Thursday, December 29, 2011

Megadungeon Mapping

Do we need to limit ourselves to a large map?

I know it's a strange question in regard to megadungeon design but, do we really need a big map for each level of a megadungeon or would it perhaps be easier to map a wider variety of connections and arrangements by having a bunch of smaller maps focusing on small sections of the megadungeon instead of one overall map?

Here are six map sections illustrating the princiople:

The arrangement of these maps isn't set yet which shows an advantage of this method of design. A suite of rooms can be moved to where it's more useful after it's designed. The section can be relocated as the dungeon is being designed and could also be moved to another section of the dungeon for reuse geomorph style or the map and all details can be moved to where the players exploring the dungeon will find it.

The connections and distance between these sub-maps is all up to the DM of course. Even if section 1 and 2 connect off the north corridor for me and you there could be another DM that while they like section 2 would rather not have it sitting connected to section 1. A small changes in notes and it's moved, no(or little) redrawing required. Less material can be used to cover more area.

Another advantage to this scheme is in stocking and re-stocking. The small sections can be worked up in digestible bites. A half dozen or so rooms can be written up and tied to each other without the stress and intimidation of trying to connect the other 100 or more attached areas on the same level.

This design also makes adding to the megadungeon easier on the DM just add a new section where you wish without having to re edit maps. Section 1 and 2 can still connect to each other but if you've had a great idea that would work out dropped between sections 1 and 2 you can add it without screwing up your overall map. This seems to be a great way to have the ever growing and expanding megadungeon without having to re-dawmaps over and over again.

Lastly this method totally defeats the "let's search the whole sheet of paper" style of dungeon exploration.

What do you gentle readers think?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Exploring Ruins

This here blog has been a bit quiet of late as I've been off packing, restoring, and exploring ruins. yup...exploring ruins. The new place had a saw mill on the premises for decades before it burnt down. What remains today are a number of foundation walls accessible down an earthen ramp and a few bits of obscure ancient bits of iron including a wide iron chute that penetrates the foundation descending from somewhere above.

Friday, December 16, 2011

How a campaign came to a screeching halt.

This post on "level playing fields" and DMs staying ahead of players by changing the rules got me thinking about a GURPS-Fantasy campaign I played in several years back and how it ended.

The playing group had been playing 3rd edition D&D for a while and we were all pros at it by that point. We were a well drilled team of dungeon pillagers who had fallen into a successful pattern of behavior that was turning every fight into the same boring fight. Thinking it was his lack of experience with 3e-D&D and some limitations in that version of D&D the DM suggested we try something new: GURPS-Fantasy. We all agreed a change of pace looked like a fun idea.

The GM/DM had the most expereince in GURPS with one player have a fair bit of experience (but never GM'd the game), another with a little exposure , I hadn't played it in over a decade (but had played when it was man-to-man and TFT before that) and another player with no experience at all. We had 125 point characters, I lost my first character because of his bellicose ways and I hadn't grokked the GM's style of play within the campaign yet and the total newb got her first character killed as well . We both learned from our mistakes and the other two PCs kept on advancing as well.

We started to defeat NPC left and right and the DM suggested we incorporate the advanced combat rules since we were pushing the envelope of what the basic rules did well. We all agreed... the GM should have noticed our glee. In the weeks that followed we chewed through the NPCs with ever more wild and telling maneuvers and we knew what the numbers on our sheets could mean in play. The end wasn't long to come.

The PCs were on a ocean voyage from one city to another, the captain of the ship was a bit of a jerk and there was a mutinee on the ship. The GM was clearly tryign to railroad us and hadn't expected us to back the captain and chew through 30 or 40 opponents in 30 seconds of game time. The ship understaffed after the failed mutiny ran aground on a mysterious island (which by some odd chance the GM had mapped out and well-detailed). Our brave band of PCs were exploring the island while the captain and remaining crew were trying to build a camp and repair the ship. w/e came across soem ruins and a cave... and out came a Giant!

Now Giants in GURPS unless total dweebs are a horrible opponent for a small band of GURPS characters and things looked grim for our band of 150-180 pt characters. The GM clearly expected a fighting retreat. We instead rushed the giant who took a dagger in his eye, a crossbow bolt to the neck, an axe blow to the knee which sent it crashing to the ground which was immediately followed by my swordsman making a ridiculous leap and stabbing the giant through his other eye and into his brain killing it. The fight was over and the DM/GM threw his hands up in the air and declared "that's it I cant challenge you guys anymore"...that was the end of the campaign.

