Saturday, March 28, 2009

As You May Already Be Aware . . .

Fight On! and Swords & Wizardry are both up for some kind of contest thing. (Trollsmyth has the full story.) The upshot is: both of storefronts are in the top ten bestsellers on Lulu, and if they get into the top three, there's a cash prize and some publicity. So now is a really good time to go buy yourself some old-school game crap if you've been considering it. And if you've already bought a bunch of old-school game crap, there's some new stuff on both storefronts that you'll want to check out.

EDIT: As M.gunnerQuist says below, this only applies to printed books, not PDFs. Get it right!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Minor Perils of a Combat Light Game

No Traveller on Friday, which was both fortunate and unfortunate. It's been three weeks now since we played, but we were missing two players, I wasn't totally prepped, and it was the finale of Battlestar Galactica. (I don't watch it, but one of my players does.)

I feel bad about cancelling a session like that, especially since it's been so long since we played, but I wasn't feeling totally confident about running that night, and there were enough other factors that I had a decent excuse. The fact that I was kind of glad that we didn't play worries me, but I think things should be okay once I've put my evil plan into action.

One thing that's been throwing me off is that the tempo of this game has been different from what I'm used to. Part of this is just that there's the whole trading aspect of the game, and so it's got it's own rhythm, apart from anything else that's going on, and that's taking some time for me to learn how to manage it. But I've also been noticing that the game moves a lot faster than I'm used to; they get a lot more done, and "getting things done" a lot of times means leaving for a whole other planet.

Some of this is just that I haven't (cranked up the adventure) yet, but there's also just been a lot less combat. They avoid combat, and when combat does start I tend to just wing it rather than break out the books and risk getting a bunch of bored looks because I don't have the rules totally down yet. In D&D, and in most of the games I've run so far, if things are dragging a bit or if I need time to think it's totally permissable to bust out the Monster Manual and ambush the players with a bunch of monsters to get some breathing time, or fill space until the end of the session.

Not so much in this game. Partially it's because it's Traveller, and there's a different paradigm. Partially because the game's a lot more social. Partially because we don't all know the combat rules by heart a million times over. (At one point, I even had the 3.5 grappling rules memorized. I have an unwholesome love for those grappling rules. I don't see why everyone hates them.) Whatever the reason, though, it's hard for me to adjust to not having that buffer.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reworking D&D's Races

One of the things that I have always, ever since I first started playing, wanted to do with D&D was to redo the races and classes. Not because I was particularly dissatisfied with them; I just think it would be a fun project. This is one of the reasons why OD&D and its derivatives appeal to me. The simplicity of the rules, and particular the open-ended way that racial and class abilities can be detailed, makes this kind of project a lot more realistic.

Note that I've never actually gotten around to doing anything like this. I've made a few half-hearted notes, here and there. But mostly, it's just been on my "someday" list. For years.

Partly this is because I've run mostly various flavors of 3.5 D&D, and while that's the DMG that gave me the idea in the first place, it'd still be a bear to do. But mostly it's that I never had much of an idea of what I would do if I redid the class lists. My vague thought was that this would be part of some serious setting project, but that's never quite gotten done, either.

Lately, though, I've been thinking that this might make an interesting side-project for my megadungeon game. (Which I am still working on; my hope is to have it ready for at least a few hours of play by next weekend.) I'm already turning over ideas for replacing dwarves with some kind of "mechanical men," sentient, humanoid versions of the caretaker robots that occasional escape the dungeon, or that the dungeon sends out for its own mysterious purposes; they would obviously have certain advanced knowledge of the various dangers of the facility.

