Day 26 Z is for Z Axis

Z – Z Axis

As Kirk and Spock discussed in Wrath of Khan, don’t have two dimensional thinking.

Think of below the street level and above the tops of the towers.

Is there an issue with burrowing creatures or flying creatures?

Would a dragon or someone riding a dragon attack the city?

Is the ruined city so isolated by geography that the only way to arrive is by magic or by flight?

Is it a living but hidden city?

Is there a magical effect above the city, like the area of a rope trick, or other pocket dimension type space that is hidden from view? A place for observation of the surroundings and a great spot to ambush invaders, or trouble makers.

Day 25 Y is for You Owe

Y – You Owe – fines, taxes, tariffs, fees, tolls, etc.

If there is a fine, fee, or tax, where are the tax collectors? Where might the remnants of ancient taxes be today? This ties in with X Marks the Spot and with Vaults.

If a living city, where are the points where the government or local gang imposes fees for its services?

If a fallen city that is now occupied by new inhabitants, do they impose taxes and fees? If inhabited by ogres, they will just take all your stuff as the fee, as will most other humanoids and intelligent monsters. The ones that don’t eat you, will likely enslave you, or just kill you for the sport of it.

Intelligent monsters might impose exorbitant fees on passing caravans to let them pass mostly unharmed. This would affect the price and availability of certain goods.

If the city is not fallen, how far beyond the city walls to taxes and fees begin to be imposed? Is there a fee for every bridge and ferry, beyond the operator’s base fee? Are their toll booths at key locations along the road? If you have never had to pay a fee to cross a bridge or to drive on a tollway, this concept might be foreign to you. The AD&D DMG has a good overview on this. If the PC’s hang around civilization, they will run into lots of taxes and fees, which might induce them to go seek further fortunes.

For fallen cities, will random coins be found periodically near abandoned toll booths? Will the coin box be lost and found in some random location?

Will a tax collector have a hidden stash of his share, legal or illicit? In the ancient world, taxes were collected by tax farmers who bid how much they could collect, and they got to keep what they collected beyond that point, thus making them quite disliked by the taxpayers.


Day 24 X is for X Marks the Spot

X – X Marks the spot.

Note important locations, map it out – It does not have to be fancy, even a node map and rough idea of where things are will suffice.

With all of the free maps from so many talented artists and map makers in the OSR, and via many various websites, like Cartographer’s Guild, one can easily come up with a map. There are also lots of maps from the medieval and renaissance periods that are available online to give one ideas. There is more than one G+ community for maps and world building ideas. There is a surplus of riches in maps and adventure ideas, thanks to the internet.

For some city and town maps, I have taken something I found online that was close to what I had in mind, and used that to help craft something for my own needs.

Where is the important stuff? Where is the treasure in relation to the palace or the temple?

Have the rich buried or hidden their wealth when they fled, is it still there? Is it inside the city, or somewhere outside the walls?

If an abandoned city for hundreds or thousands of years, what groups, monsters, wizards, cults, etc. have made a home or base? Is that base still there? Is it inhabited by the original founders of the base or has it changed hands over the years?

All of the other articles in this series mention many different things that will have a location. Each of those things will have a quality of the original construction, degree of routine maintenance given when in use,  and the use, damage, neglect, etc. that these things have undergone if the city is abandoned.

2015 One Page Dungeon Contest – My Revised Submission

I re-did the map for my OPDC submission, The Dire Druids of Delver’s Deep. I did the new map by hand and scanned it. The only thing I put on the image with a program, are the numbers for the rooms/areas.

Doing my map old school, i.e. like I did when I was a teenager and before we had our first computer, microwave, or cable TV.

I’m not that good at getting the result I want out of a graphic’s program, so hand drawn it is. Being out of practice with the details on hand drawn maps doesn’t seem to be a problem for this small one. If I had time before the deadline to fiddle with it and get a cutaway effect of The Deep and the cavern, I would.


