17 November, 2011

Low-magic sussed: the world is weird

I realised something the other day: the reason the world Illi Pesch is situated on is low-magic is because magic is most of what keeps the world from coming apart at the seams.  There may also be some bizarre stuff that exists to keep it working, or the gods/ancients/builders might have just built that in so there'd be no chance of goofball adventurers wandering about and breaking the thing.

Or maybe not. I haven't decided.

07 October, 2011

Musing on Low-Magic

I've said in here before that my new gameworld is to be low-magic: that is, there aren't going to be six-packs of Wands of Fireball to be had, and any magical sword (or, even rarer, miscellaneous weapon!) you may find has a specific origin, purpose, and name. But there are a lot of really nifty magical items out there. A flip through the Rules Cyclopedia shows me interesting scrolls that can map areas or draw things for you. The Book of Marvelous Magic has a plethora of wild items I'd love to use. But doesn't that fly in the face of 'low-magic'?

I could redefine my term and say that magic is not prevalent, and keep my current treasure chart, but allow, on occasion and with reason, some of these more interesting items to crop up. I could certainly place individual items for specific reasons. But in a place where the society doesn't use a great deal of magic in their day-to-day lives, where returning the dead to true life is something of a miraculous occurrence, how much sense does it make to have a Broom of Flying, as a mundane example, sitting unknown in someone's stable? Or am I falling prey to the 'it has to make sense!' pitfall I'm so prone to?

Hack & Slash: On the Creative Crocodile Conundrum

Great blog post here: I'm trying to unlearn years of 2nd Edition Skills and Powers habits, namely rolling for everything and not being able to play without sixty-five thousand rule- or source-books at my fingertips.

Hack & Slash: On the Creative Crocodile Conundrum: Are modern gamers objectively less creative then old school gamers? Here over at Monsters and Manuals, Noisms discusses some of the agenc...

28 September, 2011

Building things

Haven't worked on the game world/region in a few days due to Life, et cetera.  But I probably should be writing some stuff up in here, 'cos I am still working on the thing.

I did a pantheon last week and finally wrote it up (complete with symbols!  In colour!) in my notebook.  I've been kicking around some ideas Toady One had for Dwarf Fortress with regards to undead, lycanthropes/cursed creatures, and created creatures, and the pantheon stuff is linking to it.  I have at least one god who's given out some tablets which describe how to make zombies and stuff.  He's mischeivous that way. In this low magic world, mages aren't just going to get knowledge of how to animate the dead when they reach the appropriate level.  I mean, come on.  You think this stuff grows on trees?  They have to do a lot of research and/or searching for this knowledge.  Same with magic item creation.  I'm sure some of my regular players won't like the idea they have to work for something, but that's just tough, I say.  I've already altered my magic item distribution table (in the treasure tables) to heavily favour potions and scrolls.  So if you find a magic ring, hold onto that sucker.

Anyhow, just a bit of more-or-less random rambling.  I've gotten to the point where I have so much information scattered willy-nilly in my notebook that I'll need to start organising it.  I need an info page for my Merchant Guilds, my humanoid cultures, and my other unusual things what live in this place.  Also thinking of dumping the goblins for something more unique and/or original.  There are plenty of other humanoids to choose from (and I'm not talking goblin-orc-hobgoblin-bugbear-ogre here), and my last gameworld was designed to be populated with mostly animal people as far as humanoids go. (Not that I got to play that world very far, but it might come back again.)

More later.

27 September, 2011

ConstantCon Monday!

I had the opportunity to play in Zzarchov's Neoclassical Geek Revival game as part of ConstantCon on Monday night.  Despite the fact I was exhausted from what's probably another attempt by my sinuses to kill me, I played for about three hours with the group and had a wonderful time.  I'm intrigued by NGR's magic system: it allows for a great deal of customisation and personalisation and I'm studying it as a possible model on which to build a magic system in my own game.  I get so bored with the standard B/X or BECMI spell lists.  Everyone and his brother is familiar with Magic Missile or Sleep.  NGR's system allows these simple spells to leap out and live, to be colourful and unique to each spellcaster.  And Zzarchov's encouragement of the use of Vancian spell names only adds to the awesomeness.

Creating my character on the fly - adding skills and things on the spur of the moment - was something I'm not used to, as my group has played predominately 2nd Edition Skills and Powers for some time now.  Refreshing, but left me stumbling a bit.  I'll grow into it.

