Archive for the New Rules Category

Fellhold Session 32 and 33 Recap and Quick and Dirty Mass Combat Rules

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, New Rules, RPGs on June 11, 2013 by Jeff Russell

Session 32 started out with a lot of technical issues for everyone participating.  I suspect it had to do with the changes Google had just made to the hangouts/video chat format.  Speaking of which, I miss my posts about hangouts displaying the name of the video chat, because that was the primary way I reminded myself what session number we were on for the blog.  Oh well, being able to count should be good enough for the most part.

The player characters decided to spend the night in Bjergby and then ask the priests about using their library in the morning.  They want to learn more about the history of Gurgu and confirm or reject some of the rumors they picked up in Mickleheim.  Their sleep was interrupted by the innkeeper pounding on their door, however.  Priests had run down from the temple to fetch the adventurers because they remembered Yllgrad the dwarf’s boasting about killing many foul beasts, and their temple was under attack.

Now, this set up *smacks* of being set up for the PCs benefits, right in the same vein as “then ninjas pop out!”, but here’s the God’s honest truth: okay, yes, having an attack from monsters from outside was thought up to make the location more of an “adventure”, and only came up because the players ended up visiting this place, so in that sense it’s “plotted”. But after deciding that bugbears from the deep would be an adventure element, their actions have been determined either independently or in reaction to the players.  I randomly determined a number of days until the bugbears planned to attack, and then decided that they had a spy on the island, and if the players said or did certain things in front of the spy, they would push their timetable up.  Turns out their scheduled attack was at 5:00 in the morning of this day.

fellholdbugbear

Thanks Tony Diterlizzi

So, the players decided that if they help out the priests, maybe they’ll give them access to the temple in gratitude, and they occasionally have vague senses of doing the right thing.  When they show up, they are lead to the bottom two floors of the temple, and they are attacked with crossbow bolts out of patches of unnatural darkness! Yllgrad’s faithful hireling Nyllan is struck and falls headlong into the lava, bringing with him most of Yllgrad’s adventuring gear besides his armor and weapon! The adventurers charge into the darkness and find themselves fighting blind against trollkin (a bugbear and his hobgoblin slaves).

They manage to dispatch the hobgoblins pretty quickly, with the help of Sir Braxton, Caleb’s dog, and a few lucky critical hits.  The bugbear takes some serious damage and decides to flee.  The party presses on to fight another similar group with similar results, except this bugbear throws sleep gas grenades before fleeing (thanks to a suggestion on Google+ for the idea for using noxious fumes, which lead to the sleep gas grenade idea).  It puts Sir Braxton, a hireling, and Caleb to sleep, along with the lone surviving hobgoblin slave.  The party ties him up for questioning before moving on to the large melee.

See, as all of this has been going on, the main force of Bugbears, Hobgoblins, Trolls, and lightning lizards have been facing off against the priests and their summoned elemental.  Then they also summoned the avatar of Gurgu, and it pretty much went against the bugbears and their slaves after that.  The players’ ranged characters and henchmen contributed by picking off some leadership and killing two of the lightning lizards.  Being hard pressed, the bugbears retreated, leaving the enraged trolls and lightning lizards fighting. They threw sleep grenades, which promptly knocked out every single priest.  Fortunately, the elemental did not go out of control and kept the trolls busy, but Gurgu just stood there without direction from the priests.