The GM had made some mistakes, he wasn't as good at math as we were and he wasn't four other people with several years of game experience between us who all started reading GURPS as soon as we agreed to start playing the campaign. Trying to beat us or keep us in check by changing the playing field from 3e-D&D to GURPS and then employing the advanced combat rules in GURPS just didn't work out for the GM. We all moved onto something new after that and the DM/GM didn't get to keep running a campaign.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Carousing and such

I've been using a few carousing rules in my campaign to encourage the chance of something "interesting" happening when the PCs are out and about on the town.

Every character gets to imbibe a round of drink with no harm. Dwarves and other noted for high tolerance get 4 round of drink with no harm. Each round after the safe ones require a saving throw to avoid intoxication. Each failed roll moves one along the track of drunkenness from sober to Tipsy to Drunk to Roaring Drunk to Unconscious.

Intoxication Track
.......................Tipsy..... Drunk..... Roaring..... Unconscious
Hit Roll..........0............ -1 ........... +1............... no chance
Morale...........+1........... +2.......... 0................. zzzzzz
Endurance.....+1.......... +2........... -2............... -4
Initiative........-1........... -2............ -3............... none
Will Power.... -1........... -3............ -5............... uneffected
Fall-Down...... 10%...... 20%........ 33%........... down already

Hit Roll- this modifier is applied to the chance to hit in melee combat
Morale- temporary improvement to henchman and hireling morale scores
Endurance-this modifier applies to save vs physical hardship
Initiative- this is a negative modifier applied to those engaging in combat when drunk. (I use high roll is better initiative)
Will Power- applies to save vs attempts at control by others and to saves to resist temptation.
Fall-Down- any time the intoxicated character is struck in a fight, fails a physical activity or scores a critical success they must check vs falling down.

Each round of drinks take 20-40 minutes depending on the culture and situation on hand.

Each round of drinks after the first earns 2 experience points. Only roguish types can gain a level by drinking. Thieves and Bards in my games. Everyone else just can't gain points past 1 shy of that required to gain a level.

Those with a personal goal that supports carousing also earn 1 exp per 2 g.p. spent on drinking, smoking and other such activities.

The Risks:
As people drink they get clumsy and their will power weakens making them easier marks for thieves and kid-nappers.

If the more than one character is roaring drunk the chance of a random encounters is doubled.
If the entire party is roaring drunk the chance of random encounters is tripled.

Every three drinking rounds everyone roaring drunk must make a save or wander off. A sober companion can keep two roaring drunk companions from wandering off. A tipsy character can keep one roaring drunk character from wandering off unless there are 2 or more other drunk companions in a group. a charcetr that wanders off must roll 1d8 on the Wandering Off Table.

If a lone character (away from companions) or an entire party is rendered unconscious in a place they can't trust roll 1d6+2 on the Wandering Off Table.

Wandering Off Table
1. Sober up 2d6 turns away from drinking spot.
2. Wander away, roll up a wandering encounter which the drunken character must face alone
3. Wake up next morning sleeping aside a stranger of the opposite sex.
4. Wander off in straight line for 2d12 turns. Fall victim to any physical obstacles.
5. Mean case of the munchies, wander away from drinking buddies to nearest source of food.
6. Wake up in own bed chamber/bedroll... all is good.
7. Wake up in the gutter/alley minus coin purse.
8. Wake up kidnapped, chained to an oar in a galley, in a cage or other such situation.

Friday, December 9, 2011

DMing Large groups

Many a DM is put off by large groups of players. Sure it seems like a daunting task keeping track of the actions and comments of a dozen or more people but it need not be seen as an overwhelming task. For me large groups of players are when it's time to shine.

A place to play:
To me the greatest obstacle of all with large groups is a place to play. With a large group the only thing I've ever seen work is a regularly scheduled place the DM has easy access to.

The physical reality of fitting a bunch of players together can be difficult. There are two sensible ways to deal with this, a large table and seating in the round.
Not everyone has enough space for a large table or space to keep one indecently. A couple portable tables solves the big enough table question. I've got 2 camp tables to create table space when needed, there still has to be enough room so this isn't a solution for everyone.
Seating in the round puts players all over the room with the DM to one side. All players should have a clear view to the DM and should have some playing surface nearby. A folding table, a coffee table and such. For more theatrical DMs this also give them room to put on a show.

Chit-chat and breaks:
Chit-chat between many players can be deafening as can players leaving the play area at random intervals.

All the players have to be a little considerate of others and be sure to leave the DM with speaking time. A DM shouldn't be a tyrant in regards to chatting but should discourage it. One method I use is :when players distracted and chatting so are their characters. A little room has to be given to allow players to discuss tactics and shout advice but not too much. Use of digital devices should be curtailed as well, no frequent texting, web-surfing or talking on a phone in the play area is polite and avoids disrupting the game.

