Friday, 8 September 2017

Map Update

I've updated the map to v1.12, adding the last few adventures. I'm also going to be maintaining two versions - the original, with all the adventures located on it in blue..

..and a second, 'Atlast-style' version that has all the adventures removed and only shows the place names that surface-dwellers would know:

I've also changed the legend from 24 miles/hex to 8 leagues/hex, which is about the same distance, but is my preferred unit these days (along with 'paces') given the whole imperial vs. metric deal.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Basilica of the Leper Messiah

The inestimable (and generous) Andy Action hit me up with a concept for a short adventure over a year ago. I'd always intended to do it up, but time sure flies.

Nestled within the city of Owlshade is a walled-off enclave, filled with everyone afflicted by the plague. This miserable patch is ruled over by Husmanna, a cadaverous sorcerer who blasphemously extended his own life centuries ago.

Basilica is deadly back door into Owlshade (or whatever fantasy city of your own design you insert it into). Using treatments only he can provide, Husmanna adopts the afflicted from wealthy families, extending their lives. For centuries, he has cultivated his influence over the noble families this way.

The Basilica would make a suitable addition to a fantasy city where the players are looking for a seedy way to buy influence.

There's a downright apocalyptic angle to this adventure, however. If adventurers are careful it won't trigger, but this has the potential to completely explode.

As always, the text and art are released under CC-BY-NC thanks to generous Patrons.. like Andy!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

51 Black Doors

In Ben Robbins' original West Marches campaign, some parts of the dungeon were dramatically tougher (but more lucrative) than others:
Dungeons generally had the same or near encounter level as the region they were in (for all the obvious reasons), but to make things interesting I designed many of the dungeons with “treasure rooms” that were harder than the standard encounter level, well hidden, or just plain impossible to crack. So even when a party could slog through and slaughter everything they met, there was a spot or two they couldn’t clear, whether it was the fearsome Black Door, the ghoul-infested crypts of the ruined monastery, or the perilous Hall of Swords. They usually had to give up and make a strong mental note to come back later when they were higher level.
Lots of times they never came back. They really wanted to, they talked about it all the time, but they never got around to it because they were busy exploring new territory. Rather than being frustrating each new “incomplete” seemed to make players even more interested in the game world.
Was there actually good treasure in the treasure rooms? Yes, really good treasure. Every time the players cracked one it just made them more certain that all those other sealed or well-guarded rooms they couldn’t beat were chock full of goodness.

I was in the mood for brainstorming some 'black doors', and here's what a bunch of creative folks came up with:

d% What bars the adventurers' way?
1-2A slab of black granite, positioned like a door but actually built in place. It extends several feet into the surrounding masonry.
3-4A trap door at the top of a long natural chimney--above it is a room filled with ghouls (dozens) that walk back and forth over the trap door.
5-6A 20' section of corridor, the floor is literal lava. It's flowing from a rent in one wall and draining through a wide cracking I to a chamber below.
7-8A door of gnarled and bulbous vigorous oak. Every attempt to chop it causes it to sprout extra thickness.
9-10A gale force wind that howls down the corridor extinguishing all natural flames.
11-12The opening in the top of the chamber is smooth and slopes upwards, like a reverse whirlpool. Acidic oozes drip along the surface.
13-14A sphere of annihilation blocking a corridor. On the ground nearby, many skeletons missing a head or arm or more.
15-16An aquarium, positioned like a door. It is filled with water and anti-pufferfishes (they are full of explosive gas that ignites as soon as they are not in water anymore). One glass pane is super thick and can be drilled while the one on the other side will shatter as soon as it is hit or pierced.
17-18A door of living wood that grows thorny arms and claws to tear the flesh of anyone who comes close.
19-20A door rooted into the living rock around it, made entirely of a solid plank of magically treated trollbone. Any attempt to penetrate it rapidly spawns one or more angry, confused trolls with (healing) wounds from the tools. Meanwhile the door itself heals itself from the power of the mountain and borrows the rock's invulnerability to acid and fire.
21-22A reverse gravity spell that makes you fall onto the stalactites at the ceiling, 100+ ft above.
23-24A glassy abyss that quickly shears ropes.
25-26An open archway, flanked by silent statues, gazing down on the path between. Anyone who passes between is vapourized by energy beams fired from the eyes of the statues. (Lifted wholecloth from The Neverending Story.)
27-28The veins of metal collect here into a single polished mirror. Anything that goes in instantly comes out. Any spell or object thrown, any individual that goes in walks right back out. Any mirror carried through is instantly rendered opaque.
29-30Seven buttons must be pressed at the same time to open the door. Each is encased in a heavily enchanted portal in the room, locked tight and wreathed in a curse or elemental trap.
31-32A frictionless corridor that gently slopes upwards. 80' long.
33-34An oily pool surrounded by glowing stones. One stone is taller than the others and covered in glyphs, and acts as a control.
35-36A series of climbs and falls through a long hallway, 30' high, with small locked doors at the top and bottom. The top 15' is bathed in positive energy, the bottom 15' in negative energy. See Planescape elemental planes for effects.
37A 40x40x40' room; the entrance is a small round opening in the dead middle of the ceiling.
38-39A petrified gelatinous cube blocks the corridor. Its semi transparent carcass still holds some treasure, and can allow you to see the movement of indistinct shapes and light on the other side. How did the gelatinous cube wind up in such a fashion? A rare disease or some magic? Would stone to flesh return it to normal?
40-41An earthquake has caused the stone to shear - a 10' wide corridor has been offset by 9'10" leaving only a two-inch gap.
42-43An empty stone arch sits at the bottom of the dungeon, rune-rimed and inert. Ancient writing covers the walls, describing a ritual, a portal - but those who study them are compelled to leave.
44A small labyrinth where the dead ends are formed by grills of heavy iron bars. Deadly oozes move through them unimpeded, and take the shortest path toward living creatures.
45-46100' corridor ends in a room. In the room is a crackling metal globe on a post. Occasionally, lightning cracks off the globe and hits the wall of the room. It also zaps the nearest thing in corridor with lightning once every five to ten seconds.
47-48An area of the room (e.g. the ceiling) is actually a powerful magnet that draws all ferrous material to it. Not even a storm giant is strong enough to dislodge it (though he could certainly create an offsetting electric field...). Not as useful vs. bronze age technology.
49-50A 100', pitch dark hallway of trip wires and pits ends in a door with a detailed demonic face twisted in rage. The door causes fear in any who lay eyes on it - the power of the fear is greater the more clearly the face can be seen. When dim torchlights merely brush its shadows, it's just a sense of imminent and growing doom, but in full light the intricate details of its horrors can be seen and inspire a panicky flight in those who behold it. The door is not locked.
51-52A wall of seemingly impenetrable glass stands before you, treasures beyond your imagining lay just on the other side.
53-54This looks to be a dead end, save for the tiny opening at the bottom of the wall, just wide enough to fit an arm through.
55-56A small, naked -- androgynous and neuter -- humanoid figure with mayfly wings and glittering white skin sits in a diminutive high backed velvet armchair reading a book. Calmly addressing the party, it looks at them with black, void like eyes and speaks in a hauntingly beautiful voice, "Welcome. I am the door of black. Do you have my key?" The book and chair are illusions, and the powerful fey wields unlimited spheres of annihilation in the same way a child would throw rocks, plucking them out of thin air. If attacked, the first action is to simply eliminate the weapons used and calmly respond, "No, young one, that is not the key."
57-58Reverse door: The treasure mcguffin / thing you've been sent to recover can be reached with relatively little difficulty, but it is mystically tethered to the room or the dungeon, impeding your escape. This could manifest in a few ways. The object grows in weight with each step you take. Its weight is tracked per person based on how many 5' or 1m squares they travel with it item while in the dungeon. The doors all close and you must find a way to open them all. Roll d20 on this chart for each "door". Reroll this result. There is a literal tether attached to it, but you can only see it with detect magic / see invisible or similar. It can't be broken by brute strength.
59-60The corridor is split by a ravine 18' across. The inner walls of the ravine are soft and porous, and crumble easily.
61-62Giant stone golems surrounded by anti-magic cloud.
63-64A pool of liquid, 30' wide, with a 30' high ceiling. There is a very narrow and slippery path around the pool. In the centre of the ceiling there is a hole with a ladder that leads to the next room. You barely see the ladder from the edge of the room. The liquid in the pool feels greasy like soap and is much, much less dense than water. It weighs next to nothing. Wood floats, but just barely. People sink dramatically.
65-66A submerged passageway, too long for a swimmer to simply hold his breath.
67-68A wide chasm, 100' or more across, filled by giant spider webs, with a narrow plank bridge set in the webs themselves. The webs are occupied, and burning them removes the plank bridge as well.
69-70A literal black door, haunted by the souls of every PC and hireling who has died in the dungeon. If any bear a grudge the door is held shut; if all are satisfied with the surviving party it opens freely. Accusatory wails give clues to how they can be appeased.
71-72A collapsed tunnel requiring reasonable engineering skills, a block and tackle, sweat, and a lot of wood to clear and shore up.
73-74A corcscrewing and twisting mile long, 2 foot high tunnel, very warm, filled with stinging ants.
75-76A few friendly but quite strict museum guards or park rangers with views on poaching and interfering with exhibits.
77-78A hallway that is incinerated with flame every 30 seconds. Usain Bolt could run across it in 31 seconds.
79-80Motherfucking pool with a couple of submerged froghemoths. Eyes visible. Get across it.
81-82Another standard: just a big-ass descent. Better come back with 500 feet of rope (and not the cheap stuff, because the cheap stuff will break if it has to hold up 500 feet of heavy hempen rope).
83-84A long tunnel. Like 50 miles long, devoid of water.
85-86Wall of fire. Come back with the sigil of Eldrune, an anti-fire spell, or just more hit points.
87-88A door of sacrifice, with an obvious sacrificial altar mouth, that requires the brain of a sentient creature. The door is also some sort of punchy, fighty golem thing.
89-90The classic puzzle thing, e.g. a portal of burning flames that deals 66 hp damage to everyone passing through, except those who are completely naked. Above, an inscription, "Leave your mother. The world awaits." or some other stuff like that.
91-92A metal door in an echo prone room where unsavory creatures sleep. I'm thinking batfolk goblins on the ceiling, or a swarm of styrges, or drowsy zombies. More than an average party can comfortably deal with.
93-94The door is a bit more difficult to break down than normal, and it cannot be done fast without magic. Most mundane attempts will awaken the monsters.
95-96A set of runes written in paint; anything not flesh becomes immaterial if it gets within 10 feet.
97-98A wailing door. It's cries can be deafening and responds violently to any interaction with it. Unknown to the party, it just needs to be sung to sleep.
99-100A blind and somewhat senile ancient Beholder whose eye-bolts still function -- or, most of them do, or some of them have random effects due to experiments the Beholder attempted on itself. Does it still have a full mouth of teeth?

Skerples was in the mood to get through some of these doors with a small party of 1st level adventurers, and posted how they would go about it along with a review of some doors he didn't like. It's a fun read!

A few notes in response to the responses I've seen floating around. None of this is conceptually new! I was reminded that 'gating' is an old concept from video game level design--familiar from 'you need the red key card' situations.

Obstacles also serve lots of different purposes, depending on how they're written.

  • You can have very constrained railroady things that try to force players to do a side quest first (the aforementioned, 'fetch the red key card').
  • Similarly, you could have gates that are puzzles which the designer wants the party to solve in a particular way, with railroady dissuasion of alternate solutions.
  • You can have gates that are meant to act as filters to guarantee that characters have specific abilities or pieces of equipment (which can also be a bit railroady).
  • The gate might be serving primarily as a marker to the players that the ecosystems/dungeon fauna on either side could be dramatically different--in the same way that mythic underworld entrances do. Perhaps bad stuff has been sealed in.
  • The gate might just be an obstacle which demands the players invent a solution (but without prescribing what that is), an old-school staple.
  • Some doors could be all of these things - a door with powerful active defenses (e.g. lightning) that blasts away at parties who don't have the red key card (but tough, magically defended might be able to slog through and defeat the door directly), but which even determined and inventive (e.g. by hiring a team of miners and tunneling around the damn thing).
Doubtless there are more!


Many thanks to: Adam "Bison Court" D, Andrew Muttersbach, Ara Winter, Arnold K., Brent Newhall, Brian Lee, Brian Murphy, Claytonian JP, Dave R, Eric Nieudan, Evan Edwards, Follow Me, And Die!, James Shields, Jason Abdin, Jean-François Lebreton (Jarnos), Jesse Alford, Jesse Cox, Luka Rejec, Matt Kay, Michael Atlin, Mike Edwards, Perttu Vedenoja, Rob Brennan, Skerples, William Altman, William Benjamin John Davis (SinbadEV) .. for their contributions.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Chariot of Worms

The weird, meandering tunnels found in dwarven mines stand in stark contrast to the orderly architecture of the masters. They weren't carved by masons, nor by water, but by void worms.

A mature void worm is 50' long, with a body made of nothingness. Where it lies, no rock exists. It inches forward slowly, occasionally intersecting. Once it has passed, there is undisturbed solid rock once more.

The appearance of a void worm often goes unnoticed. They're silent, and whatever they eat, they are uninterested in surface dwellers. They're heralded by nothing more than a circular opening appearing in a wall, enlarging to the full diameter of the worm, revealing an ever-shortening tunnel.

