Jun 19, 2020

Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 2

So, week 2 of the challenge involves making a map of the area for the players to investigate. Having recently picked up the Bundle of Racial Justice and Equality, I was reminded of Hex Kit, which had a very successful Kickstarter campaign. I gave it a try. It's pretty barebones, but that's the idea -- it's supposed to be a lightweight simple mapping program, and that's exactly what it does.


The guidelines in the Gygax 75 Challenge booklet recommends the following features:
  • One settlement of significant size: this is Ramshackle (hex 0707), the starting town for the player characters. "A few hundred buildings built in a thousand different styles." It's hit or miss in Ramshackle, much like the name implies.
  • Two other settlements: I have placed Seldon Farm (hex 1006) a little way down the coast, and a hidden elven homestead (hex 0504) at the edge of the haunted forest, for the party to discover.
  • One major terrain feature: this is the Haunted Forest (hexes 0402, 0403, 0404, 0502, 0503, 0504, and 0603). The town of Ramshackle sits where a wizard's tower once sat thousands of years ago; the Haunted Forest is said to be where his creatures and minions fled when his tower was razed long ago.
  • One mysterious site to explore: I included three henges (hexes 0406, 0804, and 1008). As in classic tales, henges are part of this world, but also part of another.
  • One dungeon entrance: the party can eventually hear of a dungeon in hex 1201. Rumors will be of a vampire or something similar, but in actual fact it is the meeting-place of a covey of hags.
Optional entries are to pimp this out, but Hex Kit pimped it out in style already. The other optional bit is to create a random encounters table. I have to do that, but that will be a followup.

Jun 13, 2020

Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 1

So, the challenge for Week 1 is very basic. The steps are:

1. Develop Your Pitch

Come up with 3-7 bullet points that describe what you conceive of the campaign to be. The pitch for my home game idea is pretty simple. This is to be shared with the players to give them an idea what the campaign is about.
  • Fairie Tale Frontier. The campaign takes place in a frontier coastline where the fantasy has a fairy-tale air. Any faerie tale or fable could conceivably have taken place here.
  • Beastmen and Wild Men. The frontier is infested with magically-created and -influenced creatures that have reverted to a feral state.
  • Empires and Outlands. The campaign takes place on a frontier far from the reach of any nation-states, but that doesn't mean they ignore the area. The great, merciless empires tread the frontier with no regard for the natives.
  • Points-of-Light Hexcrawl. The campaign will proceed in a hexcrawl fashion. The players will begin in a small frontier town, and be able to explore at their own pace. While they do so, events outside of their immediate purview will unfold; they can intercede or not, in their own discretion. If they do not intercede, it is unlikely anybody else can.
  • System. Is undecided. I have worked up material in Fantasy Hero 6E, D&D 5E, and OSE formats, and would prefer something on the crunchy end rather than a narrative end.

2. List Sources of Inspiration

This is basically the Appendix N of your campaign. Again, no more than 7 individual sources, and you should include a sentence or two to explain what it contributes to your campaign. This should not be shared with the players -- but none of mine hit my blog, so...
  • Bernard Sleigh, An Ancient Mappe of Fairyland. Basically, there are several sources that could have gone here, which assume all fairy-tales, fables, and similar stories take place in the same place, so I chose my favorite.
  • Jack Vance, the Lyonesse Trilogy. This fits in well with the above; while no actual fairy-tales are referenced, the feel of the series is definitely out of Grimm's, or Andrew Lang's Fairy Books.
  • Alexander Afanasyev, Russian Fairy Tales. I know I already mentioned fairy tales in general, but while I'll be drawing a feel and vibe from other fairy tales, I'm taking actual characters from these.
  • Carlos Castaneda, the Don Juan Matus series. When I originally read these, they were considered important works of nonfiction; now, after further analysis and experience by others, they are widely regarded as fictional. Nevertheless, they are basically the description of an apprenticeship to a shaman from the point of view of a cultural outsider. I intend to use them to inform myself of the ways, beliefs, and powers of the beastmen of the wilderness, who will have a "noble savage"/feral dichotomy going on.

