Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Golden Cricket - A Thieves Guild

Huzzah! Secret Santicore volume 2 has hit the interwebs, and that's where my entry ended up. The request was the following:

Dear Santicore, I would like...
Five to nine (or more?!) paragraphs detailing the infrastructure and operation of a Thieves’ Guild that is controlled by a trio of women at least one of which is a widow with children whose family knows nothing of her job outside of the home. You are encouraged to explore all of the details and devise details to your heart’s content, but it is important that the women leading the Thieves’ Guild be regarded in their daily lives as unassuming and nonthreatening women whom nobody would ever suspect of being the masterminds of a nefarious underground organization.

I had so much fun writing this. Hopefully you have a lot of fun reading it and maybe even using it.

The Golden Cricket

Backstory Flavor

Once upon a time there was a thief named Marceline. She was young, beautiful and quick of mind, body and tongue. Her exploits are many, and best told another time, but never forget that it was Marceline the thief who stole the Holy Brand of Malthus from Redwater Monastery, recovered the Stones of Kismet from the belly of the gorgon Josira, broke the Florian Cartel's Stranglehold of Greenport, and was rumored to be the actual founder the Half-Moon Bread bakeries.

After retiring from a life of crawling through dark places in the world she set up shop somewhere in the mountains outside the capitol city, and with the aid of her gang The Quick Thirty, made the highways and byways pricy and uncomfortable for people with coin. Over time people started calling her Queen Marceline of the King's road. But this was all more than 200 years ago and probably not what you've paid me for. Or so you'd think. You see, at some point ole Marceline got her hands on a wish. Some say it were a fairy that did it, others say it were the ghost of old Malthus himself what blessed her, but any way you cut it, she got that wish and used it to wish for eternal life.

Shame of it though was that she forgot to ask for eternal youth too. Even though her grip on the gold of the wealthy stayed tight, her body went the way all ours go eventually, sagging' 'n wrinkling 'n withering to frailty, but Queen Marceline couldn't die. Over time she grew so small and so frail that she turned into a cricket. But that didn't stop her, or even slow her down. It's said she struck a deal with Fate herself 'cause there are objects on this world Fate wants but can't get at. Objects that need to be stolen. So Queen Marceline started up an organization that could help Fate get what she wanted and it runs, in the shadows, to this day.

Fate's Demand

Yes, Marceline is really a cricket. And yes, Fate promised her her youth if she could acquire a number of items, but the goddess had one demand: Marceline must be assisted in running her guild by three women in different stages of their life. The Virgin, The Mother, and The Crone. Only the best are selected to fill each role and as a woman transitions from one life phase to the next, she is not guaranteed the next position of leadership regardless of how well she did previously. If the stars align and the three positions are held by a blood line (mother (Crone), daughter (Mother) and granddaughter (Virgin)), Fate smiles upon the guild and their heists never fail, but this has only happened twice in the guild's history.

Of the Virgin, Fate requires the candidate is a virgin and can menstruate. Of the Mother, Fate requires the candidate has at least one child in her care, of her blood, that has not yet "come of age". Of the Crone, Fate requires the candidate to be older than 70. When a woman no longer meets these requirements Fate notifies both Marceline and the woman. Most of the leaders transition out of their roles willingly and with celebration, remaining respected members of the organization and hopeful they will be called to serve again.

Marceline has her own requirements of aptitude for each leadership candidate that change with the times and current needs of the guild, but one always remains the same: The Files.

The Files

To be considered for one of the three leadership roles in the guild each woman must commit at least twelve crimes of sufficient notoriety that remain unsolved or unsolvable. They must then provide Marceline with proof and a signed confession for each. These crimes are conducted outside the guild's normal pursuits and each woman knows they will be given to the authorities if it becomes necessary to protect the guild and brand them as an unaffiliated thief. When a woman transitions out of a leadership role, her file is publicly burned before all the guild and her full member protections are restored. Thus, to be considered for another role, fresh crimes will need to be committed.