I'm definitely going to make it a priority to make it to this game every week.

20 September, 2011

Tarot City

Yep, it's another grey, rainy day.  I spent some time last week and again last night playing with Zak's tarot card random city builder thing.  I'm not sure of the shape of Illi Pesch, but I laid out my cards and let their positions and artwork tell me a story.  I'm not using a Rider-Waite deck (the deck most people think of when they think of a tarot deck), so some of my cards are a bit different.  The guide that came with the book tells which of the Major Arcana relate to those in the Rider-Waite deck, so I had no trouble following along.

Last week I had done a quick spread of seven cards by four before heading out for some errands.  One of the most interesting things that unfolded was the relationship between the Queen of Pentacles (Coins) and the King of Pentacles.  The Queen was reversed (upside-down), an orientation which usually means a reversal of the standard meaning in a regular tarot reading.  Here I decided it meant something unfortunate had just happened, was in the process of happening, or would soon happen.  So the Queen of Pentacles, who I decided was the head of one of the most powerful merchant guilds in the city, was in for some trouble.

Then I dealt the King of Pentacles, upright. The King was to be the head of one of the other most powerful merchant guilds in the city.  The artwork on the cards was telling: both King and Queen are depicted with a large pentacle cupped in the crook of their arm.  But when reversed, the gesture looks more like a protecting one.  The Queen, worried about losing her wealth or holdings, is clutching the pentacle to her chest.  Her gaze goes directly to the face of the King opposite.  His gaze, by contrast, goes right to her pentacle.  So she's afraid of losing something, and he knows it, and he wants it.

Yesterday I set about fleshing out these characters and found out some very interesting things indeed about the state of trade and commerce in the city, as well as the relationship between the characters themselves.  I left a handful of loose ends, which I'll either tie down or leave in places where the player characters can bump into them.

18 September, 2011


Rules, rules, rules.  Every game needs some.  The question I find before me is: which rules?  Do I choose a ruleset (B/X aka Moldvay or BECMI aka Mentzer) or do what I did with my previous campaign and choose a basic ruleset and modify it?  Kabuki Kaiser wrote a great post discussing the joys of having a mix-and-match set of rules.  Not having a rules lawyer or a group of munchkins helps a lot, and I'm not sure about the former in my batch.  And how much player input should I use?  Some of my players are very inventive and will spend a lot of time working on a character background.  Some of my players are naturals at going at right angles and manage to create plots and NPCs with their very play.  This is wonderful.  However I also have some players who, if I give them an inch, will try to take a mile, and this is where I run into difficulty.

What will happen if I allow races or classes I'm not sure have a place in my world?  This sandbox world I'm trying to only lightly sketch in, to be filled in by the actions of … the players?  I suppose it's really a question of how much control I want over the world.  My world.  But should it be my world?  Shouldn't it be our world?  Mine and my players'? Isn't my whole point to lay the ground before them as they advance over it, to describe each detail as it becomes relevant?  Isn't it really therefore a group world?  Perhaps I'd best then relinquish my claim to it.

I have a difficult time letting go of my creations.  It's one of the reasons I don't sell my artwork.  I've already created some things for the world.  I've written up some detail on the city of Illi Pesch.  I know what kind of humanoids live in the surrounding area.  I intend for the theme of the campaign to be a dark struggle for survival in the face of increasing incursions by the humanoids and other baddies.  But what if the players turn aside from this entire region and take their adventure somewhere safer?  It's their prerogative to do so.  Am I prepared for the campaign to turn in unexpected directions?  Kinda.

Maybe I'm not ready to run this thing just yet.

12 September, 2011

The Muse Prevails

I've been in a bad mood all day - had no energy, no real desire to do anything.  Yet tonight after dinner I find myself sketching out details on a new region, mostly for character background and general colour purposes.  I'm making use of Chaotic Shiny's language replacer to spin French placenames into a more fantastic-sounding language.  I named a few islands, created three factions, and then used the faction generator to give them some stats, mostly tweaked to what I already knew about them. And if I use this place as a nation of origin for PCs, I might wind up with a goblin PC.  Dunno how I feel about that just yet.

09 September, 2011

I keep meaning to post updates on my progress with my campaign region but I've been so busy working on the campaign region that I forget to post!  I'd like to say that there is a wealth of wonderful information out there in the blogosphere that has been inspiring me, distracting me, helping me, and making me forget to feed my cat (I do feed her - it's okay).

