21 July 2014

Mobile Games

Ever since I got a smartphone that's actually smart I've been poking around the Google Play store looking for games that aren't completely awful.

It will come as a surprise to literally nobody reading this that a good 75% of the "free" games are money-grabbing, gameplay-free varieties of games that the rest of the world has been playing online for for free for the last decade now.

For example: Clash of Clans. It's literally the same timer-based city builder that people have been playing on and off in their lunch break since at least 2000. Except this one's on your smartphone, see, so even people who don't really "play games" are able to putz with it while they're on the john.

Just the first image I googled, but I assume that this is it

It's not like I hate Clash of Clans or non-gamers playing games or anything, it just makes poking through the G Play store a huge pain in the ass. The top games are universally shallower versions of games that were never that good to begin with.

But that doesn't mean there aren't some gems.

I'm thinking about doing a first-impressions styled review of some mobile games that initially don't seem terrible, like a Rock-Paper-Shotgun style "Wot I Think" except it'll just be free games that I downloaded on a whim because I'm in the mood for a card game. Or whatever.

Yeah, that could be fun.

19 July 2014


I have a really bad habit of just winging it when I play games.

I like to write down ten or so things that I think are interesting, and then I create the skeletons of some creatures, a list of interesting magical items (sans effects- I'll make those up later) and then some situations that the players can get it, and then I run a game.

So far, nobody seems to notice that my preparation could be mistaken for brainstorming. It's a mystery to me how people can spend twenty hours preparing material for a campaign. It's like, you don't even know what's going to happen next session. Why bother preparing campaign material for a goal you might never get to for a party that might not give two shits for a game that might not last past the week?

Of course, worldbuilding is its own pleasant exercise. But any future or former GM does that in their spare time. "What if the Etruscans sacked Rome," a person might ask, "what would such a world look like?"

Questions upon questions. 

10 July 2014

New Module?

I kind of feel like trying to coalesce these stupid thoughts of mine into a concrete Adventure Module for other people to read through and critique, but it's so nerve-wracking, you know? It's like, what if these ideas are stupid and cliche and nobody actually wants to read them? What if this is a big waste of time and nobody will notice?

The hardest thing, I've found, about putting yourself out there isn't that nobody will notice, or that nobody will like you, or that everybody will hate you. It's that somebody will like you.

Anyways, though, I've been doing a lot of thinking and writing about my Dungeon World campaign, and there are a lot of things that just don't fit into the game world the way that it's been unfolding. You know how Dungeon World works- it's one part What I Think and four parts What Each Player Thinks and while that means that the resulting concoction is tasty, beautiful, and unique, it also means that otherwise great ideas can get discarded.

Someday soon I'll decide which of them get put in the Unsuitable- Do Not Force pile and then explode them here, or in a separate PDF, and then try and condense them into the gem of an idea that somebody else can use. That's always fun. It's been a very long time since the last module I attempted. Been in a bit of a funk, you know.

Wish me luck!

02 July 2014

Tweakin' Dungeons

I was supposed to be planning out what I'm going to do with this dungeon, but instead I've been practicing French on my cell phone and playing video games.

Like a lot of things in life, it's hard to stop part-way through and change direction. It feels like the momentum of what's already happened gets in the way, and what are you supposed to do about that? It pushes you forwards, even if it's maybe not the best way, or the way you'd envisioned things. It's hard to decide to be better!


The dungeon that my players are going through in Dungeon World has a lot of things going on in it, and, looking back, it doesn't feel like they know what's going on behind the scenes. It's time to make things more explicit, and figure out a way to retroactively make the denizens and layout of the dungeon make sense.

The big thing that I'd been doing is keeping the game light and simple, at least for a little while. It takes time to get used to the game, on both ends, and the upper levels of a dungeon are almost always less dangerous than lower levels, since it can't be assumed that the players are the only intelligent beings wandering around their strange, ill-lit halls. Planning out the dungeons a little more stringently and making a real wandering monsters table for the floor might make things "click" a little better, and also reduce the amount of time that I'm trying to figure out where in the strangely laid-out website the monster I'm thinking of goes.

