Toying with Zak’s Tables

Zak recently put up a table to generate adventures, sorta. As I haven’t done anything RPG related since early september and I have to run a Yule D&D Game (as most of us at the table are atheists), I have no clue what is going to happen and how I’m going to handle my sandbox using our homebrew.

Since I’m feeling quite rusty I’ll set up a major plot to happen in the background: obviously players will be able to thwart it in any reasonable way, but the NPCs behind it will of course change their plan in response to PCs’ attempts. Zak comes to rescue.

Let’s roll all the results, then look them up: 16,74,36,93,3,91,2,54

  • Where’s the basic plot of this thing coming from?

16 The Triumph of Death painting by Breghel

Uh, it’s actually Bruegel, love his art to bits. Zak suggests to run the thing as a guerrilla scenario. The painting also somehow reminds me of a certain LotFP adventure which fits perfectly with the location. Yay for tie ins. At this point there are six different factions capable of mustering armies big enough to invade the Free League. Plus, of course, there is the option to spin this around into an allegorical army, but a real one will do for now.

  • With a side of what?

74 Such logic as reigns in the Realm of Beelzebub (mm1 v 1).

I don’t own the book and my campaign is disgustingly mundane, as in “all the evil is caused by humans being human”. Extraplanar stuff and weird logic annoys me. I hate what i’m about to do, but a reroll is in order. I hope the OSR Police is not reading. ;)

56 Motorhead

Ok, I’ll add the missing hëavÿ metäl umlaüts. I know f*ckall of Motörhead, so i grabbed the lyrics for first song I found on google (Iron Fist): it mentions a dark moonless night, flying hooves, dark beasts of Satan and a healthy dose of Doom & Gloom. Metal propah. Two of the above factions qualify, so it could be an occasion to narrow it down or to add an ally or an enemy to the invaders… interesting. I can see some nice dynamics as PCs try to influence factions.

  • Where am I going to get an idea for the big, crazy fight?

36 That Jack Vance story with the eyeball-collecting monster.

FUUUUU-

Erm. I gave a glance at the list a while ago and, while reading this, I though I’d never be able to fit this in in any way. First, I’ve never read Vance. Second, a search did not return much. Third, eyeball collection? FTW?

Maybe a spell requires a huge numbers of eyeball, a Carcosa-style summon for example. Or the monster is a human obsessed with making people half blind: maybe he’s the warlord of the invaders, and all his army is half blind. Or maybe the eyes stolen are “eyes of the mind”. I’ll probably go for the first.

  • And the totally incongruous element?

93 Roll a random monster. Build the most stereotypical situation you can around this monster. Investigate all possible naturalistic inconsistencies in said situation.

Ah, incongruous elements as random aspects for the evolutionary refinement of a campaign. I love the stuff: that’s what I love in sandboxes.

Well, ok, the homebrew doesn’t have a random monster table, and neither does the League. Google returns this.

My mouth is still slightly ajar.

I guess I’ll cope.

I can picture the thing as a huge behemot 200 feet tall. I have no idea how it’s gonna interact with the other factions, but the ecology is easy.

  • The multivalent trick the PCs can fuck with and turn against the adventure?

3 Frank Miller Daredevil (Run 2–you wake up to find your greatest enemy is slowly destroying your life for fun using his/her political influence.)

Urm. PCs have no greatest enemy. Oh, wait, I forgot about greed. No, not PCs’ greed. Now they have an enemy. Oh, I forgot about someone is holding a massive grudge, someone with scarce political power but with a big smile and an even bigger stick. The big stick can provide great leverage, and she’s quite nasty. Also players have no idea that she is a she.

  • And the new monster?

91 The people who were supposed to be doing this would have no problem with it, but we’re stuck with the PCs.

Ooook. This is hard.

It might be PCs becoming vampires/werebeasts.

It might be PCs creating monsters. As in golems and stuff.

It might be PCs “creating monsters”. And it happened thrice already. Nommy option, I’ll keep this, and possibly one of the above

  • Dumb prop/DM gimmick?

2 Frank Miller Daredevil (Run 1–fall in love with someone who wants to kill you.)

Easy-peasy.

  • Nondeath situation-altering punishment a PC might face?

54 The Younger Edda.

Ugh. The first part of the younger edda is some sort of epic. As result of the invasion the regime change might strip them of their chartered group status and crenelation benefits: in fact, changing their group of recognized adventurers to a group of adventurers armed and dangerous.

Overall comment: it’s a useful tool. Feels like divinating with a postmodern tarot deck, a welcome addition to my toolbox, where I also briefly discussed usage of an actual decks. I’m really satisfied with the table even if some of the entries are a bit extraneous to me (like those regarding american comics), but nothing forbids from swapping entries with more congenial stuff.

emergent plot – stirring up the sandbox

Aye, I know. I dropped the “P” four letter word in the post title of a supposedly OSR blog. The OSR police will come here with their 1d100 hirelings wielding glaive-guisarmes and hook-fauchards and lay siege to my parents’ place (I’m visiting) until I repent or burn my copies of Ravenloft and Tales of the Lance (those fools don’t know the dungeon/basement has a hidden exit).

Anyway: as previously mentioned IMVHO one of the most important hats DMs have to wear is the MC one: ensuring that everything’s running smoothly and that everybody’s having a good time. Not winning, but enjoying. Most importantly, keep the game going and provide players with stuff to interact with, while feeling more and more a part of the game world and able to intervene on it. Deconstructing the game to its bones you just need to provide players with 1-3 “encounters/events/interactions” for every gaming hour.

