Monday, December 31, 2012

Nerzh - Indie Metal Monday

instrumental french melodic black folk metal

When they take a break for a mildly sinister sounding harpsichord break that's vaguely reminiscent of the music in Wizards and Warriors... you know it's good shit.

A Progress Bar

Tantalus by Gioacchio Assereto
The process of going from bullet points, brainstorming, and good ideas to something even remotely resembling a finished product is tantalizing to the point of exhaustion. "Almost there! Oh wait... ok, now! No... ok... just gotta stretch a little bit further!" I imagine that it's similar to the problems a person runs into when spear fishing but mental refraction is probably more tricky.

Since I don't have any children to cook up for the gods to try and speed things along, I guess we'll just have to knuckle down and keep at it.

So, step 1: What in the hell is actually going to be in the Hot Springs book(s)?

  • A cover!
  • A map
  • An Intro/Overview of the Island
  • Stage setting about The Ancients
  • Stage setting about The Elves
  • A Field Guide to the Plants of Hot Springs
  • A Field Guide to the Animals/Monsters of Hot Springs
  • A Field Guide to the Intelligent Factions of Hot Springs
  • A Field Guide to the Known Points of Interest on Hot Springs
  • A section in which we address the GM directly
  • Our Hex Movement System
  • A play example of the Hex Movement system
  • The Hex Key
  • The Dark on the major NPCs of Hot Springs (for the GM)
  • The Dark on the Factions of Hot Springs (for the GM)
  • The Dungeons and Maps
  • Treasure
  • Tables
We're probably too ambitious. But we're gonna take a big old drink of that water by Zeus!

To break down these items even further into their component pieces:
  • 24 Plants
  • 67 Beasts and Monsters
  • 5 Intelligent Factions
  • 75 Points of Interest
  • 7 "major" NPCs
  • 10 Dungeons
  • 2 Village Maps
We still need to plan, as a group, exactly what is going to be included in the Tables and Treasure sections. The plan is to have... 20 small random "dugouts", 20-30 random adventurers, nested encounter tables, and possibly a treasure generator in addition to a list of magical items and pre-generated treasure. Oh, and a natural resource and random shipwreck generator to boot.

It's probably too much. It's probably way too much, but... in the Swordfish Islands, you go big, or you go to hell.

A visual chart of the current progress on Hot Springs

The numbers still aren't super exact ('cause I'm not a super exact person), but it's looking like we need a total 172 written assets and 136 art assets. 76 of the art assets are already at least sketched out, and 115 of the written assets are in at least bullet form.

The written assets number is skewed down because I only counted each hex and not each point of interest (there are three per hex), but the good news is that *ALL* the points of interest are in draft form and are currently in their "cooling off" phase before I go back and review them.

Finally, the art asset number isn't exactly accurate either as I pulled data to answer the question "Is there at least one picture of this thing/creature/plant/etc". In some cases, like the Night Axe ogres there are upwards of 10 drawings of them. This also doesn't count the bonus illustration doodads, or the super fucking badass fight and scenery scenes that Safari has been throwing our way. "Oh.. yeah... I just wanted to draw an Ogre fighting a Salamander, and 5 salamanders fighting 3 ogres, and Boltforagers eating some carrion... and and and...".

The journey is proving longer than expected, and even more narrow in scope than we'd thought, but damn it, we're gonna ship!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Damn it Fed-Ex Kinkos!

Fed-Ex Kinkos wants .89 cents a per "large format" scan. That's highway robbery. And on top of it, they want you to trust them with your stuff over night!

Nope Nope Nope!

Today the Swordfish Islands acquired a super-deluxe A3 scanner meaning Safari can now use paper even bigger than the 9"x12" stuff that got us into this mess in the first place.

Oh, and if anyone in the Austin needs their larger format stuff scanned I'm only charging .25 cents a page. ^_^

Friday, December 28, 2012

Damn Nature! - Net-Casting Spider

Check out BBCs video of a net-casting spider
I'm not sure what we'd do without the British and their amazing investment in the pursuit of capturing and understanding nature.

