Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Monday, June 28, 2021
Federico Volpini recently shared his very cool bug-centric mini-setting for Troika! with me. The writing is great and the art reminds me of the Tenniel illustrations from Alice in Wonderland. The world is full of crazy, flavorful details: freon zombies, punk foodies, dust monks, a bug pope, a weird landscape of human refuse... great stuff. (You can pick it up on itch.io.)
A few very minor criticisms. The introductory paragraph is a bit of a cold start, throwing you right into the setting. So just to state the obvious: Agramabug is an RPG setting compatible with Troika! in which communities of insects scrabble over the discarded wastes of humans hoping to attain power, security, and prosperity. The text is also a bit tightly-spaced, but then I think my 53-yo eyes are just always craving a little more white space these days. My 23-yo self probably would have loved the denseness of the design.
Is there such a thing as too many poo jokes? I feel like the setting is scatalogical to a degree that would get a little old. What else matters to bugs -- water, pollen, seeds? It bears thinking about before you throw players into the setting.
Back to the good stuff. The lists. Oh my gawds, the lists. I have a soft spot for lists because a designer can pack so much setting into them, and that's just what Fredrico did. The classes are great too, and if you know Troika!, you'll know that this is its other primary tool for communicating setting.
The world is both comical and dreary at the same time, if that's possible. It could be played as grimdark or wildly comic, or both. My first addition would be some hippy-granola bugs who live on a sunny hill filled with dandelions, just to give a bit of contrast to the extensive landfill that Fredrico provides.
Perhaps the highest bit of praise I can give to Agramabug is that I want to play it. My default reading stance after a few paragraphs was "how I would run this" not "is this any good?" So clearly I made up my mind on the latter pretty fast.
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
A self-admitted frustrated grognard posted on MeWe today that he was unsatisfied with the label "Original D&D" for the early brown and white box editions. He was partly making fun of himself and partly grasping for a better term, as a fan of the original. It set me on a track of thinking that resulted in this:
All editions and variations of D&D are "D&D" - that is the collective. When making a clarification, we should use
- '74 D&D (three books)
- '76 D&D (seven books, for all practical purposes this is just an earlier, messier version of AD&D)
- Basic D&D (further clarified as Holmes, BX, or BECMI)
- Advanced D&D (further clarified as 1e or 2e)
- Modern D&D (further clarified as an edition 3.5, 4th, 5th)
Here was my train of thought.
[In response to the root post.] Everything else has a name. Basic D&D (Holmes, BX, BECMI), Advanced D&D (1e or 2e), or a modern edition (3.5, 4, 5). I'd say that Oe should just be called "D&D", but that's not realistic. All Corvettes are Corvettes. But then we add a year when we want to talk about a specific model (and sometimes other labels, like Stingray). So I guess this version has to have a label. I've seen Original D&D, Three Little (Brown) Books (TLB or TLBB), Whitebox, etc. I kind of like 1974 D&D, but even then there are distinctions. Three-book 1974 D&D is quite different from seven-book 1976 D&D. I guess maybe that's the answer for me: '74 D&D, '76 D&D, Basic (Holmes, BX, BECMI), Advanced D&D (1e or 2e), or a modern edition (3.5, 4, 5).
Am I missing something. Do I have all the right bays designated for the Corvettes? My only dissatisfaction with this scheme might be the slightly pejorative connotation of the word "Basic."
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
- The Void of Thrantar
- Before Fire
- Fresh from the Forge
- Wizard Funk 3
- Desert Moon of Karth
- The Lighthouse at the Edge of the Universe
- Realms of Peril
- Harrowings #03: Muspelhell
- Dodeca RPG
- Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade
- The Vaults of Torment: Blood is Fuel
- The Drain
- Planar Compass Issue 2
- Not a Place of Honor
- Siege: Pocket Warfare (print)
- Pamphlet of Pantheons (digital)
- In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe (print)
- A Bug's Guide to the Shimmer (digital)
- Kriegsmesser (print)
- Microvania (print)
- Menagerie of the Void (print)
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Menagerie is a solo, zine-sized, journaling game I backed during Kickstarter's Zine Quest 2021. You are on board an early starship when an alien zoo abducts you to serve as its keeper. The game revolves around creating, housing, and caring for bizarre creatures. It uses index cards and playing cards, and is something that you could pretty easily play in short stretches. The game ends when you master all of the robotic systems of the zoo (unlikely) or when your character gives up hope.
