Sunday, February 24, 2013

Eating Bisquick With A Spoon

Last night Jason was kind enough to quell the whining of some gamers who wanted a game by running - at the last minute - a dungeon delve using a random dungeon from Donjon.

It was...a mixed bag.  Donjon is a cool site with neat stuff, and the dungeon generator does pretty keen maps.  What it doesn't do so well is stock those dungeons, and that's only to be expected.  No basic script can replace the human brain for this kind of thing.  The dungeon we explored, The Sanctum of Mighty Horror, was full of magically-locked and stuck doors, empty rooms, and the occasional really nasty trap.  Jason made the best of it, tweaking on the fly, but we all got some good chuckles about the sadistic dungeon-builder who must've invested a considerable amount of gold designing this place.

No random dungeon generator is going to be a satisfying substitute for an actual, designed dungeon.   It's all raw material, arranged higgledy-piggledy, and you shouldn't expect to be able to run the damn thing as-written.  It's like trying to eat Bisquick with a spoon and being upset that it tastes like powdery crap.  Of course it does!  You're supposed to make something with it.

Following this, as an experiment, I took another random dungeon output from Donjon and tried to reskin and spice it up a tad (for coherence? maybe?) within a limited time-frame of about an hour.  The result is the dungeon below (map is also in the doc, at the end).

The Ostentatious Crypt of Solomon Crabb

The first thing I did was look at the monster output, and start streamlining so I didn't have fifty different monsters in this one level.  All the Berserkers and Bandits became one thing; all the Goblins and Kobolds another, and all the Hobgoblins and Orcs a third.  Knowing my general groups, I knocked out a short intro to the whole scenario and descriptions of the "factions" on the level.  Then it was time to go room by room, editing here and there, adding toybox stuff and snarky comments.  There's still a crazy fifty-foot pit trap (5d6 damage) and an unexplained teleporter trap in there, but...

Would it have been faster just to take the map and populate it myself?  Maybe, maybe not.

We had a good time with Jason's Sanctum, and it was fun to see him get even more frustrated than we were ("Another stuck door, yay...").  There was an NPC party we ended up tussling with, and they had some nice magic items, so it was all totally worth it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dubious GM Advice

As one does, I occasionally think about GMing and "how it's done" and that kind of rubbish.  This week's random GMing thoughts are here distilled into a terribly-pretentious student/Master dialogue, because that's what I felt like doing.  So nyah.  Let's be clear here - I make absolutely zero claims at being some sort of GM guru or the sort of person who ought to be dispensing advice.  This is what comes of an idle Sunday afternoon, I suppose.

Sri Mushvara dispenses the wisdom of the ages in exchange for cigarettes.

A student asked the Master: "Master, I have been told I am skilled at a thing.  That thing is also something I greatly enjoy.  Now I wonder whether I developed the skill because I loved the thing, or whether I love the thing because I display talent at it.  Which is true?"

The Master replied:  "What does it matter?  The two are surely interrelated, this is natural.  Which spawned the other is meaningless rumination.  Be good at what you are good at, and enjoy it."

The student said: "There are also skills at which I fail.  I lack talent in those areas.  Should I no longer attempt these things?"

The Master replied: "Do not abandon your attempts purely because you do not succeed.  Giving up is the truest failure.  A wise man acknowledges both his strengths and weaknesses; he improves upon his strengths, and improves upon his weaknesses as best he can.  It is good to know who you are, and to be that - but do not make excuses for your failures.  Strive again."

A student asked the Master: "When I see something which I judge as successful, I try to puzzle out how it came to be, so that I may replicate it.  How may I do this?"

The Master replied: "Think less.  You see autumn leaves scattering on the breeze and judge it beautiful; your impulse is to diagram the winds, when instead you should spend time being a leaf."

The student said: "I do not understand, Master.  I see others do amazing, creative things - is there no way to understand their method?"

The Master replied: "Even if there were, their method is not yours, as you are not them.  You envy the creative impulse in another and seek to replicate it stroke-by-stroke, as a forger copies a painting.  Instead you must embrace your own creativity, and find your own strokes."

A student asked the Master: "The creative act seems chaotic, or to benefit from chaos.  To truly embrace creativity, must I embrace chaos?  Should I be driven by whim or randomness?"

The Master replied: "Do not embrace chaos; harness it.  You see the incomprehensible, passionate swirl of nature and presume you must be chaotic or random to replicate it; that is false.  Too many see the beauty of life and seek to imitate it in this fashion; but most of those who attempt reckless abandon manage only recklessness.  The goal is not reckless abandon, which smashes chaos against chaos, but joyful abandon which brings together many hearts in a single creative complex."

A student asked the Master: "I am afraid that if I participate with abandon, my friends will think me silly or no longer respect me."

The Master replied: "If your friends know you to be so fearful and untrusting, then they do not respect you now.  The display of confident vulnerability earns trust."

A student asked the Master: "I worry that my endeavors are poor, and may anger or alienate my teammates."