The nice thing about doing it this way is that I know I won't be running the megadungeon as a continuing campaign for a while. So I have a fair amount of room to mess around with things, even if I'm running it every so often. The important stuff is what's going on inside the dungeon, anyway. So far, I haven't given much thought to the larger world outside the dungeon, but my plan is to generate the world outwards from it as it pleases me. I don't have to worry for now about detailing even the region around the dungeon, because any "test drives" over the next few months can easily get away with being dungeon-exclusive.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Campaigns I Won't Run This Summer

The rest of my group and I have different tastes. At some points, they overlap, and those are the games that we play. This leaves me with a number of games that I'd like to play, but have to put off until I find the right group; I assume it leaves them in a similiar situation occasionally. (Though it's possible that I take these things a tad more seriously than the rest of them, seeing as I'm the only one of us who blogs about games.) That's the case this summer.

Promethean: the Created. This one, I crossed of my "possibles" list almost immediately. I had a number of reasons for that, but first and foremost was that I didn't think the group would take it "seriously." When I showed a couple of them the book, their immediate response was to sit down and start designing character builds -- which is normally a tendency I like, or at least don't mind, but in this case I feel like that's missing the point. There are other games that encourage that style of play, no need to go grafting it on to a game with a different intent. Add in that my serious "character drama" players don't seem particularly enthused about the specific themes that Promethean handles, and you've got a game for another day. (And a game I'd rather play than run, anyway. But only with a perfect GM.)

Encounter Critical. I threw this one out as a possible game, but they all seem to hate it. Apparently it's too silly for a "real campaign." Even though we've had a lot of fun with our goofy-ass one-shots, they want (or claim to want) something more serious for an on-going game. Ah, well. I have high hopes for my college group, some of whom have shown signs of understanding that stupid and awesome go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Feng Shui. This is one that my group would like to play again, but that I have no interest in GMing. I'm the de-facto GM this summer, for various reasons, so it's off the list. We've had fun with it in the past, but once my initial excitement wore off I realized that I really dislike the shots sytem, and a couple of the other more fiddly elements it contains. There's another guy who does still like it but who's out of town this summer, so I'll leave it up to him to run when it's his turn.

There are a couple of games that are still on the "possibles" list, but just barely. Superheroes and Megadungeon in particular both face heavy resistance from a couple of the other people playing this summer. I suspect that resistance is based on prejudice more than experience, and that I could convince the objectors to at least give it a try, but I've got other games in the line-up that wouldn't require such efforts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Little Case of Concept Trouble

The other day, as I was writing up the list of campaigns I've played, it occurred to me that I've had a shift in my thinking about campaigns over the past seven-odd years I've been gaming. With all the games I'm thinking about running now, I consider the system first, and then think about what I'd actually run with it. When I came up with my first couple of games, that order was reversed: concept first, then a system to match. I don't think this is a good trend.

There's a certain degree of inevitability to the shift. I know about a lot more systems than I did when I first started playing, I own a lot more systems, and I have a lot more interest in trying systems just to see what they're like. Back in the day, I couldn't think up a campaign system-first, because while I knew there were other systems out there, I didn't have any idea what they were like. I pretty much had to come up with a concept, and then go looking for a system.

But still, I don't like it, especially since my last few campaigns have been a bit thin in the concept department. They picked up more character over time -- Traveller got a big ol' burst of concept during character creation, and Is This Fair ended up with some honest-to-Gygax nuance in the end -- but the danger there is that they get defined by the loudest player's character. Next time around, I want to see if I can make the setting and concept itself a bit more vivid.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Other Campaigns I Might Run This Summer

High-level 4e D&D. At the very least mid-Paragon tier; I'd consider going all the way to Epic. I wouldn't mind giving the system another spin, and a lot of my players like it, but I don't want to fiddle around with the first four levels again. I want to see what the system can really do. I'd like to try out my old "world ruled by rival factions of giants" idea, possibly with the players as freedom fighters against the giant oppression. But if I were to use as many kinds of giants as I imagine, and if any kind of combat came up with them, there'd be a lot of custom monster making, since there's only three kinds in the MM and one is kind of oddball. Not bad, just more work. I might end up just going with the "team of reckless archaeologists" idea; Indiana Jones seems like a good fit for the game's style. Either way, the real problem with this is that it'd awaken the temptation to buy more 4e crap, which is an urge I don't need.

