This post contains a reusable element from my Caverns of Slime adventure. I wanted to offer a structure for a “commando mission” that can be played through in a short session. My sessions typically last for a bit less than three hours, unfortunately. The mission is to disable a fortified dam guarded by “goons”—damned creatures fused with an exoskeleton that keeps them alive but controlled by the operator of the dam, forced to guard the structure that keeps them enslaved.
There are three elements to the mission: getting into the structure, destroying a key element, getting out. The challenges on the way out also contain a little “riddle”: the referee quickly reads lists a list of locations and asks the players to reverse this list in order to succeed in their escape. It’s better than a typical Riddle Game and somewhat grounded in the imagined world. Do you agree? Unfair?
What do you think of the drowning rules I’ve been using? “victims save vs. death every round or drown unless water breathing” I felt that in a high level adventure, save or die challenges can be more prevalent because raising the dead is easily available. What about this line of thinking: ok or misguided?
This is what I wrote:
getting into the dam
inside the dam
Leverage of Fear is an eight-armed monstrosity of steel and a few organic elements of human descent. It hates what needs to be done but does it anyway—maintaining the dam, picking up survivors and turning them into goons by forcing them into an exoskeleton and waiting until they are fused and therefore dependent on a working dam. It can usually be found in the dam’s control room.
Once the power supply is disrupted, an emergency response kicks in designed to fight disruption and restore power. Players need to succeed at two tasks in order to save any friends and they need to succeed at four tasks in order to prevent restoration of power. If the players don’t succeed in either goal after six challenges, they fail: they will have to make a daring escape on a speed boat downriver and flee into the Tentacle Caves in order avoid death or imprisonment in hell (improvise a cell and guardians in the Prison of Dis).
If the party flees into the Tentacle Caves, they will have to face a group of 1d6 stone polyps (HD 6; AC 0; Atk 1 bite (2d6), 8 tentacles (save vs. petrification of fall unconscious and be dragged towards the mouth); MV 3). Remember that this location is the complication arising from having failed at the previous challenge. That’s why there is not a lot of treasure or information to be found in these caves. Allow a thoroughly beaten party to emerge without a fight if they sacrifice important equipment and significant treasure.
(To be fair, there’s not much treasure to be found on this mission anyway. Maybe there should be?)
He pointed to the opening paragraphs of The Willows by Algernon Blackwood and illustrated how he’d strip it down. I’m willing to go further than that, however.
Here’s what I wrote:
In my experience, brevity is the most important. Players care about doing things, they care about treasure, monsters, interactions. That’s why they are perfectly happy with this: “After leaving Vienna, the Danube spreads out and the country becomes a swamp for miles upon miles. You see a vast sea of low willow-bushes before you…”
I guess it has an anchor (Vienna), an object (Danube), a change (spread), nature (swamp), some mood (miles upon miles), some detail (low willow-bushes), direct addressing (you see) and little else.
In terms of process, the most important feedback is what players are doing. As soon as one of the seems to be paying attention to something else, I cut the description short and go directly to “something happens!” or “what do you do?” Then, upon enquiry, I improvise more detail as required. This is rare and confirms my suspicion: my players value brevity above all.
When I wrote Caverns of Slime, I was also trying to keep things short. When I wrote How To Write A Module, I said: “In order to further aid improvisation every location starts with a sentence or two setting the mood, a list of impressions (sounds, sights), a list of names to use—little things that I’d appreciate as a referee.”
Here’s an example:
“The tunnel opens into a big cavern. On the ceiling, you see a glowing city with light bubbles and hanging bridges and gray webbing holding everything together.”
At the far end of the cave lies a lake. The stone wall rising from the water is wet. A dark fungus moss grows here, fed by water raining down from a black hole above. Flying or climbing up this wet tunnel will lead you to the realm of the Shroom Lord.
