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Anarcarnivàle

An RPGGeek blog so I can participate in the RPG Blog Carnival which has always seemed cool to me. https://roleplayingtips.com/rpg-blog-carnival/

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Multiversing

Clark Timmins
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A review of the RPGGeek database shows that items tagged with Multiverse fall just short of 500. You'd think that putting everything into one game would be a whole lot more popular than that. But... it seems like perhaps gamers like to keep their games to a single genre.

Some of the major multiverse style games published include Doctor Who Roleplaying Game and the closely-named Doctor Who Role Playing Game, both obviously derived from the same media franchise. There's also Lords of Gossamer & Shadow, Aether, Torg (and Torg Eternity), Untold, Beyond the Ӕther, Breachworld, Rifts, Chaos Realms, Fringeworthy (3rd Edition), and Jumpers are heavily invested in multiverse style gaming. As do Immortal: The Invisible War (1st Edition), Nexus D20, Nexus the Infinite City, The Order of the Link, Rifts Chaos Earth, TIME LORD, and of course The World of Synnibarr.

Elric!, Elric of Melniboné (1st & 2nd editions), and Stormbringer (5th Edition) are often considered multiverse centered. The Strange also seems to fit the bill. GURPS (3rd Edition) - really any version - supports the style. There are extensive adaptations of Savage Worlds to allow multiverse play. The whole Spelljammer setting of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd Edition) was sort of orcs in space. Lots of folks think that Empire of the Petal Throne qualify. And if you want to include the oddball one-off adaptation or fan-made stuff then pretty much any major game will have some type of multiverse component. Even the venerable Dungeon Masters Guide (AD&D 1e) has an appendix to allow D&D players to wander over to Boot Hill (1st Edition) or Gamma World (1st Edition).

But probably the most thoroughly steeped multiverse game is the aptly-named Multiverser - based on the (commonly promoted) concept that you could have one character play in any every genre. In order to do that, the game had a "universal" engine that claimed to handle everything from dagger-vs-claw to plasma-vs-laser and everything from chainmail-and-shield to powered-up-mecha. Several major systems also have attempted this, occasionally even with some measure of success.

There's also a healthy niche of old school gonzo players. This goes back to the roots of the hobby where dungeons occasionally led out into space, other planets, or even into crashed space ships (think S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks). For fantasy purists, these excursions were often distasteful and caused lingering campaign problems (that fighter with a laser pistol...). Others found the whole mélange delightful, even if the mixup broke the rules. One of the more amusing venues of gonzo gaming these days is Crawling Under A Broken Moon. This periodical offers a whole slug of gonzo crazy in every issue. Some of it so gonzo and so crazy that probably it's too much even for average gonzo crazy players. If you haven't enjoyed issues of this gem, I recommend it.

Another really well-known but never played crossover game is the infamous HYBRID. This... uh... thing... started off as a hybrid of HERO System 1-3 and Marvel Super Heroes. But it didn't end there, eventually turning into a hybrid of pretty much everything, except for logic. It's risible that everybody has heard of the game but nobody has ever played it (probably because it's unplayable). Another "gem" in the group is The World of Synnibarr. It's been through a couple different editions, but the 1st edition remains the best known. Like HYBRID, it's known for being one of the worst RPGs ever. Unlike HYBRID, it's completely playable. I'm not saying you'd want to, but you could. It's an accessible bad system.
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Sat Jun 24, 2017 3:52 am
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Oh say can you see my HYBRID?

Clark Timmins
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HYBRID. As everybody knows, it's one of "the worst RPGs ever written". I'm not sure how you quantify that, but I'm on board with it. It's definitely secured a place in the "unholy trinity" of bad games. But it's a special place. The other two games are either deliberately bad or deliberately offensive. What am I saying? They are both deliberately bad and deliberately offensive, no either about it. But HYBRID is neither bad on purpose nor offensive on purpose. In point of fact, the sexism/racism in HYBRID seems almost accidental. Almost like a someone who knows so little they don't realize they know so little tackling the subject. And anyway, by today's standards the sexism/racism embedded in the game is rather pedestrian compared to what's come since. Too, it's not running throughout the game's entire corpus like a ribbon of darkness intentionally braided in. It pops up in a few places and then gets ignored. Geez, I almost sound like I'm defending it...

So the game itself, "the" HYBRID, really is quite difficult to pin down. What is certain is that starting somewhere about 1997 an individual started making strange posts on rec.games.frp. Of course freaks and geeks on rec.games were so common as not to elicit comment. The fact that the posting system required no validation meant, too, that one person could post under numerous names or many people could post under one name. And the way that Usenet gathered posts from pretty much any system that wanted to send it posts meant that establishing the identify of a given poster is - pretty much literally - impossible. So bearing that in mind, "an" individual started making posts about their game system. They described it as a hybrid of the Hero system and the Marvel system. Hybrid systems are a dime a dozen and generally need no comment. This particular Hybrid system was endlessly, inanely, and insanely promoted by the author. It became difficult to comment on anything in rec.games.frp.super-heroes without having your post cut up by a response along the lines of "in my Hybrid system this is handled better by...". He was so persistent and so annoying that numerous long-standing members simply bailed out. Eventually even the forum moderator simply quit. This is really quite surprising given the open, wild nature of Usenet where daily flame wars were the bulk of the content.

This individual (if indeed it was an individual) usually posted under the names Matthew, C, or C++. This person's account was banned multiple times, and as is done everywhere they just created another account and went on spamming. Eventually he (she?) started posting via various Usenet feeders such as Deja. Using Google archives it's possible to dig down into the threaded discussion forums and see bits and pieces of the game that eventually would become HYBRID being thrown out like swine before pearls. This went on for years and years. Posts usually went something like this one - picked entirely at random:

C++
8/23/00
WRONG!
[ 40 ] ^ 2 = 1,600 : in Hero System ,
<< NOT 6,400 >>.
So, in Hero System, STR 40 = strength to lift & leg press 1,600 kg.
And, STR 200 in Hero System = [ 200 ] ^ 2 =
strength to lift & leg press 40,000 kg or 40 metric tons.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
[ 40 ] ^ 3 = 64,000 : in Hybrid Hero System
So, in Hybrid Hero System, STR = 40 = strength to lift or leg press
64,000 kg or 64 metric tons.