Megadungeon. This should be ready for play by that time, so this'd probably be the lowest work option out of the things I'm considering. Some of the players are surprisingly enthusiastic about it, too. Unfortunately, a couple of them are flatly uninterested, and though I could probably convince them to try it I'd rather do something that everyone's excited about from the get-go. I'll probably break it out a couple of times over the summer for testing purposes; that's the nice thing about the megadungeon set-up, it's fairly accomodating of occasional but connected expeditions.

Vampire. Either Rockstar or Lawyers, Guns and Money, depending on what kinds of characters wanted to run. This is another option with a surprisingly high amount of player interest, even from the people who haven't wanted to play this for years. On the other hand, I'd really rather play Vampire than run it, and I'm not too sure about my groups willingness to "take it seriously."

Superheroes. Most likely Mutants & Masterminds, though one guy I know has HERO and likes it, so I'd be open to that option. I've had a game like this in the back of my mind for a long time, and it'd be nice to give the genre a shot for once. Unfortunately, though the group has several major superhero enthusiasts, it's got several people who actively dislike superheroes.

3.5 D&D Supplement Extravaganza. I have a bunch of d20 crap. My players have a bunch of d20 crap. We've never gotten to use all that d20 crap. I don't know if I'd want to go so far as to use absolutely everything the group owns, but I'd like to get a chance to use a lot of the material in Sandstorm, Tome of Magic, Book of Nine Swords, Expanded Psionics Handbook, Spell Compendium, and Magic Item Compendium that never quite saw play. So probably a weird fantasy/ancient world game, with a bunch of different competing orders -- Jedi-analogues/Bene Gesserit-types, ninjas, a bunch of different martial arts monks/sages -- and the players hook up because they all want to get the same cosmic doo-dad, and they figure they're better off working together until they get the chance to grab the thing for their order and run. Hilarity ensues.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pirate + Rum + 20 Years = Instant Troupe Play!

As previously discussed, I'm considering running a sequel to a campaign I ran a few years ago as this year's summer game. I haven't fully committed to it (and likely won't until late April) but it's one of the possibilities I've been turning over in my mind.

The idea presents some significant advantages. First and foremost, I'd get a huge level of buy-in from my two most active players, who have wanted me to run this ever since the first campaign ended. A secondary consideration to that is that this may be the last time for a while that one of them is here for the summer, so this summer may be my last chance to do this. On a different note, I've been thinking about running d20 again for a while now, and Arcana Evolved in particular is a ruleset I'd like to go back to.

Leaving aside outright disadvantages (i.e., the campaign might implode under the weight of player expectation) which I've given careful and sufficient thought to, the campaign also presents some significant challenges. One of the reason the players are interested in the idea is that they'd like to play, at least briefly, their old characters at high level. The last campaign ended around 10th level, and there's been a sufficient span of time in between to more than justify them now being 15th, or even 20th level. However, for various reasons those characters are now largely restricted to the city that they dredged up from the bottom of the ocean: in addition to some mystical business with an NPC they're strongly involved with, they're trying to found their own country/empire/thing, and managing and defending it keeps them busy.

I don't want to run "let's defend this crazy city." Not exclusively, anyway. I think that game could be interesting for a while, but the group has enough power there that I want to be able to force them out of it occasionally, to go deal with some problem or another that's still relevant to the city, but outside the range of their various massive advantages. I've considered putting a weird underground complex of some kind underneath the city, for exploration and as a source of danger, but I don't think it's a particularly good fit for the ruleset, and I don't think it can fully support the rest of the ideas I have in mind.

Oh, and I also don't want to have to deal with high level characters all the time. Even if their capabilities prove more interesting than frustrating, I don't want to be wedded to the math, and the attendent hours-long combats. I'm curious about what such a game would be like, but I've heard enough about it to be wary.

