On the Physical Space

Module designers, can we talk?

It's not me, it's you.

This is 2018, not 2000. Why am I still seeing modules with flat spaces, square rooms, and two dimensional thinking. Captain Kirk taught  us long ago that future people think in three dimensions when they fly their space cars. Not in two dimensions like those clones from the 1990's!

In all seriousness, let's have a discussion about vertical spaces and how they can be useful in play. You know why? You don't, but I'm about to tell you.

Because not just any three dimensional space is good for gaming! Some add nothing, useless complexity for no purpose. Let's not do that! What do we want? Not that!


Three Dimensional Spaces in Play


The Cliff:

The cliff is fun because I have a neat critical hit table for crushing blows, and I calculate damage the way hardasses do, 1d6 cumulative per 10' feet. 20' would be 3d6, 30' 6d6. At 40' I just pick up all the d6's and grin.

Also, the angle of the cliff; that's what the thief's climb skill is for, to move across that terrain at full speed.

It's fun if the characters are above, they can survey a situation (sometimes called an encounter!) with a "Monster". That's what we call the things that live in the places our characters invade to rob. So they are usually doing monster things like boiling peasants, paying taxes, and bitching about that snippy biddy down the hall with the fire breathing dogs. I also usually like to have a very small loud annoying thing in the room.

If they are below, did you know trying to dodge thrown boulders is a fun game? We played it on a hill with my friends as children, and the hospital bills weren't even that bad! It's exciting. Especially if you are the one throwing boulders! If you're reading this, you probably are, and let's be honest. That's awesome. So do it.

The Vertical Corridor:

You remember that scene from Don Bluth and Rick Dyer's game, written by Rick Dyer and Drawn by Don Bluth Dragon's Lair (TM) Laserdisc video system? Where the platform fell and there were all the corridors—wait this one? Too late! SPIKES!

I like to roll lots of 'to hits' with my spikes. I make sure as I roll all the dice that I let the player know I feel really bad that—oh! six of them hit. That's just, that's not good Todd. That's not good at all.

I don't usually have a falling platform, although hanging discs, rope, and other accoutrements really help the space. Also monsters aren't dumb. Well, not all of them anyway. We're not speciest here. They know this is a really good place to fire arrows at adventurers!

So it's super enjoyable as they begin to try to deal with Todd's unfortunate situation, that I'm forced to let them know that from the darkness—*Clatter* "FOUR of the arrows hit, guys, four. That's so many. I'm sorry. Where are my d8's?"

Some of the levels overhang each other, because seriously, damnit why would anything in life be easy? Additionally, monsters are just made for this. Harpies, ropers and cave fishers, piercers, and fungus beds glore. It's like a ball pit for saves versus death!

The Action Playset:

We can talk about bad dimensional spaces here. Like, the "vertical wall" challenge. This was popular in mid-wave third edition Dungeons and Dragons 'dungeon punk' where the challenges and encounters were becoming more mechanical and build focused. "This fight takes place on a vertical wall/ship in battle/earthquake!"

That sounds awesome, right? All you have to do is have a normal combat, except anytime anyone has to do anything, they have a 50% chance of failing their balance check and losing their turn.

So it's like normal boring combat, except half the time you lose your turn. I mean, maybe that sounds fun to you because it's brutal or realistic or something. But if it does, fuck you, you know? I'm here to play D&D man. My father told me one of my early board games designs (from the 4th grade era) that losing 8 turns just because you landed on a space was bullshit and no good game would make someone lose 8 turns.

I showed him though. I built a Magic:the Gathering deck that gave me infinite turns. Richard Garfield is a millionaire. That, among other reasons, is why my father wasn't a game designer.

Which is why the concept of an action playset is important. There can't just be an area that has a negative property, unless it's in context to other alternate spaces. This plays out in a couple of different ways depending on the game mode you happen to be engaged in: exploration, role-playing, or combat.

One thing that's intimidating about Dungeons and Dragons for newcomers is that its structure has always been very fluid by design, to fit the personality of the person running the game. But because that varies from person to person, it's difficult to not only clearly identify the je ne sais quoi of the structure, but to clearly encapsulate that to provide conceptual understanding to another person.

