Wednesday, 4 October 2017

What do you like about megadungeons?

I used to quite dislike & never use them - I'm a bit claustrophobic IRL and I hate the idea of being stuck in a dungeon for a whole campaign. I still don't much like the idea that "the dungeon IS the campaign" - I like a lot of wilderness exploration and politics/war. But I've come to really appreciate the power of what James Maliszweski called the "tentpole megadungeon" as default activity in a sandbox campaign - it's always there, it always offers adventure, risk & reward. Neither players nor GM need ever be stuck for what to do now - the dungeon always beckons.
Justin Alexander discussed the importance of a default activity in a long term RPG, and I find it's extremely true. It takes a lot of pressure off the GM to come up with plots; it takes pressure off the players to 'find the fun' - if they're not sure what to do now, they go to the megadungeon.
The design with stacked levels suitable for PCs from 1st to say 10th level also works well; giving players a lot of choice in the threat level they choose to face, and allowing for smaller & larger PC groups - eg 2 3rd level PCs may choose to stay on level 1, where 6 PCs might go to level 3 or 4. This works best with gold for xp & more gold on lower levels, though killing bigger monsters on lower levels also gives more XP. DMDavid just posted a good discussion -

So currently my ideal sandbox game has a detailed wilderness with multiple seeded dungeons and at least one megadungeon within a half day of the starter town. My Ghinarian Hills Wilderlands sandbox actually has three big dungeons (Dyson's Delve, Caverns of Thracia, Stonehell) within 8 miles or so of the starter town Selatine.

I find you can't have too many megadungeons.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Sword Typology

From - I thought this note was worth reposting.

The current* medievalist sword typology for western European crossbar-hilt straight-blade cut & thrust swords goes as follows:

1. Arming Sword - a one handed sword about 3' to 3'6" total length. Until pretty late in the middle ages these were the only swords. They are pretty close to Classical-era straight edge longer blades like the Roman Spatha.
2. Bastard Sword - similar blade to longer arming sword, but hilt long enough for two-handed use. Typically about 3'6" to 4' total length.
3. Longsword - longer blade & hilt, designed for two-handed use but wieldable one-handed at a pinch. Typically about 4' to 5' total length. Eg medieval claymore. These come in around 1350-1400 AD.
4. Two-handed sword (zweihander) - giant late medieval polearm sword, definitely two-handed only. About 6' total length for practical designs, the really giant ones are believed to have been ceremonial. These are mostly 16th century, so barely medieval.

For RPGs I generally have the D&D 'greatsword' be what medievalists currently call the 'Longsword', ie a primarily two-handed sword up to 5' long that can be carried in a scabbard. D&D 'longsword' covers 'arming sword' and (in 5e D&D) the' bastard sword'. The 4e D&D exotic 'Fullblade' would be a Zweihander.

*They seem pretty settled on this, with some fuzziness around the bastard sword vs longsword distinction. It's a bit different from the early 20th century sources Gygax used, and also different from what people of the era used (mostly 'sword' and 'big sword').

Friday, 11 August 2017

Sandboxing Example

Let me tell you what I did in a short session last night.

1. PCs decide to travel from Bratanis Village through the Ghinarian Hills to the Temple-Tomb of Belaras. Route takes them past the dungeons beneath Sky God Idol, where they have adventured before.
2. On the road I decide to roll an encounter - I roll & get an Elf Ranger Maegladher and his giant rat Galadan. Checking my notes, I decide he is a scout for King Kambdum Domnavrente of Diancecht, sent to investigate rumours of war in the north. I can see he therefore was trained at the Grove of the Rising Sun, I know the name of the priestess who initiated him, his Ranger captain et al.
3. PCs exchange pleasantries with the Elf (well, the Half-Orc threatens to eat his rat), he warns them Yusan's bandits have returned to the Sky God Idol dungeons, and PCs continue on west.
4. At the dungeon, the PCs see muddy tracks going in and decide to follow them, but are distracted by an old library (pre-keyed) where the Eldritch Knight is delighted to find a spell book, the Septimus Severian (pre-placed).
5. While PCs are nabbing the book I make my first dungeon wandering monster roll, get '6' -
encounter, roll - Dwarves - checking notes I see these are Bolfi's men, who the PCs fought alongside before against goblins. But these dwarves want money for 'their' books.
6. Failed PC Intimidate checks, a fight breaks out. The dwarves are wounded, one felled, the other asks for quarter and the PCs let him drag away his injured friend. The PCs are worried more dwarves will come, and decide to leave the dungeon.
7. Heading west again, the first (& only) non-rolled encounter of the evening. I decide that Yusan's Bandits raided (sneaked into) a pilgrim group camp last night and kidnapped Lady Lucretia Alamsor of Rallu, a pre-existing NPC with a record of being kidnapped... The PCs encounter Lucretia's assistant Brionny Fortin out looking for her, accompanied by two hammer-armed men who look like blacksmiths. Brionny has previously been encountered but by other PCs, the men are the Alces brothers from Selatine, lent by Lady Vex of Selatine (very long term NPC) to Lady Lucretia to guard her on her pilgrimage. The groups talk, and the PCs agree to help Brionny recover her missing mistress, telling Brionny they suspect Lucretia is being held in the Skygod Idol dungeon.

