29 April 2023

Blog Carnival: On creating elements for a setting

To participate in this months blog carnival - hosted by Codex Anathema on the topic of On creating elements for a setting I want to write on some of the tools I draw on to do this.

The first block are deterministic - me staring at what there is and building it out myself. The second block are the generators I use to twist the straight-line thinking of my own ideas and surprise my players.

Block One - Following the Obvious Leads

The first piece is generally the campaign theme - what is the premis of this game? Recent examples have been 'expedition into a lizard kingdom', 'outlaws set up shop in the ruins of an ancient empire', 'dragonblooded nobles delve into the secrets of their great house'. From that I generally get a few things that need to be explained or included from the get go.

If there is a general motif that can be identified, I try and collage in ideas around that. For the dragonblooded nobles, each noble house was of a certain draconic lineage - so how do they lean into that? How do they interact with the actual dragons still living around the place? What does this realm think of dragonslayers?

One of the guiding stars for me for worldbuilding is geography is destiny - even with magic in the world it holds. Looking at who is beside who, what is the terrain, where are the rivers, the connections, etc, these provide ideas for the setting. If the sea is nearby, what of the things that live in the oceans? If there are mountains, what of those that live on and under the mountains?

Often at this point a cultural analogue (or group of them) becomes apparent - and those can be a useful hook to fish for other ideas. I like to choose a 'substrate' and then log the differences - a campaign a while back was an imperial chinese setting which had Wang Liangs in the flower of their ascendancy - so how do very long lived rules who can speak to each other telepathically change the setting? When all the architecture is scaled up for them? Too large for horses, how do they prefer to get around?

Block Two - Introduce Randomness with Generators

26 April 2023

d30 Archmage status flexes

Status seeking among archmages or what does the mage who has everything want?

This is rooted in a snip I recall from The Status Seekers about how once all material wants were met, a person sought status. Considering how a mage is effectively a post-scarcity entity in a world that is not there yet, they are competing for status with other mages.

Some things like political power, wealth, etc. can also be contested by lesser beings such as dragons, nobles and others that many archmages hold as beneath their notice. To gain status among other archmages, truly preposterous amounts must be gathered - a world ruled without challenge, every ounce of gold ever mined - scales no mere non-magician could hope to even consider.

Many of the things archmages pursue reflect the fact that only the opinions of their fellow archmages count, like the most esoteric of high art, often the uninitiatied will be unable to appreciate the glory of their achievements - but this is not for them, their opinions do not matter.

The below table of goals are also what its realm/lair/demiplane can be expected to be built around - the attainment and maintenance of whatever status display it has deemed worth while.

d30 status flexes of an archmage
1. Most dangerous beast collection - caged or free-roaming
2. Most ludicrous home - e.g. lava moats, bubbles on the Negative elemental plane, carried by a megalodon
3. Most ancient ruin inhabited - proportional to the dire reputation of the creators and the amount of their dangerous defenses left intact
4. Epic rituals - the more dangerous for the most frivolous gain the better
5. Most esoteric addiction - maintained through incredible effort to source supplies e.g. time travel to gather an extinct herb
6. Most unlikely political machination - holding some polity in place against significant destructive forces
7. Greatest realm sponsored - being known as a champion of a place and effectively accepting any and all challengers where/when they choose
8. Quantity of vassals - having nations, tribes, cults and organisations operating under your banner
9. Unlikeliness of servitors - getting everything done with really impractical servants - spring breezes, turtles, an order of blind monks
10. Stamp on the land / territory dominated - sheer scale of land indisputably dominated - nothing moves without their will

23 April 2023

Shiny TTRPG links #117

Another week of deep delving the TTRPG hinterwebs. More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this is weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find even more links on the newly-automated weekly blogroll on r/OSR or the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

u/JacktheDM has a key insight into why *players* like 5e in The OSR, Lonely Fun, and why I believe many D&D alternatives entirely miss the point of why people will never leave 5th Edition

Rosalind Chapman suggests No one cares about anything that happened 1,000 years ago.

Tabletop Atelier proposes How Bingo Can Revolutionize Your D&D Game

Busy Wyvern gives us Slaying the Scheduling Dragon

Hack & Slash writes On the Creative Crocodile Conundrum

Grumpy Wizard asks What’s your “Appendix LP?”

Bruce Heard gives us Aerial Bombing

Dr. Jesse Olsen, University of Melbourne on Phys.org writes Why Dungeons and Dragons is good for the workplace

22 April 2023

My Own Personal OSR

To mark the 4th anniversary of spinning up this blog I thought I would talk about what the OSR means to me since this is maybe, kinda an OSR blog.

I'm picking this up on the back of the 'splinter in my mind' that was Yora's toot "I am one of the people who think OSR is a meaningless term and shouldn't be used." I find this odd because Spriggan's Den is an exemplar of the type of blog I would hope to see when I search on the term.

So why would I tag this an OSR blog? Because I know what I look for when I trawl across blogs and I find it on blogs that post under the OSR tag - and I want to do that too.

