me, if they get to the location in some other circumstances, the adventure assumes they will likely start their own investigation. Hence the title of this post.

If you know anything about Red Box Vancouver, you’ll have some idea of how much I laughed at the idea of PCs deciding to investigate the weirdos running some podunk town, when they could just as easily… leave. Or get drunk. Or find some horrible prehistoric beast to murder. Especially since these are supposed to be Swords & Sorcery heroes! They’re supposed to do Conan stuff, not investigate decadent nobles acting a bit strangely, even if it is on the say-so of a drunken guard or an attractive handmaiden.

Then I remembered my One Page Adventure experiment from last year and figured this was the perfect opportunity to road test that idea with a for real adventure that I’m going to run for a couple of friends. So here it is, my One Page Adventurizing of XP2: Song of the Beast Gods. (Spoilers for XP2: Song of the Beast Gods follow.)

Revenge of the Hyena Priestess

The Situation

A long-lost princess has returned to usurp her younger sister’s place and get her revenge, with the help of cultists of a former god of her people.

NPC Goals

Evil Princess: Kill opposition to Hyena God Cult. Sacrifice Good Princess when The Stars are Right. Stay disguised as Good Princess ’til then.

Handmaiden: Free Good Princess. Expose Evil Princess.

And here’s where I run into my first challenge. Other than the Handmaiden, who has already been caught by the slavers at the start of the adventure, every other NPC described is either one of Evil Princess’s minions or has no goals other than “keep the status quo”. There are a couple of acolytes of the current god who would oppose the Evil Princess’s plans, and of course the captain of the guard isn’t keen on any plots that involve impersonating the legitimate princess, but until any of these guys have proof of what’s going on, they sit around eating dates in the palace.

It also means that unless the PCs get hot for the Handmaiden when they run into the slavers at the oasis at the start of the adventure (the adventure assumes that the PCs are heading for the city where all this is going down–which is a perfectly acceptable assumption. Even a OPD has to assume you go into the dungeon!) the DM has to rely on a bit of luck and force to get them involved. The adventure suggests they get attacked by cultists, which in my games usually ends with a pile of enemy corpses, which could make the players curious enough to investigate. Or it could lead to the players deciding to skedaddle.

There is another option, not suggested by the adventure, but that seems really obvious to me if you know the people I play with: they’re hired by the Evil Princess.

If I was an Evil Princess looking to bump off the King, some Priests and other upstanding members of the court to clear the way for a mass human sacrifice to reinstate the worship of an ancient beast god, I’d be hard pressed to find better employees than a team of wandering killers with no connections in town.

So that’s going to be my entry point: barring unexpected interest in the well-being of slave girls and small-time nobility, I’m going to plan for the PCs being propositioned by the agents of the Evil Princess to do her dirty work. So the Evil Princess is going to need some serious opposition, because right now there’s only a slave girl standing between her and apotheosis as the Hyena Queen.

Come back for part two to see where we go from here…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48 other followers