Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The World As They Know It

To the players in my Saturday Labyrinth Lord campaign, the map to the right represents the entire universe.  It's just about every place they've ever been or heard about.  I have an overwhelming desire to flesh out more - but I stop myself and let dice rolls and the player's wanderlust shape The Wild Lands.

My intention was to start the players in Audrain Keep (actually the Keep on the Borderlands,) flesh out the main east-west road, and have the players move north towards the Razing Zone - an area of many monsters and a place for high adventure.  I even named the campaign 'The Razing Zone,' as I figured the players would be all over that place.

As you can probably tell from the map, the players have made a almost direct bee-line south, in the opposite direction. 

I think this might have something to do with my new DMing style.  When running a 4e campaign with the same group of people, the mere mention of a monster set them charging off to go fight it.  They knew I would play 'fair' by 4e rules and give them reasonable challenges.  But they know the kid gloves are off in Labyrinth Lord, and it's not uncommon for me to throw monsters 5 to 10 levels higher than they are - all at the whim of my evil red twenty-sider.  "Old School Runs" just doesn't refer to the dungeon, but the entire world - apparently.

In fact, last game when the party found out that the dragon Abaraxis and a cadre of orcs had taken over Audrain Keep, there was heated debate on exactly how far away should run away.  One party member did press the group to go vanquish the dragon, but in the end they party agreed to "explore a potential economic partnership" with a distiller who lived even farther south than they had already traveled. 

When fleeing (I mean strolling in a calm, economic sort of way,) south they came to a bridge, and of course that bridge was guarded by orcs in the employ of the dragon, but that is the kind of asshole - I mean DM - that I am.  :)

- Ark

PS - I'd like to mention how proud I am of the players.  They are now fighting and conquering monsters far above their level by using their smarts.  They almost never stand toe to toe against an enemy without some trick or trap ready to spring.  They are getting quite brilliant and it's starting to get difficult to out-think them.  I love it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Quote From Tonight's Game

"If we steal the bones, we loose the opportunity to surprise the door . . . you know, only in a D&D game would you ever say something like that."

- Ark

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dungeonspiration: The Dragon Palace

I've decided to do a regular feature - on Thursdays, no less.  The idea is to highlight a piece of art that can help inspire new ideas at the gaming table.  It could be visual art, a poem, or something else - but whatever it is, it should inspire.  Thus the name, Dungeonspiration.  No, that's not an underground tomb with sweaty walls.  Well, that's not such a bad idea, either.

First up on Dungeonspiration is The Dragon Palace:

The Dragon Palace is in the Japanese genre of ukiyo-e, a type of woodblock print focusing on a somewhat stylized or unreal subject matter, much like a modern day comic book.  This particular piece was done by Okumura Masanobu in the 1740s.

The woodcut is probably a scene out of a story or myth.  While my book on ukiyo-e calls the picture The Dragon Palace, an online gallery calls it Perspective Print of the Diving Woman Retrieving the Jewel from the Dragon Palace, which probably hearkens back to the story that inspired the artist.  Whatever the original story is, I don't really care for this exercise.  What do I make of the image?

Reading from upper right to left, in Japanese style, we see flotilla of boats.  The people in these boats appear to be well dressed - upper class perhaps - all focusing on the man holding something in the water.  Perhaps a rope?  The rope leads to a wall in the direction of the palace in the water.  Is that an anchor, or a diving line?

A naked woman swims in the water, sword in one hand, something pulled to her breast in the other hand.  An angry dragon stares her down.  She looks like she is heading towards a hole in the sea wall.  What is the hole?  Is it a aquatic dragon doggie door?  A cadre of ugly warriors is making their way down the ramp, headed towards the woman.  They appear upset.  They have weapons. 

I think we are looking at a classic D&D scene here.  A thief is hauling ass from the scene of the crime after a heist.  The thief is naked and alone with the goods while the rest of the party hauls up anchor and makes their escape.  I sure hope she can swim fast. 

