Wednesday, 28 December 2011


There has been some discussion on various blogs of the usefulness of a man playing on a lyre while you try to explore monster-haunted underground ruins. 

To the naysayers I present this real life example!

Taken from here

If it works in a Lybian gunfight, it can work in a dungeon.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

is a bit like old-school D&D. The makers finally realised that technology is more interesting when it goes wrong.

A lot of Spy films are about the thrill of watching people think very quickly in difficult situations. They are also about the pleasures of technology. Smooth, powerful toys that no-one else has.

But the toys are in conflict with the thinking. They erode each other. The writers need to go from one place to another very quickly, or they need a plot problem solved. So they invent a nice piece of technology to get it out of the way. Over time these pieces of technology add up until eventually no problems require thought or creative action, only tech.

In between doing the washing up I remember catching parts of an episode of Terra Nova. Terra Nova is Brannon Braga's boring 'Homesteaders in Prehistory' show. I was surprised because it looked like it was about to become interesting. A rock fell from the sky and with the power of bad science it destroyed all the technology in the settlement.

I was convinced that this would lead to some embodied dramatic actions on the part of the cast. Without their bullshit future-science they would have to think creatively and intelligently and make tough decisions.

Instead of this it turned out there was one machine left and it could fix all the other machines. So the whole show became about the cast waiting for a machine to work.

The makers of the Mission Impossible series (probably Brad Bird the director) have realised that technology is more interesting when it goes wrong, and that's what it does all through the film. Things are taken away from the cast and we get at least the illusion of interesting choices.

The gap between new and old editions of D&D is a little like this. People like toys. So they add more and more toys to the game. Eventually it becomes like a box of shiny plastic objects. It becomes unsatisfying and feels empty. So we take the toys away and begin again.

If we extend the lessons learnt from MI: Ghost Protocol to D&D we find two things.

One - Bullshit is more interesting when it doesn't work that when it does. It's also more interesting for the bullshit to be there in the first place and then to go wrong than for it to be taken away entirely. So maybe 5th edition should have exactly as much bullshit but more ways for it to go wrong.

Two - There is only one Mission Impossible film in which Tom Cruise is not either disavowed, turned against, betrayed by or excluded from his own agency. Its also the least interesting one of the films. So maybe games of D&D should begin with the players already having a lot of money and status and it being taken away from them*. Or being bodyguards for a Dragon and it going wrong. Of being thrown out of a dungeon. Or trying to escape a magical destiny in order to become a lowly swineherd.

(*I did have the idea that one of the starting options for a single player for my D&D game would be to have no skills, no equipment and no spells but to have about a million gold pieces on a cart and nothing else. It would change the whole nature of the game.)

This might be another example of the counter-stream, like in cyberpunk. In D&D (Old School) players are supposed to be greedy bastards. The game supports this. But if they are only greedy bastards and nothing else the game is quite uninteresting. So the game assumes there is a human element to the play that is not, and cannot be, covered by the rules. People will want to be heroes, not all the time, but a little. And this will naturally bring them into conflict with the games mechanic and that is part of what makes the game interesting.

I really need to think of a word or a term that describes the invisible unseen part of a game that assumes you will play against the described part of the rules, not by breaking them, or subverting them to win the game, but in that your natural humaness sort of pushes against the way the game makes you play and that this is a natural and expected part of play.

'Invisirules' is not a good name.

Someone German has probably already thought of this. But its probably one of those horrendous epic compound words. If any of my invisible non-existent readers know of it, please let me know.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Worlds Smallest Players Handbook

There was a competition on the Internet to produce one-page dungeons. You can find the winners here.

Many are excellent. A man who blogs here. Created a dungeon that is a Pocketmod. That's an A4 page that is folded up to make a mini-booklet smaller than your hand.

The guide on how to fold a pocketmod after printing it out is here. You can also download software to make your own.

I thought this was an excellent idea. I started to wonder if you could carry a portable game of D&D in your wallet. Just enough for you play one game with people who had never played before.

So I created the Worlds Smallest Players Handbook.

You can find a link on the right. The idea is that you could print out three of these and one copy of 'Citadel of Evil' and along with 3 D6, 1 D20 and a pencil, you would have everything you need to play a game of D&D.

The handbook is far from perfect. It uses a stripped down version of LOTFP. It assumes an AC of 12 for everything, 1D6 hit points for everything and 1D6 damage for everything. It also assumes the DM can walk-through character gen and do a fair amount of improvisation as well.

