Monday, November 25, 2019

Finding My Way

"I've been gone so long, I've lost count of the years."
With the Gygax '75 Challenge complete, I'm left asking, "What Now?" This isn't my first time writing a blog so I have a few ideas cooking. As I launch into this latest endeavor I'm looking ahead into what I want write and share in this space.

Caress of Steel

First and foremost I'll be expanding upon the ideas captured during the Gygax '75 Challenge. Caress of Steel is the starting area for an old school fantasy campaign. The work done over the five weeks of the challenge created the framework for the campaign, but there is still a lot left to do.

Gary's advice was for crafting the elements needed to get a campaign off the ground. The expectation is that work would continue as the campaign progressed. I presume that Gary would be doing all the work for his setting and dungeon to stay ahead of his players. While that level of detail may have worked 1975 it doesn't work for me today. I need to flesh out some more details before letting players loose in the setting. Only then will the campaign come to life.

While the setting is connected by the threads of the themes and inspirational material, it still feels a little too loosely defined for me. I'd like to tighten it up by revisiting each of the steps for a second pass. For example, many of the names and NPCs detailed in Step 4 were quickly put together to check off the workbook tasks; a second pass will help identify any weak or missing aspects.

In addition to revisiting the work already accomplished I've identified more work yet to be done:
  1. Create player hand-outs
  2. Clean up the Pinterest board
  3. Finish the Equipment list availability and starting inventory
  4. Create random encounter matrix for wilderness and dungeon
  5. Roll random encounter numbers & hit points
  6. Roll for treasure values and magic items
Adhering to the Dungeon World principle of "Draw Maps, Leave Blanks", I will work to keep a light touch on filling in background for the setting. Room is needed for the players to contribute and for their characters to grow and evolve.

The Big Wheel

Another topic I want to explore here is the work of Joseph Campbell, specifically the cycle of the Hero's Journey. This cycle of stages have become the lingua franca of storytelling. I feel there is a lot of material to mine here for the RPG hobby.

No doubt other topics will pop up as inspired by play. For now, that's plenty to get started.

Illustration Credits

Wikimedia Commons - An illustrated dictionary of words used in art and archaeology (1883) by unknown artist

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Delving Deeper Setting: Step 5 - The World

"The world is the world is"
This is the final of five parts in The Gygax '75 Challenge in which I create a Delving Deeper campaign setting using the process set forth by Dungeon & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. Gary first presented this process in the April 1975 issue of Europa fanzine.

The final week of this challenge is here! It feels like it's been a long time coming, but how sweet it is to finally be here. Let's wrap this up.

All the World's a Stage

When it comes to Step 5 - detailing the rest of the game world - Gary advises it is "something that you won't immediately have to worry about; but it is a good idea to have a general plan in mind immediately." With that in mind and Ray Otus' excellent workbook in hand, I set out to paint in the broad strokes of the world of Caress of Steel.

First I explore what lands may be found beyond the starting area. Going back to my inspirational material, I expand beyond the two core albums by Rush I chose for this exercise - Fly by Night & Caress of Steel - and explore the rest of the band's discography. It makes sense to me to work chronologically through the albums and map the 'lands' from nearest to furthest beyond the starting area.

2112 - this 1976 breakthrough album has one side devoted to the tale of world (and star system) under the rule of a totalitarian caste of priests who control all aspects of life because they know what's best for the citizens of the Solar Federation.

Hemispheres - from 1978, another album-side epic; this time we are treated to a world where the gods Apollo and Dionysus are at war over the fate of humans.

Clockwork Angels - from 2012, the band's final studio album deals with a steampunk world in which the Watchmaker works to keep the lands working with clockwork precision.

While each of these albums treat their stories as happening in different worlds - in fact, Clockwork Angels confirms that its story takes place in "this one of many possible worlds" - I like the idea of these settings all being in the same world. They can be separated by great distances or seemingly impassible barriers. This allows for some bleed between the lands. For example, near the edge of the realms of Caress of Steel, characters may encounters some Priests of Syrinx on a pilgrimage. This also allows players other options when creating their characters.