Of course, there are lots of other ways to interpret the scene, but that is how it spark my imagination.  And just look at those fellows with fish on their heads.  I'm sure that hearkens back to some bit of mythology about Japanese fish spirits, but I'm in way over my head regarding Japanese culture to know.  My favorite is Mister Octopus over there.  Isn't he great?

So click on the image to make it bigger and dive in.  There are a lot of wonderful details all over the place.  Where do you think the Jewel was stored? How do you think the thief snuck in?  Are there two dragons, or is that one, and how are the two bits connected?  And why does the woman have to do all the work? :)


- Ark

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Geek Pride Day

I had no idea that I had a whole day

  1. The right to be even geekier.
  2. The right to not leave your house.
  3. The right to not like football or any other sport.
  4. The right to associate with other nerds.
  5. The right to have few friends (or none at all).
  6. The right to have as many geeky friends as you want.
  7. The right to be out of style.
  8. The right to show off your geekiness.
  9. The right to take over the world.

 - Ark

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Awful Green Things From Outer Space

There were a lot of strange games advertised in the first decade of Dragon Magazine.  I think I wanted every single one of them at that point.  Steve Jackson must know this, of course, because when I walked into FLGS on Friday, The Awful Green Things From Outer Space was staring at me, straight in the face.

I remember thinking about the game a lot as a kid.  I imagined what it would be like, and even fashioned a Star Frontiers adventure after my impressions.  It wasn't like I ever hoped to own it - or even play it.  West Texas just really wasn't awash in 'gaming product,' even though I knew Steve Jackson was sitting in Austin being raided daily by the FBI for committing bizarre Illuminati hacking conspiracies.  Or whatever the hell that was about.  So, it was just a pipe dream.

Then I was holding it in my hands. 


Steve Jackson got more of my money yesterday.  He's never let me down - but - well - I know he does produce lemons and was worried.  I still have no idea.  The boy didn't look too impressed, so I haven't got to take it out for a spin yet.  But I'm ready.  Look at the photo!  I'm ready, dammit! :)

(Pewter raptors and skeleton army not included - I was just getting ready for THE RAPTURE.)

- Ark

Friday, May 20, 2011

Savage Overland Travel

The Jovial Priest, and a host of other smart people, have been hashing out an Overland Travel System.  The gist is that a character would take hp damage over time while stumbling around in the outback, getting coated in leeches, suffering malaria, and stubbing all ten of their toes. He's got seven options on his table. I'll offer and eighth.

Hit Points have always been abstract and non-affecting. A character with 100 hp is just as able as a character with 1 hp. It's just that a player with a character with 1 hp is a lot more frightened to put the character in harm’s way. The RPG Savage Worlds has a mechanism that I have found very useful called the Fatigue Track.

The Fatigue Track has five states: Normal, Fatigued, Exhausted, Incapacitated, and Death. This track is separate from a D&D style hit point system. Each point on the track has an effect on the character.

Normal - Character is peachy keen.
Fatigued - Character is at -1 to all actions (would equate to around a -5 for all actions based on a d20.)
Exhausted - Character is at -1 to all actions (would equate to around a -10 for all actions based on a d20.)
Incapacitated - May be conscious, but is pretty well useless and can't move.
Death - Self-explanatory.

Various 'Hazards' kick a character down the track, including Bumps & Bruises, Cold, Disease & Poison, Drowning, Fire, Heat, Hunger, Radiation, Sleep, and Thirst. Each type of Hazard has it's own specifics and usually requires a Vigor (Constitution) check to avoid. Rest and other types of healing kick a character back up to the top. Grab Savage Worlds for specifics (just $10 bucks.)

I think something like the Fatigue Track and Hazard system would be far more effective at replicating the pains of overland travel that hp reduction. Of course, I haven't worked out the specifics or play-tested, so it's just vague conjecture for now. :)

- Ark

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Old School Runs!

