29 June 2024

Actual Test: Shadowdark adventure generator tables

I gave the the Shadowdark adventure generators a turn to create a session for my Friday night open game. Whenever folk ask about adventure generators it is one that comes up alongside Worlds Without Number and Knave 2e. The Shadowdark one is quite terrain tied with a lot of it being in the 'quest' and 'location' elements backed up by terrain-specific encounter tables.

Throwing some dice at the various tables we get:
Inciting event - runaway wagon
Quest - Spy on the ritual of the Royal Knights
Location - Necropolis of the Enchanted Depths
Opposition - Steel Drakes - known for defeating dragons
Location - Grassland, ruied town

Encounters (grasslands 1) - Beserker hunters that invite you to join them
Encounters (grasslands 2) - Wild boars
Encounters (ruins) - Ogre scrawling grafitti
Encounters (tomb) - wandering merchant trapped in coffin

I also used the settlement generation tools to come up with the destination settlement of Darkwater - those were very good giving me four districts, a handful of landmarks across all of them and enough texture to make the place interesting. Shadowdark being Shadowdark it also has dungeon generation tables but I did not delve that deep for this one-shot session.

I recast all this as
1. Old acquaintance turns up looking for aid - lesser nobles more dragons for the glory of hunting them and have invited him to a great ritual - he needs some sneaky souls to back him up and figure out if this is harmless or needs to be stopped
2. Travel down the coast, aboard known ship Miss Fit to Forza (conservation of NPCs, locations)
3. Hike across the plains to a tiny village - maybe encounter hunters, game, local hag from previous adventure
4. Reach ruined town - scout lay of land, opposition
5. Uncover Steel Drakes plan - crack open dwarven vault of monsters in stasis - figure out approach to stop them
6. Venture below to vault - tomb encounter, recycle dwarven vault content from Southern Reaches campaign
7. Exit strategy and fall out management - potential envounter with local foes from previous adventure

Actual session play - retagged here to match the elements above.

1. A familiar face, Alermo the Dragonslayer, arrives at the Golden Cockerel to seek the aid of our heroes. They have word that a brotherhood of would-be monster hunters - the Steel Drakes - find the world to civilised and seek to conduct a ritual to unleash monsters so that they might find glory in slaying them as in times of old. Alermo figures this is likely a dreadful idea but is no subtle magician and begs aid from the party to help stop this.

Marshalling their resources the party consult a local sage, finding that there are many, many possible monster summoning rituals varying from leaving out treasure, to Orbs of Dragon Command through to releasing monsters from sealed away vals. Realising the partial copy of the Great Red Book they 'rescued' on a previous adventure might hold the answer, they set to trying to locate the old dwarven vaults in the current day. To speed their travel to where Alermo had been invited for the ritual they once more call upon the Miss Fit and also enlist them to help interpret the maps.

2. Venturing down the coast to Forza aboard the Miss Fit, our heroes arrive into Forza and decide to overnight at the Circular Spine before venturing on to Darkwater, the village where the ritual is to be held. When Hyde shoots the brawler in the fighting pit, a mass melee kicks off which turns into the visitors from the Golden Cockerel taking on the two dozen other patrons. Giant hermit crabs are dual wielded, ceilings collapsed, barrels used to steam-roll patrons and multiple party members downed before they with through to victory.

3. The next day, venturing out along the road to Darkwater, they come to a shrunken town in the ruins of an old dwarven necropolis, a gaping rift leading down to the depths.

4. Sneaking expertly around down they realise that what life remains here thrives on fishing relics out of the dwarven ruins below. They send Alermo on with instructions to play along with the Steel Drakes.

5. Eavesdropping on the Steel Drakes camp of second sons, cadet-branch nobles and other noble no-accounts they hear of a scheme to open a dwarven vault below and release the monsters within.

6. Creeping into the ruins ahead of the Steel Drakes grand ritual the alchemists within the party marvel at the dwarven wisdom and capabilities etched on the great bronze walls. They find still functioning alchemical workshops, arcano-technical storage where extinct plants still grow and a great vault full of monsters imprisoned in crystal pillars filled with honey. Hatching a plan, the party cook up an explosive agent using the dwarves own ingredients and equipment, set it to detonate in the vault of crystal-encased monsters and rig the doors to be unopenable for the inside - and then wait.