Ok - so what do I look for out there? I look for the community of practice of running a good game. OSR is useful to me in that it is a label that points to people who create old school tools - light, creative aids with a massive span of subject matter. On an OSR blog I'm likely to get a couple of spark lists and some weird mechanic to run jousting with ogres.

I may also find shelfies of original documents, yet another retroclone, screeds about how people are playing the game wrong - this is the rock matrix around my gold nugget, the dross that must be cleared away to get to the good stuff. That is fine, better to know that there is some gold in here if you look than have there be nothing at all.

This has been discussed by more erudite folk than I such as recently on Traverse Fantasy's piece on the OSR being different things to different people and their addendum with the key point "aren't you tired of being restrained by the same cyclical discourse about the OSR? Don't you just want to go ape-shit?" - similar to Richard's Dystopian Pokeverse point that "once you make a category like OSR, people will use it, outside your control."

In the past four years of blogging, I mostly write about four types of things:
- I trawl the net for data so that we can have some grounding to make some assertions about what has happened in the past, what is happening around us now
- I review things that appeal to my magpie sensibilities
- I document lessons I have learned in trying to run an enjoyable game at my table
- I try to create tools for fellow game-masters

19 April 2023

Review: The Wilderness Alphabet

tl:dr; a useful set of wilderness spark tables, one of the gems of the OSR, system independent so useful for any edition or fantasy setting.

This one I picked up among a team of heroes back in early 2019, as part of a Lulu order together with the d30 Sandbox Companion and Yoon-Suin. It sits on most lists of Lulu recommendations and rightly so.

Cover art by Viktor Vasnetsov

First and foremost this is a DM's tool - from the contents page being a d100 table to generate a random site through to the half dozen blank back pages for campaign notes. This is spark lists throughout, high level ideas to fire your imagination then the rest is up to you. As the author says in the intro, they were once a 'build everything' DM and as with any of us like that, would be caught out by players going where he did not expect. This book is the fruit of his own random tables to be ready for whatever the table threw at him.

There is some public domain art, some GIMP'ed compositions for stranger things and overall it reflects the ~ 4e era OSR aesthetic of public domain air illustrated books. A nice, clean, easy to read zine.

17 April 2023

Shiny TTRPG links #116

Plenty of interesting links this week. More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this is weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find even more links on the newly-automated weekly blogroll on r/OSR or the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Owen KC Stephens has a pair of massive megabundles to help cover medical bills: Owen's Medical Bills Bundle #1 and Owen's Medical Bills Bundle #2

Goblins in a Tank innovates D4k - Experimental Superpowered Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay

Goblin Punch shares THE UNDERCLOCK: Fixing the Random Encounter

Traverse Fantasy writes Interesting Procedural Generation

Was It Likely? lays out The Laws of It All: worldbuilding guidelines and principles

Revenant's Quill observes It's okay

15 April 2023

Tools of the trade

tl;dr: good adventures, simple maps and meeples help cut the weight you carry to a game

I have been doing a bunch of gaming recently that has been my local games group testing out new locations after our old one asked us to shove off because they had better customers. This has meant that I've been going into places I have never seen before and setting up games to run - and I've refined down my kit to that end.

Last time I was running stuff a lot out of a bag was college gaming and the kit was an A4 pad, bag of dice, 3.5e core books and the Planewalkers Handbook - everything theater of the mind since the option was have the comfy seats or the table and we chose the seats.

This time around I've refined things. A handful of years as a consultant has made me very aggro about hauling around weight I do not have to - and I've brought that to my gaming kit too. My beautiful custom DM's screen is gorgeous, probably bullet proof since it has sheet metal in it but too heavy for this kind of thing. This kit is all about weight reduction.

My go kit has:
5e PHB
Rules supplement - ship combat rules from Tales from the Glass Guarded World
Bestiary (Boos Astral Menagerie)
Adventure Module (Spelljammer Academy in this case)
Card in plastic pocket as sketching surface / battlemap
Dry erase markers
Bags of meeples
Handouts, rosters of players
DM Screen (from Spelljammer Adventures (5e))
Dice bag

First action was to cut down the rulebooks I was carrying round - PHB is the reference, DMG I've dumped - traps, treasure, etc. gets rolled up at home, its not needed at table.

Second action was dumping the Astral Adventurers Guide for the Spelljammer Academy adventure - handily formatted by some hero on Reddit - which has *more* useful rules about running spelljamming games than the actual box set. Ship combat rules from Tales from the Glass Guarded world are also lighter and more comprehensive, though I am mostly using them for the critical hit tables. Working off an Adventurers League adventure is often helpful because it will have all your stat blocks in the back and they're laid out the same way, for better or worse it is a setup I am familiar with now.
Third action was dump the monster manual and just take the Spelljammer Bestiary (Boo's Astral Menagerie). Base stat blocks for bandits, etc are in the back of the Spelljammer Academy adventure, no reason to haul around the Monster Manual too.

12 April 2023

Review: Skycrawl

tl:dr; a great toolkit for adventures in strange skies; intended as its own whimsical variety but useful for all sorts of fantasy flight campaigns.

