Monday, November 29, 2010

My Idea of a Ranger

I think something like this fits my idea of a ranger much better than a duel-wielding badass:
"In 2006, Joss Naylor ran 50 miles up and down seventy Lake District fells, ascending more than 25,000 feet in 21 hours. Not his best performance, but to be fair, he was 70 at the time."
That post gives more context about fell running and a video. So, you have someone who's already had children if they wanted to, they've had a long life in the area and know it as well as anyone can, they can run for days, ghosting invading forces.  Hell, with the abilities these fell runners have, they could keep tabs on an enemy's position by running back and forth between it and wherever they're reporting.

Okay, maybe add in proficiency with a bow, but I see them mostly as scouts.  Not an interesting archetype to play I suppose, especially in a group where you wouldn't be able to utilize your running ability without leaving them in the dust, but this will probably be the standard for wilderness roaming rangers in my world.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Travel Triangle

Flying by the seat of my pants, with no world map, and a party that may be setting sail soon, I started thinking about the bare minimum I needed to have prepared.  And what I came down to was the fact that in fantasy literature/movies dramatic travel choices generally can be abstracted to the long safe way or the short iffy way.  Thus, I present to you the Travel Triangle:

Okay, it doesn't help you much as a DM, because you still need to know why the short route is dangerous and probably have different encounter tables prepared for both routes.  But if the travel comes up at the end of a session, you might quickly improv a travel triangle choice that a) your players can decide for next time and b) you can flesh out in preparation for whatever decision they might make.

Let me explore the idea a little.  The easy route may involve taxes, social interaction with guards, or other less dangerous costs of its own, but usually its just longer, takes more time to traverse. The short route is generally the shortest distance between the two points, but the difficulties it entails may actually make it take longer to travel.  But what are the various reasons the short route might be treacherous:
  • A named monster: giant spider, giant, dragon.
  • Terrain: quicksand, swamps, lava, caverns, reefs, whirlpools, canyons, mountains.
  • Climate/Weather: tornado alley, desert, frozen pass, glacier, ice cave, lava.
  • Humanoids: cannibals, headhunters, orcs, berserkers, raiders, slavers.
  • Architecture: ruins, gates, crumbling mines, crumbling bridges.
  • Magic: fairy woods, bermuda triangle, blighted lands, demon halls.
It seems there are two important factors involved with this travel choice 1) how much of a difference is involved between the two routes and 2) how much does the party know about the conditions of each.

It seems like the short route should be at least a third shorter to be tempting at all and maybe half the distance/time to travel as the other.  As far as knowledge, the party might know nothing, thus stumbling into the dangers of the enticingly shorter route.  But the real drama seems to be when they have at least ominous rumors for the iffy route.  Too much knowledge and the choice might become a sort of dry accounting, but knowing something called the Blood Saint lives along that path: "Hmm, we might want to take the longer way."

Which makes me think of issue 3) what is at stake behind the decision.  In literature/movies time is almost always a scarce commodity that forces the protagonists to take the route they know is more risky.  I think I'd rather set up the geography of these triangles in my sandbox somewhere and then wait for players to get themselves embroiled in plots that put that time pressure on themselves.

I wonder if there are other dramatic travel choice patterns I'm not thinking of.

note: it would probably make more sense to draw this choice as a semi-circle, but Travel Triangle is just catchier :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Curse of the Faceless Coins

I'm two session reports behind and thought I might catch up.  Today seems appropriate because I'm thankful that I have such a large group of smart, funny people to game with.

So, two Fridays ago the crew looked like this:

Gail MU
Mollie DP
Alamon DP
Toral DP + hirelings
Darius F
Yestlick MU

Knowing that the latter three in that list had been cursed by removing some faceless coins from the Sodden Temple, and that they had spent them all over Nidus, the party set out to get them back. They offered a 2-for-1 deal on gold coins and drain much of their wealth in exchanging for the coins that were brought in that way.  But . . . that didn't bring in all the coins, there were still some missing.  So they sought out one of the vendors.  On arriving at where his shop used to be they encountered what turned out to be funeral music.  Seems this armor vendor would go down into the Maw, into some catacombs and collect armor there to sell.  This time he didn't come back.