An hour or more later, when the worm crosses whatever room or corridor it blundered into, a similar breach opens on the far side.

At the tip of each tunnel is a seam of gold, which to the untrained eye appears to be a natural part of the rock. A thick, rich vein of pure gold! But alas, mining this kills the worm. The worm's nothing-body begins to rot immediately.

Crumbling, porous rock encroaches on all sides, replacing the smooth tunnel with crunching, delicate spurs of natural rock. In a few weeks, the void has closed completely.

The brave or foolhardy might run along its body, using it as a momentary glimpse into the surrounding rock, to other caverns or true seams of value, but the risk of being trapped is ever-present.

Wise miners let the worms pass.

The Four-Lamp Chariot

According to the Ricalu, it was the Jorn that first figured out the worms' dislike of moonlight. How, nobody knows, but a lamp stuffed with lune moths will halt them completely.

Four such lanterns, arranged as the corners of a tetrahedron three paces in height and held in a frame of iron, can imprison a worm completely. A grinding (but stable) tetrahedral 'room' results, with the void worm's gold seam meandering around the rock face as it seeks escape.

By judiciously dimming one of the lamps, the worm rebels and expands in that direction. The frame is dragged with it, slowly pushing the chamber through solid rock.

By this method, many secret spaces can be reached.

The Queen's Chariot and the City of Worms

Of course, a single worm will only take you so far. According to Titardinal, the Queen of the Jorn rode in a six-lamp chariot driven by four worms (one a juvenile). With all four pushing, it was so rapid it bore her retinue through the bones of the earth at a brisk jog!

But even this pales against Jorn legend. Supposedly, the ancient masters of the deep forged twelve mighty beacons, and enclosed so many worms into an icosohedral cavern so massive it held an entire city, bathed in flickering lune-light.

So potent and numerous were its worms that the masters of the city could relocate it at will, leaping from vault to vault overnight. Iron-clad Jorn would pour out of the ground and butcher any who refused tribute.

A Word to Sorcerers

However, not even the sages of the Lycaeum were able to conclusively determine if this underworld city really existed, let alone where to find it. Their program of chariot-experimentation under Bashkanal was a failure. Surface sorcerers have no maps, and no guides of the underworld, and many esteemed lives were lost in collisions with voids, earthblood, and worse before the remaining lune lamps were returned to their posts in the great brass dome.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Resolution: Awesome or Tangible

A few years ago I was nattering on about how Dungeon World's decision to have no quantitative difficulty had implications to its natural play style. The discussion was interesting, and Jeremy Strandberg was nudging me toward an understanding that's taken a while to fully crystallize.

I'm going to caricature two different sources of 'drama' in two different play styles. I like them both, but as building blocks of play, they seem to produce very different play experiences. Whenever I've had a lot of one of them, I yearn for a bit of the other.

Awesome Action

The party is wandering through a large, many-chambered cavern. They enter a large chamber split by a chasm - it's wide, but not so wide that jumping across seems impossible.

"I leap across!"

In an instant action game, this is a perfectly good play decision. The GM has made an offer (in the improv sense), and there's a wonderful back and forth to be had when the players and GM are riffing on each other's contributions.

Here's a resolution procedure from Blades in the Dark:

Here's a similar one from Dungeon World:

The key thing I want to focus on is the way the consequences of the action (especially the bad ones) are decided after the player rolls.

By and large, it's not going to be too terrible for the character. It can't be so easy that the GM feels the player is getting away with something, but it shouldn't generally be lethal. The point of play is for awesome stuff to happen (and pretty soon), so the outcome should be a setup for something interesting. Let's put you in a tight spot to see what heroic move you make next! e.g. How are you going to do this without your sword?

In general, death is off the table because the character is the player's vehicle for contributing to (and participating in) the awesomeness. Why take that away?

Unconsciousness is okay - it's bad, but from a game play perspective it's a bit like a time out. Better to be hanging upside-down from the strap of your backpack, with coins falling out of your pockets!

Tangible Obstacles

By contrast, have a look at the climbing rules from Moldvay edition of Basic D&D:

Here, the consequences are set ahead of time (not up to the GM), and they're not inherently interesting. There's no "dangling from the cliff edge while the goblin advances on you", you just fall and take terrible harm. For low-level characters, it's almost certainly lethal. (Even a level 4 thief only has ~10 hit points, not enough to survive an average 30' fall.)

Climbing up is probably not worth it - after all, the death would be meaningless, and that's rarely satisfying.  So rather than scamper up like a heroic lemming, the players reluctantly turn back.

The natural chimney has now just become a tangible obstacle.

This is frustrating. The players want to explore, but they can't. There's probably decent adventure up there, but it's inaccessible. Who would design a game or adventure this way on purpose?

In a sense, I think this frustration is the root of tangibility. A big part of a world feeling real is that it sometimes clings to its own self-consistent logic, refusing to conveniently bend to the needs of a good story, apt poignancy or instant drama. It just sits there, heavy and stubborn, forcing you to adapt to it.

Later, however, the situation has changed.  Maybe the PCs are fleeing the horror they awoke in room 19.  Maybe the mapper has a solid hunch that chimney gets them to a spot where they might be able to circle around to the jewelled ledge they noticed in the next chamber.

Either way, the chimney is now back in play - the stakes are higher, and when the players accept the risk of death it's no longer meaningless but a poignant underscoring of the seriousness, a testament to their commitment to their insane plan.  The latent drama of the Chimney of Meaningless Death now emerges.

"Oh shit, we're really gonna do this."

How This Relates to Mechanics

As I said at the start, I started off thinking about this in terms of DW's lack of quantitative difficulty, but I've changed my thinking on this. All you need is tangibility, which can come from a few places:

1. The players know the consequences without asking. The GM said it's a 100' climb, so the thief character immediately knows she has a 13% chance of falling from 50' up.

I experienced this feeling a lot while playing Torchbearer, because the players had a detailed understanding of how they were doing. For instance:

2. Consequences are established during play. For example:

PC: How high up is the chimney?
GM: It's at least 100' high, and very steep. Falling is going to kill you.

..or alternatively:

PC: I climb the chimney.
GM: If you call, you're going to die. Are you sure? [as per DW's say the consequences and ask]

The lack of difficulty modifiers doesn't make this impossible, but mechanics that encourage deferring the consequences until after the dice have rolled discourage it.

3. Players make mechanical inferences

Somewhere nearby, maybe, are mechanical inferences that come from quantified difficulty modifiers. Like when a Burning Wheel GM tells you it's an Ob 4 climb. They haven't told you what happens if you fall (or even if falling is a consequence), but you know from your skill rating that you're likely to miss by one, and missing by two or more on a vertical climb has got to be about as bad a consequence as possible, which has got to be a lethal fall, doesn't it?

