Monday, July 15, 2019

Another Set Piece for the Dungeon

I just finished mapping up another set piece for the dungeon, and I think most players will like how I mixed a pair of RPG and myth tropes to get something a little different and potentially terrifying. This set piece is all about ambiance, but that foreboding atmosphere will be backed up with one heck of a level boss.

This time around, I'm trying to make heavy use of the environment, which direction doors open, locked versus unlocked doors, and a general degree of creepiness to keep the players on edge, catch them off guard, and ultimately hit them hard with a single monster that will use the environment to its full advantage.

Granted, a typical GURPS party is horribly deadly when facing a single opponent, but that's where the environment comes in. The players will have their mobility noticeably limited, with any mistake in movement resulting in the sort of debilitating condition that can ravage defenses and leave a PC helpless at a critical moment. I'm piling on top of this doors that open in specific directions and locked doors to make running away more difficult, unless they specifically prepare a path of retreat as they advance.

My hope is that these two things will combine to make for the sort of encounter my players will talk about with horror and gratification (once they get past it!) for years to come.

What sort of things have you done in your games to make a single monster actually effective against a well-prepared party?

Monday, July 8, 2019

A Monster a Day Part II

I've been trying to keep up this pace, but I've slowed down. I honestly don't know how Enraged Eggplant does it over at Generic Universal Eggplant. Making a monsters, crosschecking rules, checking sources, and fitting them to the setting has proven more time consuming than originally anticipated, but still, I have produced about twenty new monsters since I started. I'm hoping to maintain that pace for another month or so, or at least until I have a few areas mapped out.

On the upside, I have statted up 14 mephits and a variety of demons and undead, so there is that. I need to work on some not-so-supernatural baddies, too. I have some ideas for the inhabitants of the local forests and their link to the Abbey, so I'm guessing they'll be next.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Martial Arts in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy

Two Swashbucklers going at it?
Back in 2015 into 2016, I ran a brief GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game in which the party's fighter and I came upon an interesting idea - finding a way to fit Martial Arts Styles into Dungeon Fantasy. It was to that end that we hammered out what a Style Perk should amount to and how to handle things like techniques within the simplified framework that is DF. Even though we didn't get a chance to implement it before university consumed my gaming time, I'll present it here as an untested idea that may prove useful to your own gaming, should you choose to include it.

What Is a Martial Art Style?

Martial arts styles are collections of skills, perks, and power-ups that help define a particular way of fighting. Every style has, at minimum, certain components:
  • Martial Arts Style Familiarity
  • Core Skills
  • Cinematic Skills
  • Perks
  • Power-Ups
Together, these five components provide a framework for fighting in this style. The core skills are those that the style teaches, and the cinematic skills represent the body of legend surrounding the style. Combat perks are often not restricted by class (see DF 11), but they are listed here for both completeness and as a guide to what is appropriate for the style. Lastly, power-ups those power-ups that can be bought, regardless of template that normally grants access. In fact, many power-ups do are not otherwise available to any class!

Style Familiarity

Of these, the Style Familiarityis among the most important; it grants access to all of the other features of style, regardless of template. It includes a number of benefits as described below:
  • Access to all of a style's associated skills, cinematic skills, power-ups, and perks. This only covers access, but does not fulfill prerequisites, such as Trained by a Master.
  • The effects of Claim to Hospitality from DF 11 on a roll of 6 or less.
  • Stylists are familiar with the style's originating culture and do not suffer the usual -3 penalty to Connoisseur (Weapons), Games, Savoir-Faire (Dojo), Teaching, or on rolls while interacting with other co-stylists.
  • If you have Style Familiarity for all of your opponent's styles, you know his tricks. Reduce the defensive penalties from his feints and Deceptive Attacks by -1.
  • If the GM normally allows character points to be spent by certain templates mid-play, he should definitely allow stylists to spend points in a similar manner on style-related traits and skills.

Techniques as Power-Ups

Tracking individual technique levels, including defaults, and all of the finickiness this would introduce into the game, just isn't thematically appropriate for Dungeon Fantasy. But there are ways around this.

