Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Into the Hexes and Discoveries

When designing a campaign in which everything revolves around a single dominant theme, in this case the underworld of the Bleak Beyond, it is important to have motivations for the players and their characters to work outside of the central theme from time to time.

For a dungeon-centric campaign such as mine, this work outside of the theme would of course involve the wilderness around the Bleak Beyond. In OD&D the term “wilderness” refers to everything on the surface, so in this case it includes the starting town of Tenborough Hold as well as the whole of the Unbidden Lands in which the campaign is set.

While making notes for the Unbidden Lands, I wondered “Why would the players decide to explore the Wilderness?” Aside from being sent on a wild goose chase by an NPC, or to seek out a healing herb for their stricken party-mate or some other Ref-induced quest into the wilderness, was there a motivation for the party to set out, “into the hexes”, of their own accord?

For the Unbidden Lands, there is such motivation. The notion is that through exploration the characters have the opportunity to unlock game features by making Discoveries. Visiting the Town of Skinny Creek enables trade with the Hobbits there, and access to Hobbit Cuisine. Finding the Elves of the Worn-Wood enables trade and gives access to enchanted Elf Wine and other unique wares. Locating the Dwarven hold at Pinching Gorge likewise allows access to special works of craftsmanship.

Farther out in the Unbidden Lands, characters can discover more game material. Traveling to the Shrouded Mere will permit Aelfar as player characters. The same for unlocking playable character races with the Dvergar at Scrag Rock, the Doende at Lonely Crag, the Irklings at Itching Wood, and even the Troldekin, although the latter are only unlocked by entering the Supreme Citadel of the Morkevagten in the dungeon itself. Each area of discovery holds more game material, including access to such things as new spells and even more race specific resources for the adventurers.

In the end, the players have a chance to realize greater opportunities and resources by taking the initiative and going into the hexes. Ultimately such travels will pay-off for future plunges into the Bleak Beyond. Refs will likewise have the chance to flesh out the Unbidden Lands further, allowing groups who wish to feel the sun on their faces some time breathing fresh air for a change.

All of these Discoveries will be defined and described in greater detail as the whole project moves forward. For now I must continue to concentrate on the How to Play portion and finish up the various d00 tables which fuel the inner workings of the Bleak Beyond.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Experience by Plundering

In my most recent post I touched on a number of unusual methods in which the dungeon itself figures into the rules of advancement for my latest project, the Bleak Beyond. I received plenty of thoughts and feedback on the Accomplishments portion of that post, but I am wondering how readers feel about the fact that I am considering expunging the tried and true notion of Experience Points in favor of the proposed Experience by Plundering approach:

Experience by Plundering

Characters gain one experience level whenever they are a member of an expedition which makes off with a Treasure Trove, by successfully returning with it to town, providing the loot was plundered from a dungeon level which is of equal or greater value than the character's own current level.

For more specifics you can read the previous post below this one. There are, as mentioned within that post, other criteria which must be met in order to advance to level 12.

Thanks to the feedback from last week's post I will be redesigning some of the Accomplishments in order to right the wrongs indicated by reader -C and taking a less heavy handed technique in order to allow more freedom of choice by the players. In other words, more interaction with the dungeon itself and a little less with the dwellers within.

Thoughts, Ideas and Suggestions on Experience by Plundering?


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Experience and Accomplishments

As the anchor of the campaign, around which everything revolves, the dungeons of the Bleak Beyond will factor into the very rules which govern game play. Along with the various tables and conventions specifically designed to power the game sessions, one will find a game unto itself in what I hope to be a rather brief How to Play section. Just the nuts and bolts of a game, one which can be adopted or ignored in favor of one's preferred edition.

The How to Play section of the Bleak Beyond is not intended to be a clone of D&D. It is more or less a generic system which will cover such things as Dice, Hits, Combat, Armor, Saves, Tasks and Character Advancement. The mechanics that run behind the scenes of the game. Tasks have been covered using the 5+ guide in the Art of Delving. The other terms are fairly self-explanatory. Combat is distilled to a table-less formula, which was covered here and here a few years back.

A bit of a departure from the old school? Not in my mind. I just find the method more logical and simpler to implement. The true major departure from the accepted rules is found in the guide for Character Advancement. Here's where we find the dungeon itself influencing the rules.

The Bleak Beyond does not use a hard and fast advancement via experience points system. Since nearly all of the players' efforts will involve dangerous plunges into the underworld, the only set-in-stone method for gaining levels is by successfully looting manually placed Treasure Troves. Not your run of the mill loot stashes but rather those specific riches which are mentioned in Vol. III with the suggestion to “thoughtfully place several of the most important treasures” before dicing for random distribution. Here's the core of the approach:

Experience by Plundering

Characters gain one experience level whenever they are a member of an expedition which makes off with a Treasure Trove, by successfully returning with it to town, providing the loot was plundered from a dungeon level which is of equal or greater value than the character's own current level.

Yep. No experience points whatsoever.

There are restrictions to the experience by plundering system, however. Normal advancement halts at the top level of each tier, levels 3, 6 and 9. In order to unlock the subsequent tiers which begin with levels 4, 7 and 10, the character will be required to meet certain criteria based on successful exploration of the Bleak Beyond.

The dungeon rewards characters who accomplish certain goals. For humankind there are currently 13 such accomplishments, along with one race accomplishment for each non-human class which lifts their standard maximum level and allows further progress. Players must track the number of each specific accomplishment, along with the reward gained, on the back of their character sheet for future reference and to prevent possible double-dipping.

Refs might of course allow alternate methods of advancement. It is certainly not a game world in which the only method of advancing as a character is by gaining Bleak Beyond experience. This is simply how one does so within this particular dungeon. Exploring the wilderness of the Unbidden Lands holds its own rewards, after all (which will be explained in an upcoming post).

I may or may not add to this list in the future, and since none of this is quite set in stone there is no accompanying PDF this time. Here's what I've got so far.