The guild itself has no official name, but a small cricket made of gold is left at the site of any major heists causing many among the authorities to call them "The Golden Cricket". Rank and file members of the guild collectively refer to one another as "The Rabble", have no fixed hierarchy and focus exclusively on the skills and results a person brings and not their skin, creed or the parts between their legs. The fixed nature of the leadership roles and other initiatives skews female membership higher than other thieves guilds (making it a rough 50/50), but this is only a side effect and has never been a goal.

For low level jobs, individuals or small groups of people (1-4) from the Rabble are tapped on a job by job basis. For mid and high level jobs the leaders create gangs of 12, trusted, members that last only as long as the job. Marceline, with connections developed over hundreds of years, keeps the guild flush with work and at any given time each leader will be overseeing 1 to 3 gangs of 12.

While it would be avoided at all costs, the guild has the coin and connections to field a small army of 400-600 thieves and mercenaries in as little as three days. Because a reveal of this scope would necessitate the guild going dark for at least a generation (and probably relocating) it has never been attempted.

Services and Specialties
·         Acquisitions - Specifically goods and information. Kidnappings for ransom are avoided and human or humanoid slave trafficking is expressly forbidden.
·         Poison - Specifically those dealing with sleep and paralysis.
·         Setups - When they're done with the target the city guards will have thought they did all the work and pat themselves on the back for catching such a criminal.
·         Neutral Ground - The guild operates a number of safe houses and havens where the rival parties of other guilds and groups that operate outside of society can meet to discuss their differences, come to terms or deliver ultimatums. By remaining neutral and providing top notch locations and security, Marceline's guild has made quite a bit of their coin and connections this way.
·         Half-Moon Bread - Before aging to the point of becoming a cricket, Marceline set up a number of bakeries called "Half-Moon Bread" in every medium and large city in the land. She had always thought it would be fun to run a legitimate business and greatly enjoyed baking herself, favoring cinnamon rolls and turnovers. Although the bakeries were started with "ill-gotten gains" they operate completely on the up-n-up (no money laundering or funny business!). The bakeries actively feed the hungry and forgotten for free, and their open charity with the poor has created inroads into a number of religious organizations. Upper class citizens shun the bakeries because of how welcomed the unwashed are, but good, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth type lower and middle class families love them. Over the centuries, most of the bakeries have changed their name away from Half-Moon Bread, but the bakeries, mill and transport services that support them are all still owned by Marceline and provide many of the guild members with a legitimate occupation.
·         Forgeries and False Identities - The guild's primary service is a sort of witness protection program for society's outcasts, usually young women in bad situations. They take these women, clean them up, spend time polishing them up, and depending on their aptitudes and willingness, fabricate back stories and connections for them. That prostitute who killed her pimp is now a simple farmer's or merchant's daughter with witnesses and documents that attest to that fact. Many of the women (and men too) end up marrying relatively well-to-do individuals (shopkeepers, up and coming councilmen, rising stars in the city guard, etc). While many of the early "chance meetings" between the future couples are arranged by the guild (and kept secret from both parties) Marceline has found that the relationships are stronger and more... useful, if the eventual marriages are never forced. This helps keep eyes and ears throughout all levels of society and should favors ever be needed, the individuals who received a new identity and new life are happy to do most anything for their old sponsor.

The Crone

The guild's current Crone is Lady Isadora Dargetos. She is the widow of a ranking ambassador and in her younger days served as The Virgin. She is a renowned patron of the arts, thrower of phenomenal parties, and considered by many in upper class to be THE arch-maven of taste, style and polite sensibility. Her handwriting is exceptional and her forgeries are divine. She knows absolutely everybody (and most of their secrets) and delights in using her intimate knowledge of the social calendars to plan targeted heists. If you need something or access to someone in a city, Lady Isadora can provide.

