Category Archives: Megadungeons

Prepping and Running Games Saves Money

I have found that in the last few weeks as I prepare a Metamorphosis Alpha scenario to run at UCon, play test it online with two different groups, and end up with a weekly Saturday game and bi-weekly Sunday game, I don’t have as much time to read and browse forums and find more goodies to spend my money.

This is good. I’m not broke, and I’m not poor, I just prefer to pay cash for things, and I already have multiple game systems to choose from. Both the books and manuals I have, and many different PDFs. While I like collecting lots of different ideas for tables and how others do things, in the end, if all one does is collect bits and bobs and never runs a game, what’s the point? {I’m also going to attend ConOnTheCob in October, UCon in November, the company holiday party is in Orlando, FL in December – I finally get to go to Disney World!, Marmalade Dog in February, GaryCon in March, etc.]

Other than helping out the creators when I buy things, if I’m not running at least one game of one of the rules I already have, I’m not doing the one thing I have written so often that I want to do.

I struggle with having “enough” prepared to be comfortable. the key for me is determining what is the right “enough” to have. It doesn’t matter the game system.

By jumping in and running Metamorphosis Alpha and having a regular commitment to keep running it, my outlook has changed. The task seems much less daunting, and the myriad of excuses of why I’m not ready yet fade away.

My in person AD&D campaign with my oldest son and his girlfriend faded away when they moved in with me in the months before my granddaughter was born. Preparations for parenthood, and figuring out their new family dynamics have put that on the back burner. Thus the desire to move that campaign online and get it going that way. Starting up with a new group of people do not guarantee they would make the same choices and check out the same things as my face to face players. Once I get a bit more done with my MA online game(s), I will do more to get my AD&D game going online.

This doesn’t mean no preparation, and no ideas for suggestions for players, etc. There needs to be enough of a framework that it holds together. What this looks like will change and adapt, or it should, once players start interacting with the world. I have lots of ideas, but it is what the players do with my descriptions and starting conditions that is interesting. Watching players interact with the world I have presented and seeing them debate and struggle over courses of action, or regret actions taken, just makes the whole thing come alive. This is cooperative play/storytelling at its finest!

So I have dug in and started using all the pads, pens, dice, books, and miscellaneous notes I have gathered. The results are encouraging, and I find that I want more! I have enough ideas to keep things rolling, and the players have their own ideas, so I don’t see burnout with roleplaying as an issue. Burnout is only a threat based on how crazy busy work gets in December and January. [Oh the “joys” of being a support analyst for payroll and accounting software at year end/W-2 time, plus a new set of forms this year for the ACA.]

I don’t plan on participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I still need to write the last few chapters of my novel, so I can start on the second draft/revisions. I know I can do it, since I have over 60,000 words that I wrote last year in November. It’s just a matter of sitting down and doing the work. Like most things in life, the ad slogan, “Just Do It.” fits so well.

I have a lot of different irons in the fire, and without the distraction of all the different TV shows I watched last Fall, Winter, and Spring, I have gotten more done. It’s all about priorities, and making a decision to act on them, and following through.

Well, that’s enough stream of consciousness for now. I think I’ve convinced myself that I can do the running of games online, and that I can handle as much as I want to handle, with all the irons I have elected to have in so many fires. I can save up shows to binge watch on long weekends, or not worry about them at all. I can put as much effort into game preparation as I want, but choose to focus only on preparation that makes the most sense and has the best chance of being used in play. I can also deal with various projects around my 95 year old house, as well as down-sizing a bunch of non-gaming stuff. I like the idea of a simple life and being able to live out of a van. But I’d need most of a semi-trailer right now. My goal is to go through all my stuff and pare it down now, so in X years, when I’m gone, my sons won’t have to deal with it. I like my stuff, but gadgets and things become obsolete or lose their appeal.

NOTE: I wrote this late at night, and made one pass at it, and it shows in all my rambling and additional topics. I’m not going to go back and fix it. My point is in here. Find it if you can. LOL!

P.S. Don’t forget to talk like a pirate today, ye scurvy dogs!

I Ran My First Game Online

Friday night, from 8:00 to Midnight, EDT, I ran my first online game using Roll20 and Google Hangouts.

I have played over 330 hours using Roll20 and Hangouts. I have also run games of AD&D 1st Edition, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, and others. As with anything, the first time you encounter all the things you don’t know and try to make sense of it based on what you already know.

I am very much a visual learner. What is easy to pick up on with body language in a face to face game is lost online. While I used a Google Hangout, it was audio only. This was to minimize the number of windows on which I had to focus. This led to my biggest shortcoming as a GM online, missing the visual queues for player involvement. I realized after one player dropped out that I really need a player turn tracker that is implemented fairly and consistently so that each player has an equal share of time.

Two of my players in this session of six players were new to both RPG’s and online play of RPG’s. I was not as sensitive as I should be to their newness to the hobby and this method of play.