While these three albums are by far the most iconic at describing lands suitable for this world, there are other songs that can describe aspects of the world at large. Throughout their intervening albums there are numerous songs with references to locations: the Range of Light, the Wounded City, the Western Shore, the White Sands, the Canyonlands, and the Barren Lands, to name a few.

Different Stages

In addition to the many lands to which the characters may travel are the strange planes they may find themselves in. Travel here may be the result of a quest, a curse, or some combination of the two. 

Hades - the dark realm of the netherworld which Prince By-Tor, Centurion of Evil, calls home.

Olympus - the City of Immortals where Apollo and Dionysus scheme and plan.

Nocturne - the realm of dreams and its dangerous, monster-filled city, La Villa Strangiato.

Xanadu - the timeless land of the Pleasure Dome.

Ceiling Unlimited

While Gary tells us the five steps we've completed will "probably taking a week or so", Ray and I have spend five weeks completing these tasks. Having made it through this exercise,  I feel I've learned and grown as a result. The biggest take-away for me is that Gary's 5 steps to building a campaign works as intended. I also owe a big thanks to Ray Otus for traveling this road with me; I don't think I could have done it alone. Having a sounding board and someone to hold me accountable certainly is a key to my success.

Another thing I learned is that using the albums and songs of Rush hold a wealth of material for inspiring an old school fantasy RPG world. I was concerned at the start of this exercise that there would only be a few key elements to draw from while developing this campaign. What I found was that with 20 studio albums, virtually every album had songs from which material would make its way into the world.

With the exercise done, this begs the question, what's next?

Links

Ray Otus' The Viridian Scroll

The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 5

Ray Otus' Plundergrounds Podcast

Gygax 1975 Challenge Week 5

Illustration Credits

Wikimedia Commons - The World, a major arcana card in Visconti Sforza tarot deck by artist Bonifacio Bembo

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Delving Deeper Setting: Step 4 - The Home Base

The Town of Willow Dale
This is the forth of five parts in The Gygax '75 Challenge in which I create a Delving Deeper campaign setting using the process set forth by Dungeon & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. Gary first presented this process in the April 1975 issue of Europa fanzine.

With the first three levels of the dungeon outlined, it's time to turn my attention to the starting town for this campaign. This will probably be the locale the characters will come to rest and recuperate between dungeon delves; a place to hang their cloak and spend some of that coin they fought so hard to gain.

There's No Place Like Home Base

Gary starts us off with a note on when to do this step and what players will most likely do in town.
"Step 4 should be handled concurrently with designing the first three or four dungeon levels. Here your players will find lodgings, buy equipment, hire mercenaries, seek magical and clerical aid, drink, gamble and wench."
He goes on to say that there are many towns in fantasy literature that can be used as examples to build upon:
"The town would do well to resemble some of those in Howard's "Conan" series or Leiber's city of “Lankhmar”."
The above statement is telling of what source material Gary considered core to the flavor of D&D.

Finally he goes into a laundry list of things the town could include or events that could transpire there, but, in my opinion, his best bit of advice is the final sentence in this section:
"In any event be sure and leave room for additional things and expansion."
For those to familiar with Dungeon World, this should sound familiar: "Draw Maps, leave blanks". This is the number one principle for GMs in DW. For me, it is also one of the toughest ones to adhere to.

As a self-proclaimed creative individual, I like to let my imagination run unfettered and fill in as many of the blanks as possible. Partly because I strive for a certain richness in the tapestry of the world. I'm more than a little enamored with world building thanks to reading such excellent treatises on the subject as The Lord of the Rings and the Dragonlance Chronicles.

Play experience, especially playing Dungeon World, has shown me that there is great value in filling in elements at the table. First and foremost, the practice fosters a sense of collaboration and shared ownership over the setting. This buy-in helps invest players in their character and the world in which they adventure. A close second is that this practice helps to reduce GM prep time.

