Saturday, February 16, 2019

Chaos Theory

Caves of Chaos, that is.

I started in the Caves.  I'm pretty sure my first character died in the Kobold Caves (oh, the indignity!!).  I KNOW that I've been through the Caves four or five times (and we sacked the Keep at least twice...). Murder hobos indeed.

I was reading a post on the Hack and Slash Blog about the design of the Caves.  Good post. You should check it out. I know that B2 is often lifted up as a highpoint of adventure design.  And it IS the highpoint of a certain type of adventure design.  One many of us really enjoy. It's not how *I* write an adventure, but I do think it is a very useful (important factor - easy to use at the table) adventure.

And even though from an adventure standpoint it's pretty pedestrian - it WASN'T when it was published.

Still - not my point in this post.

I remember finally sinking my teeth into the Moldvay Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert sets and reading up on the monster descriptions (we all were both players and DMs back in the day - besides, they sold the box with both books so you read them both, right?) and thinking... I know these are the Caves of CHAOS but I don't think all these monsters would live together like this...

And I know over the ensuing decades this has been bandied back and forth a million times.  My turn to throw an idea out there (that has certainly been done before).

So there's this evil temple.  That's the key, right? I mean it's clearly the climax of the adventure - it IS the most interesting section with more words spilled on description than most of the other areas - it has arguably the most powerful opponents - maybe a single Minotaur or medusa would be more powerful than any one of the inhabitants of the Chapel - but taken together, this has always been the most serious challenge for parties in my experience.

The Chaos Chapel or whatever you want to call it is establishing a foothold in the region near the keep.  So what if none of these monsters has ever WANTED to live so close to one another - but are compelled to live under a vague and barely kept truce by the presence of the Temple.  What if the caves were originally home to two rival orc clans - two families (heck, the chieftains could have been cousins or brothers or whatever) who pledged allegiance to these powerful dark priests who wanted to use their caves as a base of operations... then the deal kept getting worse and worse as the priests moved in goblins and hobgoblins and gnolls and bugbears and kobolds. And the orcs don't like it -and occasionally take shots at the others (especially the really weak goblins and kobolods).  And all they really want is their caves back so they can go back to pillaging and plundering and doing their average orc stuff... No more of this "petitioning the dark forces of chaos" stuff...

So there could be a little more opportunity for interaction with an invading party - more dynamics.

None of that is expressly suggested in Gygax's design.  Which is what makes his design choices perfect for a certain type of play and a certain type of GM. Namely, the improvisational style. Anything can come out of emergent play - the party suggests something and GM runs with it, the GM adlibs a conversation and it becomes a thread for adventure, the GM misreads a description or mis-remembers a rule and off we go.  And that's fun.  But not for everyone.

I guess I've always kind of lived in between the extremes of prescriptive vs. emergent:

Prescriptive: everything is written out/encounters are planned/generally, actions are anticipated, the setting is limited ("there's some caves up north with monsters in them who shouldn't normally live together - I'll pay you for information or bounty on monster heads or..." something) - NOT railroading, just "this is the hook for tonight because this is what I've prepared'

Emergent: a generally setting is established, some possibilities are anticipated, ideas are sprinkled about and several/many hooks are dangled ("you overhear three conversations near you in the tavern - one about some crazy hermit in the woods and his cat, one about the monsters in the caves up north [said in an incredulous/doubting voice], and one about something happening down at the capital city, about the duke being abducted or threatened or something...") or however hooks get dangled in your games (the bulletin board with notices posted?).

Obviously, those are my definitions - and how I view the two ends of the spectrum on which I try slide in my gaming - and I'm somewhere in the middle. I am well aware that there are many definitions of play styles. 

This is MY continuum.

I've seen the paralysis of "here's a great big world, what do you want to do?" and the frustration with "here's a haunted house to explore... oh, you're not interested... um..." So I have always been somewhere in between.  I prepare the beginnings of an adventure - here's where you start and here are a bunch of options and if you want to do something different/unexpected, that's cool - just give me a minute (shuffle, shuffle - roll, roll). Okay - here we go. I've got SO MANY resources at my disposal that I think there isn't much that would derail an evening of gaming. It's still limited to what I'm prepared (mentally/experiential-ly/ that a word?) to run/play. 

