Yearly Archives: 2015

Recent Releases 2015-12-27: Rogues, Fighters, and Polyhedral Pantheons

Recent releases, as of December 2015.

Echelon Explorations: Polyhedral Pantheons cover

Echelon Explorations: Polyhedral Pantheons

Echelon Explorations: Polyhedral Pantheons

The gods create the world… and you create the gods.

Whether you need only a small pantheon with a few deities, or a larger pantheon with dozens of deities, Polyhedral Pantheons gives you tools to make pantheon creation easy. This book also contains three pantheons and over seventy deities as examples you can use in your game.

  • The Shu-shi Pantheon, venerated by Chinese halflings who seek a life of peace and serenity.
  • The Goblin Pantheon, propitiated by goblins who live hard lives defined by isolation, destruction, and madness.
  • The Elemental Tetratheon, shared by a four nations and divided by element.

This product includes Echelon Explorations: Polyhedral Pantheons Worksheets as a second PDF.

Echelon Reference Series: Fighters cover

Echelon Reference Series: Fighters

Echelon Reference Series: Fighters (3pp+PRD)

Echelon Reference Series: Fighters (PRD-only)

This is the *ahem* “Rough And Fast” version. Classes and other game elements are present, but the additional features such as the full feat diagrams — which will be many, these books each contain hundreds of combat feats, 484 in the PRD-only book and 587 in the 3pp+PRD book — are not yet done. As such, the books are currently offered at a 50% discount (which will become a 25% discount as work is completed, and no discount when done… the intermediate and final documents will be added to the products as and when they are done).

Big thanks to Craig Brasco for the cover image. I find his sketches can be good enough for use on covers, you can see more of his work at craigbrasco.com.

Echelon Reference Series: Rogues cover

Echelon Reference Series: Rogues

Echelon Reference Series: Rogues (3pp+PRD)

Echelon Reference Series: Rogues (PRD-only)

This is also an RAF (“Rough And Fast”) release. Classes (rogue and ninja), archetypes, class feature, feats, and so on, but diagrams are not yet done. Half-price for now, with the updated versions added to the product as they are completed.

Sometimes Adversarial DMs Can Be Fun…

Long, long ago we were playing in a campaign and had a flying ship. We hired troll shock troops. A little more expensive than normal mercenaries, but the extra cost was offset by reduced materiel costs — we didn’t have to pay for parachutes, the trolls would aim when they dropped on enemy troops.

time passed, we were away from our ship and the DM evidently forgot we had one…

The DM had ruled that ‘only fire and acid damage’ didn’t regenerate, so we couldn’t do the ‘chop it up and burn the bits’ solution. So on a later adventure we didn’t have enough fire solutions to completely cook the (not-our-employee) trolls and took to basically mincing them, reducing their hit points to deep negative values so we’d have time to do our thing and escape before they reconstituted enough to be a threat again.

This made our DM sad, so he ruled that it wasn’t the biggest chunk of troll that regenerated, but that trolls were rather like worms and each piece could reconstitute. He established this as a hard rule in the campaign.

We called them ‘mincelings’ for a while, but he ruled that they would grow back to full size and the name never stuck.

more time passes, we returned to our ship and some time later, to war

Me: “Rules define the world physics, right?”

DM: “Yeah.”

Me: “And house rules are as strong as published rules, right?”

DM: “Stronger, they overrule the published rules.” smug look

Me: “Okay. I make some changes to the ship’s facilities.”

Later:

“‘Awright boys! I learned something about you lot while we were on the ground. I pay normal rate for each of you what drops, but if you want to make even more money, I’ll pay the same again for each and every one of you boards later if you go through this woodchipper on your way down!'”

The look of horror on the DM’s face was amazing. But I’ll give him full points for honesty and integrity, and openness to the sheer awesomeness of the vision — even if it was nasty and sticky — of a trollential downpour of regenerating monsters to crush the Alliance of Light.

Send Naomi to Nationals

My daughter Naomi is eligible to compete as a judoka in both the BC Winter Games and the Canadian Open National tournament this year. To make the team, though, there are training requirements. She is expected to take part in a certain number of tournament leading up to these events, and team training events. These involve travel and in some cases, staying overnight out of town.

These are some unexpected expenses, beyond what we had planned for this year’s judo season. I’d really like her to have these opportunities, so to try to raise money I’m putting all Echelon Game Design products on sale: 50% off everything, until the end of September.

Naomi (orange belt) countered and decisively defeated a higher-grade green belt in a meet last season.

Naomi (orange belt) countered and decisively defeated a higher-grade green belt in a meet last season.

Plots and Player Agency

I have long agreed with the premise of Justin Alexander‘s article, Don’t Prep Plots. The gist of it is that if you prepare an adventure or scenario with a plot, it is easy to become attached to the outcome, and the game play can become ‘fragile’, where deviation from the plot causes the story to break down. The game can become a railroad in order to protect the plot, or a mess as deviation from the plot causes the prepared material become irrelevant and play becomes unexpectedly improvised.

I still agree with the intent of Justin’s article, but I think I have found a way to reframe it in my mind that gives me better results.

Plots are what happen unless the PCs change things.

I now do prepare plots. I plan, at a suitable level of detail, what happens if the PCs do nothing.

