Dec 12, 2015

Organising Referee Screens

I don't find the information printed on referee / DM screens particularly useful. I use one, but to organise information vertically as well as horizontally. Here's some notes about the way I use them:

1) I use gator clips and paperclips to attach paper and index cards to the panels of the referee screen. I attach information to both the inside and outside of the screen. The outside of the screen is extremely useful as a way of presenting information the players collectively need, though remember to print in a large enough font, or write it large enough, that it can be read from across the table.

2) I use a five-panel screen. On the inside, from left to right, I attach:

a) Random encounter tables, terrain tables or generators, and any overland travel rules I need.
b) Maps in the order I expect to use them.
c) Monster stats, clustered by encounter and then each cluster sorted by the order I expect them to occur.
d) A list of random names. I cross names off as I use them. Behind that, list of major or important NPCs, a calendar / timeline and a relationship map.
e) A list of PC stats that I can consult without telling them (i.e. perception scores, marching order). Behind that. I keep a list of treasure items and information that I expect to use in the upcoming session.

Most of these are sheets of paper. I take them down off the panels as necessary, or else I'll spread them out if I have a minute or two (i.e. grabbing all the monster stats and clipping them to separate panels temporarily so I can track the combat)

3) On the outside, from left to right, I'll attach:

a) Any procedures the party follows as a whole (e.g. overland exploration).
b) The guard's random encounter table unless their filling it out.
c) A copy of any map they have that's relevant to the situation.
d) A list of NPCs, places, etc. they've met who they should remember.
e) A list of any gear, retainers, etc. that the party as a whole has.

Players are free to take stuff off the screen at any time to either look at more closely, to update them, etc., but I try to make sure they put them back up on there before we go onto anything else, otherwise they tend to vanish. The PCs are welcome to attach any other documentation they want to the outside. I use player roles so people know which documents they're responsible for, and which are someone else's problem.

4) I use cue cards / index cards to track information I need at a glance. I tend to generate index cards during play, instead of beforehand, using a sharpie. Remember, you can clip index cards along both the top edge and the side edges of the screen.

Specifically, I write the NPC's name, what they want, and any critical stuff (e.g. "Offers quest to slay goblins - 500gp") on a cue card in black sharpie and attach it to a panel facing towards me when I'm running them. If you get caught up in an interaction or distracted and lose track of what's going on, I find this is most of the information you need to get things back on track. The other thing I commonly do is write triggers for traps, or ongoing environmental conditions on cue cards and clip them facing me so I don't forget them as we go on. If the PCs have weird powers like seeing invisible enemies, I'll also note them on an index card so I remember the invisible enemy or whatever can't sneak up on them.

On the exterior of the screen, I clip index cards with the names and 1-3 word descriptions of any important NPCs they're interacting with. If they're in a distinct location I'll add that too. I'll also clip index cards covering any ongoing environmental conditions the PCs are aware of, along with the mechanics and effects. e.g. "Dark -2 to hit". I usually use one of the side edges to handle marching order for the PCs. Lastly, I'll sometimes clip index cards with any resolutions or goals the PCs made earlier that are shaping their decisions (or any quests they picked up that they might've forgotten about). You'd be surprised at how often players forget these things, so having them written down helps.

I have the players write player-facing cards, rather than taking up my time to do it, except for ongoing environmental conditions. Usually you can dish out some markers and sharpies and handle most of the card writing you'll need in a given encounter in a minute or two if it's distributed around the table. When in doubt, it's the rules coordinator's job to update cards with environmental effects and the caller's responsible for keeping the marching order and the quests / resolutions correct.

5) I have my PCs handle initiative rather than tracking it myself, but if you haven't started doing this yet, you might want to attach it to an inner panel.

6) This sounds like a lot of work, but most of its front-loaded, and there's several ways to save time. In play, it tends to save a lot of time you'd spend wracking your brain for relevant information or reminding people of the same unchanging facts over and over again, etc. and allows you to ensure you have all the information you need right at hand. Here are some time-saving measures:

a) Use print-outs whenever possible. I print off monster stats straight from the book's pdf and write things like HP totals directly on the sheet. I grab images from the internet and print them off for maps etc. I'll print off the page the treasure item's description is on and then just use a highlighter to outline it so I know what's the right thing.
b) Appoint one of the PCs (usually the caller or note-taker) to store any cards they aren't using, and to be responsible for retrieving them when they're needed.
c) Assign a player (the rules coordinator) to produce the document with all the relevant stats you need (perception scores, stealth scores, saving throws, etc.). If they don't produce a new one, you'll go with whatever the old one says, even if it's worse.
d) If possible, seat people so they can reach out and handle the screen carefully to remove and add documentation as necessary. If not, sit someone responsible next to you and anyone who needs to change stuff has to go through them.

7) You can swap out cue cards for post-its if you find it easier. It tends to be harder to reuse post-its, so the more static something is, the better they are. If you only need something once and will never need it again, they're great. If something will come into and out of play repeatedly, index cards tend to stand up to repeated use a little better.

Dec 9, 2015

The Dawnlands are Back / Dooms

I'm going to be converting the Dawnlands over to Runequest 6 from Openquest. My plan is to run a third complete (fourth total) campaign set in the Dawnlands sometime in the next year or so. I've been playing in Lawrence Whitaker's Mythic Britain campaign now for a little over a year and Legend / RQ6 has always been one of my favourite systems, with only the challenge of teaching it to new players holding me back from doing more with it. Here's a bit about cursing the people who killed you using the passion system from Runequest 6.


Anyone with a passion rated higher than 100% may, upon dying, choose to utter a doom - a curse or prophecy on or about the subject of their passion. The doom must be made in the round the person expires, and must consist of a few short sentences, with a total length in words of 10% of the passion's rating (so a 100% passion allows 10 or fewer words). The character must be able to speak aloud.

Upon making the doom, the character checks against their passion. On a critical failure, the doom is realised only as a cruel joke of fate on the curse-giver. On a failure, the doom has no effect. On a success, the doom takes effect until the next dusk or dawn, whichever comes first. On a critical success, the doom becomes permanent until the character's body is buried or cremated with suitable ceremonial pomp to appease their spirit (requiring either Customs or Exhort), or a shrine, idol, totem or other marker is erected to honour them (such a marker must be Consecrated as per the spell by a priest of the same religion as the character). Dooms come into effect immediately.

Dooms make all skill rolls directly related to avoiding them one step harder, while all skill rolls directly related to bringing them to fruition are made one step easier. If the dooming character includes an end-condition to the curse, all skill rolls are either two steps harder or easier, as appropriate. Characters are not automatically aware of dooms.

e.g. Torun Half-Nose is stabbed to death by Hafek the Unwise. As he gargles out his last breath, he curses "My children will avenge me!", rolls his passion [Love (Children) 115%)] and gets a critical success. Torun's children will then find all skill rolls related to avenging their father to be one step easier, while Hafek finds any rolls to resist them will be one step harder.

e.g. Bjan the Wolf-Eater returns from campaigning to find a Kaddish warband (the Locusts) has destroyed his kraal, slain his family and friends, and plundered his village. He commits ritual suicide out of shame, cursing the destroyers of his line "Kaddish will bleed until the mountains are ground to dust" and rolls his Hate (Kaddish) 130% passion. Bjan critically fumbles, and so a Kaddish herbalist investigating the healing properties of a rare clay in the northern mountains suddenly finds it makes the perfect addition to bandages to encourage clotting (or at least her Lore roll to identify this property is two steps easier).

