Pointcrawls and Random Exploration: words plus a game mechanic supporting Solo gaming

There’s a lot of discussion going on about pointcrawls recently. Chris’s writings is what you want to read first. I did a thing too.

First, I want to say a couple of things about pointcrawling.

Pointcrawl is a technique for organizing spatial relationships between discrete campaign locations. All locations are separate and can connect to each other through a number of paths. If this sounds like graph theory, there’s a reason.

Why do we do this? Because:

  1. action in RPGs happen in a specific location. The stage of the mind’s eye theatre is a single place. It can move, and be big, and new can be created (for example for random encounters along a road), but we usually focus our attention to a discrete location.
  2. the links are super-immediate to convey where to go from a place. Adventures are often about travels, travel are about connections. Explicit connections convey this information faster, for the same reason roads in maps are depicted in weird colours like green and red, despite being covered in black tarmac. This does not mean that travel can happen only along these connections, or that more connections can’t be made.

For example:

hypogea

This map is the example map in the Chthonic Codex boxed set. It’s a network of caves and canyons. All important locations are marked by a dot; it’s possible to go from a location to another doing up and down the paths marked. This is somewhat an extreme case: it’s only possible to move between locations using the tunnels and canyons, digging or climbing to the surface and travelling overland is extremely unwise. A similar set-up can happen in a setting consisting of narrow valleys separated by high mountains, like the Uplands or the Slumbering Ursine Dunes.

Also, portals. A network of portals is best represented as portals and their links drawn over an existing map. The best example is Gorgonmilk’s Dolmenwood map, where the portal pointcrawl is imposed on a stylish hexcrawl map.

PAOLO, YOU MENTIONED GAME MECHANICS

Right. We are going to use villages, cities and neighbourhoods for examples. The game mechanic is this:

  • The locations on the pointcrawl are either simple or complex.
  • Simple locations, like a village, are small enough to show all apparent features after a modicum of exploration: roads going to places, shops, etc.
  • Complex locations are made of a number of simple locations in the same complex, for example a big city of different neighbourhoods. Their relationship is complex enough that when one explore in a complex location, they can only see/afford/interact with what’s inside the simple location, and the locations this is connected to. A pointcrawl in a pointcrawl, pointcrawlceptions, it’s pointcrawls all the way down. It’s possible to simply go to these neighbours as one would do normally in an RPG (the usual “we go to the waterfront” “you meet ill-meaning thugs on your way” “we set their hair on fire” etc etc),  or it’s possible to explore and create one or two of such links to internal neighbourhood at random.
  • At random from what? Cue table, roll 1d6:
    1. waterfront
    2. market quarter
    3. slum
    4. other slum
    5. more slums? yes
    6. citadel
  • You can have one such table for each city, or each city has a number of blank neighbourhoods and each time you find a new one, you randomize from a Grand Table of Neighbourhoods. They come in different flavours, from Crapsack to Fallen Empire to High Fantasy.
  • If you were told that there is a Market in a specific city, pencil in market with a question mark in one of the slots. When you actually get there, roll to find if the information was reliable and the market is in fact there, or erase the market and roll a new neighbourhood if you were told bullshit.
  • for solo play, start with cities full of blank slots. When you hear rumour about them, pencil them in with a question mark. In such cities, if you want to avoid actually making a graph, you can get by with only using the city table: neighbourhoods have no fixed neighbours so you can either explore or go to a known location.
  • if you ask the locals where a neighbourhood is, roll twice and pick the best result.

Status update

Hey y’all,
I haven’t been writing in a while. There are three main reasons:

  1. I’m getting evicted, and I spent way more time than expected to fix the issue. I found a place to stay but its going to be a bit problematic. But long term plans gears are moving. More details as soon as.
  2. my suppliers for box making and binding are taking longer than expected to fulfill their orders. This blows. And the festive season is a’coming.
  3. the next post on the landscape generator has been postponed because it needs a bunch of tiles. But given the relocation, I’ll have to wait until the relocation. So I’ll discuss it in general.
  4. Yale put lectures for some of their courses on Youtube. One that might be of immediate interest for the readers is “The Early Middle Ages, 284–1000 with Paul Freedman“.

DCC RPG and I (with a sizeable side of METAL)

TL;DR: I’ve been running DCC RPG for three sessions, killed 9 PCs and while initially being overwhelmed I’m now rolling with it and I homeruled it already.

Longform: Last year I saw DCC RPG in my FLGSes and I left it on the self because, well, AFG. AFG is a small game. AFG has very few tables. I can run it without using the handbook, and I’m supercomfortable with it. In part because I wrote it, but mostly because it’s tiny and designed to be nimble. It’s my OSR game, and does things the way I mean them to be.
DCC is an A4 book two inches thick. It’s full of tables. Spells take two pages each. Critical hits go on and on and on for pages. Compared to my usual fare, it’s incredibly baroque, and the characters have such a badass feeling, almost a comic-book aura of WRAAGHH to them.

But since it was reduced to 24 quid and I had store credit (because of FLGS AFG sales) I got myself a copy. I figured I could do worse with my money.

