Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Contact Sheets

This will be my last Dungeonspiration column for the foreseeable future.   I'll get into why after this week's installment . . .

I've been running a Stars Without Number campaign, which has been going fine with it's automagically generated sector sandbox.  But I got a hankering to try out a published adventure, so I went out and grabbed Kevin Crawford's Hard Light.  It's basically The Keep on the Borderlands for a science fiction campaign - a sort of mini-sandbox inside a great big sandbox.  The thing reads great, and has been playing great as well.

One avenue the referee and players can explore in Hard Light is in solving a mystery.  There are about ten important players in the mystery.  In planning the game, I became worried that the players would not be able to keep up with all the people involved.  How could they remember all of the people if I was having a hard time keeping track myself? Then I thought of a trick I used to use in my old Top Secret days - contact sheets.

I whipped up this contact sheet of contacts (from page 6 of Hard Light, for those following along at home) in less than an hour using's search function and the freebie graphics program Paint.Net (which I use when I don't want to spend the time waiting for Photoshop to load.)  As the PCs meet the denizens of Hard Light, I pull out the sheet and point.  Not only do the players seem to enjoy looking at the pictures - they seem to be remembering them better than they would just with a auditory description.

There was an unforeseen problem.  The character in the lower right-hand cell - see him?  When I snagged the pic, I noticed that it was labelled 'Old Man Logan.'  Having read X-Men back in the 80s, I knew who Logan was, and just assumed that someone had drawn him old, and that the players would never think to associate him with Wolverine.

As soon as I brought out the sheet, two of the players pointed and said 'Hey, it's Old Man Logan!.'  I had no clue that there had been some sort of very popular 'What If?' kind of series based on good old Wolverine in the future.  The players seemed to immediately like the guy before I said a word about him.

So, if you are snagging art for a game, give some thought about the impact a particular image will create.  Players already bring a lot of baggage with them into a game, so try to use it to your advantage. :)

Now . . . as to why Dungeonspiration column is going into hiatus, or perhaps retirement:

1) Focus - The intent of the column was to inspire DMs (and as an afterthought, players) about gaming.  I have a hard time writing about just that.  I'm all over the place - as this particular column illustrates nicely.  It really has nothing to do with the concept of 'Dungeonspiration.'

2) Need - Do the readers in the OSR blogosphere really need to be inspired?  From what I read on other blogs - no.  People are chock full of awesome ideas all over the place.  I think that what people seem to need above all else is time.  If I could somehow bottle time and distribute in via the Internet, that would satisfy a lot more people's need.

3) Self-Discipline - Another reason for the Dungeonspiration column was to provide me with a weekly reminder to write blog post - at lest one a week.  While I think it has helped, I also think that I would have done it anyway - crazy holiday weeks not withstanding.

4) Other Projects - I've got some other projects in queue for 2012.  Those projects have to do with gaming and providing additional blog content - so it's not like loosing Dungeonspiration would be reducing content on the blog itself, I just need to juggle my time wisely.  I still have a lot to juggle and decide what I want to tackle - so some meditation time is in order.

So thougts are my thoughts on the Dungeonspiration column and it's future.  But perhaps I have missed something.  If the column is doing something else for you that I haven't thought of, please let me know.  There may be a reason to keep it around longer that I'm not aware of.  Maybe it warrants a monthly column or something.  I don't know.  If you have any input, feel free to leave it below. :)

Have a Happy New Year - and don't go driving drunk or nothing.  Boozing away and passing out on someone's sofa is far better etiquette than wrapping your car around a telephone pole.

- Ark


  1. I did the same when I ran a murder mystery scenario as part of my Rogue Trader campaign, except there I drew the characters myself. The effect was the same though, and it helped the players keep the NPCs straight; I'm sure they also attached judgements to the NPCs based on how they looked, too.

    I say keep up with the dungeonspiration posts. I like how you give helpful tips that aren't the usual, overly-specific, bits of information. Information on how to stock a hexmap -- for example -- is fine, but dungeonspiration gives us something else.

  2. I've enjoyed the Dungeonspiration posts, but I can be patient if you're waiting for inspiration to strike before doing another.

  3. Okay, ya'll convinced me. :) I'll keep up with Dungeonspiration, but somewhat redefined (at least in my own head) and at a slightly slower pace. Every other Thursday.

    Then, on the alternate Thursdays I'll start up my other ongoing project. It's a surprise. You'll see it pop up this Thursday. It may not be good - but at least it will be a surprise. :)

    Thanks ya'll.