The book is 28 pages (included the covers) and is layed out beautifully and well-written. The art, though a little inconsistent in feel, really gets across the alien nature of the game and the zoo's organisms. Illustrations of the cards (thank you!) help you figure out how the game works. A number of random generators and outcomes for various events assure lots of replayability.
Overall this is a really solid little game book. I can't wait to try it out for real, and will be sure to write about my experience when I do.
Saturday, May 29, 2021
I backed Microvania, by Tyler Magruder as part of ZineQuest 3. It is a hack of Ben Robbins' Microscope.
I'll give Microvania props for high production values (at least in choice of paper and finish) and a few interesting twists on the idea of Microscope: mainly that it reduces the scope of the game to the size of a computer/video-game environment, and makes use of recursion by means of obstacles which can only be resolved from exploring other parts of the index card map you make during play.
Now for the bad stuff, unfortunately. This game is poorly explained. The rules are vague at best, and often outright skip over elements. New card types are introduced without explaining how they come into play. There are no illustrations of a game in progress that would help you piece together what the author is saying. You could play it, but only if you are willing to fill in the very significant gaps and answer your own questions.
It's not like the zine format hurt this game. The author had plenty of space to make his ideas clear; he just failed to do so. Why do I say that? Because the font size and choice of art is cringeworthy. The font is huge and the copious negative space is given over to random images (really, there's no clear connection at all between text and image). This game is one page of hastily sketched out ideas stretched over 32 pages. SEVEN of those pages are given over to listing the names of KS backers, double-spaced, and an additional two are blank for "notes".
What. The. Fuck. !?
I don't like to give negative reviews, but this lackluster effort seriously pissed me off. I used to teach composition at a university and I feel like a freshman just handed me a 10-page research paper with 3" margins and an 18 pt. font.
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Buy Kriegsmesser – because I say so. If that isn't enough:
Kriegsmesser is a gritty and sometimes raucous look at the "long sixteenth century somewhere in Europe" designed by Gregor Vuga. Think no/low magic; 'scientists', mercenaries, merchants, and spies; gritty and dark humor. Think careers not race/class, and d6s not d20s. Think about what the baby of Troika and 1e Warhammer with about 90% less goofiness and fantasy would look like. Think about running away if someone points a pistol, or even a nice sword at you!
Kriegsmesser can be played with Troika (Fighting Fantasy, Jackson & Livingston) or with Gregor's own, onboard system that seems to be about 50% Lasers and Feelings (John Harper) and 50% Dungeon World (LaTorra & Koebel).
I backed Kriegsmesser during Zine Quest 3. Here we are, just 2.5 months later, and I have both a PDF and a physical copy in hand. There was roughly one update a week between successful funding and delivery - just the right amount. I got the Preview 3+ weeks ago, the PDF over a week ago, and the zine this week. So, congrats on a clear, well run KS campaign go to Gregor Vuga and his team! This is what a really professional KS feels like - not too aloof and not too chummy, no gratuitous stretch goals or messy piles of digital files, clear expectations were set and then delivered upon.
The zine packs a lot into it. A bit about the implied setting is followed by a short page of character creation rules and 36 careers, one of which each player's character gets at random. After that comes a basket of goodies: a rules base that's a good alternate to Troika, optional rules for combat that makes it a bit more mechanical and/or more likely to cause scars than death, some thoughts on running the game, a whole system for creating flavorful NPCs, a method of generating towns and adventures, some flavorful pre-generated scoundrels for encounters, more info about the 'long sixteenth', and a final thought on playing the game in other times or places.
And in case I have done this zine a disservice, here are Gregor's own words from DTRPG.com:
Kriegsmesser is a tabletop RPG zine that was created for #zinequest 2021. It was inspired by history (cca. 1453-1630) and roleplaying games named after medieval weapons.
"Its focus are 36 backgrounds compatible with Troika by Melsonian Arts Council, but it comes with a set of custom rules and can be played standalone.
Also includes some essays, GM tools, random tables, rules for horrible injuries, recommended media and a bunch of historical woodcut art.
What is it not?
• It's not a historical game as such, it's fairly anachronistic and sparse on detail.
• It is not high fantasy with evil gods and orcs and wizards and pirate elves on lizard mounts."
Friday, April 30, 2021
There are three alignments, Law, Chaos, and neutrality. However, neutrality is an agnostic or transitional state between the other two. One can ally with the forces of Law or of Chaos, or attempt to remain neutral. Chaos and Law constantly battle over the allegiances of men and other species. Some supernatural entities also attempt to maintain neutrality in this war, with greater or lesser success, but they tend not to interfere in power struggles or gift powers to mortals.
