Sunday, March 31, 2013

Great clothing illustrations book.

I just came back from the library with this book: European Civil and Military Clothing.

I love Dover's illustrations books so much, their line art drawings are just so clear and fantastic. I had many of their coloring books when I was a kid (Ancient Near East, Egypt, Indian design, etc), they contributed a lot to my love of drawing and my imagination.

Expect some fantasy drawings in the coming weeks. :)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ruins of the Undercity with no GM.

With my my friends H. and Yan, we played 2 sessions of Ruins of the Undercity. Since we were only 3, we decided to try to explore the Undercity without a DM (as proposed by the book). We used the party organisation chart and the random dungeon generator. But we also used a oracle table on which we could roll to ask YES/NO questions. It was ok, the game was functional, it reminded me of roguelike games like Stone Soup Dungeon Crawl or NetHack. But naturally the whole thing also felt limited. But still we had some fun moments when we complicated our character situation by asking questions to the oracle. Stuff like: "two rot grubs on the floor... ok is the ceiling crawling with them?" and when rolling a "1" while defending a doorway: "shit can the grey critters push me aside and swarm in the room?" We could have been more creative, but most of the questions concerning the dungeon were answered by the random dungeon generator tables.  

What I appreciated the most about Ruins of the Undercity is how the build-in setting color all the random tables. I especially appreciated the list of shops offering local flavored equipment combined with availability rolls.

We rolled up 2 characters each to form a party of 6 characters. We used the former profession table from the book to add some colors to our characters.

We ended up with:

  • Galatea, a actor's daughter who ran away to became a cleric in a poor temple.   
  • Madu, a bad cartographer who learned some magic charms. 
  • Xenokrates, a runaway bower apprentice now fighter.
  • Paedo, a ruined leather worker who felt the calling of the Red Goddess.
  • Dbeti, a nubian dwarf who had enough of being a petty clerk. 
  • Gowad, a persian merchant who dabbled in forbidden arts.   
Madu stats sucked so much (STR 5, INT 9, WIS 8, DEX 6, CON 8, CHA 11), I liked how he was not gifted at anything and how, against is better judgement, he choose to venture in the undercity in search of treasures he imagined when daydreaming while he was reading old and crumbling maps of the city. It was fun to watch him survive against the odds! (But that said, except for his 2 hit points, his poor stats din't hinder him that much) 

Generating the dungeon room by room & door by door during play was slow and laborious. The result was ok, but was not especially interesting or intriguing. I think the random generator can be useful as a GM tool, but I prefer random geomorph tiles over rooms by corridors generation. Or again I prefer to work with a dungeon creation tool, like How to Host a Dungeon, that provide a dungeon history and ecology that spark the imagination instead of detailed floor plans.

Oh and we constantly rolled poorly on the rooms content table, so we din't discover a single treasure in two sessions.    

In conclusion I like Ruins of the Undercity, but not for it GM less proposition or it random dungeon generator, but for how it setting is build-in in it tables and lists. I would play in a campaign of Ruins of the Undercity, but only with a GM that use the random dungeon generator as a tool to dress up his or her dungeon instead of using it to entirely generate dungeon levels.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The doomed voyage of the Gem Carver.

I tried with my friend H. to play a solo expedition in the polar region of the Weird New World.

I placed the Hammers of the God module on the Weird New World map and H. created a fifth level dwarf explorer: Rakmar Shalecrusher. 

I gave H. his character fifth level's XPs worth of treasures to buy a boat and to engage a crew. 

Rakmar rented the Gem Carver, his uncle's longship, To do so he promised a generous part of the spoils to his family.
Rakmar recruited a crew of dwarfs still greedy enough to venture out of their mountains and promised them ancient dwarven treasures. But worried of his race slow decline, Rakmar secret goal was to lure a crew of dwarfs to the site of the Hammers of the God to claim back their dwarven heritage and to build a new dwarven settlement. There will be no coming back, he will make sure of this: once there, trapped by the ice, the only way to survive will be to settle in ancient dwarven structure.

I liked his secret plan so much! 

The Gem Carver (longship) crew (we used a random dwarven names table):
  • Expedition leader: Rakmar Shalecrusher (lv 5 dwarf)
  • Vallad SpiderKiller (lv 3 dwarf) commanding four lv 1 dwarf retainers. 
  • Baz DragonAxe (lv 3 dwarf) commanding four lv 1 dwarf retainers.
  • Captain Olar Fireleg 
  • Navigator Birgus Stonefist
  • Telda Onyxhair the Whitestone healer.
  • Almara Redpike the teamster. 
  • Del Copperfoot the cook
  • Dwan Axeheart the scholar and rune reader.
  • Thoric Strongaxe the carpenter.
  • And 75 dwarf sailors. 
(Telda and Alamara, being the only two female aboard, were very precious for Rakmar's plan). 

