Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tegel Manor - a preface

I invited a whole bunch of friends over to play (what I consider to be) a classic Judge's Guild adventure, Tegel Manor.

We're using Microlite20 and everybody gets to roll up two characters (prepare for character death!).

I proposed this event as a memorial to Gary, Dave and Bob who left us all too soon.

Right now, I'm spending a lot of time digesting the module and sprucing it up with some old-school goodness.

I plan to write a post on how Tegel Manor holds up as an adventure and then a recap or two on the play itself.  Maybe I'll get around to scanning some char sheets or taking some digital pics of the adventure table as the scenario unfolds.

I'm looking forward to it and I hope it will make for some interesting posts!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Wilderness Alphabet Book: Sample - J is for Jousting

A few weeks ago, I posted that I had been particularly inspired by Michael Curtis's Dungeon Alphabet.  I was also trying to think of a way to contribute to the community, so I came up with the idea of a "Wilderness Alphabet" book.

I've been plugging away at it.  Last Thursday I posted an update on what sections were complete and which were not.

Today, I'm posting the "rough draft" of Section J - Jousting.  It's a screenshot out of the GoogleDoc I'm using to create the darn thing.

I hope you like it.  Constructive feedback is appreciated.

PS: as a teaser, I'm not sharing the weapons and magic items tables in the Extras section.  :)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Scrabble Monsters

I like randomness.  I like using battlemats.  I like minis.

Sometimes I don't like lugging all my minis along with me.  Sometimes I don't even want to haul my lightweight collection of Cardboard Heroes with me.

Well, I've come up with a solution that you just might like.

Scrabble tiles!

I was able to find a used Scrabble game at my local Goodwill store.  It has no "J" but it was $1.99.  Not bad.  You can also buy a set of replacement tiles directly from Hasbro for $6.50 - includes a bag and 4 racks (might be handy).

I've come up with a quick structure that you can use to plan the monsters for a given dungeon or terrain type.  The structure ties the letters to mnemonic devices that can help you remember what the letters mean when you draw them.  There's plenty of opportunity for improvisation within this system (a feature that I like). When an encounter is called for, I'll just grab a few tiles out of the bag and create an encounter that makes sense.

In the model I propose below, I make the assumption that the first few groups of letters are a "tribe" of humanoids or some other "group" of beings that are loosely organized together.  There are 100 Scrabble letters in the English version of the Scrabble game with a set number of each type of letter.  Those percentages are given below.  YMMV.

Vowels (A, E, I, O, U) 42%
Common thugs; expendible; maybe each letter gives a little clue about how the thugs are a bit different, thus, A=archer, E=experts, I=infiltrators, O=oil throwers, U=uglies(xtra tough)

L, D, R 14%
LDR = leader (these guys are sergeants or minor leaders)  L=large, D=dangerous, R=ranged

W, M, C 6%
WMC = wiz/mage/cleric (spell slingers of some type) W=most powerful, M=middling, C=weakest/common

H, V, Y, F, P 10%
HVYFP = "heavy firepower"; Each of these letters represent significant monsters that can be found 1 or 2 at a time; might or might not combine with the groups above (Vowels, LDR, WMC)

B, G, N, S 15%
BGNS = "big 'uns"; I think these should be significant monsters that can be found in small groups of 2 to 6; the letters *might* have meaning for your adventure; B=brute, G=gross, N=NPCs, S=sneaky

T 6% Treasure or Trap

[Blank] 2%
Wild Card - if you draw this, make something strange and wonderful happen.

J, X, K, Q, Z 5%
Each is a unique one-off encounter, perhaps not even a monster but an event or magical happening.

So, here's a shot at using my system.

AEIOU - Goblins; O=oil lobbers; U=+2 AC from better bits of armor/max hp's
LDR - Hobgoblin leaders; D=uses giant centipede poison on blade; R=has light crossbow
WMC - All are shamans; W=Hobgoblin/cleric; W=Night goblin/wizard
H - Ogre(s)
V - Worg(s)
Y - Giant Centipede(s) (trained by shamans)
F - Firebat(s)
P - Piercer(s)
B - Ghoul
G - Gelatinous Cube
N - NPC Party (roll on table)
S - Giant Scorpion
J - I don't have a J!
X - Strange sounds (roll on table)
K - Magic mouth "Beware the crimson fountain"
Q - Quasit spy for wizard on lower level 
Z - Zombies!


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wilderness Alphabet Book: Status Update

I've been working on the book quite a bit and I thought I'd just post a quick graphic showing which letters are done, in progress, or not started yet.

All in all, I think it's coming along well.  Next week, I'll put one of the complete sections up (in rough form)!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monster Mash: The Necroton

There's been a bit of talk about Orcus over at "A Paladin in a Citadel" and that got me to dust off my copy of Dragon #42.

Therein I found a strange monster called the Necroton.  The description states:
A greedy wizard is said to have designed the first Necroton. There
can be no doubt that this is the case, for the appearance of the metalbodied
Necroton is convincing proof of its artificial origin. At first
glance this creature appears to be some sort of giant crab. Its large,
oval-shaped metallic body and multiple sets of legs give this impression,
as do its two forepincers. However, its luminous central eye
marks it as something quite more than this.
The creature is golem-like and designed to go forth and find treasure for its greedy wizard master.

What makes the creature notable to me isn't its purpose, its picture or its stat block.  What I like most is the way the article reveals the creature to the reader.  The creator of the Necroton, a Mr. Phil Meyers, was very thoughtful in its genesis.

