I wonder if anyone still reads this blog. Anyway, things have been changing at the speed of light in the last few months so I feel like a little update is in order. I moved to London around the end of May and really got a job in a fantastic craft beer pub in Camden Town, that is, kinda cool. So the last months have been spent in trying to keep up with work, studying for my Cicerone certification, home brewing with a couple of friends, and trying to also get some sort of social life (which is something I feel like a failed completely, but still). Needless to say, the roleplaying side of my life has been the one that suffered the most from the whole situation, although I would really like to try and resurrect it somehow. I will possibly head to Dragonmeet in a couple of days, to say. So yeah, all is good (-ish), and that's pretty much it.
Hey fella oldschoolers, I'm still alive. You will find a number of never seen before posts right beneath this one - the result of export/import from my other blog CANNIBAL DICE (yeah, I keep doing that thing where I open new blogs that only last a few months and then I return to Yaqqothl over and over again). Life's pretty fucked up lately: I started working as a bartender in an irish pub in my home city a few months ago, and I'm about to move to London, where I hope to find employment in a brewpub and start brewing beer professionally. I'm still playing with the regular group, and just kick started a new Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox campaign (which is likely to remain incomplete as, y'know, I'm about to GTFO this fucking sick country). We'll see how it goes, I really hope to be back in the blogosphere soon. In the meanwhile, FIGHT ON!
Some nights I'm so tired I just can't sleep, so I thought I'd blog instead. Just try not to be so hard on my syntax.
Note: I suspect that the following ramblings may be adapted to any kind of sandbox - be it a Megadungeon, a huge wilderness area, a space sector, etc.
If you've been following the so-called OSR for a while you surely remember this post over at Greyhawk Grognard (also author of the impressive Castle of the Mad Archmage Megadungeon). If not, well, do yourself a favor and go read it right now. Done? Good, let's move over. So we all agreed that a Megadungeon should be not considered merely as something that is there to explore, but also the very center of the campaign you're playing around it. This is very convenient from a lazy busy DM point of view: you're going to spend some time designing it, and you totally want to play the hell out of it (otherwise it's just a BIG waste of precious time). Now, people often complains about megadungeons being not very good if you're plot inclined, unless you go with some subtle railroading, create some very static encounters (i.e. Room 122: Evil High Priest about to sacrifice a naked virgin on the altar of the Squamose Amoeboid God) or put a boss monster on every single level. Well, I just don't agreed with this and what I hope to offer here is an alternative take on the thing - pretending for a moment that exploring a huge never-ending dungeon is not fun enough for any party of D&D players worthy of this name.
Try to look at the Megadungeon as an un-exploded bomb. It's there since forever, it probably has a long history, and many secrets to unearth. But what happens when you unearth those secrets? What happens when you poke the proverbial sleeping dog? We're not just talking about "if you slay the orcs of tribe A till the last motherfucking one of them orcs of tribe B are very likely to move in the western section of the level". We're thinking BIG out here. For example, in the Megadungeon I'm developing lately, one of the lower levels is home to a dragon everyone believes dead. Even more, the descendants of the supposed dragon slayer are using their ancestor's heritage to tyrannize the lands around the Megadungeon. What would happen if the party goes down in the cave looking for the dragon's hoard, and discovers that the beast is still alive? What if they awake the dragon? Also, a covenant of wizards has taken residence in the black tower that the Witch King built near the dragon cave and are trying to re-settle things in order for their master to return. Will they lose time and resources fighting the dragon, or gain a powerful ally? And so on.
As you can see, I'm not talking about timed events: I'm talking about triggers left here and there to allow the players to take meaningful choices (a term which can never, ever be over-emphasized in sandbox games), which creates conflicts, which actively shape the story.
I'm delighted by Chris Kutalik's news system in his Hill Cantons campaign. Examples of what I'm talking about can be found here, here and in general all over his (amazing) blog. I have no clue on how he comes up with such brilliant stuff, but I want to do something similar for the Blackwyrm Barony, so here's a tentative table:
Solitary monster hunts the wilderness
New religion in town
I'm aiming to 20/30 entries in a similar fashion. Feel free to submit your own!
The Blackwyrm Barony is located in a narrow vale surrounded by bare woods and steep mountains: a grim, medieval borderland where civilization grasps to survive against those savage beings who dwell in the wilderness, and other nameless horrors which seldom crawls out of the forest to unleash dead and bane upon the helpless mortals. The region is especially famous for the Putrescent Vaults of Yoth (hex 0803), a vast and mostly unexplored mega-complex of underground halls and twisted corridors, supposedly the burial place of a mysterious, otherworldly race that left the planet eons ago. The House Blackwyrm rule over the Barony for thirteen generations, maintaining the status quo by means of brutal acts of repression. They rose to power when their ancestor, Eric Blackwyrm, slayed the dragon Smorg who had settled in the vale several years before, tyrannizing the inhabitants with incessant requests of sacrifices not to burn the whole place down to ashes. The words on their coat of arms say Debes Mihi Unum, "you owe me one", and none in the Barony ever questioned it.