Day 23 W is for Waste Disposal

W – Waste Disposal/Toilets/Outhouses/Sewers/Drains/Teleporters/Gelatinous Cubes/Otyughs/etc.

Water, food, and other things come into the city. This results in an unpleasant production that needs to be handled to avoid unpleasant odors and disease in the close quarters of a city. Even with clerics and paladins running around to cure disease, they could not heal everyone in a major plague.

Disintegrators could be used for the most hazardous waste, gelatinous cubes could be an invention for waste disposal and they become a menace in the collapse of a fallen city. Otyughs and other carrion eaters could be placed in the sewers to deal with waste, and could still be down there.

Breaking a barrier between the water supply and the sewer system could be more dangerous than mere exposure to disease. It could allow carrion eaters to get to other places. It could flood the sewers and drown the players, etc.

I can see a waste disposal/sewer system that is “dry”, that is there is not large amount of water coursing through it, if storm drains shunt water elsewhere. Gelatinous cubes and carrion eaters would go from one concentration of waste to another, removing what nutrients they can get from it. Even a fallen city, where the sewers are mostly intact might have some form of occupation that leads to waste, small animals, lost humanoids or adventurers. The sewers with such critters to handle the waste would have areas of near pristine, floors walls, and ceilings as all the contents of the sewer is picked clean. Any minimal accumulation of waste will “move” or “appear” and “disappear” as any PC’s explore.”Something” is down there but what?

I mentioned a series of teleporters to move about the ancient cities and empire. Such technology need not move people and goods. Using teleporters to move waste elsewhere could have interesting results. The location that receives the waste could have a huge number of carrion eating monsters. Anyone transported by this means, will have a nasty surprise both in waste and in what eats the waste. Such teleporters could either be constant, whatever enters the area of the teleporter is instantly transported, or it could cycle every so many hours or days.

Finally, disintegrators could be used for the most dangerous waste. Poof, it’s gone. Anyone or anything wandering into these areas would have some signs of warning, perhaps bars to block access. Bars might indicate blocking something valuable. It could be interesting to see characters break in to check out a room that is a disintegrator. Much like the teleporters, are the disintegrators always on, or do they have a cycle of so many hours?

Is the rain water/flood control using the same channels as the sewers? In an arid climate, minimal water would be used to move waste, as much water as possible would need to be gathered for later consumption.

Are there public latrines? Do people have latrines in their homes and businesses, or do they use chamber pots and haul the waste to a neighborhood waste pit? If gelatinous cubes and other dangerous carrion eaters are used to deal with waste, there would need to be some mechanism to prevent them attacking the populace. Only someone foolish enough to go into the sewers would counteract such safety measures.

Maps and adventures don’t often touch on the actual waste and chamber pots and latrines. However, if one is to use carrion based monsters, many of them presuppose waste. For villages, and even towns, they wouldn’t go to the efforts to deal with waste that is needed in the crowded confines of a bustling city. Chamber pots, outhouses, a back corner of the yard, or area outside the town limits is where human waste would be collected. Human waste can be composted for use in gardens, but it has to be extra hot in its composting method to use it on food crops. When human waste is used for fertilizing food crops, it often leads to the spread of disease.

What do guards on watch use? A latrine in the corner of the guard tower, or a chamber pot, or just over the outside of the wall? How common is it to be walking down the street and someone toss out their chamber pot to the street below? What is the chance that someone rises in the middle of the night to take care of business and dumps the chamber pot, with bleary eyes, to the street below and it hits the thieve(s) sneaking about on their way to or from their latest heist? If on their way to their heist, are they “marked” so well, that they decide to postpone, either long enough to get cleaned up, or for another night? Is the nature of the heist one that they can’t re-schedule? If this happens after the heist, is it close enough to the location of the heist that it makes them easier to track?

UPDATE: May 31, 2015 – I found this article at the Register about London’s sewer system. the key point is that it still dumped into the river, just not where there was a large enough concentration of people to complain about the stink. Also, the capacity of the system when originally built 150 years ago, was such that a large part of the current sewage system of London still uses it.

