Diary

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This is both a wiki (a website editable by all) and a blog (an online diary about the stuff Alex Schroeder reads and does). If you’re a friend or relative, you might be interested in reading Life instead of this page. If you’ve come here from an RPG blog, you might want to head over to RPG. There are other similar categories to be found on the SiteMap.

Für Rollenspieler gibt es ebenfalls eine eigene RSP Kategorie.

2019-05-19 Hex Describe Gender

ktrey parker recently asked on Diaspora about pre-generating facts before you actually start writing, gender in particular. I’ve tried to avoid this by using singular they a lot. It works really well! But I confess, sometimes I was also happy to simply assume all druids were male and all witches were female.

The question made me think introducing a new keyword. [fact monster gender] would establish the “monster gender” which you could then use with [same monster gender] throughout. I like that better than just hiding the result using CSS because I love text browsers. 🙂

This isn’t strictly required because if we know where the first call to a table is, we can just drop the “same” keyword there and it will work as intended. If we’re writing a long text, we’re going to run into trouble if we’re rearranging it.

Here’s an example of how we would do it today:

Assume this text:

[ruler] had a centaur [raise their kid].

What we want is a result like this:

“Queen Alexa had a centaur raise her son.”

We just need to know where the gender is first determined and from then keep using “same”.

;gender
1,male
1,female

;ruler gender
1,[gender]

;kid gender
1,[gender]

;ruler
1,[[ruler gender] title] [[same ruler gender] name]

;male title
1,King

;female title
1,Queen

;male name
1,Alex

;female name
1,Alexa

;raise their kid
1,raise [[same ruler gender] possessive] [[kid gender] kid]

;male possessive
1,his

;female possessive
1,her

;male kid
1,son

;female kid
1,daughter

Result:

  • King Alex had a centaur raise his son.
  • King Alex had a centaur raise his daughter.
  • King Alex had a centaur raise his daughter.
  • Queen Alexa had a centaur raise her daughter.
  • Queen Alexa had a centaur raise her son.
  • King Alex had a centaur raise his son.
  • Queen Alexa had a centaur raise her son.
  • Queen Alexa had a centaur raise her son.
  • Queen Alexa had a centaur raise her son.
  • King Alex had a centaur raise his daughter.

This example will always work if [ruler] is called first and determines [ruler gender] before it gets used later in [ruler gender] or [raise their kid]. If the order is ever changed, this will result in bugs that are hard to spot.

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2019-05-19 Ettercap Faces

I was talking to ktrey parker again on Diaspora, and they said: “First, I will definitely have to dig up some the face templates, because I definitely want to do some ettercap faces! All eyes and mandibles!”

This morning I was hitting a lull and those words kept coming back to me. I searched for spider face images and felt inspired. Behold the faces of spider people.

Faces of the spider people

I knew this was going to be an alien face so I don’t actually need a lot of material. They all look the same to us, anyway.

I printed the elf template (narrow faces) and started drawing...

A bad scan from a very old scanner

Rotating image, cropping, scaling, and applying the tintenblau palette...

Cleaned up scan

Cutting these up, splitting the one image where I drew both some hair and a mouth, and looking at them using a local installation of the Face Generator, moving some elements around so that they fit better, less overlap, all of that...

And we’re done!

Oh, and making sure there’s at least one single pixel for “extra spiders” otherwise 10% of the spider faces get a nasty scar, haha.

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2019-05-17 On generating lists of items in Hex Describe

I’ve been looking at Hex Describe again. These days I’ve been collaborating with ktrey parker on Diaspora and all of this input has pushed me to work harder on how Hex Describe generates lists of unique items from a larger list.

