Thursday, April 5, 2018

Hexes and the Curse of Indecision

Araminta "Cheeseburger" Denies Others Access to the Map
So, you know those blog posts with maps in the last few months, let’s make some changes.

But, wait, I was going to do NPC generation and using random generation as a challenge in plot line development.


I was already distracted from a hex map that I started shortly after reading several books about world building practices (including Kent Kelly's Game World Generator). Those four hex sheets were laid aside in frustration. as I started finding appropriate maps in my ‘publisher resources’ binge phase. The posterboard mounted map currently serves as a comfortable cat bed when it’s out.

Greg Christopher’s island maps were especially appropriate to the setting that I was envisioning - densely forested, fairly rocky islands. The problem that lingered with me is that the maps were very, very modern looking when compared to the generally pseudo historical art menagerie that I worked with. 

The hex overlay that converted into an easy transparency made sense, and I was pleased with the work. It was good enough for my table, but… 

I didn’t make it. Nor am I making the initial setting, but I am twisting it. And there was this program, that I absolutely grew to love. Hex Kit, by Cone of Negative Energy, is a map generation program that works with images of the author’s own inked hexagonal creations. It has a very different vibe, being hand drawn and digitally rendered. Very beautiful output. It also layers hexes, to some very unique effect. I haven’t liked a map making program this much since Dundjinni passed away.

Admittedly, I love Hex Kit for it's complete different reasons, but largely the same design aesthetic - it felt natural, intuitive. 

I haven’t had as much time away from the kitchen lately (day 11 today), but I did manage to start the first step in Kent Kelly’s Game World Generator - creating coastlines. Consider this a temporary zoom outward from the microcosmic Midenbrook into the greater picture of the Shae Isles and Ulvslund.

Shae and Ulvslund, Western Arborea

This was a couple of hours of poking and rotating hexes, but this is more accurate to how I’m working ‘The World Between’ into Arborea. I’ve begun to lean away from considering LotFP my choice in anticipation of the eventual release of Advanced Labyrinth Lord - essentially giving seamless access to AD&D 1e with the added bonuses of mixing race/class (B/X style) with classed demihumans as multi class options. Picture a ‘Basic’ dwarf with thief skills for instance, or you could just play as per the Advanced rules and not have the experience baggage tagging along. 

There is plenty of space in there for house rules that actually develop something, and with the more straightforward Labyrinth Lord/Holmes style combat and monsters, the engine is trim and sleek, delightfully abstract. 

Whether or not I’ll totally break and follow Raggi, putting the Specialist in… or using the ‘oh my Gods, the players actually have to keep track’ Encumbrance system… or change to the Fighter only advance in combat (and the subsequent revisioning of the armor class system to ascending)… All remains to be seen. 
Upcoming Advanced Labyrinth Lord Cover

Honestly, I’m trying to run more ‘by the book’ these days, but some rules are just made to be broken. I typically run LL with my AD&D books nearby, but it’s nice to tell the players that they’re playing a book that they don’t need an online auction to get. They make nice OSR gifts that support the authors keeping the Renaissance from becoming just a starting point in our past.

I'm probably going to continue bouncing between the top down and bottom up philosophies of world building - especially as I am working with Jack Shear's collected blog posts about his original OSR work with a Gothic overtone. The fact that it is collective commons doesn't hurt either.

Until the next time that you're whistling past the graveyard, keep on creepin' on.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Your Days (and Nights) Are Numbered...

Rather than attempting to immediately start filling my version of Jack Shear's Midenbrook with street names, businesses, and backstory - I chose to start with City State Encounters. Kent himself recommends that you utilize the book to populate tables of your own rather than attempting to use this large collection of tables (270 pages) during game. This sound advice is echoed throughout his works.

I had acquired a 'lab notebook' from a school that I used to work for from a free box of abandoned school supplies. I decided this was a good time to put it to use, and I will likely continue filling it with drafts and worksheets for this ongoing Oldskull project. For those unfamiliar, this type of notebook has a fairly faint grid, numbered pages, carbon paper duplicates, and a header that allows you to write pertinent information.

As you can (almost) see from the blurry photo collage, I spent quite a lot of time writing numbers yesterday. The goal was to produce a "Dawn to Dusk" and a "Dusk to Dawn" d100 table for random encounters in the town. In order to fill those results in - you roll on a table specifically for each half of the day, which in turn sends you to a specific table of details for each result.  I numbered two sheets (1-100) and then rolled the percentile dice until each had a result of 'event', 'person', 'beast', 'nothing' or 'mixed' (with rarity and person/beast noted where pertinent). At it's completion, this gives a rough view of what your personalized table will consist of. Kent recommends utilizing these tables at a rate of one roll per each half hour spent in the city.