Accomplishments / Rewards

1.Etch name on the Big Block of So and So's Fate / Unlock 4th Character Level
2.Shake the hand of Skellington in the Writhing Sepulchre / Unlock 7th Character Level
3.Obtain a Morkevagten Writ of Passage from the Citadel / Unlock 10th Character Level
4.Bring a Fallen Knight to justice / +1 Primary or Random
5.Oust the Mayor of Awfulville / +1 Primary or Random
6.Earn a Key to the Swallowed City / +1 Primary or Random
7.Release a Trapped Soul from the Chapel of the Jilted Bride / +1d6 Hits
8.Smuggle an intact Ubernana to the surface / +1d6 Hits
9.Ring the Gilded Bell of the Excommunicated / +1 Primary or Random
10.Awaken the Sleeping She-Paladin / +1d6 Hits
11.Lay the Evil Dude to rest in his Domain / +1d6 Hits
12.Learn Sham's Secret from Sham himself / +1 Ability of Choice
13.Visit the Four Corners of Balmorphiact / +1 Ability of Choice

Non-human Accomplishments / Rewards

The following non-human accomplishments remove the standard class level maximum for each respective race. They do not however supersede the advancement accomplishments required as detailed in numbers 1-3 above.

Enter the Supreme Citadel of the Morkevagten through the front door / Unlock Dwarf 7th
Survive an arena match in the Swallowed City / Unlock Elf FM 5th
Learn a new spell in the Palace of Ceaseless Extravagance / Unlock Elf MU 9th
Taste Chuckhole Hooch straight from a still in Chuckhole Hollow / Unlock Hobbit 5th
Bring home the head of a Nisse / Unlock Aelfar FM 7th
Take a nap in the Dens of Undesired Dream / Unlock Aelfar MU 7th
Pull one of Vrimnas's levers and live to tell the tale / Unlock Doende 7th
Perform guard duty at the Shrine of the Sleeping She-Paladin / Unlock Dvergar 7th
Bring home a real live Crumblebumian / Unlock Irkling 7th
Tithe at the Church of the Excommunicated / Unlock Troldekin FM 7th
Become irradiated on the Level w/ No Name / Unlock Troldekin MU 7th

Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions?


Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Art of Delving

Here's another bit of Bleak Beyond material that might be of interest to some of my readers. It's basically a Delver-as-Subclass system. In a megadungeon campaign such as this, with no Thief class, the responsibilities of safely and carefully navigating the underworld are shared by all capable adventurers. Why not allow these intrepid spelunkers the chance to hone their skills the more often they use them?

A few disclaimers before I copy and paste: I still tend to not simply reduce these acts to straightforward dice rolls. The 5+ roll is a baseline suggestion, one which should be modified based upon how the characters are attempting them, the prevailing circumstances, and the difficulty of the particular endeavor. As a matter of fact, I am going to edit the new doc and add these notes! Be right back...

* * * * *

The Art of Delving

A general purpose d6 roll is used for determining success or failure when undertaking various mundane tasks in the game. Refs can adjust the target 5 as needed, increasing it to 6 or lowering it to 4 or less as the game demands.

Note: It is suggested that Refs avoid simply reducing these acts to straightforward dice rolls. Encourage player reasoning and input, and reward or penalize them accordingly. The 5+ roll is a baseline suggestion, one which should be modified depending upon how the characters are attempting them, the prevailing circumstances, and the difficulty of the particular endeavor.

The 5+ Rule:
Roll 1d6
1: Absolute Failure
2-4: Failure
5: Success
6: Success and roll again. With a result of 6 on the roll again, the character denotes one pip above the relevant task.

Improving with Experience: When six such pips are earned the character gains a permanent +1 on all 5+ checks with that particular task. No further bonuses may be gained in this manner for that particular task. See Master Delver, below.

Ability Score Adjustment: Characters with a 15 or higher in the relevant Ability Score add 1 on their 5+ roll. Those with a 6 or lower subtract 1.

Race Adjustment: Characters of varying race will either add 1 or subtract 1 on their 5+ roll.

Core Tasks: Tasks which any character may undertake during the game.
Disarm Trap: Apply STR or DEX, determined by type.
Eavesdrop: Humankind -1.
Find Secret Door: Elf and Aelfar +1.
Find Trap: Dwarf and Dvergar +1.
Open Door: Apply STR. Hobbit, Doende and Irkling -1.
Unlock: Apply DEX.
Sneak: Hobbit and Doende +1.

Bonus Tasks: Bonus Tasks can be raised as well with the accumulation of pips, but may not be selected as a Master Delver's specialty.
Sense Direction: Irkling only.
Sense Secret Door: Elf and Aelfar only.
Sense Trap: Dwarf and Dvergar only.

Master Delver: Once a character has gained a +1 bonus to the first six Core Tasks (all except Sneak) through the accumulation of pips, he or she can claim the title of Master Delver. At that time the player shall select one, and only one Core Task with which he or she shall receive a further bonus of 1 on all 5+ rolls in that endeavor. For example, it is possible for a Dwarf to become a Master Delver with a Find Trap specialty, gaining a bonus of +3 on all 5+ rolls for that task.

* * * * *

And there you have it. There's a PDF for dl in SHAM'S OD&D STUFF, or just copy, paste and edit for your own game. As with much of the Bleak Beyond material, some light editing will make it usable in any campaign.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Lost Heroes

If we operate under the assumption that the underworld, or specifically your campaign's megadungeon, has been attracting adventurers for a lengthy period of time, it is not a stretch of the imagination to realize that there are more than likely going to be a number of delvers assumed dead that are in fact trapped in limbo in the dark confines below.

In your standard campaign such a form of stasis could occur through your run of the mill flesh to stone attack. Characters with a CON of 13 or more will automatically survive such an ordeal, and are quite literally waiting for the right Magic User to come along and rescue them. In the Bleak Beyond other such means of imprisonment include being turned to glass, turned to a scarecrow, time-locked, frozen solid and gem-prisoned.

Any unfortunate character missing his save against such a threat must make a survival roll based on his or her CON score. Those succeeding are still often “lost to the underworld” even though they are not quite dead yet. Thus the Bleak Beyond includes a category of magic items called Lost Heroes. Perhaps the most potent of all magic items in my dungeon as of this writing since I have yet to flesh out any relics or artifacts, these Lost Heroes will pledge loyalty and serve their rescuers for a time and could even become player characters as the campaign unfolds.

