Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I love reading the Tao of D&D and even (tentatively) commenting on occasion.  I have generally avoided the wrath of Tao, but rarely do my comments raise much of a reaction at all.  A minor victory, I suppose.  A typically awesome read inspired this post.

I couldn't agree more with the basic gist of the linked post; if I am going to make a random chart at all, it has to be useful in a thousand situations and not stale after six rolls.  Of course, Tao goes beyond simple complexity and demands of himself (and others, I guess, if I were to acknowledge the sub-plot of many of Tao's recent posts) charts and game mechanics that model the consistencies and vagaries of real life within an acceptable statistical deviance.

  I usually just stick with making charts with a gajillion results.  Ferrinstance, when I wanted to randomly generate magical fungi for my Mutant Future campaign's brief stint on Celestia, I created a "chart" with some number of thousand total possibilities,and I actually do not even possess the statistical acumen to give you a correct total.  The version that I posted on the interwebs is lacking the addiction and overdose tables, but even just the primary effect (d30 + subcharts + some random duration rolls) + secondary effect (d20 + subcharts + some random duration rolls) tables generate thousands of possibilities.

That is the kind of chart I am going to create, if I create any at all, because in general I just rely on my ability to perform well under pressure and come up with something awesome, and my ability to sit back at the correct moments to allow my players to come up with something awesome.  The time that I spend in prep is normally spent creating new creatures and cultural practices and items and sketching  and most dearly refining the physical rules that govern my RPG universe (i.e. expanding on magic and its relationship to energy, time and intent).  It is spent jotting down quick reminder lists of the various NPCs and factions that are going to be most active during the period of time the session is likely to entail.  When multiple days pass in session, I rely on my own ability to just create weather conditions and terrain descriptions that are not just accurate for the latitude and time of year, but evocative as well.  I do a fair amount of research on conditions in Earth analogs of the kind of places I stage my adventures, and I just wing it from there.  It seems to work well; weather is not an afterthought, it is a tangible part of the game, but I don't think any of my players care HOW I generate it.

I fly without a safety net a lot of the time; not all of the time; not even most of the time; and my poker face is good.  I act the same one way or the other if I am improvising from the seat of my pants based on the setting to date and the actions of the players, or if I am working from fastidiously prepared notes.

Don't get me wrong; I DO have fastidiously prepared notes.  I prepare reams of material for every game I have ever DMed... scribbled pages upon pages of notes, pen and ink, illustrations, diagrams, sidebars and more.  I just accept that a good portion of that work is just a mental exercise and that the number of hours spent conducting freestyle mental gymnastics during a session has no correlation to the number of hours spent preparing for a session.

There is rarely a situation in one of my ongoing games that I feel the need to create a chart for, because I have taught myself the lesson over and over again that I can be a successful DM just by staying out of my own way; providing interesting tidbits and reacting to player actions.  I have honestly never felt the need for "random" encounters and weather, and even when I have made such charts I usually have ended up using them as inspiration in the moment.  A post like Tao's makes me sort of wish that I had an alternate reality version of myself to make awesome detailed charts for every region in my 4e game, while the real-life me kept on happily creating undead mechanical constructs, strange tribal customs and new magic.  But then I remind myself that Tao's campaign is set in a world that exists, Earth, and a history that not only mostly exists (late middle ages with magic, if I can sloppily summarize), but is familiar to the typical gamer, while my games tend to be set in very alien climates and social conditions.  I fall closer to the Tekumel side of the divide than the Pendragon.  I align myself nearer to the Sci Fi / Arnesonian / Temple of the Frog school than the Fantasy / Gygax / Keep on the Borderlands camp.

There is something about your standard, bog simple, pseudo-European generic default D&D setting that does still  stir my blood, I must admit.  I am really enjoying what I am working on right now precisely because of that.  I am making random encounter charts for my entry into the Iron Chef Adventure Challenge issued by Mike Monaco (Swords & Dorkery).  There are going to be several layers of complexity layered on top of your typical THIS kind of terrain, THAT chart routine.  The basic format is going to be a d20 roll for each terrain type that a party could travel through in the hex-crawl (currently:  Farmland (grain - travelling by road); Farmland (grain - cross country); Farmland (root crop - travelling by road); Farmland (root crop - cross country); High Moor (via road & traveler's shelter); High Moor (cross country); Millbrook Town; Hot Springs and Abandoned Estates surrounding Millbrook; Mixed New Growth Forest and Farmland; New Growth Forest; Old Growth Forest; Mountain Foothills; High Mountains; Glacial Ice Field; Temple Marsh & Hotsprings; the Moon; the Sun; Astral Plane) with a result of 20 calling for a roll on a special chart.

I am going to call for a roll once per hex entered OR once per day if no travelling is conducted (with a secondary roll for time of encounter) .

Results 1-15 on the d20 terrain type encounter chart typically call for a roll on a sub-chart (a common feature of my chart design; when creating a version of Mutant Future for "Fantasy" gaming, I used the [d100 roll gives a result that leads to a sub-chart] mechanic to create WAY more variation in random character generation than the original game's mechanic); for instance, these results might be "Wildlife - roll 3d6 on the following chart" or "Civilized Folk - roll 2d12 on the following chart" or "Uninhabited Structure - roll 1d20".  Results 16-19 are more unusual / notable encounters for that terrain type.  A result of 20 = a roll on the special chart for that hex.  Most hexes within a terrain type share the same special results chart, but many hexes have unique charts.

