Monday, December 17, 2012

Interesting Room Trappings?

How do you make dungeon rooms more interesting through various trappings & details?

First (inferior) answer: If the room is likely to be a combat location, or you want it to be exploited as a possible combat location, then add anything which might affect combat: Barriers, arrow-slits, trenches, a ballista, murder holes, crenellated ledges, substances that might hinder escape / pursuit, distractions to allow ambushes, etc.

Second (better) answer: Consider thinking concept-first instead of trappings-first.

Trappings don't automatically make rooms interesting. Interest is built by the presence of meaningful choices in the environment. Come up with the concept of those choices first, and then the trappings naturally suggest themselves.

For example, let's say you want one of the underlying concepts for your dungeon to be "a place where creatures (including PCs) can be chopped apart (sometimes voluntarily) and reassembled into amalgamations, with capabilities appropriate for the parts removed & added."

From there it's easy to come up with a variety of trappings that help communicate and enable meaningful choices:
  • detached (and still animate) heads in jars of "life fluid"
  • cold storage areas with all manner of limbs
  • carts with straps for transporting "patients" around
  • various saws mounted in the walls
  • special guillotines of various sizes
  • journals, books, or charts with relevant research / clues as to the purpose of the dungeon, and or its operation (heh)
  • containers of flesh adhesives
  • suturing gear
  • recovery beds
  • cages with captives destined for disassembly
  • summoning areas & gear, to bring in "special" candidates for disassembly
  • makeshift graveyard for unwanted remains of candidates

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Early D&D Play Reports

Using grodog's list of Greyhawk Sources, and then doing some google searches, one can find the text of play reports for early D&D...

Swords and Sorcery (pub 1974 May)
Source: "Swords and Sorcery - In Wargaming" from Wargamer's Digest (Volume 1, Number 7)
Note: PDF found via the internet archive cache of the Axe & Hammer blog. (See the Free Downloads section on the right-hand side of the page.)

The Giant's Bag (pub 1975 April)
Source: Great Plains Game Players Newsletter #7

The Magician's Ring (pub 1975 June)
Source: "Dungeons & Dragons - The Magician's Ring" from Wargamer's Digest (Volume 2, Number 8)

The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir (pub 1975 September)
Text Part 1:
Text Part 2:
Source: "The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir; a Dungeon Adventure at Greyhawk Castle" (El Conquistador, September 1975)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mini Review: CAS2 Tower of Blood and CAS1 Cairn of the Skeleton King

What follows is my very brief review, originally written in 2008, of CAS2 Tower of Blood (by Robert J. Kuntz and Lance Hawvermale), after only having read the module. (This is not a play review.) It also contains bits and pieces of review-like info regarding CAS1 Cairn of the Skeleton King (by Robert J. Kuntz). Click on the module names above for physical details, page count, etc.

Warning: There are SPOILERS here! I'll try to keep them subtle or cryptic. But don't blame me if they reveal too much! 
Better late than never, I suppose. I only recently acquired a copy of Tower of Blood, and finished reading it the other night. 
I agree that it has a different overall feel from Cairn, but - personally - I like the variety. Whereas Cairn can be dropped into a campaign virtually as-is (especially if you prune out Warrens) and still provide hours of fun, it doesn't implicitly get the DM's creative juices flowing to the extent that you have to think about how the actions of the PCs therein affect the overall direction of the campaign. Or rather, the PCs can complete their goals within the Cairn and move on without worrying about any loose ends that may have unraveled. (I'm ignoring the Warrens on that point.) 
By contrast, Tower of Blood forces the DM to think about a variety of subjects before or during play: What are the details of the area behind the barrier (because the PCs could easily end up going past the barrier)? What are the details for the area (two areas?) behind the portal? What are the details for the "guy behind the guy?" What events will happen if the PCs don't stop the latent machinations of the occupants of the area? Should the ramifications matter? What if the players don't want to care for that sort of world plot? Should I wait to run this module until after any related PPP modules are published? 
As a result, I think Tower of Blood implicitly offers higher potential for richness in the game. Certainly Cairn can be expanded to have that richness, but you have to go out of your way to remind yourself to add it, when Tower of Blood forces you to consider the richness. And the deeper motivations of the NPCs in Tower provide a fantastic foundation for understanding how the environment may change between PC forays into its depths: What do monster survivors really care about, and how will they organize themselves to best ensure their priorities are carried out? (And yes, even the overt villain has two potentially conflicting priorities! Women, sheesh!) Tower gives plenty of foundation from which to answer such questions. 
That's not to say that Tower of Blood forces itself to have a lasting impact on the campaign. Which is to say that Cairn's standalone feel (especially minus the Warrens part) is beneficial for some campaigns or parts thereof, such as when you need a standalone adventure that injects XP into the PCs prior to a plot-arc-driven, higher-level adventure. Tower can certainly be used as a similar device if you sever a few plot connections or change the superficial details of NPC motivations. 
It's relatively trivial to dissociate the overt villain from the shadow world, and put a more mundane (though possibly less imaginative) goal behind the barrier. Perhaps even something associated with the villain's imprisoned love. And in doing so, you still have the makings of several evenings of exciting adventure! 
Personally, I prefer to DM games grounded on the prime material plane, so I'd be likely to disconnect the situation at the Tower of Blood from the plane of shadow and substitute something else dependent on the needs of the campaign at the time the players began it. I'd probably also remove the entrance to the Spider Queen's area, and instead use her and her residence at some other point in the campaign for some other purpose. As with the flexible motives of the denizens of the Tower, the Spider Queen's goals and environment are similarly flexible. 
I applaud Rob & Lance for all of their hard work on Tower (and Cairn!) for their work will allow me to be lazy and still have great fun! Very well worth the money!

