Tuesday, 26 August 2014

First game with my new group

Well, after about eight months of hum-ing and hah-ing, the lads rolled up some characters this evening and began their first adventure. They bought some equipment, made an excellent speech in the marketplace about how they'd overcome the monsters menacing the town, negotiated with some NPCs to get supplies, henchmen and information, and set off into the woods towards the Old Watchtower.

Two fights down, and one of the NPCs and and one of the PCs only survived due to a house-rule I've picked up through the OSR. I cannot now remember where I saw it, it was way back six or more months ago, but I wish I could because I'd thank the person who blogged about it.

The long and short is, for us Basic types, combat is especially deadly because there's no 'hits to unconscious'. If you reach 0hp you're dead. So what are you to do after the first maybe hour of play, a couple of minutes into the first combat and one of the PCs (who only had 3 hp to start with) is hit by an arrow (at AC3... I mean, come on!)? I really did think 6 members of the party were likely to hold their own against 2 bandits. But no, Jericho the Elf had to go and die on me.

This particular house rule is that, if given emergency first aid (the battle was over a minute later, the bandits dealt with, and the party now gathered round their fallen comrade staunching the bleeding and so on) and sufficient rest, a character can survive - if they make a CON roll - but at the cost of permanently losing 1 point of Constitution. The idea is that they can never fully recover from that near-fatal injury.

I like it. It means that there isn't so much possibility that they'll die in a low-powered conflict, but they're not unkillable; they still have to be very careful as CON isn't inexhaustible and anyway, the more you lose the fewer hp you're going to be getting, not to mention that each time it happens the system shock is just straight off more likely to kill you; but you don't have to hide every time you see a dagger.

They made it - after resting up - to the Old Watchtower. They successfully (and somewhat luckily) killed the Gnoll and 3 of the 4 Hobgoblins inhabiting the place, though poor Mohag the Wanderer (NPC Fighter) took a nasty dose of sword to the head. But the first-aid and the CON roll mean he'll survive (the PCs don't know that yet, it's a 'web exclusive'!). When the last Hobgoblin surrendered, they killed it anyway. The Cleric wasn't happy about that.

They haven't found the secret room yet. Nor have they investigated the roof. That comes next time, I guess, and then if they survive that, they're going hunting in the woods for giant spiders. Or do they stay and work out who built the watchtower and who the watchmen were? I don't know yet!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Research & Rumours

This post was originally going to be entitled 'Intelligence, rumours and research', but I decided that maybe 'Research & Rumours' is a good analogue for 'Dungeons & Dragons' in the context of what's bothering me at the moment. This is partly I think due to my own work situation - as an archaeologist, I'm a researcher myself: 'it's not about the treasure, it's about the knowledge' archaeologists tell people. I wonder if there are treasure-hunting characters in D&D who are similarly self-deluded about what they're doing? I've recently gone back to university to begin a Masters, and that has also given me some fresh perspectives on the relationships between knowledge and data, research, speculation, and great big libraries (and of course the internet which is where we have a significant advantage over D&D characters).

Hence, 'Research & Rumours; or, How does Intelligence work in relation to knowledge of the game-world?'

I've been working on a re-keyed Quasketon for starting with a new group - my son and his mates who are teenagers and know little of OD&D. There is a rumour table in there - the mechanic for it is to roll a d4 for each player. On a roll of 1-3, that is how many rumours the character knows. On a 4, no rumours are known.

I think this mechanic is fairly unsatisfying. Intuitively, I think the number of rumours should have some relationship to the amount of research that the characters do. I was considering making the mechanic dependent on Intelligence - or rather on the modifiers derived from the Intelligence stat. -3 to 0 modifier = 0 rumours known. +1 modifier = 1 rumour, etc.

On the other hand, I understand that Rogahn and Zelligar were famous in their day. Now, if they're famous like Albert Einstein and Muhammad Ali, it may be that knowledge of R&Z's activities comes not from consulting old tomes but from having conversations about these 'celebrities' in the pub. Sure, Magic-Users might know about the point of some of Zelligar's research, but details of his exploits and living arrangements might be much more 'common knowledge'. This then is the basis of the 'Players' Background Sheet' - that which is generally known about Quasketon and its inhabitants.