But essentially, Dungeons & Dragons is played by sharing a conceptual space filled with unknown and possibly highly dangerous or rewarding outcomes. It's important for emergent play, play that arises beyond the simulation of the mechanical, that multiple outcomes are provided simultaneously. When exploring you enter a room, there are items of interest weird object A, basic-looking object B, suspicious detritus object C. When in combat, there's advantage area A, cover-filled area B, and independent mechanical feature area C. When interacting a non-player character has personality trait A+B, and interacts with the party and its retinue.

This combination is the perfect balance of 7-9 interesting interactions that people can track. You have an advantage because 4 of those are the players. And you wrote things down. Unless you didn't and you're trying to impromptu everything off the top of your head. Why this is a really just shite idea was, no bullshit hashed the f&*k out. At length. Have fun down that rabbit hole. I lived it.

So the action playset is just that. A tower with two platforms, stairs, and a gem powering a ritual at the top. A floating disk filled with wizards. Areas with alternating magma flows (or lava flows if you're engaged in outdoor exploration). A group of victims perilously under threat of death. Get the things together, put them in the bowl, and stir the shit out of that pot.

"Are you surrreeee you don't want to dig through the filthy trash?"

Well, I was, damnit.

Did you like this? Did you also know that I have a vested interest in continuing to afford shelter? There are a group of awesome people making the world the way they want it to be by supporting me on Patreon to make more Dungeons AND Dragons.

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On Medieval Law

I'm no medieval historian.

The idea of a town guard is a rather terrible case of presentism. The idea of a full time guard in towns, villages, and hamlets, much less jails is an anachronism. Yet medieval law can clearly be traced back to the Norman Conquest of 1066 CE. It would be the 1800's before the idea of a paid full-time security professional would have existed in the public's mind.

How did they keep order?

In the spring, with the chill of winter still in the area, the shire reeve had a duty to gather a group of men coming of age and bind them to a Tithing. All those such were bound to their brothers. If one committed a crime, the others would pay for it. This is not the entirety of it. Each is bound to give a hue and cry. If a crime is committed and the criminal escapes, where members of the tithing could have stopped them or given chase, they can be punished as if they had committed the crime themselves.

So what were punishments? How were the guilty tried?

Humanity during this time frequently engaged in debates as to the value or worth of a person and how laws should be enforced. This discussion is the body of work that produced the common law principals. Even though there were no guards or jails, it is this system of judges that is involved in a crime.

"Modern" investigative techniques such as bullet forensics and lie detectors are nearly pseudo-science, so you can imagine what detective techniques were like for the investigators in 400 CE. Many cases ended up with a local "judge" deciding on the trustworthiness of two individuals. This position is likely both more and less formal then you imagine, considering the records. These were often just men of good character acting in interest of their own peace. This is a good motivation for suspicion of strangers, as they have no bonds to keep them from committing a crime.

Most crimes were fights and thefts, not complex heists. Often there were assaults and murders. In the community, these "crimes" were conflicts that the judges attempted to balance. These crimes can include gossiping or malingering, but Their goal was to "make the crime right" by having the criminal balance the loss from the crime or damage. This was the method via which disagreements were settled. Gossiping wasn't a crime to do, but that d**k Rafold has been telling lies about you. Take him to court! It was a tool used to balance disagreements.

But real crimes? Anti-community crimes? Bandrity, treason, sedition, mass murder, repeated theft, the records include a variety of punishments, trials by fire, bread, combat and water. But these were extremely rare. After being found guilty by a judge, the guilty for these crimes were often burned, hanged, or tortured, depending on the crime. These categories are quite broad and often include punishments custom made to fit the crime.

Here are more of my population procedures.

Town Guards

Most town guards consist of locals who have a vested interest in keeping the peace. If they see a crime being committed, They will raise a hue and cry. This will cause all the innocent lawful locals to give chase and attempt to restrain the players. These are 0-level unarmored and unencumbered men and women. They are either unarmed, or carrying a small hand weapon (1d4). The hue and cry will draw 2d6 local militia within a turn. Local militia are 1st-level fighters equipped with chain saps, swords, and crossbows.

