18 November 2019

grodog's Mega-Dungeon Maps - The Heretical Temple of Wee Jas

So, today's my first new Mega-Dungeon Mondays post, and I thought I'd share a bit about my mapping design process. 

"The Heretical Temple of Wee Jas" level was the map that I began to design immediately after The (First) Landings Level, and its original name was The Second Landings Level (original, eh? ;) ).  Like "The Landings Level", I playtested this dungeon at GaryCon, the North Texas RPG Con, and KantCon, among other events. 

I completed the first iteration of the map over several nights, noodling through a few different options on how best to design the lower half of the map, particularly the large temple in the SW corner:

Draft 1:

grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas---
draft 1 dungeon level map

When I'm unsure how I want to work out a particular section, or when I'm working on keying for a level with a completed map draft (I almost always draw my maps first then work on keying), I'll make photocopies of the level to play with variations until I'm happy with how the design turns out.

I did that several times with the temple in the SW corner, as you can see in the various second drafts:

Draft 2a:

grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas---
draft 2a dungeon level map

Draft 2b:

grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas---
draft 2b dungeon level map

In the end, the completed first draft 3 of the level looked like this, but you'll note that I still hadn't decided on how to trick out the temple area:

grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas dungeon level map
grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas---
completed draft 3 dungeon level map

I was also still drawing non-narrowing stairs as stairs up at this point in my design process, but I eventually switched to use tapering stairs with the tapering side indicating the up/down direction, depending on how the tapering side was placed. 

I initially playtested the level using the draft 3 map, but even after my various iterationings on the temple settled out, I was never terribly pleased with the caverns section in the SE corner.  I also added some areas immediately above the main level of the map---"upstairs" zones for murder holes, some apartments for a lich, etc.  Those got taped onto the level as additions, that look like this:

grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas
completed draft 4 and updated dungeon level map

So this level will eventually be redrawn as The (First) Landings Level was along with "Diamonds on the Rough"---and will likely be bumped up to a 6 spi map treatment in the process, too, in order to give me some more wiggle room for the cavernous section and other areas on the periphery of the sheet of paper.

The other articles in my Mega-Dungeon Maps series include:

and the Mega-Dungeon Mondays posts are linked for your easy reference too.  


13 November 2019

grodog talking 1e Undead and Greyhawk on Twitch tonight @ 8pm EDT

Just a quick announcement:   I'll return to talk Greyhawk and undead on Twitch again tonight, with Jay Scott, Anna Meyer, and Mike Bridges on Wednesday, 13 November 2019 at 8pm EST, livestreaming at https://www.twitch.tv/lordgosumba
Here's Jay's full announcement:

Legends & Lore - Season 4 Premiere on Twitch

Wednesday Evening on the Lord Gosumba Channel
Hello Friends and Greyhawkers! Legends & Lore has moved to the Lord Gosumba Channel starting this Wednesday, Nov 13, 8pm EST. To Kickoff their 4th season, the discussion will be about Undead of the Flanaess; this will include the various types of the non-living, and specific names of renown that put a shiver down the heartiest of adventurers! Join Anna Meyer, Mike Bridges, and me, as we welcome, Allan T. Grohe Jr., "The Grodog", to this weeks discussion!

Thank you all for the wonderful support and stream participation! See you Live Stream! www.twitch.tv/lordgosumba

It feels like I've been doing quite a few more of these live/streaming discussions lately, and I guess I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of it!  

I've also done some others in the more-distant past too, and I should put together a compilation of all of them, I suppose---my son Henry at least is interested in going back to watch (or listen) to some of them ;)  

See you later tonight! :D


11 November 2019

Mega-Dungeon Mondays - a new blog series from grodog

I'm trying to get back on track with writing more in general, and decided that a more-regular series of posts on mega-dungeons would be a good way to do that.  I also figure that if can get a regular posting schedule on Mondays, that I should also be able to do a bit more during the week between Mondays too. 

So, starting next week, and on Mondays henceforth ever after, I'll post something new and hopefully interestingly useful on the blog concerning mega-dungeon design stuff.