But saying Rogahn & Zelligar were famous in their day raised another question - when was their floruit (or is that floruerunt?) anyway? The module claims it was decades ago: it says 'some years ago', twice, and then claims that they marched out of Quasketon 'perhaps in the decade before you [the characters] were born' - so, maybe 20-30 years ago, assuming the PCs are young humans around 18-25. But some of the systems they had in place still seem to be functioning as if it were months at most when they disappeared. If it was decades ago, why then are the guards still there and still (relatively) recently attacking intruders? Aren't they all pretty old now, as well as unpaid and underfed? How come everything hasn't been completely looted? Is it likely that any of the food won't be completely spoilt? If there are still guards then all the monsters - Trogs, Orcs etc - must have either been there from the beginning, or sneaked past the guards, or come in the few months - maybe - since the adventurers attempted their break-in. Or, if the bodies have been around for longer than a few weeks or months - 'the stench of decaying bodies is disgusting' according to the text so they can't have been there so long that they've completely decomposed, not that I know how long that would be anyway - then why hasn't anyone moved them? If, as seems to be the case from the lack of any other berserker-fighter guards about the place except for the 2 wanderers, the guards have been getting more and more attenuated in the 20-30 years since R&Z left, why did the last 4 even bother attacking the adventurers? I'm at a loss to make any sense of the time-frame in a way that allows the evidence to work even relatively sensibly. Perhaps, the last dozen or so guards attacked the intruders, 2 were killed, 1-2 have remained behind and the surviving 8 or 9 fled the complex as it was finally impossible to defend it? It doesn't explain why they stayed for 25 years with no masters (or booze, women, imports of food or anything else one might consider a luxury), but it might be a clue as to why rumours have started surfacing now - drunken old beserkers letting slip that they might have been guards at Quasketon.

Anyway: if rumours are scraps of information relating to an adventure hook, then working at finding them must be a way of getting more. Even if they are 'common knowledge' it should be possible to research them further. But what does this mean?

I find this a difficult topic to deal with - not just in terms of the Quasketon rumours but generally in terms of the relationship between what the player knows of the world and what the characters know (and can be expected to know) of the world. It's too easy to present the players with a set of rumours about something and for them to think 'right this is the hook, obviously we have to go and find the Orb of Ploon as that's what we've suddenly heard about'. On the other hand, the notion of presenting the players right at the beginning of the game with a world-history of a thousand years mentioning a bunch of plot hooks alongside a load of stuff that won't turn out to be relevant and saying 'this is what you know by the time you start adventuring' seems like a terrible idea. Does the 'Player's Background Sheet' get it more-or-less right, with its mix of 'common knowledge' and its specifics of additional rumours? It's still all about 'this is the data about the adventure, just accept it'.

One notion I had was to regard information as being essentially an opponent; in this case, any given bit of information is to be regarded as having a 'Knowledge Class' analogous to Armour Class. Commonly-known facts (including untrue ones?) would have a low (= high) Knowledge Class. To learn about a piece of data, the researcher would have to make a d20 roll similar to an attack roll. THAC0 would be replaced by TLKC0. INT modifiers would apply like STR or DEX modifiers. A successful 'attack' would imply - what? That the researcher had located the fact? Would he or she then, perhaps, roll to 'learn' or possibly synthesise the fact, thus seeing if it were true or false? A hit but no kill might imply that the rumour is rejected as untrue. But is it? What about given rumours that are untrue - is there any way a player can separate the true from the untrue?

But of course, the idea is unworkable. Why, with an 'attack knowledge' roll, should a Dwarf from Grurt have the same chance of knowing about the Orb of Ploon, as a tribesman of Ploon does? On the other hand, with random generation (as per the Quasketon rumours) it's possible that the Dwarf of Grurt could know 3 rumours of the Orb of Ploon but the tribesman of Ploon know none. But then, with an INT-based system, there's no intrinsic reason why a Magic-User from Terencia should know about the Orb of Ploon, just because he has a higher INT stat , than the tribesman of Ploon. Consider that the culture of Ploon is entirely oral, and no Sages of Terencia have ever written the stories of the Ploonic nomads; on the other hand, the tribesman grew up with stories around the campfire of the hero Vangel who stole the Orb and brought it to Ploon where it was a mighty artifact of good magic and was passed on to his sons until it was stolen by Gargrax the Betrayer, bringing about the Time of Troubles. Should there be a 'cultural' dimension to this knowledge-base?

