Inspired by Dyson Logos, I've started creating geomorphs. Here's the first sheet (click for a print-quality TIFF):
. . . wherein Paul Gorman plays with ideas for old-school fantasy roleplaying games
Monday, January 31, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Quite a map
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Realms of Crawling Chaos
I've been reading the newly released Realms of Crawling Chaos all morning.
This ritual requires previously prepared essential saltes. The magic-user calls on the attention of Yog-Sothoth, and harnesses properties of time and space to bring back the dead from their essential saltes. The success of the revivification is completely dependent on the state of the body from which the saltes were prepared. If saltes are prepared from less than 51% of a body, the ritual will bring up an unidentifiable mass of flesh that only lives for moments.
[...] it should be noted that anytime an Outer One tank is found, the occupant will have no brain. The body is surgically altered to allow it to survive without the brain, but the brain may be in an altogether different galaxy or dimension.
There are some books that I admire but never use in play. Realms of Crawling Chaos isn't one of them. It's packed full of goodness that's easy to drop into any campaign. And the PDF is under $5. Go buy it!
Friday, January 21, 2011
Do We Need Another Retro-Clone? (A Postmortem)
TLDNR: yes, but not from me.
Some bemoan the burgeoning number of clone rules. It's not something I worry about. The OSR isn't susceptible to damage from market fragmentation or brand diffusion or whatever. Until recently, in fact, I was writing my own near clone of the 1974 books (more on that later).
Whatever your opinion about the proper number of retro-clones, none of the existing ones closely replicate the original three booklets. Labyrinth Lord OEC and S&W Whitebox are great, but they're still mashups of the LBB's, the Supplements, Moldvay Basic, and other ingredients. That's fine. I could be happy playing LL. However, a true clone of the LBB's needs to embrace the following:
- Constraints: stick to only the monsters and spells found in the three booklets, for example.
- Omissions: the LBB's implicitly or explicitly reference rules found in Chainmail, for example, while other topics are nowhere to be found. (I'm looking at you, Initiative.) The authors of a close clone would need to decide whether to leave those things out, include the Chainmail material (which isn't always an exact fit), or to suggest solutions from later editions as sidebars or appendices.
- Ambiguities: must be preserved. Let individual referees rule on when elves can swap classes.
- Obsolescences: a number of rules didn't survive edition zero, and don't appear in the existing retro-clones. Many are minor. Some of them deserve to be forgotten, others are interesting. For example, I haven't seen cloned anywhere the rules for stocking guards/retainers into the "castles" marked on the Outdoor Survival board.
Those were some of the considerations I had in mind when I started work on my clone of the 1974 rules. I never thought my clone would be profitable, or even see wide use. I took on the project as a way to enrich my games by getting back to the roots of the hobby, and to satisfy my curiosity. I also wanted to give people who had never seen them access to the first rules, particularly since WotC stopped selling the PDF's.
I finished writing a rough draft of the rules from the first two volumes, and made notes on the third. Last night, I decided to abandon the project.
There are several reasons.* I pushed hard to finish volume 2 over the holidays, so I'm a little burned-out. The recent shouts of too many retroclones made me less motivated to release something that would be received with hostility rather than indifference. Finally, although I learned a lot about the early rules, I realize I'll never be able to resist tinkering with the rules long enough to get an authentic early gameplay experience (particularly in light of my growing fondness for the LoFP rules).
So, the only goal I haven't accomplished with this project is to share what I learned. I have a few ideas about how to repurpose and distribute the work. It might be a series of monographs, things like Initiative Through the Ages or The Evolution of the Cleric. I can even imagine a web app and database that would let referees select the rules they want, then spit out a custom PDF. (That's something I have the expertise to make, but probably not the time.) Whatever form this stuff eventually takes, I'll allow myself more editorial creativity than the "strict preservationism" of my abortive clone attempt. I'll also make sure that it's easy to loot for kitbashing.
