Sunday, January 31, 2010

Original Artwork Week Giveaway

Today marks one month of Microdungeons. I'm totally bowled over by how much support this site has gotten. I thought I'd post a few dungeons, get a few hits, and maybe build up a small readership over time. Instead, thanks to the RPG community and a very timely post on the Make Blog, I received over 4000 hits on my first week! I really, really appreciate everyone who has read, commented, linked, and otherwise supported I think it's going to be an awesome year.

I'm going to start month two with an experiement and a giveway. I'm going to sell the original of each dungeon that I post this week. But I'm also going to give away one dungeon for free. If you're interested in becoming the owner of "Kobold Perfidy", just comment on this post. After Saturday at midnight, I'll choose one random commenter as the winner and mail off the matted original of Kobold Perfidy to them.

If you're a blogger, also please include a link to your blog in the comments!

Here's the original in all its koboldy glory:

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Evil Plans

Some back-and-forth on Twitter this morning reminded me of something that's not directly related to D&D or dungeon maps, but still very important. Hugh Macleod (@gapingvoid) has some great valentines day prints for sale right now.

Gamers and game designers love to talk about ways to improve their game and share ideas about how to be more creative. I think it's just as important to have this conversation outside of gaming as inside it. I want to toss Hugh the biggest shout-out I can muster, because his work has directly inspired me in designing games and launching this blog.

Read Hugh's PDF How to be Creative. It's a much-needed kick in the ass to anyone who wants to... well, kick ass! It doesn't have anything overtly to do with gaming. Yet it's a great manifesto, whether you want to be a great game master, publish your own games, or make awesome art.

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Home of the Crystal Giant

The Taxonomies describe the crystal giant as and edge-case hybrid stone giant with exaggerated igneous facets, but this description is inadequate. The crystal giants are a race of ancient and distinguished pedigree. And if they are rarely encountered by mortals of the ordinary sort, it's because they prefer to live in their crystalline cities beyond the plane of fire.

A few, however, being of a solitary bent, may be found living in astral geodes, pocket Earth dimensions, and even large crystal deposits on the primary planes. Their disposition is not specifically evil, however, they are surprisingly quick to take offence, measuring the behavior of all races by their own skewed set of laws.

The home of a crystal giant is very perilous, yet even a poor outcast is likely to have a cache of gems, often of enormous size.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dungeon Dressing: A Dead Adventurer!

Few sights are more mixed in their reception than the discovery of a dead adventurer, for on the one hand, to the jaded, it promises the possibility of treasure, but on the other, it represents the potential fate that awaits every delver. And then there’s the question of what caused the adventurer’s demise in the first place. The wise explorer always thinks of the cause of death before the value of treasure. A certain tribe of Gnolls in the northlands has taken to planting nests of poisonous arachnids on the corpses of fallen adventurers in hopes of gaining more victims and loot, though the efficacy of this practice has been somewhat degraded by overuse.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Goblin Back Door

There’s always a back door… This little dungeon trick revolves around an ancient stone throne with a secret catch that causes the entire seat to spin, placing the occupant in a natural cave behind the throne room. There’s just one catch–the cave has become the den of a pack of fierce wolves.

There are a lot of ways your players could encounter a room like this. As part of a greater dungeon, it could provide an escape route for a hated nemesis NPC. If the NPC isn’t ready to handle the wolves, however, the escape could easily be one-way. Going the other way, the presence of an ornate throne in an apparently natural cave could be a party’s way into the dungeon proper.

I used a similar room in a megadungeon adventure using the Moldvay Basic rules a couple of years ago. A pack of starving wolves found their way into the dungeon, but couldn’t find their way out, making a surprising encounter for a party of PC (and, given the deadliness of wolves in that edition, the death of more than one adventurer [sorry, Ben]).

Oh yeah! Also, the original encounter was inspired by a room in Stefan Poag's epic Mines of Khunmar megadungeon!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Interview with Tim Hartin (AKA Turgenev)

Tim is a dungeon cartographer well known on the Dragonsfoot forums for his endless fount of dazzling dungeon maps (his username there is Turgenev). I was particularly excited to interview Tim because his massive map thread was one of the inspirations for this blog. His technique is very polished, but his maps always have something new to reveal. You can see more on his cartography site.

Can you tell us a little about your gaming history up till now?