3. Assemble a Mood Board (Optional)

Me being me, this was the step I took first. The mood board was fun for me, since I've been collecting images that speak to me for a while. I love the /r/ImaginaryNetwork on reddit.com, and there are always great, inspiring images on there, with links to the artist's gallery so you can find similar work. My mood board can be found here: https://pin.it/6Twqe0t

Jun 8, 2020

Gygax 75 Challenge - Overview

Over at the OSR Pit, Ray Otus has started a thread about the Gygax 75 Challenge, which is based on an article Gary Gygax published in the April 1975 issue of Europa, a wargaming newsletter. Ray also wrote a booklet about it which is available here for free. The idea is to jump-start the creative process for making a campaign.

When I first started running games, I put them in my own homebrew setting. I borrowed elements from all of the various things I was interested in at various times (Middle Earth, Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné setting, the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard, etc.) but there wasn't really much rhyme or reason to it -- I would put in something I thought was cool, at the point I thought was cool to do so. And it worked fine, but it was small-picture stuff. I had the idea that there was a huge campaign world in my head, but I just needed some time to get it sorted.

Later, I revisited that setting after decades of running games in other people's settings, and I now had ideas of how I wanted it organized. My setting was kitchen sink and contained a lot of elements from disparate genres: I figured out how that could happen logically, and was delighted when the reasoning led to including more cool stuff. New fan properties gave me new ideas, and those new ideas now had a logical way they could fit without upending the whole kit. I stuck to the big picture, and as a result, I felt my new stuff wasn't quite as charming. Everything had to have a reason, and I felt straight-jacketed by my previous choices. As famous British guy Lord Dunsany puts it in the introduction to his fantastic book The Gods of Pegāna, I "became heterodox to my own heterodoxy" and broke old molds to put in new ideas.

It's been a few more decades, and I've come back to the small picture. As you get older you realize that there are no absolutes in the world: absolutes are an artificial creation of Man. Everything contains bits of its opposite, every Yin has its Yang, every black its kernel of white. The small picture has elements that break the big picture, and that's perfectly fine. With that realization, the world in my head has gelled in a way it hasn't before. It might actually be time to put it on paper. And this challenge looks like the right way to do that.

Feb 27, 2020

Arcane Lore: The Fire-Eye Scrolls [AD&D 1st Edition]

I've been rereading old Dragon and Dungeon magazine for ideas I can rip off for 5th edition. One of the features I always loved were the tomes of forbidden and magical lore. These were usually just literary framing devices for the introduction of new spells, but some authors actually described interesting books that dripped with plot hooks and other elements a DM could use in her game.

While the first to do this in the pages of Dragon was probably Ed Greenwood, with his popular "Pages from the Mages" features, the column I remember most vividly is "The Fire-Eye Scrolls" by Harold Dolan, from issue #129 (July 1987). It described eight new spells and a magic item, all that remained of the "Academy of Fire Magic" from the "Valley of Lanshaw." These scrolls were the only ones recovered from the Academy's destruction, and reside in the "Mages’ Guild of the city of Val Dalya."

For the most part, people used these articles for new spells they could drop into their campaigns, and that's fine; there was another column "Bazaar of the Bizarre" that provided new magic items for the same purpose. But I liked "Arcane Lore" because it had more elements that could be lifted.

For example, from this entry you have the destroyed Academy of Fire Magic. Assume one of the PCs is a member of the Mage's Guild. They go to the Guild for training when they gain a new level and the DM says, "The Guild has some additional spells you could learn," and hands them a list. Roleplaying as one of the proctors of the Guild, he drops the information about where the spells came from. The player now has info that there's a ruin in the "Valley of Lanshaw" that might bear investigating.

