Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Map of New Troy

I spent a hungover Saturday drawing this map of mundane New Troy. I used a combination of these gimp brushes, the wonderful mkhexgrid, and my own inept drawing skills. Names have been stolen without shame from The Matter of Britain, Le Morte d'Arthur, and other similar sources.

Not all of it is labelled, obviously. The action centres around the castle of Kinkernadon, which is close to two small walled towns, Wroxeter and Bedgraine, and sandwiched between two rivers - the Great Ouse and Little Ouse. To the South, the dark forest of Broceliande, known to be the haunt of the fae. To the East, Listeneise, dangerous hills in which lie the caves the lead to Muspel. To the West, Tinchebray, another deep wood in which, if you take a wrong turn or stray from the path, you can easily find yourself slipping into the faerie realm.

Dragons represent beasts; skull-and-crossbows are human dangers. Stars are portals to faerie. Single huts are hermits, witches, or similar. Two huts together are a sizeable village; on other clear hexes there will be farms and hamlets. Pickaxe and spades are mines. Towers are, er, towers.

I'll key it properly in the coming days. Following it will be a map of Faerie. The essential concept is that this mundane map is a 15x10 mile area with 1-mile hexes; the Faerie map will be a mirror reflection, except the hexes are 6-miles and the contents are twisted and strange. Both Gort's Friend and Adrian have made excellent comments on recent entries that I intend to incorporate.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Nature of Faerie and Muspel

One of the advantages of having a distinct Underworld and an Otherworld is that things in those places don't have to particularly make sense. Indeed, the whole point is that they don't. What does this mean? RANDOM STOCKING.

Conveniently BECMI, which is always my system of first choice, has a random dungeon stocker, modified from the original Holmes.

Wilderness stockers have been discussed both here and here. Paolo and Brendan have perfectly workable systems which I like, but I would tweak things slightly. My position on hexes is something I have made clear in the past so there is no need to belabour the point, but assuming a default of 6-mile hexes, each hex should have at least one pre-rolled adventure site, not taking into consideration random encounter-based results that flesh out the map further in-game.

That said, I want there to be a distinct difference between Faerie and the "real world". Faerie is supposed to be where adventure happens; the "real world" is more mundane. I also want New Troy to be small, at least at first. Initially, the map is going to be 1-mile hexes. A final consideration is that I want New Troy to be overlaid by the map of Faerie: Faerie is a kind of mirror or reflection of New Troy, with a certain special twist.

So the idea for stocking the New Troy map is as follows. First, I place the starting settlement plus a few others. Then, I stock the map with something like this table, rolling for each hex:

1. Opening to Faerie (tied to a certain natural landmark; may be known or unknown, permanent or temporary)
2. Beast lair (wolves, bear, boar, etc.)
3. Human mundane (thieves, knightly manor, village, etc.)
4. Human special (witch, monastery, hermit, etc.)
5. Ruin
6. Hidden or special place (crypt, cave, hollow tree, standing stones, etc.)

Once this is done, I overlay the New Troy map with the Faerie map, and flip it so that each hex in Faerie corresponds with the New Troy ones as follows:

1. Opening to Faerie -> Opening to New Troy
2. Beast lair -> Monster lair
3. Human mundane -> Faerie ('Mundane' seems the wrong adjective)
4. Human special -> Faerie special
5. Ruin -> Magical location (wizard tower, magical lake, toadstool circle, etc.)
6. Hidden place -> Transplant (a building, person or thing that has 'slipped' from New Troy into Faerie)

Then I decide where the opening(s) to Muspel are. I haven't tested this, so it may result in skewed results; we'll see.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

More Thoughts on Mythic Underworlds and Mythic Otherworlds

[This post has been significantly edited from its previous version: due to circumstances outside of my control; i.e. my own stupidity, I had the mechanics the wrong way round. I've made the appropriate changes and also updated things slightly.]

Time moves faster in Faerie and slower in Muspel. I've established that, but there ought really to be a way to mechanise it.

Let's begin with Faerie. It is almost always the case in literature involving travel to other, Faerie-esque worlds that time moves more quickly there: think of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for instance. The characters disappear to another world where they have spent years, decades, a lifetime...and return to find that almost no time has passed in our world at all. (A recent update to this story is, of course, the Next Gen episode "Inner Light", which is one of the all-time great episodes of TV in any age or genre.)