In a city or metropolis, there will be a watch. These volunteers are often subsidised by the local lord. They frequently consist of both local military and veteran soldiers. The hue and cry will draw 1d4 1st-level fighters within a single round, in addition to the 0-level people responding to the crime. At the end of a turn 2d6 local militia show up as above, except they are accompanied by a 3rd level sergeant.

Mages and clerics are much too important to be a part of the watch or guard.

Crime

If someone is caught for a crime, consider the judgment! The judge could be swayed to reduce your punishment by spending money on an attorney or a bribe. These usually run 100-400 gold pieces each. Your charisma also influences the crime roll. However, strong evidence, previous criminal behavior and character witnesses will provide penalties for the opposing sides. The DM will set the total bonus considering all applicable factors.

There are three categories of crime:
Minor. Disturbing the peace, public drunkenness, or trespassing
Major. Assault, battery, kidnapping, theft, and vandalism.
Severe. Arson, heresy, murder, rape, robbery, sedition, treason.

Roll for the result
2 Severe Punishment (includes mild and normal punishment)
3-5 Punishment (includes mild punishments)
6-8 Mild Punishment
9-12 Freed.

Each type of crime has different punishment types.
Minor crimes have a mild punishment of a fine, a punishment of being placed in the stocks and a fine, and a severe punishment of being placed in the stocks and whipped. Major crimes have a mild punishment of being branded, a punishment of being tortured, and a severe punishment of being maimed, losing a hand, ear or tongue. Severe crimes have a mild punishment of torture and exile, a punishment of murder, and a severe punishment of a excruciating extended drawn-out execution.

YMMV.


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On the Hexplore

Discover the hidden wilderness game in Dungeons and Dragons!

It will bring the actual experience of discovery to your players faces. They will be excited to explore a strange fantasy world!

I'm announcing an 18 page tool to assist you with wilderness exploration, making it a breeze. It provides plenty of space for personalization, no matter what campaign you are running, from original dungeons and dragons all the way to fifth edition.

This contains a drawn 6-mile hex with a nefarious river fort, an inactive volcano with a secret jungle, a bards tower, a demon-haunted ruin, and a cavernous bandit hideout. It also contains three lairs and four landmarks, all illustrated. The document contains maps and encounters with space for your settings name and statistics. This helps you make your game exciting in a new way!

What are you waiting for! It's only 3.99$ in .pdf at rpg.now! Hurry and get it before I do something silly like raise the price! Buy here!
Does this sound exciting? Check out the rest of my also very exciting things! Or, you can aid the task of keeping me and my daughter meet our vices of 'sleeping indoors' and 'eating food' by supporting me on Patreon and get everything I do for free anyway.


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On Megadungeon #3

Finally, after two months of dealing with the horrible RPGnow print on demand, I present:

Megadungeon #3 in print and .pdf!

What is Megadungeon #3?


  • The classic old school renaissance megadungeon Numenhalla, the god halls! getting into print, one area at a time. 
  • This 58 page issue delves into the ancient Crypts of Hierax, crawling with the ancient dead.
  • Art from noted gaming luminaries, Luka Rejec (Cover), with the super-art wonder-powers of Todd Mcgowan, Ian Chagan, Sean McCoy, Evlyn Monroe, and Kent Miller! This baby can fit so many illustrations in it!
  • Writing by noted gamer Chris H. chronicling the wild days of the early gaming revolution, talking about Jason K's Dust setting!
  • The Cannite dungeon faction is introduced. Religious jackal-man anthropophages, they gain the memories of the dead by eating their corpses. 
  • Three new monsters, including Devil Dogs who are two-headed bipedal canine nightmares. They will drink your whisky, piss on your couch, fuck your girlfriend, eat out of your fridge, and then break the door on their way out! 
  • Eight more megadungeon non-player characters and two more dragons for characters to meet, including the sultry Demetria Obra, the betrayed Transikar, and Mavis Hobart, the malign caretakers of the Crypts of Hierax
  • Four megadungeons zones, mapped and keyed: The Organ Mine, The Crystal Wizard Crypt, The Witches Crypt, and the Non-Euclidean Intersections.
  • Articles on Hierax, the enigmatic god of death, interesting crypt looting tables, and secrets to restocking dungeons.
I had a nightmare last night that I ran out of money and I couldn't make it as an independent creator. 

