Sunday, April 16, 2017

In Dungeons & Dragons, every location is a dungeon

Also posted in r/DnD because nobody actually reads this blog

Hugo Darnaut (1850-1937), Dürnstein on the Danube, 1876

In Dungeons & Dragons, “dungeon” refers to any underground or interior system of corridors and chambers: rooms connected by hallways. Their layouts run the gamut from totally linear—just one path through—to bewilderingly labyrinthine. Dungeons have their own ecologies and are often dynamic. That is, those orcs don’t just lock themselves in a 20x20 room waiting for adventurers to wander in; they live there, they move around in it, they engage with other factions occupying the space.
Every DM knows how to run a dungeon. Something about it just makes sense: you go from room to room, you encounter obstacles and traps along the way, you interact with objects and NPCs, you fight monsters, you find treasure. You might even learn something about the history of the setting while you’re at it. It's a self-contained area where adventures happen.
It might be helpful to think about outdoor adventures the same way. When your players strike out into the wilderness, there’s no need to reinvent the game (a lesson I learned from constantly trying to reinvent the game). Just exchange your graph paper for hex paper.
Instead of drawing rooms and hallways, you’re drawing plains, hills, and forests separated by mountains, rivers, and canyons.
Instead of stocking rooms with furniture, artwork, chains on the walls, the vials and alembics of an alchemist, or barrels and chests, you're stocking outdoor areas with trees, plants, logs on the ground, stones, ruins, mile markers, road signs, abandoned wagons, and old campsites.
You still have monster and NPC encounters, just at longer distances. You can still find “secret doors” in the form of treasure hidden inside a tree or behind a stone in a wall or as previously unknown mountain passes and river fords. You may still be confronted by traps in the form of rickety rope bridges held up by worn-out ropes, rockslides, traps and snares set by hunters, or scree that can cause you to lose your footing and go tumbling down a hillside.
I’ve built entire campaigns by drawing a hex map, stocking each hex by rolling on random tables, and then building the backstory by drawing connections between whatever ends up in each hex. That’s a lot of planning up front, both in making the tables and in stocking each hex, but once you do it, you won’t have to prep again for a long time (unless the party makes a beeline for the uncharted corners of the map!). You could even save yourself the up-front prep and just roll on the random tables as the party enters each hex if you are confident in your improvisation skills. But many dungeon adventures involve exploring a specific, self-contained underground area; by the same token, your players could be tasked with exploring a specific 6 hex by 6 hex region of the map, whether to map the area, catalog plant species, prospect for precious metals, or drive off monsters.
When designing wilderness areas, whether it’s just to get the party from point A to point B or to create a wilderness adventure, set it up the same way you’d set up a dungeon. The game is Dungeons & Dragons, but you don’t have to take that phrase literally. Everything is a dungeon if you believe in your heart it is.
This might be met with "well, yeah, no kidding" by experienced DMs, but it's something that took me a long time to figure out on my own, so I hope it is helpful to people struggling with the same questions.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Law and Chaos

“The Weird of the White Wolf,” The Elric Saga, Vol. I, Michael Moorcock

“Despairingly, sometimes, I seek the comfort of a benign God, Shaarilla. My mind goes out, lying awake at night, searching through black barrenness for something—anything—which will take me to it, warm me, protect me, tell me that there is order in the chaotic tumble of the universe; that it is consistent, this precision of the planets, not simply a brief, bright spark of sanity in an eternity of malevolent anarchy.” (315)

“Without some confirmation of the order of things, my only comfort is to accept the anarchy. This way, I can revel in chaos and know, without fear, that we are all doomed from the start—that our brief existence is both meaningless and damned. I can accept, then, that we are more than forsaken, because there was never anything there to forsake us. I have weighed the proof, Shaarilla, and must believe that anarchy prevails, in spite of all the laws which seemingly govern our actions, or sorcery, our logic. I see only the chaos in the world. If the Book we seek tells me otherwise, then I shall gladly believe it. Until then, I will put my trust only in my sword and myself.” (316)

“Know you not that two forces govern the world—fighting an eternal battle?” Elric replied. “Law and Chaos. The upholders of Chaos state that in such a world as they rule, all things are possible. Opponents of Chaos—those who ally themselves with the forces of Law—say that without law nothing material is possible.

