Thursday, August 24, 2017

Time and Iron Rations Wait for No Man

I've gotten a surprising amount of mileage out of using the current real-life weather and time of year for the in-game weather and time of year in my Malara campaign. That worked out well enough when we were playing multiple times a month, but now one of the players is halfway across the country and Skyping in, so we play a lot less frequently these days. This upcoming session, they're picking up in the middle of a dungeon, but it's been a few months of real time.

It's time for me to keep track of this stuff like a big boy DM. You win this time, Gary.

I tried to be thoughtful about what I included in my calendar tracker. Each page is a 91-day season (a decent average of actual season lengths and divisible by 7). Each day has space to take notes or add upcoming events, a random encounter number from 1-100 (my encounter tables are all d100, like this one, and I usually roll once per day for overland travel), and the major phases of the moon (new, half, full) indicated by little icons. I don't need to include weather because my encounter tables do that.

I created a few other trackers too:

Turns - Ten-minute turns broken up into hour segments. Cross them off as they happen. Enough for four 24-hour periods. Each turn also includes a 1-100 random encounter number.

Resources - Includes light sources (by LotFP rules), rations, ammunition, and extra tick boxes for other things to keep track of.

"Exploration" - Turns and resources combined. Not sure I'll ever use this because I think turns and resources get used up at very different rates, and it's in landscape format so it wouldn't play nice in a binder. I might use it for a one-shot game, though.

NPCs and Factions - Rosters for keeping track of recurring campaign personalities. Pretty self-explanatory.

Without further ado, the Ice and Ruin Time/Resource/People Trackers.

Print/Download Instructions:
Select "portrait" orientation for all but the Exploration page and "fit to page" for everything. Narrow margins may give you a bit more writing room for the calendar pages, but otherwise normal margins should be fine. Uncheck "show gridlines" under Formatting.

Note that the random numbers refresh every time you load the document. You can make a copy and edit the numbers to match whatever scheme you prefer.

Monday, August 21, 2017

d50 Puzzle Monster Death Requirements

Thanks to +Garrett Fitzgerald+Jon Salway+Whidou+Gordon Cranford+rich fraser+Dice Quixote, and +Zak Sabbath for your contributions.

The creature can only be killed...
  1. if separated from its weapon or other small object
  2. if its wounds are rubbed with (salt, elf urine, holy blood, unicorn bone powder)
  3. if you know its true name
  4. on a moonless night
  5. if it believes itself to be vulnerable 
  6. if fully incinerated or vaporized; otherwise, it will regenerate
  7. by a whore and virgin simultaneously
  8. by a weapon of (living wood, silver, lead, gold, black iron, virgin steel)
  9. without pain
  10. while it sleeps
  11. if cut into four pieces and buried in four different lands
  12. once it has passed on its curse
  13. in honorable single combat
  14. through treachery
  15. by decapitation, though the head will go on living
  16. if buried in the roots of a yew tree
  17. if its blood is drained
  18. at a crossroads
  19. in the rain
  20. over water
  21. outside its place of power
  22. if kept from contact with the ground
  23. in its true form
  24. while feeding
  25. when it cannot commune with a new willing host
  26. if the one who deals the fatal blow dies at the same instant
  27. in a certain, small geographical point/place
  28. by its own willing suicide
  29. if its death can never be confirmed with certainty afterwards
  30. by a true friend
  31. by mistake
  32. by death penalty pronounced by an impartial judge
  33. if the planets are correctly aligned
  34. during the twelfth minute of the twelfth hour of the twelfth day of the twelfth month
  35. if a certain poem is spoken while the creature is attacked.
  36. if someone agrees to take its place
  37. by a scorned lover
  38. by its creator
  39. by removing it from the planet
  40. by reading a children's book to it
  41. by a blade that has slain the creature's sire
  42. by an immortal
  43. in the place of its birth
  44. through ritual sacrifice
  45. by eating it
  46. if it does half of its HP in damage to its slayers
  47. by the tools of its trade
  48. by the moon
  49. if entombed in ice
  50. on its birthday

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Other Ice and Ruin Dungeon Maker

O inspiration, you fickle mistress.