Getting back to Quasketon, the questions must be, who knows what, why and how? Some Magic-Users might know a little of Zelligar's work - maybe, if he wasn't so very secretive - but everyone in the Grand Duchy knows that Rogahn and Zelligar lived in Quasketon and disappeared years ago fighting barbarians. It might be possible to find some detail such as that the complex had two levels by researching accounts written by visitors to the complex in years gone by, for which an INT check in a library might be necessary. But other things must just be common knowledge that can be found out by the liberal spending of a small bag of SPs in any tavern between Threshold and Specularum.

One way of approaching it would be to divide the rumours (true and untrue ones) into 'legends' and 'information'. 'Legends' would be the tavern-talk stuff - rumours about the treasures Rogahn has amassed, or some of the more lurid rumours of curses etc. Surely, most people know that Rogahn's mistress was Melissa, he rescued her heroically, and she lived at Quasketon too. If no-one in the party does, then there are numerous people who'd surely tell them, for the price of a drink? It's a big part of Rogahn's personal story. Is it not part of his legend too?

Other rumours should require more effort on behalf of the party - essentially, the result of a roll - either, for INT to find a detail in a library (a single account by some visitor to the complex 30 years ago, let's say, that the PC must find having navigated access to to some sage's library), or against CHA (plus heavy bribe in money or drinks or both) to charm someone into spilling their story (of how they were a guard and left when the Troglodytes invaded, or whatever). Listening to old men in pubs talk about their 'war stories' may be just as rewarding as consulting old tomes. Either way, they at least have the benefit of involving 'role-playing'.

A compromise: how I think I shall structure the table -

Character makes a roll against time spent in the Grand Duchy (1-20 years, I presume, and the PC has to explain some character background to justify this time): +1 rumour
Character roleplays a situation of visiting a library or temple or sage, and makes roll against INT: +1 rumour
Character roleplays a situation of going to an inn trying to find someone with a story, and makes roll against CHA: +1 rumour

If a character has done none of these things they will have no additional information. Any other result will replicate the results of the original table (1-3 additional rumours) but they will at least relate to the character's background, activities and personality. And provide some opportunity for a little 'role-play' along with the 'roll-play'.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Tower of Zelligar?

I'm currently re-keying Quasketon, for a party of First Level newcomers (my teenage son and his mates who know little of Old-School D&D). I have a few problems with it to be honest, partly because it isn't, in fact a great Level 1 dungeon. I'll come back to my other main problem in a different post. But this does hark back to what I was posting a couple of days ago about 'The Haunted Keep' skeleton or shell or whatever in the Moldvay Basic rulebook. Quasketon doesn't work for a 'beginning' dungeon.

It's pegged as 'for a party of 3-8 adventurers (player characters and henchmen or hirelings) of up to the third level of experience... the carrying of one or two useful magic items will likewise be of great help...'.

Now I'd say it's probably a Level1-2 dungeon. If your 3-8 adventurers (say, 4 PCs and 4 hirelings?) have reached about 6,000XP and have perhaps started to go up in level (Thieves & Clerics, I'm looking at you) - and gained a few magic items then perhaps as it stands it's OK. Don't get me started on 'Keep on the Borderlands', that's even worse for First Level PCs but at least they can run away - there's nowhere to run from Quasketon.

But is it possible to run it all as 'Level 1'? If the lower level isn't made too spectacularly dangerous can it be survivable for First Level characters? Alternatively is there a way of using information in B1 as a bigger Level 1 setting so that the players can gain some experience and potentially get their hands on a magic item or two, before they even get into the caverns?

Hence the title. I haven't heard of anyone picking up on this part of the 'Background':

A single tower was constructed above ground for lookout purposes, even though there was little to see other than a hilly, forested wilderness for miles around (p.6).

A tower, with a small number of monsters (especially if those monsters have access to the odd magic item), might be just the starting-point the party needs. Instead of the Quasketon build-up (with its faintly ridiculous 'and you have a map with a Q on it so you thought you'd go adventuring...') the party instead finds itself forming over the tale of some trappers come back from the woods who report monsters up near the Old Watchtower...

