Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interesting Places: Temple of the Ratgod

Deep beneath the Citadel of the Sorcerer-King, in dungeons long forgotten, lies the Temple of the Ratgod. Sequestered behind hidden doors are the temple chambers. The whole area is ruined, with walls and ceiling looking like they might collapse at any moment. The place is strewn with great piles of refuse. Rot grubs and disease are a continual danger in this dismal place.

The Ratgod is ever-hungry for sacrifice. His slavering minions swarm the labyrinthine dungeons, skittering as they search for fresh victims. Those unlucky enough to be captured are brought back to the hidden temple where they are flayed alive, their skin cured and used for temple writings. Their flesh is shared by all in a sumptuous carnivorous feast, and their bones cast aside into blackened pits, forgotten by all but the marrow-sucking Tlaké beetles. They, too, shall have their feast.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Interesting Places: Death Descent

At long last you have found a means to access the lower levels! The secret door opens upon a great hall, its floor comprised of broad steps descending into the gloom. Possibly fashioned for giants, these steps have risers that are two or three feet high—quite unsuitable for the likes of your legs. The steps themselves are fashioned from great slabs of sandstone. They are decorated with naturally occurring bands of earthly tones.

Great columns, haphazardly placed, rise into the shadows. None of these columns are alike. Each is carved in a chaotic mess of reliefs of skulls and body parts and cryptic symbols, none of which have any apparent meaning. Curiouser are the deep sluiceways which bisect the steps, disappearing into the murkiness beyond the extent of your torches. The further you descend, the more you begin to take notice of the russet splotches staining the steps. You have a bad feeling about this…

Your descent is interrupted by a loud clanging to the rear! Whirling, you realize that a portcullis has dropped behind you, barring the way. Turning back around, you are greeted by a volley of flechettes. Screams arise as some of your companions drop. The sound of stone grating upon stone startles you. You quickly note that the walls to the left and right have shifted, revealing yawning black portals.

After what seems like long moments, two hulking forms emerge. You are flanked by enormous bronze golems. Their maddening gaze glows like the hot fires of hell. Then they are upon you, their fists flying in a flurry of crushing blows. Another rain of flechettes descends upon you. Then another. As you lay on the ground, crimson gushing between clenched fingers, you realize the purpose of the sluiceways.

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Interesting Places: Moldy Halls

It's been a while since I posted a map. Blame Gary Con II. In any case, I've got a huge mapping project ahead of me and I'm still not happy with my current style. This map is another one of my experiments, drawn in an attempt to evolve to something more appealing. I like it better than the previous experiment. It's closer to the look that I'm after. Frankly, I'm sick of clinical-looking maps, hence the rough edges evident on this map.

The Moldy Halls are ancient, lost deep within some labyrinthine delve, far beneath the sunlit world. Their original purpose is unknown. Today they form the home to a vast colony of purple mold. How this mold came to be is unknown. It covers everything in the areas where it has taken hold, growing over stone, debris, and refuse alike. The nature of this unusual colony of mold is left to the discerning dungeon master. Some points of interest:
  • There is a teleporter in an alcove in the room just north of the map compass. Where does this lead to?
  • There is a statue in the large, oddly-shaped chamber that is free of mold. Why? Is there something magical going on here?
  • The pools in the same chamber are choked with floating chunks of mold. They are clearly unsafe to drink or otherwise frolic in.
  • The spiral stairs leading to a lower level are choked with purple mold. How much of the lower expanse has been colonized by this mold?
  • Why are some corridors and rooms lined—but not choked—with mold? What force is keeping the colony at bay? Alternatively, was it destroyed in the past and only now beginning to reclaim the lost area?
  • Is there anything unusual about that spring on the eastern side of the map?
  • Where does that secret passage in the southwest corner of the map lead to?
The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

City of Splendor

Copyright © 2010, Ramsey Dow. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dangerous Journeys Redux?

After TSR, Gary Gygax created Dangerous Journeys. As a system, Dangerous Journeys addressed many issues with AD&D. Whereas AD&D's mechanics were based on rules imported from wargaming, Dangerous Journeys was designed to enable the telling of stories. Unfortunately, the game was sued into oblivion by TSR before it ever had a chance to take off.

