Category Archives: Megadungeons

Day 1 A is for Aqueducts

A – Aqueducts/pipes/fountains/cisterns/wells/artesian wells/water towers/flood control basins/drains/Archimedes Screw/Dippers/Reservoirs

Without water to drink, a city cannot arise. There won’t be more than a large village or small town without plentiful water.

A few collected homes can manage with a nearby stream, river, or lake that does not run dry.

More reliable sources of water to avoid the problems of drought will result in wells, cisterns, rain barrels, or other means of collecting and accessing water.

The climate will affect water supply. For a large city to arise in an arid or desert region, even more water is needed to offset evaporation, or technology is needed to minimize evaporation. Unless the desert conditions developed after the city existed, and are part of the reason the city became abandoned, some consideration for this needs to be addressed in planning your city.

Except for a bunch of clerics using create water there would need to be a consistent and reliable source of water. Assume 1 gallon per person per day. And at least one gallon per animal per day. In an arid environment, drought resistant animals, like camels would be the long-haul beast of burden.

Fountains were used to make water available to the masses in the ancient world. The people would go to the fountain to collect water in jars each day.

Public and private baths. What is the cities cleanliness culture? How much water is required?

Rain cachement from runoff from roofs to underground cisterns. Such man-made or artificially enlarged caves/caverns easily make a dungeon.

Tera cotta roof tiles with terra cota drain pipes indicate a need for an industry in or near the city or easily shipped to the city from elsewhere.

Pipes or pipelike structures to aid and direct the flow of water would be well maintained in an inhabited city.

The city watch, any military outposts/castle/barracks, and the city government and leading class would have greater and more secure access to water.

Disruption of the water supply following an earthquake or other natural disaster, war, monster incursion, or “innocent” activities of player characters would result in unrest from mere grumbling to riots or organized revolt, depending on the mindset of the populace. Could some such action be the cause for the downfall of the city?

Water in excess is also bad. If there is sufficient rainfall to result in flooding of the city, rain cachement basins and storm drains to direct flood waters away from the populace would be present. Coastal cities could be subject to storm surges, tidal waves, and hurricanes. How much excess water can a city handle? Seawater and storm debris in the drinking water is not good. Usually the underground portions of aqueducts were only a few feet high and normally the water ran about half that height. Cisterns could be simple stone or cement lined pits to massive cavernous chambers like the Basilica Cistern of Constantinople that still exists in Istanbul today.

Would a sufficiently advanced magical civilization bind water elementals or other water based creatures to ensuring the continuation of the water supply? Similarly, earth elementals could be put to use in construction of passages through mountains and hills. Also wizards could do their public service using dig, rock to mud, or mud to rock, move earth, wall of stone, etc.

My campaign is a low magic setting, that is, the heights of magical creation and invention are in the past, but such past objects can still be found.

Whether a city is abandoned or not, water weirds and other water based creatures could be trapped in fountains, wells, or cisterns, or live there voluntarily.

Wells and cisterns make a good place to hide or lose something valuable. What if the party is hired to go retrieve a lost item in one of the wells or cisterns and discovers an entire under city full of adventure.

What does the local thieves/assassins guild know about the water system and any connection to an illicit trade route or a black market ran through the under city.

The water supply is separate from the sewer system. I will deal with sewers in a later posting in this series. The water supply is “clean”. What penalties would the party incur for contaminating the water supply? What if they or another actor/group cause the sewer system to flow into the water supply?

In a desert or arid region, there would be severe penalties for compromising or adversely affecting the water supply. In a region where there is less issues keeping the supply going, it would take much more to cause a problem, unless it is an authoritarian regime, or strict bureaucracy where it matters. Of course, anything to mess with the players is always fun!

In a desert or arid region, settlements might develop near oases, and oases would guide trade routes.

Water is also a source of power for mills.

Rivers, streams, lakes, seas, and oceans are also sources of food. Swamps and marshes have a surplus of water making the ground of little utility for settlements or farming. How does water and its surplus or scarcity inform existing and abandoned settlements?

Information on various ancient water technologies for further reading below:

Roman aqueducts supplied public baths, latrines, fountains and private households. Aqueducts also provided water for mining operations, milling, farms and gardens.

Fountains were originally purely functional, connected to springs or aqueducts and used to provide drinking water and water for bathing and washing to the residents of cities, towns and villages. Until the 19th century they operated by gravity.

The Nabateans of Petra had a sophisticated collection of desert based water technology. More on Nabateans with lots of pictures.

Iran – desert water transportationQanat – a series of underground connected wells that transports water over a distance. Can be used for cooling and ice storage.

The reservoirs for qanats were an anbars.

Persians had ice houses (evaporative coolers)  and Wind catchers for cooling.

Ancient Water Technologies Website


Wells specific to fortifications are Castle Wells.

Water well

Artesian Well: A water well under positive pressure.

Irrigation tools: Shadoof

Sakia or Persian Wheel

Archimedes’ Screw

Chain Pump 

Scoop Wheel – Similar to a water wheel, but works the opposite. A water wheel is water powered, but a scoop wheel is an engine powered by a windmill.

Windmill: can be used for grinding grain or draining wetlands for agriculture.

Water Mill

A type of water mill is the tide mill that uses the flow of tides rather than a river or stream.

