Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Say if the player rolls a 1, and dreams of chains, the DM can describe the chains doing things that reflect the status of the character's current condition. It could be that they are the chains holding the soul to the body, or that they are a measure of how dead you are. Either way the DM can describe what is happening to the chains as the character improves or declines.
2) dark forms
4) crawler in a pit
5) dancing cows
6) giant whirlpool
9) fat man eating
10) spider web
11) giant black dog
14) maddening gibberish
15) body on fire
16) talking monkeys/apes
17) body freezing
18) thin man walking
20) belching frog
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Many have said it feels like a video game. I agree in spirit, but I disagree about the video game it feels like. Many think this:
I think this:
Movement is a big part of 4e, almost in the same way that it is a big part of Dragonslair. And that was what inspired me to base my first character on Dirk the Daring as I stated here.
But something weird happened as I played him. He looks like this guy:
But given the history and the mercenary attitude I gave him he feels and acts more like this guy:
So I have decided to roll with it and combine them. After all, cool + cool = 2cool right? I think the following picture best represents my 4e character:
Dirk is turning out to be one dangerous dude.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Since I have entered my dream state, many things have passed in this world. Many of them political. Since such petty politics are below those of us who plumb the dreamlands for deeper mysteries in our lotus inspired sleep you will not see my opinion on this blog nor in your comments with a name that links to this blog. Though I may clearly agree or greatly disagree my opinion (on many things) is my own and I will not share. Also, in the end, politics is bad for business.
Nor will you hear about my personal life. Again me complaining about how my life sucked today or yesterday or how I think something is neat is not good for business. You will only get madness and dreams particular to fiction and gaming.
Till I post again with further madness...
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Some speculations to the question of the diet of a beholder:
Beholders could be bags of devouring that have matured. They exist to devour and the bags are their larva. However this does not explain the eyes too well. Perhaps the bag of devouring as a larval form should be reserved for another monster...
There is the old standby that they feed off of fear and negative emotions. The mouth is just there to invoke fear and thus a snack. But this does not work too well either, as the creature has some very instantly destructive abilities. These don't generate fear, so while the form might fit that of a fear feeder, the abilities do not.
Here is the best I can come up with:
What if a beholder was not necessarily a devouring glutton or a fear eater but somthing more complex? A good way to go about demonstrating a good beholder diet is to say that they live off of seeing beauty. When they see beauty they are nourished by it. They grow stronger and live longer just by gazing on somthing regarded by others and itself as beautiful.
But because they are not beautiful themselves, beholders need a ton of it. And they are gluttons for "flavors" and thus seek out variety. This causes them to try to reach out in the world and gather as many beautiful things as they can. These things (and somtimes people) are stored in their lairs, and gazed upon by the beholder until they loose their luster or age too far. From maidens, to art, to poetry, to scenic views (astronomy included), they do things to gather beauty unto themselves, and when they see it (or less commonly hear it, as beholders are visual creatures) they grow in power and strength. They study the beauty and live under the illusion that because they have so much beauty they themselves must be beautiful.
When somthing is broken, injured, aged, or the beauty leaves it for some other reason, the beholder destroys it. If it finds even the smallest flaw in somthing the beholder will eventually destroy it after contemplating the beauty of the flaw if such is to be found. This is the number of days equal to the intellegence of the beholder. Basicly they are the worst of art critics and beauty pagent judges. Some are artists with tempers too. When a beholder views a living creature that it deem beautiful it will eventually petrify the creature so as to preserve the beauty should that beauty be only visual. In essense beholders are to beauty what dragons are to wealth.
This love of art and beauty makes them the natural kingpins for thieving organizations and the patrons of burglers, pirates, slave traders, etc. They cast far flung networks designed to gather beauty to themselves. However they are in some ways aware of their hideousness and this causes them to hide away, eschewing easily accessible places for places largely unseen by many. Some use economics and bargaining to gether their art collections, others are bullies. The means ussually match the individual beholder and each one is unique in appearance and disposition. Beholders are adept at fashioning great and powerful scrying devices to help watch over their networks and also take in the beauty of the outside world, and wage war against it should it become blemished.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
The network has really offered up some great thoughts and opinions on games and development and many of the blogs are quite useful for the beginning developer. Overall the info is solid and the articles are entertaining. But most people reading this through the network know this already.