Duke Whatsit wants to become king. He’s too far down the line of succession to expect anything short of extreme pruning of the king’s family tree to be helpful, so he’s going to have to go full usurper. He has several schemes on the go:

  • he discredits the Earl of Ware, who has an inordinate amount of military power and is fiercely loyal to the king;
  • he arranges an atrocity in a foreign land to cause a crusade and distracts the church;
  • he has a woman (or better yet, a man?) seduce the king (alienating the queen, and hopefully his heirs; with any luck he’ll step down);
  • arranges a marriage between himself and one of the king’s daughters;
  • builds up his military force ‘to take part in the crusade’… but they never seem to get Over There;
  • etc.

This all happens over time, and while the root causes are not always known, the effects can be seen. The PCs should become aware of them (how else can they get involved?), but if they don’t do anything about them then eventually Duke Whatsit might become King Whatsit.

Plot is there… but plot is there specifically for PCs to tamper with.

I know the Duke’s goal, I know the things he’s doing to advance that goal. Because I know what happens if the PCs do nothing, when the PCs interfere with it it means they made a difference. The Duke might be forced to adapt his schemes to account for the PCs’ actions. The Duke might end up becoming a direct opponent or enemy of the PCs. The PCs might kill the Duke, or better yet defeat him and reveal his dastardly plans and ruin him!

Or the PCs might agree with the Duke and join forces to dethrone the king. I can’t rule that out. In fact, that might be a deliberate effort on the Duke’s part, to sway the PCs from supporting an ineffectual king who’s busy with his paramour instead of paying attention to the crusade his nation’s church is on. After all, the Duke is interested in what is best for the kingdom, even if it means going down in history as a regicide and putting himself on the throne, sacrificing his relative freedom for the sake of all…

Either way, because the PCs got involved, things changed. The PCs made a difference.

And PCs making a difference is critical to player agency.

Updated Release Plans for the Echelon Reference Series

Echelon Reference Series: Sorcerers cover

Echelon Reference Series: Sorcerers

Until now, I have been releasing the Echelon Reference Series books as and when each is complete. I am thinking of changing that. I’m a programmer by trade, and staged releases are a common thing in my world. First make it go, then make it go good, then make it gold. For the Echelon Reference Series, I see three stages:

  1. Make It Go: Game content is collected, organized, and consistently formatted. This is the ‘minimum working version’.
    • All the game content to be included in this release is present, presentable, and organized.
  2. Make It Go Good: Game content is polished and made easier to use.
    • Certain game information broken out and linked. For instance, class subfeature prerequisites present in the original text (“must be a 8th level and have the inspiring rant rage power”) are presented more clearly (separate line, “Prerequisites: inspiring rant rage power, barbarian level 8″) and hyperlinked.
    • ‘Useful redundancy’ added: apply archetypes to base classes to make the resulting ‘archetype classes’, apply variant class subfeatures to base class subfeatures (such as subdomains to domains) to get the resulting domain, class feature catalogue created with normalized text and how each class and archetype using it changes it.
  3. Make it Gold: Diagrams and other finishing touches.

Of course, it’s not really reasonable to charge full price for something that is not yet finished. As such, I expect I would offer a discount on the price to those who buy early. Those who buy early get the upgrades when they are available, at no additional cost.

Make It Go 50% discount, half price. The game content is here, but better is to come.
Make It Go Good 25% discount. The content is here and more polished, but we’re not quite done.
Make it Gold No discount. The book is done.

Right now each book is a large, monolithic endeavor. Staging the releases in this way gives me smaller work units, gets the primary content to players sooner, and reduces the up-front cost to those who buy in early for the primary content.

Reframing Campaigns and Adventures

A realization on the way home from work, combined with discussing it with a friend online, means I’ll be changing a few definitions I’ve used for a while.

GreyKnight, I think this one qualifies as a ‘Revisit old post and completely change everything’ result on the Keith Davies Blog Post Generator.

Old Definitions

There are some terms I’ve used for quite a while when discussing campaign and setting design. I have a more complete set of definitions, with examples, but I will include brief definitions here for context.

A setting is a place where many campaigns happen, often a particular world. Forgotten Realms is a quite well-known Dungeons & Dragons setting. There are recurring entities (major NPCs, deities, nations, etc.) that can be experienced or can influence things across the setting.

campaign is a set of related scenarios that take place in a setting. ‘Setting entities’ may be present in a campaign, and there are recurring entities within the campaign that might not be present outside it. Usually lasts about four levels of advancement; anything shorter tends to feel episodic and not really significant enough, and I’ve found players tend to start losing interest when they run much longer.

scenario is a single situation or location to be played in. Setting and campaign entities can be present, as can scenario entities that are present only in this scenario. I usually expect the PCs to take part in 12-15 encounters (D&D 3.x assumes ‘13.333 encounters per level’), and I might design 16-20 on the assumption not all will actually happen.

New Definitions, and Reframing

I was working on some documentation at work today, describing how to develop a test plan. One of the more important points is that each test is to answer a specific question. It has preconditions, steps to follow, and expected results (measurable postconditions).

On my way from work, I realized that there is entirely nothing preventing us from applying the reasoning to adventures, and many things suddenly fell into place. Discussing this led to a couple of terminology shifts in order to accommodate the mental shift.

Setting

The definition of setting remains the same.

Campaign

A campaign is now a set of related stories involving a central cast of player characters. The specific PCs may change over time as they die (or less commonly retire) and are replaced, but the general core tends to remain consistent. A campaign happens in a single setting; a campaign that might ‘span settings’ (such as planehopping campaign or a Spelljammer campaign) actually expands the setting to include the new areas.

