#Dungeon23 weeks 13 & 14 — Pleasant Valley and Seven Pleasant Houses

Standard request to anyone who plays in my games, or who might play in my games — please don’t read this. You’ll grow a second butt.

I’m still going. Pleasant Valley is interesting, a second kind of “civilian undead” and possible a new leader, albeit and ineffective one. Interactions are interesting to think about… I’ve not really addressed the interaction between this and the Pain Maze to the south. And that maybe makes sense — cast the Queen as protector of the poor and downtrodden (have I done that? I think I cast her as more a pragmatic peacemaker) and cast the Covetous Survivors as the middling-rich who were terrified of that. Hence the fortification of the southern part of this district and the massacre scene on the bridge. Hmmmm.

#Dungeon23 week 9 — Weaselpipe

Standard request to anyone who plays in my games, or who might play in my games — please don’t read this. It’s not right for you.

Moving on to a third district now. This is one I had only a vague image of, and the end result has been — patchy, but with some points of interest. Certainly there’s more going this district now than there was when I started, so that’s good. It’s by no means finished, indeed it’s barely helpful to adlib from, but it’s a lot better than a blank page.

I’m going to play around with how I expand this over the next three weeks… I’m not sure there are three locations here that need 7 sub-locations really. But I’ll probably try.

Should I run more Lunacantium in future, or even publish it, Weaselpipe might feature. And it might look something like this. Or only one of those, or neither.

#Dungeon23 week 5 — The Inner City

Standard request to anyone who plays in my games, or who might play in my games — please don’t read this. You’ll get the bends.

The Inner City is an important area, much more important than the Pain Maze is. It’s the heart of the city, topologically and topographically, and multiple city factions are or at least were based there. This was an area I’d sketched before, however, so the week mostly recapped that. Some nuances but fairly predictable I think if you’d read my other notes. It didn’t feel especially generative.

The next three weeks should be more fruitful, as I flesh out three of these locations. At the moment they are all just vague ideas.

#Dungeon23 week 4 — The Wintergate

Standard request to anyone who plays in my games, or who might play in my games — please don’t read this. It will ruin the joy and horror of encountering it the first time through your character’s eyes. Granted, it may shift and change before you ever see it, but why take the risk? Why risk the joy? The very joy?

The final location within the Pain Maze. More of a collection of ideas than anything coherent. Longer term, it’s maybe better to abstract movement through this one, rather than really map it – it’s not important enough for PCs to spend a long time in.

Next three days, I’ll do encounters or isolated features or npcs or something, then on the 1st of the new month I’ll move on to the Inner City district, which is much more important than the Pain Maze is. Not least because multiple city factions are or at least were there.

#Dungeon23 week 3 — The Desolate Cathedral

Standard request to anyone who plays in my games, or who might play in my games — please don’t read this. It might ruin the thrill of discovery. And that’s a high-grade thrill, hard to get in the open market.

Third week – another featured location within the Pain Maze. I like this one a bit more than the Winter Palace – it feel more concrete and interesting. Might be because it’s smaller, and thus the locations within it tend to be of more manageable size.

#Dungeon23 week 2 — The Winter Palace

I’ve done a second week of #Dungeon23.

Request to anyone who plays in my games, or who might play in my games — please don’t read this. It might ruin the surprise. You know you love the surprise.

This week I’ve found the stuff I’ve made rather boring. As you can probably see from the above, I’m working at a level between “district of a city” and “topographical map of individual rooms”. It feels like I’m making areas that are simultaneously too small (to sketch a palace using only 7 of them) and too large (to have interesting details).

I do wonder if staying at an abstract pointcrawl would have been better here — it would have encouraged me to think more about “what’s interesting in the palace” rather than “what’s interesting in this broad area that connects here“. Working with interesting points rather than major areas might have been more fruitful.

In any case, I don’t think that matters much — I’m not doing this to make stuff that’s good right now. I’m doing this to (a) have sketches to work from should I suddenly be improv-ing a group in thru of these areas and (b) get over the blank-page barrier and give me something to fix if and when I come back to these areas for serious design work.

And the act of doing this, repeatedly, is probably a good way to learn what works at this level of abstraction. So that’s also useful.

#Dungeon23 week 1

I’ve done a week of #Dungeon23.

Request to anyone who plays in my games, or who might play in my games — please don’t read this. It might ruin the surprise.

