Sunday, 28 December 2014

More on 'Dragons & Dungeons', and a new Euro-game

Firstly, I should mention the post that inspired all of this, from Porky's Expanse! - 'Dragons & Dungeons'. This was an attempt to think about the relationship between monsters and setting, in which Porky wondered how things would have been different if the conceptual order of 'Dungeons & Dragons' had been reversed - if instead of a dungeon (space) that we filled with dragons (monsters) we instead started with the dragons and took things from there. Porky's original post, and the comments made on the responses, delve into philosophy and futurology - while most of those commenting stick firmly in the realm of games, which shows I think that Porky's imaginative scope is far beyond that of some of us (certainly me).

Then, my response over here to some of these ideas - 'Thoughts on 'Dragons & Dungeons' - which is an attempt to create a mini-dungeon from ecological rather than spatial principles, in line with the idea of thinking about how the monsters inhabit space, rather than thinking about the space and then filling it with random encounters. I'm quite impressed with how I ran with the idea and generated somewhat startling results from the relatively simple process of getting some monsters and really thinking how they 'live' together rather than just putting some numbers on a map and keying in pseudo-random encounters that way.

But now I want to look at a different way of examining the question of inverting the relationship between monsters and setting, one that we've kicked around as a concept already, but I'm going to mention a mechanism. Instead of a set rooms and random monsters, the idea was suggested for set monsters and random rooms. In other words, instead of building an environment and randomly generating inhabitants through a random monster table, the suggestion was for building an ecosystem, and then generating a random environment through some kind of 'random rooms table'.

Well, yesterday some friends came over who, like me and my partner, are big fans of games like Carcassonne, Alhambra and Settlers of Catan. They brought a lovely-looking game with them called The Castles of Mad King Ludwig (which I notice, in German, is called 'The Castles of King Ludwig' - perhaps calling him 'Mad' King Ludwig isn't considered polite in Germany, I don't know). The idea of the game is similar to Alhambra - the players are competing with each other to build castles (for King Ludwig, each player being literally a builder) by buying 'rooms' which are offered for sale through a semi-random process.

Illustration from BoardGameGeek - Castles of Mad King Ludwig, B├ęzier Games, 2014 — sample layout (image provided by the publisher) - link above

The game features around 80 tiles which are rooms of different functions - observatories, gardens, dining rooms, armouries, dungeons, fungus rooms - but, unlike Alhambra, also different sizes and shapes, ranging from small rooms (approximately 20' square?) to huge ones (perhaps 12 times the size of the smallest, around 60'x80' maybe?), that are square, round, oval, L-shaped and rectangular. They're a bit like the old 'Dungeon Geomorphs' that used to be around back in the day, but they actually have room names on them.

Because there is a randomised element to the game, also included is a pack of cards which more-or-less corresponds to the shapes/size, and therefore cost, of the rooms (all L-shaped rooms cost the same, but not all L-shaped rooms are the same type; all small square rooms cost the same but again are of different types). The cards are used to determine which room shapes are offered to the players each round. In theory the cards could be used to 'build' a dungeon through a process of randomising which room-shape comes next in the random sequence. There are also stair and corridor pieces to link levels and sections.

However, the cards do not match the rooms exactly - there are fewer cards than rooms, presumably so that some (random) rooms are always left unused (otherwise one could always go 'I'll hold out for the Observatory' knowing that it was bound to appear - this way there are always some room tiles that won't appear but there is no way of knowing which). Also, there is no way I could see to determine which type (as opposed to size/shape) of room could come next. I haven't closely examined all the pieces however, so I don't know whether it would be possible. But even if there isn't a way to do that, a random process which included all the possibilities (say, 'random room' tables for surface and sub-surface rooms which between them included all the options, perhaps more than once) could allow a randomised space in which a designed monster set could live.

If I bought it, it would of course be to play as 'The Castles of Mad King Ludwig'. If I could also use it as a 'random room generator' though, that would be an added bonus!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Orc-town - 4th Level lair - initial thoughts

Because there hasn't been much adventuring going on lately (probably something to do with me wiping out the party, I don't know), I'm posting once more about Silvergate. Recently I described the random (and somewhat unexpected) creation of a large lair of Orcs on the 4th level in this post here. About 640 of them, all together, with a fighting strength of around 160, and a couple of Trolls.

That sort of thing isn't necessarily easy to just slot into a corner of a level. 640 Orcs take up a lot of room, so I am in effect designing a lair the size of a small human town around the idea of an Orc-tribe holding a section of the Dwarf-city.

I need to think about a bunch of things:

non-food/fuel supplies (eg wood for tools, weapons etc)
clothing, rope, leather straps etc
social activities (religious rites, community gatherings)

This I think relates in some way to this post about dungeon ecology. How do monsters relate to each other, and what are they actually 'doing' all the time? How do they live? What do they eat? Where is their water coming supply coming from?

More specifically, are these Orcs producing their own food from their territory? Are they essentially 'farming' a section of the dungeon (eating rats and fungus, for example)? Do they hunt for food in the caverns? Are the patrols they send out 'guards' or 'hunters'?

Presumably, their massive quantities of Orc-slurry become the food for something else, which then becomes the food for something else, which is then eaten by the Orcs, and thus the cycle of life continues. But presumably there are some inputs into the system from outside - unless these Orcs are completely self-sufficient. So the idea of sending out regular patrols of Orcs to both sweep the corridors and hunt for food, or strangers who might trade/be robbed of wood or other valuable surface-items seems reasonable.

These Orcs would perhaps see wood as too useful to burn - unless, of course, it's so valuable as fuel to that they don't make mere clubs and spears out of it. Either way I'd expect that they'd be making things out of bone, keratin, chitin etc. Likewise, though they can make leather from rat or lizard skin (for example) perhaps the Orcs would also be using Giant Spider silk for ropes or straps and maybe they've even learned to weave it into fabric.

Without a source of a lot of fuel, iron-working is going to be very difficult so metal weapons are going to be in short supply, unless someone outside is supplying them in exchange for something else. Perhaps along with the bone and chitin, the Orcs are goingto be working stone rather than metal. I think the trick is going to be to pick some things in which the Orcs are self-sufficient and some others that they have to acquire from outside their caves.

There will definitely be a source of water, of that I am absolutely certain. There are several potentials here. The city when it was in its heyday was heavily-populated and the Dwarves were water-engineers. Some aspects of this water-management system survive so maybe the Orcs inhabit an area where the water comes from the Dwarves' plumbing. There are cisterns and conduits - perhaps some of these still work, or perhaps the breakdown of this system just means that some rooms are partly-flooded and these areas become 'watering holes' - either guarded by one faction, or used as a 'neutral space' by different factions.

Food doesn't seem to be too difficult. There are plenty of things that Orcs could eat, that don't necessarily have to appear on the Wandering Monster list or in lairs. Animals, plants and fungi only really need stats if they're a threat to the PCs. Something that can't harm the PCs, but is no use to them either (like a giant woodlouse that is poisonous for humans and Dwarves but Orcs find palatable, that can't bite through human skin) doesn't need a stat because it's more like a part of the room description than a 'monster' as such.

Working with these kind of notions should allow me to make the Orc-lair a recognisable part of the megadungeon, without necessarily having to tweak the results of my random rolling too much, which I'm loth to do, as I'm trying to run the creation process as 'straight' as I can get away with.