I started gaming way back in the early 80s. I was in Grade 6 and I remember asking a buddy what he was up to after school and he said, "I'm going to play D&D." I said, "What's that? A board game?" I went with him and played my first game of D&D. Sure none of us knew what we were doing but we had a lot of fun doing it. I started with Basic D&D and then quickly moved on to AD&D and many more systems after that. In High School, I played a lot of AD&D (mostly 1st Edition), Gamma World (2nd Edition), Call of Cthulhu (3rd Edition), Villains & Vigilantes (2nd Edition), and various Palladium games (mainly Robotech, TMNT and Ninjas & Superspies). In University, I played my share of AD&D (2nd Edition mostly), Call of Cthulhu, GURPS (a Cyberpunk campaign), Shadowrun, and Earthdawn. I've been playing off and on when I get the chance. I've always been open to trying different genres and game systems.

What are you playing these days and what do you like about it?

These days I play a lot less than I would like but I guess that gives me more time to map instead. I usually DM/GM when I do play. I've played AD&D (1st Edition), Villains & Vigilantes, Marvel Super-Heroes (Advanced Edition), and even some D&D 3.0 (when it first came out – I got frustrated by the amount of number crunching that was involved as a DM so I ended up going back to AD&D which fit my style better anyways). I have a bunch of games and/or adventures I would love to play but family, work, and/or life has a way of getting in the way. ;) What do I like about it? I always have ideas bubbling at the back of my brain so that probably explains my preference to be the GM. I love coming up with the scenarios, NPCs, tricks and traps and such. Basically, I like the imagination that goes into the games/adventures, plus there's the interaction with friends, creating memories that we still talk about many years after the fact – that sort of thing. It's about spending time with friends and having fun.

What tools do you use to create your dungeon maps?

Lots of pencils, paper and the ever so handy Photoshop on the computer. I always have a small stack of paper on my desk for notes, doodles, and what-have-you. I will scratch out ideas for maps or draw some creature that I will stat up for an adventure. When I first started to get serious about mapping, I would draw the map on graph paper and then scan it into the computer and then use Photoshop to touch things up. These days, I find it much easier to just draw in Photoshop. Sometimes I will still have to draw something by hand and scan it in but most of the time I start right in Photoshop.

My technique for dungeon maps is a bit different than most would think. Instead of drawing the walls of the rooms and corridors, I start with a the whole map as one color and then carve out the rooms and corridors with the various 'Select' tools in Photoshop. The computer has certainly made my job drawing a lot easier. For example, I can draw separate elements like contour lines, various building shapes, natural terrain symbols (mountains, trees, hills, etc.) and then put everything together on the computer. The computer also makes it easier to fix mistakes. To me, the computer is just one more tool to use. With that said, nothing feels better than holding a pencil in my hand and scratching out my ideas on paper. The computer just lets me express those ideas better and quicker than I would be able to do with just paper and pencil.

You've created a ton of maps, and also PDFs. Isn't that a lot of work? Is there a goal of philosophy behind providing this stuff for free?

The level of work involved usually depends on how complicated and/or detailed the map is. Some of the standard dungeon maps I can whip out in anywhere between a couple of hours to even days in the making. It really depends on the project. I have some maps sitting on my computer in various stages of completion as I juggle my own personal projects, work and family. I always end up creating more maps than I could use so I figured I might as well share them. If I can't use them then maybe someone else can. That's how my cartography site got started. I started drawing maps because it was fun (and still is). I didn't think of charging for them because they were just stuff I did as a hobby for fun.
Others might spend their downtime watching TV, I sit in front of the computer drawing & writing.

As for the PDFs, I would do the covers and any other image intensive work in Photoshop while using Open Office for text blocks. The map PDFs weren't that complicated to make once I had a basic template for the layout created. Then it’s just rewriting over the old info with the new and making sure you save the file as a new document. As with any design work, getting the initial layout is a lot of the hard work and everything else falls into place (or at least that's what one always hopes when working on a project). I've also learned a few short-cuts and tricks that make things easier in Photoshop so that has saved me some time as well.

While I am moving towards doing commercial PDFs for sale, I also plan on continuing to release free material as well. I figured I have enough ideas that I can put together map packages and/or adventures that people will be willing to spend a few bucks on and release the quick stuff for free. At this point, I have my AD&D adventure I've been working on for a commercial release (via the OSRIC license) and a freebie dungeon map done in classic blue color. I just have to find the time to finish them. ;)

What's your favorite PC you've played, or NPC you've game mastered?

I have played so many characters, especially NPCs, in many game systems over the years. That's a hard one. It's not really D&D related but I would have to say my fondest memory is one of my Call of Cthulhu characters – Professor Anthony Brant (I was a player and not a GM in this case). He was an antiquities professor who lived through most adventures by going temporary insane and falling unconscious when the characters encountered various Cthulhu Mythos monsters. While he was unconscious, the monsters would attack the conscious characters.

