Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Portown in 3D, The Marrowbeast of Portown Quincunx, and an Impromptu Skill System(?)

Mapping Portown in 3D

Work is continuing to show slow improvement on "The Crypt of the Marrowbeast", and the new local Hobby Lobby carries a LOT of art supplies, including pads of isometric graph paper, lighted drawing platforms, art projectors and drafting tables! Affordable, although I'll have to budget the big items and pay on them a bit every month before taking them home.

No, the Crypt will not be rendered into 3D, but I will eventually attempt to convert my existing 2D map of Portown into a very large 3D mapping project. I am having a bit of organization difficulty just trying to schedule the actual work, because I want to highlight the special features of Portown first, and then work my way out from those few central points. However, my main concern is that I arrange a consistent height range for all buildings and cliff elevations and still have the maps be internally accurate when tracking from one elevation to another, and from map to map. 

At least I've decided on which angle of the view I want to operate with for all future iso-maps of Portown. The view I've selected manages to capture the best 3D features of the town's natural terrain, but it is an angle I just don't feel comfortable with. I have to juggle it a bit between each eye and my brain to make it work. Y'know the 3D art pieces in the Mall with the dolphins and the submarine? Yeah, that effect.

But I won't be locked into one view only, because I know I'll have to feature a view from the north looking south on the docks and the outer cliff wall, just because of the detail that has already been described about it, I have to fulfill this angle in art to realize it's full potential. I might as well work on other angles as the opportunities present themselves. I may wind up using all 100 sheets in that pad when this is all done!

I can easily see doing multiple view iso-maps for the following areas of Portown: 
- North and South views of Cliffside
- the Docks/Dockside
- the Mayor's Tower
- The Salty Seahorse Inn
- The Green Dragon Inn
- the Quarries
- the Crab Shack District
- and of course, the Ruins of Zenopus and the Cemetery

These are, in my opinion the most interesting features of Portown, but there are also the Merchant, Garden, and Temple Districts (the cleanest parts of town - which are individually just narrow strips of well-lighted and patrolled streets), and the Aqueduct system. I don't know a lot about aqueducts aside from what I've seen in pictures and read about in Ancient Rome, so this will require a bit of research on my part to get them completely integrated into the whole. 

The Marrowbeast of Portown Quincunx

The Crypt of the Marrowbeast is turning out to be a bit larger than "Lair", which I uploaded a couple weeks ago, and this is good. This means that my creative impulses are not totally dead and forgotten, but if I don't stay continually focused on it, I'll lose track of it and start forgetting it more often, and sigh in resignation as yet another unfinished project  finds itself on the backburner ("Stone Mountain", "The Green Dragon Inn", and "The Assassin's Game" are the Big Backburner Three...).

The Crypt came about as I searched my files for a usable prototype for a dungeon, and any other adventure scenarios I might have collected regarding shape-changers. I ran across a randomly generated dungeon by Wizardawn that I'd saved a couple years ago that was promising, but needed a lot of tweaking. The only thing holding me back from doing the tweaking was setting a theme to it. Well, the Marrowbeast theme is strong with this one, so armed with that, I've managed to make this dungeon my own, based on a lot of randomly generated stuff via Wizardawn's online generator. 

Wizardawn also has a random map generator that combines several sets of dungeon geomorphs, including Dyson's geomorphs, and makes a nice, solid playground of dungeon fun in the blink of an eye. I used the random dungeon as a blueprint for my own take on the Crypt, and designed it to better fit what I had in mind, but the multiple level features of the random geomorphs is not as pronounced as I want it, I am having a hard time designing multiple levels on one 2D map. With a bit more experience/practice at drawing dungeons digitally and stocking them, I'll probably make a good one eventually, but not for "Crypt".

Now that "Part Two" is entering the first part of the formatting phase while I still iron out exact details, finish whole-cloth room descriptions, and assemble the M&T style stat-blocs, I know for a fact that I'll eventually change the sub-title name of Part One to match Part Two, or "The Lair of the Marrowbeast -- The Marrowbeast of Portown, Part One" and "The Crypt of the Marrowbeast -- The Marrowbeast of Portown, Part Two". 

One the things I have the most trouble with in designing a semi-published module (okay, I'm not publishing it, but I am uploading it for everyone's download for free, etc...) is designating a character level range. I assume it'll be suitable for levels 3 to 7, but then again, I assume ALL of the dungeons I design will eventually fall into this range by default. What there is in this dungeon is quite a bit more treasure than I expected to place, and this is mostly due to Wizardawn's online generator, but I am assuming that the treasure will still fall short of awarding the characters enough XP to level up. I hope to remedy this in future draft revisions, because I still have yet to place any magical treasures, and I believe that Wizardawn's generator did not have magical items in its treasure generator, or I set the generator to NOT generate any at all. 

