Saturday, October 27, 2012

Imagining Content - Dungeon Bestiaries

Inventing monsters is always fun and it seems to be something that happens to me automatically as I try to invent and imagine dungeons, settings and so forth. Often I will scribble out a map and then write a paragraph or two of silly fluff about the map and from there will spring ... the background of the setting, the rationale for the monsters, decorations and so forth. I don't start working room-by-room but basically set down to write a description of the entire dungeon (or section of dungeon). For example, a while back I fiddled with a 3d labyrinth in illustrator and came up with the following (text added earlier today):

The Fourfold Catatomb
From the description I came up with a massive tomb built to commemorate a deified, vicious despot who ruled with an iron fist and a trumped up state religion. After his death the bureaucratic state he set up kept running things by reference to the aforementioned monarch - a bit like a feudal-fantastic police state. Eventually it might have collapsed, but that's neither here-nor-there. The dungeon/tomb is explained as a state effort to glorify a mighty monarch and keep him protected and pleasured through the ages ... or his spirit, in any case.

What does the dungeon look like? Geometric, symmetrical, finely made and richly carved. Obviously, no expense was spared to make it and slaves were worked to death to ready it. There might be hidden niches, scrawled graffiti where it couldn't be seen, places that were sabotaged by the workers themselves. However,  most of the dungeon is rich, carved and well made. Much of the treasure in such a dungeon would be in the form of carvings, friezes, wall-hangings and so forth. Places might have decayed over time, been flooded or otherwise, but the overall feeling should be rich, and possibly oppressive and over-awing, with large statues of the monarch.

What are the monsters? Well, this is where my imagination usually runs off with me. Basically, the dungeon was stocked with protectors for the monarch - undead made from enemies of the state. These would be the afore-mentioned bronze-corpses, wood-walkers, bone-banes and lilting-weirds. These are probably more-or-less mindless undead or combinations of automatons & undead, powered by the souls of the king's enemies. These would be a generic menace to adventurers entering the dungeon, but something that could also be turned or subverted to help - or at least ignore - the cunning adventurer. A simplistic approach would see looters trying to wade through ever larger hordes of them, possibly dying pointlessly. On the other hand, the crystal-and-blood creations are sworn protectors of the dead monarch, implacable foes of looters and a combat trial that has to be faced to win riches or avoided. The bone-and-wax creatures are there to provide pleasure for the monarch, these would be used more to give a sense of horror and the macabre to the dungeon than to truly be foes for the adventurers, though they might overcome weakened characters. Finally, should the characters come upon the resting place of the king himself, a fitting end would be to have them face the "four ancestors" - perhaps demons bound to the king's body, who had empowered him to raise the kingdom.

In a final twist, the demons might actually be waiting for somebody worthy of them and they might offer one of the adventurers the temptation of taking their gifts (lets say of a silver tongue, a mighty hand in war, eyes in the back of the head and a ward against physical attacks) and reclaiming the lands the king had ruled. Perhaps the king was an unwitting pawn, perhaps he had played the demons for fools, in any case, this gives an open ending - instead of just going for the treasure, the heroes might unleash further adventures.

And there it is ... a self-contained, wealthy, maze-like tomb, filled with macabre soul-powered automatons, dolls and corpses, centred around a quartet of powerful demons. Add a dash of jellies, oozes, gelatinous dodecahedra, perhaps some worms or rats, and voila. Serve properly dried and diced!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sandbox BASS

I have run sandbox-ish campaigns for as long as I can recall, and most times the rules I've run them with have made it harder, not easier, to run a campaign of that sort. Playing with various incarnations of D&D, there would be the invariable scaling from 1st level wimp to 10th level hero, to a situation of "high-level over-powered munchkin that is impossible to challenge seriously". Well, impossible to challenge without putting in far more time as a DM than I found fun. I never wanted to spend hours compiling spells, abilities, treasures to *finally* challenge the players. I wanted to spend that time on fun characters, plots, twists and turns ... bits and pieces of lore and adventure that I could drop into the game.

About 2-3 years ago I ran across the various concepts of old-school gaming & sandbox games on the internet and soon realized this was pretty much what I had been looking for. Fiddling around further, I realized I wanted a game with less of a power-curve and more bloody damned adventuring. I wanted the players to start with "heroes" like Conan, characters with back-story & ability - but not with super powers. That's the direction we started developing BASS - which is basically still little more than a simplified house-rule-set & a character generation system for creating bad-ass, unusual characters.

The next few steps I want to take are the development of tables & elements for populating the sandbox: regions, locations, items, artifacts, opponents. Tools that will allow me, as the DM, to throw more at the players, more easily and with less planning. Because that, I think, is a rule that should be set in stone:

Planning and preparing for a game should not take longer than actually running the game!

It might be fun, but, honestly, much of it will never be seen. So why do it? That's why I want elements that can recycle from adventure to adventure, campaign to campaign ... and if one of them sparks a hook that starts a player of on a cycle of adventures, then so be it. If not: it's just loot for sale!

More to follow ...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

One Page Dungeon Contest 2012 - in print!

Well, this surprised me ... in a nice way, I suppose. My little purple worm is in there as well. Anyway, back to the ole drawing board, preparing some stuff for this weekend's Meetup dungeon crawl.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Devil's Bible

This tome was written by Devil himself and brought doom to every owner so far.


The Book That Can't Be Read

This little booklet.

The world's most mysterious manuscript, work of Grand Alchemist.
This is how I imagine one book of magick.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What happens in Murakash, stays in Murakash

They say it's the stones that breathe evil. Those ancient halls hold dark secret so old that even the Grumpy Farango doesn't want to talk about what happened in that old tunnels, but he knows that nobody returned. He heard screams and then he ran. Whatever crawled  into Murakash, stayed in Murakash and still lurks in the darkness.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Donjon Random Dungeon Builder

This is just so good, I have to mention it again. A perfect little gem of a dungeon-building script. What's not to love? It will even populate your little dungeon for you, if you wish.

A random little bit of dungeon! Generated in seconds ...

A Mediaeval Town

A fascinating article on a model of 13th century Birmingham, which is sure to come in handy for anyone thinking of real or fantasy mediaeval settlements.

A fulle syz veuw of the towne. Yes, with horrible fake olde-speech on my part.