“Some stand apart, believing that a balance between the two is the proper state of things, but we cannot.” (329)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Keep Githzerai Chaotic

In the Fiend Folio and the Planescape Campaign Setting, the Githzerai are both monastic and chaotic. The FF Githzerai are chaotic neutral, while Planescape Githzerai PCs can be of any nonlawful alignment. I like the idea of a chaotic monk, or, at least, someone of an ascetic disposition who is at home in the fluidity of chaos. I get the idea of a lawful neutral species refining their disciplined minds by giving structure and order to the chaos of Limbo, but that’s not what I want from Githzerai.  The Githzerai in my 5e Planescape campaign are nonlawful in nature. The following is an attempt to flesh out their philosophy a little more, written from the perspective of a sage from Sigil. I should probably refine this further before posting it, but I can always come back to it later.

Max Ernst, "Europe After the Rain," 1941

The Githzerai: Brothers and Sisters in Limbo

“To be in Limbo”: in the Common tongue, the phrase usually connotes a state of inertia instigated by uncertainty or mental paralysis: we cannot decide; the process is in limbo. The process has momentarily halted its deliberate movement.

But for the Githzerai who dwell on the Plane of Limbo, the phrase has a much different meaning. While still connoting a state of uncertainty, that uncertainty results not in stasis but in boundless possibility.

The name “Limbo” derives from the common language of a Prime world long forgotten, but scholars of the planes hold that its literal definition was “boundary.” In that sense, the Plane of Limbo is the boundary between Ysgard—a realm of individualistic creativity in the name of selfless benevolence and live-giving renewal—and the deranged, vile, and destructive chaos of Pandemonium. The Plane of Limbo, then, is a realm of amoral chaos: no meaning, only information; no objects, only matter; no telos, only process.

The challenge of taming such a realm has drawn many Lawful sentient species to Limbo. Those of a Lawful predisposition come to order the chaos, to divide its swirling intensities into islands of stability, outposts of sensibility in a nonsense world. The geometric monuments to cosmic Law rarely last more than a few generations, however, as Limbo’s accelerated entropy tears mortar from stone and batters stone to dust. It seems Limbo actively opposes any attempt to structure it.

The Githzerai of Limbo have learned to live with the chaos rather than struggle against it. Their communities are unlike any other in the multiverse, different even from those of the Slaad. Those with the will to survive the vortices of plasma and other strange states of matter eddying through the void find themselves transformed, deconstructed, reshaped.

For the Githzerai, one result of living in such a place is the realization of the multiplicity of the self. Limbo isn’t merely a static buffer between “good” chaos and “evil” chaos but a catalyst for transformation, an edge of perception beyond which anything is possible. Even the body itself is a “Limbo,” a boundary or limit, that exists to be overcome. The monastic Githzerai warriors and assassins have learned to overcome that boundary through the science of psionics. They also possess a curious incompatibility with magic. The nature of this aversion still requires additional study.

It is disorienting enough to parley with a Githzerai from Sigil or one of the Gate Towns, but to meet a Githzerai in Limbo is even stranger. Their humanoid bodies are stretched and flattened into formless blobs by the winds of chaos. They can physically and mentally combine with one another into a single entity, and when they reform as individuals, their personalities may be completely altered by the agglomeration and disaggregation of  many minds. They reproduce through a similar process of sedimentation: a dozen Githzerai assemble and then disassemble into thirteen individuals, each of them transformed in the process. It is said that the human mind contains multitudes; this is literally the case for the Githzerai.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

PC Race: Revenant (Fantasy AGE Conversion)

Savor the flavor here
Mario de Maria, Vecie straze al ciaro de luna (1918)

Modify your character as follows:

·         Add 1 to your Constitution ability
·         Pick one of the following ability focuses: Constitution (Drinking) or Strength (Might)
·         Your speed is equal to 10 + Dexterity (minus armor penalty)
·         You require no food, drink, or air to survive. You retain the ability to eat and drink, and many do so, whether for the pleasure it provides or to simply feel human once again.
·         You can speak and read Common and either Abyssal, Infernal, or Celestial.
·         Roll twice on the following table:

2d6      Benefit
2          +1 Fighting
3-4       Focus: Constitution (Stamina)
5          Focus: Communication (Seduction)
6          Focus: Strength (Climbing)
7-8       +1 Constitution
9          Focus: Willpower (Courage)
10-11   Focus: Dexterity (Stealth)
12        +1 Strength