Dangerous Journeys enjoys a small, faithful following today. I got a chance to see some of the key players playing Dangerous Journeys at Gary Con II. See that fat, black binder on the table? It contains the rules for Unhallowed, the never published supernatural expansion to Dangerous Journeys. There are interesting rumors surrounding the current fate of Dangerous Journeys. Although it's too early to say anything else, I've got my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Black Box with Frank Mentzer

While sitting around waiting for a Gamma World game to materialize, Frank Mentzer asked if I'd like to check out a game. Now I'm a sucker for games, so I was like, "Yeah!" Frank proceeded to explain the rules of Black Box, a board game released by Parker Brothers in 1978.

According to Frank, Parker Brothers released the game at Gen Con instead of directly to the mass market because it is a 'head game.' As it turned out, only some gamers are into head games, so Black Box wasn't a huge success.

Frank has a real knack for explaining rules and I picked up the game fairly quickly. In a nutshell, the game has a black box with 32 ports. Within the black box are situated four atoms, placed by one player. (Of course, these atoms are not actually placed on the board; rather, they are marked on a sheet.) The other player spends his time firing lasers into the black box through the ports. The results of these shots are indicated by placing various markers along the sides of the black box. It's not really all that complicated. We played a couple of times. Here's what the board looked like when Frank finally identified the locations of the atoms I had placed:

Of all the board games I have played, this one really stimulated me mentally. I'm definitely going to track down a copy. In addition, I wonder what a 3D expansion would play like? Better yet, how about a 4D version where atoms shift in and out of phase? Madness!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wasted by a Wolfoid

Saturday night was the highlight of Gary Con II for me. Z and I got to sit at Jim Ward's table for a game of Metamorphosis Alpha. In all, there were fourteen players. It was quite the experience watching Jim run the game. His refereeing style was commanding and he kept the action hot for the entire four-hour session.

I loved how he said up front that player characters with names longer than one syllable had a higher chance of dying. Everyone thus selected one-syllable names—except for that one guy that purposefully chose a two-syllable name. (As a result, he lost his Luck Charge immediately.) I named my character, "Arl." Jim looked me square and asked, "Arrr-rrrrrl?" I was like, "No! One syllable: Arrrrl." "Arrrrr-rrrrrrllllll." "Nonono! Arrrrrrl." This interplay persisted throughout the session. Brilliant.

Just behind us raged the battle of the moathouse. I would have taken more pictures of that event, but I was busy exploring The Warden. The game was hilarious—death and dismemberment were altogether too common. In truth, we were foolish players, touching irradiated things (ahem, purple grass) that would better have been left alone. We also did other stupid things involving barrels of explosive liquid, laser gun wielding androids, disintegration chambers, and more. The crazy antics of the game actually reminded me of Paranoia somewhat, although without the luxury of clones.

Jim would oftentimes veer off into a short side story about one the characters, explaining how they had come to possess some sort of item (usually footwear) or shard of knowledge. He would also frequently make editorial comments regarding various character statistics. For example,"What's your radiation resistance?" "19" "That's a verrrry good radiation resistance. You should be proud of that score." This sort of exchange indicated that the character was getting irradiated. Lovely.

The game was brutal and ended up in a 14-player TPK. Everyone didn't die at once, of course, but the first kill did occur about three minutes into the game. I managed to survive for three hours before my character bought it. I violated a primary rule: don't engage in combat unnecessarily. I threw my "bone" spear at a wolfoid instead of attempting to parley. I missed and it subsequently fragged me with a grenade. I mused to Jim that I hoped it was the mutation-inducing kind of grenade. In true form, Jim replied, "Wouldn't it be nice to mutate? That'd be the cool thing." Then he held out his hand and took my character sheet.

I'd like to take this opportunity to brag on Z. I introduced her to role playing games just one year ago. Now, at her very first con, she outlived me by forty-five minutes at Jim Ward's table. She was second to last to die. Outstanding. I couldn't be more pleased.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Woe vs. Weal: Chaos Wins Again!

Gary Con II is over and I had a lot of fun. People are starting to post pictures of the con. Instead of posting the same sorts of pictures as everyone else, I'll instead share some snaps I made of the moathouse.

This, of course, is the infamous battle at the moathouse, played at various Lake Geneva, WI, gatherings. The battle is played out by the Forces of Woe and Weal using the Chainmail rules.

I always like looking at the less common approach. In this particular case, we have the uncool side of the moathouse. (Apologies for the glare from the far windows; it snowed the morning I took these initial pictures.)

