Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hanging out here for a while

If you frequent my other blog (and Analytics tells me that a whole lot more of you do that than come here) then you know I'm a bit soured on the wargaming side of my hobby universe.

Ergo, I've been packing up my paints and busting out more three-ring binders down on the hobby table as I contemplate my RPG stuff.  I've got one iron in the fire right now, my one-shot for End of the World 2011 (EOW).  That's the annual five-day gamefest that I play with a few of my friends back home.  There's three full days of gaming with one of us running an all-day session Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  This year I'm running one of the sessions, and for the first time I'm running a scenario set in the group's primary setting, Morrow Project.

For those who are unfamiliar with Morrow Project, the game was written initially in the mid-70's but wasn't published until 1984, smack in the middle of the heightened anxiety of a nuclear war.  Drawing from the same creative muses that produced Mad Max and Red Dawn, the PC's are part of a cell of cryogenically frozen Americans who were to survive the impending nuclear exchange and rebuild America.  However in the RPG the main computer, Prime Base, is sabotaged and the PC's end up sleeping for 150 years, during which time the post-apocalyptic landscape of America changes radically, including such lovelies as giant spiders and radiation-themed vampires.

The game was a also a military-enthusiast's dream.  There were pages of 1980's-era military vehicles and guns out the wazoo that could be introduced into the game.  The rules were clunky and unsophisticated, but the game still enjoys a bit of a cult following (including us).

Instead of using the rules as written, this particular gaming group, which has been around for over 20 years, modified the rules using two other systems at hand: Traveller, and the Star Trek RPG produced by FASA, taking the life path creation system from former, and the stat and skill system from the latter.  This homebrewed gumbo looks a lot like someone put thousand island dressing on vanilla ice cream, but it works (sort of) for a lot of different genres, primarily ones that feature guns, which most of the EOW games do.  See, you have to use the system at EOW, regardless of genre.  So everyone take a whack at running whatever they want using the same rules.  It's an interesting exercise in some ways, and illustrates how important story is in comparison to what system you run.

Example, two years ago I ran a session at EOW in which the game took place in a four-color, pulp fantasy world where all the PC's played versions of various pulp-era heroes, e.g. Doc Samson, the Shadow, Tarzan, etc.  I introduced some alterations to the hand-to-hand combat rules, because they were pretty weak and pulp-heroes do a lot more talking with their fists.

But this year, I'm doing Morrow Project.  And I've been planning this for a year.  I'm going for a "shoot the moon" kind of scenario that'll either fall flat or be epic.  I've mostly been wrestling with how to make it work, but I think I've got it down.  One of the things I've always wondered about is what kind of person would voluntarily have themselves hurled a hundred years into a post-apoc future, and what that first few days are like.  That'll be what my game is about, and hopefully it'll do well.  We'll find out in October.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dungeoncasting made easy

Even if I didn’t just love the name, Super Galactic Dreadnought is a fun blog that shows off a wide variety of hobby interests, much like my own past-times.  Recently its author, Desert Scribe, decided as a sort of solo venture to come up with nine dungeon levels, using the old original B/X D&D rules for random dungeon encounters.  Or rather, he just decided to populate them, leaving the trivialities of a graph paper map to a later date.

It’s a fascinating bit of reverse engineering, and I thought I’d copy the process here.  Basically, every level has roughly sixty rooms, with one-third being occupied.  So using the random generator charts for dungeons, you come up with twenty encounters.  You then look at the encounters to see if there are patterns or obvious alliances between the creatures, and then sub-divide the entire lot into factions, plus the odd roaming monster or vermin.  Once you understand the “big picture” you can build the dungeon around them.

I love the idea, mostly because the focus isn’t totally random, and suggests the possibility of allies that can help you navigate the dungeon.  This is critical, because in “Old School D&D” dying was very easy, especially if you see every encounter as a “kill it and take its stuff” moment.
Unlike Desert Scribe, I’ll be using OSRIC, which I purchased earlier this year at KantCon.  It’ll make for a slightly more random assortment of creatures, and I’ll need to modify the way he used the tables (which use first a d12, then a d100, not another d12).  The first d12 tells me which sub-table to roll on, the second which monster I will encounter.  Once I have the monster, I roll to see how many there are, modifying the number based on the level of the dungeon.

So, using the helpful website random.org, I come up with the following set of numbers (d12/d100):
3/98 Gnome (14)
9/72 Bugbear (3)
11/17 Grimlock (5)
10/16 Grimlock (3)
12/84 Wight (2)
5/80 Wild Dog (4)
12/81 Wight (2)
4/1 Devil, Asaggim (3)
4/67 Beetle, Giant Fire (4)
9/68 Spider, Large (4)
3/64 Beetle, Giant Fire (2)
8/75 Kobold (28)
4/59 Frog, Giant (7)
7/97 Gnome (10)
3/93 Rot Grub (12)
5/25 Bat (23)
12/16 Ghoul (3)
8/53 Frog, Giant (1)
4/90 Rot Grub (14)
9/28 Dakon (1)

Four wights!  Gygax’s beard, that’s a terrible turn of events for a first-level dungeon.  We’ll keep them off in their own area.  Wights turn people into other wights, so the ghoul isn’t an obvious ally--I could see him as a roaming stalker of the rest of the level.  I’ll put the gnomes in one faction, a small group of fellows just looking to survive, maybe even with the assistance of the ape-like dakon and the wild dogs.  The hobgoblins can boss around the kobolds, who are trying to take out the gnomes while avoiding the wights.  There’s a few giant frogs around, maybe even a small lair.  The fire beetles, bats, and rot grubs are all vermin, feeding off the carcasses of the first level.  The assagim is a bit of a wild card, perhaps a clue to something that lies beneath.  Could these wretched devils have wandered their way up from a lower level?

At this point, you can start to see a bit of the story develop.  If the PC’s don’t befriend the gnomes, they way inadvertently wander into the area with the wights, and almost certain death.  But to gain the gnome’s trust, they may have to prove themselves against the kobolds and the bugbears, all the wild avoiding the roaming vermin and the ghoul that prowls the area.

A somewhat compelling story, and all done in under an hour.  In fact it may have taken me longer to write the post than to come up with the encounters.  They’ll need to be fleshed out, not to mention the other forty encounter-free rooms in the dungeon.
So, what do you think of this style of adventure design? It's a change from my usual course, which would be to use Central Casting: Dungeons to build the map first and then add in the encounters. I'll add more to this series as the mood strikes (or with encouragement).
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