These net spiders hunt at night, don't have the best eyesight in the world, and instead of creating a "traditional" spider's web, they just keep a little webbing, like a net, between their forelegs. For years scientists have been aware of this behavior, but they hadn't been able to see exactly how the spider's capture process works. If you check out this BBC link you can see it in all its slow motion glory.

The process is actually quite simple. The spider picks a spot to hang out, gets its net ready, and then when something touches the web, it strikes in a fraction of a second. Since the trigger is touch, not sight, there are a number of ways this attack could go wrong (spider is too slow, prey is too large etc), but I think it makes the concept of keeping 10' poles with you in dark caverns even more important.

What's even cooler is that some of these spiders, to assist with their poor night vision, will spread their shit on the surface they hang above. When their feces dries it is typically lighter/whiter than its surroundings so when something crosses "the trap zone" it will appear as a dark spot on a light background.

nom nom nom!
A monster using this technique would be exceptional in natural limestone caverns as they are frequently full of rough roof areas or largish "upper rooms". Like in Big Trouble in Little China, when they're going through the underdark to reach Lo-Pan's hideout. Only, instead of being a triggerless jack-in-the-box monster, there are plenty of opportunities for player agency.

Earlier this year I went through the Sonora Caverns out in West Texas, and there were *plenty* of places to insert these pop out and gotcha spiders. The player agency opportunities are as follow:

1. Filaments/Wispy threads hanging from the ceiling over head. Either vertical like a jelly fish, or horizontal like the net-spider's "hand held" web.
2. Floor in the area is coated in a large light/white/bio-luminescent patch (noticable change in the coloration of the floor).
3. If you're using a limestone cavern remember that the walls will stain and stain badly. If there's a successful creature living in the ceiling and eating lots of victims the walls should show clear streaks of black and rust colored discoloration. This discoloration may encourage the monster to move from roof hole to roof hole though, so there could be numerous areas with streaks of discoloration throughout the area, but not all of them need to be "active" murder holes.

Two Journal Entries

An "early" view of Hot Springs Island
The following journal excerpts come from Matthias Mayford, official navigator, and unofficial historian for Captain Jeremy Rand.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Random "Dugouts"

Trying out imgur gallery embedding.

I'm a big believer in replayability, especially when it comes to sandboxes, but overcoming meta-game knowledge can be a bitch. As such, we've decided to make a table of small cave structures that can be rolled on to make what you "find beyond this cave entrance" a little more random, and perhaps a little more special.

"Important" structures, or perhaps, larger structures will remain constant from game to game (since  the story created by the players should supply sufficient diversity), but I'm hoping that adding elements of randomness to the "unimportant" structures will allow exploratory wonder to persist a bit longer. What was a bandit camp last game, may be small, watery cave, this game.

I'm also thinking that if we pair these maps with a solid set of tables to determine both contents and the location of those contents within the caves it would be a cinch to generate a very large number of possible cave combinations with minimal effort. Of course we may then run into the problem of "pointless randomness" or "forced randomness". Moving the location of the treasure between 6 pre-determined spots within a cave is even more asinine than having it always be found in the same location no matter what. Gotta find that balance.

The only question I've got now is... will these hand drawn maps work? Or do we need to add a grid to them? I suppose only time and play-testing will tell!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dart Frogs of the Swordfish Islands

Bastimentos color morph of Dendrobates pumilio from Wikipedia
Poison Dart Frogs have always had a special place in my heart. Most are about the size of your thumbnail, and a spec of poison off their back the size of a grain of sand can, reportedly, kill a human. I decided early on that the Swordfish Islands needed these tiny little guys hopping about the islands but it wasn't 'till quite recently that we decided what their poisons would do.

As we learned with the Princess Bride, "to the death" is quite droll, and "to the pain" is where it's at. Poison Dart Frogs on the Swordfish Islands come in 8 different colors (the better to randomize into our encounter tables) and each color frog produces a poison unique to that of his cousins.

