30 June 2013

Orc Name Generator

Today I add an Orc name generator to my list of name generators. The seeds for this one came from a list of notable Orcs from Lord of the Rings, Paizo's Orcs of Golarion and a list of notable Orcs of Mystara. The tribe/last names started with a list of words from the tribes of Mystara and Golarion and I expanded from there.

11 June 2013

A while back J.D. Barnes put a call out to the RPG blogosphere to take a look at his latest project, a megadungeon meets small press zine called The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord.  Normally I only look at PDFs here at Impossible Boulder, but Barnes is going back to basics with his foray into megadungeonry and that interests me. You might be thinking OSR and you're right in that TRFotEO is ostensibly an old school dungeon; however, the goals and results are more in line with the artisanal movement. Indie publishing in the RPG industry almost always takes the form of PDF products or print on demand and Barnes is deliberately eschewing that in favour of product that is hand made and available only directly through him. 

The Thing Itself

The dungeon arrived in a manila envelope and I was eager to open it up and see exactly what an artisinal RPG product might look like. It turns out that takes the form of a small, stable-bound blue booklet with an unattached cover. The cover threw me off at first, but I soon discovered that it also doubles as a map and the reason it is unattached is for ease of use.

The cover is a very nice touch, if unusual. The hand drawn isometric map looks good, but between faded ink, spotty printing and crosshatching/shading that didn't make it through the scanning and printing process it was difficult to read. The map could do with some post scan work being done on it in image editor of some kinds. I think cleaning up and thickening the lines would go a long way for improving legibility of the map and a lighter shade of blue might make the lines pop more.

Moving on from the cover is the actual meat of the booklet, 28 pages of pure old school dungeon. The paper is of high quality but, as with the map, there are places where the ink is spotty. Future printings would benefit from experimenting with ink weights and print quality. I wouldn't say that this booklet hits the quality that the author is aiming for, but keep in mind that this is the first printing. Nobody can be expected to get things perfect on the first try and it is going to take a few tweaks before we start seeing the expected print quality.

Initial Reading & Alterations For Play

I took an initial read through the dungeon before throwing it out on the table for my players to clean out. I was pleased to see that the voice was casual while remaining concise and the text was free of any glaring errors as far as I could see.

Ruined Fortress is very much an old school dungeon with a great set of wandering monsters and encounters that could have been arranged more gracefully. The booklet uses several dice rolls to determine those encounters and the information is not communicated with a table and is instead spread out across enough paragraphs to slow a GM down during play. The dungeon layout is also quite old school and falls into the Paul Jaquays style of mapping. Not every room has anything of interest in it, but all of the larger rooms do and once you account for random encounters and patrolling monsters (such as the blue dragon) the ruined fortress should be a very lively place.

I should note that at least one room in the dungeon felt a little forced, as if the designer didn't really know what to put there. I am speaking of the shield room, a room filled with stacks of shields which happen to have the world's worst alarm system: a fragile glass bottle that has been precariously placed underneath a shield so that it falls when disturbed. I'm at a loss as to the purpose of this room. The trap was weird and seemingly ineffective (what good is a single such potion? There should at least be one on each stack of shields.) It also wouldn't have been detectable by a party in any way short of dumb luck, which places it in that Gygaxian class of traps which are unfair because nobody would ever think to do X. This was really the only room that sent me for a loop, but it still strikes me as bizarre a week later. Still, weird traps like this are part of the charm of old school dungeons and I can't bring myself to be mad at it.

After I had a feel for the dungeon I made a few alterations so that I could slide it into my current Dungeon World campaign.
  1. Since I only have the first level of the Ruined Fortress, I turned the place into a (mostly) single level ruined monastery.
  2. I moved it to a hill overlooking a ruined town.
  3. I changed the back story so that it fit with the monastery theme; however, it didn't end up being important for the adventure anyway.
  4. I ignored all of the monster stats since they don't carry over to the Dungeon World system. Note that I did use them as guidelines for my conversions.

