Thursday, March 24, 2011

Moral Dilemmas in the Dungeon

One of my players sent me a link yesterday to this post about moral dilemmas in RPGs. In the real world, he is interested in ethics, so it doesn't surprise me that he'd be interested in me including this stuff in some of our games. I even think I can do it without rail-roading, so I'm going to try, and I'll also probably try some things from the "X is for Xenophobia" page in the Dungeon Alphabet. I've been wanting to do that for a while anyway…

Have any of you purposely inserted moral dilemmas into your games? How did it work out?

In other news, I'm immensely thankful that Sham over at Sham's Grog 'n Blog took the time to answer a question about stocking dungeons with monsters with a whole blog post. After downloading what he's made available, I think that using it as a template for my own dungeon stocking charts will be very easy and work quite nicely. Thanks Sham!

And now back to studying…

Monday, March 21, 2011

I'm still here! (barely)

Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. School's been busy and it'll only get busier this next week, so I don't plan on doing any more posting this week. Next week is spring break, though, so, between working on projects and homework, I expect to be able to do a bit more work on my megadungeon and post about that here. If anyone wants to give me pointers on stocking dungeons, I'd appreciate that immensely, as I'm having trouble deciding how to go about doing that.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Triple-Axis Alignment System

Recently, Delta posted two quotes from Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. Clearly, this is at least a large part of the inspiration for alignment as originally conceived in DnD.

I think, for my purpose, the most important line in what Delta quoted is, "Decent humanity would, on the other hand, always want to strengthen and extend Law, safety, predictability." That's the main problem I have with the traditional definitions of the Law-Chaos spectrum: when all the PCs, and just about everyone they meet that they aren't killing is too, what's really the point of saying they are Lawful? Categories only work if they provide useful distinctions.

So, while the original DnD Law-Chaos spectrum is cool, I think it might be best left in the inspirational material. (Then again, I might be missing something- I suspect not, though, since, from what I can tell from reading the blogs, alignment is something everyone deals with differently. This just happens to be the way I deal with alignment.) In my games, I instead use a triple-axis alignment system. It's based off of the 1e-3.5 double-axis alignment system, with another axis that resembles, but is certainly not identical to, the original Law-Chaos spectrum.

I'm not going to include the write-ups of the Law-Chaos and Good-Evil spectrums that I included in my players' handbooklets that I typed up, partly because they are long and everyone is probably already familiar with them, and partly because I'm not sure, technically, about the rights to everything in them. I borrowed some from the 3.5 SRD and am also pretty sure that I got some inspiration from ChicagoWiz, but I don't know just which parts, and I don't know the particular blog post, so it's safer if I keep that offline. I call this third spectrum of alignment the "Civilization-Barbarism" spectrum. Here's what I included in my handbooklet:
The Civilization-Barbarism axis concerns the way a character views the spread of large nations and the homogenization of culture and progression of science that comes with it. A Civilized character will view the expansion of great civilizations to be bringing light to dark places, making the world safer and advancing progress. He will value cosmopolitanism and science and will make sacrifices to bring other places within the influence of his civilization or just civilization in general. A Neutral character may not care about such things as progress or the destruction of old ways, or he may see both good and bad in the growth of great civilizations. A Barbaric character views the growth of nations and civilizations to be a destructive influence, destroying the sacred traditions passed down for generations and forcing all in its wake to adopt the soulless ways of life of the conqueror, or else become extinct. A Barbaric character will fight against the imposition of a dominant culture upon others of different cultures and will work towards the preservation of diverse races and ways of life, whether his own or others'.
A good test to see where your character falls on the Civilization-Barbarism axis is to imagine that your character is leading a squad of crack fighting men through a forest when they come upon a battle between the Imperial Guard and some nomadic tribesmen. If your character sides with the Imperial Guard, your character is Civilized. If your character sides with the nomadic tribesmen, your character is Barbaric. If your character sides with neither side, your character is Neutral.
How do you use alignment in your games? Is my triple-axis alignment system too complicated, do you think? Is there something I'm missing that is causing me to abandon the original Law-Chaos spectrum?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Clerics, Zombies and Fungus

I don't use clerics in my campaign right now. The two reasons for that are that I try to spread healing ability around for the classes. Barbarians, Rangers and Paladins all can heal to some degree, and everyone is able to do 1d4 hit points of first aid after a fight.

The second reason is that I don't run undead in my campaign. For one reason or another, the undead really just aren't my style.

With no undead and no monopoly on healing, there really wasn't a good reason to have clerics in my campaign.

