Monday, May 12, 2014

Naturally Rome gives us Romantic

I've been watching Rome on HBO, and it's driven me to bust out the Plutarch. The first season was great, the second season, not so much. I don't know if the writers changed or what happened, but my personal guess is that their decision to take Lucius Vorenus and run him through the two dimensional paladin -> anti-paladin -> redemption through love/family was a major contributing factor to the death of the show. Their choice to omit the suicide of Brutus and turn it into some "died just like Caesar but in the field and not the Senate" cheapened things tremendously as well, but that'd probably more to do with stupid American sensibilities. Titties, cocks, torture and death on screen are cool, but oh no, can't dabble with Roman views of suicide. There's 2000 years of Christianity standing in the way of being able to answer the question of "to whom does my life belong?" with any answer other than "God".


From some 1800s English translation of the relevant Plutarch:

The night was now far spent ; when Brutus, leaning his head towards his servant Clitus, whispered something in his ear. Clitus made no answer, but burst into tears. After that he took his armour-bearer Dardanus aside, and said something to him in private. At last, addressing himself to Volumnius in Greek, he entreated him, in memory of their common studies and exercises, to put his hand to his sword, and help him to give the thrust.

Volumnius, as well as several others, refused : and one of them observing that they must necessarily fly ; "We must fly, indeed," said Brutus, rising hastily, "but not with our feet, but with our hands." He then took each of them by the hand, and spoke with great appearance of cheerfulness, to the following purpose. "It is an infinite satisfaction to me, that all my friends have been faithful. If I am angry with fortune, it is for the sake of my country. Myself I esteem more happy than the conquerors ; not only in respect to the past, but in my present situation. I shall leave behind me that reputation for virtue, which they, with all their wealth and power will never acquire. For posterity will not scruple to believe and declare, that they were an abandoned set of men, who destroyed the virtuous for the sake of that empire to which they had no right."

After this he entreated them severally to provide for their own safety ; and withdrew with only two or three of his most intimate friends. One of these was Strato, with whom he first became acquainted when he studied rhetoric. This friend he placed next to himself, and laying hold of the hilt of his sword with both hands, he fell upon the point and died.

Plutarch also says that: When Antony found the body of Brutus, he ordered it to be covered with the richest robe he had ; and that bring stolen he put the thief to death.

There's just something utterly, I don't know, magical? that happened around the time where the West swapped its calendar from BC to AD. I mean, here we are, 2000 years later and two months of the year are named after powerful people from this time period. Honestly, it's all just terribly romantic.

Once upon a time Rome was ruled by kings, but the kings were killed and a republic that lasted five hundred years began. The last king of the romans was slain by a group of noblemen led by Lucius Junius Brutus a *direct* forefather of the Brutus who threw himself on a sword several paragraphs ago. As you near the end of the republic and the rise of Julius Caesar you have this fucked up situation where tremendous amounts of wealth are controlled in the hands of a very narrow few, and not just monetary wealth, but land as well. So up comes Caesar who wins the love of the mob and the hatred of these ultra rich. He becomes emperor, but not before fucking the sun-god queen of a land of ancient splendor, magic and ruin. She bears his child.

Caesar consolidates power, and the wealthy kill the tyrant in broad daylight on the floor of the senate in a group led(?) by Marcus of the house Brutus - the kingslayers. And then, as if this wasn't all romantic enough, you get this whole second Triumvirate that pits Caesar's previous second in command Marc Antony against his son-by-law Octavian (who's like 18 at the time). There's that huge technicolor love affair and suicide between Antony and that queen of the ancient lands who bore Caesar's bastard. Octavian crushes them both, consolidates his power, gains the title of "The Illustrious One", establishes an empire at the age of 36 that would run for 500 years, and get's a month named after him that we remember 2000 years later.

Then you get this whole "year 0", and a potential son-god.

And here everyone's all like "oooo that dude in the black turtle neck put a ding in the world."

 History's awesome.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Canon is Bullshit

I should be looking for printers and working on the pitch I have to do for the place of my employment before I can "commercially release" Hot Springs Island, but I'm procrastinating right now to blog. I recently got HBOgo and after catching up on Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley (this show combination is like... my life) I decided I should watch Rome.

pew pew pew pew pew
Watching Rome naturally makes me think of Star Wars. Partially because the Disney PR machine has begun emitting article exhaust all over the internet, and partially because of Star Wars' creative debt to the fall of that old Republic. I also saw a few bait posts in the G+ stream where people were saying Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms were unplayable, and with my most recent blog posts about the Shattered Aquifer where I slopped around phrases like "emergent gameplay" I thought it might be fun to write on the subject.