With Ray Otus' handy workbook to help guide me through this step, I set to work laying out the town of Willow Dale. Let's see what I came up with.

The Town of Willow Dale

"As grey traces of dawn tinge the eastern sky, the three travelers, men of Willow Dale, emerge from the forest shadow. Fording the River Dawn, they turn south, journeying into the dark and forbidding lands of the Necromancer."
The above lyrics, from the Rush song The Necromancer on their album Caress of Steel, formed the starting point for the town of Willow Dale. They were also helpful back in Step 1 when I was sketching in the landscape of the lands around the Necromancer's ruined tower.

I started with a randomly generated city (map at the top of this post). Willow Dale is a medium sized town. The generator gave me some evocative names of the various districts which made it easy to start placing businesses and locales the characters might frequent. Beginning with the equipment lists I began assigning names to the different proprietors of all the goods adventurers need.

Next I outlined three factions that are active in the town: the Trades Guild, the governor and his council, and a clandestine group working toward a secret agenda. From these and the shops I was able to start with a rich list of NPCs with whom the characters engage and interact. The finishing touch was a list of rumors that will hopefully lead the characters to the adventures they seek.

A couple of the town details came out of my early daydreaming about Willow Dale back in Step 1. When thinking about about the name of the town, I wondered as to it's origin. Looking at some of it's uses, I decided on the following points:

  • Willows are prominent in the area around the town
  • The willows are used in the production of furniture and baskets
  • The leaves are used by apothecaries of a variety of medicines
  • Bees drawn to the willows are farmed for their honey
  • Mead is produced as a by product of the honey
  • Being situated on a river-fed lake, the town is a center of trade for the trappers and furriers of the north

Room to Grow

Looking back I have a lot of details about the town. I wondered if I went too far with the number of locales and NPCs. My goal was to cover the characters' needs, but without having a gaming group to plan for I end up trying to anticipate every eventuality.

This week's exercise was a lot of work due to the number of details that were needed. I am left wondering the value of this effort. The town certainly adds a lot of flavor and underscores the themes set out in Step 1. Likewise, it was fun to name people and places based on elements from the two inspirational albums. But what value is there in doing this?

I'm a little hesitant to put too much time into a home base after my last campaign. In that effort, I worked to bring to life the various NPCs of a well known frontier lands' Keep only to have the characters spend all their time in the dungeon.

Based on the outline in Ray's workbook, I can call this section done and move on to the final step: fleshing out the rest of the world.

Links

Ray Otus' The Viridian Scroll

The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 4

Ray Otus' Plundergrounds Podcast

Gygax 1975 Challenge Week 4

Illustration Credits

Willow Dale Map created using the Medieval Fantasy City Generator by watabou

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Delving Deeper Setting: Step 3 - The Dungeon

Delving a little deeper
This is the third of five parts in The Gygax '75 Challenge in which I create a Delving Deeper campaign setting using the process set forth by Dungeon & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. Gary first presented this process in the April 1975 issue of Europa fanzine.

This is the mid point of Gary's process for getting up and running with a fantasy campaign: creating the dungeon. This set piece is truly the linchpin of an old school RPG setting. The characters will spend the majority of their adventuring time exploring it's depths. So let's get digging.

Three is the Magic Number

Gary suggests drawing out three levels to begin and then working to stay ahead of the characters' explorations. He goes on to say that each level should be based on a theme, before diving into a tour of his own "Old Greyhawk Castle".

My dungeon is inspired by the Rush song The Necromancer from the album Caress of Steel, leading to a theme revolving around the undead. The song tells the tale of the Necromancer in his tower ruling over his land. Many who wander into his realm become spectres of their former selves, trapped and doomed to forever walk the labyrinth below his tower. They are freed when Prince By-Tor defeats the Necromancer and sends his wraith retreating to darken a distant land. (Wait, isn't By-Tor mentioned in the week 1 post as the source of anti-clerics in this setting, you ask? Why yes he is, that is a story for another time.)