The daytime list generated 51 encounter/event entries and 49 'no encounter' spots. The nighttime encounters were significantly more active with 31% of the results being empty or just your imagination breeding paranoia ("just shadows, footsteps" - nice reminder that atmosphere can be used in tables as well). The remaining 69 results came up fairly heavy with NPC encounters. Neither table, being generated for citified encounters, had a great deal of monster/beast results. The percentages within the root table do a good job of keeping the spread of results consistent. Shorter tables might not hold these results as well, but, as the author points out, less results in a table gives a shorter lifespan at the table before it gets repetitive or used up.

Once these results were tallied, I carried the results forward (carbon paper to the rescue). I highly recommend doing this in stages, doing one type of encounter at a time, rather than jumping all around the PDF for each result. I carried the 'no encounter' results over first, followed by the monster, person, mixed, and event results (in that order). There is still some jumping around, but with the index and a little familiarity with the contents - it gets subsequently easier.

The tables are very expansive - and sometimes you get a result that just doesn't work for you. I tried to minimize the amount I tossed - and, honestly, there were maybe six results out of 200 encounters that I just didn't see working. A number of these were rolls on 'reason for monster in urban environment' table - though I kept a few interestingly odd ones like the ethereal bull and the ill omen of insect swarms. Part of my goal with this randomization was to add new flavors that I hadn't conceived for my campaign - and the tables didn't disappoint.

As an example, here is a chunk of  results from the 'Dusk 'til Dawn' list:

%# Description of Encounter

20  Commoner (1d12 appearing, result: 5)
21  Street Urchin
22  Pipe Burst, Acidic Water
23  Paladin, High Level, Noble Born
24  Bandit/Brigand (1d12 appearing, result: 6)
25  Hook and Line Fisherman
26  Drink Merchant: Ostler
27  Secret Society Meeting
28  Mudlark and Magic Item Seller
29  Giant Centipede Engendered by Magic Potion
30  No Encounter

I have yet to finalize my results with encounter descriptions fine tuned to my particular campaign - but the results are quite pleasing to me. What I was surprised by was the number of paladins, barbarians, and monks wandering about (some of high or epic level). This immediately made my wheels spin - and when I detail these encounters, I'll share those with you.

All in all, this took the better part of an afternoon (probably 6 hours) and roughly 600 d100 or d1000 dice rolls to generate the bones of the table. I could easily utilize the results as is at my table - leaving just some hit points, equipment, and necessary statistics to be generated. My goal, however, is to present the summation of this project as a free adventure demonstrating what the Oldskull series is capable of doing with a helping hand. I'm attempting to create a sandbox campaign setting throughout this series of posts, give it a little polish and shine, and release it as a PDF with personalized campaign details and layout.

The next step is fleshing out these results, and making NPCs to fill the necessary important spots (as well as key members of the Midenbrook society). We will turn to the Dungeon Delver Enhancer to create this depth (including an illusionist/alchemist with a love of centipedes, and some of those paladins in the service of the White Goddess).

Until next time, stay ghoul...

Product(ive) Inspiration: Random Musings

One of my greatest frustrations as a writer, and subsequently as a gamemaster, is that I have certain tropes that I tend to repeat given enough time. I like convoluted plots, twisted double-crosses, and evil that is unwittingly being manipulated by something further up the food chain. I punctuate with Weird. It’s probably a childhood of Lovecraft, Gygax, and psychedelic rock - but, nonetheless, it has influenced my prose and gaming. 

My wife and I came to Kabuki Kaiser’s Ruins of the Undercity as a two player, GM-less, randomized game to entertain us for an evening. Those two characters we made were exceedingly lucky - they ended up with a maximum level encounter in the first room. That Measel rolled maximum treasure in its sewer crypt. Enough to level up with Labyrinth Lord rules in play. So, our intrepid adventurers Melkor and Ali decided to go on a drinking binge, being the sort of red blooded adventurers that stereotypes are crafted from.

Seven days were to be spent in town, spending that shiny gold, and making nuisances of ourselves whilst there is no gamemaster to interfere. However, we were ambushed by shades amidst the trash filled alleyway on that first night during a ‘town event’. They had a treasure map, apparently leading to a treasure worth 16,500 gold pieces, as well as several bits of magic and copious coins. “Trash magic,” we exclaimed as we gathered up all the goodies that had almost cost us our lives.

Mel and Ali came to a conclusion, “Hey, this is pretty lame, crawling in sewers. Where is this treasure?” We had, after all, just gained another level from that encounter. And, honestly, neither of us were all that impressed with our current random delve. 