Although you might not handle flesh to stone in the same fashion, the concept of Lost Heroes as magic items can still be used in your games by adding a few new features to your dungeon.

This is an example of the many Bleak Beyond tidbits I plan to assemble and include in the final megadungeon project. Along with the PDF's I've shared this year; Monster Business, Random Monster Tables, d6 Dungeon Rooms, 100 NPC Types and Dungeon Treasure Maps (I have a BB-centric version), these supplemental pieces will eventually work together to form the framework upon which the megadungeon will operate.

The d00 Stairways table was one I planned to rework and include, BUT I've come to the design decision that I will henceforth be treating stairways as rooms unto themselves, in other words each will be numbered and keyed. Duh. That's something I should have been doing all along. Something so obvious!

So while this particular document is Bleak Beyond material and written as such, you still might get some use or inspiration out of it. You will find it in the expanding SHAM'S OD&D STUFF section to the right.

Here's a copy and paste of the 24 known Lost Heroes in case you don't wanna down load the PDF.

Lost Heroes of the Bleak Beyond
Roll d24 if you want a random Lost Hero (d12+d6, odd on d6 add 0 to the d12, even on d6 add 12). Lost Heroes are never found on a dungeon level with a value less than their experience level.

1. Wigwaite FM 4, Male, L, S: 15, C: 16, Spear +1. Turned to Stone.
2. Dianedrio Elf FM 4, Male, L, S: 15, C: 13, Displacer Cloak. Morphed to Scarecrow.
3. Big Sal Hobbit 4, Male, S: 14, C: 15, Plate +1. Gem-Prisoned.
4. Cheburov Dvergar 4, Male, N, S: 17, C: 14, Sword +1. Turned to Stone.
5. Tillanaith FM 5, Female, N, S: 14, C: 13, Magic Bow. Time-Locked.
6. Hibu Dae MU 5, Male, N, I: 15, C: 14, Wand of Cold. Morphed to Scarecrow.
7. Janolare C 5, Female, L, W: 17, C: 13, Staff of Healing. Turned to Stone.
8. Thump LeBump Dwarf 5, Male, L, S: 13, C: 17, Axe +1. Turned to Stone.
9. Fendryal Aelfar MU 5, Male, N, I: 14, C: 13, Wand of Paralization. Time-Locked.
10. Glipnart Doende 5, Female, N, S: 14, C: 15, Ring of Protection. Turned to Glass.
11. Kippy Bitz Irkling 5, Male, N, W: 16, C: 14, Snake Staff. Gem-Prisoned.
12. Kimbobol Dwarf 6, Female, L, S: 16, C: 14, War Hammer +1. Gem-Prisoned.
13. Oxblatt Dwarf 6, Male, L, S: 14, C: 15, Ring of Protection. Time-Locked.
14. Kucharel Aelfar FM 6, Female, N, S: 16, C: 13, Spear +2. Frozen Solid.
15. Haxlo Dvergar 6, Male, N, S: 16, C: 17, Mace +2. Morphed to Scarecrow.
16. Rugmeister Doende 6, Male, N, S: 13, C: 16, Elven Cloak and Boots. Frozen Solid.
17. Qonklakoo Irkling 6, Female, N, W: 15, C: 16, Staff of Withering. Turned to Stone.
18. Wheelhouse Witt FM 7, Male, L, S: 13, C: 15, Sword +2. Frozen Solid.
19. Timarina MU 7, Female, L, I: 16, C: 13, Ring of Invisibility. Turned to Glass.
20. Sticky Nobs C 8, Male, L, W: 16, C: 14, Mace +2. Morphed to Scarecrow.
21. Binblaith Elf MU 8, Female, L, I: 14, C: 13, Wand of Fear. Turned to Glass.
22. Zinzaa FM 9, Female, L, S: 16, C: 14, War Hammer +2. Gem-Prisoned.
23. Legendary Ralph MU 10, Male, L, I: 17, C: 15, Staff of Power. Time-Locked.
24. Sister Tilda C 10, Female, L, W: 16, C: 15, Staff of Striking. Frozen Solid.

And with this post I have officially surpassed my 2010 total number of posts! I can't believe I have any followers at all with just 29 posts in the past 16 months. I love you guys, man.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dungeon Design and the Bleak Beyond

Over the course of my three decades of dungeon design the only recurring theme has been one of change. From the crude earliest efforts to the modular string-of-adventures format to the so-called classic dungeon to that first megadungeon effort to the archival style to the one-page idea and on to the present day, my history of dungeon making is marked by sweeping changes based on a wide range of ideas, examples and inspirations. Each step along the way adds to the overall collected know-how. It has been an evolution of design and a labor of love.

The dungeon trend, this path I have followed and at times forged, shows that changes will continue, of this there is no doubt. One of the stumbling blocks for crafting that true megadungeon is this very trend of change. Knowing that by the time level 12 is finished it won't look, feel or play like level 1 is bothersome. Something about my sensibilities finds fault with this fact. The preference being of course a continuity of the vibe established with the very first levels of such a place.

Much of it can also be attributed to gamer ADD, of course. By the time the heavy lifting begins a new approach, thought or philosophy gnaws away at the dungeon's foundations and sends the project into limbo.

Finally emerging from the planning stage after nearly two years of contemplation is the latest example of these megadungeon heart breakers, the Bleak Beyond. Before the first map was even drawn numerous theories and notions had been conceived and scrapped. Ideas such as “Lairs & Stairs”, the “Sub/Hub” style, “Room Clusters”, “Inside-Out” design and so forth; far too much thought was invested in these methods which may never see the light of day. Besides, excessive time was wasted on my part in trying to reinvent the wheel.

Now that a design approach has been settled on there is actual progress being made. Albeit at a snail's pace. The building blocks are still being placed and the project continues to garner all of my gamer interest. What design approach is that you might ask? The Bleak Beyond borrows heavily from my archival style and one-page philosophy. The archival style saw maps becoming more convoluted with less wasted space per page and it also embraced the notion of recycling. No longer was this a dungeon in the modular format of fire and forget. The one-page philosophy is embraced now as well, minus the sometimes cramping templates. “Without the template it's no longer one-page, though!” Yes, but the philosophy established with the one-page is the key for me. It's a heady mix of word economy, random tables and the Empty Room Principle.