How did you get the idea for your favorite dungeon/adventure location? No, seriously, tell me in the comments. Was it based on something you read? Something you saw? A personal experience? Acid trip?

I also write songs, and the main thing I've learned is that I can't sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. I might have a half-formed idea here and there, but if I don't pick up an instrument and force it, it's not going to come out on its own.

With dungeons, I find that I need shortcuts. Anything that will get me started and keep me from the tyranny of the blank page. I posted a die-drop generator I wrote, but like I said in that post, relying on one trick too heavily will hamper creativity. So here's another one. It's far from revolutionary, but it's fun:

  • Find pictures you like. Pictures that plant an idea in your head for a room, trap, encounter, etc. Find as many as you can. The more the merrier.
  • Save them to your computer, or do like I do and make a Pinterest board. There's an extension for Chrome called PinDown that allows you to download the entire contents of a board with one click.
  • Print them out, real small. On my Mac, I open them all at once in Preview, select them all in the thumbnail sidebar, and open the print menu. In the Layout tab, I select 16 pages per sheet. Make sure you don't print double-sided.
  • Cut each picture into its own square.

Now you have a bunch of custom dungeon tiles to play with. Often, I'll shuffle them and arrange the top ten or twenty haphazardly on the table, then start thinking about the contents of each room and lightly editing until I have a final layout. I take a picture of the final dungeon, which forms my "DM map." The other good thing about this method is that you can place each room on the table as the players explore it. Sure, it takes some of the challenge out of player mapping, but I find that's not necessarily a bad thing and it adds a nice visual element.

The key is to find a nice mix of pictures: monsters, NPCs, items, traps, and even "empty" rooms. A number of pictures in my collection could be are abstract enough to warrant multiple interpretations, but not so abstract that they don't actually make me think of anything. It's a tricky balance.

Here's an example from my last session. The dungeon is a former elven villa carved into a natural bismuth outcropping in the middle of a radioactive jungle, now taken over by Mystra-worshipping religious fundamentalists.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Free-Association Map Method

The players in my Malara campaign have recently reached 5th level and secured a relatively steady income by marrying a prostitute friend of theirs off to the royal botanist and then assassinating and impersonating said botanist (like you do). As such, they're starting to feel a bit of wanderlust. Up to this point, they've spent most of the campaign in a huge primeval forest and adjacent jungly elf empire (toward the center of the map below).

So the time has finally come for me to figure out what else is out there. This is how I did that.

First: codify my influences. I filled a piece of paper haphazardly with the stuff I want to influence the setting. Then, around each one, I tried to get more specific about what aspects I wanted to lift for my game.

Then I moved on to the word-map below. Using the influences and what I've already told the players, I named the regions of the game world. I used different colors to distinguish the regions from each other and provide a dominant mood. Around each region, I filled in words from the previous step, crossing them out as I went.

Then it was a matter of making several more passes, using what was already there to free-associate more characteristics of the region. At this point I also borrowed liberally from other sources, particularly +Zak Sabbath's campaign (the prime motivation behind this).

For every region, I tried to make sure I included most of these:
  • Landscape
  • Monsters
  • Political actors
  • Flavor
  • Two dungeon-like adventure locations, outlined in yellow. Eventually I hope to have 5-10 for each region (if they get visited, anyway), but at least I can quickly create these two if I know the PCs are on the way.
As a final step, I demarcated land, allies, enemies, trade routes, and wrote a hook for each region.

This method might be too obvious to warrant a post ("I wrote down ideas in different colors!"), but I was really happy with both the process and result. It gave me more freedom and more useful information than my usual mapmaking inclination, which is to start by outlining continents, then mountains, then rivers, then forests...and then the last step is, "Ok, so what goes here? Why do the PCs care?" Essentially, I inverted the process. Now I feel like I have a really good idea of what each location is like, and can quickly produce a map that should give the PCs enough to do until I can flesh it out some more.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Beyond Vornheim

I am a normal person with normal things to do but I did this instead:

This is an attempt at an index for all the setting-specific resources +Zak Sabbath has written publicly for his Vornheim campaign. I made it for reasons of inspiration and theft. I will do my best to keep it updated, probably, but I make no promises.