This week as the kickoff, I present a TSR blue rendering of my First Landings Level from my version of Castle Greyhawk:

The Landings Level Map - grodog's Castle Greyhawk
Charley Phipp's TSR Blue version

It's somewhat fitting that this level kicks off the new series, since it also began the most-recent phase of my design work on the Castle (back in 2008).  This particular version of that map was created by Charley "Druvas" Phipps in 2010, and I just refound it on my PC while digging through files this weekend.  He graciously gave permission to share it here, and I've also added it to my original post linked above, too.  

Until next week---or sooner! ;)


08 November 2019

The Starless Sea---Campaign Structures vs. Adventure Structures

How much thought have we collectively given to game elements/structures that are part of a campaign's flow and evolution, independent of the structure of the individual adventures that make it up? 

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

I've been reading Erin Morgenstern's new book _The Starless Sea_, which is a fairy-tale-like novel told through nested stories like the 1001 Arabian Nights; the book explores the stories' structures, some of which are meta-fictionally self-reflective/-reflexive, a la Borges or Robert Coover.  It's a bit like a mega-dungeon of a book, really.

So, it got me thinking about elements and structures that drive campaigns over the medium- to long haul, like:

  • active foreshadowing through backgound/history/sage advice, spies/spying, divination and research spells, prophecies and divine/infernal guidance, etc.
  • hidden foreshadowing through returning to earlier locations/NPCs/items/prophecies/etc. that have a newly-realized meaning or significance in retrospect after learning D after A, B, and C ("we should never have sold that wand at 3rd level so we could pay our training costs---it's the X"; "whoa!:  we need to head back to that well in level 6 and open that unopenable door with this key now"; etc.); this works best, of course, when specific items, content, histories, etc. have layers of additional meaning/mystery to them to be found
  • assembling pieces and parts of multi-part magic items (Rod of Seven Parts, Eye and Hand of Vecna, etc.), maps, information/lore, paintings, etc.; Anthony Huso's Black Journal falls into this category, I think, in addition to being an awesome prop
  • red herrings, false trails/false alarms, and misinterpretations:  player agency means that they'll get distracted by the fake ghost's tricks rather than unmasking the fake ghost, sometimes; this is possible through their own misinterpretations, as well as through being distracted by false trails/fake news clues intentionally created by NPCs---I'm thinking of  Urgaan of Angarngi's map from Leiber's "Jewels in the Forest" here, or Eclavdra's false trail luring the classic GDQ players to assault Lolth as the root of all of their woes.
  • independent actors with their own agendas that drive their goals, priorities, relationships, etc.---this is the whole "putting it all in motion" to create verisimilitude
What other kinds of tools like these do we use to structure long-term campaign play?

In response to that original question, Anthony Huso offered several comments, and suggested a pair of additions to my list above:
  • an actual calendar with slow-moving but time-critical plot points
  • real consequences to player choices
and to which I replied:
Great points, Anthony!  I definitely use the Greyhawk calendar---my favorite version is the one created by Clay Luther, since it's a great tracking calendar---and I find that Greyhawk's alternative dating systems (along with my own in Mendenein) are very useful in-game to help ground the players (and their PCs) in Greyhawk's history.

I finished reading _The Starless Sea_ last night, which got me thinking further about the pacing of stories and their endings, and about their differences in application to campaigns and to games vs. to literature.  Foreshadowing is a literary technique, and not all literary tropes and techniques will be as applicably useful in an RPG.  In addition, stories have endings, but RPG campaigns don't necessarily have endings (although they do have a natural rising/falling pacing of action in play).  So what techniques and tropes (and other tools) exist uniquely in RPG campaigns that aren't literary in nature, and how do they impact the structure of campaign play?
That's an open question that I don't have a definite answer to, but here are a few mulled thoughts.