So... I guess this has wandered a bit... sigh, the nature of a blog...

(NOTE - I had this in my draft folder from a couple weeks ago and just finished in this morning...)

Friday, December 14, 2018

Mapping - Second Proof of Concept

Probably spent 20 minutes on this.  Trying different brushes, different ideas.  The underlying technique is still the same: tile the crosshatching as a background layer, draw the dungeon in white on another layer - use the white as a mask (matte) for the grid, outline the white in black, cover over the parts of the background I want "erased" (I prefer covering on the white layer because mistakes can easily be rectified).

Still not thrilled - I actually like my hand drawn maps better - but this is faster (especially without all the clean up of a scanned map) and pretty good.  I'll work on it to make it "good enough"...

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Mapping - Proof of Concept

Threw this together in GIMP in about 10 minutes to try a couple techniques to make quick maps.  I'm pretty happy with the concept, rough though it may be.  Maybe it's not a substitute for hand drawn maps but it's a pretty quick and dirty solution using pattern fill for the hatching and layers for the rooms, chambers, corridors...

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

OPD 15 Review - The Locked Library of Somi Bodleian

A hidden library where a wizard of no small skill is busy at work trying to translate spell books from her master whom she betrayed and killed.  She is aided by sorcerous fairies who spring traps and generally irritate intruders.

Organization: Map top left, background/"hook" top right, map key bottom.

Clarity: The map.... sigh.  I'm sure at a better resolution than I have it (I got this off the OPD website so I don't know what's going on) it looks nice.  It's almost unreadable.  Like you're looking at things through a sheet of ice... That said, the writing is generally pretty clear, explaining some of the fuzzy blobs on the map in a way that I got the gist of the place.

Usefulness: Well... if I wanted to plant a Maguffin somewhere and send the party off to look for it, this might be at the end of the rainbow.  It's okay.  I don't like the heavy reliance on teleporters and the "magic won't open this" locks.  I did rather like the surprise in the treasure room, but it won't be to everyone's taste.  The "boss" encounter is okay. The fact that tactics are mentioned (briefly) is a good touch. 

Subjective: This shows me what makes the old school blue/black and white maps much simpler to use - even when the resolution is low, you don't lose so much you can't use it.  I imagine that this map is rendered nicely - tiles and gold piles and book shelves and portals.  I guess I might index this as a "lair" maybe for a random encounter or, as I said above, housing a Maguffin.  "The Spellbooks of Damaraiausouondon the Unpronounceable" or something...

Affiliate link to the 2009 OPD Compendium

Monday, April 23, 2018

OPD 14 Review - The Smugglers' Caverns - Level 5

The Smugglers' Caverns - Level 5

A Smuggler hideout that is connected via a semi-secret tunnel to an ancient, undead filled cult's temple.

Organization: Standard org: Map on top left, general info/background top right, map key bottom. There's a new monster introduced - Brain Slugs.  Not a bad monster concept.  My issue is that they (and rust monsters) only appear on the wandering monster list (which has these two and zombies).  Why are there potentially 1 or 2 Rust Monsters showing up every so often?  At least the brain slugs have a connection to the undead in the temple... But they seem more like a set-piece monster than wandering...

Clarity: I'm not a fan of the hand-drawn map, not because of the hand-drawing, but mostly because of the lack of contrast. Still, it's serviceable...  Not everything is clear in the writing, however.  Room 8, for example, says "Approximately half the room is filled to floor level with sea water..." I THINK I know what that means - that the east side of the cave is "scooped out" kind of... Probably an issue with my perception though.  Less clear is the west door at 10 that is "locked from the outside"... Does that mean it is locked in such a way that you can't get to it from the outside or that the lock is on the outside?  I would say the latter, but I'm not sure that's the author's intent (and it very much could matter). And there's a number 11 on the map (clearly a trap), but my copy of the OPD doesn't have a key for it - though there's plenty of space at the end of the adventure to add another location or two...