Red - Blood Thinner - Ingested - Blood stops coagulating and you bleed out, also become prone to bloody noses etc

Blue - Suffocation - Ingested/Inhaled - Causes your lungs to fill with fluid and you die from suffocation

Green - Fungal Rot - Contact - Spores cause rapidly growing fungus that eats your body

Yellow - Suggestion - Contact - Enter a stupor and highly susceptible to suggestion during that time

Orange - Uncontrollable Vomiting - Ingested

White - Deafness and Blindness - Ingested - You hear and see static

Violet - 3rd person mode, no clipping - Contact - Gives you an out of body experience where you see yourself in 3rd person. Numbs pain and sensitivity to a large extent too. Astrally project, but stay linked within 5-10 feet of your body. The violet frogs look like they're covered in tiny stars. Drug itself provides a shock to your system, body is high as fuck while this is occurring and functioning at a peak level.

Black - Forgetfulness - Contact - Lose a % of memory by dose - Like Amnesia

Monday, December 17, 2012

Where are the Swordfish Islands Specific Posts

When I focus on things... I focus on them. Swordfish Islands has been taking a back seat recently because I'm getting married on Friday. I figured that it'd be best to hedge my bets and tie it to the end of the world.

Yep. In a cave on the Solstice. Followed by a bonfire and fire dancers!

Then again, if the world really does it, I figure that it would be best spent having a party with family and friends!

We've done everything ourselves, from writing the ceremony to picking the location, to scheduling the fire dancers, to building seating out of pallets. So Swordfish Islands has slipped slightly.

Progress continues. So for the 20-30 of you that check out these posts, just keep watching this space. Safari is still busy making wonderful art. Wintergreen's still writing up the monsters. The Diviner's still writing up characters.

We had a trial run of some stickers of the Hot Springs Island logo, and they looked amazing.

2013 is going to be glorious.

Bitter Frost - Indie Metal Monday

Bitter Frost

I'm a symphonic power metal kind of guy. I like to fly with the angels more than run from the demons when I'm destroying my ear drums, but if I can find more albums like Bitter Frost I may end up switching sides. It may just be that I have a crush on it because I'd originally found it by searching for "black metal opera" (it was one of those nights), and it gripped me from the get go.

On the one hand this has provided some great inspiration, but on the other hand it makes me want to add snow and ice to everything which doesn't quite work for the Swordfish Islands. We'll make it north eventually.

Now, to put this album to the proper test:
1. Imagine a race of humans enslaved by demons under the frozen northern mountains
2. Choose a singular power/varriant/type for the demons (acid, sludge, ooze, fire, magma, ice, spikes, thorns, hooks, chains, etc)
3. Choose a singular bestial feature (horns, claws, beaks, hooves, powerful arms, tails, spots)
4. Listen to the track "Signs that Point to Nowhere" (#7)

By the end of the track, and with these things in mind, I believe that you'll have a killer mythos for your setting. Appendix N is awesome, and should never be forgotten, but don't forget music as an inspiration every now and then too.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Damn Nature! - Reduviidae

Approximately 7000 known species make up the family Reduviidae, commonly called assassin bugs. These critters typically have a long head, narrow neck, and a segmented tube for feeding. Predatory assassin bugs inject enzymes into the bugs they eat to liquefies their insides, vyderac style, and make a gut slurpee. Others drink mammalian blood, even human, and you can see three notably terrifying examples below the break.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bravest Warriors

If you're not watching Bravest Warriors every Thursday... you should be.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Graven Rite - Indie Metal "Mondays"

This post was supposed to go up on Monday, but if "tomorrow" doesn't begin until the sun comes up, or you go to sleep and get back up again we can pretend that it isn't Tuesday yet and the post still counts. Ultimately though I guess I should utilize the built in posting schedule and write these in advance and have them show up automatically, but to hell with that!

The times we're living in are fucking awesome. People have more time, resources and power to create than ever before. More importantly perhaps, we have more ways to share our creations than ever before, and so the myriad of scenes surrounding independent creative pursuits are absolutely booming. This of course leads to the problems of "too much diversity" and "too much competition" but fuck it, those are great problems to have in my opinion, but finding and then sharing obscure yet awesome stuff is one of my favorite things to do.

My plan is to share some awesome, independent (or mostly independent) metal music every Monday for at least the next six months. Most of the links will probably come from Bandcamp as it's:
  1. The future of music distribution
  2. Easy to use
  3. Global in scope
  4. Chock full of brilliant, brilliant stuff
Today, we're going to talk about Graven Rite.

They're from Austin. I'm from Austin (well... as much as anyone is actually from Austin, excepting Safari of course seeing as he was actually born here). So why not start here?!