How did we answer such a question without a referee? That’s the topic of this review, erm, inspirational tutorial introduction.

Admittedly, amidst the Renaissance of the Old School, there hasn’t been a shortage of random ‘this-or-that’ tables filling publications - in fact, it’s part and parcel of that approach of yesteryear, the Heinz 57 methodology of wondering and rolling what will come next.

 Kent Kelly writes more than the average bear (heya, Boo Boo), especially random tables for the OSR crowd. He sells a fair number of these books in PDF, but there is very little talk about them in the wilds of Google+, Facebook RPG groups, and the Blog-O-Sphere. 

It was to Kent we turned to for answers, starting with his Adventure Generator. The results really impressed us. We had a fairly decent adventure concept after a couple hours of rolling. Strong enough that I felt there was serious potential for the upcoming campaign I was working on. Over the next several weeks I grabbed the rest of the line and read them. 

I was pretty intrigued by what might happen if I threw caution to the wind and started rolling the first steps of the Arborea campaign. Rather than start with the outline of that adventure, I decided that detailing the city of Midenbrook would be the best place to begin. We'll come back to "Scourge of the Witch House" in a later installment.

Over the next several posts, I’ll be showing how I’m putting these pieces together - because these books don’t write your campaign. There is still quite a lot to be done behind the screen, but they provide a spark to ignite new fires of inspiration.
My first step was generating d100 tables for random encounters using City State Encounters. As I have a rough idea about the nature of Midenbrook, this would fill in some details - which I will share in the next blog post. 

Until then, keep rolling those dice!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Proof, Pudding, and Paying Homage

As I'm doing all this nonsense for a non-publication standard, I'm giving myself the whimsy of having my choice of artists - in this particular case, Bernie Wrightson. My cartography, as of now, is either my own or Greg Christopher's. I'm morphing Jack Shear's prose into something a bit more regressive than Ulverland, which I'm shortening to Ulvsland or Ulvslund. Here's the Chubby Funster Island Map with an added hex-grid, manipulated off of ACKS to work as an overlay... 

I need to narrow in, this is a 24 mile per small hex scale, so I'm working with this form from New Big Dragon with, again digital manipulation...

For Midenbrook, I'm adapting this particularly appropriate royalty free town... 

I've started to lightly revise Shear's prose in Ulverland 1666, rounding off some of the modern corners and warping etymological naming conventions. Not certain if any of this will stick, but here it is:

I also sketched a few half sheet graph paper maps and have been cherry picking tables and goodies from the whole "Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque" pick-a-nic basket (extra points for reading that like Yogi).

More to come, ghoulies...

Monday, February 5, 2018

Something Wicked This Way...

So what comes next? 

Sometimes it takes a swift kick to my backside to make projects actually happen.

Where I live, in semi-rural Vermont, the OSR isn’t exactly a prime mover in gaming circles. A lot of folks came to RPGs during the 1990s, and, so it seems, a whole slew came into gaming after (or very recently). There isn’t a great deal of remembrance for 1e AD&D and, dare I say, absolutely nothing for the 1974 rules or Holmes’ original basic revisioning. The one other gamer that I know who gamed during the 80s is a transplant, like myself. It just isn’t part of the collective RPG consciousness. 

Through the peril fraught lands of social media, I have committed myself to exposing other gamers to at least one of the torchbearers of the old school, Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Just naming the system that I would pursue has made a number of obstacles easier, as I’ve wavered on just what direction I would take.

I’ve poked at finishing a home-brew setting that initially started due to my armchair historian interests. What began as a mytho-historical setting loosely based on concepts of Celtic afterlife and otherworld, slowly became a bit more horror oriented and post-Medieval in its thematics. At various points, it touched a bit too closely on territory that Ravenloft had tread. At other times, this world threatened to implode into a convoluted essay on topics that probably interested me and no one else. I put the wagon before the horse and piled burdens that had little bearing on what the adventures would contain.

In world building, there are two dominant philosophies - top down and bottom up development. I had tenuously held onto the broad strokes of developing a world with grand schemes, myriad cultures, and extensive maps. It successfully spooked me again and again - it was just too much information to tackle in a meaningful way, at least for me. The concepts I had developed required consistency - so every time I tried to approach where to start, it rippled outward into the same swamp of navel gazing and obscure details. 

Like any well read gamer, I have influences that resonate with creations of my own doing. I had resisted tying any of these together, as I was completely focused on doing something original. After 30 years of gaming, I think I can safely say that this wasn’t an approach that yielded me much.