Crystal clear, eh? Lest you think it's aberrant, here's another from a few months later:

C++
12/20/00
In article <L5V%5.4548$Mw6.2...@news-east.usenetserver.com>,
- show quoted text -
In 'Hybrid', magic is proportional to a character's TP, which is
TK^(1/2). So, if Xavier has 75 TP, then he has 75 Magic ; but, if Dr
Strange has Shift Y Magic, then Dr Strange should have 250 TP which '86
MU TSR '86 does not go into but implies which 'Hybrid' has & uses,
assuming Mephisto is at Shift Z ( 500 ) & Galactus is at Class 1,000 .
This is why Xavier was Dr Strange, on a weaker power scale since Xavier
is at 75 & Dr Strange at 250, in Amalgam which comic writers tried to
explain to comic readers but it seems most comic reders were too stupid
to understand this basic tenent for reason of being too lazy to make
the mental leap in basic arithmetic calculations & simple logic.
Sent via Deja.com


These endless posts continued for years. And there are lots of them. They are posted under a huge variety of user names. I won't here list them because I have no way of knowing if they're the "same" person as C++, above (I have no way of knowing if those two posts are from the "same" person, either). Quite often, these posts were to correct a typo in a previous formula. Quite often, later posts would say something like:

6/8/01
The original equation was correct that being 3*X^2,
forgot to include a variable in computation in
previous calculation leading to 2*X^2. So, ignore
the 2*X^2 equation, as it should be 3*X^2 for
superstring in Hybrid rpg to calculate little
psyche, from which you can determine big Psyche,
by psyche = Psyche^LOG10(Psyche). Sorry for typo !
The next equation that I will be working on is
how to determine populaton for a multi-verse
universe. Maybe, instead of 3*X^2, it should be
pi*X^2, not sure. I suppose 3*X^2 is good enough.


Or perhaps like this post that clarifies everything:

8/17/01
Damage at normal intensity, X = Nd6
in Hybrid rpg, Z = Nd6 in Champions :
Z = [X*Log10(X)]d6 . And, damage at
full intensity : Z = [X*(1+Log10(X)]d6.


And then on 28 March 2002 something utterly magical happened. C++ made a final post (it wasn't really final, but it said it was going to be) that included the whole entire game distilled down into a self-proclaimed single paragraph. It was maybe 20 pages long. This single post "became" HYBRID "version 0.5" and was grabbed by Philippe Tromeur and posted as HTML on his site. Voila! Archived! I've never been able to find it on Usenet (my Usenet skills suck). It was almost immediately replaced by a version called "the one paragraph RPG" version, so called only because it wasn't versioned but did have that subtitle. That version is readily available and even today remains on the web over at oocities.

The author, from this point forward consistently self-identified as Matthew/C++, then gained the ability to post HTML updates on the site and every month or so would put out a new version of the game. This continued through March 2005 when Version 2.1 was posted and then poof, the entire crazy process just stopped. What happened? Stroke? Heart attack? Bus? Clearly the author intended to continue. But didn't.

The versioning of the game was whimsical. Early versions followed a sort of semi-standard .05, .10, .11, .12, like that, jumping to 1.1, 1.2, 2.0. These often were named with the decimal point moving about freely, so version .12 might refer to itself as version .12, version 1.2, version 1.20, or whatever. Sometime in early 2003 the author started to calculate that the game was "XX% complete" in development, and adopted the percentage as the version. From this era we get the various .345, .321 versions. They are not sequential as the scope of the game often increased faster than the completed portions. How this all is calculated is actually discussed (nonsensically) in the rules. Sometime in early 2005 the author realized the game text had reached astronomical size and started versioning it based on how many megabytes long it was. We thus end up with the last version - 0.21 - being so named because it took up 2.1 MB of disk space. Because Version 0.21 was the last ever posted, usually it is considered the definitive version. One final comment - sometimes a single version of the game used two or even three different self-references - for example, Version 0.3 is the same thing as Version 0.15 - though not the same thing as Version 0.30!

You can see from the randomized development alone that the author was pretty seriously committed to the game and (I believe) really thought he was making sense most of the time. Honestly I don't believe it was a trick or a scam or a deliberate attempt to "make the worst RPG ever". Of course... maybe I've just been bamboozled, too.
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Fri Jun 23, 2017 3:29 am
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Reductio ad Hitlerum

Clark Timmins
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In 1951 Leo Strauss coined the risible phrase Reductio ad Hitlerum, a sort of quasi Latin phrase meaning "reduction to Hitler". The general concept here is that person A tries to discredit person B by comparing B to Hitler. Clearly, if you have anything in common with Hitler you must be evil scum. And by Hitler we must assume we all know we mean Adolf Hitler, Nazi party member #7. In the game of logic, Reductio ad Hitlerum is a type of fallacy of irrelevance.

If you ever see a politician perform Reductio ad Hitlerum you know you are days away from their defeat. Any official spokesperson throwing themselves upon Reductio ad Hitlerum is days away from retirement. The thing is as hot as an atomic potato and in today's sanitized society you simply cannot compare anybody or anything to Hitler and get anything except a storm of criticism in return. It doesn't help if, like the lamentable Sean Spicer, you have no <expletive> idea what you're talking about.

So I've been watching a lot of "History Channel" series about WWII. Things like "the biggest construction projects of WWII", "the deadliest secrets of WWII", "the largest battles of WWII", etc. You must know the type of show I'm talking about. They take the same thirty minutes of footage, interview a couple experts nobody's ever heard of, and then blend it up in a new order to make a new series. Whether the particular topic has much to do with Hitler, you know he's going to be stuck in there somehow. A current favorite trend of History Channel series is to make sort of live-action re-enactments of events being discussed. So they talk about the development of the V-2 and they get some guy who can pass for Wernher von Braun if you close both eyes, stick him in a lab that's mocked up art deco style, and have him looking pensive at a board full of gobbledegook. One of their favorite people to re-enact is, naturally, Hitler. Probably because nobody who looks even remotely like Hitler wants to deliberately associate themselves with Hitler, they always seem to wind up with actors who look about as much like Hitler as they do to, say, Julia Child. Throw on the toothbrush moustache and call it good.

I've come to the conclusion that if you are re-enacting Hitler it is a legal requirement that you do it in the full-blown furious crazy mode. You never see a Hitler imitator just sitting there looking at a map. No, he's always standing up, crouching over some table in a dim room, surrounded by nervous-looking sycophants - and he's pounding the table and foaming at the mouth, shrieking about things. "We must have more submarines!", or, "You must not fall back even one inch!", or, "I think I'll have the green salad for lunch!" Whatever it is, he's furious about it. Emphatically furious. Do you think somebody could really walk around 24 x 7 being furious about everything?

Turns out that Hitler hasn't made much of a dent in tabletop RPGs. Maybe we collectively realize that it'd be in poor taste. Or maybe we realize that a continuously furious crazy psychobabbler is more or less what most player characters are like. But the products we've got... they don't inspire much confidence.

We've got the ridiculous comedy angle - Adolf Hitler - Porn Star. He's even on the cover, looking surprisingly convincing as a burned out, STD-ravaged, cigarette-bumming hack... behind the GM screen. I've played with GMs more or less just like that, maybe without the full costume. You know the rules-lawyering types: YOU HAVE PROVOKED AN OOO AND TAKEN FIFTY-TWO POINTS OF DAMAGE - SAVE VS. MASSIVE DAMAGE! The furious crazy type. "Hey wait, I just was sandboxing. It was just a bump. I didn't mean to move..." A TOUCH IS A MOVE, SAVE OR DIE!

We've got The Final Battle #04: The Death of Adolf Hitler. All you have to know is the cover shows Chuck Norris and the game system is ROLF!: The Rollplaying Game of Big Dumb Fighters. Any assumptions you make from this point forward are correct. Before you conclude this is just a joke product that has never been used, I have heard that one non-English-speaking GM in Latvia actually ran this scenario for his group in 1992 because putting it through then-current google translate changed the title into "Death in Allied Froth" and he was looking for a good swamp adventure.