Lava_fight_color_by_iquorek

By the time the players got there, the trolls had fled in the face of so much non-regenerating damage, and they helped Bjergmund clear the whole complex, thereby getting something of a tour.  During this clearing, they found a collapsed newly dug tunnel that was the apparent retreat point of the Bugbears and their forces.  Bjergmund also answered some questions about the temple and Gurgu, confirming that the temple was built by a wizard before Gurgu was worshipped, and that he selected it so that his library of clay tablets would be in hot, dry air.  For their help in defending the temple, the PCs were all offered free lifetime access to the baths, the chest containing the offerings  of the faithful, and a chest with fancy vestements, which the party gratefully accepted.  We had to end somewhat early due to a number of early appointments, and the party decided that next time they will seek out any alternative landing places on the island to confirm that the monsters really did come from deep under the earth and to go through the library to research Gurgu. If they complete that, they will return to Mickleheim to sell some loot and refit for future adventures.

ninjaix5 

Quick and Dirty Mass Combat Rules

Alternative 1 (slightly more concrete): Treat each side as a “character”.  Assign AC, HD, HP and morale based on the overall characteristics of the side (something like 1 HP per 1 HD monster/character is probably reasonable).  When players are not involved, each side fights as if a one on one fight.  Determine initiative normally and go from there.  If players get involved, have them make attacks on the side as if against a single character if they’re indiscriminate, or if they target someone in particular (like a leader) “zoom in” and alter the side’s “character” appropriately.  For example, if they kill a 3HD leader guy, deduct 3 HP from the side as a whole, and maybe test morale. Without other special circumstances (leaders killed, horrifying magic, et cetera) start testing morale after ¼ or ½ HP damage are taken.

Alternative 2 (more abstract and potentially more swingy): Assign each side a base morale value and a morale bonus or penalty.  Each combat round, roll a d20 for each side, and the higher roll wins that round.  Deduct a point from the losing side’s morale bonus (or increase the penalty by 1).  Test morale every round.  When one side fails a morale check, it flees.  Alter the morale modifiers appropriately for character actions (deduct points when they kill leaders or big monsters, add points when they rally the troops or lead a charge, whatever). This tends to assume fairly evenly matched forces, but if you want one side to have way better fighting ability, you can always modify the vs. d20 roll, or use Alternative 1 above.

Alternative 3 (most concrete): Roll up lots of creatures/characters.  Roll initiative.  Have a big ass fight with the normal rules.  Take careful notes to avoid going insane.  Budget a lot of time.

Morale Rolls: For these rules, a morale roll of 2d6 attempting  to roll under modified morale score is assumed.  Morale scores range from 2 (totally cowardly) to 12 (fanatically loyal).  Basic humans/humanoids with a normal stake in a fight can be assumed to be morale 7. A natural 2 always passes, and a natural 12 always fails.  Note that a modifier of +3 or greater will almost guarantee passing these rolls for Morale of 7 or greater.  If you have a different preferred morale system, go with that, but a 2 or more dice roll is recommended, so that you will have a normal distribution with most results clustering around the average (7) +/- 1 or 2.

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Runic Magic in Fellhold

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, New Rules, RPGs with tags , , , on May 17, 2013 by Jeff Russell

Nota Bene: Pretty much this entire post is rules, but I’ve maintained the convention of bold italic type so that it will stand out if you’re scrolling up or down the page only looking for the useful stuff. 

Runes1 (1)

I’ve been wanting to come add magic runes to the Fellhold campaign for a while now, to get that delicious Viking flavor.  I contemplated a cool combinatory system with very modular runes, kinda inspired by sygalldry in Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle books, but I decided that a) that would be a whole lot of work, and b) it would clash with the overall Vancian magical flavor of D&D the campaign has mostly relied on.  That being said, I’m a huge fan of different rule systems for Magic, and I fully plan on creating such a system for a campaign where it would fit better.  I also have an idea on doing something based off the way semitic languages have vowel roots and apply consonants in forms with loose semantic meanings to get words, but that’s way outside the scope of this here post.

So, I checked out the AD&D 2nd Edition Viking Campaign sourcebook, the Realms of Sorcery supplement for WFRP 2nd Edition, and wikipedia articles on runes mentioned in the Poetic Edda and sagas, and on Icelandic ‘Staves’.  Though I initially had high hopes for the WFRP runes, they were almost all blandly combat stat buffs.  Which is useful, of course, but not as flavorful as what I wanted.  WFRP’s heavily skill and talent based approach was also not the right answer for mechanical implementation.

