Friday, May 22, 2015

Dungeon Crawl: The Castle Levels 1,2, and Dungeon

Got all the mapping for the castle itself done. I am thinking I need to do an area map of the castle so I might work on that before detailing the rooms but I might just retrograde that. Overall I am happy with how things turned out but can see several areas where I could do better. For now though I think they are good enough to go forward with. Feel free to let me know what you think...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dungeon Crawl, The Map: Castel Level 1

I finally got my Photo Shop up and running so spent some time making a map for the dungeon crawl. I have always felt that a dungeon map should be interesting to look at and be useful for generating ideas even before someone reads the info for what happens to be inside. While I have a good idea on what's going on on this level, I won't go to much into it and instead will leave what kind of bad guys inhabit this ancient ruin up to your imagination for now.

I should be posting up more maps in the next couple of days so make sure to check back often.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Building a Dungeon Crawl Part I: Location, Location, Location!

I was looking through my PDF collection of first edition modules the other day. While I looked through them I had a bit of nostalgia going on and gave some thought to what made some of those adventures so awesome. While I thought about it, I realized that most of them were straight out dungeon crawls. While they were all dungeon crawls that wasn't the sole thing that made them awesome. In fact, just because a module or adventure is a "dungeon crawl" doesn't mean it is going to be any good. A good dungeon crawl has a few things that rise it above a normal or bad dungeon crawl. But what are these things?

As I asked myself this question I decided this would make a good series of blog posts. Not only have I really been in the mode for some old school flavor lately, I have also been wanting to get creative and build something. So here we are at the first post in a series dedicated to how to not only build a dungeon crawl but make it memorable as well.

Step 1: A Memorable Location:

I think the first thing that makes a dungeon crawl memorable is when it is set in an interesting location. If you look at some of the classic adventures like Temple of Elemental Evil, Dwellers of the Forbidden City, and the like, you will notice they had an interesting location. The Temple of Elemental Evil was an ancient temple thought destroyed forever, the Forbidden City was a ruined city in the middle of the jungle that had long been forgotten. These locations made the dungeon unique and memorable.  Of course this means that if I want to make a memorable dungeon crawl, I have to come up with an interesting location.

There are a lot of things that go into making a location memorable. While I don't know if I can think of everyone, I do know a few things seem to be true.

1: The location has a story.

2: The location has interesting denizens.

3: The design of the location is interesting

4: The region around the location is also interesting.

These four rules are true regardless of where the location happens to be. The dungeon can be a series of sewers crawling with were rats, or it can be a far away citadel made out of ice. If the location has these for things going for it, chances are it will be memorable. Taking this four rules, I am going to start fleshing out the location for my dungeon crawl.

The Story

A long time ago in a remote valley, the baron of the valley wed a very self absorbed woman named Lieral. This woman was obsessed with her own beauty. So obsessed was this woman that she would spend great deals of money to make sure she had the latest fashions from the capitol. While she was without a doubt beautiful the specter of age slowly crept up on the Baron's wife. This of course caused the baron's wife to become even more obsessed with not only staying beautiful but finding a way to prevent aging.

At first the steps Lieral took simply involved spending even more money on creams and other remedies. At first these worked well enough, but after a aging continued to leave its mark on the woman's skin. Growing desperate Lieral began correspondence with several priests and mages. While many of them tried to help her the best they could, there was only so much she could do. After several priests and mages visited Lieral she began to despair of ever finding a way to stop the aging. Then one day a mysterious wizard appeared claiming to have the answer Lieral sought.

 At first Lieral didn't believe the wizard could do anything for her and demanded some kind of proof. The wizard agreed and cast a spell that made Lieral appear younger instantly. Overjoyed the Baron's wife asked the wizard what he wanted for payment. The wizard said that he couldn't accept payment but would be happy to serve Lieral as an advisor. Thrilled that the wizard would like to stay Lieral immediately made the wizard her advisor.

