Sunday, March 30, 2014

Stone Ships - A two Page Dungeon PDF

Sort of a space filler that I did up for this.
I've been working on a One Page Dungeon for the Contest of the same name, and yet being a verbose person, despite my best efforts, I couldn't cram this concept into anything less then two page.  It's almost a dungeon generator of sorts - kind of like what I've been doing for the wreck hunting in my current ASE campaign.  Anyhow since it was 90% done before I gave up on fitting it onto a page, I give it to the public as two!  I sort of envision it in the same world as Brittlestone Parapets or The Prison of the Hated Pretender - a post-apocalypse of a purely magical variety.


Maps are what really takes up space
Take a look at the PDF and download yourself a way to generate dying earth style abandoned vessels that might make an astute player think of the German High Seas Fleet, and it's scuttling at Scapa Flow.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Isometric maps - So pretty, So annoying

So I've been trying to draw cool maps again.  Trying is the operative word.  Let's just say these are for something I want to look cool, so I figured I'd draw the coolest maps I could think of.  Now I really love an isometric map, so I figured that's the way to go, but isometric maps are a problem.  Sure a well drawn isometric map can look amazing, but they are ultimately very simple.  That is to say, one can draw an isometric map of a single flattish level or maybe some levels separated by a some very long stairways.  Maps with huge vertical also spaces work pretty good, but there are several problem, and the question becomes: is dealing with the limited amount of topographical information and complete lack of verticality worth it?  Personally I don't find isometric maps especially useful, obvious isometric maps have a place, for example when drawing small tunnel networks with a limited number of levels.  Now an isometric map looks pretty cool, but I find it next to impossible to maintain any kind of naturalistic map design while trying to fit a lower or higher level into the areas with minimal overlap.  In their defense isometric maps really do have more space for neat little bits of art (no only because things look better for 3/4 view) because they offer a lot more space if the incredibly annoying grid lines don't make it impossible to draw stuff out.

That said, isometric maps look pretty cool - so here's my solution.

edifice 1 - full map

It's a little small, but that's the format and it's all part of my plan is to use it in something with limited space.

Yeah it's an isometric exterior for looks with an interior of map for sense.  Sure it won't work too well on a map of a subterranean environment, but those are easier to use actual isometric maps for.   Here's a few more exteriors for the same project.  I'm starting to enjoy this thing - a means of filing several maps with a few tables.

Edifices 1 and 2
Edifices 3 -5

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

One Page Dungeon Ideas

Walking Mountains may be too big for 1 page...
The time to enter the One Page dungeon contest approaches, and it promises to be better then ever before.  Many thanks to Random Wizard who is doing an amazing job of runnign the contest this year, but I still don't have an entry! My entry last year 'Brittlestone Parapets' gave a good showing, but I'd like to do better this year, and just haven't gotten around to doing the work involved yet.  Below are four one page dungeon ideas with thier introductory paragraph?  Which do you find most interesting?

Monday, March 17, 2014

B7 - Rahasia - Review

Rahasia is a story focused module written in 1984 by Tracy and Laura Hickman, the folks behind Dragonlance. Rahasia is written for an extremely Tolkienesque fantasy world, perhaps the Basic D&D fantasy world that later became standard for TSR. Not sure why the story and setting are so aggravating to me – it may be descriptions like: “an elven maid, whose veiled grace and beauty outshines all others present as the sun outshines the stars-she is Rahasia.” The entire set up and world is so revoltingly encrusted with high fantasy bathos that it’s almost painful to read. Still, it's more than the descriptions that make me dislike B7, it's the way that Rahasia enforces the world it creates with GM-side rules that not only force the players to accept the adventure but penalize characters for not acting in a noble manner. All this is unfortunate because there are some good set pieces in the haunted temple itself. The maps are solid, the traps often well designed, numerous puzzles included, the encounters mostly sensible with several unique monsters, and there’s even some treasure that isn’t completely boring.  Rahasia still suffers from lesser problems beyond the absurd bombastic descriptions and mawkishness railroading. Treasure placement is somewhat non-standard, with a few large caches rather then a constant dribble of valuables. The magic items are not so great, but they are less common then in most early TSR modules and the authors have included a couple of interesting unique items. The most serious problem, linked to the railroading impulse of the module, is a lack of factions in Rahasia.  While several of the best encounters are with ‘good’ temple guardians or otherwise upend vanilla fantasy assumptions about when to fight or who to rescue, there’s no room in Rahasia for manipulation and gray morality.
decent art and execrable verse

The art and layout are fine, though for such a socially driven module I could have used a bit more about the village, especially if I am trying to get my players excited about saving it.  Some sense of the goals and potential outcomes of the module beyond - free the elf damsels, do good, adventure would also be nice. The box text isn't even especially bad, it's mostly short and fairly functional.  All of the poetry is terrible, and the wine jokes are bad, but I suppose one can spin that either as a function of poor translation or elven lameness.  I rather like the ink drawings in Rahasia more then B5 or B6, though they are similar.

