Monday Moodsetter 30: Millennium Mills

These are the types of images I had in mind for the second level of the Montporte Dungeon. What RPG thought comes to your mind as you look at these pics taken of Millennium Mills?


The (Non)Gaming Table at Casa de Battle Axe

This weekend featured some tasty vegan rations at our table. Friday night's menu included a spicy tofu zucchini hash, served with a bottle of 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling. Off dry whites are a good match for lighter foods with a bit of heat, although I could have easily gone with a beer on this one.

On Saturday, I cooked up curried noodles with tofu, green beans, and red bell pepper. I opted for an inexpensive Italian red, 2010 Maculun Brentino, a Merlot/Cab blend that was surprisingly excellent match for the dish.

Our merger at work is closing on Tuesday, so I felt the need to pamper and fortify myself over the weekend. Healing up for the adventure ahead.

Roll20 and Google+ Hangout

Our Monday Night Gaming Group has been using Fantasy Grounds 2 and Skype for several years. FG is very pretty, allows for sharing of multiple maps, and the rule support is excellent (a real bonus with GURPS). However, we have lost a few nights and have had many delays because of FG issues. We have also had Skype issues.

With the Montporte Dungeon Campaign, I have been using Roll20 and we are getting more acclimated to it. It works particularly well in conjunction with Google Hangout. It is not as pretty as FG and it doesn't have all the functionality of FG. However, for our d20 game (Blood & Treasure), it is simple to use, reliable, and facilitates play.


Good Stuff on the Download

I picked up +matt jackson's (Lapsus Calumni) The Shrine of Olikulese from RPGNow today. It is a fantasy adventure for Fate Accelerated. I am up to my earlobes in Fate downloads, as the Fate Kickstarter draws to a close, so it is a groovy thing to have an adventure in hand as both an example for play and for use in game. It was $1.00...like buying something at The Dollar Tree. I also downloaded Matt's Edge of Space RPG, which was at the delightful price of $0.00 (i.e. free).

Having seen +Chris Bard's (The Clash of Spear on Shield) recent post about Delving Deeper, I had to download it as well. Delving Deeper: The Adventurer's Handbook, Delving Deeper: The Referee's Guide, and Delving Deeper: The Monster & Treasure Reference are free for the downloading. It is hard to go wrong there.


Good Stuff in the Mail

Another Amazon box arrived at work, bringing a delightful mix of history books and gaming goodness (plus a book for my wife, I should add...I am not all about me, just mostly about me).
The first gaming item is the Pathfinder GameMastery Critical Hit Deck. 52 cards of devastating fun. We had a chance to try them out during our Monday night Montporte Dungeon session when Duncan scored a critical hit while throwing a dagger (a natural 20 plus a second roll scored as a hit). Because we were playing in Google Hangout, I had to draw the card, but there was still a payout. His dagger did double damage to the intended target plus hit and damaged a second target. This turned the tide of the battle in a hurry. Realistic? Maybe not. Fun for our group? Definitely yes.
But the real fun starts when someone rolls a critical miss (a natural 1 plus a second roll that misses). It hasn't happened since we started using the card decks, but it will. I am a big fan of critical misses. Whether we are playing GURPS, Swords & Wizardry, or now Blood & Treasure, critical misses always create more tension and excitement than critical hits. So, to facilitate the fun, I also picked up the Pathfinder GameMastery Critical Fumble Deck. 52 cards of mishaps and mayhem. I can't wait to inflict them on my players use them in our game.


Montporte Dungeon Campaign Session 16 Notes

The Cast
Adzeer Mattiu, Hunter of the First Circle (Half Orc, 3 Lvl Hunter): Tim (Gothridge Manor)
Duncan Kern (Gnome, 3 Lvl Wizard/Thief): Dan
Dante Rathburn (Human, 3 Lvl Warlock): Chris (The Clash of Spear on Shield)
Luven Lightfinger (Human, 3 Lvl Thief): Rob (Bat in the Attic)
Larramore “Little Larry” (Kobold, 2 Lvl Marksman): NPC
Ansarkhan ("Mushroom Man", 2 Lvl Fighter): NPC
Diana (Human, Torch Bearer, Goat Driver): NPC
Innerkhan ("Mini-Mushroom Man"): NPC
5 cave goats
Map A (1 Square = 5 Feet)
The Session
The previous session, Session 15, was a session-long brawl, leaving the brave adventurers alive, but exhausted and drained of resources. At the end of the battle, they found a secret door that led them to Allindrhil's lair. Allindrihl is a mushroom farming elf last encountered in Session 10. The party was still turned around and lost after being teleported (Session 13), so they didn't know their exact location, but Innerkhan let them know that they were in the elf's lair and were safe. The party ended Session 15 in a safe space (Room 1 at the top of Map A above) and took the opportunity to rest.

