Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

First Review of Demonspore

Guy Fullerton has posted the first half of a two-part review of Demonspore in the Dragonsfoot Review Forum!

Link to the Review

Lulu extends big sale

Lulu has extended their 30% off sale, which is nice for publishers, although I wish they'd be a bit more predictable and a bit less sales-pressure. In any case, there is a new coupon code to use, which is CYBERTUESDAY305. The discount is 30% off, which is almost certainly the largest percentage they will be chopping all year. If you tend to wait for lulu deals, now is the time to go for it.

One benefit is that these codes can only be used once, so if you left something out of the shopping cart, this is a new code to use.

Now is the time to buy that copy of Demonspore and whatever copies of Knockspell Magazine you need (or player-copies of the Swords & Wizardry rules, or whatever).

The Store
Demonspore Book
Demonspore pdf

The coupon expires after the 30th.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


CYBERMONDAY305 is the code for 30% off at lulu!

Now is the time to buy that copy of Demonspore and whatever copies of Knockspell Magazine you need (or player-copies of the Swords & Wizardry rules, or whatever).

The Store
Demonspore Book
Demonspore pdf

The coupon expires after the 28th -- oddly it doesn't seem to exclude pdfs like most of their deals do. I don't know if that's an oversight or not.

Corrected - I said 35% but that's for a bulk order and uses a different code.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Module Released: DEMONSPORE

Established in the subterranean cyst left by their dead god, a zealot band of Shrooms, a race known for bizarre projects and subtle objectives, have now been working for decades on the strangest task in their strange history.

... They are growing themselves a new god.

A module for Swords & Wizardry and other retro RPGs, Demonspore is designed for characters of level 3-6. Fairly large numbers of them.

Link to the pdf purchase page!

Link to the print on demand softcover (perfect bound)
If you haven't decided which you want, the whole store is here

Two modules in one large book (84 pages), Demonspore includes Throne of the Toad King and Stone Cyst of the Shroom Priests. With a vast, bizarre lair, 15 new monsters, and a typically weird and complicated plan, the sinister Shrooms are ready for battle. Are you?

*This is still not listed at RPGnow because the upload keeps failing. I'm going to wait a while and try again on the assumption that it's just their server. There's another possible error (they bounced the cover but didn't let me re-try), and if it's that, then it appears more work would be required to make their interface accept the product. I hate RPGnow's interfaces.

Friday, November 25, 2011

New Module Coming Soon!

The double-module of Throne of the Toad King and Stone Cyst of the Shroom Priests is almost ready.

With all the art now in hand, I've been engaged in a marathon layout session for the last eleven hours (since 4AM). It's just about finished, but it's also at the point where I'm a little too zoned out to keep trusting myself with getting detail work correct, so it's unfortunately time to let it rest until tomorrow. Otherwise a mistake will get made somewhere.

I'm not sure I've ever mentioned that the second module is another insidious plot of the Shrooms, but if not, consider the announcement made. Their bizarre lair is going to knock your socks off!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Victory! Wild Hare Ultra Marathon

I'm alive after my first ultra-marathon! Having run a few marathons on regular city streets, I'd thought when they said "trail run" that this was mainly going to be like running on streets but with a nice covering of pine needles on the surface.

Holy ... was I wrong. This beast is done on a moto-cross course, and I literally don't know how someone would survive it on a bike. Plunges into ravines, rocky trails laced with tree roots, more ravines, and everything with rocks. Lesson learned in the first five minutes: you use muscles running cross-country that you don't use in a street run. It was wild.

The ultra-runners are very different from the average marathoners -- very, very cool people (not that marathoners aren't, but there's a difference).

We started running at dawn, and dark had just fallen when we crossed the finish line 11 or so hours later; we went slightly further than running from "dawn to dusk," dusk not having held out for the five minutes that would have been required for a truly poetic description. This distance would only have taken us maybe 8 hours or even less on a street run, but I'm astonished that we got though it in 11 hours through that terrain. Some people ran 50 miles through it in that time, and that's just ... name level in the class.