Prepping To Improvise

From an April 6, 2015 G+ discussion. Initially Adam asked about stumbling blocks to improvisation as a DM/GM.

Awesome discussion! I just now had a chance to read through all the comments.
Having played in two sessions of +Adam Muszkiewicz‘s Kickassistan at Marmalade Dog and having him play in my first effort at running a game at the same convention was a very powerful experience for me.
After we got done, I asked for input from all those who had ran games at cons before and got a lot of very helpful advice.
For me, I put so much time into prep to run an off the shelf module, that I wish I had put in some work on fleshing out a new area of my campaign.
If I develop something, I know it inside and out and can wing it all day long. For a pre-existing module or campaign, I have to spend a lot of time to digest it and get the feel for it, so that I am comfortable running it.
I may do a good job of running it, but my comfort level with doing so is not the same as something I brewed myself. I may be the only one aware of my discomfort. There is always discomfort with new experiences and figuring things out. As long as the discomfort of the DM does not become a distraction to the players it isn’t a problem.
In my own campaign, only something that takes advanced preparation can stop me. Even some things that would be smoother with advanced preparation, I find that I can wing it and my players have fun and come back for more.
My players have plans that have nothing to do with any plots or background. They know there is something going on that connects a lot of the humanoids and undead they have run across, but their main goal is money and power for its own sake. They are doing the good deeds to get in good with the powers that be, not for the sake of doing good. The result is somewhat the same, but the motivation for action is different. I have been totally surprised by players’ choices and actions, as I would not do what they did knowing what they know (but I have been playing for 37 years).
However, my fun as DM is watching how the players interact with my world. Yes, there are things I have in mind that would be cool if they ever go in that direction, but I won’t force them. But, seeing how they think something I considered to be an innocent aside or description, they see cryptic and important things, and they run with it. I know how my world works, so I can run with their inadvertent building of a direction/portion of my world.

Adam then posted this article of his organized thoughts on the matter.

He boils it down to 6 things:

  1. DM a Game
  2. Take Notes during the game
  3. Invent a tool between sessions
  4. Bring new tool to next session
  5. Make notes in the next session, rinse and repeat.
  6. Apply the consequences of the player’s actions to their characters.

I would sum this whole idea up in two points:

  1. Don’t make more work out of it than there needs to be.
  2. Remember to have fun!

2015 One Page Dungeon Contest – My Submission

I said that I was going to submit something to the One Page Dungeon Contest (OPDC) this year, and I was beginning to wonder if I would make it happen.

Last weekend, the title I had for the dungeon finally gelled and the idea for it came together much more smoothly than I had hoped.

I wanted it to be about Druids, since I got on a kick and had a few articles about druids a few weeks ago.

Druids and Alignment

Druids and Their Environment

Druids and Undead

I also ordered Roberts Kunt’s module Dark Druids and when it came a week ago, I realized that I didn’t want to read it until I put together my idea for the OPDC.

I had determined that I would consolidate my notes and make this one page dungeon this weekend no matter what. I had to further get it nearly 100% today, since +Roy Snyder’s DCC game picks up after a hiatus of a few weeks, and I made a commitment to be there.

So without further ado, I present my submission to the OPDC – The Dark Druids of Delver’s Deep. I went “old school” on the OPDC and used the one page dungeon template by +Michael Shorten, AKS Chgowiz. He has links to his dungeon and wilderness templates on his old blog.

There are 36 listed submitted dungeons/adventures so far – at the time of this writing, minus my submission.

Types of Currency

The article on Rai Stones over on Sea of Stars for the 2015 A to Z Challenge, got me to thinking about various forms of currency. The aforementioned article, talks about them as involving magic, which is cool.

There are many different types of money:

Commodity money – Something that has a value and is used in trade for other things. It is a “step up” from the barter system.

