Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Detail, realism and diminishing returns

Detail and realism, when used to create diminishing returns in the game, open up whole areas of previously unexplored gameplay. Aspects of the game that were never explored because there wasn't a way to distinguish them from one another. By this I mean opening up a new spectrum of options which the players can now enjoy and which were not possible (convenient, useful, survivable) before. Confused? Read on.

My focus on detail and realism in the game has moved to a more "diminishing returns" centered view. Detail and realism not being an end in itself anymore, but rather a means to make players decide between two or more options. Each with conflicting interests and design goals.

What do I mean by this? Well basically if I'm going to add a new rule to obtain more detail I want it to represent the pros and cons of items not just a more precise value for the distance the bullet takes to hit the ground or the exact impact point of the munition.

When I sat down to review the bow and arrow rules and come up with a new model for them I did so making sure a benefit was matched with a drawback. Not only did I arrive at a more realistic model for the bow and arrow, I also ended up with one which promoted different ways to use it. By considering DEX, STR, and CON and breaking away from the two attacks per round limit I allowed players to choose a specialization. Flight arrows vs war arrows, speed over range, etc. It is now possible for players to use the bow and arrow in ways it was not "convenient" before. Using a short, weak and low ranged bow made no sense in the D&D I played 20 years ago. Now without the bounds of two attacks per round it makes all the sense in the world. Such a bow can be fired much faster (5 to 6 shots per round) than it heavier counterparts. Can be easily used while riding on a horse or in a tight dungeon passage. The addition of detail has opened up a whole new spectrum of in game options that players couldn't enjoy before.

As I sit down now to do the same thing with guns and bullets I find this idea even more important. In Weapons Free I'm adding detail down to the bullet type. Will you put in a 9mm Parabellum or a .40 S&W. Each one behaves differently and deserves its distinctive features preserved in the game. The purpose not being the addition of unnecessary rules that slow down game with more numbers and extra die rolls. I want simple modifiers to add clearly distinctive benefits and drawbacks to each weapon, sight and ammo type used. Rules that just add detail or benefits are useless without a drawback. A drawback that eventually limits the virtues of the weapon. With this context becomes relevant and min maxing more difficult. I don't want the difference to be simple range value modifier or a damage roll difference. I'm adding the quality of the sight, ease of use while moving, ammo type, rate of fire, etc. These bits of detail bring out the imperfections of the world our characters live in, thus creating tension and promoting a more interesting game.

How do you implement drawbacks, limitations and diminishing returns in your games?

Image source
An interesting read BTW

Supersonic bullet and gun suppressors

Gun suppressors are a cool thing to have in games because they keep you quiet and stealthy and are lots of fun to sneak around with and take your enemy by surprise. Most games introduce a damage or range penalty to suppressor equipped guns to compensate for that extra sneaky lethality.
From the research I've been doing and the help of some friends who've contributed their experience(thanks +Brandon Fero  for your insight on this), suppressors don't really affect the bullet speed, range, performance, whatever of a gun. What does happen though is that bullets usually get changed from supersonic to subsonic. What does this mean? Well the bullet speed as the projectile leaves the muzzle is controlled to be below the speed of sound. This reduces the sonic crack that's distinctive with supersonic ammo. Getting confused? This video will clarify it with four rounds being discharged from a Desert Eagle, two supersonic and two subsonic.

Notice how the supersonic bullets still produce more noise? That's because the bullet is creating a sonic boom just like a fighter jet. Firing subsonic removes this noise and makes the overall performance a lot quieter. The issue is that supersonic bullets behave differently from subsonic, thus the weapon's performance difference when suppressed. That is, suppressed and using the slower subsonic bullets. After all what's the point of the suppressor if the sonic boom gives you away?

Now slower bullets drop faster thus altering range. They have less momentum (p=mv) and thus theoretically less stopping power. Some articles mention that subsonic expansive bullets will penetrate more since they expand slower than supersonic ones. This is a good thing as they go deeper and may cause more harm, even when they have less momentum.

Overall the point is that suppressors don't affect the performance of  the weapon. If your weapon of choice in the game already has subsonic ammo the addition of the suppressor should be transparent. 

