Monday, April 17, 2017

On Story Games, or: I'm Still Alive, Okay

More of the hexcrawl is coming. I am going to throw in a few Totally Sweet Drawings with the hex descriptions so that is taking some time.

I got a chance to look through the rules for DUNGEON WORLD today, so this is sort of a response to that. Despite the tone of this post I'd still play DUNGEON WORLD if asked, you know you only live once you got to try things blar blar blar.

The Tragedy of Herogar and Comfort Eating

One of the things that I hate to read in forum posts is that old chestnut, "I want to play a hero!" Because my response is, okay then, do it. I find the notion bizarre that a particular GM or a particular game could hold you back from roleplaying a heroic character. You don't need Fate Tokens or Hero Points or storytime interludes where you and the GM hold hands and share your dreams together. You want to be a hero, be heroic. "But without Plot Coupons (tm) that'll probably get me killed!" you say. Well, yes. Heroes don't tend to die comfortably in bed. C'est la guerre. "But so many deaths are just lame and pathetic! And anyway my idea of fun isn't playing a rat catcher who dies of sepsis in a gutter."

Okay, I'll go this far---I don't think you should be forced to play someone INCOMPETENT (which is what's implied by 'rat catcher,' nevermind actual rat catchers would have a ton of immediately useful skills for most dungeoncrawls but whatever) and you shouldn't be forced to play someone FEEBLE or PATHETIC. The assumption going into most D&D games is that even level 1 PCs are a cut above the common fabric---level 1 fighters are veterans, level 1 rogues are the toughest, wiliest guy on their corner, etc.--and that suits me fine. I think that should be the standard, with the most 'hardcore' method of 3d6-in-order-don't-name-the-guy-til-level-2 being the option, but it's kind of like do you say tomayto or tomahto, whatever.

Let's say you roll up a lvl 1 Paladin named Herogar. He's a studly stoical dude with a cool beard and a big ole greatsword. You proudly present a single-spaced page of handwritten backstory detailing his journey from dreamy farmboy to knight-errant, sprinkling the tale with lost love, a bitter rivalry and paths not taken. A taut, unpretentious piece, a springboard for greater things. You have high hopes for Herogar.

Your first dungeon. The Rogue is methodically prodding an iron door with a 10-ft pole while the party takes five. The jackass Bard plays inspire competence on his keytar. The DM rolls for a wandering encounter. Dire rats! six--no, eight, no--ten of them! There is a round of boos at the table. The DM weathers a sharp plastic pyramid to the face. Undaunted, he calls for initiatives. Herogar gets a 1. The rats charge, yellow diseased slaver foaming from their jaws. The rogue says something about being a ranged build and legs it, as does the bard. Once again, the skill monkies have made a mess and the tanks get the bill. No point in running in scale mail anyway--Herogar and Fallguy the fighter barely have time to brace before a carpet of shrieking, spitting mangy fur swamps them. The combat is over fast--Herogar is face down in his own blood, his flesh sheared off in chunks by the scythe-like teeth of the maddened rats. A gruesome end. His scattered bones will never be borne back to the farm.

Wasn't quite what you had in mind for poor Herogar. You have a few options at this point. You can conclude this DM and this campaign aren't for you, get up and leave. I can't say that's invalid. There'll be a place for you at RPGnet. After all it hurts to see potential wadded up and thrown away due to a mix of bad luck and letting someone play a Bard. It would have been one thing if Herogar went out on YOUR terms--say, if he squared up to the oncoming horde and cried "go, I'll hold them off!" that'd be how a Paladin ought to go out. But you didn't even get that. A few rolls and an anonymous death.

Or, you roll up Dave the Paladin. Dave is very similar to Herogar--they even have similarly heroic facial hair. You could almost say he's an echo of his fallen, unknown predecessor. There's a key difference though--Dave has opted for a one-handed weapon and heavy shield, prioritizing AC over offensive power. He also carries a bandolier of jars of lamp oil, each a potential flaming grenade. Not only will these deal fiery punishment to a target, if struck on the ground the molotovs can provide short but vital area denial---long enough to keep an adventurer from getting swarmed perhaps, and provide that vital window of time to run.