Eventually they would defeat the monster and my character would wake up after the melee was over wondering what happened. My character kept failing his Sanity Checks because he was the guy who investigated the strange books that they kept encountering and learned powerful secrets and spells that helped the party much more than straight combat usually did. These secrets and ancient tomes had the effect of lowering his Sanity score making subsequent checks even more difficult.

Eventually his luck caught up to him and he was killed on an adventure. One of the NPCs used an ancient spell to resurrect Dr. Brant but the catch was if anyone said the secret incantation, he would fall into a pile of dust. The couple of characters who knew this secret would eventually die as the campaign went on, so my character was safe from the other characters taking advantage of his little secret. At the end of the campaign, Dr. Brant saw Cthulhu (on R'lyeh no less), failed his Sanity Check, went insane and became a loincloth-wearing priest of Nodens on some distant South Pacific island. Call of Cthulhu will always be one of my favorite RPGs of all time.

One of these days I'll get around to making some exotic location maps (cult lair in a dormant volcano, ancient underground catacombs, an aquatic lair, that sort of thing) that could be used for either AD&D/D&D or Call of Cthulhu games.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Kobold Perfidy

In the south end of the Wildwoods, where the thick oak woods turn into steamy marsh, the usual run of goblins, ogres, and bandits give way to a particularly feral breed of kobold. It's easy to underestimate these blighters because of their size, but don't be tempted. They have a fierce cunning and attack without fear when they have the advantage numbers. You will find their lairs on rocky islands in the swampiest areas. Their dwellings are surprisingly sophisticated and built to a human scale. No doubt they were once the homes of some other people, but their names are lost to history.

This was an experimental dungeon to see if I could get the "old school blue" look using blue pens. I kind of like the effect, but not as much as my black-and-white dungeons.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some Days it's Good to be a Gamer

Gamers for Haiti have raised over $122,000 for Haiti! That's more than many major corporations. And, as a small side benefit, thousands of gamers have gained access to dozens of gamer PDFs they might not have ever looked at otherwise. Go, gamers!

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Hurray for Tanita Davis!

Young adult novelist Tanita Davis just won a Coretta Scott King honor for her novel Mares War. The Coretta Scott King award is awarded for distinguished portrayal of African American experience in literature for children. What does this have to do with dungeons? Tanita is the owner of the original of today's Writer's Block Dungeon. Yay Tanita! We're all very proud of you!

As you might have guessed, I drew this dungeon while struggling with a particularly nasty bout of writer's block. Dungeons aren't just about the monsters under the Earth. Some dungeons, like this one are about the monsters inside.

So keep delving!


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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Under Gavin's Woods One Room Dungeon

Yesterday I wrote up the adventure I ran over Wave using the Under Gavin's Woods map I posted yesterday. Here it is as a PDF. I used the one-page dungeon template created by Chgowiz. I love the one-page dungeon idea. Anything that makes dungeons easier to create and run is A+ in my books.

Gavin's Woods is a short dungeon crawl investigating the operations of a group of goblin bandits. The bandits turn out to be tied up in more than simple highway robbery. When I ran this over wave, the party was quite content to take out the goblins and collect their reward, leaving half the dungeon unexplored, which gives me plenty of stuff to work into the next adventure.

Oh yeah, if you're one of my players, don't worry about reading the adventure. I've already changed Nibsler's stats. :)


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Under Gavin's Woods

The fishing town of Gavin’s woods has been plagued by a determined band of Goblin highwaymen. Now, in a daring raid on the Old Trunk Road, they have captured the Baronesses sapphire torc. The constabulary has tracked the robbers to a hidden dungeon entrance under a boulder in the woods. Dungeon delving being no business of theirs, they’ve hired a likely bunch to recover the torc, with a nice cash reward offered.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

10 Ways that Dungeon Maps can be Art

  1. Taking you to another reality
  2. Showing your own reality in another way
  3. Resonating in tune with cultural traditions
  4. Throwing cultural traditions into sharp contrast
  5. A craft that requires a certain effort and technique to master
  6. An opportunity for the artist to show off a technique that's theirs and theirs alone
  7. A symbolic language for allegory or metaphor
  8. A vehicle for expressing ideas
  9. An living, evolving tradition that changes, advances, and grows over time
  10. A very special kind of art: art you can play

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Lair of the Possessed Otyugh

Luke used this dungeon to run an impromptu one-on-one RPG session over IM, and posted his APon the Story Games forum. His descriptions are perfect, far better than anything I planned to write for this dungeon, for example:

You are in the Lair of the Possessed Otyugh. You are standing in the rubble of a partially collapsed tunnel. Ahead of you is a door. You pry open the jammed door and... Enter the Preparation Room. The room is lit by guttering tallow lanterns. Tables covered in jars line the room. A slab for embalming bodies rests in the center of the room. A corridor leaves ahead of you and another entrance on your left leads to a small room.

