Friday, October 28, 2011

Dormant Ooze

Often, an ooze can go for a very long time between meals. When faced with prospects of starvation, some oozes adapted a dormant stage – and of those, a better survival trait was a mimicing dormant stage.

The ooze goes dormant and assumes the characteristics of the surface it is on. Like a bacteria spore, it can last nearly indefinitely in this state. How long has it been since anyone has disturbed this tomb?

But once disturbed by movement near or upon it, the ooze begins to awake from its dormant state. Allow 1-3 rounds of disturbance to rouse the ooze. Then in a progression of 4 rounds, the ooze returns to its normal state.

So, it goes like this:

The dormant ooze at the bottom of the pit appears to be the same material as the stone floor beneath.

Landing on it, the ooze is as hard as the stone the players were expecting. But then it wakes up.

In the first round, one character or two (the dwarf's stonecraft in this example) may notice that the the floor shifted beneath them, subtly.

The next round, several characters feel like they're on different boats, rocking on the ocean.

The third round, the ooze begins loosing its mimicry characteristics. While not yet corrosive, it now looks its natural color and the characters see this transformation of the floor beneath them.

On the fourth round, it starts eating them from the boot up.


Choose your favorite ooze or roll one up.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spomenik: Inspirational Images

First, check this out as an inspirational image for your next hex crawl location:

(Click to embiggen of course)

For all the coolness that this is, I would be remiss in not informing you that it is one of many monuments to World War II veterans erected in what was then Yugoslavia under a program by Marshal Tito. There is a website devoted to those veterans.

Now for another image:

You can find more by a google image search

I could go on about their abstract majesty and how their neglect adds to their appeal and mystery, but a random table would be more useful, don't you think? Here's one for you to riff off of for the "purpose" of your spomenik.

Roll d20
  1. Temple of Tharizdun (or a local equivalent if you prefer.) Is it active? Abandoned? Waiting for the PCs to be sacrificed?
  2. Confluence of ley lines. Use another table for how magic is f'd with here.
  3. Portal to another plane. I'm sure there's a table for random planes somewhere.
  4. Another entrance to your megadungeon. If you don't have one, now you can.
  5. It is sentient.
  6. It is the local appearance of the Sphinx.
  7. Another wizard's tower.
  8. Home to a deity. Go get Judges Guild's "Unknown Gods." Or J. Mal's Petty Gods
  9. Home to a Deck of Many Things.
  10. Home to the Maid, Mother and Crone.
  11. A brain transference station left by the Elder Ones.
  12. Landing site for the Githyanki invasion. If the PCs press the red button, they unwittingly have reopened the locked passage.
  13. Holy site for the Gathering of the Tribes. Which tribes? You want me to do your job for you?
  14. Death is waiting here to play chess with you.
  15. Prison for the vice (1d8: 1 Lust 2 Gluttony 3 Greed 4 Sloth 5 Acedia (irreverence to your deity) 6 Wrath 7 Envy 8 Pride). All within the influence of the monument must save or become possessed by the vice.
  16. An alchemical mechanism for turning base substances into gold. It's location and possession is highly coveted by many powerful sorcerers.
  17. Home to an artifact and its guardian.
  18. A wolf in sheep's clothing. A mimic basically. It uses its appearance to attract PCs and eat their magic items.
  19. A Tomb. Is it the Tomb of Horrors, or another?
  20. A monument to war dead.

For reading through all those, you get another picture:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A lot of folks have done some wonderful crazy shit with sketchup. I'm not one of them. At present, I'm using it only to do easy mapping for 3D dungeons. But to followup, I have links to show what cool things others are doing and a few tools so that you could at least use sketchup for the simpler mapping I'm doing.

Here are some examples of cool things that folks have done with sketchup:
Outdoor map of the Temple of Elemental Evil
Collection of 3D dungeon pieces.
A whole DDC dungeon done up with sketchup. This one shows the full potential of sketchup, with cut views and the like.

