Saturday 29 June 2013

MegaDungeon Crawl Classics 2: But Can I Play A Megadungeon With It?

For my money, Dungeon Crawl Classics is the best system out there for Sword & Sorcery type gaming.  But I want my game to take place in a persistent world, where player investment in each game session adds to a total lore that allows them to take control of the adventure and make it their own.  I want the players, not the judge, to dictate that they shall try to steal gold from ancient Opar, or take the gates to old Barsoom, or travel to Shadrizar the Wicked, or seek a lost spell in the ruins of Melniboné.

Ideally for me, a game should consist of three types of adventures:

1.  Persistent Locations:  Areas that the PCs can learn about and choose to adventure in as a matter of course.  This includes, of course, the exploration of the campaign milieu itself, and all manner of penetration in the the known and the unknown!

2.  Opportunities:  Things that happen at a particular time and offer a particular chance to adventure which can be taken or left, but which, if ignored, have consequences (even if those consequences are only that a particular opportunity is lost).  For example, a ship crashing into a reef has some opportunity for rescue/exploration, but if the PCs do not recover the cargo, other parties will.  Most of the published DCC adventures are of this nature.  

3.  Player-Initiated Quests:  The PCs require something, and go out seeking it.  This requires the ability to discover where the thing may lie, as well as the chance that it lies somewhere in the world to be discovered.  The DCC core rulebook gives strong reason to include this sort of material, from the Quest For It advice to the need for wizards and elves to seek out new spells, and the need for clerics to seek the means to appease their gods.  

The thing about Player-Initiated Quests is that they need to be tied into either a persistent location or an opportunity to adventure.  For example, a desired new spell may always be in the ruins of the Castle of the Dragon Kings, or it may be placed by the judge to "hook" players into pitting their Blades Against Death, but the thing that the player(s) seek must exist in the milieu, either all of the time, or as the result of special circumstances.  There is no point in telling the players they can seek out Stardock without placing Stardock in the campaign milieu, or placing some method to reach Nehwon in order to seek the mountain in its original continuum.

A megadungeon is not an area intended to be explored as the exclusive focus of a campaign milieu (or, at least, not necessarily) but rather a place where it is always possible to return.  I.e., it is large enough, and complex enough, that it cannot be "used up" in a single adventure.  There are many examples of megadungeons used in this way in Appendix N literature - from Moria in Lord of the Rings, to several complexes in the writings of Burroughs, Howard, Farmer, and Fox (among others), which are dipped into by their heroes for specific purposes, but never fully explored.  In some cases, heroes of these stories do later return to some ruined pile in other adventures, giving a clear idea of how such a location can be used.  Hell, there are even hints of megadungeons in Lovecraft.

Megadungeon play works very well with the Dungeon Crawl Classics ruleset.  This is true even if one uses a megadungeon that was initially designed for another system - I have gotten excellent mileage out of Greg Gillespie's Barrowmaze and Barrowmaze II, initially designed for Labyrinth Lord.  Versions of Moria designed for MERP and The Lord of the Rings RPG by Decipher are both easily adapted to DCC.

In the end, of course, the DCC-inspired megadungeon will reflect the DCC rules and design aesthetic, so that it might become the location of a number of quick forays over the course of a campaign, with lots of things to do, lots of places to see, and lots of secrets to uncover.  Even where a megadungeon is the centre around which the campaign milieu revolves, other areas to explore, other people and monsters to oppose, and other opportunities that arise will send the PCs after pirates for one or more sessions, hunting man-apes for several others, and so on, in addition to their forays into the Great Ruined Pile.

The more Appendix N fiction I read, the more I note that most Appendix N adventurers live in  worlds with multiple ruined cities and potential megadungeons, from the vast ruins in the swamp of the Palood to the hidden tunnels of the Worms of the Earth.  

And I find that good.

Very good indeed.

Friday 28 June 2013

Eggplant Productions - Spellbound and Spindles

My friend Rachel Henderson is one of the first people to have ever published my work, and the first person to have paid me for it!

If you have any interest at all, I encourage you to check out her kickstarter page.

