Classic Dungeons and Dragons and Old School Gaming

D&D etc.

"Heir to a crumbling summit: to a sea of nettles: to an empire of rust: to rituals' footprints ankle-deep in stone."

-Mervyn Peake

"...and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped."

-Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dunsany & Elfland

...and now for something completely different!

I've been reading The King of Elfland's Daughter before I go to sleep.  a week or two ago, I drifted in and out of sleep as I was reading and as I did so the inspiration for this card game came into my mind.  This is a very short game that uses your basic playing cards.  It's kind of like a cross between Poker and Magic the Gathering.

It doesn't really have anything to do with Lord Dunsany, but I decided to call the game ELFLAND because of what I was reading at the time.

Here is a pdf of the rules for the game: ELFLAND

From the introduction (by Lin Carter) to The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany:

  "One of the four or five genuinely great exponents of the adult fantasy was Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the eighteenth baron of an ancient line which stretches back almost one thousand years to the Norman Conquest.
  Lord Dunsany was born in 1878 in Castle Dunsany, a 12th-century fortress which was his ancestral home, in County Meath, Ireland, among hills that were already rich in song and fable a thousand years before his Norman ancestors came a-conquering by the right hand of Duke William the Bastard.  These lands were the age-old demesne of the Ard-ri, the emperors of the ancient Celts. In Meath was Tara of the Kings, so sacred and venerable that the king who held it became High King of all Ireland.  Thus the hills and fields of Dunsany's childhood were steeped in golden legend, and some of the enchantment and music of antique Tara entered into his wonderful stories.
  Lord Dunsany was and astounding man.  A sensitive poet, an enthusiastic huntsman, and inveterate globetrotter, he was always off hunting lions on safari in Africa or teaching English literature in Athens (from which he escaped one jump ahead of the Nazis when they invaded).  Yet he found time to write over sixty books..."


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Image of the Dungeon

I want to write a bit about Dungeons/Mega-dungeons and Architecture/Urbanism.  When I started this blog I
intended to focus on architecture and design of dungeon environments, so it's about time I get around to it!  I
started this post and got sidetracked by the content of the Megadungeon Planning posts.  Now that I have that out of my system (for now) I'll return to writing about:

The Image of the City Dungeon

A while back at D and D w/ p. stars there was a fantastic post  where he sort of reverse engineer's an essay
from Rem Koolhaas' S,M,L,XL as if it were about mega-dungeons.

I want to do a similar sort of thing with this book:  (though with less theory mumbo-jumbo.  Really I just want to steal his analytical tools to give an underlying structure to megadungeons)

If you went to school to study architecture or urban planning then you probably had to read this.  If not,
you've probably never heard of it.  Kevin Lynch is a big deal when it comes to Urban Design, and I want to look at how his ideas could be used in the creation of and running of megadungeons.

One thing I want to make before we dive in is that while I'm using the term "dungeon," I really mean
megadungeon.  Something at the scale of a city rather than a single building.  The Mythic Underworld, vast and unknowable is the territory that we'll be exploring with this little forray into Lynch's book.  Of course, it's
the DM's job to know the unknowable, and the PC's job to map the unmappable!

This is how the book begins:

"Looking at cities dungeons can give a special pleasure, however commonplace the sight may be.  Like a piece of architecture, the city dungeon is a construction in space, but one of vast scale, a thing perceived only in the course of long spans of time.  City Dungeon Design is therefore a temporal art, but it can rarely use the controlled and limited sequences of other temporal arts like music.  On different occasions and for different people, the sequences are reversed, interrupted, abandoned, cut across.  It is seen in all lights and all weathers.
    At every instant, there is more than the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, an setting or a view
waiting to be explored.  Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to it's surroundings, the
sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences... Every citizen  adventurer has long associations with some part of his city, and his image is soaked in memories and meanings."