But before you could ever create anything like the examples above, here are some essential tools. These are tools to get after you've watched and played with the instructional videos.
The Ruby Library Depot Ruby scripts are macros (and more) that will automate some of the drawing process. The other links are some of the tools I found useful.
Numb E. This macro numbers rooms sequentially at the click of a mouse. How else did I number 246 rooms of that dwarven mine?
Work Plane. This sets up a grid just like graph paper to ease pointing and clicking for map creation.
2-d tools. Most 2-d problems are solved with a work plane, but there are nifty tools here, especially the hatching texture. If you want a cool old school-looking printout of a level, you can do that with this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jaquaying your dungeon with sketchup

So you're hot to make a new dungeon, or possibly your megadungeon. You've read the forum posts about non-linear dungeons, and you want to blow your player's minds with some 3-dimensional Jaquaying. What tools do you use?

Your handy graph paper is 2d. That's certainly how it's been done, and for some that alone is reason to stick with it. But consider what Jaquay himself has used to create maps - various 3d programs. They're complex and often costly.

You do have a free, relatively simple, alternative - google sketch up. There are even video tutorials.

So I set out to do this thing. You can see the results below - click to embiggen.

The origin of these levels was a dwarven mine with a main entrance at the bottom of a cliff on a river. From that entrance, I've got passages to two different wings and a canal the dwarves used to ferry goods in and out - making a shortcut to the far end of the map. There's also a surface entrance, and soon connections to the underdark and a necromancer's catacombs; various levels and sublevels of a megadungeon. This is still in progress and I've yet to add sink holes and other evolutions - but that's easy enough to do.

Melan demonstrated how loops make nonlinear dungeons in his dungeon map analysis. I wanted to make them in 3 dimensions. The dwarves have various vault rooms, with balconies (the level in yellow) accessible from other parts of the dungeon. The forge level (purple), beneath the two shown, has elevators all the way up to the balcony (with a surface entrance) and an elevator down to the mines.

Here's the map as it currently stands with all levels shown.
Each level is a separate layer that I can make visible to focus on one at a time. Or I can work on the connections between the balconey and the forge, etc.

Here's the water entrance level.  The water is in green and you can see the bridge that connects the wings.  They'll be a connection between the wings on the mine layer as well.

The balcony level.  Some of the entrance level is inaccessible except through the balconies.

The verdict: it's a lot more work than my usual method (see below.) Typically, I grab someone else's map, load it onto my tablet pc and use windows journal to draw on the map. But in that case I'm limited to someone else's layout and without the complexity I want to create.

What a mess.  Hard to tell, but there are links on this map to another, and parts are accessible only from the other level - well, you could cross a chasm to get there as well.

What comes to mind then is to combine the two methods. Take a map from Turgenev's maps off his Paratime cartography site (thanks!) and import THAT into sketchup, and then make the 3d slides, chutes and ladders between them. Like this:

There's obviously a lot to sketch up that I'm not using. But for this I don't need textures, google earth, or even objects. I only need this to show the relationship between levels. I've got a mind to take Jaquay's the "Walking Wet" from his early Judges Guild days into sketchup just so that I can understand how the levels fit together!

I definitely won't be using sketchup for every dungeon - I just don't have time or inclination.  But if this is really to be a megadungeon the way Gary intended, then the investment could be worth it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Trouble With Lairs

Lairs are distinguished from megadungeons in that they are the abode of one singular organized body.

Key thing here is that many players aren't used to fighting something organized. Many of the PCs around my version of Yggsburgh have had their worst runs when invading lairs. Whether the lair was the Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom or my own 'Kobolds of Ever Winter', they've had runs against lairs that should have ended adventuring careers, even for those that survived. Many of these runs were losing propositions, where they used up in supplies and expendables many times what they were able to pull out of the dungeon. Sometimes you 'eat the barr' and sometimes...

It's the kinda thing that aught to drive them to find megadungeon type environments where there is more exploitable chaos. And that's why I run sandboxes, so they can choose their preferred level of risk and reward.