The Mother

The guild's current Mother is Angelika Huxton. She is recently widowed (her husband having been kicked in the head by a horse) and owns and runs a 750 acre ranch outside of town with about 200 head of cattle and 100 head of sheep. She has six children, the youngest of which is 2 and the oldest is 17. Coming of age ceremonies take place at the age of 15 in these lands, so assuming her youngest child doesn't die, she will be the guild's Mother for the next 13 years. The ranch is mostly self sufficient, with ample acreage dedicated to farming and vegetable gardens and plenty of heavily wooded areas where a person could get lost for weeks. 30 to 50 ranch and farm hands work the land and livestock and guard the house. Of those ~1d10 are actual guild associates.

Demascus Slade, a real mountain of a man, and Angelika's husband's "first cousin" (i.e., forged and sent by the guild), came to live on the ranch and help Angelika keep things running after her husband passed. Demascus is scary good with knives (throwing, stabbing and whittling) and an absolute master of making and detecting poisons.

Cooper Tinsides is an old prospector who lives up in the mountains, coming down every so often to trade some of the metal he digs up for fresh supplies. He stays at the ranch for 3 to 5 days before heading back up to his claims. Some of the ranch hands don't like him too much, but it's only on account of how bad he smells whenever he first arrives. He can tell a hell of a story and Angelika insists he be well treated because of how much raw gold and silver he trades for the supplies and services. The truth of the matter is that Cooper lives up in Marceline's old bandit lair and acts as her current proxy. He collects news and information and delivers orders and assignments from Marceline. Cooper really does prospect, but only enough to know all the ins and outs of the mining and panning trade. Most of the ore is melted down booty and this facade launders a hell of a lot of gold. His requests for secrecy are well respected on all fronts because of his loud and frequently proclaimed fear of claim jumpers. So far, no one that's tried to tail Cooper has made it past the foothills of the mountains without a red smile across their throat.

Each weekend Angelika goes into the city to run a number of stalls in a farmer's market where she sells meats, grains, vegetables, honey and soap. The quality of the goods she sells is quite high, but she keeps her prices low and is well liked and respected throughout the capitol. The captain of the town guard himself went so far as to offer her a few men to help keep the ranch running after her husband passed on, but as Demascus was "on his way", Angelika politely declined the offer. When in town, Angelika takes up lodging in Black Dragon Inn and Tavern.

The Virgin

The guild's current Virgin, Fiona Sinclair has eyes of fire and a heart of steel. She was a swashbuckler in the company of Suulo the Blade who traveled through the ruins in Witchfire Mire and slew a black dragon. Fiona came away from the adventure with the dragon's head and a quarter of its hoard, three weeks before her 22nd birthday. She came back to the capitol city and opened up the Black Dragon Inn and Tavern because she had always wanted to run a tavern with her mother.

Fiona's mother Maple, was a brewer's daughter and spent much of her early life as a waitress in a small inn at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. After being beaten and raped by the owner one night, she killed him and proudly confessed to the deed when questioned the next day. Before she could be hanged, Marceline's guild disappeared her and set her up with a new name and life in the capitol. She never married and worked the counter at the Half-Moon Bread bakery and raised her daughter from that terrible night, in the thick of the guild. Maple makes delicious apple cider and always told Fiona it was her dream to one day run a tavern, so when adventuring paid off Fiona made that dream a reality.

Fiona enjoys being "shocking" to the members of high society. She uses her money and fame to get into places of wealth and refinement and then does something lewd or disruptive for a laugh, paying off any consequences with her "dragon gold". She dresses in a masculine fashion, wearing trousers but keeping her long hair in an unkempt ponytail with foolishly expensive ribbons. She enjoys swearing and arm wrestling and recently created a number of artistic works by covering her naked body in paint and rolling across some canvas. Lady Isadora Dargetos found the paintings mesmerizing and held a gala opening for them called "Colors of Adventure", and commissioned several more. On the opening night of the show a number of important documents were stolen during a break in at the mayor's house while he was in attendance. No connection has been suspected of course.

