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...

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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.

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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.