Thursday, July 23, 2020

Lovely game inspirations from Atlas Obscura

I use an RSS reader to scrub articles from half the internet for my nefarious gamification exploits, soaking up ideas like a thirsty sponge soaks up spilt grape soda. One source constantly inspiring me for new game content is Atlas Obscura. Check out these great articles and game ideas:

Bolton Strid, a killer creek
"Indeed while there do not seem to be any hard numbers about exactly how many people have perished in the Strid, the local legend is that no one who has dared enter the waters has ever made it out alive. The caves and naturally carved traps laying just under the surface of the photo ready river have been claiming lives for centuries."

What a place for a mythic underworld entrance! Consider:
  • "My daughter Lady Celeste was pushed into the creek of death and vanished. I will pay her dowry* to any man brave enough to recover her body."*
* A sackful of scallions (it's a tradition, don't ask) and also a valuable silver puzzle box containing high thread-count sheets 
  • "My ancestor, the mad hermit of Lagrange, once stole a crown off the head of a duke and dove into the bloody brook head-first to escape, never to be seen again, except once a month at the pub for a quiet pint. We never saw the crown again."

Lençóis Maranhenses, a swamped desert
"Strong winds and rain transform the land as rainwater fills the valleys between the dunes, creating a surreal lacework of thousands of seemingly miraculous lagoons between ribbons of sand."

This locale looks like an intriguing travel obstacle. Imagine the problems with encountering this on a hex - if you are riding by pack animal or wheeled cart, you have to make an exhausting series of river fords. If you are traveling by boat, it's completely impassible by turns, as if it was a river.

Wait, did someone say random encounters?
  1. Spiky tumbleweed the size of a barn ponderously rolls with the wind
  2. Mummified water hag sleeps in her tomb until the water comes, then spends her days farming algae and perfecting indigo dyes. Hates the color red.
  3. Giant enemy crab - but camouflaged under a sand dune this time
  4. The last of the migrating dune spiders - car sized, fast as an antelope, wants to get away from all this wretched wetness and does so with careful hops and leaps
  5. Crew of halfling travelers paddling light canoes - searching for the blue mummy (#2) to trade for dyes and will exchange map notes
  6. Several huge lush cacti surrounded by rotting corpses (mostly birds) in the middle of a lagoon - these are dune tanglers (stats as roper) and might have some loot.

'Legging' a narrowboat through a tunnel for hours
"This was a time when engineless narrowboats—pulled by horses that walked along a canal’s towpaths—transported mass quantities of goods like coal, iron, and pottery along a “super highway” of inland waterways and their locks, tunnels, and aqueducts throughout Great Britain [..]"

These tunnels could be longer than 3 miles and were a major source of revenue for wealthy coal purveyors. Any problem in a commercially used canal can be assumed to have the financial interest of significant merchant traders. (Imagine the opportunity cost to businesses if a commercial highway was closed for a week)

What if:
  • Traffic backed up due to distant screams of unknown provenance
  • Coal barge caught on fire mid-tunnel and needs to be cleared (water breathing might help with the lack of oxygen here)
  • Party asked to assist with legging a barge through, emerges in glittering outer space on the other side
  • Barge is floating tavern/hotel - while moving through a tunnel, a legger breaks through into a new dungeon complex (perhaps filled with giant green ants or hobo wraiths)
  • Prisoner transport vessel taken over by convicts in tunnel, hostages taken, party deputized to assist with breaking siege (perhaps by drilling through the top)
  • Similar to the first idea, this classified, high-security tunnel is actually effectively a wormhole to another location behind enemy lines. This is used for furtive spy activity and economic destabilization - with the right documents, a small group could sneak through posing as a barge team and use the rapid travel to their own ends.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

4 Magic blades and 1 magic club

In the grand tradition of OSR blogs, its magic sword time! Come for the blades, stay for the fictional worker's comp lawsuit.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Dragon reviews everything: Video Games

I own a bunch of video games on the Epic Games Store and even more on the UPlay and Origin stores, but they don't really have good review engines, so I'm reviewing them here. Normally I would review these things on Steam instead. Note: I'm writing these reviews for family audiences that don't all play video games.