I look forward to more great posts! Be sure to check out the past stuff here as it may get your goat or even make you say thanks.
And thanks to Dave and everyone else that makes this network possible!
Friday, October 10, 2008
And GG is right, the article he cites has a lot of applications to gaming, but also so does the whole site. I think I might track down that book that he mentioned if possible. Why am I just restating what he put here you ask? The Hydra's Grotto is a blog, but it is also an idea library and workspace. Also I have a huge love of cartography. In fact on numerous occasions I have paraphrased Dennis Leary when I have said "D&D doesn't lead to devil worship! It leads to cartography!" Indeed, people* comment on my ability to draw really coherent maps when I draw them for non-gaming use. I do not think I would have this skill (among others) if I did not play D&D.
*mainly my wife, but some others too.
Monday, October 6, 2008
Recently a friend of mine named Joey, asked how you practiacally set up a Sandbox campaign without spending a year in prep. This is the answer I gave my group when they asked:
Sandbox is OLD SCHOOL. Really old school, if you thought you were old school, you probably were not if you sort of feel bad when a player character dies (DM or player).
First off, here are a couple of links to a guy that sums up “sandbox” much better than I can:
While theory is great Joey asked how it works out practically- which is where I am going to go. There is a lot of work on the front end, but not at much as you would think. The key I found when I did this in FR under 3.5 was to ABANDON ALL PLOT THREADS. The plot thread is the path that the PCs take as they move through the world. So you only really have one plot, the one that the players make out of the plot legos you have given them. That does not mean that the NPCs and the villains don’t have plans that they are work on. It simply means that their plans don’t become part of the plot until the players choose to make it part of the picture.
The random encounter works pretty well with this too. The key here is to keep in mind that there is no such thing as random encounter even if the encounter is randomly generated. They should always have something to do with the plot. So if you roll up orcs, they are not just random orcs, they are orcs that have a connection to something already going on. No connection is too unreasonable or tenuous. It just makes the plot thicker because the player’s minds will accept the clues you offer and build on it. Just use the ones from the nearby dungeon that has orc in it.
But we are still in the realm of theory. Let’s get practical.
Step 1. Get your map.
Draw your map on a hex sheet. 6 mile hexes work best (there is a whole math as to why this is the perfect hex size). You probably want to start with an area of about 65 hexes total or 7 hexes out in all directions from a center hex. Whichever way you go you need to set it up so that it will take about one session to get out of this starting area if the players decide that they are going to circumnavigate the globe. What really helps is if you have a product like
Points of Light or Wilderlands of High Fantasy or a copy of Fight On! #1.
Step 2, Get your adventures
You will probably want 5-8 adventures. Be careful in your selection. You want a lot of site based elements. So lets day you are running what we have set up- Aztecs in the pacific northwest. It probably wouldn’t hurt to grab right off the top of the classics pile and get Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan and Dwellers in the Forbidden City. That gives you two. Aztecs had pyramids so since we are 4e we go a grab Pyramid of Shadows, Its coastal so we grab the new Dungeon Adventure sea reavers of the shrouded crags and massacre at fort Dolor. There are a lot of lost cities in the whole Aztec thing so we grab Lost City of Barakus, and for the heck of it The Lost City Basic D&D module. No campaign is complete without 1) a mega dungeon of some kind and so we pick one that can adapt well to an Aztec feel – The Ruins of Castle Greyhawk and 2) a meat grinder or two so we throw in the frikken Tomb of Horrors, and what the heck Grimtooths Dungeon of Doom because both of these will be hard to access in any case, but its fun to have them around. Oh yeah and the adventure Rana Mor from Dungeon has a sort of Aztecish feel so lets put that on the map. And because we really want to have fun we throw in a truncated version of the Caverns of Thracia. It can have an Aztec feel to it if you want.
Step 3, Catalog your adventures.