- spider webs cover every hanging house
- rope bridges connect platforms
- this huge mass of webbing is secured by glowing glas balloons
- water is diverted from the Fungus Falls at the back and distributed using wooden half pipes
- occasionally ropes reach down to the cave floor below
- the cave floor itself is covered in broken bones, the fallen remains of what the spider people feed upon
This city is one of the few places down here where the party can make friends and rest.
The above is then followed by events (encounters, monsters) and non-player characters (in this case, a spell-casting aranea).
I have a cold. Third day at home. No more fever today, but my nose still seems to contain more on the inside than one would have thought possible when looking at it from the outside.
When I’m awake, I play a lot of Skyrim. Amazing how closely the weather seems to match the weather outside. Switzerland in winter… To be more precise, all the big cities are in the flat lands north of the Alps and south of the Jura Mountains (a bunch of hills, we’d say). In winter, the sky is usually overcast. If you want to see the sun, you have to go up. We live under a leaden sky. In the cities, the snow melts quickly. Outside, patches of white on brown grass.
Recently, Rachel wondered about Warrior women: how to include female characters in a historical RPG?
I left a coment:
I think I’d go for genre conventions, thus if we’re playing a historical RPG, then the histories written by men are my guide. For my Pendragon campaign, for example, I felt that the fiction and the campaign focuses on the deeds of men. The rules also have a separate section for female characters that I could have ignored but which decided to keep in the game, wondering whether they’d add variety. Later I realized that it was going to be hard for me to run adventures mixing martial prowess and female characters created with these rules and so I ended up with an all-male cast of characters.
For me, that is a reason not to play a historical RPG. I’d prefer a fantasy or alternate history version where we either have characters of all genders or the game is about the inequality itself. Much like I don’t like to have slaves in my games unless we’re playing a game about fighting slavers.
I don’t enjoy importing real world problems into my games unless we can engage with them.
If we create characters again, I think simply allowing female knights using the exact same rules as male knights is what I’m going to do.
Just to be clear I practically don’t play strictly historical role-playing games. We play in Fantasy Japan, we play in the Gaslight Twenties where H.P. Lovecraft was right, we play in a D&D madness that is but vaguely inspired by the medieval ages and the classification of polearms—none of that requires any gender imbalance.
An excellent rule of thumb I like to pursue in my fantasy role-playing games is something I once read on a blog post elsewhere. When introducing a non-player character, roll a d6:
|3||middle aged man|
|4||middle aged woman|
I remember when I was young, all my characters were between 16 and 18. These days all my characters are in their thirties. All my non-player characters where men unless they were a witch. Rolling a die forces me to randomize where I apparently have prejudice. That is a good thing.
What motivates a referee? I think positive feedback is a key element. I’m not just thinking of players thanking you for running the game or players saying that they like your style. What I really enjoy is players who get excited when they’re thinking of the next session, players who’re sad if they have to miss a session, players who tell other people about the funny things they did, the terrible things that happened. Player engagement is intoxicating, infectious.
DM Peter recently ended one of the campaigns I’m playing in, citing lack of player engagement. It’s a tricky subject: who is responsible for it, how do you measure it, how do you foster it? Here’s what has worked for me.
Alpha players are always at the forefront of everything. They edit the campaign wiki. They write a log. They never loose track of their character’s experience, wealth, equipment and encumbrance. Their characters have plans. Their characters have issues. If you get one or two of them, that’s great. I found that my games can take a lot of casual gamers, however. Not everybody needs to be an alpha players. Quiet people, hard working people, parents, people with little time between sessions are just as entertaining at the table. Realizing this has made it possible for me to enjoy more games. If I need more games to fill the time between sessions, I run more games or join more campaigns.
Session reports are a measurable by-product of our games. Long session reports that cast the events in a mythical light, provide more intimate glimpses of the characters, provide extra details and entertaining complications are great. There will always be players that don’t have the time to write such session reports and there will always be players that don’t have the time read such session reports. Preposterous, you might think. And yet, this thought will set you up for disappointment. If one person keeps a few notes on the back of their character sheet and can bring everybody back up to speed at the beginning of the next session, that works just as well. Realizing this, I have cut down on my session report writing. These days, I don’t write to entertain, I write to remember. A short list of events is all that is required. Now I no longer feel close to session writer burnout, I’m no longer disappointed by the disinterest of my fellow players.
