Monday, April 13, 2015

Eyes to See You

I always liked the way that Earthdawn explained its dungeons as apocalypse shelters now overrun by the same soul-eating monsters from which the former inhabitants were hiding. I'm not one of those people who demands a rational explanation for everything in a fantasy world -- sometimes fantasy should be allowed to be fantasy -- but I appreciated the effort.

In 13th Age some dungeons are alive. They are like parasites or cancers, burrowing up from some unknown underworld and breaking out on the surface to spew monsters into the world; the fact that some have what look like wooden doors -- but aren't -- and are populated by what look like kobolds or goblins -- but aren't -- is all part of their strange and inexplicable nature. The dungeons just are. It's sort of the opposite approach to Earthdawn; "a wizard did it" on a greater scale, with a bit of Lovecraft chucked in for added gribbly flavour.

The average living dungeon erupts into the surface world and aside from some regeneration of damage or perhaps a small rearrangement of its internal structure it stays as it is, a violent idiot spitting out monsters until some adventurers delve into it and destroy its heart.

The Stone Thief is different. It is intelligent, it bears grudges, it moves, and it is hungry. It pops up to devour a castle, a town, or even another dungeon, and then digs back into the ground to appear somewhere else, often thousands of miles away. What a great idea.

Spoilers follow.

Eyes of the Stone Thief is a mid to high level campaign for 13th Age that was I believe pitched as "what if Moby Dick were a dungeon?"; the bulk of the 360 pages is devoted to a description of the dungeon itself while the rest of the book discusses the kind of campaign you can construct around it, complete with ideas for sidequests, hunting the dungeon, and multiple solutions to the apocalyptic threat it poses.

It's a big book but it's not as intimidating as I thought it would be, because it's written with a light touch and plenty of wit, and it is well organised. Monster statistics are included in the area in which they appear, which does increase the page count when they turn up in multiple sections but I imagine will be quite handy at the table, and each part of the complex is illustrated with an excerpt from the larger dungeon map so it's always clear which text is referring to which section. Well almost; there are a couple of places where it seems that smaller subsections were supposed to be labelled and the labels are missing, but it's not too difficult to match the picture and text.

I can imagine that the maps will be a sticking point for some players as they tend to show the general arrangement of the most important locations on that level, rather than showing each and every room and corridor; for those who prefer mapping out every five-foot square there will be some work required to translate the dungeon to that style of play. I don't think it would be an insurmountable task but as a result the dungeon has less out-of-the-book utility for players of that stripe.

On the plus side, the focus on the important locations means that a lot of work has gone into making each of them interesting and exciting. Of course, some areas are better than others but not one of them is dull and some of them are so good that it's frustrating knowing that the players will have to fight and puzzle their way through umpteen levels before they get to them.

Here are some examples. If you're going to play -- and I know my group reads the blog -- stop reading now.

Early on -- although the dungeon can rearrange its own levels -- there's the Gauntlet, a patchwork of monsters and traps, including a minotaur that's both immortal and in agony because the magic sword stuck in its heart can kill death itself, a lava jumping puzzle, and a suicidal medusa at the centre of a maze with invisible walls. Great fun.

Later on there's part of a swallowed library, complete with undead librarians that are polite and helpful unless the adventurers are noisy, killer books that have what is more or less a paralysis ability but one that's protrayed in a fun metagamey way, and a sneaky WFRP reference.

Nearby there's an ancient dwarf dungeon that's been assimilated by the Thief, and it's so old that it's presented in the AD&D1 adventure format, complete with a Futura typeface, boxed text, and Russ Nicholson art.

Later still the adventurers may discover a saw shau sagwa shugaw sguhaw fish person temple at the heart of which is an incomplete demonic ritual; if the player-characters finish the ceremony it opens a gateway to hell in the guts of the dungeon and that could be helpful in defeating the Stone Thief, but on the other hand they are opening a gateway to hell. What the campaign may lack in left-right choices it makes up for it with lots of moral decisions like this one.

There are plenty of factions within the dungeon too, including a cult that worships the dungeon and wants to guide it to apotheosis, an orc army sent to capture the dungeon but that decided to live within it instead, a witch who allowed the dungeon to devour her mansion so she could study it from within, and of course the Stone Thief itself. All are dangerous -- even the friendly ones -- and all have their own plans and goals, some of which clash with each other, creating plenty of opportunity for sneaky players to create alliances and engage in all sorts of political intrigue backstabbing, and that's before the influence of 13th Age's icons is taken into account. In short, there is plenty for the players to do within the dungeon even when they're bored of killing things.

(Ha ha ha. They will never get bored of killing things.)

Eyes of the Stone Thief is quite different from any other megadungeon I've seen but then a traditional approach wouldn't have been the best example of what makes 13th Age different from other Dungeons and Dragons variants.That said there's nothing revolutionary here, nothing that will make you think "all dungeons should be like this forever", but what you do get is a lot of well-written content, well organised, and with lots of good ideas; almost every section has some room or monster or trap that makes me want to unleash it on my players right this second, and if that's not a sign of a good adventure, I don't know what is.

It also features a manticore that thinks it's a cow. You can't go wrong with that.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Water Polo?

Brighton has a reputation for being one of the more liberal and progressive places in the country. Well, it probably has more of a reputation for being full of web designers and artisan coffee shops nowadays but we do have the country's only Green MP -- for the next month at least -- so close enough.

It's a bit strange then that our local newspaper, The Argus, is a vile pamphlet full of hatred directed at the Gypsies/foreigners/Muslims/drug addicts who are plotting to destroy the peace and happiness of our town, plus football news.

The Argus is also known for the somewhat surreal turn taken by some of its advertising boards. Here are a couple of recent highlights:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Unpronounceable

Saw shau sagwa shugaw sguhaw fish people.

