Sunday, June 23, 2019

Had a good session today

In my West Marches game today, the players really took control and directed the game. And I had more laughs during the session that I've had in a while.

First, they debated following up an old rumor or just trying to explore some blank hexes. They decided to explore, but thought they should go back to town first (they had camped at an abandoned elven tree-fort which they reclaimed last session). Back in town, they got a new rumor which intrigued them. After more discussion, they decided to follow up the old rumor after all.

This brought them back to the Caves of Chaos. They cleared out the "Shunned Cave" (the gray oozes had already been destroyed by a previous party, so it was just the owlbear and some random giant rats to deal with). Because of some wounds, they decided to return to town AGAIN.

Then they returned to the Caves and explored the bugbear cave (which one of the players and his daughter, who didn't come today had partially explored before). They did a bit more exploration, managed to weaken the bugbear forces, and freed some prisoners. Thanks to a random comment from one of the players, the captured orcs in the bugbear prison turned out to be some of the orcs they had ransomed and released in the retaking of the elf stronghold in the last session.

They're hoping to sew division among the mysterious Horned Society. Warduke, first leader of the Caves of Chaos, was slain by a previous party, but a new leader is again trying to organize the caves. They also know there are two other Horned Society leaders, Kelek and Lareth. They're name dropping both to try and get the factions in-fighting.

I really like how this current group of players like to play. Makes running the game so much more entertaining for me.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Fantasy Wimmelbilderbucher

Way back in April, Noisms was talking about wimmelbilderbucher, or books with lots of little details that you can pour over to find interesting things, like most Richard Scarry Busytown books, or the Where's Waldo (Wally) series of books. And he was wondering why there aren't fantasy themed books like this for adults.

I don't know. But today I picked up one for kids. Here are some pictures from it (taken with my phone, so not the best quality).
The Cover. Monsterland

The first few spreads introduce and name all of the monsters.



The rest of the book are spreads like these, with certain monsters to find on each page.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Gateway by Frederik Pohl - Campaign Idea

I picked up Gateway, a short sci-fi novel by Frederik Pohl, at the local library. I'm almost finished with it, and I've been thinking of how well it would work as the framework of a sci-fi RPG campaign.

The 100% accurate but completely gives the wrong impression of the book synopsis is: An AI psychiatrist treats a patient's PTSD.

Doesn't sound like a fun campaign, does it? I'd rather not play some sort of PTSD story-game. Instead, I'd take the story framework for how the guy got his PTSD and use that.

So some time in the future, Earth is a wreck. Overpopulation and rampant capitalism have destroyed the environment. The ultra-rich live in domed cities and have "full medical" which includes all sorts of treatments, organ replacements, etc. The VAST majority of humans subsist. Our hero grows up in the Nebraska food mines. They mine the shale oil and use it as food to grow bio-film which is then processed into food. But luck strikes and he wins the lottery.

Some time ago (in the story), colonists on Venus found an alien spacecraft. The guy who finds it manages to fly it, and it takes him to an asteroid orbiting the sun perpendicular to the plane of the celestial equator, which has been hollowed out with tunnels half a million years ago by aliens called the Heechee. This asteroid also has a thousand or so of their ships docked there.

It's possible to get the Heechee craft to fly, and they go FTL. But it's impossible to know where you're going. It flies on auto-pilot, there and back. Prospectors roll the dice, select a random destination, and head out to the stars. If they get lucky, they find a Heechee ruin and can bring back artifacts. No one knows what they are or what they do, but the Corporation will pay thousands or even millions of dollars for discoveries. Our hero wins the lottery, becomes a prospector, things he witnesses warp his already warped brain (the hellish life in the food mines already sent him to a year of psychotherapy as a teen). And now, as a rich successful former prospector, he lives a luxurious life of wine, women, and psychotherapy in the dome of NYC.

Great concept for a campaign. Stars Without Number would be a great system for this. I've never played Traveller, but it might work well, too, from what I've read about it. Something heavy and crunchy like StarFinder or Palladium could work too, of course, but if the campaign went all out with destinations that could have been safe half a million years ago but now are inside a red giant star or whatever, PC replacements might often be necessary.

I'd also want to increase the chances of finding artifacts, but reduce the reward amounts for finding them. As a story, the rarity of the Heechee artifacts is needed for dramatic tension. The protagonist spends a lot of time on Gateway (the asteroid launching area) fretting over whether he should actually go out on a mission or not. For a game, having players make PCs, go on a mission or two and find nothing, then get a dangerous planet or hazardous system and they just die would not be very fun.