Those allied to Law or Chaos are granted a type of supernatural language. To speak or understand Law, you must be aligned to Law. The same is true of Chaos. If you ever drift away from your allegiance, you will lose the ability to speak/understand the language. The range of concepts communicable in these languages are related to their nature. For instance, there is no word for “truce” in Chaos; but one may speak of a bargain.
Speaking Law or Chaos is a powerful and often dangerous act. It may reveal your presence to supernatural creatures. It will certainly be recognized by enemies and can be used as a kind of litmus test among allies. Characters who are exposed to an alignment language they don’t know for very long will suffer, physically and mentally. Anxiety and headaches are followed by tears of blood or other stigma. If the exposure is prolonged, madness may result. Characters who are neutral will suffer less than those of the opposite alignment to the language being spoken.
Some spells are scribed in alignment language. This means that they may not be cast by individuals of other alignments without the use of Read Magic and without sustaining damage and eliciting the attention of supernatural beings. (It also means that despite being magic, someone of the same alignment could read it without using Read Magic.)
[Rules text for OSE. Still noodling a little over the specifics and they may evolve at the table.] Suggested damage for exposure to an opposite alignment language is d3 hp per round (1 hp for neutral characters) If the exposure is prolonged or especially intense, the GM may call for characters to Save vs. Spells to avoid madness. On a successful save, the damage ends . Characters can try to drown out the voice of someone speaking by making loud noise or even speaking loudly in the opposite language. Combining voices of the same language don’t do additional damage, and Chaos and Law being spoken at the same time cause a painful noise but essentially cancel each other out other than probably calling every servant of Chaos and Law within psychic earshot.
Speaking an alignment language requires concentration. Characters and move and speak, or speak and attack or cast, but can’t move, speak, and attack/cast. The damage for casting a spell in the language of another alignment is d3 for neutral casters and d6 for casters of an opposed alignment, for each level of the spell.
Common is a trade language based on the most common, wide-spread human dialect. Most humans know Common and, as does any species that commonly interacts with humans.
Common consists of about 800 very basic words. It is pretty easy to learn, but lacks any depth or nuance. For most things, there is only one word: e.g. “home” covers house, hut, den, burrow, nest, etc.
Species with mouth-shapes that significantly vary from human are less likely to (be able to) speak Common. Communication with such a species takes longer (requires more patience) and is likely to include a number of misunderstandings from concept drift or simply misspeaking/mishearing.
Speaking to another culture in their own language automatically gives you a +1 on reaction rolls. It probably also gives you a rudimentary understanding of their culture.
Some folk refuse to learn or speak Common. Usually their reasons are seated in some form or cultural/regional pride and/or dislike of other species. Speaking Common to them may cause a -1 reaction penalty.
Languages other than alignment can be learned through study. Speaking a language may require a mouth similar to the species whose language is being studied.
Languages are often related to each other. Given a steady stream of nonverbal cues, context, and words, a bystander can sometimes follow the gist of a conversation by others if the language being spoken is close to any they know.
The INT bonus determines how many additional languages (other than alignment, native, and common) a character can learn. These languages may be chosen from the list below during character creation or they may be saved for learning a language later. Adventurers aren’t scholars and simply don’t have the time to study/learn an endless number of languages. If a character wants to learn a language at some point and doesn’t have any open slots left, they may study to learn a kind of smattering or pigeon form of that language. Mark it with an asterisk on the character sheet to indicate its limited nature. To change languages, mark an old one with an asterisk (the character is extremely rusty with it) and fully learn the new one.
Your list here.
Thursday, April 22, 2021
[Please note. I edited my last article after discovering a section in the 1978 DMG that I had previously missed on alignment languages. Essentially I crossed out the last few sentences and wrote a small, new section after the image in the article. The gist of it is that Gygax does define alignment languages as a set of signs, gestures, phrases with a limited range, similar to Thieve's Cant. It's an explanation that is somewhat late to the game, literally, being written four years after the original rules. Perhaps it appeared in Dragon previously; I'll have to look that up. Even so, it's the "official explanation" of 1e AD&D. Notwithstanding, I am on a kind of roll, and I want to continue thinking of them as a kind of gifted language.]