How does this come into play in the game. Well weapons already have a modifier for range and ammo is getting a penetration and damage modifier too. So those will be put into play when using different ammo as you switch to using a suppressor. Performance will depend mostly on the ammo being used in the weapon. There are already a lot of variants with ammo being taken into consideration that adding this should be a non issue.

One thing I have to take note is the supersonic to subsonic transition and its effect on bullet trajectory. Specially for sniper rifles at long range. Using subsonic bullets prevents this, but I guess it will reduce range considerably. Last time I read something about this I got the impression that the transition point pretty much marks the effective range of the weapon as the trajectory becomes too unpredictable to make the weapon effective beyond it. I'll have to dig into that again.

Image source

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What if problems had hit points?

Most of the time when a party encounters a situation that calls for a skill check the leading character in said field of experience takes the point and does a skill check. The outcome is either success or failure.

Now lets think for a moment what would happen if the problem had hit points. If your character had to hit it on and on again until the hit points reach zero to solve the problem. Could the problem attack back? Injuring our character? What type of damage would it do?

We've all come upon problems on which we work on for a while without any progress. Eventually they become tiresome and frustrate us. Couldn't that be considered a type of damage?

More so could more than one character join in to solve the problem? If so, wouldn't that deplete the problems hit points faster and reduce the "damage" done to each character? Something like this could facilitate team work.


Monday, July 29, 2013

What's on the budget after artwork?

If you already had all the artwork you'd ever need for your game and you didn't or wound't have to spend a dime on it and still have great quality stuff, what would be next on your budget?

For the modern warfare game I'm working on I already have all the graphic material I would ever need. No need to set aside time or money to procure it. At least not as much time as I'd need to commission work, review it, etc.

If I had thousands of dollars to put into the project what else would require such funds? Recently I asked if a mathematician was worth hiring. Would spending extra on one be worth while? Maybe a programmer to make all these cool simulation software to quickly demo certain functionality like combat, skills and character progression. A damn good editor to review the text and comment on the layout. Some custom fonts? A cool website? What else?

What would you burn your extra cash if you didn't have to spend money on artwork? What aspects of your games that are left unattended due to low budgets would benefit from some extra funding?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Modeling bullets

One of the issues I'm facing right now is bullet modeling. Particularly modeling a bullet against armor and cover. You see, some bullets are made to do terrible damage to the human body, but suck at breaking through armor. Bullets that are good at breaking through armor may not be so effective against the body in a through and through shot.

The question is how to model this in a simple way so a single die roll can be enough to resolve damage during combat and yet still be realistic enough to represent armor and cover.

Here are the design goals:

  • represent the stopping power of cover (walls, cars, other people?)
  • represent deformation as the bullet penetrates cover
  • represent the stopping power of armor
  • represent deformation as the bullet penetrates armor
  • represent the actual damage done to the target
Now the issue I'm seeing is that simple hit point damage isn't good enough to represent the penetrating power of a bullet. A bullet or buckshot can do a lot of damage to tissue, but be terrible at breaking through armor. Bullets may be very good at going through level III or IV armor, but not be that great at stopping the target dead on its track.

The complexity resides in that simply raising the HP damage value may turn a lethal round with very poor AP performance into a very effective at defeating level IV armor. Which might not be the case. On the other hand "small damage" rounds may be effective and defeating level III armor, but cause too much damage to the target. More damage than the round would really do to an unarmored target, leading to excessive lethality in the game.

Also, as bullets go through objects they don't only lose momentum, they become deformed. So a bullet going through something covering the target will be less effective at penetrating the targets armor. This requires a quick way to represent bullet deformation to grant the target some advantage to taking some cover.

Image source

Would you hire a mathmatician?

Artwork is something clearly budgeted for in an RPG, so is editing and getting the game polished and presentable. Time is set aside for playtesting as well. What I'm curious is how much $$$ is dedicated to the math behind the game. Do RPG designers pay for someone to review the math as they might pay for editing? I'm not saying they should hire the likes of Liebniz, but running the numbers through someone knowledgeable with probability? Or do designers in general jump to the playtest phase to test the mathematical theory?

