Monthly Archives: September, 2012

Node-Based Megadungeon Design

A better landing page for this series, including links to related materials on other blogs, can be found at KJD-IMC: Node-Based Megadungeon.

– kjd

I’ve spoken before about scenario design that focuses on the relationships between various elements of the scenario before the physical layout.  These techniques can be used to manage the relationships between various adventures, and within a single adventure or dungeon, but I didn’t really go into how it can be used to manage a megadungeon.

I have seen ‘megadungeon guidelines’ that suggest laying out the various levels and regions, then populating them.  This has some merit, but there’s a step that can be done before this that really helps: mapping out the contents of the megadungeon, the inhabitants and their relationships, before scribbling even the start of the map.

I took a few minutes this morning and came up with the following list of potential regions for a megadungeon (updated to provide links to the specific regions as they get developed):

  • The Abandoned Tower: Abandoned, broken-down wizard’s tower.
  • Wolf Den: A large wolf pack bent on mayhem and domination of weaker creatures.
  • Goblin Warren: Desperate goblin clan looking for a way to escape their erstwhile ‘allies’.
  • Fungoid Cavern: Overgrown region of fungus, slimes, oozes, and other non-plant vegetation.
  • Dwarven Safehold: Military base staffed by professional soldiers.  Not a lot of amenities, but dwarves don’t need them.
  • Clockwork Hell: Mechanical madhouse, with lots of inexplicable machinery (and servitor automatons to protect and repair it).  I am suddenly reminded somewhat of Castle Heterodyne from Girl Genius, and of the ‘advanced civilization’ areas of recent Zelda games.
  • Aristothanes’ Sanctum: Sanctum of an eccentric wizard who wants to know “how everything works”, and is prepared to disassemble anything needed to figure this out.
  • Pit of the Misshapen: Civilization, such as it is, of broken creatures.
  • Fane of Baalshamoth: Alien source of knowledge, though the price is often misunderstood.
  • Aboleth Conclave Outpost: A sink of depravity and treachery, where those in power oppress their subordinates while appearing to work together until active betrayal becomes a viable path to power.
  • Shalthazard the Pale: Spectral wyrm so consumed by lust for knowledge and manipulation he did not notice his own death.

Generally dangerous, with a couple places that could be relatively safe.  Note that the region names are pretty generic, for the purpose of conversation.  In practice I would name at least the Mad Wizard and the Dark God, and probably the dwarves of the Safehold, the Abandoned Tower, and probably the goblin tribe.  The information paths (or adventure hooks, if you prefer) would similarly be more specific.

I then identified relationships between the various elements and laid them out (GraphViz is a wonderful free tool for this), resulting in the map below.

Megadungeon Map

Megadungeon Map

There eleven distinct areas within the megadungeon (I don’t count ‘Outside’, it’s mostly an anchor for the diagram to show easy entrance points… but I’ll come back to that) with numerous links between them and notes about each link.

This makes it pretty easy to see how the various elements interact, and a bit of cleverness in laying it out even comes close to how it might look on the actual map.  I can build on this to develop each region, showing detail in a similar manner.  I would develop each of those graphs separately; there just isn’t room to do it here without cluttering things hopelessly.

It seems I’m mistaken.  When I finished outlining the megadungeon I ended up generating a graph of all nodes in the dungeon, breaking each region down into smaller areas.  Take a look at the graph here to see how it turned out.

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Happy Birthday, Jim

I’ve seen Tom Smith’s shows.  High-energy and a lot of fun.

Now watch him reduce a room to silence and sniffles.

Jim Henson would have been 76 today.  Happy Birthday, Jim.

Death vs. It Gets Worse

In The Confession: I Am Not An Old-School DM, Erik talks about how certain old school expectations aren’t being met, in his mind.

Key among them regards PC death.  Old school play seems to imply that death is waiting at any moment, and keeping the PCs alive is the responsibility of the players playing well, and cautiously.