The Black Dragon Inn and Tavern feels cozy in a rough and tumble sort of way. Everything is on the up-n-up with it and no illegal activities take place within its walls. The food is good, the beds are clean, and the cider is beyond compare. The town guard and adventuring types frequent the location to drink and talk and gawk at the black dragon head above the central fire place. The tavern pulls in great bards and loud festive crowds every weekend and Saturday nights are a real blow out. The place is packed, shoulder to shoulder, and the rooms are always booked solid. Recently, the captain of the Night Watch, a strong, good looking guy with olive skin and grey eyes, has decided he's in love with Fiona and has been coming around much more frequently... exactly like she planned.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Trade In the Swordfish Islands

mmmmm outdoor meat markets!

'Course we're gonna cut up the body. What'd you think we came out here for? A picnic? All the parts are worth something to somebody.

In the end, everything is just so much meat and useful parts. For Hot Springs Island (one of the Swordfish Islands) we've roughed out six different intelligent factions, a bunch of beasts and monsters and a bunch of plants. I just finished up the first coherent, searchable, sortable draft of things each of these factions want.

Most non-intelligent creatures out there don't have loot. They're not collectors, and they don't care about swords and armor and whatnot. I want the islands to feel very rugged and natural meaning there's going to be a much higher likelyhood of coming across giant bugs and animals than you'll have of coming across something "with loot". Instead of forcing the GM to jump through reward hoops ("uhh... ummm... there's a corpse in the bushes!" or "uhh... err... that rat happened to swallow a gem!") I think it's important to call out the parts of these creatures that are useful in some way.

On top of it, we're going to make all the data available to the players. Remember, the Swordfish Islands are a sandbox and players have to give themselves goals if you really want it to work, so the more variant play opportunities there are the better.

Think of it this way, if your party wants to get in good with the Night Axe, and they know the types of goods the Night Axe like, then they're more likely to come up with an idea like "Ok guys, they're not talking to us, but that's not the end of it. We know they use bones for magic, and the Field Guide we got from the adventurer's guild says they're known to trade for Dire Boar bones. Dire Boars aren't easy, but I think we can take one, and Felthion thought he saw a trail made by one about a day back. Let's go hunt it down, butcher it, and try to use its bones to parley with the Night Axe for more information on this Svarku fellow."

Generate emergent story by encouraging variant play. Or that's the dream. Why make them roll some sort of knowledge check when you can just give them all the knowledge normal adventurers have collected about the area and let them put the pieces together however they want?

Friday, February 7, 2014

An Opinion on Lumes

The darkness pressed in on the guardsmen's torches like a sentient, animate thing. 
[1933] - The Scarlet Citadel
Patrick over at the False Machine has phenomenal ideas about caves and light and crushing, suffocating darkness. Since I've been naming all my clerics "Lumen" for the past ~5 years, I feel qualified to offer up my opinion on his current quandary over Lumes.

But first... I want to talk about The Banner Saga.
First of all, it's stunningly beautiful, both in art and music. Secondly, the tactics style game play is damn good. Third, it has an particularly exceptional currency system based around "Renown" (which is why I bring it up).

In the game, bad dudes are coming from the North, and the player ends up leading both armies and refugees to fight and/or flee from said bad dudes. These caravans of people can number in the thousands and you're tasked with getting them from one place to another as intact as possible. The locations are often far apart, and the roads are dangerous. To confront the danger you engage in grid based, tactics style combat. To combat the enemy of time and distance however you have to react to problems that come up along the way (by choosing from a variety of options, and choices are a big deal that can lead to perma-death of various caravan members), and you have to make sure everyone stays fed. As you walk along from place to place, a timer at the top of the screen counts up as each day passes, and you get to stare at a bleak little number labeled "Days of Supplies". If you run out of supplies you can't feed your people and they begin to die. It's quite terrifying. Days tick up  relentlessly, supplies dwindle, and what looks like the next village is still on the far side of the screen.

So what's a leader to do to combat slow death in the snow? Sometimes you get lucky and gain supplies because of the choices you make when you interact with encounters on the road. For instance, you may come across merchants, and they may offer to sell you rations (the sub-unit of supplies), and you may take them up on this offer and celebrate that you can feed the children as your people flee south before the storm. Then of course you discover that many of the rations were rancid and people start to get sick and you have to decide if you want to throw out additional rations that may have been contaminated. You wonder if you can go back and kill the merchants, but they're already a week behind you on the road. So you press on to the next village, and there you find a merchant selling rations, and even though you now hate merchants, your people will starve if you don't buy more rations, so you go to buy them.