I needed lists of unique items for spell lists. Let’s take Agrimach, for example. The spells of the first circle are aura of fear, locate corpse and read magic. If I now want to create a second level student of Agrimach, I want to provide them with two of the three spells, but no duplicates. The naive way to encode this in a table would be:

;spell
1,aura of fear
1,locate corpse
1,read magic

;student
1,A man with a black beard. *[spell]* and *[spell]*

When I try it, there is some duplication. Note the arrows:

  • A man with a black beard. aura of fear and read magic
  • A man with a black beard. aura of fear and read magic
  • A man with a black beard. read magic and read magic
  • A man with a black beard. aura of fear and read magic
  • A man with a black beard. locate corpse and locate corpse
  • A man with a black beard. aura of fear and read magic
  • A man with a black beard. locate corpse and aura of fear
  • A man with a black beard. locate corpse and aura of fear
  • A man with a black beard. aura of fear and aura of fear
  • A man with a black beard. locate corpse and locate corpse

So what I did was I added lists to Hex Describe. It now has the keywords “with” and “and” to initialise lists and to pick further elements for the same list. “with” starts a new list and “and” picks a random element up to ten times in an attempt to not pick an item already on the list.

We rewrite the tables:

;spell
1,aura of fear
1,locate corpse
1,read magic

;student
1,A woman with curly hair. *[with spell]* and *[and spell]*

The result:

  • A woman with curly hair. read magic and locate corpse
  • A woman with curly hair. read magic and locate corpse
  • A woman with curly hair. aura of fear and locate corpse
  • A woman with curly hair. locate corpse and read magic
  • A woman with curly hair. locate corpse and read magic
  • A woman with curly hair. read magic and locate corpse
  • A woman with curly hair. aura of fear and read magic
  • A woman with curly hair. read magic and locate corpse
  • A woman with curly hair. read magic and aura of fear
  • A woman with curly hair. read magic and aura of fear

No repeats!

But now let’s add some details to the spells. Let’s provide two alternatives for each spell.

;aura of fear
1,aura of fear
1,aura of terror

;locate corpse
1,locate corpse
1,locate body

;read magic
1,read magic
1,read runes

;spell
1,[aura of fear]
1,[locate corpse]
1,[read magic]

;student
1,A young teenager with short hair. *[with spell]* and *[and spell]*

We have a lot more options, but eventually the duplication is back because the two variants count as different results of the “spell” table:

  • A young teenager with short hair. locate corpse and aura of terror
  • A young teenager with short hair. locate corpse and read runes
  • A young teenager with short hair. locate corpse and read runes
  • A young teenager with short hair. read runes and aura of terror
  • A young teenager with short hair. locate corpse and read magic
  • A young teenager with short hair. aura of fear and aura of terror
  • A young teenager with short hair. read magic and aura of fear
  • A young teenager with short hair. locate corpse and read magic
  • A young teenager with short hair. locate corpse and aura of terror
  • A young teenager with short hair. read magic and locate corpse

The solution to this is that we need another level of indirection: the list must not be a list of final results but of keys that are resolved later. Thus, the “spell” table returns the table names that are then used in the “student” table to find the actual spells.

;aura of fear
1,aura of fear
1,aura of terror

;locate corpse
1,locate corpse
1,locate body

;read magic
1,read magic
1,read runes

;spell
1,aura of fear
1,locate corpse
1,read magic

;student
1,A girl, maybe seven years old, with long blond hair. *[[with spell]]* and *[[and spell]]*

If you look at the results, you no longer get two variants of the same spell:

  • A young teenager with short hair. read runes and locate body
  • A young teenager with short hair. locate corpse and aura of terror
  • A young teenager with short hair. aura of terror and locate body
  • A young teenager with short hair. locate body and aura of terror
  • A young teenager with short hair. read runes and aura of terror
  • A young teenager with short hair. read magic and locate body
  • A young teenager with short hair. read runes and aura of terror
  • A young teenager with short hair. aura of terror and locate corpse
  • A young teenager with short hair. aura of fear and locate corpse
  • A young teenager with short hair. locate corpse and aura of terror

Yay!

OK, but I have an even stranger thing to talk about. Let’s generate a simple sentence describing a dungeon. There are various rooms and we don’t want any repeats. It starts much like the spellbook above:

;room
1,an altar room
1,a cesspit
1,a lair

;dungeon
1,This dungeon consists of [with room] and [and room].