I picked this up while looking for good flying ship combat systems. Initially hesitant because I saw it lumped in with Powered By The Apocalypse games and thought it was only for those, I finally grabbed it after seeing lots of recommendations for the world-generation tools. I'm glad I did because it is much more useful than just as a PbtA supplement. I was a fan of Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies and found a more light-hearted version of flying ships between strange ports here.

Skycrawl with cover art by Laurence Gapaillard

First impression was this was a smaller text than I expected but having gone through it, it is a well distilled, taut book which is spare but not sparse in descriptions and mechanics. Designed for any fantasy RPG - I have brought it to bear for Spelljammer. The system within the book is set up around players make moves and on failures or other conditions DM's make moves to complicate their lives. It formalises things somewhat more than I am used to but you can also look at all of the moves as potential actions within a free-form frame and adapt it to any system that way.

Done by Aaron A. Reed in 2020 I believe the copy I got was print-on-demand from a sale, quality is good, art is mostly open source by Laurence Gapaillard which fits the proto-steampunk tone well.

10 April 2023

Shiny TTRPG links #115

Links from this Easter weekend. More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this is weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find even more links on the newly-automated weekly blogroll on r/OSR or the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Richard's Dystopian Pokeverse gives us Architectural History for Gamers, 1: why build city walls?

Hex Brawler Games shares Tools in the Toolbox Part 2: An Illustration from The Mandalorian

Eldritch Fields gives us Wizard duel/Counterspell house rule

Chris Chantler of Metal Hammer writes When you get communities with a common enemy, you’re in this together: why heavy metal loves Dungeons & Dragons

Holly Green on Game Developer writes Key takeaways from the quest design of Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3

08 April 2023

A Spelljammers Perspective on Toril

After running a few Toril-based Spelljammer sessions I decided to try and figure out how the place actually fits together when you leave the Sword Coast and it is a bit strange. I took one of the few maps of all the continents and stuck it on Map-to-Globe to get a better sense of where things are - and where the Spelljamming ports are.

Starting from the Forgotten Realms Wiki Toril Map - we add in the names of the continents as a start.

05 April 2023

Generating a dungeon in a hurry

We are seeing a lot of great ideas in the #Dungeon23 project that are great - but what about when you realise you need a dungeon for that session later this evening?

This is not the high quality, thought-through output we are seeing from #dungeon23 - this is about the "I need a site, fast" or "what *is* in that thing the party came across".

Rough process
- take a real thing for a floor plan
- stack it up or down to represent the full structure
- dice up whatever is in all of the rooms using a suitable generator
- roll roll roll, then see what arises from the results
- block out the factions, read the story of the dungeon's past from what is there now
- brush back over the whole thing, now that the inhabitants are correctly skinned - see what clash points, hazards, etc they work around
- figure out the ties to the surroundings from what is there now; look at who is near which entry points
- write up what rumours about the place escape

Going into these steps in more detail:

Start with a real floor plans from a castle or something else. Do this because it instantly kills the whole 'is this too obvious' nagging in the back of your mind; its a real thing, built by real people, maybe it is simple, maybe it is bizarrely complex - you did not make those decisions, no reason for you to worry about them now.
- You can find lots of maps of real castles online from tourist sites - you typically only need a single floor because most castles are built as a vertical shell; see Blarney Castle as an example.
- For the rest stack them up or down to represent the full structure, easier to modify from there than cook up more levels from whole cloth.
- Otherwise for natural tunnels and burrows, any kind of tunnel structure like woodworm or others will do.
- Similarly the 'malls as megadungeons' as Prismatic Wasteland recommends can be another source
- I tend to grab a map for description purposes then work up each floor as a point-grid of how things connect if I am in a rush for time.

Rough redraw of interior so I can annotate

03 April 2023

Shiny TTRPG links #114

Fine links for your amusement, collected fresh and preserved from about the web. More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this is weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find even more links on the newly-automated weekly blogroll on r/OSR or the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

The Dry Dog Inn writes a rare English piece in Zoganza - An exercise creating interesting relations in a city

@TonyDiTerlizzi tweets When the Lady of Pain requests my presence back in Planescape, how can I refuse?

The Serene Library has some interesting thoughts on Social Skill and Disco Elysium

Wayspell speaks of the ancient times in How I got into D&D

Goblin Punch gives us How to Handle Parley as an OSR DM

Bruce Heard gives us Dragon Cults

Grumpy Wizard asks How Do I Play a First Level Magic User?

Idom Drottning writes on Character-tailored play

01 April 2023

d20 Aquatic powers and dwellers of the deep

We turn once again to the magic of Azgaars and something that occured to me as I was fiddling with the map - and an offhand comment on an old OSR blogroll made me think - what about the oceans? In D&D, the seas are stuffed with sentients, nations, powers of all sorts - for a coastal realm they need to be accounted for and certainly people ought to have some inkling of what is down there in the dockside taverns and so on.

Looking at just our relief map of the world we have a bunch of rivers draining into a shallow sea immediately off our campaign and then a deep but narrow ocean beyond that. There is certainly space for some things to be lurking.

We have four distinct spaces just in this map - the shallow 'bay' fed by all the rivers, the somewhat deeper narrow sea to the south, a true sea in the centre with a good deep centre and beyond to the east the deep ocean.