Allindrihl met the party at the beginning of Session 16, welcomed them, and gave them a tour of his mushroom farm. His farm featured lots of mushroom men farming mushrooms and some mushroom golem guards. He then took them to his abode at the south end of the farm (Room 2 at the bottom of Map A) and offered them food and a place to rest up and heal. Allindrihl helped the party straighten out their maps, which were a mess after teleporting. Not only did they not know their location, their directions were off by 90 degrees after the teleport incident (Session 13).

The party explained what had happened to them and showed Allindrihl some of the documents and information they had collected. Allindrihl looked it over carefully and then shared some information of his own.

The party learned that Alleena, the Breeder Novice who vanished in a flash during combat (Session 13), is actually Daria, the leader of the Rebellion. When Alleena first became an Initiate (the step before becoming a Novice), Allindrihl began meeting her in secret locations and taught her some magic. In turn, she secretly renounced being a Breeder and renamed herself Daria. She remained within the Breeder community and began to gather information that could later be used against the Breeders. Allindrihl had not seen her in quite some time so he was pleased to learn that she was still alive.

Allindrihl expressed concern over the expansion of the Breeders. They had lived on Level 4 for a very long time but had expanded up to Level 2 and were now colonizing Level 1. Elias the One, their leader, was ambitious and may have discovered some powerful magic that was fueling their expansion.

Allindrihl had prepared a map of Level 1 for Daria so that she could avoid the Breeders while leading the rebellion. However, he had not been able to get the map to Daria. Allindril showed the map to the adventurers and they offered to take the map to her. According to Allindrihl, the party would have to go back up to Level 1, go east, drop back down to Level 2 and look for Daria in the easternmost part of Level 2. It was a dangerous area, but this had the benefit of keeping the Breeders away.
Allindrihl's Map of Level 1
As Allindrihl shared his map, he indicated to Luven that there was a dwarven burial area that he purposefully had left off the map. It was north of the mines and probably had a lot of treasure. During their previous visit with Allindrihl, Luven had been persistent in his questions about treasure location and Allindrihl had finally relented this time around. Allindrihl also told the party that hobgoblins, the traders of the dungeon, were using the garden area on Level 1 as their entrance point into the local dungeon. They had been carrying on a brisk trade with the Breeders but Allindrihl did not know where they were traveling once they passed beyond the gardens.

After spending a few days to rest and recuperate with Allindrihl and his many mushroom men, the party departed via the spiral staircase back to the first level of the dungeon. They traversed Level 1 from west to east, encountering one Novice with three armored "super gaunts." The party was thrown off when the armored super guants tried to capture them rather than kill them. It looked like a tough encounter but the adventurers were in top form and mowed down their opponents in just a few rounds. The party did find a document on the Novice, where they learned that they were wanted men. Wanted alive, not dead.
Map B (1 Square = 5 Feet)
The party continued to move east into unexplored territory, finding a statue in Area 3 (Map B above). They moved south from the statue and saw a lone human figure in a robe in Area 4. This human figure gave them a friendly greeting and welcomed them to the monastery. As he talked, the party noticed that his body was transparent. He was some sort of spirit or ghost.

The ghost introduced himself as Cassius, the caretaker of the Elemental Monastery. Luven wanted to know where the monastery kept its treasure. A lively conversation ensued and Cassius explained that the monastery's treasure was its collective knowledge and wisdom. Adzeer wanted to know if there was a staircase nearby and Cassius led the party to the spiral staircase in Area 7 (Map B above). Along the way, the adventurers asked a lot of questions about the monastery and its (former) inhabitants. Cassius couldn't remember when he had last seen any of the monks but he figured that they were somewhere in a meeting or in worship.

While all this was transpiring, Duncan wandered away, as his wont. He found five crystalline statues in Room 5 and was able to surmise that they were made by gnomes. Each figure was about 3 feet tall. Luven, following Duncan's lead, also wandered away from the party into Room 6, where he found four more crystalline statues. They stirred and attacked him. Luven was wounded but was able to make his escape. Duncan went into the room and the statues remained still. At this point, Duncan guessed that they were golems.

This is where the session ended.

The Dungeon So Far
Level 1 (1 Square = 5 Feet)
Level 2 (1 Square = 5 Feet)


Monday Moodsetter 29

By Kerem Beyit
RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?


Friday Freebies: Stuff in the Attic

+Rob Conley (Bat in the Attic) has a treasure trove of free gaming stuff on the Stuff in the Attic page of his blog, Bat in the Attic. He has everything from random generators to generic setting support stuff to AD&D stuff to GURPS resources to additional information for his Majestic Wilderlands setting. It is all good stuff and it is all free stuff.