I'm not a mathematician myself, but I know how to program and can see the benefit of running model simulation before getting into playtesting, For example how well a weapon may be compared to another, or vs a certain type of creature.

Do you as a game designer put money on the math?

Do you run some sort of computer assisted modeling prior to writing the rules or moving to playtest?, be it spreadsheet or some program.

Do you jump to the playtest directly?

If you use some sort of computer assisted development, do you see a benefit in turn around time to develop a game when you can simulate scenarios?

Changing combat dynamics through iniative and HP recovery

"Fight til you drop" is the motto of D&D combat. What if you had some benefits from pulling out of an encounter, at least momentarily, and got to mitigate some drawbacks if you did so too?

Here are a couple of rules I've been running through a spreadsheet to see how they could change game dynamics in D&D.

Rule 1
Getting hit makes you lose you next attack. In an encounter you may either win or lose initiative. Getting hit makes you lose your next available attack. That means

  • If you lose initiative and you're hit you can't attack that round. As you lose your next available attack.
  • If you win initiative you'll attack first, if you miss and in turn get hit you'll lose your next attack if you win initiative in the next round. If you were to lose initiative the next round you'll have an attack at the end of that round if you're not hit by your opponent who does have an attack at the beginning of the round.
  • Same thing applies to monsters. If you hit them and cause damage they lose the attack.
This motivates constant barrage of attacks to suppress the enemy and never let them counter attack effectively. Of course this requires you to win initiative and promote it as a skill to have. On the other hand getting hit once may lead you to win initiative on the next round (since you're good) and send you on a spiral of constant attacks against you. To mitigate this is the following rule.

Rule 2
Disengaging from combat resets the initiative/hit counter. Pulling out from the line and waiting a round allows you to reenter combat without the drawback of having been hit. Since hit points are a skill and luck thing too pulling out from the line also allows you to recover half the hit points lost in the last attack (only the last).

I posted rule 1 on its own a while back and got some feedback saying that it was unfair since a dragon met by 40 peasants would never have a chance to attack. Truth is otherwise. Doing some math 3 or 4 times in 20 the dragon is stopped, the other times the village is roast, and that wasn't considering rule 2.

Try it and tell me what you think. It has allowed me to see other combat tactics come into play, much faster attacks intended to suppress and kill the enemy quicker. It also calls for team play as some members draw away from the line and rejoin later. More so it puts the fighter in the forefront of battle since only a skilled warrior could have the skill to attack first on and on again and be less prone to taking a debilitating blow that would eliminate his or her attacks.

Image source (some very nice images here!)

Using MGs for suppressing fire

Machine gun fire is one of the things that's taking me the longest to get polished. I really want it to work well. It isn't something about shooting a target to kill it, its about shooting into an area with the hopes of hitting as many targets as possible or to scare them shitless. Machine gun fire isn't very precise, but it covers a large area very quickly and helps suppress the enemy so your side can position itself better and put even more fire on the enemy.

Machine gun fire will work the following way. Your character can day down fire on an area covering 10m, 5m or 1m strips. The 10m area is a full fire action on the 10m stripe. Opponents in the area will have a high chance of being suppressed, and a quite lower chance of getting hit (depends on cover too). The 5m area seeks to concentrate fire on a much smaller area and thus increase the odds of hitting something. The odds of suppressing stay pretty much the same as with 10m, but the odds of hitting increase considerably. Finally firing controller bursts into a 1m area is meant to shoot the living hell out of somebody firing from behind a wall or other object. The idea is to kill, odds of hitting are good and odds of suppression are excellent. Nobody in their right mind is going to stick their head out when an MG is pointed straight at them.

Firing MGs also has the benefit of tracer bullets. The more your character keeps firing on the position the more modifiers the rolls will get, up to a maximum of three. For example odds of hitting something will increase about threefold from the initial trigger pull to three or four rounds of firing on the same position. Drawback is that tracers work both ways! It will expose your position to the enemy as well.

