Monthly Archives: April, 2014

Z-A Challenge 2014 Index

A-Z 2014 ZI’ve written quite a bit this month for the 2014 A-Z Challenge. Even discounting Kobold Kommandos because it had been written before I still managed to write (or update, in a couple of cases) 31 articles and more than 35,000 words on a variety of topics.

All things considered I’m pretty satisfied with it. I had no real plans or agenda for the posts, and nothing specifically prepared coming into it, and yet I managed to write a fair bit about two of my projects.

First mentioned was the Echelon Reference Series, including something about what it is and how I go about preparing the content for it. This is an ongoing (and long-running, I started last spring!) project to organize information for my use in designing Echelon, and hopefully resulting in some salable products.

Second, I started work on a new sandbox setting, including identifying several potential campaigns that can be set in it and expanding on one of them as a demonstration of my campaign and scenario design methods. I need to set this aside for a time and return to my regular design work — Echelon Reference Series right now — but I am very much interested in continuing this project and running some of the adventures in it. To be honest I’m a little burned out on it at the moment after pushing out so much content this much and demonstrating the methods; it will benefit from laying fallow for a little while.

There were also some more or less miscellaneous posts mixed in, but I’m pleased with how generally cohesive the content was.

Total   38,290 About 2/3 of a NaNoWriMo target! Even after removing the previously-written Kobold Kommandos.
Date Letter Words Title Description
2014-04-30 Z 1,374 Z-A Challenge 2014 Index Index of all A-Z Challenge articles, newest to oldest.
2014-04-29 Y 660 Years Ago, and Years to Come A bit of reflection on my relationship with the hobby, and where I think it will go from here.
2014-04-28 X 324 XP and Rewards in the Sandbox What changes might be needed to accommodate not giving out monetary treasure?
2014-04-26 W 1,859 Workflows for Extracting Data from Word Files How I capture gaming information from MS Word source files to the formatted results in the Echelon Reference Series and the diagrams created when visualizing game information.
2014-04-25 V 1,973 Visualizing Game Information The tools I use to lay out diagrams of gaming information to make it easier for me to understand, with specific examples.
2014-04-24 U 524 Unusual Rewards in the Sandbox I realize that monetary loot is the convention, but it doesn’t feel right for some of the adventures in this sandbox.
2014-04-23 T 1,555 Tales of the Donnerkonig Exploring ideas for the Hall of the Faded Kings and the stories presented there of the Donnerkonig.
2014-04-22 S 850 Spotlight: Sine Nomine Publishing Overview/high-level review of Sine Nomine Publishing and the works of Kevin Crawford.
2014-04-20 R 3,431 Refining the Keys of Heraka-at Polishing the previous day’s thoughts on the areas of The Keys of Heraka-at, after having had a bit of time to think about them more.
2014-04-19 Q 2,150 A Quick Overview of The Keys of Heraka-at A first cut identifying areas of interest and potential encounters in The Keys of Heraka-at.
2014-04-18 P 631 Preparation and Player Agency in the Sandbox A brief discussion of how preparing material for use interacts with the goal of increasing player agency.
2014-04-17 O 1,423 Overkill? Somewhat, But For Reasons Why I am spending so much time on front work that may or may not actually see play.
2014-04-16 N 966 Next Steps in the Sandbox: Developing Donnerkonig Heirs A first cut identifying adventures in the Donnerkonig Heirs campaign and how they may relate to each other.
2014-04-15 M 764 Macro to Micro in the Sandbox: Mapping the Donnerkonig Chronicle This post shifts the conversation from discussing the sandbox setting as a whole to a specific potential set of campaigns. The Donnerkonig Chronicle is a potential set of campaigns relating to the Donnerkonig and Sturmhame.
2014-04-13 L 1,413 Layers Upon Layers in the Sandbox Explains how the methods I use can be applied at different levels and for different scope depending on immediate need. It also describes how thinking about things early and in an abstract way can make it easier to prepare material so it can be ‘entered’ from many different places.