Of course, this runs headlong into the intended goal of Wampus Country being based on ‘Tall Tale Spectacle’.  The setting is intended to be light-hearted and at times goofy, with all that implies… which includes the ability, and some might say responsibility or duty, of doing things that are not sensible.  Erik presents us with some weird things — any number of anthropomorphic animals, as a start (not furries, they fit in as basically funny-shaped people).  The game being what it is, they tend to get treated pretty straight as just funny-shaped people.

Last session my character was considered ‘very egalitarian’ because he figured that if it talks, wears clothes, and stands more or less upright it’s a person. Mind you, this came up as part of a conversation about not leaving a highly-portable, highly-valuable object in the cart one of them was guarding for us, just in case he decided to scamper off with it.

In any case, while I won’t say that death has no place in a campaign like this, the looming menace of death due to bad decisions leads to the group playing fairly cautiously.

Caution has no place in Tall Tale Spectacle.  If anything, it is to be avoided; the right-minded cautious people are boring people who are there primarily to provide a foil for the PCs’ awesomeness.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen would have been a very boring story indeed had he done the sensible things.

In a Google+ conversation with Erik a week or two ago we realized there is a certain amount of expectations management needed.  Entirely removing the threat of death from the setting might not be appropriate, but there is another option.

It Gets Worse.

Rather than having death be the end of a character, as it might in other places, the setting may work better if there is an expectation that while your character might not die through misfortune, or even bad decisions, there is still consequence to such things.

To use Erik’s example from the linked blog post, a TPK doesn’t necessarily mean the entire party is dead and the players are rolling new characters.  Oh no, that could be too simple.  Instead, they might wake up in the ogres’ stewpot (thankfully not already skinned, boned, and dredged in flour)… Things Got Worse, but they still have a chance to talk their way out of it, or escape through cunning means.

It Gets Worse removes the most unfun element of bad decision making and replaces it with complication, that if handled well could even end up becoming opportunity.  It extends the story rather than ending or resetting it, things most people would probably agree are unfun.

It can also work at the personal level rather than the party level.  ‘Death’ does not need to mean “rifle his pockets before dumping him in a hole” (or even “salvage his belongings for his family before respectfully interring him, with a suitable grave marker” if you want to be more politically correct).  ‘Death’ can, for this setting, be considered a time out for the character until he can be recovered.

This recovery might be explicitly at the hands of the other PCs (such as our current mission to rescue Chauncy), or it might be handled in a one-off session with the DM, or even handled off-stage entirely.

If you want to be ‘more gamist’ about it you could simple treat it as a time out until the cost of a raise dead is covered.  Classically this might be a point of Constitution and/or losing a level.  Instead, you might consider the loss of a point of Constitution to be due to injury (he didn’t die after falling down the cliff, but he was mildly crippled and it took him a long time to get back to town after being left for dead) or the ‘loss’ of a level to be due to not gaining the experience points needed to gain a level with everyone else (he was so injured, or couldn’t escape from imprisonment, long enough that the rest of the party left him behind level-wise).

That suits Wampus Country well, I think.  I can see people taking more chances with their character because the spectre of death is softened, and can lead to more possibilities for adventure.

And sometimes, It Gets Worse could actually be worse than the PC dying… but not in a bad way.  Things just get… complicated.

The Power of Random

I may have mentioned that my son and his friends are interested in playing Pathfinder RPG.  I offered to run a few sessions, and realized this is a good opportunity to get my West Marches-style sandbox off the ground.

I broke out some old tools, including a random-table-roller I built… 12-14 (d3+11) years ago, maybe? and constructed a set of tables out of Matt Finch’s Tome of Adventure Design to get some ideas of places to put in the sandbox.  I messed with things a little; instead of just the three sets of tables provided, I mixed and matched between them.