Montporte Dungeon Maps--After 15 Sessions

The brave adventurers are starting to get find their way around the Montporte Dungeon. There has been a significant amount of territory explored (compare maps below with the maps after session 5 and after session 10). Because they were teleported during Session 13, the maps below are still a bit disjointed and jumbled.

The Key
A = 25' ladder between Level 1 and Sub-Level 1
B = 25' ladder between Level 1 and Sub-Level 1
C = Unexplored Corridors and Spaces
D = Unopened/Unexplored Doors
E = Exit/Entrance to the Dungeon
F = 100' Deep Spiral Staircase Between Level 1 and Level 2
G = 100' Deep Staircase Between Level 1 and Level 2
H = 100' Deep Spiral Staircase Between Level 1 and Level 2
I = Teleport Pad from Level 2 to Level 1
S = Unexplored Stairs Down
T = Unexplored Stairs Up
U = Unexplored Ladder Down

Scale: 1 Square = 5 Feet
Click on a map to enlarge it.

Level 1 Maps

Level 1 (1 square = 5 feet)
Level 1-Exact Location Unknown
Level 1: Sub-Level

Level 2 Maps

Level 2 East
Level 2 West
Level 2-Exact Location Unknown


Montporte Dungeon Campaign Session 15 Notes

A chance encounter at the end of Session 14, left unresolved, erupted in Session 15 into a sprawling multi-room battle that lasted for about three hours. That is a lot of combat for 2nd and 3rd level characters in a d20 rules-lite game (Blood & Treasure). +Chris Bard  (The Clash of Spear on Shield) has a nice blog post about the session here and +Tim Shorts (Gothridge Manor) has a cool "first person" post here.

The Cast
Adzeer Mattiu, Hunter of the First Circle (Half Orc, 3 Lvl Hunter): Tim (Gothridge Manor)
Duncan Kern (Gnome, 2 Lvl Wizard/Thief): Dan
Dante Rathburn (Human, 3 Lvl Warlock): Chris (The Clash of Spear on Shield)
Luven Lightfinger (Human, 3 Lvl Thief): Rob (Bat in the Attic)
Larramore “Little Larry” (Kobold, 2 Lvl Marksman): NPC
Ansarkhan ("Mushroom Man", 2 Lvl Fighter): NPC
Diana (Human, Torch Bearer, Goat Driver): NPC
Innerkhan ("Mini-Mushroom Man"): NPC
5 cave goats
Map A (1 square = 5 feet)
The Session: Combat (Part 1)
Session 15 started where Session 14 left off, with the brave adventurers in Area 1 (Map A above) moving into Area 2. Area 2 was occupied with two gaunts, several initiates (wearing gray robes & hoods), and one novice (wearing a black robe & hood). The initiates panicked and starting yelling, "Rebels! Rebels!" One clear-headed initiate scrambled down the steel ladder in the middle of the room (next to the giant steel tank protruding from the hole in the middle of the floor...see the description in Session 14).

Taking advantage of the panic, the party moved into the room and attacked. The early rounds all went the way of the adventurers, with half the foe dying quickly. However, the novice unleashed two burning hands spells and turned the tide. The first burning hands did minimal damage to Ansarkhan but the second sent Duncan to the ground in a coma. The battlefield continue to tilt away from the adventurers, as a few more gaunts entered the Area 2 from a door to the west.

To make matters worse, there were two gaunts in Area 3 that, when first encountered, were standing still and did not respond to the party (this was in Session 14). The party, in turn, ignored them and moved to Area 1 (which is where this session, Session 15, started). Ignoring these two guants turned out to be a mistake as they became active and attacked the two noncombatants (Diana and Innerkhan) at the rear of the party. Diana suffered two whacks from a gaunt's halberd and ended up comatose, joining the dying Duncan.

Ansarkhan intervened with these two gaunts, turning the momentum back in the party's favor. Innerkhan took the opportunity of this intervention to get a healing potion into Duncan, waking him up. The fight continued for a few more round, as one gaunt stubbornly refused to succumb. While this last gaunt was defending himself, the party healed Diana enough to stabilize her but not enough to bring her back to consciousness. As the fight was coming to a close, Luven could hear yelling from the big square hole in the floor and the sounds of people moving around in clanging armor.

With the battle over, Adzeer looked into the hole to see what Luven was fussing about. He could see that the hole opened up into another room about 50' down. He did not have enough light to see anyone in the room. As no one appeared to be coming up the ladder, Adzeer decided to check out the tank and walked out onto the steel catwalk. There was a steel panel on top of the tank with knobs and switches [a metagame description], all of which were beyond Adzeer's knowledge to understand. This did not stop him from messing with them. The result was a hissing sound and a cloud of green gas forming next to the top of the tank. The party fled the room.

