Friday, December 4, 2009


As 2009 begins to wind down I am easing back into the blogosphere and once again finding myself amazed at how our community continues to expand. When I cranked this thing up here at Ye Olde Grog n' Blog twas but a few of us, now we are many. So many in fact that I KNOW I've missed some good new authors rolling out their first posts and opinions on the olden ways. Somehow I missed Havard's Blackmoor Blog, but it is now dutifully linked in my list (which by the way is in need of some housekeeping).

So I ask: please drop me some links to gaming blogs I should be in tune with. It's been three months since I updated here, and nearly four since I posted anything game related. Fall is always an extremely busy time for yours truly, but enough with lame blog-excuses, it's best to just post and not offer reasons for one's back-sliding. I'll make up for my absence with an extremely long post now. The quick-hitters and casual fans can move along.

During my hiatus I played around with a few pet projects and began toying with decks of cards. You know, the old fashioned 52-card types. I devised a few D&D related uses for that venerable game tool, including dice-less play and chargen rules using cards sans dice. But you know I love dice so it was, for the most part, just a futile foray into numbers crunching and card-flipping. One item did spring forth from my musings, and I wish to share with you a little something I've been fine-tuning these past weeks called w/o Walls.

I'll link up a few PDFs later if you care to dl them (and I can remember my mediafire account info), but in the meantime here is a copy/paste of the basics along with my own example using the template.

A card based dungeon system for your favorite RPG. w/o WALLS was originally designed for fast-play dungeon adventures. The goal was to allow an individual Ref the opportunity to exercise his or her creative freedom and ad-lib skills to improvise while entertaining players during a session of role-playing. The system may also be used for Ref-less gaming in a solo or cooperative set-up. The end result is a flexible, unique style of dungeon exploration.

w/o WALLS demands that participants accept the illogical lay-out of the fantastic underworld into which their characters have departed; as you shall see there is no method to return the way one has traveled, and there is no actual map. Turns are taken by the players drawing and revealing a single card at a time. The card drawn will determine what the adventuring group has found in the dungeon.

If you are planning on a traditional approach to dungeon crawling with you as the Ref, then prior to play, in as basic or involved a fashion as you desire, you will need to design the following items for your w/o WALLS dungeon level (or just wing it and ad-lib with zero prep):

[Card]: Item (Qty)

[2]: Single-target Traps (4)

[3]: Area of Effect Traps (4)

[4]: Tricks (4)

[5,6 of S,C,H]: Wandering Monsters (7)

[6 of D]: Fellow Delver(s) (1)

[7]: Empty Room (4)

[8,9 of S,C]: Rooms w/ Monsters (6)

[9 of H,D,10]: Rooms w/ Monsters & Treasure (6)

[J]: Level Exits (4)

[Q]: Secret Chambers (4)

[K]: Hidden Stashes (4)

How to play:
1. Shuffle one 52-card deck and place it face down. Designate an area near the deck for a discard pile.

2. Play begins on Dungeon Level One (or any level from which a returning character has taken a Magic Portal to Town in a previous expedition).

3. Take a Turn by drawing the top card and revealing it. Resolve that card before discarding it and drawing another.

4. Set drawn Aces aside. Aces may be used by players at a later time to escape/trump the last card drawn.

5. Once the drawn card has been resolved or trumped, discard it and any Ace used as a trump.

6. When and if the entire deck has been revealed, the characters must return to town and regroup while the dungeon replenishes itself.

7. If at any time the party ascends or descends to another dungeon level, or returns to town, shuffle all cards back into the deck.

Tricks: One or more should lead to a lower level.

Empty Rooms: Or whatever you prefer. I allow limited hit point recuperation in these areas only.

Level Exits: Include Up, Down and Magic Portals to Town.

Secret Chambers: If the secret door is not found, treat as an Empty Room. Hide things like Fountains, Statues, Pools and Magic Portals to Town here.

Hidden Stashes: If the secreted treasure is not discovered treat as an Empty Room.

Suit Theme: In general, Spades are the worst and Diamonds the best for their respective categories.

Game Prep: Keep your notes simple, and create three or four levels at a time.

As a creative exercise, try to detail a full level of 48 cards in 30 minutes using the w/o WALLS Fill-in Template.

This latest version is simplified quite a bit, but fits onto one page. The previous version was two pages long and discussed the various play styles and possibilities. The original versions were just way too involved for something designed to be fueled by user input. I have play tested w/o Walls solo, with one player, and in a two player cooperative style. It works fairly well, and imho is more satisfactory that any of the random dice-driven auto dungeons I have seen in the past.

I would like some feedback and input from those who take the time to digest all of this.

