Sunday, February 27, 2011

Buck's Random Dungeon Generator

I was googling for random dungeon generators and found Jamis Buck's Random Dungeon Generator files on There's source code there and a Windows executable - the screen shot above (click to enlarge) is running inside of Wine on OS X. Jamis released this as free software years ago. The maps it generates aren't super complex but could be useful in a jam or further GIMPed or photoshopped. The actual room contents (D&D 3.5 stats) it generates are a nice touch.
(Update: Looks his perl script is still hosted on at least one other site too.)

Fiasco: Play Report

Risus Monkey and Telecanter played a game of Fiasco with me last night via Skype. There were some minor adjustments we had to make, given the lack of a shared table with dice to draw from, but I don’t think it took away from the game overall.

I’d only heard about Fiasco through a post of RM’s and really liked the idea of a referee-less and rules light game. Having now played it, I agree that its spontaneity and near total reliance on improv can definitely take you out of your comfort zone (even if you're an experienced rpg'er). Our game never seemed to stall, although I think each of us had moments where we wondered how the hell we were going to move the scene along. In retrospect, it helped me relate a little bit more to my wife’s difficulty in playing Swords & Wizardry for the first time.

We decided to use the Dragonslayers playset. Risus Monkey facilitated the game, guiding us through setup, scenes, and acts. Telecanter played an alchemist named Gills Whalhamer, Risus Monkey played his guild brother, a skeevy alchemist named Krom Domlin. I played Vince Bearheart, a paladin. I figured playing a class that annoys me would suit this type of game. Plus, someone was going to have to kill the dragon, right? Little did I know, it wasn’t going to be me.

Some other relationships and details: Gills and Vince are drinking buddies. Gills wants to rule over others and impose his own sense of justice. Gills and Vince have a need for a mummy finger with a ring on it. Vince is linked to Krom by some kind of blood ritual - which we determined to be a blood oath of secrecy; Vince was actually a very ugly man, but with the aid of regular potions supplied to him by Krom Domlin, he’d become very charismatic and able to pull off being a paladin. Yes, it wasn’t lawful, and Vince was very conflicted about it, but he was willing to make this one sacrifice in order to have a career where he could help rid the world of evil.

Hmm, there are some other details, but my note card scribbles are difficult to read. I’ll share some vignettes that I hopefully won’t have misremembered or mixed up too much..

Our role playing actually starts at the scene of the dragon’s lair itself, just after the dragon’s demise. Gills is very distraught by what he's witnessed - a huge explosion that has brought down the beast (although the paladin is under the illusion that he delivered the killing blow himself). The reason for his distress becomes clear when he confronts Krom Domlin about what was in the flask he’d launched at the dragon. Krom admits that it did contain an illegal herb but that nothing bad had happened other than some small collateral damage in the form of many dead hirelings - hey, the dragon was dead, wasn’t it? “But Krom, the herb was made illegal precisely because of how it has a tendency to kill hirelings!”

In our next scene, Krom Domlin has approached the paladin at the inn of the Buxom Wench in the town of Pissant, where they’re staying before heading back to the King’s castle with the mummified finger. Krom knows that he has a lot of control over Vince due to the paladin being dependent upon a continuous supply of “make me pretty” potions. Krom asks if Vince can try to convince his drinking buddy Gills not to report him to the guild for violating their rules. In the end, Vince agrees to try to help, before going off with a wench who’s had her eyes on him all night.

Next scene: With their (surviving) large entourage of hirelings, the party makes its way to a castle in the distance. Their path crosses a stream, and the three find themselves standing at the top of a waterfall hundreds of feet high. Closest to the edge is Gills, then Vince, then Krom. The three begin to all talk heatedly about Gills wanting to report Krom’s crime to their superiors. He comes closer to Gills. The conversation is perhaps difficult due to the noise of the water. Or perhaps his approach is threatening. What happened next was unclear: Did the paladin push Gills off the top of the waterfalls? Did he accidentally bump into him and knock him off, trying to protect him from a menacing Krom Domlin? In any event, Gills falls - but manages to grab the paladin and drag him with him! At the top of the falls, it appears to the hirelings standing some distance away as though the paladin has murdered Gills and died as well.

There were some more scenes, but I'll skip to the outcome...

Krom Domlin ends the game penniless, the treasure having disappeared (hireling theft?) and he never has as great a chance at glory or gold again.

Gills comes out much worse. He is thrown out of the guild for (ironically) following the rules too closely and his hair is permanently dyed green as punishment and perhaps as a mark of warning to never employ him as an alchemist. Everywhere he goes, children point and laugh at him.