2014-04-12 K 432 The Keys of Heraka-at: Adventure Background A bit of background for The Keys of Heraka-at, an adventure set in and around Sturmhame. Later consideration caused me to realize it made a good campaign gateway into what will become the Donnerkonig Heirs campaign, identifying those who might take up the mantle and responsibility of the Donnerkonig, the legendary Thunder Kings.
1,480 Kobold Kommandos A post I pulled up from the archives. Originally a story sent to me by the DM, a friend of mine, and worth a chuckle or two.
2014-04-11 J 1,085 Jumbled Adventure Structure Discussing how I might randomize creation of a graph, to be used to structure an adventure or campaign. GreyKnight has since provided me a script that does a better job than the one I’d originally hacked together. His script and mine both generate good-looking graphs, but when selecting from the lists of graphs I end up culling fewer of the ones from his script.
1,500 Joachim Baas, Pirate Hunter An old PC I played, a cleric/ranger of a sea god. Given his vocation and goals (hunting pirates) he looks like he would be a good fit for this sandbox setting. Also, he was a lot of fun to play, especially since, being neutral, he had a lot of leeway in how he dealt with situations.
2014-04-10 I 1,414 Imagination, and How I Fake It I am a structured thinker and I am told I have a very organized mind. This is a powerful tool, but seems to inhibit my ability to come up with interesting and imaginative ideas without prompting — I fall back into patterns I find useful or appealing very easily. This post describes some of the tools and techniques I use to try to encourage my imagination.
2014-04-09 H 267 Horrific Monster Book: Lasus Naturae Brief discussion and pitch for Rafael Chandler’s Lasus Naturae (Freaks of Nature) Kickstarter project. Well-funded and we’ll be getting full-color hardcovers.
1,269 High-Level View of the Sandbox Starting to assign meaning and find relationships in the randomly-generated sandbox material so far.
1,960 Hit Point Variations: Mana and Madness and Taint, Oh My! Ways my variant hit point and healing rules might be applied for other purposes.
2014-04-08 G 889 Geographical Assignment in the Sandbox Initial assignment of nodes in a random graph to locations in the random hex map for the new sandbox. Some tweaking so the nodes land on, well, land generally, but not yet much interpretation. That comes later.
2014-04-06 F 1,004 Founding of a New Sandbox Starting a new sandbox setting. Since I have no real goals in mind, randomly generate a hex map using Hexographer, and a graph (nodes and edges) using randomizers and a bit of thought (I had not yet written my random graph generator).
2014-04-05 E 1,643 Entity Scope, Updated and Explained How broadly applicable a game entity is, the range of its reach and influence, from the encounter level up to the setting.
2,737 Entity Template, Updated and Explained I use a fairly standardized template to capture information about game entities. I originally presented it some time ago as part of another article, this post updates it and focuses on the entity template alone.
447 Echelon Reference Series One of my major projects, preparing research documents for use in developing Echelon, and potentially as salable products themselves.
2014-04-04 D 611 D&D: Data & Diagrams Why do I go to so much trouble to prepare diagrams for the Echelon Reference Series?
2014-04-03 C 729 Covenant of First Scholar Herol A brief piece describing and containing the Covenant between the First Scholar Herol (of the Seekers of Lore campaign) and Strolen, small god of knowledge.
2014-04-02 B 210 Burgeoning Barbarian Book Brewing My first planned product: Echelon Reference Series: Barbarian. About 200 pages collecting, organizing, and making more usable everything I know and can find about the Barbarian class in Pathfinder. Originally hoping for release in April, now somewhat more realistically aiming for the end of June.
2014-04-01 A 717 Adventure Design Requirements Adventurers need three things: a way to reach the action, a way to take part in the action, and a way to survive the action. Adventures need three things too.

Years Ago, and Years to Come

A-Z 2014 YTomorrow I post my Z-A Challenge 2014 Index, and I’m in a bit of a reflective mood.

Early in the autumn of grade six, I found a small group of my classmates sitting in one of the rooms between our classroom and the next. They were rolling funny-shaped dice and talking about things like ‘initiative’ and ‘green slime’ and ‘saving throws’. My introduction to Dungeons & Dragons was B4: The Lost City, and while unlike Homer Simpson I was not slain by an elf directly, it’s entirely possible it was an elf that conned me into being their trapfinder.

