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, Bézier 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!


  1. Yeah, Porky can do that to a mind :) I'm still processing ideas we discussed almost two years ago (I'm slow like that ...). It tends to be awfully productive, too. I like your approach about ecosystems and random rooms, but it's Pandora's box, in my opinion. I went down a similar road some time back and ended up building sub-systems about Monster territory, area threat-levels and "brain crawls". Also a random culture generator (still a work in progress), did some research about natural development of caves, flora and fauna, started tinkering with a system about how settlements develop (still in fragments ...), stuff like that. Anyway, it's all connected and a deep, deep rabbit hole to get lost in. So far without producing final results, for me at least (other than driving me crazy). But so much worth the effort. And fun. So I'm looking forward to see what you come up with in the future!

    I think German history teachers would describe King Ludwig as "eccentric", with the Bavarians going as far as using terms like "fairytale-like" (since they still earn a lot of money because of him). And I got to say, Disney owes him a lot ... Anyway, "mad" is way to negative, I guess, although one could call him excessively lavish.

    By the way, is the game any good? It does sound interesting.

  2. Thanks for your comment Jens. As you know, I'm awaiting developments in your 'settlement development/history generator' series with interest.

    The game is fun - if you've ever played Alhambra, it's basically similar, but a little more complex. The example in the pic above is a little 'tidy' I think, all our complexes were more straggling. Our friends hadn't played very many games before they introduced us to it so none of us were experts, but it was easy to grasp the basics, though it will no doubt take a while to explore the subtleties.

    As for using the pieces as a fantasy setting generator, because it's for a fantasy game it's easier I think to fudge anomalous results from a random(ised) generator than it would be if things were for 'real life'. "Why does the sequence of rooms go Observatory - Bedroom - Fungus Room?" Err, because the wizard that had it laid out was experimenting at night with the effects of starlight on certain fungi? That helps to make what might seem incongruous results to fir better (as well as results that might place natural caves next to worked rooms).

    There are some things that would really not fit however and that's why I think a table based on the rooms would be better that a totally randomised system. There are some rooms that are distinctly 'underground' and some distinctly 'overground' and so I think some concept of 'Dungeon Levels' would apply. Rooms would be given levels in the way monsters currently are.

    In this way, the relationship between Number Appearing and Hit Dice for monsters would be replaced by a relationship between Size and "Threat Level". The Observatory or the Large Garden (which both have to be on Level 1, I'd say) would be the equivalents of Kobold hordes - a lot of it, but not very threatening. Single powerful monsters are the equivalent of a smaller but more dangerous room.

    Without examining the tiles, it's difficult to say for sure but I suspect each type of room could throw up ideas for potential challenges. It would be necessary to write the equivalent of a monster description for each room type - so for example the different gardens (there are probably six of them of different sizes) would equate to different sizes of encounter with (for example) Goblins or Kobolds. You find the Number Appearing of Goblins and that it's 2-8 - so the largest room has a threat level that corresponds to 8 Goblins, the smallest to 2 Goblins.

    Obviously not all 'monsters' are threatening, some can be helpful, so not all rooms should be too. Also, not all rooms in D&D should be occupied... some are just spaces. This should be the same with a random system. Basically, 1/3 should have a threat attached.

    The random generation possibilities in 'The Castles of (Mad) King Ludwig' are best, I would think, for a quick generation of either a one-off lair for a not-so-serious evening's raiding, or perhaps a section of a megadungeon that hasn't been mapped. There probably isn't enough variety to use as the only way of deriving locations, but it might be a good way of starting a more comprehensive location generator.

    1. Interesting! I once tried to key HD to the territory that'd be needed by a creature and would be really interested to hear your opinion on that:

      Diminishing the territory would result in struggle, so if you randomized rooms with a fixed ecosystem, you'd instantly know which groups would fight for space and where.

      Castles of King Ludwig really sounds fun!