(For those paying attention, this is me acknowledging that quantitative difficulty modifiers don't necessarily produce crisp tangibility on their own.)

In Summary

I've got more to say about this, in particular about how this plays out differently at different scales (moment to moment, the session, the campaign), but to summarize the effects of these resolution styles:

Instant action:

1. The GM (and/or the rules) creates a vivid environment
2. The players respond by embracing danger
3. Poignancy emerges from the moment, an awesome adventure is a co-creation
4. The design challenge is for resolution to help the GM introduce exciting outcomes in response to what the players do

Tangible Obstacles:

1. The GM (and/or the rules) creates an environment with hard edges
2. Players respond by balancing risk/reward, and by inventing solutions
3. Poignancy emerges over the long term
4. The design challenge is to help players understand the reality of the situation efficiently, so they can get on with responding to it in the knowledge that their planning effort is worth it

Friday, 11 August 2017

What the hell, Gary?

I'm pecking away at my heartbreaker and wondering how long it is compared to, say, Moldvay D&D. Thus begins an hour of cutting and pasting PDF text into a text editor to get some rough and ready comparative sizes for RPG word counts.

Methodologically this is really quick and dirty; I'm just counting tokens - page numbers, separators, everything, but the relative sizes are the interesting thing.

Moldvay D&D is a little beefier than I was expecting. I think of it as a very concise game, but that tiny font is deceiving. I was thinking of it more like Monsterhearts in size, but it's halfway to being as big as Apocalypse World.

Still, it's got nothing on the heavyweights. I had no idea Stars Without Number was as massive as the brick games, Blades in the Dark, ACKS and Burning Empires. Dungeon Crawl Classics takes the cake for largest modern game I measured. It's 56,000 words longer than Burning Empires! Humongous.

But none of these even come close to the AD&D trilogy. The DMG alone is as big as DCC, and as a set it's bigger than DCC and ACKS stacked together. It's huge.


Several folks were kind enough to chip in sizes from their own collections. DCC has been eclipsed by a bunch of whoppers - Vampire, Werewolf, Eclipse Phase, Exalted, and Pathfinder.

The AD&D trilogy is still bigger, but my guess is whatever Pathfinder has for a bestiary (to make a fair comparison) would easily push it over the edge.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Thieves, Goats, and Rubes

An adventuring party meets someone on the road. Looking at one another slyly, they ad lib a scheme to pull a fast one. Of course it's going to work--after all, the NPC is just a zero-level rube, right?

2d6 NPC Shrewdness
6-8Old Goat

The Naif

The naif is trusting to a fault. They accept what they're told, and assume the good intentions of the speaker. They may be dimly aware of the idea of exploitation (perhaps through fables), but the idea that there might be a swindler talking to them now is so alien that doesn't occur to them.

Although they're easy to lie to, the naif is unused to making the bold moves that will make them truly vulnerable to swindles. There's usually somebody there to handle that for them.

In a dangerous world, the naif is rare. Only the most sheltered circumstances can produce them - talking larva, privileged children, the occasional junior monk.

The Opportunist

The opportunist has heard all about swindles, but has yet to be truly burned by one. They're easy to take in because they're dumb enough to think that they're the one in command of the situation.

Opportunists are numerous, but short-lived. It doesn't take long before they wise up and turn into goats, thieves or swindlers. Occasionally, someone experienced stumbles into an unfamiliar context and falsely presumes their experience and shrewdness carries over.

The Old Goat

The old goat has been burned before - probably more than once. They're keenly aware of how hard it was to build up what they've got, and how easy it is to lose it all. This is on their mind at all times.

The goat is hard to take in because they're alert to unusual situations. They assume great  opportunities are too good to be true, and they're keenly aware of who created the situation before them. If someone else brought it to them, they suspect a swindle. Slow down, check credentials, say no, create distance.

The Swindler

The swindler has a plan, and you're part of it. Your chance meeting probably wasn't random at all, but even if it was, the swindler was waiting for somebody like you.

The swindler seems vulnerable. In fact, they are. There's no way they could take you on directly (at least, not profitably). But the weakness they're showing isn't the real one, it's a ploy meant to snare opportunists. Unlike the opportunist, they know who the mark is: you.

The Thief

The thief is a swindler with a simple plan. They're waiting as long as necessary to take your stuff, and not a minute longer. Thieves driven by desperate need or impulse make a hasty approach and an even hastier retreat. Doing damage isn't their goal, but they'll do whatever they have to.

In some cases, thieves are protected enough that they don't even need to retreat - they have numbers, armor or social standing to protect them, sometimes all three. Your Excellency makes a most excellent thief.

Monday, 24 July 2017

The Halls Untoward

Less than three weeks ago I dipped my toe into the collaborative waters of "Let's stock this dungeon together!"  I'm pleased to say that the response was immediate and enthusiastic.

This is the map I prepared (beware, the rooms have been renumbered since):

I opened a Google doc to the world, and thirty people picked rooms, described them and the stuff inside.  From their descriptions, I made 3D illustration of the place:

..and now you can get the contents in a 48-page, 6x9" book from Lulu. It's an at-cost offering.

Inside, it looks like this:

EDIT: It's also up on DriveThruRPG as a PWYW PDF.

As always, all this stuff is released under CC-BY-NC. Have fun!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Halls Untoward - WIP

For fun I've been doing a collaborative dungeon-stocking project, The Halls Untoward. I've been pleasantly surprised by the response. It's about half full at this point (the pink areas have been stocked).

If you'd like to participate, jump on over to the Google Document.

When it's done, I'll do a 3D dungeon illustration for it, give it a basic layout and release the whole thing for free under CC-BY-NC and as an at-cost softcover on Lulu.

Friday, 2 June 2017

A Turn Sequence Redux

Just over a year ago, I mentioned I was working on an RPG. As a reminder, here's my original design intent, and a follow-up piece about a turn sequence for combat.


I thought I was writing an RPG. What I was really doing was accumulating ideas into a bunch of separate documents that were masquerading as chapters, but were really more like a series of themed notebooks.

Like some kind of hoarder, I had been accumulating for years, and when it came time to try to put them together, I realized how much I'd been fooling myself. Each document was layers of incompatible mechanical ideas, stacked ten deep like geological strata. Aaugh! Bashing that into something playable was much more work than I was expecting.

Anyways, I'm pleased to say there's now a playable core, thanks to starting a play test campaign. Nothing forces you to make mechanical decisions like creating a character sheet to hand to your unsuspecting victims.

I'm now a year into that campaign.

Some of the ideas that originally motivated me to start this project in the first place are still waiting to come onto center stage, but the basic structure seems to be solid. It's getting easier and easier to incorporate each new piece without having to use duct tape, with so many other places in firm shape.