The context is Lunacantium — my current open-table game. This month we’re in the southwest district of the city, where the Queen had her Winter Palace and now lies in agony. Tragic figure, the Queen, tried to do sensible things, tried to stop the fuckstupidity, tried to broker peace, and for her trouble was poisoned by her husband and his co-conspirator the Archbishop. A further complication is that, having taken Communion with the Gracetakers, and with that being a bit more necromantic than they realised [1], the poison couldn’t keep her dead. She gets all of the pain, all of the time, forever.

She was beloved to many in life, and so still is in death. Her followers, themselves Meagre Dead from Gracetaker practices, have built a maze around her of barricades and walls and traps. They will let no-one get close to their Queen.

Will I do more weeks? Watch this space. If I do, I expect months to look like:

  • Week 1 — sketch a district in terms of seven key features
  • Weeks 2–4 — flesh out the three most interesting features, giving them seven keyed locations each
  • Any leftover days — sketch a few random encounters

Since I’ve already developed two districts for use in play (at the time of writing, I’ve run six sessions), the twelve months of 2023 should give me a rough picture of the whole city.

[1] I mean, pretty much entirely necromanctic and wholly divorced from the mechanisms used by established church[2].

[2] Notwithstanding that what those mechanisms are is itself quite unclear.

Thoughts on a game for 2023

I’ve been watching other people talking online about what they want to run, and I’m conscious that I don’t really have anything. I’ve been doing a lot of OSR stuff for years, but right now my interested in that is saturated by my Lunacantium open-table megaproject. I want to do something, in parallel, that’s different to that, and that is likely to be interesting to a wider audience of players. (OSR play, no matter how well done, is narrow in its appeal, both within and without “gamer” circles)

I want to return to my roots[1] a bit and do something in the post-Forge individual-PC-story-centric tradition. Something where each player makes a distinctive very motivated PC, where the players continuously use author stance to intertwine their stories, and where my role as GM is to help something interesting emerge from that. I’m thinking of games like Burning Wheel, The Shadow of Yesterday, and I guess Sorcerer.

Biggest complications:

  • I’m not really interested in PBtA — the obvious post-Forge choice — I want a universal resolution system, not a mess of distinct moves. (Think of Burning Wheel — there are principles for when you roll a Test and how you agree what the stakes should be, which the whole game then revolves around. I am extremely in favour of that.)
  • I want something that emphasises pace, while still giving the world and emergent story room to breathe over multiple sessions. (in particular, I don’t want any kind of very-extended combat, tho that’s probably a freebie in this design space)
  • I can’t get interested anymore in complex rules, except perhaps if I can explain what every little fiddly detail is going and why and why it’s worth players having to learn about it. (Hence I’m not interested in just running Burning Wheel — I never could understand why there was so much detail)
  • I don’t want anything that encourages system mastery — I want to be open to all kinds of players and levels of rules-engagement.

Big bonus if it’s no-or-low GM prep. I am cautiously open to GMless stuff, too (I’ve been having a pretty good time with Ironsworn co-op)

If anyone reading this has any ideas, please, the comments. In the mean time, I might tour this around the forums and see what ideas I get.

[1] Not my real roots — I got into rpgs when I was 7, and the Forge happened in my 20s. But it was Forge and the ideas around it that got me back into gaming after I gave up on it in college, and it did that by showing me what I wanted in the first place[2].

[2] To summarise that, briefly, I can mostly easily do in the negative — “not trad” i.e. no linear GM-written plots, high emphasis on player control of story, and player-in-PC immersion as merely a nice-to-have. Oh, and efforts to find the best value in shorter forms of play, with multi-year campaigns relegated to “well, maybe, that’s a thing you could do” rather than being the aspirational ideal.

Some random Christmas theming for your game

It is snowing.

At the first crossroads

… the party meet St Nicholas (see picture). He is cheery on the surface but underneath he is seething, he has done nothing but give out gifts for thousands of years and has been sustained only by brandy and cookies.

