Friday, January 24, 2020

the opposite of walls

I haven't used dungeon tiles in years, but I sometimes like to relax by watching people make their own tiles. I'm talking about folks like DM Scotty, Wyloch, Black Magic Craft, The Tabletop Engineer, Professor Dungeon Master*, and DungeonMasterG. There's just something soothing about watching someone turn a bit of corrugated cardboard or some foamcore into a little piece of dungeon architecture. I especially like the painting, where often simple mixes of blacks and whites and greys become a sophisticated dungeony look.

But something has bugged me about dungeon tiles for a long time. They tend to encourage two-dimensional thinking. Sure, we have 3-D figures, and maybe furniture, too. But they all exist in what tends to be a flat plane. And I think the presence of walls on tiles, although aesthetically pleasing, doesn't do much to help in getting the DM and the players to think in three dimensions. Crooked Staff Terrain recently has done some work to alleviate this problem, but today I want to talk about the problem with walls specifically.

I'm going to start with a very simple argument: walls are so ubiquitous in dungeons that, in most circumstances, you don't need them on the playing board. For example, I tell you that the corridor you're going down ends in a T-intersection. I then put down this tile:

 You have a pretty clear idea of where the walls are and where they aren't, don't you? If there is ambiguity, like say the western leg of the T turn's north, then an additional 10'x10' tile should do the trick:


(I've gone to 3 squares for a 10' wide tile because I think that better fits. 2 square wide corridors always seemed super-cramped to me. And Gygax recommends 3 and a third foot squares on page 10 of the first edition DMG. As I recall, Empire of the Petal Throne allows 3 adventurers breast in 10' corridors as well. There's more variability there, though. In EPT you can fit 4 abreast if no one is wearing metal armor, while 2-handed weapon users can only fit 2 abreast. Except for 2-handed sword wielders, who need the entirety of the 10' corridor to operate properly.)

Below is a normal corridor. What if I want to represent that one side of it has no wall, but rather looks down on something below? Since dungeon delves involve piercing deeper and deeper underground, I think that would be a more common scenario than the stacking up that Crooked Staff does in the video I linked above.


Here's one idea how to represent that:


The black part represents the yawning void where the east wall should be. There's got to be other ways of depicting this sort of thing, so that adventurers can better interact with the 3-D dungeon environment. How do I show, for example, that there's more dungeon down there?

(BTW, these tile images were made with the Flagstones font. S. John Ross made it many years ago. It's a pretty great way to crank out a lot of paper tiles quickly. I don't see it currently listed at his store on drivethru, but he has lots of other cool stuff there for sale.)

*Special recognition for Professor Dungeon Master who, in addition to great crafting videos, has some really sound DM advice videos.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

look at these handsome lads

Sculpted by Whiff Waff
Painted by Mark Dixon
The fine fellows are GOB10 Orcs with Clubs from CP Models. I don't know CP Models from the dogcatcher, but I love the vibe I'm getting off their humanoids. Their orc captain looks like a sophisticated gentleorc, while the orcs with spears look like they're grumpy that they had to get up early on a Saturday for monthly reserve practice.

I especially like the guys in the pic above because Basic D&D orcs are noted as favoring "swords, spears, axes and clubs" (page B40), but I'm not sure I've seen an all-club unit of orc figures before.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

on tallking to monsters in BX

Very few canonical BX D&D monsters will automatically attack the PCs. Ghouls attack anything living. Zombies attack on sight. Goblins and NPC dwarves attack each without hesitation. Kobolds always attack gnomes. Tyrannosaurs will try to eat any creature man-sized or larger. But that's about it. (Displacer beasts always go after blink dogs. Frost and flame salamanders will go after each other. But those cases are rarely any of the party's business.)

Nearly every other kind of monster in the official BX rules is fully capable of exhibiting other behaviors at the beginning of an encounter besides attacking. Even berserkers don't mindlessly attack until they make an informed decision to mindlessly attack.

Additionally, unlike AD&D and its successors, the stat block in BX does not have a field for monster intelligence. Some entries specify the intelligence of a creature in the text, but many do not. There are a lot of monsters in the BX rules that I usually tend to assume are unintelligent only because I know their Monster Manual entry. The DM would be completely within the bounds of the rules as written to decide, for example, that an ochre jelly is smart enough to parley with. The text doesn't say anything either way. Even normal animals could talk in your campaign, if you wanted to give it a more fairy tale field.

Now, consider the existence of the Monster Reactions table (page B24).  Lots of monster encounters, especially wandering monsters, can be concluded without risking violence if the monster can be communicated with.  Furthermore, a roll of 12 on 2d6 gives the result of "Enthusiastic friendship", giving the party a big incentive for talking to a lot of monsters. If you are going to explore a hellish, trap-laden underworld, having some sort of big, scary monster as your friend sounds great to me.

A 12 on 2d6 occurs only 1 throw in 36, but high charisma modifies the die roll. A Charisma of 13-17 gives a +1 on the roll, upping the odds of friendship to 1 in 12. Furthermore, the worst result on the chart, "Immediate attack", is no longer possible. An 18 Charisma allows for new monster buddies 1 in 6 encounters.

So the next time you spot a carrion crawler, try asking it how its day is going.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

re: Zak

I know a lot of people have ghosted Zak and most people don't want to discuss him at this point. I'll be as brief as possible.