From a STORY perspective, there's no connection between Herogar and Dave. But taken from the perspective that you are playing a game--one with a learning curve and tricks to master--Herogar's death has meaning. He died so that Dave might be spared his mistakes. And perhaps Dave WILL get that heroic moment of sacrifice, a moment to be fondly recalled as an awesome moment of roleplaying in years to come. And it will come about not because some interlocking system of safety nets predestined it but because YOU EARNED IT. You earned that moment, and Dave will have earned his spot in Memorable Character Valhalla (or who knows, maybe he'll get to retire to a grand stronghold at the end of a storied career). Long after you forget whatever it was you called your PC's rival in their backstory, you'll remember the verdict of the dice, the careful planning, the anticipation.

Or maybe not. Maybe there's more of the dramatist than the gambler in your genes. D&D is a lot of things to a lot of people. All I know is ice cream earned tastes better than ice cream NOW, ice cream eaten for comfort food (to be honest, I don't actually like ice cream). Me, I love to gamble, and I lose a lot. Many a character of mine has bled out on the floor ignominiously, slain by the failure of my crappy chessex d20 (I keep forgetting to throw away the blue one). Even my characters who survived to become storied heroes have had downright humiliating failures, a stain forever on my character's psychic image of heroic prowess. The thing about games though, is to me they're only fun when they remain unpredictable. A game wherein you negotiate for the outcome you want ("I deal the dragon its death wound but lose my ancestral sword in its scaly hide as the beast tumbles into the crevasse") sounds less like a game to me and more like an acting exercise. I don't want to be given my success after a round of bargaining, I want to WREST it from an earnestly fought opposition through the right mix of planning and luck. That's the sweet spot for me, and I don't mind sacrificing a few made-up people (always more where they came from) to get there.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


I got bored yesterday and started making a new hexcrawl.  The first thing you have to do when creating a new hex map is figure out how big you want your hexes to be.  Initially I was thinking large--say each hex would represent two days of travel for an unencumbered person walking presuming no obstacles whatsoever.  But that was a little crazy.  I decided to make them six miles on a side and twelve across, or essentially one day's travel for an unencumbered person walking at an easy pace and facing no obstacles.

Next,  I created d6 terrain types, each marked by a symbol.  Then I thought of d8 things to be in hexes and marked each with a certain color.  Then, to determine the path of rivers and roads, I made a chart of d8 directions.   I recorded the three columns on a notecard as shown here:

To spare you the effort of peering at my crimped handwriting, here's what the columns say -

1. Temp. Plain (T in a circle)
2. Temp. Marsh/Swamp (T over three squiggly lines)
3. Temp Forest (T between two trees)
4. Temp. Hills (T under a curving line)
5. Temp. Mountains (T under a cone)
6.  Cold Mountains (C under a cone.  Presumably a cold mountains hex represents a massif or table-land which is sufficiently high above the surrounding environs to have its own climate). 

1 - N; 2 - NW; 3 - W; 4 - SW; 5 - S; 6 - SE; 7 - E; 8 - NE;

In This Hex
1. Town/Community (fuchsia)
2. Ruin (green)
3. Superpredator (yellow. I define a superpredator as a creature of CR 7 or above which could well dominate at least one hex area.)
4. Magical Wonder (pink)
5. Warzone (red)
6. Fortress (blue)

I began from the lower left hand corner of my paper and worked rightwards by row, eventually filling out 51 hexes (three rows) in this way.  Once this first bunch of rows was completed, I first tried using a "die drop" method employing a d4 to draw in paths/roads, as suggested at excellent blog, The Retired Adventurer.  This didn't go too well because the hexes made by my printer turned out to be much too small so after producing some truly ugly and bizarre pathways I settled on rolling a d8 for singular direction for roads and then streams.  Essentially once I had a next direction I just drew the river flowing into the next hex over in a way that looked, I dunno, good.  Where the rivers doubled back, I filled in the space with a lake.

