Sunday, November 27, 2022

Once and Future Knight Generator

 This is a character generator for a hack of En Garde! I am working on.

The generator will leave a blank space for your knight PC's coat of arms, which you should decide yourself. If you are stuck thinking of one, I recommend a single-color animal, object, or shape on a single-color background.  If the object is white or yellow, the background shouldn't be either. If the object isn't white or yellow, the background should be.

You may optionally also give him a name. Players are encouraged to make strange or foreign concepts for their knights if desired, such as samurai, werewolf, or time-displaced yankee. If you wish to use a name and want it to be typical of Albion, I recommend this one.

For each player, there is also a notable damosel, generated at the same time for ease. The player doesn't control this character, but if you like you can pick a name and backstory relative to her level. If the PC dies and a new one must be generated, you typically won't add an additional damosel.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Reviewvember: Flame and Fortune

 Today I ran a one-shot of Flame and Fortune from the Tabletop Curiosity Cabinet blog. I did this to fulfill my own challenge for Reviewvember

  1. play with content from someone else’s blog, then 
  2. write about it on your blog.
Please join me in doing likewise with an adventure, class, or magic item from a blog you admire, even if you can only do step 1 before the end of November.

This will not be a full play report. Instead, I'd like to talk about the dungeon as informed by the game I ran in it. This one-shot was played over the course of two hours on discord with five players, reusing characters from previous games. These characters possessed classes from various blogs, the monster, flex wizard, baboonist, prophet, and soulcaster wizard.
I selected Flame and Fortune because it was short and straightforward in writing, and because I felt it had a memorable premise well-realized in the floating volcano and the zero-G magma chamber. In play, the party did not end up doing much exploring or making use of the jacquaysed features of the dungeon, but the structure of the dungeon definitely facilitated a quick, incident-filled session.

Flame and Fortune features three intelligent creatures in the volcano. The first encountered, a researcher, rolled an aggressive reaction roll and then was killed and eaten by a party member, so there was not as much negotiation with her as there might have been. In the dragon's hoard, the party discovered that the magic sword they had been sent to retrieve was intelligent as it threatened to wake the dragon, and that led to an exciting back-and forth in placating it. I felt like the module's notes on roleplaying the sword, as well as notes on what it wanted and feared, were pretty much exactly what I would have needed to decide in order to make that challenge work. The PCs sneaking across the hoard to grab the weapon suddenly getting blindsided by a complication (the sword doesn't want to leave) is proper D&D.

On my preliminary read, I was worried about the volcano's central chamber, where magma slowly floats up in bubbles to a ceiling shaft in a zero-gravity environment. The module has some tables to roll on for navigating the chamber and its fissures and tunnels, sort of agnostic about the exact method for doing so, saying:
If players use a strategy to cross the room that relies mostly on luck (spanning a rope between the two points, vaulting to the other side, etc.) you could use this luck table for each character crossing
I was worried that the result would be too vague or feel disconnected from the method, but I actually found it was easy to adapt and sold the danger of the chamber well.

Another point I'd like to make is how much I adore the little MS Paint illustrations. They communicate exactly what they need to and the dragon is pretty cute and well-expressed! Look at this:
Overall, Flame and Fortune is a quick, well-made, straightforward dungeon. It's pretty small but it feels monumental, and most games could stand more of the reliable joys of volcanos, dragons, and talking swords.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

When to Depict, When to Elaborate

This is a post about my theory of creativity for adventure games.

In our adventure games, there are two different ways which can be employed in creating characters, items, monsters, and other gameable components. For clarity, I will use the terms "depicting" and "elaborating".

In this sense, depicting is done when a creator tries to represent an image with game concepts. If I come up with a cool ship captain with a bushy beard he uses to snare arrows and a homemade boarding mace, and I choose "this guy will probably be a level 4 fighter in my game" that's depicting. Depicting is always employed to adapt something in another story to an adventure game, as in trying to make rules for how a lightsaber would work in D&D, or deciding what spells from the magic-user spell list Merlin would cast.

This is contrasted with elaborating, which is done when a creator characterizes a game concept. If I want to put a level 4 magic-user in my game and I brainstorm what her clothing looks like and select fitting spells from the spell list, that's elaborating. Elaborating is often employed when unriddling the result of a random table or vague game text, as in deciding what the 1d4 x 10 nomads your PCs just met off an encounter roll are doing and why, or deciding how the descriptionless locked door in your module actually works.

My suspicion is that even though these processes both result in characters, items, locations, and monsters, the results are different, and applying one way when the other is more fitting can have a worse outcome.