So, when I've finished keying Quasketon, I shall devote a little time to 'The Tower of Zelligar', AKA 'the Old Watchtower' - a Level 1 lair in the forest that the party can go and trash. This could even provide a more believable starting-point, if a very little is known of the history of the complex. "What if the Old Watchtower up in the forest is in fact the Tower of Zelligar? That would mean that the fabled stronghold was very close by... ".But that might require a little research on behalf of the party, which will be subject of my next post, I'm sure.

Friday, 22 August 2014

'Megadungeon', yes; 'Lair', yes; anything in between? Err, no, not really...

'Mid-size' dungeons don't make much sense. Anything that tries to cover levels 1-3, for example, which isn't in itself vast and flat in relation to depth, is probably a pointless death-trap if it's not a pointless distraction.

Consider the First Level Party. What they need is an environment - or series of environments - that will allow them to 'level up' before going down to (dungeon) Level 2. They can do that by visiting a bunch of small Level 1 cave systems or temples to evil, and killing or driving off the monsters and taking their treasure; or they can do that in one great big Level 1 dungeon. Whichever, they need to do loads of it. For a 5-PC party, there needs to be at least 10,000XP (more like 12,000 or more) that the party can reasonably be expected to get hold of before they can feel confident about getting busy on Level 2. OK, short raids maybe but it's pretty dangerous for First Level characters on Level 2. Level 1 should be pretty dangerous really, and Level 2 should be very dangerous. First Level characters should therefore be able to spend a lot of time on Level 1 (either a single vast Level 1, or a whole bunch of Level 1s in different locations, I don't care, in my opinion there's nothing wrong with a succession of lairs). Really it's not even that they 'should be able to' - they need to spend a lot of time on Level 1.

Dungeons with a few Level 1 rooms and some Level 2 rooms and some Level 3 rooms are therefore pretty pointless 'dungeons'. The First Level party cannot gain enough experience on Level 1 to make the upgrade to Second Level. So there is no point, at that location, in having a Level 2 or 3, unless you've already taken the party through a series of lairs elsewhere and they're transitioning between First and Second, or Second-Third. On the other hand, why does a Third Level party need to go through Level 1, or even much of Level 2?

"So what?" I hear you cry. "Who runs dungeons like that anyway?"

Well, I've been trying to build the 'Haunted Keep' from the Moldvay Basic Rulebook - to stand in for the Haunted Keep near Luln in the Duchy of Karameikos from the Mentzer Expert Set, which I have no information on, not being in possession of the Gazeteers. Here's the pic - a lovely pic I have to say, I think it looks great, which is what led me to try to reproduce it for a party to adventure in:

Original image by Erol Otis, (c) TSR 1981, now owned by WotC.

I found the image over at http://3d6trapsandthieves.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/ism-inspirational-source-material.html - so thanks for that, I couldn't to bothered to go upstairs and find my Basic Rulebook and then scan the illustration.

As I say, in my opinion a great-looking small, multi-level dungeon.

But completely unplayable for a First Level party.

Even with the descriptions of play in the book (there are several rooms described and  more hinted at on 'Level 1', which is the ruins), and the notes as to how to run an adventure, if that's a Levels 1-3 dungeon (as text makes plain that it is), there is no possibility that a First Level party could gain enough experience in that setting to make the trips down to Level 2 and Level 3 feasible. At best, if you count the ruins, and all of the 'dungeon' parts (as opposed to the 'cavern' parts) as Level 1, then maybe - maybe - you could get a small party up to Second Level to attempt the clear-out of the caverns. But I'm not convinced.

Now, to be fair, the descriptions of play in the book say that the example party is in a transition between Second and Third Levels. Thus, Level 1 should be a bit of a cake-walk, actually.

So, consider the Second-Third Level party. What they need is a deep hole. Something that will take them all the way beyond Level 1, to a part of Level 2 with access (and exits) from Level 3. But it looks to me like the pictured dungeon has access from Level 1 (ruins, where the party has no challenges at all) to something where they don't really know if they're on a Level 1a (the first underground sublevel of Level 1, in which again there are no significant challenges) or actually on Level 2; either way this can then be used to bypass most of Level 2 (where the party really wants to be) to get to Level 3 (that the party wants to be able to easily escape from).