Simple, no duplication:

  • This dungeon consists of a lair and an altar room.
  • This dungeon consists of an altar room and a lair.
  • This dungeon consists of an altar room and a cesspit.
  • This dungeon consists of a lair and an altar room.
  • This dungeon consists of an altar room and a lair.
  • This dungeon consists of a cesspit and an altar room.
  • This dungeon consists of a lair and a cesspit.
  • This dungeon consists of a cesspit and an altar room.
  • This dungeon consists of a lair and an altar room.
  • This dungeon consists of a cesspit and an altar room.

Let’s make it more interesting by having the lair connect to more rooms.

;room
1,an altar room
1,a cesspit
1,a larder
1,a natural cave
1,a lair with a secret door leading to [and room]

;dungeon
1,This dungeon consists of [with room], and [and room].

Can you spot the problem? It took me a few hours to understand what the problem was. I started seeing errors in the application and finally I added a quick fix to the code which suppresses the error but the output is still wrong. Take a look and note the arrows:

  • This dungeon consists of a cesspit, and a lair with a secret door leading to an altar room.
  • This dungeon consists of a cesspit, and a lair with a secret door leading to a lair with a secret door leading to a larder.
  • This dungeon consists of a lair with a secret door leading to a natural cave, and a cesspit.
  • This dungeon consists of a lair with a secret door leading to a lair with a secret door leading to a cesspit, and an altar room. ←
  • This dungeon consists of a cesspit, and a natural cave.
  • This dungeon consists of a larder, and a natural cave.
  • This dungeon consists of a cesspit, and a larder.
  • This dungeon consists of a natural cave, and a cesspit.
  • This dungeon consists of a natural cave, and an altar room.
  • This dungeon consists of a natural cave, and a lair with a secret door leading to a lair with a secret door leading to an altar room. ←

We now have two problems!

The first problem is that like in the example with the spellbook the list is only unique at the level of results of the “room” table. Thus, “a lair with a secret door leading to a larder” and “a lair with a secret door leading to a cesspit” are considered to be two different rooms.

Another problem – and that’s the problem that crashed Hex Describe – is what happens when the code starts processing [with room], and the first room it picks is a lair, which wants [and room]. The problem is that [and room] expects there to be a list of rooms already picked. But the first room is picked when [with room] is finished. Thus, for the computer, the list doesn’t exist, yet!

OK, but how do we fix this? We already know one fix: at the level of the list, we need to have table names, not the table results!

;altar
1,an altar room

;cesspit
1,a cesspit

;larder
1,a larder

;cave
1,a natural cave

;lair
1,a lair with a secret door leading to [and room]

;room
1,altar
1,cesspit
1,larder
1,cave
1,lair

;dungeon
1,This dungeon consists of [[with room]], and [[and room]].

No more errors in my log! Also note that we only have one lair per dungeon, now:

  • This dungeon consists of an altar room, and a cesspit.
  • This dungeon consists of a natural cave, and a cesspit.
  • This dungeon consists of a lair with a secret door leading to cave, and a larder.
  • This dungeon consists of a cesspit, and a lair with a secret door leading to larder.
  • This dungeon consists of an altar room, and a larder.
  • This dungeon consists of a lair with a secret door leading to cave, and a cesspit.
  • This dungeon consists of a lair with a secret door leading to cave, and a larder.
  • This dungeon consists of a lair with a secret door leading to cesspit, and a larder.
  • This dungeon consists of a cesspit, and a larder.
  • This dungeon consists of a lair with a secret door leading to altar, and a cesspit.

Yay!

Alright, time to go back to my tables. 🙂

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Comments on 2019-05-17 On generating lists of items in Hex Describe

Wow, that discussion alone might just be the final push for me to join Diaspora! I love HexDescribe, especially since I can use it without a map.

Ynas Midgard 2019-05-18 22:16 UTC


Haha, please join us. To be honest, that is the only really good thread I’ve been in during my short time on Diaspora.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-19 08:37 UTC

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2019-05-15 The purpose of art in a RPG product

Recently, Richard G wrote a few words about Silent Titans on Lasagna Social, saying that it looks really good, and also remarking on the “obscurity and circularity of reference” as it refers to Bastion of Electric Bastionland or Into the Odd, as it used to be known.