Horse Mill: Can be used for any milling purpose, but most often grinding grain or pumping water.

Wishing Well

Fighting fires: The ancient Romans had the vigiles. They had a fire engine that was a double action pump. Until the advent of canvass wrapped rubber hose, fire hoses were made of leather with brass fittings. The first firehoses were developed in 1673, but brass rivets and brass connectors would not be outside the technology level of a fantasy world.

Saltern – Area for making salt.

[UPDATE] – I was reading an article about using the Byzantine Empire as a model for a campaign setting, and it referenced the Valens Aqueduct. It gives some information on water storage in Constantinople that is very impressive.

Following various threads, as I am wont to do when reading Wikipedia, I read of Constantinople’s three historic open air cisterns, Cistern of Mocius, Cistern of Aetius, and Cistern of Aspar, and the millions of gallons of water they allowed. These were open air cisterns built of brick and stone, not like the underground Basilica Cistern mentioned above.

[UPDATE: April 18, 2016 – I was reading an article about the puquios of Nazca, Peru, a pre-colonial water collection system. Wind goes down a spiral hole in the ground to help raise water from the ground.]

Metamorphosis Alpha – Random Plants & Animals

I posted a few days ago about my itch to dig into Metamorphosis Alpha. While starting to write this post, I realized that the Starship Warden is a megadungeon Innnn Spaaaaace. 17 levels plus the mid levels. Except like one may normally think of a dungeon, it does not have a clear 1st level equals easier. Particular locations double as both traversing the wilderness and dungeoneering. The inhabitants see themselves as travelling in wilderness, and the inter and intra level tunnels and so forth and the buildings on the habitation levels are the dungeons.

After getting that realization out of the way, on to random plants and animals.

On page 19 there is a procedure for Creating Non-Player Creature Mutations. This table focuses on animals, but is easily modified to substitute the plant mutations on page 16.

Begin by choosing the plant or animal type, then determining the number of generations for which a new mutation might be introduced. The rules say 1 – 10 generations, so a d10 easily handles that.

Then roll percentile dice for each generation to determine if a physical, mental, physical and mental, or no mutation for that generation.

Then roll 1-50, d100/2 and look at the physical and mental mutation charts, and if the roll is off the chart, there is a sub-chart for physical mutations, and for mental it always means higher intelligence.

It is simple to do the same procedure and substitute the plant mutations for the physical mutations..

Finally, there is a note that if there are two or three early generations with a defect mutation, that that organism was not viable and start over.

One need not limit themselves to the mutations available in the rules. Make up your own, or borrow from other games. There are enough options here that one need not expand unless a busy campaign with lots of players digs into a lot of options.

I rolled up one animal and one plant using this method.

Chipmunks are small and cute, so why not randomly mutate one and see what happens?

I rolled a 5 on my d10, for 5 generations. So next I rolled percentile dice for each generation to determine what kind of mutation. I came up with physical, physical, no mutation, mental, and physical. Next I rolled d50 (d100/2) for each mutation. In the first generation, I rolled a defect of skin structure change. Then I rolled heightened strength, heightened intelligence,and ended with a defect of anti-reflection, which means that a mental attack or defense has a 25% chance to backfire.

My interpretation of all this is that these are normal looking, if slightly larger chipmunks, that are physically strong, but can’t take a hit. They are smart so they know to avoid a physical fight. They have a crude mental attack ability that sometimes backfires, so they need a few more generations for this power to strengthen and for the defect to fade. These small creatures can get into nooks and crannies and might have arm bands and other useful, but small devices; and know how to use them. They don’t have the power of speech or telepathy, so communication will be crude unless a member of the party speaks chipmunk, or has telepathy.

For a plant, I did not initially specify a plant, but let’s say it’s a dandelion. I rolled 9 on a d10 for nine generations of mutations. I rolled five generations of physical mutations, one generation of mental mutations, and ended with three generations of physical mutations.

The physical mutations are: electrical or heat generation, symbiotic attachment for both the second and third generations, contact poison sap, a defect of an attractive odor, poison thorns, manipulative vines, and texture changes. The mental mutation is telekinetic arm. Since there is no heightened intelligence, there is no communicating with this plant. It merely seeks to eat to survive and reproduce.

It can generate an electric shock to stun or perhaps kill small prey. It has two methods of symbiotic attachment that allow it to control another creature. It’s manipulative vines are a refinement of it’s ability to make symbiotic attachments. It has a contact poison sap, like poison ivy, yet it has an attractive odor that puts it at risk of being uprooted before it bears seeds. It also has poison thorns that keep away unarmored creatures. I interpret this defect to be attractive to some creature or other plant that is immune to its poisons, thus making it vulnerable to specific animals. It must be armored to resist the symbiotic attachment, and have some way to minimize the effects of the telekinetic arm. This means that another creature needs to be generated to fill this niche. Perhaps the skin of this creature will allow the party to pass through an area of these plants with minimal difficulty. Or it could get all the plants in the area to gang up on the party….

