July 31, 2009

July 26, 2009

Designing Settings With Carcassonne

Carcassonne is a board game in which you lay down tiles - one per player and turn - to form cities, rivers and roads. You score points depending on the number of finished structures that you put a "meeple" (man-shaped playing piece) on before finishing it.

But that's beside the point. I kind of wondered if one could use Carcassonne to make a campaign map. Well, maybe.

My first thought was to play out a game as normal and then use the result. (I'm in no way involved in the game pictured.) You'd get cities, roads, strange statues scattered throughout the landscape... and holes in reality where the players couldn't fit a tile. Maybe that's cool, maybe it's just bad. Depends on your needs.

Elsewhere, someone decided to arrange all Carcassonne tiles so that the board is self-contained - that is, nothing protrudes "beyond the board". As he shows, it's actually impossible with just the original set, but can be done with an expansion. Also a decent map.

July 19, 2009

Random Elemental Generator

The elementals in the D&D4 Monster Manual are assumed to be the "natural animals" of the Elemental Chaos. (Think of Limbo if you prefer earlier editions.) Also, they cover a level range from 11 to 26. With this in mind, four elementals seem too little. On the other hand, it should be easy enough to generate new ones randomly (which is basically what happens in the game world).

First, we need to figure out what our elemental consists of. The Monster Manual states that they are made up of any number of elements, but let's settle for two (which is what the statted ones are). Roll 2d6, the die that lands to the left is the "primary" element.

  • 1: Fire
  • 2: Earth
  • 3: Air
  • 4: Water
  • 5: Lightning (and thunder)
  • 6: Radiance

If you roll the same element twice, you have one of the rare pure elementals.

Second, make up an awesome name for our elemental. The primary element determines the prefix, the secondary the suffix. Dig out your d3:s if you really have to be random here.

  • Fire prefixes: Flame-, boil-, heat-
  • Fire suffixes: -scourge, -fire, -pyre
  • Earth prefixes: Rock-, gravel-, mountain-
  • Earth suffixes: -wall, -stone, -crystal
  • Air prefixes: Cloud-, storm-, steam-
  • Air suffixes: -lasher, -twister, -wind
  • Water prefixes: Wave-, flood-, stream-
  • Water suffixes: -swirl, -pool, -torrent
  • Lightning prefixes: Thunder-, lightning-, flash-
  • Lightning suffixes: -storm, -bolt, -spark
  • Radiance prefixes: Sun-, flash-, flicker-
  • Radiance suffixes: -beam, -glow, -ray
  • Random second noun: Ravager, dreadnought, defender

I rolled a 6 and a 2, so it's a mixture of radiance and earth. It's a Sunstone Defender!

The third step is to stat up the monster. I won't repeat the monster creating guidelines (DMG1 page 184 and onward) here, but there are some notable steps:

  • Level: Just choose, though I might roll 1d10+10 if I wanted a random level too.
  • Role and powers: Role is based on the primary element. Powers also are, but flavour one power according to the second element.

    • Fire = artillery. Build a basic ranged high-damage attack and a basic ranged normal-damage burst attack. Give it high speed, or clumsy flight. (Magic jet engines!)
    • Earth = lurker. Can phase through earth and stone, gains Earth Walk, Tremorsense, Combat Advantage vs enemies it starts its turn out of sight of, and bonus damage against enemies it has Combat Advantage against. Can meld into stone as a standard action, giving it great damage resistance (kind of like a gargoyle).
    • Air = brute. Give it insubstantial (and half HP) which explains why it's so hard to kill. Also huge.
    • Water = soldier. Can hit and mark enemies. Gets threatening reach (with it's elongated pseudopods).
    • Lightning = skirmisher. Flight is key here. Pair it with a fly-by attack and you're set.
    • Radiance = controller. Held together by the secondary element. Give it attacks that blind, daze or stun.

Our Sunstone Defender is a Controller, with a little bit of earthy lurker. I make him level 11 (to help out Firelashers), steal powers right off the Grell Philosopher and Galeb Duhr Rockcaller, give it Earth Walk and I'm done!