The blank template is included as a PDF, as well as my initial example, which I'll copy/paste below:

w/o WALLS Fill-in Template

Dungeon: ECHO DARK
Level: ONE

Single target Traps
[2S]: Covered Pit. 10' deep. Slippery mud walls, bottom is quick-sand like mud.
[2C]: Trap-door Pit. 15' deep. Zombie waiting below.
[2H]: Transmogrification Beam. Turns target into a Giant Rabbit.
[2D]: Jabbing Spear Trap. Deals 1d6+1. A save of 1 equates to a lost eye.
Party Traps
[3S]: Deadly Fumes. Lose 1 CON each round over the next turn. Those under 1 CON perish.
[3C]: Spiked Gate Trap. Slams from wall for 2d6+2, save for 1d6.
[3H]: Volley of Mini-Darts. Struck by 1d6, save to 1. Each deals 1d2 damage.
[3D]: Evil-Eye Trap. Curses party members to fail their next three attacks or saves.
[4S]: Utter-Dark Passage. Party lost. Reshuffle all cards back into deck and commence play.
[4C]: Swiveling Hallway. Deposits group one level down and resets. Deals 1d6 damage.
[4H]: Screw-Elevator. Forces group up one level and resets.
[4D]: Dimensional Hall. Returns group to Town. Does NOT count as a Magic Portal.
Wandering Monsters
[5S]: Anti-Cleric and Thugs (5). Here on business. Will pose as good guys.
[5C]: Evil Elf and Bandits (6). Here to recruit, extort or rob adventurers.
[5H]: Clean-up Crew. Grey Ooze (1) on the move quietly going about its duty.
[5D]: Zombies (5) rounding a corner, dragging a corpse back to their master.
[6S]: Skeletons (6) on patrol. Two w/ maces, two w/ spears, two w/ swords.
[6C]: Goblins (8) looking for a lost sack of door knockers. Armed with clubs and daggers.
[6H]: Giant Rats (7) searching for an easy meal. Will follow until forced away or they find food.
Wandering Monsters (Ally)
[6D]: Friendly Berserker (1). Leather armor, Sword and Spear. Looking to slay Goblins.
Empty Rooms
[7S]: Columned Empty Room. Graffiti scrawled in common: “Go seven, then four. Stop”.
[7C]: Cob-web choked Empty Room. A few old pieces of ruined and useless gear are in a corner.
[7H]: Ransacked Empty Room. Splintered bench conceals a sack filled with crude door knockers.
[7D]: A very Empty Room. Footprints of massive proportion seem to walk through the walls here.
Rooms w/ Monsters
[8S]: Granite Span. Manned by 12 Phalanx-Skeletons and a Wight Commander.
[8C]: Circular Catwalk. Skulking Man-eating Apes (3) attempt to attack with surprise.
[8H]: Shallow Pool. Grey Ooze (1) resting spot. Two empty chests rest in pool's center.
[8D]: Stepping Stones. Goblin Javelin-throwers (7) take pot shots at intruders and demand gold.
[9S]: Filthy Mess. Slime-covered Zombies (8) picking through the rubbish looking for brains.
[9C]: Collapsed Chamber. Giant Rat Nest (13). Each round 1d6-3 more arrive.
Rooms w/ Monsters & Treasure
[9H]: Black Shrine. The Zombie-Lord, his Acolytes (5) and Zombie slaves (9). 2,400 GP, 3 Magic.
[9D]: Smoke-filled Hall. Evil Elf Conspirators (4) plot the overthrow of Man. 1,800 GP, 2 Magic.
[10S]: Putrid Cave. Harpies (3) torturing caged captives on ledge above. 370 GP, 1 Magic.
[10C]: Smoldering Pit. Gargoyle (1) rises from mists. 220 Gold, 1 Magic.
[10H]: Flophouse. Drunken Zombie Pirates (12) guard casks of rum and a sea chest. 590 Gold.
[10D]: Stacked Barrels. Giant Cockroach (1) looking for a mate. 120 Gold.
Level Exits
[JS]: Steps Up and out of dungeon, or continue on this level.
[JC]: Steps Down to 2nd level, or continue on this level.
[JH]: Steps Down to 3rd level, or continue on this level.
[JD]: Shimmering Magic Portal to Town operated by Adventurers Guild, or continue on this level.
Secret Chambers
[QS]: The Fickle Fountain. Cures the sick, poisons the healthy.
[QC]: The Scholarly Statue. Asks questions, punishes those who do not answer.
[QH]: The Whispering Pool. Decipher to become fully healed.
[QD]: The Musty Tapestry. Unlock to form Magic Portal to Town.
Hidden Stashes
[KS]: Great heap of rubbish. Conceals sack: 190 GP.
[KC]: Fungus-filled dead end. Conceals panel: 320 GP.
[KH]: False Stairwell. Conceals cubbyhole: 380 GP, 1 Magic.
[KD]: Crumbling stucco. Loose floor stone hides sack: 490 GP, 2 Magic.