How does this differ from other games in which you open fire with an MG on an enemy position to hit a particular target? For starters you don't need to see or know where the target is. Using the mechanics you just roll for your fire and the GM rolls for whomever is in the affected area. Unless the target is very close or you have a spotter with a scope helping you, you won't know the result of the attack. Are they all dead? Hiding? Scared? You don't know. So use those precious seconds the MG is on to move your men to a better position, flank, surround and take out the enemy before they have a chance to figure out what is going on. It's all about speed and teamwork.

Join the game community to read more about the game and its progress.
Weapons Free RPG community

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pay what you want vs kickstarter

I've been hearing a great deal of bad news from many tabletop RPG projects on Kickstarter. Projects not delivering on time, no posting updates, giving feedback, staying in touch with supporters or worse yet kickstarting a fundraiser to fund previous failed kickstarters. A bit like obtaining a new credit card to pay off an older one who's payments can't be met anymore. It seems that the worse of our economic system has gotten a hold of our hobby as well: speculation.

What exactly do these supporters get out of putting money into a project. Aside from the promised product itself that is. Shares? Stock options? A percentage of future annual sales?

Is there a Standard and Poor's or Moody's for Kickstarter? Who advises you, the potential investor, that a kickstarter is a good investment or not? Who's going to pay for such an analysis? You? And if not you, who? Kickstarter? Who's interested in getting good rating for it's projects? The project community who's even more interested in getting a good rating of itself?

Here's a though, game designers and artists (who take a large amount of cash due to the need and cost of artwork) put their time in for free. They develop a product and put it up for sale, if it goes well then great! Otherwise too bad for being bad at the job. Sounds too spartan a process? Here's another idea.

Put something out with a small investment. Release early and often and use the pay what you want feature to get money from those who are really interested in your product. Get some money of them, to whom you've already delivered something of use, and continue work with that. Expand your product and release updates that bring in more cash. At some point you can release the second edition of your product and get even more cash flow. Benefits are: you'll know early on what works and doesn't work with your product, you'll have shorter more attainable goals and if you're like myself, an inexperienced publisher, you get to gain some experience using your own hard earned money rather than other's load of cash.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Making city and building maps with Campaign Cartographer

Last Friday's playtest took me to run my first full town assault with two squads and two sniper teams. It was fun, lots of fun, but it showed the limitations of the map selection. I had a hodge podge of building interiors and a small college community with some real photos of the city taken from Google Maps.

The next mission leaves the frozen Georgian mountains to drop the teams in the heat and sand of the middle east. For this adventure I want to create a custom town just for the mission so I'm firing up Campaign Cartographer (CC) and learning a few tricks to create a convincing city and "dungeon" map in one. Thus giving the players a real city with building they can storm into at any time!

CC has three modules Campaign Cartographer itself for large kingdom maps, City Designer (CD) for city maps and Dungeon Designer (DD) for dungeon maps. To create the city I began a map with CD and put some buildings, roads and areas with grass and dirt as shown below. I selected CD's middle east buildings for an extra touch of detail.

When I'm done laying out the buildings, landmarks and ground detail I open up the floorplan creator dialogue. This will automatically create floorplan maps for the buildings. I select the type, specify the number of above ground and below ground levels and give it a name.

This creates a nice set of floorplan maps with the building outlines already laid out for me. From there on it's my job to fill in the inner detail like I've shown below. To do this I switch to DD's toolset and use its set of dungeon icons and room/floor design tools to fill the inside of buildings. I can easily switch between floors with the convenient menu on the lower right and fill all the building's floors with tons of detail.

Once I'm done I can export the maps to my preferred image format and upload it to Roll20 and be ready to play the next mission!

Disclaimer, I'm by no means affiliated to ProFantasy Software.

CC3's page

Sunday, July 21, 2013

If you're hit you can't attack!

What if getting hit meant you lost all remaining round attacks? How would that influence your gameplay?

D&D has a feat for an initiative bonus of + 4, aside from that there is very little that can give a character a first strike capability every time. What if success dependes on the initiative roll more than the attack roll?

Here's the rule:

If you lose initiative and get hit you can't attack that round.

If you win initiative and get hit you can't attack next round if you win initiative. You can only attack on the next round if you lose initiative.