For starters, only those who have points in a technique can use it. Taking this a step further, each technique is bundled into a power-up that raises its score - preferably to that of the base skill. These power-ups also incorporate other traits to keep as many rolls as standard as possible - i.e., rolling at a +0 modifier as much as possible. And wherever possible, they also enhance the flavor and awesomeness of the underlying techniques by adding small benefits.

Finally, these power-ups are not universally available to all delvers. Only those who have invested a point in an appropriate Style Familiarity gain access to the power-ups covered by that specific style. These two tweaks cut down on the number of techniques floating around the game, place them in the same bin as any other power-up that the player has to track and remember how to use, and simplifies rolling by keeping everything as standardized as possible.

Future Work

I am currently continuing to expand my list of power-ups for this system and will be posting them here as they are completed. I hope you enjoy this add-on and will critique my builds in the comments. I always welcome feedback on this sort of thing!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Automating Architect of Worlds Update

Lately I've been learning a lot about Python and how it handles objects through another side project, and I'm starting to see where I should go back and rework what I have so far for Architect of Worlds. This comes at a good time, since I've gotten up to generating everything but moons, and that step is looking like it will be a bit more intensive than the text suggests - in terms of programming, that is.

So I think my next step will be to go through the original code, clean it up as much as possible and implement a cleaner data management system. I also want to break out a couple of bits into their own functions so they can be reused whenever necessary...I'm looking at you, orbital placement! Once this is done, I'll proceed to do moon placement.

I also have a couple of questions about the model being presented, since it doesn't appear capable of producing the insane number of moonlets our gas giants have (79 for Jupiter and 62 for Saturn). Mind you, in terms of storytelling, most of those moons are inconsequential, but knowing their total number is helpful, and if I know that, I can place them automatically and develop them from there. So, because my application doesn't involve a human rolling dice and interpreting results, I don't see an issue with rolling up 120+ moons no one will ever care about visiting.

Also, When you roll things up randomly, sometimes you get interesting results that spark creativity. So I'd rather roll up a bazillion moons and risk getting a GM's creative juices flowing than say, "There are a lot of them, and they probably won't be interesting enough to justify the time you'll spend rolling dice to generate them." But that's because of the medium, not a fault in Jon's system by any means.

So that's my plan. I'll keep you updated on progress. Hopefully I"ll have enough put together to use soon!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Random Mapping Tip

I have come across something that is pretty obvious and I should have been doing this entire time, but hey, we aren't all perfect. So in case you're not perfect either, I thought I'd share this tip with you:

If you are mapping an area and think of what a room or group of rooms should be, WRITE IT DOWN!

Right now, at least half of you are probably shaking your heads thinking, "Man, this guy didn't do that before?" and I don't blame you. But I cannot explain how much faster mapping this abbey has been because I laid out all the rooms as I drew them. I know it won't always be this easy, and as I leave the more systematically-designed regions behind, it'll get harder, but that's all the more reason to follow this tip!

And I'm going to extend it to more than just what a room is. If I think of what goes somewhere, it get noted. If I think something needs an object or treasure or trick or trap, it gets noted. No more going back and sorting rooms later. My later pass will be to fill in the gaps and then check that everything makes sense.

I hope this helps someone out there!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Mapping around the Abbey

Today I worked on an overland map for the 60-mile area surrounding the abbey, largely to see how it connects to the outside world. Now I can definitively say that the abbey sits on a forested hill at the end of what would be generous to called a wooded road. Even trail might be generous. The nearest village is a day's hike away, and the trail ever got used to bring the monastics at the abbey food and supplies.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Mephit to My Madness

I like mephits. I don't know why, but I just do. They're impish little elementals with a nasty disposition who, if used effectively, can either be a real nuisance or downright deadly in a mixed group. Also, they're elementals, and I like elementals. So it probably comes as little surprise that I am writing up and planning to include the little buggers in my dungeons.