Canon is a pox. Especially on games. It's how you end up with red shirt guys, and pearl clutching tech articles about billionaires who don't care that two characters they created are separated by almost 200 years, and shark jumping time travel sequels. Now, since rhetoric compels me to demonstrate my street cred on the subject so I can more effectively trash talk, you should know that I was a red shirt guy for the Ultima games (6, 7 and UO. Britannia only, you keep your Sorsarian hijinx away from this article). I went to the Texas Renaissance Faires and met the devs and won t-shirts and autographed boxed copies of UO:Renaissance 'cause of my 1337 knowledge of the lore. There's just something off with my brain that causes factoids about imaginary lands and peoples to stick deeply in my memory after the briefest of exposure. Six hundred years ago I think I would have been a bard.

So why is canon bad? And why was Dragonlance utterly doomed to suck as an RPG product?

The most interesting times in history are the times right before war, revolution and upheaval break out. These are the times when chaos is nearing its peak. Potential is expanding exponentially. New players are emerging in the social, political and economic fields. Institutions are afraid, and probably doubling down on bad ideas and programs to try and preserve the status quo against the storm it feels on the horizon of time but cannot yet see.

An example from United States history would be the time between the Boston Massacre (1770) and Lexington/Concord (1775). For Rome, I'd say it would be the time between the beginning of the First Triumvirate (60BC) and Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon(49BC). In France it would be the time between the death of Louis XV (1774) and the storming of the Bastille (1789). In Krynn it would be from the time the companions went their separate ways (before the Chronicles) to the retrieval of the disks of Mishkal (Dragon's of Autumn Twilight). For Tolkien it's the time period between the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

During these periods the churn is happening. The build is happening. Pieces are being arranged on the board of the world. This is the period RPG fluff should write about. These are the relationships that should be mapped and given to the DM. This is the time period your factions should come from. The game itself should begin at the moment of outbreak and the future must be clear.

A party of ascendant murderhobos should be like hydraulic fracking in the cultural shales of the world. Shit's gonna fall, and shit's gonna break, and earthquakes are going to start and get worse as the spray of dungeon won gold gushes into the pockets of the populace from a heretofore unknown power source. Canon, a mapped future, directly undermines things by defining that collapse. It restricts and limits in the wrong way because it provides protections. If Eowyn has to kill the Nazgul on this date and this battle, then she's got to get there and do that. A global setup has to take place and armies have to move right or things will quickly stop making sense and immersion will be lost because people that know the story will start to see the holes that are appearing.

If the story of the world is already known and defined it immediately cheapens what your party does. No brah, Eowyn kills the Nazgul. John Hancock is the first one to sign the declaration. Caesar makes Octavian his heir. The companions were the ones that freed that slave town and killed that general, not you guys. So to play in a defined world is to either rewrite what's been defined and take the glory for yourself (which seems masturbatory), or know that your adventure is effectively meaningless because the *real* heroes are out there somewhere going through the process of saving the day as defined by the canon.

Games shouldn't be about weaving the thread of your party into the predefined tapestry of fate. They should be about exploding the bubble of potential and seeing where things end up when the smoke clears. The way things end up for you and your party should have the freedom to end up completely different than the way things ended up for my party, or their party, or those guys party.

And when it's all over, the stories from each group's splinter of reality should be even more amazing because they share a common cast of characters and factions and cultures and in this we can perhaps glimpse the multiverse.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Shattered Aquifer - Part 2

Part 1 on the Shattered Aquifer can be found here. It's got all the background and the full versions of the tables I talk about in this post.

So... how's can the Shattered Aquifer work in play? How do I use the "What's Happening" and "Encounter/Motivation" tables?

First I roll on the What's Happening table. Then I roll an encounter for each location on the map, and I accept, reject or move that encounter as I like based on what I as DM know about this dungeon and the game so far. Gotta be flexible.

Now, it's critically important to understand that when I say "encounter" I don't mean combat. As the DM combat is absolutely NOT guaranteed. As the author/game designer/whatever I spent a bunch of time writing up basic motivations and desires for all of the intelligent (and many semi-intelligent) creatures that are found on the island. I warmly welcome anyone and everyone to throw away and ignore those motivations and desires, that's ok, just don't read the word "encounter" and immediately think it means "combat". Combat is absolutely a possibility, but it's only one of the myriad of possibilities that exist! Don't limit yourself to your crit build bruh.