And the climactic encounter later:

A mountain of refuse and offal cascades from the back wall down over the altar into a viscous pit in the center of the chamber. There are four vestibules, two on the left wall, two on the right. They lead to the murder holes. At the top of the refuse pile is an opening. Water runs from the opening down into the pit. A ghoul cultist stands atop the pile, shovelling garbage down into the pit. The pit contains a writhing mass of flesh and tentacles, “FEEEEDMMME.” it bellows. “YOUR GOD HUNGERS.”

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Friday, January 15, 2010

The Spelltower of Dremetar

As you approach the City State of Dremetar, you can see the Spelltower for miles upon miles. It dominates the view, sparkles in the setting sun. As you draw close to the walls, you may even catch a glimpse of a moving figure behind the great arched windows at the summit. But ask any inhabitant about the Spelltower, and you will rarely receive more than a grunt in reply. Point it out to them, and they will only look at quizzically before glancing away and changing the subject. Is there some enchantment upon the city, that makes its inhabitants ignore its most prominent landmark, or does the tower have some other secret that the people are loathe to dwell upon?

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dungeon Dressing: Canopic Jars

Canopic jars are used exclusively for the storage of human organs. Often canopic jars are associated with the ritual removal and storage of organs, possibly to preserve the deceased from arising in an undead state. In rare cases, however, they may be involved in rituals with the opposite purpose. An experienced cleric or magic user should have a good chance of determining which is the case. Most necromancers will know at a glance.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Mad Sculptor

In the infamous Apocalypse Megadungeon there is a door cast in bronze depicting the fall and incarceration of the goddess Asundra, a master work so fine that more than one scholar has braved the dungeon (with proper escort) just for a look at it. Beyond lays the workshop of the mad sculptor. His genius transcends the boundary twixt art and thaumaturgy, producing effect indistinguishable from magic. Monsters, relics, and unfortunate adventurers have all found themselves unwilling components of his twisted works. What is the mystery behind the mad sculptor?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dungeon Dressing: Fireplaces

Fireplaces are common enough in shallow dungeons, burrows, and hobbit holes, but in the really deep dungeons, they are rare. The problem is the chimney. The Dwarves have learned the trick of creating deep networked chimneys that make use of natural faults in the stone. As a result, Dwarven constructions may have working fireplaces even in very deep dungeons. The flue is almost always well barred against monsters and vermin, though there are occasional exceptions. Only a very brave or foolhardy adventurer would enter such a place, however, due to the danger of encountering a monster in a difficult enclosed space. Dwarven fireplaces may also occasionally feature a hidden compartment for the storage of gems. Gold is never kept in such a heated space. Powerful magic users such as wizards or Rakshasa also relish the luxury of a fireplace, though theirs are more apt to be illusionary or otherwise magical. Adventurers should beware of a burning fireplace in an otherwise abandoned area, as this is a sure sign of old, powerful magic and a misstep could trigger an arcane explosion, or bring them face-to-face with an angry fire elemental.


Kev's Map Tiles

On the topic of map tiles, I just discovered Kev's Dungeon Tiles. These are a nice set of modular dungeon tiles that are available for free download. Kev is adding more sets all the time.

Looking at these, I can see that you could probably lay out a small microdungeon with these tiles, fitting the whole thing on a decently sized gaming table.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Snake and Sword

What a sight was Terrance the brave, brandishing his Borealis Blade, vanquishing friend and foe alike. But all good things come to an end, and Terrance the Brave subsided into a cranky retirement and downright surly old age. In his final days he invested his considerable stores of loot in creating an underground vault he considered worthy of his genius. There he set the legendary Borealis Blade, until an adventurer worthy of it should claim it from its resting place.

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It's Mad Wizard Week

Why is this crazy dungeon full of deathtraps and ridiculous puzzles here anyway? Because a Mad Wizard put it there of course? I love "mad wizard" dungeons. They provide a rationale for dungeon elements that might seem incongruent in a regular dungeon. White Plume Mountain is one of my favorite examples of this. In high school a buddy of mine also ran a game where the dungeon was a cryp that an arch mage built because he knew he was turning into a Liche and he wanted to keep himself in for the good of the world.

This week I'm posting three variations on the "mad wizard" dungeon theme. Enjoy!