The setting and the dungeon take place long after the Necromancer's defeat. With his tower now in ruins, this makes for a perfect place to start. Looking over the list of undead monsters, there is a neat progression of beasties that maps nicely to the increasing difficulty of the dungeon levels.  But what does the dungeon look like?

Each level will have a different look and feel based on the nature of the creatures that call it home. There will be catacombs, caves, and crypts. I found images of the catacombs under Paris were the spark that I need to kick the creative process into high gear. At Ray Otus' suggestion, instead of drawing a true dungeon map, I focused on locations and developed more of a point crawl. This was a great time-saving tip and is enough to get me started; I can always come back and fill in more detail.

Speaking of detail, Ray put together a workbook zine (available on his Patreon) to help creators tackle The Gygax '75 Challenge. This proved extremely helpful in fleshing out the dungeon from a rough idea to a playable framework. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Final Product?

Ray and I gave ourselves a full week to work on this step in the process. Outside of work, gaming, and the regular commitments, this wasn't very much time. Here's what I was able to complete:

  • Named each of the encounters areas on all three levels
  • Outlined a point-crawl map for each of the levels
  • Described how the theme will be manifest on each level
  • Assigned monsters and treasures throughout the levels
  • Developed random encounter tables for each level as well as the surrounding ruins
  • Identified the ways to move between levels
  • Identified several tricks and traps to challenge the characters
Is the dungeon finished? No, not by a long shot. Can I run what I have? Definitely. And that is the point of this exercise: get something that you can start running for players as quickly as possible. Most of the details are still in my head:
  • The descriptions of each of the encounter locations
  • The appearances of the monsters, treasures, and levels
  • The history behind each of the locations
Right now the dungeon I have is really just a loose framework that I can use to ad lib at the table. I want to spend more time developing the dungeon into something unique, yet still true to the source material. I can do this on the fly if need be, but for now, I need to put the dungeon aside to begin working on the character's home base in step 4. 

We're over half way done and picking up speed. I'll check in with you next week on my progress.

Links

Ray Otus' The Viridian Scroll

The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 3

Ray Otus' Plundergrounds Podcast

Gygax 1975 Challenge Week 3

Illustration Credits

Wikimedia Commons - Hand-Drawn Dungeon Map with Crosshatch Pattern by Marc Majcher

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Delving Deeper Setting: Step 2 - The Starting Area

With all the world at hand, where do you start exploring?
This is the second of five parts in The Gygax '75 Challenge in which I create a Delving Deeper campaign setting using the process set forth by Dungeon & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. Gary first presented this process in the April 1975 issue of Europa fanzine.

Gary's process for step 2 is to sit down with a large sheet of hex paper and start drawing your starting area. He goes on to add that the scale should be 1 mile per hex.

Just Three Hexes

A large sheet of blank paper can be pretty intimidating. Where do you start? In the center or closer to one edge? While pondering these questions I remember Chicagowiz's advice on this subject: just start with three hexes.

Starting area lo-res version
My drawing skills are a little rusty and I want to create something that I can put in front of players to begin play. I decided to try the free version of Hexographer. After playing around with the software for a bit I came up with something I'm happy with.

The starting area is based on the geographic descriptions within several songs from my source Rush albums: Rivendell from Fly By Night, The Necromancer and The Fountain of Lamneth from Caress of Steel.

Starting in the south-western most hex you have the ruins of the Necromancer's tower in the center of a dead forest. North of there is the town of WIllow Dale. This will most likely serve as the home base for player characters. North and east from Willow Dale is the village of River Dell, home of a circle of Eldir (elves).  The eastern most hexes show the Down Mountains running north and south. This gives me plenty area to start with.

One Mile Hexes
Starting area hi-res version

I could stop here, but then there's Gary's recommendation of making the map reflect one mile to a hex. Starting from the lo-res 6 mi/hex map it was much easier to detail a hi-res version of the starting area map. This also gave me the ability to add some features on the map such as the River Dawn, starting in the snow capped mountains to the east and running westward between Willow Dale and the dead forest.