Help vanquish nightmares brave hero! Purchase Megadungeon #3 in Print and .pdf now!
Upgrade even further to Lord and support me on Patreon and follow me on Twitch

There won't be a Summer issue of Megadungeon due to the cost to produce them. The next Megadungeon will be released in the fall. If you'd like to prevent this from happening again, support me on Patreon or tip me!


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On Classic Gaming the Second Week of July, 2018

What a busy week. Those of you who join me for my chill Twitch streams know that I've been hard a work on an exciting project (explaining the dearth of posts so far this week) but rest assured, I've got plenty of stuff in store. This week's a doozy and time is moving pretty fast, so lets get right into business!

New releases

Faux Pas is out!

Disclosure, I'm a big fan of Nick's and he's been my friend for years. This is his first release that he's charged for. It has an audio recording of the module along with it. That's exciting.

"The first symptom is a popping sound from the belly. It can
happen at anytime, and the afflicted never feel it coming.
They’ll be having a friendly chat one moment, then pop, and
now they’re trying to kill people.
Thus begins Faux Pas, the first in a series of adventures from HOCUS publishing. . . .Faux Pas features the art of Anxy P., and layout from no less a figure than Christian Kessler (of Fever Swamp fame). I also got a lot of help throughout the process from Jarrett Crader (editor of numerous LotFP publications), and OSR luminary Evey Lockhart.
Faux Pas, A system neutral adventure. The players discover a town beset by a mysterious illness with symptoms worse than death. It breeds violence, madness, and mutation. It turns people into things that are no longer themselves.
The Inquisitor General has been warned. He’s on his way here. When he arrives he’ll burn every building to the ground and torture everyone living until they confess to the devil worship that obviously brought this evil into the world.
Will the players discover what’s really going on, and how to stop it, before the Inquisitor arrives? Or will they just loot the place and run away?"

Also, there's a couple of Kickstarters tearing things up.

NGR, Neoclassical Geek Revival has been tearing up some lists. Asking for about 600$, it's currently sitting at nearly 12,000$. It's got some pretty big draws. As well as being a classic retro-clone, it also collects all of Zzarchov's many very high-quality adventures together in a book for print. You can also have your choice of illustrated versions of the game from Alex Mayo, Chris Huth, and Dyson Logos. Really, it seems like a great deal, for a collection of good stuff, and giving work to a great group of people.

Then there's woodfall, a small setting that can be dropped in your setting. It's got a neat aesthetic and the little graphic of "Your setting" with a hole in it, with woodfall fitting right in.

Goblinoid games is also running a fully funded version of a new Advanced Labyrinth Lord guide. With the existences of Basic/Expert for sale, as well as B/X Essentials, I have the ruleset I like.

Hot takes of the week

Gavin Norman made a huge announcement of a new partnership with Quality Beast! I'm pretty sure it means higher quality and faster releases from Necrotic Gnome. I don't know, we'll have to wait and see.

Patrick conducts another interview with one of the most creative minds in classic gaming. Ben L. talks about early proto-childhood gaming and how the memory affected his creativity today.

This Lamentations/Basic D&D conversion of Dark Sun rules has been making the rounds, and it's pretty impressive.

Drama at the Ennies, isn't there always? Did the wrong people get nominated? Is the Old School Renaissance a Voting Bloc? Rule changes about judges are coming. A publisher hires a bodyguard for Gencon. Big money is on the line for the winners. It looks like we're finally big enough, we're getting a taste of that civilization movin' in from out east.

This post is Patreon supported, and I'm almost halfway to covering rent!. support me or tip me!