There's a lot of overlap in literary and cinematic techniques with RPGs, but I think that's in part due to the still-nascent nature of RPGs as a form of play, art, and creative expression: we know drama, literature, and movies since they've been around longer, so we naturally incorporate the terminology, structures, and tools from those genres into RPGs; Justin Alexander has written several sets of posts on his blog The Alexandrian about dramatic and cinematic structures in RPGs, for example. But RPGs are distinct from these forms, on several key fronts:

  • RPGs are creative ensembles, not performing ensembles (Critical Role, et al, aside): the players and the DM build the campaign together, one encounter, one adventure at a time, and it is through their interplay that the campaign flourishes
  • the DM is not the author: this follows logically from the previous point, but it's worth being explicit about it, I think; the DM doesn't own the story of the campaign---the DM is more like the director of an orchestra, since without the other players' PC activities as participation in the game, the DM's actions are silently meaningless (the DM's behind-the-scenes design work is far from meaningless, but you get my point still, I hope; note to self: ponder the DM as architect vs. director)
  • RPGs are games, so their primary motivation is to entertain and to have fun, and that "fun" piece colors the RPG genre distinctly from drama, literature, and movies---which set out to entertain, but are not in and of themselves expected to "be fun" in the way that games are
  • As long-term games, RPGs are expected to have "replay value"---that secret sauce which keeps players returning to the table week after week, year after year, to explore the game that they're building together. One-shots, asides, and classic reruns (playing modules from our youth?) are certainly part of the pacing model of the campaign, but without that continuous draw to re-engage, a campaign will probably stagnate (this is probably one of the best reasons to have a stable of recurring villains as an organization vs. single-figures---if the PCs are pitted against The Cult of Vecna, even when they take out the EHP at some point, there are still other foes standing who need to be dealt with)
  • RPGs are games with systems, so random events can and do significantly impact the play of the game and the outcomes of actions in the campaign, within the scope of the systems used. When the key villain rolls a 1 on a saving throw and is charmed, or disintegrated, or plane shifted away to the Seven Heavens---or whatever!---that's probably not a result that the players (and their PCs) or the DM (and the NPCs, monsters, etc.) have necessarily prepared for. So the nature of random results inject random outcomes into gameplay which the players and the DM have to run with, respond to, and manage as complication during each and every session.

The flow and pace of these many random events play out in retrospect as the sense-making stories that we tell ourselves to summarize the encounters, interactions, combats, and explorations of adventures in the context of the campaign, but that's still a literary layer thrown over and summarizing the action of the gameplay. 

What more falls into this bucket?

Please share your thoughts, analyses, speculations, ideas, and inspirations in the comments!


P.S.  There's also something in the zone here worth considering on processes vs. outcomes. See https://seths.blog/2019/11/the-process-vs-the-outcome/ for a kick-off point, but an RPG needs to be fun in the process of playing it, which will reinforce the longer-term replay value ideas above. Milestones and outcomes are important too, in particular for longer-term campaign play; not just the in-the-moment process of playing. So this starts to get into sub-processes building into processes into workflows of processes into complex systems of processes*---which is why system selection is an important factor in campaign viability: if the system for your game is designed to product disposable one-year-long campaigns, as the 3.x and later editions of D&D are, then you shouldn't be surprised that the game design doesn't scale to support epic-level play over three or more years.


*I'm also not jumping down the rabbit hole of Rob Kuntz's "open forms" book concept yet, but that is a quite possibly an ending point for this analysis, I suppose.

25 October 2019

grodog talking 1e Dragons and Greyhawk on Twitch Sunday night @ 7:30pm EDT

Just a quick announcement:   I'll return to talk Greyhawk and dragons on Twitch again this weekend, with Jay Scott and Anna Meyer, on Sunday, Oct 27, 7:30PM EDT, livestreaming at https://www.twitch.tv/lordgosumba

Here's Jay's full announcement:
Sunday evening, we continue our discussion on everyone's favorite D&D monster, Dragons, with Gabbin' at Lord Peak's Haven #68 - Dragons of the Flanaess, Part 2. We will discuss specific Dragons from Greyhawk Canon and Lore, and from the participant's Campaigns. My guest hosts this week will be Anna Meyer and Allan T. Grohe Jr.! This should be a fantastic finish to our two week chat on this topic! We begin Sun, Oct 27, 7:30PM EDT. Thank you so very much for the wonderful support, and I hope to see you Live Stream! www.twitch.tv/lordgosumba

 Talk to you then! :D


17 October 2019

grodog's Events at TsunamiCon 2019: Greyhawk AD&D and Aliens: This Time It's War


At the 11th hour this week, I decided to submit events to run at Wichita's TsunamiCon, our sixth annual gaming convention.  Details on the events appear in my post to the TsunamiCon Facebook group, but I figured I'd share the details here as well:

The events are listed at TableTop.Events, and here are the details:
  • Introduction to World of Greyhawk and AD&D 1st editionCreate new characters for AD&D 1e, learn the basics of play, and explore grodog's infamous version of Castle Greyhawk. Players new to Greyhawk or AD&D 1st edition welcome! Bring your graph paper, dice, and a healthy dose of paranoid courage! 1e character sheets will be provided. Prizes awarded!
    • This will run on Saturday from 1-5pm, and 7-11pm.
  • Aliens: This Time It's War!:  Celebrating 40 years of Alien, this is "The Reactor" level from the classic 1989 miniatures skirmish game. Players control Colonial Marines trying to escape the alien nest that has awoken around them! Fast-paced and very deadly, rules will be taught. In space, no one can hear you scream!
    • This will run on Sunday from 9am-Noon, and 1pm-4pm.

I've been discussing the kickoff of a new multi-group Greyhawk campaign in Wichita for the past couple of months, and hopefully this will provide a good opportunity to introduce Greyhawk and AD&D to new and interested players!  If you're local and interested, the main discussion is in our local Wichita D&D group in Facebook.


14 October 2019

What types of product designs does the OSR lack?

I don't find weird 'edgy' stuff much use, and I'm not currently in the market for Venger-style sleaze or Pundit's historicism; fairly meat & potatoes stuff with a typical OD&D/Greyhawk vibe rather than B/X - so more demons & snake cults, fewer BX standard monsters like giants, probably preferable. The heavy OSR emphasis on BX type material leaves a bit of a gap for the former.
I haven't given a ton of thought to the B/X and/or SW focus in the OSR creating a content gap, but that makes sense. We've discussed these concepts a little bit before at the Knights & Knaves Alehouse:
but not necessarily with an emphasis on what's not out there, content-wise. 
OSR-content-gaps analysis probably requires a broader understanding of Kickstarter and other crowd-funding platforms, as well as DriveThruRPG pdf offerings, than I've got these days. The continual need for "good vanilla fantasy" content that Melan has mentioned in his blogs, zines, and adventures (see https://beyondfomalhaut.blogspot.com/search?q=%22vanilla+fantasy%22 for some good examples), and Bryce's focus on highly-usable adventures that don't suck are good touchstones for tone and quality, but don't really touch on the content gaps for the types of books that aren't being written and published.
In my head, these are the main types of content for RPGs that exist, regardless of game system, setting, edition, etc.:
  • Core rulebooks: the holy trinity: PHB, DMG, MM; OSRIC rule book; etc.; these could be books or boxed sets, but define the DM's minimum investment required to play the game
  • Supplemental rule books---these build out the rules further in terms of expanding upon the original footprint of the rules with new types of rules/content like in D&DG, MotP, DSG/WSG, et al, as well as expanding the amount of material within the original footprint of the rules as the setting books like UA, OA, GA, FRA, etc. do, and as new monster books do in FF and MM2, Monsters of Myth, Malevolent & Benign 1 & 2, Dwellers in Dark Places, etc., which also obviously fall into this category, as do magazines since they generally focus on supplemental rules (or adventures); books like WotC's Primal Order series, Bard Games' Compleat Alchemist/etc. all fall into this category, as does Trent Foster's AD&D Companion
  • Adventure modules: modular modules, either stand-alone or in a series (which tend to be bigger and get complied or published as super modules: GDQ1-7, A1-4, Guy Fullerton's F1-4, Jeff Talansian's ASSH modules, etc.); many modules often introduce new supplemental rules material as well with new monsters, magic items, spells, classes (although less frequently), etc.; WG6's new to hit tables and attrition rules fall into this category too (since they're not really extensive enough to warrant calling their inclusion in the module as a supplement too, in my mind)
  • Adventure supplements: modules that are also supplements; S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth is the best example of this content type since its Book 2 was a mini-MM2/UA rolled in with the main 32 page module, but others definitely exist too, including ones where the new rules are required to play the adventure (which is not the case with S4): Q1 (with its myriad of rules for planar travel in the Abyss), B1-2 (with their guidance on how to run and play adventures, although one could argue that this content belongs in the core rule books), and S3 (with it's Gamma World-like technology usage charts); more-recently, Anthony Huso's Zjelwyin Fall fits this category with its Astral rules and codifications
  • Setting Books: these book obviously detail setting-specific content a la the World of Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Tekumel, et al, which can include sourcebook material about gods, spells, races, classes, etc., in addition to the usual geography, history, languages, runes, clothing, culture, and such
  • Content Tools: these tools aid a DM (or perhaps a player but I mostly think of these are DM/referee aids), so this is a much more narrow label in my head than most folks probably think of accessories, and includes books like Monster & Treasure Assortments, Dungeon Geomorphs, and Rogues Gallery, as well as books of tables like Dungeon Dozen, Tome of Adventure Design, the d20 era Ultimate Toolbox, much of Kellri's CDD netbooks, with Gabor's recent Nocturnal Table being a recent example. Midkemia Press' Cities also lands into this category, although most of their other city books would be adventures or supplements. On the player tools front, the only example that really jumps out to me is for CoC, with the S. Peterson's Guides to Creatures and Creatures of the Dreamlands books; but while written as field guides for players to use for their characters to ID Mythos horrors, in practice I always used the books as referee to show players a picture of the creature that their characters were confronting....
  • Accessories: character sheets/adventure logs, DM Log/campaign mgmt tools, JG's Ready Reference Sheets, DM Screen (low content unless there's an adventure or set of reference sheets with it), as well as graph/hex paper, miniatures, and dice---although Inkwell's dungeonmorphs dice and Flying Buffalo's Adventure Dice certainly provide some content; I suppose books of maps without keys/adventure content for them would fall more into this category vs. content tools too
  • Guidance Books: this one's a bit fishy to me, but I think that there's a category for books about how to play in general, how to play in a certain style/setting/tone/edition, best practices in adventure design, etc.; my still-unpublished dungeon design essays book will fall into this category, as does EGG's Role-Playing Mastery and Master of the Game books, and perhaps his Gygaxian Worlds series; this category would not include gaming history books like Playing at the World or Designers & Dungeons or general summary/catalog books like Heroic World or JEH's Fantasy Role Playing Games, since those don't usually impact how you play the game at the table; magazines sometimes focus on this kind of content in their articles, too
So, given all of that, are there any additional content types that OSR-minded folks would want to see that's not already in the list?

My sense is that the OSR largely focuses on core rules these days, with supplemental rules and adventures being the next categories that see the most content focus (although if you look at the number of dice, cards, and miniatures Kickstarters it's entirely possible that Accessories are the tail that wags the OSR dog, perhaps?). At the Knights & Knaves Alehouse I think we lament the lack of focus on good adventures (which is a tone/quality issue rather than a volume issue), and also see a lack of content tools as a critical gap that drives down the supportability of AD&D/OSRIC as a platform. 
I'm definitely curious to hear others perceptions on this!

Some additional discussion on Knights & Knaves Alehouse at https://knights-n-knaves.com/phpbb3/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=16157, and on reddit at https://www.reddit.com/r/osr/comments/dcdlu1/what_types_of_products_does_the_osr_lack/, and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AllanGrohe/status/1183766019090845696

29 September 2019

grodog talking Iggwilv in Greyhawk on caslTawk @ Monday night 8pm EDT

I think that this Twitch.TV/live-streaming thing may be starting to click for me, but you'll have another opportunity to judge for yourself, since carlos "casl Entertainment" lising has invited me to join him and his Patreon sponsors in their October discussion tomorrow night:

caslTawk announcement, with classic Greyhawk styling!
caslTawk announcement,
with classic Greyhawk styling!

Tune into our Twitch channel for a chat between carlos "The Rook" lising and Greyhawk scholar Allan T. Grohe Jr., who will be discussing the casl Entertainment Patreon topic for the month of October: Demons and the Witch-Queen, Iggwilv!