So, the party went down into the Maw, into the catacombs and found his body with some of the coins still on him.  On the way in, there was an abandoned golden chalice that Darius picked up and put in his bag.  And near the vendor's body was a large, heavy-looking chest.  Putting a dagger into it and shutting the lid made the dagger disappear.  One of the clerics asked their god successfully where the dagger was and they got the sense it was far away. There was a little back and forth where the party had to prevent Darius from getting in the chest.

Back in town they heard another vendor had left town on a sea voyage.  Asking the gods about the location of the faceless coins again gave the result they were far away.

They made a trip into the Sodden temple and deposited the coins they managed to collect back into the brass urns.  That room also contains the rotting carcass of an elephant and the party was attacked by huge maggots with some human features (an ear on the back, a human tongue).  Gail was rendered unconscious, and Darius splintered a shield saving his life.  He unfortunately took damage in the battle that will not heal until the curse is lifted.

Next Session:

Derek F +hireling
Sarah MU
G F + hireling
Z F + hireling
Hugelina F
And a MU whose name escapes me

Derek has found out that he too is cursed.  He, though, spent almost none of it.  So the plan is to re-enter the Sodden Temple and put the cursed coins back in the brass urns.  The journey is rather uneventful, they did rescue some prisoners and fight a few rats.  They found a well that led down to a lower level and at one point the party was strung through 4 rooms trying to decide what to do.  Caution finally prevailed and they made it back to town safely.

Some Thoughts

One problem with session 1 was we had an additional player I didn't know was coming until an hour before.  He's played some 4e but never been in my game before.  The party was already immersed in their own storyline of trying to lift the curse and he seemed left out a little. If I'd know he was coming I would have tried to design a perk or something to make him important for the night.

An interesting thing, the human features that the maggots had was a player's suggestion!  I rolled with it and they were duly creeped out as one of the maggots licked Mollie's shin with a human tongue before biting.

You can never predict what players will do. I thought, having learned they had spent the cursed gold, they would make a list of the vendors they spent the coins at and try to track each down.  But perhaps the time that had passed and the shifting nature of Nidus made that seem unlikely to them.  So, their scheme to buy back at 2-to-1-- a huge money sink!  I think most of that party is flat broke now.

Interesting to say that party, because inadvertantly, it seems there are enough players to make up two parties. I would have never predicted that.  The last session, because of some miscommunication, I found out the day of the session that our normal host was in Vegas!  So a quick change of venue led to two of G's roommates playing with us.  It was also Derek's player's birthday so his wife agreed to come try playing.  So, in that session, 3 of the 6 players had never played before.

This time I knew the birthday boy's wife was coming so I prepared to make her a ship captain.  I printed out several images of ships and named them in different languages.  But at the last minute I didn't give one to her because as they rolled up characters there was talk of going back to the temple and I didn't want them to think they had to go to sea. Also, there was plenty for her as a new character to think about.

Most of these trips back to the temple have been pretty uneventful.  But they party has remained mostly on level one of what wasn't too dangerous a place.  It is almost too little danger though, might need to make sure they encounter stiffer opposition next time they enter or they'll start feeling bored.

I am currently trying to work out a rough sense of my world, ships, and, ocean encounters because I imagine the next step will be for them to follow the last few coins. But then, who knows, maybe they'll climb into that chest or go down into the maw again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Have an Island

Part of me doesn't want a map because it feels each detail cuts off a multitude of possibilities (thus the abstract city of Nidus).  But I'm at the point where it isn't really fair for players, now that there are several locations they've encountered, to not let them know how places are situated in relationship to each other.  I could have drawn my own map but the old simulationist in me starts whispering: "But what of the geology? The scale?" and I start researching island geology and I end up spending hours and still have no map.  So hell, I'll just use a real map and give myself freedom to fudge any details on it that don't work toward my ends.

In tracking pictures that were sources of inspiration for Nidus, one place I ended up was this old map of Santorin Isalnd that struck me as just the right style.  I was ignorant at the time that it was the quite interesting ancient island of Thera. Here is the public domain map from 1848:

Here is a version where I've removed most of the place names and some details to allow for customization:

I always imagined Nidus as a cliffside city facing the open ocean, but here the water inside the ancient caldera is the much safer harbor, so I'll probably say Nidus is located where Thera actually is, although it's bigger and climbs higher.