When the Steel Drakes finally venture down to enact their ritual the party is waiting, warning Alermo to wait behind before trapping the rest of the Steel Drakes in the vault they long sought with a fizzing-fused explosive that shortly detonates, shatters many of the crystal prisons and grants them the monster slaying chance they sought. Once the screams died down the party tripped the ancient purge system to eliminate the monsters. This was only partially effective they found on peering back inside the vault, but decided to seal the doors and leave.

7. With Alermo to vouch for the plot, supported by the excavation notes and plans from the Steel Drakes, the parties send word to the powers-that-be of their service to the realm and request their just reward.

All in all there was a big block of time spent researching and prepping for departure, then they got into a huge brawl in the Circular Spine that took a bunch of time but was pretty entertaining. Four of five and a half hours were spent on the first two bits - the brawl spun out way longer than expected. Points three to the end all got done in the last 90 mins. The rolled up encounters got less airtime than I might have expected and I dialled back the active opposition to the heroes getting in place to enact their plan in the old dwarven vault to save time to match. It all played out pretty well - the quest, location and settlement generators were very helpful.

26 June 2024

Upcycling content - campaign vs one-shot sessions

I gave myself a challenge recently of setting one-shots for other groups in my main campaign world because in theory there are lots of locations that have been visited once where I did a bunch of set up work already and they could just be lifted and replaced, right? Well, not quite so simple but hardly impossible.

The key factors I found are:
- Motivation changes
- Incidental locations
- NPC backgrounds
- Timing

The specific situation I used was a buried but intact temple of Bane.

24 June 2024

Shiny TTRPG links #178

More interesting links from a week on the web. For yet more links, see the previous list found here or you can check the RPG Blog Carnival or on Third Kingdom Games news roundup. Originally inspired by weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links.

Welcome to the Deathtrap wrote On The Spectrum of Hobbies that Use TTRPGs, and Finding Yours

Ramming the Dungeon launches with DESIGNING A COLLABORATIVE SESSION ZERO

Against The Wicked City gave us On romantic fantasy and OSR D&D

thydungeongal shared On play culture in D&D

666-Sided Dice launches with Thoughts on the Flame Lizard

Zzarchov Kowolski gives us Magical Languages

22 June 2024

Review: Dr. Grordborts Scientific Adventure Violence

tl;dr: steampunk planetary romance 5e conversion kit, heavy on the gear, lighter on the setting details.

This was a kickstarter I backed because a) I rode in on the 90s steampunk wave back in the day - Abney Park, the Difference Engine - all that jazz and b) I seriously contemplated getting myself a Weta Workshop raygun once. When Dr. Grordbordts Scientific Adventure Violence dropped on Kickstarter I backed it more on that nostalgia kick than I was expecting something mindblowing but now that I've gotten to reading it I've been pleasantly surprised.

Cover art by Max Chow

This is a 5e conversion book; following a similar course to what I have seen elsewhere of very much running with the system as it exists and applying mods through new conditions, tags and the like. The art is fun, the production values are very good indeed and there is lots of the original Dr. Grordbort material turning up in the pages which is neat. This is a toolkit to do this type of game in 5e, a mod-pack for familiar players, rather than an entry to the hobby for new folk. I would say you would need to be fairly familiar with basic 5e D&D to get the most out of this.

19 June 2024

Actual Test: Fictive Fantasies Adventure Generator

After trying the Oracle RPG adventure generator and finding it a bit sparse, I had more luck with Fictive Fantasies version (link to pdf).

Working through the elements in the adventure generator we get:
Quest contact - rumour overheard
Quest - prevent something - interfere, only you can stop
Something = capture/kidnap someone
Location - island: In the seas they appear randomly and many have never been properly cataloged. Undiscovered islands yield many unknown threats and unexpected surprises.
Victim - Royalty
Mcguffin - Secret: Something hidden, which somebody wants to keep hidden. Kingdoms and royalty have plenty of secrets they want nobody to find out about, and people are always willing to pay for those secrets.
Opposition: Guild or Horde: A group of people with one common belief or oath of brotherhood. Their numbers are great and their intimidation mighty.
Twist - Dodgy ally
Dramatic conflict - Truth: Ultimately the players will have to suppress some great truth, or find a way to tell everyone about some great lie. Either way they’re on the side of deception.