How would you specialize your character then? Would focusing on initiative be a good and more important thing to do than a to hit bonus? Dexterity over strength?  A simple 1d4 damage roll could eliminate your opponents very deadly 2d12 roll that round. Who needs armor when your opponent can't attack!


Image source

Saturday, July 20, 2013

D&D without a fighter

Imagine a D&D without a fighter class? Imagine it without all the problems it brings! No more having to balance a game around a class that shouldn't exist. No longer an exponential vs linear progression issue. Gone solved, done for. The fighter is an extinct species.

You know when this hit me? As I was thinking about dungeon clearing techniques I realized units like SWAT, Rangers, Delta and SEALs are not fighters, they're thieves, magic user thieves for that matter (or thief magic user, whichever way you want it). The modern day "fighter" can jump off an airplane, swim underwater, climb up and down a rope, listen through walls, speak in sign language to fellow thieves err team members, break through doors, pick locks, blast doors, sneak and attack, sneak and back-stab, move silently, see in the dark, attack from afar, throw grenades, etc. More so one in four or one in eight are cleric thieves. They can do all that cool stuff and heal too. What can the fighter in D&D do? Swing his sword? Woooaaahh wow!!!

Why not empower all classes to have fighting abilities to a higher or lesser degree and be done with the fighter as a class? Fighter is now a skill and not a class. Something you can add to other classes to a greater or lesser extent.

Breach, bang and clear, do you flashbang dungeon rooms?

When was the last time you threw a flashbang into the orc infected room before entering? In my case, never. The more I get involved in modern warfare games the more I wonder how the heck my D&D characters survived so long.

You know, it usually goes like this: your party enters the room. "What is there? A group of orcs jump out and attack you. Oh. Roll initiative. You win, attack first. (roll roll roll) Ok three orcs are still left standing the attack. (roll roll roll) Your party takes some damage. Next round, roll initiative."

In reality this is more like this: "Hear something? Yea some mumbling. Ok guys, breach, bang and clear. Thief drops in the flashbang, boom, go go go. Magic missile, sword, sword, sword, crossbow, mace, crossbow. Ok, three orcs are still left standing, they're a bit dazed and... No worries, magic missile, sword, sword, sword, crossbow, mace, crossbow. Ok they're all dead."

See? Why worry about few hit points and lethality when you've got the initiative. Heck actually you kinda cheated with the initiative. Fuck cheating with initiative, you totally disregarded initiative and went to the attack phase, twice in a row! Is it less heroic? Maybe. Is it safer? Hell yea! Is it adventurous? Well I think it does open up a whole new way of dungeoneering don't you think?

Marines training room clearing techniques.

Image sources

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Give me skill not hit points!

Ran a modern combat event last Friday and nobody was killed. Most people have *lethality* as an issue when they hear modern combat. They think fire arms, which makes them think one shot and you're out of the game. This is true, very true, but only if your character gets hit. Skill, training and speed count more than hit points. Why isn't this so in dungeon crawls and what effect does this have on the game?

I hadn't realized the impact hit points have on game dynamics until now. When your characters are a wall of hit points and these are a mixture of life points, skill and luck the dungeon dynamics changes drastically. The use of fast overwhelming force is not so much a concern anymore. You know monsters will not go down in one hit either. So storming in and taking everything in sight is not an achievable option. We know storming a room full of orcs or ogres won't result in a one round encounter, unless characters are of high levels.

In a modern combat game things move slowly as the unit approaches the enemy, but when contact is made things move quicker. The enemy does not stay in their rooms waiting for the party to come around and hit them. The move, they adapt and turn things against the party in an attempt to flush the party out of "their dungeon" and possibly this world too.

In dungeon crawls thins are much slower. Even with random encounters and some odds of drawing attention, things move very slow. Characters may speed things up if they find a room with goblins, but after a few rounds of fighting things go back to slowly exploring the passages and more and more rooms. I've seldom had a sense of urgency after clearing a room.

What would happen if there was no pause to recover hit points? If monsters could succumb to a single hit? If placing that hit and not getting hit in turn was all that really mattered? How would that change the dungeon crawl pace for you? How would it change the whole storytelling process itself if dungeon crawling was a fast paced raid?