It was my understanding that the point of the #MeToo movement was for everyone to start taking women's stories of abuse and exploitation seriously.  I am 100% behind that position. But I also think that taking an accusation seriously means investigating it properly. (Which, should be noted, is harder than it should be to do in a patriarchal society.) And I still don't know what everyone is doing with the testimonials of the women who support Zak. Are their stories somehow irrelevant?

I'll admit that I was very busy with school stuff when the story broke and maybe didn't follow the discussion as closely as some people, but it sure looked like that some folks were almost jubilant to discover the allegations against Zak. As if it somehow vindicated their low opinions of him. Not only is that letting confirmation bias do the thinking for you, but it also does a disservice to the complexity of real human beings. Just because someone does X behavior that you don't like doesn't mean they are guilty of Y horrible behavior.

I've only seen a tiny sliver of Zak and Mandy's life through the screen of my computer when chatting online with Zak or playing a game with him and others. Obviously that's not a window into their entire daily lives, but, given Mandy's report, I still find it odd how often I saw Mandy casually living her life in the background of a D&D session. She didn't look like a woman living in fear of her domestic partner, a situation I have seen up close on a few occasions. In fact, the first time I saw Zak and Mandy's life through Google Hangouts, I was a little bit surprised. I guess I expected something a little bit more degenerate and hedonistic. Instead, I saw a couple of people just living their lives in a way that didn't look very different from my home life.

Maybe I'm wrong to still be Zak's friend. But I am.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

my best idea ever

Several years ago now I taught a British literature class with an emphasis on authorship and how an idea becomes a book. The final project for the class was for small groups to design a game that demonstrated what they learned. We spent a class period playing the games, then I took them with me over to my sister Jenn's place. She is crazy about Eurogames the way I am crazy about D&D. She, my wife, and I played the games as part of my grading of them. Here are the pictures that Jenn took.



That's me holding a game piece that's supposed to be me.


Touching tribute or ass kissing? You be the judge.


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

old school PC fragility

So, I don't think I've ever written a blog post in response to a tweet before.


Now personally, I love the razor-sharp nonsense players come up with when they only have a hit point or two to their name.  Levels 1-3 are a pretty sweet, as far as I'm concerned. But sometimes folks don't want to play such feeble characters. Here's two quickie solutions.

The Old Solution

Start above 1st level. You are allowed to do this! It's your dang campaign! As a kid I played in numerous campaigns where we just started at 3rd or 4th level. The sky did not fall. Later we wised up and realized that with the various XP charts, the smart way to do this is to start everyone out with the same XP amount. We usually went for 10,000 or 15,000 XP. Obviously, this robs the game of the initial rat-killing ogre-fleeing terrors, but we had a lot of fun this way. We didn't alter starting money or give anyone free magic items, but there's no reason why you couldn't sprinkle a few goodies among the party.

My New Idea

This is a new concept that popped into my head when I read Fiona's tweet. The point is to give lower level characters a little extra survivability, while still requiring players to grub their way through the basic levels.

When death comes knocking for a PC, the player is allowed a roll to save their bacon. The roll is over you level on a d6, so after level 5 this won't help anymore. If you save, then either pick or randomly determine from this list:

Lucky Coincidence
Equipment Sacrificed
Debilitating Injury

A Lucky Coincidence means the final stroke fails to land at all, but the DM is free to introduce some sort of new complication, like you were saved at the last moment by a bounty hunter who wants to take you in alive. Equipment Sacrificed means your shield is shattered under the blow, your magic sword breaks, your backpack full of treasure ends up in the acid pit instead of you, etc. The player must give up something of actual value here, not just some random stuff they purchased. Debilitating Injury means the PC was struck down, but is severely wounded rather than killed. They won't be of much use to anyone until they have 2d6 weeks to recover someplace safe and even then they will have a lasting injury, either an ungly scar or a limp or something.

DMs trying this method may want to track the players' use of these three escape routes. Maybe you only one to allow one of each type per level or something like that.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

One liners

Today I thought I could squeeze a blog post out of a bunch of undeveloped ideas that are scrawled into my current DM's notebook. Make of them what you will.

  • New aphorism: The DM is always free to introduce a new complication.
  • Pledge-object: an object of value given by the higher status party as part of a negotiation; if the higher status one breaks the pledge, the object is forfeit.
  • Nullset Jones: a hypermathematician who specializes in Zero Theory, the math of zeroes, null sets, etc. Real first name is Larry.
  • Spell Focus: a class of magic items in a material components heavy game. Non-exhaustible replacement for components. Examples: Wand of Sleep Focus, Staff of All First Level MU Spells Focus
  • OK, but what if mounts and pack animals were intelligent, speaking NPCs for hire?
  • Jean-Luc Marion uses the term "saturated phenomenon" to describe an "absolutely unique, irreproducible, and largely unpredictable event." I.e. any old RPG session.
  • Undead skeletons are heavier than you'd think because of all the dark matter in their bones.
  • "Every man must create his own system or else he is slave to another man's" --William Blake
  • Mustardface, Agent of SLIVER (Sovereign Locus of Investigation & Vindication for Extradimensional Realities)
  • Cyclops lost his eye in the war, got a beholder eye replacement.
  • Inhuman Miscellany of the Underpeople - An MU with access to this tome is double effective at researching any spell castable by a Derro savant, but each success 1 in 6 cumulative chance of devolving into one of these wretched creatures.
  • Torture Lantern (no clue why I wrote this down)