We've got Hitler's Knights which is a surprisingly recent product that takes itself seriously. They seriously should have considered Leo Strauss' commentary about doing anything with Hitler and hoping for a reasonable outcome. Then again, the old bastard himself isn't really in the product, just brain-<expletive> followers.

And finally, Operation: Hitler!, featuring everybody's first response to the age old imponderable: What would you do if you could go back in time? The mal-adjusted say "See if my mom was hot in high school". The well-adjusted say "Assassinate Hitler". Of course we know from Torg that you can't assassinate Hitler because he's too well protected by creeps that think history must be protected so the now doesn't collapse into quivering uncertainty fields. So you might just as well see if mom was hot after all. But in this scenario you can do both. Or you can at least try to do both. This scenario also shows Hitler the way the History Channel likes him - furious. Furious, furious, furious. It must be exhausting to always be so wound up in anger about everything from munitions productions to sharpening a pencil.

And that's it for gaming. See what I mean? A whole industry of geeks, from the 1970s to the present, and collectively we are smart enough to (mostly) avoid the unwinnable. I can tell just from that the politicians never were canny enough to roleplay.





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Thu Jun 22, 2017 11:44 am
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Seeing in the Dark

Clark Timmins
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Humans are afraid of the dark. Whether it’s social, cultural, or biological, the fact remains that very, very few non-blind humans feel safe when they can’t see. Thus, throughout the history of gaming, various methods of “seeing in the dark” have been proposed.

Artificial light sources are, by far, the most common method. Torches often are used in fantasy games. They are easy to construct, cheap, and (at least in theory) offer some degree of protection and/or allow you to start things on fire. Generally, a torch is a stave (often wood) with one end wrapped with something flammable. Roman torches used lime and sulfur mixes, which would even burn underwater. Modern torches use a wound wick soaked in paraffin (the modern Olympic style torch actually is something like a giant cigarette lighter with a pressurized fuel reserve). Single-use modern torches may use a solid fuel tablet. A “tiki” style torch uses a wick descending into a flammable liquid held in a reservoir. Medieval torches were typically made from a pine knot or an oil-soaked and tightly-wound hide or linen. A torch has many drawbacks, however. They are smoky and smelly, they provide very limited illumination, they are bulky to carry, and they feature a hazardous open flame. Most rules suggest a torch provides light for about an hour (an optimistic duration).

Some games suggest lanterns of various types. The simplest lanterns consist of a small wick floating on an oil reservoir – these are very difficult to transport, however. More complex lanterns use a mechanical clip to hold (and adjust) a wick that descends into the flammable liquid reservoir. Lanterns are somewhat less bulky than torches but they also are generally fragile by comparison. If they are broken, it’s likely that the flammable liquid reservoir may ignite with bad results. A “miner’s lamp” is made primarily from metal and is durable – but also provides less illumination than a glass-enclosed lantern. Also, lanterns again don’t provide that much illumination. Most rules suggest a lantern will burn some unit of oil in an hour.

Many fantasy games use magical light sources. These are too variable for easy summarization – they range from “torch-like” light to full daylight in huge areas and often are available in various colors or other effects. From abt. 3rd Edition onward, Dungeons & Dragons has made the various “light” based spells create magical light equivalent to a torch or lantern, which certainly helps standardization. The Original D&D rules gave light spell areas in “inches”, which varied inside vs. outside. There has never been an intelligibly realistic rule about what happens to magical light beyond its range of effect. Is it a “ball of light” within the area and then immediately pitch black outside the range? Can the magical light be seen by people not in the area of effect? Does the light radiate from a magical point source or does it just fill the whole area? Who knows? In any case, creating magical light is something that almost every fantasy games makes simply and readily available to characters.

Many fantasy rules provide various types of vision that don’t rely on good illumination – or any illumination at all. The very first implementation of this was in Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition) where various non-humans had “Infravision” that allowed them to “see in total darkness”. The clear intent was that regardless of its name, Infravision was a sort of magical vision that didn’t require light. But this led to lengthy and ongoing disputes, explanations, hypothecations, and theorizing in almost every gaming periodical about exactly what the mechanics of Infravision were . In Basic Dungeons & Dragons this became the ability to “see heat”. Hardly an improvement, this further complicated the issue with all sorts of inscrutable questions. Could you identify an individual person with Infravision (vice just seeing “a” person)? Could you see a door in a wall? Could you read? Could you read magical scripts? While these considerations filled hundreds of pages they never were answered to everyone’s satisfaction. Toward the end of its commercial life, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition) even introduced “Ultravision” to further complicate things.

Presumably the whole Infravision debate arose because gamers could just look up thermal imaging results and see what “it looked like,” and it sure doesn’t look like what the rules seemed to suggested. From about 3rd Edition onward, D&D generally has eschewed Infravision and Ultravision in favor of new types of vision that are meaningless outside of the game. This clearly makes the game definitions “correct”. The first is “Darkvision” which started out as the magical ability to “see in the dark” but by 5th Edition has become something like “super good low-light vision”. There’s also “Blindsight” that really isn’t seeing at all but functionally is the same – the critter just “knows” where stuff is and what’s going on, within a limited range.

In D&D the sweet spot of visual range seems to be about thirty to sixty feet. The venerable torch has illuminated as little as thirty feet across (in 2nd Edition) to as much as sixty feet across (in Basic). The lantern has been at least as good as (and often better than) a torch. The “Bullseye” lantern presumably uses reflective surfaces and a lens to double the range as the cost of most of the visual field. Beyond the ranges indicated in the rules, the light usually is considered too dim to be of any use. Of course any party carrying light in the dark readily is visible from a far, far longer distance than they can themselves see. Until 5th Edition the approach to lighting in D&D was all or nothing – there was functional vision within the area of illumination and no vision beyond it. In Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition), the concept of “bright light” and “dim light” are used – “dim light” yields various penalties. I recall reading one analysis of light and movement that determined a running character could not stop fast enough to avoid a hazard if their only light source was a torch or lantern.

In Lands of Adventure, torches and lanterns provide an illumination radius of twenty feet, but the illumination is provided in one foot increments with a penalty of 5% per foot. Torchlight thus offers “full vision” only in the first about one foot, falling off to essentially no vision at about twenty feet. Silhouetting halves the penalty. While this penalty-by-range is more realistic than the “all or nothing” approach, it’s also more complicated. In Gods & Monsters some species have Night Vision or Underground Vision. Night Vision is something of a cross between thermal imaging and low-light vision – it requires at least some ambient light. Undergound Vision is thermal and a “combination of senses” and requires no light whatsoever.