Some Extant Dooms in the Dawnlands

"The Kaddish will never know peace" - made by the (now) Lich-King of Dlak upon his death during the destruction of Dlak (Affects all rolls to directly drag the Orthocracy into a war, or to start a riot in Kaddish)

"I will be slain three times, and three times resurrected" - Tegon, the Maimed Lord, vampire near-god (Directly affects all rolls to ritually resurrect him or to prevent this from happening)

"My children will feast on the graves of the optimates" - Mainos, halfling Broken Chain martyr (Affects all rolls to prevent revolutionary sentiment from growing amongst the Dwer helots and slaves)

Aug 29, 2015

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Blackwater But Were Afraid to Ask

Here's the concise summary of everything your average adventurer needs to know about the Kingdom of Blackwater in 723AS:

They use a silver standard for coinage. Their main exports of interest to anyone else are cattle, horses, linen, dragonbone, magical toxic waste, ancient relics, gold, and murder hobos. You mainly want to steal the gold, relics, dragonbone and magical toxic waste. They speak Wyvish, as do the hippies (Upper Wyvs), weirdos (Lower Wyvs), conans (Ulthendish) and the folks in the factory city to the east (Marlechers) but they all sound silly when they do. Their government has nobles and stuff, but mainly exists to extract taxes. There`s two kings, one`s a lich, and they hate one another and are gearing up for a big war. They have good scientists, wizards and engineers, but they all leave to go get rich elsewhere, unless they`re evil and want the magical toxic waste for themselves. Everything's poor as hell and most people look like refugees from some Byzantine province (Armenia or Pontus or Trebizond). Summers are cool and dry, as are winters. Blackwater used to be run by the hippies and weirdos hundreds of years ago, until they summoned too many demons or something and went back to their island to be crazy by themselves.

Aug 27, 2015

The Treetombs Region and Map

This'll be the starting region for the campaign, near the town of Treetombs at the edge of the Deadwood Basin in the kingdom of Blackwater.

Alderspring (Pop. 1,250)
Points of Interest: Blood Keep (castle), Deepwater (village), Rightblood Ranch (ranch), Scrubthorn (village), the Sunstone (lighthouse)

Alderspring is cattle country. The sacred bulls slaughtered in temples across the Wolf Sea are calved in the great herds of red and silver-coated cattle in the uplands. Fuligin-robed Deadwalkers of the Dismal Land, wolf-robed Krovi tribunes and the sorcerer-overseers of the Low Wyvs can all be found lodged in Deepwater, despite direct orders from the New King forbidding Baron Alderspring to do commerce with them. The baron sells the cattle for cash in hand, and uses the money to pay mercenaries to keep the New King's men out of his business. He sells sacred cattle on the sly to the Old King to placate his undead warriors, though it's an open secret and only a matter of time before he's caught. He is plagued by cattle-rustlers and an unusually large number of wolves, both of which he blames on the baroness of Redcrossing. Rumours abound that the Low Wyvs are building a gate in the hills to directly transport the bulls home without the need of ships, though where they would get a sufficiently large supply of human bone to do so is anyone's guess.

The Cinder
Points of Interest: Baroness Redcrossing's Schola (shrine), the Boiling Sands (lair), the Bone Gate (landmark), the Cinder (Crater), the Corundrum Gate (landmark), the Hecatomb (lair), the Onyx Gate (landmark), the Reclusium of Arvil (tower), the Tomb of Justin IV (shrine/graveyard), the Weeping Tree Labyrinth (dungeon)

The site of the Catastrophe, where the Old King's attempt to attain divinity as an immortal lich released the Grey Death across what was once "Greenwood Basin". The air is pungent with befouled geomancy. Somewhere in the stone flats lays the circle of thirteen petrified sorcerers standing around the great crater. The Cinder has great nodes of the precious black serpentine created during the Catastrophe, and sorcerers are constantly hiring foolish adventurers to recover even a mere handful for use in their experiments. The Grey Death has mostly dissipated, but a few smoldering cracks still release gusts of it now and then. A few necromancers and witches linger in the area personally, as do various beasts twisted by the Grey Death into vicious monsters.

Deadwood Basin
Points of Interest: the Bastion of the Keen Ones (tower), the Burning Place (graveyard),  the Lair of Many-Headed Hythax (lair), the Mother's Tear (shrine), Hammerdell Keep (ruin), Lonely Keep (ruin), Oakbend (ruin), the Sleeping Hill (dungeon), Splitstone (ruin), the Trembling Ground (lair), Woodweir (ruin), the Wyvish Locus (landmark)

Deadwood Basin was once the country's breadbasket, densely populated with small villages and keeps. Since the Grey Death came nearly a century ago, the region has been unpopulated and almost nothing will grow there. The area is spotted with ruins from prior epochs - geomantic locuses from the Wyvish Synod, ruined keeps from the Weaver Kings, and buried remnants of the Dragontime. A few tribes of Bonewarped have come down off of Dead Dragon Mountain over the years, and survive by unknown means amongst the ruins. The Old King's hordes are mostly deployed holding ruins across Deadwood, though why he is focused on this instead of reconquering his kingdom is unclear to the living.

God's Eye (Pop. 1,000)
Points of Interest: Gib Hill (village), God's Eye Observatory (shrine), Marro's Grave (village), Tenbarrows (village)

The God's Eye Observatory will soon be the newest temple to the Divine Architect. Most of the villages and farms have sprung up in the past ten years from the construction, and the priests have purified the soil to the best of their abilities. The merchants in Treetombs have expressed an interest in the priests repeating the process in the barrens surrounding Treetombs, but the priests have refused to do so until they finish their temple. Controversially, the temple was built using black serpentine blocks for its foundation, making it a powerful geomantic node, but one that could easily become tainted without careful maintenance. The New King is a patron of the cult of the Divine Architect, and the new bishop has had to divert workers from finishing the temple to throwing up palisades and fortifications in case the Old King turns his attention from Deadwood Basin back to the coastal settlements.

Old Kingshall (Pop. 500)
Points of Interest: Beggar's Hill (village), Cattle Market (city ruin), the Eternal Keep (lair), the Fleeing Village (ruin), the Garden of Statues (lair), the Grain Market (city ruin), the Grey Palace (dungeon), Fatcoin Alley (city ruin) Kingshall College (city ruin), King's Lake (lake), the Late Seer's Village (ruin), Lord's Lane (city ruin), the Lost Man's Square (city ruin), the Man-Eater's Rest (lair), Old Markill (ruin), One-Girl Village (ruin), the Poor Quarter (city ruin), the Praying Village (ruin), the Sleepless Tree (lair), Smiths' Lane (city ruin), Stove's Waystation (village), the Tablet of the Grey Death (landmark), the Tomb of Theophora II (graveyard), the Vile Guard (tower), the Wailing Village (ruin), the Watchful Mother (shrine)

Once the capital of the kingdom of Blackwater, Kingshall is now a collection of petrified ruins haunted by the livind dead. The Old King attempted to ascend to lichdom a century ago, but the ritual went awry and released a magical force known as the "Grey Death" which spread across much of Deadwood Basin. It petrified thousands, killed thousands more, and created a vast wave of refugees whose settlement still determines the population distribution of Blackwater. Lingering traces of it in the earth have prevented the resettlement of Deadwood Basin. The Old King was thought dead, killed in the ritual, and a nephew ascended to the throne to rebuild Blackwater.

Two years ago, black-cloaked envoys went out across Deadwood Basin, announcing that the Old King's ritual had succeeded, and that he intended to return to his throne in Kingshall. His armies of wights and skeletons have mostly spent their time occupying the ruins across Deadwood Basin, and the nobility is split over whether to back him or the descendant of his nephew (now known as the "New King"). The coastal communities have yet to bear the brunt of his armies yet, but most expect it's only a matter of time.

Redcrossing (Pop. 2,000)
Points of Interest: Crowshine (lighthouse), Dunhill (village), Drybridge Keep (castle), Lair of the Lying Wolf (lair), Northcut (village), Redcrossing Ranch (ranch), Southcut (village)

Redcrossing mainly survives off selling produce and sheep to Treetombs. Drybridge Keep was built before the Catastrophe, but the barony is the result of a landgrab by the baroness' ancestors in the chaos immediately afterwards. The baroness of Redcrossing is a powerful sorceress of the Red and Bone Learning who keeps a schola with a handful of apprentices out closer to the Cinder. She pays handsomely for samples of black serpentine. Baron Alderspring blames her for the wolves that plague his herds, though no one knows what her motive might be. Redcrossing is the home base for the High Bailiff of the Stone Coast and his officials and mercenaries, and has become a strategically important site almost accidentally after the Old King declared his intentions. Redcrossing is nominally loyal to the New King due to the official presence, but sympathies amongst the peasantry are strongly in favour of the Old King.