Audience: children 0 and up
Try before you buy

This game is bonkers fun in multiplayer. Its like QWOP, but in 3D with packages to deliver. I think of this as one of those games where you 'get it' or you don't - you run around with your mates and laugh at each other's pratfalls and mistakes. I give it a solid 8/10 funny dice in multiplayer, but don't bother playing by yourself. A good game for a couple of friends over for a video game night, but an even better game with children or young friends!

Epic Games Store: Enter the Gungeon

Audience: masochists 10 and up
Watch someone play or try before you buy

Another game that's good in co-op, this is a 'bullet hell' 'rogue-like-like' game that you could play with your tween or your patient ten year old. Bullet hell and roguelikes are games for people who are willing to put up with losing lots of progress in the short term but gaining progress in the long term - you have to be a special sort of patient and determined to enjoy these, but the feeling of success from mastering these is a special sort of joy.

Epic Games Store: The Talos Principle

Audience: Natural philosophers ages 12-13 and up
Watch someone play and watch an official trailer before you buy

Not a co-op game, this excellent single player puzzle game is non-violent, a thinking man's game. The puzzles are well designed, with a challenging but not impossible difficulty curve. While the game is rated Everyone 10+ in America, I think the conceptual questions and narrative philosophy are something that might make parents question the rating. Expect to entertain questions like 'what is the purpose of human life?' and 'why the heck are there 4 sockets but only 2 plugs??'. Seems to capture the interest of small children in a soothing, Mr. Rogers or Bob Ross sort of way.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Working with hexcrawls

(Crosspost from something I wrote on Reddit: how I designed my most recent hexcrawl.)
Next quest in my home game is the perils of glamping - a hexcrawl. I figured I would share some of the design stuff that went into it so far.
First off - mad props to which is just what I needed to make a quick and dirty reference map.
The printer was mostly out of ink, so I printed off the map for the players, hand-colored it, then figured I would distress it since I was already putting work into it (not pictured: the map owner's grocery list with related sidequest hook on reverse side):
Post image
nice paper, some tea, some crumpling, some burning, kablam.
Then I needed a second copy for my personal reference:
Post image
fixed some of the missing ink with art pencils, then fixed some of the hard to see hex reference numbers
Ultimately, this is a ~48x90 mile section of coastline with the players starting at a city at the top and working down south to find a missing noble, a missing nobody, and a missing book.

While all this was going on, I've also built a list of people they might encounter, random hazard tables, and did a bunch of hex stocking related activities. Here are some blog articles I used to design the crawl:
The random hazard tables are based off these articles:
The people list is my own brew, and deserves a post of it's own.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Horn spells

Jacob Ram skull
4 delicious horn-themed spells for your bard, noise cleric, storm druid, or musically talented generic spellcaster. Levels are rough estimates as I've not tested these for balance.

Grow Clarion
Duration: Instant / Permanent
Range: Self
Casting Time: 1 Minute
Components: V, S

Caster concentrates and grows a single keratin horn from any convenient body part from a tiny sliver to a full 16" horn. When the horn finishes growing, the caster can keep it or snap it off at will to produce a fully-functional wind instrument. If the caster doesn't concentrate for the full minute, the horn remains partially grown and is not suitable as a wind instrument. Horns produced by this spell are not useful in combat and simply snap off when placed under any notable stress.

Some casters have special skill when producing these horns and can produce horns with colors, curves, and unique patterns.

Clarion Call
Level 3
Duration: 1 Round
Range: Self
Casting Time: 1 Action
Components: V, S, Focus: Music horn or trumpet

Caster uses a horn to produce a clear, mighty note of sound audible at a distance of 6 miles. Anyone within 100' who is concentrating on a spell (including the caster) must make a DC 10 Con save to maintain concentration on the spell. Anyone within 30' attempting to cast a spell during the spell's effect must make a Con save vs the caster's save DC or be unable to cast their spell this round. Deaf creatures or creatures wearing hearing protection are immune to this effect. Using this spell is liable to provoke wandering monster checks, dislodge unstable masonry, cause avalanches, or other side effects.