I went a little overboard above. I picked 12. So I take all the settlements and home bases and towns and stuff and put them on the map somewhere. The weird thing is the Apophenia and Synchronicity will start to kick in here. These are the natural human capacities to find connections and patterns in senseless noise, they exist so you can find patterns and connections in things that are not senseless. As a DM in a sandbox these are your two favorite friends. If you want to know more, watch the wizard of oz while listening to Pink Floyds Dark Side of the moon (synchronicity) and read up on conspiracy theories, especially 9/11 (apophenia). In any case place the towns and such. Then place the “dungeon” parts. Next you will want to get something like the Ready Ref Sheets. These have really useful charts for really random things. A lot of these made it into the 1e DMG, but there are more that did not. One of the most useful is a series of charts that set up random stuff to find in hexes as players pass through. This really makes the world come alive.
Step 4, Get a Rules Light System
DO NOT TRY THIS WITH 3E. You will go insane and possibly get divorced. The monsters will kill your time. A rules light system is best. Retro Clones like Swords and Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord (using expanded classes), Basic Fantasy, OSRIC, Castles and Crusades, or Microlite 20 will probably be best. Also strangely enough, because of the contributions of Mike Mearls, 4e works with this style of game. It is pretty much all in how the monsters work. I would run with 4e or a Labyrinth Lord/OSRIC hybrid. Essentials are that you want to keep attachment to new characters to a minimum because the mummy’s tomb that the 2nd level characters decide to raid might actually have a mummy in it. 4e can work because it give the players enough stamina and tricks to get their asses handed to them by said mummy and then still live (barely) to fight it later when they have gained some experience and have learned how to kill a frikkin mummy. The system should allow for easy monster set up and modification. Like I said 3e does not have this and will eat your lunch in this regard. If the adventure says “mummy” and you know exactly what to put there, without any additional work, that is the system to use. On any modern game you will want to change the curve of experience. (except in 4e cause its alien technology) 10th – 14th level should be uber. To get the 4e equivalent divide by 2, a retro clone and 4e will play the same at equivalent levels.
Step 5, Extra Credit (Sandboxes within Sandboxes)
So that hex with the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan in it? Its six miles across. That’s a lot of room to play. What you want to do is for each of the inhabited locations (towns/dungeons) set up things around them nearby to accentuate the location. This makes camping in the hex sort of interesting. And if you have to design a dungeon, make the dungeon a sort of smaller sandbox. This aspect of sandboxing is largely stolen from Mike Mearls at this post:
Nuff Said. And I would love to see that article.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
This phrase has been a keystone in one of the major arches of the architechture of speculative fiction. In a way it is what anchors the science fiction to the fantasy. (Secret: Its all fantasy. Even Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum just make stuff up.) I have said that Swords and Sorcery is not a genre. In my mind its more of a color. I think saying you like Swords and Sorcery is a lot like saying you like red cars. Its just the color of the car and each car is vastly different than the next. But Clarke's quote has inspired things like Dying Earth literature, aspects of Sword and Planet, He-Man and lots of other fantasy paint jobs.
But I got to thinking about this statement. The first thing that occurs to me is that it is only really true in effect, not origin. That is to say a wizard with a lightening bolt spell and a guy with a lightening bolt gun have the same effect, but one guy is pointing and mumbling while the other is pointing and grunting. But even beyond that, we see that Clarke, for all his insight has not really looked at magic. Magic ignores rational cause and effect. Science, when you understand the natural principles it is based on does not. Anyone taking a look at the works of H.P. Lovecraft runs up against this whole debate. Is the spell that opens a gate to for the extradimensional horror just really alien technology or magic? Both?
Technology that appears to be magic is still just technology. Take for instance the D&D spell timestop. How are scientists spending billions of dollars to create a device to hold time static in a field indistinguishable from the witch doctor that waves a stick says some weird words and gets the same result for much cheeper?
Larry Nivin (and Mecedes Lacky) have tried to be cool and have come back with "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology." But that is just it, big magic does not necessarily require big work and power, whereas big technology does require a bigness that magic just does not require.