The handbook isn't tuned for Citadel of Evil but hopefully could be used with any of the One Page Dungeons.

It is mainly made out of combining the ideas of Stuart Robertson from the Strange Magic blog and James Raggi who made LOTFP. 

I also nicked most of the images from here.

It's also untested and a bit ugly. I'm sure anyone with any experience in game design or graphic design could make a much better version. If anyone should want the original files to hack them up then let me know and I will put up a link.

'You all meet up in a giant nest.'

Probably my favourite opening to a D&D adventure ever.

You don't even need to describe much, just show them the image and say 'this is you'.

From Module UK5 'Eye of the Serpent'. 

If I'm infringing copyright, ask, and I'll take it down.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Why is Nature Wild?

Because its full of EXPLOSIVES.

In the modern world humanity is everpresent. Nature only rules fully in the margins left by our mistakes. The minefields go untouched. They can be cleared, and the mines will decay. But you can never be sure. Flooding and rainstorms move the mines around. There is no set period of decay. We can never walk there again with perfect certainty.

The DMZs, Minefields, Chemical Fields, Underground-Coal-Fires and Chernobyl Zones are the new wilderness, shaping the margins of the world with our mistakes.

So we ask the D&D Autumnal world. Why are there so many empty spaces? If empires fall and rise with such felicity, why only points of light?

Too many margins and too many mistakes. Over long epochs of human history the marginal zones invisibly expand and interlock. We are squeezed ever closer. The wilderness is empty because it is dangerous. We made it that way. We cannot remember why, and we cannot go back.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

They find you in a Bad Situation

If a character calls their friend for help, should they always know how the help will come? In some ways NPC connections are a bit like resources, they can be invested in, expended and renewed.

But NPC's are also people and relations with people should be fluid and unpredictable. I made this table to try and keep friendly NPC's 'alive'. And also to balance out the equivalent table for enemy responses in Cyberpunk character generation.

You can roll on this when you develop an NPC relationship, or more interestingly, whenever you call on one an NPC friend for help. I tried to make them vague enough to be widely-applicable but also 'crunchy' enough to be useful. Not sure if I pulled it off.

If they find you in a bad situation, they will

1. Develop a counter-strategy with lightning speed. Add to your rolls if you follow their advice.
2. Find leverage on your chief opponent. (Or minor opponent if this is unrealistic.)
3. Match the badness, edge for edge.
4. Call down the thunder, if there is no thunder, call down the rain.
5. Bribe a muthafucka.
6. Pretend to be the enemy and mess with their shit.
7. Cross an unexpected class or cultural boundary to get help.
8. Immediately find the best escape route and tell you about it.
9. open fucking fire, right fucking now.
10. If noble, do something dark to help you. If dark, do something noble. If neither, do something extreme.

Monday, 14 November 2011

How are you friends with this dude?

This was intended to be a sub-table to roll on if you roll yourself a friend during character generation. On looking back, most of the friend and allies already have a reason for being your friend. The game assumes that is you become someone’s enemy, only then do you need a special reason.

I wanted to make it because in most situations chaos and entropy get most of the glamour and creative energy. I also wanted to think about the kind of events and states that might lead to people becoming friends.

So this may not work. I suppose you could use is to roll on as addendum to the friend table if it made sense. (I don't think you really need to roll to see why your parent is your friend.) It could also be used instead of the main table.

Where there is a '/' that can mean 'or' but also 'and' if you like.

Here is a table of probably-redundant friendship-inciting incidents and states.

How are you friends with this dude?*
1. This dude saw you keep your shit together in a bad situation when everyone else was losing theirs. Respect to the nerve.

2. A powerful figure put you in a dangerous place and threatened your weakest point. You stared them down. This dude is the only one who knows you were bluffing.

3. You took advantage of a complex and rapidly changing situation before anyone else, This dude was the only other person to notice the same thing.

4. You told a joke at an important meeting/social gathering. This dude was the only other person to laugh. (If your character has no sense of humour then someone else told the joke and you and this dude were the only people not to laugh.)

5. This dude likes your attitude towards cybernetics/weapons, You respect their personal clothing style and wish you could carry off the same thing. (or visa versa)

6. This dudes taste in music/books/fiction is 95% the same as yours. If you've been watching/reading/thinking about something then there's a good chance they have as well. You argue constantly about the remaining 5%

7. This dude is a ghost that you invented. They were net-hacked and their I.D was totally expunged. You helped them get back on their feet and set them up with a new identity on the system. It could be argued that legally they no longer exist.

