Sunday, 30 April 2017

Underground hexcrawls

Started yet another megadungeon-style project: but this one is actually more like an underground hexcrawl. It has the provisional title of 'Abyssal Realms', and may or may not be accessible from Silvergate if and when any players venture far enough...

The design philosophy has been inspired by several things.

First, a few weeks ago, I was on holiday and happened to find a games shop that had a sale on various things, especially books. Twenty minutes later I had three new purchases, coming to the grand total of £5.50. One of these, for a whole £3, was a Swords & Wizardry book called Cyclopean Deeps Vol 1, by Matthew J Finch and published by Frog God Games. This details (the first half of!) a high-level underground setting (much deeper than standard dungeons) called... the Cyclopean Deeps, obviously. It has underworld factions and politics, cities and quests (there's a strong probability the PCs will end up as bounty hunters in the dark under the Underdark). It's effectively set up as a hexcrawl, with somewhat limited options for travel (because not every location has a tunnel in every direction. More a node-point exploration I suppose). So that was what made me think I could do something in a similar vein.

Secondly, I happened on a link to Build A Dungeon From Me. I haven't been in a while,  but there's been no new content since April 2015 anyway: but the principle I think is great (I wish I had a good way of setting up a similar feature for this blog), and I randomised some images and wrote notes on what was produced - 20 images that produced two points of interest for each of 10 underground zones.

Extending that principle I then google-searched images for 'Fantasy Monsters' and 'Dungeons' and 'Enemies' and a few other search terms, then randomised the results to produce further images, in order to generate more encounters, NPCs and locations. I tacked these on to the 10 zones I had already established, to produce denser concentrations of encounters. Some surprising things came up - more Giant Tortoises (really, more like Titanic Tortoises) than I'd expected (so I need to write some rules for titanic underground tortoises), the odd armoured bear (who is now an armoured Bugbear) and a few NPCs and monsters are somewhat inspired by John Carter and Dejah Thoris, Rydia and the Iron Golem from Final Fantasy, because that's what my random images were.

Much of the donkey-work of coming up with random NPCs (actually very few are 'random', they're juxtapositions of elements from various sources) came from these sites: Generator 1 Generator 2 (from donjon, a long-term randomiser of choice!) and Generator 3. Between them I managed to find enough descriptions, sets of stats and bits of history/personality to keep me happy.

The third main inspiration was Swords & Stitchery - I often go there to marvel in the weirdness of a Lovecraftian/Howardian/Clarke Ashton Smith take on D&D, and sometimes copy random tables and such-like. I wanted the Abyssal Realms to have something of that feel, so along with the more 'normal' elements (see titanic tortoises, above...) I decided to use a few of the random tables - especially those relating to the collapsed Hyperborian civilisation. Now, parts of the Realms have references to the Atlantean Crown Jewels, sky-ships, Great Old Ones and who-knows what else?

I've been sketching the maps more or less roughly. There's no real detail yet, just different zones and some connections between them. Most of the inhabitants from this first pass have been established now (I've done the first 8 zones now, the other two should be finished soon) and then the real work comes in filling in all the missing details... I've painted with a very broad brush but it's just an outline of the Abyssal Realms at the moment. Putting flesh on the bare bones I think will take quite a while...

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Different dice

I have a lot of dice. Mostly they're pretty normal. I have buckets of d6s - most numbered 1-6, a few with other sets of numbers (generally something like 1-1-1-2-2-3) and a few are Warhammer direction dice. I have a fair number of d4, d8, d12 and d20s. Even more d10s (some of them are numbered 10-20-30-40-50-60-70-80-90-00, some are d20s with duplicated numbers), as I have a bunch of games that use d%.

I also have some dice from games I don't even own any more. One I think came from a game I had when I was a kid called 'Slam'. It's a d6 with colours on it:

Another is a d6 with letters (I don't know what the game is, it may have turned up in a random dice assortment off ebay):
Schematics of the dice

I've often wondered about what sort of random tables I could concoct to use these dice. When it comes down to it they are just d6s so I could use them for anything that normally uses a d6 but change the numbers for colours or letters... but that's a bit unsatisfying I think. A normal number-die after all has both its discrete numbering, and a linear progression - not only does it count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 separately, it also counts 1, 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4-5, and 1-2-3-4-5-6. That's how numbers work. We know that 6 is more than the other numbers, we know that 1 + 2 = 3 and 2 + 3 = 5.

These dice don't do that as there's no logical progression to say that green is 'more' by a given quantity than white, or that E + S = U. They can, but only by giving the letters or colours arithmetical values, in which case, I may as well use two d6s. So, they will be better at determining one of six discrete entities, rather than anything that has a linear progression.
Linear progression of number dice: they have what I'll call 'discretion' (you can read the top line for 6 different entities) but also 'progression' (each entity can be read as the culmination of the others under it). The colour and letter dice only have discretion (they only have a top line). As a result the order of letters/colours is arbitrary (I use BESTU* because it's alphabetical, which is in itself arbitrary).