Looking in on the moathouse we can see the Forces of Woe getting ready for the coming battle.

Here's a closeup of the chaos leadership.

Here are the Forces of Weal in pre-game disarray—a fateful forshadowing?

On Saturday night the Forces of Weal engaged the chaos-held fortification. The fight was underway.

While it may look like the Forces of Woe took a beating, in truth, they kicked Weal's collective ass.

According to Paul Stormberg, this is the third year running that chaos won. Let's hear it for chaos!

I spoke with one of the chaos players and he said the game started at about 5:30 and ran until about half past midnight. Twenty-one turns elapsed, taking about 20 minutes each. He said that it was a close game and that Weal could have won up until the last three turns.

I picked up a nice copy of Chainmail this weekend. I'm seriously considering getting in on this action next year. The question is, which side will I support? Woe or Weal? Sacking the moathouse looks like an awful lot of fun as evidenced by some of these pictures.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Howling Emptiness

The latest issue of Fight On! is upon us. I'm pleased to report that it contains an adventure by yours truly. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it is named The Howling Emptiness. It's a wilderness hex crawl through a deadly desert environment—I hope you brought some extra water!

It's strictly a sword & sorcery affair—there are no phasic swords or blaster pistols to be had. Nevertheless, it should be a fun romp. I showed an early draft to Erol Otus and he made some suggestions which made it into the final version. Fitting for the Erol Otus issue of Fight On!, don't you think? <grin/>

Support Fight On! and pick up issue #8. It's a good cause, don't you know!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More on Holmes YX

I'm still futzing around with Holmes YX. This time I am considering wholesale changes to several areas, including armor & armor class, experience points, and alignment. Of these, I'm simply going to drop alignment. It serves no purpose for me or my players and seems artificial in any case. I'm also considering mechanics for spell success (based on spell complexity) and spell countering. Why shouldn't that evil sorcerer be able to put those magic missiles right back in your face? Finally, I'm going to be dropping Holmes from the name since these rules no longer resemble anything remotely approaching Holmes Basic. Why false advertise? <grin/>

In other news, I've been reading Gary Rudolph's excellent Missúm mass combat rules for Tékumel. There are tons of mass combat systems out there, but this one is cool because it's compact, has interesting rule selections, and, hello, it was created for Tékumel back in the day. (Actually, Missúm is the second set of mass combat rules for Tékumel—it came out the year after TSR's Legions of the Petal Throne.) Anyway, it's proving to be quite the interesting read and is really firing me up in the inspiration department.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Inspiration for the World of Yezmyr

Sometimes what you are not influenced by is interesting. I've long been a fan of weird fiction, but in creating Yezmyr I have purposefully eschewed HPL and CAS. I like bubbly pools of tentacular madness as much as anyone else, but I'm tired of it—like I'm tired of Tolkien. Yezmyr demands fresh horrors! (For what it's worth, if I were going to focus on horror, I'd look to Thomas Ligotti for inspiration.)

Similarly, I have a deep and abiding love of sword and sorcery fiction. REH's Conan yarns effectively created the genre. However, I'm tired of Conan. I prefer the revelations of ancient ruins in those stories. There's nothing like an ominous ruin to chill the blood. In any case, swords and spells alone just don't cut it for me any more. I want space, technology, chaos, and madness. I need it all.

The underpinnings of the World of Yezmyr owe an extreme debt of gratitude to a handful of talented writers and illustrators: Arthur C. Clarke, A.E. van Vogt, Rudy Rucker, Ray Kurzweil, Brian Aldiss, Harlan Ellison, Russ Nicholson, and Richard Corben. You should check out the work of each and every one of these people.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Love My Players

What's the first thing the thief wants to do after having his mind propelled 23,000,000 years into the future?


Happy Birthday World of Yezmyr

One year ago today six of us got together and started the World of Yezmyr D&D campaign. Back then the crew set out to explore the foreboding ruins of Alak Chutak. The game was strictly sword & sorcery. Today, the crew has grown to eight and the campaign has switched to a science fantasy focus. Oh yeah, and they've managed to get themselves marooned 23,000,000 years into the future. Good times.

