Friday, January 25, 2013

Please Stand By

Work is full throttle.  Don't have time to think for myself or even search for cool pics.  Should slow down in another week or two.  In rare spare moments I'm still thinking of D&D.  I think I've almost figured out my white whale; the universal treasure item generator.  Hope you're all having a great 2013 so far.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Easy D&D Village Maps

The post on my blog that gets the most traffic by far is on village maps.  What that says to me is that there is an unmet need for village maps to be used in dungeons and dragons.  The sad thing is, that post of mine is about me wanting village maps too, so anyone hitting it looking for a map before Friday night's game is going to be disappointed.  Let's rectify that.  I'll show you an easy way to generate village maps and then give you a couple.

As with most good ideas this is just a mash up of great ideas by other people.  Take roads shaped like letters and dice tossed to represent village inhabitants and we're off (I'm simplifying 1d30's approach a bit).

So, first step, draw a road shaped like a letter.  Here's C:
 Toss d6 to represent huts:
Trace them and record the pips in the traced squares.  If it looks too skimpy toss some more:
I want my villages to be a little more medieval so they are mostly subsistence farmers in huts with few of any other type of building.  But they will have churches, tithe barns to store the crops they owe the feudal lord and maybe a manor house for a reeve to live.  I tossed some dice to represent those buildings:
And that all gives you an organic-looking village like this:

By using alphabetical village names, you'll never forget what the general layout of a village is.  You can have sets of names ready for different cultures and use their geographic meanings to help.  Caerdon, in our example, means "hill fort" so I can make its road run around a central hill.  The Church and Tithe barn are some of the oldest buildings and also at the highest elevation.

By making the pips represent people we can see at a glance the population of a village.  We can use some simple guidelines to figure out some other useful information.

If we say two pips is a married couple, any number after that can be their children.  We can make things easy and say only one spouse from any household is combat-ready and children don't fight.  But, large families will have older children that can help defend the village.  So +1 for every die, +1 for any 5s and +2 for any 6s gives us a plausible count for who can bear arms in the village.  For Caerdon that gives us 16 (+1 for each die) +6 (no 5s but we have three 6s) for a total of 22 peasants to raise if orcs attack or PCs start setting things on fire.

If you are leaning more medieval and don't have shops, you may need to determine "Can players get food for themselves here?"  An easy way to figure this is to suppose single pip households have extra food and that for each they can provide rations for one person for one day.  (Single pips could also be the elderly and infirm, but with the bigger families I think it will all average out and we're trying to keep things simple).  So for Caerdon, there are 6 single pip households, food and drink would be available for 6 dungeoneers if they have something worth trading.

Other Buildings
Villages might have a blacksmith to make tools and if they're by a waterway they might have a mill to grind their grain.  Some villages might not have these buildings and will have to cart their grain to a nearby neighbor to grind it.  If you want a simple way to see if this particular village has one or the other without having to add more steps or extra dice you could say: "If two adjacent huts are the same number, one is a blacksmith."  For Caerdon, with two 6's and two 1's, that's a yes.  Alternatively, you could make it two adjacent odd numbers or adjacent even numbers, whatever helps you get the village done and feeling real for you.

Obviously the more dice you throw the bigger the population.  I was rolling 8d6 just because it works well for tossing them.  Then, if it looked sparse I rolled more.  I think once you get up around 20d6 on a single page of paper things will be getting cramped.  If you want bigger villages, just add another piece of paper.  You could do it lengthwise to make a long village that follows a road or waterway or make a square.  A square of four pages with the density of dice I was using on each, will get you to populations that would probably be hitting the upper bounds of "village" and start moving into "town."

Here are two other villages I whipped up, Ashborough:
and Brey:
The forms of the letters and random layout of the huts can give you lots of ideas for what the village does or its history.  You can see, for Brey, I decided that the back of the "b" was a bigger, older road.  The lower loop is a little sparse in huts, but maybe it's a village green.  Maybe this village gathers livestock there before driving them to market.

I made Ashborough's central stroke a road, but it could have easily been a waterway with the village straddling it.  In fact, I was thinking of making all the vowels in my village alphabet explicitly on waterways.  That's fewer than normal probably, but it's easy for me to remember.  Here, have a second version of Ashborough:
I apologize for the crappy psuedo-isometric view.