So the Bleak Beyond is moving slowly forward with my latest design style, one driven by random tables, a unique bestiary and treasury, unusual conventions and an archival spirit. The plans for the cornerstones are drawn up, and right now it is potentially a signature worthy endeavor. I say potentially because I have already pegged this as my new megadungeon heart breaker. In the end at the very least I can share some of my efforts here as I have been doing lately. Readers can borrow, steal and alter as was done with the one-page design notes or some of my other meanderings. Nevertheless, wish me luck.

In parting I'll share a list of the planned levels for the Bleak Beyond.

Standard Levels (36):

Beneath the Fetid Fens
Down the Mol-Min Hole
Altar of the Gloom-Pit
The Tangled Tunnels
Hap's Woebegone
Pits of Unspecified Doom
Hornswoggle Hall
So and So's Fate
The Grand Brood Nidus
A City Swallowed
Sewers of a City Swallowed
Chuckhole Hollow
The Writhing Sepulchre
Chapel of the Jilted Bride
Dens of Undesired Dream
Incomparable Brainy-Dome
Frankenlabs Cooperative
The Vexations of Vrimnas
Church of the Excommunicated
Illojical Werks
Supreme Citadel of the Morkevagten
The Irradiated Level w/ No Name
Shrine of the Sleeping She-Paladin
Evil Dude's Domain
Palace of Ceaseless Extravagance
Temple of Glob, God of Green Slime
Sham's Furnace
Akt-Elemdor, the Vault of Night
Echoes of Darkness

Secret Bonus Levels (16):

The Abyss of Nada
Big Rock Candy Mountain
The Bloody Vintner
Central Teleport Terminal
Cubbyholes of Regret
The Donjon Illustrious
Ill Angels ONLY
Inn of the Bawdy Monkey
Ixmorin's Ill-fated (Mini-Levels 1-5)
Snow Globe
Super-Chute Control Chambers

So, yeah. This could take forever. Baby steps.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Monster Business

Here's something that might stoke the creative fires. I designed it to spice up random fills. There's a PDF of it over on the right under SHAM'S OD&D STUFF.

Monster Business

A table for determining the activities and pursuits of your dungeon's monstrous population when the party opens the door to their room.

For Non-Intelligent types roll 1d20.
Roll 1d00 for the Smarter Fellas.

1.Bonkers! Wooo-Weee!
2.Chasing Fireflies for fun
3.Cornering Lunch and will be mad if it gets away
4.Dozing peacefully but half-awake
5.Eating Dinner and hates interruptions
6.Ensnared. Caught fast in a Trap
7.Fighting! One another or some other Monster(s)
8.Ill and in no mood to fight or chase
9.Laying in Wait for intruders
10.Near Death. Pretty low on Hits and knows it
11.Paralyzed by Fae Dust
12.Prowling as stealthily as possible
13.Ready to Pounce on overworlders
14.Recovering from severe mystery meat indigestion
15.Relieving oneself/themselves
16.Resting and not particularly vigilant
17.Snoring loudly
18.Starving and desperate for vittles
19.Unconscious. Out cold and helpless
20.Wounded and pissed off
21.Arguing loudly. Possibly with oneself
22.Boozing it up and somewhat buzzed
23.Bored to tears
24.Bound and gagged
25.Bug-Bitten. Swollen welts, itching, maddened
26.Building a teetering House of Bones
27.Bullying something much smaller for fun
28.Carving a warning into the door
29.Chiseling initials into the wall
30.Cleaning the place. It's a mess!
31.Cleaning Toes and filing nails
32.Competing in a Belching/Farting Contest
33.Concealing some valuables in a hiding place
34.Cooking Meal and creating a stench
35.Counting Coins of silver and gold
36.Crafting a make-shift thingamabob
37.Dancing with glee or in ritual
38.Day Dreaming about the glory days
39.Debating dungeon dweller concerns. Possibly alone
40.Deep in Thought and about to reach a conclusion
41.Delusional. Might think the PC's are pals
42.Digging for already looted booty
43.Drinking socially and looking stylish. Or just alone
44.Drunk as a skunk and barely able to stand
45.Escorting prisoners to the Boss
46.Fetching a geegaw for the Boss
47.Gambling with knuckle-bones for silver and gold
48.Gnawing Bones and quite peckish
49.Guarding something of great import for the Boss
50.Hammering on something stuck shut
51.Humming a cheerful tune
52.Impersonating the Boss
53.In Hiding and fearful of pursuers
54.Infested with Dungeon Rot
55.Interrogating some hapless captives
56.Laughing and carrying-on
57.Licking the wall and floor. It's kinda salty
58.Listening for trespassing delvers
59.Looking for Trouble and happy to find some
60.Lost and more than a little embarrassed about it
61.Making something special for the Boss
62.Making Cave Drawings that are somewhat saucy
63.Meditating and contemplating the why of it all
64.Merry Making in potentially lewd and crude fashion
65.Mocking a comrade caught in a trap. Might be dead
66.Picking Nose and that's all
67.Play Acting out the parts of silly overworlders
68.Playing a Game of Eye Gouge Ewe Gouge
69.Plotting the overthrow of the Boss's regime
70.Plucking Eye Brows for one another. Or alone
71.Practicing throwing weapons at almost dead target
72.Praying for a darker, damper future for all dwellers
73.Preparing for Battle and surprised it found them
74.Preparing Meal and making a bloody mess
75.Ransacking the place looking for keys
76.Reading Dwellers Digest. Or looking at the pictures
77.Removing Ear Wax with great care
78.Repairing a malfunctioning trap
79.Replacing a splintered door
80.Rescuing a pal from a pit
81.Rough Housing and making a ruckus
82.Scraping metal on stone and piercing ears
83.Searching for that certain something
84.Setting Trap and just asking to be pushed into it
85.Shaking Down some innocent dwellers for gold
86.Sharpening weapons and/or claws
87.Singing a doleful tune in unison or solo
88.Slimed and very upset. Trying to rinse it off
89.Straightening the old homestead up for visitors
90.Talking about dweller woes, quite possibly alone
91.Telling Tall Tales of delver decimation and defeat
92.Throwing rocks. It's beats Nose-Picking
93.Torturing for the heck of it. Maybe for the Boss
94.Tossing severed heads to one another or in the air
95.Trimming Nose Hairs is routine for the discerning
96.Waiting for some moron to open that door
97.Watching fungus grow
98.Weeping for no apparent reason
99.Whistling and making weird bug noises
100.Writing Graffiti slamming the Boss's reputation