The manipulative vines and telekinetic arm server to draw in nutrition from the surrounding area, whether plant or animal. Its poison sap is a weak digestive enzyme that with prolonged contact helps speed the breakdown of plant and animal matter into the soil. It has a structure change to its leaves that are rougher in texture to normal dandelions, but its characteristic bright yellow flower and white seeds remain. One thing it will do with its symbiotic attachments is control a creature to blow its seeds to reproduce. Like dandelions, unless the root is sufficiently uprooted, it can come back. Like regular dandelions, I can see there being a thick patch of these that are slowly growing and spreading throughout their area. Their symbiotic/manipulative vines have a length of 1d3 feet. Perhaps in a few generations the manipulative vines will enable these plants to move towards food, rather than merely draw it in. They could become mindless predators only seeking food when their current soil becomes used up.

It is easy to create new creatures and plants for a variety of purposes, both helpful, neutral, and dangerous. Some dangerous things could be harnessed to be of use, like poison glands, or explosive fruit.

I like how simple this was, and in a few minutes I had two new creatures. The GM can determine how long a generation is and how many generations for negative mutations to fade and something new result. Exposure to additional radiation and other environmental toxins might speed up the possibility of new mutations.

Since some levels are sealed off from others, one could easily generate different plants and animals using the same type as a starting point. One chipmunk on one level has descendants who are intelligent creatures, another remains mostly unchanged, while another might be a deadly and vicious predator.

Of course, as with any RPG, the GM is free to ignore or tweak any random roll, or just make up a creature to suit their tastes or needs.

2015 A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal – Cities/Cities As Ruins/Cities As Megadungeons

Initially, I was struggling with the idea of a theme for this year’s A to Z Blogging Challenge. Last year I just picked a topic that fit the letter for that day and went with it. Then I remembered my half started project to help me deal with cities, ruined cities, and my thoughts that a large city was in many ways equivalent to a megadungeon. Indeed, a ruined city is but the surface level of a megadungeon.

I will be fleshing out general ideas and ideas for tables, and on-the-fly information for navigating a large city or ruin without advance preparation, or with a set base of preparation, like a map and a general idea of where the different quarters are, etc. Planning a ruined city relies on planning one that is inhabited, the only difference is that a ruined city needs a reason for why it is now in ruins.

This project is as much a tool to help me as it is to share my insights with others.

I will reference past articles on some of these topics. Some information I may have previously only collected information and not yet made an article. I wrote at least a rough outline of each article and have them scheduled to post. I have been going back to each one and adding, revising, cross linking, and otherwise trying to improve them. So far, I don’t have as many tables as I initially envisioned, but I do have many lists I will work to develop tables or clean up for a list of ideas on various topics. Since this topic is so much on my mind of late, I am linking to posts that have come up and continue to be published by others. One relatively new blog, Lost Kingdom, has coincidentally, published articles that tie very well into mine, and I link to their articles for more details. Trying to find the time to read all of their past articles is a challenge, but well worth the effort.

Building a city for an RPG, whether a living city, or a fallen, ancient one, requires thinking it through and populating it in a pattern that fits. Not everyone needs this level of detail to guide them in creating their cities. I often just determine that there are so many of this or that business and don’t worry about a map. This project is for improving the level of preparation by creating a sort of checklist to touch on, to help DM’s that aren’t so good at spur of the moment to have some ideas to help with improvising their cities.

I look forward to feedback and ideas to fill in gaps.

There will be new tables for some things, and my detailed slant on how to build cities/ruined cities. Of course, in the A to Z Challenge format, it won’t be a complete system, but will contain points and questions to ponder for anyone developing a city. Some of these ideas will translate into building cities for any genre of RPG.

I will quote myself from my Post-Con Write Up of Marmalade Dog 20 and a relevant conversation I had with Adam Muszkiewicz:

When Adam and I were talking the topic of random tables and drop tables and all the dice tables came up. I mentioned that I am slowly crafting an all the dice type table to help me generate area of an ancient “abandoned” city for houses, building, and other features. Adam pointed me to a display at Roy’s booth for Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, Winter 2014, Issue #1. Pages 10 and 11 have a neighborhood generator, and pages 12 and 13 have a gang generator. The neighborhood generator has a lot of ideas that I am looking for so I bought it.

I am going to enjoy this!

All my posts on megadungeons, and cities.

I also have a list of those RPG bloggers that used the (GA) tag on the A to Z Sign Up Page. I didn’t have time to look for those that didn’t use a tag, so if you want to be on my list, just let me know your number on the sign up list. My list, 2015 A TO Z CHALLENGE – RPG BLOGGERS, is on the right side of my blog under the A To Z Challenge logo.

[UPDATE] I went to each of the RPG blogs signed up for this year’s challenge, and only a couple of them appear to be participating in the theme reveal, so I wait, as do all of us until perhaps later today, or April 1st, when the posts begin.

[UPDATE 2] Here is a link to the List of Those Signed up for the April, 2014 A to Z blogging challenge.

More Dice At WalMart

I saw the story dice posts that made the rounds a week or so back, so I decided to jump on board. I found them at WalMart. They only had two sets, the blue actions and the green voyages. There are nine dice in each package. (Yes, I know, I just recently wrote about my last dice purchase saying I wasn’t going to buy any more dice…. It’s not that I have a problem, I just had to have them.)

I also just looked in that section and found some game in a tin called Left, Right, Center and had the impression that the dice were one of L, another or R, and another of C. I thought how cool that would be to determine which way a fleeing creature went, or which way a random street, tunnel, or dungeon passageway turned.