Well, there you have it.  It's quick and simple, but I think it will help me populate my world with at least 26 villages that look distinct and have an organic feel to them with some history implied.  Hope this helps.  And if you want to come up with 26 village names in a different culture to share, link them in the comments.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Serendipity XXI

I spent many hours the last few days looking for good images to make into silhouettes, no luck.  But I did find these pics.  These are all public domain, use them or lose them.
Got a game running in a WWI setting, here's a schematic of an armored car,
a couple submarines,
and this photo of an even bigger armored car.
I saw this on OBI Scrabbook blog.  Its dual entrances seem full of possibilities.

I don't know what fusee arrows are.  Flares?
Various scaling ladders.
Britons in Coracles.

And a few images that could be of a medieval city.

p.s.  This has nothing to do with gaming, but I have to share.  I found out yesterday that two outside consultants have been hired to visit and evaluate my workplace.  My boss is freaked, but this is so absurd in the current context of where I work, that I wasn't stressed-- I laughed out loud and said something about Initech.  I forgot to ask if they were named Bob.  Oh well, don't worry about me, I'm a people person.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

26 Village Names

Let's take another shot at this.   I used this chart:
 which is just a simplified version of this Wikipedia page.
I tried much harder to make names that, while plausible, are not the names of prominent places.  I mostly did this by doing Google and Wikipedia Searches.  I may have missed some.

I want one name for each letter of the alphabet, mostly for mnemonic reasons (more on this soon).  I also wanted variety in both sounds and geographic features, assuming some of these names would actually be placed on a map near features that match their name.  I also tried to be careful about puns and awkward sounds, being aware that players and DM's will actually be saying these aloud to each other.

Eventually I think it would be cool to have a similar list for other languages/cultures, especially those that are more commonly associated with our psuedo-medieval worlds.  So German, French, Italian-- maybe slavic languages next, even Hungarian, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Japanese.

The point is a small number of plausible names ready to go.  If you can provide names from one of those languages have at it.  In the mean time here's what I came up with:

Ashborough     (fort among ash trees)
Brey                   (hill island)
Caerdon            (hill fort)
Dunmouth        (bay fort)
Exeley               (clearing by water)
Finkirk             (holy church)
Gilworth          (ravine)
Holmden          (island hill)
Inverstead       (at the mouth of a river)
Jill's Green
Kelding            (people of the spring)
Langbury        (long, fortified enclosure)
Moss End        (in a swamp)
Nancarden      (ravine with stream and thicket)
Olchester        (old fort)
Polshaw          (wood by a lake)
Queensgate    (on a road)
Rutleigh          (woodland clearing)
Stanfield         (stony)
Tilly                 (hillock)
Ukney              (island)
Vale of Fearn  (valley)
Whelworth     (a mine)
EXeley-on-the-Wold (different Exeley by woods)
Yulcombe       (valley)

(Ashborough is there as a stand in for my own Fresno.  There's a 75% chance they'll steal your wagon if you visit.)

Anyway, I'd love to see you come up with 26 names of your own.  Maybe based on the area you live, your own constructed language, a different genre (like science fantasy or steam punk).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Village Names

I wanted to make a list of village names based on real geographic naming conventions.  I wanted them to sound plausible and capture some old British flavor with out being distractingly famous.  I just wanted 26 alphabetical ones for now.  Here's what I came up with:

Astwyth           (east)
Bradford         (broad ford)
Drumchapel    (ridge)
Eastbourne     (stream)
Guildfirth        (wood)
Jill-on-Weyr    (on a river)
Keld                (spring)
Langdale        (valley)
Monminster   (monastery)
Nantwich       (ravine with stream)
Pendle            (hill)
Queensgate    (on a road)   
Stamford        (stony ford)
Ukney             (island)
Villhurst         (wooded hill)
Whelworth     (mine)
EXley-on-Sea   (on the coast)
Yulecombe      (valley)
Zaywick          (bay)

Obviously I had to stretch a bit for the less common letters.  So, Brits, or any knowledgeable types, do they sound right?  Do some sound too big to be little villages, more like towns?  Do some sound too new to be medieval?  Some more famous than I realize or just distracting for other reasons?

Silhouettes XLVII

The first silhouette post of 2013.  For your charts, maps, and player handouts, these are all public domain, so use them as you wish.  Most of this batch are later than the middle ages but could still be useful for your fantasy games.  That one up top is an Albanese Horseman.

A Genevese Mercenary.
An officer, 14th century.
A Grenadier, 1696.
A Polish Winged Hussar.
And this badass, which is heavy cavalry with his own wand of fire.  Here is a city for possible use on a map, though it may be too wide to fit in a hex:
These have all been added as vector graphics to the zip file linked in my sidebar to the right.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Monster Maker

Have a chart meant to generate new and interesting mechanics for  monsters.  It's revisiting something I've blogged before here, here, and here.  I basically took Roger's suggestion and made it a dice drop chart. 