Good stuff to work with from OFTHEHILLPEOPLE - a few more random elements and it all feels slightly more defined and targeted for some reason.

From random rolls to adventure draft

17 June 2024

Shiny TTRPG links #177

A more typical number of links fresh from the internet. For yet more links, see the previous list found here or you can check the RPG Blog Carnival or on Third Kingdom Games news roundup. Originally inspired by weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links.

Welcome to the Deathtrap gives us Making Best Use of Downtime

u/SprocketSaga wrote Use the "Improvisation Tax" rule of thumb for unexpected PC actions

sachagoat continues Re-inventing the Wilderness: Part 6 - Landmarks

Tales of the Lunar Lands gives us Legojam: Cedric the Bull and the Canton of Ochsebad

Trollsmyth writes Grimdark vs. Eucatastrophe

A Knight at the Opera compiles EVERY Initiative Method??

15 June 2024

Actual Test: Oldskull Adventure Generator

tl;dr: a great big adventure generator that gives you enough for even wild player side-tracks.

This came into my hands through a bundle of tons of Oldskull stuff from Kent David Kelly. They sure are prolific, full marks for that - 30 odd files came in the bundle and it was just a selection. I found myself running out of published adventures for my Friday night Brancalonia one-shots so I thought I would take the Adventure Generator for a spin and see if it served.

First, this thing is a beast - 702 pages - and a self-declared 'mega-supplement' to serve as the 'Rosetta stone of the Castle Oldskull system' - a 'massive unified imagination engine' with a workflow of 16 steps spread over 10 chapters. There is a fair bit of background and philosophy of adventure creation in there but I focused on just generating adventure seeds for now.

This 'imagination engine' comprises many, many random tables within a 16 step workflow:
[1] Adventure Title Creation
[2] The Framing Event
[3] The Benefactor
[4] The Promised Reward
[5] The Adventure Journey
[6] The Adventure Destination
[7] The Chaotic Descriptor Tool
[8] The Quest Designer
[9] The Secondary Quest Designer
[10] The Complication Generator
[11] The Ally Creator
[12] Tasks Before Departure
[13] The Abstract Weather Tool
[14] The Villain Generator
[15] The Unexpected Adversary Tool
[16] The Monster Selection Tool

The first block of steps are pretty quick - varying between d1000 and d100 you roll up the adventure title for inspiration then the situation, person providing the hook and the reward for getting involved. Nice and neat. I cam up with 'Tomb of the Screaming Skull' as our title where the Elder Sign is our inciting vent, the benefactor is a Reborn Marchioness (a famed one) and the prize at the end is an illusionist henchman. Interesting! I can work with this, let us proceed.

The next block of things addresses the journey required to resolve things - we roll up that our overall environment is Temperate Forest, that the destination itself comprises echo chambers and wind tunnels and then things get a bit more complex. We roll up a number of locations cross referencing the Temperate Forest table then a number of 'descriptors' on the Chaotic Descriptor Table to get a spin on each of these locations. These should all then be dropped into a 3x3 grid around the target. I ended up with about an equal three way split between Redwoods, other 'normal' forests and 'weird' forests.

After this I got a quest of 'poison a [person/critter/faction] at [place]' and some further rolls got me a fighter in a corrupted forest - a location that fit well. The fighter was qualified as a 'battler/skull-crusher' which was a really helpful little detail to make them pop.

The Secondary Quest designer was another four rolls getting me a 'compete in a tournament/game of honor', 'repair a bridge/door', 'decipher an inscription' and 'find a hidden locale/dungeon level'. I patched these into the locations where they seemed to fit - bridge repair at the 'Terrifying Brushwood Fall', tournament at the 'thundering copse'.

The Complication Generator gave me three more twists - abduction of a PC, fog getting people lost and a race against time. Given this was for a one shot I was hesitant to further complicate the session with these but held the fog in reserve as something to do if things were moving too rapidly.

Next the Ally Creator turned out to be some Lower level Illustionists - which harmonised nicely with the illusionist henchman reward - perhaps they came along on the quest too?