Usefulness: I'd use this.  I have a sneaky, semi-organized smuggling/slaving gang in my campaign and they need lots of little hideaways to store their wares between acquisition and sale...

Subjective: My griping aside, I could and probably would use this little OPD. 

One more kind of oddity here - it is clear that the author expects the smugglers to be a "surprise" to the PCs exploring.  The numbering suggests the party comes to this location from above (possibly level 4 of some un-named dungeon?). Even the writing in the smuggler's caves suggests that they are approached from within, not from above or from the sea or even breaking into the west door...

Friday, April 20, 2018

OPD 13 Review - Mutant Future! MineCo 3000 Uranium Extraction Complex

Mutant Future! MineCo 3000 Uranium Extraction Complex

So... I have the free copy of Mutant Future! from back in the day... but I've never given it more than a quick look - so I'm not the most qualified to review this as an adventure for MF!, but I'll still give it a once over...

A computer, the AI controlling a uranium mine, has reawakened and is sending out androids to kidnap villagers who, through some kind of advanced mind-control, become zombie-like workers who will work themselves to death in service of the computer.

Organization: This uses the standard organization: Map on the top left, background top right, key bottom. The little piece of art is a nice addition - though a little spurious (one of the original adventurers who doesn't appear in the adventure...)

Clarity: Well, on the map, it's not always clear which number the letters are assigned to - though reading the key makes it more clear... I'd make another appeal to bolding the important stuff.  Several areas have potential encounters (Spider-goats!!) There's some wasted words here too.  In the OPD format, every word is valuable.  Telling us how things used to be (for example, the fence used to be lethal but killed too many workers) might be okay for a longer format, but it doesn't really add to the adventure in any way that is likely to impact the players...

Usefulness: For all my minor complaints, I could see using this - even as is - in a D&D type campaign.  As much as I don't want to mix my fantasy and sci-fi, if I were to do so, I could see an ancient computer - OR even a crashed UFO - searching for uranium for any of a million reasons.  Simply "filing the serial numbers off" this could be a mithral or gold or tin mine run by an insane mind-flayer or some other mind-controlling creature. The "amplifier" becomes a magical bronze ornament near the top of the wall instead of radar...

Subjective: I don't know how it compares to other MF! or Gamma World adventures. I have the GW adventure that Gygax wrote, but I honestly don't remember much about it (bought it because I thought the cover art was cool and it was on closeout sale 20 years ago or more...). That said, it's a decent little mission - could be good for an evening's entertainment.

It occurred to me as I was reading this that this kind of adventure, and I've already reviewed a couple, might be useful for that night when someone is not able to show up to play.  Their PC was kidnapped by, here, the androids.  Some simple clues and off the party goes to rescue their friend...  YMMV

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

OPD 12 Review - The Wreck of the Lord Niklas

Ten "above water" areas of a wrecked ship (presumably, the PCs won't want to investigate the underwater portion of the ship... silly designer, that's probably where they'll want to go first...). Probably low mid levels.

Organization: Not much to say. Generally follows the standard format. The text boxes keep the background and GM info separate from the key.

Clarity: Highlight PLEASE. There's a lot of words here, considering the format, and drawing out what is important, especially in multi-line room descriptions, takes away from the utility. Still, it's one page... maybe I'm too needy...

Usefulness: So you were just at Mollie's Roadhouse? Half a day's ride up river you see the bow of a merchant cog tilted out of the water, resting against a huge rock. It's a "side trek" or a diversion or, maybe, an entry on a "random encounter" chart when traveling the trade road. The main opponent here could be used to great effect, especially if not killed here...

Subjective: Hate the map, but it communicates what it needs to communicate. I'd drop this in a sandbox or, as I noted above, maybe in a random river encounter chart. I can't imagine spending much more than an hour (real time) here, probably less (though those pesky players have a tendency to . I like the main opponent. I like the special rules (slippery deck).

Affiliate link to the 2009 OPD Compendium