Why no, I wasn’t playing a thief, I was playing a fighter. Doesn’t mean I didn’t find the traps, just that I had to do it the hard way.

That was almost (graduated high school 1991, six and a half years earlier would be the autumn of 1984, I suppose: Jim had a new copy of the last good Van Halen album, so that seems about right) thirty years ago this autumn. Christmas that year found me with a copy of Mentzer Basic D&D, and a life-long hobby started.

Since then I’ve played many editions of D&D, and other games. Basic and Expert D&D, and Advanced D&D because obviously that was for the more mature [11-12 years old at the time] players. A couple years later I stumbled on a copy of Fantasy HERO and I remember spending inordinate amounts of time devising and trying to optimize new spells (to no practical benefit because I couldn’t find anyone who would play it… but in retrospect I think it ultimately led me through ‘highly detailed systems design’ to ‘highly detailed systems design often doesn’t add much besides detail’). Five years after I started I found a Second Edition AD&D Player’s Handbook and suddenly in addition to race, class, and weapon proficiencies you had non-weapon proficiencies and some classes had choices! You could choose one of eight specializations as a wizard, you could assign skill points as a thief, and even clerics had specific options, though really there were only two (cleric and druid — Complete Priest’s Handbook wasn’t until a bit later). Somewhere in here I also got exposed to Top Secret and Harnmaster, and Heroes Unlimited.

In university I started playing Champions, and briefly a slew of other systems, but mostly it was still AD&D Second Edition. Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons rolled around after I finished college, plus a bunch of spin-offs and variations. By this point I was already an inveterate tinker, and D&D3e was made to be messed with.

Over the last thirty years I have played with classmates and coworkers, my kids, and with people all over the world (thanks Internet!). To this day I’m happy to remember how D&D caused one of my players to engage in schoolwork so he could better read and handle the math involved, and I’ve established friendships with people I’ve never met face to face, all through this hobby.

Where does it go from here? Well, I don’t plan to stop any time soon. My primary group meets online via Google+ Hangouts, and while we originally formed to take part in the early D&D Next playtests we quickly moved off that when we decided it wasn’t for us. Now we mostly play old school retroclones and similar, including Adventurer, Conqueror, King, OSRIC, and currently Swords & Wizardry. Several of us are some mix of artists, writers, and designers, we playtest each others’ work, when bad things happen we lend each other support as needed.

I’m still tinkering, still writing, still designing. My long-term goal is still to get Echelon to a playable and publishable state. I’m building relationships with other designers and artists. I get to see ideas from people all over the world and with different perspectives that can color my own work.

And on Saturday nights, I get together with my friends, we tell bad jokes, and we kill monsters and take their stuff.

XP and Rewards in the Sandbox

A-Z 2014 XA few days ago I talked about Unusual Rewards in the Sandbox, and figured I’d respond to some of the comments I’d received.

I agree that it is a good idea to assign nominal monetary value to the various rewards. Experience points in many old school games are primarily driven by acquiring treasure. If I take that away that relationship than level advancement will slow to a crawl. On that basis alone it is worth assigning monetary value to the ‘unusual rewards’, and thus have them provide experience points.

It also gives me a gauge I can use to judge the value of otherwise intangible benefits. How much is the good will of a duke worth? What is the value of a month’s service of a mercenary company? If the emperor’s vizier owes you a favor, why should it not have measurable value?

There was also a suggestion that I assign gold value to information. This may be more appropriate to the Seekers of Lore campaign I think since that campaign rather specifically considers acquiring knowledge as the goal. I think it might be too difficult for me to let go of wanting to have the PCs ‘sell’ the knowledge to get the monetary reward.

Perhaps I will roll with this. I think perhaps having most ‘treasure’ being intangible can be helpful to the campaign as a whole. Go ahead and loot places, but it’s only money, not experience points. It’s useful for buying things, but not the things that matter if you are anchored in the world.