So the mechanism for the movement of time in Faerie is simple: on returning to the "real world", the DM rolls a d100 and divides the amount of time spent in Faerie by the number on the dice. So 7 weeks in Faerie, with a result of 50 on the d100, means they have only been away from the real world for a little less than a day. To model the extremes to which these stories can go (the children in The Lion... are in Narnia for what seems to them like decades, but return only minutes later), the results explode downwards. If the result on the d100 is 1-10, the DM should re-roll, but as a d1000 and divide. If the result there is 1-100, the DM should re-roll as a d10000...and so forth.

That's simple enough. In Muspel, of course, things are the other way round. There, time moves much more slowly than it does in the "real world". Again, this can be discovered in myth: in an extreme example, the Japanese legend of Urashima Taro, the main character stays at the palace of the dragon god for 3 days and returns to his home town to find that 300 years have passed.

So the mechanism for the speed at which time moves in Muspel is almost the mirror image of Faerie. The rule is, when the PCs return from Muspel, the DM rolls a d20 for however long they have stayed there (approximately), and multiplies that amount of time by the number on the dice. For instance, if they've been there 6 hours, a result of 12 on the d20 means they've been there 72 hours. If they've been there three days, a result of 12 on the d20 means it was actually 36 days. However, a roll of 18 or above explodes upwards. The DM rolls a second d20, but this time the result indicates a higher time bracket (hours become days, days become weeks, etc.). So if the PCs were in the Muspel for a day, and the DM rolls an 18, he re-rolls; if the second roll is a 12, they were away for 12 weeks. If the second roll is a roll of 18 or above, it explodes upwards again, moving to a higher time bracket once more. This can quickly result in many years passing, in extreme examples.

Now, the question(s) then becomes: won't all this result in an insane level of complexity for the DM? Won't he have to have it worked out in advance what will happen years into the future?

The answer is "No", thanks to two mechanics, which I have yet to quite figure out yet in their entirety. The first of these uses the Series of Unfortunate Events method postulated by Pseudoephedrine on therpgsite years ago; for each month the PCs have been away, the DM rolls to see what has happened generally in New Troy since. (This takes work, yes: it is probably only to be done between sessions.) The second of these would be a table of Personal Events which is rolled for each PC, including deaths of family members, wives or husbands running off with somebody else, and so on - although this would perhaps be done on a yearly, rather than monthly, basis.

Faerie is much easier, of course: there, time moves more quickly. The only complication here is what people think when you go away and come back a few hours later looking incredibly old and with a whole load of new possessions and abilities.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Five RPG-Related Internet Things Every Gamer Should Read

The other day I linked to Philotomy's Musings and made the, perhaps somewhat rash, comment that it is the best thing that has come out of "the OSR". It got me thinking about what else I would put on my Desert Island Discs of Things Gamers Should Read.

So first up is the Musings. What else?

I think this post by Zak S is incredibly perceptive and interesting, and is the type of thing which you read and think, "That's so obviously true that it's amazing nobody seems to have actually written it before." It was 2010 and the notion is by now well understood in the particular echo-box that I am in, but still.

Patrick, my friend, ran a D&D game for a group of teenaged boys who he only very tangentially knew (one of them is the nephew-in-law, or cousin-in-law, or second-nephew-once-removed-in-law, or something, of Nathan, who was also in our now sadly dismantled Liverpool game group). The posts he wrote about it are brilliant, but they are also a sort of microcosm of D&D, for me. We are grown-ups, and D&D was initially written by and for grown-ups, but for almost its entire history it has been the preserve largely of teenage boys. It's easy to forget that.

Jeff Rients' threefold model is funny, and feels like it's throwaway, but it is actually exceedingly perceptive. It also contains two single sentences which sum up D&D better than any I can possibly think of: "I suppose one could argue that Dungeons & Dragons fits the requirements to be Retro Stupidly Pretentious. But every RPG theory fails the moment D&D is taken into consideration, so I probably ought to quit while I'm ahead."

Benoist's epic megadungeon construction series. If it doesn't inspire you, you are sick in the mind and wrong in the head.