Lets take the atom bomb as an example. Numerous scientists and millions of dollars of research went into developing the ability to blow up an entire city in one shot. Even now the bombs are expensive and labor intensive to produce and (hope not) deliver with accuracy. Yet they still require a team of people. Whereas with magic Waldorf can take out entire planets and campaign settings with a ceremony. What separates them is cause and effect. Technology has logical cause and effect based on the natural principles of the universe it occupies. Magic ignores this. Magic in its purest form is super-natural.
Clarke's law holds so long as your story is based on two things: The first is that there is no such thing as the supernatural. All the mumbo jumbo and abracadabra is simply the ability to tap into somthing that science does not understand yet. The second is that those who experience the effect interpret the event based on their experience and knowledge. The second is immutable. It is how humans operate. But the first is an assumption. What if magic operated outside of the physical world in all aspects- what if waving a rubber ball and a feather in the air while speaking latin backwards really did summon a Ferrari? There is no physical reason a Ferrari should appear. Its not even a quirk of the universe, it is beyond what is supposed to happen.
Also, the drawbacks to magic are ussually very personal. Rangeing from colds, to being swollowed by extradimensional horrors, technology is far more expensive, but much much safer. Technology allows you to settle vasts swaths of untamed land. When magic is really magic of the supernatural kind it is too fickle. Fickle magic can't hold back the monsters enough. I think this concept can be used to explain the whole points of light campaign setting. No magic is different from technology even if it is similar somtimes in effect.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I was quite taken with Jeff's idea (though I don't think he is conscious of it) that you can have completely different rules for players and DMs. Or even different types of characters that have different types of rules as Rob Conly points out in the comments.
Awesome! BYOR Roleplaying! (Bring Your Own Rules)
This begs further investigaiton. :)
Thursday, September 18, 2008
If Dirk had gone to high school he would have been voted most likely to run into a burning building on the off chance that he could help someone, get rich, or get a woman.
And so we begin:
Throughout his life he has been a risk taker and thrill seeker so long as there was a chance for gain. That’s why travel to the new world never really appealed to him much, at first. The journey was too much risk for too little reward. The Norskans (Viking types from the lands north of Empire of the Mad Overlord) had been in and out of that land for centuries. It never seemed to come to any good. He heard about expeditions, but all the reports said one of three things: They never came back, only a few made it back, and everyone came back. While mad, the Overlord hedged his bets, and like Dirk wasn’t going to touch that place with a ten foot pole.
Then one day, Dirk heard about Ulric’s expedition. The Norskan had cut a deal. He called to Odin asking why their efforts in the new land had been for naught. The rune-casters of Odin read that the continent had been given to the Raven King Hugin and that all access to the continent was under his rule. Ulric then sought out Munin, the Raven Queen the consort of Hugin. He appealed to her with a great sacrifice. Then he set out to strike a deal with “The People Between the Forest and the Sea.” Traders and merchants were able to settle on what had once been called “The Bleak Shore.”
Dirk still thought that the risk was too high, besides, he had a good gig working in the Overlord’s ranks. But one day, he encountered a traveler, who showed him a coin from further south on the far continent.
“Gold,” said the traveler, “Cities of it, if you have the guts.” But that wasn’t all. There were other rumors. Magic. The likes of which rivaled even the greatest works of the Mad Overlord’s lands. “Magic and gold you say?” “More than you can dream! Seems the lands of the Raven King, and the People in between Forest and Sea have a lot to offer.”
This set dirk thinking. The risk barely even scratched the surface of the reward now. And Ulric’s expedition had been what 10 years ago? He began to make plans without even realizing it. After a winter, Dirk decided that it was too good. But where there was magic and gold there was sure to be death, and where there’s death there’s the thrill of adventure. This meant he needed some magic of his own. That’s when they brought in the girl. Seems she was a gypsy kid that had taken out an inquisitor that had killed her mother for unauthorized consort with a devil. The circumstances were strange said the reports. Had she not killed the inquisitor she would have been sent to “the school” to hone her talents. Getting the drop on an imperial inquisitor was no small feat.
The very night they brought her in Dirk sprung her from her cell and before the alarm was raised, they were on a ship headed out of the harbor. They would probably need some more backup. It seemed that having a god on your side was a requirement for survival in a place like the new world. Dirk started to look for an opportunity...