I think this could work out well. Assigning specific monetary value to what would otherwise be intangible rewards makes it easier for see how valuable they are. It does reduce the utility as treasure, since it might be constrained in its use as money, but since I find there’s little use now that’s hardly a loss.

Thanks for the suggestions, this should work out pretty well.

Workflows for Extracting Data from Word Files

A-Z 2014 WYesterday I demonstrated a bit of how I use Graphviz to visualize game information. I figured today I would describe a bit about how I get certain game data.

Capture to MS Word

I have created a Word template containing many styles used primarily to mark the start of different game objects such as feats and spells. I copy and paste text from the source documents (web pages — Paizo PRD is surprisingly consistent when handled this way — and PDFs being the most common).

Preliminary Cleanup

If necessary I reflow the paragraphs where they are broken at line-ends.

The easiest way to do this is actually to put an additional paragraph break between them all paragraphs in the text I am working with, then use Search & Replace on special characters (quotes used below to delimit text being replaced, do not include in search or replace fields):

  • ‘^s’ -> ‘ ‘
  • ‘^p^p’ -> ‘^l’
  • ‘^p’ -> ‘ ‘
  • ‘^l’ -> ‘^p’
  • ‘  ‘ -> ‘ ‘
  • ‘ ^p’ -> ‘^p’
  • ‘^p ‘ -> ‘^p’

In English: replace non-breaking spaces with regular spaces, double paragraph breaks with line breaks, paragraph breaks with spaces, line breaks with paragraph breaks, double spaces with single spaces, strip space at end of paragraph, strip space at start of paragraph.

The various paragraph and line break steps are important. The first replaces the now-doubled paragraph markers with a non-paragraph marker that I don’t use elsewhere, the next gathers the lines of the paragraph together into a single paragraph (more than that, really — all lines in the entire block being processed are grouped into a single paragraph!), and the step after that then separates the paragraphs where they should be separated. It’s a little hokey, but works quite well.

Edit 2015/07/17: I have since learned an even easier way to get most of the paragraph breaks. Do a global search and replace (with wildcards on) on:

  • ‘^013[a-z\(]’ -> ‘ \1’

This replaces all end of paragraphs followed by a lower-case letter or left-parenthesis with a space followed by that lower-case letter or left-parenthesis. This joins up most of the incomplete sentences.

Visualizing Game Information

A-Z 2014 VA conversation on Facebook today prompted this article.

And this article ended up rather longer than I expected. I was hoping to get to sleep early tonight. Ah well.

Many — perhaps most — roleplaying games involve a lot of information. On the ‘mechanical’ side you might have monsters, spells, feats, skills, and many other things, and on the ‘story’ side you might have PCs, NPCs, locations, special items, various social constructs (nations, tribes, guilds), and many other things. Both the mechanical and the story side can have complex relationships between their components. Classes and feats may have (and may be) prerequisites, as may a certain number of ranks of a skill, ability to cast certain spells, and so on. NPCs often have relationships to other NPCs (and PCs, and places, and special items, and so on).

Complex relationships like these can be not only complicated, but confusing. If they are tracked in lists (or worse, paragraph) form they can be difficult to follow and understand. If they aren’t even in the same place (as is common with roleplaying game objects) it can become very difficult indeed.

… I feel like I’ve written about this before, and not that long ago. I’m guessing somewhere around April E, 2014… close enough, D! D&D: Data and Diagrams. Okay, look there for the background I was going to write here about why you want to visualize things, to render the relationships graphically, but that’s already done.

So, on to the actual topic, how I go about it.

Unusual Rewards in the Sandbox

A-Z 2014 UThe other day I was working on The Keys of Heraka-at and realized that by and large ‘conventional treasure’ is not a major feature of this adventure. The primary reward of this adventure is the knowledge needed to become the new Donnerkonig — the items that are needed, where they can be found, and what needs to be done with them — rather than gold or jewels or even magic items.

That got me thinking, and I wonder: is conventional treasure really that significant a draw in play?