Image from page 212 of "Delightful stories; or, Home talks out of the Wonderful book.." (1888)
Peal of Powder
Level 4
Duration: Instant
Range: 90' Cone
Casting Time: 1 Action
Components: V, S, Focus: Music horn or trumpet

Caster produced a series of pinging notes from a horn that rattle teeth and windows. Reduce a 90' cone of biological material to dust as long as the material is dead (not undead) and not held or worn. Magical items get a saving throw. What counts for this spell?
  • Tapestries - yes
  • Clothing - not if worn, yes if unattended.
  • Wood chests, doors, and critical support beams - yes
  • Rocks, dirt, and living bugs - no
  • Food - yes, unless alive
  • Tree roots - no, unless dead
  • Ghosts and animated skeletons - no, spell does not effect undead
  • Inanimate skeletons - yes
  • Log cabins and stockades - yes
Alphonse Lévy [Public domain]
Level 1
Duration: Instant
Range: 30' Cone
Casting Time: 1 Action
Components: V, S, Focus: Music horn or trumpet

Using the horn, the caster blows several notes outside the range of humanoid hearing while also looking through the horn. The caster learns the contents of 2 horizontal bands in the cone that could be perceived with blindsight by rolling on the below table twice and rerolling duplicates:
1) 5'
2) 10'
3) 15'
4) 20'
5) 25'
6) 30'

The bands are always horizontal / perpendicular to the orientation of the cone / spell emanation.

The noise emitted as part of this spell is not audible to humanoids, but is audible to any plausibly aware creature, such as bats, whales, or creatures with hearing-based blindsight.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Rolling Stats for Doctors of Lisbon

In my Doctors of Lisbon home game, I built a complicated but fair ability score generation procedure. Maybe it has the sorts of advantages you are looking for in your home games?

  • Everyone at the table gets a character with a total number of ability score points that matches everyone else. This means that the characters are roughly equal in power, since power increases and decreases linearly with higher and lower ability scores.
  • The stats generated are mostly random. It is my hypothesis that stats generated semi-randomly make characters that interest 'concept-first' players and also 'numbers-first' players when generating characters. Players that like to start with a concept and roll dice don't like it when their character concept isn't possible, and players that like to start with numbers first don't like it when the numbers are too flexibly arranged (I think of this as a choice-paralysis problem).
  • You get to roll your dice instead of just assigning numbers.
  • Every character has slightly inoptimal stats, but not painfully inoptimal.
  • It is complicated compared to other methods. This is a pain. If I thought about the math some more I might be able to make it less complicated while still accomplishing the same goal.
  • You only get to roll 1d6 at a time.
  • All characters are roughly equal in power. I'm willing to take this disadvantage in my game.
  • You don't get stunningly inept characters. This will be a problem if you are running a game set in a crapsack world. I'm willing to take this disadvantage in this specific campaign.

Custom Stat Generation Rules
This weird stat generation trick gets everyone fair stats, but it has more randomness than point-buy or fixed array. My apologies for the complexity. Your average stat is still a 13, same as the traditional 4d6 drop lowest.

Roll on this table 12 times and count the number of times you land on each value:


If you land on one of these values more than 5 times while rolling your twelve times, reroll that time until you get a different value - these rerolls don’t count against the 12 original rolls.

After these rolls, you should have a little table of numbers showing 0-5 for each stat like this:
Str: 2
Dex: 2
Con: 2
Int: 0
Wis: 5
Cha: 1

Subtract 1 from each stat - it should look like this:
Str: 1
Dex: 1
Con: 1
Int: -1
Wis: 4
Cha: 0

Now the tricky part - convert these to the even stats that represent these as if they were modifiers according to normal D&D stats like this:
Str: 12
Dex: 12
Con: 12
Int: 8
Wis: 18
Cha: 10

These are the stats for your character before racial adjustments.