Fairy tales are universal stories. They touch on many positive themes (love, strength, courage, loyalty, cleverness, kindness and charity) as well as many negative themes (abuse, neglect, abandonment, oppression, exploitation and small-mindedness). They are versatile.  They can be unraveled and rewoven over and over again without losing their magic.
We want to create a special edition of Spellbound, our children's fantasy e-zine, and a companion adult anthology, titled Spindles, to take full advantage of fairy tales’ plasticity. We want to publish fairy tales retold to include minority, LGBT, and disabled characters. We want to create stories that include the whole spectrum of humanity and make them truly universal.
The special edition of Spellbound will be very similar to the other issues with the theme of fairy tales. It will feature fiction, poetry and artwork. We’ll also be releasing a lesson plan with it, just as we have done with all the other issues.   
The companion adult anthology, Spindles, will have similar content, but will be longer. It will also feature fiction, poetry and artwork. The artwork shown in the video is a good representation of the overall feel of each edition.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

MegaDungeon Crawl Classics 1: First Salvo

Having determined to create a persistent megadungeon setting for Dungeon Crawl Classics (for use in public area games, and perhaps for later publication if there is interest), I have begun to envision exactly what it is that I want.

First off, because this work is to support DCC, I want it to have a strong Appendix N flavour.  To that end, I randomly determined three Appendix N authors to use as “strong influences” on each main level of the dungeon.  I did this for six dungeon levels and three “upper works” levels.  At this point, I had no idea what these levels would represent.

A Sense of Scale

One thing I noticed pretty quickly is that every dungeon area would have a real sense of scale.  Creeping around in narrow rooms and tunnels does occur in Appendix N fiction, of course, but vast expanses – even vast underground expanses – are also pretty common.  So, many regions should include some impressively large areas.  For instance, it became clear that one area would have thermal vents that created a hothouse jungle environment, and that it should probably have some form of “sun” to that it is always lit – even if only from the reflections of deep earth lights upon the high cavern ceiling.

When viewed in this way, it becomes clear that a dungeon “level” is going to be a complex three-dimensional area which may contain many smaller levels or sublevels.  Some of these might exhibit strong influences of other Appendix N authors, so that an area which is similar to the Africa of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard might also contain a temple not unlike those that Leigh Brackett placed in her planetary romances.


In any OSR megadungeon, connectivity is important, because it is desirable that players can choose their level of challenge.  In a DCC megadungeon, I find that this is even more true.  The gonzo nature of DCC encourages players to take risks, and the play structure must do the same.  Also, as each area will have its distinct features, the players gain an ability to “choose their own adventure”, whether facing the ape-men and dinosaurs of the hothouse level, or seeking lost knowledge among the courts of the shadow elves.

Both obvious and hidden connectivity must exist, and discovering hidden connectivity must be a reward unto itself….it must confer an advantage upon the PCs who discover it.

Cool Monsters

Creating some “standard monsters” for each area is desirable, and is probably necessary to run a large and complex area.  However, these monsters should be non-standard creatures, for the most part, created to match the needs of the dungeon area.  In this way, learning about the inhabitants is a benefit to the players, and is a bonus for long-term play. 

Nonetheless, each area also need cool and unique monsters and NPCs that are one-of-a-kind, and these need not always be adversaries.  Or, rather, some may be potential allies and potential adversaries, based upon circumstances.  La of Opar, in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels comes immediately to mind. 

NPCs must exist which can become allies, adversaries, love interests, mortal patrons, and rivals. 

Quest For It

Sometimes, the players will just want to kick in a few doors, kill a few monsters, and take their stuff.  This sort of play must be supported.  But Dungeon Crawl Classics is a game built to allow players to “quest for” extras, and there must be cool things in the dungeon that can be objects of those quests.  Not only are there unique objects to be found, and unique patrons for wizards and elves, but there are places where spells may be learned, martial training may occur, stats can be boosted, corruption can be undone, and so on.  Even a Fountain of Youth might be of value if some of the characters are elderly.

Not every treasure in DCC comes in the form of gold and gems.  In fact, the most valuable treasures do not. 

A Unifying Force

Finally, because of all the gonzo directions in which such a dungeon can go, there must be a unifying force or conflict that affects most, if not all, of the dungeon areas.  This conflict or force should exist on a grand scale, so that it cannot be resolved in a few sessions of play.  Best of all are conflicts that cannot be resolved outside of years of play, and that resolution should change the nature of the region forever – perhaps even destroy it.  Read Michael Moorcock, A. Merritt, Poul Anderson, and Fred Saberhagen for ideas regarding overarching conflicts, and how resolving them can change everything.

Nonetheless, players should be given plenty of opportunities to have their characters meddle early on, and their meddling should have consequences, both for them and for the environment.  A unifying force or conflict creates the unity that makes the megadungeon more than just a random collection of sites.  Being able to take sides, and to influence that conflict, makes the game meaningful and fun.

More later.