Now, I could post my write-ups, and I may just do that at some point, but today, I'm going to take a different tack. Today, I'm going to explain how mephits fit into my vision of the world.

Mephits are small, weak-minded, dimwitted elementals that faun over their masters in an attempt to ingratiate themselves to the most powerful entity in the room. This is their form of social climbing, since a big, powerful master means a big, powerful protector - not that any mephit would admit to needing protection!

Of course, this also means that larger foes may well have these winged nuisances on hand when adventures encounter them. This does not bode well for adventurers. In combat, mephits are masters of the hit-and-run. They make good use of their flight to stay out of range and use their elemental powers to inconvenience, if not incapacitate, adventurers. On their own, this is annoying, but when a big honkin' demon is trying to make macrame place settings from your entrails, things can go south really quickly.

And speaking of demons, I'm starting to flesh out four of their lords. They don't have scary-sounding, difficult-to-pronounce names yet, just epithets as working names. But these guys don't just use other demons as pawns. They command undead, elementals, and some mortal abominations, too. So is it any surprise that they have mephits in their employ? It shouldn't be!

Now if there is one thing most people know about mephits, it's that their variety is staggering. Elementals came in four (maybe five, if you prefer Chinese- or Vedic-inspired fantasy) flavors - Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. There are around a dozen published mephit types. I am maintaining that tradition by including the following list of mephits: Air, Ash, Dust, Earth, Fire, Ice, Lightning, Magma, Mist, Salt, Slime, Steam, and Water. And since that picture was labeled "Shadow Mephit", I think I'll add that in, too. That's a lot of mephit variety, but it suits these guys. And with their association with demons, I think variety is completely appropriate.

What have you done with mephits in your games?

Friday, May 31, 2019

Requires Concentrate - A GURPS Blog

I recently discovered Requires Concentrate, a GURPS blog on GMing primarily science fiction (hell yeah!) and fantasy games. And while I am still poking through it as I type this, I have to say this post on what happens to stuff in vacuum already has me in love with it!

I've said it before and I'll say it again: These kind of little details are what breathe life into exotic settings, like living in space. The idea of the glues that hold door signs to walls outgassing and losing efficacy when a ship decompresses is just cool and weird. That eggs won't be bothered by what can suck a human through a far-too-small hole in a very gory way is amazing. These little things will draw your players in. Use them!

So that's it for now. Go check out Requires Concentrate and tell me what you think of it in the comments below.

Monday, May 27, 2019

More Progress on Architect of Worlds Automation

I'm happy to report that I'm ever so closer to being up to date with what Jon Zeigler has already published. I've not completed Step Eleven (yikes! that was a mess) and finished off Step Twelve, as well. That just leaves a little more basic planetary information from Step Thirteen, and I can dig into the moon stuff.

If I am able to get this done before Jon drops the next portion of the system, I'll go back and try to clean up the mess I've made everywhere I making this work. I think I can get it much cleaner than it currently is. Then I'll start working on using the data generated to create a database I can further manipulate in a program like Access.

That or I'll get back to fleshing out mechanics and making setting content. Either one will work. But being able to generate systems quickly is key to making this game work at all. I want players to have the agency to just shoot off in a random direction or ask, "What's over here?" and I'm just a couple mouse clicks from some sort of answer.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Reorganizing the Blog

Now that I finally managed to get 1,000 gp and cast resurrection on myself, I'm reassessing the blog and its organization. I may be shuffling some stuff around a little, so expect some possible changes to tags, tag structure, and pages. I don't see myself pulling down any posts, but since I am currently on a two-pronged attack to content creation, I think I need to sort posts along those lines a little better. If not for your sanity, for mine.

As a side note, I am hoping to be able to return to every-other-day posting in the near future, but I'm not quite ready yet. I'm still putting together content from my Science Fiction project and my fantasy stuff. A few things to expect at some point: a lot of power-ups, an alternate approach to DF character generation, and a methodology and step-by-step setting generation for the science fiction setting.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Monster a Day...