The next hurdle is slowly transforming this into something that other people can use. I haven't quite decided what process I want to use to do that, but my goal is to start getting bits of it out so that people can tell me what they think.

To that end, here's a few pages on getting hurt, how the turn sequence works, a few fighting mechanics, and some commentary on what I want fights to feel like.

EDIT: ..and since that's confusing on its own, here's some of the earlier parts.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Assassin and the Ranger

I was told this story as an earnest, cherished example of how awesome secrets between players can be in campaigns.

In a high-level AD&D campaign, there was a hapless ranger who was constantly getting killed and being resurrected at great expense. Mostly to himself, I believe--he was deeply in debt to an order of clerics, at a time when the other PCs were getting rich and building strongholds.

For some reason, this irritated another PC, an assassin. I'm not sure if it irritated the PC, or the player.

At any rate, the assassin player approached the GM, saying he wanted to assassinate the ranger. The ranger had no more money available, so this would be his final death.

The GM and assassin player had an impromptu, one-on-one session where the assassin described his plans for finding the ranger in town once the next adventure was over, and how he would go about trying to kill him when his guard was down.  The ranger was a creature of habit

The GM dug up the ranger's stats, and they duelled it out in a hypothetical street ambush - the assassin PC played by his player, and the GM played the ranger, with the GM throwing a few curveballs to try to understand the assassin's backup plans. The mock fight ends with the ranger dead. Satisfied with his plan, the assassin ends his private session.

Time passes. During the group's next session they return to town, at which time the ranger heads off to his usual haunts, exactly as the assassin predicted.

The GM suddenly declares to the ranger that he's under attack by a masked assailant! Using the strategies the assassin described during the rehearsal fight, the GM plays the assassin as an NPC.

The ranger is dumbfounded - who is this guy? Why is he attacking me? His questions are never answered: the fight goes as expected, and the ranger is dead. As far as the player can tell, a high-powered NPC came out of nowhere and killed his veteran PC, for no reason.

With no more cash to his name and too indebted to them already for the church to take pity, it's his final death.

* * *

Other than the fact that the ranger player doesn't know what happened to this day, that's all I know. Still, I have many questions.

Does this sound awesome or awful to you?

Do you think the ranger player had fun?

Does it matter if the ranger player knew it was potentially a competitive game between players?

Did the assassin player get an "extra turn"?

Is it okay that the ranger player still doesn't know what went down?

Is there a meaningful boundary between the game and the players' relationships?

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Does it end with the Martoi?

Amusing session today, the party essentially ninja'd their way to the treasure, avoiding almost all of the opposition.

The party has been on an extended quest, defending their village from the ghostly reawakening of the Martoi. To this end, they've been visiting the six shrines of Tealwood to pick up magic weapons and curry spiritual favor, in the hopes that by mid-summer they'll be able to defeat the ghost-sorcerers.

This has been going well, but true to sandbox form their heads are starting to spin a little bit with all the threads and loose ends that are accumulating. I try to make adventure locations point to one another (via maps, spells that would be slightly better if only they had a such-and-such), and because it's a sandbox they keep encountering wrongs that could be righted, potential treasure spots they don't have time for, etc.

Mostly this is because they've stayed focused on their goal. The ticking clock is wonderfully focusing: the Martoi have put out word that all the villages of Tealwood are expected to bring 'their best' by mid-summer's day, to pay tribute and swear allegiance.

Last session, however, the party's neophyte wizard finally got her way: a trip to Ganer island where they had reason to believe she might learn something that would improve her control over fire magic.

She's been bumbling along, occasionally using it successfully, sometimes frying herself or her equipment. (She's burned through at least a full set of clothing, mundane equipment, and once torched a spellbook with three spells, before anybody could learn them.)

I used *Chains of Heaven* for the top of Ganer island, modifying it to put a Seree spell engine (like the one in Full-Dark Stone) in the sealed tower. (This is what has been calling to Zero.)

I spent a while last night and this morning mulling over the adventure, trying to imagine how Nacharta or Sigordine might react to the players' arrival but.. of course.. it didn't go anything like I had imagined it.

I started off by having a Nuss scout pull 'Agatha' aside as the spread-out party made their way up to the peak.

I'm trying to portray religion as a tapestry of paganistic half-truths, while the players seem to be coming from a standard fantasy pantheon mindset. They're dying to categorize the gods, figure out what they want, what they're each the god of, and so on.

The same bunch of players (different characters) visited a shrine of Deel in a gonzo one-shot version of *The Coming of Sorg*, so upon hearing that the Nuss serve "the daughter of Deel," they were hooked. The party was very candid in the resulting conversations, so the Nuss decided an audience with Sigordine was a-ok. The players were bursting with questions.

Sigordine is a dark glass construct, made from the remains of Deel when the gods destroyed the fortress. Being nearly invulnerable, she has very little to fear from the hedge wizards of the world, scavening bits of Seree magic, so I decided to play her as quite transparent and vulnerable. Maybe a bit of Mother's Day seeped into my consciousness, too.

It's funny how off-the-cuff decisions cascade. Why wouldn't an immortal construct made from the body of a dying god know about other divine powers? Well, maybe uh.. prayer is a mortal gift. Yeah! Long story short, before ten minutes were out the party had pledged to find a shrine of Deel and one day restore the bond between Sigordine and whatever scrap of Deel's power remained in the world.

With this established, the players returned their attention to the business of improving Zero's fire magic.

Waiting until nightfall, they surveyed the castle carefully. Between their stealth and a whole series of random encounter rolls coming up empty, they were able to get to the pink tower, crack it open, bond with the spell engine, and get out again with only a single hapless sentry to dispatch.

Now what?

At this point, a really interesting discussion erupted, which felt like the clash of two different gaming styles.  The players had reason to believe that a green wizard and her retinue were somewhere in the castle: there was obviously much more "adventure" to be had. On the other hand, this wizard wasn't in their way - they had what they wanted. Could they just.. sneak out of here and be on their way?

It's funny. I think a sort of loss aversion kicks in as they realize how much of my prep they're skipping. But this is actually pretty cool. The more tangible threats and opportunities they pass by, the more tangible the world feels. Owlshade, Gorm, Gadna Many-Arms, the gray thing they let out of the land of the dead, Emn and her brother at the shrine, the dead of Ragdar, the danger at Morton village, the Ricalu and Rilga who opened a way to the underworld.. Sigordine worried about Narcharta reopening the pit, could that happen? They know they're leaving all sorts of stuff behind, but it's all still there, and they can come back to it whenever they want to.

Some of the younger players paused just to make sure that if they defeated the Martoi the game wouldn't end, would it?

"No," I said, "it doesn't have to."