Sharpwater (Pop. 3,000)
Points of Interest: Alderson's Ranch (ranch), Blade Valley (village), Burnt Barrows (ruin), David's Grave (village), Grass Hill (village), Kingshead (village), Pinebridge (village), Poplar Hill (village), Riverwatch (castle), Saltcliff (village), Storm's Sigh (shrine), West Reach (village), Whitebend (village), Wyvman's Rest (landmark)

Sharpwater is the most important barony in the area, both economically and militarily, but it hasn't yet declared for either king. Baron Sharpwater and the merchants of the port of Saltcliff were important local patrons of the God's Eye. He wouldn't want to see the temple razed, but his family was much more prominent in the days of the Old King, and the lich's envoys have promised him a return to greatness if he bends the knee. Popular sympathy is firmly with the New King, and he risks a revolt if he backs the wrong side. Sharpwater is home to the most prominent local shrine to the Unknowable Sea, and has two good ports, making it an important shortcut for merchants trying to avoid tolls on the Great Road and captains who want to avoid trouble at sea. The merchants of Saltcliff are the main rivals of the cartel that runs Treetombs, and they are always looking for ways to further impoverish the town.

Treetombs (Pop. 5,250)
Points of Interest: Blackstone (village), the Dragon's Stairs (landmark), Hulthar's Folly (ruin), the Oak Synod (graveyard), Treetombs (town)

Treetombs is still the economic hub of the region, despite its decline from the days before the Catastrophe, when it was a major city connecting Kingshall to its ports on the Stone Coast. The land surrounding the town is poisoned by the Grey Death, making farming difficult. Still, it survives partially due to its market charter, which negates the tolls and excises of anyone traveling to Treetombs along the Great Road. The town is run by a cartel of free merchants who unite only to crush opposition to their rule. They have bent the knee to the Old King, though he hasn't actually done more than send a small squadron of skeletal warriors into the hills around the town. Treetombs has small shrines to the Great Mother and Divine Architect, and most of the region's professionals and specialists call it home. It's also a popular place for exiles, bandits, mercenaries and ne'er-do-wells to lay low in, as the High Bailiff rarely comes to town. The town gets its name from the nearby (now petrified) Oak Synod, a graveyard from the days of the Wyvs, who entombed their magnates within the hollows of great oaks. The Old King's soldiers have recently begun cutting down the oaks to revive the bodies within, to great outcry from the residents of Treetombs.

Aug 22, 2015

The Wolf Sea Divine Cult Spell List

The list of spells available to each major cult in the Wolf Sea area. Each cult can teach members spells from the Common list, and then has six specialty spells + and an appropriate Otherworld Journey spell.

Full write-ups of the cults will follow at a later date.

Aug 21, 2015

Sorcery Spell Lists in the Wolf Sea

Here's a list of spells that the four sorcery schools in the Wolf Sea teach. The list of spells marked "Common" can be learnt by a wizard in any tradition. Barons of Hell are demons, Drowned Legions are masses of undead warriors and sailors who drowned, Undead Wyrms are self-explanatory, and Tulpa-Shoggoths are creatures made of protoplasmic dream-stuff.

You can also get a sense of the cosmology of the setting. Along with the living world, there's the Afterlife, Hell, and the Dreamworld. The Afterlife is where dead souls go, whether for good or ill. Hell is an alternate world, not where the wicked end up automatically, but rather an alien reality, and the Dreamworld is where the contents of dreams come from and go back to once the dream ends.

Aug 18, 2015

Battle Magic Spell Lists in the Wolf Sea

There are three battle magic skills in campaigns set in the Wolf Sea. Necromancy, taught by ancestor cults, psionics, taught by psionic dojos, and geomancy, taught by geomantic schools. You can learn all three, and they're widespread throughout the continent. Other battle magic spells exist, but as one-offs or specialties you have to search out and learn.

When you create a character, you pick one to start at POW x 3, and the other two start at POW. You can raise them by spending improvement points like any other skill.

Here's the spell list of battle magic spells (taken from Openquest 2):

Aug 15, 2015

Magic and Religion in the Wolf Sea

The small area of the hexcrawl continent I'm focused will be called "The Wolf Sea" just because it sounds kind of cool and so I don't have to keep on calling it "the western bay".

Anyhow, here's a map of how you learn magic in the Wolf Sea and surrounds. Blue squares are common institutions that teach battle magic. Red squares are schools of sorcery, orange squares are religions, and purple squares are shamanic groups. Each type of blue square has its own spell list of battle magic spells, while each religion and sorcery school does as well. Each shamanic school teaches you to manipulate certain kinds of spirits. All this stuff will get covered in the write-ups of each group.

The blue square are the starting positions for PCs on this diagram, unless you start as a priest or a sorcerer, in which case you start on an orange or red square as appropriate. The arrows indicate institutional access. So if you want to say, join the Sailors of the Dream Sea, you'd either better be an initiate of the Void Drowned or Unknowable Sea, or a member of a psionic dojo. The actual transitions can arise organically in game, they don't need specific rules covering them.

Here's a map that's somewhat messy, but covers the various churches operating in the Wolf Sea. It's colour-coded. Different bubbles of the same colour indicate independent church organisations.

Red - The Krovian Imperial Cult
Pink - The Idols of Hell
Orange - The Way of Peace
Yellow - The Divine Architect
Purple - The Ancient Dragons
Blue - The Unknowable Sea
Black - The Void Drowned
White - The Great Mother

From this you can see that the Void Drowned and the Idols of Hell are mostly marginal, except for that big city of devil-worshippers controlling the southern half of Wyvland. The Ancient Dragons are trucking along strong in the hinterlands, but are almost gone in the heavily settled areas except for a rump presence in the westernmost region of Blackwater, while the Unknowable Sea is fading in popularity except amongst port-towns. The Way of Peace is a missionary religion spreading itself over the sea, while the Divine Architect is mostly popular in the cities of Blackwater and Marlech. The Krovian Empire forbids all churches other than its own unified Imperial Cult and the cult of the Great Mother. The Great Mother is popular almost everywhere, but the church is fragmented.

Most of these religions will crop up elsewhere in the campaign setting, as will new ones, while a few will be specific to this area.

The Starting Map for Players

This'll be the starting map for the hexcrawl, more or less. I have a heavily marked up referee-only version with a lot more stuff on it (mostly dense networks of villages and castles too minor to note here, but also all the caves and dungeons). This area is about 1080km x 720km, covering an area about the size of Turkey, or about 20% larger than France, with four major polities and several minor ones at their periphery.

Also, Cole mentioned going down the language rabbit hole. Here's a diagram laying out the connections between languages. Purple language 1, as yet unnamed, is the dominant language in the area, but the Krovian Empire speaks blue language 5 (which will probably be named Krovian), and purple language 2's periphery is that dense forest in the north-east.

Aug 11, 2015

Maps of an Openquest Hexcrawl

I'm thinking my next campaign once Necrocarcerus finishes up will be to run an Openquest sandbox with a lot of hexcrawling. To that end, I've been preparing maps using Hexographer. The setting itself doesn't have a ton of detail. I'm holding off choosing names, feel, etc. for now until I have a numbered list of the various elements (languages, etc.) that I can flesh out. At last count there are 26 living languages, and somewhere around a hundred polities - almost as complex as Europe.

This is the continent it'll be taking place on. This map is using 30km / hex scale:

And this is the starting area, at 5km / hex scale. It's a "child map". This is the player-facing map (though they wouldn't start with it). I'll be filling in the referee-only material separately.

Labels will be forthcoming on both maps once I find a format I'm happy with. I've also got to populate the second map with GM-only locations, and then do some setting writing, both some large scale stuff and some detailed technical writing statting everything up.

Bonus maps!

I uploaded the continental map to Realtimeboard and did some doodling. Here's a sketch of the major polities and their areas of influence.

And this is a map marking out the linguistic boundaries of each region (the colours are meaningless, I just selected them for contrast and visibility):

Aug 3, 2015

Graphing Dungeon Connections

I'm going to show you how to use Realtimeboard to map a dungeon's connections.This is an introductory tutorial to graphing dungeons, rather than a depiction of the finished project.