I’ve been playing mostly old school games for the last few years: D&D 5e playtest to start, and that version felt pretty old school, then Adventurer Conqueror King, OSRIC, and currently Swords & Wizardry. We’ve even had some Tunnels & Trolls in there, if only one session. In all cases, anything we find that looks valuable and we can find a way to get home comes with us, if we have any say in the matter. Coin and gems, magic and mundane, if we reckon we can either sell it or use it, we take it with us.

Maybe it’s an old school thing, but honestly, except for the experience points I find I have little use for the treasure itself. Magic weapons and armor (Erik? Can I have some magic armor? Please?) I can put to use, other magic items (such as the bag of holding and the rope of climbing) are useful, but monetary treasure itself? I find I don’t seem to have much to do with it, except buying the occasional potion of healing or lending it to Joe so he can scribe more spells into his spell book.

In newer editions of D&D monetary treasure can be rather more important because, thanks to the MagicMart-style market rules, it maps directly to personal power. Accumulate enough gold and you can buy your way to increased personal power. In old school games I have the impression that many of the uses of money are to take care of things present to bleed off money (training, I’m looking at you, but spell transcription and some other activities certainly count too).

I think perhaps in this sandbox many rewards will be less tangible, but perhaps more useful. Knowledge that helps you work toward your goals, favors from powerful entities, tools that help you achieve your goals. Even magic items, at least in some cases — consumables are basic resources and I think should be readily available, but more profound items should probably be more significant, such as the treasures of the Donnerkonig. The simple accumulation of gold can have some utility, but maybe these other things will have more appeal.

Am I off track? What do you think? Does monetary treasure have more utility and value to old school play than I think it does? Does it serve greater purpose than giving experience points and taking care of things whose primary purpose is bleeding off money?

Or is it better to link rewards to goals more directly? Is it likely to encourage players to become more engaged because they seek out specific rewards to help them achieve their goals?

Tales of the Donnerkonig

A-Z 2014 TThe other day I described the Hall of the Faded Kings as — or rather, updated the description to —

This great hall is lined with mosaics showing great acts of the Donnerkonig over the centuries they ruled, from the mighty acts that established their powers, through acts during their reign, and even the diminishing acts during their decline. […] the central area, where the floor has a large mosaic of the sign of the Donnerkonig […]. From this central chamber are four others, each with mosaics alluding to stories of one of the Donnerkonig treasures.

It might be sufficient to leave it basically at that, but I think even a bit of concrete background will provide some useful flavor for the players and help realize the setting.

Cycles of History

“Cycles of History” can be a useful trope because it can be used to form a road map of sorts for those who know enough to examine history. I’ve got some notes about possible adventures to establish the power of the new Donnerkonig, and I think it might work to have them reflect what came before. These are

  • Purging of the Xotan Deep (Crown of Rain, near ‘X’ on the map)
  • Cleansing of Nilat Wood (Trident of Lightning, near ‘N’ on the map)
  • Pirates of Savern Reach (Horn of Gales, near ‘S’ on the map… I don’t know what actually would be done, but while it’s easy to make it ‘remove the pirates’, I kind of like the idea of becoming their king… perhaps that should be a viable means of neutralizing their threat)
  • Sack of Ulin (Ring of Waves, near ‘U’ on the map)

(Names may simply be placeholders; I obviously picked them so they aligned with the letters on the map for convenience. See the map at the bottom for reference, Sturmhame is at ‘T’.)

Part of the consequence of the Donnerkonig decline is that the conditions that brought about these events are coming about again. It may not be necessary to repeat these events, but the identify situations that should probably be resolved — before or after the return of the Donnerkonig, and may affect the outcome of the missions to establish their power.

I think also including a mosaic for each that provides some hint about what to expect at the place the treasure will be found will be useful. The Trident of Lightning is at Storm Mountain, so a mountain with numerous lightning strikes and the Trident at the top (said mosaic may well have storm metal in it… hmm, perhaps I should figure out the metal associations I was talking about earlier and incorporate them in each of the critical mosaics). In the Grotto of Aeshtua, provide an indication of what Aeshtua is and the sorts of sacrifices she finds appropriate.


