Sunday, September 30, 2012

[Actual Play] Gaming Season Opener

Rainy autumn afternoons in New England are made for dungeon crawling. My prime gaming season runs from October til April, when the thaw comes and the bass start biting again.

Today I ran a Dungeonteller game for two moms and their seven-year-olds, session two of (I hope) a continuing campaign. I used the Mad-lib style dungeon template I created on the blog a while back. The PCs have still barely penetrated the place, starting at the upper left. Today they fell into a pit trap, rescued a rogue from the pit, and used the rogue's lockpicking skills to enter the orc lair. The two surviving orcs were in the process of making off with their companion's loot. One was put to sleep, the other sent running (although he kept showing up in various funny vignettes as the PCs continued to explore -- eating a stale sandwich they had left behind, falling into the pit trap, and so on). We ended at the giant spiders' lair, center left. Fun times.

Fresh-baked snickerdoodles, hot coffee, and tea helped fortify us for the duration! We played for over two hours, which is a long time for a seven-year-old to keep focused.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Generic Terrain is Lazy

Challenge: design a world that has no generic terrain whatsoever. No deserts, no forests, no swamps per se.

Sure, you can start with "desert" or "forest" as a descriptor, but run through some questions to inspire you to make each region unique.

Is there an unusual form of precipitation? Does it rain dust, or ashes, or weak acid, or salt water?

What are the agents of erosion?  flash floods, giant vermin, ghosts, an everburning wildfire, warring giants, earth elementals?

How do you find water? Lick it off of fuzzy plants that capture fog? Look inside the cistern-like interior of giant conifers? Collect it from boiling springs? Place a water bottle beneath the ever-weeping eyes of the stone statues that dot the landscape?

What are the largest natural landforms and structures here? Basalt columns? Sinkholes? Petrified trees? Skeletal corpses of dead angels? Rafts of vegetation floating on a foul, muddy sea?

What adaptations have local humanoids made to survive here? Do they live underground? In tree canopies? Do they drift along beneath clusters of air-dwelling puffer fish? Do they spend their days as animals and shift into human forms at night?

Where does the past still intrude on the landscape? Colossal statues carved from sandstone mesas? Mysterious straight-as-an-arrow roads made of quartz? Piles of charred skulls? Abandoned fortresses whose walls are carved with protective magic spells? Thousands of crudely made statuettes half-buried in the earth, each with an iron pin through its heart?

What are the ubiquitous nuisances? Occasional sounds of disembodied laughter? Dust golems spun from residual magic? Storks that collect shiny objects? Innocuous mummies that only want to recite the laws of the land to any strangers who happen by?

Who are the low-level humanoids here? Bandits who ride on vultures? Hermits who live inside sanctuaries made of living vermin? Hunters who can kill their prey with song?

What are the unique resources? Geodes that contain magic spells? Parasitic crystals that grow on the skins and hides of local herd animals? Trees that can be shaped by thought?

Hope this kickstarts your sense of wonder. 


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Descriptors for City Design

Designing a city and need inspiration? 

Here are a list of templates you can put on individual neighborhoods/districts within a larger city to stimulate your own sense of wonder:

Neglected: No one picks up the trash here. Public amenities like wells/fountains, bridges, and streets are broken or crumbling. Communal spaces like plazas and markets show no signs of civic pride -- they are unwelcoming, dirty, and shabby. The city authorities seem to have withdrawn their support for this place. The residents seemed resigned to their fate.

Barricaded: The residents of this district have walled themselves in to keep the rest of the city out. Entry is closely controlled through one or two checkpoints, or perhaps through secret passages between buildings or underground.
Abandoned: No one lives here anymore, despite no obvious signs of strife or natural disaster. Weeds and saplings grow up through the pavement. Houses are still furnished -- little or no looting is evident. There may be signs that people left in a hurry.

Clannish: This quadrant of the city is occupied by a single group, sharing either blood ties, ethnicity, religion, or some other common cause. Strangers are subject to curious stares at best, outright hostility at worst.
Lawless: This is where even the city guards won't go after dark. It's mob rule here, with small gangs of residents pitted against one another with no single boss to keep order.

Besieged: The opposite of a barricaded neighborhood. Here it's the city authorities who are trying to keep the residents from getting out. Again, it might be walled or gated, with limited legal access, but plenty of smuggling going on.

Looted: Someone swept through this district and stole everything of value. If there are any residents left, they are picking up the pieces and husbanding their meager belongings as best they can.

Razed: Once it was a bustling neighborhood. Now it's just vacant lots and mounds of rubble. Someone -- the city authorities? -- deliberately knocked down every standing structure here, and no one has rebuilt.

Flooded: It's a DIY Venice in this neighborhood. The area is permanently inundated by water, leaving residents to build higher, or adopt a floating lifestyle, with houseboats and rafts.

Burned: A fire has ravaged this district, leaving charred houses, ash heaps, and debris.

Exclusive: This district is reserved for an elite class of citizens, and no one else can enter except their servants and other invited guests. Entry is through one or two guarded gates only.