It's mainly the idea of setting out on an alien craft to a random unknown destination that I like. I can imagine a d% table of system types, and then let the players roll the dice to see where they end up. Once they get there, they'd need to examine the system, find any celestial bodies with ruins, then search them for artifacts. Or if there are planets with life, or systems with unusual stars (pulsars, black holes, former supernovas, etc.) they could go for "science bonus" money instead of or in addition to artifact bounties.

Could be fun! But I'm still working on Caverns & Cowboys, so this idea will have to sit on the back burner for a while.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Caverns & Cowboys

This is an idea for a game I've had for a long time now. And apparently I discussed it mostly on G+ instead of here on the blog. I did a search of the posts here, and only found a few mentions of it.

So what is Caverns & Cowboys? Not hard to guess. It's a Western themed game, but also a fantasy dungeon crawling game. Or that was the original idea. I'd thought maybe run it with a combination of Go Fer Yer Gun (or later Tall Tales RPG) mixed with Labyrinth Lord/Classic D&D.

I even made this map as a bit of a trial at a Wild West setting that isn't part of our real world. Did I share this map before? Maybe. I know I shared it on G+ a few years ago (the image file shows I made it in 2017).
Anyway, I let the idea go for along time. Now I'm back on it. Only not using a D&D style OSR game.

A few weeks ago, I started adapting the Star Frontiers rules for a fantasy Western.

Why Star Frontiers? Well, for one thing it's a skill/level based system rather than a class/level based one. The skill system allows more flexibility to create characters that cover lots of different archetypes.

In SF, and in C&C (this iteration of it anyway), you gain a handful of XP each game session, and a few more when you complete an adventure. Then you can spend them to improve your character's base ability scores and skill levels. You can add new skills easily just by spending a few XP if you want, or you can save up to level up your existing skills.

SF has Military, Technological, and Psycho-Social skill areas. I have Interaction, Combat, and Magic skill areas. Yes, instead of Vancian magic, I'm going with magic as a skill. The spells are your subskills, and you have a limited number of spell points to use to cast spells. Gaining levels in the magic skills increases the potency of the spells but not the cost. There aren't really many flashy spells like lightning bolt or fireball, though. I tried to go with 19th century thematic magic types.

Interaction skills run the gamut from cowboy to lawman to doctor to engineer to criminal. I've got the most skills here (although Combat skills have quite a few as well). And while SF makes Military skills the cheapest to learn/advance, I've made Interaction skills the cheapest.

I've also converted a lot of monsters. I took the list from Holmes Basic. I removed a few (for IP or thematic reasons), and added some more (for thematic reasons).

I just need to get the rules for awarding XP and for placing treasure/monetary rewards written up, and I'll be ready to start play testing it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Traps: Are We Thinking About Them Wrong?

Recent discussion on Alexis's Tao of D&D blog seemed to relate to my recent post defending the labyrinthine dungeon layout used in many RPGs and video games. Alexis was writing about the treasure. Why is the treasure guarded in the dungeon? In his experience, his players, when they acquire vast treasures themselves, don't start constructing a trap/monster filled labyrinth in order to keep their funds safe.

I'll quote my response to Alexis and his response to me in full:

Dennis Laffey said...
I'm not sure if you read my recent post on my blog where I criticize a YouTuber for saying dungeons are stupid or not, but this post seems similar to it. The YouTuber was of the opinion that most dungeons should be the place where the BBEG keeps all his stuff. I disagree. And with regards to your point here, so does history.

Most royal treasuries, from my limited historical knowledge of the subject, were not secreted away in underground vaults guarded by traps and soldiers day and night.

And most secreted underground treasure hoards were not "someone's stuff." At least, not the stuff of anyone still alive. The treasures were grave goods interred with some king or other dignitary. Or were lost or buried in some natural disaster.

For most dungeons, the monsters really shouldn't have been placed specifically as guardians. The treasure was there, and the monsters decided that was a good place to move in after the people who buried the treasure there (or lost it) moved on.

Of course, why all the traps? That's still only logical in tombs, as they would be installed to deter grave robbers. In a lost city that was buried by an earthquake or swallowed by the sea but later belched back out again, all the traps don't really make sense.
Alexis Smolensk said...
Yes, why all the traps?

I've had player characters set up lairs for themselves. They do not fill these lairs with traps. Why do the monsters?
Why do the monsters build so many traps in the dungeons?

My question is actually, do monsters build the traps?

In the real world, where are traps encountered? Tombs such as the Egyptian pyramids and other pharaonic tombs sometimes had them. The tomb of Chinese emperor Qin (where the terra cotta army is) is suspected to have more treasures in it protected by traps. These days, though, we don't usually bury people with grave goods, so there's not much need for traps.