That text is clear and I don't feel like I really need to unpack it too much. The important thing is that we are thinking about the way this giant place is perceived and that the way it is perceived can't be planned by the DM. (unless you're a railroader, which is fine if that's what your players are into, but you might as well stop reading this now if that's the case)  I think the bit in bold is especially applicable to Megadungeons as opposed to dungeons (which are more likely to see one use, with one group of adventurers, and be approached from one way only)

"Moving elements in a city dungeon, and in particular the people and their activities, are as important as the
stationary physical parts.  We are not simply observers of this spectacle, but are ourselves a part of it, on the stage with the other participants.  Most often, our perception of the city dungeon is not sustained, but rather partial, fragmentary, mixed with other concerns.  Nearly every sense is in operation and the image is the composite of them all."

The dungeon is effected by the Adventurers.  also by monsters and  NPCs of course, but (this obviously isn't stated by Lynch) it's the perception of the PCs that matters to us.  It's not just City=Dungeon, but also City=Dungeon=Stage.  Also, we are talking about an image, but all five senses contribute to that image.

"Not only is the city dungeon an object which is perceived (and perhaps enjoyed) by millions of people of
widely diverse class and character, (you know, like magic-users, thieves and half-elf barbarians) but it is the product of many builders who are constantly modifying the structure for reasons of their own.  While it may be stable in general outlines for some time, it is ever changing in detail.  Only partial control can be exercised over its growth and form.  There is no final result, only a continuous succession of phases.  No wonder, then, that the art of shaping cities dungeons for sensuous enjoyment is an art quite separate from architecture or music or literature.  It may learn a great deal from these other arts, but it cannot imitate them."

The dungeon changes from one adventure to the next, but also it's original form is determined randomly by Wandering Monster tables at least, maybe even by random room generators and the like.

What Lynch is aiming for is "Legibility" or "...the ease with which its parts can be recognized and can be organized into a coherent pattern."  Now, for gaming this legibility is especially important (even though it might sound kind of boring now, just wait) because there is no actual city, I mean, dungeon.  The whole thing is a construct in the minds of the players so communication about the environment and the events in that environment is critical, especially in old school games where there is less reliance on game mechanics and more reliance on description of the scene and actions.

"Although clarity or legibility is by no means the only important property of a beautiful city kick-ass megadugeon, it is of special importance when considering environments at the urban scale of size, time, and complexity.  To understand this we must consider not just the city dungeon as a thing in itself, but the city dungeon being perceived by its inhabitants (and more so the interloping adventurers)."

What really matters isn't the dungeon and all of it's special little one-of-a-kind snowflake qualities, back story etc. but how the PCs experience it.  If the Orc Chief hates the Spider God but that never comes up in play or the PCs don't pick up on it then it might as well not be true.  In their experience it isn't true.  Managing the perceptions of the PCs is how you make the dungeon awesome.

"Many kinds of cues are used: the visual sensations of color, shape, motion, or polarization of light, as well as other senses such as smell, sound, touch, kinesthesia, sense of gravity, and perhaps of electric or magnetic fields."

In an RPG it's usually one step removed: the verbal description of those senses rather than the actual senses.
Lynch talks a bit about wayfinding and how the "mental picture of the exterior physical world that is held by an individual" is how a person finds their way in a city.  This is even more so in a Dungeon, if you don't imagine it, then you're not there.

Lynch diverts a bit into the deeper meaning behind this giant structure:
"A striking landscape is the skeleton upon which many primitive races erect their socially important myths."
Right?  What was buried down there that those primitive races started mythologizing?

And he acknowledges that some chaos can be good:
"It must be granted that there is some value in mystification, labyrinth, or surprise in the environment."  Important enough that there is a 1 or 2 in 6 chance of it. (surprise that is)  And if you crawl around in a cave for long enough you are sure to get lost at some point but being completely lost the whole time isn't usually fun.

Ok, up to this point I have mostly just been cherry picking cool quotes that make it sound like Lynch is talking about dungeons, but now I'm going to wrap up and the really useful stuff will have to wait for a future post or posts.  Lynch says that an environmental image is made up of structure, identity and meaning.  of these, structure and identity are what he mostly concerns himself with in this book.  Works for me. What we are trying to do when we DM is communicate an imaginary physical world to the players, if we want to worry about the meaning behind that we can, or we can run a fun-house and retroactively rationalize it if we feel the need to, or something that makes sense/would be cool comes naturally out of play. 
I want to slide one more quote in along those lines:

"The image should preferably be open-ended, adaptable to change, allowing the individual to continue to investigate and organize reality: there should be blank spaces where he can extend the drawing for himself."