Let's peep the map of the Shattered Aquifer of Pythiaria again:
One day there will be a pretty version. Promise.
What are the important pieces of information about this place?
  • Magma fights water here
  • Magma creatures live wherever it's orange, but mostly around points 11 and 9. If you go to those areas I believe you'll run into magma creatures pretty much regardless of what you roll as an encounter. That should temper the way that encounter works.
  • The red squares indicate lava falls. Lava is falling down into the shattered aquifer. If you were to go up the falls there would be more caves and more magma stuffz, but none of that is mapped. Make it up.
  • Water creatures live where it's blue. Point 5 is all submerged, or well, think underground lake.
  • The water area extends off into the unmapped ether in the south and east for ease of water based deus ex machina just like magma's red square falls.
  • Water and Magma fight at Point 3
  • Steam Imps hang out at Point 4 so they can bet on the battles at Point 3
  • Point's 7 and 8 are only split apart to detail out each wall 'cause I thought it was important. I'll only take one encounter roll for that spot.
  • Point 11 has a portal to the plane of magma and a big magma hydra as its guardian
  • I've found that *most* parties of adventurers on Hot Springs Island in the playtesting so far have pretty much always been Water Friends. Makes sense. They're the underdogs throughout the island, and they've got the beautiful ladies on their side.
Before we roll, here's a link to a gallery of all of the creatures that can be encountered in the Shattered Aquifer EXCEPT "Adventurers". You'll have to imagine some of those up for now.

So... let's roll 3d6 and see what kind of emergent gameplay we can get!

What's Happening?
The unborn water elemental cores in the Flooded Nurseries (Point 5) vanished last night.

Location: Encounter - Motivation
Point 1: A magma imp - Laboring/Nesting
Point 2: A magma elemental - Returning Home
Point 3: A Goa - Hiding/Sneaking
Point 4: A water elemental - Ritual
Point 5 - 8 magma imps - setting up an ambush
Point 6 - 10 water imps - Territorial Display
Point 7 - 7 Water elementals and 7 water imps - Patrolling
Point 9 - A Goa - Wounded
Point 10 - A magma elemental - Returning Home
Point 11 - A magma imp - Laboring/Nesting

So that "What's Happening" result is bad for Water. I'd say they're in a panic as use of the word vanished implies that the forces of water (as a whole) don't know what happend or where they went. Now, because I wrote the fluff and know it, there's a comment in the overview for the shattered aquifer that says the water elementals started showing up in the first place 'cause of "conditions of such elemental purity". So maybe Point 5 has been getting corrupted for a while and last night was the breaking point. Or all the water elemental cores could have been stolen. By the forces of magma? By another faction? By adventurers? Or maybe there was some big water boon last night and they didn't vanish as much as they just all "grew up" immediately which has led to confusion and mild panic because the nereids who came on duty to guard the nursery in the morning didn't realize what had happened and you have a game driven by poor communication. Who knows?! You do. Make something up!

Now, all the points were rolled up with 3d6 and some of the results had "roll again for amounts" and I rolled pretty high for those which I think makes things really interesting, especially in light of the "haps". So, going off the knowledge that water's territory is Point 5, and Point 3 is the battlefield it's VERY interesting to me that there are 10 water imps doing a Territorial Display in Point 6 (beyond the front lines), AND there's a gigantic patrol of 7 water elementals and 7 more water imps at Point 7/8. Water's on the advance. They're missing their babies and they're *pissed*.

Looking at my magma rolls, we've got a single magma imp laboring/nesting in the entrance hallway (Point 1) and over by the portal to the plane of magma (Point 11). Then, both of the magma elementals I rolled are "returning home", one being at Point 2 and one at Point 10. Now, returning home could mean that they're coming back to the Shattered Aquifer, OR it could mean that they're returning home to the plane of magma. Water's advancing and it looks like magma is in the process of retreating and rebuilding. There must have been a hell of a battle recently. Did water actually burn their baby cores to achieve a decisive victory? That said, there are also 8 magma imps setting up an ambush at Point 5. Now... Point 5 is submerged so as written this doesn't exactly work, but we could say that they're setting up the ambush on the shore of the underground lake, or the periphery of Point 5. Their location isn't exactly fixed, but then again these guys could also be the responsible party for the disappearance of the water elemental babies. Or they could be using guerilla tactics against water while they know they're in this weird upheaval that's part celebration, part fear, and part aggression.

So, the only other encounters we're left with are a Goa - Hiding/Sneaking at Point 3, a wounded Goa at Point 9, and a single water elemental engaged in a ritual at point 4. Normally the Goa are always going to be alone, and there's part of me that wants to say I should reroll one of them, but maybe I don't need to. The Goa come to this area to fight the big magma hydra at Point 11. The wounded Goa at Point 9 probably fought and ran, or perhaps more heroically, was flung to Point 9 during the battle and its legs are broken and it cannot escape or continue the fight or find the strength to commit suicide as is the way of its people. The Goa at Point 3 probably just arrived and is scoping out the place before it initiates combat with the hydra. This one probably has no idea the other one is here or wounded (and it wouldn't help it if it did know it was there).