While there are a lot of variables involved, a “typical” torch might produce 250 lumens during normal burning time. While that’s better than a typical candle (about 11 lumens), it’s nowhere near a typical Coleman “mantle” lantern (about 900 lumens). A typical pocket-sized (small) LED flashlight puts out about 250 lumens as well. The torch is going to cast the light in a sphere, while the flashlight is going to focus the light in a beam. I’m quite familiar with the use of a Coleman “mantle” lantern as an area lighting source (our cabin is a simple wood box with tin roof and no utilities). The lantern yields enough light to play cards, as long as it’s hung over the playing table. I’ve also done a fair amount of spelunking with various incandescent flashlights (LED flashlights were after my young-and-dumb phase). I believe that the D&D standard range of thirty-ish feet without penalties is quite optimistically generous. I think the Lands of Adventure mechanic is far more accurate.
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Wed Mar 15, 2017 1:47 am
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Encounters

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An encounter. An unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something. The "encounter" is an integral part of roleplaying games, and has been from the very start, being the principle topic of TSR2002 Monsters & Treasure, one of the three volumes of Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition). In this earliest game, an encounter was assumed to be with a monster "hostile [or] benign". The encounter consisted of a monster type (virtually all encounters were assumed to be with cohesive groups of like monsters), a number appearing (this was noted as being potentially dependent on indoor/outdoor location), and a chance of the encounter being in the critters' lair. The primary function of being "in lair" was whether or not the monsters encountered would be bearing treasure. In those first days, it was always better to encounter things in their lairs, because that way you got paid for defeating things. The whole rest of the volume was devoted to monster stats and treasure tables.

Fast forward four decades and an encounter, to most roleplayers, is still pretty much the same thing. Oh sure, we've become more nuanced in our approach. "Wandering monsters" have given away to set encounters; monster groups have different types of critters and/or specialties (one of the strongest aspects of Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition)). Encounters have morale, surprise, and maybe even (gasp) motivation. But at heart, you're bumping your character into a beastie. The beastie wants to kill/eat/loot and the character wants to kill/loot (for PCs, eat usually applies only in extremis).

The encounter process was substantively buffed up (and complicated) in Dungeon Masters Guide (AD&D 1e). Presented in "Appendix C: Random Monster Encounters", a plethora of tables and details were presented. What all this process did was introduce a lot of variability into the situation surrounding the encounter. Instead of encountering "30-300 orcs in lair", you could suddenly encounter a humongous diversity of things at various distances, under various conditions, and in all sorts of different terrain. Significantly for teenage gamers, a bare-breasted mermaid encounter also was illustrated. But guess what? You were still bumping your character into a beastie (hopefully a bare-breasted one). Complications, complications.

There also were some strange encounters noted. Encounters that broke the system, so to speak. Let's say you're using the "Temperate and Sub-Tropical Conditions: Uninhabited/Wilderness Areas" table (pp. 184-185). Arguably one of the most-used tables. Depending on the "Predominant Terrain" you could encounter things like: Bull/Cattle, wild; Dog, wild; Herd Animal; Horse, wild; Porcupine; or Stag. Presumably, none of these "monsters" are going to attack. They don't have treasure. They don't yield meaningful experience. They might be eaten. So... they're an encounter, but you don't really "encounter" them in the original sense. Even more problematic - you could encounter a Pseudo-dragon. Turning to pp. 78-80 in Monster Manual (AD&D 1e) we read "Pseudo-dragons have a chameleon-like power, so they can blend into any typical background and become 80% undetectable..." So the players are bumbling along through the Sub-Tropical Uninhabited Wilderness and the Dungeon Master starts furiously rolling dice and consulting books and then announces "you don't encounter anything". What the...? This is not a game players want to play! It's even worse then encountering (and surviving) "30-300 orcs" and realizing they are not in lair! The party then spends the remainder of game night searching every nook, cranny, root, and twig in the forest for whatever it is that they are not encountering.

And it got even worse with the City/Town Encounters Matrix (p. 191). You're walking through the city. You have an encounter! It's a... merchant. You're in a city and you "encounter" a merchant. Are you kidding me? You walk further down the street and have another encounter! It's a... Nycadaemon. What's that? It's not even in the rules? What's going on in this crazy city?

You could, of course, argue that the encounter tables were poorly edited. This could be corrected. But that's not the real problem. It just illustrates the real problem - it drives right down to the heart of the encounter situation in roleplaying games. If you have an encounter, you expect it to be significant. And that's the real problem, right there. Because when you do have an encounter, you treat it as significant. There is no way the game master is going to spend the time to run you through an encounter with a "Person, Nondescript/Uninteresting/Insignificant". So the GM doesn't know the NPCs name or appearance? Ha! That's a ruse to fool you into turning your back. The GM tells you flat out "it's just a random farmer plowing a random field." Ha! Obviously that farmer must be tortured for information and that field must be excavated completely. Still nothing? Even more proof we're not looking hard enough!

In "real life", we have countless encounters every day. The streets are full of people. The shops are full of people. We may even interact with them. The store clerks, the person we sit next to on the train, the other people at school, the visitor at church, the kids on the sidewalk - all encounters. None (more or less) significant. In fact, if a "game-terms-significant" encountered happened in "real life", it'd probably be on the evening news. But there's no real way to simulate this in tabletop roleplaying. In computer roleplaying games - at least the newer ones - this can be simulated. There are all kinds of people or benign critters walking around in many of the newer CRPGs. Many of them even say pithy or curious things and have unique appearances. But they're still not significant encounters. But there's just no useful way to simulate that on the tabletop. Unless the GM wants to spend an awful lot of time running "pointless" encounters, the clear expectation is going to be that an encounter is intended to be significant.

In gaming, space and time function at a sort of "maxi" level for most events. Eight hours can pass with "we sleep"; a whole week or month can pass with "we wait in town". An interstellar voyage can pass with "we fly to Sector 7". But then the game will drop into a sort of "micro" level for significant events - like encounters. All encounters. Most games have something analogous to a "strategic" time/distance scale and a "tactical" time/distance scale. In AD&D First Edition (1e) Compatible Products there were "turns" and "rounds"; there was "overland movement" and "combat movement". Some games that focus more on tactical complexity (like e.g. Phoenix Command) have three different "levels" of space-time - and actually Phoenix Command has two wholly different "scales" (infantry vs. armor) to yield six possible "levels" of focus with corresponding nonsense reality. The reason for this is quite obvious - nobody wants to "roleplay" hundreds of hours of riding horses to the keep on the borderlands. Nobody wants to roleplay eight hours of sleep. We want all that to simply pass by. What we want to roleplay are the exciting bits that happen in between the long, dry spells. Thus, the dual space/time scales used allow us to play fun games. But, alas, the perverse consequence is that any (and every) time the game drops into the "micro" space/time scale, the event is deemed significant. Whether it is or not.
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Fri Feb 10, 2017 3:19 am
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Expanded Castle Greyhawk

Clark Timmins
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I've been exploring El Raja Key Archive and quite enjoying it. I've got the "Standard" version, so if you're working with the "Basic" version your experience may be different. The archive is a very intriguing collection of items. As you would expect from the collected extant artifacts, it's very uneven - ranging from scraps of notes through entire detailed adventures. One of the most interesting sections is entitled "Expanded Castle Greyhawk". This version is often called the "2nd Castle", and was created between 1973 and 1976 by Gary Gygax and Robert J. Kuntz. According to the archive, Kuntz added these:

Quote:
In all Rob contributed some 20 levels to the 2nd version of Original Greyhawk Castle, 11 of those to the 15 castle core levels, 2 of those to the 8 west levels, 2 to the 8 east levels, and another 5 special levels (Asgard, Horsing Around, Demonworld, Bottle City, and Oz). In addition to these full levels, Rob also created several memorable locations within the castle such as the legendary Living Room, the prototypical, Garden of the Plantmaster, and the Giant's Pool Hall.