Originally posted on the Pied Piper Publishing forums in 2008:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Vance-ier Magicians

To bring the magic-user class a little bit closer to the presentation of magicians in Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, replace the usual AD&D / D&D spells memorized per day limits with the following chart. Despite the fact that the aggregate per-day limit (of all spells, total) is lower than standard AD&D / D&D, this potentially increases a magician's power in certain exploitable ways at higher levels, as explained later.

Magic-  Total      Max
user    Spells     Spell
Level   "Per Day"  Level    Other Memorization Limits
1st     1          1        -
2nd     2          1        -
3rd     2          2        no more than one 2nd level spell
4th     3          2        no more than two 2nd level spells
5th     3          3        no more than one 3rd level spell
6th     4          3        no more than two 3rd level spells
7th     4          4        no more than one 4th level spell
8th     5          4        no more than two 4th level spells
9th     5          5        no more than one 5th level spell
10th    6          5        no more than two 5th level spells
11th    7          5        no more than three 5th level spells
12th    7          6        no more than one 6th level spell
13th    8          6        no more than two 6th level spells

Magic-user Level: The experience level of the character in question.

Total Spells "Per Day": The magician can keep memorized (i.e. prepared and ready-to-cast, as usual) no more than the listed number of spells at one time. These spells may be of any level or mix of levels known to the magician (but see Other Memorization Limits below). As usual, to memorize new spells, the magician must be well-rested. So effectively, the listed number is a limit on the quantity of spells that the magician can cast in one day.

Max Spell Level: The highest spell level the magician can memorize.

Other Memorization Limits: Due to the mnemonic challenge of mastering each new level of spells, only a fraction of a magician's spells "per day" limit can be used to memorize his highest level spells. He is not required to memorize any of his highest level spells, of course, but if he does, the stated limit applies.

So for example, a 13th level magician can memorize 8 spells at a time. He might choose to memorize two 6th level spells, plus six spells of 5th level or lower. Or he could memorize one 6th level spell, plus seven spells of 5th level or lower. Or all eight of his spells could be of 5th or lower level.

Less powerful? More powerful?

At low-to-mid levels, these variant magicians are certainly less potent in an absolute sense. But once the magician reaches 4th level, he is able to memorize more 2nd level spells at a time than would a normal 4th level AD&D magic-user: 3 for this variant vs. 2 for standard AD&D. While only modest at this point, the potential for leverage increases at higher levels. A 9th level variant magician can memorize far more 4th level spells than a normal 9th level AD&D magic-user: 5 vs. 2. And a 13th level variant magician can memorize eight 5th level spells, if he so desires.

If you use Bonus Spells for high stats...

Only use this if your system already grants magic-users bonus spells for high Intelligence. (The following rule isn't suitable for variant magicians in AD&D, for example.)

For systems that grant bonus spells for high Intelligence, even just a single bonus spell is worth a lot more in this variant system. Instead of increasing spells per day, consider raising the Other Memorization Limit by one, when Intelligence is sufficiently high. So an 11th level variant magician with a high Intelligence could still only memorize seven spells at a time, but now four of those could be 5th level.

Optional rule: Memorization "slots" are reclaimed only when the spell's duration expires

In other words, casting a spell is not sufficient to "clear room" in the magician's head for another memorized spell. In addition, the spell must end. So long duration spells (such as invisibility, which can potentially last many days) continue to "use up" a magician's memorization slot, until such time as the spell expires, or is canceled/dispelled.

As a minor point of counterbalance, the magician automatically senses when one of his in-progress spells has been terminated, no matter how far he is from the particular effect.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Contest: Where's This Illustration From?

First person to correctly identify the publication containing this illustration gets a free PDF copy of your choice of either F1 The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies or F3 Many Gates of the Gann. Post your answer to the comments below. (Edit: Contest over, since I revealed the answer to someone already. It was contained in an issue of Players Association News published by TSR UK. I forget which issue, but if I get the chance to look it up, I will post it here later.)

(I don't know whether this shows up in more than one published thing. If it does, you need to identify the particular thing I took the picture from. Life can be hard.)