We ran the 50K = 31 miles, 120 yards.

ps - didn't have the energy to photograph my real medal, which has a black ribbon but is otherwise the same.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review of Tome of Adventure Design

I knew it would take a while for a reviewer to assimilate the length of Tome of Adventure Design enough to write a comprehensive review of the book, but now a long review has been published over at And it's an awesome review. I don't know this reviewer, but he really managed to notice a lot of the finer points, including making the comment that: "The design philosophy also leans more toward the old-school than most products these days – with an emphasis on traditional dungeons, high magic, and challenging the players rather than their characters." For someone who already knows that I'm an old-schooler, that's no revelation, but apparently this guy identified it solely from the material in the book, which is kind of impressive.

The link to the review is here at rpggeek
Link to get the book is here at Frog God Games.

Now I'm going to quote the review in full, for those who don't want to click through on the link. Everything below here is quotation of the review:

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, the RPG hobby has a long and nearly sacred tradition of random tables. Perhaps it is because we must improvise during games, or perhaps it is because such tables link the disparate source material together, or perhaps it is simply because Gary Gygax used them with abandon in the early D&D products.

But Matthew Finch, creator of the Swords and Wizardry retroclone of OD&D and author of the Tome of Adventure Design (henceforth ToAD), believes they serve a much higher purpose: inspiration. And not just in the ordinary list-of-interesting-words sense, but as creative fuel for subconscious connections that generate great stories.

The ToAD is Finch’s collection of tables for adventure, villain, dungeon, and monster design, collected over the years into a volume meant to inspire others. Does it succeed at this lofty goal?


ToAD is currently available in pdf; the hardcover is available by preorder. The pdf is 308 pages long and is divided into four “books.” The material was originally intended to be presented in four separate products (the Mythmere's Adventure Design Deskbook series, the first volume of which was Volume 1: Principals and Starting Points), but the ToAD consolidates all of the tables into one book. The division into separate “books” within the product does help to keep things organized, and it doesn’t appear to have much

The editing is solid though there are a few minor typos – nothing to interfere with your reading of the book, at least so far as I have detected. There’s occasional black and white art, and the tables are nicely laid out so as to be easy reading.

The pdf is bookmarked but not hyperlinked (which would be very helpful in a reference document like this). There are multiple indices, however, so navigating the hardcopy should be fairly easy.

The book’s cover bills this as ”A comprehensive adventure-creation sourcebook for Swords & Wizardry and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game” but that’s just marketing – really this will work for any fantasy game, with the proviso that it is built to tell classic D&D stories, so you’ll get the most use out of it if you head that direction.

The Tables

The ToAD contains 409 distinct tables by my count (I wouldn’t bet my life on that number…though I would probably bet The Crab’s ). That’s quite a few, of course, but it’s fewer than half as many as Ultimate Toolbox. On the other hand, many of these tables are much bigger – most use a d100 and some even a d1000 (though most actually have only 10-20 options), and many have multiple parts (such as the four separate columns to the “Locations” table that lets you define a structure and its name – each column gets its own die roll).

More importantly, nearly all of these tables take a “big picture” approach to the game. You won’t find any lists of names or many lists of details here. You won’t even find a generic list of interesting villains to grab in the midst of a session. In fact, Finch warns in the introduction that “most of [the tables] are too long, and contain too many unusual or contradictory entries, for use on the spot at the gaming table.” Instead ToAD contains “high-level” tables meant for use in “deep design” during the preparation of a game.

Most interestingly, some of the tables are not really lists but processes: their separate parts, taken in sequence, provide a method to construct your own solutions. A good example is the three-part table for generating magical symbols: begin with a real-world source (such as a letter), then execute two operations upon it (from the second and third columns) to produce a plausible-looking runic symbol.

Creative Sparks

Finch subscribes to a very particular style of creative thought, which builds off of two crucial premises. First:

”Albert Einstein” wrote:
Problems cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them.

That is, good design will spring from the strange and turbulent whirring of your subconscious. Finch further believes that the essential process in the subconscious is “the manipulation and recombination of concepts” – usually, strange and contradictory concepts juxtaposed together. The tables aim to provide that juxtaposition by drawing forth a host of ideas that are interesting on their own but produce tension when combined. It is that tension that Finch believes will produce a great adventure – but the role of the tables is simply to provide the tension, not to offer a solution to relieve it. In fact, Finch clearly does not advocate slavish devotion to the tables’ results.