Five of the faces on the coloured die are the same as the classic Cluedo characters - if black is read as standing for Prof. Plum then it could represent all the characters. But as there are cards for the Cluedo characters anyway, it's difficult to see the necessity for a die. If I needed a random Cluedo character I could shuffle the pack and pick a Character card.

It might be a Dragon Generator - in Basic D&D there are six kinds of dragons, White, Black, Green, Blue, Red and Gold. The stats for dragons have a lot of linearity in them: there are progressions from easier to harder to hit in AC; from weaker to stronger in HD, and in Dam; in Saves; in Morale (this one is stepped but still progressive) and (in somewhat skewed fashion) in chances of talking or being asleep, or how many spells the dragon knows. However, there are some non-linear qualities. Dragons have particular habitats and breath weapons (Gold Dragons have two of these), so if it's a Dragon generator, it's also a terrain generator and a breath-weapon generator. The terrain types are Cold region, Swamp/marsh, Jungle/forest, Desert/plain, Mountain/hill, Anywhere (which I guess can mean either 'ubiquitous' or 'DM's choice', depending on context). The breath weapons each have two components, one for shape and one for type: they are Cone of Cold, Line of Acid, Cloud of Gas, Line of Lightning, Cone of Fire, Cone of Fire/Cloud of Gas (so the die could generate a result of 'cone, line, cloud, line, cone, cone/cloud', or 'cold, acid, gas, lightning, fire, fire/gas'). Effectively, the results table looks like this:

White - Cold region - Cone - Cold
Black - Swamp/marsh - Line - Acid
Green - Jungle/forest - Cloud - Gas
Blue - Desert/plain - Line - Lightning
Red - Mountain/hill - Cone - Fire
Gold - Anywhere - Cone/Cloud - Fire/Gas

These don't have to be limited to dragons, there's no reason the terrain types and breath weapons can't be separated from dragon-kind and used for something else. A terrain or region generator has wide applicability, for generating maps for instance. The breath-weapons could be spell or trap effects rather than the breath of something, or the attack modes of some other monster, an extra-planar entity or automatic defence system (perhaps for some D&D/pulp sci-fi mash up... Dungeons & Daleks maybe).

Not so sure if there's anything that could be usefully generated that has 6 states that equate to B-E-S-T-U-*. Bored, Excited, Stressed, Tired, Unhappy, DM's choice - an emotional state generator (somewhat weighted towards generally negative stuff). Bridge, Engineering, Sickbay, Transporter-Room, ??. ??? - a Starship Enterprise location generator (don't know what U would stand for, nor * for that matter - unless that's GM's choice too).

The combinations look like this, or some variant of these, but I'm not sure whether arranging them like this is really any help in understanding what they might mean.

Not sure at the moment how feasible it is to take this further but I'll keep thinking about it.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Returning to Silvergate

Right, looking through my Silvergate material, it seems that the stuff I have from my old folder will be OK to slot in to a couple of places. Yes, I can fit the 'new' material from my original megadungeon (henceforward, prefaced Mx, to distinguish it as a 'Megadungeon' level, rather than the original Silvergate material) into levels 1 and 1a with a little re-jigging, which will include adding more connections between M1 and M1a, as well as some connections towards Silvergate proper. Because there's an east-facing M1 entrance, and a north-facing M1a entrance (I've worked out what the cave in the 'back of cave' note was - I included it on one of my side-views), these are now going to be in the north-east of Levels 1 and 1a. Luckily, I used the same numbering technique for my two megadungeons 20-odd years apart (originally, I thought the megadungeon material was from around 1987, but I've re-dated it now I've had a really good look at it, and think it's probably from early 1990s rather than mid-late '80s - probably the '1992' I reported the other day is more or less accurate).

I do have some random Goblins and Orcs hanging about about on Levels M1 & M1a that don't necessarily 'belong' but I think I can live with that, especially if I can move other stuff around so other Orcs and Goblins (are there any Goblins? I can't remember any) are tending towards the north-eastern part of Silvergate. The 30+ Orcs I have detailed for the inhabitants of this area can become the main part of the (small) Orc-lair I had marked down for the 'Stirge Caves' area of Silvergate. Guess what's going to be living in the '(back of) cave'?

Level M2 I think still works and maybe can be peopled from the lairs for Silvergate I've already generated but haven't mapped. The old Level M4 map will perhaps have to be scrapped (it seems to be a composite of other maps from published sources) and I know all the usable 'Black Bone Orcs' material (which is mid-'80s, without a doubt) will be put on Level 4 - definitely not the Orcs' map, though, as it will need extensively reworking to make it usable and I think it's probably easier to start again. I will, as an exercise, try to fit the Black Bone material with the existing Level M4 map, and if I'm happy I might leave it. Otherwise, both maps will go and I'll start with a blank canvas.