The rather obvious solution to all this is to give the players each at least one additional character, lower in level than the original group and likely tied to the main characters in some way. Create a group of lieutenants, essentially, as a strike team to handle any off-island problems that may arise, and to deal with things that the main group just doesn't have time for. Furthermore, if this secondary group are really the main actors in the game, with the old characters coming on for occasional cameos, I have a lot more freedom to add new players to the game, which I'll probably have to do. Much more reasonable to add a new lieutenant than a new 20th level master of the city. (Though I have some ideas in that area, if it comes to that.)

To make things more interesting, I'm considering a twist: each player has to run the protege of a different character. So if, say, a long-lost illegitimate kid of Blank's shows up, Blank's player doesn't run him and the kid. Someone else runs the kid, and then they can have heartfelt family conversations without descending into schizophrenia.

I like this idea, since I think it'll mix things up a bit, but my players may have other ideas. I still haven't ironed out the details yet; still need to figure out how involved the old characters will really be, and I haven't ruled out true troupe play, with more than just two characters per player. (Especially as my current scheme will leave the new players who will undoubtedly join the campaign with just one character. Maybe I'll figure out something special for them.) For the most part, though, I'm trying to avoid any too serious planning until closer to launch time, in the hopes that I won't lose all interest in the idea before then.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Running a Game in New York or Something Like It

Back at school now, so we're back to more intermittent posting, now that I'm not spending nine hours a day on the internet. (Extra Bonus Public Service Announcement: Bad idea. Way, way too much internet.)

The weekend in New York has me keen to run an urban campaign, as New York always does. It's organization strikes me as a very reasonable way to write a city for roleplaying purposes. There's a large scale division of the boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten. Each of these is a practically a city in its own right, to the point where when I say "New York," what I mean is "Manhattan," because that's where we always go, and that's the part I know. I'm vaguely aware that the other boroughs exist, but I don't have any experience with them, and even a lifelong resident can exist in roughly the same state.

Then there's the mid-scale organization of the named neighborhoods: Soho, Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Midtown, Hell's Kitchen. Each of them has its own character, its own architectural style, it's own mix of businesses. Finally, there's a street-level, small-scale neighborhood level of organization within the named neighborhood, which reflects the character of the larger unit but can vary significantly from street to street. Different people, different buildings, differently particulars of architecture, but still part of the larger whole. On the borders, things can blend together a bit, or the divisions might be sharp and unmixed.

The point is: New York lends itself very handily to random generation. Write up a set of tables for each neighborhood to generate the buildings on a given street and the people you're likely to meet, (with a sub-table for the qualities of the local subway station) and your players can wander wherever they want without running out of city. You'd want to define the major buildings by hand -- pick out spots for things like the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and the Metropolitan ahead of time -- but the rest of it could be done on the fly.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Top Five D&D Classes of the Moment

Never one to pass up a decent meme, I've compiled a list of my own top five D&D classes. I'm pulling from 3.5 (and related third party supplements) because that's the edition I've got the most experience with, as a player and a DM. These are more or less in low-to-high order, though the specifics would likely shift if I did this again in a couple days.

5. Cleric For nostalgia's sake, more than anything else. I've played a lot of clerics; it was kind of my spot in the first group, and I still tend to pick them, just out of habit. I tend to play them slightly loopy -- my crowning achievement being the Unitarian Universalist cleric (dedicated to a cause, of course) who had a nervous terror of pitchforks and torches.

4. Oathsworn And now, we get into the territory of "things I've never played, but would like to some day." I don't play much. But if I did, Oathsworn (from Arcana Evolved) would be close to the top of my list. I dig the whole oath/loyalty thing, and while that's not enough to hang a character on (as I learned in a short-lived Risus campaign) combined with some actually functional unarmed combat mechanics, you've got yourself a fun time.

3. Shadowcaster I'm mostly just all over the flavor on this one. Dark, shadowy, and creepy, without descending into the angst-fest that is the Warlock. These guys chose their powers. Add in all the extra goodness in the shadow magic section of the Tome of Magic, and you've got a class that I'd seriously consider using on the other side of the screen, as a villain or unreliable ally.