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Friday, January 8, 2010

The Hell of Doors

It is said that if you kick in too many doors in the Apocalypse Megadungeon you will find yourself trapped in the Hell of Doors.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dungeon Dressing: Amphorae

Amphorae are tall vessels with two handles used for the storage of valuable liquids in bulk transport, usually by sea. Their presence in a dungeon setting may hint at smuggling operations, or perhaps buried treasure. Occasionally one will encounter a rare form permeated with stellated crystals of ethereal origin. These valuable containers are sometimes used by the Dron to transport arcane unguents across the ethereal plane.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Manse by the Sea

Manse by the Sea
Originally uploaded by orkboi
Hey! was featured on the MAKE blog, thanks to John at MAKE! To celebrate, I'm posting tomorrow's dungeon early!

Sir Kond lies in state in the Town Hall and his house, Manse Kond, stands empty for the first time in a century. They say that alive, the Baron treated with monsters, that he poisoned his one true love, and that his wealth is buried in a hidden mine beneath Manse Hill. Then again, perhaps he was just the lonely, bitter man he always appeared. But if so, what was the fate of Lady Kond, and where is his fabulous treasure? The answers surely lie beneath the manse by the sea.

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You Walk into a Room...

7 things to put into a dungeon room:

  1. Dozens of jars, carefully sealed with wax, containing dried preserves
  2. Someone has tracked dirty footprints across the floor
  3. A banana peel
  4. Remains of a furious fight, including dozens of tiny black arrows and black iron swords with hooks on the ends
  5. The skeleton of a dungeon creature, much too large to have fit through any door
  6. For a generation, monsters, adventurers, and others have left graffiti carved into the ancient wood beams
  7. A makeshift cairn to an unknown tribal deity


Map Tiles

I don’t include grids on my microdungeons because I want to leave details like that up to the GM. A microdungeon map isn’t a square-by-square representation, it’s a guide. Think of it as a quick sketch of the dungeon, or the hand-drawn map you might find on the Orc chieftain. It represents the layout, but not the proportions. That way each GM is free to size the rooms in a way that fits the encounter.

But I do admire a nice grid map. There are a lot of good map products out there, but personally I’ve been spoiled by John Harper’s gorgeous DIY maps. He used these when we first tried out 4th Edition D&D, and it remains one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played in. His tutorial is very easy to follow, though you probably want basic to moderate Photoshop skills.

The blurred-out backgrounds are a very nice touch (virtually the entire short campaign took place on vertiginously high towers and buildings). As I recall, the example map in his post was a particularly rough fight with some darkness-producing teleporting badasses who almost had us fleeing half way through the fight (we persevered, however, saving the plane from Vecan’s graps. Again.)

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Thelon's Rift

Thelon's Rift
Originally uploaded by orkboi
"Through the cascade and across the Bridge of Death" lies Thelon's Rift, greatest treasure of..."

That's all the old fragment reads. Nevertheless, when you throw in the map, it's more than enough to excite a dungeon delver's heart. The map shows the entrance is barely a day's march from Streiveport. As for the nature of the Thelon's Rift and identity of the treasure holder, who knows?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What's This About

A few months ago I was at my printer's when I spied a box of 4" x 3" cardstock note pads.

"What are those?"

"Oh just some leftovers from a print job. Want some?"

I took 10 of them, 200 pages in all. Within a few days I picked on up and started sketching a dungeon map on it. Pretty soon I'd done a half dozen. I started drawing more maps and handing them out as presents or business cards. I was having a blast.

Fast forward to December. I'd drawn about 60 maps and given away more than half of them. I'd been toying with the idea of starting some kind of blog again, which is when it hit me: a microdungeon blog.

This is a blog of maps for dungeon-exploration games in the style of Dungeons & Dragons. I love dungeon maps. I think they're art. But mostly I think they're fun. I've got enough maps to last the next five months, and I'm not even half-way through my paper yet.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Hall of the Water Weird

Hall of the Water Weird
Originally uploaded by orkboi
In the Atlases stored in the Library of Alexom, it’s called “The Valley of Wonders”, but to adventurers, it goes by the common name of “Cavewalk”. Whatever you call it, it’s a gold mine if you’re lucky and a deathtrap if you’re not. No fewer than 28 caves, lairs, and underground ruins dot the 50 league valley system, and while some lead to nothing more than a dusty chamber or a bear’s cave, others conceal considerable treasures or terrible perils from another age. The map you bought at the Inn leads to one such entrance–an old pair of bronze doors noted down on the map by a travelling ranger but not explored. What lies within?