Revelation of Mulmo reviewed at the Iron Tavern

Monday 24 June 2013

In All Fairness

Here is a post by -C wherein I agree completely:  This should be mandatory reading for some players trolling around on the InterWebs.  -C could not be more right here if he were hit with a right-hammer.

Way to go, -C.

In other news, the discussion of Quantum Ogres going on at Random Wizard is worth a look:

Saturday 22 June 2013

Conversions to DCC

Translating anything into Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is a pretty easy task, overall, with a few caveats.

(1) Watch Spellcasters:  Remember the core rulebook says that NPCs need not play by the same rules as PCs.  Even with that in mind, though, you will probably want to re-imagine any spellcasters in the original work.  

(2) Watch Tropes:  The "weird fantasy" mindset of Appendix N literature, and hence DCC, is very different from the "Mos Eisley Cantina" mindset of WotC D&D and Pathfinder.  You will run into ideas in 3.x and later modules, such as armies of dwarven cavalry, elf paladins, gnome clerics, etc., that simply do not fit with DCC (unless you decide that they do, of course).  You might need to get imaginative with these, and think about what Appendix N authors would have done instead.  In general, you will find far, far fewer of these problems with TSR D&D modules, and the earlier ones cleave closest to the source.

The dwarven cavalry, therefore, may become barbarian tribes, the gnome cleric might become a unique monster or a human, etc.

Watch Treasure:  A good standard rule is:  Change platinum to gold, change gold to silver, change silver to copper, and reduce any copper to 10% of listed value.  You might want to do further reductions.  Make most magic into fine items instead, and make most of whatever magic is left unique.  Magic items with drawbacks are cooler than ones without (i.e., if the players have to decide whether or not benefit X is worth drawback Y, and they are not always certain, you are offering them an interesting decision, and that is great!).

Add Some Weird:  Throw in a couple of things that would not have occurred in a 3.x, 4.x, or Pathfinder module if you can.  Give your DCC conversion its own special brand of it due to unique monsters, unique treasures, or unique opportunities (ex. a chance to learn spells, gain a patron, or improve a character in some way).  

The really cool thing about DCC is that most of this can be done on the fly.  Crawl! has some rules in its magic issue (#3) for easy conversion of OSR spells/casters, that you could probably use as a guideline for later editions as well.  The DCC core rulebook has tables to help make humanoids and un-dead unique....use them!  For the most part, with a few minor modifications (and most of them descriptive) you can convert any D&D/Pathfinder to DCC.  I can do this with a few notes, and standard modifications applied on the fly.

If you have DCC 29: The Adventure Begins, you can pick up DCC 76.5: Well of the Worm while it is possible and you can see directly how I applied these principles to create an official conversion of a Harley Stroh masterpiece.  If enough people purchase it, and enough people ask, perhaps Joseph Goodman will commission other conversions............I know I would be happy to do more.

But I also know that, if you give it a shot, you will soon find that it is pretty easy to do yourself.

Give it a try.

(Cross-posted with slight modifications.)

Friday 21 June 2013

Pulp Weird Action

Pulp Weird Encounters #1 is now available from Mystic Bull Games.  

The Pulp Weird Encounter Series comprises DCC RPG Adventures inspired by the weird pulp fantasy of the 60's and 70's. 

Issue #1 introduces you to the Tomb of the Squonk and The Silent Army

Tomb of the Squonk: A hideous creature pleads for you to restore his human form in a weird twist on a fairy tale conceit.  (Author:  Daniel J. Bishop)

The Silent Army: Something in the woods has ensorcelled the men of a woodcutters village. They stand silent and foreboding, watching and waiting for something. What did they see, and can you avoid the same fate?  (Author:  Charlie Scott)

I am surprised and pleased by how well the name "Pulp Weird" so fully encapsulates an underlying tone to the DCC RPG - kudos to the fine folks at Mystic Bull who thought that one up!  (I think it was Paul Wolfe?)

New Review & Time Is Running Out & In Other News

New Review:

As per, time is running out to extend the range of free stuff as per this post, although you still have a good chunk of time left to qualify to get the free stuff.

In other news, it has occurred to me that a series of one-shots in a public space isn't really what Toronto needs....perhaps what it needs is an ongoing campaign in a public space wherein you can drop in and drop out as you are able to play, centering around a megadungeon, as was the case in Gary's day?  That wouldn't preclude one-shots, but it means that characters would become a greater investment for their players.

Any thoughts?

Saturday 15 June 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Unexpected

A Tale of the Road Crew

So, as of today I have been prepared for three outings to play in local game stores in the Toronto Area. 