Story Arc

A story arc is a series of adventures or stories, each of which might involve several adventures. A story arc need not be contiguous, there may be other adventures or even other stories between the stories that make up a story arc. However, there will and must be recurring entities and themes that cause the stories to be related.

Story arcs tell stories, and as such there must be a goal or purpose. Common murderhobo behavior is adventuring, but typically without a goal or purpose. ‘Kill things and take their stuff’ isn’t really a story, it’s an activity. ‘Defeat the invading hobgoblins’ and ‘become crowned king of Arlington’ are more likely appropriate goals or purposes.

I would still expect a story arc to run for about four levels of PC advancement. Longer may work for some people, but I’ve found this to be a sweet spot for the groups I’ve played with.

Story

A story is similar to a story arc, but has a much more limited scope (and no ‘sub-stories’ per se, though it may have adventures). In the context of a story arc it would describe how a major event or situation was resolved. If the story arc goal is ‘defeat the invading hobgoblins’, ‘The Defense of Tal Forenn’ might be one of the stories (and it might be retitled ‘The Razing of Tal Forenn’ if things don’t go well — not all stories have happy endings).

Each story has a goal or purpose. In ‘The Defense of Tal Forenn’, the goal obviously is to defend Tal Forenn. The story that comes out of it depends on how the game plays out. If the goal is achieved and the city is successfully defended, you get one story. If the defense fails, you get another.

I would expect a story to run for about one level of PC advancement. I have had ‘half-level stories’ at times, but more often I treat the completion of a story — whether victorious or not — as cause to advance the PCs a level. It would probably play out over several sessions, and if I were one to track experience points it would probably come out fairly close (expect 12-15 encounters, but it might take as many as 20 or as few as 8 or 10 depending how the PCs go about it).

Adventure or Scenario

I use these words more or less interchangeably, with the primary difference involving tone or location. An adventure usually involves exploration, while a scenario usually involves resolving a situation present, without exploration. They really amount to the same thing structurally.

An adventure answers (usually) a single question about a story, and can provide resources that can help the PCs reach victory. In ‘The Defense of Tal Forenn’ you might have an adventure to gain allies (you hear of potential allies also threatened by the hobgoblins, so you find a way to raise the siege and they join you), another to gain an important resource (a holy relic that will empower the temple wards and help protect the city), another to infiltrate the hobgoblin camp for covert purposes (assassination, sabotage, rescuing hostages, etc.). I would expect an adventure to involve 3-5 encounters, and usually play out in one session, or two. My OSR group can go through a large number of encounters if we stay on task, but more likely a handful of encounters; in ‘more modern D&D’ we’d do well to complete one fight.

If I expected each story to be about 12-15 encounters (and prepared 16-20) and an adventure to be 3-5 encounters, this means I might have about 3-7 adventures identified, and more likely 4-6. Assuming each plays out in a single night, this means approximately five sessions per level, which is a little slow for modern D&D standards but about right for the way we like it.

From Bottom to Top

The adventures in a story or story arc should each resolve a plot point in the larger context. Individual encounters are not likely to be relevant in the grand scheme of things. Whether a particular unnamed hobgoblin dies probably doesn’t much matter. An adventure’s consequence, though, should. In ‘The Defense of Tal Forenn’, raising the siege of Tal Theris and gaining allies will make it easier to defend Tal Forenn, and provide a stronger position for dealing with the hobgoblins as a whole. Not raising the siege of Tal Theris might mean that city falls, making it harder to defend Tal Forenn and putting the PCs in a harder position overall.

Closing Comments

Framing adventures, stories, and story arcs this way provides clear and measurable plot points that can be used to gauge overall success. By having each adventure resolve specific events and answer specific questions it is easy to make higher-level decisions and direct the story and story arc as a whole.

I have found in the past that such measurements and determinations might be identified for specific entities within an adventure (such as “if the PCs kill this guy, this will happen later, but if they don’t, this other thing will happen”). I’ve also found that often the adventures are expected to be played in a particular order, because each depends on previous events. By working at the higher level it is possible to treat the individual adventures as discrete events with identifiable consequences within the fabric of the whole. This helps reduce the order dependency between individual adventures.

Also, structuring stories and story arcs this way makes it easy to compartmentalize the piece and work on only what is necessary. I might identify ‘The Defense of Tal Forenn’ as a story in the hobgoblins story arc, and six questions (potential adventures) to be answered. If the PCs answer at least four ‘victoriously’, they successfully defend the city. If they don’t get at least two victories, the hobgoblins win and the city is destroyed. Individual answers can cause specific results: killing the bloodthirsty leader might mean the replacement is more merciful — he only pillages the city, destroys the dockyards, and takes the ranking military and leaders hostage, rather than slaughtering everyone and burning the place to the ground.

Of course, this might mean the hobgoblins now have a better leader available than the bloodthirsty one that might otherwise have led, and this one is not only more capable but is favored by the hobgoblin high command and has more troops… but you can’t have everything.

Z-A Challenge 2015 Index

A-Z 2015 "Z"I didn’t write as many articles this year as last year (28 vs. 32) and my word count is lower (27,000 vs. 38,000).

However, I stayed closer to the theme: more than half, almost two thirds I think, of all posts were related to Polyhedral Pantheons. This includes drafting 72 deities across three pantheons (halfling, goblin, and elemental-focused), which in turn were split into 10 subpantheons. This was a lot of writing for the book, and I am very pleased with how they turned out. I am almost done drafting Polyhedral Pantheons, and I should be able to finish the last bits this week and start reviewing.