We do have other sorts of traps, though. Modern security systems include alarms and cameras (which are trap adjacent) and things like auto-locking doors or gates that close upon an alarm being triggered (which I would consider as actual traps). But these sorts of traps aren't everywhere. You see them in banks, high end jewelry stores, wealthy peoples' houses, and other places where there are things of value. Cameras and alarms have become much more common, though. Electrified fencing could also be seen as a form of trap, I suppose, keeping people out of (or in) a certain area.

Also, in war, we use land mines, and sometimes guerilla forces use things like tiger traps (think Viet Cong) or the like. In general, we have decided that people don't deserve to be peppered with poison darts or threatened with decapitating sweeping blades for trying to knock off a jewelry store, so these sorts of traps that threaten death and injury seem to be limited to war zones.

According to the random dungeon placement algorithm in BX/BECMI D&D, one in six rooms not containing a planned encounter should be a trap. That's a lot of traps. I know, because I used that for my megadungeon.

I also have been using it for hexes in my West Marches game. But in a wilderness, a trap doesn't often make sense. Sure, there are a few locations that are basically a big trap. But for the most part, I interpret "trap" as a hazard. So pools of parasite infected water, lava flows, quicksand, rock fall hazards, and the like.

I think a lot of dungeons should be designed this way, too. We don't need to be limited in our imagination to pit traps and darts and the like (although that's fine, especially since these sorts of traps are pulpy fun). But "trap" can also mean just a hazard. The natural disaster that ruined the ancient city caused the walls, roof, or ceiling to be weak in this area, and may collapse. Crystals in the cave wall may reflect your lantern light back in your eyes and blind you. A room's acoustics may be such that monsters in another area will hear you and prepare an ambush.

Thinking outside the box, even a set of natural caves can easily have "traps" and yes, I'd allow a Thief or Dwarf to use their detect/disarm abilities to bypass the hazards, if they roll well.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Chanbara Paper Player Character minis


Right now, you can get a set of 44 Chanbara themed adventurers from my Fold-Up Paper Models series. It's available on DriveThruRPG at my Hidden Treasure Books store.


The ebook contains 4 each of the playable types in the game. And I don't just mean 4 for each class. No, it's 4 for each profile. You get Abarenbo, Kensei, Samurai, Onmyoji, Sohei, Kagemusha, Ninja, Soryo, , and Yamabushi.

And all for the low low price of $1.50.


Edit: ever have one of those nights when you're starting to doze off while writing and something nonsensical makes it out? Yeah, had one of those when writing this post last night. :D Trust me, the paper minis were completed before I started nodding off. They're fine! Sleepy me just thought it would be a good idea to write a post to promote them before going to bed.

To the Mountain's Heart

To the Mountain's Heart
Being an Excerpt from the Journal of Jack Summerisle, Paladin and Green Knight of the Eldeen Reaches, concerning his adventures with his companions various and sundry as they seek the Heart of the Mountain, moving from the Hollow World of Pellucidar back towards the Overworld of Eberron, in a quest to awaken the Heart of the Mountain and defeat the Ghoul King.

We pressed on into the bowels of the Temple, going down many flights of stairs, and passing under the surface. It boggles the mind to think that we are in truth headed up when we do so. We have been in the hidden world of Pellucidar for so long now seeking this very temple.

Within the temple, we first encountered a chamber with a large altar made of piled stone. Three guardian creatures, made of stone but resembling the creatures known as dinosaurs here in Pellucidar, greeted us. They asked us to pledge ourselves to always battle the demons. This was an easy pledge for all of us to make, as we have already aligned ourselves to that cause.

The next chamber contained two giant suits of armor and two strange masks. The masks spoke to us, asking us to leave behind all worldly possessions. We refused, and the masks and armor animated, then attacked. We battled hard, and destroyed the spirits animating the items. Unfortunately in the battle, my armor was disintegrated by the touch of one of the giant suits. Fortunately, after the battle, the very same suit of winged armor that I was battling changed its size down to fit my body, and I now wear it. I am struggling to learn how to operate the wings, but I get the feeling that I will have the hang of it soon.

The third chamber contained another alter and three stone bird creatures. They demanded that we each impart some of our vital life force and experiences, to become more like children in order to pass. Again, we refused, and battle took place. We were victorious.

The fourth chamber was ornate, with numerous artistic wall carvings and inscriptions. There were five strange vessels on or near the altar, making strange noises. While some companions were stunned by the sounds from the vases, Pelar the Blade-Singer poured sand in one to mute its insane mumblings. I inspected the altar and found that a second pledge, this time against the Far Realm, was needed. I of course quickly pledged, as the Greensinger sect is already dedicated to just that. Other companions followed suit, although it took much effort to get Jade to commit, as he was entranced by the mumblings.

As we take a quick break to rest up and catch our breath, Yuv, with his legendary lore, informed us that beyond the next door should be the final altar. Could it also be the home of the mountains? We shall see.