Fun stuff, right?

All of this thinking makes my brain hurt. Maybe it's time to go back to playing video games...

30 June 2014

Low to High Fantasy: Goddamn This is Hard

Running megadungeons is hard.

My usual campaign is generally a low fantasy affair- think Game of Thrones, Elric of Melnibone, Warhammer Fantasy, and Norse mythology smooshed into a single world. It's a world of strife and mystery, see, a world where lowly peasants fight off bands of trolls while the lords plot and scheme in their castles. Where stone-faced priests root out demon cults, and where shades of black and white play out. It's a game of unearthed mysteries, of herculean and futile struggles, and of half-glimpsed horrors in the night. 

I'm doing the exact opposite of that this game.

In the Megadungeon, where Black is the deepest Black and White is a beam of light cutting through the night. Hideous and hateful monsters bellow challenges and when the heroes win, the world rejoices with them. They tell stories at inns, and people gather to cheer them on and wish well. The monsters, once defeated, band together in darker corners, cowed, and the shining heroes go forth once again. The ugly monsters are naturally horrible and easily manipulated by a greater evil, which is why they need to killed. There's no rehabilitation, because their minds are too corrupted by shadow. So go in there and clean the place up! We're in danger here!

It's a massive transition, and I'm not sure that I'm doing it right. It's second nature to have corrupted villains and shadowy plots to work with an enemy of an enemy but you know what? I'm trying to listen to some power metal to get my brain in the right place, and I'm going to try and read some Good vs Evil high fantasy stories to do better. One of my players said he'd like to be able to kill monsters and loot things without feeling bad about it. I can do better than that. I want the party to say "Fuck yeah, we stopped the Goblin Horde from burning Rakelia to the ground!"

But first I need more. If anybody has any suggestions of really good high fantasy novels, or power metal (or any similarly upbeat music) they want to throw my way, please do so. I need inspiration to make this game larger than life.

22 June 2014

Dominions 4

I've been playing and plotting about Dominions 4 instead of spending more time with roleplaying games or being part of some sort of nebulous roleplaying community. I feel no regrets- Dominions 4 is a massive, beautiful game with insane complexity and depth. If it's possible to get to the very bottom of the strategic options in this game I'd be surprised, considering that it takes multiple games against other players to begin to understand the basics of the game, and there probably isn't a person alive who could conceivably be considered a master.

That's really all I have to say, for now.

I've been working on a very, very basic analytical guide to one of the nations- Middle Ages T'ien Chi, a nation based strongly off of feudal China and with some very interesting and fun mechanics. I made it for myself for a seemingly stalled multiplayer game I'd been playing among friends, but we'll see where it ends up.

Hopefully we can finish. I don't think I'll win, but I'm very interested in seeing how it goes.

10 June 2014






Last Sunday I got to actually play Dungeon World again and even though we only played with three players (and one of them was text-only), it was still a blast. Running Dungeon World is like leaning your head back into a cold waterfall; refreshing, bracing, and very, very messy.

As usual, we only got through one level. I'll double back and do the other levels later- this one was codenamed Level Fortress originally, but I decided to play off an offhand suggestion by one of my players:

He was goofing around in Roll20 with a box he'd made (you can doodle on the virtual whiteboard) and kind of stuck it next to one of his characters. I asked him what he was doing, and he said "I was bored at the end of the last session so I drew a box and was messing with it." *

"So what's in the box, then," I ask him. This is one of my favorite ways to play with other people- turn the question back on them! Let them create! Sometimes their idea is boring or uninteresting (sorry guys) but most of them time it'll at least be something you didn't think of, and will help you understand how they're viewing the imaginary world you're sharing.

He says it's a skull, and I say "that's absolutely true and oh shit you dropped it, it's falling down the stairs!" I'm not sure what compelled him to want to chase the skull down the stairs (maybe he just wanted to hang on to the skull- in Dungeon World, since your damage mostly depends on your class instead of your gear, it'd let him at least fling it at somebody if he wanted to, or maybe he thought it'd be a nice keepsake) or maybe he's saving it for a monologue?