Shortly after the wizards arrival the baron himself became gravely ill. At first Lieral insisted the wizard do something to cure her husband, but after the wizard revealed that this was the cost of her beauty, Lieral allowed her husband to die a cruel and wasting death. After the death of her husband, Lieral began to notice that her again had started again. Furious she told the wizard that she wanted him to perform the spell again. The wizard said that he would but that it would cost another persons life. The Baroness did not care and had one of the children from a nearby village sent to her castle because the wizard informed her that children would last longer than her husband had.

For the next several ears Lieral did not age a single day, but the poor child eventually died in the same cruel and wasted way as the Baron. This of course led to another child being taken from a village. The next child didn't last as long as the first one because the cost to keep the Baroness young grew higher the longer the Baroness lived. Over time this led to more and more children being taken by the Baroness.

At first the citizens of the valley simply allowed this to happen. However, as Lieral began to demand more children more often the citizens grew angry. Finally they had enough and gathered together to bring the Baroness to justice. The Baroness was enraged by this rebellion and had her wizard cast a horrible spell that would take the life force of everyone in the valley and give it to her. How the wizard accomplished this is unknown, but the fact is he did and soon everyone in the valley died in the same wasting way. With no one left alive, the Baroness herself also eventually died. Over time the Baroness was forgotten and the castle she lived in fell into disrepair.

One hundred years later new people have started to live in the vale. They do not know the history of the Baroness nor would they have care if they did. The land in the valley is good and they have families that need room to grow. While they may not care about the history of the valley, the Baroness does and the new people coming to the valley have awoken her from her long slumber and once again children have started to disappear...

So there we have it, the story. I believe the story is interesting and something I can build on. I also really think it creates a great mystery for the players as their characters begin to investigate the disappearing children. I still have a lot of work to do but for now I like where this is going. Next post I think I will work on a map of the region and then maybe do one for the now ruined castle. I would love to hear what you have to say... until next time game well, game long, and may your rolls be generous!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What is Old School Gaming and Where has it gone?

I was visiting Facebook the other day and saw someone ask the question what is old school gaming? I read some of the comments and I started asking myself the very same question. After thinking on it a bit I decided to write a post about my thoughts on the subject. I figure that after 30 years of gaming I am fairly qualified to chime in on this issue. Not only do I feel qualified to write on the subject, I feel that old school gaming has a lot to offer people.

My Definition of Old School Gaming

My definition of old school gaming isn't so much a definition as it is about the spirit of old school gaming. There was a certain quality to table top rpg's back when I was a kid that seems to be lost now. While I don't debate that the gaming systems have gotten better in terms of clarity and function, there is a key element missing. It's hard to describe what this missing element is in one word, but I guess freedom would be the best descriptor.

Before RPGs became the slick focus group studied products they are today, they were about creativity. There were rules of course, but those rules had a different quality to them that seemed to encourage creativity. In fact the first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide was crammed full of useful information on how to create a world. Not only was it crammed full of information it also gave you tons of handy charts to use to create your own stuff.

AD&D wasn't the only game that did that either. In fact during that time most games were much more about freedom and creativity than today's games are. Now don't get me wrong, some of those early systems were absolutely horrible and very unwieldy, but at their core they encouraged creativity. In short, I guess my definition of old school gaming is a gaming style that encourages creativity and freedom.

Why it Changed

I touched a bit on this already, but the fact is the game changed because the people making and playing the game changed. Dungeons and Dragons was successful beyond what anyone ever thought it would be. Not only was DnD successful but the role playing game industry in general has been not only successful, but influential in our culture beyond any one's wildest imaginations. While I think we all agree that success was a good thing, it also brought along the idea that these hobbies could make people a lot of money.

When people can make money at something they have a tendency to look at ways to improve something and this is exactly what happened. If you look at where DnD started and compare it to where it is now, you will see that the more money it made, the more money they spent on making products for the game. Not only that but they also improved the marketing of the game but to do this they had to provide a product that appealed to the largest amount of people possible.

At one time, RPGs were pretty much the sole property of "nerds and geeks". While times have changed and nerds and geeks seem to be the new sexy, there was a time we were social outcasts to the Nth degree. In order to grow as a hobby RPGs needed to reach out beyond their traditional market. I think if you look back, Vampire the Masquerade was the first product to really succeed in that and others followed.

