About Me

Friday, November 22, 2013


I broke through the writer's block. Almost. Went to Florida to see my folks and did some work on Midlands. The actual story is beyond the scope of this blog, since my players read it, BUT, I brainstormed and had an insight. The reason that Dungeon Crawls, those D&D adventures known as "site-based" adventures work so well, is because they combine the story-telling and game structure so well, that they are one and the same - You create a dungeon map with a room key, throw in an wandering monster table, and you have your adventure!

There is a lot of well thought out pages in Gary Gygax's Dungeon Master Guide dedicated to the design of dungeon based adventures. Tom Moldway's red box basic set edition has the best and most concise section of dungeon adventure writing. Once we get into the Wildernes, we are on our own, literally and figuratively. Gygax DMG has a lot of good writing on running a wilderness adventure from the point of travel and encounter, but there is no equivalent writing on DESIGNING a memorable wilderness!  I got everything there was available on wilderness design for D&D, but there was nothing that capture the sight and variety of the terrain I know and love from years of hiking and road trips. There were books that told you how to figure out how long before your player charters staved to death of froze to death, there were books that described the types of terrain and the abstract modifiers for combat - such as modifiers to being hit by enemy missiles and concealment. And still, the forest was a forest and there were fantastic terrain descriptions for the fantasy forest and the haunted forest. Nobody had the magic of the forest though, the old growth forests with room to maneuver for a horseman and no undergrowth to hide in, the thickets, the meadows with the tall cattails to conceal a man, the pine forest and the aspen and the cottonwood tree forests. I saw the incredible variety of the backwoods in the Northeast and the monotony of the terrain in the Mojave Desert. But I saw the Saguaro cacti that looked like running figures as I drove 75 mph. I saw piles of rocks casting shadows and the noon sun made these shadow look like faces you couldn't capture on camera film. I realized that this kind of detail is best transmitted into the game not through game mechanic, but through narrative. and the narrative is not the same as the table top miniatures gaming. I realized that you can describe the wilderness in terms of its terrain features of its sub-terrain, and that each sub-terrain can be populated with encounters, not just combat encounters with monsters or role playing encounters with NPC's, but also EVENT encounters - terrain events (avalanches in the mountains), weather events (sudden summer thunderstorm), exploration encounters - abandoned orchards and hamlets, old hedgerows, Inns and road houses, old camp sites!

Elsewhere, on The Alexandrian blog and others I read about Hex-crawls and Wilderness encounters that consist of lairs and large size encampments. I read Gygax's small section on random wilderness generation. He recommended hexes 40 miles across and to generate the random "Main feature" of the hex. I did not like it. Still, there was nothing to anchor my narrative approach to, the way you can just draw a map and generate a semi-random room key. Then I had my Eureka moment!

I was away from the rainy and cold New York November. I was in the sunny Florida in the quiet of my bedroom bathed in sunshine with the green silk curtains fluttering in the breeze. White marble house, blue swimming pool outside. Temperature just perfect. There was that feeling of the getaway, of leaving my job behind and of having time. A weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was sitting behind my bedroom table and looking at the open notebook I brought for D&D design and the empty pages and the colored pens. I had a new adventure to start writing. It wasn't going to be a dungeon crawl. I have an old game with a beautiful game board and each square with its own evocative name. I loved it. I wanted to set my next adventure there! The board did not have squares, rather irregularly shaped pieces representing territories. Like Risk! but definitely not that game! And my Eureka moment, Use the hex crawl conventions and anchor your wilderness descriptions not on an abstract hex, one of sixty or so, but on each territory on that map on that gameboard!!!!!