Consider the common tip that DMs should give the magic items in their game backstory and detail, such that one +1 sword has qualitative differences from another +1 sword. This advice has the ultimate aim of making the game world feel rich and deep and concealing the "gamey" fact that most magic items are designed to be useful in the exploration/extermination activity that the rulebook supposes is the meat of the game session. Following this advice can have good results, and is probably fine when the DM is short on time or when the item in question is unimportant, but I feel that the depicting way will have stronger results than the elaborating way for using magic items to communicate a rich, deep, ungamey world.

When depicting a special weapon, you're likely to come up with something striking or compelling about it in plain, intuitive words. The image is the kernel of the idea and the rules text you come up with will be meant to support it, and if you don't have some numerical way to do so you can always resort to simply stating the image outright. If I was going to depict the sword Excalibur in a D&D game, for instance, I would give it a numerical plus to hit and damage, but I would also mention its incredible importance to Britons and define it as immaculate, the sort of weapon that is good at anything you could plausibly use a sword for. I wouldn't try to think of every situation where the wielder of Excalibur would have an easier time than the user of a normal sword, but I would relate the fact that a DM could keep in mind going forward.

A reader might rejoin that they really do write out special abilities and details like that while they engage in what I'm calling the elaborating way, and maybe they do. But I sure don't and seeing the result of many folks' attempts at adding backstory to their book-standard magic weapons makes me think it's common enough to animate people to rethink the way they engage in.

In general, one can always engage in depicting when they are nominally elaborating. With the kind of fact-suspension that humans excel at, I can say "I know I'm trying to describe in a +1 sword that came up in my hexcrawl generator, but I'm going to try to think of a striking image that I can later detail as a +1 sword or something thereabouts" and usually succeed.

Do not think I favor depicting too keenly, for yes the elaborating way can be the right creative mode too. Regard an example I introduced when defining the depicting way, deciding what spells from the magic-user spell list Merlin would cast. In fact, a lot of fictional mages don't easily fit well into the spell-slot system a D&D game uses, and if I wanted to depict Merlin I would either have to come up with a new form of magic for him to employ or fail to do him justice as I count out numerous unfitting magical abilities. In this case, I would more often be served to try to come up with a mage who truly feels at home in the spellcasting system that belongs to the same rules as the rest of the world.

Elaboration is also useful as a way to spur on creativity. If I randomly generate a monster or class, it might combine features I wouldn't have thought to add together and prompt a striking image I otherwise would not have created. Much joy is found in the oracular abilities of dice, and elaboration can clothe the randomness in sense-making and cohesiveness.

I cannot give account of when to use one way and when to use another, but I will end this initial thought with some considerations which I would find helpful:

  • In monster bestiaries, how do creatures from folklore feel different to creatures designed for the game?
  • when two mundane weapons have the same stats, when does a player choose one over the other?
  • Would an NPC who uses dramatically different rules from a character who is conceptually similar feel strange to you?
  • If an item or creature had an ability that never comes up in play, does it matter?
  • To what extent in your system of choice is a class depicting or elaboration? Is it different for each class?
(Thanks to CyberChronometerXenophon of Athens, and Liches for their help)

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Nine Horse Wizard Spells

Horse wizards often work as leatherers, hoping to perfect the art for the crafting of saddles enchanted to protect their mounts.

art by Dragon_Wizard

Double Jump- (1st) lets a touched creature jump while in midair, doubling your jump distance or height and possibly changing direction. Lasts 3 Turns.

Flaming Hooves- (1st) One designated creature leaves trail of flames behind it whenever it moves for the next 6 rounds. These flames are nonmagical and disappear from nonflammable surfaces after at most a minute.

Graceful Charge- (1st) A touched creature ignores difficult terrain and impediments, including set polearms and caltrops for 1 Turn.

Tunnel Vision- (1st) One creature in sight loses their peripheral vision. They get +2 morale and have an easier time pathfinding, but otherwise have difficulty noticing things, and -4 AC against all but one creature they focus on. An unwilling creature is entitled to a save vs spells to negate the spell.

Horste- (2nd) as haste, but lasts 2 hours and only works on horses.

Calm Emotions- (2nd) instantaneously halts failed morale roll, rage, etc. May instead let you reroll a reaction roll and take the more moderate result. Targets up to 4d4 HD of creatures.

Borrow Vision- (2nd) See through a touched creature's eyes instead of your own. Lasts as long as you maintain concentration. An unwilling creature is entitled to a save vs paralysis to negate the spell.

Shoulder Burdens- (2nd) You and a willing creature combine your carrying capacity for 1 hour. You aren't encumbered until your combined load exceeds your combined capacity.

Spider Ride- (3rd) like spider climb but with mounts, safely carrying their riders unless overencumbered. Lasts 1 minute per level.