2. Psychic Warrior I dearly love the 3.5 psionics system, so much so that I'd consider running a campaign with it as the major power source, little or no magic. And I particularly dig the psychic feat trees -- they open up a whole bunch of fighter-type powers, but with a supernatural flair.

1. Champion I like Arcana Evolved. A lot. Champions, in particular, always struck me as an interesting and playable twist on the paladin -- a class I dearly love, but that has caused me more headaches than anything else. Champions are not one class, but several, each devoted to a different cause. ("Freedom," "Life," "Justice," "Death" and so on.) Lots of room for new material, and lots of room to tweak a concept that's not quite working, since switching causes is fairly easy, up to a point. (Like if you're running a Champion of Justice, and the rest of the group decides they want to be pirates . . .) Add in a lot of really interesting different powers for each cause, and no requirements for your companions behavior besides "help me fight these people who don't like my cause," and you've got a class that's great in theory and in execution.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Hall of Tombs

So I've got this room, the Hall of Tombs. And in it are a bunch of statues and frescoes and stuff, depicting "mighty heroes and great kings of old." The idea is to foreshadow some of the tomb sub-levels that I've got planned, and to play on that whole "connection to the Netherworld" idea, which otherwise hasn't seen a lot of play in this part of the dungeon.

Trouble is, I'm not sure who to put there. Zagyg (or some variation) is a given, and suggests a lot of ideas for said sub-level. Ozymandius is, for various reasons, another natural fit, and lets me do an Egyptian/classical world themed sub-level. I'm thinking some kind of Snake-related Sorcerer-Priest would be good, too, for ye olde snake-filled temple to an evil god, though I don't have a name picked out just yet. I've also considered doing one for Dave Arneson, but considering that he's not actually dead, it might be more tasteful to find another way to honor him in this project.

But I'd like at least a couple more, even just as red-herrings, to throw off players who work out the idea. Any real-world megadungeon contributors who deserve a spot? Or interesting historical or fictional references to make? Who would you put in something like this?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How I'm Writing the Dungeon

At least for now. This'll probably change, as I get better at it.

First, spend a couple days working on the map. Usually in class, because my teachers don't care if I "doodle."

Once I've got the map, I break out some lined paper and start keying, ten rooms to a page. Sometimes I just put stuff in the rooms that I think would be cool. Other times, I use Sham's Restock Tables to populate them, usually with a second die rolled for a 1 in 6 chance of a trap.

If I roll a monster, I roll on the Swords & Wizardry tables to figure its CL, and either invent one or pick one out of the S&W bestiary. Then I add it to the Wandering Monster table for the level, along with its stats, and roll number appearing for the room in question.

For traps, I either come up with something on my own (not great about that yet, but I'm learning) or a roll on Sham's Trap Tables. In either event, I spend some time thinking about a triggering method and warning signs. I'm trying to break out of my "traps are abstract, random damage" habits that kept me from using them in my 3.5 days.

Rooms with treasure often just get something I think would be cool. Otherwise, I roll on the S&W tables, or stick cash somewhere. I'm not real great about hidden treasures yet, mostly I stick things under loose bits of flooring. (Or on the ceiling.)

Empty rooms are rarely completely empty, and even rooms with something mechanically noteworthy in them get some bit of flair or dressing. So far I've got a bunch of mosaics on the floor, a room with poetry all over the walls, and spawning pools. So far I've only got one "trick," a dungeon feature that isn't strictly a trap, but still might be dangerous and takes some figuring out, but I'm going to add more as the mood strikes.