Not all of these are included in the archive, however. What is included in the archive:

Core Level 02 "Invisible Maze"
Core Level 02 Special "Bottle City"
Core Level 03 "Gem Room & Crypts"
Core Level 05 "Sealed Tomb"
Core Level 06 "Black Pudding Doorkeeper"
Core Level 07 "Tsojconth Level"
Core Level 07.5 "Black Reservoir"
Core Level 11 "Entrance to Oz"
Core Level 12 "Boreal Level"
Core Level 13 "Entrance to Asgard Melnibone & Dying Earth"
Core Level 14 "Orb Scepter & Crown Level"
Core Level 18 "Dragon Level"
East Level 03 "Garden & Giant's Pool Hall"
East Level 08 "Machine"
West Level 05 "Gallery"
West Level 07 "Barracks"
Core Level Special "Living Room"

There also are small bits and pieces on the archive of other mentioned areas. The enumerated contents form the vast majority, however. Many have keys, but some do not. Before firing up your credit card, you should be aware of exactly what the archive is (and is not). It is a collection of good scans and comments about the scans. It is not a "slick commercial product" in a ready-to-use format. If you thumb through your own old adventure maps and notes, then you will have the same visual experience as you will with the archive. Maps are always hand-drawn and mostly are pencil on graph paper, sometimes with ink annotations. Map keys mostly are handwritten pencil on lined paper, sometimes annotated quite heavily. The keys are reminiscent of very early gaming - an entry might read something like "4 bugbears with axes and 75 GP". The dungeon itself also is reminiscent of very early gaming - gonzo, crazy, little-to-no "ecology", packed with logical paradoxes, and combat/trap heavy.

Often, the new commentary about the maps are quite intriguing - little notes about Mordenkainen running away and so forth are humorous and really compelling to geeky grognards. There's also a lot of stuff like this fascinating bit:

Quote:
[The Tsojconth Level] was originally part of Castle El Raja Key and corresponds with Castle El Raja Key Level 10. This is Rob's original map but his key still resides with Gary Gygax's copy of the Expanded Greyhawk Castle. Gary liked the design so much that he borrowed the idea and it became the Greater Caverns for the WinterCon V tournament module, the Lost Caverns of Tsojconth in 1976. Rob's original map, shown here, was edited by Rob and Gary for use in the Expanded Greyhawk Castle as Core Level 7...


The scan of the map is very usable, at 3296 x 2537 pixels with good contrast. Here's what you'll see - bearing in mind this is less than 1/4 the size of the actual image:



So if you've ever wondered what it was like to sit in Gygax's basement and roll dice before anybody else had ever heard of roleplaying... it's safe to say that El Raja Key Archive is going to get you closer to that experience than anything else available on the commercial market. It's not the "whole" Castle Greyhawk. But it's pieces of it!
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Sun Jan 29, 2017 9:34 pm
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DDOP - D&D Organized Play through the Versions

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Dungeons & Dragons has been the center of some form of organized play since the earliest days. Prior to the widespread advent of "conventions", Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition) typically was played by smallish groups in local informal organizations. While there probably was no "standard" way to play, many very early campaigns record activity focusing around a particular enthusiast's home (almost always, the local "Dungeon Master of renown"). Player characters often would travel from game to game. Perhaps this was - at least in conception - the earliest style of "organized" play.

When Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition) was published the national convention scene was fully established, popular, and operational. TSR produced a large number of "convention" modules. While these were typically standalone ("one shot") adventures with pre-generated characters, they were very widely played across the country and world at about the same time by tens of thousands of players. While most of these modules probably are lost to time, several dozen of them were lightly reworked, edited, and published as commercial products. For example, the favorite A - Aerie of the Slave Lords, C - Competition, and S - Special series of modules all began as competition products. During this time, TSR's appendage organization, the RPGA (previously called the Role Playing Game Association and the RPGA Network), appeared and began to offer a style of limited-availability organized play to dues-paying members. This style of disjointed but consistent experience caused a lot of players to want something more durable.

When Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd Edition) was published the first widespread, significant effort at standardized organized play was heavily promoted by the RPGA. TSR continued to provide convention and tournament modules, but the RPGA offered something innovative - a "living" campaign. In this style of organized play, players could create a standard character (with some limitations) and then take that character to any organized play event. In this way, the character could gain experience, level up, accumulate wealth and treasure, and in general be played like characters are played in home campaigns. This was startlingly innovative and for players who enjoyed conventions, immensely appealing. This first "living" campaign was centered on the RPGA's "Living City" of Ravens Bluff. Extant scenarios are quite expensive to come by - RPGA Living City Adventures. At roughly the same time, and with considerable overlap, TSR offered a generally available series of organized play modules: RPGA Adventurer's Guild.

Dungeons & Dragons (3rd Edition) and Dungeons & Dragons (3.5 Edition) saw what arguably was the largest, most vigorous organized play program, ever. This was the enormously popular Living Greyhawk Adventure Series, with literally thousands of scenarios published in numerous languages over eight years. Every geographic region of the real world (with play activity) was apportioned to a specific Region of Greyhawk. Play in the geographic region focused on developments in the assigned Region of Greyhawk. Larger "Meta-Regional" organizations existed to tie together disparate global developments. COR - Living Greyhawk Core Adventures scenarios formed the backbone of the narrative developments for the whole experience.

Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) switched settings but continued with organized play in Living Forgotten Realms Adventure Series. This was a well organized, standardized, formal play program with global support. Scenarios were uniformly superior - some quite excellent - and the play program was well organized and run. It inherited the best ideas and avoided the worst problems of Living Greyhawk. But like the game version on which it was based, it unfortunately never really gained the universal convention support and player devotion enjoyed by its predecessors. It also suffered from significant competition from Pathfinder Society Scenarios and other game systems' organized play offerings.

Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition) has been marketed significantly differently from its predecessors. I could pontificate on that a bit, but it seems like flogging a dead horse. The initial organized play efforts were seemingly directed more at game stores than conventions, with DDEX - D&D Expeditions. After a couple years the convention approach was better embraced with DDAL - D&D Adventurers League. But it was pretty evident that the new Wizards of the Coast style was not going to attempt the scale of previous efforts. Instead, each of the recent play "seasons" is tied directly to a commercial hardback release. There are good points and bad points to doing it this way.

As there have never really been enough scenarios to support significant convention (or even game store) play over extended periods, the program has recently been opened up to various design companies. Instead of trying to support conventions directly (and uniformly), the approach seems to be to allow CCC - Convention-Created Content to fill the void. A few cherry-picked VIPs also are allowed to create and offer DDAO - D&D Adventurers League Authors Only scenarios.