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Mermaids' Knot, 1PDC Edition

I couldn't pass up entering the one-page dungeon contest. Here's the Mermaids' Knot, one-page edition! Perfect length for reading on public transit on the way to a hasty gaming session.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Mermaids' Knot

Once upon a time, there was a peaceful mountain village. It was blessed with a holy pond, inhabited by a pair of mermaids. Sisters eternal, they loved nothing more than to help the villagers using their great wisdom.

"Obey us in all things, no matter how strange," they said. "What we will ask you to do may alarm you, but it is for your benefit, and your village will prosper." And so it did.

But if that were the end of the tale, you wouldn't be here.

In the spirit of a sandbox adventure location, what the adventurers will get up to depends entirely on them. The mermaid sisters have a great amount of magical knowledge, and could legitimately serve as mentors, patrons, or at least wise resources to player characters.

If, on the other hand, they believe the Wives of Spring that the priestesses and mermaids must be stopped--or if they fall victim to the snares they have put in place to feed their great projects--they will have a fight on their hands in an unusual situation.

Inserting the village of Magda in your own campaign setting can be done a few ways. One, you can just plop it somewhere and wait for PCs to stumble into it. People have a habit of disappearing around Magda, and someone may petition the PCs for aid.

If you want to raise the stakes a little, the Wives of Spring may have chosen to murder or abduct someone well known passing through the area, in the hopes of bringing down trouble for the priestesses.

Alternately, the wisdom of the priestesses may be know throughout the region. If the players are looking for an answer to something, to lift a curse (or to raise the dead), they may find leads that take them to Magda.


As always, many thanks to my patrons for supporting me. Because of your generosity, the text and the illustrations from this adventure are all available for use under CC-BY-NC for non-commercial uses.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

2G2BT Playtest

We squeezed a quick 2G2BT playtest after tonight's session of Blades, and it was fun, weird, and very informative.

There was only an hour or so to knock it out, but the group had all read the rules beforehand and had a good idea of what playbooks they wanted, so setup was lightning quick.

They named their new mercenary company the Hammer of the Gods, and since nobody picked up the Commander playbook, they wound up with a Favored but Vengeful NPC commander, 'Thor'.  His connections with the Darnan Republic (their first deployment) meant he could pull strings when the company is in trouble, but tends to pursue revenge side objectives.

The whole crew chose Dendrite-native sim-babies as heritages (pilots whose experience is primary in simulations), and decided to be triplets. They had a Lieutenant (Mike), a Rigger (Tim) and a weirdo Prodigy (Stephen), but with a Veteran (Sean) as their connection to actual battlefield experience.

Holy crap did I put a lot of shit in this game. It's a weird experience when writing outpaces the play by so far.  Playbooks means the players can actually take a lot of responsibility for bringing it in, which is fantastic, but the surprises kept coming.

Stephen: Okay, turns out I did my stats wrong. The Prodigy's stats are randomly assigned during play, as I use them.
Me: Wtf?! I wrote that?
Mike: I love that!

Things like that kept happening. It was pretty delightful, actually.

We chose to play the branching campaign, the Darnan Offensive.  The players didn't like the sound of being shot to pieces by Exo in City 31, so they chose mission 'B', "Last Train from RHF".

Stimulus Overload
Normally I'm pretty good at providing a sense of place with lots of ad libbed details, but I was a little overwhelmed by first playtest syndrome to be my creative best while getting my head around an unfamiliar set of basic moves - the net effect was that the scenario was a little too simple.

Part of that was just the nature of the time we had. The players had rolled a starting "SNAFU" of 2, which gave me plenty of opportunity to bring in enemy reinforcements or other fuckery, but I chose not to for time.  As a result, the mission was basically a one-location mission, which is too simple for an abstract, theatre-of-the-mind battlefield.

Despite that, the mechanics worked basically as expected. (That's not too surprising, as the basic core is pretty familiar from our games of The Regiment.)

Turns out that four York 6A tanks are a speed bump against TL IV mechs. :)

Some lessons and likely changes.

Downtime Procedure
The crew managed to roll a Dropship For Sale as their post-mission opportunity, which immediately kicked off a frenzied shell game of trying to figure out what they could sell in order to make it work. They had a fat-bellied Regent dropship as their starting gear, but they cashed it all in for a zeroed-out Troll, which has enough capacity that they won't have to depend on Republic VTOLs.

This was pretty fun - watching the players toss everything aside to try to take up a rare opportunity was golden, and very much in-genre.

On the other hand, I'm wary of shell games, as they can lead to a lot of fiddling and possibly analysis paralysis. I think a much clearer downtime procedure would be helpful, something like:

  1. Make the opportunity roll to see what's up
  2. Apply theater employment terms, in order
  3. Repair should come before purchase - there's no time to broker a deal for a new dropship, obtain it and use the base techs to patch it up before next mission. The suspense is probably more fun that way.
  4. Rearming should probably be last, because you might have changed mechs.

Technology Level Set
One of the problems that both magic and sci-fi technology suffer from in rules light systems is that there are no real-world expectations to calibrate against. I know roughly what a guy with a sword can accomplish, not so someone with 'shadow magic'. Do mech optics see heat signatures through buildings? Can an Iguana's railgun shoot straight through the skeleton of a nuked office tower? How big are mechs, anyways?

Not enough ways to spend SNAFU
I'm not 100% sure about this one, since there was only the one engagement, but the Veteran was complaining that there wasn't really a great way for him to apply his special xp move, burning two SNAFU on a roll.

Maybe this isn't necessary when we're doing something other than toy missions: in a two- or three-encounter mission, there are at least four SNAFU opportunities (five if there's a briefing roll too).

Briefing Tables
Since RPGs are very low bandwidth, one of the challenging situations is when players stumble on a huge vista - you now have to convey quite a lot of information all at once. One idea that seems very promising is a set of briefing tables, to do a few useful things:

  • Give another opportunity to spend SNAFU - cash one in to get a really shite briefing
  • Give the GM and players some shared opportunity to add texture to the battlefield. Okay, we know there's AA, or we don't, but know we're all at least thinking about AA as something to consider when deciding where we're
  • Give a few named places on the battlefield - a candidate LZ, an easy to reach spot, a tactically useful spot, a likely location for enemy reinforcements, a place with lots of cover, etc.

I think it's useful to bring the time complication up to the 7-9 option.

What makes way more sense than an NPC commander is an NPC patron for the deployment theater. I think that would provide a much more economical way to expose players to the fuckery of the Darnan Republic, and keeps the NPC commander from being an intermediary that shields players from that.

I think pilots should wear out. Getting hurt should be scarier.  Health shouldn't feel like hit points that recover easily after each mission, but jarring concussions that stop you sleeping and eventually give you really bad stuff like Parkinson's.