There was an unexpected bonus outcome of this exercise: wandering monster tables. Looking at the maps I created I began to think about the types of encounters PC may experience as they travel from point to point. I started to ask questions in order to detail the encounter tables: are there different encounters during the day as opposed during the evening, are any type of encounters more likely to happen than others, what sort of monsters live in these areas? The map certainly makes these questions easier to answer.

With step two down I'm ready to tackle step three: dungeon design.

Links

Ray Otus' The Viridian Scroll

The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 2

Ray Otus' Plundergrounds Podcast

Gygax 1975 Challenge Week 2

Illustration Credits

Wikimedia Commons - Unknown artist from Sebastian Münster'sCosmographia: Book V (1544)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Delving Deeper Setting: Step 1 - The Overall Setting

How hard can creating a world be? God did it in seven days.
This is the first of five parts in The Gygax '75 Challenge in which I'll be creating a Delving Deeper campaign setting using the process set forth by Dungeon & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. Gary first presented this process in the April 1975 issue of Europa fanzine.

Creating a setting from scratch can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't need to be. Gary breaks the process down into 5 easy steps. In fact, he is so confident in his methods that he promises that by following these steps you'll be "stuck refereeing [Dungeons & Dragons] seven days per week until the wee hours of the morning!" Sounds like fun. Let's jump in!

One minor change to his process is that I'll be using Delving Deeper instead of any of the editions of venerable D&D. I've come to Delving Deeper recently as a result of Ray Otus' blog and podcast (check out links at the end of this post for the results of his efforts in this challenge). For those that don't know what DD is:
Delving Deeper is a legal emulation of the original 1974 fantasy role-playing game published under the Open Game License.
My study of the game leads me to believe it is an authentic and well-researched rendition of OD&D. You can learn more about DD at immersiveink.com. With the game system selected, it's time to get back to Gary's process.

Step 1: Creating the Overall Setting

Gary tells us that creating the overall setting "is something you do in your head." From this I take it he means daydreaming and cogitating on the things that you'd like in a fantasy setting.

Having spent the better part of a week thinking about the setting I want to referee, I can say the richness of the setting has benefited from this thought exercise. Ideas started simply and grew as I spent more time in that setting "head-space". For example, when it came to what fantasy races to include, I worked from the general - Elves - to the more specific - the eternal and reclusive Eldir - especially once I found some visual inspiration to fuel the fire of the creative process.

Next Gary suggests that "fantasy/swords & sorcery games need not have any fixed basis for the assumptions made by its referee (my own doesn't) except those which embrace the whole of fantasy." Basically, anything goes. Mix and match sources (see below) to your heart's desire. I feel his recommendation is sound. A modern example of this is the approach taken by the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.

Personally, this sort of approached can easily lead to a more gonzo game; once in a while this is great, but not exactly something I like to run on a regular basis. I tend to keep the scope narrow, approaching the mixing of sources as a very selective process. It helps that my source material already has a slight mixing of genres. Gary does admit that settings "based upon limits...can be very interesting in themselves providing the scope of the setting will allow players relative free-reign to their imaginations." To which I wholeheartedly agree!

Gary's next bit of advise is rather interesting. He encourages referees to "keep it secret from your players, or else they can study your sources and become immediately too knowledgeable, thus removing the charm of uncertainty." I get where he's coming from. I once had a player who memorized both AD&D Monster Manuals and the Fiend Folio. I was hard-pressed to provide any element of surprise without going to a source that he had no knowledge of.

But that example is one dealing with core game mechanics. When it comes to the flavor of the source material, I think the more the player knows, the better they can get into the setting. If they know the setting is Medieval European Folklore then they can make appropriate choices within the game to supplement play. In fact, they may be able to offer suggestions and additions that compliment the setting the more familiar they are with the source.

Sources of Inspiration

Now to get down to it. While Gary lists many excellent potential sources, I chose a source that has given me great joy for many years: the Canadian rock band Rush. I've been a fan of their music for almost their entire career. Their music is filled with stories of adventure and fantasy.