The idea was simple - draw a little picture of some adventurers in the 'School House Rock' style, akin to the whole Old School Rocks image I drew a while ago.  It's taken me weeks and I've pulled out lots of hair.  It makes me envy artists who can spit out cartoons like a faucet - such as Ed Chase

As I was drawing, inspiration came from Bard, who mentioned that OSR should stand for 'Oh Shit, Run!.'  (Though he was cooth enough to asterisk out the nasties.)  I thought that was fabulous.  While some may not OSR that way, I certainly enjoy that style.

I finally finished it, so here is the picture.  Enjoy.

Click to embiggen.

- Ark

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Diana Davidsson's Flame Princess Fairies

I enjoyed Raggi's visual retrospective of the Flame Princess.  Some really great stuff there.  But when kelvingreen mentioned in the comments that he would like to see a colored version of Diana Davidsson's Flame Princess Fairies, my pavlovian coloring conditioning kicked in.  Well, okay, he didn't say color, he said colour, which I think means he's from New Jersey.

So yeah, I colored it.  Sorry, Diana.  I have no idea where you are to ask permission.  If you are not amused, just let me know and I'll toss it in the trash.  But it's a great piece and I had fun colo-u-ring it.

- Ark

Monday, May 16, 2011

House Rulz

I recently bumped into a cartoonist named Ed Chase.  He had been working on a comic strip based on a group of role players, and happened to have a couple in his back pocket that he let me see.  (When I saw 'bumped into' and 'back pocket,' I mean that all electronically, of course.)

I liked them so much I began harassing Ed continuously about posting them somewhere that others could see them - almost to the point of him filing a lawsuit against me.  I figured Blogger would be a good place to start - it's free and has people who play role playing games RIGHT THERE READY TO READ STUFF AT THE DROP OF A HAT.  You know who you are.

The comic strip is called House Rulz.  His name is Ed.  The comic and blog are at http://houserulzcomicstrip.blogspot.com/.

Go say hi and enjoy!

- Ark

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Wands of Doors

Last night's Labyrinth Lord game was quite fun, in part because of a D&Dified Portal gun that I included in the adventure.  I flippantly mentioned such a thing in a post before the Blogopolypse of last week, but didn't really think I could pull it off.  I threw caution to the wind, to great results.

For those who don't know, the Portal video games contain a gun that can place either end of a wormhole wherever the player wants (within limits.)  This portal generator can be very helpful - or very deadly.  A perfect compliment to an old school game, I think.

The implementation in the game is as follows.  They find a box:

Inside the box are two ornately carved wands.  One has a blue tint, with the word Azrak inscribed on the handle.  The other is orange, with the word Burdukali carved on the surface.  The wands are activated by pointing them at a properly prepared surface and uttering the control word (conveniently inscribed on the handle.) 

The blue wand creates a six foot tall glowing blue oval.  The wand itself glows blue when the blue oval is created.  The orange wand does the same thing, but in orange.  When both a blue and orange oval exists, the center of the two ovals become transparent, and both ovals become linked.  When an object goes through the blue portal, they exit the orange portal, and vice-versa.

This system of linked portals continues to exist even when you change the locations of one end.  The wielder of the wand can also turn off a portal by simply telling it to close.

One of the more enjoyable features of the portal is conservation of motion, also know as 'Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out.'  To take full advantage of this, long drops allowing a falling body to reach terminal velocity are required. :)

In the adventure, the players found the wands at the beginning of a prison constructed from 'a soon to awaken and escape big bad.' The prison can only be navigated with the Wands of Doors. 

The Boy, of course, guessed what the wands were for right off the bat.

The group hasn't gotten very far yet, but they have used the devices in ways I didn't expect them too, including isolating a gargoyle from his buddies, taunting the remaining gargoyles into a lethal trap, and using a high-velocity gargoyle corpse to destroy a large portion of a giant mushroom forest.

I'm very eager - and somewhat frightened - to see what they come up with next.

- Ark

Friday, May 13, 2011

While We're Waiting

While we're waiting to see if Blogger can get it's shit together, here is some found art . . .