The special charts are d30 charts and the linear distribution means that once the d30 comes out, some crazy results can come up.  Results 25-30 are typically major encounters that occur on a spread of hexes, with Demonic activity concentrated in the areas near the temple but still occurring on a 30 in hexes all the way out to Millbrook.

On top of that, the locations of some major NPC actors will be rolled randomly when the PCs enter the region and then their subsequent movements determined on a daily basis on another chart.

On top of that, there is a d100 roll each day for the 1% likelihood of a spontaneous portal to a (random) extra-planar destination opening in a randomly determined hex around the temple for a random amount of time, each portal with its own supplementary charts that reveal what crosses through to this plane, and subsequent movements.

I would love to add yet another layer of complexity, the ability for the last result to influence the next result, but I am not sure the players would pick up on it.  It does give me something to aspire to, if for no one else but myself!  There is no reason to be lazy with chart creation.  The entire purpose of charts is to save you time during the game, so investing time in their creation will give an exponential reward as a DM.  If you aren't going to go all out, then why not just ad lib it?

Monday, October 17, 2011

I got my secret ingredients!

Mike Monaco over at Swords and Dorkery issued a sweet challenge that I could not refuse.  My unopened pack of 1992 Series TSR Collector Cards arrived today (this was a Max the Cat approved operation):


I have already figured out how to easily integrate all 16 of my Counterfeit Proof Limited Edition Fantasy Cards.  There will be a forgotten temple involved, there might even be gates to the moon and the sun... who knows these sorta things?  Guess you gotta roll on the random rumor table like everyone else...

Get ready for a solar system spanning wilderness hex crawl with the potential for planar travel!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Iron Chef Challenge

I was browsing the blogosphere the other day and came across a blog that was new to me:  Swords and Dorkery.

Mike Monaco, the blog author, issued a challenge to open a pack of AD&D collector cards and use at least half of them in an adventure, encounter or to stock a dungeon.  He is also generously donating an unopened pack to the first sixteen respondents (I believe there might still be a few openings as of my writing this).  This is the Iron Chef Challenge!

I jumped at the opportunity and eagerly await my pack of cards.  I am going to use every golldurned card, I swear to Jeebus!  I have also offered to donate a prize to the prize pool (an extra copy of the 1e DM's guide that seems superfluous to me now that I have a copy with the original cover; the prize copy has the Easley cover with a cloaked figure opening a door).

I have long wanted to do something similar with Magic the Gathering cards (randomly deal some out and use them as adventure seeds), so this is really right up my alley.

I can't wait to find out what my secret ingredients are!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Devils Bathe in Holy Water in the Labyrinth. Lord.

In the Labyrinth Lord game that I play in (I am Dak, the Steve Buscemi of dwarfs) we had a great encounter with a demigod / powerful devil last session.  Exploring a temple hidden deep beneath the manor house of the recently deceased lord of the region, Dak was nearly compelled to worship the altar of an evil god when he touched a magically warded door into the temple fane.  Luckily, I rolled a 19 on my save and laughed in the face of evil.  And then I got really ticked off, because I have been playing my character as afraid of magic in the first place, and this really struck to the core of my character's fears.  I spent a goodly portion of last session destroying the evil altar with my dwarf steel hand ax, even though our good cleric's Detect Evil spell revealed that the evil presence in the altar grew stronger with every blow.

Sure enough, when Dak and Yor (the other party dwarf) succeeded in striking the last blow to the altar in spectacular fashion (collapsing a load bearing pillar onto it), an explosion of green flame occurred and a terrifying four-armed humanoid fish-demon-thing with a long eel-like tail burst into existence over the rubble.

Despite being dwarfs, with our inherently KICK ASS savings throws, we both failed a save vs. paralyzation when the evil fish thing sprayed us with a green liquid which subsequently encased us in a rock-hard goop.  The rest of the party looked on in horror from the doorway, with the exception of Innominus the lawful cleric of Indra who warded himself with a spell and dived in to combat.  (Thank Indra!)

Dak, terrified as he is of both magic and water, had tied a rope around his waist before entering the partially submerged chamber and tied the other end off on the spikes he had driven in to hold the door open.  This enabled my hireling Rodney to pull my paralyzed body out of the fray, but it was obvious that it was going to take several rounds of work by Rodney to chip the coating off and free Dak.

As I was paralyzed and unable to take actions myself, I couldn't help but get involved in the meta-game and I began asking Kom, the player of a character with the ability to make two ranged attacks in a combat round, if he had anything likely to damage the monstrosity.  We went through his list of equipment and it turned out that he had little if any magical or dwarf steel missile weaponry (besides his +2 crossbow, which he had already fired and would take a round to reload).

AHA, I thought, when I noticed that he had several vials of holy water written down.  Holy water, blessed by a lawfully aligned temple, had to be effective against a chaotic and/or evil being such as this, right?

Kom rolled a solid to hit roll and the vial of holy water splashed across the hideous visage of the slimy bastard... to no avail.

According to Labyrinth Lord, holy water works against undead, period.  If this is a faithful emulation of the early game, it seems to me like one of those lacunae in the old rules that occurred through oversight and not intention; after all, the very idea of holy water and its efficacy comes squarely from the catholic church, where it is used precisely to drive away evil spirits and devils.  Its not like a lousy 1d8 damage is going to be overpowering any devil anytime soon, but it seems to me like it should do something.

 It does make me curious, however, if ANY of the older editions (OD&D, B/X, AD&D 1e) make any provisions for holy water damaging a devil or avatar/agent of an evil god.  Being a lazy fuck myself, can anyone find a reference?
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