This'll be useful whether you just want to pointcrawl, or whether you want to map a dungeon and need to figure out the relations between the spaces in it beforehand. This example from my Old Hua Danth dungeon in Necrocarcerus, which I ran using a Dyson Logos map. I'm thinking of distributing the module, which means I'll need to create a new map for it. But the dungeon was written with the connections from this map, so whatever I draw will need to preserve them.

For reference, the original maps I used are these two, which I grabbed off of Dyson's G+ and can't find a link to on Dyson's blog. I added the red numbers myself in MSPaint to key the place back when I ran it a few months ago. 

Step 1 is really simple. Use the sticky tool to make a bunch of stickies that are numbered with all the rooms in the dungeon.

Step 2 is to grab the link-arrow tool and start linking them. You click on one sticky, then the other. You don't need to sort your stickies out yet, the tool has no problem with intersections or crossovers.

When you're finished, you should have something that looks like this:

Step 3 is to sort them out. You'll need to do this manually, but basically pull any linear sequence of rooms that doesn't connect to the others into a straight line projecting off the larger mass of stickies, and then shift things around internally so you have as little crossover as possible. You'll end up with something like this.

Step 4 is to colour code the stickies and the link-arrows. You can mass select stickies by holding the shift-key, and you can theoretically do the same thing with link arrows, but I find it more difficult. Colour-coding helps visually distinguish the various sections of the dungeon and can convey other useful information to keep in mind.

The key I use for link-arrows is:

Red - Locked door
Orange - Stuck door
Green - Free door
Grey - No door
Purple - Secret door

You could use blue or yellow to indicate other types of connections, like magic barriers or teleporters or whatever.

Here, for the stickies, I used the following colour scheme. Linear paths that could be moved around get shaded purple.The secret path that flows under / between other rooms got shaded orange, since I can squeeze it in. The core rooms whose placement in the dungeon affects the placement of the rest got shaded yellow. Rooms with more than two connections, or rooms that connect to two or more yellow stickies, got shaded pink. 

If you're planning to create pointcrawls for dungeons, you can end at this point, though you might as well fill out the stickies with information about the individual rooms so that it's both map and key at the same time.

What I'm going to do is rotate all the stickies to give them a new orientation, while preserving the relations. This'll help make sure that when I'm drawing the new map, its look will be substantially different than Dyson's, and won't end up unintentionally influenced by his room forms and shapes.

What I suggest doing is generating all the rooms of one type at a time - all the yellows, then all the pinks, then all the purples. Fit the purple linear pathways into solid chunks or lines, and the pink rooms into clusters. I like to get a rough sense of how they're going to fit together here.

Next, I'm going to be using a variation of the "Dellorfano Protocol" to generate room sizes, starting with the purple and pink clusters.

Anything boring, like long one-square thin rooms, I'm going to turn into irregularly shaped rooms.

Next, I draw some larger black blocks representing the yellow stickies. I make sure the black blocks connect the same way the yellow stickies do to one another. I move the existing dungeon blocks over and attach them to the black block representing the appropriate yellow sticky. Red blocks, representing the pink connectors, will go on the connections between blocks, while purple ones will attach to a single block (most of the time). I try to make the black blocks large enough to attach a few coloured blocks, but not so large you can't set a sense of space. I also move purple and red blocks as close together as I can. You can number things in case it starts to get confusing.

From that point, you begin shuffling things around to compress them. The size and shape of the black blocks is totally flexible, so long as the attachment points are retained. You can also recategorise blocks - I shifted the colours and priorites of some of the blocks around as it became more apparent where they should fit. I also finished off by sketching in (admittedly crudely) the outline of the secret rooms.

From here, I'm ready to begin a freehand sketch, or I could keep fiddling with it. When transferring it to freehand, I'd add details to make it less square-looking with furnishings, cave-in rubble, altering the shape of some of the rooms further to fill in white space or more closely resemble their keyed function, etc. You can make the dungeon feel particularly convoluted by transforming the large black blocks into winding corridors with lots of dead ends, switchbacks, etc.

Jul 29, 2015

Using Spreadsheets to Organise Dungeon Information

When I'm designing a dungeon, I produce my documentation so that I can run it using three documents. These documents are a map and two spreadsheets. The first spreadsheet covers random encounters (and traps), the second covers the rest of the dungeon. I'm going to discuss producing and using the second spreadsheet in this entry. This may be mainly of use to new players rather than experienced ones.

I draw on two of Courtney Campbell's documents for my random generation needs: Tricks and Treasure. I also draw extensively on the AD&D 1e DMG's random tables. These are the actual engines churning underneath producing specific outcomes, what I'm discussing is how to document these decisions, including what data is most useful to include and how to structure it to be concise, consistent, and easily referenced.

Here's the layout I use. This is a selection from a real dungeon I ran players through. "OB" is short for "obols", the standard currency in Necrocarcerus.

When I'm filling this out, I start by rolling for the contents of each room - what combination of traps, monsters, treasure, etc. does it contain, and I mark each one with a "x" until I come back and fill in the entry. For monsters and traps, I mainly just use the random encounter tables I mentioned above, unless I get my interest piqued by a specific monster or puzzle. I use the "Special" column mainly to note linkages between rooms. i.e. "So-and-so's quest leads here" or "The key from Room 14 opens these doors", or weird exceptions like "Impenetrable glass doors" etc.

I use this format because it's built around making the information easy to reference in play, whereas I find traditional adventure layouts tend to bury this stuff in longhand paragraphs. The categories match up exactly with the generators I use, allowing me to rapidly generate and sort information, as well as track it during the dungeon generation process. If you haven't tried using something like this to organise your dungeon information, I strongly recommend giving it a try and seeing how it runs for you during play.

Jul 15, 2015

Testing a New Layout

What it says on the tin. If there's any difficulties with the new layout, especially if it impacts legibility, let me know ASAP.

Jul 13, 2015

[Review] Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures / Further Afield

Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures was a slow burn for me. I bought it something like a year and a half ago, read it, thought there were some interesting ideas in there, but struggled to find the need in my life for another retroclone. It wasn't until the release of Further Afield that I decided to go back and check out the system more thoroughly. This involved downloading the numerous playbooks & supplements Flatland Games have made available for free on Drivethrurpg.

The system for Beyond the Wall is fairly simple. It's a typical retroclone with the same six basic stats they all have, a simple skill system using ability checks, and a magic system for levelless Vancian casting with rituals required for more powerful effects There are ten levels of progression, and three classes. These are presented fairly cleanly.

Where the system shines is in the procedures used to build the environment for play. There are several of these, but they break down into three categories: Playbooks, the shared sandbox, and scenario packs.

The shared sandbox denotes the area of the game world where the game takes place, and comes in two basic scales, which are integrated with one another. The first, contained in the core rules, is village generation. While using playbooks to create their characters, each player has the option to name and describe NPCs and locations in the hometown of the characters at certain points during generation. These may be related to the rolled result in the playbook, or not. The second scale involves generating the region the hometown is located in (rules on doing this are in Further Afield) and incorporating "threat packs". Each player goes around and gets to generate two major locations that their character knows something about (there are tables and rules that constrain this decision in useful ways). Players get to pick how they know about them (have they seen them personally, read about them in books, or heard local stories about them). This choice changes the roll the referee makes to determine how accurate the information is. Referees don't place major locations in this process, but they determine all the minor locations, and organise the map into regions.

Referees also get to choose to incorporate "threat packs", which is how they get to place major locations into the shared sandbox, as well as determining what the major threats facing the area are. Further Afield introduces the concept of a "threat pack", and comes with four examples (a dragon-boss, an imperial invasion, a magic kidnapper and a creeping blight). Threats have an "imminence" rating which slowly rises over time, and determines how active they are. They include one major location that the PCs may travel to deal with it, and typically suggest several minor locations. They have some information about overcoming the threat, bosses and monsters, an encounter table, relevant items or spells, etc. They also incorporate a table that at least one PC rolls on that determines how they are connected to the threat. This is a very clever concept on how to structure this kind of information, and it's something worth adopting into any sandbox game with large over-arching threats.

The end result of this process is a well-developed sandbox with lots of hooks and details that doesn't require a ton of referee investment at the front end.