This of course led to other games looking at the success of Vampire the Masquerade and changing how they approached the public. The biggest make over was DnD. Where at one time it had been the undisputed master of the rpg universe, it lost ground big time to the Vampire craze. Not only did it lose ground, but it almost ceased to exist and then boom! along comes third edition and once again we saw an explosion of the hobby.

The Old School Revival

While I think this explosion of popularity has been good for the rpg industry in general, I can't help but miss the old school "feel" at times. The nice thing is that I am not alone in this feeling. In fact right now we are witnessing a bit of an old school revival. If you look around the Internet you can see a renewed interest in what people call "old school gaming". you can browse facebook groups, personal blogs, Kickstarter projects and more and easily find things that classify themselves as either being old school, or having that old school feel.

I personally am happy to see this. While I enjoy what the hobby has become, it is nice to know that I can always turn the page back when I am in the mood. I feel that as the old school revival continues it will only help add to the entire history of gamer culture. I think it has opened doors once thought long sealed shut and allowed for a fresh burst of creativity and that is good for the hobby.

While I seriously doubt we will ever see anything that is considered old school see the same success as current RPGs, there is no doubt in my mind that a market exists for these products. I also don't have any doubt that the old school revival will last quite a while. In the end we gamers have long memories and while some of us may be getting old, we pass the torch on to younger gamers every single day.

In the end I don't think Old school gaming has really gone anywhere, I just think it has been in hiding for a little while. However, every day I see new signs of life in this aspect of the RPG world and it has me excited. Now, if only they would get back to printing Dragon Magazine again....

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Start of a New Project and a Different Direction

I have currently been keeping two blogs about gaming updated. One is here and the other is called Samson's Bridge. I originally planned to get myself up and running by using the 5e rule set as a jumping point and from there start working on my own material. The problem is that I have heard Wizards of the Coast is sending out Cease and desist letters and well, I just didn't feel like getting one of those. This means of course that I took down the blog posts I had written that may have violated copyright laws in any way. While I was okay doing that I didn't want to give up on either of my blogs because I enjoy writing about RPG's.

This means that I had to think of new purposes for both blogs and the good news is I have. This blog is going to focus on posts about gaming in general. Tips and tricks for GM's and DM's as well as various opinion articles about various aspects of the game. I also hope to get some guest blogger in here to share their knowledge. It's funny because this is exactly what I intended for this blog when I started it a few years ago, but never really got into so in a way this works out just fine.

Samson's Bridge is going to change direction pretty hard core. I had intended to use it to build a DnD campaign from the ground up including adding some "crunchy" bits as I went along. The problem is that right now that seems to be a course of trouble so I want to back off that a bit. Instead of building a DnDcampaign I am going to be working on an indie RPGproject I have been considering for some time. This project will be an exhaustive look at character background in fantasy role playing games. Along with looking at how backgrounds effect characters, I am going to have several "crunchy" tables and charts to help people generate random backgrounds from birth to the start of their adventuring career.

I know there are already a lot of "gamer opinion blogs" out there but I hope I can add a unique voice to the conversation. I have been doing this gaming thing for thirty years and in the time I feel I have gained a lot of useful insight to other gamers. Anyway, I think I have gone on long enough for now. I can't wait to see what the future holds and hope you join me :)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A bit of a snag...

I have hit a bit of a snag and it is changing my plans for this blog a bit. While I don't feel I was violating any copywrite rules, the fact is Wizards of the Coast is sending out cease and desist letters to people who want to use any 5e material. this means that the stuff I had posted up could potentially recieve such a letter and I just want to avoid the problem before it happens. This does not mean I am giving up on this project. It just means that I have to move forward in a different manner.

Instead of using anything related to DnD this blog is instead going to focus on creating a new game that focuses more on character background and story telling than on rolling dice. I feel that there is a niche for this kind of game and given the fact that I intend to make sure it is easily compatible with other gaming systems it should still be of use to most gamers.