I hope someone releases a close clone of the 1974 rules. I also recommend attempting to write a clone as an educational experience for anyone with some curiosity about it. It taught me more about he game than I would have suspected—historical rules trivia, sure, but also how damn elegant the thing is under the hood. As an experience, it made me realize what an enormous amount of work people like Dan Proctor put into their projects; there's a hell of a lot more involved that simply paraphrasing someone else's text.
* I should also add that it's really, really hard to resist clarifying or filling lacunae when trying to recreate these rules. If you want something that's faithful to the LBB's as historical documents and is also a playable game, you must trust referees to make their own rulings.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Another one hour dungeon map
(I drew it in under an hour, then spent another hour inking it.)
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
One hour dungeon map
Monday, January 17, 2011
NPC: The Wyrd
Although widely known for her divinations and soothsaying, the Wyrd is able to cast any magic-user spell.
At minimum, it takes the Wyrd 1 turn per spell level to cast a spell. Unlike a magic-user, she does not memorize daily spells. For each spell the Wyrd casts, roll 1d6. A result equal to or lower than the spell level causes a roll on the Repercussions table.
The Wyrd may reduce the repercussion risk to 1 in 6 by spending 1 day per spell level on the casting instead of 1 turn per level. Spending additional days on the casting does not reduce the risk of repercussions below 1 in 6.
If the Wyrd gives a favor (and it must be a favor which someone else owes her) to the eldritch forces in exchange for completing the spell, any repercussion that would have affected the Wyrd instead affects the one who owes her a favor. This is not widely known.
Those who can't or won't pay in gold (or some other thing the Wyrd particularly desires), the Wyrd asks to pay with a favor. She keeps such favors for future use. The Wyrd never works for free.
d100 Repercussions Table
- Afflicted with a stooped spine
- Frequently suffer seizures
- Afflicted with bowed legs
- Fingers become webbed
- Age backwards
- Go deaf in one ear
- Go deaf in both ears
- Skin turns an unnatural color
- Over the course of a week, one finger blackens, then falls off
- Skin glows very faintly in the dark
- Grow a pelt of shaggy fur over entire body
- Loss of color vision
- Grow an extra eye
- Hair turns white, instantly and permanently
- One limb twitches involuntarily, even when sleeping
- Crops wither in the fields
- Ears become elongated and pointy
- Pupils change shape
- Grow a wart
- Grow a hairy wart
- All hair falls out (except on hairy warts)
- Relive the events of one (random) hour every day
- Always smells faintly of brimstone
- Hear (imaginary) constant, indistinct murmurings that others can't hear
- Grow a tail
- Uncontrollable drooling
- Patches of reptilian scales develop
- Trees bend slightly toward her. Those trees in the vicinity of her home grow in a way that points toward it.
- Grow extra toes
- Grow extra fingers
- Slowed (50%) in actions and speech
- Livestock sickens
- Vomit frogs 1d6 times per day
- Tongue splits down the middle
- Haunted by a mildly destructive poltergeist
- Artificial lights within 10' will not stay lit, and any she passes are extinguished
- Spontaneous pregnancy
- Spontaneous pregnancy with a small mammal or reptile
- Grow small goat horns
- Pottery does not harden when fired within ten miles of her
- Visual perception lags behind reality by 10 minutes
- Compulsion to look under every liftable rock she passes
- Grow fangs
- Bottomless sinkholes open in any spot she sleeps on for more than 3 nights
- Permanently levitated 1/4" off ground, making walking difficult
- Smoke emanates from mouth when speaking
- Nearby malleable things (oatmeal, tea leaves, mud) form into the shape of agonized faces
- Grow an additional ear
- Skin become transparent
- Strange lights in the sky at night
- Any words spoken do not reach listeners' ears for 1d6 turns
- Animals no longer abide her presence
- Human beings are invisible to her
- Sleep for 101 days
- Feet fall off, cloven hooves grow
- 50-70 mph winds alway blow in vicinity
- Age at double rate
- Any words she writes change, and assume an ominous character
- The ground makes noises like cracking ice wherever she walks
- Flapping things flap on the roof at night
- No reflection
- Only sleep every seventh night
- Grow large antlers
- Speech comes out in reverse word order
- Hair becomes too strong to be cut by steel tools
- A new, unexplained bruise every morning
- Sweats blood
- Must concentrate to keep consciousness attached to body or be locked-out for 1d6 turns
- Risk of future Repercussions becomes 2 in 6 at minimum
- Weeping sores
- Weeping sore that whisper secrets
- Physically vanishes after falling asleep; reappears in the morning frostbitten
- Heart turns to stone and stops beating, yet she lives
- Roll 1d6 every morning. A result of 1 means that a random personal possession vanished during the night.