Only one post missed the correct day, and was still posted only 12 minutes late. All other posts were the night before, if sometimes by less than an hour.

All things considered, I am satisfied.

Total   27,444 About 11,000 fewer words than last year, but still 1/2 of a NaNoWriMo target.
Date Letter Words Title Description
2014-04-30
2014-04-29 Z 1,166 Z-A Challenge 2015 Index This post, summarizing the articles I’ve written for this year’s A-Z Blog Challenge.
2014-04-29 Y  457 Yet More Projects I never seem to run out of things I’d like to do. Here are some of the projects I’d like to find the time and energy for. Stupid ‘regular working hours’ and ‘sense of responsbility’….
2014-04-28 X 923 Examples of Adapted Polyhedral Pantheons I worked two examples of the adapted polyhedral assignment mechanism, one for physical geography that leads to a campaign premise I wouldn’t mind exploring (aberrations teaming up with dwarves against the goblins, with a dwarf/goblin counteralliance resisting them) and one preparing a template for use creating cities in a particular culture using Last Gasp Grimoire‘s In Cörpathium dice drop mechanism.
2014-04-27 W 2,176 Working on Polyhedral Adaptations Expansion of Variations on a Theme: Adapting Polyhedral Pantheons, drafting lists of attributes that can be applied for each purpose.
2014-04-26 V 2,178 Variations on a Theme: Adapting Polyhedral Pantheons Seven ways the polyhedral assignment mechanism used by Polyhedral Pantheons can be applied to other purposes: physical geography, planar geography, city wards, characters, 13th Age-style icons, megadungeons, and campaigns.
2014-04-25
2014-04-24 U 2,077 Ultimate Shu-shi Deities Post The remaining ten members of the Shu-shi pantheon, the ultimate (i.e. last) post on the Shu-shi deities, and as is happens also the last post of draft deities I plan for Polyhedral Pantheons.
2014-04-23 T 2,332 Twelve Shu-shi Deities Twelve of the twenty-two members of the Shu-shi pantheon. I started with the six Jixiang Shen (auspicious deities favored by the Shu-shi) and the six Bukeishiyi Shen (the uncanny deities that make Shu-shi uncomfortable).
2014-04-22 S 800 Shu-shi Pantheon (Halfling Pantheon Revised) I didn’t feel really good about the original halfling pantheon, but stumbling on the idea of Chinese culture merged with halfling sensibilities resulted in a revised pantheon I feel really good about.
2014-04-21 R  1,601 Reviewing the Elemental Tetratheon The Elemental Tetratheon is a largish thing and deliberately polarized, focusing on the hermetic elements. I reviewed it to be certain it covered everything I needed it to. This post has the full deities table, examines the domain allocations by deity within each element, and domain access by alignment (both ‘domain by deity having this alignment’ and ‘domain by alignment of cleric’, which must be within one step of the deity).
2014-04-20 Q 372 Quick Update on Polyhedral Pantheons An review of the Polyhedral Pantheons outline I had prepared. Some things added, more things dropped, many things changed. I’m actually getting close to having a complete draft.
2014-04-20 1,657 Water Deities of the Elemental Tetratheon Drafted the water deities of the Elemental Tetratheon. Bonus post, I needed the material for review.
2014-04-20 1,478 Air Deities of the Elemental Tetratheon Drafted the air deities of the Elemental Tetratheon. Bonus post, I needed the material for review.
2014-04-19
2014-04-18 P 637 Points and Nodes and Paths, Oh My! Describes nodecrawl/pointcrawl adventuring, a pathcrawl variation, and a transitional nodes variation that can apply to all three. Includes many links to relevant material.
2014-04-17 O  1,250 On Wandering Monsters and Random Encounters I went back and revisited some previous thoughts I’d had on wandering monsters. This time I described in a little more detail how I choose what to put in a random event table, and how this in turn related to how I design campaigns and adventures.
2014-04-16 N 554 Naming Things with Style I’ve talked before about how I name things, but a comment about how the names within the sample pantheons seemed so natural and internally consistent in style caused me to explain again how I often devise names for setting entities.
2014-04-15 M 367 Musing on Spell-Like Abilities in Echelon Jumped track a bit to ponder a design problem I’ve been having in another project.
2014-04-14 L  453 Lusus Naturae is Live in PDF The Kickstarter project closed April 12, 2014. Rafael made the PDF available on April 13, 2015. A bit behind schedule, and we’re still waiting for the physical books, but they’ll be here soon enough.
2014-04-13 K 1,439 Kouzelnik Deities of the Goblin Pantheon The kozelnik, on the other hand… take a chaotic race with violent tendencies, then make them lawful and watch their minds snap. It seems pursuit of alien lore and ‘jatemst’ (nobody knows what ‘jatemst’ is, but the kouzelnik swear they’ll recognize it when the find it) has done something strange to them.
2014-04-12
2014-04-11 J 1,565 Jhesiri Deities of the Goblin Pantheon, Rewritten The jhesiri are still focused on destruction, but the rewrite makes them much more credible. The original was hyperbolic, this makes much more sense and feels almost believable.
2014-04-10 I 563 Icosahedral Pantheons I started drafting text describing why someone might use various polyhedrons. I suspect I’ll reduce this to a summary paragraph in the book. It’s a good thing I’m reviewing my posts, I forgot to finish these!
2014-04-09 H 1,402 Hilljack Deities of the Goblin Pantheon Reclusive and insular, the hilljacks would as soon be left alone. They are not nearly as malicious as most other goblins, but they are still opportunistic and will take advantage of situations if they come up.
2014-04-08 G 642 Goblin Pantheon Revisited The original goblin pantheon was over-exaggerated, I think, to the point of being caricature. I revised the domain assignments and started over, and I think ended up with something much better.
2014-04-07 F  1,307 Fire Deities of the Elemental Tetratheon Drafted the fire deities of the Elemental Tetratheon.
2014-04-06 E 1,221 Earth Deities of the Elemental Tetratheon Drafted the earth deities of the Elemental Tetratheon.
2014-04-05
2014-04-04 D 1,163 Designing Dynamic Spells Revisiting another old topic, this time about families of very similar spells and how they can be reduced to a smaller number of more dynamic spells.
2014-04-03 C 754 Composition of an Autoscaling Magic Item Notes about how an autoscaling magic item might be designed and written up. The idea needs work; the example I explored didn’t work out to my satisfaction, it lacks elegance.
2014-04-02 B 592 Background Information on Autoscaling Magic Items Background research into other attempts at autoscaling items. The theme has been examined before and I wanted to be aware of the prior art.
2014-04-01 A 1,385 Autoscaling Magic Items Prompted by reading the Legendary Items series from Purple Duck Games, I thought I’d take a look at magic items that scale with the levels of their wielders.