I'm waffling on inserting whole monster descriptions, as they would appear in Hordes & Hoards, or simply doing M&T style stat-blocs. There will be 'new' monsters that some of you faithful readers will never have heard of before, although they were published in a one-shot deal by Grenadier Miniatures called the "Monster Manuscript". These critters ain't nothin' too special, but they are just different enough to shake up a standard game of D&D, and since Wizardawn had them programmed into his generator, along with AD&D1e, OSRIC, Basic and Expert, and Pathfinder/3.5 monsters, I chose to add 1e, OSRIC, and Grenadier to this particular dungeon. 

So, do I add just the stat-blocs, or do I also add the MM style paragraph description of the Grenadier Monster Manuscript? 

The Crypt Ape from Grenadier's "Monster Manuscript"
There will also be a table of hand-picked special traps from my own collection of Undermountain Traps and others I've created or found along the way. This table will not have every trap ever, but just the ones that suit this particular dungeon.

There will be more Outdoor Random Encounter Tables to supplement the cliffside, seaside, and forest terrain near Portown. I might upload Part Two before these encounters are fully fleshed out, but one of the goals I usually strive for when designing dungeons and adventures for my campaign is to make each encounter unique. Sure, the Wandering Monster check might indicate a random roll be made on a specific table, and that's all very much plug-n-play mentality, but the monsters on the table were chosen for specific reasons (usually because they're the types found in a specific terrain and climate), but the role-playing potential beyond hack-n-slash is highly exploitable. I like to add reasons why the monster rolled is encountered, aside from a simple reaction roll, which usually guides the reason they act the way they do.

The last bit of random goodness I am thinking of exploiting in "Crypt" is to add magic items in a unique, but nor original way. Remember the way the main NPCs and magic items were placed in the original Ravenloft module? Yeah, I liked that idea, although finding a suitable Tarot deck to use to place each NPC/item is a task that not every referee may be willing to do, or find. I prefer a basic table and dice rolling. The trick for this to really work well in this module is to make a random table for the important items without it feeling like it was a totally random die roll.

 Impromptu Skills

Part One featured a bit of game design I like to call an 'impromptu skill system' for 0e/Holmes. If you read it, you may have noticed a couple of Intelligence table for Magic-Users and Thieves on very unique pieces of information in the module. I like to feature this kind of class-related knowledge, especially because it is campaign specific, and not rules specific, and thus not something easily obtainable by players who role-play information gathering the "old school" way, although, interplay between experienced referees and players may allow this info to be gained, the Intelligence table is an easy way to impart campaign specific information.

 Sometimes the tables focus on a single ability, usually the Prime Requisite or the Level of the character Class or Race that the table is aimed at. Each instance where I use this system, a specific piece of campaign information is a secret, unless the character has any bit of knowledge in the realm of that info, say alchemy, Thieves' Guild business, rumors, or the like. Each bit of information is unique and un-quantifiable in a general sense, which renders a total breakdown of each instance of this system working highly unwieldy, and thus not conducive to codifying. With a bit of work and practice, referees could use this impromtu system to handle swimming, rope use, riding, rope use, etc., but otherwise, I am totally against adding any kind of skill system to the game, because it would take up hundreds of pages and not worth the time. 

A simple formula can be easily house-ruled however: Character Class Prime Requisite Ability Table -- Below Average score = less than general knowledge known, Average = general knowledge, each higher than Average score point = an additional bit of info known. 

In some cases, I replace Prime Req. with Class Level, or even another Ability that may be completely unrelated to class, race or level, based solely on esoteric reasons of game-play. 

From "The Crypt of the Marrowbeast" (Part Two of the Marrowbeast of Portown): 
If the cracked granite chair is examined, it shows no signs of wear, but the crack appears to have not split it apart completely. The chair is high backed, and has armrests, suggesting a rather formal setting that belies the rest of the room. Intricate designs are carved into it, and appear to be of an ancient Elven design that only an elf could possibly identify.(Elf's Charisma 10 or less = this is an ancient elvish design; 11-12 = these are designs of the Seelie and Unseelie court; 13-14 = this chair was hand carved for a Lord of the Unseelie Court; 15-16 = this line of Unseelie Lords was abruptly ended without warning 500 years ago; 17 = That Unseelie Lord was named Dordon Gaith, and he disappeared without a trace and without progeny to continue the family line; 18 = Lord Gaith wore the Sapphire Crown, signifying that he was the High Lord of Shadows.

In almost all cases, no die roll is needed, the score itself is indicative of the character's knowledge in that one unique instance of knowledge. This is the best part of the system, and the worst part, simultaneously; the rules are self contained in a paragraph and a table (good), but each table must be hand-crafted from scratch (bad, and that really takes the meaning of "impromptu" and throws it out the window...) - there is only the basic formula given above, but it is highly mutable to suit the situation (good, again). But, because each situation requires a unique approach and the system is highly adjustable, its great for adventure/scenario/module design.

In almost every game of D&D that I referee, I like to make things like this as simple as possible to keep the game moving (good), and in either/or situations, the easiest thing to do is roll a die, and this 'system' gets rid of the die roll altogether. Of course, those of you who LIKE to have any excuse to roll dice, simply add some kind of die roll to the system and add a scalable DL to beat, and it'll be almost like the D20 skill system. ;)