    2. Yes, I see the point - if you have 8 Goblins in a '2 Goblin room' then obviously they're overcrowded and there needs to be an explanation - have they fled there in fear, are they visiting because of some religious ritual, has a new source of food been discovered or are they plotting to attack a neighbouring room?

      I can't help thinking there may be some generators from 'The Dozen Dungeon' that could tell us why the Goblins were crowded into a small room!

  3. I'm impressed by how you ran with it as well, and startling is a good word: I think you've done a lot to show what the idea can do, and given a convincing form to something that was almost flippant in my original post. It's very much your idea at this point, and it's a pleasure to come back and see it moving on.

    Seeing the link with the board game was quick as well. There must be quite a few out there that use related methods, and even actual crawlers. Warhammer Quest springs to mind - it also had a room deck.

    Interesting discussion too. It's a real tickle how so many of these things tie in, and how even a local grand solution seems so often just a step or two further ahead. It's also amazing how everything from the Dungeon Dozen to the Tao of D&D and beyond are all facets in the same essential light.

    Anyway, you both stun me by how much you see and the work you put in.

    1. Thanks, Porky! I think the good thing about this neck of the community is that many of those blogging/participating here are actually interested in seeing where those ideas might lead to and it's fun to read, write and discuss about it.

      Good to see you back, by the way. And thanks for pointing towards Lost Songs on your blog! If I can pull it of, lots of ideas from our Noircana musings will end up there.

  4. Very kind of you to say, Porky; Jens mentions rabbit holes, and I have to say, it was discovering your blog (and it leading to all sorts of strange places) that convinced me that my continued playing with both the content and form of D&D was not a question of a solitary delusion. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to make contact with some others - such as Jens, of course!

  5. Greg Gorgonmilk (another blogger that I discovered through you Porky!) has been exploring one take on the idea of 'random rooms' in his 'Borghesian Meta-dungeon' - - I should have made the connection sooner, especially as I supplied a couple of entries.

    Greg's idea of tying a bunch of locations to a particular door the party chooses to go through it seems to me has a lot of merit. Greg's categories are somewhat arbitrary, in part because he didn't have any control over how his contributors patterned the numbers he gave out, but in principle, a 'door covered in cobwebs' could show an area of the dungeon less-travelled and therefore perhaps with fewer monsters and less treasure (safer for an injured party to hole up and heal for a while?), as opposed to the 'door with a handle polished by use, with the tracks of many feet going up to it', which probably shows the way to lots of monsters and potentially more treasure. Or perhaps the party needs to find an abandoned section, because they know that 'in the Forgotten Temple the Secret of the Sorceress is revealed' (the mosaic floor shows an old map with the location of her island), and therefore the clues potentially provided by the door give a hint of what may be beyond.

    Gandalf's choice in Moria springs to mind - what if he had chosen the tunnel-entrance with the foul-smelling air? Would the Fellowship have been in more trouble, sooner? We'll never know, but we may suspect that Gandalf's choice meant that instead of opening onto a corridor leading to one of six randomly-determined rooms full of different Orc/Troll encounters, he led the Fellowship into one of six randomly-determined rooms that were abandoned and allowed the party to find clues to the fate of Balin's expedition.

    Of course, there is no necessary reason why clues to what is beyond should be tied to random geography; in a 'fixed' dungeon there should be clues, and a random dungeon may be completely arbitrary if that's the gaming style or if (as in Greg's example) some magical disorientation effect is assumed to be in operation. But patterning of this kind (a bit like the idea of wandering monster tables being fixed by level and affected by player actions - the PCs know they are unlikely to meet a fully-grown dragon on level 1, but if they shout and bang drums, someone will turn up to investigate!) could be a way of making player choice meaningful even in a random dungeon. Otherwise there's some risk that the players become merely puppets of the dice, and the dungeon becomes somewhat Schrodinger-esque. It's not quite the 'quantum Ogre' problem but it's not far away from it.