Some problems: first, I suggest up/down for player/monster and monster/player relations between the game system factors listed but you might want other relationships like mimic, or reflect, or something.

Second, I keep getting the ones in the middle and it wasn't engineered for that purpose, all things could potentially interesting.  I guess the only way to get around it is to have some kind of abulafia thing that randomizes the sheet before you print it.

But, I did come up with a monster that's chance to hit you is lowered if you're healing (read, wounded) and a monster that gives you psionic powers if it critically misses~~ how cool is that!?

Try it out and let me know if you come up with something cool.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Mount & Blade: Warband

This is not a review, more like a love letter.  "Hey Telecanter, where you been? It's the New Year and you haven't posted in like a week!"  I, dear friend, have been absorbed in this game:
You should see me when I lose.

So, here's the deal.  Mount & Blade is a game that has a strategic overland map and when there are conflicts, it zooms into real time tactical battles.  The same set up I love about Rome: Total War.  It is a military skirmish game, though that is underselling it.  It starts off feeling more like a roleplaying game something like the first Diablo.  You start out with little armor, no troops and are dropped into the world to do whatever you want.  But you quickly learn that to make any headway you need troops and that they need to be paid so the early game requires a lot of scrimping and nail biting battles to try and get loot from bandits.

The Game Changes
And by mentioning the early game, I bring up one of the things I love about this game.  More than any other game I've played it feels like D&D in that the game becomes different games as you become more powerful.  Once you have decent armor and weapons and find some companions that have skills that can help you and your troops out, there is a mid game where you are no longer fighting bands of bandits but other military forces.  And eventually if you make your own kingdom, battles won't be the biggest problem but your lazy, greedy vassals.
My steppe archer all grown up.
The first game I played I made a steppe archer and favored agile horses and archery.  But as the stakes got higher and higher I found I was a liability with my light armor.  I would get knocked out of combats which affected my troop morale and would end up losing me battles I should have won.  So I slowly shifted strategy to have heavy armor, heavy war horse, and a lance.

Why Warband?
Before I go any further I should say Warband is just a revision of the preceding Mount and Blade, but a revision worth getting.  It's okay to skip the first one, you'll get to meet all the same companions and have the same quests and Warband gives at least three big reasons to favor it:
  • You can found your own kingdom.  (I didn't really want to be a vassal.)
  • They added a whole new desert faction.
  • They improved the world map immensely.
So Many Possibilities
There are so many things I like about the game it's hard to point them all out.  But the bottom line is it is simple in mechanics but allows for lots of choices and strategies.  Shields take damage and get broken.  You can block with weapons.  There are tons of weapon options from crossbows to polearms.  I mean, Gary would have loved this: there are Bardiche, and pole axes, and pikes.  There are lots or horse options, depending on if you want speed maneuverability, or an armored charging force.

And that's just talking about you and your companions.  Recruiting troops from different faction regions will change your battles too.  The viking-like Nords have no cavalry, the the steppe faction has no troops that aren't mounted.

It Feels Medieval
I'm no historian, but I like that this game feels feudal.  So, you've got yourself a kingdom.  You feel awesome with your veteran troops.  Your castles are well-defended.  And then the neighboring kingdom declares war and razes all you poor villages.  This cuts off your cash flow and all of a sudden you can't afford your army.  You can try and patrol your villages to keep them safe but as your kingdom gets bigger this becomes impossible.  Thus vassals.  Vassals are a weird trade off because you have to give them your villages as fiefs to keep them happy, thus losing the income from the village anyway, but they will help keep down bandits and protect caravans which help the overall economy of your kingdom.  They can also be called to campaign when the next war starts in order to inflict damage on the foe and win new fiefs that will earn you some gold.

Also, there is no death for you, your companions, or lords, only your troops and poor villagers.  This feels very appropriate to me.  I found myself, after having made a foolish mistake utterly crushed in battle, all my veteran troops killed, stripped of almost everything and all the nearby towns and villages hostile.  So I ran away to a foreign land far away and built up an army there.  I still had tons of income from my various economic interests.  Once I had a new army I marched them all the way back home and won back what was "rightfully" mine.