This session was a play test of a scenario that I developed for convention play for Metamorphosis Alpha at UCon in November, as I mentioned a few days ago. While I have pre-gens for the scenario, I did not enter them into Roll20. Instead, I let my players generate their characters to give them a sense of ownership. I had a short session with each player to generate their character, and make sure that the technical aspect of using Roll20 and Google Hangouts were worked out before the game. I think this helped with player buy-in, as well as helped us get a head start on building that initial acquaintance ahead of the session.

I learned from play that I crammed too much into the beginning of my scenario, and need to streamline things for the fast style of play that occurs in a convention game. I took a lot of short notes about different things to keep track of what worked or did not and what needs polish, revision, or removal.

At the end of the game, I solicited feedback, and there is interest in continuing the scenario.  In addition to Roll20, I created a private G+ Community for my Metamorphosis Alpha campaign. After the game, I created a poll, based on initial post game comments, to get an idea of when the group would like to play again. Most said that they would love to play next week. That is a great mood booster!

I had a blast! The players had buy-in to the scenario right away, and were engaged. I had a lot of hooks to get everyone involved from the start, with random rolls to mix things up, so that no two players would have the same story. I won’t go into detail, as I am running a second group through the scenario Saturday night. The second group are part of the gang from the Wednesday night AD&D Roll20 game I play in. It will be fun to interact with them in a different way and to see how our DM is as a player.

I was disappointed in myself for letting a couple of players sit quiet for a long time. It is the DM’s job to make sure each player is engaged. With an online game, it is especially important, since it is all too easy for one player to talk over other’s. It is the limit of the technology. I could set up one computer to display the hangout and watch which icons indicate who is speaking, but I find that I focus so much on the rolls, and my notes and maps, that I can’t even keep up with the chat comments players made.

I don’t feel too bad about missing side chats the players had going in chat right in front of me. It is that way in in-person games, but those more easily grab one’s attention. The solution is a system that allows each player a chance to speak. So whether I go by dexterity order, name order, order they show up on the screen, etc. It needs to be done fairly and consistently.

In addition to the poll for when to play again, I also put up a post on the campaign’s G+ community soliciting constructive criticism of my GMing of the session. I pointed out what I knew I needed to do better and what I felt I did well. I invited each player to contact me privately, if they so desired.

One player wrote publicly in response to my solicitation of feedback, “Well said! I can already tell that you are a GM/DM that I would recommend to anyone looking for a good old-school type of game. :)”

That comment alone is wonderful! I have a feeling of accomplishment.  I can’t help but compare myself to other DM.s/GM’s. There are some that I feel are so good that I feel I can never be that good. But when I actually get to play and get into a zone where things are happening in a good way, I know that I am at least a decent DM. I think I will dare to say I am a good one.

I stress too much on needing to be prepared. It does not take much to have enough for four hours of play. Once players are put in the middle of a situation, they go off in directions one could never anticipate.

I think I set the expectations clearly up front. I pointed out that this was my first time running an RPG online, and that this was the first game of Metamorphosis Alpha that I had ran in over 30 years. I did not mean it as an excuse, just to let them know I had a lot of new going on. In the end, other than the time allotment issues for each player, I think I did very well.

I used the theater of the mind style. I had a map of an area and players placed their tokens to indicate who was where. We also used it for marching order. There was another map I had to show them a big picture of the situation, but I did not use all the bells and whistles of working with maps and tokens that Roll20 has to offer. I am a free user, but if I end up with a regular game, I will definitely come up with the money for a subscription.

Some of my players run games on Roll20 and were able to help me get settings right. That was most appreciated!

I learned a lot about the online tools I chose, my scenario and where it needs improvement, myself and my abilities as a GM, and where I need to focus my energies to improve. I can’t wait for next week when the players and I tune in to see what happens next!

Metamorphosis Alpha at UCon

I just submitted an event to run a session of Metamorphosis Alpha at UCon in November.

If you don’t plan to attend UCon, I am trying to get some play testers to make sure my planned content flows and that there is enough to fill four hours. I have a game scheduled for Friday, September 11, from 7:00 PM – Midnight Eastern. I use Roll20 and Google Hangouts. If possible, I would like to set a time to get characters created before then.

If you are interested in playing Friday, let me know, and I will send you an invite to the Hangout and the Roll20 campaign. I have one player lined up for Friday, and others who previously indicated interest. I need 5 more players, and can run it with two or more, but more is better.

With sufficient interest, I can run it again on Saturday. I will have room for six players.

My plan is to make this a regular campaign, but the more immediate need is to play test this scenario. I haven’t ran Metamorphosis Alpha or played it in over 30 years, so I need just a bit of a refresher before attempting this at a con.

2015 A to Z Challenge Reflections.

I planned to write a follow up on my A to Z experience this year, and a survey that arrive just before midnight alerted me to a Reflections Post, that needed to be done by May 8th. I am doing catch up on articles and clearing a backlog of things to review, on this rainy, thunderstorm laden weekend.

