Monthly Archives: April, 2013

A-Z Challenge Forfeit

A-Z 2013 BadgeI’m going to withdraw and mark this as a forfeit. I simply ran out of time before I have to move house (moving house in three days, April 30). I’ve been scrambling to get ready for that, tomorrow I break my office down, Monday I finish off disassembling furniture and signing papers, then Tuesday everything in my house that isn’t nailed down gets packed into a truck and moved about fifteen miles that way.

I am not disheartened.

I managed to complete twenty of the twenty-six days of the challenge, from ‘A’ (‘Alignment or Allegience?‘) through ‘T’ (‘Teratic Monster Design‘), with doubles on ‘I’, ‘P’, and ‘S’. I had two more posts outlined: ‘Unlike Any Other: Degrees of Uniqueness’ (expanding on distinctions between monsters of the same types and mechanics as described in Teratic Monster Design) and ‘Variations on a Theme: Teratic Monsters’ (demonstrating more examples of this, showing for several creature types how they can be varied and made more monstrous and/or inhuman without significantly changing them mechanically). I still plan to come back to these.

The posts for the challenge, in order:

Total 29,209
Letter Title Word Count
A Alignment or Allegiance? 1,702
B Books and Other Sources of Knowledge 1,673
C Cartography Styles in Seekers of Lore 992
D Demesnes-Level Gaming Resources 1,213
E Exploration, Seeing What There Is To See 1,958
F Fractal Game Design 1,756
G Generating Random Gaming Content 922
H Hex Population Density 1,434
I Inspiration — A-Z Cheap Shot 211
Imperial Scale to Manorial Scale in Mapping and Rulership 1,789
J Just Guess: Demographics in Seekers of Lore 632
K Kingdom Example: Random Kingdom 1,244
L Lexicon and Microscope: A Study of an Imaginary World 1,672
M Mythos and Madness: Becoming a Cultist for Fun and Prophet 2,760
N Neoplastic Press or Nerd-Crush, You Decide 644
O Old Schools: Swords & Wizardry 2,546
P Path Extensions: Transitions in Node-Based Design 470
Pathfinder Big Books 940
Q Quick Map, A Bit of Experimentation 333
R Religion in Seekers of Lore 1,687
S Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day Contest 411
Spotlight: Raging Swan Press 706
T Teratic Monster Design 1,244

All in all I’m quite pleased with my writing. Over 29,000 words, and I believe some of my better articles of the last few years are in here.

Mind you, I’m going to have to go back and review them myself, they happened kind of quickly.

Teratic Monster Design

I’m sure it’s no secret to anyone how much I like Teratic Tome by Rafael Chandler. I’ve written a review of it, and I think it will affect how I design monsters in future.

Teratic Tome Cover

Teratic Tome Cover

Rafael focused primarily on bad things, and a few neutral-but-dangerous ones. I want to explore some of the ‘good guys’.

I think first, though, I need to explain what I mean when I talk about making ‘teratic monsters’.

Making Monsters Teratic

There are four key things important to remember when designing teratic monsters: They are inhuman, they have a place in the setting, they are distinct and specific, and they can be identified even in their absence.

They Are Inhuman

First and foremost, and absolutely critical: they are inhuman. There is something about them that sets them apart from normal people. Monsters are not just a danger, they are monstrous. Even relatively benign creatures should be pretty alien.

It is entirely appropriate to recognize what they are doing, without being able to understand why they are doing it or what they expect to gain by it.

I think this is the thing that really makes a monster teratic to me. Identifying what makes a monster inhuman brings out the memorable elements of its description. Nobody will remember that it had eight hit dice, they might remember that it had an unusually high rate of decapitation critical attacks… but they almost certainly will remember that it collected the heads and almost lovingly removed and preserved the faces to make a macabre gallery.


Spotlight: Raging Swan Press

I’ve only written a handful of reviews, but they tend to be for single products or perhaps a very small number of related products (such as if I were to finally do the review I’ve been threatening to of Jack Shear’s Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque books).

Sometimes, though, reviewing a single product doesn’t really do enough, and I feel I have more to say.

Today, I start a new category of post on my blog: Spotlights, where I write about a publisher or site as a whole, rather than one specific product or example.

I’m going to start with a remarkably good source of GM reference material, Raging Swan Press.

Raging Swan Press

Raging Swan Press Logo

Raging Swan Press

Raging Swan is probably one of the lesser-known publishers out there, but they are fairly prolific and much of what they have published is available at DriveThruRPG (and d20pfsrd, e23, Paizo, and Amazon UK and Amazon US). They produce a fine range of GM resource books (technically for Pathfinder, but typically trivially adaptable for other games — so far I have rarely seen much by the way of Pathfinder-specific mechanics in the books I have).

I dug into some of their supplements recently, primarily in their “Dungeon Dressing” series. Each document in this series provides about ten pages of useful content focusing on a single topic  (door, statue, fountain, and so on). There are usually several tables (1d100 tables, too, they play hard) for descriptive elements and for additional features or points of interest.  There are also usually a few traps appropriate to the element, and so on. The list at Raging Swan’s web site (with links to DriveThruRPG, for those published there already) is shown below.