I left a comment saying that I had had the same thoughts: visuals (superficially), the references to other products, and I added: “Rolled my eyes a bit. 🙄”

Paolo Greco then asked me about the eye rolling and I felt that he deserved a longer answer. The comment turned out to be long enough that I ended feeling it deserved a page on this blog. So there you go. 😃

It wasn’t a strong feeling I had, just a heh and one eye roll, I guess. Somebody writes a game using the rules somebody else has published, go buy those, or the free older edition, and here’s and interview I did with them, and I read it, too, but at the same time I sighed a bit and couldn’t decide whether this was people patting each other on the back for a job well done inside the very product this well done job had produced, or an instance of one hand washing the other, as we say in German, so anyway, I asked myself: what is this? Is this an ad? Is this a cooperation? And I felt that as an editor, I would have cut it.

As for the art, I’ll start with me really liking the map in A Red and Pleasant Land, the squares, the inking, the slight abstraction away from fantasy realism we’ve seen in D&D, away from the retro line art we’ve seen in the OSR, something new, colourful, somehow familiar and yet unknowable. I guess I’m not an art critic and fear I lack the words and the sensitivities but anyway, Maze of the Blue Medusa went a bit further in this direction, more abstract, less something I can just show players and say “you see this!” and more something that conveys a mood, a mental confusion, a state that is perhaps a bit like the altered state of the mystical underworld, I guess the Medusa dungeon in Vornheim was a bit like that, and I didn’t even look too much at Frostbitten & Mutilated, so then I leafed through Silent Titans and felt that it was even more abstract, even less usable, less showable, nothing I could look at and interpret as a map, or an image of creature, or a location, but a jumble of things that provide an emotional reaction, a jumble of something, a weirdness, and I don’t deny that it fascinates me, but at the same time it’s also a bit in that line of art I like less, that I find less useful for a product that I don’t just buy to be entertained but to aid me at the table, to be useful in a very specific way.

So perhaps then the question is this: what is the purpose of art in an RPG product? It’s about pleasing the buyer, the reader. I have bought something beautiful, they say. And Silent Titans delivers. But I sort of dread the moment at the table. Is this something I can run at the table, as is? And I roll my eyes, a tiny little bit.

I guess this is all also in the context of an early post I had written on Diaspora: as I’m trying to read Silent Titans every now and then, I sigh as I realize that my brain is probably too puny and my imagination too boring for this. Feeling overwhelmed and unsure whether I can make use of this at the table.

What OSR PRG product have you actually used and liked using at the table? Even Stonehell has a lot of text for my taste. I guess Castle of the Mad Arch Mage worked pretty well for more than fifty sessions.

I should write more of my own instead of complaining, hah! 😅

I am reminded of advice I recently gave somebody, regarding adventures for newbies:

“I would write my own, I think.

That’s because I think finding a scenario and preparing a scenario takes time in which you could have written your own. And having written your own, you will never fear getting it wrong.

Even the One Page Dungeon Contest submissions are too much to read through. You’ll get lost wondering whether this or that fits your aesthetics better, whether this or that plays better with the table, whether this or that offers something your players might enjoy. And all this uncertainty about picking an adventure tells me that you already know all the things you need.

Trust me on this: writing up something simple for a night is quicker than finding and reading and prepping anything else and you’ll feel better at the table, too.”

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Comments on 2019-05-15 The purpose of art in a RPG product

I love the art in RPG books but I hate that it’s only really seen by the DM. I buy more PDFs than physical books so art often gets in the way rather than enhances my experience while playing, but it’s nice for theme while reading away from the table.

Tom 2019-05-15 20:31 UTC


Yeah, I hate it when there are beautiful maps that nobody else ever sees.