Zak's 5e-Hack Character Gen

Class Options

Knight of Tittivila
New Gods, New Clerics, New Death and Dismemberment Table
Non-magic Ranger for 5e
Vorn's Domain Path for 5e Clerics


Some New 2nd Level Spells for 5e D&D or Whatever
New 3rd Level Spells
Some New Spells And A Question About Them
Even More Spells
Sing The Corrosion


How the World Works

Why They're Called "Planes" And Why You Can Only Get To Them Through Dungeons
Sailing on the Sea of Night
Snakes Are Books
The Medusas etc.


Akayle Ozph
The Church of Vorn
En Gorath Of The 10,000 Eyes
The God of Total Party Kills (Demogorgon)
White-Lipped Goddess


The Plane Of Shadow



What I Know About The World
Slow War
Some World Maps

Cobalt Reach

Random Encounters and Terrain Features
West of the Blue Dragon's Fortress
Partial Hexmap
The Cobalt Claw of Tiamat
Ferox The Incinerator

Devoured Land

Amazons of the Devoured Land
Partial Hex Descriptions
The Black Wing of Tiamat


The Jade Fang Of Tiamat

Far Lands

In The Half-Court

Goblin Empire

Goblins Are Bad And Mostly Hate You
Random Encounters
Biology, Politics, and The Backwards Goblin Backstory
Goblin Cubes
Goblin Market
Goblin Palace


Nephilidian Vampire

Place of Scorpions

Sandy Box Kit
The City of Suffering
Horrible Horrible Jackal-Heads
Lottery in Babylon

Realm of the Negatsar

The Pale Eye Of Tiamat

Sea of Ignorance and Pain

Wavecrawl Kit
Catching The First Boat Outta Here...
Isle of Oth
East of Oth
Rogue Traitors
Vrokk, Isle of the War Wizards


A Red & Pleasant Land
The Red Hand of Tiamat


City Map
Region Map
4 Cults Known To Be Active On The Northern Continent
The Art Economy In Vornheim
Bellet Osc and the Cruel City
Fortress of Crows
Organizations of Vornheim
Urbancrawl Rules
Vornheim: The Complete City Kit
Wolves in the Throne Room, an adventure
The Wyvern of the Well



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Will the Chainmail be Unbroken

I couldn't sleep at all last night, but at least I have these kinda clunky rules for broken armor to show for it:

This works for any ascending AC system, but I'm sure someone who understands descending AC (i.e. not me) could adapt it.

First, you need to know the "armor range" of your AC. This is the part that's not covered by the base AC or Dex bonus. So in LotFP for a character wearing leather armor with a Dex bonus of +1, The full AC would be 15 (12+1+2), and the "armor range" would be 14 and 15.

When an opponent rolls an attack against this character, it misses if it rolls 13 or less, hits if it rolls 16 or more, but if it rolls a 14 or 15 it strikes the armor. When this happens, the player rolls a die (d20, say) and notes the number rolled next to the armor. Numbers accumulate over time, and when the player rolls the same number twice the armor is broken and useless until repaired.

It's a fair amount to keep track of, I know. It also means that heavier armor will get dinged more often, though I kind of like that since it would dull your reflexes anyway. Characters are relying more on the armor to absorb blows and less on their ability to dodge.

For even more to keep track of, you could introduce different armor qualities by rolling different dice to check for breakage, from piss poor (d4) to absolutely legendary (d100).

Now that I think about it, you could do the same thing for weapons by checking for breakage every time you roll a 1 to hit.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Yoon-Suin, Red & Pleasant Land, and Deep Carbon Observatory Made Me Start a Band

“I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!"
- Brian Eno, 1982

Good bands make you listen; great bands make you play. It takes more than great music, though. There's lots of great music out there that didn't start a movement the same way the Velvet Underground did. There's a raw, ramshackle DIY quality to a Velvet record, especially the first, where they're clearly disregarding the rules in a way that gives it life and invites you in. "You can do this shit too, and you can do it your way."