One thing cool about using a real location is that you can find actual satellite pictures. So, if the party finds a magic carpet or tames a flying beasty I can show them this:

Of course, I'd probably want to edit out that airstrip first.  :)


I've been consuming-- movies, video games-- and miss making.  Although, I did have two fun sessions I haven't written up yet.  With Thanksgiving I have a little breathing room now.  I'd like to post some things.  Sorry to C'nor; I set comments to older posts to need approval so that I don't miss them like I used to. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Group Exploration

Still feeling a little fatigue in my creative muscles, also DMing regularly on Friday nights takes some of the juice that I would normally use to post on here.

But I've been playing Fallout: New Vegas.  First, be careful it's buggy; the only console game I've had that's frozen on me.  Second, it's more linear than Fallout 3; sure you can go into the hills, but when they say your bullets won't hurt the critters up there they mean it.  But even after all that and some other little annoyances it really gives me something I crave.

I love exploring and scavenging.  In the game, I see an abandoned gas station up ahead and I burn with curiosity to see what's in it.  I know from experience there won't be much of value, some radioactive food, a little cash, some ammo.  But I want to see it just the same.

And then once I've barely survived the giant scorpions surrounding the place-- and spent more ammo than I'll ever be able to buy from the combined trash in the place-- I proceed to pick the place clean.

I imagine if this video game allowed for cooperative play, most folks would find the way I play boooooring.  How does this compare to an oldschool D&D game? I wonder if group exploration is fundamentally different from solitary exploration.

That is where I see our group play slow down most, (or maybe I should say that is where play happens?) when the group is trying to decide where to go and how long to stay there.  Not sure what to do about that other than talk with players about what they enjoy most in the game, and try to facilitate the group communicating with each other when they make decisions.
A recent post by Trollsmyth made me think about the idea for an exploration based game is not so much to have appropriate rewards to be found after appropriate exertion, which I've long thought, but to have interesting things to find and interact with.  I think this applies here because if a party of six find a glowing sword, five people go without-- but if the party finds a fountain that does weird things to imbibers, each party member can choose to interact with it or not.

And if party decisions about where to explore mean some players will have to go places that weren't their first choice, the least I can do as DM is to make every place as interesting as possible.

Not sure I have an insight here, so I'll put it to you: What ways can a solo exploration game differ from a group exploration game fruitfully and vice versa?  What are the limitations of each type?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Have some boats. If I understand correctly these would be smaller craft more suitable for rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. Some of them may be more modern then you would like, but dhow, junk and sampan have been around for a long time. Also some, like the junk and dhow had larger versions for the open ocean. Of course that's just what I've gleaned from some online reading, more knowledgable folks please feel free to chime in.

A public domain image.

懸棺 - or Hanging Coffins

Never heard of these until today.  Apparently used by the Bo people of China but also in Indonesia and the Philippines.

I think my Maw just found a new feature.  What other wonders does the world hold that I haven't heard of?  These even have a Wikipedia page.  Another site offers this info:
"According to Cui Chen, curator of the Yibin Museum, hanging coffins come in three types. Some are cantilevered out on wooden stakes. Some are placed in caves while others sit on projections in the rock. All the three forms can be found in Gongxian where most of China's hanging coffins are located."

tipped off via Neatorama.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More Ships

Here's an Arab dhow:

A Chinese pirate junk:

A smuggling junk:

And a nice pic of an old lighthouse:

All public domain.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pictures of Ships

I found a couple good books with pictures of different ship types in them: Ships of the Seven Seas and Old seas wings, ways, and words, in the days of oak and hemp.
Here are a few highlights:

Now the trick is to get stats for all these in game terms.  I'll post more about that later.

These are all public domain.

Sodden Temple - IV

I've got a cold and was a little run down on Friday, and yet I had the most fun I've probably ever had playing D&D.  Mostly because its such a great group of players.