The "Convention-Created" products debut at the convention for which they are created, but then are required to be made available to the public within about a month (via DM's Guild). This means that those interested can at least get them. The "Authors Only" products are a different story. Only a handful of people can write them, and only the author can run them, and to date only a single product has been released to the public. This is - to me - quite unfortunate (and a far cry from the previous "anybody with desire and talent can participate" egalitarian approach).

The "Expeditions" and the first couple "Adventurers League" seasons were made available for free download to participating Dungeon Masters. This was (to my mind, unfortunately) switched over to DM's Guild and scenarios were then published to that site, available for purchase, by anybody. While this probably means wider circulation, it also means many players will have read the scenario prior to play. It also has shifted the focus back to the game store and away from the convention.

As a concluding remark, I'll note that since "the dawn of history" various groups have offered their own versions of organized play and living campaigns for all the versions of D&D. While I have no doubt most of these were enjoyable, and many of them excellent, they have always remained relatively tiny in scale and numbers of active participants.
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Fri Jan 20, 2017 6:14 pm
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I predict a problem...

Clark Timmins
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Prophecies in fantasy games have always been problematic. A basic assumption of RPG is the promise an open-ended freedom of movement and decision to the players, especially concerning their characters. Prophecies seem to circumscribe that - if not eliminate it altogether. If the DM "predicts the future" for a character, it's not much fun for the character's player. If the player "predicts the future" for their character, it can screw up the DM's campaign goals. Not to mention that predicting the future is a tricky business in a game (not to mention real life). It might work in a novel or film, where the future is controlled. But having it work in a game is difficult, at best. For these reasons, my experience in RPGs has been that prophecies seldom play a significant role in any aspect of the game except for campaign dressing. There's also a continuous conflation of prophecy and divination - that is, using "divination magic" to learn something often is equated to being prophetic.

First, let's take a quick look at how prophecies and oracles have appeared in Dragon through the versions.

The first significant attention to the topic appears as Prophet Proofing or How To Counter Foretelling Spells in Dragon (Issue 21 - Dec 1978). Here, prophecy is directly equated to divination. Prophetic spells are enumerated as Clairaudience, Clairvoyance, Wizard Eye, ESP, and X-Ray Vision. And the "prophet" utilizes these spells to, essentially, determine what's on the "other side of the door". Thus fore-armed, the party is able to prepare tactically. The article suggests various methods the mean-spirited Dungeon Master can use to discourage this type of behavior.

This use, approach, and discouragement is repeated twenty-six years later in Smoke and Mirrors - Divinations in D&D in Dragon (Issue 316 - Feb 2004). As with the prior article, here divination is equated to prophecy and the same comments, notes, and suggestions are repeated in a more refined and expanded article. From Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition) to Dungeons & Dragons (3rd Edition), apparently not much changed.

In Dragonmarks - Fragments of the Prophecy, Dragon (Issue 358 - Aug 2007), a chunk of Eberron detail is provided, including notes on a prophecy with major influence in the setting. Here we find, finally, a significant use of prophecy to drive the campaign narrative. But it functions at a very high, "meta", level to craft the setting, history, and so forth. We're still lacking the sort of oracular proclamation or prophetic vision that might influence characters directly.

So let's take a look at a bunch of scenarios that ostensibly feature prophecy as a substantive component.

A very early (and for the time lengthy) series of modules was called the "Prophecy of Brie". This series originally was published as RPGA3 - 8. RPGA3: The Forgotten King and RPGA4: The Elixir of Life were published as standalone products. RPGA5 - 8 were published as inserts in Polyhedron Magazine: The Riddle of Dolmen Moor: An AD&D adventure for 10 PCs of levels 4-7, The Incants of Ishcabeble: An AD&D adventure for 10 PCs of levels 4-7, Llywelyn's Tomb, and ...And the Gods Will Have Their Way: An AD&D Adventure for 10 PCs of levels 4-7. As you can imagine, the scenarios are very difficult to find, and expensive to own. However, they were edited and reworked and then republished as C4: To Find a King and C5: The Bane of Llywelyn. Actually the reworked products make a little more sense and are a little easier to use, if a little less cool. However, they are all still scenarios designed for convention "competition" play and, thus, pretty much suck. Despite the dominant theme of prophecy, it is little more than window dressing to initiate the action. While it will influence the character party, it won't do so much more than, say, a hobbit selling a treasure map in a bar.

Dungeon (Issue 48 - Jul 1994) provides The Oracle at Sumbar. The Oracle is real, but the adventure is not much more than a treasure hunt.

Dungeon (Issue 55 - Sep 1995) provides Umbra, the "child of prophecy". Prophecy here is used to drive the action and set up events, but is little more than a narrative plot device.

Dungeon (Issue 75 - Jul 1999) provides Non-Prophet Organization. Again, not much meaningful influence here.

There's nothing really wrong with using prophecy or oracular information in this way - in fact, it's by far the most common method employed in FRPGs. The prophecy that guides the campaign, builds the setting, or initiates events. It works, and it works well. It delivers flavor and style to a campaign, and makes the prepared Dungeon Master seem even more prepared. It works well to provide credible motivation for a variety of non-player characters, also. There was a minor but present thread of this style of prophecy that ran throughout the Living Greyhawk organized play seasons.

Let's take a look:

URC2-06: Servant of the Prophet - here, the big bad evil dude is convinced he is the figure of prophecy.
ONW3-01: The Prophet - here, the "prophet" is just a cleric.
CORS4-02: Here There Be Dragons - here, Dragons take action to try to fulfill a prophecy.
KET4-05: Oracle - here, the party is sent to consult an "Oracle" for a sage. Humorously, the oracle - said to be an "ancient inimical being", turns out to be a "specially altered" undead aboleth.
YEO5-04: Prophecies of Ash - here, the action is initiated by a prophetic dream.
SHE7-07: Prophecies - here, prophecies from the past initiate the narrative plot.

It seems that decades of prophecy in D&D has not lead to any suitable methodology for incorporating a significant prophetic strategy into the core games. It works fine as ancient history, fine as the far future, and fine as campaign dressing. It works well for nations, continents, and perhaps even the odd non-player character (especially kings or wannabe kings). But it doesn't work, it seems, for the plain old player character.

I only found one significant attempt to incorporate oracular prophecy into the core rules in the literature. That was an excellent article by Andrew Dewar, presented as The Oracle: When he talks, everybody listens in Dragon (Issue 53 - Sep 1981). A major component of the article is the Oracle class, limited to non-player characters (more about this in a moment). The class is quite intriguing, with good spell-casting ability, limited to divination type spells. This makes obvious sense. The other significant ability of the class is oracular pronouncement. The implementation is unique and intriguing. Instead of having an Oracle specialize in this- or that-type of fortune-telling, they get them all. At every level, they add a tool to their toolbox, starting out with simple dowsing and ending up with the ability to view the past, present, and future. Their oracluar pronouncements are said to be either correct (if they refer to the past or the present), or inevitable (if they refer to the future). I suppose this infallibility is what limits the class to non-player characters. After all, you (apparently) can't have a player character dictating the future of the campaign.