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Prime Swap

A house rule I am using now is the Prime Swap. Perhaps I can let Prodder and Scrunt explain this approach:

Prime Swap: After rolling (3d6 or 4d6-L) six times and recording the results In Order, the player can swap the character's Prime Ability with any other ability score. So FM can swap for STR, M-U can swap for INT, C can swap for WIS. Dwarves can choose STR or CON. Elves can choose STR or INT. Hobbits can choose STR or DEX. Option: Characters generated without the Prime Swap [start at 2nd level/start with maximum hits] insert your own bonus here.

This solution allows the player to generate the class he or she desires while maintaining most of the randomness realized with an In Order approach. I am not considering the optional point-buy system presented in OD&D because I adhere to the “for purposes of gaining experience only” caveat.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seven Observations and Equations

Seven Observations and Equations presented for your dissection.

1. Game-play possibilities diminish when the term Dungeon Master is not synonymous with the term Referee.

2. The longer it takes a player to create a character the longer the player expects that character to survive.

3. Character survivability decreases as the amount of dice-rolling behind the screen increases.

4. The importance of character statistics corresponds to the amount of character generation variables.

5. The level of player meta-gaming increases or decreases at a rate equal to a game's level of complexity.

6. The more detailed the campaign world the less the characters will accomplish with each session.

7. The frequency of interruptions in play is proportionate to the significance of Alignment in a campaign.


Friday, April 1, 2011

The A-Z Survival Challenge

Announcing the A-Z Survival Challenge. The challenge is to skip all A-Z blog posts. It's only the first day but thus far I am doing well. Can you hold out for 26 days and avoid reading a single A-Z post?

Sign in under the comments and let us know when you slipped up and read an A-Z post. Survivors of this challenge will have their names posted here in recognition on May 1st. Or thereabouts.


PS: This is not an Olaf Priol kinda thing. No offense to any of the fine bloggers who I appreciate that are doing the A-Z thing. Your challenge is to get me to read an A-Z post and thus fail my attempt at survival.

Restore to Factory Settings

Isn't the reason we appreciate old-timey D&D due to the irresistible tool-kit nature of the darned hobby? Why not scrap everything you've bolted on to your games through the years and start over for a change? Expunge every house rule, borrowed rule or later-edition rule that might be ingrained in your current games. Disregard assumptions and disavow accepted theorems; solve problems on your own. This might sound illogical. Why ignore such hard-earned knowledge and know-how? To me the question is really “Why the Hell not?”.

Open your mind by beginning a new campaign with a clean slate. Dispense with the same old, same old. The idea is to reboot the way you currently play by using the Little Brown Books (or whichever particular rule set you prefer) as the only tools at your disposal. Even better use nothing more than Volume I, Men & Magic for your game. Indeed it can be difficult to complete such a mental shift, but the exercise may be both enlightening and gratifying. Some of you are doing this exact activity now, or have rebooted in the recent past. Through play and design you have likely explored new possibilities and realized much greater innovative potential.

The suggestion to restore to factory settings is in fact contrary to the very spirit of our OSR blogosphere and vast light-speed, information sharing network. It invites you to encapsulate yourself and not rely on the experiences of others, to segregate your creativity from outside influences. It's all about challenging yourself “How many brain cells am I willing to commit in order to make this pay-off?”. It might be high time for you to “Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out”. Did Sham just ask me to go away? No, not at all. You should definitely continue to visit this particular blog for more transcendent existentialism from time to time.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Random Monster Determination

Yesterday's post elicited a comment which inspired me to finally comb through my custom bestiary and make a proper OD&D style random Monster level determination procedure. Such a dice rolling convention is used not only for Wandering Monsters, but more importantly for randomly determined initial fills and restocking steps. In case you aren't familiar with the guide in Vol. III of the LBB, here's a scan of pages 10 and 11:

And here is a scan of the two-page custom guide I have fashioned for my new megadungeon. I suppose I am letting the cat out of the bag a bit early, but yes The Bleak Beyond, my current project, is a new megadungeon. It is the bastard child of the Dismal Depths and Ulin-Uthor, the Dim Expanse. Here's the custom version scanned:

The above guide uses my custom bestiary, itself an updated version of the Dismal Depths Bestiary. For those keeping track, there are 11 new entries and some name changes; specifically Moorlocks = Phlemoks, Boglings = Bogloids, Mole Men = Mol-Min, Sleestaks = Saristaks, Blue Gunky = Bloo-Goo, Alfar = Aelfar. There were some other minor edits as well.

The new Bleak Beyond Bestiary is now available for download, along with a printable copy of the above scanned Random Monster Determination file, both situated atop the mediafire links section to the right under SHAM'S OD&D STUFF.

In the near future there will be more information concerning the Bleak Beyond.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Distribution of Monsters and Treasure

In regard to filling in your dungeon maps, there is a useful suggestion in OD&D Vol. III The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, p. 6 in the section Distribution of Monsters and Treasure, that reads:

"It is a good idea to thoughtfully place several of the most important treasures, with or without monsterous guardians, and then switch to a random determination for the balance of the level."

The guide then goes on to show a multi-step d6 rolling method for such random distribution. Long-time readers will remember I covered this with a distilled approach some time back. Well, if you missed it or want to download a file explaining the mechanics behind my d6 Dungeon Rooms table, it is now hosted at mediafire and linked to the right with my other files, this one titled "d6 Dungeon Rooms".