Timed Breaks are a great way to reduce chit-chat and people getting up from the table. Every hour-two hours have a break planned at a minute per player. This gives times for refilling snacks, bathroom runs and cigarette breaks. If that seem too frequent plan a larger break in the middle of the play session.For a time when we were younger and played an every other week sunday game we would break in the middle of the game for half an hour to an hour to play frisbee or football or bet each other with buffer weapons. Such breaks let people deal with necessities and gives the DM time slots to adjust notes.

Another tactic that works great to reduce chit chat is the pre-game gathering. Plan to have a meal or some other activity before the game-play starts. For years on my sunday games it was Robin Hood Brunch where we'd get together have a shared brunch while we watched Robin of Sherwood, it was a great mood setter and gave time for a lot of chit-chat to be completed and everyone ate before the game.

Pacing and Style:
The DM needs to make sure the play style used assists in the play of the game and doesn't get in the way.

Keep the players reacting to the DM not the DM reacting to the players. With a large group there's going to be a lot of players pulling the game in at least as many directions. The DM need not railroad but with a lot of players it's helpful to wave a red flag in front of them now and again and focus the players actions.

Let the party split up. This seems contradictory to reducing chaos but it's not. Allowing players to split up while acknowledging only so much time will be spent in a segment of play with split off groups will keep some players from stealing the limelight and keep the action going. It gives players time to neaten up notes and take unplanned breaks while other players are involved in activities they aren't. Be mellow on dealing with players knowing things the PCs wouldn't. In my own games I've used surprise engagement rules where groups of PCs have engaged each other briefly when bumping into each other in the same dungeon.

Use cliff-hangers. Don't' always stop the action at a point of resolution. Let moments of great anticipation be when you shift between groups of separated characters or call a break a couple minutes early. "Oh no the floor upend under Pherd…" is much more dramatic and keeps players attention longer then "Oh no the floor opens under Pherd, he falls 20 feet for 6 points of damage".

Have uninvolved players hoping the DM. Want the players to have a tough fight with a group of monsters? Imagine the carnage with guilt free attacks from another player. I'll have players take the roll of faceless-goons or wild beasts now and gain (if they wish) to keep them busy at the table. It's a fun change of pace for the players and deflects the everyone vs the DM dynamic.

Let the players decide what the they do. While I recommend keeping the players in a position they react to the DM it's essential that in large groups the players feel they are in control because each will be having less table-time. The DM should wave the red flags but shouldn't nudge players decisions otherwise, let them sink or swim by their own decisions not ones you make for them.

The DM must keep notes on player statistics, locations and time events occur. It's always the rule it's even more important with many players wandering about. All you need is a notebook or pile of notecards, along with the discipline to record notes and the problem is solved.

More then one character:
This seems totally insane when dealing with 12 or more players why would any DM want to deal with more characters? For one thing it keeps players involved and remember we are allowing the layers to split up, a player will end up with characters spread around not all marching together. It also keeps players from being drama-queens when a character is slain,losing one of 2 or 3 characters doesn't disrupt the game. I know form experience a player will either foster a number of fun characters or end up focusing on one central character and keep a few active pawns running about in the background to pick up the slack or have something to do when their main character is involved off-stage.

Keep the players informed. My old character sheets had play notes/aids on them they weren't just for keeping stats. Make a few posters with notes on them for players to reference in play, these need not be fancy, all yuo need is some notes written large enough to read.

Make a newsletter. a small newsletter is a great way to keep players informed without taking up table time. This can be done with a blog but folks have to remember to check a blog, shove a piece of paper in their hand and they are more likely to read it. I did mine as a 1 or 2 sheet faux-newspaper for a while and it was a little silly it was fun and a great way to communicate trivia about the campaign without cramming it into play at the table. A good way to make sure peopel read the newsletter is to distribute one or two less then the number of players at the table this keeps people interested in the newsletter and those that don't read them much may take a tiny bit more time reading it before they pass it on to another player.

Make sure the end of each session is a planned debriefing period. Players and DM update each other on their notes and the DM issues any EXP earned. End of game time shouldn't be when everyone runs for the door. It also gives the DM and host time to deal with slow to leave players. Some players should stay to help the host clean to ensure good will and make sure the place is accessible in the future.

Lest readers think I'm talking from outside my experience let me assure you i ran a 7-8 year long campaign that followed these loose guidelines. We had about a dozen regular players, many had 2 or 3 characters. At one point in the campaign the PCs were scattered all over the place in three time zones, a couple planes and a few locations in the main campaign area and it worked well. When one player couldn't make it the game didn't collapse because Rothgar the Red wasn't there with the campaign advancing MacGuffin.

Keep the players busy, don't let there be time to be bored, keep them reacting, and keep them in the game.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hmmmm....what next?