Yesterday I built some random tables for food and drink at the taverns in Illi Pesch.  If the detail is needed at game time I'll have it, and it'll lend some colour and flavour (no pun intended) to the play.  I worked on the beginning of a semi-secret location in the Black Swamp - it turned out better than I had anticipated in the end and was really fun to build.  I gave some consideration to some of the rules I'll be using: about beginning spells for magic-users and the plan I have to give out little magic treasure (and have few such items be in general use in the region) while dealing with monsters who can only be hit with magic weapons.  If I give out a Keen sword (+1 to hit and damage), does it have the ability to hit a lycanthrope?  Current thought is: no.  It's not magical.  I'll have to consider that when stocking monsters and doling out treasure.

Today I rearranged a binder I hope to carry my slim rules around in (Moldvay Basic and Expert books plus a smattering of other stuff I might need), created an NPC adventuring party to be encountered by the PCs or just to have the possibility of having my underworld or other encounter areas be explored by somebody while I'm getting a group together, and made some new and terrifying monsters.  Oh, and started a wilderness encounter table.  With the custom/original critters I've got going on, this is gonna take a while.  And I started on the idea of the long-destroyed-and-abandoned Klat compound.  The name 'Klat' had  been kicking around for a bit - I didn't know what to do with it so I slapped it on a sticky and put it in my notebook.  Today I realised what it is at last.  Now I have a whole ruin/basement/subterranean area to put in.  I didn't feel like building any of it today - I'll get to it another day.

Progress is being made! I'm happy! Now off to read Zak's latest post about how much preparation the DM really needs when sandboxing...

06 September, 2011

The City of Illi Pesch

I’ve placed a city on my fledgling map and chosen the unusual name of Illi Pesch (pronounced Eel-ee Pesk) for it. It sits at the mouth of a river, but also at the edge of a cliff, so a waterfall is part of its design. I figured the docks area would need some kind of lift or other transport system in order to get people and/or goods up to the city itself. So there’s a system of lifts and pulleys for moving ships from the sea below to the trading docks. Huge beasts pull at a power wheel to operate the lifts. In addition, giant dragonflies, charmed by a powerful wizards organisation, flit down to fetch cargoes from particularly wealthy or well-connected trade vessels who arrange for the service.

Another of the symbols of Illi Pesch is its collection of spiral towers. Inspired by the spiral cities in the module X6 Quagmire, these white towers cluster at the center of the city and house its bureaucratic heart. The central tower is black, and is the home of the Black Queen, the mysterious ruler of Illi Pesch. No one knows who she is, where she comes from, or what she looks like. Or at least if they do know, they're not telling. People don't seem to mind being under the rule of an enigmatic shadow as long as there's food on the table.

I don't want to get too heavily into the politics of the region, at least from a human standpoint, just yet. I pondered having Illi Pesch be a city-state. The little map I've drawn shows it as the only bastion of human civilisation in the region, though the scale is quite small. It's possible to reach every point of interest from Illi Pesch in two days' foot travel. There might be more human civilisation just off the edge of my map.

The river is, necessarily, a feature of the city, as the city was built around it. It flows through the heart of the city and forms a natural moat for the Black Tower.

05 September, 2011

Tetris meets physics

Stabyourself.net has produced a wonderfully insane version of the popular game Tetris called Not Tetris2. Anyone who's ever been a fan of the original GameBoy game should take a look at this.

It's fun, if frustrating, to play.  Not Tetris2 is open source and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  I've played it a couple of times (high score of 11 lines, go me!) and the only advice I have thus far is: relax.  It's easy to oversteer the pieces, so just go with the flow.  Good life advice, too, yes?

04 September, 2011

Why build dungeons? A rationale

I periodically get nostalgic for old-school style dungeon crawls. The trouble is, I usually get caught up in the rational but annoying thought of, “Well, where did this come from? Why is there a freaking dungeon crawling with monsters and weird random magic here, anyway? How can I make it make sense?” It’s enough to send my creativity scrambling for cover under the couch.

Some may say, “It doesn’t matter why! It’s a game! It’s a dungeon! The player characters want to kill monsters and get rich and famous and powerful!” I don’t wish to cast aspersions on this school of thought, but I have to say that this response worked for me when I was a kid, scrawling out dungeons on cast-off grid paper my father brought home from work. These days I want to have at least one foot in the realm of rationality. Yes, even in a fantasy roleplaying game.