8. This dude was your closest challenger in a ruthless competition. You were neck-and-neck when you realised the game was corrupt. Even though you were far ahead of the rest, you both quit at the same time. Now you compete with each other instead.

9. You hated this dude for years and you thought they hated you. But when things went to shit and the children were trapped you both looked up to realise that only one other person had stayed behind to help.

10. You recognised each other through your work. This dude is the only other person to really understand what you're all about (and if you're a bastard, to still like you), you have corresponded but never met.

*Not sex-specific, girls are also dudes in the dark future

Sunday, 13 November 2011

How you hooked up

A D10 table to connect characters to each other. Roll at the beginning of the session to work out how you know each other. Roll for the person to your right or left, then go round the table linking people up.

This is not original work. I took the most interesting entries from here-

And tried to Cyber them up a bit. The Cyberpunk tables are all D10, so I made these the same way.

How you hooked up

1. Characters each feel the other "has his uses."

2. Characters met in the highly protected vault of the most powerful local organisation; both barely escaped with their lives.

3. Characters met when one accidentally invalidated a contract that had been placed on the other.

4. Characters got up in each others faces. Fought to a standstill. Either physically, or by other means. Now friends.

5. Characters were hired muscle for a Corporation who turned on them; now on the run.

6. Characters were originally hunter and target, now friends and peers.

7. Characters have a weird resemblance, if your didn’t know them well, you could easily mistake one for another, though not blood related.

8. Characters met on an mission that went to shit, both deserted their group. So far as they know there were no survivors.

9. Characters were each one of a team of seven, hired for a pittance to protect an isolated hab-block in the slums from drug-fiend bandits. 

10. Characters each secretly convinced the other is playing a double game. Each are quietly playing along until the other reveals their true colours. Both too worried about being stabbed in the back to leave the other alone for long.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Cyberpunk 2013

Less drunk now.

There is a quasi-random generation system. That is sort-of good. Like all divisions between random-roll and points-buy it feels like an uncomfortable child in a darkened room. The door a slant open, a yellow bar of light from the hall outside. Too scared to close the door, too ashamed to turn on the lights. Trapped between things.

There is a skill list. Not sure how I feel about that. If you don't know the game already then choosing skills is a hopeful grasp towards the kind of game you hope it'll be. But it might not be the kind of game it is, or will be. And there you are trapped in the dark future with your Dinosaur-hunting skill and fuck all to do.

Improving in skills looks like it takes fucking ages and its totally under the control of the GM. You can train yourself and be taught in-game but the rules for this are highly conservative. So, right now, it looks like the energy of the game is going to be generated between the almost-story-game encouragement of flair and style in the colour and the dark-bastard plan-or-you're-dead, “no you can't, you don't have the skill” have-you-been counting-your-ammo? mechanics.

The game tells you to play like a carefree cheeky bastard, the mechanic kills you if you do this. If this generates interest then it is a good game. If it simply annoys then it is not.

Resolution is based around 'tasks', so the GM has to go through the whole fucking world and try to decide how difficult everything is.

Story-game hippy bullshit I would to with this.

  • Only self-created skills, start at zero or one. Advance like Mouse Guard when you have one success and one fail in each skill.
  • Let players set their own difficulty level for tasks. If they set low and win, they get fuck all. If they set high then they get x-tra cool. (Not sure how this would actually work.

'You must roll lower than your education chance on 1D10 to enter the school of hard knocks' aaand I'm back in love with it. (And drinking again)

The lifepath tables are very cool. The enemies table has two nested sub-tables, the friends table is all on its own. The romance table has a tragedy sub table. The personal disaster table has more detail and is larger than any of the others. This tells you something about human nature. Or at least how we think about human nature.

But there is no table to link the players to each other! Why not?

I will do two things. I will create a lifepath thing to connect the characters to each other and I will add sub-tables to the friendship table. I will lend energy and creative power to the force of fictional friendship and thence bring balance to Cyberpunk.



Friday, 11 November 2011

Cyberpunk 2013

I am reading the first edition of this game. 

Writing about this as I read it.

And Drinking

Use of the words tough and grim in the same sentence in the second paragraph, yes.

'Heroes of a bad situation' YES. Tagline to a film I want to watch.

I have to play a character with a 'cynical-yet-idealistic-style'. That's how I LIVE man.

'Use your best "I'm bad and you aren't" smile.' Haaaahhhhggnn. Yes. Always.

Rule three is 'Live on the Edge'. And that's only because the first two rules were MORE AWESOME.