Spotlight: Sine Nomine Publishing

A-Z 2014 SKevin Crawford and Sine Nomine Publishing have consistently produced high-grade roleplaying game material across several genres. Most of the products are based on or more or less compatible with the Labyrinth Lord rule set, which in turn means they are pretty portable across most old school games.

Settings and Rules Sets

Sine Nomine has several settings in the works: Red Tide Campaign Setting, Stars Without Number, Other Rust, and Spears of the Dawn (listed under Kickstarters, below).

Red Tide Setting

I think I first became aware of Sine Nomine when I was directed to get a copy of An Echo, Resounding: A Sourcebook for Lordship and War. This is a book set in Kevin’s Red Tide setting (as much as any setting) and provides excellent advice and rules for sandbox construction and demesne-level play. That is, a stark wilderness to be explored, full of ruins and lairs, with only a few bastions of civilization… and the facilities for carving out your own demesnes, be they city-states or full nations.

This led me to get Red Tide: Campaign Sourcebook and Sandbox Toolkit, which isn’t quite as focused on demesne-level play but provides complementary tools for sandbox construction. This includes expanding on the Stars Without Number tags system (also present in the Stars Without Number: Core Edition, which has another 40-some pages of content).

The setting itself is heavily influenced by Asian themes with some European influences mixed in. It is something of post-apocalyptic setting, or ‘current apocalypse’; the setting background consists largely of trying to survive the destruction of the world, though that can be shifted further to the background if it proves too bleak.

There are also several smaller (and often free) supplements supporting this setting, including The Crimson Pandect: A Handbook of Eldritch Lore (not free) and the Black Streams series (four smaller supplements for the Red Tide setting, all free).

Refining the Keys of Heraka-at

A-Z 2014 ROn Saturday I posted an overview of The Keys of Heraka-at, breaking out the various areas of the adventure. Now it’s time to start working toward more detailed development.

I’m not ready yet, but considering that each of the areas of the adventure site could be small maps and are at a bunch of different elevations it is tempting to try my hand at isometric mapping when I get that far.

Intermediate Development

At this point I’m going to expand on the ideas I had yesterday and start exploring how they fit together. I won’t have all the mechanical information yet, but I can expand on what I do have so I know what mechanical information I need.

I’m making some changes to the original map (shown below) that increase some of the interconnectivity. Not all will be obvious (especially since I’m adding extra), but they will be there.

Keys of Heraka-at Locations

Keys of Heraka-at Locations

Note on Encounters

There are some potential residents identified, and several of them could be reasonable random encounters. There are also likely to be safeguards against vandalism, the entire place was set up to protect knowledge until it can be used (and the Last Donnerkonig may be able to do something to trigger defenses as well).

For the most part I think I’ll roll with random encounters. Many areas are exposed to the outside, after all.

A Quick Overview of The Keys of Heraka-at

A-Z 2014 QThe Keys of Heraka-at is an adventure that allows the PCs to learn the truth of the fall of the Donnerkonig, and to potentially become the new Donnerkonig.

This adventure takes place in and around a large stone outcrop near Heraka-at, the capital of Sturmhame. The adventure site as a whole is intended to guide the Donnerkonig heirs to their immediate tasks

Locations on the Map

Here I describe the major areas in this adventure location. Each is to be a significant area of interest and might be a ‘single room’ or ‘group of rooms’. I won’t fully flesh these out yet, I aim only to get a feel for the key elements and their relative location. Specific threats and non-critical rewards are similarly not done yet.

Any windows mentioned are expected to be primarily for light and fresh air, but are probably hard to see, being generally deep-set between ledges providing shelter from vision from below and some slight shelter from rain from above. As might be expected, rain and wind are not major problems here, though.

The Last Donnerkonig, or rather his ghost, is obviously very interested in the Donnerkonig returning, because this will lay him to rest. He will observe but not interfere with or assist explorers overtly. If he does so the new Donnerkonig may not have the strength or ability to hold their position, ultimately leading to their failure.