I strongly recommend this article - it pretty much sums up all the possibility, and notes all the pitfalls, of having prophecy.
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Fri Jan 6, 2017 10:26 pm
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The Real Castle Greyhawk

Clark Timmins
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Castle Greyhawk was the first dungeon. The first locus of roleplaying. The setting for the genesis of the entire hobby. You'd assume that such a central locale - a "shrine", really - would be well known and easily accessible. This is definitely not the case, however. In fact, the entire dungeon complex has never been published. In any format. Gary Gygax describes the early creation of the dungeon as having moved through three major iterations. It becomes obvious from his descriptions that each iteration probably is best viewed as much more than a revision or codification, but really as a major overhaul. Even physically speaking, there were major variations between the layout of the dungeon levels in the three versions. Let's take a look at the development. It ain't pretty.

Gygax Version 1 - 1972/3, an "upper works" of ruins with 13 dungeon levels below in a single primary "stack" of levels, and a few (probably 3) "side" levels. This iteration was created day-by-day, week-by-week, as the very first D&D campaign played out. As a level was explored and "played out", Gygax would design another, deeper, level and play would continue.

Gygax/Kuntz Version 2 - 1974, Gygax and Robert J. Kuntz had both been acting as Dungeon Master for various groups of players. Kuntz had developed his own dungeon complex during 1972/3 and in 1974 Gygax and Kuntz decided it made more sense to fuse their independent dungeons into a grand collaboration. They both re-worked their materials, creating new maps, to produce a unified dungeon beneath Castle Greyhawk. This was described as a much expanded upper works in "semi-ruin", with five primary vertical portals to the dungeon. Four of these portals led to four independent dungeon "stacks" of seven levels each (each "stack" having a few side levels). The fifth portal, in the middle, led down to a stack of interleaved levels noted as 1, 4.5, 5.5, 6.5, 7.5, and 9. Beneath these dungeon stacks, a series of caves and caverns extended from the 10th to the 30th level. There were also at least three major areas that could be reached only by "magical transference" (e.g., while part of the dungeon they were not physically connected). More about these areas later.

We now move into the world of commercial publication, primarily by TSR.

In 1975, TSR published Supplement I: Greyhawk. It contained almost nothing about Castle Greyhawk itself, however.
In 1980, TSR published The World of Greyhawk. Alas, it also had almost nothing about Castle Greyhawk.
In 1983, TSR published World of Greyhawk (2nd Edition). Again, nearly nothing about Castle Greyhawk.

Then, TSR published portions of Gygax/Kuntz Version 2. But they published them stripped out of Castle Greyhawk and presented (more or less) as standalone adventures. These are the three "magical transference" levels described above, and they became three separate modules: EX1: Dungeonland, EX2: The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, and WG6: Isle of the Ape.

Gygax left TSR in 1985. This leads to a fork in the road. From here on out, there are (arguably) two "definitive" interpretations of Castle Greyhawk. Because TSR owned all the commercial rights but Gygax knew all the stuff that mattered.

In 1989, TSR published WG7: Castle Greyhawk. This, the first commercial publication of the dungeon, was a horrific failed comedic treatment. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who considers this execrable excursion to have anything to do with the real Castle Greyhawk. It's best forgotten about. Or if you can't forget it, then at least ignore it. Really... it's horrible.

In 1990, TSR published WGR1: Greyhawk Ruins. Finally, an actual commercial product detailing aspects of the famous dungeon. Unfortunately by this point, Gygax had departed and the resulting product has a dubious provenance; one must wonder how much similarity it bears to the earliest incarnations. But it's also the first serious commercial publication of the dungeon. And it's presented as an old-school mega dungeon crawl with twenty-four levels.

In 1992, TSR published From the Ashes. While not detailing Castle Greyhawk directly, it did provide additional information about the dungeon.

Gygax Version 3 - 1998, Gygax produced what he called a "much abbreviated" Castle Greyhawk complex that was based primarily on the first (1972/3) version. It included a smaller upper works in ruin as well as six stacked dungeon levels. This version was not published. Gygax did use it as an adventure during convention sessions where he was the game master. Thus, there are quite a few memories about this version that have been written by numerous players. But they are necessarily fragmentary.

In 2007, Wizards of the Coast published Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk. This revised much of the WG7: Castle Greyhawk material for Dungeons & Dragons (3.5 Edition), but it was (apparently) intended as a sandbox, or "open-ended", scenario. Much of the dungeon was not detailed at all, letting individual dungeon masters fill in entire levels with whatever they wanted. Again, it's not a bad product but it has a dubious provenance - and is quite incomplete.

Gygax Version 4 - CZ2: Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works. We now jump right out of D&D. Gygax, departing TSR in 1985, left behind access to his own game. Rather than deal with the ridiculousness of the situation he selected Castles & Crusades as a notable retro-clone; the final iteration was developed for this system. Also left behind in 1985 was the legal right to use the name "Castle Greyhawk", and thus the dungeon was re-named to Castle Zagyg. So Troll Lord Games published "Castle Zagyg." It was only the first segment of an anticipated series of products (a common Gygax approach); the subsequent products never arrived (a common industry result). Thus this (probably but hopefully not) final commercial version of the first dungeon includes only the "upper works" - largely in ruin - and the first dungeon level. I might point out that several notable historians of Castle Greyhawk have provided detailed analysis of this latter product based on compiled data provided by Gygax and others (from a variety of sources), and have concluded that while it bears some resemblance to the original dungeon, it also varies from it quite a bit.

So what's a poor fanboy to do? There are three possible options that I can see.

Easy: Grab CZ2: Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works (and supplements) and "deal" with the fact that it's incomplete. But it's also the only commercially published (hence, available) iteration that Gygax blessed.

Medium: Grab EX1: Dungeonland, EX2: The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, WG6: Isle of the Ape, WGR1: Greyhawk Ruins, and Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk - put them in a blender - and use what comes out.

Hard: Go hit Grodog's trainspotting series of web pages and with painstaking detail "roll your own" from the established facts (turns out, there are quite a few established facts). As an alternative, use Grodog's intriguing vision of the place. It will take all of fifteen seconds to realize Grodog already has forgotten more about Castle Greyhawk than most of us will ever know.

Out of the Box: Grab Kuntz's El Raja Key Archive and start digging out the levels from Gygax/Kuntz Version 2 as best as you can. This probably will give you the "purest" feel of the original.

My personal opinion? Your best best is going to be CZ2: Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works for the upper works and first level, EX1: Dungeonland, EX2: The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, and WG6: Isle of the Ape for the disconnected portions, and then Grodog's materials to fill in the blanks (there will be a whole lot), preferring El Raja Key Archive content to Grodog's stuff whenever there is overlap.

Now if somebody could just do all that and get the commercial rights to publish it... that would be as amazing as it would impossible.