This leaves the water elemental engaged in a ritual on the Cloudy Balcony. The water elemental could be performing this ritual to try and get information out of the resident steam imps regarding the disappearance of the water elemental cores last night. Or they could be up there against their will and are being used in a steam imp game of some sort. But then there's also a "what's happening" entry that says "Water is winning the war! THE STEAMING BATTLEFIELD (Point 3) and THE MAGMA PITS (Point 2) are flooded." Since it looks like water has had a decisive victory in the aquifer, maybe this elemental is old and powerful and the ritual it is performing will flood these two areas and lead to the next what's happening. Perhaps the vanished water elemental cores were sacrificed in order to facilitate this ritual of elemental aggression.

The power, and the plot, are yours.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Shattered Aquifer - Part 1

Here's the fluff, map, key, and tables for the Shattered Aquifer of Pythiaria. Part 2 on the Shattered Aquifer will be the way I put it together in play with rolls on the random tables.

HS-11 - The Shattered Aquifer of Pythiaria

Before the cataclysm shattered the Isle of Light a great subterranean, water filled cavern, known as the Aquifer of Pythiaria was hidden below the eastern mountains. Portals to the plane of water opened in its cool darkness and gasses from below the aquifer filled its waters with clouds of tiny bubbles that triggered visions of past and future in the watery creatures that visited its depths. A small group of nereids, calling themselves the Sisters of Pythiaria, took up residence within the aquifer to guard and share the secrets of its bubbling darkness. The sisters tended beds of giant subterranean mussels who's pearls became the cores of mighty water elementals under conditions of such elemental purity.

When the island shattered, much of the aquifer was shattered and thrust upwards with it. The Sisters were able to avoid the destruction, but the vents that produces the prophetic bubbles were lost, and great rivers and falls of lava began to cut through the caverns. A portal to the plane of magma opened beneath one of the falls, and the great magma hydra Sopkatok came through to serve as its guardian. The magma elementals and imps that came through with Sopkatok immediately made war upon the remaining water elementals and the conflict continues to this day. Steam imps crowd along high shelves overlooking the battlefront where the forces of water and magma clash, betting on this ongoing spectacle as the tides turn both for and against the two liquid foes.

The tribe of green lizardmen known as the Goa have long used these caverns and Sopkatok as the ultimate test of strength and ability. Sopkatok is immortal, as all true hydras are, and each Goa warrior yearns to acquire one of his obsidian faceplates and return with it to their home on Northspire Isle. Deep within the cavern is a wall of obsidian, polished to a mirror like finish, that holds a softly glowing claw of ancient mithril. If a Goa places its hand against the wall and speaks the ritual words, their hand passes through the wall and equips the claw. Once equipped, the claw compels the warrior to carve their name into a neighboring wall and fight against the hydra. When the wearer of the claw wins, dies or flees, the claw returns to its resting place and a mark appears by the Goa's name to record the result of the battle. A bar for flight, a circle for death, and a hydra head for victory.

In the final vision before the Aquifer of Pythiaria was destroyed, it was revealed to the Sisters that other nereids had been trapped on the Isle of Light and the coming cataclysm would aid in their release. It was the Sisters of Pythiaria that first pulled Meltalia's nereids from their paintings as the sea swallowed the alabaster cities, and showed them the secret ways to the Crystal Sea Cave. While the nereids no longer consider the shattered aquifer to be their home, they have never abandoned the old nurseries of their allies, and they aid the water elementals in their fight against the encroaching magma and minions of Sopkatok.


The (ugly) map

Squares are 10'

 The Key

1. The Hissing Hallway
Black gravel[floor, basalt, loose], stalactites, stalagmites, rough basalt walls[cracks, numerous], puddles[water, bubbling, steaming], rhythmic hissing[builds to whistling]

Bursts of superheated steam shoot out of cracks in the walls with some frequency. Preceded by high pitched whistling.

2. The Lava Pits
30' drop to lava river. Stalagmites[broken], columns[natural, basalt, fallen, broken, forms natural bridge above lava river], lava river[forks, flows into pits], black island[basalt, at fork in lava river], great sword[thrust into island], skeleton[charred, melted armor, kneeling, grips sword], shimmering[air, heat, dry], lava light

RODERICK (human, paladin, ghost) - Sacrificed himself at this spot. Thrust sword into lava river, forming the fork and island. Enabled his friends to escape. Does not know why he is a ghost. Assumes there is unfinished business but does not know what it is. Cannot leave the aquifer. Possesses a magnificent moustache.