Oh, and all of the rooms have names, to help me remember them. Most of these are strictly utilitarian ("Music Hall" "Control Panels" "Beehives") but a few are whimsical or referential ("Fiery Doom" "It Has a Sense of Humor") because I enjoy amusing myself with that sort of thing while I prep. (I once named a monster "The Thing What Lurks in the Swamp" and nearly collapsed laughing as one player explained to another player their plan regarding said creature. Poor form, I know.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Questions Regarding Sequel Campaigns

One of the possibilities for the summer campaign is a sequel to an Arcana Evolved game I ran two years ago. (Others top contenders include high level 4th Edition D&D and Vampire: the Requiem. I'm not running the megadungeon, mostly for player compatibility reasons, but I plan on running it on an ad hoc basis both before then and during that time.) We've been talking about it for a while; two of the players have desperately wanted to play it again pretty much since the thing ended. I decided against running it last summer because one of those two players was out of town, and because I was too psyched about 4e to want to run something d20-derived.

This year, both of those problems have been have been (more or less) resolved. Both players will be here for the whole summer -- and this might be the last summer that this is true. And while I'm not as off of 4th Edition as I was six months ago (and my interests of late have been turned towards the old ways) I'd be more than happy to spend a few months back in the d20 world. Especially with Arcana Evolved, one of my favorite books from that era.

But I'm wary. That game was good, yeah, but it was also a product of a very specific set of influences. We'll have at least two players who weren't in the original game, and we'll be missing one or two who were. I won't have the same over-riding desire to "fix" the Oblivion ending that gave me a very strong but flexible structure to hang the plot of the game on. We might have the same characters (I'm considering a couple of different approaches to that) but we'll also all be two years older, with different concerns than produced that particular party.

The setting won't even be the same. One of the things we've established, in our post-game discussions, is that the end of that campaign produced some serious changes to the status quo of the setting. And I've never been completely happy with a lot of the details, both geographical and historical, that I established for that game, so I'd probably go back and clean some of that up, if I was going to spend another four months with it.

My players must know this. I've mentioned it to them, they agree, and it's all fairly obvious anyway. Which leaves me wondering why it is that they want to play this sequel game so badly. There wasn't anything magical about that campaign; the only substantial difference, in my perspective, between a sequel and wholely new endeavor would be that the sequel would invite a lot of comparisons with the old game, most of them unfavorable.

But I have to admit, I'm intrigued. It'd need to be shaken up a little bit, but the new status quo is certainly interesting -- they're in charge of the ancient, recently un-sunken city that housed the nexus of its fallen empire's magical power. I could do something with that set-up.

Hence, the post. Has anyone else out there run a sequel like this? Or considered it? How'd it go? Any overwhelming arguments against such an endeavor that I'm missing? Or are there any benefits that I haven't considered? And those players of mine who read the blog, why does the idea attract you so powerfully?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Tweaking the Campaign

So I'm thinking about doing a reboot of the Traveller game. The last session was kind of painful and stressful in places, and I still haven't done the session re-cap for it. I don't want to make any serious changes, mind. I'm just not quite happy with the pattern that we're settling into, and I need to do something about it before running the game becomes a major drag.

The problem I've identified, in my thinking about this over the last week, is that I'm not putting enough pressure on the crew. Traveller itself provides pressure, in the mortgage payments they have to make, and the potential for mis-jump and all the trouble that causes. But all that's lead to so far is "we go out looking for leads," or, "we ask the passengers we picked up if they have any problems." Which is something that I want to change how I'm handling; in the next session I'm going to see if I can make them work a little harder for that. I'd rather that they actually go out to specific places and talk to specific people, rather than just getting a list.

Anyway. Beyond "we need to make some money," they don't have any serious problems. The money motivation still just brings everything back to me; I still have to drive events in the session, or nothing happens. One of the players is a Duke, and as cool as that is in some ways, it's meant that they kind of ignore a lot of the "problems with the law" that the Traveller book seems to assume they'll have. That generates a certain amount of adventure in and of itself ("Hey! Let's negotiate a peace settlement between these two warring nations! They'll listen to us!") but it removes a default problem, and thus makes my life harder.

Oh, and the group has a tendency to split up. Which so far I've been sort of encouraging, but it really needs to stop, or at least get scaled way back. There's a lot of "I'm going to sit around and watch the other players doing stuff," and that's not good. So part of my motivation in making their lives harder is to give them a reason to stick together, and stop making me manage three different scenes at once.