Player contributions are an inspiration: I try to encourage players to contribute little elements to our fairly traditional game. Sometimes the personality traits of a player character turn out to be the personality traits of an entire culture. Sometimes the ambitions of a player can shape an arc of the campaign. Sometimes, however, none of the players seem to be willing to contribute anything other than playing their character. In this case, a referee might feel cornered into the role of the untiring entertainer, a thankless job of crafting adventures for unappreciative players. This can be deadly for a sandbox campaign. I have found two solutions to this problem in my campaign:
Addictive elements to game play. Yes, it’s mean. It’s called the variable ratio reinforcement schedule: a reinforcement schedule in which the number of responses necessary to produce reinforcement varies from trial to trial, according to Wikipedia. I feel that’s why unbalanced encounters are fun. There can be two or three sessions where practically no treasure is found and characters gain less than a hundred experience points each and other sessions where the major hoard is found and each character gets a thousand experience points or more. Knowing this puts some of them on edge. They want to make sure not to miss the one gold session that will pay off big time.
I hope these points help you adjust your expectations and help you increase player engagement in your campaigns.
Your domain’s values may also provide a
bonus for the domain moves described below.
I need a simple one page summary of An Echo Resounding for the players in my game.
Every location on the map can have values. These are measured in three categories: military, wealth and social. These values are provided by different kinds of assets.
Some buildings a domain might start building:
Yes, since the militia can’t move, it essentially acts like a building: an immobile asset.
Total up all the value provided by the assets in your domain.
Compare your domain’s values to the upkeep cost of all the units in your domain. Units are usually mobile and consist of roughly a hundred individuals.
Some military units:
|Light Infantry||1||7||120’||1d6||F1||7||1M 1W 0S||Spear Tactics|
|Heavy Infantry||2||4||90’||1d8||F2||8||2M 2W 0S|
|Ape Soldiers||4||6||120’||1d8||F2||7||3M 3W 0S|
Every month, the player domain gets two domain moves. The bold ones are the important ones.
|Uprising||Military||any military unit|
Military units were listed above. The other unit types also have upkeep costs:
|Merchant||120’||T1||0M 2W 0S|
|Sage||120’||M1||0M 2W 0S|
|Prophet||120’||C1||0M 0W 2S|
|Magistrate||120’||T1||0M 0W 2S|
Nach dem Aikido Training gestern hatte ich das Gefühl wieder krank zu werden. Kopfweh, die Nase läuft. Habe ängstlich Fieber gemessen, aber war nichts los. Dann habe ich mir ein schönes, ausgiebiges Frühstück gegönnt. Bin extra in den Laden gegangen, um Zopf zu kaufen. Freitags habe ich frei. Seit dem Claudia 100% arbeitet, habe ich wieder einen Tag “frei”. Ich habe stundenlang Questionable Content gelesen. Ein Webcomic wie eine Soap. Freunde, Quatschen, … was wir früher in der WG “Reden über Sex und Beziehungen” genannt hätten. Erstaundlich, wie empfänglich ich dafür bin. Dann habe ich im Prinz Eisenherz Sammelband 2 weiter gelesen. Comics aus den Jahren 1939 und 1940! Am späten Nachmittag habe ich mich dann aufgerafft, Haare schneiden zu gehen. Zurück gekommen und Abendessen gemacht.