Highlights From Play

I don't want to go through the entire dungeon here, if you want that then you should pick up a copy of the dungeon for yourself. Instead I will cover a few of the highlights from our run through the dungeon. I should note that all of these things happened very organically and at least two of them were generated in from encounter tables.

The Berbalang

Berbalangs are, to my knowledge, a new monster from the mind of Barnes and by pure serendipity the encounter surrounding the berbalang encounter fit into my game very well.

The hook I used to bring my players to this dungeon was that one of the players was trapped on the Astral Plane and the 'monastery' housed a point where the fabric between planes was weak. The PCs in the material plane would need to visit the monastery and perform a ritual in tandem with the Astral PC in order to bring him over.

Since berbalangs hunt via astral projection it was the perfect monster to have an encounter with which could involve both the astral and material PCs. The astral PC protected the other PCs from the berbalang while they explored the fortress and sought out the location for the ritual.

Goblin Tribe

My group of players managed to befriend some wandering goblins, which brought them back to Gooch. Upon learning that they had human prisoners and that Gooch was a nasty piece of work (what did they expect from Goblins?) one of the heroes challenged Gooch to a duel for leadership of the tribe, and won. This will surely be a problem for later on.

Rival Adventurers

While wandering through the dungeon, searching for the ritual location, the heroes stumbled upon a rival adventuring party. The meeting did not go well, especially not with several goblin in tow. The silver-tongued bard managed to smooth things over, but only if the party gave up looting rights in exchange for free passage to and from the ritual chamber. That turned out to be a mistake when the "heroes" used their newfound goblin tribe to ambush and mug the adventurers they had previously struck a deal with.

Avoiding the Blue Dragon

The blue dragon that wanders the halls of the ruined keep monastery showed up regularly on my encounter rolls, but always seemed to be a room or two a way. This lead to the players picking their way around him and sneaking by regularly. A mistake on my part was giving the dragon the wrong name, Saul, which lead to Breaking Bad jokes

Final Thoughts

This is a quirky dungeon that nails the old school, do-it-yourself adventures you used to see people pass around or share in zines. There are a few production kinks that I am confident will be worked out and none of those kinks render the final product any less usable. The dungeon won't appeal to everyone and especially not those interested in a cohesive, thematic dungeon like you would find in the pages of modern Dungeon Magazines or a Paizo product. This is a little more punk and a lot more old school, it's closer to what you would get before Desert of Desolation came along and changed the way dungeons and adventures were written. Odds are, you already know if that's what you want out of a dungeon. If not, you probably aren't in the target audience for this product.

If you want to take a look through the Ruined Fortress then you can get a copy for yourself from here.

7 June 2013

Game Chef 2013: Chroma Team reaches the finals!

The peer reviewing and nomination process for Game Chef 2013 is over and the finalists have been announced. The dust has settled and ten* games are going before the four expert judges and this year I am astounded to say that my entry is one of those ten.

My goofy little game, that was written stealthily in the middle of the night whilst my wife slept and in spurts as I moved around my home evading wet paint** and moving furniture, was deemed good enough to go to the next round. I'm surprised and honoured that my fellow designers liked the game enough to nominate it.

Whenever I finish a game for one of these contests (be it Game Chef, 24 Hour or something else) I am always left feeling sour. By the time I hit that 'submit' button I despise my game.  I'm always left thinking it's the worst thing ever committed to digital ink. As time passes I warm back up to it, but those first couple of weeks all I have is criticism for myself: This time around was no different and even as I write this I am still in that phase of my creative process. The positive (and constructive) feedback has been quite the shock to my post-design negativity bubble and learning that my game was nominated for the next round is the pinprick that burst it.

Somebody pinch me.

*All look to be interesting games and I will be reading my way through them while we all bide our time nervously until June 12th.
**Which in retrospect might have influenced my decision to use colour so heavily in the game.


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