It's a small file so here's a copy and paste. Feel free to bend, fold and mutilate to your taste. The normal version adheres mathematically to the original odds from OD&D.

d6 Dungeon Rooms
Used for initial fills or restocking of dungeon rooms

1: Monster & Treasure
2: Monster
3-5: Empty
6: Looks Empty. Roll again, on a 1-4 there is hidden Treasure

This distilled table replicates the original distribution chances from OD&D vol. III, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures:

One-third of the rooms have a Monster, one-half of which have Treasure also.
Two-thirds of the rooms are Empty, one-sixth of which have hidden Treasure.

Or roughly:

16.67% of rooms have Monster & Treasure
16.67% of rooms have Monster
55.55% of rooms are Empty
11.11% of rooms have hidden Treasure

Feel free to Copy and Paste and further customize. As an example I altered the original to include Traps in my random dungeon distribution:

Sham's d6 Dungeon Rooms

1: Monster & Treasure
2: Monster
3-5: Empty
6: Looks Empty. Roll again, on a 1-4 there is hidden Treasure, on a 5-6 there is a Trap.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ODD Bits 6

ODD Bits is a web log series of trivia questions culled from the pages of Volumes 1, 2 and 3 of original Dungeons & Dragons. If you care to play along, answer each ODD Bit question to the best of your knowledge without referring to the source material. Answers are provided in the comments section, so don't peek there until you've tried to answer all five questions.

Grade yourself based on the number of questions you answered correctly*:

5: Unbelievable, 4: Outstanding, 3: Well Done, 2: Not Bad, 1: Not Good,
0: Embarrassing

* - Sham is the referee here, so any rules interpretations taken are final, even if viewed through his warped lens.

ODD Bits 6

1. When surprised, a character has a __________ chance to drop a hand-held item. A. 1 in 6, B. 2 in 6, C. 1 in 4.

2. Characters must spend 1% of their experience points in gold for support and upkeep until they do what, short of dying?

3. True or False: Of all weapons, only swords, war hammers and axes can be found with a magic bonus of +3.

4. True or False: In Volume I, players are guided to decide what role they will play, “human or otherwise, fighter, cleric or magic-user.”

5. Wights, Wraiths, Spectres and Vampires all drain life levels with a hit in melee. Name a fifth monster capable of draining life levels.

Good Luck!


Monday, March 7, 2011

Talking Quasqueton

So I played D&D this past weekend for the first time in quite a little while. Recently I've been going through way too much sweating out the details and getting lost in the process with my new megadungeon campaign – to the point that I finally said screw it I just need to get this mofo started and see what happens. This has always been the best route in my experience, but I'm such a perfectionist that I often end up idling in neutral instead of simply flooring the damn thing and letting the wheels of gaming leave a patch of rubber down the middle of adventure avenue.

For many moons my default module for such impromptu starts was typically B2. The trusty Keep on the Borderlands has served me well for a few decades. There was one problem – I just wasn't feeling it this time. I couldn't get my B2 Jones on. So, I went to the old gaming closet and started to look for something else. I passed over X1 and T1 and B4 then happened upon my old pale green monochrome B1: In Search of the Unknown. In years past I never thought particularly highly of B1. Perhaps this is because in hindsight now I believe that it is in fact the module that came in my Holmes box, and not B2 as I may have misremembered. Much like my misconceptions of the Holmes edit, I think I must have similarly dismissed this quite excellent adventure module.

I decided therefore that it was high time to give In Search of the Unknown another look see. Lo and behold upon leafing through the pages I found the crude scribblings of a 12 year old; my own handwriting from '79 or so, from my earliest days of D&D. It looked like I wrote it with a blunt Venus Velvet No. 2 while riding in the back seat of my Dad's Volvo back in the day. Furthermore, it was clear I had completely disregarded the instructions from the module's author, Mike Carr.

Here are some of the entries I found, shared exactly as written 32 years ago:

2 Elves adventuring and will join Party. Grammar was not a strong suit then either.

Gloves of Bending (increases wearer's Bend Bars percent by 60%). This was placed as a foil for the Portcullis Trap above room XIII, and not an indication that I possessed the Players Handbook at the time (although the latter is certainly possible).

If Statue touched it will speak and say “Good Men, would you be so kind as to touch my eyes?” If eyes are touched, toucher must save vs spell or turn to dust. My sadistic ways were becoming evident even at 12 years old. Pity the poor toucher.

Scroll of Diminution under paper weight. Simple Potion to Scroll switcheroo. Sadistic I tell you.

An insane Dwarf is wielding a broken sword. OK. Just go with it I guess.

An Orc will challenge any one member. He is not ordinary, AC 2, HP 15, HD 4. If killed a +1 Sword will appear. Why the Orc is there and why he's willing to duel characters is a mystery, as is the magic sword.

15 Giant Ants guard 3 piles of eggs, they are friends of the bats. Each Ant has 5 GP. Apparently in this game Giant Ants were fairly intelligent and were capable of befriending bats...which also says something about the bats I suppose.

Giant Ant Chief AC 5, HP 20, HD 3. Wears +1 Chain-mail. 500 GP in chest. I can only deduce that the Giant Ants in my 12 year-old mind were more like intelligent bipedal Ant-men, capable of making friends, wearing armor and collecting riches.

Other Monsters included Green Slime, Wights, Giant Ticks, a Gargoyle and even more Giant Ants.

All of the entries I made, other than the obvious “Get-out-of-Jail-Free” Gloves of Bending, were indeed culled from the pages of the D&D Holmes edit. Apparently I had filled in this module during that short period of time in '79 before I had moved on to 1e AD&D.

Well, back to the present: I read the B1 room keys once through, did a random fill of the 56 rooms, changed the player back story and information to fit my needs, and ran B1 for possibly the second time ever. The group did not get particularly far into Quasqueton in this first session, but thus far the game is a success. In fact the first actual room the party entered, aside from the non-room entrance, was the infamous Room of Pools. I never would've guessed that would be the case, but there they were mystified by the pools and terrified of their contents. The party dispatched some Bogloids, Jackals and Thugs*, collected some loot, and headed back to the safety of Generic Town ™ at the end of the day.

After the session I took to reading the rest of the module. Mike Carr's guides and suggestions in particular drove me to write this post. I am going to give B1 some more thorough consideration and continue with thoughts on the module in the near future.