The clearest explanation of these tables’ role in the creative process comes in a section on dungeon design (in part three of the book). Finch identifies four stages to building an adventure: creative overload, where the tables bombard you with contradictory information; synthesis, where the stewing of the subconscious creates a powerful image or connection from those ingredients; sculpting, where many of those early ideas are pruned back or eliminated based on the imagery created during synthesis; and finally building, where genuinely new ideas flow into the adventure to complement the high concept. The tables are nominally designed with the initial step in mind.

Of course, there is a secondary purpose to these tables – inspiration of a more conventional variety, producing large lists of story hooks, monster parts, dungeon elements, and villains when a designer is stuck on a particular topic. This is certainly the easier way to use the book, and though it lacks the depth of the , it is probably the way most will end up using this book. Even during the building process, those of us with relatively little experience in adventure design will find the extended lists of motivations, types of countdown clocks, and dungeon connections useful in the building process.

Fortunately, the tables hold up well to this kind of use as well: although using lots of tables will almost certainly generate the sort of contradictory creative tension Finch desires, they also function as near-comprehensive lists of villain motivations, enticement to peril, etc. Moreover, there are a number of straightforward tables that help do a lot of the scutwork of adventure design – lists of monster attacks, dungeon corridors, tactical features, etc. I expect many will find these very useful in generating secondary aspects of adventures,

The Contents

The four “books” inside ToAD focus on different elements of the fantasy game. The first, Principles and Starting Points offers a set of tables designed to jump start adventure design from the initial phases and to construct the overarching plot of a scenario. It contains tables to generate evocative if odd names like “The Dank Hut of the Feral Titan,” lists of patrons and ways to involve PCs in adventures, and a long series of tables detailing the insidious plans of the master villain, from subversion to food-gathering.

The second book, Monsters, contains a long section with tables focusing on different types of monsters – from beasts to fey to undead. Each of these gets several tables that highlight key abilities, attributes, or flavor – unusual breath weapons for dragons (sorry, no streams of bears), various contracts for fey creatures, etc. A set of more generic tables – focusing on attack methods – follows those.

The third book, Dungeon Design, focuses on this iconic adventure environment. This part is my favorite – we get a set of tables to inspire decisions about the major adventure elements, tables about generating backstory, generarting an interesting map, extensive list of “tricks,” and lots of compilations of dungeon dressing. The miscellaneous tables are similar to those found in other books, but the dungeon design section is excellent.

Finally, the fourth book, Non-Dungeon Adventure Design is basically the leftovers. The largest sections include tables for cities and the wilderness, but it also discusses aerial, planar, and water-based adventures. The tables in this chapter feel most similar to those in other books, perhaps because most of the topics receive just a cursory treatment.


Given the tone of the tables – not to mention the title - it will likely come as no surprise that ToAD contains a fair amount of advice sprinkled throughout – advice that goes beyond simply “How to Use These Tables.” Some of the tables do contain commentary on their elements (what do all those gemstones look like, after all?).

But there is also fairly extensive advice on the creative process as applied to adventure design. Finch identifies the crucial components of a good adventure from two angles – the “story” elements and the mechanical ones – and explains how best to use them. Both are illuminating. There is also advice on how to think about a dungeon map, how to incorporate traps and puzzles into a game, how to evoke the “classic” feel of monsters, how to engineer a unique villain, and much more.

The advice mostly has an “old school” feel to it – adventures are pulled out of the GM’s mind, not constructed by the mutual interactions of the entire group. “Megadungeons” are just fine, though they do deserve special treatment. The tricks and puzzles are meant to challenge the players, not their characters. There’s not a single discussion of game balance, at least that I noticed. While the tables make an excellent resource for any kind of game, the advice centers on a more traditional approach.

In my experience, there are two kinds of advice you can hope to get from RPG supplements. The first is to articulate clearly those things you already “know” in your gut but that never rose to a clear expression in your consciousness. These kinds of things will usually happen in your games – because they feel right – but may not be perfectly rendered and may sometimes miss out by accident. On many practical points, the ToAD does an excellent job of articulating these kinds of things.