So whether you call it Legibility or Imageabilitiy or Visibility (Lynch uses all three) How the DM communicates the game world to the Players is... well that is the game or half of it anyway.  A strong Image of the Dungeon comes from: Clues to the nature of the identity and structure of the game world that keep the game moving and describing the game world in a way that helps the players to really create their own image of the game world, and contribute to it.

The next time I post about this will be about the Five Elements that Lynch uses to analyze the image of cities dungeons: Paths, Edges, Districts, Nodes and Landmarks.  I'll look at how we can use those five elements to make huge kick-ass dungeons.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mostly Dead is Slightly Alive; Hit Points, Injury and Recovery

Fellow bloggers at Aeons and Auguries and the Fighting Fantasist have gotten me thinking about Hit Points.

I've mentioned this in passing before.

After playing D&D for a long time I've fairly recently decided to take Mr. Gygax at his word and rule that HP are abstract and not actual wounds. Here is what I've started doing:


When characters reach 0 HP they roll on this:

I was inspired by this and this. Like Aos, I wanted the table to be generic, that is I wanted it to make sense for an injury made by tooth and claw as well as blade or bazooka.  Like Trollsmyth I wanted things like knockdown and buff to be possible and I wanted helms to be important.  I also wanted the super simple hit locations to play a role.  This table's label is a bit of a misnomer, I don't use this when a Natural 20 is rolled, only when characters are dropped to zero HP.  I suppose I meant it that way when I made the chart and maybe I would use it that way if I was playing a game with high level characters.  Zero HP is the worst a PC can be, I don't track negative HP.  Depending on how they roll on the crit. chart, a PC with zero Hit Points might be walking around just fine, or they might be on the ground dying.  This could also be used in a pinch for fumbles: roll a D4 as if the D6 rolled a 2.


HD are rolled every morning.  If you've spent the night in the wilderness or in a dungeon, then your HP can go down when you make this roll.  I've thought about also making them roll an extra die and dropping the highest in wilderness/dungeons, but I haven't tried that yet.  If the character is in civilization (as in a house, castle or inn, crashing in a haystack or barn counts as camping) then if a lower number than the character's current HP is rolled it can be disregarded. 

If characters take a short rest (1 turn) then they can add 1d6 to their HP, but their HP cannot be raised over their max for the day.  They can rest as much as they like, consecutively or not, but their HP won't exceed the max for the day. If a character has been reduced to zero and is wounded or dying, then they stay at zero until fully healed, resting won't help.

I have only used this a few times and I haven't used this at all in a game with a Cleric but this is how I would deal with their healing spells: Cure Light Wounds would eliminate one Light Wound, or make a serious wound a Light wound, or make a dying character merely seriously wounded.  A character healed this way would not loose the limb, and would be only faintly scarred.  The Cure Serious Wound spell would eliminate completely a light wound or a serious wound and would make a dying character only lightly wounded.

If the Character is dead and there are no high level miracle workers around, there's only one thing you can do: go through their clothes and look for loose change.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dragons & Chimeras

Monsters Remixed continues!

I have made one more step toward this project's foolish completion.  Here is the problem I set out to solve:
The same old monsters can get boring.  And making new monsters is great, but what if your short on time?  (I have already spent more time on this "time saver" than really makes sense, so hopefully somebody besides me can use these)  The idea was to mix up some of the characteristics of the old monsters to make new ones, and to give to the players some of the sense of surprise and discovery that made these games great in the first place, but with creatures that are still based on classic monsters.
I did this remix of Slime Molds and Jellies and then I found this fantastic post at Sham's Grog and Blog.  I had thought that the order that the monsters were presented in Monsters and Treasure was just slapdash, but of course it was Gygaxian genius at work.  There is an order.  Then I started thinking that the ordering and Shams breakdown would be a great way to give this remix treatment to every single one of the monsters presented in that Original Little Brown Book.