Anyway, I read it and I realized it was more or less an homeruled S&W. And i struggled a bit because the handbook is not well organized, and I needed to search for stuff, but now it has a bunch of bookmarks and it works much better.

But the homerules are all METAL. Like, EFFING METAL MAN.

IT’S OSR PLAYED REALLY LOUD.

So, yeah. For the non DCC-enabled, here’s a brief rundown about what’s different:

  • Casting and healing need a successful roll, but can be cast way more often. And depending on the casting roll, the effects can be more or less awesome. If you fail, bad shit happens. I like the strategic approach of spellcasting of D&D, but here METAAAAAL being potentially awesome or fucked up because you summon spells is good.
  • For the same reason, critical hits and fumbles in combat. Especially fumbles. Criticals are dope. METAAAAAAAAALLL
  • Fighters get to deal more damage and hit better, but instead of adding flat bonuses, they roll more dice. MORE SWINGY MELEE, MORE METAL.
  • You get to start with four lvl0 commoners. You can’t even pick a race. A cobbler, an elven falconer, a rutabaga farmer and an artisan? All really squishy with 1d4 HP, and 3d6 down the line for stats? And that if they manage to survive he first adventure, only then they become level 1? And that they die, like, a lot, because with 2 hp, even if you’re conservative, a bad initiative roll can fuck you up? BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD OF METAAAAALLL
  • Thieves when backstabbing deal automatically critical hits. Let me restate the supersweet concept in all caps:  BACKSTABS ARE AUTOMATICALLY CRITICAL. I think that no words mo’better than AUTOMATICALLY CRITICAL have ever been written in the history of RPG. So the thief after a backstab can roll on the critical hits table. THIS IS GOOD. THIS IS METAL.
  • There’s a spell that transforms stuff in SNAKES. You can’t control them and they slither away, but you can just TURN WEAPONS, BELTS, RINGS, ROPE, CROWNS, PANTS, IN SNAKES. EVEN ON OPPONENTS. SNAKES EVERYWHERE. METAL.

So, yeah, expect DCC content.

Procedural GM-less Terrain Generation for Crusaders in the Snow

I started writing a cooperative, umpireless wargame. All players are in the same team, a small chapter of knights of the Teutonic Order converting and fighting the pagans in the lands across the Eastern Baltic. A game of exploration and conversion. But it’s really about oppression and reprisal.

Why?

First, I had a few hours on a train going to an OSR-UK meetup.

Second, a while ago I started writing Crusaders in the Snow, an OSR domain game on the same topic. And the writer’s block on that is massive because of many reasons.

Third, cooperative wargames are interesting. You need rules for handling the fight without risking that any of the players will pick dumb choices for the opposition.

Fourth, I love terrain generation, and the terrain around the Eastern Baltic was awful.

Mires and forests and lack of roads made overland travel a pain. Horses drowned in swamps pulling down their riders. Travel times of five miles a day. And the locals knew the ground like their pockets. And you thought your DM was severe. This is high-level douchebaggery.

How did the Order wage war in such a place?

First, they had boats that could easily go up and down rivers. And there are plenty of rivers in the area, so, during the summer, river movement is easy-peasy, which is useful because the rest of the terrain is a big mire.

Second, during the winter the frozen landscape became a warpath. Rivers froze enough to allow knights to use them as roads, and battles were fought on them (sometimes going really badly for the Crusaders).

So, what do we have now? Randomly generated terrain, asymmetric wargame, difficult movement.

More next time, where I discuss the randomly generated terrain.

Chthonic Cartography and a Host of Handouts

I love alliteration. Ok, in the title, strictly speaking, Chthonic and Cartography do not start with the same sound.

Whatever.

The point is that I’m putting together some special content for the boxed sets. Because you awesome people deserve MORE. At the moment the list is not final, but it’s composed of:

  • Pocketmod Character Sheets for AFG and OSR. They’re not final but almost. They will be updated. Download links: AFGOSR
  • An Academy of Apprentices. Twelve pregens. Yes, I decided that Academy is the collective noun for Apprentice. They are statted for AFG but it should not be a problem using them in OSR games if your DM is a bit flexible. Not final yet.
  • Scroll Scraps because sometimes you want an adventure hook and what’s best than picking a bit of paper at random and, without looking at it, hand it over to a player saying “Well, you got lost and, of all places, you ended up in the library. I know, your character is not used to studying, but you found an interesting scrap of scroll nonetheless and you suspect nobody’s going to miss it”. The fragments say things like “there’s an idol of gold in a temple under the Harga volcano”.
  • Chthonic Cartography. I already posted a map, but I thought that adding the map used for the playtest was mo’better. Not that any map of the Hypogea is more or less true than any other (hint: the place does not exist) but I enjoyed a lot this map. Of all the things, you might not want to pass this on to players. But really, it’s also in the box so that you have an example of what can be done with CHTHONOTRON. Click the image to download.

hypogea

 

There should be another thing at least, but it’s a bit of a surprise. It might have something to do with goats. Baaaaaaaaaaaa.