On a whim, I picked up my copy of the Dungeons and Dragons Rule Cyclopedia, a compilation of the rules for Basic D&D. I turned to the section on wizard characters (pg 20) [1]. In talking about high level wizards, the book mentions that such a character typically acquires a tower and may build a dungeon underneath it. Why build a dungeon? Well, to study the creatures that wander into it, of course. To do magical, genetic, or perhaps alchemical research on them. To study their behaviour, and to keep current on the state of the monsters in the world.

There you go. There’s at least a couple reasons to build a dungeon. Of course, the wizard may be (or later go) stark raving mad for some reason or other and start building whacky evil magical stuff in his or her dungeon, but it’s not necessary.

Dungeons are also useful, as one might well imagine, for keeping prisoners. The text mentions that monster-filled dungeons are not popular amongst the local people and the wizard should be prepared for low-level adventurers to come poking about in his dungeon to stop the monsters within from ravaging the countryside. Maybe the wizard doesn’t care about this. “It will be interesting to see how this plays out,” he may think. Or perhaps she’d like to allow the monster population to naturally beef itself up as a result of the weaker individuals being weeded out by the adventurers. High-level wizards were once lowly, low-power characters, too. He might think, “How’re they gonna learn if they don’t have something to pit themselves against?” There are all kinds of responses.

There are other kinds of dungeons, of course. I think other archetypes - the abandoned keep, the haunted tomb, etc. - have their own rationales just in their very concepts. Sometimes you just need a dungeon that’s just a dungeon! Go! Find the monsters and the weird magic and try not to get brutally killed! If you succeed in collecting the Extremely Bizarre and Deadly Thingamajig of Doom you’ll be famous! And I’m sure you won’t mind that missing ear ... or hand ... wait, where are you going?

1. The dungeon-building rationale is also discussed in the Players’ Handbook in the Companion Set, under the section about high-level magic-users.

28 August, 2011

Musings on old-school gaming

It’s been a stormy, rainy last several days, and so I’ve been holed up inside, pondering my fantasy roleplaying games again.

I’ve been working on some new things for my campaign. I started reading several old-school gaming blogs and got positively inspired. Since Friday I’ve begun a high-level wizard and his tower (and its dungeons); a humanoid lair in the same region, complete with connections to the wizard; and a nearby mini-empire (they’re big for their britches) with some cultural notes and also with a connection to the wizard. I’ve placed the two locations in the wizard’s backstory on my fledgling map, which I’m tentatively placing in my existing gameworld far from the place where my first group was adventuring.

The more I think about it, the crankier I get with the spoon-fed gaming setup. The originators of Dungeons and Dragons thought it all up themselves, each campaign a new and unique entity, and that’s how they played. Moreover, that’s how they thought everyone wanted to play. They were, as I understand it, genuinely surprised when people showed interest in pre-made modules and campaign settings.

Some folks want to run a game but don’t have the time, energy, or creativity to build their own. I don’t begrudge them that. Real life takes precedence. But the current generation of gamers, and some from earlier generations, seem to think the only good way to play is to use the ‘official’, ‘real’ sources and never deviate from them. Some seem to be unhappy with any game in which they can’t ‘win’ all the time, but that’s a separate issue. When a new DM tries to start a game in an older system without all the bells and whistles of the more modern editions, and worse, builds her own gameworld with no reference to Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Krynn, or other established worlds, it’s disconcerting that certain players decry the game as ‘not real Dungeons and Dragons’.

I look forward to finding a few players who are willing to go old school with me. I want to build a world that’s different. I want to invite players into it and watch them experience the wonder of a new setting. I want to set them challenges and watch them overcome them. I want to watch their characters grow and change the world in which they live. I want to run a game where every player doesn’t have the basic monster stats memorised. I want to surprise them. I want to wow them. I want them to walk away from the table thinking, “That was exciting!” or “I didn’t expect that!”.

Can this be done within published settings? Of course. But I’d rather run a game where, for a wild example, anthropomorphic toasters roam in herds over the countryside, or where periodically the moon is stolen by a terrifying beast of legend, leading to chaos in the realms until some brave heroes rescue the forlorn celestial object. Explore the wonders of space! What do you mean there’s no air there? I say there is! Go, take your lizard-skin gliders and explore those countless points of light! The only limit is imagination!