Sunday, February 28, 2010

Daniel Reeve: Master Maps

It's not every day that you stumble upon a map that literally takes your breath away. This morning I was doing a Google Image search for maps of Moria (because I do that kind of thing), and I stumbled across the cartography of Daniel Reeve. These maps are beautiful master works, every single one.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

The Dungeon is Fundamentally Different

Tuesday, Zak at Playing D&D with Porn Stars, in a post called Some More Nice Things About Dungeons says this:
This makes adventures based around the classic dungeon (and any interior space you use in a game which resembles a classic dungeon--a stripped-down Death Star, a Tron-like computery world, etc.) fundamentally unlike all other kinds of adventure.

I think Zak's nailing it in this post about what makes the dungeon gaming different from any other kind of gaming. It's a fascinating insight.

Every role-playing game uses some kind of constraints to manage what the player (and the GM) can and can't do. There are realism constraints (your regular-guy character can't lift a bus), setting constraints (can't harm the werewolf with regular weapons), fictional constraints (the local priest won't heal you because you called his god a two-bit faith healer last session), social constraints (the GM doesn't want you to leave town because that derails the adventure), and probably way more I can't think of right now.

The dungeon neatly rolls a bunch of the constraints of the game up into the simple fact that it has walls and corridors that you can't circumvent without a great deal of effort, and probably not even then. Notice that the structure of the dungeon acts, at different times, as a constraint of ever sort I listed above. It boils the adventure down to a small set of options so that those options can be highlighted.

And that's a big part of what's awesome about it.

I'm trying to keep this in mind as I prepare my dungeon mastery posts.

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Flamesprite Tomb

A brazen but charismatic con-man, wielding a misleading map

A seductive curse, offering great power, but at a terrible price

A devouring flame seeking ever more to slake its growing appetite

Exploding ghouls. Do you really need to say anythring more than "exploding ghouls"?

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dungeon Mastering

I’m very interested in dungeon mastering right now. When I say “dungeon mastering,” I mean learning to run a game that makes solid use of the dungeon setting and the traditions of the dungeon adventure.

For me, dungeon mastering comes down to three basic things: be the eyes and ears of the characters, channel the dungeon, and make the world real. The players’ job is to ask questions about the dungeon and take the role of their characters. Everything else is pretty much extra.

That’s not the only way to play, and it’s not everything that a game master does, but it represents the essence of an approach to game mastering that I’m trying to understand and perfect. Maybe I’ll add some things to that list.
So, over some posts over the next several days, I’m going to try and flesh out what I mean by this.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I... Am... A.... Robot...

*** Queen of the Demonweb Pits SPOILERS ahead ***

That giant spider mech at the end of Queen of the Demonweb Pits was crazy. It was the kind of thing that can make or break a campaign. I'm sure lots of groups really dug the way it changed the game, but I'm equally sure others can say their campaign started to fall apart when they found the spider robot. It was incredibly cool, but did it really belong in AD&D?

This mech might stalk the blasted plains of your campaign. Maybe it's the secret weapon of the local Baron? Maybe it's a tool of the Orc hordes, imbued with the soul of a fallen hero. Maybe it's the party's toolin' ride (just try fitting it into the dungeon, though).

The robot dungeon is inspired by the art of Scott C, whose artwork seems to be popping up everywhere for me lately. Scott draws these crazy environments full of little characters living their everyday lives. That's very dungeon-y to me.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Process Process Process

I'm working on some nice color maps to tie some of the microdungeon stuff together. No details today. I'll have some sneak peeks in a week or so.

But meanwhile my mind is being blown by the art of Scott C, especially this post where he provides a look at his process. Inspiring!

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Dungeon Dressing: Shrine

According to Emmerline’s Taxonomy, a shrine is a space dedicated to the veneration of a specific god, which, unlike a temple, has no permanent attendants. A shrine may be any size, but a small chamber, niche, or cairn is most common, though. Given the chaotic nature of many dungeon environments, it's a significant feat for a shrine to avoid vandalization for any period of time.

A popular shrine may have the protection and patronage of the surrounding denizens, even where these denizens are enemies to one another. This may be particularly true where the shrine offers some benefit, magical or otherwise. In some cases a shrine is considered neutral ground, though in others, it may be fought over as a valuable possession. Lit candles or recent offerings are a clear sign of regular patronage.