Benefits:

  • entertainment for the reader
  • building enthusiasm before running the game (for the reader)
  • sometimes you can lift the book and turn it to the player so they can see it?
  • can work as a substitute to reading (just look for visual inspiration in a Paizo adventure path and ignore the sea of words)

Drawbacks:

  • Price
  • makes PDFs slow

And then there’s the drawbacks of having the wrong art:

  • confusing maps are confusing
  • watermarks make the text hard to read
  • busy maps make them hard to annotate (for the love of all that is good, bring back marginalia! we need more white space everywhere)

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-16 05:54 UTC


I just read a very interesting post about Silent Titans. A Literary Analysis of Silent Titans by Patrick Stuart on the Sheep and Sorcery blog.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-19 08:35 UTC

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2019-05-14 Hexer & Haudegen

Introducing the kids of friends to roleplaying games while babysitting. (Not really babies anymore, haha.)

We’re using Hexen & Haudegen which is the German translation or Sorcerers & Sellswords, which is the Fantasy translation of Lasers & Feelings. It’s perfect! We played without GM and drew cards from Paizo’s Harrow Deck to inspire the story: The Avalanche, The Empty Throne, The Rakhshasa. Very nice!

Character sheets, notes, rules

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2019-05-11 Brainstorming Hex Descriptions

I’m trying to find people to collaborate with on writing more stuff for Hex Describe. My creativity usually works via mutual inspiration.

Mutual inspiration happens when two or more people get together and enthusiasm builds up. This is the most elevating creative experience, as you not only “stand on the shoulders of giants”, but you can see your ideas grow and improve as you toss it back and forth amongst each other.

Factors that help you reach this state of mind as a group:

  • Brainstorming, being amongst friends, i.e. feeling less inhibition
  • Strong common interest or fascination
  • Similar ideas, you need some difference to inspire your partners
  • Similar language

I might have found such a place in this thread on Diaspora, where Ktrey has been offering ideas and tables and answering back with more specifics and Wikipedia links and all the goodness of the web. Thanks, Ktrey!

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2019-05-09 Poetry

I just heard an episode of In Our Time about Aphra Behn and how her rise in stature is perhaps also due to the rise in popularity of the novel and the fall of poetry and since I no longer read books as voraciously as I used to I started wondering about poetry.

Poems can be short and could perhaps be well suited for 500 characters. You need more than 140 but not a short story let alone a novel. I wonder about writing RPG vignettes as poetry. Would it work?

I’m listening to Kate Tempest, “an English spoken word performer, poet, recording artist, novelist and playwright.” You can find videos on her web page.

I want to write and read and run games like Kate Tempest playing on my phone right now.

Maybe it would sound a bit like this?

“In those hill we lost our children
Puked our fear into bushes, hiding
Pig men come, they say. Pig. Men.
Are not all men pigs?
Salty lips.
We cannot unhear what the mind hears.
We left our children to the pigs.”

Rhyme & Reason, by Alex Schroeder

What else do we need to know about the villagers and orcs of Salt Hill?

@awinter also pointed me to The Role-playing Poem Challenge. I don’t think it’s quite the same as I’m not interested in the session turning into a poetry slam, nor into a spoken word performance, nor in the rules being a poem, but in the writing for the game having more punch per word, more emotional density, to get away from the technical manual.

If indeed I do. Perhaps the dry manual style has a place in role-playing games? Perhaps this is something inherent about these game since the bending of rules, the rewriting of rules, is part of this game itself, like Nomic.

Or perhaps I should go back to D&D as an oral tradition: keep what you like, add what you need, drop what you keep forgetting. I keep recommending that thread by Eero Tuovinen. And suddenly, poetry has a place in this. It’s what the bards used to remember the epics. Rhyme, alliteration, repetition, idiomatic phrases.

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Comments on 2019-05-09 Poetry

@tootjard experimented with this a few years back: Ink Fiend, A Monster Poem.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-10 08:39 UTC


Have you seen this? https://twitter.com/hexaday

Michael Julius 2019-05-14 22:46 UTC


I had not! (Then again I’m also not on Twitter anymore.) Not quite poetry but super short and useful indeed!

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-15 07:33 UTC


I haven’t looked in on it for some time (for the same reasons) but your post reminded me of it for its attention to language and imposed (character) limit.

I remember someone doing d6 tables of little location poems (who? don’t know). There’s a lot of possibilities as RPG writing can be like a coiled spring.