Happy birthday, World of Yezmyr.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Playtest Session 4

Every session I run with my crew reminds me of why I largely gave up computer gaming. Computer games lack the uproarious levity of a roomful of brains. To wit, three amusing events from today's play testing session:

I had decided that the native language spoken by Earth Men was Terran. My players decided otherwise. The language of the Earth Men is actually called Murrican.

The player characters are a motley assortment of low men, high men, earth men, and chitinous men. Of course the pair of seven-foot tall chitinous men stick out like sore thumbs. The humans have taken to referring to them as chits (pronounced, 'kites'). Racism comes to the World of Yezmyr.

Have any of your players ever killed shriekers… and then asked what they taste like? I was nonplussed. Bemt the Cringer then proceeded to tear off a chunk from the purple and white mushroom and started eating. I was like, ehrm… I quickly grabbed my random hallucination tables and started rolling. As it turned out, the hallucinogenic alkaloids of the psychoactive shriekers were quite potent. Bemt was tripping within minutes, and before long he was running around like a PMSing cat. Candela cast hold person on him and the rest of the crew tied him up. Bemt tripped for two days straight. That's what happens when you eat shriekers.

Interesting Places: Chamber of Slime

I was in an experimental mood this evening and decided to try out some new techniques. I'm not sold on them, but I had fun—and I think the end result is at least interesting.

There's no fluffy descriptive text for you today, alas. All of my writing energies are focused on "The Project," which continues at a good pace. The fourth play test session happens later today. I'm excited because the players have finally made it to "the good stuff."

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

You Know You Love It

More loving derision from our friends at Something Awful: WTF, D&D?! - The Original Dungeons & Dragons. Go read it. Love it.

Ziqquratu Ziyaret: A Cross-Section

Copyright © 2010, Ramsey Dow. All Rights Reserved.

Today, I present a partial cross-section of Ziqquratu Ziyaret. This map depicts the long and arduous route to the Treacherous Heart and the Vaults of Cryptic Gloom. Therein lies Ruined Shibolaanth, the dead city of the therapsidians. Woe be to those who venture to this accursed place.

Please note that this map is exceptionally incomplete. Not depicted are virtually miles upon miles of unlit passages, broad halls, and cavernous vaults. One could spend a lifetime exploring the labyrinthine ways of Ziqquratu Ziyaret. Alas, it would most likely be a short lifetime, for the fauna of this place are particularly unwholesome.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Goodbye Spell Books

A part of the excitement of Holmes YX is that the magic isn't Vancian any more. In Yezmyr sorcerers don't use spell books. The very environment is deeply imbued with the essence of magic. Sorcerers bring forth magical effects through complex vocalizations and gestures. (There are no material spell components.) Spells are learned behavior, passed on through a long standing oral tradition between master and apprentice. While it is possible that a given sorcerer will make notes of an arcane nature, one does not learn the process of tying shoes by reading a treatise. No, spells are taught.

Scrolls are also a relic of the past on Yezmyr. Vancian systems use scrolls as a means of finding spells as treasure items. Moreover, these systems use scrolls as enablers: they provide for the invoking of spells which the caster either does not know or does not have memorized. Holmes YX uses a spell point system for sorcery. Spells are not memorized. Instead, they are invoked directly from the magical fabric of reality. This takes time, however, especially as spells become more complex. In order to counter this, sorcerers developed spell containers.

Spell containers are magical devices that are capable of holding live spells. These devices come in a near endless variety of forms—from gems and rings to daggers and swords. In addition to spell containment, some of these items also function as spell point adders or even multipliers. Most containers can be used only by sorcerers, but there are some that can be used by anyone. This latter class serves dutifully as 'scrolls of protection.' A layman can utter the command word and make the necessary gestures in order to invoke the protective magic imbued within the container. Such general purpose spell containers are always 'used up' once invoked.

Spell containers are very powerful items in the hands of a capable sorcerer. In effect, they are reusable scrolls. Containers can store a preset number of spell points worth of live magic, varying from container to container. The storing of spells is equivalent to casting, so spell points are subtracted from the caster's pool while he is loading up the container. When cast, the contained spells go off instantaneously. Moreover, casting contained spells does not draw from the caster's spell point reserve. Lesser spell containers are used up after several (or even one) use, depending on the quality of the container. Greater spell containers can be reused indefinitely.