The Session: Combat (Part 2)
The party hovered around Area 1, discussing what to do, particularly how to search the bodies, most of which were Area 1, where the gas was leaking. Luven, who was closest to Area 2, noticed that the green gas cloud was not spreading into the room. Instead, it was sinking into the hole in the floor. As it did so, he could hear screams from below. The party might be able to search the bodies, after all. No threat of gas, plus no threat of attack from below as the gas was doing something nasty to those on the next level.

The search never happened. Four more gaunts and an initiate began moving towards the party from Area 4. The adventurers quickly formed up their battle line and moved north to meet this new threat. As melee combat ensued, some in the party noticed more gaunts coming out of doors to the east of them. The party was in a particularly vulnerable location, with lots of unexplored territory nearby and the threat of being surrounded.

They executed a fighting withdrawal to the south, with the idea of allowing the gaunts to gather together in close order so that Dante could hit them with the sleep spell. Adzeer stayed in the middle of the room to serve as bait. The ruse worked...or it would have, if not for the fact that Dante's sleep spell was on the anemic side. He took out two of the nine gaunts, leaving Adzeer in a bad way. The party rose to the challenge, however, and this second phase of the battle ended quickly.

The Session: Interlude
The party moved back into Area 1 and searched the bodies. In addition to gold, silver, and some magical stuff, they discovered two scrolls on the body of the novice. The scrolls turned out to be letters to the novice, whose name was Vanerra. The first letter was from Elias the One, the leader of "the Breeders." The second letter was from Lady Lessa, an important leader of the Breeders. The letters indicated that Vanerra had been selected to go through a ritual that would grant her eternal life. This ritual involved the sacrifice of a "garnock" (which Duncan recognized as an ancient derogatory name for gnomes).

While this investigation was going on, Luven wandered to the north, into Area 4. Hiding around the corner in this room were five more gaunts and a novice.

The Session: The Final Battle
The novice's first response was to yell at Luven and the rest of the party to leave, rather than attacking the party. By doing so, the novice ceded the tactical advantage and was webbed by Adzeer as a result. The party quickly dispatched both the webbed and unwebbed gaunts. Duncan, now full of righteous fury at the thought of these breeders sacrificing gnomes, began interrogating the webbed novice, using his dagger to get a quick response.

Duncan wanted to know the way to "the surface," which was a sensible question, as the party was lost after being teleported in Session 13. However, the concept of "surface" completely baffled the novice. Through some careful questions, Duncan did learn that they were, in fact, on the second level of the dungeon. They also learned that Elias the One, leader of the Breeders, lived on the fourth level. In between were lots of breeders and their minions. Duncan then dispatched the novice, after swiping the magic ring off of his hand (every novice wears a magic ring).

After the interrogation, Luven noticed that the two muchroom men, Ansarkhan and Innerkhan, were speaking quietly in elvish and pointing at various sections of the north wall in Area 4. Dante, the elvish speaker in the group, asked them what they were doing. They said they were looking for the secret way back to their master, Allindrihl the elf.

Duncan used his finder's glass on the wall and found nothing, so the party moved back to Area 1 (since it was the mirror image of Area 4) and looked on the south wall. They found a secret door, were greeted by some mushroom man guards and were able to find a secure resting place in Area 5.

This is where the session ended.

The Dungeon So Far
Level 1
Another Part of Level 1 (Exact Location Unknown)
Level 2 West
Level 2 East
Another Part of Level 2 (Exact Location Unknown)


RPG Religion Ramblings: Mumbling & Rants

"Even the toast is burnt here"
Almost half a lifetime ago, I was working in pastoral ministry and studying for a doctorate in theology. I have come a long way since then (or fallen a long way, depending on your perspective). I learned just enough theology to eff up my personal faith. On the other hand, this background probably makes me highly qualified to create religion-type stuff for gaming.That I haven't done so is due, in part, to my own procrastination (I cling to procrastination as my one remaining spiritual gift). There is also this nagging irrational fear in my spiritual limbic system that I will end up eternally in a very warm place--"Try to stat me for your silly little pagan games, will you?" "Is this warm enough for you, gamer boy?" There is still that residual desire within me to not be eternal toast in Hell's kitchen.

Like many gamers before me, I have a dissatisfaction with the approach to religion that infected D&D at its earliest stages (and here I am thinking of Supplement IV; Deities, Demi-Gods, and Heroes). Now in saying that I don't like the typical RPG approach to religion doesn't mean that I have used them. I have. In fact, I recently played a cleric in an AD&D 1e campaign, run by +Tim Shorts (Gothridge Manor).