What I found when I got home is that each die had R, L, C in succession of sides and a dot on the other three sides, so each die was identical. I did not read the rules for this game, as I was planning to use the dice in a different way. I was a bit let down by what I found when I got home to open the tin.

However, as I thought about it, I had a few ideas. L, R, C can represent left, right, and center for anything. The dots can indicate no change, or a special feature, like a trap, scrawl on a wall, rug, hidden door, etc. One thought was to roll all three dice and let whatever the majority come up determine what it indicates. This could just as easily be decided by a d3 or d6/2, etc. Having a die with what you need on it is very interesting and speeds things up, since you don’t have to remember what the number means or look it up.


The story dice are interesting and can be mixed and matched. Since I have two sets with 18 total, I could roll a d20 for how many to use, and on a 19 or 20 add one or two other random dice. This could give all kinds of ideas. I rolled each of my sets and made a quick story about each one, to illustrate. I can see how they would be useful to get out of writer’s block.

05SCs06BlueAction 07GreenVoyages



I was out walking and something almost hit me. I saw this guy laughing and he went inside as I approached. I knocked on his door and he did not answer. Finally, he came to the door wearing headphones and acting like he didn’t hear me. That’s when our story took a drastic turn. As I was covering the body, I was caught, and now I’m locked up for good.

Actions Story Cubes [Aff link]



The king of the mountain was a real crab. His only joy in life came from drugs and funny mushrooms, but music was banned. After a plague I went on a quest for food and all I found were some beans.

Not necessarily the best stories, but it is easy to string them together and rearrange as needed to make things work.

Need a quick plot point or item – grab a random story die and roll it.

Faster than a table, because the dice ARE the table. That would take a lot of dice for every kind of table, but for specialist tables, this is like dungeonmorph or citymorph dice. Something to mix things up a bit. Relying solely on a table or a die role, can also make things a bit stilted and forced. One should be on guard to avoid having to have dice to generate a map, creature, situation, plot, etc. Be free to ignore a result or modify to make it work.

Voyages Story Cubes [Aff link]

Rory’s Story Cubes complete set [Aff link].

Latest From Amazon – Desk Pads and Wiz Dice

Last Monday a new package arrived from Amazon with three Tops Quadrille Desk Pads and a package of 100+ Wiz Dice.

I wrote about the quadrille desk pad I once had when I shared the map of a town, for a character in my brother’s campaign. I was reminded of this by the Dungeon Deskpad Kickstarter. I had been toying with the idea of getting quad ruled desk pads for over a year, and I decided to get them, and to joining the Dungeon Deskpad Kickstarter. Once I get my overseas shipment I will take pictures to compare..

The brand of desk pads I got are the Tops. Each is individually wrapped in plastic. They were the least expensive. They are not all square and not all the same exact size. That’s OK. I plan on using them for mapping out an abandoned ancient city/megadungeon. I can also use a sheet for a single sheet map of the town that is the current home base of the players in my campaign. The rough map I have for the town of Larenda is two quad ruled sheets taped together. I can even get a roll of clear plastic “shelf-paper”, and laminate some of these sheets for a quick and cheap dry erase surface. I usually only use maps and such to show relative position. Even if it is an exercise only for me, it will be fun. The one draw back to paper this size for maps is that it is too big for my scanners. I will have o do better than a quick picture with my cellphone. I’ll have to put my cheap camera on one of my cheap tripods, to get good pictures for online.

02TopsPad-Closeup 03TopsPad-Back 01DeskPads&Dice

After ordering the two sets of Koplow Who Knew Dice that arrived last week, I ran across an article on Imagur about Wiz Dice and their bag of 100+ dice vs. the Chessex Pound’O Dice, and I ordered the Wiz Dice based on that article. I am always needing more d4’s and d8’s in play. The Wiz Dice 100+ pack includes a fancy drawstring bag with complete matched seven dice set. I ended up with 103 dice plus the set in the bag, for 110 new dice. I received 15 of each die, except for the d12 and d20, which I received 14 of each of those. So I ended up with 14 matched sets of seven dice, 15 counting the drawstring bad, and one partial set missing the d12 and d20. I have matched sets of solid colors and then the “gem” style dice of the same color: green, blue, red, yellow, purple, and red. Then a solid black, swirled black, and a white set. I have one complete orange set and the other orange set is incomplete. I don’t think most people get that many matched sets. I think it is cool that I have enough dice for 15 players from one order of dice, not counting how many ever sets I had before.

One idea I had with this package of dice is making multiple dice tables using different colors of the same die. For example, if I need a table for 14 different results of a d20, or 15 results of a d8, I can do it.

Magic missile is resolved quicker with more d4’s. Lots of monsters taking their attack is resolved quicker with more d20’s.

Blue is my favorite color, but in dice, I find black and red to be my preference. For some reason, it is the same way for me with Risk. For some colors, I prefer the gem style over the solid style.

I guess I need to have a post with a picture of all my dice. They are not all in one place at the moment, so I will have to defer that for a bit.

I also realized that having so many d10’s makes it easy to roll a d1,000 or a d10,000, etc. just specify which color is which digit. I know that they make custom d10,000 dice for such a thing, but I have to tone it down a bit. I’ve spent more on dice in the first two months of 2015 than I spent all of last year, and most of the three plus decades before that. That isn’t to say that I won’t buy more die this year, but I don’t have to buy them all in the first quarter.