* - Some things never change. 30 years later I am still disregarding the author's instructions.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

100 NPC Personality Types

Here's a copy and paste of a table I put together for on-the-fly random determination of NPC personality types/traits. Just short descriptions that might aid in making your run-of-the-mill townsfolk, NPCs or Hirelings/Henchmen a bit more unique. This could easily be doubled in size as the entries are really just scratching the surface.

One-Hundred NPC Personalities

On the spot random determination of NPC personalities/traits.


01. Agoraphobic
02. Anarchist
03. Annoying SOB
04. Attention Whore
05. Authoritarian
06. Back Slapper
07. Bleeding Heart
08. Blind Follower
09. Born Again
10. Brainiac
11. Brown Noser
12. Buffoon
13. Busybody
14. Charlatan
15. Chill Dude
16. Classic A-hole
17. Conniver
18. Cool Character
19. Curmudgeon
20. Defeatist
21. Devil's Advocate
22. Disestablishmentarian
23. Do Nothing
24. Fancy Pants
25. Flower Child
26. Foppish Dandy
27. Freeloader
28. Go-getter
29. Goober
30. Good Guy
31. Good Samaritan
32. Gossip
33. Gourmand
34. Greenhorn
35. Happy Go Lucky
36. Health Nut
37. Heartthrob
38. Hedonist
39. Hillbilly
40. Hopeless Romantic
41. Hothead
42. Huckster
43. Jolly Fellow
44. Klutz
45. Know-it-All
46. Knucklehead
47. Loud Mouth
48. Machiavellian
49. Manic-Depressive
50. Manipulator
51. Masochist
52. Moocher
53. Namby Pamby
54. Neatnik
55. Nice Fella
56. Nosy Nelly
57. Nudnick
58. OCD
59. Old Fart
60. One of the Guys
61. Over Achiever
62. Over Reactor
63. Pain in the Rear
64. Penny-Pincher
65. Perma-Pissed
66. Pervert
67. Pessimist
68. Plain Old Slob
69. Pretty Boy
70. Rebel w/o a Clue
71. Sadist
72. Sarcastic Bastard
73. Scatter Brain
74. Schlemazel
75. Schlemiel
76. Schmendrik
77. Shlub
78. Show Off
79. Shrinking Violet
80. Shyster
81. Sneaky Tippler
82. Snot Nosed Punk
83. Social Climber
84. Sour Puss
85. Space Cadet
86. Standard Bully
87. Supreme Jerk
88. Tattletale
89. Teetotaler
90. Thespian
91. Town Drunk
92. Tree Hugger
93. Wallflower
94. Wisecracker
95. Womanizer
96. Workaholic
97. Xenophobe
98. Yellow Belly
99. Yes Man
00. Young Upstart

Sorry, not sure how to make columns in blogger. Nevertheless if you want to see it in 3-column format I have added a file linked under SHAM'S OD&D STUFF which you can download from mediafire called "100 NPC Types".

I also added the Spicing Up Stairways file from a few days ago for easy downloading, called "d00 Stairways".

Hope these are of use.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

ODD Bits 5

Just when you thought it would never raise it's hideous head once more...ODD Bits is back!

ODD Bits is a web log series of trivia questions culled from the pages of Volumes 1, 2 and 3 of original Dungeons & Dragons. If you care to play along, answer each ODD Bit question to the best of your knowledge without referring to the source material. Answers are provided in the comments section, so don't peek there until you've tried to answer all five questions.

Grade yourself based on the number of questions you answered correctly*:

5: Unbelievable, 4: Outstanding, 3: Well Done, 2: Not Bad, 1: Not Good,
0: Embarrassing

* - Sham is the referee here, so any rules interpretations taken are final, even if viewed through his warped lens.

ODD Bits 5

1. Which of the following monsters is always aligned with Chaos? A. Ogre, B. Minotaur, C. Gorgon.

2. There are but two entries on the “Character Alignment, Including Various Monsters and Creatures” table which may be of any of the three stances, name them.

3. Monsters in the Underworld are assumed to have infravision unless they are doing what?

4. True or False: A Knock spell breaks a Wizard Lock spell.

5. There are nine categories of Men in the Monster Descriptions section. Name the sole entry aligned with Law.

Good Luck!


Buried Treasure!

(First the old buried treasure) After several requests (well, a few 2 a few?) for your viewing pleasure I have added links to my pdf's hosted at mediafire of those little buggers that got that whole OSR One-Page craze cooking a couple years back. Primitive in hindsight, The Dismal Depths original four-pack is now nothing more than an OSR historical footnote of sorts. After all, two years in the blogosphere is downright ancient at this point. Links are on the right under SHAM'S OD&D STUFF. Kudos to ChicagoWiz for crafting that template for me! I also added the old Dismal Depths Traps tables link. Use at your own risk.

(And the new buried treasure), There's another file added now, something new for your megadungeons titled Dungeon Treasure Maps.

What are Dungeon Treasure Maps? Let me explain. Some time back I rambled on about the possibilities of the Maps category of items included in the Treasure Types section of Vol. II. While these were intended more for wilderness adventure, the idea always tickled my fancy. I finally sat down and bashed out a system of similar maps for underworld adventures, called Dungeon Treasure Maps.

It includes some columns and tables so won't copy over well to blogger, but here are a few bits from the single-page file in case you are curious.

"Dungeon Treasure Maps are a special type of item. When the characters decipher such a map, through use of a Read Languages spell if needed, the Ref rolls on the appropriate tables and places the heretofore undiscovered secret location of the treasure trove. It is impossible to find this secret trove before the map in question is deciphered."

"How Trove is Hidden
01-20: Buried: Need Picks and Shovels
21-36: Under Loose Stones: Need Pry-bars
37-50: Behind Wall: Need Sledge Hammer
51-64: Behind Locked Panel: Need Key or Lock-picker
65-73: Sealed Door: Need Hammer and Pry-bars
74-82: Sealed Door (G): Need Hammer and Pry-bars
83-91: Locked Stairwell: Need Key or Lock-picker
92-00: Locked Stairwell (G): Need Key or Lock-picker
(G): Guardians - typically Undead, Golems or other such Monsters able to lie dormant."