For example purposes I've added headers for the various card categories. These are not included in the template nor in the example PDF.

So there you have it. w/o Walls is, at the very least, fun to fill in using the template to see how quickly you can make a dungeon level. I went over my suggested 30 minutes because I was doing a lot of copy and paste while editing various items, but I think with a bit of practice and familiarity one could really crank out dungeon levels at blinding speed.

After I finished the example, I realized I'd truly enjoy making a map out of my ECHO DARK ONE example, but that is not the point of this project. Nevertheless I find that while I'm a huge fan of well-made, handcrafted maps, w/o Walls triggers something within me as a Referee that I find challenging and satisfying.

How's that for a return from absence update? Oh, by the way I am busy working on the updated Dismal Depths project from a new angle. Never fear it is one I am certain will cater to the expectations of those who have been asking for more updates and information on the Dismal Depths this past year. Here's to hoping I'll update again before the New Year.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


Ragnorakk said...

Glad to see you back!
w/o Walls looks neat.

Nicolas Dessaux said...

Yeah! Sham's back! That rocks!

James Maliszewski said...

Nice to see you back in action.

Alex Schroeder said...

…links to gaming blogs I should be in tune with…

I've collected some old school blogs I like at the Old School RPG Bloggers’ Planet. If you use a regular feed reader (Google Reader, Bloglines, or any of the stand-alone readers including Outlook, Thunderbird, and other mail readers), you'll see that they can import subscription lists from OPML files. The blogs I've collected are listed in an OPML file for easy importing.

An alternative would be Stuart Robertson's List although I don't know where you can get a list of blogs he subscribed to.

Alex Schroeder said...

Hm, now that I think of it, I've only seen the OPML import with Google Reader and Bloglines. Not sure about the others…

Chris said...

That's my rainy Sunday taken care of.

Cheers Sham. Good to have you back among the nebulous web-o-people.

Lord Bodacious said...

Some of the guys I game with run this blog - pretty new but I like it :)

Anonymous said...

MINT ! :)

P_Armstrong said...

I am a fan of systems for generating abstract adventures. I have been working on various systems and tables using dice and index cards to generate either underground or wilderness adventures. w/o Walls looks great.

And welcome back - I always enjoy reading your thoughtful insights.

Unknown said...

I actually have two pages of RPG Blogs.


The second list is much more comprehensive - although it doesn't have a lot of the 4e only blogs on it.

James said...

Hello, Sham. I've been running into your name all over the OSR blogoverse and look forward to following your posts. I'll also extend an invitation to check out my blog:


JB said... no new links to suggest. Just wanted to say w/o Walls is an "on-the-fly" type DM, I can't wait to use it!

Anonymous said...

I like that idea a lot. Stealing it now...

Seems like you could easily build in some dungeon-layout tricks by laying the cards down in some sort of tarot-card-like shape.

John Higgins said...

I'm tempted to do this with an actual Tarot pack. The trump cards could be made to represent those wacky bits of Gygaxian weirdness that used to characterize old-school modules...

squidman said...

Awesome idea! I'm one of the new people (to od&d, not the rpgs) and would greatly appreciate any input from someone with your insight!

Anonymous said...

Welcome back.
w/o Walls is a superb idea, thank you for sharing with us.

DestroyYouAlot said...

Hell yeah. Read about this somewhere (can't think just where); stumbling onto it now, it's cooler than I'd imagined. I may use this for something special IMC - like a wizards' guild test or some such nonsense.

Gaming blogs are dumb, I recommend you don't read mine.


P.S.: Love the dub stuff. I mean to do way more of that crap for mine (just with metal). I don't ever seem to actually do it, though. Hmm...

Lee B said...

I don't see the template file for download (using Firefox) Am I going blind?

Anonymous said...

Interesting article as for me. It would be great to read a bit more about that theme. Thnx for sharing this info.
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Unknown said...

I was introduced to your creation in a round about fashion through Zak's (Playing D&D with Porn Stars) blog - good work! As for cool old school blogs, my friend Carter has started up a blog about the campaign world he co-created with a friend years ago, the Lands of Ara, and I really like the material he has been posting.

Here is his blog, Carter's Cartopia .

Don't know if you are into post-apocalyptic RPGs at all, I have a Mutant Future blog that I don't mind shamelessly self-promoting...

Sham aka Dave said...

Lee: It's under the "Sham's OD&D Stuff" section to the right of the page. Here's the link as well:

Hope that helps.

Everyone else: Thanks for the comments and links to game blogs.

Anonymous said...

Cool idea, reminds me of Munchkin, in a good way.