Main Campaign Areas and Motives
The Putrescent Vaults of Yoth are kind of a lovecraftian mega-dungeon, constructed by the Serpent-kin to hide from the upper world and populated by all kind of unspeakable horrors.
Struggle against the tyranny of the House Blackwyrm by unearthing their terrible secret: the pact between Eric and the dragon Smorg, who faked his death in change of quiet and secret sacrifices and still lurks in his cave beneath the Devil's Pit (hex 0903). (Yes, the dragon's lair and the vaults may be loosely connected).
The tomb of Eric Blackwyrm (hex 0905), possible location for The Tomb of Horrors.
Yesterday (and the day before yesterday) I met up with some friends to play in our mini BX campaign using module B2 The Keep On The Borderlands. We don't get to play often, like once every few months, and I'm running this game for a year and a half now. It's very satisfying to see people who never ever played rpgs going all mad about D&D, and I think I did everything to provide them with the best old school fantasy experience possible: loads of monsters, unreliable NPCs, and a good dose of Dungeon Master's sadism. (Laughing at their 1's and exulting at monsters' 20's do more than half the trick, you know.) During the session we played on the 25th they killed the Owlbear, fucked around with some Grey Oozes, and finally entered the Temple of Chaos. They were very clever (and lucky) in pointing directly to the chamber with the acolytes, Sleep-ing every one of them but one, who they Charm-ed to get information on the lair of the Evil High Priest (they called The Greater Evil). By the time the session ended they had a good plan, a good amount of information, and I was pretty sure that the next game would have marked the end of this mini-campaign with a great final climax.
But then, you know, players always have to surprise you and so they did.
Instead of heading directly to the Temple, they stopped in room 56 to fuck around with the evil cultists. Once again, they very cleverly made use of the Sleep spell, and had every four of them in one round, with the advantage of surprise. If you know something about B2, you know how important is to be sneaky at this point of the game. So, instead of moving on to the final confrontation, they eventually decided they'd slay three of the cultists, save one for some interrogation. (The kind that involves cutters, pliers and hot iron.) Needles to say, the cultist woke up screaming like a pig. I rolled for wandering monsters once, twice, three times and finally someone in the temple heard the noise and ring the massive bell. Loads of undead was approaching the room from north and south. If you ask me, that's a situation in which you run as hell, making room among the undead by turning them to reach the exit as fast as your short halfling legs allow you. If you ask my players, they're more like "WHOA TONS OF MONSTERS! COME AND GET IT YOU WANDERING PILES OF XPs!", and thus they entrenched in the room, cast Hold Portal on the northern door and decided to fight till death. With AC 2 Dwarves in the front line, polearms in the second, and AC5/3hp skeletons approaching two at a time from the southern door they were doing pretty good, until some cultist started to launch molotov cocktails inside the room to set everything on fire (save vs. poison or suffer 1d6 damage from carbon monoxide EVERY round). So out they went to retire, and some other cultist cast Darkness on them. And you know, skeletons don't need no light to beat the shit out of your stinking adventurer's ass. They eventually lost one fellow in the darkness (his fate unknown, as of now), and managed to flee.
Note: The only Lawful character in the party, a Cleric (also, the one who suggested they'd torture the cultist fucking up every effort of sneaking inside the Temple), decided not to destroy the evil scripts found in room 56. Instead, he would keep them for study. Ironically enough, destroying them would have granted him no less than 600 XPs, not to divide with anyone else. His comment after the game was: "I promise not to torture evil cultists for the sake of it ever again. Nor to collect satanic memorabilia instead of setting them on fire, for fuck's sake!" So, wounded and sad they returned to the Keep. They told the lord about their last foray into the Caves of Chaos, and he was all "You fools! You unleashed the doom above us!" and "Let the women and children go! Fortify the Keep! THEY'RE COMING FOR OUR SOULS!" and around midnight of the same day, the Army of Darkness was slowly crawling out of the woods to raze the Keep.
So yes, the next session is most likely going to be some kind of small scale war, in which the party will finally confront with the undead servants of Chaos. (And possibly die in the attempt.) What a brilliant mess they made! Nonetheless, every last one of them was so amazed, so happy about it, and a little sad this game is about to end. It was fun as hell to play it, and doubtless the best campaign I've ever ran.
And so I did. You'll notice that there are some errors here and there, but remember that I never studied art, and that each of these took about an hour to make. (Also, sorry for the low-res scans).
First is a Chaos Warrior from WFRP, featuring some of my favorite mutations from Realms of Chaos. I messed up a little with the scar, but I'm quite satisfied with this one. Otty (aka my girlfriend) said that the sword's scabbard really looks like a massive cock. I'd call that a feature more than a issue, tough. The reverse face was really fun to draw.
How to kill a goblin with a massive sword
Second one is a fighter killing a goblin. I messed up a little with the axe (which is very small, and supposed to be behind the sword, until Otty suggested that it should be in front of that). I'm not very good at drawing blood, but I think I made a good work with perspective. I also experimented a bit with shadows, and I can tell it didn't go very well. But I also think the brain slashing detail is really cool.