Thursday, May 31, 2012


when I go to Google and type in "megadungeon", as I'm wont to do every few months, I always find something interesting. Megadungeons are a feast for the imagination.

Underworld Kingdom is making megadungeons by mashing multiple castles together. Very cool!

FrDave at Blood of Prokopius is playing How to Host a Dungeon, and I do love it when people play How to Host a Dungeon.

Needles at Swords and Stichery dug up this historical gem: a propsal to build a 1 million-person city spanning the continent from coast to coast.

Some King's Kent is posting the design of the Aione Megadungeon. Look closely at some of the diagrams, they are spectacular!


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Where have all the Hit Points Gone?

We’re playing Dungeonworld, which is still going through the various stages of beta: pupae, chrysalis, and so on. In the latest phase, character hit points were dropped to about a quarter. So there’s our party, burning the corpses of the vanquished rat man, when suddenly everyone has one quarter of the hit points they used to have.

And I have to say that if the intent of this rule change was to inject some low-level anxiety into higher-level play, it worked. Soon everyone’s scrambling around, trying to decide how they’re going to live in a low-hit-point world.

Magnus loots the rat mens’ cache of stolen trade goods and ties a wooden throne to his back so he can carry it back to town and sell it for enough to hire a bodyguard. Leman takes a similar tactic, but instead she bribes three of the rat mens’ prisoners to carry the stuff for her. They only rip her off a little bit. Ebag dips into the private stash of treasure that nobody else in the party seems to know he has and uses it to buy some mithral chain from the Thieves Guild. Karl… well Karl seems to think this stuff is all beneath him. He almost gets killed next encounter, but that still lies in the future.

Other than the hit point shuffle, this session is mostly about getting safely back to town, checking the job board, and dealing with some overdue town stuff.

Next session–a surprise wedding!

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Monday, May 28, 2012

I5 at Denny

If you absolutely have to go through Seattle north-south, I5 at Denny might be your worst choke point. Drivers call this stretch the wreckage because you have to squeeze down to a narrow S curve to avoid a large pile of wreckage on the blacktop. There are always some scavengers hunkered down in the wreckage looking for easy prey--not a problem if you're prepared for it, but be warned, they'll leap right on top of a moving rig without a second's hesitation. No, the real danger is the Jarls. They like to set up snipers and ambuscades on the overpass or in the building overlooking the I. Picking a large group to convoy with is recommended, but don't expect them to stop and wait for you if you get a flat.


Pictures of houses, some of them underneath other houses

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mines of Khunmar: of Minotaurs and Mazes

We’ve played a lot of my Mines of Khunmar megadungeon game since I last wrote. The spring and early summer is the busy time of work for me, because it’s when Microsoft teams are trying to finish up all their projects for the end of the financial year, which is why the blog hasn’t seen so much action lately. When we last left the party, they had cleared a substantial area at the center of level 4, the former laboratory of the mad wizard Lukas Ravenswood, fighter Karl’s grandfather. The current party consists of Karl Ravenswood, fighter; Ebag the thief, Velmar Magnus, wizard; and Leman Desall, death cleric. They are accompanied by an acquisitive man at arms named Rumsfeld. We had a short session exploring some more of the current level. Mystified by some apparently automatically resetting traps, the party spied some wererats leading an ogre prisoner through the dungeon. The ambushed the rats in a wizardly meditation chamber, where the ogre at one point swung Ebag through the air like a club. Fortunately, Ebag survived the ordeal.

I was kicking myself after this session. You see, when Magnus joined the party, he specified that he was searching for a particular artifact of ancient lore. Having a very similar artifact in my notes for the level (the Eye of Truth, a sort of true seeing gem), I handed it to Magnus straightaway as treasure then patted myself on the back for being so clever. But after the session I started feeling really stupid for giving the character his heart’s desire so fast. After all, don’t players *like* having things to aspire for? Was I ruining the game for him? Luckily, I have amazing players, and Jonathan rose to the challenge like a champion, as we’ll see.

Enter a new session. The rats had been making for a particular secret door. Also, Karl had a quest to slay the Rat King, given him by a curiously gregarious Ilithid some sessions ago, so the party decided to continue on in hopes of finding the rumored Rat King on level 3.

Beyond the door they found a series of broad, well-lit, clean, safe seeming corridors. Amazingly this didn’t send them running in fear, so they entered what was in fact a horrific dimensional pocket maze full of illusions and twisting hallways enchanted to trap the unwary for eternity (the rats have their own way of navigating through this natural barrier).

Now in my campaign, the Minotaurs as a race were confined to an extra dimensional prison by a vengeful god. The few Minotaurs not in the prison wander the planes seeking out labyrinths and magical mazes because of a legend that the key to opening their prison maze lies hidden in one. It’s just a thing I daydreamed when I was prepping the level. But when I rolled Minotaurs on the wandering monster table, I had no idea that Velmar Magnus would attempt to parlay, whipping out the Eye of Truth (which could have guided them through the maze quite easily) and offering it to them as a gift.

So to make a long story short, the party gained some Minotaur mercenaries to help them eradicate the Rat King and his minions. Magnus was named Minotaur-friend. They liberated Toe Snap their one-time goblin guide who the rats had in bonds. They fought and almost killed the Ilithid who was playing Wormtongue to the Rat King. And they liberated more stolen trade goods than they could reasonably carry back to town. The surviving Minotaurs returned to the plane of existence and used the Eye of Truth to free the Minotaur race from bondage.