I ended up drawing a lot more from the historical Viking Campaign sourcebook than I expected to on my first read through.  There were actually some kind of cool concepts about shaping the rune each and every time, because the nature of the thing inscribed and the specific circumstance and so forth all combined to give the rune a unique physical expression every time, and it had to be imbued with power.  So I took a little bit of that for my own so that just knowing how to scratch the symbol doesn’t give you crazy powers (even if I suspect that the historical basis for “magic runes” is at least a little tied up in illiterate people being impressed by literacy and what you could do with it – this is D&D, damnit, not a historical exercise).

I had a few basic concepts I thought would make runes interestingly flexible and open ended (the sort of magic I find coolest for games).  First, I struck on the notion that the permanence of the runes effect is related to the permanence of how it is inscribed.  Rather than flat out stating “runes must be carved into something”, I wanted there to be the option to hastily scrawl something with your own blood on an improvised surface, but it won’t last very long and it won’t be very powerful compared to a purpose made rune imbued with great power and cast into an armband as it is made.  Next, the power of the rune is effected by the quality and permanence of the item.  Both of these are for thematic as well as gameplay reasons.  Thematically, it makes magical thinking sense if more purposefully and permanently doing something to a thing of greater value gets you greater effects.  Gameplay wise, I don’t want players just chalking exploding runes onto every which surface they find willy nilly.  Which ties into another thing I knew I wanted to do with runes: make them not fire and forget.  You know a rune, or you don’t.  So the resource management aspect has to come in somewhere else than “times a day you can use them”.  You have to manage physical components, time to shape, et cetera.  Also, runes are heavily front loaded resource-wise.  You have to either spend a lot of time and money studying one, or else you have to give up a spell slot permanently.  The final thing I knew about runes going in was that I wanted them to be flexible and open ended and able to be combined by clever players (even if I ditched the idea of modular ‘programming’ style runes for build your own magic items).

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Which is where I ran into some troubles.  See, the uber-specific rules given in the 2E viking campaign book left me cold, and they were largely written as a low-magic replacement for traditional D&D Vancian magic users for the purposes of genre emulation, rather than as a supplement to that system that provided different tactical, strategic, and logistical choices.  I was also running up against a time constraint, because my clerics were about to level up, and I wanted to fundamentally tweak their options based on their patron before they got too high in level and locked into the pseudo-Christian crusader baked into the cleric class as written.  So I ended up copping out a little bit.  I just gave the runes brief, qualitative descriptions, and figure I’ll adjudicate rules for individual uses on the fly.  Hopefully this vagueness will lead to creative and cunning uses devised by players and a lack of restriction on my part, but I worry that they will be so vague as to lose out in comparison to known goods like healing spells and the like.

The last thing I ended up stumbling into with runes as I was writing the rules for learning them was the decision that anyone can learn them.  I just a) let priests of Hrokr get them by prayer (but then its random), and b) made it so that Magic Users learn them faster by study than do others (studying arcane things to unlock their use is sort of their entire job).  But if Clerics want a specific rune, or if fighting men want to stray into more mythic archetypal territory, they have the option if they throw down a lot of time and (presumably) money.

Runic Magic

Runes can be granted to clerics of Hrokr through prayer, or they may be learned through intense study of from a talented teacher.  A rune is not merely a symbol with magical properties.  Rather, it is a physical distillation of the true nature of a thing in relation to the world.  So, a berserk rune will vary depending upon what surface and for what warrior it is crafted, and understanding the forces necessary to apply this to any object is a matter of some insight.

Runes impart abilities to the objects on which they are inscribed or to their bearers.  Usually, merely writing or painting a rune is insufficient to unite the energies of the rune with the item upon which it is placed, but some runes can grant a limited or weak effect when so temporarily marked.  There is a direct relationship between the permanence and craft of the object and the method of inscription to the power of the rune.  Thus, a sword crafted by a master smith, with the runes worked into the blade as it is forged and quenched will be a far more potent item with more permanent powers than a dagger with a rune hastily scratched into its hilt. 