He presents each PC with a present, each wrapped with string in bright, sturdy wax-paper:

  1. Brass bottle painted with a bright abstract design and the words “Henderson’s Excellent Temporary Tonic”. Makes you feel like you can do anything, that obstacles are just tissue paper, for an hour — have d6 temporary hp. Then it makes you feel like you can’t do anything at all for a second hour — have d6 temporary negative hp. (if you’re temporarily at zero or below, you’re basically useless for the period).
  2. Random spell scroll in an attractive leather case. (casts at user’s level)
  3. Leather-and-wood party popper that has the name of a random spell on the side – casts it when fired. Level 5 effect but targeting protocol is unclear to say the least.
  4. Handheld paper effigy of St Nick that’s full of something solid. On the back it says “Drive back the dead this festive season”. Has a fuse coming out of his head, and if you light it the whole thing burns for one turn and no undead below 4HD may bear being within 20ft.
  5. Disposable hand-cannon (30’ range 2d8 damage, one use only)
  6. A fluffy white kitten in a Santa hat. Quite clever and helpful but oh so very vulnerable.

He does not give hirelings or retainers anything — it turns out they have not been good.

He is accompanied by four

St Nicholas’ ReindeerHD 2, AC 12, move 50ft fly 60ft, ML 8, bite d6

Much antlers, much fur, much… teeth and claws? Make a lot of mouth-sounds that are suspiciously like talking. If they are talking, they’re making a lot of insinuations and jibes. Will try to steal things and would quite like to eat you (but St Nicholas will stop them).

At each location

In every scene and/or encounter, roll d12 once on this to add Christmas flavour.

1d4 Christmas stockings, roll d6 for each:
1-3 d6*10 coins
4-5 d6*10 ordinary stones
6 Fat muscular worm with a face, Dex save or d3 bite damage
7A crashed (non-flying-type) sleigh. There the body of a sturdy farmer under the sleigh and wrapped gifts in the back. Gifts are consumer durables worth d6*20 coins but if you take any the farmer’s ghost will follow the PCs and harass them until they make amends.  
2Everything is candlelit, even if outside8Something ate a reindeer here. they did not eat it neatly and they left the bones behind
3It is particularly snowing now. Useful visibility is about 30ft.9St Nick is here too. “You again?”. He throws coal at you and a reindeer tries to steal a backpack.
4D3 more of those reindeer, as weird as the first time and with St Nick to rein them in10Children here, singing. They run away if you try to interact.
5A random magical treasure in a gift-wrapped box. It’s in the possession of any monster or NPC that’s here,11A nativity scene. The saviour is in the manger and the magi look on. Does it move when you’re not looking? Surely not.
6Holly tree at the focal point12A fat turkey gobbles about here. It’s wearing a little backpack containing with sausagemeat, sage, breadcrumbs, and two onion.

Lunacantium — players overview

This is the blog post where I will keep an overview of Lunacantium, my current adventure design project. Lunacantium features briefly in A Broken Candle, as the late and lamented capital of Rocaine, but I’ve never developed it in detail until now.

Lunacantium will also be my project for #Dungeon23, which I intend to do for at least a single day. I’ll put a warning at the top of every post so that current or potential players don’t see the secrets and thus ruin their joy and horror of discovery in-game.

Lunacantium, in play, is an OSR-style city-megadungeon. For three hundred years it was the glory of the nation, perhaps of the world, and then a century ago it collapsed. What remains is a dangerous ruin surrounded by mile upon mile of unlivable wasteland.

For rules I’m using Architrave, my lightly-reworked version of Knave 1e. I’ll probably put it up here at some point. Some assumptions (e.g. the very particular spell list) will set it apart from other OSR games.

What kind of game do I run with it?

  • There is a pool of active players, there are game sessions as and when (GM availability is probably the main constraint), and there is a (ruined) city waiting to be explored.
  • There is no plot. The story is about some people who went into Lunacantium and things happened there..
  • By all means roleplay your character as you see them. But I’m not going to target your character’s stories by e.g. setting up events that challenge their beliefs — you’ll have to make your own stories using the world as you find it.
  • I won’t scale encounters to the party, and I won’t fudge die rolls to save you. You’ll need to learn about the city and its dangers, and make sound judgements.
    • NB there is no at-all-straightforward resurrection magic
  • I will, however, strive to make it possible to read situations, to learn the nature (and risk level) of different areas, and to know when you’re getting into real trouble.
  • I may fudge rules for speed of play, particularly near the end of a game session.
  • I’ll probably run this intermingled with other things for a good while, but at any time it could disappear or be replaced by something else.

Finally, a promotional flyer: