Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Caves of Chaos Restock — Part One: Everything (Part Two)

This is the second half of our first step in restocking the Caves of Chaos. You can read the first half here.

Last time, we established who or what built, used, and inhabited it in the past. Now, we begin to establish who or what inhabits it now.

Again, we want to preserve the basic point of the Caves, where the players explore the territory of a variety of foes, some of which are allied with the inhabitants of other caves, and which present a variety of challenges to the players.

Using the Red Box monster list as a suggestion, and guided by the previously-established history, I've started to flesh out the inhabitants at the most basic level:
  • A - Fungi/Giant Bugs
  • B - Ghouls
  • C - Goblins
  • D - Goblins
  • E - Special
  • F - Orcs
  • G - Special
  • H - Wizard and Minions
  • I - Oozes
  • J - Cultists
  • K - Elves

I've chosen this mix to include both "regular" humanoids, undead, wildlife, and a couple of "specials." This should make some of the areas of the cave both feel different and present different kinds of challenges to the PCs.

In order to underline and complicate these differences, i'm also going to relate certain caves to each other factionally. These relationships will be more obvious than in the original version, and hopefully offer more choices to the PC when it comes to allies of convenience or sources of information. These faction-relationship will form the other half of the 'story' of the dungeon as it changes in response to PC actions.

Each faction is first formed by connecting areas to each other:

A - Fungi/Giant Bugs - Purple B - Ghouls - Orange C - Goblins - Green D - Goblins - Purple E - Special - None F - Orcs - Orange G - Special - None H - Wizard and Minions - Green I - Oozes - None J - Cultists - Orange K - Elves - Purple

This provides us with the following factions and sub-factions.

  • Faction One (areas K, D, A): The elves, goblins, and their fungi
  • Faction Two (areas J, F, B): The cult of Orcus, the orcs, and ghouls - J, F, B
  • Faction Three (areas H, C): The wizard and goblin minions - H, C
  • Faction Four (area E): Special
  • Faction Five (area G): Special
  • Faction Six (area I): Oozes

With these relationships in mind, we can also start to flesh out our ideas about what each group is like. I’m going to start just with an evocative name that suggests evocative imagery:

  • A - Fungus Garden
  • B - Shadow Ghouls
  • C - Clan of the Pallid Eye
  • D - Redcaps Clan
  • E - “Ghosts”
  • F - Bonesplinter Cadre
  • G - Aged Lamia
  • H - Arch-inquisitor of the Pallid Eye
  • I - Pit of the Oozes
  • J - Cult of Orcus
  • K - Deep Elves

These links will, of course, change over time. Most obviously if one part is wiped out, but also in response to stress or the movement of other factions or other unusual circumstances. If the goblin chief is killed, perhaps the remainder may ally with the other goblins instead of remain loyal otherwise. The wizard may cut a deal with new groups to serve his ends. Oozes might feed on carrion left in an emptied area and colonize it as well. Et cetera.

Next time we'll start stocking the caves themselves, starting with... outside the caves.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Jump Drives in Traveller - An Illumination

This post grew out of discussion with certain others about handwavium technologies in RPGs, with a specific focus on interstellar travel constraints in Traveller. As someone who is always interested in how genre constraints are perceived in-character by PCs, and who was weaned on robust technobabble, I wanted to try to address the operation of the default Traveller jump drive. This is written without reference to OTU assumptions, working mostly from the relevant pages of the LBBs. 

If anyone has any critiques of this description in relation to the mechanics of the LBB jump drive, let me know in the comments.

When activated, the jump drive produces a bubble of ‘realspace’ within jumpspace, and in forming the bubble imparts to it the mathematical equivalent of a ’ballistic trajectory’ in reference to realspace-jumpspace coordinate correlations. By way of analogy, the jump drive is like a nuclear pulse rocket, using a single release of energy to lift off from the surface of a planet. Following this analogy, the fuel consumption and gravity-well distance is the minimum necessary to achieve realspatial ‘escape velocity’ for the jump-bubble. Because the formation of the jump-bubble occurs while the ship is in reference to realspatial coordinates, the course must be plotted before the activation of the jump-drive. No means of affecting the trajectory of the jump-bubble from inside, once created, is known, although research continues. (This may have something to do with causal issues related to the realtemporal-jumpspatial issues described below.) A major part of the trajectory calculation requires the jump-bubble’s surface to collapse, ‘re-entering’ realspace, in relation to the energetic level of the bubble at the moment of intersecting with gravitational warping of jumpspace — hence the ‘empty space problem’ of navigating without relation to gravity wells, and the requirement to climb out of a gravity well to form a jump-bubble.

The bubble’s extent in realspatial dimensions is related to ship size, but jump-capable ships currently require a minimum of 100 tons of displacement (although this is likely to be a constraint of power and fuel needs in relation to materials engineering rather than jumpspatial physics). The bubble’s minimum extent in realtemporal dimensions is subjectively between 150 and 185 hours (approximately 605 000 seconds, on average). The temporal size of the bubble appears to be related to the minimum density for realspace bubbles within a jumpspace ‘medium’; decreasing subjective jump time would require a method of adjusting realtemporal density without risking the bubble’s jumpspatial surface tension. (Given the time spent in the jumpspace bubble during a misjump, it is possible there’s an inverse relationship to realtemporal ‘density’ and jump-bubble surface tension.) It’s often assumed that the time spent in jumpspace also corresponds to travel time ‘within’ jumpspace, but the lack of ability to perceive jumpspace except as a theoretical mathematical construct means that this is likely to be a mere projection of sophont realspatial assumptions.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Aglaeca Stalks Again

Buried under fields, entombed in roots, or burbling under marshes, lurks the aglæca...
A new creature for your D100 or GUMSHOE-based horror mystery RPGs. The Aglæca is a beast out of the mists of folk-legends and grandam's fireside tales, an eater of children and king of the wastes. 

This PDF includes:
  • Stats for the Aglæca for both percentile-based RPGs and the GUMSHOE system. 
  • Variations and echoes on what the Aglæca is and where it comes from, and scenario seeds for placing it in your game.

The Aglæca has been revised and rereleased on RPGnow/DriveThruRPG as a pdf.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Caves of Chaos Restock — Part One: Everything (Part One)

To begin, we have to establish two sets of facts about the Caves: 1. Who or what built, used, and inhabited it in the past, and 2. Who or what inhabits it now.

To preserve the central premise of the Caves, I'll continue to assign each area to different, mostly-mutually-hostile factions. This both produces variety, and explains why there isn't an effective defense against PC incursions into the Caves.

Some of the history should tie into why the current inhabitants are there, but some should be new arrivals as well, and each faction requires some sort of goal that they purse in the Caves. 

History of the Caves
For this exercise, let us assume a world that is broadly the same as the Red Box presents it — there is a human civilisation, somewhere, but it is not here. Elves, dwarves, et cetera live in small clans and  feud amongst and between themselves. Orcs and goblins are less friendly than the elves and dwarves, but possess their own societies as well. This should inform the situation locally, in the Caves.

To start with, let's say the Caves were built by elves, the oldest civilisation. Their original purpose were as tombs, rock-cut tombs set into an old gully. Because the exterior of the Caves are somewhat nondescript and a little boring, let's add some sort of fantastic detail to liven it up and try to communicate the idea that it was created by elves: the stump of a giant, petrified tree at the top of the gully (roughly above area XX). Petrified roots stretch across the sides of the gully, and the doors to each area are built into the negative spaces. The doors of each area are carven trilithons. This might mean that the first chambers of each area are the oldest, although the shape of most of the Caves (especially the north and south areas) implies whole sections were constructed at once. Conversely, Areas I and X might never have been deliberately excavated at all.

The monumental nature of the tombs implies that they were made for important people, and perhaps to commemorate those who died in some monumental battle or from some notable dynasty. We can put aside the specifics thereof until later, but we should keep that in mind while stocking decorative elements and specials.

To fill in the history of the Caves, post-construction, we'll layer on strata of occupiers, each having put their own mark on the complex. I'll leave aside describing the process of brainstorming these specifics, but in general I want a history of conflict and different reasons for occupation, in order to create the groundwork for justifying different factional interests in the Caves:

The Caves were first excavated by elves as a tomb complex. Later, they were occupied by a cadre of dwarves, who defiled and expanded them during their ancient wars with the elves and goblins. The dwarves, too, were killed and driven out by orcs and goblins, who then occupied the caves before being driven out by other clans. The Caves exchanged hands many times in the long, dark ages since then. The death-energies of the place attracted undead, diabolists and necromancers, but their hold on the Caves have been broken by the recent return of a secretive elven cabal. 

Next time, we'll figure out the large-scale question of who's in what area of the Caves, and how those areas interrelate with each other. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Random Vessel Generator

This is a sequel post to the Random Colony Generator from way back in 2012.

[A] [B] [C], troubled by [D].

A — condition
1: sleek and brand-new
2: well-maintained
3: beat-up and rugged but functional
4: ramshackle
5: broken (roll twice on Trouble table)
6: fragmented (roll 1d6 for number of pieces, roll on the trouble table for each section)

B — Size
1: Up to 20m (Examples: Soyuz capsule, Huey helicopter, Spacelab)
2: 20m to 50m (Examples: C-130 Hercules, Space shuttle orbiter)
3: 50m to 100m (Examples: C-5 Galaxy, Boeing 747, Antonov AN-225 Mriya)
4: 100m to 200m (Examples: International Space Station)
5: 200m to 500m (Examples: Nimitz-class aircraft carrier)
6: 500m or more (Examples: Burj Khalifa hotel)

C — Type 
1: Space Survey (Examples: astronomical surveyor, space anomaly investigation, navy scout ship)
2: Planetary Survey (Examples: terraforming surveyor, prospector, biological surveyor, xenoarchaeological excavation, army scout ship)
3: Passenger transport (Examples: liner, colony ship, refugee transport, snakehead smuggling ship)
4: Freighter (Examples: courier, free trader, bulk freighter)
5: Military (Examples: patrol ship, search-and-rescue vessel, weapons platform, drone carrier, assault craft)
6: Station (Examples: refueling station, trading post, communications relay, defensive outpost, navigational buoy, sensor array, orbital habitat)

D — Trouble
1: Lack of resources. (Examples: leak in fuel, fuel made useless through radiation or contamination, trapped in an area where solar power or other resource cannot be gathered)
2: Control system failure. (Examples: computer malfunction, navigational malfunction, remote-operation input malfunction)
3: Power failure. (Examples: power generator failure, engine failure)
4: Life-support failure. (Examples: cryotubes killing crew, cryotubes not opening on time, atmospheric integrity loss, failure of quarantine procedures)
5: Primary mission system failure. (Examples: weapon system failures on a military ship, sensor system failures on a deep space probe, cargo containment failures on a freighter)
6: “Nothing.” (Or, roll again for incipient failure, or roll on the Black Stars Hang trouble chart)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Caves of Chaos Restock — Part Zero

Despite its place in the pantheon of early D&D modules, and its almost-platonic structure (home base, wilderness map with keyed and unkeyed sites, leading to a large dungeon), B2: Keep on the Borderlands falls down in the dungeon department. While the map is intriguing, and the immediate branch-point of up to eleven possible directions to explore is a more initially-impressive situation to present to players than you get with most dungeons, the content itself sticks close to the idea of D&D as a tactical wargame, presenting you with a number of areas primarily inhabited by humanoid aliens who are distinguished only by their HD. The fantasy element is rare here — only showing up in certain treasure items, a couple oozes, one irritating magical hazard, and then some evil cultists and undead at the presumed end.

Whether I’m just a jaded millennial bereft of the sense of simple wonder of fighting ‘bugbears’ and ‘gnolls’ that nerds revelled in in 197whatever, or whether it’s just not a great dungeon, I’ve long mulled over doing something ‘in dialogue’ with the Caves of Chaos. The first version of the project appeared here as ‘Chaos on the Old Borderlands,’ material from which I’ve reused for my current Elderwold campaign (sans the Keep dungeon). Recently, inspired by Dyson’s completed redraw of the caves and rereading some old Alexandrian posts, I decided to try restocking the caves into something a little closer to my particular D&D interests.

The first step is refreshing my memory of how the areas are separated, and what their contents (mechanically) are:

A — Kobold lair: 38 HD
B — Orc Lair: 23 HD
C — Orc Lair: 20 HD
D — Goblin Lair: 34 HD
E — Ogre Cave: 4 HD
F — Hobgoblin Lair: 57 HD
G — Shunned Cavern (owlbears and oozes): 14 HD
H — Bugbear Lair: 54 HD
I — Caves of the Minotaur: 24 HD
J — Gnoll Lair: 58 HD
K — Shrine of Evil Chaos: 121 HD

Again, you can see how the majority of these dungeon zones are distinguished thematically by political divisions rather than landmarks, environmental conditions, differing ecosystems, magical effects, aesthetics, etc.

I haven’t done the math here, but just eyeballing the sheer number of rooms with monsters in them is way over the B/X stocking recommendations. I think the first thing I’d do, before changing anything else, is cut down the overall number of encounters (and probably reduce the total HD per zone, unless I were running it for a higher-level party).

 While the idea of factional differences as well as zone themes isn’t one I want to wholly discard, I think its important to tie them together and add in mechanical differentiation, plus the kind of details that makes exploration in D&D an intrinsically enjoyable part of the game (rather than simply a precursor to tactical engagements).

Next time I’ll address the thing B2 completely leaves out — the history of the dungeon — and make some decisions as to new zone themes.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Elderwold - The Preamble

Here's the preamble I read to new players in the face-to-face campaign I'm currently running. This campaign is reusing some of the Chaos on the Old Borderlands material previously posted on this blog, but adapted to an earlier-medieval type of milieu. 

Though the setup is a D&D-style sandbox, we're using a once-'lite' fantasy heartbreaker system that's a little bit BX, a little bit Traveller, a little bit BRP, a little bit WFRP. As it gets playtested, I might start releasing it publicly, though in what format I haven't decided.


You’ve come to the town of Caradoc Howe in the North Marches to seek glory and fortune. It is a small fortified hilltop town within sight of the edge of the vast, foreboding forest called the Elderwold. Hunters, trappers, loggers and fishers brave its dark bowers to bring its bounty back to Caradoc Howe. To the south of the town are a scattering of small farms, made up of doughty freeholders and serfs whose fate it is to risk the predation of goblins, orcs, and elves.

Caradoc Howe is nominally the responsibility of Lord Gerhart, member of the House of Chlodomer and cousin and vassal to the Earl of Harthach, Marcher Lord, but practically Abbot Lonan of the small cloister of Apollo Belenus takes on much of the active duties of town management. The Abbot also takes on the responsibilities of high priest for the settlement, over the objections of Father Adhemar of the small Temple of Juno Augusta.

Nearby settlements are Cenwyn’s Ferry, Castle Harthach, and the hunter's camp and the fisher's camp a day's travel into the Elderwold. The ruins of the old Abbey of Apollo Belenus lie southwest of Caradoc Howe and northwest of the Castle (Abbot Lonan being one of the monks from that accursed Abbey), and the ruined pile of Castle Trowgate looms in the hills to the east lies near the Old Road that leads to the dwarf-halls of the Trowmoors.


The North Marches are the northernmost extent of the Great Kingdom, which, despite its name, is currently ruled by the High Regent. The Regent and the order of warrior-monks who enforce her will — the Templars — seized the Leaden Crown during the tumult of the Princes’ War a generation ago, when competing heirs, orcish invaders and other, darker crises threatened to destroy the realm of Law. Since then, she has ruled with an iron hand.

Most of the Great Kingdom’s population lives in the long-settled and temperate southern half, but land clearances and an organized system of fortified settlements to the north-west have brought forth more food and a power-base of those ennobled by the Regent’s land grants. These settler-nobles are the rough-and-ready nouveau riche of human civilisation, always looking for a leg up on older, established, pre-Regency noble families and new places to expand to.

Caves of Chaos Restock — Part One: Everything (Part Two)

This is the second half of our first step in restocking the Caves of Chaos. You can read the first half  here . Last time, we est...