An unmolested shrine in a heavily trafficked dungeon area may also be a sign that the local population share the same religion or, more likely, that the shrine has a powerful protector nearby, possibly on a deeper level of the dungeon. A few shrines protect themselves from desecration via trap, curse, illusion, or teleportation. Some beneficial good shrines are able to disguise themselves, being visible only to good-inclined individuals.

Some races have characteristic shrines. Grey Mountain Gnolls, for example, leave noisome memorials wherever they travel as a means of marking their dominance.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The Casks

As of yesterday I've got a batch of homebrew beer bubbling away in my basement. So I thought I'd celebrate with a brewing-themed dungeon!

A crumbling ruin that provides harried travellers a respite from a vengeful storm

An imprisoned spirt desiring immediate release

A peice of forgotten lore, immensely valuable to some, but in the wrong hands, a terrible danger

A convival band of thieves under the sway of a charistmatic leader

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Positive Effects of D&D

Writers reminisce about the positive effect D&D has had on their lives; at Suvudu.


Friday, February 19, 2010

The Barrow on the Hill

A lonely malevolence, grown twisted and hungry in its stone cell

Stalwart guardians, their original mission forgotten, but their zeal undimmed

A frightened community, teetering on the verge of explosive retribution

A determined explorer, full of confidence and careless of danger

A glittering treasure in the dark, secret key to a sleeping gods dreams

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Micro Review: Book of Ruins

Chris B pointed me to the old Judge's Guild Book of Ruins earlier today. The Book of Ruins is a collection of 10 "mini-dungeons" by Michale Mayeu, originally published in 1981. The dungeons vary in length from a short 4-room encounter, to a moderately large dungeon--big enough for 1-2 sessions of play. Most of the dungeons are on the short side, however, and are designed to be easily dropped into an existing campaign, or chained together as a mini-campaign.

I've got to say, I fell in love with this as soon as I started reading it. For me, it's the epitome of a good old-school product. The encounters are well thought out and obviously playtested. There's lot of room for interesting tactical positioning. The dungeons are obviously made to unfold in play. I can easily see each one unfolding in quite a different manner depending on the group, the path they take, and how they approach particular encounters.

One of my favorite things in a small dungeon is to see encounters where talking to the the monsters is an interesting option. It doesn't have to be a major option, but it's nice if it's there. Mayeu has obviously thought this out. The relationships between the monsters and their various dispositions are properly slotted into the text.

Some of the encounters are a little stock. There are no less than three dungeons where an Ogre is a prominent villain, with a group of lesser humanoids around him. If I were running it, I would substitute more varied denizens. This was also published in 1981, and reflects its time. If you're looking for skill-based challenges or epic storylines, you won't find it here, though you could probably add it yourself.

Tactical challenge and simulation are clear goals in this product. One of the larger adventures is a carefully designed encounter with a powerful stock magical monster. The author has clearly designed this encounter based on a frustration with poorly designed similar encounters he's seen in other products. The result is a particularly nasty and challenging fight. This is completely appropriate in this kind of product, possibly even essential to challenge high-level parties, but groups that aren't expecting it will be in for an unpleasant surprise.

The Book of Ruins is available on RPGnow, and is a bargain at $4.00.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Under the Escataur Mausoleum

Out on the Old Abian Road where the necropolis of the old city sprawls, there's a second city to mock the first. Where the city is a hive of commerce and a capital of politics, the necropolis is a metropolis of decay, filled with prowling thieves and unquiet dead.

But this is not to say that the place is without value. The dead, too, sometimes ply useful trades, or perform useful civic functions. Many a guild wizard has found himself forced to turn to the denizens of the necropolis for knowledge or even aid, though the price is always high. And even the old nobility pay a tithe to the graveyard ghosts for the protection of their family tombs.

The merchants of this, the city's quietest corner have their own rules, their own festivals, and their own humor. After a successful transaction, they always send the customer on their way with a cheery epitaph: "Well be seeing you!"

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Will Trade Dungeons for Layout Skills

I really want to make some easily digestible PDFs of my dungeons, but I just don't have the time to do it. In fact, just keeping up with posting has been a bit of a struggle this week. Is there anyone out there with a modicum of desktop publishing skills who'd be willing to take the dungeons from one month and package them as a PDF? In return, I'll make a custom to-order dungeon and send it to you wherever you live.