10GreenSets 11YellowSets 12RedSets 13BlueSets 14PurpleSets 15OrangeSets 16Black-BlackSwirl-WhiteSets 04-WizDicePackage 05WizDiceDrawstringBag 06DrawstringBagAndFancySet 07DiceSortedByType 08DiceSortedByMatchedSets 09PartialSetOrangeGemDice

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Quad Ruled Desk Pads

Back in the mid to late 80’s I bought a quad ruled desk pad from an office supply store. That was back when desk pads and pen and paper were still the mainstay of business. I have only one sheet from that desk pad that holds the map to the town for Griswald, the longest running character I have played, who is now, essentially retired from play.

I don’t know what happened to the rest of the pad. I used it for mapping out a Boot Hill area, and such things. I think that pad may have been one of the things I lost in the water leak incident, but I don’t recall.

I have in the last few years tried to find such a pad in stock at an office supply store, but no go. I would have to special order or order online. If you search for quad ruled desk pad you will find them. They run a little under $20 each.

I like using them to map out large cities. I am a visual person and like to be able to see them. In my campaign, there are ten ancient cities of a fallen empire. I have taped together 8.5 x 11 quad ruled graph paper for a rough map of the one closest to the action of the current group of players. Having a bigger single sheet would simplify things and make it easier to fold up and get out of the way.

I also like he idea of using them for a megadungeon. Who doesn’t want to design a megadungeon? I think I started to do so way back in the day, but it is lost material.

This all comes to mind as I ran across Peter Regan’s most recent Kickstarter for a Dungeon Desk Pad, over at Oublette Magazine. It is an interesting idea. I am trying to avoid new Kickstarters for the financial responsibility end of it, but man is this one hard to resist. Personally, I prefer a full-size desk pad of grids, but this idea is interesting. My desk pad pages are 16 inches by 22 inches, slightly smaller than the A2 standard. The Dungeon Desk Pads are 16.53 inches by 11.69 inches, which is the A3 standard. The other issue is that Peter is UK based so overseas shipping adds to costs, etc. So far, I have only backed US-based Kickstarters, mainly because I have not had interest in others that were not based in the US. I know that Peter has a good track record, thus hitting the funding goal, and stretch goals are reasonable and fit with the base project.

I was also intrigued by an article that Peter shared that of Ian Livingstone of Games Workshop [former link:] still has his first dungeon on a desk pad on his desk. You can save this photo and zoom in to be able to read the room descriptions. It would be easy to use this for a quick dungeon for your next session.

Ian Livingstone Deskpad Dungeon
Ian Livingstone Deskpad Dungeon

This motivated me to get the rough map of Helmsdale, Griswald’s town, and share it here. The quick story on this town. My brother, Robert,the DM determined that for Griswald to be a half-elf, it made sense for the human to come from a place near the Elven Kingdom. The hillsmen in his campaign are based on the Scottish clans. They live in a series of hills called Carbaen Moor. Griswald is a Fighter/Cleric/Magic-User and we rolled his age. I believe 45 years old, so the backstory is that the hillsmen had a civil war where the Buchanan Clan Kicked the Stewarts out of their territory and became king. They did not maintain control of the Stewart territory so it became infested with Orcs and worse.

Griswald’s father was a duke, and as far as Griswald knew, he was the true heir to the throne. He later learned that the grandson of the king and the grandsons of the dukes higher in precedence had their own band of outlaws called the Red Arrows. They had red fletchings (feathers) on their arrows. Griswald joined up with them, and through creative use of magic and bluff developed a reputation beyond their actual abilities. Tameus, the true king, decided it was time for war. Through lots of favors owed and other factors and army big enough to challenge the Buchanan’s was raised, and while outnumbered by the Buchanans, magic and Elven cavalry defeated them. After reclaiming the kingdom, there was a massive earthquake that devastated most of the kingdom and the old Stewart lands. Since the orc tribes in the Stewart lands bordering the former Buchanan lands were hurt as bad as the humans, Griswald decided to take back his ancestral lands. With the help of a small force of mercenaries and a PC wizard and his own henchmen – two fighters and three magic users, the orcs where driven out.

The town is in a valley of a ring of hills. It has a ditch 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep. The earthquake reduced the walls. Griswald rebuilt a smaller town with an Elven temple, the price of the Elven troops. This works for Griswald as he is a cleric of the Elven moon diety, Isil-nar. There is also the ducal palace and homes for troops and workers and farmers. Outside the walls is an inn, The Merchant’s Delight. The merchants like Griswald, since he does not tax them as heavily as the orcs. He also built a gatehouse at the only way across the ditch.

The two biggest orc tribes were not hurt by the earthquake, and were consolidating their control over the remnants of the orc tribes Griswald had not yet eliminated. These tribes did not like this upstart half elf moving in, so they moved to invade and take him out. Griswald has a crystal ball so he looked for the leaders of the invaders and took Alim, his highest level magic user henchman to teleport to these troops on the march to take them out. While the two most powerful magic users in town, Griswald 10th fighter/10th cleric/11th magic user and Alim, 10th level magic user were gone, the other orc tribe got past the wall across the valley to the south and surrounded the town. Griswald and Alim mangled the rear guard of the larger force and were gone until morning. This was put on hold for 15 years, until we made it work to finish the scenario. Robert wanted to resolve it so the other players would know what happened, as they are ten or more game years past this point in time.