I hope that Wizards will soon come out with some kind of fan site policy like they did during second edition, or even better, offer a new open liscence of some kind. While I understand that they need to protect their intellectual property, I personally believe that the OGL and other open gaming style liscences have been a boon for the hobby in general. I also believe that one of the reasons 3.0 and 3.5 was such a success was because of the enthusiasm of the creative community. While sure, there was some real bad stuff put out during the time and a bit of a glut did happen, I think the hobby overall benefited from allowing people to add their own creative energies into the mix.

I hope those of you who have visited this blog continue to poke in from time to time. This is not a step backward, merely a step forward a bit faster than I intended to make it happen.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Keep on the Borderlands 5e conversion Part 1: Introduction

It's been a while since I used this blog so figured I would dust it off and start using it again. While I have another blog over at that is about a campaign I am building, I wanted to have a space for doing some old school module conversion to the 5e rule set. I have decided to start with Keep on the Borderlands because out of every module I have ever played in or run this i the one that I always think of first when I think of old school gaming. There is just something about this module that gives me a happy gaming buzz whenever I look at it and I know many other gamers feel the same way. While I plan to make my way through almost every module printed for first ed and maybe dabble with updating the many 2nd ed settings, this is a good place to start.

Considerations on the Conversion

Before I even really get started on the "crunch" of converting this module, I have to consider a few factors. If I go in blindly and just decide to replace all monsters and encounters with little thought I am likely tor ruin the balance of the 5e game. This means I have to really look at the difference between the Basic DnD rules Keep on the Borderlands was written for and the current 5e rules. While I don't expect to many things to require that much work there are a few things I have already noticed.

Different Rules for Races and Classes

As I already mentioned, Keep on the Borderlands was written for the Basic DnD rule set. This means things like Elf being both a race and a class, Armor Class differences, Combat differences and a lot more. Basic DnD was a super simplistic set of rules that were designed to be easy to play "right out of the box" so to speak. While  the 5e rules represent this spirit a bit, the fact is the rules are a lot more complex now than they were back then specially  in regards to race and class.

Experience Curve

Experience points is probably going to be another bugaboo. In Basic DnD all the classes advanced at a different rate of experience. In 5e they all advance at the same pace. Not only that but experience rewards are a little different. Since I want to capture both the feel and spirit of this module, I have to make sure that the encounters keep the characters on a pace similar to the original work.

Because this entire module was designed for character levels 1-3 to gain several levels during their explorations of the Caves of the Unknown and the environs around the keep I have to make sure that the same happens for 5e characters. This might actually mean a bit of slow progression for players and that is something I am okay with. Back in the day it took a while to gain levels and it always felt really good when you got to add a level. This is part of the experience I want my conversion to reflect.

Encounter Balance

Another thing I will have to juggle is making sure that the encounter balance is fair and even. While Basic DnD gave some thought to encounter balance, it wasn't quite the consideration it is today. I think almost every old school gamer has stories of working up multiple characters during an adventure because staying alive was hard in those days. I lost count of the characters I have had die in this module with the basic rules. While yes, that is part of the appeal of old school gaming, I feel a conversation to a new rule set has to consider the ideas of the new rule set.

I am sure I will create a fairly normal monster progression of kobold<Goblin<Orc<Ogre etc because that was in Basic DnD but this adventure also has one of the most notorious owlbears of all time hiding out and those things have only gotten even more beastly in time (not to mention the Medusa you encounter in the temple complex) so I might have to make some changes to 5e monster stats or just put different monsters in  some areas to preserve the balance.


Out of all the things I am going to have to figure out, I think formatting is going to be the thing I spend the most time on at first. However, while I will spend a lot of time on it upfront once I have it figured out that will make future conversions a lot easier. While I am sure some people would love for me to simply re write the entire module and post it here, that is not going to happen. Instead I am going to create a bit of a "cheat sheet" that will allow DM's to use 5e stats while they work with the original module.

In the end I am sure I will have fun with this project and I hope you the reader are happy with the result. If ever you feel like I should do something different or you have a better way of handling a situation I run into feel free to let me know. While I won't promise to stick to any particular schedule with updating, I am planning to have a new part of the module converted about every other day. If this experiment goes well, I will decide which one to tackle next so feel free to suggest any old school modules you would like to see updated. Until next time, may that damn owlbear not kill your wizard with 1 hit point in the first round...