Sometimes the release of the energies of a rune will damage or destroy the item upon which it is placed, and this is more likely the more hastily crafted the rune is.

Learning Runes

A cleric of Hrokr can learn a rune whenever he gains a new spell slot.  If he chooses to do so, he automatically learns a randomly determined rune and it permanently replaces one of his spell slots.  He may choose which spell slot, and it need not be the newly acquired slot.  Once chosen, it may not be moved to a different spell slot.  To randomly determine what rune is learned, roll 1d20 and consult the list below.  If the result is a rune already known to the cleric, he may instead choose freely, as he has been granted particular insight by Hrokr.

Any character may attempt to learn a rune through study if he has access to obscure runic lore, or to a tutor (these will probably take some finding!).  These sources will have information on only a few, specific runes, and access to them will probably not be cheap.  If the referee has not established which runes the source can teach, and he can’t decide, he may randomly roll 1d4 runes from the list below. Learning a rune from pure study (no tutor) takes 20 – the character’s level in weeks if he is a magic user, and 20 – half the character’s level (rounded down) if he is a fighting man or cleric. A tutor will reduce this time by 5 weeks.  The minimum time to learn a rune is 1 week.  However much time it takes, it is a period of intense study, and the character is considered to do nothing else of consequence during this time.  If there are any interruptions, he must start over and take the full amount of time.  At the end of the period, the character attempts to roll under his intelligence.  If he fails, he may retest in another week.  Continue retesting once a week until the character gives up or succeeds.  

List of Runes

  1. Victory Rune
  2. Opening Rune
  3. Ale Rune
  4. Wave Rune
  5. Heal Rune
  6. Curse Rune
  7. Ward Rune
  8. Fear Rune
  9. Berserk Rune
  10. Fire Rune
  11. Dead Rune
  12. Disease Rune
  13. Strength Rune
  14. Water Rune
  15. Earth Rune
  16. Air Rune
  17. Iron Can’t Bite Rune
  18. Fortune Rune
  19. Shield Rune
  20. Sealing Rune 

Descriptions

These descriptions are purposefully left vague in order to facilitate their creative application.  Referees should make rulings on their use based on the desired level of fantasticness and power they want runes to bring to their games.  Just remember the guidelines: the more permanent the inscription, the more powerful the effect, the higher quality and more permanent the material, the stronger the effect, the more temporary, the more likely the rune will damage or destroy the object inscribed, and the rune must be crafted by the casters own hand.

  • Victory Rune – Improves a weapons chance to hit and imbues it with magic
  • Opening Rune – Causes a locked or sealed portal to be opened – doors, windows, et cetera.
  • Ale Rune ­– Will destroy a vessel that holds poisoned food or drink
  • Wave Rune – Improves the handling and speed of a ship
  • Heal Rune ­– Increases a specified target’s ability to heal
  • Curse Rune – Inflicts a curse on a specified target
  • Ward Rune – Protects against spells and curses
  • Fear Rune – Causes fear in the enemies of the bearer
  • Berserk Rune – Causes the bearer to become a berserker
  • Fire Rune – Brings about fire in the thing inscribed or protects against fire
  • Dead Rune – Summons a spirit of the dead to answer questions
  • Disease Rune – Causes disease on a specified target
  • Strength Rune – Grants great strength to the bearer
  • Water Rune – Provides protection against water
  • Earth Rune – Imbues an item with the nature of the earth
  • Air Rune – Imbues an item with the nature of air
  • Iron Can’t Bite Rune – Reduces damage to the bearer
  • Fortune Rune – Allows the divination of a specified targets fortune
  • Shield Rune – Makes an item or its bearer more resistant to ill effects
  • Sealing Rune – Seals a portal of some sort