The names that Sham came up with for the monster categories are great.  One that grabbed me was "Fairly Tale Miscellany."  So I did the Fey Beasts (Centaurs, Unicorns, Treants, Pegasi, Hippogriffs, Rocs and Griffons) and Fey Humanoids (Pixies, Nixies, Dryads, Gnomes, Dwarves, Elves) from that category.  With those two, I played more fast and loose with the creatures than I did with the slimes.  Gnomes and Dwarves might be offended that I just called them "ugly elves" but it seemed appropriate.  My goal was to evoke the fairy tale roots of those creatures and at the same time make them... you know, weird.

I started looking at the "Monsters of Myth" (Manticoras, Hydras, Chimeras, Wyverns, Dragons, Gargoyles, Lycanthropes, Purple Worms, Sea Monsters, Minotaurs)  There are some real heavy hitters here! ahem. DRAGONS.

Here is what I've come up with:

Dragons, Dragonesques & Chimera

Gargoyles I'm saving for later, and Lycanthropes will be their own thing.  Remixed here are Manticoras, Hydras, Chimeras, Wyverns, Dragons, Purple Worms, Sea Monsters,  and Minotaurs.  Actually I didn't really do anything with Sea Monsters, but neither did the original, so if you're rolling on this and your at sea then it's a sea monster.  I couldn't just throw dragons in the hopper with the rest, especially since it's already been done so well before.  Instead I went the other way and made Dragons less random and weird, more iconic.  The rest get mixed up into various Chimerae.

So this is what I have left:

Lycanthropes: I really want to remix the Werethings but no bright idea has hit me as of yet.  They need to be in there, because you can buy a silver dagger right there at the beginning of the game.
Bad Guys: Men, Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, Hobgoblins, Gnolls, Ogres, Trolls, Giants.
  These I will divide into two groups: Men, and the rest.  I am planning on really messing with the humanoids.
Dead Guys: Skeletons, Zombies, Ghouls, Wights, Wraiths, Mummies, Spectres, Vampires.
  Somewhere I have seen where somebody else did a random undead generator thing, which I remember thinking was pretty good, but now I can't find it.  If you know what I'm talking about please let me know who made it! 
Save or Stoned Guys: Cockatrices, Basilisks, Medusae, Gorgons.
  Gargoyles may be added back in here.
The Otherworldly: Invisible Stalkers, Elementals, Djinn, Efreet.
  These will be fun.
Monsters Mundane: Horses, Mules, Small Insects and Animals, Large Insects and Animals.
  These are so boring!  I have some ideas on how to make these interesting but if it doesn't coalesce I'll just skip em.

At the end of the monster descriptions there is this kooky and rambling listing for Other Monsters: 
Titans & Cyclops:  If I break out the Giants from the Humanoids these might get included.
Juggernauts & Living Statues: These might get a remix, especially if the Gargoyles don't fit with the Save or Stoned guys (and gals)
Salamanders: These are definitely going in with the Otherworldlies.
Gelatinous Cubes: represented in Slimes, Molds and Jellies!
Robots, Golems, Androids: Surely there is a random robot generator out there?  Golems would go great with the Living Statues.

I have no idea when I'll get to these.  I feel like I ought to be doing something more directly useful in a game, like developing one of the campaign worlds I have knocking around in my head.  We'll see!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


I haven't done a .pdf post for a while, so here you go:


It's great if you have treasure maps prepped, who doesn't like a good prop?  But, if you don't have anything prepped then you're up the creek without a... treasure map.  I think it's weird that I've never come across anything like this before. 

My goal with this was to make something that allows a DM to roll up a treasure map on the fly in-game, something easier and meatier/more evocative than the 1e DMG.  The DMG has a pretty good system for generating random treasure maps (of course, it has random charts for everything).  One divergence I made from the DMG regards clues to the nature of the treasure.  It explicitly states in bold even, that there is never any indication as to the nature of the treasure.  That seems silly to me, so I included charts to give the DM and the players (since they are learning about this together/at the same time) some indication of the Treasure and its Guardian.  It's kind of a lot of rolling, but I think you could roll things as the PCs studied the map.  I have not used this in play yet!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Megadungeon Planning II

This is a continuation of Megadungeon Planning.