The paladin suffers the most though. Krom Domlin cuts him off from his regular supply of potions of enhansomement. Returning to his ugly state, he is no longer taken seriously by anyone and ceases to be a paladin. In a tragic turn, the wench he slept with takes her own life in mortal embarrassment at having been with him. Worst of all, the mummified finger he carried was cursed, and attaches itself permanently to the center of his forehead. Everywhere he goes, he seems to be giving the finger.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Zoo is a Dungeon Too

I was considering Zoopocalypse again the other night, and then started thinking about a zoo’s similarity to our games’ dungeon - its winding paths that lead to exhibits is rather like a dungeon's tunnels, leading to larger chambers and creatures perhaps never seen before… The fun of discovering something new in a zoo visit is something like what we create with dungeon crawls, enhanced with an element of supposed danger.

So I went looking for some zoo maps online and ended up getting totally carried away, downloading one after another to look at more closely for inspiration in creating my own maps later. Some inspire with their art and design; perspective, cut-away views, and colors being used to provide ease of navigation and more information. Others I could even see GIMP’ing, replacing the animal descriptions and icons with monsters, and turning the whole thing into a dungeon.

I went through just about every major zoo’s website in the U.S. and Canada I could easily find, downloaded their maps, and merged them into one gigantic PDF. I put in some interesting aquarium maps that I found along the way too, but I had to leave a lot out due to poor resolution. You can download it on Scribd if interested.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Star of Veyrines

Veyrines is a small village of only about a hundred inhabitants, not far from Castelnaud in the Dordogne. It is unremarkable in nearly every respect, save for a regular occurrence every Spring. Over several days, a woman’s voice can be heard in the village square at around midnight, singing ascending and descending scales as though practicing for a performance. Once verified, messengers are sent to all of the valley’s towns and castles in order to announce an impending event: the appearance of a beautiful woman, a ghostly apparition, who will sing a lengthy elegy before disappearing again until the following year.

She is known as The Lady of Veyrines, and the annual event has become both the boon and bane of the small village. Typically, an audience of a thousand or more will descend there, packing itself into within ten feet of the place where she appears at night. The crowd spills out into adjacent streets and alleys, and the shops and houses which border the square become filled with spectators watching from every window. Scaffolding is hastily erected to support even more viewers.

Though the local inhabitants benefit economically from this short lived tourism, they also suffer the next day from the waste of these spectators, and from the petty crime that surges before The Lady’s performance. When the ghost sings, however, all are silently united in respect and astonishment, even those who can only hear and not see the apparition - such is the exquisite beauty of her voice. She never seems to notice her large audience, and once she and her song have faded away, the great throng departs peacefully and thoughtfully.

Her existence is as great a mystery as her lyrics. All agree that her song is one of lament for a lost lover, but though everyone who hears her is completely enthralled by them, her words themselves seem to fade from memory as swiftly as her beautiful form… and faster than any pen can record.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

S&W Sessions Journal: Who Wants to Play the Blind Magic User?

Our player-abandoned PC turned NPC, Kitoth the magic user was blinded last night by a spitting cobra. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this is handled. As a player in our short game at CaveCon1 (anyone interested in a CaveCon2 in mid-June, let me know), we had a blind hireling we tied by rope to another hireling. It became pretty funny actually… in this case, I suspect I’ll (as DM) be playing the character to a degree, unless we can find another player to pick him up. I hope the party doesn’t ditch him as useless; I’m looking forward to future role playing possibilities and planning on the highly intelligent Kitoth occasionally making better use of his other senses and still contributing to the party’s adventuring and well-being.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"I think there's something down there..."

After a hard day’s work I returned to the castle to make myself a martini. A gin-less one, just to see if Trey was as crazy as I thought he was.

Suddenly there was a great barking commotion! One of my dogs-at-arms sought to alert me to an intruder. The Beagle led with nervous whimpering to a place in my office where she’d discovered the odor of something. First the snakes coiled around the surge protector under my desk and now this! Not having the olfactory abilities of my lieutenant, I listened intently at the floor where she led me. Clearly she thought something was just beneath it. Then we heard a cough or a sneeze; a low pitched sound… disturbingly un-catlike.

I quickly finished my accursed vodka “martini” and steeled myself. There was no choice but to get a torch, a pointed stick, and go outside in the rain to the vent entrances that allowed entry under the castle. These have all been blocked off, confound it! How did the beast get inside? I got down and began crawling through the entrance, having looked inside first with my torch to make sure there wasn’t something lying in ambush.

Since there are several sub-chambers beneath our home due to separate foundations, I couldn’t see all the way to the space below my office. If I was going to crawl there, I would be seriously committing myself to a potential battle, without backup or even witnesses as the lady of the house was away. Furthermore, a quick retreat would be near impossible. It didn't help that I’m slightly arachnophobic either.