3. The Steaming Battlefield
Cavernous. 50' ceiling[cloaked in steam], battle scarred[ground cracked, stained, small craters], statues[3d6, 3' to 4' tall, obsidian, armored, wings, spectacular helmets, internal glow, faint glow in some], shells[large, fragments, shattered, pearls, crushed], metallic fragments[broken elemental cores]

This is the current front between water and magma.
Statues are "flash frozen" magma imps. Will die if not returned to lava in 1d6 days.

4. The Cloudy Balcony
Appearance from The Steaming Battlefield: sheer cliff[30' high, steam obscures top], noise from above[laughter, cheering, cursing, clattering, jangling]
If you climb up: Tables[10, wood, round, seat 6], chairs[wood, fancy, carved like animals], telescopes[3, tripods, point down to battlefield], bar[shelves, glasses, bottles], hookahs[standing, large, vape not smoke, cold]

One of the most exclusive steam imp joints on Hot Springs Island. Invitation only. Uninvited slow talkers are knocked to the floor with bursts of steam. Steam imps here place bets on the battles between water and magma below their perch. Water and magma are aware of their presence but unconcerned as the steam from their battles birthed many of them to begin with.

5. The Flooded Nurseries
Completely submerged[cold, clear, fresh water], mussels[giant, freshwater, filter feeders, blue glow in some], boulder piles[basalt], bioluminescent algae[blue, throughout], cracks, cave openings[appear to continue deeper into the aquifer]

LEELO (nereid) - One of the original Sisters of Pythiaria. Oversees the birth of new water elementals and serves as resident general in the war against magma. Tight lipped, all business, unconcerned about anything but this battlefront. Kind to water sympathizers.

Giant mussels about to birth water elemental cores replace their flesh with blue energy for 1d4 weeks before the birth.
Water imps have recently arrived to "help". Building pearl shaped homes among the boulder piles. Leelo is patient but unconvinced.

6. Black Glass Overlook
Cavernous. 50' ceilings. Stalactites[lumpy, oddly sharp], gashes[floor, large, numerous, uneven footing, claw marks(?)], rubble[strewn about, lumpy, cooled lava, broken stalactites], columns[basalt, natural, fallen, form bridges over lava river]

Goa tend to fight Sopkatok in this area.
Sopkatok visits this area to stretch, scratch and breathe lava at the ceiling to make obsidian stalactite "art".

7. The Mithril Claw
Blue-green glow, obsidian pillar[radiates ancient magic, apparently unbreakable, transparent, reflective], silvery gauntlet[in the obsidian pillar, mithril, bracer, five articulated claws]

8. The Wall of Names
Goa runes cover a 20' to 30' section of basalt wall.

9. The Melted Nursery
Black gravel, basalt boulders, shells[giant mussel, shattered, encased in black rock], lava river[laps at black gravel, grey crust, lava light]

10. The Glass Ossuary
Normal cave structures but all transparent black obsidian. Gashes, cracks, rips, bones[impossibly encased in obsidian, jumbled, ogre, human, salamander, lizardman, numerous], stalactites[obsidian, sharp], human shaped hole in wall[as if someone was encased but walked out], leather belt[partially encased in obsidian, undamaged]

Sopkatok buries mortals here by encasing them in obsidian. Is highly selective in his choices, but they make no sense to mortals. Tries to avoid fighting here as it damages the glass, but won't hesitate if challenged here.

11. Lava Pool and Fall
30' lava fall. Lava pool swirls like a whirlpool.

Sopkatok lives here. Portal to plane of magma at center of whirlpool.


Roll What's happening in the Shattered Aquifer?
3 Magma imps have been commissioned by Svarku to make armor for Fuegonauts. BLACK GLASS OVERLOOK repurposed.
4 The paladin's skeleton is missing. Sopkatok is furious.
5 The unborn water elemental cores in THE FLOODED NURSERIES vanished last night.
6 Magma is winning the war! THE STEAMING BATTLEFIELD is cracking and crumbling into a new lava river.
7 A Goa is about to fight Sopkatok. 1d6 Arva are hiding nearby and plan to disrupt the combat.
8 A Goa battles Sopkatok. The caverns tremble with their combat.
9 1d4+2 adventurers are here to steal flash frozen magma imp "statues" from THE STEAMING BATTLEFIELD.
10 The forces of magma and water clash at THE STEAMING BATTLEFIELD.
11 The forces of magma and water have declared a temporary ceasefire.
12 Steam imps are hosting a prize fight at the STEAMING BATTLEFIELD during a ceasefire.
13 A Goa is here to ensure the test is in working order, record names on the wall and recover any Goa corpses or body parts.
14 2d4 Night Axe are here to train with the forces of water.
15 Water is winning the war! THE STEAMING BATTLEFIELD and MAGMA PITS are flooded.
16 Sopkatok and the paladin's ghost are at the MAGMA PITS conversing on the nature of honor and sacrifice.
17 Svarku and entourage (3d10 Fuegonauts) are here to try and enlist Sopkatok to their cause.
18 An emissary from the plane of water has arrived to check on the status of the war.

