RPG goals for 2020


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Sidney Sime

RPG GOALS for 2020


RUN ALL THE 2019 'ZINES- I whipped up a quick hex map that incorporated Temple of the Blood Moth and the Demon Collective Vol. 1 and a few others all in the horror setting of Jack Shear's Urazya. I think the sum of the parts comes out better than Ravenloft and as gruesome of LotFP without either.


MOTHERSHIP- Thankfully this is already happening. My players will shortly complete their 4th session of Dead Planet. I am really enjoying the system. Feels like a BX body with a d100 engine and its been good to learn a very new system. MOTHERSHIP is also quite versatile with a setting that feels like drifting from Aliens to Event Horizon to Ghost in the Shell to Bladerunner and back again.


I am most excited to build a world while at the same time the game itself is being built. Maybe capture some of that early D&D experience. Hex 001 is the DEAD PLANET the rest is blank out there on the Rim.


THE BARRENS of CARCOSA- Speaking of space, I am still drawn to this setting because it, to me, represents a more interesting wilderness/hexcrawl campaign. The interactions between peoples, giant space brains, rayguns, weird buzzing monoliths warning everyone of a meteorite about to crash, and shoggoths all are ripe for gonzo hijinks. Reading through Geoffrey McKinney's Barrens always makes me curious about what the player will do. And surprise is part of the fun of DMing. Additionally, I think Carcosa as a setting challenges the players to make their own goals and put their own plans into motion. 


I also had the good fortune to get a copy of the player's guild from someone else's campaign with a lot of custom BX homebrew like an Astronaut class, a neat rule that for every negative stat bonus you roll on a "helpful mutation" table, and a cleric that can turn deep-ones. Carcosa is a great basic twist on early D&D. 


THROUGH ULTAN'S DOOR- I've run Through Ultan's Door Vol. 1 a couple of times and really had a good time. I think it scratches a Planescape itch for me, but might be superior in that the concept is more accessible. Because everybody dreams, they at least have a concept when you say "adventure in the Dreamlands". That word "dreamlands" conjures something in the same way as the equaly generic "dungeons and dragons".


The set-up I have used is that the players are part of a cult, recently smash by the censors, who escape to the dreamlands to ensure their new "chosen one" receives the mark of their god. The long term goal is to restart the cult- however the players believe that should be done.


B4 THE LOST CITY- One of my favorite modules and one I am currently re-writing to practice layout. I recently had the idea of turning this into a Carcosa module. Maybe the three factions are actually an experiment by a giant brain overmind. Zargon is a previous experiment gone bad. But the city itself represents huge potential for humans to retake as its filled with old technology.


DOLEM WOOD- This follow up to Old School Essentials is going to be beautiful and I think really nail the fairytale vibe that is blessedly not Tolkein, but still what we draw on when we think of D&D.


ULTRABLUE- I keep having the bubblings of my own heartbreaker. I guess I really want to infuse a game of D&D with some of the same energy that was at the Blackmoor table. The way I feel like that needs to happen is have various aspects of play have distilled to meaningful options. And despite being a fan of BX, Holmes Basic feels more like that to me.

1d12 UNITS OF ROT & RUIN

One day I will get around to posting my revisions to Forbidden Caverns of Archaia. I really do enjoy the module, but it desperately needs more of that Hot Springs Island/MOTHERSHIP layout-functionality.

Until then, here are d12 Units of Impurax I am trying to design to challenge my 5e players (all rough outlines):

UNITS OF ROT & RUIN

01 | Ogre swinging a maul of pestilence
02 | Chariot pulled by 10 armless, biting zombies that fan out when it comes to rest
03 | Goul skirmishers that leap into battle to paralyze then withdraw; hit-and-run
04 | Bone constructs of rotting crows, vultures, birds, and other vermin
05 | Black pudding & green slime bombs
06 | Vermin jars- stinging and poisonous
07 | Giant centipedes lashed to 10' poles or tied to zombies' heads
08 | Giant rats (because why not)
09 | Phlegm goblins: toad-like goblins that spray mucus as web and drawback in
10 | Bloated rot runners: zombies filled with rot grubs- 1-3 explode enemy lines, 4-6 explode friendly
11 | Fungus druids
12 | Spells & spell-like effects that could be used

  1. The Toll of the Grave- a bell ringing that stops the hearts of the living
  2. Roil of the Earth- dead spin in their graves creating unstable ground
  3. Rot & Ruin- all armor & weapons receive a notch (or whatever degradation)
  4. A Gout of Gas- Explosions of methane: 1-4 push, 5-6 fire
  5. Enfeeble Ray
  6. Prismatic Pestilence- Black, blue, purple, red, yellow, brown
  7. Spore Cloud
  8. Poisonous Blood- attack receives as much damage as given
  9. Taint the Soul- WIS save or possession (award XP for devious actions)
  10. Summon Blood Elemental- 1 HD for each dead creature on the ground (better as an item?)