All the successful campaigns I have run have not been entirely my own - including a decade of working within Kenzer’s Tellene (Kingdoms of Kalamar). The adventures through those ten years were a pastiche of classic adventures, re-purposed and rewritten with a darker focus. I began calling those projects ‘retrohacks’, and they dominated my table whilst I swore I was finishing “The World of Many Names” (how many times do gamers change their setting names?). 

In gaming it turns out, much to my chagrin, I am a thief. I love to borrow maps, settings, ideas - my table has been filled with stuff I corrupted. I felt a lot of this was just me being lazy, which it probably is, but I also love to pay homage to those things that inspire me. 

In the spirit of this, I began to wander away from actually finishing what I started. Over the last few moons, I started to consider taking what I had actually sketched and melding it to someone else’s setting(s). When the dust had settled from reading reams of OSR material, I was looking straight at three creations that resonated with me much deeper than the others.

Jack Shear (Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque) authored what many consider to be a setting that corrects much of Ravenloft’s muddled beauty. The Domains of Dread were pretty much the entire reason that I followed 2e much at all during the 1990s - but I found myself often disappointed in its flawed execution, repeatedly. It wasn’t until Arthaus/White Wolf took over the property that I think it hit its stride as was proper - graduating “Weekend in Hell” into a proper campaign setting. However, it still wasn’t what I really wanted - and I found my own slow developments on my terminally unfinished world drifting closer. Shear, with the World Between, gave me a setting that overlapped with a lot of my notes - and I fought this for years, with the blog moving on towards 5e and related, but separate, notes on his own campaign. In January, I broke and started uniting the work - starting with Ulverland. I’m changing as much as I’m keeping, but I doubt I’ll cease being in debt to the professor of the Gothic. 

Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk crafted something truly beautiful and haunting in the setting of Dolmenwood, encapsulated in the delightfully fungal Wormskin OSR zine. When I set out to design the last few incarnations of Arborea (the current name of the setting), I envisioned pockets of civilization surrounded by vast wilderness, creating an isolated world of humankind trapped by superstitions and well warranted fear. Dolmenwood will surely find itself nestled into my revisioning of Ulverland, which gives the whole fractured Pagan and Church feeling a bit more depth. 

Last, but certainly not least, is the immense work of jim pinto's campaign setting, King For A Day. System neutral and sprawling, drawing upon the bleakness of medieval existence away from the increasingly urban centers of trade. Put into the far north of Ulverland, these pockets inspired by Anglo-Saxon culture (and the immense Harn setting) give me a place to explore the bleaker side of low dark fantasy. It may seem at odds, but it allows me to provide a contrasting element to the previous two. 

Together with my world of scattered forested islands, this makes the goal I was reaching for much closer. Sure, I’ll still probably disrespect myself for not taking the whole project on without the shoulders of giants - but it will be on the table, being played. Bit by bit, I’m writing the ties between, creating something larger than any of its parts. Two islands will become a dozen, and three stolen campaigns will be undoubtedly joined by others. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Hourglasses, Sandbags, Potting Soil

Bramble and thickets, thorn and vine, a forest returns, through them, in time. 

A bit further afield, vacant lots and timber stands and all points between - the act of creation, or re-creation (recreation), is a bit tricky.

There’s a bit of blacktop paved into each of us, past the furrow or cobblestone - time changes everything, including everything we failed to remember. Slowly, little things, become less a part of us if we aren’t careful. Apart of us.

Everyone is creative, perhaps some were and forgot. Passing seasons, growing further into the rear view, unless we refuse to let the brush burn our treehouses in hindsight.

Creativity threatened me, there is grace on a the head of a pin or the edge of a razor.

I am clumsy.

That expectation, that I would try to fly and completely plummet. I used to get back up when I skinned a knee, or broke a dream - but it got harder. Like pavement. 

That vacant lot, the one where the lines are really worn, warning that pot holes might as lead to La Brea.

You’ve seen it.

Most often driven by, or over it, reminded of it in annoyance. The weeds are starting to choke it when they aren’t repressed, artificially overgrown. That requires tar and concrete to crack and shudder, trusting in that truism that everything returns to dust. Dirt.

If the meaning of life was a road sign, it would be pointing at Dirt. Nothing grows without it, and, making a somewhat educated guess - we all have a bit of soil in our soul. The root of every bit of tangle and weed, as we branch out, we sow our seed, and harvest what we’ve sown.

This blog is about Dirt. Or remembering to be creative.
It might be some gobbledygook about jabberwockies or an upbeat lament to sausages, like Tom Waits and Lovecraft in a shotgun ragtime band (just like Mary Shelly, just like Frankenstein). Inevitably that means weird music and macabre fiction (probably involving games with funny dice). It starts there.

One foot in shit creek, one in the briars.

Bramble and thickets.