 

 

How to Make Sweet D100 Tables for Fun and Profit

Posted in New Rules, RPGs with tags , , on May 16, 2013 by Jeff Russell

Or: The FINGER system of faux-creativity

So, I’ve got a terrible confession to make.  As a self-described GM/Referee and creative person, I’m not actually that good at coming up with wacky creative ideas out of thin air.  I read stuff by Greg Gorgonmilk and Zak S. and Jeff Rients and so forth, and I’m always astounded by the raw awesome they seem to be able to pull out of the ether, and I greedily appropriate it for my own game.

On the other hand, what I am good at, if I may say so myself, is in selectively recombining things to get something new(ish) with a coherent feel.  So, a pastiche artist, if you will.  This used to drive me into fits of self-questioning angst, or launch me into pretentious justification of the inherent creativity of fitting together other’s works, but now I just accept it and try to have fun with it.  And keep my ideas for Thing A + Thing B but in Place C fantasy/sci-fi novels/comics/movies to myself (or realize the setting would be better for games anyway).

darth_vader_riding_charizard__colored__by_smithaboy-d59f14o

You know, this sort of thing

Recently, this tendency has been combined with my immersion into the Old School Renaissance/DIY D&D/whatever you want to call it.  I’ve always liked to tinker and house rule and design games, but specifically the habit of reading gaming material with an eye to ruthlessly tear out, appropriate, and modify any rules that I find useful is one that I’ve developed to a higher degree the last few months than ever before.  I initially got a bunch of retroclones and versions of D&D with the idea of soberly comparing, weighing strengths and weaknesses, and then selecting the one I liked best.  But now I look at all of them with the dispassionate eye of a black market organ harvester.  One of these days, DCC RPG is going to wake up in a bathtub full of ice, missing its zero level “funnel” character creation rules.

And then, last week, just as I was going to stat up some simple hydra teeth that turn into skeleton warriors, or a goat-legged Cyclops or something, I had a revelation.  I was reading the synopsis of “7th Voyage of Sinbad” and I realized how insanely D&D it was.  I checked other Harryhausen synopses and found that while the Sinbad movies were far and away the most D&D, everything had some stuff that was usable.  And I realized that I had started applying the pitiless scalpel of game material selection to creative stuff, fluff if you will, as well as to mechanics.  And the d100 table of random Harryhausenisms was born (by far my highest traffic post so far, so thanks folks).

I was thinking about it, and I realized that the actual procedure I used is replicable, and is in fact quite simple.  And that if you’re willing to be a little pastichey, you can cover a lot of setting ground with it.  This one’s going to be a little long, but you can probably get most of what’s here with the following list and the two examples at the end. Without further ado:

Jeff’s Guide to Making a Dwhatever Map Stocking Chart for Fun and Profit

(Okay, more likely just fun, but let me know if you figure out the profit part)

  1. 1.     Find an inspiring piece of media
  2. 2.     Identify the cool stuff in it
  3. 3.     Noun that stuff
  4. 4.     Genericize those nouns
  5. 5.     Expand their uses
  6. 6.     Ready your chart

(I figured out I could get a cute acronym about halfway through).

Step One – Find an Inspiring Piece of Media

Select a piece of media that gets your motor going or that fits with the milieu you’re shooting for.  Alternatively, if you’re looking to spice things up, purposely select something *outside* of your usual genre/world tropes, but that is still inspiring to you.  That’s the main thing.  You think it’s cool, and it’s something creative.  This is easiest to do with things that tell stories: books, movies, comics.  But you can do it with pictures or music or whatever as well.  I’ve started using heavy metal song lyrics all the time.  Examples to follow the explanation.