THE POWER OF CIRCULAR THINKING: "Dungeons" are best organized as loops.

I think, at a basic level, the single best thing a person can do to create interesting dungeons is design them in loops. In part, because it provides for an immediate choice: left or right, red door or blue door, wide rotting rope bridge or thin natural rock bridge? And choice is at the heart of exploration.

Jennell Jaquays seemed to understand this very intuitively and her technique is covered very extensively by The Alexandrian in a post describing such. Loops are used with nested dungeons, vertical paths, incomplete paths etc to create dungeons interesting to explore. Even if there were no monsters, the connections in the Dark Tower promote curiosity as do the ones in Caverns of Thracia.

A more recent concise statement of the power of loops in dungeon design was pointed out by Questing Beast in an article discussing how the Rogue-like game, Unexplored, improved their procedural generation via loops. The image below is from the article.


A lot of the examples in the above image would make solid D&D predicaments: Do we go left or right? Do we risk traps or monsters? What does our (hopefully rolled randomly) party composition provide for-- can we take the obvious shorter but dangerous route? Choice is at the center of these questions. Loops make it easy.

Dyson Logos recent post one of his community-funded maps The Gardens of the Absent City. Now its a pretty great dungeon from the beginning because of the pillared hallway to the far left and the gardens and lake to the far right. But what you can subconsciously detect right away is its got a lot of loops.

Looking at the article above and thinking of major and minor nodes, I feel like there are about 8 major nodes and ~4 minor ones. This combines to make several large and small loops in the dungeon. The map feels interesting to explore because few single routes allow you to see everything- you have to choose. However, the players will end up at a familiar spot allowing more educated planning to attack the next loop- choice again only rewarded with more information.



This can be enhanced by adding themed nodes in some manner. Maybe by obstacle type as in the Unexplored image above or by the environment. With that additional layering, loops become even more enticing to explore because they cross several of these themes. In Dyson's map, that might be temple (A), lake (E), garden (C), crypts (F), back to the temple (A).

A DM could also connection points to extend a theme from one area into another which create a unique setup but also alerts the players to the presence of loops. For instance "E" is a lake/water in the environment. While "A", "B", and "D" nodes kinda look, to me, like a temple with a well linking "A" to "E". So what if you have a lot of fire god statues, but a lot of water monsters walking around. This is interesting because it is unexpected and it alerts players to a potential alternative path in "A" other than the four doors they see.

Loops create choice, choice creates interest in exploration, exploration provides reward beyond combat.

THE BATTLE FOR THE RUBY SKULL: An Experiment In Alternative B/X D&D Combat


MY "PROBLEM"

To me, the best "time scale" in old-school D&D (and any D&D really) is exploration. The time it takes to clear a room with 4-6 PCs in real life (~30 min) matches what is tracked in-game. Social interactions are very similar and very close to 1 to 1. Wilderness travel often deviates very noticeably, especially when a DM basically teleports the PCs to the next major location.

But combat always provides the sticking point. Each round is only supposed to track 6 seconds of time, but in reality, each round can really, really drag. When instead it should be fun and exciting.

MY EXPERIMENT

I started reading Kill Team to see what the Warhammer folks had to say and a couple of things jumped out at me:

  • Initiative was side, not individual models (very similar to B/X)
  • Objectives were present
  • Five rounds is all the game lasts with a roll at the end of the 5th for one more round
Two other OSR bloggers also had some suggestions about combat. Chris McDowd of Into The Odd had this variation for 5e combat (scaled for B/X):

Roll 1d20 and compare to the opponents AC:
  • If a "natural 1", it is a miss- deal no damage
  • If less than AC, it is a glance- deal 1 point of damage, cannot drop HP below 0
  • If greater than or equal to AC, it is a hit- deal average weapon damage, can drop HP below 0
  • If a "natural 20", it is a critical hit- deal max weapon damage, can drop HP below 0

Next is Nick LS Whelan from Paper & Pencils fame with a really good suggestion thrown out on the OSR Discord:

  • If a hit, PC can deal damage OR maneuver the enemy (negotiated by player & DM)
  • If a critical hit, PC can deal damage AND maneuver the enemy (negotiated by player & DM) 
  • A maneuver is a push, pull, trip, disarm, grapple or anything else that is reasonable with the context of the PC and the weapon or item they are welding.
To test how well these rule work in combination I printed up some random parties of 4x 2 level random characters (+ random equipment; four parties of 4; sixteen PCs total), threw some random terrain on the table, and my friend declared that a ruby skull at the one side of the room had to be carried through the door of the other side of the room. But it could only be carried with two hands.