I think if you read those five things you are almost certainly good to go.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Random Ghost Generator

For Yoon-Suin, I came up with a little set of random tables for generating the ghosts which haunt the jungles of Láhág. Here they are:

A ghost created with this method:

Basic type: 5, Emotion: 6, Shape: 7, Appearance: 6, Method of Haunting: 4, Abilities: 18, 1, 11.

Mother Baxawalu. Mother Baxawalu haunts a vast Banyan tree growing at the bottom of a dark, ever-misty ravine. She appears as a naked old woman, carrying her own severed head in both hands. She tries to ensnare anybody unfortunate enough to stray into her ravine through the use of her sleep and hold person spells; once she has them in her power she ties them to branches in the Banyan tree and attempts to adopt and raise them as her own children, treating them like her family and trying to convince them of her undying love. Unless they escape, they typically starve to death or die of sheer terror and despair.  
Mother Baxawalu, it is said, was the mother of a zamindar of the town of Alipurduar, who was taken to the forest and beheaded by her own sons after they mistakenly assumed she had been unfaithful to their father. Stories of her haunting terrify local children, and the very sound of her cooing voice is enough to cause fear to any who have heard her tale. 

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Mythic Underworld and Mythic Otherworld

The working title for the new campaign setting is New Troy. This is purely because I've always liked the completely made-up notion from the Middle Ages that Britain was founded by refugees from the fall of Troy. This is a reality in which that, or something like it, happened. But it was long ago, and nobody really knows much about it at all - or what Troy is or was.

In New Troy, there are two other worlds, called Faerie and Muspel. (There is a third, called Elysium, but it remains inaccessible except to the dead.) Faerie is the realm of elves, changelings, and other beings that are by turns capricious, curious, benevolent or cruel. There, time moves more quickly than it does in New Troy, and nothing is ever quite what it seems.

Muspel is the underworld, the realm of evil spirits, giants, and devils. Sometimes it is like fire; other times like ice. There, time moves more slowly than it does in New Troy, and everything is what it seems: malevolent and depraved.

There are times, and places, where the boundaries between New Troy and the world of Faerie and the world of Muspel become blurred. For Faerie, these tend to be ever-shifting: a gate may exist on a certain hilltop for a hundred years before suddenly moving elsewhere or closing, while another may be found behind a waterfall for one day every decade. For Muspel, they tend to be fixed, eternal: caves, chasms, natural arches.

Faerie and Muspel are where adventure happens in New Troy. Muspel is the mythic underworld as described by Philotomy:

There is a school of thought on dungeons that says they should have been built with a distinct purpose, should "make sense" as far as the inhabitants and their ecology, and shouldn't necessarily be the centerpiece of the game (after all, the Mines of Moria were just a place to get through). None of that need be true for a megadungeon underworld. There might be a reason the dungeon exists, but there might not; it might simply be. It certainly can, and perhaps should, be the centerpiece of the game. As for ecology, a megadungeon should have a certain amount of verisimilitude and internal consistency, but it is an underworld: a place
where the normal laws of reality may not apply, and may be bent, warped, or broken. Not merely an underground site or a lair, not sane, the underworld gnaws on the physical world like some chaotic cancer.  
It is inimical to men; the dungeon, itself, opposes and obstructs the adventurers brave enough to explore it.

Faerie is the mythic otherworld, the wilderness equivalent to the megadungeon. A world of trees, hills, rivers and rain, but where the normal laws of reality do not apply, and are bent, warped or broken. It may even be more dangerous than Muspel, because it resembles the real world so closely that you may not even realise you are in it. But it is not the real world: There are other things there.

Friday, 10 January 2014

New Years, New Projects:

Because of having a busy period in my life as well as devoting most of my creative energies to getting Yoon-Suin in publishable form, the blog has turned away from production of actual stuff and increasingly become merely a forum for my bizarre diatribes and contentless ramblings. THIS MUST CHANGE.

Therefore, I've decided that, as a backlash against this and as a kind of palate-cleanser from Yoon-Suin, I will start publicly creating a campaign setting here on the blog. Nothing huge, but a sandbox in which to place some beginning characters while also showing how I go about prepping for a campaign. When it's over, I may go on to do an urban sandbox for Cyberpunk 2020 too.