Monday, September 30, 2019 at 8 PM – 9 PM EDT on    www.twitch.tv/caslentertainment

I don't know exactly what Carlos and his crew of patrons will dig into for the agenda, but I'm sure it will be a fun discussion---what could possibly go wrong, when you start to mix up Iggwilv, demons, and the World of Greyhawk? ;)

Edit:  the replay can be watched on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuZ3eOSrabE&feature=youtu.be:


23 September 2019

Happy 64th Birthday to Rob Kuntz!

Happiest of birthday wishes to Robert J. Kuntz as he embarks into his 64th annum, in the best company possible---his wife Nathalie Hachet:

Rob Kuntz and Nathalie Hachet

From Rob's biography in The Strategic Review #5 (December 1975):

Strategic Review #5 (December 1975)

Robert J. Kuntz
I was born September 23rd 1955 in Lake Geneva and have lived here all my life. As a kid I played the game that everybody played on our block: “Bang! You’re Dead!”, though it did vary at times. I learned about Wargames in a peculiar way. As I sat skimming through an issue of Playboy one day when I was barely thirteen years old, I came upon a game section describing all varieties of party gifts to give to your family or friends for Christmas. I saw a “Dogfight” game listed among the buyables and immediately proceeded to the nearest dimestore with hopes high. I was disappointed when the assistant manager informed me that they did not carry the game and was about to leave when he suggested that I come over to his place and try some games he had. He named a few off; “Stalingrad”, etc., and I was on my way . . . . In my seven and one-half years of participation in the wargames field I have enjoyed boardgames, miniatures and play-by-mail types and am now employed with a company that produces games and of which my best friend is the head thereof. I intend to write many more rules sets before I pass away and I have this spectre friend of mine who can give the inside on this good “ghost-writer...” 

While a lot has changed in Rob's life since I've known him, he remains the quintessential, creative Dungeon Master, and may his dice continue to roll for many more years to come!:

Rob Kuntz DMing at GaryCon 


LordGosumba Twitch.TV DM Roundtable Replay from 22 September 2019

I should have been more proactive about posting the DM Rountable I was invited to last night on Jay "Lord Gosumba" Scott's Twitch.TV live stream, but with everything else going on I forgot to blog about it beforehand:

LordGosumba DMs Roundtable - 22 September 2019
LordGosumba DMs Roundtable -
22 September 2019

In case you're curious, on Sunday, 22 September 2019 I'll be live on Jay Scott's LordGosumba TwitchTV channel, in a DMs Roundtable discussion focusing on Greyhawk and AD&D 1st edition:

Hello Friends and Greyhawkers! On this weeks Gabbin at Lord Peak's Haven #63 - DMs Roundtable Discussion, we will have some well known names in the Greyhawk and Streaming Communities taking part!

Scheduled to participate in our 4th Roundtable Discussion, are Allan T. Grohe Jr., Carlos Lising, Anna Meyer, William Henry Dvorak, James Duffie, and Ann (Sydwe) from Knightheartgaming. We will hope to bring some experience and insight into questions you may wish to ask, and we welcome viewer input and comments!

We begin this very intriguing conversation this Sunday, Sept. 22nd, 7:30PM EDT. See you in the Live Stream https://www.twitch.tv/lordgosumba

The replay can be watched at https://www.twitch.tv/videos/485181123 and we covered some fun and interesting (and in a few cases, somewhat unexpected!) topics, including:

  • Our favorite DMs?
  • Our favorite adventures?
  • Our favorite recurring in-game enemies?
  • Our saddest in-game moments?
  • How has DMing helped our jobs/lives?
  • Our thoughts on consent in gaming groups/sessions?
  • Who would we most want as a player at our tables and/or to play with---both historical and living?
  • How do we manage improvisation?
  • What's our favorite game other than D&D to run?
  • What do we think about Critical Role?
  • What are our plans/hopes for the future?

Jay also interviewed me on his show last month, and you can watch the replay for that at https://www.twitch.tv/videos/469154701 if you're interested:

grodog interview - 17 August 2019
grodog interview -
17 August 2019

I'm sure I'll get more used to the streaming process and format, at some point, and I welcome any feedback and suggestions on how to better leverage the medium/format.