Step Two – Identify Cool Stuff in It

Go through this inspiring piece of media, and look for the cool stuff.  The easiest way to do this is to go to Wikipedia and read the plot synopsis (that’s what I did for the Harryhausen table), as this will by definition hit the highlights and moments of drama.  You could use back of book blurbs, internet reviews, whatever.  Or if you *really* like something, you can read through the actual source material and take notes or highlight or whatever.  Find the things that most scream “Gameable” and  “Awesome” to you. 

Step Three – Noun that Stuff

Once you’ve identified elements from your source material that are cool, you want to Noun them.  This is the opposite of Verbing things.  You see, verbs are the province of Plot.  Plot is not what we want here, because we’re all good sandboxy/player agency oriented referees, right?  Notice that’s big “P” Plot.  Yes, you can have a lovely picaresque plot emerge from the processes of play, and it probably will.  That’s in the future.  Because for our purposes, verbs are what *player characters* do.  Sometimes NPCs get to do verbs in *reaction* to player characters or because of some internal game world logic, but that’s not what our stocking table is for.  If you have a bunch of verbs on your list, then you either have to run an entire clockwork world in the background, for which there are better tools, or else have the artificialness that the zany, interesting action the players just walked up on just so happens to be going on right as the players find it, no matter when or under what circumstances they roll up. 

That’s why you don’t want to put the action in there, you want a person, a place, or a thing.  Maybe a scene or tableau if you want to push it.  The key here is that you present an element of the world, just like any other, that the players can act on and react to.  Making the scene into a noun makes it make more sense as a static feature, or even if it is a “this happens as you come upon it” (sometimes fun to include, I’ll admit) it doesn’t presume the player characters’ involvement.  It’s just there for them to interact with. None of this is to say that these nouns shouldn’t be ready to spring into appropriate action once the player characters poke it, just try to avoid things that are the other way around (that’s what random encounters are for).

Step Four – Genericize those Nouns

Now, here’s the tricky part, but the part that will help you find way more ideas: you want to take the cool nouned elements from your inspiring piece of media, and then you want to file off the serial numbers.  Got a reference to Mentok the Mindtaker? Turn that into “an evil mentalist”.  There’s a balance to be struck here: too generic and stuff isn’t cool or gameable. Too specific and your table becomes less useful to others, and also less useful to you.  If you want to use a cool specific guy or monster, don’t put it in a stocking table! Put it where you want it in your world, or else on a random encounter table.  The only thing gained by putting a specific person or thing in a stocking table is you don’t know where he or she or it will end up, and you can just do that by rolling once for the thing. 

Likewise, don’t get hung up on trappings or genre stuff too much.  For the Harryhausen table I made, even though most of the table came from the overtly fantasy Sinbad movies and Clash of the Titans, something like a quarter to a third of the entries (don’t quote me on that) are from movies set in modern America with fantastic elements (even aliens).  So, when you spot an evil wizard, consider thinking of him as just “an evil powerful guy” or “an evil guy with secret knowledge”.  Or if you find a story about hackers jacking some stuff in cyberspace (like the kids do), you can genericize it into “A highly skilled group of rogues pulls off an impressive heist.”  The key is not to lose the “character” of the person or thing you identify and make it so generic as to be boring, but to make it broadly useful and able to fit into whatever sort of world (unless the whole point is to introduce some gonzo weirdness or subvert genre tropes, in which case, have at it).

A variation of this if you’re only concerned with your own campaign world is to ‘reskin’ rather than genericize.  That’s basically what I did with the Harryhausen results from the 20th century America movies (and even the caveman movie) – I recast it in D&D terms (science becomes magic, aliens become generic invaders, et cetera).  Again, try to keep what was cool or striking about the thing, the underlying reason it will be a potential source of danger or excitement, but then make it so you can recombine it with any other damn thing.

