Monthly Archives: July, 2013

Happy Mythos Dance!

Doom that Came to Atlantic City

Doom that Came to Atlantic City

After the rotten news about The Doom that Came to Atlantic City late last week (namely that it was not going to happen, and that the project owner was going to work really hard to get us refunded), a lot of people were pretty sad, angry, and otherwise not happy.

Cryptozoic Entertainment just did something that will make a bunch of people very happy indeed.

From Keith Baker’s blog:

Cryptozoic Entertainment is going to produce The Doom That Came To Atlantic City… And send it to the backers free of charge. If you backed the game, Cryptozoic will be providing you with as many copies of the game as you were due to receive. They can’t fulfill all of the rewards that were promised by The Forking Path, but they are going to evaluate the rewards and see what else they can do. If you’re a backer, expect to hear from Cryptozoic in the next few days with more information.

No word yet on the pewter figures, but I suspect they are part of what would be “can’t fulfil all of the rewards that were promised by The Forking Path”. However, as cool as it would be to get them, I can totally understand that, and since we are still due to be refunded by Forking Path I really can’t complain in the least about not getting them.

Cryptozoic, you’re doing an awesomely cool, and coolly awesome, thing. Thank you. Many thank yous. For me, it’s exciting that I can still expect to get the game, but it pleases me immensely that Keith and Lee get to see their dream happen and this game be published as it should be.

Echelon Reference Series: Barbarians Final Cover

Tentative final cover, at least.

  • Now has a proper logo.
  • Some minor placement changes (just shifting things a bit).
  • Small changes to the strip at the top (a little wider, added ‘stitching’).

The differences aren’t individually very big, but I think they really touch things up.

Image scaled down so I could upload it; actual resolution is 300 DPI.

ERS-Barbarian Cover final

ERS-Barbarian Cover final

Echelon Reference Series: Draft Cover

A while ago I mentioned a “Pathfinder Big Book” project I was working on. I am still working on Echelon, and my research documents are continuing to grow. I decided it’s time to take the plunge and start packaging them as the Echelon Reference Series.

After talking with a few people and thinking about it, I concluded that I needed to put a little bit of work into making them more presentable. One of the biggest things I could do is make better covers and title pages for them. This is a draft I put together last night.

I expect I’ll use the same presentation in simple black and white for the title page internally. There’s a bit more work to be done, I think (I really should put together a better logo, and I’m not entirely satisfied with this font, but I’m ignoring that for now because I don’t want to get into font-searching hell). However, I like simple design, and I think this will fit the bill.

Echelon Reference Series: Barbarian, cover second draft

Echelon Reference Series: Barbarian, cover second draft

Building a Sandbox Index

Seekers of Lore

Seekers of Lore

I’m building a sandbox for my Seekers of Lore campaign, and decided it might be worth indexing the articles now rather than later, including my anticipated future posts.

Posts So Far

Posts to Come

Topics and tentative titles for upcoming posts, with an approximate order of posting.

  • Refining the Map: I will tweak some of the hex terrains, adding rivers, that sort of thing. I think I may start placing the resources at this point, since they are functionally part of the landscape and will affect the next step.
  • Civilizing the Wilds: I will generate some basic information about cities and towns, then placing them on the map. I will also identify some trade routes between them, and some (probably vague) political borders. I expect placement to be somewhat uneven, with broad reaches that are not settled (… by civilized races), and I may amend earlier estimates of the number of settlements when I see how the political groupings shape up.
  • Danger! Danger! I will generate some basic information about ruins (former settlements that have fallen, but are still of interest) and lairs (specific sites where predators — including two-legged ones — live and threaten others).
  • What’s in a Name? I have an ‘adventure name generator’ that seems to produce some good, old school style adventure names. I think after placing the ruins and lairs it may be time to start assigning them. These names may not be known to the characters in-world, but will help me quite a bit in my design work from this point.
  • Secrets and Lost Lore: A major element of this setting is the discovery or recovery of lost knowledge. By this point I will have identified many of the major physical links between the various sites, now it’s time to think about the primary ‘treasures’ of this setting and how they relate to the physical sites. Where do you learn about what, and where do you go after that?

I am certain this is not a complete list. I can think of some other topics I might want to explore but that do not have a fixed place in this schedule, such as it is.

Building a Sandbox: Major Landmarks and Sites

I’ve chosen an initial map, which is still subject to adjustment, but for now I’m charging on. Time to place major landmarks and sites, even if I don’t know much about them yet.

I’ll be leaning on Kevin Crawford’s An Echo, Resounding: A Sourcebook for Lordship and War for parts of this. I don’t plan to use the demesne-level play elements of it at this point, but there is still some quite valuable information there without those rules.

The region Kevin describes in An Echo, Resounding is about 40,000 square miles, same as mine. This is almost a coincidence (I wasn’t trying to match his example, but it felt like a good size to work with and when I opened the book, there it was).