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day Contest

I suspect this may have gotten lost in the shuffle :)

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation DayI was one of the four blogs chosen to devise a way to give away a copy of Swords & Wizardry Complete in PDF. In my Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day post (Old Schools: Swords & Wizardry) I described how characters could learn special abilities others don’t have, without bolting on an entire feat system or the like.

At the end — which may have been the downfall here, it was a long post — I announced that I have a coupon for a PDF copy of Swords & Wizardry Complete. I want to do this as a bit of a challenge rather than a random draw (which would see Tim Short of Gothridge Manor win by default right now, being the only person not me who has commented… and since he put up a prize for I expect he already has a copy), so I asked that people create a school of related abilities something like the examples presented in my post and either provide them in a comment or link to them in the comments.

From the post:

Create a specialized school such as the examples above. At a minimum, each must identify the ten lessons to be learned. Each may also identify an academy (institution where the specialized school can be learned), a traveling master (a person who may teach you the school, if you can persuade him), and/or certain events or conditions around the learning of the lessons. Related art, backing stories, and other extras are welcome as well.

Adaptations of existing schools (from the Legends & Lairs books mentioned above) are quite acceptable. Go ahead and improve the samples already shown, I was rushed.

Put the school in a comment below, or host it somewhere else and put a link in the comments below. Cut off is midnight Pacific Time between May 7 and May 8, and I’ll announce the winner by May 10.

The one I like best when I review them wins. The optional bits are not required, that’s what ‘optional’ means, but I’ll be honest, they can count in the judging.

At this point, any submission received stands a good chance of winning, the field is quite small… which I put down largely to announcing the little contest at the end of a long post. There are still two weeks to make an entry, so if you’d like a free PDF of Swords & Wizardry Complete here’s your chance.

Religion in Seekers of Lore

I realized today that clerics may have to work differently in Seekers of Lore than I was expecting. This is something of an exploratory article, I don’t know what the conclusion will be.

Seekers of Lore

Seekers of Lore

First Thoughts

Part of the premise of Seekers of Lore is that experience points are gained by discovering and recovering that which was lost. In the case of clerics, they will be the primary actors in restoring the worship of lost gods. In a way, that could be one of their richest, if uncommon, sources of experience points.

In some settings and rule sets there is little to differentiate clerics mechanically beyond alignment. For instance, in B/X it was sufficient to know your alignment (because it suggested what form of certain spells could be cast, what ‘turn undead’ did, and which team you were on), but you could name your patron god if you wanted. I think in AD&D 1e this could also be so, but I do remember that you could have your clerical spells limited if your god was not reachable — but this mostly really only applied at high level, I think.

In later editions, and in many settings (including some from AD&D 1e times) there was a fairly strong expectation that each cleric would primarily follow a single god. A cleric could be expected to acknowledge (and possibly fight) other gods, but they got their power from a specific one.


Quick Map, A Bit of Experimentation

I’ve done a lot of writing this month, I figured I’d knock off a little map quickly in GIMP and call it a day.

20130418 Quick Map

20130418 Quick Map, about 30 minutes for what was kept

This one is a little experimental. For determining landforms I usually use a technique where I draw the general shape, then overlay some noise and select a range of colors from the merged result. Tonight I used turbulent noise, which puts twisted black lines through the image I’m working with. This caused the large number of channels and islands; without the turbulence basically this would be one fairly large piece.

Actually, if you look at the shallows (pale blue) you’ll see the outline of a fairly large piece with a few channels in it. I decided to combine them, one for shallows and one for land, and see what happens.

I didn’t really try to fill the map carefully. I’ve got a mountain range I think looks good, a whole bunch of little forests that turned out okay (if not realistic; normally I think they’d likely form one big forest), and the grasslands look okay (but could use a little more brown to them, but I didn’t feel like messing with it). My experiment with hills was disappointing, so I took them out. I didn’t get around to any rivers.

I went with a simple, kind of impressionistic texture on the water (overlaid a layer of solid noise, displaced by two other layers of noise, for those interested).

The hills were an experiment that took about an hour as I messed around with them. Other than that there is perhaps half an hour in this, counting my initial setup (creating noise layers for later use, various work layers, and so on).

I had to scale the image down so WordPress would load it (bugger), and it got scaled down again for the thumbnail. Clicking on the image to the right will take you to the full-size version, 1280×1024.

Pathfinder Big Books

Pathfinder made quite a few changes to Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, some subtle and some not so subtle.

I like quite a few of the presentation changes, and some of the character development changes excited me. Barbarian rage powers, paladin mercies, sorcerer bloodlines, all these choices excited me.

Over time, though, with the Ultimate series and third-party material, I realized I had too much material to keep track of, too many decisions to make, and too many variables to consider when trying to balance things. It’s an immensely rich toolkit, but I think works best if constrained by the setting. Don’t allow everything, but choose a subset of it all to actually use in play.

Which brings me to Echelon, my primary game design project. That game is built around talents, collections of related abilities that build on each other.