Michael Julius 2019-05-16 02:01 UTC


Yeah, for Hex Describe, same problem: It’s always easy to add more text to add details nobody cares about. To stay short and still be evocative, that is the art of the wordsmith.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-16 12:06 UTC

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2019-05-08 Tileset

Kenney 1-Bit Pack “includes over 1,000 different tiles, characters, objects and items. It’s perfect for roguelike and RPG in any setting (fantasy, feudal Japan, modern, sci-fi etc.) and even comes with tiles for UI, platformers and puzzle games. Perfect for prototyping! Also includes a monochrome (black and white) version, plus versions with a transparent background.”

I wonder whether it would be easy to write a Gridmapper like editor that would quickly allow us to create maps using the keyboard. And town and dungeon and all sorts of map generators using that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I really love how the Face Generator, Text Mapper and Hex Describe are building something that is better than the sum of its parts.

I kept hoping that the Megadungeon Generator (needs more work) and Gridmapper (I feel like it needs a redesign but I’m not sure?) could play well together in a similar vein.

And Text Mapper itself is an example of an application that has been made a gazillion times more joyful to use once I got the Gnomeyland icons by Gregory MacKenzie added.

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2019-05-07 Who is destroying the world?

https://decolonialatlas.wordpress.com/2019/04/27/names-and-locations-of-the-top-100-people-killing-the-planet/
Names and Locations of the Top 100 People Killing the Planet
by The Decolonial Atlas

Here in Switzerland we have Glencore. We should write about it more. Shine the light on these companies. Vote green politicians into office and enact laws that force these companies to respect our world and not burn it down for their profits. And that includes all their share holders, even if these shareholders are our universities and pension funds – I don’t want to hear about them doing it “in our name”.

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2019-05-04 Working on Hex-Describe

Sometimes it’s hard to enumerate the things I added to Hex Describe. It’s small things, and one thing leads to another, and yet I am still impressed by what it does.

Just looking at the log of all the changes I recently made, going back to April 25:

  • contrib: more swamp creatures
  • contrib: fix green dragon typo
  • contrib: added black dragons to swamps
  • contrib: more elven name processing
  • contrib: link spellbooks to spellcasters project
  • contrib: added Ufala’s spellbook
  • contrib: added Xoralfona’s and Zorkan’s spellbook
  • contrib: added Ysabala’s spellbook
  • contrib: various fixes
  • contrib: various additions (balor, warlocks, etc.)
  • contrib: typos
  • contrib: more potions, move visuals to the front
  • contrib: feyrealms are Alfheim and Svartalfheim
  • elvish: using my own, simpler liaison rules
  • contrib: italics for demonic names
  • contrib: add manor houses to villages
  • contrib: fix typo
  • contrib: various
  • contrib: fix magic user treasure
  • contrib: more netherworld elf companions
  • contrib: add link to spellcasters project
  • contrib: four more spellbooks
  • hex-describe: fix Sindarin names
  • contrib: more changes
  • hex-describe: fix Sindarin names
  • contrib: more changes
  • contrib: undead in the mountains
  • hex-describe: smarter HR for text output
  • contrib: wording
  • contrib: netherworld elves
  • contrib: more spellbooks; spellbooks for elves
  • hex-describe: better Sindarin names
  • contrib: landmarks at rivers through settlements
  • contrib: landmarks at crossroads
  • hex-describe: doc wording
  • hex-describe: credited ktrey and Whidou
  • contrib: added another spellbook
  • contrib: more spellbooks
  • hex-describe: do not log missing keys in lists
  • hex-describe: use HR to separate long elements
  • hex-describe: link Matt Strom
  • hex-describe: how to generate spellbooks

It’s so much! And the thing is that it remains hard for me to convey what it does, the excitement I feel whenever I see the Text Mapper maps and start reading the map key generated by Hex Describe. Sure, I don’t read it for an hour, but it still excites me when I read it for a few minutes and it makes me want to run a campaign. And I keep wanting to add more stuff!

One thing I’d like to add more off are simple, map-less dungeons, a bit like those lairs for the elves of darkness that live up in the mountains.

Today I think I mostly added to swamps. Black dragons, sunken temples cursed by a gorgon, that kind of thing... 🙂

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