Random Sandbox, Few Oceans

Random Sandbox, Few Oceans

In a region that size, Kevin suggests the following placements, in order:

  • A very small number of cities (probably one, or maybe two; there might be three or four for ‘particularly populous or well-developed lands’). 
  • Four towns per city, spread fairly evenly across the region.
  • Five ‘great ruins’ per city. There will likely be lots of ruins around, these are the major (biggest and/or most interesting) ones. Some will likely be former towns or cities, so put them where you might expect to have found such settlements. There are other types as well that may be harder to find.
  • Place a number of ‘resources’, locations of particular interest or value, equal to the number of towns. Try not to put them too close to existing settlements because that will make them easy to exploit and reduce ‘interesting struggle for control’ over them.
  • Place lairs wherever they seem to make sense — places they can prey on travel between settlements, control resources, or just fill in (and explain) gaps that otherwise appear in the coverage of the map.

I understand why Kevin suggests such placement, but the simulationist in me is a little uncomfortable with it. I propose the following:

  • Plan, but do not place, the number of cities. The design of this map lends itself to having one city on each major landmass. I have not yet decided where they will go, but the two bays opening to the east (one on the north side toward the west end of the strait, one on the south side about 1/3 from the eastern edge of the map, next to the three mountains) are likely candidates. It occurs to me, however, that the larger bay in the south, facing east, might make a good segue into another region entirely. Start from the north, and when the party makes their way to that port, they can find themselves going somewhere else entirely. Something to think about.
  • Place about eight to ten resources appropriate to the terrain they are on. I am somewhat inclined to simply roll randomly.
  • Place about eight to ten towns to take advantage of both natural resources (terrain and rivers — which are not yet shown on this map, I’ll need to fix that) and the special resources.
  • Place about ten to fifteen ruins.
  • Place lairs as appropriate.

This is a little more liberal than Kevin’s guidelines, but even the cities, towns, and resources account for only 18-22 of the 1,296 hexes in this map. I think I can afford the space. Spread as evenly as possible each settlement will have somewhat more than a hundred hexes dedicated to it, or in other words the settlements are likely to be about sixty or seventy miles apart. The biggest difference is that the towns will be placed to take advantage of the resources where possible.

This will involve some more dice rolling than I plan to do tonight (it’s getting late and I get up early tomorrow), but my next step will be to start determining some information about the various landmarks and sites so I can start placing them in likely locations.

Also, I generated a list of adventure names (such as the 500 Random Old-School Adventure Sites I posted a while ago). In fact, I generated several such lists and culled it down to a set of fifty. I will want to start matching them to the various landmarks and sites as well.

Building a Sandbox: Finding the Map

I think I’ve been putting this off long enough. Time to start building the sandbox for my Seekers of Lore campaign. Normally when I plan a campaign I’ll start with the major movers and shakers, then work from there. This time I think I’ll start a little differently, with the map of the campaign region.

I broke out Hexographer from Inkwell Ideas. While I will admit that I find it a trifle frustrating at times (partly, I imagine, because I don’t use it very often and haven’t gotten used it its quirks), for building a hex-based map for roleplaying games it’s the most approachable tool I’ve found for the cost.

Start with a 36×36 map. With six-mile hexes this gives about 40,000 square miles (36*36*31.18 = 40,409.28). As a check, I live on Vancouver Island, British Columbia — which is about 12,080 square miles, a bit less than a third of this. British Columbia as a whole is 364,764 square miles, quite close to nine times this size. I really wouldn’t want to try to explore either one on foot, so while it’s small enough to be manageable on the GM side, it’s likely quite big enough for play.

Let’s see what it comes up with when I generate terrain randomly using the default configuration.

Random Sandbox, Normal Terrain

Random Sandbox, Normal Terrain

Not bad, not bad. The allocation of terrain types looks kind of off to me, but considering the origin and nature of the Seekers of Lore setting that is not inappropriate. I think I’ll take a look at a couple of other settings before I commit to anything.

The ‘Many Islands’ setting gives me something I think I rather like the look of, actually. The terrain allocations seem rather more rational, and there is a decent amount of room to explore on land (rough estimate about half the hexes, or about 20,000 square miles — still more than half again the island I live on).

Random Sandbox, Many Islands

Random Sandbox, Many Islands

More rational, I still see some things that could use some adjustment (the parallel strips of grassland in the north stand out to me). I see four landmasses, more or less (northwest, northeast, center, south) that are separated enough for different ecology or cultures, with a few smaller ones (due east and west, and some of the middling islands). I like this one better.

The ‘Few Oceans’ setting as two major landmasses separated by a narrower strait than the ‘Many Islands’ setting. I can see several places it would be sensible to have crossings or ports, quite a bit of diversity in both landmasses, and lots of land to stomp around on.

Random Sandbox, Few Oceans

Random Sandbox, Few Oceans

This one also has the best mountain ranges, as far as they go, and the terrain transitions look like they make more sense here. Not entirely (forested hills to dry hills?), but I don’t mind making some adjustments.

All in all I think the second map, ‘Many Islands’, is the prettiest, but this third map, ‘Few Oceans’, is likely going to be the most usable. Either one is much better for my purposes than the first, though.