Step 5 – Expand their Uses

Okay, I started stretching the names a little bit at this part so that I could make the acronym FINGER.  What I mean by “expand their uses” could also be described as analysis (from the Greek for “to chop up”, more or less).  So, you’ve got a cool thing, you’ve made sure it’s a noun, and you’ve made it so you can drop it into multiple places and situations in your world. You want to make sure that one entry on your chart isn’t being too greedy.  One of the chief values of charts is that like our old favorite sexual reproduction, you can recombine elements in novel and unexpected ways, and the end result might be a better fit for your environment than something you would have expected of planned.  The way to maximize the recombinatory potential of your chart is to try to make sure each entry is just “one thing”.  The way you get each entry to be “one thing” is to chop up an element you stole from your source.  So, if you find an awesome fight scene where a guy fights a wizard’s guard dragon by jerry rigging a ballista, and then the dragon falls on the wizard and kills him, you can turn that into 1) A wizard with a guard dragon, 2) A jerry rigged siege weapon, 3) A beast that kills its own master (that last one is a little verby, but hey). 

Step 6 – Ready your Chart!

This one is easy and was mostly in order to get the full acronym.  Just take your entries and arrange them into a chart.  Usually you’ll do this as you go, and the fact that, say, you only have 89 will spur you to find those last 11 so you can make a d100.  And you’re done! 

Well, you’re done with this chart.  But as mentioned before, unless your only goal is to make something for other people, or a crutch to fall back on in some indeterminate future, the process of making this chart could just as easily have been used to think up a setting.  Zak S. talks about this in his thoughts on types of random generators.  What we have above is kind of an incomplete results generator to spur creativity, but by itself that’s not very useful to you, since you made the chart yourself.  So, unless going through and making the table was a useful exercise for you creatively, or you just want to have on hand stuff that will surprise even you when the players go somewhere new, you need a little more to make your new chart super awesome.  For that recombinatory goodness, you could make a second chart, and make any locations of interest be Chart 1 + Chart 2 (a mutational generator, to use the terminology from the above link).  Or you could just make a d1000 chart or some other madness, so that you end up with things you stole from the Poetic Edda rubbing shoulders with things you stole from a Dethklok album which are a few days voyage from things you yoinked from Hellboy.

Connections are another good one: randomly determine two of the things you’ve placed on the map, and then make a connection.  You can either use a connection suggested by the nature of each entry, or you could randomize it.  Do enough of this, and there’s a lot of latent connections throughout your map that players can stumble across, and if you do need to do some background verbs, you know what they’ll be.  I think coming up with a good system to find relations between placed sites of interest is going to be my next big rules project after this one.

For bonus points, you can put your new chart in Abulafia and combine it with the work of others and save yourself time all at once.

With all that said, let’s do some examples! I probably should have just made the whole thing examples, but I’m a very verbal, explainy person, so there you go.

Example #1 – Wikipedia Plot Synopsis

HillsOfTheDead11

I could just recap what I did with the Harryhausen movies, but that would be cheating, and I want to test out my method as explained.  So instead, let’s pick something else inspirational for D&D type stuff and go with everyone’s favorite hardass puritan, Solomon Kane! Let’s go with “Hills of the Dead” by Robert E. Howard.  Wikipedia has the following blurb:

“First published in Weird Tales, August 1930.  In Africa again, Kane’s old friend N’Longa (the witch doctor from “Red Shadows”) gives the Puritan a magic wooden staff, the Staff of Solomon, which will protect him in his travels.  Kane enters the jungle and finds a city of vampires.”

Step 1) Find an Inspiring Piece of Media: Was pretty easily accomplished by finding an awesome story by Robert E. Howard.

Step 2) Identify the Cool Stuff: is also not too hard, because REH stories are dripping with D&Dable material, even when summarized in two sentences: Solomon Kane, The Hills of the Dead, Africa, N’Longa the witch doctor, the Staff of Solomon, a jungle, and a city of vampires.

Step 3) Noun that Stuff: I kind of went ahead and identified the nouns in the process above, but if we had a more detailed synopsis and I wanted to pull an element out of a cool fight scene with the vampires in their city, this is where I would do it.