The second is to approach a design problem or concept from an entirely new perspective that opens your eyes to something new in (or out of) the hobby. For me, the ToAD did this as well – especially with regard to the beginning stages of adventure design. It is a rare book that succeeds on both levels!

The Bottom Line

The ToAD is the best and most interesting book of RPG tables I’ve seen. That is largely because it is much more than just a collection of lists - a genre nearly mastered by Ultimate Toolbox. Some of this may be the way I experience RPG products these days – as only an occasional GM, I’m less interested in tables meant to be used “on the fly.” But there are several distinct advantages of this book:

Books of tables tend to be just that – lists of lists, with minimal advice for using them under the assumption that they will primarily be used to answer specific questions. As the name implies, the ToAD is much more than that, and it does an exceptional job of integrating solid advice about designing and structuring adventures, encounters, tricks and monsters into the long lists of charts. The advice along makes this one of the more compelling RPG books I’ve read recently.

The tables themselves are pretty impressive, too. Many are “high-level” tables that address big-picture questions rather than fill in details, but they manage to focus themselves on those questions very well.

The ToAD also has a good number of “process” tables, which present a method for solving a problem rather than a simple list of solutions. Usually the method is broken into steps, with each step receiving its own sub-table. These are clever little minigames that let the GM use their own creativity and offer nearly unlimited solutions.

The book is a much more interesting read than one would expect from a book of tables! Finch has clearly thought deeply about adventure design, and his writing is compelling and thought-provoking (see especially the analysis of Lewis’ Carroll’s Jabberwocky). It’s rare for an RPG book to step outside of both the fantasy world and its rules in order to examine the hobby or its process from a larger vantage point, but this one succeeds in its discussion of the creative process.

Why might you be wary of this product? Although it will be useful for any fantasy game, it is heavily dependent on that genre. The recommended design methods may not match your taste, and if you’ve already got your own successful method you may not get as much enjoyment from the tables as otherwise. The editing is also not perfect (though it’s very good by RPG product standards). The design philosophy also leans more toward the old-school than most products these days – with an emphasis on traditional dungeons, high magic, and challenging the players rather than their characters.

In the end, this is a great product that I recommend strongly to any fantasy GM or budding adventure writer/designer, as the pairing of advice and inspiring tables is unmatched in any other product I’ve seen.

Note: This is my twenty-third entry in the Iron Reviewer series.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ready to Run Some Marathons

On Sunday my wife and I run the San Antonio Marathon, and the following Saturday we run the Wild Hare Ultra-marathon, so the coming week or so, starting today, I'm not going to have much time at the computer. After the ultra-marathon, though, I might not be able to do anything BUT sit at the computer, though.

And I'm not in very good training after the taekwondo injury took me out for a couple of months, so this is going to be a real challenge. The ultra-marathon course is not flat street running, it's done on a motocross course. Lots of up and down climbing in addition to the distance running itself. On the plus side, since we're only running the 50 kilometer instead of the 100 kilometer race, we'll have a ton of time to finish. The only way I'll fail is if my legs actually stop functioning during the race. That's a possibility, especially given that it's only 6 days after a normal marathon. Probably six days will be enough time to recover from muscle strains, but tendon strains or deep blisters could still be causing slowdowns after only six days to heal up.

We shall see. If I finish the ultra marathon I am totally going to be posting pictures of the medal all over the net, because this one's going to be a serious challenge.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

RA Design Log 6: Making Iconic Monsters 2

Last post I covered some of the issues about iconic monsters that appear in Rappan Athuk, and that the way we're handling these is to attempt to create new iconic monsters.

In the comments to that post, there were some extremely interesting observations, things I hadn't thought about at all, so before moving on to any further discussion in a later post, I'd like to develop some of those ideas further.

DuBeers and Drow
First of all is duBeer's specific point about drow: they are just "dark elves." In my original post I had been thinking specifically about beholders and mind flayers, a little bit about displacer beasts, and not at all about drow. So, for a while, I couldn't quite realize why duBeers was making that point, but Rappan Athuk does indeed include drow. So I was having a dumb moment when I missed his point, and he's absolutely right. Also -- and part of the reason I spaced on his comment -- I'm already planning on doing almost exactly what he said. In the case of the drow, I don't plan on arguing for a replacement icon, I plan for the S&W version to just say "dark elves" and leave it at that. When I was talking about working toward a new iconic monster, I didn't mean for the drow, it was other monsters I had in mind. This despite the fact that in the post I specifically mentioned drow. Oy, veh.