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I propose this: There never was a Swords and Sorcery genre. Swords and Sorcery is a commercial phrase. It is made up to help us find stuff in the store and keep us buying more of what we like. If anything the quesiton we should be asking is "What happened to the Sub-Genre?"
We think of the golden age of the pulps as the 30's and 40's when that really was the beginning of the end of their time. Its like someone calling the days of Rome under Constantine a golden age and ignoring the days under Agustus. Pulp went back to the 1830's with the Penny Dreadfuls. Thats a whole 80 years before Howard wore the jeweled crown of Aquilonia on his troubled brow.
And looking at those stories we see that they were filled with swords and sorcerers just as much as any Howard or Leiber tale. Robin Hood as we know him largely came out of the same publishing tradition as Conan. And while Sherlock Holmes did have respectable dig on Baker Street and in a major publication, he was still serialised, a distant relative to Hood and the Cimmerian.
The genre I believe is not Swords and Sorcery, but the long tradition of Adventure Fiction of which Swords and Sorcery was a part of. And here were enter the debate of where genre starts and ends. Largely genre is driven by marketing. We see this with music all the time. Is it Techno, Trance, Ambient, Techstep, Hardcore, Jungle, Tribal, Breaks or whatever? Sword and Planet, Sword and Sorcery, Lost World, Weird Fiction, and a lot of Detective Stories all fall into this heading simply because if you change the tropes you don't really change the story.
I think that we would see more success in Swords and Sorcery if we focused not on Swords and Sorcery as a genre but as part of the larger and ailing Adventure Tales genre.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Hit location charts, critical hit location charts and in particular critical charts with hit locaitons have always been tricky things in gaming largely because they tend to revolve around humanoid morphology. Jeff Reints talks about (well, posts really) the legendary Ardruin critical chart here. And most everyone that has been around the gaming block has encountered an incarnation of the rolemaster crit chart at some point.(Latest one here.)
The consistant problem with these was simply that they would specify locations that only humanoids had. What happens when you crit on a dragon, or a displacer beast, or heck, even a beholder. Do you ignore foot? Is there a chance you can hit a wing?
In my games I created a hit locaiton chart based on the "trap mishaps" sidebar in the 3.5 DMG. This was still humanoid centric but I had created it more as a way to give my player's characters more well, character. Eye patches and peg legs and such. Strangely, no one got hurt after I started using it. But as I put more thought into it, it occured to me that a location chart, especially a critical one, should not operate on form, but on function.
Almost every creature that you can crit has appendages of some kind, and favored appendages. And when they don't, one is as good as the other. All organisms share certain features: The aforementioned appendages, sense organs, a nervous system of some sort, and a area of mass larger than the appendages ussually refered to as a body.
Appendages seem to come in 3 varieties: Locomotive, Manipulative, and Favored Manipulative. Few have more than 2 senses, and when they do you just work through them at random.
So here we have the Steamtunnel Press Non-Mophology based hit location table, aka The Function Based Crit Table:
- Limb, Appendage, Psudopod or Tentacle (Locomotive)
- Limb, Appendage, Psudopod or Tentacle (Manipulative)
- End of Limb, Appendage, Psudopod or Tentacle (Locomotive)
- End of Limb, Appendage, Psudopod or Tentacle (Manipulative)
- Limb, Appendage, Psudopod or Tentacle (Manipulative)(Favored)
- End of Limb, Appendage, Psudopod or Tentacle (Manipulative)(Favored)
- Sense Organ/Sensor (Type 1)
- Sense Organ/Sensor (Type 2)
- Nerve/Control/Processing Center
The cool thing about this is that it works on Giant Ants, Mind Flayers, Dragons, Beholders, Cthulhu, and Robots. Even GIANT ROBOT ANTS CONTROLLED BY BEHOLDERS. Imaginative groups can even use this chart to cut off Mind Flayer tentacles in a fight (Tentacle, Manipulative). Appendage (Locomotive) against a dragon? Depending on your DM, you may have just taken out its wing. End of Limb (Manipulative) (Favored) against Luke Skywalker? You just cut off his hand!
