Sunday, February 28, 2010

My One Page Dungeon Entry, Where is Margesh Blackblood?

Despite all my efforts to avoid my writing by washing dishes, snow blowing the four feet of snow we've gotten in the past few days, and scrubbing toilets , I did manage to finish an entry into the one page dungeon contest. I did struggle putting the map in with the text. I kinda rigged something up that kinda worked. It doesn't look any where near as artistic as some of the entries, but by gum I was going to get my submission in.

Since my map will win no prizes and probably line the bottom of a bird cage I wanted an interesting concept. I kept it simple. The local lord is looking for a bandit lord. He has several hideouts in the area and it is the players job to find where he is. I mapped out four small locations each with a different situation occuring when the players arrive. In general, I liked it and would run it for a game.

I want to thank all the people involved in the contest, again. Its been fun. And good luck to all those who submitted. Like last year, looking forward to all the cool things people came up with.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Overlooked Products

Question for the day, what PDFs or print products do you think are great and have been overlooked? It doesn't matter if they are new or old, any edition or game. One of my favorite gaming products is the old Citybooks from Flying Buffalo. I always thought those were great books and never heard too many others get excited about them or know what they were.

Weekend is almost here. And yes, I have started work on my one page dungeon. I should have it all written by tonight. Maybe.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brave Halfling Publishing Releasing the White Box and Why I Bought a Copy

BHP announced the boxes are made and shipping will begin. I've always been a fan of getting things in the mail. A bit of a thrill. This little box set has generated some excitement, something needed in the last half of winter. One of the reasons I purchased a copy from the first run (I was a quick clicker) is I prefer print versions. PDFs are great, but I much prefer taking a hard copy with me and browsing through it at lunch or on the couch or where ever. Another reason is I like to support products from the OSR movement. I haven't been disappointed yet. I think the reason why these products turn out great is the creators are gamers first, business person is further down the line. So when they put out a product they are thinking how can I make this better? What would I want in this product? Even though I have several sets of gaming dice I'm loving getting another set in the box. How many gamers do you know who carry around dice bags (most of them were Crown Royal Whiskey bags in my day) with dozens of the same dice? Can a gamer have too many dice? Thanks to John for putting so much hard work into putting this together. I hope you didn't have to use too many vacation days.

On the horizon Rob Conley is planning on putting out his adventure Scourge of the Demon Wolf. An excellent adventure I helped playtest. I keep yelling at Rob to finish so we can get it into edits. James Raggi is producing his own box set for his own version of old school fantasy weirdness. Again, smart man, add a set of dice and it's like frying bacon for dogs. You get a gamers attention. He's been detailing the process of creating the box set on his blog and it's interesting to read what he is going through, especially since he is in Finland. Michael Curtis will be doing a follow up on his Stonehell Dungeon which I purchased a copy. Not only is it a interesting adventure, but there are some innovative design ideas I've enjoyed.

I'm sure there are more, but I've run out of time. Time to go to work and think about the One-Page dungeon entry I've finally got an idea for. Have a good Wednesday folks.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

World Building, Villages

Back in October I wrote about Villages . The few things I would add are villagers are the masters of 'making do'. They do not have the crafting experts, the best healing or bravest fighting men, but they have a way of getting things done. If a tool breaks in the village a craftsman might only come around once a month to fix things. They need to work those fields so they find a way. Maybe the farmer just uses the tool as is or he binds the handle with some rope and a branch to support it.

Villagers fall sick or injure themselves depending on your campaign. I doubt there is a healing cleric in every village. In my campaign there is a church/temple/abbey/shrine within a day's walk or more from a cluster of villages. The priests do a circuit of the villages every so often to do any ceremonies that might need done. The big the three are the birth of a child, a marriage ceremony or the death of someone. And as long as the villagers pay their tributes to the priests they don't care much about what goes on in the villages. So healing is handled by healing women who are experts in the local herbal lore. Their ways work they just take a lot longer.

Defending the village is very important to my campaign because there is always some critter or group trying to make trouble. Most of the villages have a simple stockade around them, but it does little to keep an organized force from invading. The village usually has a semi-trained militia, men and women who are armed with typical villager weapons, but there might be a few who are ex-soldiers, ex-mercenaries or ex-adventurers who have some swagger to their swing.