I have a little puzzle that has occurred due to abandoning this material and then forgetting about it. I refer a couple of times to 'Tholinn' and his (? probably his) hammer in the megadungeon notes. I don't now know who 'Tholinn' is meant to be. Presumably, at the  time I was writing, Tholinn was a figure that didn't need an explanation. Some Dwarven ancestor, hero or god, I assume from context, but I don't know which. It's easy enough to pick one - chances are I'll make him the founder and first King of Silvergate, but it would be nice if I could recapture what my original idea was. If anyone recognises the name as a Dwarf deriving from another source, please do let me know! It may well help elucidate what I had in mind when I wrote it.

And then, and then, and then... will I actually get to run it? I've been toying with the idea of trying to find somewhere that will host an open gaming table. If I can, I might try out the upper levels on anyone who wants to try their luck.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Old-time Orc Lair notes

I think my inspiration for this can pretty directly be traced to a White Dwarf article called The Naked Orc from WD53, from May 1984 (info here).

Other references are to the White Dwarf Personalities (rules in WD50, figures on Stuff of Legends here, a couple of mine here). I use the names 'Agaroth the Unwashed' for an Orc captain (with 6HD) and 'Ugbash Face-splitter' for a chief (with 7HD). Both of these names are from the White Dwarf Personalities set  (no matter that they spell it 'Ogbash' on SoL, I'm right, they're wrong). Agaroth is an Orc to the WD folks - or Half-Orc at least - but Ugbash is a Chaos Warrior so I'm not sticking to my sources.

They probably date this package pretty well. 1984 or early '85 at the latest I guess. Pretty certain that by late 1985, I'd have called an Orc-Chief 'Harboth'.

Lord of the Rings is also an obvious influence, both directly on me in the case of names and iconography, and also on the article.

So what does this great Orc lair consist of? 4½ pages of notes and 2 versions of the map, in short.

The first map, which I shall think of as the draft version, is on a sheet of plain paper (I don't know where from, this is long before printer-paper was a thing) and has a cave-system (obviously inspired by the Caves of Chaos) with rooms numbered up to 53 (probably 56 in fact, I've spotted that I've got 12,13,14 in different places, there's a 14a attached to one of them, and I've not found 21) divided between five groups of Orcs, these being the Orcs of the Black Bone, Slobbering Jaw, Eye, Moon and White Hand. Each of the first four groups has its own entrance (Black Bone has two, I can't find an entrance for the White Hand, who were I think intended to be a shamanic group inhabiting the innermost recesses of the caves), but the caves connect internally. It's a single level complex, and I've marked a lot of what I guess are doors 'L' which surely means 'Locked'.

The second version of the map is on graph paper that was probably stolen from a maths-book. There are now four 'clans', Black Bone, Slobbering Jaw, Eye and Moon. The whole map is entitled 'Tribe of the White Hand'. Again it's a single-level complex about 2,700' or half a mile across, but now there are 73+ rooms (numbering is also screwy on this map - there doesn't seem to be a '4' but there are two '6's, two '10's, three identical '13's next to each other, and a bunch of annexes marked A-F - all in all there must be closer to 90 rooms), but only one 'shared' room - the four cave-systems meet at a large square room which I think is intended as a kind of assembly-chamber, shrine or possibly some kind of fighting-pit, it's difficult to tell (and I can't remember). At a guess, this is about 6 months-a year later than the first draft. 

In both versions of the map, the majority of rooms and corridors are constructed, but there are a few intended to evoke natural caverns. Both times, I've started numbering with the Black Bone clan, The accompanying notes (that seem to have been composed just after the first draft of the map, there are crossings-out and corrections that indicate that they were composed to go with the draft map and corrected for the second map) all relate to the Black Bone clan. These notes include a Wandering Monster Table with 12 encounters; a tally of the Black Bone clan's strength in terms of numbers of males, females and young for each of The Naked Orc's types - Snaga (80, 150 and 330), Soldier Orcs (12, 30, 46) and Uruks (3, 1, 4); basic stats and details of equipment and treasure for the four Uruks (Ugbash, his mate Gargantua, and his two captains Agaroth and Zargob); a list with less detail (but still including names) of the 12 male and 10 of the female Soldier Orcs in the clan; and a list of 23 prisoners, which includes an NPC Magic User, who is fully-statted.

Then there are the room descriptions. These amount to rooms 1, 1a (a guard-post) and room 2. The description of room 3 has been started but only notes its size. So out of about 90 rooms, I managed to create three. I didn't even get anywhere near the 20-25 rooms (depending on which version of the map I was using) that I needed for the lair of the (Orcs of the) Black Bone (Clan). I do however know that Lagduf & Muzburg are on guard in Room 1, Zabron & Gargan in 1a.