I'm continuing to experience thoughts on alignment languages in D&D. This round I want to talk about speaking alignment language as an act of power. Inspiration came in the form of a response to an earlier post:
GrymlordeApril 21, 2021 at 10:00 AM
I think I can safely say that in the Midwest during the 1970s, everyone assumed that the Chaotic alignment language was the Black Speech of Mordor. Rightly or wrongly, Tolkein had an unbelievable huge impact on everyone's campaign. The early Judges' Guild products are a good examples.
Yes! This thought occurred to me at one point in my earlier writing and I lost it. So I am indebted for Grymlorde for both reaffirming it and returning it to my mind. When Gandalf makes the faux pas of reciting the Black Speech from inside the one ring aloud at the council of Elrond, a shadow passes over the sun, everyone trembles, and the elves stop up their ears. Later, as the fellowship attempts to cross Caradhras the Cruel, Gandalf rattles off a fire spell and two things happen, only one of which is the intended effect of the spell:
Gandalf himself took a hand. Picking up a faggot he held it aloft for a moment, and then with a word of command, naur an edraith ammen! he thrust the end of his staff into the midst of it. At once a great spout of green and blue flame sprang out, and the wood flared and sputtered.
"If there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them," he said. "I have written Gandalf is here in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin" (The Fellowship of the Ring).
If, as we supposed in a previous article, alignment languages are gifted by their representative forces, I really like the idea of each alignment language embodying a meaningful fraction of the power of those forces. In other words, when one speaks Law or Chaos, one is literally doing something powerful – invoking supernatural forces. I want character's ears to bleed. I want to see minds shattered. I want characters to think twice before speaking in an alignment language!
Here's how I might handle it at my own game table. Taking cues from Tolkien and dialing things up to 11, I would say that speaking an alignment language reveals not only your alignment, but may reveal your presence to enemies. Second, hearing an alignment language that you don't understand causes you immediate discomfort and, if prolonged, real physical and/or mental wounds. The latter would especially be true if you were of the opposite alignment.
This treatment makes alignment languages feel powerful! And it keeps them from being a kind of shortcut. Theoretically, if there are no ramifications, a party consisting of characters from each alignment could converse with almost any intelligent creature in its alignment tongue. Despite Gygax's suggestion in the 1e AD&D DMG that one never flaunts their alignment language for reasons of secrecy and social pressure, many a player has remained undaunted by peer pressure inside the game world! Conversely, eliciting dangerous attention from the powers-that-be and causing pain to creatures of another alignment would be a good deterrent.
It could also be weaponized. If a party entirely consisting of lawful characters spoke Law in front of a gaggle of chaotic drow, they could slip in some extra damage. But it's a slippery slope, as they could also draw more agents of Chaos. It's more likely that weaponized language would be abused by the GM; having evil persons speak Chaos to cause damage to Lawful characters, under the assumption that there creatures safe in their stronghold of chaotic or neutrally aligned creatures, would worry less about drawing the attention of Law. It's likely, however, that this problem would be checked by two factors. 1) The GM really has infinite power and could kill characters any number of ways, so another trick doesn't really make things worse. The real limit to a GMs power is the tolerance of their friends. Rough handling and unfair practices leads to an empty table. 2) Chaos doesn't necessarily want to draw the attention of Chaos. The same might be true of Law. Not all agents of each faction are united in purpose.
All of these thoughts are leading up to a kind of setting document that I will produce as a summary of my own preferences. None of this (and I hope this has been understood) is prescriptive or didactic. I am following my own ideas, interpretations, and preferences. If yours differ, please follow them to your own conclusions. The real value of these articles, I hope, is to get people to think more about alignment languages and Common.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Literary Sources of Chaos and Law ... and Neutral?
“True,” Rackhir nodded. “Most recently we averted a threat with certain aid from the Grey Lords—but Chaos had caused the gateways to the Grey Lords to be closed to mortals. We can offer you only our warriors’ loyalty" (Stealer of Souls)
“Arioch!” Elric bowed his head before the Lord of Chaos.“Aye, Elric. I took the demon’s place while you were gone.”“But you have refused to aid me . . .”“There are larger affairs afoot, as I’ve told you. Soon Chaos must engage with Law and such as Donblas will be dismissed to limbo for eternity.”“You knew Donblas spoke to me in the labyrinth of the Burning God?”“Indeed I did. That was why I afforded myself the time to visit your plane. I cannot have you patronized by Donblas the Justice Maker and his humourless kind. I was offended. Now I have shown you that my power is greater than Law’s.” Arioch stared beyond Elric at Rackhir, Brut, Moonglum and the rest who were protecting their eyes from his beauty. “Perhaps you fools of Tanelorn now realize that it is better to serve Chaos!”Rackhir said grimly: “I serve neither Chaos nor Law!”“One day you will be taught that neutrality is more dangerous than side-taking, renegade!” The harmonious voice was now almost vicious.“You cannot harm me,” Rackhir said. “And if Elric returns with us to Tanelorn, then he, too, may rid himself of your evil yoke[…]”(The Sleeping Sorceress)
Common Is Esperanto?
