Thursday, April 30, 2015

I Want My Players To Die Just So I Can Use Arnold K's One Page Dungeon

Click these words to download. Remember to check out Arnold's site on the right there, or click these words to head over.
+Arnold K. is obviously a blessing on this community and I meant it the other day when I posted to G+ that reading his holy crap load of material from recent weeks (WEEKS) was one of the only things that kept me in good spirits in the hospital and standing-at-wait. The only reason I never did a "My favorite things Arnold wrote in 2014" post was because there was so fucking much of it that I got distracted reading stuff I missed, then I got tired, then I uh kind of got busy and forgot about it. But I'm going to make up for that right now I hope:

The One Page Dungeon Contest will be over for this year by the time I finish writing this, and out of everything else I could be doing - WANT to be doing - instead of this, this feels the most immediate. The most urgent.

I want to talk about why The Isles of the Dead is better than my OPD entry and lobby for it as winner or finalist. I don't know that we're allowed to DO that but fuck off I'm gonna.

FIRST off let's talk about how the concept sums up what I love about a specific old school D&D mentality. There is a person who insists that older D&D sucks because their characters can die, because they have a narrative in their mind and that doesn't fit it. I don't like this. More importantly, though, is the fact that this perspective misses out on a huge default assumption of old school D&D that Vigo fucking nailed: Death is but a door. Time is but a window. Being digested by dragons in a dungeon is not the denouement!...

You want your kingdom in the hills, the power to grant wishes, a handsome orc bride? Fight the devil. If you won't then you were never going to have that happy ending anyway, and if you can't then guess what: FIGHT THE SUPERDEVIL. This is the use of old style rpg planes for me: death is as much a part of life as life, and like with Dr. Seuss, it's turtles all the way down. You'll keep failing downward until you fail upwards and if you aren't up to the task or choose oblivion instead that is your CHOICE. That is player agency. That is consequence intended and unintended. That's the game.

Grimdark murderhobo uberlethal D&D is a game ultimately of hope in this way.

The Isles of the Dead is this kind of game, which is the SECOND fantastic thing about it: it's a One Page Dungeon to have at the ready for every One Page Dungeon. It isn't just compatible with any of them in this way, but ALL of them, and makes them all bigger, stranger, crueler, and better.

The Map: Works. Great. Gets every point across clearly.

The Rules: No items because you can't take it with you, fucking of course. This is so obvious that I hate it because it makes me feel like an idiot for not just assuming it. Between the lines the biggest bastard in the group is at a disadvantage in Half-Hell because he's buried in disgrace. Fucking fantastic.

The Environment: There is a very new-vogue thing here that is secretly an old-ways thing and it's a method for giving kakked players something to do at the table other than roll up another guy. The skeletons and the claustrophobia of the stretching-on mystery are right up my alley but the crows are a very special thing. This is the kind of thing that I've seen first-hand get people into RPGs, and the exact moment I decided I wanted to run this adventure on Free RPG Day time permitting. Any spectator or late arrival can be a petty bitchy sarcastic envious bawdy dickweed crow. If you kill em just make them come back again! Huge piles of bursted birdflesh. I should hope the crow wriggles free from the mouth of your wounds. They will when I do it.

The Belltower: This is where I closed the dungeon in disgust and went to buy groceries because of every decision I agonized over in Dungeon As Image I never thought to map the dungeon's features not by geography but SENSATION  in real time as the PCs experience it. There isn't a room description and list of contents and tricks here like a TSR module, the experience is the description and vice versa. It's a grounding sense of place and scale and you experience the Belltower before ever going there because you're aware of the chime BEFORE you are aware of your predicament or (fully) your own position in context. You know all of this BEFORE you know you are hanged and dead. You avoid a hundred mystique-pissing questions with this entry before the Gallows. It's super clever. The giants in the distance, moving with the speed and grace of trees, sounds beautiful in an Attenborough-meets-album-cover way.

The Gallows: With the crows overhead you are immediately immersed not only in the implications of where you are but also the consequences both of remaining here and of trying to leave. But getting free from the Gallows and getting out of this archipelago purgatory are the concerns thrust upon your party before they even have a chance to articulate these desires. It sets the stakes and pace and scope of the adventure pretty immediately and can drastically change how the party and each individual PC interacts with the rest of the map. It's not a fight, it's a decision, a fight with yourself and a fight with yourselves, which is what all fights in dungeons have as their bottom brick anyway when you get down to it.