 

Yet More Projects

A-Z 2015 "Y"For the Z-A Challenge 2014 I focused mostly on demonstrating the creation of a sandbox campaign. I didn’t focus very hard and I wandered a fair bit, but managed to write a bit more than 38,000 words.

For the Z-A Challenge 2015 I mostly wrote about Polyhedral Pantheons, and finally got my example pantheons drafted. I still have to do some introductory text, and there are some elements of the process — the nominal point of the book, even if it amounts to perhaps 20% of the page count — that I want to revise. About 60%-70% of the final page count will be three pantheons: the Shu-shi pantheon (twenty-two deities of Chinese halflings), the Goblin pantheon (twenty-two deities followed by three tribes, the hilljacks, the jhesiri, and the kouzelnik), and the Elemental Tetratheon (a pantheon of twenty-eight deities heavily polarized by element). I was tempted to make today’s post ‘Yet Another Pantheon’ and do one comparable in size to the Elemental Tetratheon, but decided that seventy-two will have to be enough. Time to wrap this one up and get back to some other projects

What projects? Well

  • The Echelon Reference Series is still in the works. I’ve published the Barbarian, Cleric, and Sorcerer books, but I still want to complete the other base classes. The next one up is likely to be the Rogue book. I may knock out Samurai as a quick sample book. And I’m still thinking about race books.
  • Review and update Echelon itself, the game that caused me to start the Echelon Reference Series (these books were originally research documents for Echelon). I think I may take another run at that for NaGaDeMon (National Game Design Month) in November. I would dearly love to have it in the bag so I can demo it at GottaCon, near the end of February.
  • Work on the Donnerkonig Chronicle, the setting and campaigns I started outlining for the A-Z Challenge last year. If nothing else, wrap up the Donnerkonig Heirs campaign. I really want to see how that turns out.
  • More Echelon Explorations books along the same lines as Polyhedral Pantheons. I think I’d really like to expand on the adaptations to Polyhedral Pantheons I’ve been writing about this week, and I’ve long wanted to expand on and polish my Campaign and Scenario Design material for publication.
  • … so many other projects. I have many ideas of things to work on, and I know people who come up with exciting things I want to be part of. It’s a shame I have so little time to work on the cool stuff.

And that’s just off the top of my head. I sometimes think I really do need a ticketing system to keep track of all the stuff I want to do.

Examples of Adapted Polyhedral Pantheons

A-Z 2015 "X"I’m calling ‘Examples’ close enough for ‘X Day’ of the A-Z Blog Challenge.

The last couple of posts have been about ways the Polyhedral Pantheons mechanism can be adapted to other purposes. In this post I’ll start applying the adaptations.

Adaptations of Polyhedral Pantheons

I’m going to start with just the initial work, assigning some attributes and seeing what comes out. I don’t plan to do much detailed interpretation at this point, but I will make some notes and some idea of what the results might mean.

I’m going to work with the icosahedron, the d20, for all examples below.

Physical Geography

Point Primary
A Forest
B Dwarves
C Aberrations
D Goblins
E Ruined
F Hills
G Purposed
H Mountains
I Plains
J Resource
K Cities
L Magic

I’ve applied four terrains (Forest, Hills, Mountains, Plains), three creature types (Goblins, Dwarves, and Aberrations), three modifiers (Ruined, Resource, Magic), and two civilization (Cities, Purposed) attributes. Altogether I get the following faces.