Non-Verbal and Mimetic Langauges
I Missed the Mark
Alignment language is a handy game tool which is not unjustifiable in real terms. Thieves did employ a special cant. Secret organizations and societies did and do have certain recognition signs, signals, and recognition phrases — possibly special languages (of limited extent) as well. Consider also the medieval Catholic Church which used Latin as a common recognition and communication base to cut across national boundaries. In AD&D, alignment languages are the special set of signs, signals, gestures, and words which intelligent creatures use to inform other intelligent creatures of the same alignment of their fellowship and common ethos. Alignment languages are NEVER flaunted in public. They are not used as salutations or interrogatives if the speaker is uncertain of the alignment of those addressed. Furthermore, alignment languages are of limited vocabulary and deal with the ethos of the alignment in general, so lengthy discussion of varying subjects cannot be conducted in such tongues.
It goes on. And on. But it's all interesting. It's clear that by 1978 Gygax had thought about alignment languages in some detail. Oddly none of this is even suggested in the PHB. My fault for assuming it would be and not checking the DMG before.
The point is if you are playing AD&D 1e rules-as-written you have a strong guideline for how to treat alignment languages. It also means that my own interpretation runs a little counter to those guidelines based on my own assumptions and interpretations of material leading up to the DMG.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
I'm going to start this post the same way I started the last one which covered "Common" as a language.
I've been thinking a lot about RPG languages recently. (This article is pretty specific to TSR D&D and related games, but general principles apply to other games as well.) Some of the questions I've been asking myself are:
- Why is each species language seemingly monolithic? Humans don't all speak the same language so why should goblins or lizardfolk?
- Does it help to know a related language? If my character knows Goblin, does he have a chance to understand the gist of a conversation in Orcish?
- What the hell are alignment languages and why is there one for "Neutral?"
Finally, what is Common?
Law, Chaos and Neutrality also have common languages spoken by each respectively. One can attempt to communicate through the common tongue, language particular to a creature class, or one of the divisional languages (law, etc.). While not understanding the language, creatures who speak a divisional tongue will recognize a hostile one and attack (Oe D&D Vol. 1, 12).
In addition to the common tongue, all intelligent creatures able to converse in speech use special languages particular to their alignment. These alignment languages are: Chaotic Evil, Chaotic Good, Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, Neutral Evil, Neutral Good, and Neutrality. The alignment of your character will dictate which language he or she speaks, for only one alignment dialect can be used by a character (cf. CHARACTER CLASSES, The Assassin). If a character changes alignment, the previously known language is no longer able to be spoken by him or her (1e AD&D PHB, 34).
[Edit: I missed a section in the DMG which alters the following assumptions somewhat. For now, just go with it knowing that this is my own take on alignment languages. I address EGG's thoughts in the DMG in the following post. ]
Conceptually, we are led to believe that these alignment languages are:
- Full languages in which two proficient speakers can converse
- Languages that "come with" a character's alignment - so they are neither learnable by someone of another alignment, nor retained if one changes alignment
- Of a nature that discloses one's alignment when spoken, or at least one's relationship to other alignments (e.g. not-lawful).
Inferences and Practical Effects
Absurdities: Neutrality and Overlap
Monday, April 19, 2021
I've been thinking a lot about RPG languages recently. (This article is pretty specific to D&D and related games, but general principles apply to other games as well.) Some of the questions I've been asking myself are:
- Why is each species language seemingly monolithic? Humans don't all speak the same language so why should goblins or lizardfolk?
- Does it help to know a related language? If my character knows Goblin, does he have a chance to understand the gist of a conversation in Orcish?
- What the hell are alignment languages and why is there one for "Neutral?" (BTW, my first thought is that they are bit like "speaking in tongues" or glossalalia. But I'm still mulling that over; watch for a future post.)
- And, the topic of this article, what is Common?
What Is Common?
The New Rules of Common
- Common is a kind of trade language that is probably closest to the language of the most dominant species in the area. Pretty much all games assume that is humans, but it wouldn't have to be. Your game; your choice. All species that commonly interact with the dominant one, learn Common growing up.