My dislike of the traditional RPG approach to religion, at least as it is manifest in D&D, comes from three things:
  • The D&D approach to religion is a combination of a grade school understanding of a polytheistic religion coupled with an American suburban understanding of how religion is practiced by individuals and how it is institutionalized. In short, you have a set of gods who each have their own denomination. On Sunday morning, each player character goes off to the church of their patron god. Non-clerical players are likely to be agnostic. Greek mythology provides the template for this, but our grade school understanding of Greek mythology is very different from the complex set of religions that was actually practiced by the Greeks.
  • My second problem is the cleric class. Again, I have played a cleric. And I have never disallowed the class when I was the GM. My problem with the class is two-fold: (1) It doesn't really fit with the swords & sorcery genre of a fantasy game, unlike fighting men and magic-users, the other two classes in the very first versions of D&D; and (2) Beyond a vague resemblance to the Templars and similar orders, there is no historical or literary precedent for the cleric class. This doesn't mean it shouldn't be there. It just means that the cleric class was created as part of a ruleset and they have little resemblance to any religious leaders that exist in the real world.
  • My third issue is related to alignment. The Gygaxian  landscape of alignment, planes, and gods (plus demons, devils, etc) is nothing short of bizarre. Fortunately, it can be easily ignored or selectively borrowed from.
In piling on a bit of criticism, I am ignoring the two favorable aspects of the traditional gaming approach to religion: (1) It works mechanically; and (2) It is simple for a 21st century gamer to understand and implement as a player or GM.

Those two favorable aspects are critically important. If you have ideas about religion for your game but cannot come up with the gaming mechanics to support it, it is a fail. It is also a fail if the players cannot easily grasp it and use it in game. Perhaps we are also coming up against one of the weaknesses of the D&D systems, with its reliance on classes and Vancian spell systems. The religion has to fit the system. There is not much flexibility...maybe another system would work much better.

Beyond the reasons stated above as to why I haven't done much with religion in my game settings (see the first paragraph above), I am a gaming pragmatist. If it works and it is fun, that is usually good enough for me. I am not a hardcore simulationist or an ardent role-player immersion kind of guy. I just like to play and forget about the real world for a while. If anything, I am merely a casual escapist.

More than most of my posts, this post is really written for myself, as a processing exercise. In true 21st century fashion, I am sharing it all with you (rather than writing it in a private journal). Sort of like vomiting my breakfast on a busy city sidewalk. It feels like a necessary step for me, though, as my next steps are to: (1) Start writing up some posts that relate to religion in my Montporte campaign and my embryonic Onyx campaign; and (2) Write some exploratory posts about different ways to represent religion in tabletop RPGs.


Monday Moodsetter 28

"Full Moon" M.C. Escher
RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?


Wanted: Nerdy Tee Shirt Ideas

We start our gift shopping early in my family and my daughter, a college student, decided that she wants "nerdy tee shirts" for Christmas. I thought I would solicit tee shirt gift ideas from all of you. So, if you know of any funny nerdy tee shirts or hoodies, let me know. My daughter is into gaming (both table-top RPGs and video games), Dr. Who, and comic books (particularly X-Men).

By the way, the picture above is from one of my own nerdy tee shirts, recommended to me by my owon master stylist, +Tim Shorts  (Gothridge Manor).


Onyx Thoughts: Medieval Urban Fantasy Campaign

I have overwhelmed with work over the course of the calendar year as the place where I am CEO is going through a merger with a larger organization. The merger itself is a good thing, with no one losing their job, and lots of new initiatives on the horizon. But there is a huge amount to do in the meantime, so that it will be a success. There are a lot of organizational synergies on paper that can only become actual synergies through getting a boatload of crap done (that the kind of CEO lingo you learn in management school and executive courses). I am moving to a COO position with the responsibility for about 400 people, so I have a lot to wrap my mind around. Not to mention the legal, financial, HR and fiddly bits that goes with a merger. I guess my point is that the embryonic medieval fantasy campaign that I was working on several months ago, Onyx, disappeared from my blog.

The merger plus me running the Montporte Dungeon campaign put Onyx on the back burner, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been thinking about it from time to time. Since some of the other Monday Night Gaming Group guys will be GMing after we are finished with the Montporte Dungeon, I will plenty of time to work on a city setting before I come up to bat again as GM.

