Wednesday 30 September 2015

Where Art Thou Vigilance?

The tip is credible: at some point in the next few hours, a sniper will attempt an assassination in the Piazza del Campo. The party has stationed you up in the Mangia tower on counter-sniper detail - your job is to wait and watch for any sign of the threat.

This is what you can see:

Aaaany second now..
This is vigilance: the visceral experience of remaining alert and watchful in a high-stimulus environment with no guarantee you'll ever see what you're looking for.

I've experienced this many times (especially in large-scale outdoor paintball), and I find it so engrossing - yet I have never experienced this in a role-playing game.

What brought this to mind was an Arma video posted by John Harper.

It seems to arise from the fact that Arma missions aren't scripted (as is the case with single-player missions) - I'm on the look out for something that might or might not happen, a state of meaningful, heightened awareness.  If I pay attention, it matters, because I might run into massive opposition.  Or nothing might happen.  A visceral suspense.

Grateful for Nothing

I had the same feeling many years ago during a long ammo supply run on a Battletech MUSE (think Zork as an MMO, with mechs).  I was driving a truck out to an factory on the periphery of my faction's turf to pick up some badly needed replacement armor. My lone escort? A 3025 Catapult: not much if we ran into any real opposition.

I was glued to my scanner the whole time, and despite the fact that we never ran into anything at all, it still scores highly in my memory.

I never experience this in table-top role-playing games, I assume because there's no way to be vigilant.

Players have to ask the GM to see anything, and they're told faithfully what they see, at least to the limit of their perception.  Obscurity doesn't feel like a veil you can pierce with effort, like it does in real life (staring into the twilight to make out if that log is really a log or a sniper).  You can emulate this, but it's more like the GM is stringing you along.  "I look."  "It looks like a log, but it's hard to tell."  "Okay, I look really hard."

I'm working on a hack that has a vigilance mechanic, but it doesn't produce this experience. If anything, the opposite, by pushing the decision to be vigilant up to a strategic level, instead of feeling like it's something you're applying effort to on a moment-by-moment basis.

Tell me your thoughts!  Have you ever felt this way at the table?

Monday 28 September 2015

The Full-Dark Stone

Great as they were, the Seree wizards of old would never have been able to cast their most powerful magics using talent alone. Still lying around the realm are their spell vaults, tomb-like fortifications that hold the secrets of their magical supremacy.

The Seree are gone, but the vaults remain. But the gnawing of time cares nothing for secrets..

On the big map, the vault is located in the foothills of the Wintpeaks, north of Aridenn, but you could situate it in any mountain or escarpment. Relatively close to an existing settlement is better, since that gives a greater chance that there are some 'river people' encountering the vault servants, or exhibiting odd, magical side-effects from the vault's runoff water.

There's very little loose treasure in the vault, but remember that nearly every skull contains a wizard flower!

Vitrum Aquae for Player Characters

If PC spellcasters experiment with the vitrum aquae ritual, it's basically an opportunity for a permanently-memorized spell (which uses up the spell memorization slot), at the cost of a point of one or all of Int, Wis, Cha.

The quantity and quality of gemstone should be commensurate with the level of the spell being crystallized - anything less will worsen the side effects, which include:
  • Losing more points from Int, Wis or Cha
  • The spell uses up one or more additional spell slots
  • The spell is miscast, and can never again be cast in its correct form, and always comes with either minor or major side effects (e.g. fireball always detonates at the wizard's fingertip, invisibility can only be cast on someone else, levitation only works upwards, the wizard can never fly to the east, etc.)

Art Files

Thanks again to everyone supporting this project on Patreon! Thanks to their generosity, everything in the adventure is released under cc-by-nc, so you can pull it apart and remix it for whatever non-commercial purpose strikes your fancy.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Making a 3D Map, Part 1

I'm doing another 3D map for Bedrock Games, and figured I'd show the process I'm using here.

As usual when I do maps for +Brendan Davis, he showers me with sketches, documentation and reference images to help me out. It can be a lot to read at times, but it comes in handy when doing 'dungeon dressing'.

In this case, we're doing the Tomb of the Timeless Master, an adventure location for the upcoming Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate wuxia RPG. It's got a lot of vertical elements - great for isometric or other 3D maps.

Here's part of the sketch Brendan sent me:

After a bit of back and forth, I knew the altitude of everything, which way the stairs climbed and so on, so I could start thinking about one of the big challenges of doing a 3D map: which angle do you pick to draw it from?

Sometimes you're rendering a location that follows Q*Bert topology. That makes the decision easy: you draw the dungeon from the angle that makes it more or less co-planar with the surface of the paper.

3D Maquettes to the Rescue

Some dungeons just aren't that simple, however, and the Tomb of the Timeless Master is one of them. After staring at it for a while, I realized the only way I was going to figure it out was to play with an actual 3D model of the dungeon.  Time to bust out SketchUp!

One of the great features of SketchUp is that you can import a 2D image to use as a reference. Below, you can see Brendan's original sketch.  I've traced the rooms, then lifted them vertically to the correct height.  Before long, I had a little 3D maquette to experiment with.

This let me rotate the model this way and that, looking for the angle that presents the dungeon in an interesting way, and with the least number overlapping elements. Some more discussion with Brendan helped here, as he decided to collapse a few stray bits to help it read as clearly as possible.

Cyan Is Your Friend

How to get from here to an illustration? I like to draw at an exaggerated scale, because that helps with the detail. Unfortunately I only have a letter-width printer and scanner.  I decided to do what I did on a previous illustration: to draw it piecemeal, and assemble it digitally.

To this end, I needed a template to make sure that all the pieces fit together properly.  The basic idea is this: print out a reference in non-photocopy blue, draw it, scan it in again, and pull out the blue using Photoshop, leaving a clean illustration for me to assemble.

With a few tweaks to my SketchUp settings, then a bit of adjusting in Photoshop, I had my template.

As you might be able to tell, I've actually decided to go with a 3D perspective rendering, not isometric at all. SketchUp makes this easy, and 

Working as a mosaic, however, means stitching together pieces of the illustration. Fortunately, the same technique I'm using for the template can work here, too. Where the pieces need to overlap, I can actually just print out the "seams" in blue, connect them by hand, and scan them in again.

Pull out the blue and I'm left with just the new, hand-drawn connection piece (in black), which fits like a puzzle piece with the two halves of the illustration I'm connecting:

Above, you can see part of the chapter heading illustration from the same book. This image appears in a few variations, which required me to join up a few "alternate" pieces of the illustration.  The woman on the left appears in two different poses, but she needs to connect to the same piece of scarf.

Stay tuned, I'll post the map once it's done!