None of this is to say that I'm not enjoying the game. The players are (for the most part) enthusiastic and involved, and while last session was rough in spots it also featured a religion based on Marvel Comic books and the cult of Wolverine, "the religion of what I was going to do anyway." It's still fun. But it's a brand new group, and it's a much more picaresque style of game than I'm used to, so I'm still tweaking the mix.

I have a pretty specific plan for what I'm going to do next session; I'd say more, but a few of my players read this blog, if only sporadically, so I'll wait until I've seen how it goes down. I'm not going to back off from the "no particular plot, just sutff happening on different planets" thing that I've got going in the game, but they have pissed off several people without really paying attention to it. So I'm going to cash in on that.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Labyrinth

Level one is coming along. There was this moment today, when I first started filling the map I've been working on, when I just didn't know what to put down, but once I started working on it ideas flowed a lot easier. Even if it was just stuff like "this room fills with poison gas," getting something down got me thinking of more interesting things as I went.

This level doesn't have a whole lot of active interference by the fortress mind. It's largely not hooked up to the main machinery of the deeper levels, and what is here is relatively simple, since it wasn't intended for much more than harassing travelers in the first place. That goal has mutated over the centuries: now, instead of keeping people out, the fortress tries to lure them towards the deeper levels. But it does that mostly with occasionally changing inscriptions on the walls, one-way doors, and simple traps, and there are places in the level where the brave and the lucky can tinker with its workings.

The main goal I have with this level, beyond getting the hang of dungeon design myself, is to introduce a lot of ideas that I want to use in more complex form either deeper into the first level itself, or on level two. Some of this is puzzle related -- rooms divided by walls of force, but where there's a fairly simple detour to the other side, so the PCs will get the idea when they discover similar, but much more difficult set-ups. But mostly it's thematic stuff: Ranines in one room and giant porcupines in stables the next room over, the tiny robots that do (among other things) dungeon maintenance, messages from the dungeon itself.

Mostly, I want to give the sense that there's a lot going on in this place, and that there are things to figure out. My earlier attempts at dungeoneering suffered greatly for the lack of that sense, and some of my potential players are suspicious of the idea of megadungeons (I suspect) because they don't think of the things in those terms. This dungeon is a learning experience for me, but it's also going to be a learning experience for whoever runs through it; none of my gaming buddies have had much more experience than I have with megadungeons, or dungeons generally. So I'm keeping that in mind.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Rules of the Dungeon

As usual, as soon as I start seriously working on this megadungeon project, I start getting bogged down in process. Should I use the one page dungeon template? Should I ink the maps? Should I map first, then figure out what's in it, or should I work out what's on the level and then map?

Fie, I say. I'm building this thing in the spirit of being fifteen, before I knew that there was a right way to do things, when I just scrawled my notes on graph paper during French and stuffed them into colored folder's depending on whether they were this week's adventure or the next's. I'm giving myself a few basic rules, and beyond that, I'm going to do my best to stay out of my own way.

#1. It must be delve-ready by July 27th. I'm doing this, among other reasons, to honor Gary Gygax, so I pretty much have to run it on his birthday. (Or at the very least, on the Sunday before.) I ideally want to have the first three levels done by then, but I need at least the first level finished and the second started. I figure I can't screw this one up, unless it turns out I have some weird dungeon-related disability.

#2. Don't get it right. Get it done. I'm supporting this by giving myself some leeway to change things if I decide I don't like them. Mostly, though, I'm adopting this as a mantra. It's a dungeon, for crying out loud. There's no way to do a twisting cavern of madness right, and at any rate, this is a learning exercise. As much as I like the idea of having one dungeon that I use for twenty years and run hundreds of people through, I'm not stuck with this thing if I outgrow it.

#3. It must be hand-written. I've run my last few campaigns entirely on the computer, but while it's incredibly convenient and I'm happy with how those campaigns turned out (or are turning out, since that's how I'm running At Star's End), I need to get back to writing notes by hand. It's what right for this project.