Dungeon vs. building clearing

This video has it all, move silently, find traps, pick locks (pick them apart with saws and explosives that is), fireballs and magic missiles. All you ever wanted in a dungeon crawl, but at the much faster pace of modern combat. So what separates a dungeon crawl from a building clearing? Both sound awfully familiar. You go room by room clearing things. So what's different?

Last Friday I playtested the first building raid and it was exciting. Not as fast as I was expecting, I felt that both players and myself as GM still had that dungeon crawl spirit in us. Some things were painfully slow compared to real building clearing. There's one distinctive feature in modern combat games vs dungeon crawls. The building is alive and its inhabitants do not want you there!!!

Most dungeons are static in the sense that room after room and passage after passage things are discovered, dealt with and left behind. In last Friday's building the soldiers in the area did not want the party messing with their dungeon. They began regrouping, organizing, moving around and firing back.

That hardly happens in dungeons. When was the last time you saw the goblins come out and protect the rats your party was attacking? Much less so for just 2000 cp. I won't generalize as there are many dungeons out there that have some form of dynamics. None the less a great deal many are lots of rooms with isolated ecosystems living on their own and waiting to get slaughtered when the party arrives.

Have you crawled through a dungeon you really felt alive and changing with every room you cleared? Did it feel like the thing really didn't want you nor your party in it?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Die rolls killed the good GM

Or should I say proficient GM instead? Anyway, here's a thought, excessive die rolling is killing good GMs. Using die rolls to justify NPC actions which would otherwise be role played by the GM is killing the decision making power of the GM and the ability to play really well fleshed out NPC. Instead, "player luck" demanding the outcome give players a "chance" is putting the decision power of NPCs on the dice and not on the NPCs best interests. Not only that, it is adding unnecessary die rolls to the game in the hopes of preventing discussion and long conversations between players and GM as to how and why an NPC acted. Certainly rolling dice is faster than having the discussion, but not as fast as not rolling dice AND not having the discussion at all. Which would be done if players sucked it up and kept quiet. Which sounds kinda rude and close minded, but read on.

I'm not saying the GM should send a rock downhill and say it runs over a character, that should require a die roll at least. But rolling for NPCs decisions strips the GM of power to create an interesting and real NPC. If the NPCs decisions don't please the players, too bad. I would call it unfair if the GM used inside knowledge to change the NPC's decision, but that would just be poor GMing which should be sanctioned by players in another way which is not long discussions during play. Keep playing as player and express your concern later in a constructive way. It will give the GM feedback and allow him or her to improve.

Now for an example of this. The example comes from +Zak Smith blog post which got me thinking about this whole issue.

" The bar is completely empty except for the bartender who is behind the bar, looking at the door, holding a shotgun."

The player wants to get in. Clearly a hard task with the barman looking straight at the door. The player sets a fire outside to draw the attention of the bartender. The GM rolls to see if the bartender leaves the bar unattended to investigate the fire and thus grant the player an opportunity of entry. (roll roll) The barman does indeed decide to go investigate the fire out....wo wo wo, what wait what?

An experienced barman who's clearly waiting for something suddenly decides to leave his "high ground" position to investigate a fire outside. A fire that happens to occur on the evening the bar is totally empty and he has a shotgun in his hand and is clearly waiting for something. Am I the only one who sees the flaw in making a die roll for this just to grant the player "a chance"? The GM should act on the bartender's best interests and not allow the bartender to take such an risky action, even if it hinders the player's plan. Is the adventure so railroaded it absolutely requires the player to enter the bar through the door? Is that the only way to keep on going?  Please.

Die rolls are a good thing to use to prevent debate that may drag a session unnecessarily long discussions. Nonetheless it is better not to have those discussions in the first place. Although I've been an advocate of such rolls for NPC decision making Zak's post and the conversation that followed got me thinking if doing so just prevents a real grass roots solution. A solution in which both players and GM alike mature into better players with a better understanding of the game.

Are die rolls preventing GMs from acquiring that instinct as to what is good and bad to do to create tension and excitement in a game? I'm sure that much of what I say here is shocking and against all sorts of best practices out there. No giving the players a chance. A die roll to at least see if it happens. Balanced play.  Low character death rates. We all want to make it out alive, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on and on.