I want a PDF with each dungeon and its description on a single page. If it has a decent cover, so much the better, but that's not required. The PDFs will be made available freely from the blog.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Pit of the Red Mummy

The artifact you seek lies in the tomb of Gazeahl the Red, but do not seek it in his sarcophagus. Better that what lies there rest undisturbed. Seek rather the mausoleum of his three celebrated servants. There it lies for certain.

What? You want to know which of the three holds it? How the hell am I supposed to know? Go try your luck, just don't blame me if you awaken something you wish you hadn't.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's Tomb Week!

Valentine's day and heart dungeons are all very nice, but it's time to get back to some good old-fashioned dungeoncraling. I'm arbitrarily declaring this tomb week! This week's dungeons will all be tombs. No particularly reason; I just like tombs, is all.


Find the Center

The quest for the heart is so commonly undertaken that it has entered common parlance as a metaphor for any journey where you seek something of value. But true delvers know that the quest for the heart is neither easy nor common.

As mazes go, the challenge is not extreme, there being several navigable paths to the center. However, the barriers on the way are so pernicious, that more than one confident seeker has been sent packing. You've probably met some; disillusioned adventurers who loudly claim there is not heart after all, its a chase after smoke, an illusion, a ruse.

But the heart is there still and, if the tales are to believed, well worth the finding. Happy valentine's day!

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Thinking Too Much

Don't over think it.

Happy Friday!

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Play Games, Meet People, June 18-20, 2010

I'm on the board for a local convention called Go Play NW. We just opened up registration for 2010! Seriously, if you want to play some new games and make some friends, this is the convention for you.

Go Play NW started four years ago when I and the people I game with were regularly discovering and trying new games and having our minds blown by how much fun we were having. It seemed like people all over the country were doing the same thing, and putting together grassroots meetups to play them. That's where we got the idea to do one ourselves.

We've had some changes and additions in our crew since then, but the basic mission stays the same: play games, have fun, make friends.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Some dungeons weren't built by anybody. They weren't formed by natural or arcane processes. They grew. When enough people think some idea, there's a dungeon for it somewhere. When enough people feel one way, their feelings creep together and coalesce like a cyst underground, to give those feelings shape. Woe be to the adventurer that enters this sort of dungeon--unless, by chance, they recognize the feeling that gave it birth, and recognizing it, know how it may be slain.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dungeon Dressing: Windows

Being underground, dungeon locations do not commonly include windows. Nevertheless, the humble window can be a significant and telling feature of the subterranean environment.

Dungeon windows are naturally of two types, exterior-facing or internal-facing. External windows may be encountered anywhere that a dungeon abuts a surface space, such as in a tower, ruin, pyramid, or mountain retreat. These can provide an excellent means of orienting your position in relation to the outside world, a source of light, or even a way in and out of the dungeon.

Internal windows are by no means rare, as there are any number of reasons to connect underground spaces in this way. Dark Elves in their great labyrinthine cities are known to relish the sounds of urban life, and their dwelling often include small windows that allow it to echo from room to room. Where there is a large cavern or hall, windows will open directly into it. Where there is no such great space, they will open onto major underground thoroughfares. Often these windows will be placed high up, or barred and trapped against assassins and thieves. By contrast, the various races of sentient fungus in their cavern villages do not use windows. The reason for this is unknown.

Light shafts, dimension doors, arrow slits, murder holes, and scrying devices are outside the scope of this article.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Original Art GIveaway Winner!

A day late on my part... the winner of the Original Art Giveaway is James of The Underdark Gazette. Congratulations James! I'll be contacting you for shipping information soon.

The giveaway and Original Art Week was really successful. Thanks everyone for the support and enthusiasm! Based on how well this went, there will be future art giveaways and sales in the future once I get a bit more organized and cut some matte frames.

Also, on an art-related topic, I wonder if anyone else is interested in sharing their microdungeons on Flickr? My username there is Orkboi, and I'd be interested in setting up a gallery of other people's microdungeons. Just drop a comment in this thread and tag your image with "microdungeon".