- Ark

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Assume the Party Escort Submission Position

I finished Portal 2 Single Player last night and am still basking in the glow of my celebratory candescence. This is an awesome sequel to the nifty first Portal game. Chell and GladOS are back - but that shouldn't be much of a spoiler - as well as lethal testing for science, the weighted companion cube, and plenty of elevators. What's more, there are new characters - including Wheatley and Cave Johnson, various gels, repulsor beams, 'discouragement' beams, a potato, and a brand new end game song.

The single player game for Portal 2 (which is the only reason I actually picked it up - to heck with multi-player,) is longer and more difficult that the original Portal. As the scenarios fling you further and further into the bowels of the earth - and back again, they get more complicated as new technologies are added to the mix. The most time a test took me to complete was about an hour. It wasn't because of the difficulty, however. It was becasue as the options grow, it's easy to miss the simple stuff - like gravity. Gravity is your friend. It also kills you - but don't forget to use it to your advantage.

Beyond the game play is the story and the characters. It was great to see GladOS again - despite the fact that she is a homicidal passive-aggressive insane AI. You get a lot more back story and insight into what makes GladOS tick. The whole thing really reminds me of the heyday of the RPG Paranoia. That West End game was great fun to play - trying to survive the machinations of the crazy AI overlord in a future distopia. Portal 2 just really puts that concept into overdrive.

I highly recommend the game, especially if you liked the first Portal. It's a great mental workout. And now, I've got all sorts of new ideas (can you say Portal Wand?) for torturing the PCs in my Labryryth Lord game. I mean, helping them test - for science.

- Ark

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Calamity Clam Has a New Home

I know you were worried.  Fretting, even.  After loosing the OSR Links to Wisdom logo completion to the Temple of Smartness image, Calamity Clam had no home.  Lucky for that troublesome bivalve, the Jovial Priest came snooping around image orphanage, and adopted Calamity.  Now the clam, or oyster, or whatever the heck it is, is the pimp - I mean spokesperson - for a new project, the Old School Adventure Guide

It looks like a really cool project.  For the life of me, I can't think of anything to write for it, though I'd like to.  I guess I just need to ruminate on the mission statement.  It's a pretty broad scope, so you'd think I'd be thinking of things right and left.  Maybe my brain will kick in soon.  I just picked up the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide - all because of the Jovial Priest.  That's like the second time I've bought the book that I've declared worthless countless times - but JP taught me otherwise.  It's nifty!

I'm really happy this image I drew is finally getting used for something.  I really want to see it in a hardback book somewhere.  That would be cool.  So get to working on the Old School Adventure Guide!  You know, for Calamity's sake.


- Ark

Monday, May 9, 2011

CAPTCHA is my New Best Friend

I've been working on something - something that I told myself I would finish before I posted a blog entry.  You know, to give me impetuous to finish it, since I do quite enjoy writing.  But it is taking FOREVER and this carrot and stick thing is just getting tedious.  So, without further ado, here is a post about CAPTCHA.

I am seriously thinking about abandoning all other forms of naming places, being it making up stuff to grabbing words from old dead languages, and replacing them with CAPTCHA words.  Specifically the ones that Blogger uses.  I mean, these things are awesome.  I don't know what weird ass algorithm they are using.  Maybe they are just chopping up the dictionary and randomly pasting it back together.  I've been collecting the CAPTCHA words on each comment I make.  Here are the last few:


Are they not awesome?  My mind buzzes with their potential meanings:

Imperith - It brings to mind Imperial and Impair, with a good splash of Regolith mixed in.  What is it?  Is it a certain type of soil that kills nobles?  Or is the town founded by the rebels fighting against the empire, with massive stone walls protecting it?  The town of Imperith would be situated in a mountain pass where it would be easy to throw rocks down on the red cloaked Imperial Guard and their lackeys.
Misingst - At first glance, it reminds me of Missing Misogynists.  But also Mist.  Mist reminds me of bogs.  Perhaps this is a bog, where in ancient times, rapists were tied up, loaded down with rocks, and drowned for their crimes.  But their evil overwhelmed the bog, and now the leathery skinned, undead rapist bogmen stalk the Misingst Swamp at might, searching for more victims.
Incess - More perversions coming . . . this reminds me of Inverness and Incest, all rolled into one.  A ancient dark tower looms over a well hidden vale in the mountains.  A sorcerer built the tower long ago, and refused to let any of the inhabitants of the vale leave.  The wizard became a lich, and over the years the vale's population interbred.  Now the tower is silent, tended to by the deformed and sadistic offspring of the farmers and townsfolk of Incess Vale, waiting for the time their master will rise from his crypt and wage war upon the outsiders.
Reststro - Wow - this one has Rest,  Restroom, Restaurant, and Bistro all rolled into one.  Everyone, I mean everyone, wants to go to the little town of Reststro.  It's a little town up on the side of a mostly dormant volcano.  A constant supply of hot water gives the town a constant supply of hot water - allowing for the largest collection of public and private bath houses in the region.  With relaxation and money comes prostitution, gambling, graft, organized crime, corruption, and all that other fun stuff.
Empffeci - My mind goes to Imps and Imperfecto.  The 'ffeci' part on the end seems Italian-esque, but it doesn't ring any bells, so we'll just make this place a sea-port on a warm inland sea.  A desperate merchant struck up a deal with some Infernal Entities, selling his soul to create a  he could be lord of.  A host of imps descended upon the shore and began building toward the sea.  The Port of Empffeci is mostly built on stilts, it's streets go this way and that, and part of the architecture is under the water.  Drawn on a map, Empffeci looks like a plate of spaghetti someone threw on the sidewalk.
Ninsh - Hmm . . . Nine, Ninny, Inch.  Once upon a time, there were nine sisters who were a bit stupid.  Their evil step-mother told them to go to town and fetch a ham for dinner.  They came back, telling her that the bridge over the nearby gorge was out.  The evil step-mother told them that the gorge was just nine inches wide, so they could easily jump over it.  The sisters tried, and all fell down into the gorge and drown in the river below.  In celebration, the evil step-mother named place the Ninsh Gorge. 
Aritial - What comes to mind?  Aries.  Arteries.  Insubstantial.  So we have a ram, blood, and see-thruness.  AHA!  Many years ago, a disgruntled farmer, tired of his woes and fed up with his deaf god, decided to turn to the DARK ONES to help his family and crops.  He took his prized ram up to the top of a hill and, during a horrible thunderstorm, sacrificed the beast with a obsidian sickle.  But instead of good fortune, his house burned down and his crops died.  From then on, travelers have been wary of Aritial Hill.  Some say there they see the angry ghost of the sacrificed ram, it's fleece glowing like fire and acidic blood spewing from it's horns.

Okay, maybe they won't replace all the other ways of generating names, but they are fun to brainstorm with.

- Ark

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It Still Hasn't Sunken In Yet

After killing two groups of morlocks, the party is confronted by 40 of their angry brothers, all armed with spears and changing down the hall at them.

The Boy: Uh . . .

Ron: Let's get out of here.

Merv: Forty?  Yeah.  Lets go.

Tim shakes his head and waves his hands:  Hold on, hold on.  I know the whole design philosophy is a bit different with these old games, but I'm not sure.  Would he really set us up to fail?  I think we should stay and fight.  There has got be be a way - some trick - some gimmick.  We can win this.  He wouldn't just keep on throwing things at us to kill us, would he.  Stand firm.  We can do this, guys.

Me:  What the hell are you talking about, Tim?  I attacked your group of first level adventurers with a DRAGON on a random roll.  You are not being paranoid.  I AM trying to kill you.

Tim looks back at me and scrunches up his forehead:  Oh.  Well, let's run away then.

- Ark

Monday, May 2, 2011