This was the second year that I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge to write a post every day, except Sundays, in April. As with last year, 26 blog posts is not difficult for me. I had most of them done and scheduled before April. Also, like last year, I only had time to keep up with the blogs in the (GA) category. This year, I read most of the posts.

For me, the hardest part of the challenge is a theme that I feel good about. This year, I wrote about different aspects of planning a city, whether it is a living city or an abandoned/lost city. Once I had a topic, I came up with 26 topics. I then scheduled each topic for the appropriate day and wrote on the topics that interested me.

I had most of my topics written with at least a few paragraphs or notes of things to be sure to mention. I dug in and wrote several posts in a marathon session, so that I only had to let them sit to do cleanup before they posted. A few topics seemed a bit harder to write, and I got a bit repetitive when some topics had overlap.

I did not come up with as many tables and generators as I had hoped. I did get some ideas for building them. Once those ideas have sat for awhile, I will gather them and see about making a more coherent PDF to share.

My goal of a system to randomly generate parts of a city did not materialize. I think because of the all the dice table in Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad #1, that +Adam Muszkiewicz showed me. It touched on most of what I was after. I don’t really need all the details I think I do, I just WANT them.

Since I scheduled each post, I had no problem posting on the correct day.

I am currently on the fence as to whether or not I will participate next year. I like that I used it to help me clarify and flesh out ideas for my own use. If I participate again, I will have to use it to do something helpful to my own needs and desires as a GM; whether it be a module, series of new creatures, a collection of maps, or NPC’s, it will have to be something that serves a dual purpose.

This year, there were twelve blogs with the (GA) tag for games. Of those, one was geared towards game books and not directly RPG related, that I could tell. Perhaps it was just not my thing.

Nemo’s Lounge gave up doing custom NPCs with a drawing after 16 posts. Both the drawings and NPC’s were great!

Wampus Country was doing a town a day and got up to E when it stopped. He had some interesting ideas, that I enjoyed while it lasted.


Others missed a beat here and there, but most of us managed all 26 postings for the month.

Tower of the Archmage had a great series of vignettes of a party of adventurers. He often included a map. He hiked the Appalachian trail and was gone for the whole challenge, so he wrote and scheduled all of his postings before he left. This series would make a neat short story and/or a module/dungeon.

Tim Brannon at The Other Side did vampires, as he promised he would last year, after doing witches. Who knew there were so many vampires in different cultures. He began with A for Aswang, which I not too long before learned about from watching Grimm. When White Star came out, he even did an A to Z special with a Space Vampire, modeled on the one from the 80’s Buck Rogers TV Show.

Mark Craddock of Cross Plains reviewed his favorite things about D&D.

Keith Davies of In My Campaign built several mythologies/pantheons and had a system to help him build them.

Sea of Stars had a series of NPC;s.

Spes Magna Games did a series on the “Boogie Knights Of the Round Table”. I have not seen the movie, Boogie Nights, but I got the reference. What if King Arthur and his knights where in the age of disco? He kept it going until the last few days, but did all 26 posts.

Another Caffeinated Day did a series of NPC’s,

The Dwarven Stronghold did NPC’s and magic items.

If you need NPC’s, items, maps, images, vampires, or city planning suggestions, there is a lot of good stuff collected in these posts, check them out.

Kingdom of the Dwarfs


I bought the book, Kingdom of the Dwarfs [Aff link], by Robb Walsh [Now a food writer and critic in Texas. Made me hungry for some good BBQ….] and illustrated by David Wenzel, back in the 1980’s. The copyright date is 1980, so I’m not sure what year I bought it. I know it was before I graduated high school, so sometime between 1980 and 1983.

I keep it with my RPG materials. I was trying to think of something to post about, and I remembered this book. I have not read it probably since I first read it after I got it home three plus decades ago.

I have looked at the art since then, and marveled at the skill of the artist, and wished I could do the same. Perhaps with intentional practice and some art classes I might do better than my present attempts.

I strongly identify with dwarves for some reason. I really liked the dwarf character from The Sword of Shannara [Aff link].

Oddly enough, my favorite character is a half-elf. Although I play a dwarf in my Wednesday night online AD&D game.

The Wikipedia article about David Wenzel calls this a children’s book. As I recall, it was in the fantasy/science fiction section of the bookstore, so it was not marketed or sold in that store like a children’s book. I don’t think the theme is of a children’s book.

I remembered the basic story, but of course, the details eluded me. So I read it again.

It is a fast read. The text is mostly a set up of the book and then brief blurbs to set the scene for the art. The art tells a very detailed story.

Now I’m in the mood to detail the dwarven realms in my campaign. There’s never enough time to do it all!

If you want to build a dwarven kingdom or lost kingdom, this is a great source book!

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.

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.

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.