I probably don't have the right vocabulary to accurately describe what they've got going on so thankfully you can listen for yourself! All I know is, as soon as "The Summoner's Pit" started playing, I was instantly transported back in time to summers in middle school spent rolling up AD&D characters with my best friend while Ozzy or Metallica blared in the background.

Give it a go!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Damn Nature! - Manchineel Tree

Nature... is scary.

To help add a little more structure, and keep me coming back to the blog to post on a more regular basis, I've decided to start posting a weird, terrifying, or dangerous natural thing every Friday. It may be a plant. It may be an animal. Or it may be an invertebrate critter that eats the eyes of children. Regardless, the aim is for it to be something unsettlingly real that can be tweaked slightly and added to your game. Hell, I may even go with some natural events if I find a good one.

Today's post is about the Manchineel Tree.

Fruit and Leaves of the poisonous Manchineel tree - Wikipedia

The Manchineel Tree grows up to ~50 feet tall, has shiny green leaves, grows in coastal areas along the beach (Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean), bears fruit that resembles apples, and the whole damn thing is poisonous. It secretes a milky white sap that causes human flesh to blister on contact. Even if the sap is diluted in water, it still causes blistering.

Walking down the beach with your girlfriend? Sudden storm blows in? Run under a nearby tree to get out of the rain? Blisters. Burning Flesh. Agony. Thanks nature.

Get pissed off at a Manchineel Tree? Decide to chop it down and burn it? The smoke can cause blindness.

Manchnieel Tree Fruit on a beach - Seldo Voss
"Accidentally" ingest some of it? Your guts burn out. Or... your airway becomes blocked due to edema (swelling due to an accumulation of fluids) and then your guts burn out while you can't breathe.

This tree is delightful. The Caribs would use the sap from it to poison their arrows and, according to an uncited wikipedia rumor, use the leaves to poison water supplies. The tree has been featured in books, movies and even an opera as a relentless killing machine. Need to get rid of an enemy? Tie him to the trunk and walk away. Mama nature will take care of the rest.

A poultice of Arrowroot can be used to counteract the poison of the Manchineel.

Now just look at all those plot devices. Castle under siege? Poison the water supply using nothing more than tree leaves. Poison water didn't break the siege? Make giant smokebombs. Fill them with leaves and branches of this poison tree. Launch them at the castle with your catapults. The defenders will freak out about the fire, and then be permanently blinded by the smoke!

Need your players to find a "prop NPC" in the woods that's only there to deliver information and then die suddenly? Tie them to a Manchineel Tree, and ground your weak trope use squarely in reality.

So much possibility!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hot Springs Map - Draft 2

The second draft of Hot Springs Island. More tweaks still to come, but I've gotta say, I think we've all learned a hell of a lot of good stuff from this process!

Even though the hexes aren't labeled in this version of the map, you can check out the first draft of the hex key that will go along with the island here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fell Type - Open Source Font

Good fonts are hard to find. There're just so damn many out there and most are either boring, bad, or too specific. I've been hunting for a font, or set of fonts, to use for the Swordfish Islands and I believe I may have finally found *the* set. The fonts in this set seem to have it all. They have a look and feel that I really like, a rich history, and they're free and open source, so everyone else can use them in their independant gaming endevours too!

Fell Type - Double Pica - Dr. John Fell and Igino Marini

Back in the 1600s, Dr John Fell played a pretty major role in setting up the Oxford University Press, Oxford going so far as to call him the "father" of their modern Press. Apparently he curated and edited everything that went through the Press ruthlessly, and with rigirous attention to quality and detail. He commissioned a large number of custom types from craftsmen in Holland, France and Germany, stating, "the foundation of all success must be laid in doing things well, which l am sure will not be done with English letters."

John Fell - National Portrait Gallery (London)
Between 2000 and 2006, Igino Marini, an Italian civil engineer, digitized a number of these fonts and released them into the wilds of the internet under the SIL Open Font License, with a request that anyone using them for a project let him know about it.

You can check out and download the fonts here.

There are five different sets of standard letter fonts, two fonts of symbols and decorations, and one font of bold capital letters.

Let's all make some beautiful things!