Also, brief sanity check. How can it be a rule to live on the edge? Enforcement? Will Kanye and Lemmy arrest you? (Note so self, idea for a new tv show. Edge Cops. Lemmy and Kanye team up, fight crime, boredom. e.t.c.

(Further note to self, remember to close brackets after use

Oh my fucking christ there's a class where the description goes 'if you live to rock, this is where you belong' HOW DID ANYONE GET TO THE OTHER CLASSES??! Who reads an RPG and thinks 'well, I do like to rock. But I will read the other classes just to be sure they do not rock more' Nerds. Nerds do. Question asked, question answered.

In the cyber future, IBM, Sony and Apple are mentioned. But no Microsoft.

In cyber slang 'Input' is girlfriend and 'Output' is boyfriend. Someone could write a thesis on that. Not a good thesis.

One class is essentially Frank Butcher, or Lou from Neigbours. The special skill is 'Streetdeal'. Another class is being homeless. In the dark future of the 1980's even being homeless is kind of awesome.

More later

Thursday, 3 November 2011


Probably the most interesting definition of combat rounds I've seen. From The Marvel Super-Heroes Basic Set.

'Turns are not a precise measurement, they take about five to 15 seconds each, which roughly translates into one panel of a comic book. Your character can perform in one round whatever can comfortably fit into a single panel of a comic book. That's why heroes can deliver a long speech and clobber the Red Skull in a single turn, but only the fastest of them can take multiple actions in the same turn.'

I've noticed in playing D&D and story games that the exact division of time during rapid actions, especially when player opposes player, has a huge effect on the nature of play. Time must be both exact, (because at the momemnt to moment transaction, time is a diminishing resource) and also flexible, in order to allow the narritive power that helps charge events with meaning.

If time is measured too ferociously, events become very closely described in the game, both by the players and as a general consequence of play. This granularity seems sometimes to rob actions of wider meaning. If time becomes too 'fluffy' or soft, then tension is lost and meaningful decisions become harder.

Generally speaking, during a game, the closer you measure time the more Hobbsian and conservative it gets. People play to safeguard and horde whatever they have, both as characters in the game and as players. They play to limit negative results. They can also get much more creative with the things they do have. When you go the other way, things become more relaxed, players improvise, invent differently and add energy to the game in a different way, usually by connecting things over a wider context.

These are both good things and lend emotional and intellectual counterpoint to the game.

(I am not just talking about having losts of small, little, sharply defined events vs a few large fuzzy events but about the level of mixing between the two.)

The decription above of time as a meaningful, but limited dramatic unit is one I will keep in mind when I play next. It also makes immediate intuitive sense.

(But I suppose only really makes sense if you think about is as superhero comics from the 50's to 80's though. Any other kind of comic or even comics from a different period might produce something quite different.)

If I ever get round to statting up the Hours for Balach, I will probably have them each have a differrent approach towards narritive time. Like one has turns like comic panels, another has turns like lines of poetry, another has turns like cuts from a film, another has turns like memories e.t.c. So you will know what time it is in Balach by how time is decribed in the game.

i.e 'Hmm, we're moving from clear moment to clear moment with a straight 4th edition division of Standard, Move and Minor actions per turn. It must be three O'Clock. Should I get this battle done before it turns Four O'Clock, or extend it so we can kill the orcs while counting time as moving from decison to decision rather than second to second?'

The New Death Review

The New Death is an e-book by James Hutchings.

At its finest it recalls Dunsany, and Dunsany would not be ashamed to acknowledge it.

(For anyone who doesn't know who Dunsany is, if you took Lovecraft, dragged him out of the cellar, gave him a decent meal, took him for a walk in the hills in summer, got him laid that evening, got him a bit drunk, then smacked him round the face a few times and told him to pull himself together, then what he wrote next would be a bit like Dunsany. But not quite, and not as good.)

There is whimsy. The whimsy trips readily and rapidly from the authors mind. Like the weird bits of cereal being the first parts to leave the box as you pour it out. The work is spread between pieces of various lengths. Because the whimsy flows quickly, like strange cereal, it becomes the dominant factor in the shorter pieces.

Your attitude to this will depend very much on your reaction with, and tolerance for, whimsy, and that is a thing governed by strange and fleeting reaches of time and mood.

The cover illustration has two skeletons, arm-in-arm, wearing 19th century period costume, so no-one can claim they were taken unexpectedly by the contents .