#4. It had better be weird. Otherwise known as "Stop worrying and love the dungeon." This one I don't think I'll be forgetting, because dang it, it's (one of the many reasons) why I'm taking on this project in the first place. To get a taste of that otherwordly underground weirdness that I hear all the serious dungeon-istas talking about. It's worth keeping in mind, because one of the problems I always had when I tried to run dungeons in the past was that they weren't weird; there was nary a dollop of fantastic illogic to be found.This is the rule I'll refer to when deciding whether the President Cave should make an appearance, or whether there really needs to be a cupcake sub-level.

And that's pretty much it. A few basic principles, but no need to bog myself down with more rules than I need.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Getting It Done

The first level of the megadungeon, which I'm mapping now, is The Labyrinth. As I mentioned yesterday, it's essentially just the first line of defense for the fortress that the dungeon used to be. It's mostly just an opportunity to get some practice with a very basic, very simple kind of dungeon design, with goblins and traps and not much over-arching theme to the place other than "it's dangerous." As I get more confident in dungeon-design, I may go back and retrofit a more interesting set of early levels onto the place.

It's a principle that I'm trying to extend to all aspects of this project: I want to give myself room to screw up. The place is semi-sentient, supernaturally empowered, and malevolent, so every so often it shifts itself around a bit, just to make life hard for any adventurers who have wandered into it recently. If I decide I don't like a section, I can ditch it, or shunt it off into a less important location.

I've been putting this off for over a year now, partly because I was worried about "getting it right." But "getting it right" doesn't matter. Getting it done does. Getting it played does. I can always change it later -- though I'll add that I'm not letting myself start over from scratch, at least until it gets a couple sessions of play time. If I start hitting the reset button every time I don't like something, it'll never get done.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Work Begins on the Megadungeon

Anyone else been reading Girl Genius lately? I've been thinking that Castle Heterodyne would make for a pretty good megadungeon. In particular, the idea of the place itself as sentient and semi-mobile appeals to me, since it gives me a great excuse to change things up and add in new areas as needed. The details of the castle's personality are pretty good, too -- mechanical malevolence is as good a reason as any to have tons of death traps littered about the place, and the fractured nature of its mind means that even if you make friends with one part of the place, the rest is still out to kill you.

Anyway, the upshot is that I'm smashing this idea into my "physical manifestation of the netherworld" idea to get the general outline of the dungeon I've started. Essentially my idea is that the place was built as a fortress by a family of Mad Scientists (or possibly, y'know, wizards) but that over the years, said family's vile and debauched behavior built up a malign aura about the place. Over time, the already-bizarre complex became intertwined with the Netherworld . . . and perhaps other, much darker places.

What this means in actual practice, I'm not quite sure yet. I know that at least a few sublevels will be tombs, possibly with surface works attached. (And by "are going to be" I mean, "unless I get a better idea/distracted." At the very least, I'll have "The Tomb of Zagyg," full of death traps and weird random effects.) The initial first level -- what I'm working on right now -- is The Labyrinth, originally intended as a defense system for the fortress. (And amusement for its owners.) And at some point I'm going to have a section that is very much The Netherworld, all skulls and ghosts and stuff. But beyond that, I don't have any specific plans. I figure I'll kick down that door when I come to it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Declaration of Intent

I couldn't think of anything to write when Gary Gygax died. Still can't. The man changed my life, but you know that. That's why you're here. He did the same thing for you.

So instead, I'm going to do something. Yesterday, I started mapping the first level of a dungeon. I'll have at least three levels finished by July 27th, so I can celebrate that day with a small expedition.

With any luck, it'll be ready for play long before that. I'm still committed to the Traveller game for the remainder of the semester, but I'm hoping I'll get a chance to do some solo gaming on the side.

Because somewhere in this yet unmade dungeon is a room, with a plaque, or an engraving, or something else of that sort, and it reads, "In memory of Gary Gygax, Dungeon Master." It's not enough, but it'll have to do.