Sunstone Defender Level 11 Controller
Large Elemental Magical Beast (air, fire) XP 600
Initiative +9 Senses Perception +14
HP 114; Bloodied 57
AC 25; Fortitude 23, Reflex 23, Will 23
Immune disease, poison
Speed 6 (earth walk)
M Staggering Slam (Standard; at-will)
Reach 2; +16 vs AC; 3d6+5 damage, and the target is slowed until the end of its next turn.
R Bright lance (Standard; at-will) ♦ radiant
Range 10; +15 vs Reflex; 2d6+5 radiant damage, and the target is blinded (save ends).
c Rocky Road (Minor; encounter)
Close burst 1; all squares in burst become difficult terrain if they consist of earth or stone.
a Glaring Nimbus (Standard; recharge 6) ♦ radiant, zone
Area burst 2 within 10; +15 vs Will; 3d8+3 radiant damage, and the target is dazed (save ends). The glaring nimbus is a zone that lasts until the end of the encounter. Any creature entering the zone is dazed (save ends).
Alignment Unaligned Languages Primordial
Str 18 (+9) Dex 18 (+9) Wis 18 (+9)
Con 18 (+9) Int 21 (+10) Cha 18 (+9)


A sunstone defender looks like a humanoid mass of small rocks, hovering in a humanoid aura of light.

July 12, 2009

Random Replacements - What Moves Into the Dead Dragon's Lair?

Dungeon crawling is fun. Killing the dragon at the end of the dungeon is also fine, but after the player characters have looted its hoard and left, there's a fine piece of empty real estate that shouldn't go to waste. And if the players don't take precautions to secure the dungeon, someone will get just that idea. But who?

Well, let's roll for it. Makes for more surprising results than just choosing. There are four steps to check whether or not an empty dungeon gets settled, and if so, by what:

1: Each week in-game, there is a 50% chance that something moves into a lair that the party has cleared out but not settled or otherwise secured. Flip a coin or something.

2: Decide on a tier. This is very much a D&D 4E term, but it's not rocket science. Regular wilderness is Heroic Tier. The Underdark is Paragon Tier. The wilder parts of the Planes is Epic Tier - it's where you start beating up demon lords, and maybe a god or two.

Alternatively, look at what lived in the dungeon before, and check where that belonged in the table in step 2. If the party defeated an army of Githyanki, it's a good bet that Paragon is about right.

3: Roll a d20, looking up the result in the correct column in the table to the right (click for a bigger picture). Since Epic is a bit anemic, reroll numbers with no entry.

4: Some entries like "Beasts" are very broad. If you want a more specific answer, roll a d10 (adding 10 or 20 for paragon or heroic tier), to see what level you should aim at.

So, let's try it. The party has defeated an adult red dragon, which is a paragon threat, from its volcano lair. They leave, a week passes, and the roll hints that it might be time for something to sneak in.

The d20 roll is 13, which means that a group of archons or elementals move in. We could stop here and decide that it's fire archons and fire elementals, but that's boring. A roll of 1d10+10 comes up a 12, and a quick peek in the DDI compendium show that a "Fire Archon Emberguard" is appropriate. Well okay then. Of course, other fire archons can play too, as well as other level-appropriate fire creatures - the d10 roll is just to point you to specific creatures.

July 10, 2009

Your Favourite Game Sucks

I'm getting rather tired of grumpy grognards* and the crap they peddle. The latest straw was this. The good sir James Mishler made a graph with bad stuff on one end, good stuff on the other, put D&D 4 in the bad end and put it up on the Internets for the two people who thought it was funny to laugh at.

So, kind reader, I humbly submit this:

(I mean, at least Mishler's original graph was remotely intelligent.)

*) With no slight intended to the many grognards who just play their favourite game and shut up. Your edition is still associated with the Hoff, of course.

Search Terms

Just so you know, I am checking the stats of this blog with Google Analytics. Seeing what Google search terms brought people here can be funny. It's just one or two hits per term, but that makes it even funnier.

My favourite is "grimdark libertarianism". Wonder what the guy was looking for...

(I'd like to apologize to the guy/gal who came here when googling for "'encounter tables' indiana jones". I hope you found what you were looking for, it sounds awesome.)

July 05, 2009

On Worldbuilding Relays, or Five Steps to A Fleshed Out World

This RPGnet thread is splendid. The idea by Matthias Wasser on RPGnet is a "Worldbuilding Relay" game with the following rules:

  • The first person in line rolls on a bunch of tables to generate the basic assumptions about the world. How old is it, what real-world cultures does it borrow from, what is the general morality of people, what races and "classes" exist?
  • He then makes up a geographic, a cultural and a metaphysical fact, which should all tie into at least two of the results from the tables.
  • The next person details five conflicts - wars, conspiracies, personal problems.
  • Next one describes five organizations. Royal houses, armies, merchant houses, whatever.
  • Next one details five individuals. One low-level, one mid-level, one high level, one antagonist and one ordinary person.
  • Last one gives five facts of any kind.
  • Restart by rolling on the tables again.