Whatever the case, the villagers know how to survive on less. That's why these villages continue to stand after sickness, invasion and drought. When the adventuring party comes traipsing through the village I doubt it is the first time these people have ever seen this. They know how to appease the players. They know how to act like gracious hosts and acts like they have nothing to possibly get a coin or two of charity. They know to send a runner to the local knight to inform them of the players. And the villagers know sometimes they need to just leave. Everything they have can be replaced and sometimes they just need to wait things out.

Monday, February 22, 2010

World Building, Baronies

Time to take that kingdom map you've moved the boundaries on and start dividing it up with more lines. I'll be using the word, barony because it's the most common term I use, but duchy, county, territory, shire will all do. This scale is what I prefer. It suits me best and I think it is a wonderful scale for a sandbox setting. This scale is small enough to get into a detail, but large enough to provide a variety of opportunities. My baronies tend to be as small as 30 miles (a little less than three hexes on the large map) up to hundreds of miles. I have no idea if this is historically accurate. Don't really care. I just want it to fit what I am doing and be interesting.

With a barony level map I get more detailed with the features in the area, both natural and not so natural. The one map I have hanging in front of me on my wall is the Barony of Absalom. This is where I can give the land personality and before I even write a word it gives me details on how this place is run and why. For example there are hill to the east and there are several mines all of them tin or iron, there are several forester camps around the forests. To the west there are plains but the land is poor and difficult. So just from the layout I got the idea this baron is militaristic. Not rich, but is able to support a large group of soldiers. I let the land suggest the story of the region.

Then I take that suggestion and start developing a history. Usually I go back one or two generations. I look at the immediate history as to how the Barony of Absalom came into its current state of existence. What I discovered by just doing a stream of consciousness history was the grandfather and father of the current baron were brutal men who forged their barony from the inhospitable land, but the current baron is weak and timid. His wife, the daughter of neighboring baron, is the strength. Her father had her marry to have a son so that the baronies would join. But they have yet to have a son so she has taken on other lovers to speed the process.

In the northern area is a tower dedicated to the blood god, Azeel. It is an illegal religion throughout the civilized world, but baron has granted them station here as long as they assist him. This baron is obsessed with the future. He is afraid to make a wrong move without consulting the blood priest. To look into the future he must sacrifice to the god Azeel. So if you are one of the baron's slaves your length of stay is determined by his level of paranoia. So now this dark secret permeates this land and the people suffer for it.

With a rough sketch of the baron and his family I start working on the next level which is his knights. The way the baronies are set up in my campaign are there are several villages all within a half day or day's walk of a tower or keep. These are usually run by a knight and his soldiers. Is this historical accurate? Again, not so much, but it works for me. So now I detail each knight in the barony and how he settles disputes and so on.

The next part is determining how many villages you want to detail. In the Barony of Absalom there are 78 villages. I'm not going to draw an individual map and detail every villager for each village. My head would explode. So I select a village I want to detail and draw it up and detail its inhabitants. I use the reeve as the leader of the village with maybe a hayward and woodward with a few yeomen mixed in. Detail the primary people in the village and maybe a little bit about what it going on. So if the players go tromping through the village there will be a storyline or plot hook established.

The last part I do is detail places of interest and monster lairs. This is easy to do and a lot of fun. It's like doing a 2000 piece puzzle and you're down to the last couple dozen pieces. I'll put a notation if there is a dungeon there. In which case I'll assign one of my many maps I draw when I watch a movie. If I have time to prep the week before a session I will flesh out the dungeon. I'm pretty decent at ad lib adventures so I don't worry about it too much. But I like to detail the strangeness of the land in this area. The massive ruins of a fortress build into the side of a mountian that no one can reach, ruin villages or towers whose history is unknown to the inhabitants. To provide a sense of mystery and history I guess. Most the time I don't know what's going on with them until the players take an interest.

I think the most important thing is to have a very flexible approach to building these baronies. Sometimes when I am writing something I am thinking "This is very cool." But when the players begin interacting with what I wrote I see it's not working out like a thought. So I change it. Don't make any of your ideas or writing sacred and untouchable. Situations are fluid and if the players are doing something that might connect a ruin to the adventure better than the elaborate history you have developed, scrap it for now and slap it on another ruin later.