Anyways, so he's chasing a rolling skull down the dungeon stairs, and now it's "getting away." I watched Spirited Away yesterday and, if you've never seen it, there are these weird green rolling heads that the bath-house witch keeps around and so in it went. The skull really is getting away, guys, it's going down the passage and you'll never catch it if you don't hurry up!

In that room was a box with some snakes, which they played with briefly, and then continued on. I can't remember what, if anything, inspired the idea of the Musical Skeleton Amigos ** but their first enemy encounter on that particular level was three spooky scary musical skeletons. One had a rattling maracas skull, one was playing its chest like a xylophone, and the last one was playing its head like a drum. They enjoyed that, although the skeletons didn't last very long. The paladin almost got his face eaten off (skeleton makeout session) and they got pretty banged up in general. Their armor took most of the suffering, I think, and they headed off after their skully friend without too much fuss.

The bard of the party decided to Spout Lore on the rolling skull- since he succeeded at his roll, he decided that he'd heard some sort of tale about this rolling skull. I decided his name was Roland (get it? Rollan'? Hyuk) and it was the head of a greedy adventurer who turned to evil. He always rolled towards treasure*** and that's pretty much the sum of him. They rolled him as he rolled his way into a room with a pile of burnin' bones. Between the arcane duelist and the bard, they managed to figure out that the fire was both magical and fake, although they spent a while figuring out if it would burn them. And what exactly the nature of the falseness was. Was it not actually magical fire? Was it "fake" magical fire? Was it fake "magical" fire? Spent the better part of ten or fifteen minutes puzzling over that one, to the point where even I was confused. They stuck their hand in and it was fine- and the skull came rolling out with an enormous purple gem!

They tried to corner it, but the skull kept on a-movin', and their efforts were in vain. Heedless of the dangers, they sprinted on- directly into the clutches of skeleton mage and his cronies! Behind them were even more skeletons, too! A pitched battle ensued, where they played skeleton ping-pong, hid behind each other, used the power of rock to clear away a necromantic fog, and spun like ballerinas into their foes. They ended up the victors and we had to cut it short because one of our players is a good five hours ahead of the rest of us and had obligations. Which is fine! We cut it short at a good resting spot and called it a day.

I think most of them leveled up (of those that were there) and I'll probably be talking to the ones that didn't show up and making sure that the time is good for them. It was a great session! Here's hoping the next one is at least as entertaining.

* Which felt bad, at first, but I'm hoping it wasn't my fault; I like to drink and DM and sometimes I get carried away by the end of the session. Or maybe it was just boring the whole way through? Maybe he was just goofing off while we were winding down?

** I just realized I missed an opportunity to give them sombreros and really play it up. Damn it.

*** Sometimes it's fun to confirm a hunch of your players, especially when you didn't actually plan it that way. If you keep your plans very loose, it's easier to change them to better fit the current mood and style of your players. In this case, I'm pretty sure that one of the players literally said "Well what if it leads to treasure," and that's a great damn idea. Treasure-seeking animated skull!

01 May 2014

Megadungeon World

I told my newest Dungeon World group last session that I'd be willing to run a megadungeon with creatures they wouldn't feel bad for killing, almost in those exact words. I regret nothing, but it is a pretty big departure. Megadungeons are hard!

But here's what I've been thinking.

There needs to be a town nearby, because a dungeon is a source of income like a new gold or silver mine, and people will build shelters and houses to be near the boom. In this case, there's already a town nearby;  a bit of tweaking with the results of a random fantasy name generator gives me Rakelia. The name sounds Roman, so I've decided that it belongs to a not-quite Roman Republic. Romans generally built forts and then settled with soldiers, so I can decide that there's a stone keep that has older buildings inside, occupied mostly by citizens, and that outside the walls are the non-citizens; slaves, adventurers, and services. 

The dungeon itself is (was?) underground, and was opened up by a fissure. I've decided that it's plate tectonics, which means that it looks a bit like this:

Imagine that the there were a handful of stone rooms half-opened by that fissure near the bottom

And it has the added bonus of meaning that the dungeon is going to be split along this crack and that there are really two sub-dungeons now that connect and diverge along the split foundations and crumbled walls and ceilings. Going up will be just as much "forwards" as going down, sometimes, and might even be the only way to bypass a particularly formidable barrier. Crossing the center fissure, at the narrower parts where the floors haven't collapsed too much, is possible, and sometimes the party's going to need to leave ropes down and scale to the next level without stairs or ramps.

