Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Misty Isles of the Eld Take Shape

With Fever-Dreaming Marlinko mostly done and in the rewrite phase, I have moved over to the next of the big stretch goal adventures, the Misty Isles of the Eld.

Where as the Dunes was mythic wilderness presented with the elements of an outdoors pointcrawl, the Isles are shaping up to be an extra-planar (in this case the alkaline wastes of the Cold Hell/Anti-Cantons) adventure wrapped up in an 18-point pointcrawl spread over three islands. Pinning it all down are two dungeon sites (the body-horror Vat Complex and the stage-facade Pagoda City) that are larger and weirder then the two tent-pole dungeons of the Dunes.

My writing enthusiasm level has gone from “tired but still feeling it” to “amped up, get out of my way motherf*cka.” What's helped is seeing the art develop on both projects: Jeremy Duncan's inspired grottiness (really a perfect fit for Marlinko) and Luka Rejec's irrepressibly charming and darkly funny work. Seriously on the Hydra team page I will no sooner finish praising a piece only to find another piece posted. And I find myself answering Luka's questions about "do the Isles have such and such?" with “they do now.”

Again with the showing and not telling...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Four Contradas of Fever-Dreaming Marlinko

I've been really feeling the wind in my hoary-cliched sails this week.Not only did it feel good to get the Slumbering Ursine Dunes pdf out early to backers last week (and on sale at DriveThru), it felt even better to put the last touches on the draft of the Marlinko city adventure that was the first stretch goal of the Kickstarter. We had originally imagined it to be a smallish thing 20 pages as opposed to the 66 pages of the Dunes but it's already taken on a life of its own and is hitting around 40 digest-sized pages already.

What's invigorating about the writing I am finding is that in a long sandbox campaign you end up with a lot of dead ends or partially-developed material when the party veers off one way or the other. Having the excuse and motivation to really dig down into half-baked, left-behind ideas and places thus feels like a real treat. I never got a chance to really dig into the city adventures and high weirdness of Marlinko after it slipped from its place of prominence as the party's home-base roughly two and change years ago. And now I do. 

Anywho here's a sample of some of what the new material is looking like...

The Four Contradas of Marlinko
Marlinko was built around the squat, black bulk of the Tomb of the Town Gods, a structure that predates the rest of the city by an interminably long period of time. The ominous edifice sitting in its wide, cobblestoned, circular plaza has retained its position as the dead center of the city. Four wide avenues radiate from it at the cardinal points and divide the city into four contradas or quarters.

The four contradas do not reflect merely a geographic or class division but have deeply embedded cultural and psycho-geographical lives of their own. Each contrada organizes its own festivals, keeps its own histories, and pays fearful homage to the abstract-featured idol of its own unique “town god.”

Each contrada also maintains its own contrada hall (a large, well-maintained, ceremonial gathering place) where it keeps a collection of its own unique banners, ceremonial regalia, historical tapestries, mummies, and most importantly, the various trophies it has won in the single most important bi-annual event: the great chariot race that headlines the Ebon Horse Fair. Throughout the year, contrada trainers keep their chosen condemned convict-jockey revved up and ready for the Black Race. It is well that they do for the losers are hanged and the winner takes a trophy and his freedom!

Včelař (Sullen Apiarian) Contrada
The Northwestern Quarter with its great yellow-and-black beehive and mopey deodand emblazoned banner contains the greatest concentration of affluence and easy living in the city. The great painted-plastered town-manses of the wealthy dominate the coveted plaza and avenue fronts in this part of town.

Despite its wealthy cast, the contrada has a deeply-ingrained inferiority complex--due in large part to its century-long losing streak in the Black Race. The loss has become a self-fulfilling prophesy in recent years with the rash of suicides of convicts who consider being drafted into service as a SA jockey to be a death sentence anyway. Roving gangs of youths from respected families are quick to draw rapiers against any slight as to compensate for the wound to their civic honor.

Sullen Apiarian “worships” or placates Anfolf, the vaguely bee-headed town god said to be a rainmaker and bringer of both wealth and anxiety. When Anfolf in his glowing golden nimbus walked the streets of early Marlinko impressing the bearded Pahr immigrants just getting used to lives not spent on horseback, He was said to literally shower them with the sweetest of honey--and the swiftest of kicks...