Hack & Slash 

On Classic Gaming for the first week of July

Happy explosion day! I pity the dogs.

New Releases

On monday, the exciting B/X Essentials Monsters dropped. Back in the golden days, it was suggested to cut apart your books and organize them by section so that basic and expert weren't split apart. However, in spite of the brilliant design, this never happened. Now we have Gavin Norman stepping in and giving us a real companion to the creature catalogue! It's all of the basic/expert monsters in one document!

That said, it's currently .pdf only, until the odious and publisher unfriendly process of getting the print version to people finally finishes. It's terrible and I feel for anyone trying to provide print copies from any onebookshelf user. That said, it is coming (even if it's weeks out).

I'm very much looking forward to the combined addition as well as some of the expansion books.

That's not all, the new release from Glenn Seal has finally dropped; The Midderlands Expanded is out. I've just recently gotten it and haven't had time to dig too deeply. At first glance it's filled with page after page after page of evocative description and setting information. The original midderlands covers the center of this twisted version of the british isles, and this covers some of the surrounding area. I can't wait for my hardcovers to arrive! I'm not a fan of the green art, but the line art is excellent and right up my alley.

It comes with a pile of bonus material and I'm loving digging through it. Glenn is turning out good work here, I may post a more detailed review if there's some interest.

There's so much terrible stuff out there. It's important to remember, that this isn't a critique, it's a highlighting of exciting things that have released and happened this week. If I reviewed something, would I say what I don't like about it? Yeah. I'm just glad there are so many people putting their best out there, even if it's bad.

Like, really bad. Laughably terrible.

Braver men than I. Moving on.

Patrick, author of so many wonderful products, notably Deep Carbon Observatory and Veins in the Earth finally got the chance to interview Bryce Lynch, the most prolific reviewer of gaming products, with over 1,500 posts and upwards of 2000+ reviews. Needless to say it's a pretty wonderful discussion. Check it out here: Patrick Interviews Bryce.

Rumors


The biggest news of the week are the ENnie-Award Nominations and the resulting twitter drama about who meets the right qualifications to be the type of person who should be nominated for an award. Unsurprisingly, classic gaming is all up and down the list of nominees. Is it weird that Gnome Stew has like a repeating nomination? I've read the blog, and well, it isn't in my top five list of blogs. Is it really that beloved?

Remember. The ENnies are popularity contest, and classic gaming is paradoxically nearly the sole source of innovation in tabletop gaming. Since classic gaming has all the cool people, let's go win that popularity contest!

In all seriousness, there's a lot of new talent on that list, and a bunch of exciting stuff to check out.

The other thing is Blogger and Comrade Beloch has engaged in a mission to improve our community. From organizing reviewers to posting public domain art to putting people in touch with each other, it's a real grassroots movement!
Do you want to make a meaningful contribution to the OSR? Something that will stand out from yet another blogger writing about yet another house rule that nobody will ever use? Something that will make the community better? 
According to yesterday's thread, here's how you can do that, sorted from least to most effort. Here's a link to the list.
Here's a request for people to help with "Blogs on Tape";  It's good and exciting stuff. But now it's the weekend. There's Drawing Dungeons, today and Dungeons and Dragons after work. Hope you have a great weekend, and we will see you on Monday!

This post is Patreon supported, and I really want to be able to pay my rent next month. Almost there. support me or tip me!

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On the Terrible Tragedy of Adventures

Since I've begun my journey of self-employment, I've been investigating things out of a desire to stave off the pendulum of entropy. What keeps my bank account from degrading?

So this leads to some investigating into what sells and why. I've been producing these art-heavy designed modules in the form of Megadungeon. We're somewhere around 200 rooms in 3 issues? So that's easily 40 or 50 hours of play. The art is helpful and necessary, providing tools for the Dungeon Master to run the module quickly, enabling his own personal skill at running games. But it's not narrative. It's an adventure environment with lots of useable tools and widgets.