Stored spells may also be 'consumed.' Instead of casting the spell, it is transferred directly into the sorcerer's mind. A contained spell used in this manner is effectively learned, making this an alternate means of spell acquisition. This process is still subject to the rule governing the chance to know a given spell, however. If the consumer is not capable of knowing the spell, then the spell will remain in a contained state.

It is with this move that I make the final blows against Vancian magic in my campaign. Magic in the World of Yezmyr is now its own thing. I am excited to see how this unfolds in play.

Ziqquratu Ziyaret

Copyright © 2010, Ramsey Dow. All Rights Reserved.
The western part of the Pillar of Shagraath is dominated by the dusty Plains of Sahak, where ferocious pit lions prey upon the weak. Within this desolate wasteland broods the black pile of rock known as Ziqquratu Ziyaret.

The approach is littered with obelisks decorated with reliefs and inscriptions in Zhasuu. The reliefs depict orgies of reptilian sex and death. The inscriptions recount the conquests and glories of the fallen empire of the reptilians. The place gives off an air of great antiquity, and at the same time, one of dread.

Broad avenues of steps ascend to platforms where yawning black portals lead to the pile's interior. Within lies a seemingly endless array of unlit vaults and passageways. Deep within the cryptic gloom lies a dead city. According to the Tablets of Urutau, the place is haunted by the degenerate remnants of the once great therapsidians. The tablets also speak of a nexus of gateways located deep within that lead to the manifold dimensions.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stocking Tables and Probabilities

I was rereading Metamorphosis Alpha the other day (the 1976 version, in case you were wondering) and I came across a little table in the "Distribution of Monsters (Mutations) and Treasure" section. It was a simple stocking table, requiring a roll of 1d6 in order to determine the contents of a given room/chamber/area.

I've been spending a lot of time running probabilities over at AnyDice 2 lately. As such, Ward's probabilities looked a little sketchy to me. The table had 4 entries, giving two entries at 33.34% and two at 16.67%. I suppose that's fine, but I could see it having a little more granularity. Here's my take on Ward's table:

d10 Stocking Table
1-5 monster only
6-7 monster and small treasure
8-9 monster and good treasure
10 very strong monster and good treasure

Fifty-fifty seems like good odds for there being any sort of treasure at all. Of course, this particular table discounts the possibility of treasures occurring without monsters. In my estimation that's not really a bad thing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

MPK, or: I Love My Players

I'm slammed writing at the moment, so forgive the quick post this morning. I'll try and wrangle up some longer content soon. In the meantime, enjoy this little snippet…

One of my players said something to me in private a couple of weeks ago that still has me grinning. I'm paraphrasing, but he said something along the lines of, "I'm not worried about a TPK. I'm worried about an MPK." I was like, "What's an MPK?" He replied, "Most of the Party Killed."

That's a new acronym for the books.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Interesting Places: The Tombs

I'm channeling some sort of mutant combination of Richard Corben and Vaughn Bodé today…

Out in the Aurora Badlands, beyond the safety of civilization, is a great pillar of igneous rock. Thrust high into the colorful sky, this place is known only as The Tombs. It is an ancient burial site, abandoned for millennia. Riddled with twisty catacombs and secret burial vaults, the Tombs are said to be the province of the undead. Sane men won't set foot anywhere near the place.

The Tombs are said to glow with a spectral light in the dark hours. It is unknown whether this is due to the unhallowed nature of the place or some weird source of radiation. In any case, The Tombs are located in the middle of radioactive badlands. Caution must be exercised in the approach, for in addition to radiation and inclement weather, this region is beset by countless irradiated horrors.

Dungeon Masters take note: this place is one of those sprawling dungeon complexes you often read about. It has been carved out, layer upon layer, over long ages. Its network of charnel vaults and catacombs, constructed without rhyme or reason, twists deep into the pillar of rock.

This is but one "level" of The Tombs. Hundreds of similar areas are situated throughout the pillar. This particular area is accessible only by a series of portals located on a ledge 730 feet above the ground on the pillar's southern face. There are no doors in this place, although some ways are blocked, either by bars or pits. Who or what is interned within is up to you. Whatever it is, I expect that it is grotesque in the extreme. GOOD LORD! *CHOKE*

The Fine Print: I am sharing this map under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you follow that link you will be able to read about the conditions that apply to this work. In a nutshell: (a) you can't use it commercially, (b) you must attribute it to me, and (c) you must share any derivative works that you create.