The movement was dictated by B/X rules mainly based on the armor you were wearing.
The beginning. Forces of Law upper left, Chaos lower left.
Ruby skull to the right (objective) & door to the left (end goal)

And-- this work really well! Were were able to play two battles of 8 v 8 in about two hours. It was a tactical challenge with some great free form moments borne by the maneuver rules as described above. Remembered highlights:
  • Wizards (wearing no armor) and Thieves (wearing leather) moving fast really meant a lot with an objective in play. That ~6-8 squares per round is amazing vs. metal armoring moving 4 square per round. You can one (light blue) moving quite fast in the picture up top.
  • Even with two spells, Wizards did their fair share as a properly timed Magic Missile or Sleep spell really changed the battlefield. And one of my wizards had the floating disc spell which freed up moving the ruby skull on her turn.
  • The "supercharged" combat rules really added nice intensity to combat. The glance rule definitely helped some amazing comebacks, but the slow tick even wore down those with chain and plate.
  • Combat did reach a decisive conclusion in 5 rounds in both games. It's like those Warhammer people know something about skirmish games.
  • So what about those maneuver rules?
    • Some characters had 8 and 10 feet of chain in their equipment and used them as improvised weapons (1/4) to also entangle & disarm weapons
    • A bad of sand was used to blind (and blinded creatures cannot attack in B/X)
    • Two PCs of Law dumped my PC, Zweihander David, into an open crypt and shut it.
    • The forces of Chaos were able to switch places with forces of Law at the door to clear a lane.
The end. The forces of Law pulled out a narrow victory by grabbing the ruby skull at the "goal line"
and went through the door (left). Over on the right, you can see a pile of dead thief and wizard bodies
-- an early and vicious knife fight.

MY ADDITIONS(?)...I guess I am still mulling this over.
  • I've always enjoyed the "notch" system by 10 Foot Polemic so maybe a hit that equals AC does 1 dmg but reduced the target's AC by 1. Notch weapons on a miss "natural 1".
  • I still feel like swords, daggers, axes, maces, two-handed swords, and spears should have some easy to use quality to them that is meaningful (like spears have reach).
  • I thought maybe some good healing rules might be:
    • Combat lasts 5 rounds
    • If the PCs route, defeat, or complete their objective, then they earn d6 x (5-current round) HP back after combat. If they retreat its half that-- cowards.
    • Maybe if they obtain an objective they get an immediate +1d6 HP
    • Roll HP per day
  • A way to make objectives concrete but can be chosen each battle- does Delores Stroke have an answer?



TWO VERY SMART POSTS ABOUT ADVENTURE DESIGN

It's not surprising the GoblinPunch and Necropraxis has some good thoughts on adventure design. I like both of these posts because they help distill the source of the most enjoyment of D&D- player lead/initiated non-linear problem-solving. 

GoblinPunch: http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2019/07/dynamism-and-generic-optimum.html

  1. The generic optimum is the best plan that's printed on your character sheets.
  2. Dynamism is the opposite; it's how much you have to change your plans each round.
  3. Nearly all games would benefit from more dynamism.  Let's talk about where it comes from.
  4. A common mistake that DMs and game designers make is confusing complexity and dynamism. 
  5. Imagine a lich with a bunch of spells and abilities: fireball, finger of death, teleport, disintegrate, counterspell.  It has a bunch of legendary actions each turn, paralyzing people and using cantrips.  As a monster, the lich is fairly complex to run.
  6. And yet, despite that complexity, the lich is not very dynamic.  A party facing a lich expects to take a lot of damage every turn.  Most of the lich's abilities do not disrupt the party's plans.
Necropraxis: http://www.necropraxis.com/2019/07/17/adventurers-are-the-measure/

I was curious about the way in which players would choose to interact with various factions rather than intending to subvert tropes, such as, for example, presenting orcs as having a sympathetic subaltern perspective. For example, given two wicked factions in tension controlling different aspects of a dungeon, how would players react? What about two seemingly sympathetic factions locked in internecine conflict?

I wanted to play to find out who would become the antagonists.
In retrospect, maintaining a certain degree of discipline regarding avoiding moralization at the time of populating the setting enabled greater player freedom and, probably, more interesting and complex moral outcomes, without transforming the game into a simplistic morality play, or pandering to the idiosyncratic political ideals of myself or my group of players at the time.

NORTH TEXAS CON SUMMARY 2019

CONVERSATIONS
  • Talking with Matt Finch over the differences between old/new styles of DMing. As well as chatting about how he DMs 20+ players in a session after watching him do just that. Best part about said session was:
    1. GM Finch asking the group, "Who bows down to the shrunken' halfing head now possessed by a demon?"
    2. The 5 PCs that did immediately gained tattoos, teeth, horns, and one person- wings!
    3. Then GM Finch started offering 5,000 XP bonuses if the tattooed players would perform tasks for the demon. Not compulsory, just move this person to that staircase or temporarily blind another PC.

  • Talking with Greg Gillespie about Forbidden Caverns of Archaia. That man is very nice, low-key on social media, and very big. Like halflings would be an AC bonus in combat with him big. He also filled me in on the next big megadungeon- wizards, floating dungeons, teleporters. I think he has a nice inside about D&D and I hope he does more podcasts in the future.

  • Talking with David "Zeb" Cook was a real big delight, I also got my bound copy of B/X signed by him. But forgot to bring my Planescape box set! We initially had a short conversation but I met him later in the Dwarven Forge hotel party were we covered:
    • Magical realism & Italio Calvino
    • Russian fantasy movies on Netflix
    • How he wasn't on the team that did Planescape: Torment
    • A little of the origins of the Planescape setting
GAMES WHERE I WAS THE DM
  • Through Ultan's Door did not really garner much attention, but I did end up thinking of a new hook for it and running it through with my friends. The better idea I came up with is to start the highest CHA PC off as the new "chosen one" in a group of acolytes of the Cult of Sleep on the run after their cult had been smashed. Once through the door, the PCs have to find the demon to re-anoint the chosen one with the God of Sleep's favor. Three players with 6, level two, B/X PCs- two of which died in the first encounter and one that was sacrificed to gain the demon's favor.
    It worked out well and I want to develop this angle better and look forward to continuing using issue #2.

  • Zjelwyin Fall was the second game I ran, again B/X pre-gens all of level two. This module requires the players to travel to the Astral Plane and infiltrate a lich's phylactery and obtain the Quantum Crown. Each of the modules seven levels is a puzzle. Now, I thought this would be a good con module because its a unique setting, made for low-levels, and doesn't involve combat. However, what I realized is that the meta-problem with puzzle dungeons is that players solve them as players, not as characters. So that might have sapped some of the experience.
GAMES WHERE I WAS THE PLAYER
  • LotFP's Grinding Gears --again, a puzzle module that I started playing a player not really getting into it as a character. The DM was one of the folks that run The Long Con which is another small con in Texas. He ran a good game that kept us guessing, but still, I think the problem of puzzle dungeons stands.


  • The second game I played was a playtest of a new style of gaming that focused on encouraging RP by handing out tokens as the players attempted certain actions. The idea is that your character starts out with 0 attributes and skills. But as you perform actions the GM awards tokens that you use to buy, real-time, attributes and abilities. The actual adventure itself involved a band of dwarves separated from a war band coming upon a lost keep controlled by four factions guarding an evil power.
THINGS I BOUGHT
  • B/X Essentials Magic-User & Cleric Spells: Fantastic asset at the table.
  • Big Dragon's DM Screen: Nice heavy cardboard. And really great physical "master" character sheets on cardboard for scanning or copying.
  • B4 The Lost City & AD&D Player's Handbook (the demon idol one of course)
OTHER MUSINGS
  • Meeting both Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley and learning they are both from KY was pretty fantastic. I also got DARLENE to sign all the original Greyhawk maps I have!
  • Watching the Midnight Auction was hilarious- free booze- "Zeb" Cook produced the Honeymooners board game?!
  • Looking around you can tell the NTRPG CON is put together with a lot of love, but I do wonder when the old guard passes on to the mythic underground, what will become of it? Can this Con evolve into something new or encourage fresh blood?

DARK FORCES GATHER AMONG VAIN RICHES IN RUINED ARCHAIA!


[Below are the first few session reports from my on-going store game using Forbidden Cavern of Archaia and 5e D&D run in an old school style. The part in italics is on the flyer I posted].

DARK FORCES GATHER AMONG VAIN RICHES IN RUINED ARCHAIA!

T
HIS 5E GAME OF D&D will use just the free Basic Rules found online at: http://media.wizards.com/2018/dnd/downloads/DnD_BasicRules_2018.pdf
Making it perfect for those new to the hobby and curious. New players are very welcome! Not even dice are needed.

FIFTH EDITION RUN IN AN OLD SCHOOL STYLE: We will use a few of the alternative 5e rules for slower healing and stress. EXP is mainly gained by loot which removes the focus on combat. Dead characters are replaced by a 3d6-down-the-line generation. And this megadungeon exploration is in the vein of METROID/DARKEST DUNGEON, but there are plenty of NPCs and factions to manipulate for your own selfish ends!


#2 PREVIOUSLY: TOMB RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARCHAIA. Two devout clerics of St. Ygg dared to plunge into the Forbidden Lands with their recently liberated thi--, "relic hunter", in tow. Their goal is to bring dangerous relics of the past and information about the gathering chaotic hoards back to the warm, lawful embrace of Ygg. Currently, they are hunkered down in an elven crypt with four magical but fragile amphora-- worth plenty if they can get them back safely.


#3 PREVIOUSLY: OH GREAT, ELVES. With the arrival of the elven "delegation", Katyanna, Buddy, Radon, and their halfing burglar Brakka, Ukko and Gunter see their grave digg--- relic retrieval in peril. But diplomatic name-calling and judicious use of thieves cant brokered a deal where the adventuring party would help with the urns and then only draw from the recently recovered (and very slippery) Deck of Many Things once they were safely around other innocent Ygg-fearing souls. A treacherous climb awaited, but Ukko was to suffer the first non-Deck misfortune, by almost falling to his death! Where it not for the entirely inadequate medical attention performed by almost everyone and Gunther's devotion to Ygg, Ukko would have been dead. But instead, he lived to deal with the jerks of St. Ygg. Now much richer, the party drinks really, really well and decides their next course of action!


#4 PREVIOUSLY: JUST A BUNCH OF ROCKS. Loaded up with supplies, the party leaves early in the morning to explore more of the dread sunken city. Playing it safe, the party plunges into one of the upper caverns to avoid the humanoid patrols on the canyon floor. They tangled with well-disguised denizens in the forms of a large draco-form and stalactite-like crustaceans. Then, once across one of the broken city's many subterranean gulfs, the party pauses in a puzzling vine-covered foyer and muffled cries for help!


#5 PREVIOUSLY: STONE COLD DEATH! Disaster strikes! After meeting up with a pair of inquisitive dwarves, a sufferer of demonic thrall, and another sly thief, the party battled their way past ravenous mimetic plant life to a maze of doors. While mostly empty, the designs on the wall revealed this tomb to be the resting place of a powerful Archaian summoner and necromancer. Soon enough the party found themselves in said tomb tempted by a large brilliant ruby and a crypt of magic items. But it was all a trap...

Stone guardians mobilized and although moved like drunken men from years of dormancy, they laid low all but two of the party. Those two escaped from death leaving behind the mournful songs of their crushed friends- may Ygg take them quickly.


#6 PREVIOUSLY: ABRAKADABRA! THE PARTY GOT A MYSTERIOUS STAFF BUT STILL LEFT CADAVERS! Undaunted by death and haunted by the mysterious crypt, the sole survivor of the previous trek gathered a new band of adventurers to raid the crypt of the Archaian sorcerer.

The trip was fill fated from the beginning as the party was attacked at Dragon's Tooth Henge by undeath rising out of the growing mounds of mold, filth, and garbage at the henge. Each bore the crude mark of a hand with a fanged mouth in the palm. Although surrounded, the adventurers overcame and finally laid to rest these horrid bones.

Once back at the crypt of the sorcerer, a plan was hatched to steal the staff, ring, and the too-enticing-to-be-left ruby. The results were the same, but this time the two surviving members have a mysterious ebony staff and gold ring. Now if they can just get it back to Eastdale...

RPG goals for 2020

Sidney Sime RPG GOALS for 2020 RUN ALL THE 2019 'ZINES- I whipped up a quick hex map that incorporated Temple of the Blood Moth ...