Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Dungeon of Random Tables

As a DM, I like to improvise from a set of fairly loose notes. I like being surprised as a DM. On the other hand, improvising requires a level of energy and invention that's not always there.

To get around this issue, I designed a dungeon as a set of random tables. An entry in the dungeon looks like this:

2. Audience Chamber
Visitors to the cult's lair wait here until their audience with the high priest. There are four bedrolls, a barrel of water, a bucket, and a small cabinet stocked with food and drink (6 days worth) here.

1d6-2 visitors are here. (Allows for an empty room.)
50/50 that they are simple hunters or trappers here to trade, or dark pilgrims seeking to join
Use bandit stats for either
Hunters aren't looking for a fight. Even chance that the cultists try to trick or attack PCs

This isn't rocket science, but it had two benefits to me in play.

First, it was fun as a DM not knowing what was in he room until the PCs entered it. It made the adventure more interesting to run, as I was as much an audience for it as the players.

Second, it makes for a very dynamic environment. It made the dungeon feel like a living place with only a small amount of effort on my part.

I used randomness in a few ways:

  • Absence/presence of inhabitants, plus their numbers
  • Attitudes/general initial reaction (violence, talking, deception, flight)
  • State of traps and other features (recently trigger, broken, normal)
  • Odd events, like whether the two rival ogres in a room happen to be fighting when the PCs approach
Overall, so far in play it has worked well to make the dungeon come to life. As long as your dungeon map is reasonably non-linear, it can have interesting effects on the flow of play.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Digital Toolkit: The Evernote Dungeon

Right before GenCon, I ran a dungeon crawl adventure using my iPad, a set of dice, and monster stat blocks written down on index cards.

On my iPad, I had GoodReader loaded up with PDFs of the rulebooks I needed to reference. For the adventure, I tried something different. I wrote up the dungeon using Evernote. It worked out pretty well.

If you're not familiar with Evernote, head over to its web site to get a basic overview. I've read that it started as someone's attempt to create an app to help keep track of a D&D campaign. Whether that's true or not, it's been invaluable in organizing my own campaigns.

For dungeons, here's how I use Evernote.

  1. I create a new notebook, using the dungeon's name as the notebook's name. For multiple levels in a single dungeon, I create multiple notebooks.
  2. I grab an image of the dungeon map and pop that in as the first note in the notebook. I also insert any general notes about the dungeon in this note, like random encounter tables. I use a leading character in the note's title that ensures that it's in the notebook's top position.
  3. During the game, I keep that note open to track where the party travels and such.
  4. I create a separate note for each dungeon room, and inside that note write down all the typical stuff you normally need to run that chamber. The irritating thing is that using letters instead of numbers makes it easier, as Evernote breaks out notes in separate rows for each letter of the alphabet, by note title. Numbers work OK, but you end up with all of your notes shelved into a single row.
  5. In play, I close out the dungeon map note and open the corresponding room note when the characters enter an area.
So that's basically it. I don't bother with monster stat blocks in the notes, instead handling them the old fashioned way via hand written index cards or print outs.

So, that's my experience with mapping dungeons in Evernote. It worked out well in play.

Monday, August 19, 2013

GenCon Wrap Up Part I: Avoiding Con Crud

Or: Why I am happy to shake hands at a con.

The last con crud I picked up was in 2008, and I'm pretty sure it was from a meal. I've been to dozens of shows over that time, shook a lot of hands, and even had a roommate come down with the flu in mid-con. So what's the secret? It's super simple.

  • Hydrate. Drink plenty of water, soda, or whatever.
  • Aim for six hours of sleep each night. I try to avoid caffeine after mid-afternoon to help with this rule.
  • Eat well. I eat at least one salad per day and fruit whenever I can. You can usually find a place in the con center selling apples or bananas alongside breakfast foods.
  • Wash your hands. Hot water, soap, and recite the alphabet A to Z to time scrubbing.
  • Resist the urge to touch your face, eyes, and nose. You can't catch a cold from germs hanging out on your hands. Those little buggers need an entry vector. Don't give them one.
  • Assume no one else is washing their hands. It's kind of paranoid, but it's an easy way to remind myself to avoid touching my face and to wash up before eating. All it takes is That Guy to shake your hand before you chow down on an apple.
  • I know some people don't shake hands, but really if you do all this stuff you don't need to worry about. Even if you avoid handshaking, you're still exposed to tons of stuff that you can only counter by washing your hands and taking care of yourself.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

GenCon Resolutions

A lot of us use the New Year as a marker for various resolutions. We make promises to ourselves, usually regarding things that are supposed to make us better people. Almost always, a New Year's resolution comes salted with a sense of challenge or reluctance. We never resolve to eat more chocolate or watch more TV. We instead plant a flag in the ground and swear to do something we know is out of our comfort zone.

I think that's dumb. Life is hard enough as it is. I say we make resolutions to do fun things, and use GenCon as the yearly marker for how we're doing.

Here are my GenCon 2013 resolutions:
  • Keep my "for fun" D&D game going for the entire year.
  • Start a second campaign that hits at least level 10.
  • Play at least six RPGs I haven't tried before (new editions count).
  • Play at least four miniatures games.
  • Paint the miniatures I bought at GenCon: a pack of bullywugs, a set of beast men, and a set of three barbarians.
  • Use the painted beast men in at least one RPG or miniatures game.
What's on your list?