Wahrlich ein Problem, alleine Comics zu lesen, Alkohol zu trinken, französische Musik zu hören – im Questionable Content werden immer wieder mal Indie Bands erwähnt, und so habe ich meine alten CDs mal angeschaut. Dinge, die ich schon ewig nicht gehört habe; Dinge, die ich nicht einmal digitalisiert habe. Im Moment: des Visages des Figures. Ich vermute, die CD hatte ich damals wegen dem Lied Le vent nous portera gekauft. Wenn es nicht so kalt wäre, hätte ich das Bedürfnis, hinaus in die Stadt zu rennen, Freunde zu treffen, … der Comic macht mich fertig, haha. Wenn meine Schwester und meine Cousine hier wären, würde das wie am Schnürchen laufen! Aber in der Nähe wohnt niemand. Kinder bekommen, weg gezogen, die alte, verrauchte Bar schon seit zwanzig Jahren nicht mehr betreten, irgendwie fehlt mir etwas. Bald bin ich so weit und höre mir wieder Notre besoin de consolation est impossible à rassasier von den Têtes Raides an.
A while ago, I worked on Caverns of Slime for Fight On! #14. I recently made it available as a free PDF. (I should add a license to it: Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike for the text!) Here are some of its monsters I wrote up.
This list also contains two instances of rituals. I describe them as follows: “Rituals are the ceremonies and prayers that take many minutes to perform, usually powered by demon lords and devils.” The first monster can be summoned by a ritual that player characters can be taught by “a winged pig man with four legs and wielding a blood falchion.” The last monster, on the other hand, performs a handful of rituals that player characters can learn through observation.
The shroom lord can be observed for days as it sings its telepathic praise to the Gibbering Fungus God. A very patient person interested in mushroom magic can learn the following rituals through simple observation:
Another monster, related to the circle of psychotic colors: any enemies that fell asleep because of the spores will die over night and rise as a spore zombie.
Recently I started extracting the monsters from my Caverns of Slime adventure and posting it on this blog. The idea is that this way, people might spot something they like without having to go through the thirty or fourty pages of the adventure. It also makes it easier to leave a comment on a particular element.
When I wrote Caverns of Slime, I decided that all of the magic-users in the adventure would have a complete spell book with new names for all the spells. I hoped that referees would then pick the effects from obvious matches in their rule book or improvise something interesting. That’s how I handle it. Does this work for you? Would you have preferred me to use the standard spell names and list new spells at the end as appears to be the standard approach these days?
Spells of the arachnomatrix (level 13):
|1st level||2nd level||3rd level||4th level|
|the friendship of lesser minds||hunting and webbing||the tongues of strangers||jumping through space on the strands of our forefathers|
|power of mimicry||triangulation of know objects||electric powers of destruction||subjugation of reason|
|communion with animals||conquest of gravity||powers of flight||arachnophobia of the highest degree|
|telestrangulation using strands of webbing||detection of magical energies||silken words of binding|
|5th level||6th level||7th level|
|travel to the shadow lands||communicating with the ancient earth spirits||mysteries of astral chords and travel to foreign worlds|
|contacting the spider lords of the beyond||(unassigned)|
Atraxaka also knows how to build a rod of electric destruction (shoots lightning bolts for 3d6 at will with a 5% chance to hit somebody near the intended victim unless the wielder has four arms to aim it with).
I’m looking back at my blog and trying to remember the things that happened.
Google+ replaced Twitter, for all my talk about role-playing needs. For a while, my tweets were all about gaming. These days I use Twitter as an alternative to RSS for the kind of news that I might want to look into every now and then without wanting to read everything.
(Although I’m following Ars Technica on Google+, so perhaps everything will end up on Google+, eventually.)
I also have a few friends on Twitter that aren’t very active elsewhere.
I’m not sure how long I’ll be hanging out on Twitter and Facebook. I heard somebody say that Facebook is for the important people you know and Google+ is for the interesting people you don’t know. 2012 was also the year I stopped using identi.ca (a free, federated Twitter alternative).
I think that in general this blog has had few readers to begin with and has lost some. There are less comments because I write less about Emacs and tech issues. I guess I get a few comments on Google+ every now and then. I have never been one to try and maximize comments, however. I’m getting what I’m aiming for, I guess.
