Sunday 25 August 2013

The Real Stone Heads

If you happen to have purchased CE4:  The Seven Deadly Skills of Sir Amoral the Misbegotten, and you happen to live in Toronto, you can find the Stone Heads in Dufferin Grove Park if you look carefully around the northwest portion of the park.

People sometimes ask where these ideas come from.  If you look at the picture, you can see that these Stone Heads will no longer be telling my secrets.  But there are others in the park; all you need do is look!

Inspiration comes from everywhere; all you need do is keep your eyes open!  I would love to hear about how others turned their own "local colour" into the exotic for their games.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Frozen In Time and Wilderness Adventuring

Last Friday, I ran Michael Curtis' excellent Frozen in Time at the Wizard's Cache mini-con.  So, while the module was selling at GenCon, others were having fun with it up here in Toronto.  Overall, this is a great adventure, and one that doesn't take too long to run.

This blog post is going to contain spoilers, so if you don't want to know more about Frozen in Time, skip on ahead.

Okay, then.  This module is ostensibly for 1st level characters, but has rules to allow its use as a 0-level funnel.  When used as a funnel, the PCs are barbaric tribesmen living at a neolithic level of technology.  They might have a few items of standard equipment gathered through trade.  Thankfully, the good people at Purple Sorcerer already have their character generator ready to create 0-levels for this adventure, so creating pregens was a snap.

Picking out highlights is tough.  The players realizing that the paintings they encountered were the Mona Lisa, The Scream, and a few other famous paintings, was great.  The bore bugs were cool.  Having a moment of hesitation between trying to kill or befriend the wounded yeti was good.  The final battle, which I will not spoil here, turned out to be less of a comedy than it potentially could have been, but was still a lot of fun.  I had the opportunity to show the illustration in the module as an actual in-game event.

At the end, as the glacier was breaking up, the party ran to the edge, and so was caught when the glacier crumbled.  With a Luck check (with a -10 penalty) to survive, only one character lived, and that character was not the one carrying any of the loot.

This is a really good module, and if you have not picked it up yet, I urge you to do so.
Okay, if you skipped ahead, you can pick it up here.

The Sunday after the game, I headed out to the wilds of Algonquin Park, which is a jewel in the crown that is the Ontario Provincial Parks system.  We stayed at the Coon Lake campground, near Rock Lake, and had a great time.

We were on as many as three of the Algonquin trails during any given day.  These included the Centennial Ridges Trail, the Mizzy Lake Trail, the Algonquin Logging Museum, Lookout Trail, the Beaver Pond Trail, and the Spruce Bog Boardwalk.  Walking along these trails really reinforced both how much the land can change in a short space, and how single features can truly make an impression on the traveller.  For example, there were so many potential animal lairs along the first part of the Mizzy Lake Trail that it was clear that no adventurer, no matter how thorough, could hope to examine them all.  On the other hand, few adventurers could pass along the Lookout Trail's highest point without pausing at least for a moment to see the land about them.

When a GM says that riding along some trails is impossible, it takes walking some of these to understand how true that could be.  Scattered rocks, thick webs of tree roots, narrow areas, and areas where you clamber along the top of (or between) rock formations would make it hard for a horse to pass along the trail.  In addition, no matter how clearly marked a trail may be, it is criss-crossed by game trails to a varying degree.

Weather, whether rain or hot sun, can take its toll on the walker.  Depending upon how much travelling is done over rough terrain, the GM may wish to consider penalties related to stress and fatigue.  Resting, of course, helps with this, so that many characters can and should be alternately travelling and resting in order to maximize the distance travelled while remaining in reasonably good condition.

Some systems assume that a character can hunt and/or forage while moving at a standard movement rate.  I would suggest that this not be done.  Finding a clearing filled with blueberries, for example, might cause characters to pause for an hour or more while they eat and fill containers.  I know that we spent more time than this, returning to a blueberry patch to collect more fruit.  Of course, when you are near an obvious potential food source, you are also near other creatures wishing to exploit that food source.  This might improve your own foraging, or it might lead to tragedy.

Sighting normal animals, like a great blue heron, while canoeing, can be thrilling in real life.  Including the texture of landmarks, sightings, trail conditions, and the general hardships and joys of travelling through a wilderness area is worth attempting.  The trick is to make many of these things meaningful in game terms - a lookout allows the PCs to survey part of the land.  That stand of beeches means that bears, which eat the nuts for winter fattening, might be nearby.  The contours of the land indicate where caves might be found.  Knowing that horses cannot be ridden along a trail might allow the PCs to escape mounted pursuers.  And so on.

Finally, having a chance to go along the Logging Museum trail allowed a look into the past.  Knowing how things were once done - including how things that we might now take for granted resulted in loss of life - is always worthwhile.  Some future adventure I write will probably include a logging camp cribbed from the real Algonquin lumberjacks.

Monday 12 August 2013

Megadungeon Crawl Classics 3: Levels are Areas

Examining the possibility of doing a megadungeon for Dungeon Crawl Classics, it becomes obvious to me that each “level” should instead be viewed as an “area” that may, in fact, contain many traditional “levels” – as well as buildings, villages, or whatever is needed to make the area work.  Each “level”, in this sense, is not going to simply be a relatively flat area on a sheet of graph paper, but instead be a three-dimensional area which may take up several sheets.

Not only this, but there will be little or no “boxed text” or area descriptions in the traditional sense, as most parts the area will be in constant flux throughout the process of exploration/adventuring.  In some ways, exploration of a DCC megadungeon is similar to a hexcrawl…you will encounter peoples, make enemies, make friends, and find interesting areas to explore within the overarching structure.

For example, the megadungeon that I am planning has a first level/area randomly determined to be based largely off the work of Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs.  This suggests many possibilities, from the jungles of Tarzan’s Africa, the dry steppes of Barsoom, and the fierce beings of cloud-shrouded Amtor.  Burroughs was also quite fond of “Lost World” tales, as with his stories of Pellucidar and Caspek.

With this in mind, I can see the entrance area to the megadungeon belonging to some form of mist-shrouded tropical jungle, a Lost World of prehistoric creatures and peoples, with the remains of some fantastic civilization and alien monsters.  The temple of La in Opar is a good founding idea for one part of this region, because of its strong potential for intrigue, action, and treasure.

In addition, it is desirable to have more than one village of cavemen.  Indeed, we should strongly consider three types, with a sliding scale of development from cannibalistic brutes to relatively modern people.  These need not be fully “human” in the earthly sense – we can colour-code these people if we so desire, as Burroughs does his Barsoomians.  Let us say that the mostly-extinct ancients were golden, the closest to modern people red, the next most advanced green, and the least advanced also golden (they are the descendants of the ancients). 

Some or all of these people can be advanced enough to potentially supply 0-level characters for funnel play, once the players have encountered them and learned enough about them to make such play work.  Beware giving away the secrets of an area to let the players choose people from that area!  But, likewise, once the area is explored and the people known, don’t be afraid to make best use of them by letting the players try their hand at playing a green man of the Lost World!

We will want to have some of the alien types that Burroughs uses on Barsoom, Amtor, the moon, Pellucidar, Caspek, and Jupiter.  I will select two reptilian types – serpent/lizard men as well as telepathic pterosaur-folk akin to the Mahars of Pellucidar – and a race similar to the Skeleton Men of Jupiter.  Using the Skeleton Men as a seed idea also allows us to consider the ghouls of Fritz Leiber.   Perhaps our creatures will be an amalgamation of the two?

As you can see, even without including actual “monsters” (and local animals), we already require quite a bit of work to get this “dungeon level” ready for play.  Nonetheless, it should also be quite easy to gain a minimum 2 hours play value for every hour spend devising the setting.

Let us next examine what other “levels” will connect to this area:

(1) Level 2, which is a combination of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Solomon Kane stories, mixed with the Harold Shea stories of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt.

(2) Level 3, which is intended to be influenced by Lin Carter, August Derleth, and Lord Dunsany.

(3) Level 5, which is intended to be influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien, Sterling Lanier’s Paloud swamp from Hiero’s Journey, and Edgar Rice Burroughs once more.

Let us also assume that level 1 will link to sublevels that take their influences from Andre Norton, Manly Wade Wellman, Clark Ashton Smith, and Philip Jose Farmer.  Part of the creation process is determining what these influences are, and how they will be used.  Then, if the level/sublevel connections exist, we must also decide how those influences leave a footprint on the first level area.  These footprints are important hints that connections exist, and also allow the judge to foreshadow the themes of the new megadungeon area.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

I am proud to announce the release of The Seven Deadly Sins of Sir Amoral the Misbegotten, the fourth in the Campaign Element series.

You can find reviews of the product here and here.

One of the goals with everything I write is that, for each dollar you spend, you ought to get two hours play value out of the material.  I think that the CE series has exceeded this goal so far.  You can use the areas to play through quickly, but the material contains reasons to return, and enduring elements that continue to make your investment pay off.

In years long past, Gryffon Keep was a border fortification guarding a somewhat well-used roadway. In that day, the keep was placed in the trust of Sir Harold Amoral, one of the greatest warriors available to the then Lord Duke. Time has changed the land, and brought the keep low, and Sir Amoral has become little more than a figure of fable and children’s story. That the ruins in the forest were those of fabled Gryffon Keep have been forgotten by most, and the area is now known to locals as the Forest Ruin.

Although history has faded to legend, the ghost of Sir Amoral still haunts the ruined keep. During his lifetime, he sought to hoard his martial knowledge so that it might never be used against him by a mortal foe. Now, after death, he regrets this parsimony, and seeks above all to pass on his skills to those who are worthy.

The catch, of course, is that the ghost believes that only he can determine who is (or is not) worthy – and, of course, his methods for doing this are deadly.

The Campaign Elements series is designed to help judges create persistent campaign worlds, as well as deal with patron quests, divine requests, and the sudden need to “Quest For It”. Whether it is because you are short on players one evening, or the wizard needs to locate a new spell, the Campaign Elements series has you covered.

Each of these areas is short enough to be played through by most groups in only a single session. That doesn't mean that the value of the area is limited to a single session – each adventure includes notes on “squeezing it dry”…effectively getting the maximum re-use from your investment.

An adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics characters across multiple levels.

Also consider

CE1:  The Falcate Idol
CE2:  The Black Goat
CE3:  The Folk of Osmon

Coming Soon

CE5:  Silent Nightfall

Thursday 1 August 2013

T is for Triumph

There is a moment in a role-playing game where a character, facing incredible odds, actually manages to triumph.  And that moment is so, so sweet.  

Following Joseph Goodman's advice in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Core Rulebook, I now roll almost everything in the open, and I let players roll to see what the damage against them is.  If you survive despite the odds, you not only know that you did so, but you have a good idea of how unlikely your survival was.

During Tuesday night's game, I ran part of Greg Gillespie's excellent Barrowmaze using DCC rules.  The thief, drunken almost to a stupor due to the malign influence of his sword (Alemourn) became separated from the party by a stone wall, and faced seven of the un-dead by himself.  

Through luck, and a judicious use of Luck, the thief triumphed.

And, I am sorry, but no game where the GM fudges, or where PC protection is built into the rules, ever matches the sheer exuberance of triumphing over long odds when you know....that the judge isn't going to intervene to save you.

Especially when how you use your resources (in this case, the thief's Luck Die) helps to swing the odds into your favour.

Good job, Garett, and may your character live to steal many a jewelled throne!