Saturday, June 25, 2011

Göbekli Tepe

A site in Turkey called Göbekli Tepe, built much earlier than Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid, has caused some mystification in archeological circles, as it seems to show that at least one particular group of pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers constructed advanced stone monuments. Check out the photo gallery for inspiration.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monster fingers, Lovecraftian aedicula, and a frog prison

The often interesting book blog The Age of Uncertainty posted about a trip to France. Drop these into your game:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Crossroads, boggles, and an exemplary map

Tim at Gothridge Manor posted a nice list of random encounters for crossroads. I'm a sucker for local legends. Tim's post caused me to grab one of my favorite inspirational references, The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England's Legends, which relates this:
The boggle infecting Bringham Lane end, where four roads meet, is a white dog, known as Willie Sled's dog. Willie Sled used to attend to those who came to Bringham sand-pit; and as nearly every pit in Riding has its goblin, this one is named after him...

Boggles are, of course, shape-shifting bogey beasts that haunt places of transition, like crossroads and streams. They're prone to play (sometimes deadly) tricks on passersby.

While I had the book open, I noticed this map and key:

The key would be a good basis for a series of random tables to spice-up a hex map.

  1. Churches & holy places
  2. Devils & demons
  3. Ghosts, apparitions & screaming skulls
  4. Giants
  5. Heroes & villains
  6. Hidden treasure
  7. Humorous tales
  8. Legendary beasts
  9. Local landmarks
  10. Phantom beasts
  11. Place-name stories
  12. Prehistoric remains
  13. Royalty
  14. Sunken cities
  15. Witches & wizards

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fun play situations

I playtested A Stranger Storm, the starter module included in LotFP: Grindhouse Edition. During play, I wrote myself this note: "it's not that the premise is so original (it's not), but that the ideas make for fun play situations. Start adventure design with a situation and work backwards?"

In retrospect, that's close but not precisely on point. James' most recent post exposes the core lesson—giving players meaningful choices leads to fun play situations.

LotFP does a better job than most rule books of encouraging design with meaningful choices, so painting it as didactic nihilism... well, you can't preach both meaningful choice and nihilism. What's the alternative, really? A game based on predestination? Isn't that the sort of pre-scripted story-based play we've been trying to escape?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Consolidated surprise roll

In OD&D, a 1-2 result on a d6 indicates surprise. A second d6 roll indicates the distance at which the surprised group becomes aware of the other party: 1-2 means 10' distant, 3-4 means 20' distant, and 5-6 means 30' distant.

I thought of an alternative method that's nearly equivalent and slightly faster.

Roll a d8 to check for surprise. A result of 1-3 indicates surprise. Multiply that same roll by 10 to get the encounter distance in feet. Since the non-surprise encounter distance is 40-80', that same roll is still good for the encounter distance if there's no surprise.

Using that method, the chance of surprise increases 4%, and the average non-surprise encounter distance goes from 50' to 60'. I think it's close enough to be worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Art in Dungeon Crawl Classics: Wow!

Since I saw Peter Mullen's art a few years ago, he's been one of my favorite fantasy artists, but I always liked his color work better than his black & white stuff.

His new B&W pieces in Dungeon Crawl Classics, though, are inspiring. He's really taken his craft to a new level of excellence. Top notch!

Stefan Poag has some great pieces in DCC too. I particularly like his freewheeling panorama spread across a couple of pages in the wizard spells section.

Some of the other artists' illustrations don't hit my personal sweet spot as hard as Mullen and Poag, but the quality is generally high.

Small text for a small complaint....

The only thing I can point to as a problem (and I only mention it because feedback is the point of a beta release) is that the scans of certain pieces make the inking look unnecessarily sloppy. The issue doesn't stand-out if your monitor is calibrated to a more sane level of gamma than mine.

Not that the above detail looks "sloppy"—I was just trying to show that not all the blacks reproduce quite a blackly as might be desirable, and the lines that you definitely want black and crisp may look a little fuzzy printed at that color depth and resolution.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

When magical research fails

In original D&D, as described on page 34 of Men & Magic, magic-users and clerics can conduct magical research to invent new spells.

The player proposes a new spell, and the referee assigns it a spell level. The character must conduct research for a number of weeks equal to that spell level, and spend a minimum amount of gold pieces based on the spell level.

Spell LevelResearch WeeksMin. Cost
1st1 week2000 GP
2nd2 weeks4000 GP
3rd3 weeks8000 GP
4th4 weeks16,000 GP
5th5 weeks32,000 GP
6th6 weeks64,000 GP

At the end of the research period, there's a 20% chance of success. The player can spend more money to increase the odds, gaining an additional 20% for each multiple of the minimum cost spent.

What happens if that roll fails? Men & Magic doesn't say, so roll d6:

  1. Review previously collected research data for another week to correct a flaw in your calculations. It's unnecessary to expend further research funds, but the odds of success will be the same as before.
  2. This line of research hit a dead end, but you've narrowed the possibilities. After d6 weeks of additional research, your odds of success increase by 20%.
  3. You nearly found the answer, but your laboratory lacks the proper equipment to conclude the research. Spend an amount equal to the minimum research cost to purchase the new gear, and you will have the answer within a day. Of course, someone could liberate the equipment from the laboratory of a rival spell caster....
  4. The problem is more obscure than you anticipated. Spend the minimum cost in gold and weeks again. Your chance of success increases by 20%.
  5. Your hypothesis is flawed. Modify the spell description, and start from scratch.
  6. You will never succeed researching this spell without further experience. Try again after gaining a level.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The bricked-up wall

Kiltedyaksman of Discourse & Dragons posted about including bricked-up doorways in dungeons. It's an excellent idea—one I'd thought of before, but keep forgetting to use.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Art in gaming products (as landmarks)

Today, I read a bunch of posts about art in gaming products. Stephan Poag often writes thoughtfully on the subject. As one might expect from an artist, he is firmly in the pro-art camp. James Maliszewski tolerates art in moderation. A minority actively dislike art as "a very superficial unthinking gloss for fantasies," but they are asses.

One thing about gaming art that I haven't seen mentioned—perhaps because it's so obvious—is its practical value as an aid to navigating texts. I tend to mentally index gaming books by their images, even when the content of the images doesn't directly illustrate nearby text. It's just a lot faster flipping through a book to recognize a picture than to recognize a block of text.

I suspect that's also why new editions with replaced or rearranged art are so jarring—they disrupt that pattern recognition.

This is not to say that I think of art as a merely a superficial unthinking gloss.