Thursday, April 30, 2015

One Page Dungeon

Angels are utterly Terrifying to me, which may be a sign that one shouldn't read Rilke while on Mushrooms and at a tender age.  The line from Duino Elegy No. 2 "Every Angel is terror. And yet,
ah, knowing you, I invoke you, almost deadly birds of the soul ... Let the Archangel now, the dangerous one, from behind the stars, take a single step down and toward us: our own heart, beating on high would beat us down. What are you? Early successes, Creation’s favorite ones, mountain-chains, ridges reddened by dawns of all origin – pollen of flowering godhead, junctions of light, corridors, stairs, thrones, spaces of being, shields of bliss, tempests of storm filled, delighted feeling and, suddenly, solitary mirrors: gathering their own out-streamed beauty back into their faces again. For we, when we feel, evaporate: oh, we breathe ourselves out and away: from ember to ember, yielding us fainter fragrance." is terrifying and really angels aren't much better in the bible.

Of course in tabletop game term this offers another weird and terrible set of antagonists - let's cheapen human experience of the sublime! So here's a one-page about a Throne of Heaven crashed into earth and none too pleased about it. Note that all the angels/celestials described within are from Christian (as opposed to Zoroastrian - which has its own angelic hierarchies) myth - including the freaky "wheels within wheels" - the Ophanim.  I think these make damn good monsters, at least as good as devils, and really rather similar, except ready to do some smiting without the talk.

Here's a PDF of the damn thing - THE FALLEN THRONE

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Livid Fens - Color Maps

The Livid Fens, a land of trackless swamp, shifting channels and rotten mangroves filled with uncanny reddish and purple growth. The lands are firmly in the clutching hands of the Fen Witch and her coven of lesser witches who allow neither rival Wizards or worship of the orbital religion within her swamp domain.  The people of the fens are a tribal lot, generally peaceable, living in small villages, and paying a yearly tax of corpses to their necromancer god-queen.

Despite harsh conditions, wretched heat and the unnatural fecundity of the bruise hued alien flora, treasure seekers are drawn to the fens rich stores of unique furs, hides, drugs, spices and gems.  In addition to these prosaic sources of wealth the fens are dotted with ruins: fallen plantations, crumbled towers, shattered temples and strange underground fortifications from an ancient war.  In addition to these ruins, countless wrecks sink slowly into the pools and bogs of the fens – wrecked trade ships, side wheeled steamers and ancient warmachines of rust red and glassy black offer lost cargos and magical artifacts.

The Fens in Hideous Color

The Lichthrone – A twisted tower, also called the Tower of Flints, marks the gateway to the Livid Fens.  A few hours from the water, the tower was once the lair of a decadent wizard who tried to stand aloof from the Fen Witch.  Rivermen claim that his tortured screams can still be heard from atop the tower.

Rendermarche – A city of spice traders, froghemoth hunters, and the factory workers that convert the catch into oil, bone, meat and hide.  A detachment of the Unyielding Fist from Denethix and a larger force of elite tribal warriors loyal to the Witch Queen hold Rendermarche as a joint outpost of Denethix and the Queen.  The city is also protected by a small squadron of river leviathans (crude steam powered skiffs armored in riveted steel plate and armed with cannon or heavy machine guns).  Rendermarche serves as a base of operation for Northern Traders and is the first major port on the trade route between Denethix and Druid Hill deep in the Emerald Jungles further South.

Bone – The capitol of the Witch Queen, set amongst poppy fields and rice paddies in the most solid area of the fens.  Bone is a strange place, the huge corpse drums, each stretched with the skin of a hundred wizards boom out from atop the Queen’s great palace tower to give vigor to the myriad of undead who work the surrounding fields and man the walls. Marble temples to the Fen Witch cluster around her palace, and the rest of the city is only sparsely inhabited, with many of its grand old mansions falling into ruin and home to undead scavengers.

Grave Ancien – A deep crater around a bore that descends into the earth, surrounded by the melted and warped ruins of the Fall.  The bore itself seems to breath a miasma that reeks of death.  Even the warriors Fen Witch, used to the creatures of undeath and disease fear to enter the grave.

Wight Bog – The Wight Bog is an expanse of mudflats around a pair of odd stone spires.  The bog itself is a deep mire teaming with the restless dead below its surface.  While the Fen Witch’s servants can easily control these feral wights, and the locals travel on giant transparent shelled crustaceans whose long spindly legs fail to stir up the dead.  To facilitate travel the locals have also created paths of white tree trunks, sunk into the mud, but to discourage trespassers these routes are often trapped to drop into the mud, or lead into dead ends. Protected by the bog itself the sleepy blue and white town of Teacup winds up the side of one of the stone spires and is home to a community of skilled potters.  

The Fens Brown and Grey

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Livid Fens - Black & White Map

Anomalous Subsurface Environment is still a setting I think about and that I hope to run again some day.  In the last ASE campaign I ran the party ended up getting tired of Morlocks that screamed "Mheeeet!" at them constantly and had started setting traps and left behind the megadungeon in favor of the bruise colored marshes to the South - The Livid Fens.  This is an area directly South of Denethix that is mentioned in ASE 1 and included on the largest regional map within.  I've written a couple of small ASE adventures for the Livid Fens (Red Demon and Wreck of the Anubis) but until now haven't drawn a full map of the place in the style of the map I did for the area around Denethix and containing Mt. Rendon (home of the ASE itself).