In the longer pieces the imaginative flow is deeper and more sustained. The whimsy is still there, but, other things seep into the fiction and the relationship between the parts changes. Characters emerge and clever lightness from a character is quite a different thing than clever lightness directly from a writer. A sense of time and consequence emerges. Few of the stories are fully tragic, though the endings are often sad.

I think the word is 'picaresque'. This is no bad thing.

The concentration and imaginative depth of the work improves with length and these were my favourite parts of the book. I think if they were submitted to Weird Tales in the 1920's (or 30's, I forget when) then they would have a strong chance of getting in. I consider this to be a high standard of praise.

There are two poems about the sea which are good. The other poems are good if you are in your early 20's, a bit clever, and a bit left-wing. Since your are reading a blog about D&D on the internet, there's a good chance you are.

There are several longer poems based short stories by Robert E Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Dunsany and Lovecraft. I think that if any of those writers read the poems inspired by their work, none would make any objection to their quality.

If you have any love for the above creators, or any affection for fiction in the vein of the weird, then you would certainly make a fair bargain by purchasing Mr Hutchings book. I believe the price is 0.99 something, so regardless of the currency (which I cannot recall) the New Death is well worth the money.

(Edit) You can get it here. And it was American cents.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Gamist Fighter, Narrativist Wizard

I MC'd Apocalypse World and I really liked it. And I like D&D. I like mixing things. Cereal, sandwich filling, everything really.

But I'm not the first person to have that idea. Seems that almost everyone who has played Apocalypse World has immediately felt like taking it apart and putting it together as something else. It's a beautiful thing that comes apart in your hands like Lego.

I want to know what happens when each player in a game occupies the same imaginative space but relates to the GM in a different way.

So this is my idea. The fighter is gamist, they act under total player control and move through the Gm created space like a D&D character. Everything is already there, the player just has to decide how to interact with it.

The wizard is narrativist. The makers of the AW hack Dungeon World decided on a spell list. I found this a bit uninteresting. There is no reason to regiment and organise magic in something derived from a story game. With the right set of questions the risks of magic could always be equivalent to the rewards.

This is my suggested replacement for every D&D spell list ever.

You cast a spell. Name it, describe it and give your intended effect. Roll 2D6 plus your intelligence bonus. On a 10+ chose 3 on 7-9 choose 2.

  • There is very little blow-back.
  • It has roughly the intended effect.
  • Nothing unbelievably weird happens.
  • There is no damage to your memory.

There are no spell books. There are no lists of spells. The effects of magic are chaotic and the effects of a narrativist choice system impinging on a D&D game are the effects of the strange otherness of magic slipping into an ordered world.

Changing levels wouldn't result in spells of higher power since the power level is effectively infinite, if you are willing to risk the consequences. Instead, other levels give access to a different character of choice.

The players are in a different kind of conversation with the DM. The magic user is in a constant river of mutual contest and co-operation, a bit like Apocalypse World, the fighter is more challenge-and-response, like a game of D&D. The magic user appears to have more power, but they also have to surrender, or exchange, control of their character in ways the fighter doesn't. I imagine the fighter forming a kind of island of narrative stability, with less apparent power to shape events, but more self-contained and affecting the story persistently over the long-term.

I really want to see how these two kinds of system interact, or if they can interact.

I'm also considering some kind of intermediate class like the LOTFP specialist, using the Burning Wheel skill system and resolution method.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A Review of 'Quest of the Mist Golem, Module QMG1, Mist Hold'

Zack S requested reviews for free adventures here.

So I have reviewed 'Quest of the Mist Golem from the Delvers Dungeon 

A Review of 'Quest of the Mist Golem, Module QMG1, Mist Hold'

  1. 1. What kind of adventure is it? (Location based? Dungeon? Town? Etc.)
It's a standard break-and-entry on an abandoned wizards tower.

So there's a lot of political bullshit at the beginning. Then the good stuff, a guy who guards his home with evil mists, kidnaps children and turns them into little demonic Frankenstein dopplegangers. An evil guy who is being evil mainly because he's a prick, and not for any other reasons.

He wants to create a Golem that's intelligent and 'utterly loyal'? Presumably because he's never seen an episode of 'The Outer Limits'. He also traded with an Ice Demon for the ability to make Doll Golems and intends to create a city-destroying Golem of Mist. I like that he is using the most impractical methods possible to fuck with peoples shit.

People found out he was up to bad stuff when he sent back children he'd stolen from the city after turning them into possessed doll-golems and they ended up killing their parents and doing surgery on pets.