In a fortunate moment of synchronicity I realized that two of Rush's albums not only map so well to the medieval European backdrop of Delving Deeper, but were also released in 1975 - the year Gary's article on campaign building appeared in EUROPA : Fly By Night and Caress of Steel. From these albums I chose a number of songs that are exemplary of the themes and characters of the setting I am building (see links below for the Spotify playlist):
From these songs I compiled the following high-level summaries for my setting.

Caress of Steel

  • The forces of Law and Chaos battle for the hearts of Humanity. Their rosters are legion. One shining champion of Law is the celestial Snow Dog and their clerical disciples. Opposing Snow Dog’s light is Chaos’ own Prince By-Tor, Knight of Darkness, and his anti-clerical faithful.
  • Humanity resides in the lands of the Overworld while the hordes of Chaos abide below them in the Netherworld. High above both, the celestial forces of Law grace the starlit heavens.
  • Humans are the primary and most numerous inhabitants of the Overworld. They share the land with eternal and reclusive Eldir who long ago traveled from some unknown land to now call the Overworld their home.
  • Some Human lands are ruled by Nobles through their claim of Divine Right. In other lands the Rule of Royals has been replaced by other forms of governance, leading to scattered city states. The Eldir strive to keep to themselves in their secluded forest homes, but invariably are drawn into the fray as Human passions flare and ignite war and conflict.
  • Endless are the hordes of Chaos in the Netherworld. From time to time they spill forth from Hades to wreak havoc in the Overworld. The restless dead are known to leave their tombs and crypts if they were not provided fare to cross the River Styx. Frightful are the demons who tempt Human souls to do their masters’ bidding and the fearsome dragons who lay waste to the land if their slumber is disturbed.
  • The Overworld is of unknown age. Countless epochs have passed, interspersing remnants of the lost ages among the unpopulated wilds.
  • The overall level of technology in the Overworld is that of the Late Medieval Period of European history.

Links

Caress of Steel Mood Board

From Ray Otus

The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 1
Uzerak: Where Gods Walk Mood Board

Ray Otus' Plundergrounds Podcast

Gygax 1975 Challenge Week 1

Illustration Credits

Wikimedia Commons - Unknown artist from Camille Flammarion's, L'Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire (Paris, 1888), pp. 163

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Creating a Delving Deeper Campaign in 5 Easy Steps

Turn the page
Welcome to the first post of my new blog. I was searching for a topic to kick things off when my gaming buddy Ray Otus stepped up with an idea. He told me about Charles A's The Gygax '75 Challenge inspired by an article written by Gary Gygax for EUROPA fanzine.

We kicked the idea around and thought it would be a fun challenge to tackle together, each holding the other accountable for moving through the challenge on a weekly basis. Ray got me hooked on Delving Deeper, the OD&D retro-clone, which led us to deciding DD would be the system our settings would target.

Ray and I will be checking in with each other on at least a weekly basis to compare notes and review progress. I'll be sharing my weekly progress here as well as posting links to any of Ray's postings. I'll be using this post to link to all the discussions on the subject.

I hope you'll join me on this inaugural experiment on setting creation.

Links

Beyond the Gates of Cygnus

Delving Deeper Setting: Step 1 - The Overall Setting
Delving Deeper Setting: Step 2 - The Starting Area
Delving Deeper Setting: Step 3 - The Dungeon
Delving Deeper Setting: Step 4 - The Home Base
Delving Deeper Setting: Step 5 - The World

The Viridian Scroll

The Gygax 75 Challenge
The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 1
The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 2
The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 3

Ray Otus' Plundergrounds Podcast

Gygax 1975 Challenge Week 1
Gygax 1975 Challenge Week 2

Caress of Steel

Playlist
Mood Board

Uzerak: Where Gods Walk

Illustration Credits

Wikimedia Commons - Gustave Doré’s illustration from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King”, 1868.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Finding My Way

"I've been gone so long, I've lost count of the years." With the Gygax '75 Challenge complete, I'm left askin...