I shouldn't be too harsh on my players in this post. As a player, I've heard the echoes of the old Gauntlet video game sarcastically tell me "That was a valiant effort". Some players were trained by videogames with each encounter separate from the one before, and the guards where in the same place at the next visit. Others were trained by DMs who apparently were trained by videogames. Get off my lawn!

Here are 24 ways (1d12, use a d6 for high/low) that monsters in lairs can respond to an invasion of the hearth and home. Some may be beyond the capabilities of less accomplished critters like goblins, but even the lowliest humanoid will change their tactics rather than go extinct. If you think that a response isn't appropriate for the critters, I suggest the critters pick up their mobile loot (did they even know about the hoard from the lost empire, or the hidden library of the original monastery?) and skedaddle. Each of these may be used by a faction within a megadungeon, of course. But then the party can choose to take on the baddies next door.

What the Lair Will Do to Prepare for Another Incursion

(Or what 40-400 kobolds will do after you pay them a visit.)

1. Breed/train new servants/pets that complicate matters for the PCs.
2. Create/use a new entrance and block the old one.
3. Create/use a new entrance and trap the old one.
4. Plan an ambush after their entrance.
5. Double the guards.
6. Make a new alarm so their guards are reinforced quicker.
7. Pack up their treasure and leave for a new lair.
8. Run more patrols outside their lair to search for the party's camp (increase wandering monster chance with the additional chance being the patrol. If the usual chance is 1/1d6, add the patrol on a 2 in addition to the 1/1d6).
9. Ally with a spellcaster.
10. Ally with a powerful monster.
11. Poison the weapons of some guards.
12. Have trackers ready to follow the party after their next raid.
13. Pay the corrupt merchant who buys their surplus slaves and loot to take out a hit on the party. (This is dirty pool if there wasn't already such a connection that the party could have found or used.)
14. Find better armor for their guards.
15. Attempt to hide their lair.
16. Beseech their god to curse the party.
17. Use fire. With oil. Tucker's Kobolds?
18. Pack up their treasure and leave for a new lair, but leave traps.
19. Convince another tribe to trade lairs.
20. Offer the adventuring party treasure to get them to leave them alone, 1 in 4 chance the treasure is cursed. Plus, roll again for their back up plan.
21. Break the seal on the portal/demon chest/bad news package that releases a demon/plaque/uncontrolled badness. Again, best if the party had found a legend/heard the babble of an insane ex-wizard or something before this happens.
22. Offer the adventuring party directions and an advantage to attack the next lair down the block. 1 in 4 chance that the offer is a trap.
23. Make it appear that they have abandoned their lair, only to leap out from secret doors after the party is deep within the complex.
24. Ask the best fighter in the party to become their next chief. 1 in 4 chance this is an offer in earnest, but otherwise a rival will attempt to catch the PC unawares.

Example: After a party expedition that reached the 2nd level of his lair, the Sinister Shroom bred 'fungoid prowlers', which I borrowed stole from Ancient Vaults. These 6 legged crawlers moved across the ceiling to drop down on the rear of the PCs, complicating one of the better attempts the players made to take on the Pod Caverns tactically ('does everyone have a glaive-guissarme?')

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What Would Cugel Do? Why worry about the cost of Continual Light?

"What would Cugel do?" is the one of the better questions to ask if you're wondering what your players will do on any given session. If you haven't read Jack Vance's Dying Earth, then go do so because it's better than anything you'll read on the internet today. This blog will still be here, unless I sign up with google+ or something.

So, imagine if Cugel the irredeemable rogue was somehow able to cast the 2nd or 3rd level spell, Continual Light. In Dying Earth, no doubt he'd still find a way to hang himself. Conversely, "what would happen to Cugel" is not a bad question to ask if you're the DM facing some Cugel-minded players (the best kind.)

As I understand the standard old school frame that I use in the games I run, the player characters are a sieve through which gold flows. The PCs risk life, limb and soul for wealth and power only to lose it trying to gain more or via training, carousing, and a insatiable need to upgrade or replace equipment. If those money sinks fail, entice them into titles or land - any thing to keep them hungry. Why else would they risk life, limb, and soul in a maze of dark corridors, all alike? Why indeed go into the Grinding Gear? (After three expeditions, my players decided their characters would seek other dark corridors, which they are free to do.)