The chaotic party that ended up trapped down in the temple

Gail MU
Mollie DP
Toral DP
Tori hireling
Laria hireling
Alamon DP
Darius F

The party spent as much time shopping in Nidus as they did in a return trip to the Sodden Temple. Toral's gold was burning a hole in his coin purse. Together, the party visited an opium den, tattooist, bought phials of tears from one vendor, and bought the pickled tongues of emperors from another vendor.

Friday. Probably talking to a vendor, they shopped so much.

They stopped on the oustskirts of Nidus to talk to the prophet of the pot who turned out to be the opposite of helpful, happy as he was in his ascetic existence. On feeling threatened he ran off. He did return later to give the party a few tidbits of knowledge about the temple and the fly cult and the relationship between the two.

While still in town the party remembered the tall, stilt-like shoes they'd found in the pack of the luckless adventurer in the temple. Alamon put them on an felt them tug at his feet in the direction of the temple.

They proceeded to head toward the temple and use the shoes to guide them. Getting to the second level of the temple without much problem, they were confronted with a long hall filled knee-high with water. After some experimentation they formed a conga line following Alamon's exact steps.

A door opened into a room with four cultists. The party made quick work of them, a few criticals meant they were felled in one round.

A few more halls, another room, and the chopines lead Alamon to a sunken statue of solid silver.

While investigating the statue they heard noises from the next room.  They searched to find several prisoners chained to the wall.  Apparently they had been kidnapped from the outskirts of Nidus and were, one-by-one being turned into the fly-headed creatures.  The party cut them free and gave them the lanterns to hold.  Toral poked around and found a secret door.

The party tied a rope to the statue and managed to heave it through the secret door.  Back in a flooded hall, they investigated a door.  It opened into a medium sized circular room with a waterfall pouring into it.  Apparently the room is quite deep.  A headless statue juts from out of the water.  A clay sealed door was on the opposite side of the room.  Gail, the magician swam across and was breaking the seal when the rest of the party was attacked by hungry rats from behind.

Again the party had little trouble dealing with the rats.  But decided to leave the unexplored door and get the heck out of Dodge.  After much engineering including some stripping of armor. swimming, and rope tugging.  They managed to get the statue out of the temple and back to Nidus.

They sold the statue and were shopping in Nidus again when Toral realized that a wound on his leg was not healing. He asked for divine aid and the wound healed only to reopen before their eyes.  After much soul searching and actually consulting a mystic in town, he thought he knew the reason.  A quick cut of a blade on Alamon's arm and on Darious' seemed to confirm it.  They had stolen cursed coins from the temple!

At least that's their best hypothesis right now.  And if that is the problem the look on Toral's face showed the difficulty that lies ahead since they spent all that gold on various thing in the Shifting City.

Some thoughts
These players are hilarious-- Darius' player decided she would have him get a tattoo of a unicorn horn on his forehead, Toral's player on encountering a vendor selling the pickled tongues of emperors, bought as many as he could.

Part of all this shopping was Toral was trying to spend his cash to earn XP.  Consequently he was the first player in my new era of gaming to ever make it to second.  Let's wish him well with that nasty curs currently on him.

I need to think about the actions of clerics, Toral was smokin' dope and looking for hookers, what does the Allfather think about that?  I think I'll talk about it with Toral's player.  I like the idea of rogues with hearts of gold, but feel there should be some limit.

The prophet of the pot was almost a bust.  I was trying to act out a Diogenes character and realized that he is the antithesis of an adventuring party and would probably have little interest in them.  So I started to improv some flaws for him.  I think he might be a little lonely in his ascetic existence and maybe a bit of a coward or he might have been an adventurer too.

The work I put into generating those wonders in Nidus keep paying and paying.  I thought they would just be color, but I finding the players will interact with them if they can: smoking at communal hookahs, buying weird crap they have no apparent use for.

I'm thinking about exotic animal fights, gambling, and still trying to figure out the exact abstractness of Nidus-- does it have landmarks, does it have neighbourhoods?  Why?  What would they add?  Etc.

I've been researching ships some, since Nidus is on an island.  Found some images.  I'm looking to Moldvay for some simple sea traveling rules.