I have a new smartphone that came with a new service (our old service didn't' work at the new house). This smartphone has over 23,000 time more RAM then my first computer which I got for Christmas about 27 years ago. The clock speed on the CPU is a deceptively but 333 times faster. The smartphone has over 25,000 times as much built in storage capacity. My personal computer kicks the smartphone's ass. What the heck will my personal computer look like 27 years from now?

2 petahertz processor? 2 exabytes of RAM and a couple dozen zetabytes of Storage? Will it even be visible?

It's an amazing time we live in, I can imagine tools of incredible power and my predictions are in all likelihood very conservative. I don't suspect any of my Bronze Age ancestors sat around the fire imagining a spear 20,000 times more powerful or a clay tablet able to record a billion times more information.

As our tools change, we change. I heard the shooting started in the first gulf war from a friend online in Sweden I was playing chess with; it was the stuff of science fiction just years earlier now so common it's become a normal part of life.

Twenty years from now people will still be playing chess. Will they be playing D&D?

Four Bizzarre Radiations

A few more strange radiations to be found on alien landscapes, distant planes or in proximity to reality-warping scientific disasters.

Psychogenic Radiation: This radiation functions as standard radiation but when a being with mental powers fails a save vs this radiation their mental powers become unstable hour an house after a failed save. During this hour any condition of excitement has a 1 in 6 chance of activating a random mental mutation (posed by the victim) to be projected towards the nearest other sentient being. Mental mutations with use limits will function even id the daily use has been expended.

Discomputational Radiation: This radiation has only minimal effect on organic life which react as if it is 4 intensity levels lower and save at +4 vs it. Complex electronics, robots and androids that fail a save vs this radiation have a % chance equal to damage suffered to shut-down for 2-7 hours. If this radiation would kill such a robotic device it shuts- down for 2-12 days and reactivates as an NPC.

Electrostatic Radiation: This radiation is visible and looks like lighting/electricity dancing on the surface of irradiated surfaces and beings. If anyone fails a save vs Electrostatic Radiation they will hurl 1 bolt each turn (at diminishing intensity) in a random direction which may strike another begin or device up to 60' away.
Any android or robot that suffers 1/2 or more it's hp in damage from this radiation will be immobilized until all the Electrostatic Radiation discharges.

Dread Glow: this radiation causes beings it is exposed to to glow vividly. A failed save causes the victim to glow for as many turns as the intensity level of initial exposure. It will be impossible to surprise sighted creatures and the glow is severe enough to cause the victim to have trouble seeing (-2 to all action needing sight)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Parrying Variant

Parrying and the Shield

For those of us that were introduced to D&D and RPGs in general with the original D&D basic set we had a game option that allowed for a little variety in fights and more importantly the chance to decrease the chance of getting your character hurt in a fight: The parry rule.

In review the parry rule in the original D&D basic rules allowed one to decrease a foes chance of striking them by 2 points by surrendering the chance to attack. In addition if the hit roll was exactly the now modified chance to hit the defenders weapon was broken instead of harming the defender.

Now let me remind my gentle readers that that volume of the rules didn't have a dexterity modifier to armor class.

I've always been a little annoyed by the always on AC bonus provided by Dexterity. It's boring, you get the bonus from the initial ability score generation and that's it.
Wouldn't it be nice if modifiers reflected good dice scores and player choice?
How about if it reflected character experience as well?

The method fort this variant is to add Strength and Dexterity (factoring in ability scores), Fighting prowess (as reflected by class and level) and a little boost if using a shield (I had to slip them in).

Defense Score= DEX+STR+Fighting Prowess+Shield Bonus

Fighting Prowess:
Fighter Level 1-2….+1
Fighter level 3-5….+2
Fighter leve 6-8…..+3
Fighter level 9-11….+4
Fighter level 12-14…+5
Fighter level 15+…….+6

(Clerics and Assassins are considered 2 levels lower, Thieves 4 levels lower, Monks 2 levels higher, others receive no adjustments for level)

Small Shield……..+2
Large Shield……+3
Great Shield……..+4

Defense Score….Parry Bonus
8 or less.............. 0
9-13.................... +1
14-27.................. +2
28-36................. +3
37-41 ................. +4
42 or more......... +5

The Parry Bonus to AC is only applied when the player decides to have their character Parry. They sacrifice their attacks for a round to get the parry bonus to their AC.

Now what happens when the exact score to hit is rolled… The defender must make a save for their weapon or it's broken (the auto-break is just not enough drama for this otherwise random situation).
If one has a shield the defender can check to see if the shield it ruined instead of the weapon.

The typical DEX bonus to AC is dropped with this variant.
Some might want to keep some AC adjustment for DEX I recommend the range for these modifiers be shifted to more extreme scores or only provide half their usual adjustment.

Extra Variant: whenever an attacker misses with a score equal to or less then a fighters level when a fighter is parrying, that fighter may make a counter attack against that foe.