"Notes: Tracking down lost or buried treasure should be an exciting endeavor for the players and their characters. There's always a chance they will hit the proverbial mother-lode. Special preparations might be in order for recovering these troves, and keep in mind the noise created from all of the excavating is sure to attract the hungry and/or curious."

So there you have the buried treasure, something old and something new.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Spicing Up Stairways

It's been a while. Today is the unofficial blog birthday here at Ye Auld Grog and Blog so something needs to be posted today.

Here's a table I put together to allow you to add some tension to your next megadungeon sessions. Most games I've seen treat stairways as just so much dungeon-dressing. Use this to keep your players on their collective toes. Just don't use this for every single stairway unless you're a true sadist. Maybe a 2in6 chance but you be the judge.

Shrunk the text a bit to keep it all single line in blogger.

Spicing Up Stairways

01-03: Pit, All Pits (d6) 1-3: 10', 4,5: 20', 6: 30' in depth. These things never grow old.
04: Spiked Pit, roll 1d6 for extra damage. On a 6 roll again and add (result -1) to 6.
05: Poison-spiked Pit, as above then save or die. Someone really wants these intruders dead.
06: Flooded Pit, last time I checked armor still doesn't float. At all.
07: Crusher Pit, prepare to become dungeon graffiti.
08: Holding Pit, snaps shut and can't be opened normally. Somewhere a dinner bell rings.
09: Bottomless Pit, depth as above but use 6d6. Or more. How bottomless do you want it?
10: Double Pits, there's another pit waiting to be sprung. Maybe these things do grow old.
11-12: Sleep Gas, All Gas is invisible, slow-acting vapor. Canaries are immune to the stuff.
13-14: Poison Gas, shoulda rolled up a Canary.
15-16: Rotting Gas, lose one hit per hour until face falls off.
17-18: Delirium Gas, adventurers become acid-tripping hippies.
19-20: Maddening Gas, acute paranoia, violence, that bastard Hobbit is out to get you!
21-23: Darts, All Dart volleys cause 3d3 damage in a wide cone. Unarmored victims take +3.
24-25: Poison Darts, adding insult to injury since 1974.
26: Acid Darts, deals 4d3 instead. Armored victims start rolling item saves.
27: Capturing/Crushing Ceiling, adventurers become trapped and prepare for pain.
28: Capturing/Crushing Walls, as above but ever so slightly more forgiving. Or not.
29: Capturing/Crushing Ceiling w/ Spikes, a masterpiece of dungeon engineering.
30: Capturing/Crushing Walls w/ Spikes, are all the pointy things really necessary here?
31: Capturing/Flooding, there's a drain/fill valve hidden somewhere...right?
32: Capturing/Feeding, in 1d6 turns something big and hungry shows up. Or slithers in.
33-35: Alarm, the arrival of the party to the next level is loudly announced.
36-37: Flaming Oil, jets of slippery oil, ignited in a fireball, thick smoke, roasted intruders.
38: Spider-Blower, large fan sends clouds of upset black widows right at the poor delvers.
39: Snake-Ejector, with a click hidden panels open and drop one angry asp on each character.
40: Scorpion-Bomb, down the steps rolls a sphere with a lit fuse. Boom! Scorpion surprise!
41-43: Slide, All Slides incorporate steps that rotate into a slippery ramp. Quite ingenious.
44: Slide to Pit Below, if the buggers won't trip my trap I'll send them into it! Pick a Pit.
45: Slide and Hollywood Trap, yep – a boulder is rolling down the slide behind ya.
46: Slide to Monster, some enterprising young Monster has set up shop at the bottom.
47-48: Greased, tarnation! some fool done greased this stairway with pig-fat.
49-50: Chute, All Chutes deposit intruders deeper into the dungeon. 1d3+1 levels works.
51: Chute to Holding Cell, maybe something will come check soon. Maybe not.
52: Chute to Pool, for fun toss in piranhas or crocodiles.
53: Chute to Trap, usually a Capturing/Crushing room but there's a secret door. Possibly.
54: Chute to Monster, maybe it's sleeping. Either way the key to get out is around its neck.
55: Web-choked, annoying as all get out.
56: Smoke-filled, some wiseacre lit a bag of Monster-crap down there. It acts like Tear Gas.
57: Fungus-caked, the Clean-up Crew missed this. You might contract Dungeon-Rot here.
58: Bone-scattered, something's been tossing left-overs in here. Haunted by Undead? Yes!
59-60: Partially Caved-in, great care required. Possible collapse. A Dwarf would help.
61-62: Caved-in, pretty much just a dead end. Feel free to excavate it. Takes 200 man-hours.
63-64: Flooded, some moron filled this stairwell with water. A drain/fill valve is at the bottom.
65-67: False w/ Secret Door, to exit-less room. Fill as desired. Real steps hidden in stairwell.
68-70: Trapped w/ Secret Door, as above. Past the Secret Door is a trap and dead end. Hah!
71-72: Sentry, these blokes won't pursue, they will however defend the stairway to the end.
73-74: Toll, some way too powerful Monster extorts gold from delvers here.
75-76: Barricade, blocked by piles of Dungeon Junk. Is something besides junk in there?
77-78: Dead People, whatever killed them didn't bother to eat them. Just took their gear.
79: Lost Adventurer, the little blighter has lost his way. Might he be responsible for 77-78?
80: Madman, raving mad. The Monsters like to poke him with a stick. He collects iron spikes.
81: Portcullis, Well crud! There's a locked Portcullis blocking the way.
82: Locked Doors, heavy double-doors prevent passage. Something nearby has the key I bet.
83: Teleport to New Stairway, old tricks are often the best. No chance the dorks notice.
84: Teleport to Lonely Prison, an extremely accurately named location the Lonely Prison.
85: Teleport to Random Level, chances are 93.7% that it will be to a deeper level of course!
86-88: Random Monster from Level Below, just roll on a table.
89-91: Random Monster from Level Above, just pick from a table.
92-94: Ambushing Monster from Level Below, just pick from a fanzine.
95-97: Ambushing Monster from Level Above, just make something up already.
98-00: Clean-up Crew Member Cleaning, it's going to be upset you tracked dirt in here.