Last weekend, I ran Harley Stroh’s excellent Sailors on the Starless Sea at Wizard’s Cache.  The venue was loud, as there were three Pathfinder Society games going on in the same space, and the tables were not overlarge.  But six of us crowded around the table, I leaned in to be heard, and we had a blast.  One of the players I had met on Free RPG Day last year, and another I had met online on Dragonsfoot.  It’s always nice to greet people we know, and to be able to put a face to an online persona.

Today, I was at Duelling Grounds at 11 am sharp, to run The Arwich Grinder, a Lovecraft-inspired 0-level funnel that I had written for Crawl! Fanzine.  I waited an hour, but as no one showed up, I called the event and headed home.

At 4:30 pm, I was at 200 King Street East for The Imperishable Sorceress, at an event hosted by Hairy Tarantula, which was supposed to begin at 5 pm.  Because HT had a large turnout for Magic, they moved the rpg events to the basement cafeteria.  If anyone went to the 6th floor looking for the game, I apologize.  As the elevator to 6 was not in service due to construction, you might have felt a little like Arthur Dent looking for the zoning commission plans.  I know I did.

In any event, D&D Next took up the space until 5:30, so there was no event, and if anyone had come looking for it, they went away disappointed.  Again, I apologize if this was the case.  I must admit that, at this moment, my momentum tracker was showing that I was losing the spell duel.

I did use the extra time constructively, and drafted a new wizard spell for a project I am working on.

Yet, as there were still some gamers hanging around talking, and as I’d schlepped my materials all that way…I decided to take the opportunity to proselytize DCC.  I mean, why not?  And, as it turned out, we ended up playing a bit of The Arwich Grinder before George Brown College Security kicked us out of the building (apparently, HT didn’t bother to notify security that there was an event scheduled there after D&D Next.

So, what did I learn?

(1) Never schedule a game on Free RPG Game Day at a store that is not participating in Free RPG Day.

(2) Try to partner with stores that will at least take some action to talk to customers about your event.  If you notice that they didn’t bother to put it up on their calendar board (Duelling Grounds) or discover that they didn’t even notify security that you would be there (Hairy Tarantula), consider a more proactive venue.  Wizard’s Cache was much better in this regard.

(3) Pay attention to what you schedule against.  I received emails from some of the Wizard’s Cache participants about scheduling conflicts, although they were interested in the other events.

(4) Never give up.  Unless you are completely alone in the store, strike up a conversation and try to strike up a game.  You never know where that might lead you.

Through no fault of anyone (except, I suspect, Canada Customs) no swag was available at any of the three events that I set up.  Well, except for some dice that went AWOL at Wizard’s Cache.  However, swag has been mailed, and additional swag has been ordered, so it is to be hoped that the next event will be both more successful and more swag-laden.

So, here is my question for you, Toronto area gamers:  Where would you be most likely to attend an event, and when?  I am thinking that the next events should be Well of the Worm (lvl 1) Tower Out of Time (lvl 2), and Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror (lvl 2), because, presumably, the same characters can be reused, so that the loot you get from one goes on to the others. 

Thoughts?  Interest?  Other suggestions?

Wednesday 12 June 2013

A Game of Dungeon Crawl Classics

Saturday June 15th (Free RPG Day) at 11 am, I will be at Duelling Grounds (1193 Bloor Street West) running a playtest of The Arwich Grinder, a 0-level funnel written by myself, and slated to appear in an upcoming issue of Crawl! Fanzine.  All necessary materials will be provided.  

The Curwen Family have lived up among the pine woods on the outskirts of Arwich Village for as long as the oldest village gaffers can remember.   Talk in the village is that they are quiet and clannish – perhaps something odd in their makeup – but when famine hit Arwich hard two winters ago, it was they who  kept many of the villagers alive.  The village owes much to their reclusive neighbours. And now, at last, a chance has come to repay that debt.

At 5 pm, I will be at George Brown College (200 King Street East; 6th floor gym) running The Imperishable Sorceress.  This event is sponsored by Hairy Tarantula North!  Again, all necessary materials will be provided. 

Hope to see you there!

Please be advised that Duelling Grounds is NOT participating in Free RPG Day this year, so if you wish to play in The Arwich Grinder, you may first wish to stop at 401 Games on Yonge Street, which opens early, and is participating.

Friday 7 June 2013

Games Schedule Update

This Sunday, at 1 pm, I will be running Sailors on the Starless Sea (author Harley Stroh) at The Wizards’s Cache, 333 Bloor Street West in Toronto, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the St. George subway station.  

Find out why villagers are disappearing!  Explore the keep!  Die in droves!  And some of you will become heroes!  All necessary materials supplied.

