Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gaming with Kids: Sir Kevin and the Daring Rescue

Continued from Part I

Sir Kevin was able to convince the mushroom men that he was not hostile through gestures, hopping around, and making funny noises. The mushroom men surrounded him and herded him down a corridor. Soon he was in the throne room of the queen of the mushroom people. He was surprised to see that the queen was a teenage girl named Ariel. She explained to him that she had fallen into a hole when she was a young girl and the mushroom men had raised her. As she got older they learned to trust her judgment and made her their queen. Sir Kevin explained his quest to rescue the unicorn and Queen Ariel ordered the mushroom men to escort him back to the surface.

Once back above ground Sir Kevin set out in the direction of the Goblin's shack. As he made his way through the forest he saw what looked like a beehive dangling from a tree. Since there had been nothing to eat in the caves other than rats Sir Kevin decided he wanted some honey. He used his sword to knock down the hive. Little flying men came swarming out. Sir Kevin tried to swat them away but they were too small, their poisoned arrows easily slipped through the cracks in his armor and numbed him. Paralyzed, Sir Kevin was at their mercy.

One of the flying men explained that they were pixies and that Sir Kevin had destroyed their palace. Sir Kevin apologized and offered to hang their nest back up. He explained that he was trying to free a unicorn and needed something to eat. The pixies accepted his offer to help and insisted on helping him free the unicorn.

After the nest was back in the tree Sir Kevin and the pixies snuck up on the Goblin's Shack. Sir Kevin told the pixies to draw the goblins out of the shack while he rescued the unicorn (not bad for a 7 year old). The plan worked without any problems and the unicorn took off into the forest.

Stonehell: Halfway

I am halfway through reading Michael Curtis's Stonehell and it has ruined me. I have always hated reading dungeon adventures, and now I will hate them twice as much. Nothing irritates me more than having to flip back and forth between the map and the entries. It makes it very hard for me to enjoy reading map heavy modules, even campaign settings. I keep getting yanked out of the flow by having to flip back. It will be even more irritating going forward, because I now know that IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!

If he has done nothing else with this book, and trust me he has done other stuff, Mr. Curtis has set a new standard for how dungeon adventures should be presented. Each chapter starts with a map of a whole level of the dungeon. There is also a brief discussion of the level and a list of all the monsters, with stats, on the level. This is followed by four sections, each detailing 1/4 of the level. Each of these sections starts with a more detailed description of that quarter and then discusses anything that requires extra description like stat blocks, traps, special rooms etc. The next two pages consist of a half page map of the quarter with a wandering monster table and the keyed entries for all the rooms. That's right you can always glance over at the map while you read the entries.

I have to admit that the quarters seem a little bit artificial at this point and they seem unnecessarily walled off from each other at this point. I am sure that will improve as the format gets used more. There is no reason that it has to be this way, I am sure a more organic feel will develop over time.
I'll have more to say about the content of Stonehell when I finish. For now, the presentation is awesome.

Knockspell Issue #3

Finally back at it after exams and a nasty sneak attack by pneumonia.

Alright, Knockspell #3 is a great issue. Let's start at the start!

From Kuroth's Quill: First, I appreciate the bibliography. This is one of the most academically written old school articles I have seen yet. It is an interesting classification system for dimensional gates. Usually, when I run fantasy, I am very much a "keep the magic parts magic" kind of guy. I don't like to get into how magic works, I like it to be a mystery. When I run sci-fi I tend towards hard sci-fi so I go the other way with fantasy. That said, it is far easier to construct interesting puzzles when there is a basis for how everything works. I am talking about puzzles that challenge the players' creativity here, not just the match the color kind from video games. As usual I found myself coming up with some ideas as I read grodog's article.

Pulp Heroes and the Colors of Magic: Akrasia has written one of my top 5 favorite RPG articles ever here. It has given me a reason to use a whole rule set. I have struggled with Swords & Wizardry, it is rules light and easy to mod. But what would I use it for? My friends and I grew up with the Mentzer sets, I am going to go with Labyrinth Lord if it is nostalgia I am looking for. That would be my go to rule set if I wanted to concentrate on kingdom building too. The later sets just make it so easy to do with those rules. My next campaign will be a dungeon/hex crawl. I am going to use OSRIC because I can start out simple and gradually add complexity over time to keep the combat interesting. OSRIC is really strong here, it would be very easy to one piece at a time turn it into Hackmaster Basic when it comes to combat if that is what my players want. But what to do with S&W?

I'll be honest, I have never thought that D&D really supported pulp style adventures all that well. It has some pulpy, gonzo feel to it, but it has always been way too high magic to convey anything like Conan. And just taking out classes doesn't really help because you just wind up resting and dying all the time. But the rules in this article will make S&W my go to system for a Conan style game. It has the love side of my love/hate relationship with Iron Heroes. The revisions to damage and especially the revisions to the spell system are great. These three and a half pages are worth the price of the magazine alone.