Step one, of course, is thematic coherence, which I discussed here as an elaboration of the 25 word method of setting seeding. I want a setting which is high fantasy, because I don't do that enough. Something more European in flavour, more based around faeries and changelings, witches and giants, mythic underworlds and odd folklore, ladies in lakes and geas spells. In other words, I'm picturing a mixture of Jack Vance's Lyonesse books, the Grimm fairy tales, Gene Wolfe's The Wizard Knight, The Chronicles of Narnia, Changeling: The Dreaming, Pendragon and Le Morte d'Arthur. But D&D, motherfucker. Is that 25 words? It'll do.

Some visuals:

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Fantasy Books in Parents' Attics Update

Another find from the loft of my dad's house: a copy of The Silmarillion that I picked up at a library stock sale for what must have been less than a quid or so. I can only have been about 14 years old. It's never been read (I have a paperback copy) and is a beautifully constructed book; it is a First Edition, fourth impression, from 1977. Gaze on it in awe.

1977. When fantasy books didn't have pictures of people striking cool poses on the cover. 

1977. When fantasy books had beautiful maps actually within the text where you needed to look at them.

1977. When fantasy books had sub-headings. 

1977. When fantasy books had beautiful fold-out maps in the back.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Good Dragonlance Sentences: Introduction

A few days ago, I took a bet that I couldn't find any good sentences in the Dragonlance books. I don't welch on bets, so it's time to see what I can find.

My proposal is this: once a week I will read a chapter from a Dragonlance book and put up some examples of what might be "good" sentences in it. I will begin with the "Legends" trilogy, primarily because it's the only one I have to hand at the moment (I picked it up at a secondhand book shop a few months ago), but also because it's better than the "Chronicles" - let's face it. I will continue to do this until Zak agrees that there are good sentences.

We also need to define what a "good sentence" is, because undoubtedly Weis & Hickman are better writers than you or I. (If you disagree, then where's your novel?) The context in which the bet was made was in comparison to Michael Moorcock and HP Lovecraft, so we'll say that a good Dragonlance sentence is one which would also be deemed "good" if written by either of those two writers.

Here goes. From the Introduction to Time of the Twins:

[Describing Astinus, the historian who sees, knows, and records everything] "The historian's face might have been reckoned handsome in a timeless, ageless fashion. But none who saw his face ever remembered it. They simply remembered the eyes - dark, intent, aware, constantly moving, seeing everything. Those eyes could communicate vast worlds of impatience, reminding Bertrem that time was passing. Even as the two spoke, whole minutes of history were ticking by, unrecorded." 
[Describing the first time we see Raistlin] "All she could see before her were two golden eyes shining from the depths of darkness. The eyes were like a gilt mirror, flat, reflective, revealing nothing of the soul within. The pupils - Crysania stared at the dark pupils in rapt horror. The pupils within the golden eyes were the shape of hourglasses! And the face - drawn with suffering, marked with the pain of the tortured existence the young man had led for seven years, ever since the cruel Tests in the Tower of High Sorcery left his body shattered and his skin tinged gold. The mage's face was a metallic mask, impenetrable, unfeeling as the golden dragon's claw upon his staff."

Not great literature, no. But we're not judging them against Proust, remember. This will do for the Introduction.

Monday, 6 January 2014

People Are Self-Entitled Whinge-Bags

Whenever I get depressed about people in the RPG hobby whingeing and complaining about things (from edition warring to supposedly bad DMing to failure to provide orgasms to badwrongfun to rape culture to lack of political correctness) I remind myself that this is not so much a failure of RPG nerds as it is a failure of many human beings. People are self-entitled whinge-bags. They want things to be perfect for them, and when they're not they think they have been personally slighted. This is especially so when it comes to goings-on within their hobby or pastime.

I was reminded of this reading the comments to the "as it happened" stream on the BBC website for the coverage of England's latest cricketing disaster against Australia. Have a look at some of them:

From Sue and Keith, disgruntled in Sydney: Having paid a lot to come out to watch the Melbourne and Sydney tests, it was bad enough knowing that the Ashes were lost. But can we sue the ECB under the Trades Description Act as we haven't seen what could be described as a cricket match at either game. Pathetic.

From Iain: The most pathetic display by any sporting team leaving these shores to represent England. Only Broad and Stokes deserve the right to wear the Three Lions again. Pathetic.

Jack B: Cook should hand his resignation in within the next 24 hours. What an embarrassing, pathetic leader he has been.