As an additional note, the Living Greyhawk organized play program produced ADP8-03: Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk, to adapt Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk to the organized play program. Also see Greyhawk Ruins Sourcebook (and adventures referenced therein). While these were published by Wizards of the Coast they were not widely circulated. The sourcebook primarily focuses on campaign play to support the adventure series Greyhawk Ruins.
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Sun Jan 1, 2017 5:21 am
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Sewers and Sewerage

Clark Timmins
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In most fantasy roleplaying the difference between a dungeon and a sewer is about one foot of stagnant, noisome water. This bears virtually no resemblance to reality. Sewers are designed to carry primarily human waste and rainwater out of and away from an urban center. Building a sewer that "looks like" a dungeon without doors will not serve that primary (dare I say only?) function.

Until modern times, all sewers were "combined" sewers - that is, waste products and rainwater runoff went into the same system. Some modern cities manage these two things with separate systems.

Dwelling Outflow
In virtually all the world, houses and buildings usually have lavatories built along the wall facing the street, with 3-4" diameter terra cotta pipes running from the lavatory to the street gutters or channels. Often, lavatories are built above ground level to give a good pitch to the pipe. Until recently, goosenecks were not common. Roof rainoff typically was vented directly into the street.

Street Gutters
Streets in turn have either a single, central gutter or two side gutters. These gutters are typically about a foot deep and two feet wide, perhaps, and are almost always covered over with cobblestone or uncemented bricks (to allow maintenance access). Gutters are lined with brick masonry and are pitched at about a quarter inch per linear foot. Street gutters flow into urban mains.

Urban Mains
Urban mains are larger conduits and are almost always buried underground. Mains are gravity drained and are pitched at about 1/16" per linear foot. Flow rates will be at least 1.5 feet per second (about 1 mile-per-hour) - and preferably five times that amount. Mains are designed to handle heavy rains are are therefore much larger than they would seem to need to be on a typical sunny day. Small mains will be about 3 feet wide and 4 feet tall; normal mains will be about 5 feet wide and 6 to 8 feet tall. Mains are almost never rectangular in cross-section; typically they will be in the shape of an inverted egg. This shape maximizes flow rate across a wide range of flow loading (and mains will always have at least some water flowing in them). Mains are not easy to walk in (but they're not designed to walk in). Most mains that join into other, larger conduits, will use a vertical gravity drop to break suction and prevent backflow - this drop will usually be at least several feet. Mains flow into trunk lines.

Trunk Lines
Trunk Lines are quite large - in them, assuming dry weather, adventuring might actually be something like possible. Trunk Lines often have large central channels with narrow "sidewalks" to allow sanitation worker access. Whenever Mains drop into Trunk Lines, there usually will be large cesspools and/or grit chambers designed to allow solid wastes to settle out. These largish rooms are usually largish in the vertical dimension and will always have fairly good surface access to allow annual excavation and cleaning.

Ingress
Adventurers entering into a sewer system will therefore have to start either as magically shrunken down to e.g. the size of a poop or they will have to enter at either a Mains or Trunk Line access portal. These typically are not particularly difficult to access for the obvious and simple reason that nobody in their right mind wants to access them. Inside the sewers floors will never - never - be flat or dry. They will be sloping, usually rounded, and covered in slime. Water (and other unmentionables) will be flowing by. Junctions will never be intersecting corridors but will be smaller "tubes" entering larger "tubes", usually with a big vertical drop. Chambers, when encountered, will always be under water and thus invisible until stepped into (fallen into). Grit chambers, built to encourage settling, are usually about 100 feet long, 40 feet deep, and the width of the Main or Trunk in which it is placed.

As sewers are expensive to build and maintain, civic authorities will take a particularly dim view of adventurers crawling around in them doing potential damage and causing excessive wear.

Monsters?
Anything that makes its living existing in the sewers will need to eat... basically... sewage, because that's all they're going to find. They'll also have to be able to somehow live (and cling on) in a sewer that occasionally fills to roaring capacity during rainstorms. They'll also benefit from being able to tolerate occasional high levels of noxious, if not toxic, liquids. This precludes everything except for a tiny one or three monsters in most systems. It also precludes anything that must breath air all the time.

Something you probably will encounter if you spend enough time in sewers is a sanitation worker. Usually performing inspections and repairs. In Europe, it was common for the city hangman to spend his off-scaffold time as a sanitary maintenance worker (it was part of the job). These workers will have a variety of sewer-cleaning tools, no valuables (duh, why would you take that into the sewer?), and would not be anxious to fight.

Waste
As a global "standard", assume a normal ancient urban center will handle roughly four gallons of fluid waste per person per day, with settling content of about 3/4 ounce per person per day. For a city of e.g. 50,000 this will amount to some forty tons per year of settling waste. For a typical fantasy milieu in which farming is a central occupation, forty tons of high-value fertilizer is more than enough to trouble about.

Treasure?
Treasure in sewers should basically be non-existent. First, nobody flushes treasure down the toilet. Second, anything that gets into the sewer will be washed along - that's what sewers are designed to do - until it gets trapped in a grit chamber. Along with thousands of pounds of other grit - definitively non-treasure grit. So even if something valuable does go into the sewer, the characters aren't going to find it - a random gongfarmer is.

The Air That I Breathe
Poisonous gasses are virtually non-existent in sewers because sewers are continually vented through flow and various access points and clean-outs. The air will stink, but usually will be safe. Hydrogen sulfide, heavier than air, is a notorious exception but as sewers are badly degraded by high levels of this noxious "rotten egg" gas, venting will be added wherever it tends to accumulate.

Miscellaneous Crap (heh heh)
Sewers are not somehow connected to the urban water supply. A particularly egregious mistake is offered by Skip and Penny Williams in their Vicious Venues contribution - Undercity Sewers - "[t]he system still serves to carry clean water into the city and drain waste out". This would clearly be catastrophic and city construction will deliberately separate the two functions; cities who fail to keep them isolated will vanish in epidemic disease. To be fair, the entire Undercity Sewers adventure is a catastrophe from a sewer perspective, but otherwise it's fine.

The only sewer article Dragon (Issue 326 - Dec 2004) ever carried suggests that sewers often contain enclaves of poverty-stricken individuals. The problem with this assertion is that sewers are not overbuilt for the convenience of the homeless—when it rains, sewers fill up; when they fill up, everything gets flushed out, poor and rich alike. For this same reason, it’s unlikely to find large monsters living in sewers unless they can somehow survive occasional high water levels and rapid flow rates—oozes come to mind (but why would they confine themselves to the sewer when they could flow up and into the kitchen?). The only other sewer-related article in Dragon (Issue 238 - Aug 1997) presented a bestiary of sewer monsters, probably none of which could actually survive, much less thrive, in a real sewer.

On the other hand, the module CA1: Swords of the Undercity, features a pretty realistic sewer system that does drain correctly into the river. It's a little wonky because of all the ninety-degree turns and monstrous denizens, but contrasted against the typical module's "sewer" it's breathtaking in its layout and odor. It also oddly empties underwater which ensures that large sections of the sewer will always have deep standing water - hopefully that's not a tidal river!

This blog post is much more fully developed in QUA AE7KL. The main points have been distilled for presentation here.
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Thu Dec 15, 2016 3:59 am
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