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!

Saturday, April 20, 2019


I am taking note of some general trends today. It has been about a year since I started making a solid effort to post regularly on this blog, and since then, my viewership has gone up significantly. Similarly, since life has torn my attention away from the blog this past month or so, readers have also left my blog. I am left to believe that my posting is then, positively correlated with people reading this blog. No real surprise there. Who reads that which they've already read anyway?

So where does that leave the blog? Well, I am still struggling to get free time to really post here. With my degree wrapping up, that time should start flowing in about two weeks, but as in the past, I will need to built up a backlog of posts to provide a cushion for life-hiccups. That might result in a few missed posts until I get that buffer. Also, life will be rearing its head again at some point in the coming months while I move. I don't know when that will be, and hopefully I'll already have my cushion written by then.

As for blog direction, I plan on splitting it fairly evenly between a science fiction project (a genre GURPS truly excels at while that other systems just fall on their faces) and fantasy (not straight DF, because while I love me some Diablo, if I want to play that, I'll play it on my computer - not at my table).

So expect more posts on worked examples of adapting GURPS to a science fiction setting - specifically one with space opera overtones and hard scifi sensibilities - and GURPS fantasy that will involve dungeons and hex crawling and such. I hope this is of interest to people.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Automating Architect of Worlds: Update

I recently reached Step 10 - Place Dominant Gas Giant in my quest to automate Jon Zeigler's Architect of Worlds star system generation system when I read his post on how reality is impinging on his development plans. While I agree with his approach, it got me thinking about how I want to deal with this particular issues and future updates to the program.

Monday, April 1, 2019

AI, Software, and Databases in GURPS

Obligatory Abstract "Cyberspace" Artwork
I recently found this post on computers and software over at Orbital Vagaries, and thought he hit on a few things that have always really gotten to me about how GURPS Ultra-Tech addresses computers:

  1. The in-game difference between different types of AI
  2. The cost of software
  3. The effect of databases

Types of AI

I've always liked the different categories of AI, but the functional dividing line between Non-Volitional AI and Dedicated AI was always blurry to me. Christian Blouin's description of how characters might interact with each really breathes life into these differences and codifies it in my mind. For me, that is critical, because if the GM can't visualize it, how can he describe it to the players?

The Cost of Software

The software pricing in GURPS Ultra-Tech is low. Very low. By it's measure, a modern copy of Windows or MS Office should be virtually free. Do you hear Satya Nadella laughing in Seattle? Yeah. And that doesn't even begin to address more niche software like ANSYS or MATLAB. And we still haven't gotten into highly-niche or classified military hardware that is exorbitantly expensive.

While Christian is right that Traveler prices are better, but I'd argue that there should be  modifiers for software that address competition, standards, etc. This is probably as simple as having set that addresses overall competition strength - e.g., Monopoly (x5 price), Minimal Competition (x2 price), Moderate Competition (x1 price), and Highly Competitive (half price) - and another set that covers the degree of robustness and rigor required by the end user - e.g., Extreme (x5 price), High (x2 price), Moderate (x1 price), Low (half price).

Thus, military software that is expected to be extremely robust and whose author has minimal competition due to the political nature of the contract awarding process would charge 10 times as much for the software as what a similar commercial product sold to civilians who can shop around and don't require extreme robustness might pay. And if there is only one company who can meet the needs for that military software, it would run a full 25 times cost!

I might also argue for a third multiplier for availability, but that is likely rolled into any rolls to obtain software illegally from black market sources. I think I would use legality class to set a penalty to the black market roll and let the margin of success determine how much the seller gouges the buyer.

Also, because the robustness/rigor modifier does represent how reliable the software is, this should provide a bonus to the integrity of that software, should it ever come up. Any time software might be required to make something akin to a Malfunction check or roll to resist being corrupted or hacked, it should get a +2 bonus for Extreme Robustness, +1 for High Robustness, and -1 for Low Robustness.

Effects of Databases

While he doesn't specifically spell out the mechanics of it, tying a skill cap provided by a database to a database gives them a nice mechanical benefit other than, "If you don't have one, you can't use Research." I also like that they go out of date as time passes, and if I'm reading the rule correctly, I love that it is logarithmic. I do think to should be logarithmic based on skill cap, though, and not skill type. The type should set a category for the timeliness of information, and the step down should be skill-based.

Overall Thoughts

I really like what's been done here and will take some time to digest it. I think there are some tweaks and additions I'd like to make, probably including rolling what's there into what Thomas Weigel presents in Thinking Machines (Pyramid #3/37 - Tech and Toys II).

Thursday, March 28, 2019

It's Been a While

It's been a while since I last posted, so I thought I would drop a line to those of you who haven't drifted away. Life continues to consume a good portion of my time, but I think I can eek out a post per week, minimum, for the next month, after which, I should be able to get back to my every-other-day posted schedule, barring any unforeseen circumstances. I know it's bad form to post that you're going to post, but I'd rather keep posts as topical as possible. Expect a proper post this weekend. It might be about mapping, or it might be about science fiction stuff.

In the meantime, check out some of my recommended reading or the posts from blogs I follow!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

A Short Hiatus

I am getting inundated with work as I wrap up my second degree and won't be able to maintain my every-other-day posting schedule in the coming couple of weeks. As such, I will be taking a short break while I clear out some work. I'll be back to it in two weeks, though, with more hexy goodness, and maybe some ruminations on science fiction gaming.

Until then, have fun and enjoy the onset of spring!