Complicated weapon is complicated
The Hellhound's 2x 1d Twin 15mm AC is unnecessarily fiddly. Just making it 2d is fine.

Armor and Criticals
The rules as written don't quite work - you roll dice all at once, not one at a time, so there needs to be a clearer procedure on how you determine whether your 1-armor blocks the D or C damage. One idea thrown out was that 1-armor might actually convert C to D. That does mean that under some circumstances armor doesn't do anything (when all your D boxes are ticked, converting C to D doesn't help). Not sure if the complexity pays for itself over just letting players choose which hit to absorb.

Somehow at the table we misinterpreted 'disabled' (the new dropship purchase) as just having the last damage box ticked.. but of course it means the whole damage track is ticked.

I miss the 'turn sequence is clockwise but there's a rule for interrupting' from my fantasy heartbreaker. I think that's extremely functional for sharing out spotlight. Not sure how to squeeze that in, as the economies are totally different.

Mech Escalation
I'm thinking the starting mechs might be a little too versatile, and might have too much potential. Tim rolled well on his chargen roll, and got a Weiler to start with.

I don't have a vast tech readout of mechs to choose from, but it feels to me that the starting mechs should be:

  1. Useful but fairly simple
  2. Have a few upgrade options, but nothing so exciting that it's the mech you want to end the game with
  3. Have critical options that aren't awesome. A few bad hits and you're looking at pilot-lethal damage, so you start to really want to upgrade, swap out for a backup mech (even exo), or pray for an overhaul opportunity
  4. Leave you lots of room to drool when you see something better on the battlefield
On the other hand, it's early days. It could be that upgrade opportunities are rare enough that it's not a problem.

Anyways.. it was a lot of fun, and it feels like a promising start.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

2GTBT 0.10 - Mecha RPG

For a few weeks now, I've been noodling on a mecha RPG, a mash-up of The Regiment and Battletech. It's just reached first alpha draft stage, version 0.10.
I absolutely adore the Battletech 3025 tech readout, it's one of the most evocative gaming supplements I own. I wanted to capture that high-tech-but-rusting, zero sum feeling, where players are mercenaries using battlefield technology that can no longer be manufactured.

Design-wise, the main inspirations is John Harper's WWII RPG, The Regiment. I love the theatre-of-the-mind approach to combat, the absence of a turn order, and the squad-level resolution rules that make combat move along so briskly.
Like other Powered by the Apocalypse games, the characters are pre-made archetypes with a bit of wiggle room to make them individual.

It's meant to be fast enough to play as written for one-shots, but there's advancement for both the individual pilots and the company.

It hasn't been playtested, so there are probably all sorts of potholes to fall into.

Monday, 27 March 2017


Yesterday I smelled guava for the first time. I passed them in the grocery store and they grabbed me.. it was like heaven, if heaven was an enticing mix of citrus and apple. And heaven.

They were so strong! I caught a whiff of them three fruits over, past the not-quite-the-right-variety apples and some tangerines packed with their stems and leaves for no discernable reason. Cleaning product intensity. I had no idea what I was smelling, but I found them with my nose. Snuffle snuffle snuffle.

I bought five.

I knew there was going to be a let-down. How could something that smelled that awesome not be on every breakfast table in Canada at all times if there wasn't some weird deficiency? But for that glorious moment it was just me, the scent of guava, and my phone as I furiously thumbed at Google so I'd know whether to buy the squash yellow ones or the lime green ones. (Buy the yellow ones.)

I now have four guava. They couldn't possibly live up to that smell, so I was ready for it. I was ready for the pasty white interior, somewhere between overripe pear and banana. I was ready for a rather ordinary flavor.. a bit too close to apple. Truth be told, I wasn't quite ready for the seeds being as hard as glass, but at least I was psychologically prepared for disappointment.

Still, my kitchen smells amazing.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Delightfully Cinematic Ending

Delightfully cinematic ending to our "Lords of Memory" session today.

Due to schedules, it's been almost two months since we got together, and in that time my half-scribbled session prep for the Shrine of Ranian they were headed for had expanded into the Moon is a Mirror adventure.

I reskinned the dogfolk as goat men, since in this campaign the shrine is on the slopes of Mount Wint, but otherwise wrote it as written.

From the start, I thought we were headed for a misfire. "Moon" has specific rooms, but their arrangement within the palace is determined as players explore. Literally the first two random rooms they rolled were the stairs up to level 2, then the room with stairs up to the dome.  Woops!

But it didn't work out that way, since the second set of stairs are hidden behind a secret door, so they explored about half of the second floor.

One thing that I really liked was the way the players learned so much about the adventure ahead - they had cleverly allied themselves with the goatfolk before getting anywhere near the shrine, for one thing.

That taught them to be wary of the sage (who is actually an evil moon reflection of the real sage), but it also added a neat twist. The goatfolk were desperate for help (the moon baby's enchantments compel them to guard it and fill it with traps), and begged the PCs not to kill their friends.

This meant that encounters with the goatfolk inside the shrine, normally a sort of low-powered fight with guard monsters, had a completely different function, with the players trying to scare them and drive them off rather than fighting tooth and nail.

The moon baby's second tier of guards are the "brass soldiers", which are incredibly dangerous. They're super slow, but as strong as forklifts, so getting in close quarters with them means certain strangulation.

My son's PC triggered the encounter with the moon baby by leaping into the arms of a patrolling brass soldier (he's super impulsive). Wisely, I had written that patrolling brass soldiers only want to drag their captives up to the moon baby, rather than fighting to kill, otherwise it would have been lights out immediately.

Everyone piles after Farrin and his the brass soldier carrying him, which reveals the hidden way up to the dome.

The moon baby's goal is to find wizards and turn them into reflections just like itself, to increase its magical power. Farrin is up for anything, so by the time the rest of the party ascends to the dome, he's agreed to 'see a vision' (which lets the moon baby check him out for magical powers).

He doesn't have any, other than his spiritual sensitivity ('Commune' skill), so she lets him go, turning her sights on 'Zero', who is lighting the party's way with a flaming hand.

It's at this point I should mention that I had forgotten to think of a way to kill the moon baby. It's immune to weapons (which turn to rainwater when they strike it), and even magical attacks are iffy. It has twelve brass soldiers, and it's careful to stay encircled by them. This could easily have turned into a TPK.

Here's where the party's intel made a huge difference. They knew it was an imposter from talking to the tithing troll, and they knew to look out for a brass bracelet. So when it insisted on giving Zero 'a vision', they sprang into action. Opera grabs the bracelet, Garbageo tries to shove it into the pool, and Zero invokes her flame magic.

Those were the good moves - the party also managed to waste an arrow, a thrown knife and a favorite sword (all turned to rainwater), but after the first round they had a decisive advantage.