Turns out, the only currency in the game is "Renown". Now, renown is mostly gained in combat each time you kill an enemy. It can also be gained if you make good decisions as you travel along, but that's much more infrequent than death. But this is where you hit Catch #1: Renown is also the currency used to level up your fighters. So do you spend 10 renown to level up your Warhawk so he can hit harder? Or do you spend the 10 renown on rations? If you decide to spend it on rations, you hit Catch #2 every merchant has a different exchange rate. Sometimes 1 point of renown is worth 4 rations, sometimes it's only worth 3. So you suck it up and curse merchants and their ilk, and you plop down a big bag of renown 'cause everyone in the caravan is going to make it god damn it. And then you hit Catch #3, one ration is NOT a day of supplies. A ration is a subunit. And the number of refugees and warriors in the group is mathed with the number of rations you have to determine how many days you can go without starving. You learn this after you decide to spend all your renown and pass on leveling up two of your warriors. You also start wondering if you really did need to rescue that village of 300 people. The Banner Saga has hooked me completely.

In the Banner Saga, death gets you renown, renown gets you rations OR strength, and rations and strength defend your people against different forms of death. It's not as tidy as Patrick's loop of Money gets you Oil, Oil provides you with Light, Light buys you Time, Time is Money, but the "decisions, decisions, decisions" element seems very much in the same vein.

So for me, in The Banner Saga, the inexorable timer of doom is highly motivating. To do that with Lumes, and make bookkeeping not suck, I'd personally use a system based on poker chips (or some other stackable thing that comes in a couple different colors), and I'd put a graphic somewhat like this on the character sheet:

Bullet Point Time!
  • Light sources are binary. They're either off or they're on. If they're on, they're using fuel and dying. 
  • If you use a tactile thing like poker chips, you can stack them, trade them, track them and  watch as they slowly dwindle using minimal effort. I also believe the whole "touching" the pieces to throw the spent source away would really lend itself to emotional investment on the part of the player.
  • I think "range" on the current table needs to be abstracted further, hence the Type 1, Type 2, Type 3.
    • Type 1 means the light source is sufficient for 1 person
    • Type 2 would be good for 2-4?
    • Type 3 would be good for say 6
    • I also really like Zak's idea about poor lighting conditions making it easier to miss treasure. So while a small group of characters wouldn't necessarily all need to be holding a light source, it'd be easy to tie "players worth of light" together with the ability to see all the loot.
  • This would then make "Lumes" effectively a measure of duration and I'd abstract that so that all light sources basically have a fixed number. Let's say a candle would be 2 chips, and a bioluminescent squid would be 5 or maybe even 10.
  • I'd either put a cap on the number of chips a player could carry, or tie it directly to encumbrance. I think the cap would work just fine because it would sort of assume the care required for the light source. Sure the jar of fireflies has more lumes than a candle, but you've got to take care that the jar doesn't break so you can't be carrying too many other things or you could get distracted and the jar could break.
  • Having a clearly defined spot for active light sources means that it's easier to be a DM from hell and say "Your active light source has been destroyed. FIAT BITCHES!"
  • Personally I think the type column can merge with the complications column

Example of how it would play out:

Kit and Jack are traveling in the dark.  They each have two candles. Each candle is worth 2, Type 1 (black) chips. So they each put two black chips on the active light source spot and two black chips on the type 1 spot.

Walking down the hallway, Kit sets off a fire jet trap. He takes some damage and the heat from the fire melted his candle, destroying his active light source. Kit moves the two black chips from his active light source spot to the Lume repository of sadness in the middle of the table.