Next will be villages. I'll go into more detail about these little dots that are scattered across all our maps.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

I just finished watching the fifth episode in this series, Shadow Games, and Spartacus is going to be in my DVD collection as soon as it comes out. At first I was a bit sceptical, but the acting was great, production values were minimal, but very effective and they are building on the momentum the 300 and Gladiator. Even though this show owes a lot to both it is its own thing.

I like this version of Rome, unpolished and gritty. Everyone involved seems to own their character and with each episode the series gets stronger. I know its only the fifth episode, but if you haven't seen it, see it. It plays on Starz and if you have Netflix its available on instant play.

Friday, February 19, 2010

World Building, Kingdoms and Empires

Without a doubt this is my weakest area of development. For some reason the kingdom scale eludes me. So I recruited some assistance from Rob Conley. He is going to write a more extensive blog about this in the future, but I will tell you what little tidbit helped me the most. Take your map that has all the major terrain marked. Copy it ten times or however many times it works for you. Draw the boundaries of your initial kingdoms, date the map. Then date the next map 50 or 100 years ahead then redraw the boundaries. While you are doing this you can come up with why there are conflicts, where the barbarians are raiding in from or some horrible mass of creatures has devastated the countryside. If you have a war going on just roll a die to determine which side wins. Redraw the lines. Continue to do this until you have a visual history of you current kingdoms.

Now this is a very simplified version of what Rob does. He adds in religious influences, immigration patterns and how many brown cows have spots. But I like the idea of the different versions of the map telling a story.

In most of my campaigns the regions the players tromp through are small in scale. I had a three year game where the players never left the kingdom and mostly stayed in one barony. But this new world mixed in with the old places I've run will be combined. I think having an overview of your world can be great but not essential depending on how you play. I've seen some worlds where it is so expansive that there is little in between the places of interest. Or as Rob calls them the "Howling Vastness of Emptiness".

Next stop on my World Building tour will be Baronies or small principalities which I am much better at creating. Thank you Rob for you advice for this one.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

World Building, Evil Religions

A while back there were a couple of excellent posts about evil and evil religions one by Friar Dave at Blood of Prokopius and the other by Rob Conley at Bat in the Attic. Friar Dave goes into detail about what is evil and his concept boils down the absence of good (or God) there is evil. Fair enough. But for gaming purposes it doesn't work for me. Rob Conley takes on evil religions from a historical point of view. It sparked quite the flurry of activity and debate. Rob's points are solid, but the problem I had with it is it based in reality. I don't know about all you out there, but I play a fantasy game with spell slinging wands and greedy little goblins and swords that glow and beans that turn into giant bean stalks and where decapitating a troll is celebrated with elven wine. I'm not anti-reality, in fact I use it as a foundation to my campaigns, but there is a strong fantasy element that lets me tweak whatever I want. And I want evil religions in my campaign. There, I said it and it doesn't make me a bad person.

Developing an evil religion is tricky. I don't like to make mine the mustache twirler. Again for this there are different ways I approach this. One version is a cult or sect of an established religion. This group is usually made up of extremists that have taken one part of the teachings and developed their entire philosophy around it. Skewing the intended meaning when taken out of context. These make wonderful enemies and add a lot of flavor on a small scale. Cults are formed around a charisma leader. The leader is usually well versed in the religion he is preaching. He develops an 'us against them' mentality. He wants to build his own power base by keeping those around him loyal by using fear. Soon you have this core of people who will do anything. When something threatens the power structure, whether that threat is within or outside the group, it is dealt with harshly. All in the name of the god they worship.

The second version I use is 'it depends on which side of the line you are standing' evil. I have two gods that are always battling and their people follow suit. The followers of Delaquin think the followers of Sarrath suck and Sarrath followers of Delaquain are the suckiest. Both believe the other is evil. If I have characters that are coming in from the Delaquain side and they are in a culture that prays to her then Sarrath is going to come off as the evilest dude since the guy who decided to put peanut butter and jelly in the same jar. That just ain't right. And the same if they decided to start on the Sarrath side. In the beginning it's easy for one side to start hacking away at the other. They are evil and need to be destroyed. But once the religion is explored they may find they have way more in common than different. Epiphany baby.