The city sent some guys to investigate. They found a doll thing that killed some of them and told them the boss was gone. The tower was locked, they couldn’t get in. Considering the matter closed, they went home.

It's now 'many years later.' There's some magnificent DM bullshit where the heads of the city under threat have received 'prophetic dreams' from their god Rao telling them exactly what the threat is and who is behind it but forbidding them to leave the city to do anything about it. Which is an elegant touch of divine perversity. They send the PC's to find the evil wizard.

2. How long is it?

Not very long at all is you just count the interesting stuff. If you want to drag through all the finding-the-key, searching for traps, oh-look-another-abandoned-room stuff then its about a session long. Possibly two.

3. Were there any particularly noteworthy things in it? (Monsters, traps, plot ideas, mechanics, etc.)

There is a mini hex map with nothing on it. For a journey which we've already been told only takes a day and which will be 'uneventful'.

Every night mist rises from the ground near the tower and kills everything in it. So you can only gain access during the day. You are also safe from the mist in the tower, so no time limit there.

There is some rather boring treasure, except that some of it is black coral. I would just dump the rest and have the evil wizard paying his Gnolls in Black Coral. It's vaguely poetic.

Almost every door is warded. The wizards wards stop you going anywhere the designer doesn't want you to go until you get the key. But the game doesn't tell you there is a key. On the plus side, they also act as a magical fire extinguisher, which is pleasingly practical and common sense-like. Don't want your tower burning down after all.

The Evil wizard had a visitors book to sign if you came to his tower. What the fucking fuck? Who visits Murq of the Mists the child killer with the Gnoll army and signs their name? He uses the signatures for evil scrying. I am keeping this as it is mental.

Examining the book will not reveal any names of note.” Why not? That would be incredibly cool.

Names of all the books, some nice paintings of very particular bogs, a nature or knowledge check tells you exactly which bogs they are, which sounds boring now I come to write it down but which was vaguely thrilling when I read it. “Wait! I know that bog!” Adventure gives you exact details of each bog and the time of day the painting represents. For no apparent reason. I like that. One named book has a GP value given if sold to 'a Sage'.

Correspondence with other evil wizards! But no details given, still useful though. Module tells you exactly how many sheets of parchment, paper, vellum and papyrus the wizard left behind?

He also left his diary in which he explains his entire motivation and describes his plans. So there goes any sense of mystery.

A shelf of random dungeon maps!

An ever-full inkwell that never empties is worth 400 XP for picking it up off a desk? Take it home and set up an ink business?

A quill that magically transcribes any voice in 30 feet? Even if you can't hear it?

The wizard also left a memo on his desk detailing his future plans and possible new security systems. Can't really blame him for that one. I carry my banking login number in my wallet with my card, where else are you going to keep it?

Chest in the Wizards bedroom is a DM's fuck-you trap, try to take his stuff and rust-gas ruins your stuff. Strongbox in the chest is full of fools gold, also ruins your gold if you place it inside. (Why would you?) Wizard also left lots of magic items for killing trolls. Trolls are his guards. This is a bit less forgiveable. Like hiding your key under the mat.

There are two kitchens in this tower BUT NO TOILET ANYWHERE. Upper kitchen has a waste disposal chute, 'ah-ha' I think, time for some innovative lateral thinking, and sure enough, it comes out in an area below and can be climbed by “any creature of Dwarf or Halfling size” but then I read “however, they will find it too slippery to maintain a grip and will slide the length of it to land in the water four levels belowfor 2d6 damage." So that was totally, totally pointless.

There are some more paintings of bogs and an awesome painting of the Temple of Elemental Evil. Smart players will simply cut these out and sell them. No values are given.

The best things aout this are the child-golems that twitch and slur. When they attack they scream things like 'I don't want to hurt you!' and 'I'm a good boy!' When you kill them they turn back into children. If they bite you then you laugh yourself to death.

The top floor makes it all worth it. A huge, ruined magical lab. An innocent doll-golem locked in a trunk, a trunk full of miniturised monsters that wake up and grow if you touch them. A bell jar with a crazy, violent time-frozen doll golem in it. The bones of the Wizards girlfriend (he dissolved her!) Her ghost can info-dump about the rest of the stuff in the tower. A scrying pool with some wierd rules. Some crazy rancid potions with fun and unpredictable side effects. A summoning circle that doesnt work. Why not?

The miniturised monsters can regenerate. If given a moment to think, they will simply jump out of the tower, smash onto the ground below, wait to regenerate, and run off into the woods. I like that, tactical thinking.