So if one level of our MEGACUBE is 26x26 one page dungeons then one level would take 676 pages to map.

and if it's a cube and there are 26 levels=17,576 pages!
plus a one page key fore each level and one for the surface, that's 17,603 pages.

That's one hell of a DM binder.

Of course, there would not have to be a one page dungeon page for every 300'x300' section.  Maybe some areas are empty (solid earth) or simple tunnels/passages that link more densely populated areas.  These would need no more than a line or two to be indicated on the level key.

In the past I have not been the kind of DM who would be attracted to this level of detail at all.  As a DM or as a player I've rarely even used graphpaper.  But I see some exciting possibilities presented in having such a large three dimensional area mapped so precisely.

I usually handwave the precise distances/relationships between areas, levels or subsections of a dungeon.  Who cares exactly how long a particular tunnel or flight of stairs is, that's what I say.   But what if the relationships between a room in a dungeon and other rooms on all sides, above and below it is really important?  Say, if a person could walk through walls (or dig, melt, explode or otherwise tunnel through stone/earth).

The article linked above describes a tactic employed by the Israeli army.  Because of IEDs and snipers the streets were so dangerous as to be unpassable so they began tunneling through the walls and floors of buildings.

Here's a quote from the General who developed the tactic:

 “This space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. Now, you can stretch the boundaries of your interpretation, but not in an unlimited fashion, after all, it must be bound by physics, as it contains buildings and alleys. The question is: how do you interpret the alley? Do you interpret the alley as a place, like every architect and every town planner does, to walk through, or do you interpret the alley as a place forbidden to walk through? This depends only on interpretation. We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through, and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. Not only do I not want to fall into his traps, I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win. I need to emerge from an unexpected place. And this is what we tried to do.”
 “This is why that we opted for the methodology of walking through walls. […] Like a worm that eats its way forward, emerging at points and then disappearing. We were thus moving from the interior of homes to their exterior in a surprising manner and in places we were not expected, arriving from behind and hitting the enemy that awaited us behind a corner. […] I said to my troops, “Friends! This is not a matter of your choice! There is no other way of moving! If until now you were used to move along roads and sidewalks, forget it! From now on we all walk through walls!”

I read that, and it makes me think of goblins invading an underground dwarven fortress, or adventurers digging a tunnel to bypass all the traps set up around and evil temple.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Megadungeon Planning

  "Take a piece of graph paper. Draw a box hemming in 26x26 squares. Write 1-26 across the left side, one number in each square along the outside. Write A-Z along the top similarly. Above this write LEVEL ONE. This is your Level Map.

On the next sheet of graph paper, draw a box hemming in 30x30 squares. Above, write LEVEL ONE M-13. Each square in this Local Map is 10' across. That means each Local Map is 300' x 300'. This square Local Map corresponds exactly to square M-13 on your Level Map. That is, on your Level Map, find the M row and run your finger across to the 13th column. That is your M-13 Local Square.

26 Local Maps x 300' per Local Map equals 7,800' x 7,800' per dungeon level, or about 2.1 sqare miles."

The above quote is from a comment 1d30 made here. he goes on to point out that 30x30 is the area of the grid in the one page dungeon template! Zooming out like this isn't a staggering concept,  wilderness areas are often mapped at different scales right?  This is like running with a map and battlemats but zooming out instead of in.  Or you could use the two scales of maps and battlemaps and have all three scales. 

Here's a picture of that extruded into three dimensions:

 Each of the small cubes is a one page dungeon.
The Caves of Chaos would fit inside 4 of those cubes.

What excites me about this idea is the potential it opens up to create a mega-dungeon, without tons and tons of upfront work on the DMs part.  Instead, the DM can place important rooms/regions, and leave places in between to fill in at the table on the fly.  More about this idea here.  Al's idea here reminds me of the Nolli maps.  Giambattista Nolli made a fantastic map of Rome in the 1700s where the important public buildings and plazas are drawn in detail and al other buildings are simply shaded in.

There is a sweet interactive version of Nolli's map of Rome here.

Of course it could all be mapped and stocked ahead of time, but that would be crazy, unless you have some friends help!
I'll have more to say about this later.