The third type of evil religion is the true evil. The kind of evil where the followers of both Sarrath and Delaquain agree to put aside their differences and deal with their common enemy. This is usually some sort of primal force such as chaos or in my campaign oblivion that manifests itself and needs to be purged from the realm. Is this a religion? There is a strong enough movement that believes if the structure of pantheon can be destroyed and all those in power are brought down then a new world can be rebuilt in their view of how things should be. Another example from my campaign is when the god of the underworld decided he should lord of the gods and started putting foot to them. And everyone pays their respects to the god of the underworld, he decides who goes where and they want to get where they are going. During this time this god ended up murdering one of the more beloved goddesses who promoted peace and harmony. Her death corrupted him further. So you have this god gone insane who controls where the souls go. The people are screwed. The gods are screwed. He demands to be the only god worshipped and his clerics threaten if the people don't worship him alone than when they die they will be sent to the very worst of places.

The forth version of an evil religion is the racial version. This is a fantasy campaign and you may have evil races. Well they general worship someone who shapes their beliefs. The one that always stood out for me from the old Deities & Demigods was Gruumsh, god of the orcs. It seemed like a natural fit. So this kind of god can be added as an evil religion because they have a prolific race backing him or her.

Next part will include kingdom and empire building.

Where did Brave Halfling Publishing Go?

Just wanted to shoot out a quick blog and ask about BHP. I check their website and it seems to have been taken over by ad pirates. I was jonesing to see what progress was being made with the White Box and when to expect it. Does anyone know?

Other blog will be posted shortly.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

World Building, One Map at a Time, Developing Gods

For me, having a good map to start with is critical. I need a map with personality. I like big continents because I'm not much for high seas adventure and I like sprawling lands that are cut up by swamps, deserts, mountains and rivers. I like a lot of unexplored land where I can hide all that nasty things I want. Plus, I know when I play, I like the feel of unexplored territory. The unknown. And the idea if I can conquer these wilds this land will be mine. Wouldn't a fortress and a town look swell over there kinda thing.

A good map starts everything for me. It helps me determine the culture traits and what gods they worship. If I have a culture set in a mass swamp they will be much different than a nomadic desert culture and the gods the worship would be different. The only thing I shy away from, just because it just too nuts for me to keep track of, is the same god having different names in different cultures. I try to put a twist on the way they view their god's teachings, but Norman the God of Mediocrity, will be known as Norman where ever the players go. But there will be different views on what is mediocre.

I tend to shy away from canned gods from known mythologies. I enjoy developing a divine storyline. Those gods are always so dramatic. If any of you have read The Points of Light books by Robert Conley, he borrowed the names of my gods and melded them with his own mythology. He used the names of gods from the original Judges Guild line and needed alternatives. Rob asked if he could use the names I said of course, for a million dollars. We bargained for a while and I got a nice lunch at McDonalds. But I digress.

I have run campaigns where I've used a monotheistic religion and campaigns with an entire platoon of gods to grovel to. You would have to ask my players, but I think I've run both successfully. Especially one campaign where I used a pseudo Christian mythology. I kept enough elements to allow the players to make it familiar but twisted it enough to keep them from 'knowing' everything.

My current roster of gods is ten. But one of them is dead. For some reason I have a thing for killing off a god or two. Since the campaign I've developed is sorta like a points of light concept many of the gods center around battle or war. I try not to assign aspects to my gods. There is no God of War or Goddess of Love. There are three gods that are warriors. The reason for the three gods of war is the different cultures have different philosophies of war. And since war is such a large part of their lives there is plenty of room for three of them.

As I've said above there are three different gods of war, are they good or are they evil, well it depends on which side you are standing on at the time. I don't like alignments in my campaign, they tend to simplify things too much such as "Hey you are neutral good, I'm neutral good, we can hang." Two cultures with the same goal, but with different approaches to that goal can be fierce enemies. Even though they agree on the end result they will fight to the death that their way of reaching the goal is the only way. To try to obtain the goal any other way would corrupt it.

Part 2 tomorrow will be about developing evil religions and maybe more.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Randomly Generated Blog Topic

So I've been embracing the random table more lately. I've never used them much before, but with all the talking and producing of tables I thought I would make a binder of helpful tables. Then I run across Rusty Battle Axe's, Another Random Blog Post Generator. I had nothing to blog about today so I rolled a topic to blog about. The result was One Rich Item.