C, E, F, K, J: THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. THIS IS BIGGER THAN YOU. You are unlucky enough to be a part of this but guess what, things are tough all over. The people here struggling to come to terms with what they're experiencing, being broken by it, their grief taking different forms, not only make the dungeon more than just a Metroid run to the exit but each also offer a choice, and, in so, an OPPORTUNITY to change the game and change the rest of your (potential) life, if the DM wants to drop something in at these opportune moments. Some may be allies. Some may be distractions. Some may help just make your players feel afraid and miserable in a way that saying "There are lots of skeletons" cannot.

B and D both involve conveyance and both involve a price, the same price on the surface, a different price in actuality, but two prices each for sure. D and E offer your party its first opportunities to arm itself as well as the first thing approaching an enemy, unless you're a dick and broke Hans' neck. Arming yourself or considering the beings here your enemy is also a choice, or rather a series of them. It's deciding what kind of game you're playing which grossly affects your chances.

The Hilltop: You know my feelings on angels making you shit yourself and this is a suitably dire scenario. But it also isn't. If you've decided that getting to door A is the point of this adventure then doors B and C represent failure states. However if you've decided that getting OUT is the goal, or that getting somewhere SAFE is the goal, or that just seeing what cool stuff HAPPENS is the goal, then this is the best possible result. Where you end up doesn't matter to me because either potentially mean more content and new opportunities for the stated goal of the party (exit the afterlife) on new and exciting terms. Also, if you're someone who really gets into playing your guy or talking to NPCs holy crap is this encounter a gold mine for you. You get to have a little This Was Your Life episode with the angel. If you still have any spells left, you can perhaps even turn those tables on it? With its nigh immortal existence in judgment? The secrets you could observe, the power gained? Possibilities, man.

The Forest: Crows everywhere, are those black leaves on those trees no they're crows, it's all crows, and one streak of white in it all which should be the scariest thing you've seen so far. How much of an asshole this guy is is up to you, but I like to think that he's in with the Tower and keeping nuisance appointments and those unserious about penance out from mobbing the lobby. IF I have a complaint with this dungeon AT ALL it's that the riddle feels like a softball but that's on MY stupid scale of obtuse bullshit, and any riddle at all in this context allows you the possibility of the crows yelling down wrong answers, GOOD wrong answers even, like the audience on the Price is Right, confusing everyone.

The Tower: I love this kind of thing, "Oh you want a shortcut to enlightenment, ok walk around this whole mountain thirty times." You can't get into Heaven this way. You can get a better SHOT this way. Only. I hate +anything weapons but the other effects on this sword and even the name make me dig it big time and want to see it as a DM and use it as a player. If I was running this (WHEN I am running this) those waking up with this sword will wake up with it hilt-deep in their chest. Pulling it free will heal them of all wounds but leaving a mark on their chest in a nimbus of light, a mark in the pattern of the map at the top of this page.

The Wisp: Everything about this is good. You reap what you sow. Like killing everything and being a douche? Have fun with your bone run to the new island.

The Big Enemies: The demon and the giant are great, especially since you'll have glimpsed or heard of them many times before seeing them, which I like a lot.

The Aftermath: I dig these consequences big time. They aren't exactly game making superpowers but they are a sufficiently awesome merit badge for the ordeal everyone just went through. It also means that if this happens again there are more familiar faces in waiting for them.

I love everything about this dungeon give +Arnold K. Money Five Hundred for it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

One Page Dungeon 2015 - WARSTONE GORGOTHRA

Click to download PDF

So one of the disadvantages I handicap myself with first thing in the One Page Dungeon contests is my interest in the dungeon as Thing-First. The 8.5x11" print as something to look at and assaulted by. This would be one thing if I had the art chops of some of the winners and finalists but I don't. This means I end up working in a travel brochure/band sticker aesthetic, and weirdly marries me to decisions like sticking with Chiller instead of either spending time tracking down a free font I want to use or switching to a more standard font out of a mix of over-reliance on theme and avoidance of too-many-fonts disease. All that means is that it's not the easiest to read or use at the table. Which is the point of these things. Still, I hope someone likes it, and my entry from last year (which you can find on the right side of these words).

Let's walk through it.

If you have gods AND you have men, then your mythology usually takes one of two big shapes. One is where the gods fall and become men, or their mighty works trickle down and we've got men at the bottom after a lot of other middle steps. Gods up, men down. Another is where there is a mundane world of man and beast and mysterious things and the gods rise or are raised. I like that one. It makes heaven and the great powers of the world not a constant but tidal. There's a give and take between worshiper and worshiped.