The orcs surrounding the town set up a catapult and started battering the walls. They also attacked the gatehouse with 50 men that were the troops of Logan, a PC who was killed, but the men stayed with Griswald. The gatehouse was cut off from the rest of town and the 30 or so cavalry on hand tried to get through, but were routed and nearly all of them were killed. The archers on the walls of town made long range shots at the orcs around the gatehouse, and nearly exhausted all the available arrows. The gatehouse fell. The high priest of the temple cast insect plague in the area around the catapult to delay the battering. By the next morning the high priest rested and relearned insect plague and cast it again. Somewhere in here, we had a two year delay of getting together to wrap it up, but we finally finished it.

Finally when the time line in town caught up to them, Griswald and Alim read teleport from their travelling spell books and returned to the palace. Griswald and Alim had hardly any spells or scrolls left, but as a fighter with protection from normal missiles, Griswald could mount the walls and fight off the invaders. Finally enough orcs were killed that their morale broke. I don’t know if I ever got a full count of the number of dead orcs, but the image in my mind is of The Battle of Roake’s Drift from the movie Zulu. Thankfully, it was not The Battle of Islandawana.

On this map each square = 40 feet. I found that the width of the squares is the same as the distance between the lines on a standard 3 x 5 index card. Index cards were handy for measuring ranges in the battle. We used a few miniatures, but was mostly scribbles on the map.

Every time an orc was killed we yelled, “Oh no! They got Grignak!” The inspiration for Grignak comes from Galaxy Quest.

First the map of the “north” of my brother’s campaign. This is one half of a TSR hex mapping paper, with the Willingham cover. The other half is the “south”. Only one player has been off this map. It is 10 mile hexes. This is a photocopy. I did the coloring. Robert used the photocopier to enlarge and zoom in in the following images. These are pictures and not scans. You still get a hint of my brother’s artistic talent here.

The Stewart Lands shows the fiefs of the various Stewart Dukes.

The North
The North
Carbaen Moor
Carbaen Moor
Stewart Lands
Stewart Lands
Griswald's Hex
Griswald’s Hex

Below shows the ring of hills with an opening in the hills to the North West and South. The rectangle in the center is where the town goes.

Detail Griswald's Lands
Detail Griswald’s Lands

The post it note was added to complete the circle for the area of effect of insect plague. That spell is one of the ultimate battlefield spells if you can buy a high priest ten minutes (one turn) to cast it.

This is in pencil on 20+ year old paper with poor lighting.

Inner Town
Inner Town
Insect Plague
Insect Plague

I am curious if there are any other desk pad sized maps of towns, dungeons, space ships, etc. That would be an interesting gallery.

The Challenges Of Game Prep And Game Design

Both preparing for a major area of a campaign, or parts of an adventure, or developing something to publish, or as part of a collaborative project, can encounter a lot of inertia.

Getting the initial ideas together, whether bullet points, semi-detailed notes, sketches, or miscellaneous bits and pieces can often be the easy part. Yet, for me at least, finding a big enough block of time to make sense of it and compile all the pieces into an easily usable whole is challenging.

I can wing stuff in a game, but some things take just a bit more time to plan out. For example, I placed an NPC in my campaign that sells treasure maps. His caveat to customers is that they are real maps to real treasures, but he can’t guarantee that any treasure is still there. He goes to markets and bazaars far and wide and generates a collection. He then disappears to rebuild it, when it gets thinned out. I made the brilliant decision to let him have 39 maps (a randomly generated number), most for the general area when the players are running around with a few for the ruins of the ancient city nearby. The rest being scattered far away, and a couple for Ogre Island, the home of a famous archmage who really only wants adventurers coming there if they have slain ogres. The players bought all the area and ancient city maps, and the couple to locations on Ogre Island.

I then had to figure out details about these maps they bought. I made them pay quite a bit for them, but not so much to stop them from buying A LOT of maps. I like the d30 Sandbox Companion, and a couple other resources I tracked down for this. I came up with the size and condition of the maps, the landmarks around the treasure, whether the treasure in whole or in part was there, or if it was buried nearby, and the skill of the cartographer and the language it was written in. That was not too difficult. I then had to figure out where to place all the maps. Finally, I had to sketch out the maps.

I spent several hours on this and ended up with extremely rough sketches of maps. I figure that I could just describe them and go from there. I still have some ruins and a couple dungeons to plan.

After all that work, the players were focused on other things and haven’t tried to find one treasure.

Another example is the ancient city. I had a name and a vague idea of a layout in my mind. I dissuaded the players from going to the ancient city by having a trusted NPC tell them that it is very dangerous. I would have been fine if they went there, but they realized they needed a bit more experience. Especially when random undead traveled north along the ancient road to the large town/small city with their base of operations. So I took time to plan out some details of the city and figure out which locations where described by the treasure maps of the ruined city.

Again, after all that work, not near as much as for all the treasure maps, we have not played.

The good news, I have a lot planned and can deal with most situations, and have several ideas if the players decide to do something else.