Pathfinder is an absolute trove of material for me to mine for Echelon. I want to work on rage-related abilities? Barbarian rage powers give me a lot of things to consider, including multiple types of rage. Almost all classes have at least one kind of special ability no other class has, and there are often several options for each and prerequisites for others.

I expect I hardly need mention the spells and feats. Dear gods there are a lot of those.

All in all, there is a wealth of information available to me here, but it is scattered across a large number of books. Even just the Paizo hardcovers (Core Rulebook, Advanced Player’s Guide, GameMastery Guide, Ultimate Combat, Ultimate Magic, the Bestiaries…) even trying to work with a single topic meant digging through multiple books. Many books even added more related options, often class-specific, to be considered.

To add to that, Pathfinder seems almost to have a richer third party publisher environment than Dungeons & Dragons 3.x did.

This was becoming unmanageable to me. I could run a Pathfinder campaign by ruthlessly excising a great deal of material, but keeping track of it all just for play purposes was difficult, and for the purpose of research, almost impossible if I wanted to consider all my options.

Path Extensions: Transitions in Node-Based Design

The Tuesday’s Reader Tips email from Johnn Four contained a tip that expands on the work I did for the Node-Based Megadungeon.

Lionel's Abandoned Tower Transitions

Lionel’s Abandoned Tower Transitions

I’m going to take the liberty of copying Lionel di Giacomo’s suggestion (and image, in case it goes away).

I love dungeon flowcharts like Keith’s, but have found transitions between “rooms” can be much smoother by adding transitional notes.

Any or all of the lines between the nodes can have brief transition descriptions to jog improvisation and help flesh out the area in my head before a game. (It also makes some good ideas for encounters between spaces. Liminal spaces are great places to challenge PCs!)

Here is an example I made out of Keith’s Abandoned Tower. [Thumbnail to the right –kjd]

I feel I need to formally respond to this.

Lionel, that’s a really good idea.

I was focused primarily on the relationships between the various nodes, and labeled them in the high-level diagram early on.

However, I did not continue that idea in later diagrams. Many of the relationships were identified in the supporting Entity Definitions, but I did not take the next step and use them as labels.

To be fair, the combined diagrams are really, really big by the time I’m done; there honestly isn’t room.

Also frankly, it didn’t even occur to me.

This is a very obvious extension of the node-based design methodology I use. Combined with Gus’ megadungeon thoughts (which I respond to here) I think there is an opportunity to take these diagrams a long way from “useful design tool” to “usable by a GM good at improv”. Between the two sets of suggestions I think much of the in-play material can be generated at need.

I don’t know that I have the chops to run a game that way. I don’t want to overprepare or bog myself down with too much material, but I have discovered that I am long enough out of the GM’s seat that my improv skills might not be quite up to this right now.

Even if I am not comfortable running a game in that manner, this is still useful as a reminder at the table and during design and preparation time. While I favor diagrams that are not overloaded with information (you should see some that I inherited at work; that I often broke each into three or four for different audiences rather than try to capture everyone’s information on one sheet of paper should be telling), this is unobtrusive and adds valuable information.

I really like this, Lionel. You’ve taken a process I use and have documented, and with a light touch added an element of significant value to it.

Thank you. This is one of the more rewarding parts of posting these things online.

Old Schools: Swords & Wizardry

Swords & Wizardry is undoubtedly one of the Old School games, one of the many legs of the OSR.

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation DayBut I’m not going to talk about that, quite. Even though it’s Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, I’m going to talk about something I think might be missing.

I notice that there is no mention of education or training in Swords & Wizardry Core. There is a little bit about researching spells, and there are other methods of learning spells, but what about characters who aren’t Magic-users?

Let’s see if we can’t do something about that.

Let’s add ‘schools’ to Old School.

Founding Principles

Before we can really start, I think it necessary to establish the working parameters.

First, I think we’ll completely ignore the training for advancement rules from AD&D. They are little more than an adventurer tax and not to my taste.

Second, I notice the classes and abilities available are pretty straightforward selections, and I want to keep that. These rules will have to be optional.

Third, anything gained through special training should be implemented in a way consistent with other rules.


Neoplastic Press or Nerd-Crush, You Decide

I need an easy one today, I’m trying to also get something together for the Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day on Wednesday, so I’m going to do a bit of gushing about one of my favorite small-press writers.

Teratic Tome Cover

Teratic Tome Cover

Rafael Chandler publishes gaming materials under the name ‘Neoplastic Press‘. This is an imprint full of freaky, creepy stuff that I have to admit describe worlds I wouldn’t want to live in.

Visit in an RPG, though? Where monsters are monstrous, heroes are heroic (and probably die anyway, hopefully protecting their people), and sheep are… okay, jumping over the wrong joke.

I’d seen Rafael’s posts on Google+ from time to time, until one fine day he posted the cover to a book he was working on.

Yeah, the one to the right. Looks pretty reminiscent of an older time long ago, and pretty badass cool, right?

You really should see the full cover. Click on (more…) below to see why this immediately got so much attention.