- No one believes (until it's too late)
- Skin nodules swell for days, then burst to release spiders
- Her bones creak loudly whenever she moves
- Animals speak to her, but only abusively
- Burned for 1d3 damage whenever touched by another person
- Irises turn yellow like a wolf's
- The sky is always overcast within 25 miles
- Weekly rain of fish
- Teeth enlarge 2-3 times, deforming jaw and palette
- Leave footprints that smoulder
- Entire body shrinks or grows up 2% and 500% of original size every day
- Wood spurts blood when she chops it
- Any clothing donned begins to rot and smell of the grave after an hour
- Age 20 years instantly
- Sometimes, the third law of motion (equal and opposite reaction) doesn't work for her
- Learns she will die in exactly one year
- On a roll of 1 in 6, any dead thing she passes near rises as undead
- Hourly fits of involuntarily speaking dead languages
- Blogger posts lose all paragraphing
- Instant death
- Complete physical paralysis
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
The weird is Fate
The weird is Fate. Knowledge of the future is occult—in the sense of the hidden.
Zak is correct that it's not exactly unnatural, but it's frighteningly primal, in the way that the Greeks drew a distinction between the gods (who were powerful, but basically relatable in terms of human motivations) and older powers like the Furies or the Fate (who even the gods feared and found inscrutable).
So, Cthulhu is weird in the sense that he is fated to rise from his eons of slumber in the misty and indeterminate future, beyond the ken of man. Like the Greek Fates, he is older than mankind, and alien.
Weird themes are bound to emerge, as Zak observes, at times when the popular imagination fixates on the uncertainties of the future. The interwar years would qualify.
In game terms, an encounter with the weird would involve a perhaps hubristic attempt by man to engage with the earliest, amoral, alien powers of the universe. The referee should give characters reasons to feel atavistic dread at the prospect of any such effort.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
How it's supposed to be played
...the basic problems the old modules had, and they certainly didn't do anything to showcase the possibilities that we, as adults able to read the Dungeon Masters Guide and understand the implications and applications of all those rules, have when it comes to traditional, and proper, Dungeons and Dragons. Each is simply a self-contained location [...] with monsters to kill and problems to solve. [...] So if modules are these really evil things that grossly distorted the heart of true Dungeons and Dragons play... what then?
- Most adventures are located in a fixed location with an "end area" with a big bad enemy and the big treasure. You "win the adventure" by defeating that enemy and getting that treasure.
- Some adventures are epic quests, that take you to many places, where you defeat the underling big bad enemies before getting to the grand finale where you defeat the really big bad enemy and take its treasure.
- Activities involved between adventures involved such a variety of activities as healing up and traveling to the next location.
New LotFP adventure (no spoilers)
- starts gently, and invites the players to root their characters in the world
- asks the players to think deeply about the situation by not providing them with an easy, obvious course of action
- shows the players that their actions have significant ramifications in the broader game world (recalling a favorite Raggi theme, though without locking the referee into quite such a catastrophic outcome in this case)
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Originality and the OSR
- For me, the appeal of the OSR is substantially about exploring the roots of a hobby I enjoy. There's room within that goal for originality in the form of creative revisionism or imagining alternate histories of the hobby, but my enjoyment is not dependent upon those things.