So here's what the thing looks like -

Obviously, The Thing In The Hex is not literally where I marked it with a dot.  However the lakes and rivers will hew to those shapes. 

What you might notice right away, beginning from the left, is there are a LOT of mountain hexes interspersed with bunches of marsh hexes.  So we have here a very stark landscape with chains of stony vaults, in the rifts of which are reaches of spongy lowland (perhaps brackish lagoons) fed by mighty but rambling rivers. 

Looking back at this horizontal strip of land we see a profusion of Magical Wonders.  My thought with this is there's a thing in the hex that does something weird, like maybe a statue that polymorphs you for 1d6 days or a flock of birds that can foretell the future---off-the-wall, potentially gamechanging stuff you're not going to find in the Core Rulebook's list of magic items.  Apparently this country has a lot of such things. 

Notice, interestingly, the triad of connected communities to the south and east (hexes 12, 13 and 14); two occupy hilly country and the eastmost a plain.  Immediately eastwards of them you have a similar chain of ruins (hexes 15, 16, 17) semicircling some local oddity against the lake (hex 33).    In fact, if you look at where the settlements are they seem to predominate in the eastwards third--hexes 15, 16, 17, 30, 48 and 32 are longitudinally close and hold communities of some form.  To the west, however, we see a dense cloud of active fortifications:  hexes 25, 8, 6, 41, 39, 38, 20, and 35.  Whereas in this western longitude only 18, 2, 5 and 37 contain non-militarized(?) settlements.  A community will probably have some defensive measures and many fortifications may well have a smaller attached community, but the colors show where the emphasis is.

Finally we notice that where we see a ruin, they are always part of some contiguous grouping: hexes 3 and 4; 26, 27, 28, 44 and 45; 15, 16 and 17.  Of course they may be part of some linked chain of ruins or not.  It is interesting how the largest grouping of ruins occupies the center of this latitudinal strip of land. 

So we have a region, starkly divided between mountains and lowlands, festooned with unique and probably dangerous magical oddities, with a cluster of sagging ruins at its center, lots of fortified/militarized little communities with some marginal areas of peaceful settlement and dotted with a few hot spots of currently active warfare.   And three, count 'em three, giant monsters everybody tries to stay clear of.  Honestly it's cray cray how well this worked out.

Time to Brainstorm
So the rote part of our hexmap is done and now it's time to pick my own brain and come up with some stuff. Each of my categories needs a broad list of things I can roll for randomly to see which of those is in the hex.

 1d10 Superpredators (must be CR 7+)
1. Really Tough-Ass Manticore
2. Wyvern
3. Nymph (I'm kind of borrowing Goblin Punch's neat idea of Nymphs as a kind of local menace just through sucking everything in around them with their beauty)
4. Chymera
5. Dire Bear
6. Really Tough Old-Ass Owlbear (I should probably share my headcanon on the lifecycle of owlbears sometime)
7. Androsphinx
8. Dragonne
9. Athach
10. Medusa (I don't remember if I got this idea from Goblin Punch also but in my D&D headcanon Medusas are basically Nymphs That Went Bad)

1d12 Who Rules This Fort?
1. Elflord level 8+1d4. Is (1d3) 1) Fighter-Wizard crossclass type; 2) A cavalier; 3) A Sorcerer with some weird-ass monster ancestry. Rules a small village of hot elves, has a cadre of Extremely Badass Sword-Dancers or Magic-Archers or whatever. Probably under the protection of Giant Eagles. Expect lots of feasting, dancing and snooty remarks.

2. Death Knight, cavalier level 7+1d3. Castle guarded by skellingtons, rules over a dilapidated hamlet of terrorized peasants. Undoubtedly has a tragic backstory.

3. Vampire, cavalier level 7+1d3. As Death Knight but it's way sexier. Probably has a pack of werwolf thugs collecting his taxes.