The advenure says to treat each corner of the room seperately and take it all slowly. No way am I doing that. All at once!

Finally, at the very end of the adventure you come to the part you have to do first. This is stupid. It should be at the beginning.

In the basement there are rats. The rats have stats. The rats won't fight unless cornered and there is no reason to corner them. So why do they have stats?

The wizard fed his Gnolls renewable meat. There is a slab of troll steak on a table. Remove it and the troll grows back! If you ignore or forget about it then the troll slowly regenerates, eats the rats in the room and silently hunts you through the tower. That is nice work.

There is a basement room with deadly (giant) spiders and a message and a flooded room with deadly (giant) water beetles and the key you need to access the rest of the tower. Deadly water beetles sound much more fun. They swin on bubbles of air. Can you pop the bubbles? I hope so.

"The trip back to Veluna City should be uneventful." Why?

"The more complete a report given to the High Priest of Veluna, the faster he will be able to divine Murq’s exact present location on Oerth." Why can't the players figure it out themselves?

"As a final point, the empty premises of Murq’s forest tower, Mist Hold, could become a DM’s nightmare if handled improperly. Allowing mid-level players permanent access to a mage’s warded stronghold as a base can take much of the danger (and fun) out of later, high-level play."

And make it MORE AWESOME, you have a WIZARDS TOWER

4. What sort of vibe is going on in it? (Creepy? Gonzo? Sword and sorcery? Chivalry? Etc.)

The vibe is pure standard D&D with a bit of child-killing horror thrown in. You could play the empty rooms of the wizards tower for slow-burn stress-horror if you played it right.

5. Would you run it? Why or why not?

If I were running this I would strongly infer that the rulers of the city were corrupt cowards, too scared to deal with it themselves.

The adventure begins with the party waiting two minutes to speak to a High Priest. Why begin in a fucking waiting room? In fact, since the interaction is totally scripted, why not just info dump the players and drop them straight in?

My mistake, there is one paragraph about what happens if the PC's refuse the mission. They hear about the city falling three months later.

I would throw out the overarching plot points. Just have it as a random tower. The paintings, letters, books, random dungeon maps and visitors ledger in the tower make it very good for connecting to any other adventure. You can run information both too and from the encounter if you wish.

The tower is meant to be partially ruined, you can dig in through the rubble. But it starts re-building itself once the PC's enter, trapping them inside? Kind of boring and illogical. I wouldn't bother with that, or with most of the warded doors and simply have them enter through the caverns in the basement. Actually, you could link the whole thing up to a dungeon or megadungeon that way.

There is an invisible chef in the kitchen that does nothing but clean and cook food. I would probably have it get violent if the PC's leave a mess.

If the PC's take over the tower, the nightly death-mist is meant to disperse. I would leave it as it makes the whole thing a bit more interesting. You are safe (but trapped) during the night and unsafe (but free) during the day.

6. Does it resemble anything we might've seen before?

I suspect it closely resembles every single wizards-tower adventure anyone has ever seen. Traps, locks, a few monsters, hastily written notes a convenient diary and a ghost.


The Mist Golem is meant to turn up later on when you track the guy down in his all-new bog fortress with the Trolls. I really wanted there to be one.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Did I invent this?

I might be wrong but I think I may be the first person to do this. i know there are dungeon poymorphs and dungeon dice, but a D20 that is a dungeon?


I love the idea of the Underdark and I love the idea of dungeons in 3d. I also really like the idea of a place where the dimensions curl back on themselves out of sight. But how can you make that without some weird expensive software that only the DM can use?

Go here and download a model of your favourite Polyhedra*.

Draw a dungeon on it. Make sure to connect up all the bits.

Even if you just use a pyramid shape, you have just created a space-bending dungeon that cannot be mapped in two dimensions.

If you want to keep it simple then make it top down only. I included top down, cross-cut and isometric figures in mine.

So now you can create a 3d dungeon for pennies.

I think I made mine a bit too complex, how the hell am I going to fill it?

Anyway, thanks Jeff Vandermeer, if I ever get to put players in this thing, this is where the Grey Caps will go

(*And I know you have a favourite)

Dead Simple

I have a small palm-sized brown notebook. When I was bored at work I would take it out and try to make a monster for LOTFP

Because the pages were so small I could only fit in a few sentences of description. This was a good thing. You have to understand what the thing is and work out what it does from a few lines. That means if they turn up in a game it all gets created very quickly in your head. That means less time for your conscious mind to dick around worrying about a Necromancers exact methods or the fucking Shadowfell or whatever.
It was those guys in Jason and the Argonauts, done by Ray Harryhausen. 