- Copyright issues push my buttons. To say that retro-clones are stealing intellectual property by exploiting a loophole in the OGL shows a poor understanding of both the license and the concept of copyright as a public good. I find it in poor taste to blames dismal sales of a new fantasy game on thieving retro-clone authors. What does such a stance really mean—that classic D&D should go out of print, forcing everyone to play new games that otherwise can't compete with it? As much as many people are enured to its charms, D&D is a well designed game, and something new will not necessarily be better. Novelty is not in itself meritorious.
- That the OSR is adding to the existing mountain of adventure modules that involve going into a dungeon to kill humanoids does not prey upon my mind. Nor does it bother me that people charge money for such things. Even in a relatively small market like the OSR, the internet effectively separates the wheat from the chaff. Coming from content producers, this amounts to the charge that bad products are killing sales of good products. That's not how markets work. While innovation spurs further innovation, there's no reason to believe that sameness leads to more sameness. The non-innovators copy the innovators, not the other way around.
- In these complaints, I also detect a resentment of amateurism (amaeteurism in the best, Lovecraftian sense). How to compete with free is a problem that has occupied many industries in recent years, including the software industry and journalism. Cheap and free desktop publishing software will not go away. There are ways to compete with free, but smearing amateurs is not one of them. No one owes you a living.
- Finally, my anger was about being forced to recognize my dissatisfaction with my private campaign, which is really the heart of the matter, and something I'll post about tomorrow.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Leitmotifs seem like a natural device to accomplish that. In terms of dungeon design, the use of a recurring image, sound, smell, event, or map element would serve to immediately characterize the level and orient the player.
For example, if the big bad at the bottom of a dungeon was a group of mind flayers, all levels might have elements suggestive of tentacles. On this first level, there might be widespread tentacle-like vines, and kobolds who wield wavy-bladed kris. That level is ruled by an ogre who plays the bagpipes (which look a bit like an octopus). Throughout the level, the characters hear the playing of the bagpipes, long before they find the ogre. Bagpipes suggest a music motif, so the kobolds also sing rude songs. Stick a musical puzzle in there somewhere, and drop in a musical instrument as a minor magic item. As a bit of weirdness, the bagpipes can sometimes still be heard even after the PC's kill the ogre, and upon close examination the vines can be seen to twitch in rhythm to the music; the party may only notice this after they return from a deeper level. By dungeon level three or four, the carvings framing most of the doors (which were too worn-away to be recognized on higher levels) are a pair of tentacles that intertwine above the top of the door. If the players smell the stone tentacles, the stone smells faintly but distinctly fishy. Level five or six could have a sea theme (with the sound of water audible in certain places on the level above). The entire level smells of salt and seaweed. Most of the passages are natural twisty caves that lead to an underground sea overgrown with brain coral. A giant octopus lives there. Perhaps a room on this level is only accessible if the party approaches it using a peculiarly circuitous route they found mapped on a wall two levels above.
So, the overall motif of the dungeon is twists and tentacles. The motif of the first level is music. Both motifs should trigger associations that orient the players in your dungeon. These are off-the-cuff examples, but hopefully you get the idea.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Saturday, January 8, 2011
The deep weird
The first three dungeons levels might be quite naturalistic—vermin and low HD humanoids living sensibly (if violently) within the circle of life and whatnot. In one or two places, weirdness might peek through from the depths in the form of, for example, a magic well. Four to six levels down, weird elements become more common, and the relationships and behaviors of the inhabitants become less understandable. The dungeon, below level six, breaks down in terms of cause and effect. Fairy tale logic dominates the lives of inhabitants, and the structure itself sprawls in non-euclidean ways.
This could also differentiate one dungeon from another. Most dungeons, in the first few levels, would more or less resemble each other. The true and unique nature of a particular dungeon's weirdness would only be revealed within its depths.