One thing that 'The Haunted Keep' needs to make it work as a Level 2-3 mini-dungeon is an exit, to a point outside the ruins, that will allow Second-Third characters to gain access to a corner of Level 2 which they can use as a base to explore Level 3. What it doesn't need for such a party is any real detailing of, or time spent in, Level 1. On the other hand, if it's being run for a First Level party, Level 3 is too far to venture and Level 2 should only be considered if the party is feeling very confident indeed.

I will run the Haunted Keep, and I'm going to keep everything I can from the section-drawing and the accompanying text. But I'm not going to run it in the form I've currently written it up. At the moment it's a death-trap for First Level characters venturing too deep (alternatively, it's something they'll raid the surface of and completely ignore the lower levels, and this is how I'm now hoping to make it work) and it's a pointless waste of time for Second and Third Level characters who are forced to trudge through endless encounters with impoverished Goblins to reach the points where they can start to access the good stuff.

So, off to the files for a re-write; perhaps this time I'll get it right and can use the ruins and perhaps upper underground level for my beginner party to accomplish a lightning raid in a 'rescue the prisoners' mission (currently those prisoners are languishing in Level 3 - the text says they will be 'scattered throughout all of the levels; however, the most important prisoners must be rescued from the centre of the wererat lair' which can only work for a Second-Third party); and later, when they're really at Second-Third Level, they can perhaps have a return visit and see what lies down those staircases that I hope they won't want to explore the first time - by which time I might have decided what exactly is going to be down there to interest them...

Edited for the sake of clarity as to which Levels I'm actually referring to...

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Underworld Lore

Available right now from the Gorgonmilk blog is UNDERWORLD LORE No. 4 - a rather spiffing pdf in magazine format that is packed full of gaming goodness, including an offering from myself in the form of one of the entries to the list of Arcane Dwellings that I detailed here a week or so ago. So, thanks for that Gorgonmilk! I did wonder if I'd make 'the final cut' as it were.


Honestly I can't recommend this enough: it's great, and it's free, and it's created by gamers for gamers. I really heartily recommend checking it out.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Bitten by the Megadungeon bug

It's no good. I think, somehow, it's encoded into the gaming DNA.

I'm about 2 years older than the people I most regularly do 'gaming stuff' with. One result of this is that I was one of those weird hybrid players who started with the Moldvay Basic D&D but the Mentzer Expert. Everyone else I know uses Mentzer Basic. There probably aren't so many differences, but it's a generation thing I think.

Anyway, I regard myself as a bit of a hybrid in terms of gaming style too. Part-megadungeon-basher, part-ecological-dungeon-explorer, I have over the years given fairly free rein to the urge to create wildernesses with lairs in them, with only occasional (unsuccessful) forays into the lost art of the megadungeon.

But, buoyed up by the panoply of discussions about OD&D and the art of the megadungeon (for example, over at Beyond the Black Gate), I've decided anew to give it a go. And, what's more, I've realised I've got a perfect excuse.

Part of what I've been researching recently is an interest in old British gaming. I'm an old British gamer: I have many classic issues of White Dwarf, from before the days they were only going to feature Games Workshop's products. Unfortunately for my plans to use them, so have my gaming buddies, we're all pretty much the same age (unless I end up doing the retro campaign campaign with my son's mates... which is still on the cards).

What my friends don't seem to have is old copies of Imagine. This was the TSR UK magazine produced approximately 1984-87. It featured a campaign setting called 'Pelinore', which included a city called 'The City League' in a county called 'Cerwyn' in a world... well - if you go to Phil Gyford's website, there's a pdf of a huge amount of collected material from the Pelinore setting - and my hand-copied version of the map of The City League (without adventure locations) which is the basis of my new city-campaign is right here:

What isn't included in Phil's pdf is one of the Pelinore-compliant adventures that was published in Imagine, of which I have a copy from around 1985. Now, I didn't have many issues of Imagine and certainly there's much more in Phil's pdf than I ever had - and so, some of it hasn't been incorporated into 'my' version of the City League (shorn of its wider setting, of which I knew little until downloading the pdf). But what I do have gave me one of the fundamental parts of the 'ancient history' of my campaign.