Interesting side note: in my game Ilithids have the custom move “cast any spell in the game.” They are a foe to be respected.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

First Baptist

The streets around Seattle First Baptist are horribly choked with abandoned cars after the apocalypse, for some reason. Not really sure why, but it's not a bad area to scrounge for gas if you're patient and keep a sharp lookout for stalkers.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Dungeon Crawl Classics' Missing 250 Pages

I spent the weekend reading the new Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. Topping out at 450 pages or so, it takes a bit of a commitment. Suffice to say that the game exceeds expectations. Goodman took a very old-school point of view and made a game that manages to offer a fresh perspective on many aspects of the game while loving maintaining all the core tenets of old school play. More importantly, the game doesn’t just provide rules, but it’s a primer on how to get the most out of its chosen style of play.

And the missing 250 pages are even better than the 450 the game provides!

Yeah, what’s that? The game’s missing about 250 pages. Let me explain:

One of the brilliant things about this style of play is the way that the core mechanics of characters, combat, magic, and treasure feed into the deeper realm that is each group’s unique experience of play without trying to define that experience. It’s always been my opinion that less is more in old-school rules, and that the simplicity of the rules is what forces groups to explore the rich ground that the rules don’t cover.

DCC addresses this through a series of interesting hooks in the character classes that explicitly point play in the direction of exploring this territory. Take the example of the thief. The thief’s alignment plays interestingly into their role in the world of thieves and society in general. A lawful thief is linked into the thief world through a crime family, guild, or gang. A chaotic thief is more likely an assassin, connected with more shadowy organizations, or perhaps working as a free agent. A neutral thief is more likely a mercenary, working along the borders of these groups for coin. A number of enticing sketches of potential thief organizations gives a great pointer for further directions of play. The other classes have similar hooks. The cleric has the uncertain relationship with their god. The fighter has heroic deeds and knightly orders to aspire too. The Dwarf has a complicated relationship with Dwarf society and the broader world. The Halfling has a strange and rich relationship with luck and the forces that guide it. The Elf has all of these to choose from. And the wizard has magical corruption, spellburn, and demonic patrons. These hooks are very wall laid out. The have the concise, leading language that Dungeon World and Apocalypse World do so well, and they are firmly rooted in the rich culture of old school.

But let’s talk about that wizard for a bit. As DCC tells us, low-level wizards fear for their lives, and high-level wizards fear for their soul. The hooks are designed to provide avenues to elaborate on that theme productively in play. Wizards have spellburn, enabling them to sacrifice some of their life force for temporary power. Magic carries inherent risk in terms of miscast and unpredictable effects. Most importantly, wizards have the option to find and develop a relationship with a magic patron, such as a demon, god, or extraplanar entity. As the wizard’s career advances, they will accrue unbelievable power, while also becoming more corrupted, compromised, and in the grip of horrible entities. The wizard’s story is the story of this struggle.

Mechanically, the elements of this story are woven into the spell descriptions, the sample wizardly patrons, the spellburn and casting mechanics, and bits of lore about the powers that make up the world. The wizard rules in DCC are a rich and morbid tapestry of power, risk, and reward.

All of which adds up to a good 50 pages of the DCC rules primarily focused on the story arc of wizards. We have some similar bits for clerics, woven into the spell descriptions and some tidbits about the gods. Thieves have a page with some hooks for thieves’ guilds. Elves have a few evocative passages of text. Which leads me to conclude that the rules are missing about 50 pages of awesome for every class. Writing 50 pages of awesome for the wizard and leaving the rest of the classes blank is the coolest and best and most interesting design choice by far in DCC RPG.

First off, the wizard pages are not, strictly speaking, mechanics. They are composed almost entirely of random tables and leading, sketched out content full of compelling blanks. They are an invitation to DMs to make wizards’ lives interesting, along with a whole lot of ways to do (more than you will ever, ever need no matter how many wizards you DM). The real rule here is “make the lives of wizards’ awesome, and if you’re not sure how to do that, use these tables.” The natural extension of this rule is “and do the same for all the other character classes in a similar vein.” Make the halfling’s life a long poker game played with Lady Luck. Play out the cleric’s dysfunctional relationship with their god in loving detail. Throw the world into stark contrast with Dwarf culture. Let the fighter re-make the world with her mailed fist. The game doesn’t tell you exactly how to do this, and that’s the point. The wizard pages are an example, and a particularly rich one informed by decades of play.

DCC RPG is the amazing D&D game that couldn’t be made until people had played D&D for 30+ years. If you’re already an old-schooler, you don’t need this game. But you will probably pick it up anyway because it’s so full of good stuff. I wouldn’t necessarily point someone to this tome over, say, Dungeon World, Modlvay D&D, Labyrinth Lord, or any of those, just because its length makes it seem more complex than it really is. I would recommend it, however, to anyone with a true love of D&D.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Let's Live on Asteroids

I'm super tickled to read this article on the future of asteroid mining, published on The Conversation, because I'm gung-ho for space exploration, and also because the author used one of my drawings to illustrate it. Go Space!

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