The Column of Conquest
This 10' tall 4'x4' hexagonal column is made from Abrium, or hard gold. This gold has the look of gold, but the strength of iron. Only the most ancient dwarves know its secret and location. There are manuscripts that hint at Abrium's source being the heart of a mountain. That to extract too much at one time and the mountain would die, that only those dwarves with the greatest skill are able to extract the Abrium without harm. Other tomes mention Abrium was given to the dwarves by their god to battle the Chaos. A finite amount divided amongst the greatest dwarven warriors. And some crafting guilds believe it's only a matter of finding the right recipe. Despite all the conjecture and guessing very few have ever seen Abrium to know if it is a real or just a story.

The elegantly crude depictions of battle that cover the entire column show the dwarves battling horrific creatures, some beyond description. There are six battles being described, one for each side of the column. The story starts at the bottom and ends at the top. The dwarves know this to be the Column of Conquest. It tells the story of how the dwarves defeated the Chaos. It is the most coveted artifact of the dwarven race.

Its price cannot be measured by coin or by land. It is a piece of primal history.

Thanks Ken for the random table. I might be using it a lot when I get jammed up.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Thank You to the One Page Dungeon Contest

Wow. The list of prizes is amazing. This contest, for me, personifies what gaming is about. Cool little adventures, everyone sharing their ideas, having fun and a great collection of generous prizes from companies and individuals.

Last time I didn't do an entry, but I plan on doing one this time. I just wanted to thank all those involved in the contest. It's a great thing.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Catch-Up Adventure

Since my computer has been on vacation for over a week I missed out on one of our gaming sessions. But, this may not be a bad thing. Rob said my character, Ashling Anubus, left an elf rune and that I would meet up later. I dig these side adventures. I know when I GMed I would have periodic short single sessions with players when they split from the main party. These adventures developed the characters depth and gave them a bit of 'played' history. So when that character rejoins the party they have something more going on.

Tonight Rob and I will be doing one of these catch-up adventures. I have no idea where I was headed. I'm sure I had a damn good reason to go where I went.

In the beginning of a campaign I will sometimes schedule one or two solo sessions with players. Short sessions, maybe two hours long, to get their character acclimated to the campaign world. During these initial games I allow them to tweak their character. Maybe something wasn't working out the way they expected or they set up an all forest tromping dude when most of the campaign was set in desert. These beginning sessions help the player shape their character and develop a history that exists outside the adventuring party.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Monster Treasure Tables : To Use or Not to Use

I have to say I don't have much use for them. I like them for the general idea of what kind of treasure value a monster should have, but I've always stayed away from the rolling dice to determine what the critter has stashed in its nest or stuffed in its pockets.

Last few days without a computer I've been unable to work on my one adventure so I started writing a new one. This one I am writing without a map first (which I will go into in another blog). The one area is populated by a tribe of goblins and the goblins have in their possession a intelligent, lawfal good dagger. The leader of tribe can't use, knows its powerful so they put in on an altar and worship it. In my world goblins are not only scavangers of things, but also of religion and culture, they just sorta pick up things along the way.

It added a nice flavor to the adventure I wouldn't have if I followed the treasure tables. I'm curious how much people adhere to the treasure types for monsters. These new adventures I am creating for OSRIC and S&W and soon LL when I shell out the dough for the books, I haven't been as stingy with the magic items as I used to be. So I don't want to have to roll a 5% or less to give a critter a little something cool in their pockets.

So today's question is, how many of you use the the treasure tables? Or better yet, how do you use the treasure tables for monsters?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Back from the Compter Graveyard

I guess that makes me a virtual undead creature with the special ability to drain power sources and corrupt hard drives with a touch.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Double Trouble

This weekend I lost my computer due to a motherboard death. Just a little over a year old and thankfully I know how crappy my luck is with computers that its under warrenty.

The next night my wife's computer went down due to a bad hard drive. This was an older computer and no warrenty on it. I'm hoping we can salvage some of the information.

Little over a week ago my 360 bricked. But that one is under warrenty. So even though I've had a lot of bad luck I'm still not too down because I know in a couple of weeks I'll be up and running again. I might get more writing done. That would be nice.

The one thing that irks me is I'll be missing two Monday night sessions with the new S&W campaign Rob started. We've only just begun, as Mrs. Carpenter would say. Ah well.

So if the lights are out and no one answers the knock at the door noone will be home at the Manor for a couple of weeks.