Given those assumptions, as soon as the cleric has that continual light spell, he'll be asking if he can go into the street lighting business. And he has. But Yggsburgh isn't the City of Lights.

I do indeed wonder what happened in Geneva when the original gamers (OG!) got their mitts on the Continual Light spell. Why wasn't Greyhawk turned into the City of Lights? Did Gary or Dave just stare them down and say "this is Dungeons and Dragons, not Papers and Paychecks"?

But honestly, a crazy scheme to sell troll bar-b-que or some other boondoggle is still a fun way to spend an evening. Crazy schemes and the resulting trials and tribulations are fine fodder to talk about while rolling strange polyhedrals and eating munchies. So I don't want to restrict player freedom. Telling them "this is Dungeons and Dragons, not Papers and Paychecks" is frankly a mood kill. Shutting down the crazy scheme making part of a players brain restricts the game into yet another trip into (monotone voice) "a maze of dark corridors, all alike." Roll d20, how much treasure do I get?

But low level permanent magic is an "easy button" to wealth and evades the resource management that is also a key part of the old school game. A Continual Light is after all a permanent magical item. It is odd to compare the ease of creating Continual Light with the difficulty of creating other magical items.

So, here are some suggested values for permanent spells that we have come across in our Yggsburgh/Zagyg campaign. Prices are suggested for C&C and for 1E.

Spell Old School Costs Material Components
Continual Light 150 gp Expertly Cut Tiger Eye
(from Unearthed Arcana, not fully permanent)
50 gp Stitched miniature suit of leather armor with silver thread
Invisible Mail
(from 2nd Edition, not fully permanent)
150 gp Miniature suit of platemail, silver embossed

1st Edition AD&D and Castles and Crusades have nearly identical price lists, varying only on high end items. Prices were chosen in comparison to mundane items that the magical ones replace. A player could still put lamp oil sellers out of business but the time frame would be past Cugel's attention span. A Continual Light source (mounted on a necklace) is now something valuable whether the players find it or make it.

T/L, D/R: Assign material costs for all permanent spells or your players will go into business instead of into dungeons but your game will be butthurt when you tell them flatly, "no." Price them as you would a permanent magical item, which is what they are. Oh, and read the Dying Earth.
PS - Thanks to ckutalik for catching CudgelCugel.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Faction Connections in a Megadungeon

Yes, I do indeed have a blog and have content to post! I spend more time running games and playing them than I do blogging and commenting, though I have wasted time on that recently. To make amends, I offer something constructive to the blogosphere: a blatant rip of Zak's NPC connection diagram from his excellent Vornheim the Complete City Kit.

It's a common trope that the population of megadungeons are divided into factions involved in a byzantine web of interconnected rivalries and alliances. This is necessary since otherwise the megadungeon inhabitants would react to the external threat of the PCs with united force, and there would be no rational for open by-ways allowing freedom of movement necessary for player choice. The PCs explore the megadungeon and are primed to take advantage of the splits to divide and conquer. Giving these relations substance allows for roleplaying and negotiation as a player choice.

The tribes in Caverns of Thracia, the factions within the Temple of Elemental Evil and even the disparate humanoid lairs of the Caves of Chaos in the Keep of the Borderlands have factional relations that PCs would do well to use. Here is a tool to assist you in brainstorming connections between factions in your megadungeon.

click to download pdf
Click to download pdf

There are a few references to other megadungeon tropes. There are 'specials' like the "Talking Face" of Greyhawk Castle lore or the magic pools from In Search of the Unknown. There are pathways in the megadungeon that may provide access to many levels or otherwise hidden sublevels. Factions and beasties commonly enslave or eat one another in your typical "evul" dungeon. The dark gods, demons or creatures of chaos that may be worshipped in the depths below have their holy relics and sources of power that some may covet. No reference here is made to the "crazy wizard" or other reason that your megadungone exists (if it needs one).