The Font of Glee: This is a fanciful adventure, I like seeing these lighter hearted adventures. It is a nice break from the usual doom and gloom, evil wizard affairs. The chance to play factions off against one another gives it a level of complexity not usually seen in lighter games.

The City of Vultures is an interesting city by the always imaginative Gabor Lux. Interestingly I was reading this at the same time I was reading the Fritz Leiber story where the birds are stealing all the jewelry in town. Make sure you read the entry on page 32 for The Society for Optimalised Objectivism.

The Labyrinth Tomb: it is what the title says, a hack and slash dungeon crawl. There are some cool little puzzles in here though.

The Tower of Mouths: I like this dungeon because there is plenty of room to customize it. The poison gas adds an interesting dynamic to the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hello Readers

I have not forgotten you. I am just in the midsts of my final exam period. I actually wrote several posts over Thanksgiving that I have not put up yet. I intended to just have to edit them and put them up during exams. Sadly I got pneumonia the day before exams started and have been playing catch up ever since. The end is near though, it is all over Friday.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gamist v. Simulationist

I want to start this post by saying that the first blog I scroll to in Reader every day is Grognardia. I find James' posts to be very insightful and well thought out when it comes to designing and running your game. The main reason I enjoy his blog so much is that we have completely opposite styles. His profile even states his interest in philosophy. I, on the other hand, am an engineer working on becoming a patent attorney. I like to think that I am a pretty good DM. I have brought quite a few new people into the hobby over the years and I haven't had a lot of complaints. I personally find James' work in Fight On!, Thousand Suns and other places to be excellent. He comes to a lot of the same conclusions as me, and produces stuff I like, but his way of getting there fascinates me. It is totally opposite of the way I do things.

An illustration. In a recent post he discusses keys in dungeons. He feels that every lock in a dungeon should have a key hidden somewhere. He talks about how he thinks of dungeons as puzzles. When I first read this my mind protested. People walk off with keys all the time. That is why we have keys and locks! So you can protect something while you are not there. People are often inside a locked area, with the only key in their possession. To me, the assertion that you should always have a key on the unprotected side of the door that can be used, Zelda style, to break in is silly.

But, he has a valid point. There should be some way to get through those doors. When you put a door in a dungeon you have not only put an obstacle in the players' path, you have given them a challenge. Sometimes I might have the key where they can find it. It is far more likely that I will put the door there, have it locked, and react to what the players do to get through or around it.

As an engineer, worse a perimeter security engineer, I know that doors are not denial devices they are delay devices. They force an intruder to make noise that is followed by time before they can fully breach the portal. This allows security to react before they can get in. There is always a way through a locked door. It is just a matter of time, effort and noise. You can get through most real life doors in a few D&D turns at the longest. But in real life, this is more than enough time for security to react. A locked door does not force a party to have a thief, it forces them to be creative. It also forces the DM to know enough about the physics of breaking through a door if he is not going to provide a key.

I am not trying to say that James' dungeon as game/puzzle philosophy is wrong here. Ultimately our conclusions can be expressed in the same broad statement: there needs to be a way through that door, and it is your duty to provide it. My strength as a DM lies in my ability to construct a world that players can effect in a physical way they are familiar with. I feel this really helps me when I have to improvise and make stuff up on the fly. I know why my dungeon was built and how all the creatures whithin interact. I can quickly calculate how the players' actions at one end of the dungeon will effect the other.

My DMing style will never produce James' Crystal Hemisphere from Fight On! Issue 4 though. When I get my review of that issue up you will see that I love that dungeon.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hex Crawls

Those of you who have been reading this blog know that I have never run a megadungeon before. I have always used more realistic dungeon settings, keeping all underground areas to a minimum and keeping the over all size of castles and the like fairly small. There is another style of gaming I have never indulged in: the hex crawl.

I have never seen hexes as discrete chunks of the map. I always just used them as a guide to find distance if they were present and not worrying about themif they were not. I have always taken a more continuous view of overland maps. This is another streak that will be ending with my upcoming OSRIC game. I will be using James M's Outdoor Map as a starting pont in my campaign. I will be heavily modifying it for my purposes but most of the features will stay the same. I will be adding my own versions of Castles Blackmoor and Greyhawk to the map.

I have been struggling with how a hex crawl works. How do I know if they find features in the hex and isn't 5 miles a bit large? It turns out that I am not the only one wondering about this. Chgowiz has an interesting post on the subject.

The only real hex crawl experience I have is playing Tolkein Quest gamebooks. You read numbered entries based on the hex you entered