Gorgothra rose and fell, several times really.

If you're going to WARSTONE GORGOTHRA then you're likely there because...
  • You're lured by the promise of power.
  • You're fucking hardcore and this hammer can't scare you.
  • You know the secret of the ring and want to rise as a god.
  • You've heard there's something super valuable here.
  • You're looking for a guy who lives in the towers that are shoddily built on the been of the greathammer.
  • Someone you seek has been taken there, or was last seen there.
  • Some asshole you're trying to kill is trying to get the hammer's power for themselves and you can't have that shit.
  • You want the wisdom of the Flesh Library or Canticle Gorgothra.
  • It's something to do.
Now a brief aside for RPG philosophy. I believe the game is about what happens at the table. Sure you can survive a dungeon and level up. That's one possibility. But if that doesn't happen then that's the game. The game isn't a specific thing or set of things-which-are-going-to-happen: it's What Happened.

You can't walk up and scale WARSTONE GORGOTHRA and even if you try to sail on the sea of bone and dust you're so fucked if your boat has problems then the safest and surest way, and the only metalest way, is to get in by strapping yourself to a tanned and fragile war-kite and jumping off a cliff.

WARSTONE GORGOTHRA should be metal to the point of self parody like Sin City does noir. There should always be a raging lightning storm around and giant pteronadons with paleodontologically inaccurate teeth in rows, screeching like the one from the opening to Johnny Quest. On distant mountains observers, wizards who covet the power of WARSTONE GORGOTHRA but would rather take that power from bolder men, too chickenshit to go themselves, will lob fireballs and swarms of bats at you. Dex checks, acrobatics checks, nature for updrafts, vehicle proficiency, however you see fit to handle the piloting of the glider craft, the point should be that not all of you make it and even if you die before getting into the mouth of the dungeon you should still have a better story to tell than SURVIVING the Caves of Chaos.

With the Library, the Labyrinth, and the Squatter City, I wanted opportunities to plug in additional One Page Dungeons or smallish dungeons. I mean you can get through these all pretty easily without busting out another map or anything, but should you so desire some finer granularity these are excellent places to do so. For that matter look around for a favorite mountain encounter or abandoned keep and put it on the peaks and cliffs overlooking Valley Gorgothra. For the city, I figure the more powerful of the sorcerers there are using the godblood siphoned from the souls trapped within to extend their power and lives, and have abandoned any other aspirations concerning WARSTONE GORGOTHRA. They are all of them ignorant of the secret of the ring.

They who remain within WARSTONE GORGOTHRA are those who became a god and then fell. When one becomes Gorgothra, to my mind, you are omnipotent in a powerless way: you do what Gorgothra does. Gorgothra destroys kingdoms using a hammer which not only scours castle and city from the earth but spawns legions of skeleton soldiers in the process. If I were running this, becoming Gorgothra means you smite three kingdoms. You smite the kingdom home to your party's primary antagonist. You smite the kingdom you are based in, allied to, or the kingdom whence you came, paying a personal cost for your hubris. And you smite some other random kingdom, and then you die, and for your sins an echo of yourself, whatever personal failing led you to believe doing this was anything like a good idea, remains forever within WARSTONE GORGOTHRA, perpetuating Gorgothra while punishing you eternally for perpetuating Gorgothra.

Of course you have to even get into that section, which involves the Murderslide, because dungeons should have a little bit of theme park in them. It's a water slide but with blood from the blood fountain above, consumed by the hungry doors below. After you open the doors the whole structure will slowly begin filling with blood if you forget to close them, you'll find evidence for this throughout.

The Molten Minotaur is the still burning core whence from the hammer's forging taking on a form and killing you, and is also one of my favorite things: when the monster corporeally is the treasure too.

I have no idea what Operius Imprex wants but, entrusted to contain the god-damned and keep safe holy treasures, I'm guessing he's a master of lock, secret, box, and safe. Which makes him a god of dungeons.

Ithon (I) should look like just....the worst thing, spikes everywhere with a pulsing living web of flesh strewn far finer than any man could do.

The angels should always be singing, which reminds me, I hope mine is the only dungeon providing soundtrack advice.

This is one of those "One survives if any" kind of affairs but you can soften it for your group. Rope ladder leading to the entrance. Hand rails and an escalator down. Baby ferrets.

If anyone has any questions let me know but honestly you've got this. What do you think the answer is? Then it's that. Is that lame? Then it's the opposite of that. You've got this.