Roll Encounter Motivation
3 1d4 Salamander Tricksters, 1d4 Salamander Warriors Delivery
4 A Kiru Shaman Social/Creative
5 1d4+2 Adventurers Fighting*
6 A Steam Imp Interacting With*
7 A Magma Imp Laboring/Nesting
8 A Magma Elemental Returning Home
9 A Goa Hiding/Sneaking
10 3d6 Magma Imps Setting up an ambush
11 1d6+1 Water Imps, 1d6+1 Water Elementals Patrolling
12 A Goa Wounded
13 A Water Elemental Ritual
14 2d4+3 Water Imps Territorial Display
15 4d6 Steam Imps Waiting
16 An Earth Imp Lost
17 A nereid Dying
18 2d4+1 Night Axe Diplomacy



When the Aquifer of Pythiaria shattered with the cataclysm, massive pockets of magma trapped in the layers of stone above cracked open and spilled forth their contents. As the lava falls consumed the sacred elemental water, a portal to the plane of magma opened at their confluence and through it came Sopkatok.

As an elemental creature of magma, 60' in length and 20' high at the shoulder, Sopkatok spends most of his time submerged within the whirlpool beneath the falls. When he emerges from the pool obsidian plates immediately crystallize upon his molten form. This can cause him to appear dramatically different each time he appears and he can be surprisingly particular about the crystallization patterns. If plates form in an uninteresting or unflattering manner he will submerge those parts so they can recrystallize more pleasingly.

While Sopkatok leaves the patterns of his rocky skin to the fractals of chance, he requires consistent grandeur from his obsidian faceplates. Swarms of attendant magma imps descend upon his molten heads each time he surfaces and three to five imps can construct an acceptable faceplate in as little as 30 seconds. The hydra will frequently utilize speedy faceplate changes in combat to both rearmor himself and make it seem like he has more than four heads. Because of the flurry of magma imps that descend upon the whirlpool at each of Sopkatok's emergences, some adventurers who have witnessed the event and lived possess an unnatural fear of magma imps believing them to merge together into monstrosities when threatened.

What does Sopkatok want?
  • To guard the portal, and ensure only the worthy pass through
  • To win every engagement against the Goa and help them thin out their weaklings. He is proud of every Goa who defeats him though, and never forgets them.
  • For others to experience his magnificence
  • To better understand the selfless acts of mortals [see "Else"]
  • To continue the ancient and honorable war against water
  • The safe return of his "frozen" magma imps

What does Sopkatok NOT want?
  • For his true name to be widely known or used in vain. He currently loves the way the name "Meltarg" causes lava to dribble from his jaws as he says it.
  • To lose ground in the war against water
  • To see his imp's cores permanently destroyed
  • For his imps to associate with combustarinos
  • For Molotek to wake up
  • To leave this plane
  • For the interesting things that have been happening on the island to stop

What else?
  • Like all true hydras Sopkatok is immortal. One of his heads will never die. In combat, if one of his faceplates is removed, or if he takes substantial damage he will usually just allow his body to melt and flow back to the whirlpool where he will be rebuilt by his imps at a later time.
  • Some say Sopkatok himself is the actual portal to the plane of magma, and you must allow him to consume you in order to travel. He finds this to be hilarious.
  • Some say Sopkatok isn't from the plane of magma at all, claiming he is actually a serpent at the core of the world that eternally wrestles Molotek.
  • Goa are the only ones who currently know Sopkatok's true name and they guard this information closely.
  • It is unclear what or who exactly started the contest between the Goa and Sopkatok utilizing the ancient mithril claw. Neither side speaks of the event's history openly, but both sides deeply respect and honor the tradition, killing any who disparage it.
  • Recently (within the past 100 years or so), Sir Roderick Feltower sacrificed himself to allow his comrades to escape from the Shattered Aquifer. Holy power split the lava river and his kneeling skeleton, clutching a two handed holy sword, can be seen to this day. Intrigued by the self-sacrifice, Sopkatok had his imps preserve the paladin's bones with a veneer of obsidian.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Dungeons = Villages?

 When writing up the 200th post for this blog about how awesome I think 3d6 tables are for encounter tables, I built up a skeletal, incomplete example of what I was talking about. The example I used was keying the market area of a town. After posting it to the G+ feed, +Jeff Russell asked a really good question:

Any chance you could write another post (or just respond here) talking in a little more detail how you make this work in a dungeon? I really, really like the concept, but I'm not sure what the best implementation would be. Do you roll every room? Every set time period?