- Common consists of about 800 words. This number is derived from the "Basic English" work of I. A. Richards and C. K. Ogen and affirmed by this recent article on functional language learning. These words are extremely basic and un-nuanced.
- Having only 800ish words makes the language pretty easy to pick up, trading universality for sophistication. Meaning: a lot of people speak it, but you can only communicate really basic ideas. For most things, there is only one word: house, hut, den, burrow, nest, etc. is probably all just "home." Note that George Orwell's "Newspeak" from 1984 uses this idea of a reduced vocabulary. (It's a double plus good book!)
- Species with mouth-shapes that significantly vary from the base-culture of Common are less likely to learn Common and, when they do, are difficult to understand. Communication takes longer (requires more patience) and is likely to include a number of misunderstandings from concept drift or simply misspeaking/mishearing.
- Speaking to another culture in their own language automatically gives you a +1 on reaction rolls. It probably also gives you a rudimentary understanding of their culture.
Practical Impact on the Game
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
Here are the questions I have had while reading the rules or playing, and the answers I've come up with for my own play. Sharing for others.
Q: You get 5 soldiers at the start, in your entrance square. Is this square a kind of Barracks? If so, is its limit 5? Or will the soldiers move to the first Barracks I build?
A: Unclear in the rules. I treat it like a free, first Barracks with a capacity of 10.
Q: When do I shuffle the cards I've drawn back in?
A: Page 4 says "After you've resolved a card (e.g. drawn the discovery on your map, and dealt with any combat) shuffle it back into your deck." This could mean every turn and maybe more. That's kind of BS and ungainly, so my ruling is that I only shuffle the deck at the end of a turn in which I have drawn an Ace. Note that I also use the deck for the d2/d4 "rolls" instead of rolling dice. So I go through a lot of cards.
Q: When Exploring, do I have to build a corridor to get to an adjacent cell?
A: It is a little unclear, but my impression is this, from reading pages 3 and 11 primarily: all adjacent cells on the same level (row) are implicitly connected. All cells above or below are not connected, by default, and require stairs. Stairs and corridors are free, but you can only build one per turn and it takes up the time you would have built a room (so it's stairs OR corridor OR room). So why would one even build a corridor? Well, on page 9 it says a corridor or drawbridge can be built over water, so you could use it to bridge a space. A corridor takes up a cell, BTW.
Q: Can I build in a cell I haven't explored?
A: Yes? Apparently that's how it works. You can build in an empty room or cavern or in an empty cell. I got this (still get this) wrong a lot and think I have to have an empty room to build in, but the rules indicate you can build in an "unexplored space" that "you haven't drawn in" and which "connects to at least one adjacent explored space."
Q: Which units can I recruit at the start? Which things need a special room?
A: The answer is, ALL units that you might recruit require a room to be built (or sometimes found) first. (The exception would be if you treat the initial cell as a free Barracks.) Here is the correlation:
- Soldiers and Gunners need Barracks
- Hounds need Kennels
- Clerics need a Shrine or Temple
- Mages need a Library
- Prisoners need a Prison (duh)
- Alchemists need a Lab
- Golems need a Golem Forge (which you find, not build)
- Cannons need a Forge
- Skull Dwarves need a Crypt (which you find, not build)
I think it may be safe to say I'm a little obsessed with playing Delve (see earlier posts). In fact, my next post is going to be a more in-depth look at the rules as a kind of FAQ.
For now, let me tell you about my current hold.
Day 1 journal entry: Today's Delve is going well. An hour in and no show stoppers. Although the lich-queen came very close to ending my digs for good. Experience is starting to count. I built a temple early and was ready for that damned Demon Portal that I always seem to draw. I've had some good luck too. That crystal cave put out trade goods for a huge number of turns and both times I ran into gas pockets, they were blinding (only). Not toxic. I definitely wasted money on that drawbridge though. Didn't know I was going to hit an underground lake.
Monday, March 22, 2021
Random encounter tables using two dice are heavily peaked toward the median. Sometimes that's good. For instance if you want the weather in a region to be fairly predictable are trend strongly toward a specific result. But sometimes that median result becomes tedious when rolled repeatedly. This is especially true in encounter tables, where the "most boring result" is often stored in the middle. After you have fought that random, roving band of goblin guards three times, do you really want to chance rolling it again?
There are some cheap, fast, and easy fixes.
1. Cross out the result you are tired of getting and write in a new result. Goodby "d4+2 Goblin Guards," hello "Bugbear looking for the latrine."