And we end there.

So, a mix of random rolls, preset locales, pre-existing and new NPCs, etc. Lucretia & Brionny were last seen (by other PCs) on their Ralluan merchant ship docked at Selatine, a couple weeks ago in-game. When I was looking for an encounter, it made sense to me that Lucretia would want to go on the famous pilgrimage to the Temple of Belaras. I knew she didn't trust her own men after an encounter with pirates on the way north, and so seemed likely she would take guards from Lady Vex at Selatine - but Vex is only just starting to rebuild the village (after overthrowing her brother Hytirus, who had been enspelled by an evil priest of Thanatos) and she wouldn't likely spare either of her two real warriors, Epicaste & Vuthrik. Hence the Alces brothers, the Alces family being loyal to Lady Vex.

The actual session log:

Rob Conley's blog post from the same rpgsite thread -

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Four different types of RPG


"Trad RPG style" typically refers to OD&D style sandboxing. But I'm not clear if the other side is linear railroading (pre-set story) or story-creation game (story created in play by group on a meta level). Even within the 'trad' side some people think of it as about full sandboxing in an open world, some people (eg most on Dragonsfoot, IME) think of it in terms of running a series of site-based adventures like the mostly Tournament-based ones TSR published from the late '70s on. That's at least 4 distinct types of play to me, and they all have potential strengths & weaknesses.

Possible weaknesses:
1. Full Status Quo Sandbox - Players say "What do we do?" GM says "You're too short for this ride" or "Oops yer dead". Great for immersion though. With a bit of starting GM direction this is my favourite style these days, but can take more GM work than the other approaches.
2. Site based Adventure String - lack of feeling there's a world beyond the adventure. But decent for immersion & clearly something to do. Clear 'game' challenge.
3. Linear Railroad, scripted scenes - near-complete lack of player agency. Decent for immersion, plus players typically get to 'experience' a story much like with passive media or linear computer games - the prewritten story can be a lot more detailed & dramatic than in site-based play.
4. Storygame - Discards immersion as a goal - "not really an RPG". Agency shifts from PC to player. Can create stories that are a lot of fun in the moment, though probably make less sense than the prewritten linear type - in fact they likely make less sense than the stories that emerge naturally from pure sandbox play.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

My New Task Resolution System

Came up with this for my White Star game (OD&D in SPACE!!) after being told Level was more important than Attribute in OD&D. Also was influenced by Lindybeige's Youtube criticism of typical D&D task resolution. My system:

Character Competence = Attribute (eg STR, normally 3-18) + Level (1-10 in White Star)

Task Difficulty is rolled:
Easy - 3d6
Medium - 4d6
Hard - 5d6
Very Hard - 6d6

If Competency equals or exceeds Difficulty, the attempt is successful!

Edit: Following feedback, here is an extended table with Long Jump example. Current world record long jump  is 29'. I went with 1' = 1 point of Difficulty, so your DEX 3 Level 1 PC can jump ("step") a 4' gap. :D

Task Difficulty is rolled:
Very Easy - 2d6 - eg jump a 7' gap
Easy - 3d6 - eg jump a 10' gap
Medium - 4d6 - eg jump a 14' gap
Hard - 5d6 - eg jump a 17' gap
Very Hard - 6d6 - eg jump a 21' gap
Heroic - 7d6 - eg jump a 24' gap
Formidable - 8d6 - eg jump a 28' gap
Amazing - 9d6 - eg jump a 31' gap
King of the Impossible - 10d6 - eg jump a 35' gap

For White Star (or S&W White Box) a maxed-out PC with an 18 attribute & level 10 has a 28 on their check, same as the average result for Formidable, and on average can make a jump just under the current world record.

Monday, 19 June 2017

A Good City Adventure

I think it really needs to use the city, not just dungeons set in the city. Rival battling power groups are important - think Romeo & Juliet for a good model. You want duels in the street, roof-top assassins, bands of thugs lurking in dark alleys, that kind of thing. The city itself needs a starring role, so design with that in mind.

The first two books of "Curse of the Crimson Throne" do a good job of this, with lots happening in Korvosa itself.

Opposing groups can be:
Noble houses
Criminal gangs
Churches & cults
The City Guard
Rival sorcerers or mage guilds
Merchant guilds
Artisan guilds
Knightly orders

Friday, 16 June 2017

Status Quo Sandboxing in 4e D&D

By default 4e is only really suitable for status-quo sandboxing within a demi-Tier. I am trying to stretch it to a Tier using Threats To The Nentir Vale, by Minionising many of the standard mook monsters in the level 4-7 range, eg level 6 brigand standard becomes a level 6 brigand minion, these are the most useable across the Tier. But a level 1 standard monster like an Iron Circle trooper needs to become a level 6 minion if he's to stay useable across Heroic Tier.

With giving minions 1/4 hp too, so far this seems to be working really well - I can use the same level 6, 18-21 hit point minion now with PCs at level 2-3, and at level 6, and even at level 10 with enough of them & keeping PC magic gear in the 1-10 range.
Level 11+ it'll break down though, so that's when I plan to transition to a mix of Domain Level play and high level questing, I have King of the Trollhaunt Warrens for that.