Though it shouts “conspicuous consumption,” the yellow-limestone and quartz facade of the Sullen Apiarian contrada hall with its amber and lapis lazuli-encrusted honeycombed frescoes stands handsomely over its small, tight square. The contrada society itself is a broad one with a large burgeoning hierarchy of ceremonial officers arrayed in 27 ranks. Incongruously the higher, more labor-intensive (and not un-powerful) positions are held traditionally by the less affluent members of the contrada (or “temporally-embarrassed grandees” as they like to call themselves).

From here each contrada has a key focusing on the interesting and adventurable sites. Each ward description also has their own unique encounter and random building charts—many of which have triggers and hooks embedded in the escalating random event system of the Chaos Index. Encounter charts that have entries like this...
Maus. A wild-eyed  paranoid dressed in the long-robed, woolen hat finery of a rustic boyar. Maus rants and raves at the characters about the “Axis of Tindrthurn,” a secret postal and matchmaking service that he claims is trying to kill him. If the Chaos Level is 6 and over he is correct on all counts.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pirate Utopias, Pacification and Promotion

And Now the News...
Traders are bringing back news from the Persimmon Sea that the bizarre gender-eschewing corsair-sect that captured and sacked the isolated Himyari isle of Old Szalé last year has officially declared itself to be the so-called Maraboutic Republic of Szalé-Byeff. The self-styled “pirate utopia” has opened its doors to heretics, escaped slaves, and “greys” (mixed caste rejects from black/white divided Himyar) that swear to its Triple Code: 1. thou shalt not talk in the coarse dialect of otherworld cliches; 2. thou shalt not hold to any gender or its social constructs;and 3. do as thou wilt as long as what thou wilt isn't the other two things and another vague and ill-defined that even pirates would find abhorrent.

The Overking himself is said to be “almost alarmed and concerned” by the disappearance of His Surveyor-Lord of Canton Departments Both Hilly and Forested, Ropucha Ragygtzenacht, in the second week of his official tour of the borderlands. A large detachment of lancers and war wagons from the Black Army has been sent into Marlinko in a “pacification” mission against local peasants whose base ways are surely to blame for the besmirching of the Royal Name.

Despite the official ruckus, the Hill Cantons and Marlinko city itself seem to be on the economic rebound following the otherwordly reappearance of most of its major trade partner, Kezmarok. Marlinko Rada has approved the publication of a new promotional gazetteer to coincide with its new, somewhat opaque tourist slogan “come dream ye dreams that die unheard in dear old Marlinka.”

[Yes that means this thing is done and this thing is now on sale.]

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pointcrawl Series Index

One of the enduring thought experiments of this blog has been the pointcrawl, a concept which has passed into my brain by way of point-to-point wargames and Zork. Though I pose it as an alternative to hexcrawling in truth at the table for me it's more of a supplement, filling in and enhancing certain ways of running large spaces (hey there's probably a post in there).  This is the second edition of my own-going annotated index project for the blog. 
It's worth clicking on this. 
The meditation that kicked off the ongoing thread. An introduction and counter-position to hexcrawling.

My first concrete attempt to adapt the pointcrawl concept to something other than wilderness. The post presents the known areas of Planescape's Sigil as a single pointcrawl map. This experiment helped me gel further non-hypothetical explorations in using pointcrawls to run undercities, megadungeons and city ruins.

An attempt to break down the horizontal hugeness of an undercity into a manageable form. Should be read in conjunction with this post

In which I admit to having a difficulty in running city ruins and start to wrap my brain about how to do so. The comments are interesting and not surprisingly start pointing to pointcrawls.

Real needs in the Hill Cantons campaigns lead me to put into practice the stuff above. Some methods and guidelines for putting it all into practice.

Second part to the above post with a crowdsourced unique structures table and other practical bits.

Not only are undercities and megadungeons monsters of the horizontal dimension they can often become quite complicated with vertical connections. Here is an attempt to untangle that (and an experiment that only half-worked at the table).

An example of how I use hexcrawl and pointcrawl maps in tandem, in this case how I often break out the contents of a single hex into a small area pointcrawl.

Win a Wargame Contest Results
Despite the unlikely title relevant as concrete examples of how to describe and present a point on a pointcrawl. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Interview Series Index

When you run a blog for several years--and spend too many years abusing your head as a young man--a terrible thing starts to occur: you start losing touch with the things you wrote about. It comes way too often these days but long into gaming-related conversation in a strike of blindingly internal light I will suddenly find myself thinking “waitttt, didn't I write a whole mother-flippin' series of blog posts about that three years back?”

To stave off that “all that is solid melts into air” feeling, I've finally started on my long-procrastinated annotated blog index. As I do each chunk—and they are pretty much going to follow in the order of what I consider the best or most useful of the posts here—I will post about them and add them to a larger index page. Likely next is the long index of pointcrawl and wilderness posts. 