I suppose it could have been worse; it could have been the evil manta ray things.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

It's All Black

Despite many attempts I have never warmed to Deadlands. I like Westerns, and I like supernatural Westerns -- High Plains Drifter is ace and Preacher is one of my favourite comics of all time -- and I have a fondness for multi-genre kitchen sink games, and I love Savage Worlds, so I should like Deadlands but it's never clicked for me. Big, perplexed shrug.

As such I wasn't too interested when Pinnacle Entertainment Group cranked the game world's clock forward a few decades for Deadlands Noir, but Stuart was interested and a good thing too as we've played a couple of sessions in the past two weeks and it's been great fun.

Stuart was not impressed with the published campaign for the game so he chucked it out and instead wrote something a bit more freeform and situation-based that saw us playing as employees of a struggling private detective agency tasked with finding a New Orleans socialite's lost poodle. From that humble start we uncovered a Mafia interest in the case, borrowed some money from said criminal organisation without asking them first, kidnapped a spy, recovered an experimental weapon, shopped said spy to his enemies, blamed the missing money on that poor spy, and -- most crucial of all -- found the lost dog.

Oh, and there were some zombies too.

The walking dead aside, the game has captured the noir feel, with multiple factions all vying for the prize and our hapless detectives -- most of whom seem to have no useful detective skills, and proved unable to shoot guns or drive cars with any success -- in the middle, doing everything they can to come out of the mess with something in their favour and as few bullet holes as possible.

It has been big heaps of fun so far; how much of that is hardcoded into Deadlands Noir and how much is a result of Stuart's adventure design I don't know but I feel none of the ambivalence I've felt to Noir's older cousin. I am already looking forward to my next visit to this strange and dangerous alternate New Orleans.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Hero's Heart

A few weeks ago James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess put out a call for magic items to include in his long-awaited referee's book. As an infrequent contributor to the LotFP canon I felt I had to have a go but alas my item wasn't picked, so here it is for you to use as you wish.

The Hero's Heart

This is the heart of a great hero -- or at least someone notable for great deeds if not great moral virtue -- dried or pickled in strange herbs and unguents and enchanted by an evil witch. To unlock its magic the whole heart must be eaten, then three things happen: first of all, the diner is ill in a most messy and violent manner and must save against Poison or be bed-ridden for 1d6 days.

After this the character will feel rejuvenated and full of confidence and will be able to perform one superhuman feat. For example:
  1. Convincing a powerful and hostile army to flee.
  2. Returning from death.
  3. Leaping a tall building in a single bound.
  4. Solving an impossible puzzle.
  5. Swimming while towing a warship.
  6. Reading another being’s mind.
Unknown to the character, they have six months in which to perform this feat or the power dissipates and is wasted.

The third thing that happens is that after six months -- whether the feat is performed or not -- powerful spirits will appear to kill the character and take their heart -- not always in that order -- back to the witch so that another Hero’s Heart can be created. These spirits should be difficult, if not impossible, to defeat.

Unless the character has access to some sort of miraculous power, that is.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

More Than Meets the Eye

The loot table in the last post came to me in my sleep; so did this, although I expect it to be of less utility to gamers everywhere.

I suspect it is in part inspired by the mimics from Final Fantasy XII, which were robotic spider things that turned into chests; it's a small step from there to an actual Transformer, but then I've gone back the other way and made it an organic creature.

The text comes from the Pathfinder reference document.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Drop the Loot!

I woke up at about one in the morning the other, er, morning with this thing in my head. I tried to dismiss it and go back to sleep but it occupied my thoughts for another two hours, damned thing. Assuming that it is some sort of Lovecraftian mental virus I've put it on paper so it can infect your minds too.

Click here for a 400dpi version for printing and here for a pdf.

(And here's a reformatted version that you may find easier to use, courtesy of +Dyson Logos.)

I have no idea if it works or if it's any good; I may test it on Friday in what will probably be my group's last Lost Mine of Phandelver Trolltooth Pass session. If you use it, let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

More Craggy

We're almost to the end of our Lost Mine of Phandelver Trolltooth Pass campaign now, with perhaps two or three sessions to go. A few weeks ago the party stormed Cragmaw Castle but I wasn't happy with the map given in the adventure; it's pretty but it doesn't make much sense and doesn't seem much like a castle, so I drew a new one.

The main changes are that room 11 is gone -- it didn't do anything interesting -- and I've stacked a couple of rooms on top of others -- 9 is above 8 and 14 is above 12 -- so that the castle has actual towers now. Oh, and the castle is now built on rock spires -- crags, if you will -- above a pool of lava, because castles nestled atop lava pits are cool. Or, er, hot.

As such the almost-fatal rock trap at 2 is now an almost-fatal lava pit trap, and it did indeed claim the life of one of the player-characters as he ran across the false floor in a barbarian rage, only to plop into the bubbling hot stuff.

I've hinted at the edges of the crater but not defined them, because I ran out of space; I'd say that they are about three or four squares away from the tower walls, far enough away that jumping is impossible but close enough that clever plans could find a way across.

Feel free to use as you see fit, or indeed not. I have a couple of other maps from the campaign to upload so look out for them in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Bow Ties Are Cool

It's the Seventh Doctor dressed as the Eleventh!

(Alas, it is a promotional shot from a BBC Three series called Crims, but close enough.)

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Pettier Gods

A year and a bit ago I contributed to the James Maliszewski-then-Greg Gorgonmilk project Petty Gods, a collection of minor deities for use in role-playing games. There's a new edition on the way so I've drawn a new picture for it:

I don't know when the new edition is out but I'll mention it here when it is.