Next Tasks Before Departure gave me five elements - waiting for an astral event, listening to a survivors account, researching the locale, researching the journey and acquiring a sidequest to slay a monster. This was another element I was wary off given the one-shot nature of the session I was planning - however it turned out to be really handy because when the table derailed and struck out for the distant horizons of side-tangents. All these secondary activities provided ample landing zone for all sorts of shenanigans to reconnect back to the main adventure.

The Abstract Weather Tool came up with a nice 'clear, wind in their favour' which was a minor boon. Other weather conditions could definitely change the tone and it is often something I forget to properly bring into play on my own.

The Villain Generator rolled up a Thief, Lock-breaker, motivated by vengeance for a slain sibling, suffering from memory gaps and fond of working through blights and plagues. This came a little late in the process for me - I already had a decent view of what was going on with the skull-crusher fighter in his forest lair needing to get poisoned - so this villain became more of a background villain not an active player. It was good to have them though, as knowing them and thus the flavour of their minions became handy during the Great Derailing.

The Unexpected Adversary rolled up a 'Benefactors Envious Disciple' - obviously another illusionist which plugged in nicely to what we had already.

Finally the Monster Selection Tool got me some Goblins and Beastmen so I split them up into a relatively hapless bunch of goblin foresters working the Redwoods, territorial beastmen in the rest of the forests. A bunch of the location qualifiers from the Chaotic Descriptor tool implied the presence of celestials so I added them as a third group.

Once all this was rolled up I shoved the pieces around a bit and re-wrote it into
* A renowned bard, the Marchioness - killed by Skullcrusher, now reborn
* They want you to go to a corrupted forest and poison the screaming skull with holy water
* They have a troupe of illusionists who can support you now, and one might stay with you after as a reward
* Skullcrusher lairs in echoing wind tunnels, trust nothing you hear there
* Skullcrusher is the primary minion of the Gatebreaker - a deranged thief, driven mad by grief for their slain sibling, now they spread blights in vengeance and kill by breaking in with plague-ridden knives
* One of the Marchioness disciples, an illusionist, is envious the party has been sought for assistance and seeks to see them fail
* The woods are full of goblins and beastmen

Lots of the elements of preparation for the journey and secondary quests were initially set aside and only came into play when the party set off for the horizons. The whole illusionist ally and then potential rival thing never came off because the players left them at home when they set out on the quest. The Gatebreaker was never seen but his minion network was stumbled over then sought out and I was able to ad-lib them effectively knowing who they were working for.

All told, what initially seemed like way too much stuff with multiple independent threads actually turned out to be handy at an open table session where they took an age before engaging with the wilderness part of the journey. A chunky system to work through but gives you a wealth of stuff - even if not all of it will come into play, it was good to have it to hand.

12 June 2024

Post-dragon attack regional ecology (RPG Blog Carnival)

For this months RPG Blog Carnival because the prompt 'after the dragon' from Sea of Stars is a great prompt with tons inside it. I was sure this was covered by an old Malhavoc press book but no - I was thinking of Requiem for a God which is not quite the same thing.

What we have below is probably best for terrain set up early in a campaign or when venturing into a new location because this stuff is slower and should probably be baked into the terrain players encounter. You could use this as an encounter generator for an immediate dragon attack or as some spillover from an attack last year but I think it might be best done as time-layers and then encountered from outside in by journeying PCs.

Stealing three of the five steps from the disaster management cycle we have:
1. Impact
2. Immediate aftermath
3. Post-disaster change

10 June 2024

Shiny TTRPG links #176

A giant block of links with a significant archive dive this week. For yet more links, see the previous list found here or you can check the RPG Blog Carnival or on Third Kingdom Games news roundup. Originally inspired by weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links.

Mazirian's Garden gives us Group Downtime Activities: Remembering the Dead

Mindstorm gives us A Person-Shaped Hole

I Cast Light! wrote DUNGEON WEATHER: For your overloaded encounter die

Provinto RPG gives us 10-Room Dungeon Brainstorm: Tomb of the Honorable Order of Glory (& Possibly Justice)

The Blue Bard writes Down Come the Claws

Half Again as Much starts with What is an Elemental Plane, Anyway?