2. Just ignore the dice when you get a result you have already gotten and choose a different result. I recommend shifting up the table one result at a time until you hit something new.
3. Instead of using the result you get (yet another run-in with those gobba-guards), relate a sign from the most dangerous thing on the table. The party turns the corner to see a huge pile of dragon poo!
4. Swap out the two like dice for two unlike dice. For instance, change 2d6 into a d8+d4! This flattens out the curve, as seen in these graphs (courtesy of AnyDice.com). Note that the chances of the extreme results don't change that much, but the middle flattens out dramatically.
Thursday, March 18, 2021
Here is a quick example of play for Delve (see my last post). I didn't track my cards and expenditures, I'm just going to kind of tell the story of what happened as I remembered it.
At first the digging was easy. With some lucky draws and the starting funds, I built a Barracks, Kitchen, and Forge.
Digging down I ran into an underground lake that flooded the level. I drained it and installed a pump.
Digging away from the lake I ran into an ancient library which released evil magic. It opened a portal to some kind of demon circus. Twice the demons clowns spawned and twice I flooded them out with the pump.
It was at this point that I had to make up/add some rules about pumps. The rules say you can activate them in flood mode. And water goes up to two spaces in either direction, and as far down as it can. The rules don't say how/when you activate the pump in this mode or whether it is useable again. So I made up the following rules. To activate a pump you need a unit there. They may retreat one space after activating it (so they don't die from the resulting flood). You can't activate a pump in a room with enemy units. Afterward you have to pay 5 diamonds (per the rules) to drain the room and 5 hearts to reset the pump (as if it were a trap).
Knowing that the next time the demons spawned they would get to the pump room ahead of me, I went back to the first level and worked sideways, building a shrine and recruiting a cleric. The cleric immediately sacrificed himself (and 20 diamonds) to seal the hell-circus. (Later I recruited another one, just in case.) That problem dealt with, I tried to go down on the right side of the digs.
On the right side, I kept hitting magma. Sigh. Back to the pump room. I dug down and hit a goblin village. I had 10 troops (total STR 75 because of the kitchen nearby), so that wasn't a big problem. Then I hit a golem forge, and a magma tube. And then a purple worm.
I dug down at that point and hit the Lich King's chambers. It and/or its army of undead was huge - 120 STR points because of the size of the room (5 x 20 STR) and the level (+20 STR for L4). My troops were depleted from the goblin fight and it looked grim. So in the ensuing battle I reversed the pumps, causing a flood.
The flood went down into goblin town, over into the golem forge, down into the Lich King's hall. Problem solved.* I wasn't really thinking about gravity though, so I actually had the water run over two spaces.
Which meant the flood waters ALSO fell down the magma tube. What happens when a flood of water hits magma? My guess was gas. I used the random table for one of the gas rooms to see of what type it was, and it was, of course, toxic.
The gas rose and filled level 3 (left side). Then level 2. Then level 1. Where it wiped out my remaining troops. At this point, I spent my remaining money clearing a few chambers of gas and water, and decided to quit for a while.
* Ok. Per the rules a flood defeats any troops. Should it defeat undead? I don't know. Maybe the force of it scattered their bones. I suppose I could have ruled that it didn't affect undead, in which case I would have lost the fight and the Lich King's horde would have reached my stairs to the upper realm and caused my hold to be a failure.
As you can see, this game requires some adjudication from the player. I wasn't totally comfortable with the rhythm of the game at first to trust my judgment in these matters. Was I being too hard on myself? Too easy? Was I missing stuff? After a few sessions (no void crystal yet), I'm getting the hang of it. I can see how it work better on a 1" grid, as suggested by the author, but I like playing in my digest-notebook.
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Well. This little solo-mapping-adventure game was a surprise. I've bought and played a number of solo games over the years. They often come in small formats, like zines, pocket-mods, or a few printable page spreads. Some are more workable, intuitive, and/or fun than others. I put this one at the top end of the ones I've played. After I've had my say on this one, I'll talk about a few comparable products. But before I go on, I don't want to forget to say that you can buy Delve and some of Anna's other games at Exalted Funeral Press.
Delve is a 44-page game by Anna Blackwell. You can play it for a few minutes at a time, but a complete game will take hours to complete. It's very compact and satisfying in that regard. You just need some cards and pencil-and-paper (preferably gridded or dotted) to play. Anna suggests some tokens as well. I didn't use them because I was in a rush and wanted to get playing, but it would indeed be helpful during the combats.