Face Attribute Attribute Attribute Notes
1 Forest Dwarves Aberrations
2 Mountains Resource Magic
3 Forest Ruined Hills
4 Purposed Plains Magic
5 Dwarves Purposed Mountains Power centre? Moving to engage goblins?
6 Ruined Plains Cities Also destroyed during aberration arrival? Invaded and abandoned?
7 Forest Dwarves Goblins  Counteralliance against dwarves+aberrations?
8 Hills Resource Cities
9 Aberrations Ruined Plains Initial catastrophic arrival location? Invaded and pillaged?
10 Goblins Hills Resource
11 Aberrations Purposed Plains Power centre
12 Goblins Mountains Resource
13 Dwarves Aberrations Purposed  Shared power centre?
14 Plains Cities Magic
15 Dwarves Goblins Mountains Counteralliance against dwarves+aberrations?
16 Ruined Hills Cities
17 Forest Goblins Hills
18 Purposed Mountains Magic
19 Forest Aberrations Ruined
20 Resource Cities Magic

Every pairing above appears twice, each with a different third attribute. I’m going to look at the populations first.

  • Goblins are matched to (Forest, Dwarves), (Hills, Resource), (Mountains, Resource), (Dwarves, Mountains), (Forest, Hills).
  • Dwarves are matched to (Forest, Aberrations), (Purposed, Mountains), (Forest, Goblins), (Aberrations, Purposed), (Goblins, Mountains)
  • Aberrations are matched to (Forest, Dwarves), (Ruined, Plains), (Purposed, Plains), (Dwarves, Purposed), (Forest, Ruined)

The faces provide elements relevant to the geography, not necessarily those who live there. The inhabitants of the region are attributes of the region, not the other way around.

Just on writing out the relationships above, I see a struggle happening. I’m going to say that because the aberrations are associated with regions that are mostly ruined and/or purposed, they have somehow ‘arrived’ (from below ground, over the sea, or outer space, doesn’t matter yet). I’m going to give in to temptation here: they are allied somehow with the dwarves (or possibly have infiltrated or subverted them). I think I’m going to say the dwarves have since made overtures to the goblins, looking for peace, and possibly an alliance against the aberrations.

I don’t know yet what all of the above means, but I’m guessing someone is going to get screwed pretty bad.

This accounts for thirteen of the twenty regions. I’m going to assume they’re fairly contiguous. I’m guessing the three factions are arranged in a more or less triangular arrangement, with the goblins and aberrations aware of each other and the dwarves heavily interfaced with both. The remaining regions are probably fairly closely linked to those sharing attributes. A ‘forested hills’ region is likely adjacent to another ‘forested hills’ region, or at least one that has forest or hills.

Because I decided some of the relationships and inferred an arrangement of the regions, I’m not going to randomize the placement or relationships.

I don’t know everything yet, but I think I’d be prepared to take this as a start.

City Wards

Point Primary
A Craft
B Large
C Academic
D Commercial
E Magical
F Prosperous
G Transients
H Impoverished
I Religious
J Industrial
K Minority
L Military

This doesn’t tell me much so far. I’ve got seven ward types (Craft, Academic, Commercial, Magical, Religious, Industrial, Military), then a mix of other attributes: size (Large), wealth (Prosperous, Impoverished), and population (Transients, Minority). This gives me the faces below.

Face Attribute Attribute Attribute Notes
1 Craft Large Academic
2 Impoverished Industrial Military Road builders?
3 Craft Magic Prosperous
4 Transients Religious Military  Paladins on quest, crusaders?
5 Large Transients Impoverished
6 Magic Religious Minority
7 Craft Large Commercial
8 Prosperous Industrial Minority
9 Academic Magic Religious Temple quarter?
10 Commercial Prosperous Industrial
11 Academic Transients Religious
12 Commercial Impoverished Industrial Dockyards?
13 Large Academic Transients ‘Academic pilgrims’? University?
14 Religious Minority Military
15 Large Commercial Impoverished Thieves’ Market?
16 Magic Prosperous Minority Elven quarter?
17 Craft Commercial Prosperous High-end markets?
18 Transients Impoverished Military Recruitment and levies? Training grounds?
19 Craft Academic Magic
20 Industrial Minority Military

I suspect some of the attributes need clarification. The ‘Craft’ attribute indicates artisans and other skilled workers, while ‘Industrial’ tends to be ‘more work’. You might expect smiths would gravitate to Craft wards and docks are more likely to be found in Industrial wards. Dockyards, on the other hand, where they actually build ships, might have one or both of the Craft and Industrial attributes.

‘Academic transients’ suggests temporary training schools, where students attend for a time before moving on (training complete or to other training). ‘Religious transients’ might be pilgrims or those on quest.

I’m not going to arrange these in any particular order. I think I can find explanations and descriptions for most of these, and then apply Last Gasp Grimoire‘s In Cörpathium dice drop mechanism to determine placement within any particular city.

Closing Comments

I think I’ll stop there for tonight. I skipped the Planar Geography adaptation for now because I want to consider further how it differs from Physical Geography. The Megadungeon and Campaign adaptations have attributes that are too abstract at this point. I’ll want to spend more time fleshing them out.

Working on Polyhedral Adaptations

A-Z 2015 "W"Yesterday I wrote about adapting the Polyhedral Pantheons mechanism for other purposes. And now my brain, because it’s like that, insists I make some notes about the attributes that might be used for the various adaptations.

Polyhedral Pantheons Adaptations

For (almost) every adaptation in yesterday’s post, I’ll present a draft table of attributes that can be used for that adaptation. Each table will have columns for various attribute types. The attributes should mostly be straightforward so I don’t expect to spend much time explaining them.