Atom Kid and Questioning the Entire Premise
Atom Kid wrote:
I think what makes a monster iconic is how much face time said monster gets on the cover of modules and in miniature and what not. I think it's foisted on the gaming public rather than being a fan favorite.
My viewpoint might be skewed on this because as it happens I loved beholders, mind flayers, and drow (back in the day on drow, I think they got overused). Loved them before they became "iconic." So in my case the commercial focus on these monsters seemed to reflect my own fan favoritism. But this might just be about good monsters, not about that iconic status. Beholders started getting air time in the 1e Forgotten Realms, Drow started getting it just be virtue of being a central monster in a big, popular series of modules, and mind flayers seem to have gotten some popularity in that same series, but kept growing and growing up to the point where they were superstars in the 2e Spelljammer materials. Beholders kept growing, as the name feature on a computer game, and then in 2e they also seemed to gain that rock star status.

So it may be that the best name for the task we're undertaking isn't really to develop an iconic monster, it's to develop monsters of equivalent quality. To create the "garage band" monsters that are as good as the "rock stars." Because I do think that the rock star monsters are also the awesome monsters in terms of quality. Whether or not they were *also* commercialized, foisted, etc., they were also the pick of the crop in terms of monsters. These aren't mutually exclusive, but I think Atom Kid pointed out something important to keep in mind -- there were also commercial elements involved with these monsters, and what we want to track isn't the commercial element, it's the quality element.

One commercial element is that these are the monsters developed for D&D, not drawn from folklore. That's because if you're a company, you want to push the intellectual property that you control. You want to build your franchise, and for TSR (especially in the 2e period) that meant working with a particular group of monsters, the new ones.

This observation -- at least for me -- doesn't change any of the design parameters I'm working with because the quality considerations alone, without reference to commercial ones, really calls for new monsters to place into the intellectual property gaps. It does, however, establish a benchmark that both Atom Kid and DuBeers have indirectly pointed to. The benchmark they've identified is this:

If you're creating a new monster, it's not just a matter of comparing it to the iconic ones (which was my main measuring tool). You also have to compare it to the non-iconic monsters, the ones from folklore. In other words, or for example, if you're taking out a beholder and putting in a new monster, you have to ask yourself first if your cool new monster is actually better than a dragon. Or a bunch of manticores. Or a sparkly unicorn with rainbows (okay, this one's a no-brainer). Or even orcs. Orcs aren't seen as iconic D&D monsters, but they see a hell of a lot more actual use than any of the other monsters I mentioned. You can't just do the quality evaluation, if you're serious about quality, by only looking at the monsters that are commercial successes. You have to look at the non-flashy old standbys as well.

In general, there's a bit of disagreement about how to handle newness in a commercial product where you better be giving good value for the dollar. Rob Kuntz made an interesting point (I think it was on his Lord of the Green Dragons blog, and I'll have to find the link) that in his modules he believes that the purchaser ought to get all new stuff. Put in old monsters, and you're cutting corners. I don't agree that this is all the way true -- I think that including some old monsters is a good idea in many modules because they provide an anchor for the players' appreciation of the new material -- but I absolutely agree with Rob on the general premise, that people who pay for a module have the right to expect lots and lots of brand new ideas (or else why pay for it in the first place).

So those "replacement" monsters are still going to be new, but they are going to be judged for quality against the old standbys as well as the rock stars. If the new monster doesn't work in a particular situation better than a dragon would, then it's back to the drawing board.

So kudos to DuBeers and Atom Kid, your comments touched on something that I really hadn't considered in terms of evaluating how the new monsters ought to be design-tested.

Monday, November 7, 2011

RA Design Log 5: Making Iconic Monsters

It's a real head-scratcher of a puzzle.