I also doubt a bit if the encounters are sufficient to give the recommended party size and level much of a challenge, for example the witches who are the adventure’s main villains are first level magic users, with 5HP and two spells. Now one spell is sleep and they have panther’s protecting them, but when your adventure’s great adversaries are a pair of 4HD encounters vs. 10 – 24HD of party (without henchmen) there may be a lack of challenge. This might sound like a minor complaint, fixable by adding a few more hit dice or monsters here and there, but it’s not so simple, the weak enemies are a function of the structure of these modules and the way they insist (often through railroad tactics) players approach them. The second wave of ‘B’ modules suffers from pitiful enemies generally, because in keeping with their stringent lawful/chaotic morality the players are expected to fight and defeat the monsters. Where it’s clearly obvious that a party which tries to carve its way though the Caves with violence will fail if the humanoids are run with a modicum of thought, the opposition in Rahasia will fall to an aggressive party, and it must, because there are no other approaches considered by the authors.

Monday, March 10, 2014

MAP - Cloud Castle or at least Cloud Manor.

So I drew up the map below because I was thinking about cloud castles, and I think it turned out to be an interesting lair style dungeon.  I figure it's a strange sight spotted floating about the wilderness sometimes, a dark permanently storming cloud, with a pair of gleaming white towers visible perched atop and within it.  Rumormongers might know that in ancient times (or only a few years ago - doesn't matter) it was used by a powerful wizardly overlord as a traveling feast hall, with which he would circle his domains, bringing rain and accepting tribute from his floating palace.  More like a pleasure barge then a home, it was known as "Thunderhead Manse" and richly furnished to impress yokels and other visitors.

I can think of a couple things that could make it an adventure area.  The first scenario involves a renegade gang of the (now vanished) wizard's flying monkey guard, who float around at random, ransacking towns, demanding tribute and turning the Manse's lighting cannon on those who resist.  The monkeys are armed with Arcquebus' - odd mechano-arcane weapons that fling arcs of electricity at their enemies, but otherwise they're basically a band of flying buccaneers putting on airs. Led by a monkey captain claiming the name "The Storm King" this might make a pretty funny (or extremely deadly - because 20 - 30 2nd level flying humanoids that have some military discipline and strategy can be pretty tough) adventure.

Otherwise the place would make a good lair for a dragon.  I'd go with a blue dragon, or better phantasmagoric wyrm.  A long ribbon of magic and madness, coiled in the library atop the manse and served by the phantoms of the cloud castle's former servants and guards.  the whole place could be infected with the dragon's madness, with dream beasts materializing out of the cloud to strike an threaten.

Air elementals or a young cloud giant dandy see like possibilities as well, but less exciting. The map itself would need some processing before being useful - a key of course, with the levels named, and all the excess grid removed.  I've presented the raw version here because I haven't decided what to do with this (if anything yet). I think for any PDF, I'd also break up the map into sections for the tower, cellars and manse, all tied back into the elevation.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dungeon of Signs Plays Torchbearer - A Play Report

So a largely OSR GM (who is likely the best minimalist rule-cruncher I know) and a mixed selection of OSR(LBB, B/X), 4E, Pathfinder and Story Game players attempted to play Torchbearer using a pack of pregens and some sort of introductory module.  I was both baffled and enjoyed myself – now this might just be because the fellow players and GM were cool folks, but the system was interesting in many ways.

The pregens were boring. I’m sorry, I like a gonzo game or at least something that feels a little different from Tolkeinesque Beardy Scotch Dwaves and Whimsy Elves. Torchbearer is a consciously ironic nostalgia based game where the fantasy archetypes aren't just strong, they seem necessary to the game. Now this isn’t to say the game is snidely ironic, it’s clearly a homage to old school games trying to capture the gritty feeling of nebbishes crawling about in a miserable underworld. The problem for our game is that Torchbearer is a complex and convoluted system that appears mechanics focused - and we weren’t prepared for it. Not that we didn’t try to prepare, I mean the GM and some of the other players had clearly poured over the rules. Due diligence was preformed, and yet this session was very limited and a lot of time was spent flipping about through the rules.

Yeah - this was the party ... yawn

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

B6 - The Veiled Society - Review

B6 cover Art
Written by Dave Cook in 1984, The Veiled Society (B-6) is a departure from the previous B series of modules in that it’s not a dungeon crawl or exotic sandbox, or even a mundane sandbox like Keep on the Borderlands. The Veiled Society is an urban adventure with intrigue and warring families in a sparsely described town, which appears to have used modular 3D paper buildings as its main gimmick. The paper building gimmick is unfortunate as it appears to have eaten up space that could have been used to make this module interesting or evocative.

Yes, veiled society takes things in a different direction, but it does so artlessly, without soul and with the railroading tools found in the worst kind of TSR modules. From small indignities such as the automatic pickpocketing of money to remind the characters they are in a big city, to forced alignment based action and a predetermined path of encounters to set up the adventure, Veiled Society is a brute of a module that does not hold up well after 30 years. There is almost nothing to recommend this adventure except nostalgia.