I know that I shouldn’t plan too far ahead of my players to avoid burnout, but I like the design. It is fun to figure out certain details, however, it is the most fun to watch the interactions of my players with the ideas I present to them.

Working on a collaborative effort in cooperative sandbox design, I want to do my best so that my part is not the weak link in the whole.

As with general preparation as a DM, finding enough time in a large enough block to do more than nibble around the edges can be a challenge.

The lessons I have from this are manifold:

DM prep for my own game can be snippets that I can wing as needed. Often only a name for an NPC, a location name, and perhaps details of spells they have are usually enough. Many details can be generated on the fly.

Tables to help fill in the gaps. Good, bad, or indifferent – you can wait until they discover a treasure with gems and jewelry to roll what it is. It can make the players wait a bit, and can result in some enormous gems – if you let the results stand.

Maps only need to be good enough for me to know what is going on. If you play old school with theater of the mind, you don’t need miniatures and terrain maps. I haven’t made the players do mapping, and so far they have not been in a scenario where it makes sense for them to be lost. They have yet to find a ruin big enough to be a classic dungeon.

Players tend to want to know names of people, locations, taverns, businesses, and stories behind magic items. In addition, personalities of NPCs and monsters are needed so they are not all the same. More effort in these things can avoid delays at the table coming up with a new name. NOTE: I generate several NPC names and cross them off when I use them in game. I haven’t generated enough names to feel like I should re-use them. Tables and online generators can help with this.

I have a few memorable NPCs that the players most encounter. I have different city guard personas, some are matter of fact about their job, “just the facts”, ma’am types. Others are more laid back and just make sure things are not too far off from the rules. There is one who points at people with his spear and swings it around when pointing at the next person he talks to. I haven’t named all the town guards, just the captain and lieutenant. The players haven’t asked for lots of names, I just say, this guard acts thus and so, and if they need a description, I give it. The guard that waves his spear was a fun twist I came up with on the fly, and the players loved that twist. I rotate them, and understandably, the other guards don’t want to have to work with the spear swinger.

All of the things that work well to make a campaign that I can run effectively and give enjoyment to the players are usually far less detailed than required for either an online game, where time is usually more limited than an in-person game; and obviously not what is required for something that is part of something to be published for use by others. While game prep can be done in a pinch, preparation of something to share for others as a basis for an adventure or add-on area in their campaign requires enough detail that the DM only needs to tweak it for use in his game, and not spend hours trying to figure out what you mean or what pieces were left out.

As with a school paper, or other similar project, a collaborative OSR project or something you wish to publish can be done in smaller snippets of time, unless there is a hard and fast deadline.

I think we might all have dreams of making and publishing our own materials and selling to the world of fellow gamers. Many of us know we don’t have the skills, some know that we have the skills but not the drive to finish what we start. While one can use their campaign as a basis for a published project, one should make sure anything they publish is polished.

After reading about failed or terribly botched and nearly totally failed Kickstarters related to RPGs, this has come to mind. Who wouldn’t want all the money that goes with a hugely successful Kickstarter? Most don’t realize the true level of detail involved. In addition, the tax implications and record keeping required are far beyond what the average person expects.

If you want to do a Kickstarter, get your feet wet and participate in a collaborative effort and see how well that goes. Dare to publish some tables or a module and make it available for free. If it is done well and hits the target market, then maybe you have the knack to share something to sell. I’m no expert on the how to do it, as I have not done these things, but I have seen what other people have done. Some obviously have a knack for cranking out good stuff consistently. However, I have also seen a lot that I could do better slapping it together, some of it for sale. I also would be hesitant to risk negative criticism that comes with such things, so thick skin is probably helpful.

So I dabble and continue to share my thoughts on my little blog. It is nice when others recognize my small contributions, but I get more out of it as I get in my writing, and crystallize my own ideas. That is more valuable than money, but  if anyone wants to send me a Dieties & Demigods with Cthulhu and Elric, et. al., I’ll let you. Cash also is the perfect gift, since it always fits. 😉




Megadungeons Gone Wild

Megadungeons are something that interest me. As a player I may have played in a megadungeon, but did not know it.

I have read lot of articles and gather lots of notes.

As I think about my own campaign, that I touched on yesterday, and its ten great ancient cities with teleport chambers, I realize that the sewers and tunnels and caverns under each one is its own megadungeon, but each is connected to the other by the teleport chambers. The chambers have a mechanism to specify which destination, so players could end up on the far end of the empire, or on one of the islands they settled across the sea.

Obviously, I don’t want or need to map out all of this that would never be played, but the various megadungeon tables on different sites to help populate them would come in handy if players managed to jump from one ancient city to another.

I think that general areas of the city would be a natural for certain kinds of buildings, structures, events, and encounters. For example, the cemetery/necropolis would have plenty of undead from the time of chaos when the empire collapsed and troops were needed quickly to deal with the dead and defend the city. The nice people fled and the bad guys have set up shop. There would be a near limitless supply of skeletons and zombies. A high magic society would tend to have magical constructs like golems and homonculi. Perhaps trapped demons or elementals. Magic mouths to give directions around the city.

There would be places where treasure in the form of coins might be more likely, and treasure in the form of ancient weapons and other items that might not be magical, but a sage might pay for them. A collector of ancient relics might like a statue or a tapestry. There is more to treasure than just coin and magic.