The map here is a black and white version, hopefully in the next couple of days I will get it together to ad some contrast and even an acid orange version in the style of the 1st map.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Differentiating Weapons in Flat Damage Systems

One of the interesting things about the Little Brown Books of 1970's D&D is how weapon damage and Hit Dice were modeled with flat D6 damage.  The difference between weapons was non-existent until the game embraced it's "alternate combat rules" and added varied damage and varied hit bonuses against certain types of armor, corresponding directly to certain Armor Classes in 1975's Greyhawk - booklet number 4.  The now standard variable damage and Hit Dice a rather large change that has been adopted wholeheartedly by the game, while the more complex weapon vs. armor rules are largely abandoned.  

I enjoy the simplicity and low HP totals that D6 hit dice and weapon damage provide, as the low values make combat more risky for players and far quicker.  The system seems to hold together better into the mid-level game as well with flatter damage and lower HP, as any attack has a good chance of removing a full Hit Dice from a creature or character.  With variable HD and damage low-level characters are more fragile (many monster and fighter attacks do D8 damage vs. lower Hit Dice totals) while higher level creatures are far stronger with their larger hit-dice.  Additionally I have a suspicion that injury from dungeon perils was never adjusted to be in line with the variable damage and HD system, and that D&D has carried the ad hoc nature of this change ever since.  My only real evidence for this is the way falling damage remained set at a D6 per ten feet up to the game's second edition.  Whatever the game balance advantages (real or imagined) of flat D6 Damage and Hit Dice  the simplicity of it and the way it flattens power levels of both monsters and characters is very appealing.  

I want to make player weapon choice matter however, without the fiddly weapons v. armor table or the implied vanilla fantasy setting it creates with its armor types.  It's been popular in the OSR/DIY/old-school D&D blogging community to discuss how to do this, to maintain the spirit of the Greyhawk weapon v. armor table, while using more interesting and simpler rules for some time.  I endorse this idea, and have tried to work varied additional effects into play during my games with the goal of providing combat options and spaces for some tactical decision making in purely narrative (that is without game boards/combat maps or tokens) combat. 

Having played in my OD&D based version of HMS APOLLYON for some time now I have discovered that the weapon effects are often ignored by players (and the GM) in the excitement of the combat turn, and that certain rules are less convenient/intuative to use. I have made some changes to the weapon effects/classes (originally pulled from several sources and authors) below, and I intend to use these categories for monster attacks as well, so the pincers of a Crayhound (horrible 1/2 lobster 1/2 dog beasts) will be crushing while the tentacles of a Roper are certainly and entangling attack.  

All attacks aboard the Apollyon, like all Hit Die, are D6 based.  A dagger in the hands of a skilled user is just as deadly as an axe and both do exactly the same damage. Only two handed/heavy weapons do more damage, inflicting 2xD6 pick the highest (what some call the advantage mechanic).  However, to make weapon choice interesting I have created the following categories of weapon which each have a different combat effect.

Common Weapons Aboard the HMS Apollyon

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Fantasy Starting Village - Player Generated Campaign Setting


"The town of Gongberg is nestled amongst muddy green fields of rye and barley.  The seasons have been wet and the grain rust thick of late, and as always the waking dreams of ruin and fire haunt all those who depend on the tainted grain.  A lull in the interminable wars of the border lairds have filled the countryside with grim mercenaries, brigands and well armed madmen."

The 'fantasy starting village' is a cliched element of tabletop games, computer games and even fantasy fiction - some sort of homey place that defines the stepping off point for protagonists into the world of adventure.  While in video games and novels the fantasy village is a wretched and boring convention, it does offer a real advantage in tabletop games, where, unlike video games and novels, the world building must be a collaborative process as the players can both change things through their in game actions, the GM can leverage player creativity to make the world more interesting and an openness to player generated content can promote player buy in.  The Fantasy Starter Village is a great way to set the stage for this, and makes the GMs job easier.

Dragonfly Township will undoubtedly lead to Vanilla fantasy or perhaps something a bit more anime.
The Fantasy Starting Village is a great alternative to building out a setting, and while crafting elaborate setting material and background is a joy for many GMs it has certain disadvantages as it eats up time and encourages railroading (even good GMs want to show off the content they've created).  Worse there's nothing more disappointing then designing the basics of a full campaign setting and having players who only want to play a session or two before moving on.  For me the three sentences above about Gongberg would be almost sufficient to start a campaign. The party can find themselves in this starting village, collect a few rumors about what's going on in the countryside and go from there. 

I wouldn't want to start with less information though, unless I were to start with the other classic "You wake up naked in a cell" campaign starting point.  There are more flavorful variations on this hook as well - slave caravans heading to the temple of sacrifice, characters pulled from the freezing ocean onto a haunted miles long ship, shipwrecked on the shore of some foreign land, but all of these hooks take an extra step to both make the characters completely blank slates and explain why they have in in game world knowledge.  The Fantasy Starting Village  however provides a few clues, and better encourages the players to believe that characters have knowledge of the world around them.  A few evocative clues in the description are almost all one needs to help the players build a world and to constrain player world-building to a degree as well. Using the example of Gongberg above, one can extrapolate a few setting details, but they are hopefully vague enough to allow the players to take the information in a variety of directions.