But wouldn't the GM's way or the highway be a better way to solve the issue? Traumatizing in the beginning, no doubt, it puts some evolutionary pressure on the GM to improve his or her GMing and not rely so much on dice to create a feeling of "impartiality".


Before you flame me. I don't actually play this way, I'm just putting this on the table for discussion.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Preparing for the dungeon crawl, intelligently

Most of the time when we prepare our party for a dungeon crawl we think of ropes, 10' poles, healing potions and maybe some henchmen as cannon fodder, err, assistance.

But what about information and intelligence gathering prior to the adventure? Getting stories from the local bar? Learning what lays ahead can save a character from certain death. Certainly some parties have already ventured into the dungeon. It's hard to believe your party is the first in eons to journey in. So why not get some help from those who've been there?

Here's is a list of ideas to provide your players with intelligence prior to entering the dungeon. It's done in the hopes that it not only saves a character or two, but it also adds more flavor to the adventure.

  • Bar (or Inn)
    • "You meet in a bar (or inn)", is a common kickoff point for most adventures. Why not provide information there if so many parties take off from there and surely come there to quench their thirst after a long and arduous dungeon crawl.
    • The bar tender might have overheard stories of what's in the dungeon.
    • He might know the names of people who went in before as well as their fate, see the points below. These names may prove to be contacts that will provide intel to the party for a price.
  • Local cleric
    • Where do adventurers go to heal their wounded or resurrect their dead? To the local cleric who will at least know what killed the poor fool.
    • Maybe a local cleric once went in as a henchman and knows something or two about the dungeon.
  • Stores
    • If others adventurers have been in the dungeon before they've surely come out to trade treasure. The local stores should know a story or two or have artifacts from the dungeon itself for sale!
    • Arcane parchments and scrolls may be laying around with scribbled maps and information.
    • A piece of paper, wood or other artifact of low value has something scribbled on it. Some language nobody knew, but one of the party members understands it and it provides valuable information. It's actually a map of traps written in goblin!
    • Characters may cast magic on artifacts to know who they belonged to or where they have been. Revealing valuable information of the insides of the dungeon.
  • Cemetery 
    • The unfortunate souls who may not be resurrected or die of their wounds will be here. Powerful and obscure magic can be used to gain information from the graves.
    • Speak with the dead may reveal information of what killed the poor soul and also what that character went through in the dungeon.
    • Resurrect and raise dead, animate dead or other obscure spells may provide ghoulish henchmen for the less scrupulous parties who may need help on the fly. Nothing better than a walking zombie map to guide you through the though parts of the dungeon.

Image source

Monday, July 01, 2013

Know thy dungeon

Modern day combat units have something our brave adventurers lack : intelligence. I don't mean the magic user's intelligence, I mean enemy intelligence.

Units will drill and drill and drill. Our brave adventurers journey totally into the unknown. Why do we seldom sell the maps we draw to other brave adventurers? Why don't we buy maps from others? Is there a dungeon crawl intelligence gathering processes in your campaign? Gathering some info at the bar or maybe the local clerics, who heal the injured and raise the dead. Surely from the recent dungeon excursions.

As I ponder on the game mechanics for my game and look into the concept of coolness under fire as a means to determine initiative, my thoughts converge on training. Training is an important factor in the success of a mission, knowing what each member of the team is responsible for, where they stand and what lays ahead is crucial for a quick victory. Yet dungeon crawlers seldom train. Is that because it's not a needed skill or because the mechanics provide no benefit?

The more I think about it the more I'm convinced an initiative system based on combat coolness is better than a random roll. That such system should be adjusted for training, team cohesion, command and the current situation. I seldom see this in dungeon crawls. Do you make use of ways to look ahead and gain intelligence of what's awaiting your party? or do you just storm in hoping for the best?

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FORT HOOD, Texas- Military policemen from 2nd...

FORT HOOD, Texas- Military policemen from 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, practice stacking against the walls before clearing rooms during the Special Reaction Team phase one training at the Fort Hood "shoot...