In general, therefore, the blog has also lost a bit of urgency. I no longer post little one-paragraph posts talking about the movies I saw. (Before yesterday it was Cloud Atlas which was nice, but not mind-blowing; yesterday it was The Hobbit part one, which was very beautiful; I could spend hours in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. Today I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild which reminded me of one of the best movies in recent years, Winter’s Bone. But then it started to stretch and had some surreal elements I didn’t like, so in the end I wasn’t as happy with it as I was at the beginning.)
At the same time, with the ads and the privacy issues of Facebook and Instagram, operating my own blog has become more important. I still host my pictures on Flickr and I’m happy I never stopped doing that. I pay their hosting fees and hope this means I don’t need to suffer ads and privacy violations.
My blog still uses Oddmuse. It’s a Perl script that I’ve been maintaining for over a decade, now. It still works! I use the same software for Emacs Wiki. Since many people are used to the many editors of Wikipedia and the features of MediaWiki, they criticize my choice every now and then. 2012 was no different. This time, however, I wrote a longer reply: How Emacs Wiki Works. (In fact, a separate wiki called WikEmacs was created using Mediawiki. I’m not sure how well it does.)
One of the benefits of the services I no longer like that much was that they allowed me to keep in touch with my family. My sister, my cousin and my mother in law are on Facebook. My mother, my half-sister and my half-brother are on Twitter where we all have private accounts linked to each other such that it occasionally feels like a family chat. I’ve started using Instagram as a way to tell people that I’m alive and invite the occasional comment by automatically uploading the pictures to this family chat on Twitter and to Facebook. I think it worked really well and now I’m not quite sure what I should be using instead. Rely on IFTTT?
The use of Instagram and all the ironic hipster hate online has revealed that I had already been a hipster long before it was cool!
There was also a tiny flash of activity on Community Wiki. A Facebook group for the wiki got created. Fierce editing did not resume. Wikis as a discussion medium seem to have gone the way of the Dodo. When I look at MeatballWiki, I don’t understand what’s going on. The wikis I was interested in as a discussion of social media are no longer active. Perhaps social media must be discussed using itself. I wonder where Instagram gets discused. Using screenshots?
I think of myself as an Old School RPG blogger. Looking back, these are the posts I’d recommend.
And I think that’s it! The blog posts I returned to, the blog posts I felt are worthy of being read again. If you want more stuff to read, there is a similar overview for 2011.
What: Wilt by Tom Sharpe
When: 19 December, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional )
Where: Bistro Lochergut (tram 2+3 ‘Lochergut’)
This is a funny, light read, good for a busy December schedule – still a bit over 300 pages but let’s try!
Henry Wilt, tied to a daft job and a domineering wife, has just been passed over for promotion yet again. Ahead of him at the Polytechnic stretch years of trying to thump literature into the heads of plasterers, joiners, butchers and the like. And things are no better at home where his massive wife, Eva, is given to boundless and unpredictable fits of enthusiasm - for transcendental meditation, yoga or the trampoline. But if Wilt can do nothing about his job, he can do something about his wife, in imagination at least, and his fantasies grow daily more murderous and more concrete.
After a peculiarly nasty experience at a party thrown by particularly nasty Americans, Wilt finds himself in several embarrassing positions: Eva stalks out in stratospheric dudgeon, and Wilt, under the inspiration of gin, puts one of his more vindictive fantasies into effect. But suspicions are instantly aroused and Wilt rapidly achieves an unenviable notoriety in the role of The Man Helping Police With Their Enquiries. Or is he exactly helping? Wilt’s problem - although he’s on the other side of the fence - is the same as Inspector Flint’s: where is Eva Wilt? But Wilt begins to flourish in the heat of the investigation, and as the police stoke the flames of circumstantial evidence, Wilt deploys all his powers to show that the Law can’t tell a Missing Person from a hole in the ground.