But let me back up and start with a top down explanation. You are a the Overseer of a Dwarven Hold. Your king, the "Under-King," has tasked you with exploring the depths of the earth to find the fabled Void Crystal. The game proceeds in turns of 5 phases.
1. In the first phase, you explore. This means you draw a card. The suit will tell you whether you encounter more resources, trade goods, or encounter a natural wonder (often dangerous) or remnant (usually some kind of monster or other threat).
2. Once you resolve the card, you go into combat with any remnants uncovered. This only happens about 1 in every 4 turns and is resolved quickly. Your units move one chamber per turn, as do the monsters, heading for your hold entrance. (Sometimes the book will tell you that they do other things.) If you meet them in battle, you basically do attrition damage to each other, the winning side being reduced by the power of the losing side. There's nuances to that, but as a general description it works. And in play, it works. I kind of enjoy not rolling dice. As the Overseer you are managing a small army of soldiers and specialists. You can recruit more (see step 5). If the monsters make it to your entrance, your hold is a failure. You basically lose.
3. The third phase involves converting resources into trade goods or vice versa to set up for turn 4.
4. This is the phase where you build stuff. You get to build one room from a long list of rooms (barracks, forges, cannon outposts, hospitals, temples, etc.). You can only build one per turn, which is an important restriction. I often had enough resources/goods to accelerate things but couldn't because of this turn-by-turn development -- and I enjoyed that pacing mechanic. You also use this phase to make repairs to rooms that are damaged, build barricades and traps, etc. Again, all of this is spelled out. You look up what you want to build and the book tells you how much it costs, what it's strength in combat is (if any), and how it works.
5. Finally you recruit units. Some units require you to build special rooms first. (The book isn't always clear about this. For instance, I didn't see any where that you needed a special room to build cannons, but you need to randomly encounter a Golem Forge, and beat the golems there, before you can build golems.)
There's also kind of a phase 0 where you do upkeep on special rooms you have encountered. For instance, I had a crystal cavern that yielded trade goods each turn (for a while). I also, unfortunately, encountered a spooky carnival that made killer clowns after a run in with some "Bad Magic."
Why is that in quotes? Because you either earn or encounter magic in the game by recruiting clerics or running into things like magic wishing wells. Often you randomize what family of spell you get, good or bad, and then randomize which spell happens out of 13 (Ace to 10 + J, Q, K as a table). It's good fun.
The first time through I started playing immediately, as I was reading. I had fun, but I was sure I was making a few mistakes so my first map has about 21 rooms before I felt comfortable enough with the basic concept to stop and really read the book. There's about 18 pages of actual rules. They are fairly simple and procedural in a way so that they don't all crowd in on top of each other. The rest of the book is tables and such you will use during play, with a few sections of rules that trigger off when you get deep into the dungeon.
Honestly, while the rules are largely clear, and it's easy enough to work around what you don't understand, the organization isn't always great, some small bits of information are missing, and there are a few small things I would change. But by in large it is playable and REALLY FUN. I've been at it for hours now. My second map -- above -- is developing. I'm going to have to add pages, probably to get to the void crystal. I think the replay value is going to be pretty high.
One other minor complaint I have is that it seems pretty easy to stay alive. This may be intentional. Anna says it is supposed to be relaxing. And indeed I found it to be relaxing and fun, emphasizing exploration and discovery over other game modes. Still, I might read through the rules one more time to see if I'm making my troops more powerful than they should be or missing something about the strength rating of foes.
If You Like Delve...
First of all, I don't know that Anna has seen or read How to Host a Dungeon by Tony Dowler, but this game is similar and really stands on the shoulders of HtHaD. I've not played the 2nd edition of Dowler's game, but my gut says I like the process of Delve better. That being said, HtHaD has been around for years and is an incredible game. As far as I know it was the first game of this type, developing a setting/world/adventure through procedural, randomized drawing prompts. You should take a look at it. Like Delve, it's a game where "you" are not a character, but rather an observer of the activities of surface races digging deep into the earth for treasure. You root for the "good guys" (sometimes!), but you are not "one of them."
In contrast, Four Against Darkness by Andrea Sfiligoi is a dungeon-exploring, drawing game where you are the party. (Not just a character, but a party of four.) Whereas Delve you theoretically play until your hold fails or you get the void crystal, and HtHaD you play until you have gone through all the "ages" of the dungeon, in FAD you get a strong push-your-luck mechanic. Your play sessions are about getting in, getting enough experience to level up, and getting the hell out before you die! It's a punishing game (in a fun way).