The first fifty results I got:

  • Birthing-Boxes of the Carnal Horror
  • Blue Isles of the Ancestral Frame
  • Breathing Dungeons of the Flame-Hunters
  • Bronze Jungle of the Guard-Farm
  • Brooding Cellars of the Bandit Nomads
  • Calcified Garden of the Flying Tribe
  • Calcified Pits of the Witch Caverns
  • Circuitous Sanctuary of the Jewel Titan
  • Clay Mansion of the Lion-Wizard
  • Collapsing Edifice of the Feral Guardian
  • Collapsing Island of the Elemental Minotaur(s)
  • Confessional Game of the Monkey-Golem
  • Confluent Portal of the Howling Druid
  • Crude Grotto of the Cockroach-Hybrid
  • Crumbling Outpost of the Loathsome Goddess
  • Crypt-Fountain of the Flame-Tribe
  • Crypt-Swamp of the Centipede-Manticore
  • Cursed Foundry of the Hyena-Spawn
  • Cyclopean Barracks of the Vampiric Centaur
  • Dank Cocoon of the Elephant-Horde
  • Dank Prison of the Winged Mother
  • Deadly Isles of the Reaction-Connector
  • Ectoplasmic Rune of the Howling Ooze(s)
  • Entry-Cells of the Sabertooth Gargoyle(s)
  • Eroding Barracks of the Killing-Organs
  • Factory-Keep of the Heart-Combiner
  • Filth-Vines of the Monkey-Efreet
  • Fossil-Orb of the Imprisoned Society
  • Fossil-Pools of the Ice Rat(s)
  • Fossil-Wards of the Loathsome Seed
  • Ghoul-Tower of the Leeching Golem
  • Granite Dimension of the Massive Wizard
  • Horned Sanctuary of the Reaction-Gallery
  • Hunting Dens of the Skeleton Swamp
  • Lethargy-Church of the Dragonfly-Cannibal
  • Lethargy-Haven of the Brain Octopus
  • Mud-Pits of the Ice Combiner
  • Prayer-Cairn of the Bat-Chieftain of Goblins
  • Sacrificial Statue of the Snake-Rakshasa
  • Sentient Pyramid of the Lava Warlord
  • Shadow-Harvester of the Army of the Alchemist
  • Skin Bowl of the Mad Warlord of the Orcs
  • Teleportation Rafts of the Dragonfly-Keeper
  • Teleportation Spouts of the Master Congregation
  • Three-Part Cliffs of the Sacrificial Barge
  • Toxic Halls of the Spell-Hatchery
  • Unreality-Token of the Elemental Whisperer
  • Unthinkable Brewery of the Jade Displacer
  • Vision-Incubator of the Blood Crown
  • Vision-Preserver of the Elemental Priest(s)

Obviously not all are usable as they are, but an impressive number of them will need some consideration before I cull them.

This has some possibilities.  Let’s see where this goes….

Kickass Kickstarter Projects

When I wrote Kickass Kickstarter Projects, Introduction the other day, I was thinking that I would have enough content for a series of articles. After outlining the material I realized that unless this one gets big enough to warrant splitting up, it could be entirely handled with a single post.  Let’s see what happens. I’ll try an informal treatment for now, listing things that I see in Kickstarter projects I think kick ass.  If there is interest after this, I may expand on them.

Keith’s Kickass Kickstarter Kom Components

Most of these should be determined well before the Kickstarter project starts.  Almost everything good, and almost everything bad, that can be done to or with a Kickstarter project can be dealt with by planning before the project and managing things after.

  • A Great Idea.  I want to be excited about the goal of the project.
  • Realistic Goals.  This includes both the project’s goal, and the Kickstarter financial goal.
  • Reasonable Rewards.  There should be a sweet spot that will provide the project’s goal to the backer at a reasonable cost.
  • Contingency Plans.  I don’t expect to see the plans themselves, but seeing the project owner reacting to situations in a surprised manner rather than a planned manner reduces my confidence in the project.
  • Timing and Estimates.  The timing and estimates should be reasonable.  Don’t tell me to expect delivery in a month if the product doesn’t exist, and don’t expect me to believe an inexperienced crew will develop, produce, and delivery a product in two months.  Tell me four months and eight months, and I’ll believe you have some idea what you’re doing, and some idea what you don’t know.
  • Communication.  Let me know what’s going on, including the bad parts.  I don’t mind seeing bad news if I can have confidence you are dealing with it.