Step 4) Genericize those Nouns: To genericize this stuff, we could turn Africa into “a mysterious continent” or “an unfamiliar land” or whatever.  The idea is to get at what made Africa an exciting place to set a story to a 1930’s Texan writing about a 17th century puritan and pull it out for D&D (exotic, unexplored, dangerous creatures, magic, unfamiliar cultures, “savagery”, et cetera).  The Hills of the Dead is a nicely evocative name that you can lift and then decide what it means.  It could be a place full of barrows, the burial grounds of ancient dynasties, a hell on earth ruled by the undead, whatever.  Sometimes you get generic by taking a specific cool name and then making its use generic, rather than stripping the name off of a specific cool thing.  Make N’Longa just “A witch doctor”, make the Staff of Solomon “A Powerful Magical staff” or even just “An ancient artifact”.

Step 5) Expand their Uses: Expanding/analyzing isn’t super necessary for most of these elements, but here’s a couple of examples: take N’Longa giving Kane the staff and change that into “A witch doctor with a useful magical item” and into “A powerful artifact from ancient times”.  Or take the city of vampires in the jungle and break it out into “A City of vampires” and “An ancient city in the jungle”.

Step 6) Ready your Chart! :Take that cool stuff and slap it into a table! Here’s a lame tiny table smaller than is really worthwhile to make:

  1. A wandering religious warrior
  2. An exotic, unexplored land
  3. An old friend from a foreign land
  4. A witch doctor with a useful item
  5. A powerful artifact from ancient times
  6. An ancient city in the jungle
  7. A city of vampires
  8. The Hills of the Dead

Example #2 – Cover to Hellboy: Conqueror Worm

Rather than go the easy route and use a plot synopsis of this comic, let’s just look at the artwork for inspiration (okay, I’m gonna probably rely on some of my Hellboy knowledge here to provide context, but that’s only because Hellboy is so awesome).

Step 1) Find an Inspiring Piece of Media: This picture:

250px-Hellboy_Conqueror_Worm

Step 2 Identify the Cool Stuff: Hellboy, gasmask guy, Lobster Johnson, giant worm, floating flame, golem, head in a jar, a saint, some skulls, the name “Conqueror Worm”

Step 3) Noun that Stuff: A lot easier with a ‘posed’ picture, so not much to do here.

Step 4) Genericize those Nouns: Hellboy becomes a half demon, or an investigator, or a hero fighting monsters (or in the next step, all of these).  Gasmask guy becomes the footsoldier of an evil regime.  The golem can stay a golem, the head in a jar can become a mad scientist, or an evil wizard, or a head in a jar, or a demi-lich, the conqueror worm can be a mundane giant worm, or a summoning gone wrong, or the avatar of an inhuman god, Lobster Johnson can be a vigilante, or a skilled warrior, or a man seeking revenge, the saint can be any old saint, or a painting of a saint, or the shrine to a saint.

Step 5) Expand their Uses: As mentioned above, Hellboy alone can give us three different people, and that’s without him even having any action to draw off of in this picture.  If we dig a little we can also say: the son of a witch, the possessor of a magical weapon, an artifact that is the key to the end of the world.  Our gasmask guy can be an evil footsoldier, undead menace, a faceless servant of darkness, a bug eyed, long snouted creature, whatever.  Sometimes you don’t necessarily want to completely parse out every aspect, or you’ll lose some of what makes that element cool to drop in.  You might prefer to have “a half demon who struggles to be good” rather than “a half demon” and “a warrior who struggles to do the right thing”.

Step 6) Ready your Chart! :So, let’s do another d8 weak sauce table:

  1. A half demon son of a witch
  2. The incarnation of an alien god
  3. The head of an evil wizard kept alive in a jar of fluid
  4. Faceless shock troops of an evil regime
  5. A vigilante that leaves his mark on his victims
  6. The defiled shrine of a saint
  7. A golem with a sense of self
  8. An enormous, disgusting wormbeast