But the problem is, people aren't interested in modules to run. Gabor Lux says:
"People know and it is blatantly obvious that most of the adventures out there which are being published are not being thought to be played or run. They are reading materials. . . A lot of people just read it as sort of a fiction and maybe as a source of indirect inspiration to get the examples and ideas." He continues, "That's where a lot of adventures fail, . . . is that they are not written with games in mind but with reading material in mind. They are bits and pieces and cannon. You can never even run them because it's a railroad and it would fall apart in your hands, but people buy it for their shelves or for daydreaming about being gamers."
This isn't difficult to tell. It's part of the insight I had while writing the Gygax module comparison. The modules are written so that the twists are hidden. That way the reader experiences surprise when it's revealed. As a tool, do I want such an important detail deep in the text?

And that's it really. I was eating with family and friends, and one said "I didn't enjoy it when I played D&D in the army." I perked up and immediately drilled down. "Why?" He said, "All they do is go from one fight to the next."

It's easy right? You're busy, no time to prep. Everyone wants to play, just follow though the dungeon, read the text and fight the fights. There. You played D&D.

Well.

There's no way all the adventures that are sold are played. I play D&D a couple of times a week and have campaigns that run 50-80 sessions with people I've known for years, but most people don't. You'd have to play a lot to get through all that. Dragon Queen and Tiamat took upwords of 50 weeks. Long past the publication date of the next two 5e releases.

Joseph Manola says on his blogAgainst the Wicked City:



 "Bryce often points out that the vast majority of adventure modules are written in a way which makes them almost useless for their supposed purpose of 'running a game in real-time at the table'. This is so obvious, and so trivially demonstrable, that its continued persistence strongly indicates that this is in fact not what most adventure modules are being used to do, and probably not even what most of their purchasers want them to do, even though it's exactly what most of their authors assert they are actually for.
"RPG books written like novels proliferate not only because many people have no idea how to write useable adventure modules, but because that's precisely how they will be read by a large segment of their target audience. For such readers, reading the book, and imagining what the experience of playing it at the table might be like, takes the place of actually playing the game.

Bryce the erudite reviewer at 10 foot pole who searches the sewers for diamonds says:
"No one wants the wrong thing. I would say that it's easy to go with the flow. Adventurer's League, show up on Wednesday night and play. WOTC pushes an adventure to the DM every week, almost no prep. And if you try and run something NOT Adventurers League, or D&D, or the most current version of D&D, then you face additional hurdles. I'm not sure that 'Apathy' is the right word, but a lot (a majority?) of folks are happy enough. I'm guessing that just enough of their sessions have just enough fun to keep them strung along, as they chase the high. It takes effort to seek out something different. It takes effort to get out of your comfort zone. When I'm at my best I want every thing in every day to always be awesome, and everything else isn't worth my time."
It's a little bit like enlightenment. One commenter on a thread said, "Surely lengthy published adventures/campaigns have to be broadly railroad by design, however well disguised that is." Because he's never seen blue, it's not possible for blue to exist. Can you describe color to a blind man?

The problem with this is, Megadungeon, and other things that are designed as tools to be used at the table are both a lot more work then a linear series of fights and not nearly as fun or interesting to read. Great, gripping, narrative literature it ain't. It's a tool to hold in your hand so you can run a game.


The list of platinum items on DriveThruRPG isn't filled with art objects. The majority of the platinum sellers are some core books, but there's a lot of items from Raging Swan Press and other small-press blog post like releases. 2$ for guildhall urban dressing. 4$ for "What's this Exotic Mount Like, Anyway". All of these type of aids lacking covers, and almost art free, and contain about 1,000-3,000 words of content. That's what's selling.*

But because it's designed as a tool for play, and isn't as enjoyable to read, it's less appealing to the majority of people who buy modules. And really, if that's what they want, we should give it to them, right?**

*I am not casting any aspersions on Raging Swan Press. Bully on Craig for finding success.
** Obviously not, it is a labor of love, but I'm going to have to slow down the pace because it takes each issue quite a while to earn back the art costs from producing it.

Do you like Megadungeon? If you support me or tip me it will help me continue to produce it! Also, there's HD ready maps for Virtual Table Tops available on the Patreon!

Hack & Slash 
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