So I thought, yeah, I should have used a dungeon as an example, but not to worry, I'll just pull one of the ready made ones I've done for Hot Springs Island and share it. Shouldn't be a problem. And then I started thinking and began to realize that I may not have actually made any "dungeons" and all I really made were villages under siege that happen to be underground or in ruined, mostly inaccessible areas.
Kaymaklı Underground City

I've got a section called "Dungeons, Maps and Bosses" where I wrote up the "sub level" things found in each hex on the map. Perhaps that's better said as this section contains dungeon maps, village maps, "boss" descriptions, organized by hex. So I went down the list and found the following:
  • Hex 01 - Boar's Head Encampment - Above ground. Village. Ogres live here
  • Hex 03 - Dire Boar Den - Underground. Lair of a dire boar, but big enough to hold other creatures in the unused parts
  • Hex 04 - Glavrok Village - Above ground. Has village in the name. Ogres live here.
  • Hex 06 - Svarku's Volcano - Tower complex in a volcano. Efreet lives here with his minions/troops. There's a basement but as I look at the map I'm like "salamanders live here, fire imps live there, obsidian terrors live there, and the efreet himself lives in the central tower. There are rooms to explore, doors to open, windows to climb through or jump out, but now that I look at it, is it a "dungeon"?
  • Hex 06 - Crystalflow Mine - Underground. I was originally going to use this for today's post but then thought "should I?". Fire imps live here on cliffs over lava and the efreet's troops come through here often to watch the fire imps brawl with one another. There is a threat of ravenous beasts attacking, some weird off the beaten path type areas, and an old mine, but the immediate context for the whole area is the fire imp "village" here.
  • Hex 07 - Ashfire Mine - Underground but reachable from the surface. Kind of like the "Level 1" to Crystalflow Mine's "Level 2". Potentially more of a dungeon than anything else as nothing really lives here, things pass through. The whole thing is supposed to be kinda transient, so I dunno if it counts either.
  • Hex 09 - Hot Springs City - Ruins. Above ground. City in the name, but it's played as a node based exploration type thing using a generator the estimable P Stuart made. 
  • Hex 10 - Slave Quarters - Underground, but reachable from the surface. A couple of things lair in it, but it's done more like a Mos Eisley type hive of scum and villany inhabited by deserters, traders and traitors.
  • Hex 11 - Shattered Aquifer - Underground, but reachable from the surface. It's two "villages" with a battlefield in the middle. One village is full of magma elemental stuff, the other is all water elemental stuff.
  • Hex 14 - Lapis Observatory - Tower. Isolated on a outcrop. 5 levels and a basement. Probably the best example, but even then, I set it up as these two groups live here and use it for specific purposes
  • Hex 25 - Crystal Sea Cave - Underground/water. This is the nereid's village. It's under siege in some ways.
So now I'm left with the feeling that none of the things I made are actually "dungeons". Hopefully it's just a problem where I fleshed out the involved factions too much and my view's skewed by my personal knowledge of the "potentials" of each place. When I use the tables I've been rolling for each point of interest/room on the map, and then weed the results as I want. I also roll whenever I need/want a wandering "monster".

I'll roll through the Shattered Aquifer in my next post.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

3d6 - Oh Yeah!

Turns out this is the 200th post on this blog. Let us take a moment to celebrate round numbers.

Now that that's over with, let's talk about stuff I'm excited about!

There's no plot in the Swordfish Islands and no monsters are keyed to rooms in dungeons. The world trundles on along, intelligent factions precariously balanced, oblivious to your gaming group's adventuring party. Your group isn't special. The world doesn't revolve around it, and monsters don't spring into existence, fully formed from the ether, every time someone opens a door.

How do we manage this without massive bookkeeping on the part of the DM? The quick answer is: we cheat and use 3d6 tables. The longer answer is:

  1. Location - This can be a dungeon, a village, a city, a structure, a quarter, a level, an enchanted grove, whatever. The key point is that you need a physical space, differentiated from other physical spaces in some way, that changes on a slow timeline. I almost wrote that as a "fixed" place, but a flying city that moves about the world is just as good as a traditional stuck on the ground city.
  2. Inhabitants - You need to know what lives in and around the area. Named NPCs are important of course, but I'd say it's more important to have an understanding of the types of things that live in the area. For example, if you were doing this to a market area, detailing out the tailor and butcher is less important than knowing that it's a predominantly human run market, with dwarven "gypsies", a secret cult, and a feral cat problem that has begun to attract alligators from the sewers. If you decide you want to call out individuals you need to make sure they're the movers and shakers of the area. For this example I'd probably flesh out the cult's point of contact for the area (Sally - runs the tailoring shop, 3rd level cleric of pain), the unofficial leader of the dwarven gypsies (Brindle - hidden home under a bridge, 7th level thief), a prominent merchant's widow who cares deeply about how slummy the market is becoming (Allie - churchgoing, 70, megarich but so humble you'd never know it), and a couple of miscreants to stir the pot and fuck with all the sides (Rex and Tammy, orphans, 3rd level thieves, started the alligator problem by feeding them cats, occasionally set things on fire)
  3. Two Tables, Three Columns, 3d6 - Once you've got these ideas you make two, 3d6 tables. The first table has just one column, the second has two. Making them as 3d6 is critically important because of the built in bell curve associated with the results.

    The odds work out in such a way on a 3d6 table that you have "Very Common", "Common", "Uncommon" and "Rare" results. The way I think about is, very common and common are things that are going to happen in this location. Uncommon represents things that may occasionally occur and are a great place to put things that will occasionally "pass through" this location. Rare is where the "this might happen one day" stuff goes.

    What's even cooler is that these odds are symmetrical so, going back to the market example I roughed out above, you could put things dealing with the cult on one half of the table, and things dealing with the gypsies on the other half in a place with equal odds.
  4. Table 1: What's Happening - For this first table you want to write out quick, evocative, "big picture" things that are happening in this location when the party arrives. It's possible for these things to be relatively specific, but the consequences of the detailed actions/events should be felt throughout the entire area. For example, in my opinion, a market has a relatively binary core. It's either open for business, or closed, so for 10 and 11 I'd put something like "The market is open and bustling with activity" and "Market day's tomorrow. All the stalls are locked up and shut tight."

    The "What's Happening" table is the only table where I'd mention the "named NPCs". They'd usually go in the rare spots, but not always. For example, in the common spots 8 and 13 for this market I'd put "Allie is leading a group of church ladies through the market to hand out bread to orphans" and "Brindle is making his rounds to pick up the day's 'cut' from the merchants he provides with 'protection'". Then in the rare's I'd put something like "Part of the market burned down last night (drop dice on map to determine damaged areas). Guards investigating, Tammy and Rex totally did it"

    The uncommons are where I'd put "theme days" for the market. Maybe something like "Market's closed! Too many alligators in the streets today." Or "The bardic college of Moist Sighs has set up a checkered tent and is recruiting today". Or "Today is the feast of St. Cuthbert. The market has been repurposed for a city wide feast and parade." These are all transient things that probably happen a few times a year.

    Don't neglect non-obvious things too. It could be a normal market day, but the gypsies are moving slaves through in wine barrels, or the cult could be holding a planning meeting for an upcoming ritual. Even though these are "secret" events they have a direct impact on the way things are going to occur in the market today. The tailor's shop may be closed for the cult meeting and there's an increase in the number of sedan chairs moving through the area. The slave trade may attract weird foreigners with heavy purses and accents and Brindle may be on edge and miss his normal pickups.
  5. Table 2: Encounters/Motivation - This is a two column table. Your encounters have *got* to have a motivation. They're going about their life, doing their own thing. Their motivation may (and probably will) encourage them to interact with your party, but it doesn't have to. Additionally, the motivation is critically important at setting up the feel of the place because of the way it interacts with the 3d6's bell curve results. If you want to make a place dangerous, set up the common motivations with dangerous things like fighting/fleeing/dying/wounded.

    Our market will feel dramatically different if you put "Orphans - Begging" as a Very Common instead of an Uncommon. Likewise "Guards - Patrolling", "Apprentice - Delivery", "Merchant - Hawking", "Bard - Art/Performance" can totally change the feel of the market if you put them in the very common spots. Motivations associated with NPC movement add hustle and bustle to the world (everyone comes and goes so quickly), while positionally fixed NPC motivations will give you the feel of moving through an area. An encounter's position on the chart changes everything and this is one of the main reasons I think it's good to think about the location thoroughly before you start on this table. And don't forget your symmetry! If you're writing up a port town, sailors and prostitutes seem like a good thing to put in symmetrical positions.

    I'm also of the opinion that named NPCs should NOT be included on the encounter table. Keep them as a prop and play them when they need to be played. Curate the randomness a little.
Perhaps it's bad that this example was a marketplace, but it works just as well for dungeons, and coherent parts of dungeons. With this system all your monsters are wandering because all of them have stuff to do. They have a reason for existing and that reason doesn't inherently have anything to do with the player characters, and to me, that's fantastic.

Everybody's doing stuff