In my campaign world, Dwarves are an exiled race. Big deal; Dwarves are exiled in The Hobbit too. But, in my campaign world, taking a cue from this adventure published in Imagine, the Dwarves are exiles not because a Dragon (or Goblins/Lizard Men, a la Warhammer/Oldhammer) invaded their city, but because the last Dwarf King, Karyl, was corrupted by an evil power (a servant of one of the Gods of the Pelinore setting) into waging war with the human neighbours of his kingdom. I took a decision (because I happened on another bit of information about Dwarves from a different source set 400 years in the past) to make this event 400 years ago in game time (a couple of Dwarven generations). This, in the adventure, is little more than a hook to hang a quest on. In world-building terms, it's gold.

There are more or less two sorts of Dwarves in my campaign world; Dwarves who are ashamed of Karyl's actions, and blame him for the destruction of their home and their banishment, and Dwarves who are resentful of the situation they are now in, and therefore blame the humans, and by default whitewash Karyl and his actions. The former tend to seek redemption for themselves and their race by becoming crusaders and monster-hunters; the latter tend to be grumpy blacksmiths and tavern-keepers who spend their time hating their jobs, their clients and burning with rage any time a miserable human looks down on them (pun optional).

Anyway; because there is a 'Last Dwarf King' there is also an 'ex-Dwarf kingdom'. And in the 'ex-Dwarf kingdom', are one or more 'former Dwarf cities'. Now, what could offer a better megadungeon environment than a former Dwarf city? I mean, really, we're talking Moria-like megadungeon potential here, in terms of scope, but because the plot isn't 'city falls to marauding Orcs', there's no necessity for a vast number of one type of monster (as there probably would be were one to actually try to run Moria as a megadungeon, say). Essentially the city was vacant (or was it? Are there still Dwarves inside? Are the shades of the Dwarven dead, or the ghosts of their innocent victims, haunting the depths?) and so it was colonised by squatters. And those squatters can be anything at all...

So, yesterday, instead of doing anything about The City League, which I really should be working on, I sketched out the entrance to Level 1 and the Main Hall of Level 3, and drew a complete map of sub-Level 2a (the Guard Level) of Silvergate, fallen capital of the Dwarf Realm...

Friday, 15 August 2014

Thoughts on 'Dragons & Dungeons'

 This is a post that I ... posted ... to Porky's Expanse! on the subject of 'Dragons & Dungeons', or the implications of inverting the order of monsters and settings in D&D.


Because I couldn't let this go, and because a couple of days ago I found some notes for a small lair I was going to design (but didn't get round to) I decided to have a go at creating the 'dragons' before the 'dungeon', and see if I could elaborate an ecosystem and let that define the space it inhabits.

A few caveats:

1 - I actually rolled these randomly some time ago, so I didn't truly start with the monsters and work towards the dungeon from there, but I am treating what I rolled up, forgot about and found again as 'fixed' so the point is to try to get this backwards-design to work;

2 - I'm using a 'modern' version of the wandering monster table for the dungeon (it works on a percentage system: 01-40 gets you one of 5 encounters and 41+ is no encounter; you have 5 'wandering' encounters, 3 of monsters already 'fixed' in the dungeon, 2 of true 'wanderers' who have no base; it's based on location not turn - if you're in an empty room roll for a wandering monster, cross them off the list when they appear when they're all gone then that's it – I think this is reasonable enough for a small dungeon).

My 'ecosystem' consists of about 60 Kobolds (including a chief and bodyguard; some are ‘fixed’ to the lair, and some are wandering); 15 Killer Bees (including Queen and some attendants which are slightly harder than the normal bees; 3 of these are wandering); 8 Robber Flies (4 fixed, 4 wandering); 5 Dwarves (all wandering); 3 Green Slime (all wandering); 5 Geckos; and a Bugbear.

Instead of designing a dungeon and then dropping these monsters into it, I instead took the list of monsters and tried to relate them to each other ‘ecologically’. I drew a kind of flow-chart to show how the different groups relate to each other. In essence, my ecosystem is one of bees, flies and geckos, with the kobolds ‘farming’ the bees. The robber flies prey on the bees, but the geckos prey on the robber flies. The fact that every so often the geckos might prey on a bee, or a kobold, doesn’t bother the kobolds too much, as they mainly take out the flies which are a pest on the kobolds’ bee-farm.

The bugbear works for the kobolds as a bouncer – it provides protection, and the kobolds provide it with healing potions and allow it to snack on the occasional gecko. Thus the relationship is somewhat symbiotic – both sides are getting something out of it.