Paul R: Make no mistake the English cricket team are a national disgrace. Gutless and clueless. Are they hurting? Not enough.

Lewis C: Not one to knock an England side, but the tour has been a shambles. Not even a victory for pride's sake. Given fans nothing. 
Matt Jones: Can I suggest that the whole pampered squad donate their first-class tickets home to the poor suffering fans that spent thousands on the trip down under. They're not fit to wear the shirt. A total and utter shambles. 
Mark: Awful. Simply awful from England. Resignations/changes please. Just not good enough aside from Stokes in the whole series.

See what I mean? THE ENGLAND TEAM HAVE GIVEN THE FANS NOTHING. We demand reprisals! Punishment! We want people to lose their jobs! Bring back hanging! We wanted the England team to win and they were so fucking inconsiderate they went and lost! PATHETIC.

It's not enough that the England cricket team went and tried their best and happened to get beaten by a better side. They didn't do what we, the fans, wanted, and therefore they are a disgrace. It's not enough that RPG designer Y created a game that wasn't perfect for every individual fan in the entire universe: the fact that he wasn't specifically tailoring it to my needs and outlook on the world is a bloody scandal.

People are self-entitled whinge-bags.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Advantages of Being First

There are much better systems than D&D in the world. In fact, D&D is rather incoherent and riddled with irregularities, despite its charm. Yet from a certain perspective, D&D is the best game there is, simply because it is the first and most popular.

This is no circular argument: what I mean to say is, because D&D was the first role playing game and has hence secured the Top Dog space for itself and ruled the roost ever since (to mix my metaphors just slightly), there are vastly more people playing it and hence vastly more people creating things for it. To put it in fashionable terminology, the D&D brain trust is massive in comparison with that for any other RPG. The OSR blogosphere is only one small example of this. From house rules to new monsters to campaign settings to alternative classes to whatever else you can think of, there are dozens of times more people creating things for D&D than any other system, and thus there is a greater vat of accumulated knowledge from which any given D&D player can draw inspiration and edification than there is for game X, Y, or Z. Or even A, B or C.

But it doesn't stop there. I would suggest that D&D's pre-eminent position at the forefront of the hobby has a more profound and subtle impact on D&D players than just providing them with loads and loads of ideas, new rules, and customisations. The boon is far greater, if slightly more difficult to access: it comes in the idea that D&D is not a fixed thing but is ever changing. The fact that every month there is (was, once) a new Dragon magazine packed with different rules, that there are blogs and forums and websites out there dedicated solely to the creation of new material, that a never-ending sequence of splatbooks was being farted out by TSR at its height...all of this creates a self-perpetuating, virtuous cycle, in which any individual DM or player is being constantly reminded, almost as if he can't escape the notion, that D&D is ever evolving, ever-changing, ever-ready to be kitbashed and mangled and beaten into something new and different and better. This creates a special D&D mindset. The pressure to think about evolution. Other games may have a certain feeling that the rules and content can change, but D&D is impossible to imagine without the constant pressure of change, improvement, expansion. And this D&D mindset is a precious gift to the player of that particular game. It means that anybody playing D&D is always confronted with the question: what can be done to make this better?

Friday, 3 January 2014

Cthulhu Works With Everything

I've often thought that, if you wanted incontrovertible proof that the Cthulhu mythos is true, it's that you can put it into any setting and it will instantly improve it.

Way back at the start of this blog, in 2008 (it seems like only yesterday, but it is getting on for six bloody years ago), I was talking about OzCthulhu, my idea for a setting inspired by Aboriginal Australians with a heavy dose of the Cthulhu mythos on top. One of the commenters on that early entry postulated the idea of a setting mixing L. Frank Baum's Oz with the Cthulhu mythos, which works too. But other options will suggest themselves, because CTHULHU WORKS WITH EVERYTHING. Ancient Greece, but with added Cthulhu mythos. Icelandic sagas, but with added Cthulhu mythos. The Many Coloured-Land, but with added Cthulhu mythos. Star Wars, but with added Cthulhu mythos. The Incan Empire, but with added Cthulhu mythos. A Song of Ice and Fire, but with added Cthulhu mythos. Middle Earth, but with added Cthulhu mythos. The Nazis, but with added Cthulhu mythos. 1920s America, but with added C...no, hang on.