We all pretty much know them: the rust monster, the mind flayer, the beholder, the drow, and other monsters that are incredibly popular. And a couple of them represent a design challenge in Rappan Athuk. Reason: Necromancer Games had a special contract with WotC allowing them to include beholders,mind flayers, and displacer beasts in the 3e version of Rappan Athuk, and that deal isn't available for Pathfinder or Swords & Wizardry.

A Sinister Opportunity
So, in the gatherings around the Watercooler of Many Things, down in the deep levels of the Frog God lair, we've taken the approach that -- from a design perspective -- this is actually a tremendous opportunity forced upon us by circumstances. Really, the presence of these iconic monsters in Rappan Athuk's 3e version was part of the "old school feel." And there's no denying that running like hell from a beholder is as old school as it gets. But on the other hand, the truly masterpiece modules from the TSR glory days were those that INTRODUCED iconic monsters either in context like the D series where mind flayers were seen in their natural environment, or where they appeared as entirely new monsters (the drow).

The Fiendish Plot
We're aiming for a masterpiece with Rappan Athuk, a real pinnacle event. And that means we need to push beyond the boundaries in the same way that TSR pushed the envelope with the classic modules.

Which means the introduction of a couple of iconic monsters. They're on the drawing board at this time. Simply as a matter of not fixing what ain't broke, they're going to be swapped into pretty much the same areas as the original iconic monsters appeared, or there would be too much tinkering around. They may also appear in some of the new areas.

What Makes a Monster "Iconic?"
The interesting question, though, that I've run into while designing these new monsters, is the fundamental question of what makes a monster one of these iconic types. Clearly, the baseline requirement is that it's new,not something from regular folklore (the drow skate closest to folklore, but they have a wealth of non-folkloric detail in the D series). In addition to novelty, though, I think there's more to it. For one thing, at least in the case of the beholder, mind-flayer, and drow, they have to be intelligent enough to be behind a variety of different nefarious schemes. I think this is true even if in the module itself, they are only involved in one particular plot. The reason being that in order for the monster to capture the imagination, the DM has to get a glimmer in the mind's eye of other possibilities, wider ideas, other adventures that could stem from the monster. A good monster works well in the module where it appears, but an ICONIC monster has to grab the imagination INDEPENDENTLY of the adventure in which it appears.

I might have more to say about this later, but so far this has struck me as the key factor involved with creating a truly iconic monster.

Any other thoughts about what constitutes an iconic monster are definitely welcome, and will be discussed at the Watercooler of Many Things.

First Design Note
Second Design Note
Third Design Note
Fourth Design Note

Friday, November 4, 2011

Displacing a Trademark Monster

The displacer beast is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, so any phase-shifting or location-defying feline monsters should in future be referred to by a name that has no trademark connotations.

Call them "Tele-Tabbies."

Thank you.

(image is from this artist on Deviant Art)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rappan Athuk Design Log 4

Since lots of Pathfinder players are checking out this blog, I realized that many readers may not know what I'm talking about when I mention the "Swords & Wizardry" version of Rappan Athuk.

Swords & Wizardry is a retro-clone of 0E. That's original D&D, the version(s) of D&D that actually preceded what's usually referred to as First Edition, or "1e." A retro-clone is a rewritten version of the underlying rules of the earlier game*. If you want to play the original version of the game, Swords & Wizardry is a very, very close facsimile -- there are some minor distinctions where there was a content-gap in terms of what could legally be included, but even these are pretty close.

The Core Rules of Swords & Wizardry are available as a free download, and so is the "WhiteBox" version which covers only the rules of the boxed set (none of the supplements). There is also a not-free but inexpensive "Complete" Rulebook that's published by Frog God Games and which is based on all the 0e supplements. I realize that three versions of a game is terrible brand-management, but I'm a much better gaming-geek than brand-manager, so that's how it is.

Quite a few small publishers sell modules for Swords & Wizardry, although the two big sources of material are Frog God Games and Mythmere Games. The game has a weird and tangled history, but that's perhaps a tale for another time.

In any case, when I talk about the Swords & Wizardry version of Rappan Athuk, that's what I mean: the Original 0e rules of the game, circa 1974-1978 depending on which version of it you use.