Playbooks are the process whereby characters are generated. They're essentially a set of lifepath tables. Going through them, the players create NPCs and village locations as well as defining their relationships and shared history to one another (and generate their stats). Though theoretically there are three classes with multiclassing allowed, it's the playbooks that really develop the diversity here, with multiple playbooks to choose from per class, as well as multiclass playbooks that allow you to create rogue-mages and warrior-mages of different types. The playbook also includes most of the reference information that the player will need to play the game on the last two pages. There's currently somewhere around twenty playbooks by Flatland, mostly available for free. After play begins, if a character dies, a player can simply use the ordinary character generation rules to create a new character and add themselves back to the party.

The result of using the playbooks is to fill out the hometown of the characters and the relatonship between them with very little work needed by the referee.

Finally, scenario packs build on the work done before, and are the equivalent of adventures in Beyond the Wall. The ones released so far are written so that most of the relevant NPCs are actually generated from the list the PCs created during character generation (or from other NPCs added as the story goes on). Each scenario pack has a table of precipitating events that PCs roll on which give them a few clues, omens or warnings about what's coming. They then flesh out the various items, monsters, locations goals, etc. involved, often by using random tables that gives them a fair bit of replayability. They're a little more loosely written than typical dungeon adventures, but the information is presented so that the module is flexible, rather than vague.

The great strength of the system is how these different pieces work to feed into one another to diminish the demands of setting up and running a sandbox for referees and players. I've come to appreciate games that do this more and more (I am fond of Sine Nomine's games for similar reasons). I think I'm going to line up my next offline game to be Beyond the Wall because of this.

Jul 5, 2015

[Review] Amber Diceless

I bought a physical copy of the Amber Diceless RPG while in Scotland last week, and read it cover to cover. I've heard people talk about it for years, but diceless roleplaying games tend not to be my preference. My main complaint is that most of the ones I've seen (Nobilis 2e, most notably) confuse avoiding a physical randomiser (dice, cards, etc.) to resolve disputes with having underdeveloped procedures of play and mechanics.

Amber isn't really an exception to this, though it's the beginning of this paradigm rather than a latter development within it. It's a bit frustrating still, because the game clearly does care about using procedures to depict specific themes and create certain emotional experiences, but doesn't carry this through consistently. The attribute auction that begins a new campaign is reasonably well-known, and creates a very specific experience (player competition) that is intended to play itself out in the rest of the game. More procedures like this would have been great, and there are a few others, but the game emphasises that its goal is ultimately to have you progress to freeform play.

I know the formlessness of freeform roleplay was lauded during the late 1980s and early 90s, with the idea that rules served as barriers to the imagination being its guiding aesthetic principle, but that underlying principle wasn't true then, and it isn't true now. Rules and procedures and mechanics are affordances, and using them well is about choosing the specific kinds of behaviour, themes and affects one wants to be able to produce. Freeform roleplaying strips away those affordances (this is different than minimalism about rules) with the hope that unconstrained imagination will somehow pick up the slack.

So I find it weird that Amber lauds this kind of playstyle, while it's at its best when it's furthest away from it.

As it is, we get extensive, very well-done, samples of play that seem capable of development, but stop short of being true procedures, because they don't provide clear decision points or criteria by which to select from different choices. In particular, advice on how to adjudicate characters choosing and/or switching which stat or attribute is being compared could be more extensive and standardised. If one is relying on referee judgment as the main means of resolution, then it's important to train that judgment with not just examples, but also maxims and guidelines.

One example of this stopping short is the text mentioning briefly how stats can be weakened or damaged, but never actually clarifying how or why they might be (at least that I could find). Another is the discussion about Endurance (an attribute) being used to adjudicate contests that continue on long enough, without "long enough" being clearly explained. There is a bit of information on whether a contest is swiftly resolved or not, but this is presented unlinked to the prior statements the game made about endurance. The worst of the sting of this is taken out by the examples, but I would have preferred more clarity and definition overall. On the other hand, the various powers are well-articulated, with numerous examples of specific abilities and problems that come along with using them, and truly seem like a useful prosthesis for imagining the world and characters' capabilities within it..

I'm not too enthused about the Amber setting itself, but I thought the book did a pretty decent job making it seem interesting and exciting, and the default set-up does do a great job explaining how the party knows one another, why they associate with one another, and what their relations to the broader world and the important NPCs within it are. The discussion of "sockets" and "plugs" by which PCs fit into adventures must've been pretty innovative when first presented, and I think it's something any referee could benefit from reading. The use of text from the Zelazny series is evocative, and I think you emerge from reading the Amber RPG with a fairly clear idea of the kinds of adventures you could run.

I'm sure this review comes across fairly negative, but I did like the book for the most part. I thought the referee advice was strong and useful, and the game was innovative as heck for its time, and still has a lot to teach any referee about how to handle a table well. Like most innovative and experimental work, it's incomplete and not fully worked out, because it's busy creating a style that other games (Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, Lords of Olympus, etc.) would pick up on and develop further.

Jul 4, 2015

Layers of the Sandbox

This post ties in with yesterday's Traveller post, but also with something I'm working on for Necrocarcerus 1.3.

Sandbox settings typically have two different scopes of play during a session, and moving between them well is critical to pulling a sandbox. I'm going to call these two scopes the "strategic" and the "tactical" scopes for clarity.

The strategic scope is the scope where the player characters consider the list of options for missions, tasks and goals. In play, this scope often involves consulting maps and lists, but it doesn't exclude roleplaying. PCs may consult their patrons, discuss their options in character, check in with sources and contacts, etc. This often even includes the actual travelling portion of game-play. The important thing is that they are not necessarily committed to any particular course of action. Deciding whether to smuggle xenopornography to the dolphinoid revanchist militias of an interdicted waterworld (a real example from a Traveller game I ran) is the kind of decision you make at this scope.

I occasionally see this section written off as "prep" with the suggestion that it should be elided or compressed, but I think this does a disservice to the possibilities of play it generates. A common referee mistake here is to undersupply the PCs with information they need to evaluate or predict possible consequences of their actions. While one doesn't need to simply hand them everything they want to know without effort or cost, it's useful to explicitly ask them the critical factors they need to decide between courses of action, and then detail how they can obtain this information.

The strategic scope helps fix the details that feed into the tactical scope. It determines time pressures, goals, resources, allies and enemies - basically it generates the framework of the individual adventures.

The tactical scope really begins when the PCs make a decision that can't be undone without abandoning the goal. So, when they dock at the space station to investigate the SOS signal, or when they make the first move to steal the nuke snuffer from their rival, or whatever. Here we enter the traditional scope of play - usually involving a specific location or small set of locations, where the PCs describe their actions individually and shoot their lasers at enemies, etc. The tactical scope is where adventures happen.

In Traveller, much of the procedural generation material exists to support the strategic scope of play, rather than the tactical scope. I believe this is true of most sandbox games I'm familiar with. This doesn't mean the tactical scope is unimportant, but strong support for the strategic scope is a feature that we use to declare a game is a "sandbox" instead of some other type of play structure.

The part I want to back up to for a moment is that transition between the two, since I think this is the part that trips people up the most. It involves shifting gears between two different styles of play. Some examples of games that have both of these scopes in them and clearly demarcate them are Burning Empires, and Stars Without Number (especially the Darkness Visible supplement). I recommend checking either game out for more information, but I'm going to just mention them here rather than go into great detail about either one.

The demarcation point between strategic and tactical scopes of play is the choice that cannot be undone. This line of demarcation is taken from dramatic writing (a choice that cannot be undone is the transition point between acts of the story in film and plays, specifically). "Undone" doesn't mean the PCs can't leave the dungeon, fly away from the asteroid, whatever, but that they can't do so without some cost or risk that would not occur had they not engaged with it in the first place.

You can move as freely as one likes between the two scopes in actual play, so long as this line of distinction is maintained. If it isn't, you'll find people start getting confused about their options. It helps to call this out a bit in play, often by citing the obstacles to disengagement before the PCs fully commit. "Once you dock with the space station, it'll take a half-hour to disengage and break contact if there are any problems" or "If you go and talk to Murderous Marco and he offers you a job, you'll either have to take it or there will be trouble, regardless of how bad the terms he offers are."

This also helps in defining the scope of adventures. Knowing that the adventure proper must begin with a choice that cannot be undone, you can design your adventures to clearly begin with them, instead of just kind of drifting into suddenly having an adventure, which is a common mistake referees make as they try to manage the two scopes.

Jul 3, 2015

Running a Traveller Session

Natalie B. of How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days asked on G+:

"Who's run Traveller? Has anyone ever written about the procedures involved in running Traveller, a la what Sham's Grog n' Blog did for megadungeon play?

I have a pretty good handle on how to prep Traveller (I think) but a much less solid idea of what a typical Traveller session looks like, and what the engine of play is."

I think this is a great question, and while I gave her a very preliminary answer on G+, I thought I'd expand on it here. I'll be talking mainly about Mongoose Traveller, which is the version I'm most familiar with, and I'm going to stick to talking primarily about the corebook rather than all the supplements.

The core of Traveller is a resource management game, much like D&D. Money. time and opportunity are the player character's resources. The purpose of the ship mortgage and any other debt they acquire is to put a compelling time pressure on them and force them to prioritise, choose and pursue opportunities, which in turn get them the money they need to reset the timer. This is the core engine of play, and all the worldbuilding procedural stuff exists to flesh out these things in play.

To make this engine work, time needs to be tracked closely. Jumps take a week each, with a week of refueling between them in most cases. This means that in most cases, PCs have at most two weeks in a given system to make good on every opportunity available - less if they have to jump more than once or if they have to travel between the capital planet and the jump horizon. Depending on the referee, you may enforce that the PCs can only make payments on their ship in systems that have the complex credit arrangements necessary, meaning they have to spend time going back to these systems, intensifying the pressure on them.

Travelling itself imposes costs. There's fuel, crew costs, maintenance, and then any additional costs for dealing with danger, like buying weapons, repairing damage, etc. There's the costs of picking up trade goods if you're trading, there's port fees, there's taxes, etc. These costs should be concrete whenever possible. You want the PCs to see their bank accounts constantly ticking down, with occasional top-ups when they accomplish something. Usually, you want them to begrudge paying these, since it will drive further opportunities - smuggling; handovers in shifty, isolated locales far from local governments; taking occasionally foolish risks to squeeze out those last few credits or avoid handing them over to someone else.

The last piece is to generate more opportunities than the PCs can possibly ever accomplish, and then to make them either time-limited, or randomly occurring. This forces prioritisation. The most boring Traveller games are the ones where there's only one thing to be doing at any given moment. Opportunities should take different forms - mercenary tickets, booming markets, patrons with urgent requests, secret tip-offs and treasure maps, disasters, the locations of lost systems, illegal ancient alien technology, gold rushes, etc.

By altering variables of opportunities, the referee can influence PC behaviour quite strongly - if all roads lead to system X, then chances are the PCs are going to system X, whereas if everything goes in different, incompatible directions, the PCs are probably to pick either the safest or best paying option.

The last thing to bear in mind with this engine is determining how it faces the players. What information can they obtain before making decisions, and what's a gamble? How do PCs get this information? My experience personally is that the more information the better. The more factors the PCs have to account for, the more agonising any decision is. If you're going to leave a gap in their knowledge, then aim to either have it be to leave out a piece of information that will settle the decision either way for them, or that will drive them to want to acquire the answer.

Jun 18, 2015

Fast Crit Resolution in BRP

Calculating whether a particular roll is a critical success in Basic Roleplaying and its derivatives (Runequest, Openquest, etc.) is probably the most time consuming part of resolving a roll. Depending on the version, one needs to figure out what 10%, or sometimes 20%, of one's skill score is and then whether the roll comes under that number. While one can precalculate the number, the actual skill score frequently changes due to bonuses and penalties, which also change one's critical threshold.

I propose that adapting the method of resolving critical successes from the Harn system would allow one to resolve these rolls more rapidly. I'm surprised this hasn't become a core part of the BRP system's resolution. Harn's system is also percentile based, and you achieve critical successes 20% of the time, but the system can be easily adapted to the 10% threshold I prefer.

The rule:

If a roll succeeds, and the ones digit on the roll is a "5", the roll is a critical success.

This speeds things up by removing a process of calculation and replacing it with simple recognition. Choosing the "5" digit has the same effect as the already existing rounding rules for critical thresholds.

For a 20% critical success threshold, the two digits should be "5" and "0".

Jun 6, 2015

[Review] River of Heaven

The short version: Good system, badly edited, blah setting (mainly due to presentation). Mainly worth picking up if you're looking for the tools to run your own BRP or Openquest space setting.

River of Heaven is a frustrating book. The Basic Roleplaying lineage has a real shortage of solid science fiction implementations, especially if you're only counting ones in print or that aren't just Call of Cthulhu with spacesuit rules. So River of Heaven is really welcome for that reason. It uses the Openquest variant of BRP (one of my favourite versions of Basic Roleplaying), adapting a lot of the rules for firearms combat from the earlier Openquest setting-supplement The Company and adding spaceships / vehicles, bodily augmentation and a variety of biological types (genetically augmented humans, space-born humans, androids, etc.). Like all Openquest books, it's standalone, so you don't need a copy of the Openquest core rules to run River of Heaven games.

Though it has a particular setting associated with it (mostly detailed in the back of the book), you could easily adapt the system to your own science fiction campaign setting. In fact, my recommendation is to do so. If you wanted to pull out your old Mutant Chronicles books, this would be a good system to run games in that setting with.

The default setting is not terrible, but you get a lot of weirdly unplayable information about it, at the expense of interesting things to do. In general, the presentation veers towards physical details about the planets and stars, at the expense of the social geography, which is described only briefly for each one in longform text. I would rather know the capitals of the planet's polities than the metallicity of the star it orbits around, especially since the latter information is available on Wikipedia. The beginning of the major interstellar conflict that will eventually plunge humankind into a new dark age is briefly outlined in a planetary description that doesn't mark it out as particularly important or interesting (you will only realise it's the beginning of this conflict if you read two other parts of the book). This is not the only example of something being buried in a way that makes it hard to piece together.

The overall presentation of information leaves you grasping to pull it all together and make sense of the bigger picture or to get a clear idea of what your PCs could do that's particularly interesting.

The setting also has something that is purely a personal issue, and which may not bother you: A religion whose only religious doctrine appears to be "AI is bad" (the "Renouncers"). It's clearly a nod to Dune, one of the main influences on this game, along with Alastair Reynold's Revelation Space series. But it's a terrible science fictional trope, because it's unclear why anyone belongs to the religion. Why do they think AI is bad? Why are they a religion and not a political group? The Renouncers are set up to be major players in the setting, but we get only a few scraps of information. The cool alien villains that nearly wiped out humanity and that everyone is terrified by and the AI uplifters are also underdescribed, though at least one gets stats for two kinds of machine avatars.

The overall effect of the choices made about how to present this setting left me feeling unenthused about it. I don't think it's bad or stupid, it's just got an extremely weird focus about what information it wants to tell you about itself, and that focus doesn't sell it very well.

Production-wise, the book is both very pretty, and very, very badly edited, though there is at least one incomprehensible design choice. It's printed in full colour bleed, and the colour choices are well-made to improve readability (black text on a grey background). D101 books are almost always badly edited, but this is the worst one yet. Text is repeated both in headers, and most obviously, in the double-listing of PDAs in the equipment section. Some sentences, luckily mostly descriptive text rather than rules, are simply gibberish that look like half-finished rewrites. Tables have inconsistent spacing from the text around them. And in the combat section, several rules are just wrong or missing - the rules for double-tapping refer to hit locations (a thing the Openquest variant of BRP does not have) and there is no actual rule for determining how many shots in a burst hit the target despite the text telling you to roll to determine this. As well, it has the usual Openquest ambiguity about whether characters can dodge ranged attacks, with the dodging rules saying "No" unless they're hand-thrown, while various other spot rules mention doing so.

The incomprehensible design choice is to have five different sidebars on five different pages of the equipment section contain various sections of rambling in-character essay about tea (with a "Cont on pg. XX" at the end of each one). It looks like it was filler for various pages that had large tables on them and that couldn't fit a second table, but I'd rather just have had blank space, or at least a listing for tea in the "Food and Accommodation" table.

Like I said, it's a frustrating book. I do think there's a solid core here, especially with regard to the system, though the lack of editing gets in the way of it at times. It's worth picking up if you're looking for a BRP science fiction game and are willing to basically tear the system out and use it as a toolkit to run your own space adventures.

May 20, 2015

Class Remakes (Version 3)

I've continued to work on this project. Here's the most recent version.



Necrocarcerus rules that would be useful to know to interpret this document:

1) Swords and Wizardry Complete

2) My skill system is built off of Skills: The Middle Road, so PCs need to roll 5+ on a die type that escalates in size as their skill level does. Rolling the maximum result possible on the die not only succeeds, but accomplishes the task in the next smallest increment of time (weeks become days, days become hours, hours become turns, turns become rounds, etc.).

3) My grappling rules involve the opponents rolling and comparing their hit dice, with the higher winning.

4) Feats of Strength allows brief but superhuman feats of strength (jumping, lifting, throwing, etc.) if you roll high on a d6 (the die type does not escalate). The abilities listed in tables for the thief, ranger and monk use the same mechanic.

5) I flipped the numbers around to make rolling high always good.

6) I have a perception system where passive perception is equal to the # of party members, and active checks involve rolling a d6 and adding that to the passive perception score.

7) There are only two alignments in Necrocarcerus - Lawful and Chaotic.

8) When you drop to 0 HP, you begin rolling on a critical table. Only some of the results are likely to kill you, but your chance of getting one increases as you continue to take hits.

May 18, 2015

Class Remakes (Second Version)

Original class remakes post

The new version

After thinking it over, I decided to pare down the number of classes in Necrocarcerus 1.3, mostly by eliminating choices that no one has ever taken that come from external supplements, but also by eliminating the assassins. This means no more bards, no more dandies, no more spiritualists, and no more walking ghosts. I rewrote the barbarian class from Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque Compendium to be a berserker class similar to the fighter but with rage. I'll be keeping the four spellcasting classes - Elementalist, Necromancer, Vivimancer and Weirdomancer, from Theorems and Thaumaturgy.

In the new version, I've updated the ranger and monk classes based on feedback, removed the assassin class, redone the fighter, cleric and thief, and added the berserker class. In later versions of this, I'll add the magic user, paladin and druid (more or less unchanged, though reworded from the original rules to be more concise). The psionicist is basically done, but will be issued once I'm finally done my psionics supplement. In the meantime, I'm going to continue to use Courtney's Psionics supplement.

My goal here, once all the class rewrites / remakes are done, is to incorporate this into Necrocarcerus 1.3 to reduce the number of external supplements referenced and the number of conversions required from other systems, and to consolidate the various house rules applying to each class directly into its entry, rather than requiring PCs to jump between multiple documents.

As always, comments and feedback are welcome. These are still works in progress.

May 17, 2015

Class Remakes: Assassins, Rangers, Monks

I'm working on a side project that might make it into Necrocarcerus 1.3. The project is to redo the classes I dislike the most (on a mechanical level) in Swords and Wizardry Complete and the various supplements I use for Necrocarcerus, as well as the ones that seem the least popular and useful under the Necrocarcerus rules. Generally speaking, these classes tend to be the grab-bag classes built around skills / non-magical powers. Tonight, I redid the assassin, ranger and monk classes (thieves, bards and psionicists are upcoming; dandies, spiritualists and walking ghosts are cut entirely). Not entirely coincidentally, the assassin, ranger and monk are all classes from later supplements.

My overall goals were to simplify these classes enough so that each fits on one page, to give them clear schticks, and to emphasise their abilities. I think most of these write-ups are straightforward, but just in case anyone isn't familiar with the Necrocarcerus house rules, the following may be useful to know.

1) Ability checks are made like a Thief's Hear-Noise skill (on a d6)

2) Skills use Skills: The Middle Road, so "Max result" means a character who is a Master of a skill (rolls a d12) who makes their ability check gets a result as if they had rolled 12. A character who is an Expert (d10) gets a result of 10, etc.

3) I have a perception system in Necrocarcerus.

4) Feats of Strength (for the ranger) are explained here.

5) Grappling rules are explained here.

I'm soliciting feedback, especially from the PCs & potential PCs in the current Necrocarcerus game, about what they think about these remakes of the classes, and whether they make them more appealing to play. These are first drafts, and will probably undergo some revision yet.

May 15, 2015

Charity for the Dead

Monks, Paladins, and Rangers have to donate substantial portions of their wealth to charity. Fortunately, Necrocarcerus has a robust third sector of NGOs, QUANGOs and radical social movements. Since there are no alignment restrictions in Necrocarcerus, these classes are free to choose the cause most closely aligned with their personal beliefs. A selection of causes follows:

The Committee to Abolish Life (Lawful) - The most influential and least radical Undead rights organization. Advocates gradual policy reform and other useless measures. Relies on the sale of branded merchandise and cash donations via mail.

The Communist Party of Necrocarcerus (Marxist-Leninist) (Chaotic) - Actually a Trotskyist front. Cash donations may be made in person at scattered booths, or by buying newspapers.

Doctors Without Scruples (Lawful) - Organ-harvesting for distribution to underprivileged Citizens. Donations of cash or parts can be made via mail.

Elderly Druids Association (Lawful) - Really a price-fixing & coupon-clipping scam pretending to advocate for ancient Citizens. Cash donations via mail. Has a mandatory monthly magazine full of "savings".

The Ferrymen (Chaotic) - Want almost everything abolished right away. Known for their protests at the least convenient times. Occasionally violent. Donations (Cash or product) may only be made in person.

The Fire Keepers (Chaotic) - Illegal health providers running hospitals, de-cursing clinics and the occasional spawning vat for impoverished wizards. Cash donations may be made to their capital campaigns at any Fire Keeper location.

Friendship Society of Necrocarcerus (Lawful) - Reformist claptrap focused on Undead-Citizen harmony. Donations (cash only) can be made to chuggers in malls or via text message if the money is in a bank. They also sell quarterly subscriptions to their newsletter.

Golemic Families of Necrocarcerus (Lawful) - Mainstream polygolemous advocacy that's as much about making it appear nonthreatening. Primarily receive corporate donations, but cash donations can be made via mail, text message, or via pledge form.

High Adventure (Chaotic) - Marijuana legalisation group. Mostly stoned into ineffectiveness. Donations of potions and cash may be sent via mail or in person. Sells weed at legalisation fairs.

The Museum of Necrocarcerus (Lawful) - Exhibits are a little shabby, but a donor wall that dates back 10,000 years. Cash or curio donations can be made in Downtown. They also sell calendars and posters.

Oozy International (Chaotic) - Really a pro-ooze political group pretending to be a charity. Advocates peace with the oozes. Accepts cash donations via mail, and donations of weapons etc. (secretly) in person.

Pets Necrocarcerus (Lawful) - Sentimental softies about animal-likes. Currently attempting to have muzzle laws on hellhounds overturned. Donations made by purchasing branded t-shirts, calendars, stamps, etc.

Portal Now! (Chaotic) - Wants AUC to open the portals and allow everyone to escape. Regularly subject to mass arrests, but strong grassroots support. Cash donations can be made via mail.

Railworkers, Grocers, Acrobats and Plumbers Union (Lawful) - Heavily armed trade union engaged in a cold war with their employers. Supports improving workers' rights. Donations of cash, weapons or armour can be made at any union hall / rail station.

Upright Business Bureau of Necrocarcerus (Lawful) - Shills for big business who claim to be interested in helping consumers. Cash donations may be made via mail or text message, tons of corporate donors.

The Wilderness Downtown (Lawful) - Hippies romanticising the environment. Donations of cash, plants and photographs may be made by mail or text message.

May 13, 2015

Chief Druidic Officer

So in Swords & Wizardry Complete, druids all belong to a single world-spanning druidic hierarchy that you have to fight your way up to the top of to become the arch-druid.

In Necrocarcerus, druids are employees of the utility companies (obviously), and the druidic hierarchies are the four utility companies, and you have to fight your way to the top of the corporate ladder to reach 20th level, where instead of becoming the arch-druid, you become the CDO (Chief Druidic Officer) and help maintain the natural balance of Necrocarcerus by ensuring oil flows, electricity is generated (the sun is replaced regularly and on-time), water gets purified and moved around (and Ocean Null doesn't accidentally drain out into Necrocarcerus), and phone calls and packages circulate smoothly. You spend your mid-levels in druidic middle-management, overseeing the construction of the animal-likes and plant-likes that constitute the ecology of Necrocarcerus and learning about nature crap like where the fans that keep everyone from choking to death on smog are and how they work and where the secret phones are hidden. At lower levels, you're probably responsible for some local domain, making sure people are paying their utility bills on time and collecting money / their heads when they don't (esp. monsters, who are notoriously tardy debtors). Yes, you still have to challenge and defeat higher level druids to move up - you don't get to be a druidic Regional Vice President of Sales without showing you've got the killer instinct a closer needs.

The druid secret language is just Elemental with a lot of management jargon thrown in, and it evolves fast enough that no one outside the utilities can ever keep it straight.

May 12, 2015

[Review] Dreams of Ruin

I'm home today with a sprained ankle, which gave me the chance to read Dreams of Ruin.

Dreams of Ruin is a strong idea that's clearly been thought through. It describes how a negative energy ecology suitable as a campaign-level threat to challenge high level PCs works, and provides a model for the various subcomponents involved in running it - sample encounters, information on how to run and adjudicate the PCs setting up a research laboratory or magically rewriting society and landscape to fight it, the colossal efforts necessary to cure / banish / control / weaponise it, etc. The ideas are well-done, interesting, coherent and nearly exhaustive. Even if you didn't want to use the Forest of Woe exactly, you could adapt a lot of this material to any sort of depersonalised creeping interplanar threat. For example, if you run Kevin Crawford's Red Tide setting, you could pull out tons of material here and use it with minimal conversion to depict how the PCs drive back the Red Tide itself (it helps that both settings are Labyrinth Lord ones). Or if you have a chaotic blight that threatens the campaign area a la Beyond the Wall: Further Afield's new threat pack, you could do some easy price conversions (I'd divide all prices by at least a thousand gold) and use it to run the blight in conjunction with the threat pack. The research component is especially well done, including handouts that chart out research paths for potential facts you can discover (while under tremendous time pressure that the book lays out clearly and in great detail).

The main flaw of the book is basically the same thing as its strength: Its singularity of vision. Dreams of Ruin sets up the Forest of Woe as something that stories and adventures spin out of, but it only gives you some rough guidelines and ideas about what those stories and adventures would be. In particular, the book could use a table or set of tables that cover "What is the weird magical material your research project requires?" "Where is it found" "Who controls it?" Magical items required for things like research are laid out (including building a device that requires 60 Gems of Seeing) but a lot of the other devices / spells / options just basically say some variation on "Spend an ungodly amount of money". Having a larger master table of random magical junk could either replace the pedestrian gold costs, or augment them with concrete detail ("So, uh, I rolled that you need 100,000 gp worth of Titan spittle," or "You need the baculum of a leviathan, and six rare flowers of eternity to build your Automatic Augerer"). (Edit: You could repurpose the system it gives for breakthrough critical items that refers you to the LL AEC, but that still wouldn't help you come up with who owns it and where they are, and what you need to do to get it).

It might also be useful to have a random high-powered NPC You Need to Recruit To Your Research Team table that covers what they want ("We need to recruit the Witch-Queen of Blagoblag - she wants the Gem of Guzzendle as payment") to spur ideas.

Similarly, the prolixity of the book is greatly appreciated in some areas (describing how the Forest of Woe works; facts PCs can find out through research; elaborating on the challenges of liquefying a god and running them through an oil pipeline) but less so in others. In particular, the sample encounters are overwritten, and could be more concise. It took a second read and the memory of a picture a few hundred pages back to realise there were devil mechs in one encounter.

Overall, I think it's a good book to pick up (especially because it's free) if you're trying to get ideas about how to run high level campaigns. There's a lot of material and structures here that, even if you don't adopt them directly, should serve as a useful model for how to structure such material in your own game.

May 10, 2015

There Is No Ethical Consumption Under Capitalism

Necrocarcerus Gear List (293KB PDF)

I'm hard at work on Necrocarcerus version 1.3. There's going to be a ton of new content, but most of the rules will be either identical or similar to version 1.2. There are some minor rewordings, clarifications or changes based on playtesting, but most of the new content is adding options to what's already there, or explicitly laying out procedures that I'm using in game anyhow but didn't stick in the rulebook previously.

I finished the gear list earlier today, which is now 7 pages long, including new medical items, new hats, new foods, new poisons, and the long-awaited grafts. Crossbows are now harpoon guns because harpoon guns are cooler than crossbows. Now if your PC wants to jack their headtubes full of morphine while guzzling soda and shooting harpoons coated with industrial sludge, you have all the tools you need. As always, Necrocarcerus is a mod for Swords and Wizardry Complete released under a CC-BY license, so feel free to use anything here in your own games or products.

May 7, 2015

A Procedure for Exploring the Wilderness Redux

From the Necrocarcerus House Rules Document v. 1.3, which will finally contain a rewritten version of A Procedure for Exploring the Wilderness. I am still in the process of writing the rules for searching hexes and foraging for supplies.

Overland Exploration

Overland exploration happens in 4-hour blocks on a 10km hex grid. There are six blocks in each day. Each PC must rest for at least two.


1) Determine the weather and any paths.
2) Caller determines the direction of travel and marching order.
3) Any relevant spells may be cast.
4) Referee determines if the PCs are lost or veer off-course.
5) PCs move into a new hex.
6) Mapper records the terrain of the hex that the PCs are moving into.
7) Guard rolls for and records any random encounters.
8) Resolve any encounters.
9) Timekeeper records any resources expended.
10) Caller determines whether to travel on, search the hex, or rest.


1) Quartermaster draws the camp layout.
2) Note-taker records any landmarks spotted.
3) PCs may attempt to determine if they are lost.
4) Caller determines the watch schedule.
5) Any relevant spells may be cast.
6) Guard rolls for and records any random encounters.
7) Resolve any encounters.
8) Timekeeper records any resources expended.
9) Any research or preparation may be done.
10) Benefits gained from resting are gained if appropriate.
11) Caller determines whether to travel on, search the hex, or rest.


1) Caller assigns party members to search parties.
2) Any relevant spells may be cast.
4) Guard rolls for and records any random encounters.
5) Resolve any encounters.
6) Timekeeper records any resources expended.
7) Referee determines whether the PCs find anything.
8) Timekeeper records any resources recovered.
9) Note-taker and mapper record any locations discovered.
10) Caller determines whether to explore any locations discovered.
11) Any exploring, dungeon-crawling etc. is done.
12) Caller determines whether to travel on, search again, or rest.

Roll (2d6)
-4 to saves vs. cold effects
-2 to passive perception score
Save or 1d6 points of damage
2d10m encounter distance
+1 to saves vs. fires
+1 to saves vs. gases
-1 to saves vs. gases
Heat Wave
-4 to saves vs. heat effects
-2 to passive perception score
Save or 1 random object lost


Paths in hexes are determined by rolling a d4-1. The result determines the number of paths heading into and out of the hex. The directions of the points determine which direction the paths proceed in. If there are fewer than three paths, the first path is generated in the direction of the point with the lowest value, and further paths are generated in order of ascending value. A path proceeds from the midpoint of one hex to the midpoint of another through a shared edge.

Getting Lost

The referee rolls 1d6 for each exploration block the PCs travel. On a 5+ they stay on course. The following conditions modify the roll:

Already lost
Bad weather
Following path
Good map
Terrain obscures sightlines 
Landmark in sight
No map

When resting, the PCs may determine if they are lost by making a successful Geography check modified by the above factors.


Creating a good map requires a surveyor’s kit and may be done with a successful Geography check. A navigator’s kit may add to this roll.


A landmark is any object that is continuously visible between the midpoint of two or more hexes. A river that passes between multiple hexes, or a mountain higher than surrounding terrain, or even a tower on plains may be used as landmarks.

New landmarks may be identified while resting by making a successful Geography check.