Friday, November 8, 2013


DM standing on the edge of the Ocean. Cold wind swirling sand in the air and an occasional shadow dancing among the dust devils. Stylized Mahjongg tiles dancing in the air borne by the wind. They spin and swirl and clank with a weighty plastic sound of the tossing dominoes. DM gazes at the images on the plastic little tiles dancing in the air before him. They flash in the autumnal sun, under the cold cerulean skies. There is the blood red of the Towers and Minarets, and the light blue of the Goblets or Grails striking against the royal purple of the Bastard Swords and forest green of the Great Bascinets that has a tint of yellow to give it that feel of the military camouflage, the helmet itself seeming worn out with use. Then there is the flash of the gold tiles bearing the images of Shields with an unknown, if stereotypical heraldic device and the little Scepters appearing among the spinning tiles and rotating like the planets in their orbits. These have the feel of metal, and they seem impervious to the gusts and the perturbations of the angry wind and stately revolve around themselves and in their unseen orbits, fading in and out of the Oracle. DM is willing for the Scepters to appear and reveal their fates, to give him a good beginning and an entrance into his Midlands world, so that he can prepare the second adventure for his players. He is prepared to stand for the eternity here and wait, just as he walked his entire life along this coast, carrying his spear and sweating under his hauberk, past the burning cities the wrecked ships, knowing that he is always bound to end up walking in the end. With the suddenness of the cleared vision coming into focus, the Sceptres all reveal themselves in an instant. The DM sees even as they explode into miniature puffs and the entire oracle disappears into a cloud of sand. Excellent oracle indeed.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


If I was a D&D character, I would be worshipping Farlaghan, God of the Road. I love traveling, journeying, and exploring. I have two major passions in life, one is D&D, and the other is going on road trips. I don't have a mortgage, I pay rent and save on property taxes. I don't have a car loan, I drive a beat up old roadster, and save significantly on vehicle maintenance, and have no compunction about jumping into my car and driving cross-country. I have another blog dedicated to that other part of my life, it's called Rambler's Content and you can find it here:


Eventually I will break through the writers' block and post something there.


If the creativity is an ocean, then writing is the wind in the sails and its been dead calm for a while here. The game went into a hiatus, then ended, and when it restarts, as it most certainly must, it will be a Season Two of the campaign. The game died for all the usual reasons: A new promotion, count as a new job to be learned, GF moving in with me, campaign play outlived its lifespan. Didn't know, but continuous campaigns typically last two years in D&D, and we lasted 2 years 10 months this time, and 3 years 5 months in its previous incarnation. A good player moved on after the mega-dungeon all got sick of, came to a successful conclusion. Story itself covered about a six week dungeon siege/raid into an ecologically realistic mega dungeon complex of 15 different areas 10-60 rooms each. I WANTED to experience Moldway's Red Book, and I got a lot more. One thing I realized was that a D&D is not a fantasy exploration game, it is a tactical combat game, if you follow all of the rules. You must make a conscious effort to make it something else.

I have done and attempted to do a lot as far as game design is concerned. Story was easy, making a map was easy, I enjoyed using Moldway's rules for generating a dungeon, and after it was there, I used good tactical sense to fortify it using the in-game resources available to the Nemesis NPC. Where I made the mistake (if you can call it that) was that I let the dungeon outweigh the rest of the world, given ultimately the short life-span of a typical campaign (2 years). I did succeed, however, in taking AD&D from table top miniature figure-based war-gaming, to a more phenomenological narrative style, where combat is geared to tactical realism and takes place in players heads. I also did for the wilderness and the outdoors, what Gygax and Moldway did for the underground labyrinth, creating a realistic wilderness experience that a real world outdoorsman might appreciate. Finally, I tried to computerize the pencil and paper AD&D, where you input the ability stats and other information, such as equipment, and the computer automatically figures out and prints the necessary in-game rolls on your character sheet, the character sheet itself changes configuration based on the character class that you pick. So far, I have failed to achieve this.

I have to start writing a new adventure. The next one will be done using non-linear encounter node design and will familiarize the players with the Barony where the story is taking place. I found two beautiful maps, and they will be the next two adventures in the campaign, and I will design those using the modified hex crawl system.