Another feature of it being 1-10 is that you can combine it with the to hit roll. Just use the second digit of your hit result to determine where you zinged that Shuggoth.
Since it is easier to hit the larger parts of a being, I am thinking of taking inspiration from the Battletech hit location chart and making it 2d6 with the smaller parts on the edges and the bigger parts in the center. But then that messes up the whole second digit built into the attack roll thing.
This is definately going into Codex, but I am going to put it here for community use. Enjoy.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
But I think there is another goal I have not covered:
- The game should make use of other great supplements.
There is a precedent for this, and sadly it has sort of started to die off. OD&D made use of Wilderness Survival to deal with overland travel. This is largely because OD&D was sort of a game cobbled together from other games. In our modern times we really don't see this- game designers don't say "Hey this is a great system for modeling ________, let's just use that!"
I was thinking about economics in Codex and what they should be like, and after some thought and development on RPG economic theory, I realised that I should just use Expeditous Retreat Press' A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe for population modeling and economics.Because a silver piece could be a days wage in your campaign whereas in mine 30 silver might be a year's income. How much land does the City State of the Invincible Overlord need? This book helps answer all those questions. So rather than trying to create a system that emulates economics badly, why not just say in the book "Check out AMMS:WE by XRP and base your prices and treasure off of that."
Granted this was a supplement for roleplaying, but still, I think it would be awesome if we all started to shill for one another. So from here on out, AMMS:WE is part of Codex.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Using text characters as your graphics was cutting edge in 1980. But with today's rendering capabilies and GPUs and bazzillions of colors who would go back to games like Rogue?
Well plenty of people apparently. Check out ADOM. Its a "Roguelike" still being made (started in 1992) and has quite a following.
As computers go, you don't get more retro than this. And if text adventures like Zork are the OD&D/Holmes or Cook/Moldvay, the Roguelikes would definately be the 1e AD&D/BECMI of computer gaming. Ultima 4-5 are the 2e, but in a good way, with Ultima 6 and 7 definately come in as 3.0 and 3.5 respectively and respecfully: even black Isle picked up their form factor. But Ultima 4 and 5 are video games that just say "RETRO" to me. And even now we are starting to see the Ultima-likes in things like the Nazghul toolset and the game Haxima.
So it is in the spirit of these games that I am creating Codex. Codex is shaping up to tip its hat to the roguelikes and ultimalikes as well as Judges Guild, OD&D, Holmes, C/M, BECMI (without the CMI) and even certain mechanical aspects of 1-4e. Think of Codex as a modern game created with retro sensibilities and front end, kind of like using tools that were designed for an Apple2 on a modern high end gaming PC that is equivalent to about 1000 Apple2s.
By the way- has anyone seen any Wizardrylikes?
Sunday, August 31, 2008
- All your character information should fit on an 4.25x5.5 inch piece of paper, front sided.*
- The only changes that should be made from edition to edition of Codex are text corrections, correction to broken rules logic (ala polymorph in 3.x) and expansions worth adding.
Yeah, me too! Characters at first level used to fit onto this. On the back of the 1981 Red Box players guide you had one of these there. It was small. You could fold it in half and it contained a whole character. You can fit your character into the first half of this (the second was all money, and gold and equipment and stuff). How cool was that!? More about the digest format later!
Saturday, August 30, 2008
1. Rules Lite but not limiting
2. Portable, not too many books, less than 10lbs.
3. A complete game in one purchase
4. Able to be easily expanded by those that play the game
Because it is so small and simplified, I have decided to make changes to MicroLite20 and expand on it to create a rules lite system. I suspect that only a vestige of the original will remain but it will make a good scaffolding.
But this blog won't be just about Codex development.
Some things I plan to discuss:
- Ideas about Swords and Sorcery Fiction as a genre as it relates to game design
- Problems in Gaming - specifically mechanical problems that don't seem to go away
- The Good and Bad of 4e
- Developments in the RPG Industry
- Discussions of other Systems
- "Old School" Gaming and related concepts
- Any other thing that I want to comment on which will usually be gaming related or a comment on someone else's comments