We were very enthusiast about exploring the Weird New World and the Hammers of the God module. But the Gem Carver voyage was short and doomed. 

H. kept a captain log diary:
Olar's log, captain of the Gem Carver.15th day of the 7th month of 1735. - Foggy day, broken ice, south-east wind, some of the crew are fishing. 9 miles N.
16th day of the 7th month of 1735. - Foggy day, broken ice, south-east wind, fishing. 9 miles N.
17th day of the 7th month of 1735. - Foggy day, broken ice, south-east wind,  fishing. 9 miles N.
18th day of the 7th month of 1735. - Fog lifted, broken ice, south-west wind. 9 miles N.
19th day of the 7th month of 1735. - Fog, borken ice, south wind, dangerous ice, slowed down the ship, 4,5 miles N-E. Hit a iceberg! Ship badly damaged, must repair, can't go on like this. Rakmar is angry, I had to cheer Brigus, better times are coming.
20th day of the 7th month of 1735. -Foggy day, broken ice, south-west wind, ship stopped for repairs, nothing special happened.
21th day of the 7th month of 1735. - No fog, south wind, always bad wind, got the oars out. 13,5 miles N-E, our best day yet, it felt good to the men to move, spirit is better.
22th day of the 7th month of 1735. - South wind, Birgus counsel to travel east to reach hot stream. 13,5 miles E. Saw walrus on a chunk of ice, I wonder what it means. Probably naught.
23th day of the 7th month of 1735. - South west wind, bad winds as usual. Reached hot current as Birgus mentioned. A polar bear was sighted, Almara said it was a good omen. A sign of richness to come said Rakmar. It was a great beast anyhow. 15,5 miles to the east, we are moving fast.
24th day of the 7th month of 1735. - South wind, no ice. 18 miles East.
25th day of the 7th month of 1735. - Small breeze to the S-W. 24 miles N-E, good speed. Nothing special.
26th day of the 7th month of 1735. - South east wind, navigation east in warm waters, 30 miles, dark clouds on the horizon. Caught in storm!!! Ship heavily damaged!!!! Must repair. In great danger. Nothing we can do in that storm for now. Morale is tested.
27th day of the 7th month of 1735. - Storm rage! My life is in the hands of the gods. Perhaps it was not meant to be.
Vek Shalecrusher journal, Shalecrusher hall, 4th day of the 4th month of 1736.- Family counsel decided to consider Rakmar dead. Nobody knows what happened. To be sure, he never reached the trading post. A symbolic ceremony will be held in the crypt. His statue had already been commissioned. I feel sad, so many empty coffins in our family. 

So what went wrong? Simple: the way we played, the sea encounters were unavoidable, once rolled you could only endure them and record the ship damages, there was no place for player skill or agency. 

How it happened? In our hexcrawls the group often run away from encounters, but there on the sea, maybe because some encounters are presented as events (like the storm), we din't consider that the option to avoid encounters (or to run away from them) had to be clearly present. 

I should had described signs of the incoming encounters and offered the player the option of navigating into a different hex to avoid them or to run away from them. Having to change course is a good consequence on the Weird New World map. This way you can naturally get lost, etc. 

We talked about retrying the venture. But we ended up wishing to play the same premise with Burning Wheel to see the the BW dwarfs beliefs and greed conflict with each other. Playing a all dwarfs BW campaign have been on our wish list for a time now. Oh, I just can smile at how Hammers of the God woul challenge those dwarfs beliefs! :D.

Gold Beard Fortress

I am reposting the dungeon that I have drawn with How to Host a Dungeon (and my friend H.)
(there is some additional notes on the map).

Some notes about the history of the dungeon.

Primordial Age:
  • Three primordial beasts inhabit the region: a cyclop, a gigantic spider and a sentient giant slime. 
  • The purple plague infect some of the caves. 
The Age of Civilization:
  • The dwarf's runes point toward a deep gold vein. 
  • Gold Beard Fortress is build.
  • The red gold vein is found and named "The Setting Sun". 
  • Construction of the Great Hall of Deep Shine.
  • Construction of the red workshops.
  • Construction of the Hall of Records.
  • Foundation of the underground city of Glorious Gleam. 
  • Construction of the royal secret chamber and forging of the first Red Sun. 
  • The dwarfs dig too deep and awaken the Beast from Below. 
The Great Disaster:
  • The Beast from Below summon a underground river to flood the dwarf's tunnels to hunt them. 
The Age of Monsters:
  • The water level diminish and monsters settle in the dungeon.
  • The Gnolls - Antling war. 
  • The Gnolls vanish, hunted down by dwarven ghosts. 
  • The Purple plague orcs tribe settle in the now empty dwarven city and prosper. 
The Age of Villainy:
  • The Lich King settle in the dungeon and enslave the purple plague orcs.