If there were a zoological garden, would there be small groups of wild animals about the city? A pride or two of lions that fed off the goblins and orcs running around. Other types of creatures attracted by the niche they could fill in such a place.

Whether a city or dungeon, thinking in terms of areas and what was there originally and what is there now will help group what adventurers might find or encounter there.

An ancient cistern overgrown with vines would be a 30 foot or deeper pit, a deadly fall, unless it still held water, then it could still be a deadly fall. Ancient barrows of the early kings could be infested with wights, or other grave loving creatures. Different parts of an abandoned city could be controlled by different factions. Pirates could use the docks to trade goods to orcs or evil humans in the employ of a wizard seeking some powerful device he read about in an ancient tome. Intelligent monsters might control another area, perhaps a dragon of an appropriate size has claimed the ancient treasury. There could be turf wars by the various factions trying to control the city. There could be a big bad trying to consolidate his power and is working to sway other factions to his will and destroy those who don’t come along. Players getting in the midst of such a turf war could be in for a wild ride.

Lots of ideas present themselves, palace, barracks, temples and shrines, colleges of magic, palaces of nobles and the rich, merchants of all kinds, the old bazaar, docks, an abandoned thieve’s guild tower, homes of the populace.

Would each city be built on a similar plan, or would each be unique?

I like to think or areas or pigeon holes for parts of large areas, like a city. All you really need for a map is the rough distance from one “quarter” or section of the city and how long it will take. I just borrow maps for cities online for my use. Of course, to publish my own, if that were every to happen, would take new maps and a LOT more detail for others to be able to use it. There is a HUGE difference between enough notes for a DM to run a session, and enough description for someone new to the campaign to run it. For making your own cities or megadungeons, you just need enough information to keep play moving. You may even have to have some tables for quick random generation of buildings, their condition, and contents.

There needs to be something to break up the sameness. As I wrote this, I recalled a scenario when I GM’d Gamma World and the players found a high rise hotel and in every room were skeletons of people in sexual positions as they obviously were going to do it one last time before the end of the world. Ah the mind of a adolescent teenage boy. After a while I ran out of scenarios for number of people and positions. It was all on the fly. I did not do enough preparation to have more variety. The other guys laughed at what I came up with, so we had fun, but it had an aura of sameness to it. A list of some sort for  100 houses, 100 merchant shops, etc. like many other lists of 100 other bloggers have come up with can go a long way. If you have the spare coin to buy a PDF of a city, you can save Googling for lists, or making up your own.

I would suggest making a list of the different types of things you expect to find in a city, wells, cisterns, fountains, houses, shrines, temples, tombs, etc. and make a list of 100 of them. Use a spreadsheet like Open Office or Libre Office Calc and have a column for a present day, in-use item/building/object and a second column for what it is like in a ruined city or town. You can make your lists as detailed as you need to make it useful for working down the list or picking at random. For a more complex choice and variety, you could have columns for different descriptors to use when applying to the object or building. Obviously, more substantial buildings like temples, palaces, forts, and wizard towers would need more preparation, especially if there is anything there to find or find you. Again, there are lots of maps and free modules describing these very things.

Building your own lists has the power of giving it your own flavor. You don’t have to come up with everything from scratch, you can mix and match ideas and lists from others you find online or in your rulebooks. There is a lot you can do if you are a cash-strapped teen or an adult with other things you need your money for, like bills and trying to save for retirement. Or if you have a few dollars to spend there are a lot of good resources available on DriveThru RPG or RPGNow in the $5 or less range. The D30 DM Companion and the D30 Sandbox Companion are two great resources for the time strapped DM and give lots of ideas for how to organize one’s own tables.

I really appreciate all the other DMs and players who share all their ideas online and so much of it is free. Thank you all, fellow gamers!

City Districts Posted on G+ World Building Community

I posted this comment and question about names for districts/quarters in towns and cities on the G+ World Building Community.

I am working on ideas for different districts/quarters for towns and cities in a fantasy (D&D) setting.

I have come up with a few from memory and my own ideas:
– Temple quarter
– Wizard quarter
– Royal & Noble quarter
– Government/Bureaucracy quarter
– Merchant’s quarter
– Non-human quarter (for areas where they don’t just mingle right in)
– Rich/Poor
– Docks/Wharves/Shipyards
– Thieve’s quarter

I then turned to Google, and Jerusalem and it’s four quarters, based on religion, tends to predominate the results. I found that old cities often had 3 to 5 quarters, Paris has 18 districts. Usually, there is the old town/city which may or may not be a citadel/acropolis/medina.

So a lot of them also have government quarters, lower/upper town, old town/city, and royal quarter.

I am curious what sorts of Districts/Areas/Quarters/Divisions of town and cities do you have/use?

I have one large ancient abandoned city that I am working on ideas to help with dealing with the players running around it. I have a general idea of what is where, and then am adding my own ideas to some city tables I have found on various blogs to generate some things ahead of time, but also to have on hand for on the fly generation as needed.

It is tricky to avoid every other house/building being the same without some options to help mix it up.

NOTE: I see developing large ancient cities whether active or ruins as related to megadungeons, and it may just be the above ground level of a megadungeon.