Pit of the Dutiful Fiend

Something is amiss in the mountain retreat of the flower monks. No monks came down to trade at the winter festival, and a delegation sent to investigate fled home in mute terror. The abbot has been dabbling in things best left undisturbed. It’s time to send some stout professionals to find out what happened at the mountain retreat of the flower monks.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Original Art Week Almost Over

What and exhausting week! It was a very busy week for me: tons of work to do; two art projects on the go; I sold my first ever original artwork; my daughter had her first ever public singing performance this week; plus a very busy week in the online Dungeon Squad game I'm running.

There's still time to try and get a free original artwork of mine through the original art week giveaway. I'll be picking a winner at random tomorrow morning.

Have a good Saturday!

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Original Art: The Old Crypt

This art is for sale!

The shrine is an original microdungeon, drawn in black ink on cardstock paper and framed with a simple matte.

Also, any of my artworks may include small vestigal pencil marks that are part of the process of creation.

What the Miners Found
Original Art, Matted
US Shipping: $5.00

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Friday, February 5, 2010

RIP Kage Baker

I'm a little late on this, but author Kage Baker has died. My wife and I just discovered Kage Baker's books earlier this year with Empress of Mars. It was that rare bird, a true science fiction comedy. It was the science fiction book of the year for me. There is also an excellent rememberance of her on Marty Halpern's Web site.


Final Resting Place

Saint Sabogan's final resting place is half a legend and half a joke. Folks turn up from time to time who claim they know where it is, but they usually turn out to be charlatans or madmen or both. The truth is, nobody knows where Sabogan's tomb is and the relics of this oldest and most revered saint are irretrievably lost.

At least, that's what you think... until one day you turn up irrefutable evidence pointing to its location. In fact, it's right here in the city, in a branch of the old catacombs under a smallish but venerable temple. It's a maze down there. In ancient times, they tunneled all over the place, trying to bury their dead as close to the saint as possible. It's a gloomy maze of dangerous tunnels, but it's where you'll find what you're looking for.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

If you Truly are the Internet...

This is another "not a dungeon" post. This morning, thanks to Boing Boing, I discovered Coelacanth Diaries, where artist/cartoonist Stephen Collins posts his spectacular art. It's wonderfuly surreal and self-contained yet perfectly sensible in the manner of a Calvin and Hobbes Sunday cartoon. Check it out!

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Original Art: What the Miners Found

This art is for sale!

The shrine is an original microdungeon, drawn in black ink on cardstock paper and framed with a simple matte.

Also, any of my artworks may include small vestigal pencil marks that are part of the process of creation.

What the Miners Found
Original Art, Matted
US Shipping: $5.00

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What the Miners Found

The Elves say that the cloudfall hills came into existince after a battle of the gods when the greater portion of the flying Kingdom of Eb fell to earth in a great heap.

True or not, miners in those hills do occasionally bring up the strangest things: old plates and weapons, pillars and polished stones, strange monsters with petrified bodies.

But today the shift went down and nobody came back up. The shift foreman who went after them came back, but he's kind of messed up and he can't talk any more.

If the mines don't operate, the town will die, and it won't do any good for the kingdom either. Someone has to go down there and find out what happened.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Original Art: Shrine of the Doomed Celestial

This art is for sale!

The shrine is an original microdungeon, drawn in black ink on cardstock paper and framed with a simple matte.

Also, any of my artworks may include small vestigal pencil marks that are part of the process of creation.

Shrine of the Doomed Celestial
Original Art, Matted
US Shipping: $5.00

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Shrine of the Doomed Celestial

The Sage began: "Gods we know how to deal with. Powerful, yes, but predictable. Follow the assigned rituals, observe the observances, and you won't go far wrong. Demons are worse. But with demons, it's not hard to figure out what they want. And though they cheat, they're quite straight up about their methods if you bother to ask. But angels... angels are another thing altogether..."

The scriveners have a perfectly articulated theology regarding the doomed celestial; why it's doomed, who doomed it, and so on. But frankly, nobody but them understands it. What's clear is that the doomed angel lives in a shrine, and nobody goes there unless they really need to. The angel is ostensibly on our side, it's true, but it has a penchant for meting out unpredictable and dangerous announcements, prophecies, punishments, and visions.

But today we need something from the shrine, really need it. How you get it is up to you. Just don't come back without it.

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