In my next post I’ll start working on major landmarks and sites.

Very Rules-Light RPG

Matt Jackson (of lapsus calumni) asked on Google+ about the minimum required character traits for a light-weight RPG. Light enough that it doesn’t have classes.

Taking some of the ideas there, I think the following might be workable.

First, reduce things to their very basics and abstract them. What do the characters actually do during play? Let’s start with a single set for a fantasy game:

  • Fight (whether heavy greatswords or quick rapiers or whatever);
  • Skill (sneak around, figure things out, trick people, swing from giant snakes, whatever);
  • Magic (cast spells, use magic items, and so on);
  • Survive (be lucky enough that you never seem to get hit hard, or at all, or tough enough to take it, or stubborn enough to ignore the unfortunate reality of that spear stuck in you… I’m not absolutely certain this deserves to be a full ability unless you can use it actively, though).

This works if all four abilities are generally of roughly equal value.

For this reason I might be tempted to make Magic an optional ability. Most people don’t have it, but if you want you can… but it’s paid for with points from the other ability scores. That is, if scores range from 1..12 and everyone has 20 build points (6.5*3, more or less — 7, 7, 6 is the most even distribution), someone with a Magic score still has 20 build points. Having strong Magic is going to cost you somewhere else, and that fits a lot of tropes.

Resolution is pretty easy. Roll a die (d12 or d20, I’ll come back to this). If the roll is less than your score you succeed (exactly equal is a marginal success, not quite perfect — you hit, but you hit bone and your weapon is stuck). Contested rolls are much the same, but the person who rolls highest under their score wins. Oddly, I think if you want relative failure then highest over the score fails less… but still fails. Closer to score means bigger result, and if you have a score of 4 you have much more capacity to fail than the guy with a score of 11.

Add something like ‘good feats’ to modify these things. (Feats in D&D that give you bonuses to certain checks bore me immensely. I don’t want more of what I already have, I want something new.)

  • Strike of the Avalanche: on a successful 8+ Fight check using a heavy weapon, you get to roll damage twice and the second time is cold damage.
  • Cloudwalk: on a successful 8+ Skill check you can walk on heavy smoke or heavy mist (‘heavy’ meaning ‘enough it would limit visibility’).
  • Knock spell: you can open a lock using a Magic check [normally would be a Skill check against a difficulty, the spell lets you do use Magic instead]

That sort of thing. As shown above, it is possible that these talents only work when you succeed with a high enough roll. Strike of the Avalanche might mean normal damage only on 7- (that still hits) or it might be an always on thing (any time you hit on an 8+ it does double damage, half cold). Knock doesn’t have it because it is directly against another check. This means you have to have a certain degree of ability to do certain things anyway.

If you want to get tricky you can have chains of ability with prerequisites and stuff, but I can’t be bothered. Perhaps rather than purely binary abilities, have them be able to stack…

That could work. Rather than having unassociated talents, have talents with degrees of capability. Each step gets you another option, and you add the step to your ability score for checks. Four steps of the ‘Mountain’s Wrath’ combat style means you get to treat your Fight score as four points higher, and you get four options that nobody else does. Start with a Fight score of 10, succeed on 13- (partial on 14), and you have a decent chance of success when you try Strike of the Avalanche. Given a rapier you’re still better than average (Fight 10) but you’re much better with a greataxe and you’re outmatched by the guy with Fight 9 and five steps of Lightning Blade.

Fight 10 + Mountain’s Wrath 4 against Fight 9 + Lightning Blade 5 could make for an interesting show.

Magic obviously can work much the same way, as can certain skills (Cloudwalk might be step three or four of something-similar-to-Balance skill).

This is part of why I thought of rolling d20 rather than d12 for checks (told you I’d come back to this). Rolling d12 against scores that range from 1..12 means you’re going to have some characters who always succeed on certain things. I’m not sure I want that as a starting ability, especially when the abilities are so broad. Rolling d20 means that nobody starts off that reliably but it is possible to get better. It also lets me ditch the marginal success when you roll exactly your score. Roll equal to or under your score and you succeed, and rule that (for example) 18-20 is a marginal failure. Maybe reduce the base ability scores to the 1..10 range and allow the feats to have up to five steps.

Anyway, a fairly minimalistic core of an RPG that nevertheless has options for expansion in various directions. Each character only really needs to know about the bits they use (Fight, Skill, Survive, Magic, plus any talents). A single, consistent resolution mechanism, with options allowing you to be awesome and different than everyone else.

I just realized also that this could be a quick-play construction for Echelon. I’ll want to think about that.

Hopefully That’s Fixed Now

But when I do I do it in productionI recently rehosted all my sites (KJD-IMC, Echelond20,, plus a couple more that aren’t yet public) and was mostly happy… except that I’ve had a few incidents where the new virtual host has locked up.

I think I tracked it down to my Apache configuration, the httpd daemon was consuming an aggregate total of… all the memory in the virtual host. A couple of configuration changes should now have that sorted out.

Now… I wait and see if the crashing stops.