4. High Priest, Cleric lvl 9+1d4. This dude is undoubtedly only in his fort long enough to gear up for his next crusade and he's probably looking for donations.

5. Courteous Baron. Fighter level 9+1d4. Totally a straight-up dude.

6. Robber Baron. Fighter level 9+1d4. Will shake travelers down for all they've got, generous with handing out stints in the oubliette.

7. Paladin. Level 8+1d6. Undoubtedly just on his way to go take care of something in some other hex. If PCs are susceptible to moral guilt they will probably end up as his new followers.

8. Ranger (or maybe Inquisitor) cadre. This fort is the headquarters of some kind of specialized monster-hunter society and they're looking for MEN OF TALENT to go scout out some other hex for them.

9. Cadre of Thieves. This castle has been bought or leased by the Thieves' Guild and is being used as an innocuous base of operations (because who would think the Thieves would operate IN PLAIN SIGHT???) Leadership is a committee 1d4+2 Rogues of level 4+1d3; at least one will be a fighter crossclass. They are undoubtedly plotting a raid on some castle or town nearby, able to scope their target just fine from their TOTALLY LEGITIMATE fortress that they LEGIT BOUGHT and DON'T LOOK IN THE PANTRY THERE'S NOTHING THERE I DON'T KNOW WHO THAT DEAD GUY IS

10. Archmage. This castle is the domicile of an archmage (Wizard lvl 10+1d6). He does not want to be disturbed and his robot guards will be showing you the way out. Alternatively (1d3) 1. Sorcerer; 2. Summoner; 3. Alchemist.

11. Tax Farmer. The guy who lives in this castle and collects rent from the little hamlet around it is not a military dude. He has like 7+1d3 levels in Aristocrat or Expert and some decent political connections.

12. Brigand Lord. Not that different from a Robber Baron except this guy doesn't have the support of the Count/King/Whatever. Technically he is fair game to get steamrolled by the first people to roll up to his door but he has enough men/local support/is a huge enough hardass to make it a tough undertaking. Probably a fighter or cavalier lvl 8+1d6.

1d8 Magical Wonders Brainstormery Prompts
1. Magical statue
2. Giant crystalline formation
3. Magic well
4. Magical creature(s)
5. Peaceful/blessed cemetary
6. Magical plant(s)
7. Hallowed ancient battlefield
8. Disused/ruined magical device (like an arcanotech steampump or something)

You'll notice none of the ruins are anything inimically hostile like ACCURSED CEMETERY THAT SPAWNS INFINITE GHOULS or something LotFP-y like that. If you've read enough by me, by now you know that's not the vibe I go for.

1d12 Ruin Origins
1. Giant/Cyclopean
2. Elven (type based on terrain)
3. Dwarf
4. Destroyed human fortress
5. Destroyed human temple
6. Raided Wizard's Seclusium
7. Fey Ruins
8. Druidical Ruins
9. Snakemen Ruins
10. Ruined purpose-built arcane complex (like a transplanar airport or something)
11. Ruined Evil Humanoid temple
12. Ruined Horde of Tiamat Spawning-Palace

1d10 Town/Community Races
This place is inhabited by...
1. Mens
2. Elfs (type by terrain) (Plains, Hills = High; Forest = Forest; Marsh = Wild; Mountains = Grey)
3. Dorfs (type by terrain) (Forest, Plains, Marsh = Reroll race; Hills = Hill; Mountains = Mountain
4. Catmans (1d2: 1. Elder Scrolls style; 2. Thundercats style)
5. Crowmans
6. Illumians
7. Gnomes (type by terrain) (Plains, Marsh = Reroll; Mountains, Hills = Rock, Forest = Forest)
8. Hobbits (never bought into the halfling subraces)
9. Dragonmans
10. Monstermen (Marsh or adj. body of water = Locathah; Mountains = Aaracokra; Plains = Centaurs; Forest = Nycter)
-NOTE: Roll a d100 for each community.  If you got 50 or under it's just humans. 