Zero aces her spellcasting roll and the resulting incandescent heat blast is enough to crack the hearts of the two nearest soldiers.

The attempt to pitch the moon baby into the pool doesn't go as well, and Opera gets cut up by her "opposite knife" as a bunch of them all grapple at the edge.

At this point, Ferrin pulls out the gray knife and announces he's cutting the relection of the moon. This is one of those amazing player plans that caught me totally off guard, and it took me a full minute to figure out what this would even do.

The moon pool is a reflection of the moon that the sage used for scrying; seeing her own reflection (never do that!) is what allowed the moon baby passage to earth. The grey knife, on the other hand, is an artifact used to cut the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead.

So I decided it would open a portal to the moon!

So, just like the penultimate scene in Aliens at the airlock door, all the air in the place suddenly starts blasting into the well, which is suddenly a pit into an airless void.

In goes scrolls, loose scraps, all the Sage's tools. The party all makes their saves and Opera uses the bracelet to have the soldiers grab onto the party's clothes, holding them in place.

For a few moments, the moon baby and Opera struggle for the bracelet.. and the moon baby gets it. At that instant, Berlin, who has tied a rope about his waist (the other end tied to a soldier), full-on tackles the moon baby and pitches them both into the howling pit.  He gets a mighty jolt about the middle, and the moon baby spirals down into darkness.

At this point, another hilariously emergent effect takes hold: the soldiers always move to be near the wearer of the bracelet. So, one by one the soldiers step up and toss themselves into the pit.. including the one Berlin has used as his anchor.

'Agatha' cuts that in time, and the party hauls Berlin up. With the moon baby back on the moon, the portal closes with an ear-popping crunch.  The party looks into the pool (now bone dry), where they see the comatose body of the real Sage of Lune.

They actually cheered!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Moon is a Mirror

Toward the end of his life, King Raeldus built an enormous palace of spiritual marvels. Fearful of punishment in the afterlife, he hoped to win favor with the unseen world.

To this end, he stocked his palace with altars to every cult and religion he could find. Through donations, command, and threats, he saw that every one of them was maintained by representatives of the religion. In some cases, whole splinter sects were transplanted to the palace.

Foolish of that sort never lasts long, and a century later the palace was home only to ghosts, animals and the occasional bandit. That is, until the Sage of Lune arrived.

A fittingly remote place to carry out her work, for years the Sage used her mystical lenses to scry out omens and prophecies by gazing at the surface of the moon. She called it a mirror, a reflection of our earthly existence, and said that the mirror image of every person.

Those willing to make the long trek to the palace, and the harrowing trek through the palace itself, could be sure of a wise insight as a reward for their efforts.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Isometric Dungeon #5 - Cavern Waterfall

Here's a fifth video in my isometric dungeon drawing series, a cavern waterfall.

This time it's a cavern waterfall. I don't say much, although I had fun with the audio regardless. Happy to take requests - what has stumped or intimidated you in the past?

Monday, 20 February 2017

Trilemma Adventures Known World Map

As those of you following along may have discerned, there's a nominal campaign setting where I situate my adventures.

I will eventually detail the cultures and history of the place, although even once I've done that, I expect that most people will take the adventures and either use them as one-shots, or reskin them and put them into their own campaign setting.

To that end I'll provide a glossary of terms that will need adapting or hooking into your own campaign setting. The Seree are a magocratic precursor civilization; the Martoi a bunch of half-undead fey, and so on.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Curves in Isometric Mapping

A recent post in a G+ map-making community highlighted how difficult it is to draw curved objects in isometric maps.

Here's a typical, challenging object: a curved chute that drops from a trap door into a lower level.

This is a worthy attempt at a complicated shape, but as you can see it doesn't look quite right; it looks a bit twisted, like licorice.

The main problems seem to be two-fold:

1. How the $#*@! do you draw a nice curve?

2. How do you take that curved surface and extude it into a three-dimensional shape?

Drawing Isometric Circles

I've taken a stab at this before, but I've found a couple of ways that are a lot easier.  Here's the basic structure, taken from this excellent blog post by Douglas Flynt:
That blog post spends a lot of time on subdividing the original square, but on isometric graph paper it's a lot easier. I'm drawing the outer curve of the chute, which has a radius of five squares:

Next step is to draw the inner curve, which has a radius of four squares:

Erasing my construction lines, I'm left with this shape:

Extruding the Shape

Now I need to extrude this into a three-dimensional form. The trick to doing this is to draw exactly the same curves one square over:

With a bit of practice you can manage this freehand, until then, you may need to set up the curve-drawing framework you used for the original lines.

Once you've got this, follow the northwest-southeast axis to "tie" the two sets of curves together. In the lower left, you're drawing a tangent across the two sets of curves:

Then, trace the lines that will be visible to get the outline of the final form:

It's still a little bit wonky; as always I recommend doing all your construction work in pencil (or better yet, with blue pencil/marker so you can pull it out with Photoshop), so you have lots of tries at the freehand curves.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Project Coma v0.2

Here's a slightly revised and updated Project Coma. There are some tweaks to the moves, a few formatting minor changes, but the main addition is the GM's pages which has suggested effects as static climbs, GM moves, and guidance for choosing the NPC's simultaneous counter-mission.

I have a chunk of this written up as a gaming text (as opposed to just a bunch of reference sheets) but holy crap is there ever a difference between some skeletal mechanics and a document that explains itself. I'm pretty sure the latter isn't worth tackling until the game is quite far along, it's an entirely separate task from just presenting mechanics.

This is all as free from playtesting as a field of fresh-fallen snow. I have the feeling I'm going to need to rip the basic procedures apart to cover a bunch of ordinary espionage situations a bit more economically.

Having said that, I'm super interested which of the playbooks (if any) grab you, and which look like duds.

I'm also interested whether you feel that there's enough structure here that you could comfortably run this, or whether you look at it all and wonder how the heck you'd get started.  (I'm aware that the sample missions just trail off in incompleteness.)


In unrelated news, Dropbox is ditching its public hosting, which kinda blows, so at some point I'm going to have to shuffle a zillion files and links to another location. Yay!

Veil of the Once-Queen

Deep in the forest is the citadel of Tanibel, once the capital of Martoi. Although their time has passed, they have found a way to cling to the world by straddling the veil between life and death.

In my home campaign, the three Lords of Tanibel have ridden out and poisoned entire watersheds with the black draught, leading to the terrible undoing of society hinted at in the Unmended Way.

Even if you don't go quite so apocalyptic and campaign-defining, Tanibel is still easy to slot into any forested region of your campaign world. Treat the Martoi like a fey court with a particular obsession with treachery.

The gray proctors are probably my favorite part of this one, if players haven't figured out what's going on with the veil by the time they get to the gates, I think there's potential for a truly horrible realization.