My way into the OSR was through +Jack McNamee's Rotten Pulp. I'd been away from D&D for over a decade, since early high school. The daily grind of a science PhD coupled with friend/girlfriend interest eventually made me decide to put some make-believe back in my life, so I started looking around and discovered two new editions had been published since the 3rd edition of my youth. 

Fifth edition seemed to clear off the crust of prestige classes and other things that meant your character could be better if you bought more books, which I liked. I also had this idea that I wanted to run some old-fashioned adventure modules, so I was on the lookout for those too. This was around April 2015. I tried to find the original internet path that brought me to Rotten Pulp, but Safari only seems to keep my browsing history for a year (a year ago today, I was searching "mad max iphone 6 case"). I think I was looking for ways to simplify 5th edition character creation and found this post. Maybe.

Before long, I was reading about horror in games, negadungeons, hirelings, random tables, and something called Death Frost Doom. Mostly what I found was someone thinking deeply about this silly game in a way that went well beyond challenge ratings and encounter balance. Down the blogroll rabbit hole I went. 

The sense of wonder and discovery was intoxicating in those heady days when I didn't know what any of this really meant. I bought Yoon-Suin by +David McGrogan within ten minutes of discovering it based on the brief description and +Matthew Adams's art. I thought Zak Smith looked like James Raggi for a long time because Zak had a picture of him holding up A Red & Pleasant Land on the side of his blog.

Over the next few months I read blog after blog and began to incorporate the ideas I found into the campaign I'd begun based on what I remembered of 3rd edition. Yoon-Suin infected the vanilla elven empire that was my game's main setting, twisting it into something much more strange and wonderful. Eventually I added Deep Carbon Observatory by +Patrick Stuart and +Scrap Princess and A Red & Pleasant Land by +Zak Sabbath to my arsenal, and the game world hasn't been the same since.

I've heard the above Eno quote also said about the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols. In my current game life, the three books I've mentioned are my Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, and Sex Pistols. They informed my sensibilities and eventually made me start this blog. Apologies to the authors if you don't like the bands I'm comparing you to, but it's my blog after all, so tough. Compare yourself to ABBA on your own damn time.

Yoon-Suin is clearly the Velvet Underground - just exchange the heroin for tea and opium and put John Cale's droning viola in the hands of a Hundred Kingdoms fakir. To me, the Velvet Underground were always about a kind of laconic but dangerous beauty. Life comes easy, but so does death and everyone's an addict anyway. That's a pretty good description of the Yellow City. The deep melancholy of Nico's voice evokes the tragedy of beautiful Syr Darya populated by half-men. The hypnotic groove of a song like Sister Ray gives the feeling I want to convey to players traveling in Lamarakh or the Mountains of the Moon.

The lipstick-coated menace and overgrown palace of R&PL just scream the New York Dolls and 70s NYC. There's a thin veneer of glamour to both that masks the violence beneath. The New York Dolls were about saying fuck you to the horror of living amongst decay; R&PL is the same. Both Voivodja and the USA circa 1973 are slow-motion nonsense apocalypses catalyzed by a disconnect from the value of human life. This is almost literal: 1973, in addition to birthing the Dolls, is cited by economists as the year wages stopped tracking productivity and flatlined. Not as bad as everyone turning into vampires, I guess, but at least you can kill the vampires and take their (very nice) stuff. You can't stake late stage capitalism with a misericorde.

DCO is the Sex Pistols for its very British brand of contempt for The Way It's Done. Sure, I'll give you a dungeon, but you'll do it in reverse and oh, you passed the treasure in the mud on the way here. And who guards the cramped tunnels of the observatory? A fucking giant, that's who. I'll see your Saruman the White and Elric of Melniboné and raise you a Snail-Shell Zarathusa. The desperation and grubbiness of the adventure recall basement shows in abandoned houses - Carrowmore barely holding it together, the dying turbine golems (representing the now-silent factories of England, eh Patrick? Eh?), the showdown between the Kapeks and the Reed People amongst the filth of their dry lake. Scrap Princess's rip-it-up-and-start-again frenetic energy is the perfect complement. Hell, Hoolloch by Frosen even looks like Sid Vicious.