First, he reveals the purpose of the creature (steal stuff).  Then he explains how one would go about making a Necroton should one be so inclined.  He lists the spells (Wish, Polymorph Any Object, Wizard Eye, Geas, Hold Monster, Fireball, and Detect Magic) that are required to create the beast.

I like how each spell has a connection to the powers of the creature.  The creature can cast fireballs, so Fireball is used in its creation.  The creature goes out and performs a mission, so you cast Geas.  It can detect magic with its central eye; Detect Magic, Wizard Eye.  Paralysis Ray = Hold Monster.

Then there's a neat part that explains how to use the Message spell and a Crystal Ball to basically control the Necroton "remotely".

Finally, toward the end of the article, the author describes strategies the Necroton might use when it encounters it's "prey" -- in this case the heroes.

All in all a very thoughtful and complete treatment of an unusual monster.  This kind of detail goes a long way when deciding if the creature has a place in your game.

My Grenadier Orcus

Just sharing a pic in reply to all the Orcus-related posting that's going on out there!  :)

Portly *and* dangerous!

... and *mostly* painted.  :)

Favorite Tables: Startling Statues

I think I've posted this sentiment before, but I love random tables.

I didn't always love them the way I love them now.  These days, I really enjoy the improv nature of GM'ing an RPG.  I like to plan in broad brush strokes and I like to randomly fill in the gaps.

I like to randomly roll for treasure, wandering monsters, gold, morale, magical effects, etc.  It gives me a sense of discovery within my own game.

I had this revelation one Saturday past when three of my players did not show up for the game.  My remaining players knew that they couldn't go on with the current scenario without the others.  What were we to do?  I handed out cards and asked them to share random disconnected monsters, treasures and places.  They did and when they were done, I  took ten minutes and whipped up an exciting adventure based solely upon their suggestions.  It was transformative for me.

So, on to the topic of this post -- the Startling Statues table from the Judges Guild Ready Ref sheets.  (these sheets are available as a pdf from RPG Now -- go get 'em!)  There are so many fun, crazy ideas in there to love!

I remember a version of this table from Tegel Manor, but I like the layout of this one.  It's got an interesting "dual track" at the top where you roll a d12.  The two entries above one another are similar in action and they correlate to the list of eight items below.  The eight items are very random and the list is quite abbreviated. I always take them as suggestions or guidelines - not hard and fast.

For example, if I roll a 10 (Gives Map) and then a 4 (Elf) what does that mean?  The statue gives the map "to the elf"?  What if there's no elf in the party?  A map "of an elf"?  A map "to the location of an elf"?  In this instance, I might re-roll or just pick something else like "exit" or perhaps "passage" as a way of leading them deeper into the dungeon.

The "Shape Changes/Polymorphs Character" column is especially random.  Wild swings in power level to be had.  Who wouldn't want an efreet PC?  Or a stone golem PC!  If this happened, I probably wouldn't want the change to be permanent.

If anyone can tell me what Foo Dog the chart is referring to, I'd appreciate it.  What vestibule?  Where?

Enjoy the table!  Go random!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mystery Boxes

I'm a fan of the TED Talks.  There's a lot of inspiration to be found in these short presentations.  To me, its often quite surprising how many ideas can be jam-packed in 22 minutes (I think that's the time limit for these presentations, set by the TED folks).

One of my favorites is a talk by J.J. Abrams (of Lost and Fringe fame).

In his talk, he discusses mystery and making things and imagination.  I think these things are at the heart of what it takes to be a good DM.  These concepts are also at the core of the OSR, by my way of thinking.  He also makes come comments about the 'democratization' of movie making -- comments that also apply to the OSR.
"No community is best served when only the elite have control." -- J.J. Abrams
Too much in there to excerpt -- you need to watch it for yourself.  You won't regret it.

Wilderness Alphabet Book

About a month ago, I purchased an excellent pdf, "The Dungeon Alphabet" by Michael Curtis of "Society of Torch, Pole and Rope" fame.  It has sold out in its dead tree form, but they are planning a second printing.  I heartily endorse it.  Run, don't walk...

In any case, the product got me thinking about making my own 'alphabet' book.  I am excited by the prospect and I love random tables.  :)  They are a GREAT way to get the creative juices flowing and these days I love to improvise.  Someone out there in the blogosphere (should have wrote it down just who) said that they like random tables because it lets them "explore their own world."  I couldn't agree more.  Patrick Armstrong at "Ode to Black Dougal" put it this way:
I love die rolls and randomness. Not simply for randomness' sake but instead for the creative muse they provide. Trying to figure out why there are ghouls in the elven forest is part of the fun.
So I wrote an email to Michael and asked him if he had plans to write any more 'alphabet' books.  I didn't want to step on his plans if he did.  It took a few days (he's a busy guy) but he wrote back.  Here's a quote from the email:

As for the future of an Alphabet series of books, I'm not sure if there will be more titles in that line. I have reason to suspect that the success of the Dungeon Alphabet has more to do with the "Dungeon" portion of the title than the "Alphabet" part.
Of course, if you'd like to write an Alphabet of your own, go right ahead and do so. I think someone is already doing a post-apocalyptic alphabet, so it's not as if the field is restricted just to my efforts. 
Thanks for the "go ahead" Michael and the encouragement.  I appreciate you taking the time to write back.

I'll post here from time to time, sharing updates and letting folks know when the project is complete.

Wish me luck!