With this list of items for fleshing out each hex, there remains the final thing of course: DUNGEONS. I will go with a 25% chance each hex may hold a dungeon.

NEXT -  We flesh this out, beginning with hex 1 (but definitely not ending with hex 51)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

So I watched Coraline last night

Really good movie.  Sweet and creative.  I don't watch a lot of kids' movies (being an adult with serious grown up tastes, obviously) so IDK how typical it is to show a somewhat less than perfect family but I liked that her parents weren't saints.  The Belle Dame is an amazing monster design (notice she goes through three distinct "looks" as the story goes on, her true form a delayed reveal like in the best horror movies).  It played like a single really excellent encounter or adventure built around one fairly complex monster.

The movie was an excellent fairy or "fair folk" story which hit on a lot of the themes those types of tales do, without being rote about it.  Of course I guess technically it was a ghost story but the line between ghosts and the fair folk is fairly blurred when you really look at the "canon" I guess.  Dullehan is a good example---the headless rider is usually connected to the Fair Folk but seems to be a classic example of undead (same I guess with Jack 'O the Lantern or Will-o-the-Wisps).  That's something I want to push in my Pathfinder game (since I've gone so far as to create monsters of my own and received no complaints I've felt free to make the monsters and their taxonomy my own for a while).  The Fairies and the Undead aren't the same thing anymore than a Leprechaun is a Ghoul but there's a connection there---both are warded away by sacred ground or sacred objects, for instance.

Of course the real question is, if Coraline was a Pathfinder player character what class would she be?  The question is deceptively tricky because Coraline herself is just a kid---a fairly well written one, in that (apologies to my juvenile readers) she's not really a fully-formed person yet.  Who knows what she'd grow up into.  Her character traits (curious/adventurous, willful/demanding, even dare we say BOSSY) could be (or should be, for my money) common to any adventurous type.

What we Know

She likes the outdoors, has no problem getting dirty.  Has something of a green thumb.  Knows the trick of dousing rods.  Druid could work (earth domain obviously, be sure to give her mud ball for her first domain spell).  Her proclivity for crawling and climbing and general agility suggests Rogue.  Appetite and temperament (common to all tween girls, I can say so having grown up with one) suggests Barbarian.  On the other hand seeing as magic is a theme throughout the story Sorcerer or Witch could do her justice.

Buuut I think my first instinct is the best here.

Character Inspired by Coraline - CN Adolescent Human Druid; Med. Humanoid; HD: 1d8+1 (9 hp); Spd: 30 ft; AC: 16 (+2 Dex +3 hide shirt +1 Dodge)Touch 13, FF 13; BaB: +0; CMB: -1; CMD: 11; Atks: Dagger -1 melee/+2 thrown 10 ft (1d4-1 19-20/x2 pierce) or javelin +2 thrown 30 ft (1d6-1 x2 pierce); S/R: 5/5 ft; SA: Acid Dart (sp) +2 ranged touch 30 ft (1d6+1 acid); SQ: Awareness (+1 Svs, Conc. chk), Heart of the Mountains (+2 climb, acrobatics), Fvrd Class: Druid (+1 skill pt), Nature Sense, Wild Empathy, Bond: Earth Domain; Svs: Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +5; Ablts: Str 09 Dex 15 Con 13 Int 13 Wis 15 Cha 10
Feats: Dodge
Skills (1/5) Acrobatics (cc) +4*, Climb +4*, Knowledge (Nature) +7, Perception +6, Survival +8
*-1 chk. pen.
CL: 1st | Conc. Chk: +4 | Spells/Day: 0risons - 3 | lvl 1 - 2+1
Equipment: Dagger, javelins x6, hide shirt, wet weather cloak/boots, waterproof pack, waterskin, GIANT SPOOL OF YARN, pitons, caltrops, misc. camping gear (Med. Load)
Spells Prep'd
0risons - Resistance, Enhanced Diplomacy, Mending
lvl 1 - Mudball, Monkey-Fish, Magic Stone [Domain]

"Well I'm no Picasso, but..."