They really seemed to enjoy being skeletons, and they were clearly pricks. So it makes sense that the people who end up becoming Skeletons are exactly the kind of shitbag that would actually enjoy it. 

You knew these people at school, never saw them since. Eventually they have to get old and die, right? Did you think they wouldn't jump at the chance to mess you around again?

Why do they have Roses in their eyes? I don't know,  assumed I would find out during play.

Skeleton Bastards
XP - 25
AC - 12
Hit Dice - 1
Move - Human
Attacks - 1
Damage – d6
Morale - 7
Roses are their eyes, and leafy vines throng in their ribs.
The petty, vindictive minds of small-souled killers squat in these innocent bone like toads. They will miss no chance to do harm of any kind, no matter how small. They fear above all things, an innocent soul, which to them, burns like a pillar of flame. This they will flee, or try to kill from a distance.
Skeleton Parry!
Miss in melee with an edged weapon? Then pass a strength test or your blade is snatched out of your hand, caught in its ribcage or arm!

Zombies look sad. It doesn't scare you in the short term because you have other things to worry about, but over the days and weeks and months, the most powerful emotion has to be sadness, and despair.

It's worse when their wearing clothes becasue you know they're people.

The Sorrowful Dead
XP - 25
AC - 9
Hit Dice - 2
Move - 1/2 Human
Attacks - 1
Damage – 1d4
Morale - na

Those who die can be prevented from passing on. They do not fully understand what they are. Weeping and speechless they wander the paths of a forgotten memory. Life wounds them. To the dead, a bed of flowers is like a cacophony of bells and a living man is an orchestra in a rage of sound. Slowly, weeping and silently crying, they will try to squeeze life from out of the world.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Demon Behind Glass

This is based on my experiences with the National Health Service. Statted for LOTFP .

The Demon Behind Glass
XP - 100
AC - 10
Hit Dice – (As PC)
Move – Static/Human
Attacks - 1
Damage - 1d6
Morale - 8
A floating pane of glass, visible only from the front. Behind the glass sits a blotched and haggard demon with pin-prick eyes. He looks at you, silently mouths your name, and draws one stroke in his book. You lose one point of CON. It does this, slowly and deliberately, once per turn.

Break the glass, (1hp) and you swap places with the demon. It immediately tries to throttle the nearest person whilst screaming with laughter. If it dies, you are released.
You have the demons book.

The more you use it, the more like the demon you become.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Character of Time

I bought and played fourth edition because I had money and that's what they had. I had never played D&D before and had no-one to teach me so I had to learn from the 4th Ed Players Handbook.

This is a bit like learning to play the Guitar by reading a biography of Eric Clapton. A bad biography.

Actually I don't think the people who made 4th Ed actually really want anyone playing their game. Not deep down within themselves, or in the forgotten spaces of their thought. They believe they do but I felt the whiff of a kind of strange mind-scattered corporate double-think I have smelled many times before. I'd write about it but that wouldn't be useful and this blog is meant to be useful things.

So I went from there to Lamentations Of The Flame Princess which is about as far from 4th Ed as you can get. James Raggi had a lot of things to say in his game. I'll speak about one of them. Recorded Time.

You count the minutes in the dungeon so you know when the light runs out, and if the torch is black and dead then the players cannot see. And that's that. They are lost. In 4th Ed an adventuring kit packed with glow rods and lamp oil is bought for you and that game specifically says that most underground spaces are kept well lit by the inhabitants, or convenient phosphorescent fungi.

So we go from a dungeon lit like American Television to one with a hungry darkness. And from dramatic time to a cold measurement.

Like a lot of Raggi's advice I was both attracted to and repelled by this. His slightly aggressive puritanism is like a sharp block in the road of fun. It challenges but the challenge suggests a promise, that the road is deeper and longer if you get past.

Or maybe that's bullshit and there is no road.

I wanted to keep time in the dungeon but that is boring so I renamed the Hours.

In Balach the Hours live. Each individual segment of the day has a quiet thought, a mind and a relationship with the other Hours. As each hour passes, somewhere in Balach, they duel in physical form. One hour will die and pass on, the other will live for sixty minutes and rule in the spaces between moments. Always the same way.

Unless you meet them by chance. And change the result.

If you can befriend an Hour, you can also become the enemy of one. So time can have both personality and politics. 

The Hours have names, eventually I plan to give them Stats.