One of the most productive ways to do this, for me, is to come up with overly ambitious NPCs and villains, and to make sure their brilliant secret plans to fame/sex/their parents’ approval/gratification/power/gold/munchies are coherent with the setting: this way, for scarcity of resources, as there’s only so much land/gold/etc available, conflict will arise, and the NPCs will be at each other’s throat in no time. Note that NPCs might not even know that they have conflicting plans, or who is opposed to them and in which way, or even that there are opponents… I’ll call these kind of NPCs “big players” (call them factions if you want, but they’re not factions di per se).

Best bit, they’ll be hiring PCs to do the hard/nasty work: this way PCs will possibly ingratiate their patron, get money and experience, push forward the patron’s plans and set back his opponents. Doing this they’ll get a bit of reputation (good or bad) as the words of their deeds spread, eventually being known to other big players in the campaign, which will try to interact with them in various ways: murder, bribes, blackmail, appeasing and so on. This should “automagically” create something that looks like a plot, making it emerge straight from the interactions between campaign elements. The situation should be unstable so that players tipping in a direction or the other can cause things to happen differently.

It might be that PCs will understand what’s going on and decide (probably later in the campaign) NOT to be hired, but to play their own part in the big game, becoming “big players” themselves in what’s “traditionally” D&D endgame (or Ars Magica first “summer” and then “autumn” Covenant seasons).

The most typical way to propel the plans are either “trigger driven” or “time driven”:

  • Trigger driven: things happen when player’s actions (or inaction) trigger them; for example, the Tyrant of Syrak decides to send his war navy to blockade Marchil when the PCs arrive to Syrak, just in time to see the galleons leaving the harbour in full sail, or even better to join them as privateers.
  • Time driven: NPCs do things all the time, interacting with the PCs just by in-game means; for example, the first of March the Emperor sets his armies off to new campaigns, armies that will take a proper number of days of overland travel to reach their destinations, a proper number of days to lay siege to cities and so on. As the time goes by, other “big players” will react accordingly as either their minions will report to them or simply rumors spread.

Note that in both cases I deliberately made the action noticeable to the players, either through rumors or direct interaction: making developments noticeable to players is very important, and justifies spending money for spies and the like. Some kind of rumor mill is needed, possibly with the players spending resources toward having better information sources. Of course some information will be worth a lot.

A simple example follows:

Up and Down the East Coast

  • On the East Coast there are two Kingdoms (North and South), separated by tribes of marauding orcs.
  • Kingdom South has lots of alpacas and needs iron for its heavy cavalry. King South is an epicurean slob, but cares much about his people, who loves him back (mainly because of light taxation and reasonable justice system and code of laws).
  • Kingdom North has iron and needs nice and warm textiles because winters there are horrible. King North is very greedy and (as you’ll read) has a nice business going on.
  • Kingdom N and S are very good commercial partners and enjoy a long military alliance against the orcs. There is a sound that would enable them to trade by sea avoiding to sail around the big Isle of Nasty Waters, but it is home to a strangely active dragon (currently trying to assemble a big hoard to attract a mate). No one goes in the Dragon Sound… almost no one.
  • Oversea trading is done via the Trading League, a trust of ship-owners owning galleons seaworthy enough to double the Isle of Nasty Waters. They have bought out, brought in or sunk all other trading companies in the two kingdoms, and talked the kings into taxing imports not coming from the the kingdoms, resorting to pretty much anything to keep on being the real “king of the hill”.
  • Marks on the borders of the two kingdoms would like to be independent, squish the orcs, grab & settle on their lands and join in a league, thus securing an inland trade route. If they could get rid of the dragon they could also secure the Dragon Sound, the Isle of Bad Waters and make the Trading League’s operations less viable unless they get a nice share.
  • Independent pirates try to capture ships for ransom around the Isle of Bad Waters, sometimes fleeing in the sound, where they pay the dragon for protection. They could team up and settle in the sound, as the kingdoms’ war navies are not that big.
  • In the North big landowners are a bit grumpy because of the trading guild, as local winterflax (a kind of flax that lives north) is not commercially viable anymore. Their distance from their Capital makes them not really politically powerful or active. The King doesn’t care as he owns the iron mines, financing fortresses and mercenaries with money gotten from the mines and its thieves guild.
  • Said mercenaries can kick orc asses before breakfast, no sweat, but want to be paid. Or else.
  • The Archery Commanders in the South see the whole heavy cavalry thing as an overly expensive exercise that not only takes away a lot of their prestige, but makes the South Kingdom reliant on foreigners to equip their army, and would like for this shenanigans started by young hipsters to stop and return to the old traditional mounted archer. The “new” heavy cavalry Commanders are a smart bunch of young and brave officers that study military theory, fight very effectively (think winged hussars) and are a bit annoyed at their gramps using strategies and tactics from a few centuries ago.
  • Two thieves guilds (one per city) buy stuff from the pirates and, at times, sinks or capture foreign ships or buy their mutiny; this is done mainly to fix prices (at times both guilds and the trade league act in concert) and both have vast hoards of iron and wool hidden in both cities and their surroundings: the relative scarcity is at the moment created by the Trading League and the Guilds. The North Guild secretly pays his king a quarter of its gains every season, also secretly recruiting spellcasters to curse the local nobles and their lands so that winterflax doesn’t grow well, while the South Guild is tolerated by his king and nobles as they source them with the good stuff anytime they want. Or else.
  • When the players will realize the stupid amount of gold and iron the dragon is sleeping on, they’ll start drooling over themselves.