Saturday June 15th (Free RPG Day) at 11 am, meet me at Duelling Grounds (1193 Bloor Street West) for an opportunity to playtest The Arwich Grinder, a 0-level funnel written by myself, and slated to appear in an upcoming issue of Crawl! Fanzine.  All necessary materials will be provided.

The Curwen Family have lived up among the pine woods on the outskirts of Arwich Village for as long as the oldest village gaffers can remember.   Talk in the village is that they are quiet and clannish – perhaps something odd in their makeup – but when famine hit Arwich hard two winters ago, it was they who  kept many of the villagers alive.  The village owes much to their reclusive neighbours. And now, at last, a chance has come to repay that debt.

Finally, come with me at 5 pm, or meet me, at George Brown College (200 King Street East) 6th floor gym to experience The Imperishable Sorceress, using either your surviving funnel characters or pregenerated 1st level characters.  This event is sponsored by Hairy Tarantula North!  Again, all necessary materials will be provided. 

These events are the first of a series.  Surviving characters can and will be used again!  Come try this great game if you are not already a player.  And, if you are already a player, come and play!

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday 4 June 2013

TalkingClix & Social Interaction

Reading Black Vulmea’s excellent post on social interaction in role-playing games makes me somewhat concerned that my repudiation of –C’s “On the Immersive Lie” and “On the Fiction First Failure” posts make me sound as though I am averse to rolling dice at all where social interaction is involved.

As Black Vulmea rightly points out, there is a similarity between “I roll Diplomacy!” when involved in a social setting and “I roll Tactics!” when involved in a combat.  Just as we expect the player to determine his character’s own tactics, we expect the player to determine how he approaches a given social interaction.  And, in both cases, dice or other widgets may come into play to resolve what then occurs.

The problem with –C’s posts is the idea that deciding what you do before determining how to resolve the outcome is stopping the play of the game in one post, and damaging to (the non-existent, according to –C) immersion in the other.

Let’s imagine that you have an actual altercation, in real life.  The “tactics” of “rolling Diplomacy” include understanding the opposing point of view as well as ordering your own priorities.  Ordering your own priorities is important because negotiation usually requires compromise, and you may have to cede something you would like to keep in order to gain something you need or just want more.

“TalkingClix” occurs when the GM believes it is just too hard to understand the NPCs’ motivations, and/or the player wants to gain the benefits of negotiation without having the inconvenience of giving anything up.  In some cases, this just means giving up the degree of pride necessary to ask forgiveness or for a favour.  It occurs when you begin to argue that knowing what is happening in the fictive milieu isn’t necessary to resolve what occurs (or even damages resolution), and that, since the fictive milieu isn’t real, immersion doesn’t matter/doesn’t exist/is harmed by seeking to understand what occurs in the fictive milieu prior to applying results.

Effectively, this is an argument that dissociated mechanics are better for resolving action within a role-playing game than associated mechanics.

Whether a character is walking across the floor, riding a horse, climbing a rope, or trying to convince a goblin to let her pass, the dice are rolled if (1) the outcome is in doubt and (2) the outcome matters, typically due to a time limit or some danger involved with failure.  For example, no roll is likely required to kill a sleeping goblin, but a goblin who is armed and aware offers the potential consequence of being attacked in return (with related issues of hit point loss and possible death).

Abstract hit point loss works because it leads to a far less abstract potential outcome:  character death.  I do not think that many players would enjoy a game in which they had no say about what their characters offer in order to “roll Diplomacy” with a kobold.  The consequences are made concrete in a fiction-first system by having the players set them (i.e., “IF you let us cross the river here, THEN my brother will marry one of your daughters.”)  The outcome, if in doubt, may then be rolled for, or engaged through a series of mechanical widgets, based upon the game rules and the desires of the participants.

Mechanics for social interaction are not the problem.  Mechanics that subvert fiction-first, immersive social interaction (i.e., dissociative social interaction mechanics) are.  That is when you find yourself playing TalkingClix instead of a role-playing game.

Saturday 1 June 2013

Artists We Know and Love

If you are familiar with Angels, Daemons, & Beings Between, Tomb of Curses, or The Revelation of Mulmo, then you are familiar with the artwork of David Fisher

David is also the author of the upcoming Trolls of Mistwood adventure from Dragon's Hoard Publishing for the Dungeon Crawl Classics game system.  

While discussing artists, it would be remiss of me not to mention Chris Heilmann, a friend of mine from Ottawa who did the illustrations for Stars in the Darkness from Purple Duck Games.  His online portfolio can be found here.