Physical Geography

Physical geography has many kinds of attributes. Terrain is an obvious starting point. Climate might come into it, but I suspect that with basically three (cold, temperate, hot; I don’t think I want to get higher-resolution than that) it’ll get rolled into another attribute type. Degree of settlement or civilization, on the other hand, ranges largely from ‘uninhabited’ to ‘metropolises’, with a couple special cases. I expect major inhabitants could be an attribute type, as could modifiers and special features.

d8 Terrain Climate Civilization Inhabitants Modifier
1 Desert Cold Uninhabited Humanoids Magic
2 Hills Temperate Borderland Aberrations Holy
3 Mountains Hot Villages Dragons Ruined
4 Plains Dry Towns Fey Haunted
5 Forest Wet Cities Outsiders Resource
6 Swamp Variable Metropolises Undead Landmark
7 Aquatic Planar Abandoned Animals Hazard
8 Underground Chaotic Purposed Monsters Fairytale

I’ll stick to eight of each attribute type for now. Assuming you use an icosahedron, a d20, you’d use less than a third of them, and I’m stretching to get as many as I did.

  • Underground means that ‘the important things’ are underground rather than on the surface
  • Variable climate means it changes, usually swinging strongly. Cold climates are usually cold, hot climates are usually hot, temperate move between these moderately, but ‘variable’ temperatures are more extreme. Similar things happen with humidity.
  • Planar climate means that the climate is not limited to real-world norms. There may be planar traits; the Ghost Hills might have a ‘Planar (negative)’ climate.
  • Chaotic climate goes beyond ‘variable’; the climate is unpredictable and can have massive shifts.
  • Uninhabited civilization means that nobody and nothing has taken control of the region.
  • Borderland means that civilization is starting to move into the area, but it is not settled.
  • VillagesTownsCitiesMetropolises indicate the degree of civilization and infrastructure present. ‘Villages’ suggests low infrastructure but relatively safe (unsafe would be borderland), while ‘metropolises’ suggests something like late Medieval Paris, which would draw resources from all over Europe.
  • Abandoned means that the region was once populated but almost everyone left.
  • Purposed civilization means that whoever lives there is probably for a reason, and needs resources from outside to survive. Military outposts often would have this.
  • The Inhabitants describe the general type of creature that commonly occupy or control the region. Others may be present, but these are the dominant or most common. It is possible to have more than one.
    • For many of these, specific subtypes might be chosen. You might leave it at ‘humanoids’ for the attribute but choose specific races for each face, or you might choose a race and apply that as the attribute.
  • The Modifiers mean basically what you choose them to mean, and could apply to any other attribute.

Remember that the attributes are used to mark unexpected elements. It is safe to assume that the primary inhabitants are humanoids unless otherwise indicated.

Planar Geography

d6 Alignment Gravity Time Morphic Elemental Magic
1 Good Normal Normal Alterable Earth Normal
2 Lawful Heavy Erratic Divinely Air Dead
3 Chaotic Light Timeless Highly Fire Enhanced
4 Evil No Gravity Outside Time Magically Water Impeded
5 Neutral Objective Directional Faster Sentient Positive Limited
6 Unaligned Subjective Directional Slower Static Negative Wild

This just nails down the basic planar traits. If I were working up an entire cosmology I would be inclined to then approach each plane using the Physical Geography table.

  • Out of Time is like Timeless, but time passed does not get dumped on the character retroactively. You could spend a year in a Timeless plane and die immediately on returning to the Prime Plane (one year of hunger, retroactively), but a year in an Outside Time plane is safe.
  • Faster time is like Erratic time but doesn’t change. It is ‘half of’ the Flowing time trait, where time passes faster on the other plane than in the Prime Plane.
  • Slower time is like Erratic time but doesn’t change. It is ‘half of’ the Flowing time trait, where time passes slower on the other plane than in the Prime Plane.

Again, look first to ‘how this is different’. Most planes will be ‘normal gravity, alterable morphic’, but can be expected to vary quite a bit on alignment, elemental traits, and magic.

City Wards

d8 Ward Type Wealth Size Inhabitants Qualities 1 Qualities 2 Disadvantages
1 Residential Poor Tiny Uninhabited Academic Prosperous Anarchy
2 Craft Low Small Transients Holy Site Racially Intolerant Cursed
3 Commercial Middle Medium Minority Insular Rumormongering Citizens Hunted
4 Industrial High Large Monster Magically Attuned Strategic Location Impoverished
5 Religious Wealthy Huge Notorious Superstitious Plagued
6 Military Opulent Segmented Pious Tourist Attraction
7 Magical
8 Criminal

This table will certainly want some expansion, if only to complete each column. I expect that several of these attributes are likely to be reused, especially the Ward Type and Inhabitants attribute types. I don’t doubt that there are some attributes above that really should be merged.

  • Ward Type indicates the normal activity that takes place in the ward. Remember that historically most people lived at or near their workplace, so in most of these places you will find many people living. ‘Residential’ wards are primarily just living space, with other interests having only a minor presence.
  • Segmented size means that the ward itself is functionally distributed throughout the city. I put it in Size for lack of a better idea. If I had a Modifies column I’d probably put it there.
  • Uninhabited means that the ward is either abandoned or nobody really lives there. For example, parks and graveyards are two places that nominally aren’t very well-populated, though there are people there at times.
  • Transients indicates that the area is largely populated with people who don’t live locally and are just ‘passing through’. Depending on the culture ‘passing through’ might take months or years.
  • Minority indicates that a race other than the local majority live here. Depending on the city this might result in each such ward having a different minority, or you might choose a single one that will be used for all relevant wards. In a ‘cosmopolitan’ settlement you might have multiple racial attributes like this to account for the number of races; you might not have an overwhelming majority, so even that race might be present in order to mark where you can find them.
  • Monster indicates that an alien creature type, something not of the dominant inhabitants or even similar to them, has a significant presence in the city because of this ward. For instance, a mindflayer enclave openly living in town.
  • Qualities 1 and Qualities 2 are taken directly from Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game: GameMastery Guide™ chapter on settlements (but split into two to balance the columns), as did the Disadvantages.