The first mesoamerican/roman world with humans, anthropomorphic animals and planetouched waging a war between gods and animistic spirits shaped up rather nicely. Though, after writing two entries in the thread, I found that even that takes work, and others may have felt the same.

Either way, those five steps (not counting the table-rolling) would work well for fleshing out any world a GM or setting writer is making. The conflicts, organizations and people showcase the world and provide hooks for PC:s to get interested in, and the GM to build adventures around.

(I thought of adding a bullet point for "five locations", but locations show up often embedded in the other categories. The same applies to religions - if the setting has them, they'll appear within conflicts and organizations, maybe even people.)

Another thought is to have a group engage in cooperative worldbuilding before a campaign. Just roll on the tables, let everyone provide one fact from each of the bullet points, and you have the seeds of a campaign setting in 15 minutes.

For reference - the tables:

Table A: The Wheel of History
Roll 1d8:
1: Civilization Unknown. The world is young. Light huddles in points.
2-3: Civilization Ascendant. A young political body or network of such violently expands and grows.
4-5: Civilization Regnant. A golden age, marked by hubris. We can do anything we want - but what?
6-7: Civilization Descendant: The social contradictions of the old golden age and the inability of its institutions to adapt to them demand that this civilization be destroyed. Will it be in ice or fire?
8: Civilization in Tatters. The Postapocalypse. Light huddles in points.

Table B: Moral Assumptions
Roll 1d6:
1: Preachily left: Equality is good, privileges are bad. Conflicts between societies are distractions from conflicts within societies. The elites naturally desire to maintain and expand their privileges and artificial hierarchies, which makes them evil, and only the willingness of the masses to collectively organize and set aside cultural differences can destroy them.
2: Preachily conservative: There is a natural hierarchy to the world, each station having natural rights and obligations: we must care for those below us and obey those above us, so long as they too are acting justly; if not, they must be redeemed or destroyed. Some beings are naturally evil, while others are led into it by hubris, laxity, and inattentiveness to tradition.
3: Preachily libertarian: Heroes are self-reliant individuals; villains are alliances of demagogues and cowards too afraid to think for themselves. Adventuring for no purpose but treasure is perfectly moral; merchants are generally good and governments are generally evil. The prose is awful.
4: Grimdark: The setting is metal as hell. Everyone involved is incredibly selfish, violent, and cruel; but we are to approach them from an ironic distance. Atrocities pile up in the background and actual play like sand on the beach and we mostly marvel at how wicked awsome it is.
5: Pluralistic: This is a world of competing values, none necessarily greater than the other. People generally act from principle, and they're all sympathetic and shown from their own perspective, but the competing ideologies cannot be reconciled. The conflict is instantiated both between organizations and within the human heart.
6: Amoral: People generally act from their self-interest, defined broadly enough to include themselves and the people they love; they almost always have some sort of code, but no fact about the universe makes one truer than another, and they have difficulties following them in practice. No one can stand to be very sympathetic or very unsympathetic for long.

Table C: Culture Clash
Roll 2d10:
1. East Asian
2. Mediterranean
3. Mesoamerican
4. Near Eastern
5. Northern European
6. Polynesian
7. Slavic
8. South Asian
9. Sub-Saharan African
10. Roll twice more

As an introductory mental exercise, start out with the assumption that you're taking Roll 1's broad geographic or political situation and reskinning it with Rolls 2's aesthetics, culture, and philosophy; and then have them interpenetrate each other in all sorts of ways.

Table D: Races
Roll 2d10, assuming that humans already exist:
1-5. Just humans here
6. Elves, dwarves, half-elves, and halflings
7. Humanoid races
8. Planetouched
9. Anthropomorphic animal races
10. Every published race you can find

If you roll double 10s, include everything but humans.

Table E: Power Sources
Roll 2d10, assuming Martial already exists
1-2. Martial only
3. Arcane and Divine
4-5. Arcane
6-7. Divine
8-9. Primal, Ki, or Shadow (whatever seems most appropriate)
10. the Kitchen Sink

Kudos again to Matthias Wasser. It was a splendid idea.