I am nowhere near ready to publish Echelon, but I have considered how I would approach things if I were to use Kickstarter to get it published, and I will be using it as an example below.  Note that I don’t have answers for all points; this checklist identifies things I should think about some more. (more…)

Kickass Kickstarter Projects, Introduction

Since November 2011, it has become apparent to me that I really like Kickstarter.

My wallet doesn’t, but spreads for Kickstarter anyway.  My wallet can be that way.

Some projects have been really well handled, some stand room for improvement.

I’ll be posting a few articles over the weekend that talk about what I like to see in a project, things I think should be avoided, and what I plan to do should I get to that point with Echelon.

Rethinking Pathfinder Cleric Subdomains, Part 2

Yesterday I described some things I don’t like about Pathfinder cleric subdomains.  Now it’s time to think about what to do about these things.

I think I’ll do this in several passes, since so far I’ve found the solutions I come up with tend to interact with more than one of my sources of dissatisfaction.

First Thoughts

Not Enough Subdomains

The obvious thing here is to create more subdomains for each domain.  Straightforward, “it’s just work”.

Hard To Use Subdomains

Again, just takes a bit of effort to go through and describe each domain in full and explicitly.  I’ve seen similar things done in monster books focusing on dragons, where a dragon type is expanded from “a single description plus some work” to “a dozen monster descriptions in full”.

The first two problems are pretty straightforward.  The third is a little more challenging.

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Rethinking Pathfinder Cleric Subdomains, Part 1

I’ll start by saying that I like Pathfinder’s domains and subdomains.

Domains provide a structured means to collect divine spells and granted powers so they can be assigned and associated with gods in a structured way.  Pathfinder expanded on the D&D 3.x model by adding an intermediate power available to eighth-level clerics.  I like this.

Subdomains provide a structured means for variation in cleric domains, so two gods that might have quite similar portfolios can easily have differences in how that power manifests.  They can also be used as something of a systematic hierarchical categorization of clerics, in that you might consider a cleric with the Murder subdomain of the Death domain as having the Death domain, for some purposes (such as meeting prestige class prerequisites).

This has become particularly important to me recently because of my work with Polyhedral Pantheons, especially since I end up with gods sharing access to the same domains, and pairs of domains.  In fact, every pair of domain associations with gods in this mechanism is shared by two gods.  Overall this is a good thing, but it leads to a certain feeling of homogeneity.  Subdomains let me break things up a bit — I might have four gods with the Death domain, or even six depending how the domain gets assigned, but subdomains give me some flexibility in how precisely that manifests for each.

I run into a few difficulties, though.

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Vote Blood & Treasure!

I try to stay away from political conversations, though the US presidential race is making that difficult at times.

Not only am I being inundated with political stuff from another country, but some of it is so blatantly unfair and untrue that it riles me something fierce.

So, in lighter news, Erik Tenkar is running a poll right now, asking what Old School RPG he should run in a Hangout.

Labyrinth Lord is leading, very slightly (58:55), over a newcomer I rather like, Blood & Treasure.  Swords & Wizardry Complete is currently third at 48 votes.

Labyrinth Lord has been around long enough that I reckon anyone who cares to see it has.  Similarly with Swords & Wizardry.

Vote Blood & Treasure.  You know it’s the right thing to do.

Building Pantheons

I am considering a series of blog posts building pantheons — or rather, a pantheon identifying the gods for each culture, since by definition the ‘pantheon’ coverseverything.

I’m drafting some sets of god-domain assignments using my Polyhedral Pantheons methods, and some of the combinations are telling me very, very interesting things about their associated cultures.

I will likely be looking for some crowd sourcing on ideas, direction, and maybe filling in some blanks.