Not to worry, Jack breaks his candle in half and gives half of it to Kit. Jack's player passes Kit a black chip from his active light source spot, and yells at him for not having a 10' pole with a chicken on it. They explore for a while and whatnot, and after a set period of ingame time passes, their candles gutter and go out, having used up all their fuel. Each player puts the black chip from their active light spot into the Lume repository. They light their other candles and move two black chips from their backpack (Type 1 spot) to the active light spot.

Let's say Kit finds a new light source, he can choose to make it active immediately and move his current chip pile from active back to the pack, or he can put the new source in his pack. If a person has multiple sources in their pack to choose from, they would just declare what they're using when they make it active and note that on the sheet.

Veins of the Earth is going to be awesome.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

150 Hyborian Potentials

The winnowing continues. I've taken the list from 707 potentials to 150. Even so, there are a number of dupes/similar variants (e.g., faded like phantoms, moved like a cat) to be dealt with, and a number of potentials referencing an "It" that will need to be clarified for maximum effect. I like where it's going and if you'd like to dive below the break, you can read all 150 for yourself.

This may not be as vapory as I initially thought it would be.

Al Harron - Slave of the Ring

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

More Hyborian Vaporware

On a black jade altar lay Yasmela, her naked body gleaming like ivory in the weird light.
[1933] Black Colossus - Frazetta illustrating
I continue to think about Hyborian similes, and I've begun to execute a rough plan of attack. I've decided to focus only on the 18 Conan stories published during his life, according to his wiki bibliography. No deCamp edits, and no scraps (sorry Princess). In the first pass, I've pulled out 707 potential similes. Now I need to spend time reading through them and thinking of a good way to parse them from this point. Of course, all of these potential similes are "like" similes. No "as" as of yet.

Many of the 707 potentials are not actually similes:
  • "I can use an actress like you."  [1935] - Jewels of Gwahlur
  • "I'm not like that Stygian you knifed, and you know it."  [1936] - Red Nails 
Most of the remaining similes won't make good spell fodder because their purpose is to describe a physical attribute (frequently muscles and eyes):
  • Through the coif the eyes blazed like coals of blue fire....  [1936] - The Hour of the Dragon
  • His great muscles quivered, knotting like iron cables.  [1934] - A Witch Shall be Born
  • His eyes were open, but they were like those of a mad dog, and foam was thick on his lips.  [1935] - Shadows in Zamboula
I have no idea how many "action similes" will remain, but I have faith that there will be a decently sized chunk. Enough that I think this could really be glorious.
  • Through the shadows he raced like a phantom....  [1934] - Shadows in the Moonlight
  • ...something like a whip of scorpions fell again and again across his shoulders.... [1933] - The Slithering Shadow
  • ...the blades flamed like summer lightning.... [1933] - The Slithering Shadow
  • ...a terrific blow like a gust of storm wind knocked him sprawling against a rock.    [1934] - The People of the Black Circle
  • He hit the ground running and melted like a shadow into the maze of towering rosebushes and spreading trees.    [1936] - The Hour of the Dragon
  • Dion's high thin squeal broke in a strangled gurgle and his whole flabby frame collapsed like melted butter.    [1932] - The Phoenix on the Sword
Tentative title is "A book of Hyborian Witchery". Also, looking through all this has made me realize how antiquated referencing page or line numbers is. Formatting can vary so much, especially with the push for responsive browsers and devices that it's impossible for that information to truly be accurate. It's a physical medium only thing, and even then it can vary wildly from publisher to publisher and edition to edition. The best milestone really is going to be chapters. The nice thing of course is that the "bifocals of the internet" (i.e., Ctrl+F) makes it all moot, which is pretty dang awesome.

I also went ahead and ran this on a single Lovecraft story and already the feel of the few similes that popped was quite dramatic. This could be very neat.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Similes as Spells?

I've been reading Conan recently, specifically "The People of the Black Circle". For some reason I just kept noticing Mr. Howard's use of similes and decided it would be a fun exercise to pair my neophyte python skillz up with Project Gutenberg and write a simile extraction script.