The Master replied: "If your teammates come back for more, your endeavors were good, and you will strive to make them even better.  If your teammates abandon you, then it is they who have been uncharitable - especially if they refuse to communicate to you how you have angered them."

A student asked the Master: "I understand in the abstract what I must do to lead my team, but I have difficulty applying those things.  How can I learn?"

The Master replied: "As I understand your group, you require communication and clear goals, and trust and mutual respect to succeed.  Who else needs these things?"

The student hesitated, then answered: "I have heard soldiers speak of these things.  And lovers."

The Master answered: "You speak truly.  There are your models."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Among Savage Men

Wampus Country is home to a number of defined tribes or family groups that can fairly be called 'barbarian', in that their ways are quite foreign to the civilized man.  Below are excerpts from the recent monograph A Civilized Child's Introduction to Savagery (various authors, Cobblestone Publishing, River-Town).

When we refer to a barbarian tribe as 'civilized', we of course do not mean that they are any less potentially savage, or that they subscribe to the ways of rational men.  In this case the appellation is shorthand for recommended means of approach; to wit, a cautious man may trade and negotiate with civilized tribesmen.  This does not mean, however, that they should be taken at their word, and indeed many a merchant has spent the bulk of a transaction concerned that he should be clubbed or riddled with arrows long before he had gold in pocket.

The most genteel of the barbarians, the Cloud Rabbit tribe span the length and breadth of the plains of Wampus Country.  Some families are semi-nomadic, while others maintain villages and farms.  Cloud Rabbits may be recognized by their characteristic long hair, colorful clothing, and partial adoption of civilized fashion (bowler hats seem to be in vogue of late).  The Cloud Rabbits worship a panoply of animal spirits, and have left their mark throughout the land by carving and erecting various totem poles depicting these heavenly beasts.

At the other end of the spectrum lie the Black Eagles, a tribe of bloodthirsty warriors of fearful mien.  Their tribesmen wear their hair in plaits, file their teeth to fine points, and often scar themselves during incomprehensible rituals saluting their dubious godlings.  Should you encounter a mixed group of Black Eagles - men and women - it is likely a family in transit, and may be safe to approach for trade or directions; but if you see a group of only young males on the next ridge, best to avoid what might be a party of braves out to prove their mettle against any convenient skull.

Living on the southern shore of Shining Lake, the Red Sky people are accomplished fisher-folk; and, beyond that, they maintain exemplary relations with the Lake-born and can call upon those fish-men for aid in times of need.  This alliance has made the Red Sky people not only well-defended, but also wealthy, as merchants who cannot trade with the Lake-born instead use the Red Sky as middlemen.  The Red Sky people tend to shave the sides of their heads - males and females - and use various concoctions to spike and dye their remaining strip of hair.

To the north, the Ghost Horse people roam the steppes from the piney woods all the way to the glaciers.  They are accomplished riders, and cover both their own skin and that of their mounts with a bright white woad-like substance apparently made from clay.  Few merchants have had dealings with them, for the Ghost Horse will have no truck with civilized men who are known to deal with the Freeholders, who are their rivals.

Although they can be seen in northern towns, doing business and making merry, have no doubt that the Freeholders are a savage people.  Commonly bearded, with their fair hair braided and entwined with feathers, the Freeholders traditionally make their way by farming, hunting, and raiding those who settle too near their self-proclaimed boundaries.  And though they be drunken barbarians, do the Freeholders not, in their own way, embody the spirit of the frontier?  Freeholders worship a trio of sky-gods, and believe that their ancestors came from the heavens, and shall one day return thence.

Not every tribe once known still exists...

At the northern edge of Snollygoster Swamp, the Yellowscale tribe cloaked themselves in alligator-skins and attacked supply lines during Grandpa's War.  Although they were known merely to be opportunists rather than allied with the enemy, a punitive expedition was sent forth, and the Yellowscales were driven into the swamp and killed to a man.

The quick-sprinting cheetah is very nearly an extinct species in Wampus Country, but we know they were once numerous enough to be worshipped by the putative 'Cheetah People', whose middens and artifacts we have found on the plains.  Dr. Hornapple suggests they may have been conquered by, or folded into, the Cloud Rabbit tribe, but the Cloud Rabbits themselves have no tale which reflects this.

Some barbarians should never be approached - their savagery knows no bounds.

Reports of a beetle-worshiping tribe to the east have not been well substantiated, but reportedly they wear horned headdresses and paint themselves green and purple.

During the tumult of Grandpa's War, three barbarian tribes allied themselves with the Great Desert Lich, and so live in ignominy - if they still live.  Different sources name the tribes variously, although one group was definitely the Rattlesnake People; all three peoples are suspected of worshiping fell powers long before the Lich got hold of them.

A steppe-raider of the Ghost Horse People.

Black Eagle warriors in their finery.

Representatives of a merchant consortium come to parley with Cloud Rabbits.
A large Cloud Rabbit settlement.
A mercenary company tangles with angry savages.
During the Long Drought some years back, barbarians of the plains hunted giraffe to near-extinction.
Courageous Red Sky hunters attempt to secure a lake hippo to barbecue for a religious ceremony.