Lately, though, I've been thinking more and more about fungi as monsters. This got started because of all the awesome monster fungi in Matt Finch's "The Podcaverns of the Sinister Shroom"- the titular Sinister Shroom, Pod-men, Fungemoths… really cool. Thing is, fungi are kind of (and I do mean kind of) like the undead. They aren't plants or animals, and they feed on death. There's something creepy about them, at least when they are not served on pizza; that creepy factor increases a lot when you have giant mushrooms, sentient mushrooms, mushrooms with unpredictable effects, etc. I've been thinking about ways to incorporate fungi into my games and one recently presented itself as a link on one of my friend's Facebook pages.

Apparently, there is a genus of fungus that infect insects with their spores, take over their brains, kill them and then sprout from their dead bodies. Cool! The ones that feed on ants and sprout just from the head are extra-creepy.

How's that for a zombie apocalypse? Villagers just start shambling off- away from the village instead of toward other living things- and die, and then a giant mushroom sprouts from their heads! How's that for unsettling your players? Of course, you can do all sorts of other things with this. For example, since the cause of the zombies is a fungus and not a necromancer of some sort, the players will have a terrible time trying to identify and neutralize the source before they, too, get infected.

If your games do involve the undead, then you can throw your players off even more. Imagine the look on a player's face when his cleric can't turn a bunch of low-level zombies!

Which brings us back to clerics. While the undead are really not my style, fungi are. What if clerics turned fungi- weird, dead-feeding, sinister things- instead of undead? Hmm, this merits further pondering…

Have you ever used fungi in your games? How did it go? Would you ever let a cleric turn fungi zombies?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Foray into Dungeon Building, Part 5

So, I now have nine areas of my dungeon's first level to map out.  Looking back to my preliminary side-view multi-level map, I see that my first level needs to have five exits/entrances: The "front door" that is the "standard" entrance to the dungeon, the tower, the teleportation column, the passage to Level Two and the passage to Level Four.  I've decided to put the Front Door in Area 4; that will be the first area I start mapping.  Areas 1-3 look like they would make a nice area for the kobolds to control; the teleportation column will in one of those areas, probably Area 1.  The passage to Level 4 should be out of the way, so it goes in Area 6.  I think I'll put the tower in Area 9; because it is the alternate way to get onto Level 1 from the surface, choosing it should provide a meaningfully different experience when entering the dungeon. Choices should be real in the sense that they affect things. I think I'll put the passage down to Level 2 in Area 8.

So, now to mapping actual rooms and hallways.  I'm going to take this an area at a time and start with Area 4. Area 4 will be most players' introduction to the dungeon, as I plan on making the tower more inaccessible than the Front Door. As far as non-randomly placed NPCs, the only ones I'll place in Area 4 is a group of kobolds at the Front Door demanding a toll.  They'll be somewhat Tuckered, armored and have some attack rats with them- a serious threat to a party of 1st level PCs.  This encounter will let the PCs know that the kobolds have power in the dungeon and that they achieve this power by controlling choke-points.  It will also allow the PCs to begin their relations with the Kobolds. Depending on how the PCs interact with the Kobolds, they may become allies, enemies or merely business associates.

Other than that, I'm not going to place any organized, intelligent or particularly powerful monsters in Area 4, though they may be encountered there as the result of a wandering monster roll. So far as placing monsters goes in this area, I plan on doing that randomly.

Since I want a larger map, without any rooms taken out, I'm going to roll only six times to eliminate passages.

[14, 21, 16, 26, 11, 8]

Resulting in this map:

In the top right is my first draft attempt to arrange the arch-node framework into a real map.
I'm not eliminating rooms that only serve as a way-point along a passage-way between two other rooms because I want to maintain a high number of rooms.  As I'm doing this now, each area will hold 18 rooms, for a total of 178 rooms on Level 1. Spiffy!

I now take this map and re-arrange it some- reshape the rooms, vary the length, and straightness of the hallways, make one passage secret (should I make more passages secret? I'm not sure) and add two dead ends. I also designate which rooms will have passages leading to the areas Area 4 has connections to, and which room the Front Door leads to and I number the rooms and hallways.  I try to fit it into a 30 by 30 square space so I can use the 1 Page Dungeon style for each area, which I think will add immensely to the convenience of this dungeon.

Now I go over to Dungeonographer and create the map. I add in a bunch of dead ends in what would otherwise be solid stone/empty space, and also discover that my hand-drawn map wasn't true to what I'd actually rolled (around room 18), so I fix that. Also, I discover that it is time-consuming and hard to have anything other than right angles in Dungeonographer, so I take those out of the map for now. I'll see about figuring that out another time. For now, this is what I have:

Quite simple and bare-bones, but not bad, if I do say so myself. Now I stick this in the top-left corner of the OPD template and next time I'll work on stocking this map!