*Retro-clones generally use the Open Game License to access copyrighted material that is also OGC, and additionally draws upon the specific rules of the earlier game that aren't subject to copyright. There's a LOT more to it than that in terms of the legalities, so don't try this at home without learning a lot more: every big retro-clone I know of has brought lawyers into the design process to make sure it's being done properly.

Quick note: Whenever I mention any comparison between Swords & Wizardry and "D&D," I should mention that S&W is obviously NOT compatible with the currently trademarked "D&D." Don't take anything I say to mean that there's trademark compatibility under the terms of the Open Game License -- Swords & Wizardry is NOT compatible with the existing WotC trademarked game.

First Design Note
Second Design Note
Third Design Note
Fourth Design Note

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rappan Athuk Design Log 3

At this point I have converted the first level (not 1A, just level 1) into Swords & Wizardry. As expected, the process was quite smooth since it just meant backing out some of the 3e mechanisms and the stats. Things will get more complicated in the lower levels. I'm also making good progress on the other new levels, which are all in different stages of completion; one is no more than a map and the basic idea, one is completely done, and the others are in between.

[What follows might be considered a spoiler if you want to read the new stuff in the dungeon without any prior knowledge about what you're going to find. On the other hand, if you want to have a bit of input into the process and don't mind knowing structurally what's going on, then read on]

Possible Spoiler Discussion:
I am working on getting agreement from the rest of the team about an idea I had yesterday or the day before, which is to flesh out a very small piece of the wilderness map into a base + mini-wilderness, and include in there a small dungeon (3 levels) that no one has realized is connected, at the bottom level, to the rest of Rappan Athuk. This dungeon, being away from the central, deadly levels, is not quite as lethal in terms of monsters, and would work as the gateway for a party of first-level adventurers. This is particularly important, of course, for the OD&D/AD&D/Swords & Wizardry version, since it would provide a source for those much-needed experience points. It could be viewed as a kiddie pool, but that's not exactly what I have in mind for it, it's just an undiscovered gateway area that contains the structure for "starting" things directly at Rappan Athuk instead of having to build up to it in earlier adventures. This applies directly to the Pathfinder game too, because regardless of what system you're using, it is currently not feasible to begin a first level campaign at Rappan Athuk.

And that should be the case with the center levels of Rappan Athuk -- it's a badge of pride to even get into the damn place alive, much less get out again. But there is room for an area that's enough of an outlying wing to not spoil the major league status of the central dungeons, but since it's still part of the dungeons, it also doesn't serve as a lame "intro kiddie-pool area that we tagged on for commercial reasons." It makes tactical sense (it's a sally port, effectively), and the tactical parameters of a good sally port (narrow connection to vital areas, ability to cut far behind enemy lines) actually correspond in my mind to the things that would create a less-dangerous dungeon area.

I have already located my "tiny fortified settlement where you can buy iron spikes and rations" on the wilderness map, sketched out roughly what the surrounding keyed wilderness would look like, and done a rough map of the first level of the three dungeon levels that lead to the (miles-long) tunnel into the central area.

One reason why I want to set this area apart in terms of distance is that (a) it's not part of the immediate surroundings of the main dungeon, we already know that, and it would be a cheap trick to "replace" the existing iconic stuff -- like re-doing Star Wars using CGI. (b) the entire structure required for a true low-level area is very different from the "isolated area" that feels right for higher level adventuring. Low level parties need a place to buy their rations. They are getting stronger in much faster increments, but from a much weaker baseline than what happens with a higher level party. "Yay, we can afford plate mail for the fighter!" is a banner moment, but you have to be able to go and buy the plate mail. The majestic and desolate isolation of the central Rappan Athuk area wouldn't assimilate "Abdul's Plate Mail and Torches Emporium" at the front gates. To create an area that accommodates the needed physical elements that support a low level starting point, that low-level starting point requires some physical, geographical separation from the existing higher-level starting point.

Comments are welcome -- this isn't a done deal (not even in terms of whether it should be in there), and I have more thoughts about this low-level transition area around the sally port that I haven't had space to discuss yet, but I would appreciate any input that people can provide. What are the important elements of such an area? What "feel" for it would match up well with Rappan Athuk? Any other topics for discussion that you feel are important for this area -- bring them up in the comments.

First Design Note
Second Design Note
Third Design Note