OPTIONAL: You may choose any 1 set of 2 stats and swap them. Here I swap Dex and Wis:
Str: 12
Dex: 18
Con: 12
Int: 8
Wis: 12
Cha: 10

OPTIONAL: If your Con stat is 8, you may choose to subtract 2 from either your highest stat or your second highest stat and add it to Con to increase it to 10.

Last Step! Roll on this table until you get 3 unique stats, then add +1 to each of your stats that correspond to the table. Reroll any values that would push you over 18 in any one stat.


My example stats are:
Str: 12
Dex: 18
Con: 12
Int: 8
Wis: 12
Cha: 10

I roll a 1, a 4, and a 4, so I roll again and get a 6. I increase my stats like this:
Str: 13
Dex: 18
Con: 12
Int: 9
Wis: 12
Cha: 11

Friday, August 30, 2019

Doctors of Lisbon - Campaign Intro

When I start DMing a new game, I always write a little intro blurb so I don't have to repeat myself over and over. Here is the intro blurb for our current campaign.
Doctors of Lisbon
It's 1488 and everybody is sick, their lives are dull, and their food is bland. Happily for the wealthy upper crust of Portugal, certain agencies exist that specialize in procuring the rarest of spices and finest of medicines. The brave men and women of the adventuring corps risk life and limb for immense wealth in the tiniest packages - assuming they make it back hale in body and mind.

Are you up to the challenge that these adventurers face? Creep across enemy lines for Coriander, brave the temples of Brazil for certified pure Mummy dust, and acquire ethically sourced organic bezoars from disreputable farmers as you quest on behalf of the doctors of Lisbon!

The Setting

DoL is based on 15th century earth, but I'm taking a lot of liberties with the history. The fantastic is never far away, but don't assume that you already know the tropes.

I'm specifically focusing on Portugal and the empire of Portugal, which was the second largest empire at the time. Portugal occupied Brazil at this time and had a strong influence in the spice trade.

The Story

All the characters are part of an adventuring franchise corporation or soon to join - You get contracts, choose contracts, accomplish the objectives, bring back the loot, and get paid.

The Flavor

I think of DoL as fusion cuisine - you take old stuff and mix it with modern stuff to make something with the best of both worlds. If you are new, it is important to know its going to be different than many D&D games, but if you are familiar you are going to get a different vibe depending on the version of the game you play. It's easier than 1st edition D&D, but harder than 3rd, 4th, or 5th edition.

For players who want to play ‘hardcore’:
CAUTION: In my role as DM, I might kill or maim your character, but I might also reward your characters with immense wealth. This game is high risk, high reward. :)

For players who want to play ‘softcore’:
CAUTION: In my role as DM, I might incapacitate or maim your character, but I might also reward your characters with immense wealth. This game is high risk, high reward. :)

The Players

This game is played ‘West Marches’ style - basically, I have 4-5 open slots at the table and the first people to jump on board get to play. If you miss the call, you get top priority on the next game.

Q & A

Virtual tabletop or face to face?

Face to face

How do we get started?

Read the Houserules, maybe reference the races doc, and then build a character as if you would in D&D 5e with the houserules in the houserules doc taking priority over the rules in the book. Glance over the social contract if you want.

IF YOU ARE NEW, you don’t have to do this alone - chat with me or another player to talk over getting started.

But I don’t have a copy of the D&D 5e rulebook!

Thats no problem - here is a free, legal PDF version: It doesn’t have all the rules in it, so we can make up some more. If you want to be a crossbow herbomancer or a faithful hound dog we can work something out - just talk to me about it. I’m very flexible about ‘homebrew’ rules.

Ok, I made a character, what do I do next?

Tell me about your character, and let me know when you are ready to play. I’ll include you when I notify everyone of the next game!