First up is one of my favorite (and neglected) groups of posts: the on-again/off-again interview series. A series which under pretext of presenting ideas, recollections, and analysis to a broader audience, selfishly allowed me to dig into the brains of people I have found interesting or critical to our hobby.

The Interview Series (in Chronological Order)

Jeff Berry
The first interviews on the HC where with Jeff Berry aka Chirine Ba Kal, a longtime player in M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel campaign and for a time a mover and shaker in its business end. I had originally reached out to him with the intention of doing a one-shot little piece on what the early Tekumel games were actually like. The ongoing conversation was so incredibly rich with insight and Jeff's memory so exact in the amounts of detail that it spilled over into several encores, all of which I still enjoy reading today.

David Dunham
If you pressed me for all my all-time favorite computer game it would have to be King of Dragon Pass. Not only was it a near-perfect blend of handpainted art, strategy, roleplaying and big ticket mythic themes it was set against the worldbuilding of Glorantha that I love (mostly from afar) so well. A huge treat to interview David Dunham, creator of the game, and pick his brain about the connections to KoDP to tabletop roleplaying.

Digging into the altnerative paths that roleplaying could have taken in the 1960s and 1970s led me to places I had never known about notably such great “world games” as that of Magira in Germany. An interview with one of its participants.

Jeff Dee
Looking back at this interview three years ago which focuses on Jeff Dee's then beginning drive to get his Tekumel rpg published, it makes to happy to see that it is not only sitting on my shelf right now but is helping re-raise the flag of Tekumel after Barker's passing.

Kyrinn Eis
Kyrinn Eis talks about her fascinating worldbuilding and quirky attendant game.

Robert Kuntz
One of the more controversial outings of the blog but one I am still proud of running. The interview sprawls over great length but there are fascinating bits spread through out. While one may like or dislike the man, his recollections are important to our understanding of the early days of the hobby.

Dan Boggs
A look at Champion of Zed and its creator before it became another casualty of the rpg crowd-funding bubble. 

Trey Causey
One of my favorite interviews with one of my favorite people from our side of the hobby. Trey on his post-Weird Adventures victory lap. You better believe I will be banging on his door again when his 70s space opera book Strange Stars sees the light of published day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reader Query: Random Solo Wilderness Generation?

Yesterday I got a compelling piece of post-necromancy, this time on my kickoff pointcrawl post. Zack asks:
“I happen to be interested in the hex crawl sort of gaming, particularly in a sandbox fashion. I also happen to be totally blind, so hex paper and so on isn't super helpful for me. In fact, maps in general are kind of a pain in the neck, because I can't read them easily, and I always feel like I'm missing setting info of one sort or another.
So I'm wondering if anybody has ideas for combining the point crawl approach, or one which avoids maps, with randomized terrain generation? I'd love to run something solo, like Scarlet Heroes from Sine Nomine, for instance, but they all seem to presume hexes. Another way to look at it would be an experience kind of like the Elder Scrolls video games, which I can't play. It could be a lot of work doing something like that solo, but…”
My first impulse was to rustle up some online and published terrain generators, but scanning through my own links I remembered my own frustrations trying to build such systems last decade when I was primarily a solo minis wargamer. The key problem for me being that many of them are too flatly random that is they generate incoherently terrain without much rhyme or reason and are boring as hell. Here is a dull little desert next to a bland forest next to some “open.”

So where to start?

Fortunately I can think of two good starting points: the ever-useful trainwreck that is the first edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide and an old Avalon Hill Game, Source of the Nile. Since my time is limited (the Dunes call) I will concentrate on the first.

Appendix B: Random Wilderness Terrain (page 173) has a nice framework, a relatively easy and elegant system of charts. Promisingly these charts take into account the terrain you are just leaving (and really this will work even better with a pointcrawl or mapless system). So if you are leaving a hilly area you are way more likely to hit more hills or mountains than you are a swamp.
Click to Enlarge
D&D is chalked full of random monster encounters by terrain (hard to get past the first edition DMG again) so no need to go there but it would be handy and nice to have some places to generate random color. Fortunately there boat loads of handy online generators that can cover that in an interesting way. Take this page on Abulafia alone (especially this one and this one which you can just keep regenerating when you need interesting places).

Before shoving off this is perhaps an ideal question to extend to the collective brain trust: what random terrain generators do you know about that fit this bill (and please read the specific query)?