Fiat money is money that has value because everyone agrees it has value, like most modern currencies, such as the American dollar.

If money is tied to the value of something else, it is representative money. Strangely, this can include both commodity and fiat money.

Types of Currency

  • Paper/cloth – Fiat money if it has a specified value, representative money if it is used in lieu of something else, or commodity money if bundles of paper or cloth are used in exchange.
  • Coins – Originally the coins were a commodity of precious metals, that in the modern world have become mostly base metals and fiat money.
  • Rai Stones – The linked article is on the actual rai stones used in Yap.
  • Beaver and other pelts
  • Salt
  • Tobbacco
  • Gold bars (or bars of other precious metals.)
  • Gold Dust
  • Iron Bars
  • Gems
  • Jewelry
  • Barter/Trade
  • Shells
  • Cows/other herd animals
  • Favors – Back in November, 2014, I wrote about how favors can be used as currency.

Nearly anything can be used as a currency, like this article about some ancient forms of currency.

In areas where coin is in short supply, barter or another commodities will become money. In areas where the wealth of the adventurers inflates prices, other things with a more stable value might rise to the level of money.

What kinds of unique or interesting things have you used or encountered as money/currency/barter in the RPG’s you have played?

Vikings Season 3 Finale

I just watched the Vikings season 3 finale. I like how they pack so much into seasons of just a few episodes.

It is interesting how they take historical and semi-historical figures and weave a story among known historical events.

I won’t post any spoilers here, but I will say there are multiple surprises of how they wrapped up a few loose ends, but left a twisted trail of many more things to come in the next season.

I wonder how many years they will skip when it comes to the next season.

I like how they have portrayed vikings as more than bloodthirsty plunderers. They show social divisions among the vikings and what we know about them from their own stories, first hand accounts, and archaeological finds. Of course, with fiction, they take many liberties and insert things the writers made up that are very fantastic.

There seems to have been a revival of interest in vikings in various RPGs or RPG add ons, like adventures and campaign settings, in recent years.

This is a big change to how vikings influenced my original experience of their influence on AD&D. That is, the berserker, under Men in the Monster Manual. This single narrow aspect of some viking warriors is all that some knew of them, beyond their raiding coastal towns and villages.

The vikings were great explorers, who sought new lands and new goods for trade. Their influence via trade was perhaps greater than that of their raids. However, it is the dreaded viking raid that made the biggest impression on most of Western Europe. Of course, the survivors of many of these raids were the monks who were able to write about their experiences and preserve their side of these encounters. I am not aware of any direct connections to the viking side of these raids. Do the sagas that we have today hold such information?

What I do know is that a population growth lead to seeking new lands and new wealth. When money is based on gold and silver, of which there is a finite supply, one has to find it through either mining or taking it from someone else. Thus, a common motivation throughout history. This same motivation will exist in RPG’s, like D&D, whose economies are based on coins of precious metals. Land and certain other items that don’t decay will also hold value.

So as the vikings were motivated by an expanding population and so forth, other groups of men and humanoids will have similar motivations for their raids and efforts at expansion. Other motivations might be doing the bidding of their deity or being manipulated by someone on a quest for power, whether it is political or magical. A shortage of females might prompt gathering brides, or for a female dominated society, it might prompt gathering grooms.

Concentrations of wealth, such as cities will be attractive. Only walls that are well defended will provide the most protection. Even that might not be enough for a determined and motivated force. Caravans or convoys of merchant ships might also be targets.

Bribes, threats, tricks, and other things might be used to get inside the walls of a city to allow a large force of raiders inside to get what they are after.

Some ruler or other type of power broker or power seeker might seek to manipulate a viking like group into going after his enemy or some other target to facilitate his own plans. A powerful wizard seeking a specific item, might use a raid to distract all the guards to defend the walls, to make it easier to pop in and take what she is after. An evil cleric might do something similar to gain an item, desecrate a good temple, of establish a foothold of evil in a city.