Right now, I am thinking that:
  • I will use the cosmology from the current Montporte campaign. I like it and I can expand on it in a different setting.
  • GURPS is my likely ruleset, but I want to take a look at Savage Worlds and Fate Core (or Fate Accelerated) before I decide for sure. I was really unhappy with AD&D 1e years ago when I using it in an urban setting and I think I would be even less satisfied with a d20-based game now.
  • My campaign concept will be a mash-up of Constantinople, Thieves World, and Oceans 11. I think GURPS would really support that sort of combo. I thought about some sort of steampunky thing, but that seems to add more complication than it is worth.
Given that +Tim Shorts (Gothridge Manor) has been working on a campaign (pics of his maps here) and Dan is working on a high fantasy GURPS campaign, I have plenty of prep time ahead of me. Maybe I can engineer another merger while I wait.


Stuff for the Next Issue of The Manor

+Tim Shorts asked me to contribute to the next issue of The Manor (#5). I am planning to submit three different items:
  • A haiku (chosen especially for +matt jackson ).
  • A short article on mapping stairs. It would basically be some simple plugin equations for figuring out the horizontal run for stairs, based on the vertical distance (and the reverse, as well) for steep, regular and shallow stairs.
  • Three or four rooms with puzzles, traps or other interesting feature that can be dropped into a larger building or dungeon. This would go along with an article that Tim is planning on writing.
While I have little desire to publish gaming stuff (much to the dismay of +Rob Conley ), I do enjoy a much more limited role as contributor and proofreader. 


How Do You Start and End Campaigns?

"Why, yes, it is a Calabi-Yau space."
My question is really about how you think about the end of a campaign when you are starting it...hopefully that makes sense.

Do you: (a) just start and plan on playing until it fizzles out at some point? (b) Start with a time limit in mind but only a vague idea of how to end the campaign and then figure it out as you go? (c) Start with a series of options for the ending and then see which direction the players go? (d) Start with a clear destination and end in view? (e) Or is it None Of The Above?


Fate Kickstarter PDF Download Frenzy

I finally have enough time to sit in front of my computer and download my Fate Kickstarter PDFs. I ended up with Fate Core, Fate Accelerated, Fate System Toolkit, Fate Worlds (Volumes 1 & 2), Strange Tales of the Century, Sally Slick and the Steel Syndicate, Deck of Fate, Fate Freeport Companion, plus a lot of smaller items too numerous to list. I went in for two print books, Fate Core and Fate System Toolkit, which should be coming in the next month or so.

I have almost played a Fate-based game on two different occasions. The first time, we had a group that spent two sessions creating characters for Dresden RPG. I was bummed we didn't get to play (half the group consisted of college students, the other have being their parental units, so scheduling stopped us in our tracks). My wife had the best character ever--an teenaged Amish wizard. Our second attempt at Fate was with Spirit of the Century, with the intent of just doing a one-shot. Again, scheduling became an issue and we ended up with an Apples to Apples session instead.

I have been following Christian's posts (destination unknown) as he prepped for a Fate Accelerated game. I was encouraged by his notes on his game session. I am not sure how it would play with our Monday Night gaming goobers, but it would have been awesome with our old in-house group (the kids and their parental units).


Monday Moodsetter 27

RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?


Montporte Cosmological Notes: On the Energies

I am slowly developing a cosmology for the Montporte Dungeon campaign. In a few previous posts, I outlined the overall cosmology, as well as a description of the five planes and the four elements. As the players continue to explore the Montporte dungeon, it has become important for them to have an understanding the structure of the universe. Hopefully, this will give them a bit of an interpretive framework to understand what they are experiencing. Today's post gives a bit of information about the three energies.

The Three Energies
The physical universe is made up of matter and energy. Matter is made up of the four elements. There are three forms of energy:
  • Positive: The generative and organizing energy of the universe.
  • Negative: The entropic and degenerative energy of the universe.
  • Chi: The life energy.
Positive Energy
Positive energy has a generative ability and forms the basis of healing and restorative magic. Like the other two energies, it is pervades all matter. There are very rare instances when positive energy exists in close to a pure state. In those instances, it be destructive to organic matter, much in a same way flesh can be seared by an otherwise warming and life-giving flame. It is thought to cause madness and even mutations.

Scholars have speculated about the existence of beings who are a combination of organic matter and positive energy, with the positive energy replacing chi as the vital force, but there are no known examples of such creatures.

Negative Energy
Negative energy balances positive energy, by bringing dissolution, degeneration and entropy. Like positive energy, negative energy pervades all matter. It is a source of power for destructive magic, particularly necromancy. It has been speculated that demons from the plane of Syvyys feed on the negative energy released by the tortured souls of mortals, but few have ever dared to research this hypothesis.

Undead are a combination of formerly living organic matter and a concentration of negative energy, where the negative energy serves as chi. Positive energy, accessed through divine favor and will, empowers clerical types to turn and even destroy undead.