Mapping this abbey has made me realize how few demons I have statted up at present. To that end, I have done a little work on developing a couple of demon lords and am working on the kinds of demons, spirits, and undead they command. So far, I've already beefed up my list a little and am trying to maintain a pace of one to two monsters a day until I feel comfortable stocking a dungeon thematically.

A nice side benefit is that I'm accruing some Hidden Lore (Demons) and Hidden Lore (Undead) information that players might discover depending on what they investigate. Of course, even if they don't look into such things, it will provide a structure that should provide that much-needed cohesion amidst gobs of otherwise desperate monsters. I know funhouse dungeons are a staple in the genre, but I prefer there to be more internal logic. It helps maintain an ambiance.

What sort of background do you use to help seat your monsters in the worlds you create? Do they just exist on a whim or do they have deeper origins?

Monday, May 13, 2019

Mapping an Abbey

While it may not look it from my posts as of late, I have been trying to split my time between making progress on a science fiction setting and doing some mapping and worldbuilding for dungeon crawls. To will be a post on the latter.

So lately, I've been mapping up a small abbey to serve as the first level of a larger dungeon. Naturally, it is dominated by its cathedral that has two towers and a central dome. Unlike traditional catholic cathedrals, I decided the bells would go in this dome, and the entry-way towers would be spires. This just felt good when I was making the map.

The outlying buildings are a two-story affair with the usual rooms associated with a monastery - refectories, calefactories, scriptoriums, and lots of other churchy-sounding names. And like any good dungeon entrance, this abbey has a cellars and an underground burial catacomb so the monks and nuns that live there never need leave the walls of their sanctum.

So that's a quick rundown on the abbey, but how does it sit within the region? Well, for starters, it is an ancient complex perched upon a forested hill about a day's ride from what remains of the village that once supported it. Both are now abandoned, but the abbey has fared far better than the village. Many legends and superstitions attribute the abbey's well-preserved condition to any number of supernatural causes - none of them particularly holy or good.

This is what I'm currently working off of. I'm sure it will grow deeper as time progresses, just as Alnwich did when I worked on it. For now, though, I can definitively say that there is an abbey - with a map! - that definitely qualifies as a Bad Place, and under it is some sort of dungeon. How mega it will be is up in the air.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Automating Architect of Worlds Update

I feel like I haven't made much progress on my automation of Architect of Worlds project. Step Eleven has proven far more troublesome than originally anticipated, largely owing to the fact that I didn't save enough information from Step Ten - specifically how far inward the dominant gas giant migrates. I had just stored the final position for later use. Oops.

Once this was rectified, I ended up reevaluating my approach to Step Eleven to put it more in line with what Jon wrote in the first place. See, originally, I was generating all of the orbits, stocking all of the orbits, and then deciding which orbits to delete, but I realized this was just taking extra time and wasting memory. So now the Step Eleven function will run through Step Eleven then decide whether or not to place another planet, and continue from there.

There is also the matter of how I will store all of the planets' data. I am still not 100% sure about how to set up the data structure for this project in the most efficient way possible. As it stands, I have a bunch of separate objects, but I'm starting to wonder if these should go in lists in a variable in the parent or not. So, frex, System has a variable called Stars that contains a list of Star objects, and each Star object has a variable called Planets that contains a list of planet objects, and so on.

I'm not sure I like this and haven't committed to it, yet. But it looks like I will need to pass a list of planets out of Step Eleven, and future steps will process this list, one planet-object at a time. I am really hoping someone leaves some suggestions in the comments, below, because this is definitely pushing my understanding of data handling.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Niche Protection at the Table

Once upon a time, I played Dungeons & Dragons. A lot of Dungeons & Dragons. This was back during Third Edition, and I loved it. It was a blast. Everything felt new, and shiny, and wondrous, and everything fantasy should be.

But Third Edition had its flaws. As time progressed, the cracks in the system become more and more apparent. Wizards of the Coast released more and more bloat. And eventually, I found myself houseruling the game heavily.