The green slimes are opportunistic predators – they don’t really care what they eat, bees, kobolds, flies and geckos are all much of a muchness to them.

The Dwarves are a raiding party. I had thought of making them evil mercenaries but the rival adventuring party is a bit of a classic and as long as I don’t allow the party to use them as ‘free muscle’ I’m happy with the possibility of a temporary alliance, but will assume the Dwarves will naturally have a -1 to their reactions (stacking with -2 if the party has Elves but no Dwarves, +2 if there are Dwarves).

What I need now is a ‘random location’ table, with some kind of range for size, to replace the monster tables, something like the following:

1 - rough-hewn chamber; two exits, size d4+1x10’, lit by strange glowing veins of rock, water trickling down walls
2 - stone-flagged room, one exit, size 2d6x10’, unlit torches in sconces on walls, sound of wind moaning
3 - natural cave with stalactites, two open and one secret exit, size d12x20’, no illumination, sandy floor with 2:6 chance of random small treasure per turn searching (d6 treasures in total)
4 - roughly-built stone room, two exits, size d4+2x10’, brazier burning in centre of room, signs of recent occupation (remains of meal)

Perhaps I should start creating one…


The notes I wrote on this are quite literally on the back of an envelope. Then on the front.

So, this is the diagram of the inter-relationship between the different groups. Of  course, this is a functional rather than spatial relationship in the dungeon. Not that, yet, there is a dungeon. That, I suppose, is part of the point.

There is an outstanding question here - on the diagram it says 'what do the bees eat?'. I suppose a better way of phrasing the question would be, 'what is the bees' source of nectar and pollen?'

I'm now thinking about giant underground flowers and how they might live. It may require a special location in the dungeon to house these flowers. That's fine, I think in terms of the logic of the design - sometimes in 'Dungeons & Dragons', a special monster is designed specifically for the scenario. Well, in 'Dragons & Dungeons' a special location can be designed likewise. In this case, a location with a giant flower (maybe in the ceiling) seems positively necessary!

Monday, 11 August 2014

Arcane Dwellings

I've taken the challenge of writing some room descriptions for a collaborative list at The Gorgonmilk Blog detailing the inhabitations of Magic Users. I'm intending to use it for a Magic User's retreat in my upcoming D&D game.

23. Threshold of Eternity (thanks to Seventh Sanctum for the name, I used their Room/Location generator)

This is the room of a Magic User who has studied the elements and their relationship to everything in the universe. The double doors are finely-made of an unknown dark wood and have inlaid upon them a diamond-shaped pattern in a silvery metal suggesting the elements. Beside them - conveniently at waist-height for an approaching humanoid, no matter what their height - is a shelf on which sometimes stand a candle and cup of water. Beside the door is a mat, on which, perhaps, a pair of ornate shoes is sitting. The doors will open at a push; but stepping through them could prove hazardous.
Thanks to its elaborate geometry, this room contains everything in the universe. Inside is, quite literally, the outside. Glancing into the room will reveal views of distant lands - steaming jungles, freezing wastes, teeming streets of alien cities, blazing deserts; stepping through the doorway will transport the unprepared to any other place on Earth or perhaps another world altogether. Only those who know the secret to deactivating the room's defence mechanism (enter barefoot, holding one's breath, with a burning torch or candle in one hand and a container of water in the other) will be able to avoid the room linking itself to a far-away location.

Those who successfully determine the combination will find a comfortable suite of rooms; a reception room with couches, bookshelves, and aethereal music provided by elementals of the air, opening onto two bedrooms each with its own en suite bathroom, a dining balcony with views over the streets of the city below, and a small but well-fitted kitchen with all ancient conveniences (hot and cold running water elementals, a tame fire-elemental-powered cooker, a small rock-golem for crushing garlic).

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the room, it is extremely difficult to tell if the wizard has actually left it.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Great Library has burned down...

D&D Archives

... at least, so it appears. As one of those who was quite happy to take the free content that WotC was hosting on its websites, and use it to plug gaps, inspire ideas, and generally fill in during gameworld creation, I really am going to miss the D&D Archives - especially the artwork and maps, but all the vast and barely-explored content derived from back issues of Dragon, excerpts from the books and all the rest.

Ah well, just me and my brain and the entire Web to rely on now...