Chi-The Life Energy
Chi is the least understood of the three energies and its relationship with the other two energies is shrouded mystery. It exists most strongly within living organisms, but it also pervades all matter, albeit in very small amounts. This ambient form of chi is thought by some to be a residual from living creatures when they die. Others believe it to be evidence that the entire universe is a form of life.

Monks manipulate chi found in their own bodies through practiced mental and physical discipline. Druids access chi found in nature and other living things through the sympathetic tuning of their spirits to the spirits found in nature.

From time to time, mages and scholars have postulated the existence of a fourth fundamental energy, mana. Mana, they explain, is the underlying power of all magic. Octavius DeMoped, through a series of cleverly designed experiments, has conclusively shown that mana is an energy, but it a compound energy, not a fundamental energy. At the same time, DeMoped's research results clearly support the idea that mana is the underlying power of magic.

While mages have developed the ability to create and use mana through spells, rituals, potions and objects of power, they do not understand the actual process or mechanisms of how magic and mana work together to accomplish magic.


My Latest World War 2 Reads

Buy It and Read It!
I was going to post the following five books as a "Five for Friday" blog post. Then I realized there are six books on the list. Oops. This post is a follow-up to my Favorite World War 2 Books post from this past March. These are in alphabetical order:
  • The Battle of Midway by Craig Symonds. A decent and readable history of the Battle of Midway. This book is part of the Oxford University Press series, Pivotal Moments in American History. I am about halfway through the Pivotal Moments series. Most have been very good.
  • Bougainville, 1943-1945: The Forgotten Campaign by Harry Gailey. Apart from Pearl Harbor, Midway, Iwo Jima, and two atomic bombs, you would think nothing happened in the Pacific in WW2, at least based on the history section of your local book store. This book does a great job telling the story of Bougainville, one of the stepping stone island battles of the Pacific. It is notable that a fair amount of the combat involved African-American troops.
  • Inferno: A World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings. I have read about 100 books on WW2 over the course of my life. Inferno is in my top 5 of all time. I am a big Max Hastings fan but I went into this book a bit skeptical, with doubts as to how interesting or different yet another book on the whole war could be. Hastings doesn't aim for completeness. Instead, he aims to get it what it felt like for the participants, particularly the lower ranks, the civilians caught in combat, and those on the home front. Using the stories of the non-famous, he weaves a story that is heart-wrenching, horrifying and, at times, uplifting. This powerful narrative is coupled with Hastings unparalleled ability for critical analysis. Hastings created a book unlike any other that I have read.
  • Japanese Destroyer Captain: Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Midway-The Great Naval Battles as Seen Through Japanese Eyes by Capt. Tameichi Hara. This book was recommended to me by Mark Langsdorf and it is excellent.I enjoyed every page. The Japanese Navy had some excellent mid-level officers, Hara being a prime example. They also had excellent gunnery and airplane pilots. The U.S. Navy made huge leaps and bounds during 1942-45 in numbers of ships, planes, technology, skill, and command. Japan regressed in all these areas during the same time period and Hara recounts what this was like while on board a series of destroyers.
  • A Measureless Peril: America in the Fight for the Atlantic, the Longest Battle of World War II by Richard Snow. Snow combines a simple history of the Battle for the Atlantic with the narrative of his father's time on a destroyer escort in that same battle. I actually listened to this book while driving on a work-related trip. It was a nice "listen."
  • No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin. She won the Pulitzer Prize for this book, although she was later embroiled in controversy over plagiarism, which included this book. Apart from that, there is a reason this book won the Pulitzer. The book is a look at the U.S. home front during World War 2, looking through the lens of the Roosevelts. It is not a biography and it is not simply a history. It is a different sort of book, but I really enjoyed it and recommend it.
My "To Read" list continues to grow (you can see what it looked like back in March here, at the bottom of the post).


When You Love a Gamer

My Wife: (walking into our home office) What are you working on?
Me: Dungeon maps. (showing her the composite maps of each level). See? Cool.
My Wife: Wow! That is really intricate...Isn't there a way to make money from this?
Me: Ummm...well, maybe. Chris, Tim, and Rob would buy it. Tim and Rob wouldn't be able to stop themselves. That would take all of the fun out of dungeon exploration, but I do have a built-in market. I guess I would have to decide what's more important...all of the hours of fun we'll have exploring the dungeon or making about $10 from the hours of creating the dungeon.
My Wife: (sigh) Yup.


Megadungeon Hall of Fame: Jaquaying the Dungeon

A "Jaquayed" Keep
I was late to the game in discovering Justin Alexander's excellent blog, The Alexanderian, which means that I initially missed out on his series, Jaquaying the Dungeon, which was posted in 2010. Justin invents the word "Jaquaying" based on the game, dungeon, and adventure design principles of Jennell Jaquays (formerly Paul Jaquays).