Related to my A to Z series on cities, this fits in nicely as a second article on V. Who wants what is in the city? Who are the enemies of the city? Who or what is the reason the city has walls and gates? As with anything, there are two types of threats to a city, known and unknown.

Obviously, it is much easier to plan for known threats. Unknown threats can only be guarded against based on how similar they are to known threats. For example, in a world without known magic, how would one guard against it? In a fantasy setting with magic, one can only guard against the types of magic one knows about. Invisibility, illusions, and disguises are all general categories, but some specific magic items, or unique spells would present a threat to undermine all defenses.

For physical threats that are unknown, it can be a new tribe or group of humans or a resurgence of humanoids whose population has recovered after their last beat down.

Vigilance against a threat is hard to maintain all the time without discipline and a very regimented dedication. It always happens that in time, people tend to forget the bad times, and don’t see the connections in events that lead to some “sudden” occurrence that in hindsight was building towards its outcome.


Day 22 V is for Vaults

V – Vaults – wealth of city, guilds, nobles, adventurers, etc. Where is it kept? Moneylenders, money changers, bankers, etc. Thieves and Assassins will do a lot to get it. Taxes, etc.

Where is the wealth of the city kept. In a fallen city is any of it still there?

If treasure maps lead to the city, where might it be hidden? Tombs, cisterns, fountains, basements, etc.

Vaults can also hold tombs, coffins, etc. Vaults are also a type of architecture with high ceilings. A vault might have a vaulted ceiling.

For all your cities, living and dead, where is the wealth kept? A high level thief out for a major haul, might want to know. A party more interested in robbing the wealthy than plundering a dungeon might want to know. Nobles, the wealthy, merchants, and anyone with anything that they consider valuable and are concerned others might take it from them, will have some way to protect their stuff. A crazy old man might have all kinds of junk he considers valuable and due to his paranoia devises elaborate means to protect it. This could lead to a lot of people going after what they think is valuable, and it is just junk. Wizards will have protections for their books and scrolls, experiments and items, and more rare spell components. Temples will have divine magics and other things to protect their wealth. Even the poor who have squirreled away a few coppers or silvers will have a hole in the wall, floor, ceiling, or hearth to hide their meager wealth.

A city is a living thing unto itself. The GM will need to have the thieves and others of that ilk doing things, or have a list of things they might be doing, in case players seek it, or something needs to happen in town to keep the game interesting. There could be some famous or rare item that is rumored to be kept somewhere in the city, like a wealthy merchant or noble is known to have the biggest ruby in the land. If the player characters are in town, is it a coincidence that an ambitious thief or gang of thieves have a plan to steal it?

For a fallen city, there will be rumors of great treasures for those who dare to seek it. Where was it kept originally? Is it still there, or is what could not be hauled off hidden nearby, in hopes that those who found it would return?

How might vaults and other stores of wealth be protected?

  1. Hidden – Behind a tapestry or curtain, behind a concealed or secret door, under the floor, above the ceiling, by magic either made invisible or disguised. The more unusual and less obvious the hiding place, the better. Hiding in plain sight can be a good one. Location, location, location. It must be difficult for thieves to gain access, but must not be too inconvenient for the owner to get at his or her stuff.
  2. Locked – Bars, locks, gates, and anything that presents a physical barrier that prevents just opening the door or lid. This can include magic, like wizard lock.  Where is the key?
  3. Guarded – One or more men, monsters, items, spells or a combination thereof can actively prevent access. What is the password? How avoid having to fight the guard(s)?
  4. Trapped – Active or passive traps. A pit before a chest is passive. Spring loaded dart traps are active. Again, this can include magical traps, like fire trap. How can one avoid/defeat/circumvent the trap(s)?
  5. A combination of two or more of Hidden, Locked, Guarded, or Trapped.
  6. A combination of all of the above.

My article for I on Innkeepers touched on hiding places for the proprietor.

Back in February, I wrote a post with some tables on Locks.