For the denizens of the dungeon, the ancient and modern come together as spontaneous generation and Gygaxian naturalism come together. Lesser monsters and animals spawn wholesale in the dank dungeon grime, which provides food for the monsters that spawn biologically. Some more dangerous monsters are an open question as to their generation- are goblins profligate breeders or do they simply appear in untravelled and shadowy halls? Do otyughs spawn from underground midden heaps or do they somehow mate, tangled rubbery limbs and all?

I've decided that there are multiple entrances from the surface, as befits a dungeon of this size, but haven't nailed down exactly how many there are. There are are at least two, which I've named the Left Hand Path and the Right Hand Path, and they are both near the town. They require a bit of scaling to reach, and probably require a rope. The Right Hand Path is the one nearer the players, and the Left Hand Path will require the players to find a way around or across the gap.

I'm working on the wandering monster tables, and I haven't started mapping. The plan is that on each level there's a small handful of "set-piece" encounters that are more or less static, and the rest of the dungeon is handled by wandering monsters or random events (depending), the overarching environment (a little different for each level, and tied in with the "theme"), and just plain empty rooms.

A quick example of what I'm talking about off the top of my head:
With glorious orcs, of course

Level Six: High Alert
Environment: The orcs in this level have fortified multiple fall-back positions and the patrols are faster. Roll for wandering monsters twice as often. Orcs that are losing a fight will attempt to retreat to their Stronghold. Denote the escapees and include them in the Stronghold.
Stronghold: An enormously fat Orcish sergeant with a flaming blade is directing his soldiers. The archers are in elevated towers made of wood spiked with crude nails and provide supporting and accurate fire. The soldiers fight in a box formation, with the sergeant in the second row bellowing commands.
Room 1: Orcish ambush, they have set up spiked logs to direct foot traffic into a "kill zone" that will be feathered with their archers and repulsed by spearmen
Room 6: Prisoners, chained to walls. Most are recently dead or dying. All are wearing ragged clothes and bruised/beaten.
Room 15: Midden heap, mostly garbage but sometimes cool things get tossed in, too
Room 18:  Hole in the ceiling leads to Level Five.

Random Events (2d6):
1-2: Dogs barking and snarling in the near distance- it's orc beastmasters and war-dogs!
3-4: The players stumble into a trap; falling rocks, poison darts, covered pit (dumps into next level), leg trap
4-5: Organized patrol discovers the party: 1d6 orc warriors and either a sorcerer or a priest accompanying
etc etc

The random events will probably be in a table, so I'll be able to say how many times they're supposed to happen by marking them with a [] or ( ), so you could print it out and mark it with a pencil if you're playing at home, but my plan is to save it as a .png and doodle on it with paint. If I randomly roll something that's out of "charges," Ican either pretend it happens again anyways, roll again, or give them a break.

The important thing is that each time the players go back in the dungeon, if I write it this way, it's easy to see what will refresh and replace itself, and what won't. It's easy to say that even if the players carve out the heart of the Orcish commander and clear the Stronghold there are still some wandering orcs looking for treasure or food, or that there are some fresh traps that haven't been sprung by anybody yet. This means that even "cleared" levels are still plenty dangerous and more than capable of giving any party a run for their money.

So it should be fun. The plan is to write enough in advance that I know roughly what's going on and what's where to give the players a megadungeon experience inside of Dungeon World, which is going to be tricky. I might write the environment as Dungeon Moves instead (so that the Dungeon might make a move if the players roll a 6 when they're not in combat to simulate wandering monsters, or maybe in a particularly rickety floor there might be a Dungeon Move that goes when the players crash around, roll +Party Size and that'll drop one or two of them into the next level, where they'll have to deal with whatever's one floor below them, or something).

I'll need to draw maps soon; I hate drawing maps.