Justin does a fantastic job of systematizing Jaquays' approach to designing highly interactive, dynamic, and complex gaming environments. These dynamic gaming environments, in turn, provide for interesting strategic and tactical options for players that stand up to repeated play. The essential design element is to provide multiple options and paths so that game play is non-linear (Melan offers similar conclusions in his analysis of some classic D&D modules in Dungeon Mapping, another Megadungeon Hall of Fame article).

Homebrew dungeon and adventure design often focus on (1) genre; (2) cool, unique atmospheric elements; or (3) rationalizations as to why the dungeon or other physical environment exists. All are important, but what often is missed is how the dungeon will be experienced by the players in terms of an adventure path and geographic decision-tree. Justin's series provides an instructional corrective to this omission.

You can read Justin's seven part opus for yourself:


Monday Moodsetter 26

RPG Rorschach: What is the first gaming thought that pops into your head?


The Dungeon 3: Creating Meaningful Choices in a Dungeon-Centered Campaign

Tabletop RPGs can be thought of in many different ways. Simulation, Theater of the Mind, and Improvisational Fiction are just a few examples that come to mind. Besides thinking of it as a game and entertainment (mainly so I don't take it too seriously), I tend to thinking of role-playing games as cooperative decision making Making cooperative decisions implies having meaningful choices or options. In running a dungeon-centered campaign as a GM, I have found creating meaningful choices for players to be my biggest challenge.

"Meaningful" is the key word in meaningful choices. In a dungeon, options, choices and decisions abound as the players make decisions about doors, stairs, and corridors. Every section of map is a "Let's Make a Deal" of decisions to be made by the players ("Are you going to take Door #2 or what's behind the curtain?"). Player movement in a dungeon often reminds me of Brownian Motion (here is the cartoon version)...or for those with a more statistical bent, the Monte Carlo Method (here is the cartoon version). Or, to put it simply, movement and exploration is often a random exercise. It may be fun for a few sessions, but most players and GMs will tire of that kind of play.

The GM Side of Things
As I said, the my biggest challenge as a GM in running a dungeon campaign is creating meaningful choices for the players. I try to meet this challenge in a couple of ways:
  • Design: I try to design the dungeon so that the physical layout invites thoughtful decision-making. I confess to having little expertise in how to do that, but I try anyway. I found Justin Alexander's (The Alexandrian) series, Jaquaying the Dungeon, to be particularly helpful.
  • Information: The players need information about the dungeon...enough to engage them in exploration but not so much as ruin the suspense. I do this through role-playing (not every encounter is with an enemy), written documents, bits of architectural detail, and encounters. I have not been using random encounters, although a lot of encounters are improvised. I treat every encounter as a clue to the nature of the dungeon. Rob Conley (Bat in the Attic) has a neat blog post that I found helpful in this regard, Other Knobs to Play With
  • "Campaign Mindset:" In running the Montporte Dungeon campaign, I have been thinking of it in terms of a regular campaign, not a traditional smash and grab dungeon of yore. There is a complex history, factions, geography, and an economy. Because the dungeon had been sealed, the players had almost no information going in so the campaign does include the usual dungeon exploration. But I am really trying to work in opportunities for role-playing and for getting involved in a more complex relationship with the dungeon denizens than I have had in the past with my other dungeon-centered campaigns.
The Player Side of Things
In a dungeon campaign, the GM has a lot to do and they are key to its success. However, players can make or break a dungeon campaign. The Montporte Dungeon campaign is my third dungeon-centered campaign and I found that dungeons can create ADHD in even the most focused players. Players can do their part in making a dungeon campaign a success by:
  • Staying Focused: Whether it is a goal(s), a direction, a plan, or something else, players can keep things interesting for themselves by identifying a focus or purpose and attempting to stick to it. It is helpful for both the GM and players when the party has a purpose, even if it is short-term.
  • Regular Review: Given the myriad of choices that the average dungeon level provides, players can help themselves by regularly reviewing what has happened and where they want to go. Given the time off between sessions, regular review is a must to staying focused.
  • Organizing: Lots of things fall into this category...having a regular marching order, posting a guard while searching for secret doors,  and keeping information organized.
  • Investigating: This includes geographic exploration, capturing foes and interrogating them, and questioning the friendly folk (if they can be found).
  • "Campaign Mindset:" Think beyond killing stuff and taking the treasure. Not that this is a bad thing, but expand your character's motivation as you would do in a non-dungeon campaign.
If you have run a successful dungeon-centered campaign, what has worked for you?