Wednesday, October 22, 2008

ENWorld Flashback!: Ecologies of The Beholder

(This entry was originally a post that I made to ENWorld. There were several that I was kind of proud of and so when I get the chance, I will post them here so they don't get lost as ENWorld evolves under the ENWorld Flashback! moniker. Obviously I will polish them a little more.)

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

Raziel of the Sack

Raziel of the Sack (not to be confused with Bakshi of the Bag) is the patron god of Looters, Tomb Robbers, Burglers, Highwaymen, Pirates and senseless risk takers. Raziel appears as many different types of humanoid throughout the world. His symbol is a sack. Regardless of race he is traditionally depicted carrying a one-handed axe and a sack over his shoulder. Raziel is fickle. His avatars have been known to bless adventurers with the contents of his sack or curse them by adding an item of their to the sack.

Raziel always appears as a normal male of a humanoid race with a sack and axe. He typically wears armor and a helm or hood. While he may give or take from a person, he is not above bargaining. Though his price is high and he typically asks for women (esp a bargainers full grown daughter), wine, feasts, song, and other desires reflective of his worshipers of high and luxurious value.

Interactions are always random and are a 50/50 blessing/curse. Items from the sack are randomly determined and have twice the chance of being cursed.

If using an older game use the rules for a Storm Giant's bag.

In a newer game roll randomly.

The old school applicaitons of Raziel are obvious as are his 3e/4e magic item economy applications.

(Thanks to Jeff Reints for the ispiring image)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Joining The RPG Blogger's Network!

Hydra's Grotto's feed was included in the RPG Bloggers network. One step closer to world domination. 53,234 left to go!

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

Because Americans Don't Have Enough Maps!

Greyhawk Grognard has posted this article about another article on another blog about maps. The original article can be found here.The blog can be found here (Making Maps: DIY Cartography). It is really amazing the range of uses for maps that it shows.

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

How to Set Up a Sandbox Campaign

I have heard a lot about the article by Calithena in the magazine called Fight On! that talks about how to set up a sandbox campaign. I have not seen the article as my income is greatly demanded elsewhere (house, children, food, bills, etc.) But I figure it probably has similar advice as to what is written here.

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:

Supplementary reading:

Nuff Said. And I would love to see that article.