The Little Things
Again it's hard to point out just why the game feels so right to me.  But there are little things that give me the impression the developers paid attention.  When you finally start your own kingdom you get to choose a banner.  But what was so cool was, that banner then appears on the shields of all your troops.  Your targeting reticule, normally white, changes color to be visible in sand or snow.  Lame horses will eventually be healed if you have the appropriate wound healing skill.  If you rescue Peasant Women from bandits, you can actually keep them as troops and they, super weak at first, will work their way up to Joan of Arc-like cavalry troops.

You can learn different poems to try and woo ladies of different temperament, or not.  You can take part in tournaments, sure.  But what was cool was when I discovered the events in the tournaments varied by the region they take place in.  I own in the lance tournaments, but the viking mass sword battles always get me knocked out. 

You can pick up weapons and shields in battles.  I was so impressed, in my first desperate siege defense, when out of arrows, I picked a new quiverfull off an archer casualty nearby.  I've won tournaments by switching the two-handed sword given to me to the sword and shield combo of my first victim.

You can loot villages, steal cattle, raid caravans, or just be a friendly trader carrying salt and spices from one city to the next.

Picking Nits
Okay, enough gushing.  The only major thing I can think of to complain about is the Fantasy Alphabet names.  A company goes to all the trouble of modelling historically plausible weapons and armor and then the town and village name look like they just rolled some boggle dice and wrote the results down.  Come on!  Names should have a feel for the faction they belong to or the region they exist in.  The names in this game have none of that.  Shameful.

Beware of the difficulty settings, what they call "normal" is what anyone else would call difficult; your fresh recruits will beat you at sparring even though you have better stats, more hit points, and higher weapon skills.  Not recommended unless the default settings become too easy.

Also, a couple caveats.  This is all based on single player play, I don't know what the multiplayer game is like and couldn't care a whit.  I have a pretty good computer and have all the graphics options maxed.  It might look a little dated if you can't do that or are used to fancier new games.

The company is apparently working on a sequel  which I'm quite interested in seeing.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Little Games for Your Big Game

In case you missed it, the gift I made for Santicore was posted here.  I was fulfilling this request:

A game that can be played by the characters in the game world. Could be dice, cards, or board, as long as it reaches a conclusion quickly. If Santicore is feeling generous, perhaps he could provide a gambling game for taverns and flesh-pots, and an abstract board game played by sages and courtiers. [Some variation on Yahtzee or Mornington Crescent will be totally acceptable]

This was challenging for me because creating a game is, well, hard.  You've got chess and checkers and cards and craps, who am I to do better than those.  But I thought hard on it for about a week, thinking about it as I fell asleep and as I woke up.  I carried around a print out of a checker board for a while thinking I might make some sort of mini-domain strategy game out of it.  I played around with a deck of cards.  Here were some of my design goals:

As always, I wanted to use items likely to be in any household, cards, dominoes, six sided dice.  I tried for several days to make the Millet Trader game work with only dominoes, essentially making dominoes the "cards" and "poker chips."  At one point this meant requiring two sets of differently colored dominoes (which is really breaking this design goal in trying to follow it).  In the end, it was too complicated and I could never get it to work right so I compromised and figured folks having something like poker chips wasn't too much of a stretch.  This goal was contradicted by the next.

I wanted something fresh.  I have a book called 180 Ways to Play Solitaire and have read it with interest.  People have been playing games for centuries, but I wanted to find some new angle.  Sets of funny dice are relatively new, so while Pit Fight, requires something an everyday household might not have, I knew Santicore readers would have them and tried to add the Telecanter simplicity touch to a dice game.  Another possible place for something new is our game itself with its sophisticated layers of involvement for a parlour game. I tried to utilize that as a fresh game angle and it coincides with my next goal.

I wanted games that could be a simple "okay, let's roll some dice in the tavern" diversion (Pit Fight) but also am very aware that we are supposed to be playing D&D and not in fact playing cards, or dominoes, or poker, or we could, you know, just call it a poker night.  So Braggart and Tryst are games that, while you could play them straight like Pictionary or something, they sacrifice a bit of good gameness for being games that you can roleplay.  The intention behind them is to offer opportunities to roleplay while playing them in the game world.

As always, when making something for others I'm never sure what people want or like, so I wanted variety.  That includes allowing for different social class of games.  Well, and another goal is to give what the requester asked for and he mentioned possible varieties too.

I didn't get to playtest them all.  I did play pit fight with a friend and I thought it was fun.  I hope there aren't any big flaws lurking under the surface.  If you try any of them out let me know how it goes.  Also, the name "Millet Trader" is in honor of a comment Black Vulmea made that made me chuckle.  A game intentionally named to be dull, hah!