08 June 2024

Tribute to Collaborative Dungeon Creation

tl;dr: trying to recall a genius blogpost on collaborative dungeon creation as 'forces of nature'

This is an attempt to replicate a genius blogpost I found years ago and has eluded me since. Hopefully the original author will rock up and go 'hey, thats my idea' so I can finally link it. In the absence, let me tell you a tale of a genius idea, gather round the campfire comrades... The inestimable DIY & Dragons questioned if it might be Tom Dowlers "How to Host A Dungeon" - and from that tip I found the post I was thinking off - Dyson Logos doing a test of How to Host a Dungeon. So I am actually mis-remembering this as a multi-player experience which perhaps could be another way to do it. Anyway, all that follows was written before I found this out, please view it in that light.

Fado, fado, there was an idea that if you were a DM with access to multiple pools of players, you could use some of them to set situations that would then serve as challenges for others.

The original post addressed dungeons but in the hope of appeasing Joesky's ghost I am going to generalise it a bit to make it a tool for any setting.

So breaking that down into a procedure:
1. Kick it off by picking a base location type - a temple, dungeon, cavern, etc. Sketch out some part of that to get things started.
2. Everyone around the table then chooses to act as a force that has altered the space over time - dwarven miners, burrowing dragons, lava flows, a wizard (there is always a wizard).
3. Go around the table adding to or modifying the base location in a way that matches thematically to that force.
4. Repeat #3 until you have a sufficiently large or interesting location

05 June 2024

Review: Where Evil Lives

tl;dr: MCDM action-oriented monsters in their lairs - 22 lairs with neat set-piece battles for a range from level 2 to 20.

"Where Evil Lives: The MCDM book of boss battles" - does what it says on the tin. I got this because I went in on the Flee, Mortals! kickstarter and they succeeded so hard the project blew out to create another book. So I more or less got this at cost of postage only - and despite that being ridiculous rates to Europe, at that point as per Shakespeare "I am in blood/ Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er." So this one landed with next to no expectations on my side and from looking at Flee, Mortals! this is cool stuff but not the style I am taking to my fluffier tables just now. Seeing that it is being sold on D&D Beyond I thought it might be good to take a second look and get it reviewed.

Cover art by Grace Cheung

First impression - as with Flee, Mortals! very glossy and impressive, a chunky book with nice binding. The first of the MCDM books to forgo the dust-jacket and become more like the usual 5e format. The art is, as ever gorgeous - but somewhat familiar in that there is a fair amount of duplication between this and Flee, Mortals! This makes the book either usefully standalone or annoyingly duplicative, depending on how you get to it. I will assume you do not have Flee, Mortals! for the purposes of the rest of this. The art itself is very nice and we have the interesting choice to completely abandon descriptions of monsters in favour of the illustrations - with lesser art this might be an issue but the work in here is just great for that.

03 June 2024

01 June 2024

OSR Kickstarter Trends

Ben Milton of Questing Beast did some neat work tagging kickstarter projects as OSR or not and played out some of the trends over time - see video. He generously shared his data - [edit: building upon the original dataset by Hans Messersmith] and I wanted to dig through and see what else we can see.

From the data-sheet - classification was done by:
Original = Adventures/supplements/etc. explicity for old forms of D&D; New games that are direct or near directly clones of D&D (e.g. OSE, OSRIC); adventures, supplements for those direct clones
Scene = new games considered to be part of the "OSR scene"; new games inspired by older forms of D&D; adventures/supplements/etc for those games
If a project is listed with multiple systems/games, it will be categorized as Original if at least one of the systems is Original, otherwise Scene
Reprints of actual older D&D products (e.g. the recent reprint of Caverns of Thracia by Goodman Games) are included in Original
Includes projects that started between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2023, inclusive. Therefore, some projects that started late in 2023 and ended in 2024 are included.
Listed year is the year the project started, not ended

Sticking on my analyst hat we can pull out some interesting trends. First, to recap what was shown in Questing Beasts video and give ourselves a baseline, we see an overall increase in projects for every category.

I did some work to extract the median and top quartile values of project per category to get a sense of what most projects are doing, conscious that the very large projects at the high end skew things significantly otherwise. These are in tables at the bottom of this post. We have seen the median value of project jump about but broadly converge towards the lower end of the $5k-10k bracket.
This I found somewhat surprising - I would have thought that 5e or 'other' categories, representing broader pools of players, would be higher.