Screw it, I thought. This is a job for a dungeoneer. I found out what one would cost and am now trying to decide whether the sounds of the monster might be tolerable, given their relative infrequency. As long it stays down there, the worst it could do is die I suppose, in which case we might have to take a trip while the corpse finishes rotting. Later on, the Lady suggested I use my spell of Pyrotechnics. I will meditate on this, and perhaps attempt another foray into the dungeon.

In other news, I’ve been very busy with work and studying. Still gaming of course, just a little too preoccupied and tired to post here more frequently. Hopefully things will open up a bit soon...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

FLGS Video Walk Through: Ancient Wonders in Tualatin, Oregon

I've written here about Ancient Wonders in Tualatin (near Portland), Oregon before. It's a great store with a lived in, slightly grungy feel. Very Magic the Gathering friendly (is there a game store that isn't?), with comics and a wide range of board and role playing games. They also have a great selection of old school items. I was driving to Portland but had a few minutes to pop in, pick up a couple things, and make a walk through video.

I had to laugh about it later. When the owner asked me what the video was all about and I explained it was for a blog, the only customer present at the time (who I'm pretty sure had been discussing a specific Magic card or strategy) sort of snorted and sneered briefly. There you have it folks, bloggers are even lower on the social totem pole than gamers! Or maybe he just thought the idea of videoing a game store was silly. Anyhow, it's clear now that I have absolutely no skill as a videographer, and again hope the music compensates. Careful viewing will reveal a rare copy of The Palace of the Vampire Queen (as well as the elusive bulette)...

sorry if this shows up in anyone's feed twice, I botched the post date/time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Or maybe my game is weird.

Role playing games are a great place for people to explore their emotions and thoughts around the subject of right and wrong. There’s the safety of being able to rob, kill, or perhaps worse, without negative real-life legal, physical, or other consequences. Or conversely, of being able to stop a bully, and to discover dignity or integrity. Either way, the feedback from other players and from the referee creates a kind of microcosm of society, with the real world’s ethics usually entering and informing the game’s imaginary stage.

The situation is a bit different with children though, as their understanding of the real world’s ideas of right and wrong are not as based on personal experience as an adult’s, nor have the norms of their culture necessarily been fully accepted or even understood. It makes perfect sense that children would use the tools available to them through role playing games to question and test these norms.

Most readers (being players) know these things intuitively, and how rpgs encourage critical thinking. All of which I mention because I’ve been slowly realizing how the area of the game that most interests and entertains me these days is precisely in moments of moral ambiguity. Whether I use a complicated device or magic item, an encounter with kobolds, or an eccentric NPC, I’ve found myself (often unconsciously at first) creating situations that highlight the uncertainty of the moral ground the PCs are standing on.

I’m not sure if that makes my game weirder than someone else’s or if I’m just more focused on and fascinated by this type of thing. I’ve been out of the hobby for two decades before taking an interest in it again a couple of years back. Maybe it’s this long absence that’s making me aware of the difference between the games of my youth and my games today - or maybe there isn’t all that much difference. There are the same goblins, kobolds, and wolves - what’s new is a greater awareness of the degrees of moral ambiguity and complexity, and subtler ways of introducing situations that force the players to examine these things. I think that whether I was running Traveller, some kind of Cthulu game, or Boot Hill for that matter, this is where my primary interest would lie.

(update: I should add "...while making sure we're having fun, of course.").

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

S&W Sessions Journal: Let’s not speak of these dead kobolds…

“Shall we slit their throats?” asked the magic user, having magicked the little reptilian-like humanoids to sleep.

“They’re obviously sub-human.” said one of the hirelings. “You know - like gnomes.”

“Sounds good to me.” said another.

With that, Skithath and Girard set to dispatching the peacefully snoozing creatures, one by one.

The beings were nearly naked, with no money or visible possessions other than their diminutive spears.

“Might be they were kobolds.” suggested Wagstaff.

“Yeessss” said Skithath. “I thinks I’s heard of them. There are kobolds up on the druid’s lands. Although I hear they’re real nice folk. Not like these ones. Uh, you don’t think these could have been some of them do ya?”

“We’ll never know now, will we?!?” answered Agnal the cleric.

The spastic porter seemed a bit pale suddenly. A mixture of confusion and concern could be read in his brow.

“Let’s not speak of these dead kobolds again then.” said Girard.
The night before, the group had heard what sounded like a man sobbing during the night. They investigated in the morning, but the only thing they found of interest were what appeared to be wolf tracks on top of their own, in the muddy trail they’d taken to the abandoned castle. The party then made another foray inside. They found and killed a hungry pair of wolves that seemed trapped in a courtyard, as well as kobolds and a couple more goblins. One of the latter managed to escape, followed closely by a younger one of their kind who’d been watching the battle from a short distance away.