The total population of the Orcs of the Black Bone Clan is 656. The fighting population is about 106 (I'd obviously intended some but not all of the females to fight). The implication of this being only one of the four clans is that the total population in the entire complex was intended to be about 2,500 and the total number of fighting orcs about 420 (about 1 in 6).

That's a truly vast population in my opinion. It implies an average of around 29 orcs per room, of which 4 or 5 will be fighters. It's also around four times bigger than what I consider to be the huge Orc population of Silvergate, as detailed here. Or, to put it another way, the Black Bone Orcs are about the same size of population as my Silvergate Orc-lair (656 v 640, 109 v 160 in fighting strength). So I'm going to tweak this info a little and use it for my Silvergate Orc population. I'll add the 38 adult (including some with clerical skills) and 15 young Orcs from the descriptions for my original Dwarf-city megadungeon (mentioned here) and roll the two together. Then I need to drop two Trolls into the mix and voilà, I have my Orc-lair.

Given that I was wondering in this post about the use of bone (and other substances) as an alternative for scarce wood and metal, the fact that long ago I called these the 'Black Bone' Orcs is a serendipitous co-incidence. Maybe, the tribe's totemic item is a huge black bone of a dragon or some other underworld denizen, kept in a cave at the centre of their settlement, or some such. It is little more than a bit of flavour, but perhaps I can run with this theme and have them wielding 'black bone' weapons or utilising (black) bone armour. I wouldn't want these guys to just be another vanilla population of Orcs to be slaughtered. Something to make them stand out, even a little, would be good. After all, they've been with me (even if largely forgotten) for nearly 33 years!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Lost Megadungeon details

I had a reasonable idea, I think, for the East-facing entrance to my original megadungeon. The doors (15' wide each, and 30' high, and flanked with towers) open onto a kind of ledge, with a long narrow bridge stretching away about 185'. The bridge is above what I've called the 'Bargaining Floor' - this settlement was obviously intended to be heavily involved in commerce. Steps lead down from the ledge into this large room. The bridge ends at a large platform with a statue of a dragon on it, and an entrance (shh! It's secret!) to the rest of the complex.

There isn't much of this that I actually did - a couple of pages of notes, detailing 11 rooms on Levels 1 and 1a, four maps, which cover the areas I have the descriptions for and hint at what I had in mind for some others (the other levels I've drawn seem to be parts of 2 and 4, connected by truly enormous staircases, though many of the details on the maps are now obscure to me), and a couple of sketches of how levels relate. Some of the notes on the maps are frustrating - on the Level 2 map, 'to Level 4 and the South Gate' presumably means I had another part of Level 4 in mind, because the part of L4 I do have connects to another part of the L2 map. I don't know what 'back of cave' means (or rather, I don't know which cave it refers to). I do know what 'to Anak/Noegyth' means (this dungeon was originally intended to link to maps and other info I wasn't otherwise going to use) but I won't be allowing the players to do that. That staircase will now have to lead somewhere else - to a brand-new Level 3. The Level 4 I have here is going to be scrapped for the same reason - I'm replicating maps from other sources that I've now 'folded back' into the existing game-world.

It seems that the entrance-level is actually quite small. I guess my thinking was that it would be easy to isolate this area if the city was attacked. The staircase from the platform takes you down to Level 2, which then leads back up to Level 1a - that might need tweaking a little, perhaps there should ways to access other parts of the complex from Level 1, perhaps from the 'Bargaining Floor' - but I like the design of the entrance. I was obviously having a good couple of days when I did this, whenever it was (I suspect about 1992).

I think I will try to tie this information back into Silvergate and try to use this stuff as a subsidiary eastern entrance (the main entrance I've already designed for Silvergate - bigger than this one - faces south). Finding a way of linking Silvergate's topmost levels with these will - slightly - increase my room-count for Silvergate and add some new options and routes for the players. However, this stuff was produced by the 'old me' (see for details this post for example). The default monsters here are Orcs, Goblins and Rats. Perhaps as I need an Orc lair on Level 4, I should just plonk this on top and replace the Level 4 map with my Orctown? That might work.

In all, there's about 25 rooms here of salvageable map, and 11 descriptions, a few of which I'm pretty proud of. There are also two more options for actually getting into the place, through the new entrance proper, and through the 'back of the cave', wherever that turns out to be (about 600' to the north and 250' west, and then maybe a little down the hill, I'd say). Perhaps that is one of the entrances I already know about? I need to get my Silvergate file and take a look.

Ah well, we'll see. It's made me think about Silvergate again, and you never know, I might even start running it soon...