Characters and 13th Age-style Icons

I’m going to skip these two for now. I suspect they are hairy enough I’ll want to give them specific treatment another time.

Megadungeons

I will, however, start something on megadungeons. I think the first step of building a megadungeon is choosing the regions and their associations,

d8 Region Type Challenges Connectors
1 Temple Inhabitants Outside
2 Cavern Traps Underdark
3 Monster Environment Planar Gate
4 Lake Terrain
5 Inhabited

I will want to expand this one, or at least fill in the blanks. Right now I would need all twelve populated entries just to fill all the points of an icosahedron (d20) and have enough to start with.

If nothing else I could expand some of these into attribute types themselves. Most of the entries above are fairly abstract. For instance, Monster could be expanded into several kinds, as could Environment and Terrain.

Traps, Environment and Terrain (under Hazard) are similar but different. Traps are often hidden or puzzle-oriented elements that can cause problems, Environment is a pervasive condition or status of the area that can have effect, while terrain is the physical (or possibly mental) arrangement of the place itself.

I think I’ll have to come back to this one, it’s a little too abstract yet.

Campaign

I define a campaign as a series of related adventures that tell a story from beginning to end. ‘Story arc’ is another expression for the same idea.

As a rule I try to design nonlinear adventures and campaigns. I might pick a starting point and identify (but not aim for) potential end points, but beyond that it’s up to the players to decide what they’re going to do. For a campaign I would typically identify some 10-15 adventures or scenarios I could anticipate the PCs taking part in on their way through the campaign. For example, the Donnerkonig Heirs campaign identifies fourteen potential adventures — five are critical (the start point where they learn what’s going on and the four that get them the artifacts they’ll need), four that are actually gateways to or from other campaigns (where they might learn of other things that sound worth attention, and are there primarily to remind them that there are things going on besides ‘their story’), and the remainder are mostly ‘between here and there’ and side treks.

d8 Objective Reward Challenges Location
1 Achieve Resource Environment Physical Geography
2 Escape Artifact Terrain City Ward
3 Breach Information Inhabitants Megadungeon
4 Hold Help Competition Planar Geography
5 Obtain
6 Prevent

Again, I’ll want to expand on these, because they tend to be abstract and I don’t have very many.

The objectives are straight out of Sneak Attack Press’ Advanced Encounters: Alternate Objectives. Many adventures end up becoming “kill everything and take their stuff”, and that might be a good backup plan, but if you view an adventure as an effort to achieve a particular goal you can avoid a great deal of repetition. I have yet to see an adventure that doesn’t have at least a little bit of “kill things and take their stuff” happen, but a different primary goal can keep the adventures more varied.

Achieve objectives mean the adventure is about doing something. In context of a campaign, this should be something that could make it easier to succeed. Closing a planar gate might be an example, or reclaiming a captured fortress so the mountain pass can be used again.

Escape objectives mean the adventure is about getting out of something. In purest form it might start with the PCs captured and stripped of their gear (most players hate this), but scenarios such as sieges and rescues can qualify under escape objectives. ‘Chase adventures’ where the PCs try to avoid capture (or capture someone) might count as well.

Breach objectives are a variation of, and almost the exact opposite of, escape objectives. Instead of wanting to get out, the PCs want to get in or through. Yes, they could get through the Kobold Tunnels by killing all the kobolds, but they might find that sneaking through, avoiding traps and patrols, and fighting only when needed might be better.

Hold objectives focus on withstanding something until either it goes away or help arrives. In many ways these are like escape objectives except the PCs basically stay where they are despite efforts to make them leave (or die). An escape scenario might be about problem avoidance, a hold objective might be more about resource management, ensuring there is enough (food, hit points, whatever) to outlast the opposition. Many survival scenarios could fit into this category.

Obtain objectives are all about getting something. When the PCs need the Unobtainium MacGuffin in order to complete their quest, this is the objective to use. Not all things to be obtained are specific objects, sometimes the PCs will need information, general resources, or an alliance. An achieve objective is about doing something (which might mean creating something), an obtain objective is all about walking away with something they didn’t have before.

Prevent objectives are about making something not happen. Keep the king alive despite the assassins, don’t let kidnappers steal the baby heir, and so on.

The rewards are abstract here because they necessarily vary so much by setting and campaign.

Resource rewards are generally useful resources such as ‘treasure’, food, and so on.

Artifact rewards are specific items that will be needed (or just make things easier) later.

Information rewards can lead the PCs to other adventures or other rewards, or provide some other intangible benefit based on knowledge. This might also include access to new spells, feats, and similar benefits.

Help rewards result in alliance or other assistance from the rewarder.

Location makes use of other polyhedral adaptations: physical geography, city ward, megadungeon (for individual dungeon description), or planar geography.

Closing Comments

I could expand on all of these some more, but I’m somewhat over 2100 words for this post. I’m going to knock off here for the night.

Tomorrow, I’m going to present some examples of what these might look like when applied.