Things went better than expected (only pulling "like" similes right now as "as" may be beyond my skill level)! Originally I just wanted to analyze his usage for patterns or repetitive crutches and then expand out to other pulp authors. I'll plan to still do that, but the thing that really struck me was how many of them seemed spell-like. If other pulp authors are similar, perhaps it'd be possible to create spellbooks for each of the major pulp authors. The book of Howard. The book of Lovecraft. The book of Burroughs. My wheels are spinning.

If nothing more I think it'd be fun to start posting a simile or two a day with a relevant image over on the tumblrs. We'll see. So many awesome things that could be done. So little time.

Check it out and see if you agree (from The People of the Black Circle):

  • Their fingers sear me like fire!
  • But Conan sat easily, almost carelessly, in the saddle, riding like a centaur.
  • He lit on his feet like a cat.... (why fall like a feather?)
  • His spine cracked in three places like a rotten branch....
  • And those eyes held his like a magnet. (excellent setup for hypnosis/suggestion)
  • The girl shrank and wilted like a leaf in the drought.
  • ...a terrific blow like a gust of storm wind knocked him sprawling against a rock.
  • They moved like phantom riders through an enchanted realm of shadows.
  • The dragons on the tapestries glowed like blue fire....
  • And like the flick of a fiery whip....
  • A hawk with wings like burnished steel....
  • ...treading the gold vein like rope-walkers.
  • ...facing the four quarters of the compass like the enchanted guardians of a fabled treasure.
  • But now the muscular arm was brushed aside like straw....

Sunday, February 2, 2014

On Information and it's Layout

I think I've shown off this Dire Boar Den three to four times now, but it's my guinea pig and I think I've finally gotten it where I want it. It seems really easy for a boar den to end up being a bore den, and I figure that if I can pull off someplace normal in an interesting and useful way, then pulling off something more exotic will be easier. We'll see!
To breakdown my thought/idea process these are the things I like and want to stick to in some way when it comes to presenting a dungeon:
  1. The idea of the one page dungeon
  2. Room descriptions should be immediately useable at the table with no prep
  3. Remember that it's a living, breathing place. It doesn't spring to life when the party enters the room. The world doesn't give a fuck about your party.
  4. Set their brain on fire. Help the DM see not just what's there, but what's not there, and what could be there, and how the presence or absence of a thing can potentially be immediately relevant to both the gaming session and the campaign as a whole.
How'd it end up? Download the PDF and check it out.

The idea of the one page dungeon - The idea of the one page dungeon is great. It's sparked a ton of creativity (as each year's contests have shown), but I personally feel that instead of one page it should be one page spread. This way the map can get a page and the key can get a page. Also, if you're approaching it as a book by making it a one page spread, everything the DM sees is related to the place currently being explored.

Room descriptions should be immediately useable at the table with no prep. I haven't had anyone not directly involved in the project attempt to run the Dire Boar den yet, so my execution of this may crumble more quickly than I imagine. I don't think it will though since all the descriptions are about the fixed and not the mutable. I think I also managed to distill it down to the core elements and present them cleanly. My only real worry is if subscript information is too small to read. Just gonna have to test it out!

Remember that it's a living, breathing place. I can tell you where a monster lairs, and I should, but it shouldn't be presented as some sort of guaranteed encounter. That can all stay in the realm of video games thank you very much. Just because the dire boar is "home" doesn't mean it automatically at a specific, pre-determined location within its lair. It could be sleeping, or sharpening its tusks or trying to remove irritants from its hide, or rutting for truffles, or running in a big circle. This is what led to the "What's happening in the den?" table. I went with a 3d6 table because of its associated bell curve (not all situations should have an equal chance of occurring imo, and common/uncommon/rare is great when it comes to exploration/replayability). The table's also a great way to plant ideas into the head of the DM of what happens *after* the party kills the area's inhabitant.

Set their brain on fire. Easier said that done of course. Ideally the map and key themselves will do this all on their own, but to help the map has another page spread containing an illustration directly related to the location and an "overview" that's no longer than a page and attempts to do nothing more than put the map and key into a broader context.

If anyone reading this has any feedback, please sound off in the comments or hit me up on G+!