It started with patching the broken bits. Then I started expanding the system with new spells, and equipment, and feats. Eventually, I moved on to making entirely new classes that offered the sorts of characters I wanted to play. But cracks in the class system itself began to show.

So it comes as little surprise that when WotC decided to release Fourth Edition – a system I did not care for –, and all of my friends updated, I went in search of a new system. This led me to GURPS. I loved the customizability of it all. Want to play a cybernetic psychic were-rabbit cyborg mage? Just convince your GM, because you can make it and the rules do support it. And that’s how I ended up playing GURPS.

Right now, you’re probably wondering what this all has to do with niche protection. See, GURPS has these things called templates in Dungeon Fantasy, and I have a love-hate relationship with them. Templates are essentially classes, but with more flexibility for the players. They greatly speed up character generation, and they ensure that PCs have minimum skill and trait levels to be viable in the game at the intended difficulty level (unless you’re gaming in Felltower). However, in DF as written, it is encouraged that players use these templates and there are even suggested mechanics for enforcing them because they, themselves, enforce niche protection.


What Is Niche Protection?

Niche protection is the practice of making sure that every PC has a role to play and that no other PCs step on that role. So using DF as an example, the barbarian template covers the role of “good at nature”, and the scout covers “good at ranged combat”. There are a ton of templates, so I won’t cover them all. The point is, these templates act very much like classes in Dungeons & Dragons.

So why don’t I just ditch them? Because there is something to be said with each player having a thing that their PC excels at. Everyone should share the spotlight and get their moments of awesome. That can be hard to do when two PCs are similarly awesome at the same thing. So niche protection is not without its up sides. And that’s what creates the quandary for me – I want players to be free to surprise me with their PC designs, but I want to make sure each player gets his Awesome Time.

What to Do about Niche Protection

So let’s begin by taking a quick look at what is good about niche protection:
  • Everyone is good at something
  • No one steps on each other’s Moments of Awesome

Now, let’s consider what is bad about niche protection:

  • Stifles creativity by restricting choices
  • Inherently meta-gamey and thus risks breaking suspension of disbelief
Lastly, what is ugly about niche protection:

  • Erodes what makes GURPS an amazing system

With these things in mind, I am going to make a couple of suggestions that might blow your mind. They may well revolutionize how you GM. TALK TO YOUR PLAYERS.

Yup. That’s it.

You don’t need to protect niches if you just have an open conversation with all of your players. Let everyone hash out what they want to play, what roles they see their PCs filling, and so on. If two players want to cover the same role, make sure they are okay sharing the spotlight. If a role isn’t covered, let the players know there is a hole in the party’s skill set. You’ll be surprised what good communication can do for a game table.

Where Does That Leave Templates in DF?

Well, for me, it doesn’t leave them much of a place. I don’t plan on enforcing niches mechanically in any way. I do plan on offering competency packages to speed up PC generation, but they are just that – competencies. Want to be good at breaking into places? Take this package. Want to be a mountaineer? Take this package. No text to suggest reasons for taking them. It’s up to the player to figure out why his master swordsman is also a world master ballet dancer.

Does this mean that players have complete and total free reign at my table to make whatever psychic blueberry muffin they want? Nope. I talk about what is appropriate. I provide guidelines and review all PCs. And I give meaningful feedback on strengths, weaknesses, and how well they fit the game. In other words, I talk to my players.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Free Time at Last!

I really abhor writing these fluff posts, but I want to at least make my current once-a-week posting schedule. My schedule is lightening after one hellacious semester, and I think I can work back up to an every-other-day posting schedule in a little time. I won't try to do it right away, because I need to maintain a buffer of at least a couple of weeks. So for now, I'll keep posting weekly while I build up a backlog of posts.

To those of you have stuck with me through this drought, I thank you. You're interest and support is greatly appreciated. Hopefully, I can pull back those who left and even grow this blog a bit. So if you know anyone who stopped coming around because of lack of activity, let them know I'm back and will be posting content again regularly. Cuz I'm back!