This article in particular mentions the magical item, the Fire-Eye, as being missing, which is another great hook. What if the current owner seeks more information about the artifact and its use? They might try to steal the scroll containing that information from the Mage's Guild. If the players decide to investigate the ruined Academy, their expedition could be shadowed and interrupted by the individual holding the Fire-Eye for the same reason. There's also mention of the previous adventuring career of the founder, Avissar Fire-Eye -- the DM could leave hints that he found some other MacGuffin needed to advance the plot. There are just a ton of uses for these kinds of articles that a DM can steal, not just spells but hooks, and plot and setting elements.

I've done the conversion of this article, which you can find on GM Binder.

Mar 17, 2019

Long Dormancy, New Gamable Ideas!

I haven't posted in a while, mainly due to a high workload in my job. My shift is going to change in the near future, however, and I have been thinking about running a game on Saturdays once I'm freed up. One of the ideas floating around is a D&D 5E-based pirate game.

I've got some ideas, but one of the things I did to prep was to actually start reading the PHB. I was heavily involved in the year-and-a-half long playtest, and I've realized that my "knowledge of the rules" is more a hodgepodge of rules/interpretations/snippets from several iterations of the playtest documents, rather than a knowledge gained from reading the book cover to cover. Heck, there's some older edition interpretations that I'm still using.

Anyway, in reading the PHB, I'm seeing more and more where it looks like a product that was not fully playtested before it hit the shelves. During the playtest, they kept back a lot of content, only releasing the core races/subraces and classes/subclasses to the general public, probably to maintain release sales figures. The result was some classes (like the ranger) didn't get nearly enough testing. Berserker barbarians are subpar compared to Totem Warriors; likewise Champion fighters compared to Battle Masters. Beast Master rangers devote their subclass choice to getting a companion not even as useful as a familiar a mage gets from the simple first-level find familiar spell.

The upshot is that I'm realizing my preferred play at my tables involves a sizable number of tweaks, expansions, variations, and fixes. Enough that it probably makes sense to prepare a document with just those options, to speed up character creation.

I'm going to compile a list of changes other people have done to make "my version of the PHB." Originally I was going to do this on a message board, but they're a little unfriendly over there. This seems like a good place to do so. A lot of these are from Reddit, especially the excellent /r/UnearthedArcana subreddit.

Dragonborn: expanded Draconic Ancestry options from /u/Methaneus

Barbarian: Berserker: fixes from /u/KibblesTasty

Fighter: Variant Fighter from /u/layhnet
Ranger: Consensus Ranger from /u/zipperondisney

Two-Weapon Fighting: fixes by Brandes Stoddard

Jun 8, 2016

Wondrous Wednesday: Rosethorn Censer

This item is one I've used in games for almost twenty years. I remember an illustration of a magic-worker surrounded by streamers of incense, gazing intently into a mirror that was part of a box; I think I saw it in one of those 80s encyclopedias of the Occult which used to clutter the shelves of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton back in the day. In any case, the image stayed with me and I used it as inspiration for a fortune-teller my players visited in a marketplace. Since I portrayed a lot of fortune-tellers as shifty con-artists, a couple of players decided it was the box itself that was magical. I came up with the details of the potential magic item, but never needed it as more profitable larcenies occupied the group.

Jun 6, 2016

Monstrous Monday: Classic Characters 1 - Allies

I was sick last week, so there were no updates. That gave me time to do a little work on some conversions I'd planned of classic characters from previous editions of D&D. Part of the fun of a new edition is converting favorite characters and seeing how they turn out. With the new edition's focus on simplicity, for a lot of characters I find the proper way to do a conversion that captures the spirit of the character is to start from scratch. That seemed to work pretty well with the classic characters I've converted: Aleena (from the Mentzer Basic Dungeons & Dragons book of 1983), Morgan Ironwolf (from the Moldvay Basic Dungeons & Dragons book of 1981), and Gutboy Barrelhouse (from the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide of 1979).