Strangely enough, they also happened upon a lone man. He was very fearful of the party and described himself as a poor fur trader. The group did not restrain or interrogate him, and told him that he was trespassing on their employer’s property. He very promptly left.

There was a lot of dice rolling and it was a fast moving session - and a good time. I’m feeling very content with what others might think a fairly typical, unweird game. I haven’t been playing for decades straight, and reusing a map or parts of an old TSR module are not beneath me. Far from it - I’m running the games I wish I always had, with the intellectual and emotional maturity I’d been missing earlier. Yet still with goblins, kobolds, wolves - More than enough tonight, and probably tomorrow too.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Swords & Wizardry Whitebox Officially Available Again

The Peter Mullen cover art returns for the latest edition of Mythmere Games' Sword & Wizardry Whitebox rules, available now on Lulu in 6x9 hardcover.

"Rules of the original 1974 fantasy roleplaying game, re-described under the terms of the WotC open game license. The WhiteBox rules do not contain anything from the game's later supplements, so this is in many ways a completely different game! Adventure like it was at the very beginning! This is a complete game, very simple to master, but open-ended enough to provide a lifetime of fantasy roleplaying gaming" Direct link - Free PDF version is here.

Monday, February 7, 2011

DIY Game Art

I made this the other day with the Lantern Naga in mind... Occasionally I like to share an image with players to help my descriptions or to create a mood. Sometimes I just can’t find one I want to associate with an encounter or creature and I’m finally driven to just take a stab at creating it myself. Afterwards I’m grateful for the game forcing me out of my comfort zone again and for inspiring me to try something different. I really love that about the hobby - there are so many different creative aspects to it that if you're not feeling like writing up an npc or full adventure, then there's always miniature painting, sculpting, or drawing/painting. Not to mention rules tweaking.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Video Walk Through the FLGS - Evolution Gaming in Eugene, OR

There are four games stores in our little town - here's a quick walk through of Evolution Gaming on Hilyard. Sorry for the poor quality, I was in a hurry - I even forgot to get a good shot of the front door from outside... maybe the music will help make up for it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Magic Vermouth

It’s been awhile since I reviewed anything, so here’s one for ye. Today’s subject is a vermouth.

Encyclopedia Britannica describes vermouth thusly:

Vermouth, A wine-based fortified drink flavoured with aromatic herbs. The name derives from the German Vermut, or “wormwood”, a bitter herb and traditional ingredient of vermouth and absinthe. As many as 40 different herbs and flavourings may be used in vermouth, including juniper, cloves, quinine, orange peel, nutmeg, and coriander; the vermouths of various producers are flavoured according to closely guarded recipes. There are two styles of vermouth: the so-called French, or dry style, which is white, and the Italian, or sweet style, which is darker in colour. Both styles, however, are made in both countries, as well as ... To Continue reading activate your no-risk Free Trial to Britannica Online.” Hail Britannica! Maybe I should have consulted Wikipedia instead.

I can think of several cocktail recipes that call for vermouth, but if they have more than two ingredients, I can’t be bothered. There are two drinks I make with vermouth. One is a Manhattan, to be served to the ladies in the room. The other is of course the venerable martini. Not a "vodka martini", or any number of vodka infused drinks that might pass as a martini in less refined places. Not to this old schooler - a martini must have gin in it. Gin and dry vermouth. Or just the gin, thank you, with the quick obeisance of a bottle of vermouth, held out thoughtfully for a moment before being put away again.

However, Imbue, a locally (Oregon) produced vermouth describing itself as "bittersweet" was poured out to me just the other day by my friend Dr. Grimme. Yes, that’s really his name, and he is a doctor. He pronounces it “Grimmy” of course, but that doesn’t stop us from referring to him in low and serious tones when he’s not around. But I digress, Dr. Grimme first mixed for me what’s referred to as an upside down or inverted martini. This is where the amounts of gin and vermouth respectively are reversed. Heresy! I was willing to try it though, as the doctor had proven himself on more than one occasion to be a connoisseur of fine potions.

And it was indeed a very nice drink - but how would the vermouth fare when not paired with the top shelf gin in my glass? The good doctor indulged me with a shot of the vermouth by itself, and I was very impressed by its complexity and flavor. It seemed an equal to a fine gin, and the reason for it not being relegated to a supporting role became clear.

I was happy to accept the bottle he gave me to take home for further testing - where I immediately decided to see if it would play nice as second fiddle to a lesser gin. As those who spoke to me later that evening can attest, the experiment turned out wonderfully! So much so that another rare journey to the liquor store seems to be in order, now that the gin has run out. Well, I suppose there is some vodka in the freezer…