Saturday, October 31, 2015

Die Drop Campaign Maps at the Whistle Stop Cafe

In 13th Age, the icons are the setting's powerful non-player characters. They are not the Drizzt types who go off and have adventures at the expense of the player-characters, rather they are the rulers and wizards that send the player-characters on quests, or that send agents of their own to thwart them. An icon could be an end-of-campaign boss, or an ally against one.

Each player-character gets a number of relationship points to allocate to the various icons, so Alice of Zengis could have a two point relationship with the Dwarf King, for example. Each relationship is also defined as positive, ambiguous, or negative; if Alice's relationship with the Dwarf King is negative, it suggests that she hates dwarves, or he has betrayed her, or umpteen other potential disagreements.

For each relationship point a character has they get a six-sided relationship die; these are used in a number of ways but one of the more common is to determine which icons are going to be involved in that session's adventure. Everyone rolls their dice and each die that comes up as a 5 or 6 means that the relevant icon has taken an interest in events; a 6 means that the player-character will receive some sort of benefit from their relationship, while a 5 means that the benefit has some sort of cost.

The benefit could be something as prosaic as a bag of cash, or it could be something more narrative based; perhaps the wraith recognises the player-character as an agent of the Lich King and so lets him pass untouched and unleveldrained. Negative relationships tend to suggest that the benefit comes at a cost to the icon; Alice may use her Dwarf King 6 to recall that she knows a secret entrance into a dwarven fort, for example, allowing the party to bypass the guards. Ambiguous relationships could go either way, depending on context.

When I run 13th Age I tend to ask for these rolls at the end of a session so that I have some time to tie them into next week's adventuring, but the other day I wondered about using them at the start of a campaign; I was also thinking about die drop tables and the combination of the two trains of thought has resulted in this hideous chimera.

First of all grab a map from somewhere. You don't want too much detail, as the dice will be telling you where to put things.

Then each player -- or the GM on the player's behalf, but I think it would be more fun to involve the players -- takes it in turns to roll their relationship dice on the map. You want to know which dice are associated with each icon; roll them in separate chunks or use different colours, or something like that. Each die's final position determines a location associated with the relevant icon.

A 6 indicates that the location is some sort of stronghold of the icon. It could be a literal stronghold, or it could just be a town where everyone thinks the Crusader is a swell guy. A 5 suggests that while the place is associated with an icon, there's something else going on; perhaps the location is a new fortress and the local area has not yet been tamed. A roll of 1 to 4 indicates that the location is associated with the icon, but that there is little of campaign-level interest there, although something may come up in an individual adventure.

A negative die probably indicates that the location has been abandoned, or is in fact associated with one of that icon's enemies, or something like that. An ambiguous die suggests that the icon's control and influence over that location is not absolute; perhaps it's been conquered and the locals aren't too happy with the new regime.

Then you do the same again for the next icon.

If dice from two -- or more! -- separate icons share the same space then things get even more interesting. Perhaps that location is held in an alliance between two icons, or perhaps it's the site of a conflict between them. Maybe their forces are fighting a guerilla war in the streets of a ruined city, or the location is a dungeon into which both icons are sending adventurers to look for a great treasure.

Carry on until all the player-characters have rolled all their icon dice and you have something like this.

Bosh! There's your campaign map. You know where the major points of interest are, now it's time to tidy it up and expand as desired. If you started with a blank map, you could put forests wherever Druid or Elf Queen dice landed, or mountain ranges wherever the Dwarf King or Orc Lord dice fell.

Like the relationship dice themselves, this should be easy enough to use outside 13th Age; all you need to do is define your important factions and then give your players a number of points to spend on positive, negative, and ambiguous relationships with those factions. I suggest using at least seven icons so that there's plenty of potential for complexity.

As ever, if you do give this a try, let me know how you get on!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Scarface Was a Good One

Remakes are weird. Cover versions of songs are accepted and often applauded but in film -- a few exceptions aside -- the words "remake" or "reboot" are more often than not greeted with an all-consuming dread. Remakes seem to be far more uncommon in the literary world, beyond retellings of the classics, but I could be wrong about that because I am rubbish at reading.

Unless you count new editions of rulebooks, remakes don't seem to be that common in tabletop games either. Yes, there are umpteen versions of Keep on the Borderlands, the D&D people do love to rehash the big name classics every so often, and I have seen a few bloggers dissecting various adventures and offering suggestions for improvement -- one of my favourite things Zak S has done was when he condensed the aforementioned Keep into two one page dungeons -- but I can't think of many instances of an actual full remake of a role-playing adventure.

At this point, I expect the comments to be full of the many rpg remakes I have overlooked in my ignorance. It's okay, I am prepared.

I considered it myself after I played the Pathfinder campaign adventure path Carrion Crown; it has a good central idea but the structure of the campaign adventure path ruins everything, so I thought it would be worth a rewrite. I put that project aside for boring mathematical reasons that aren't relevant right now because I want to look at King for a Day.

(Or KIIng for a Day. No, I don't know why.)

According to the notes by the author Jim Pinto, King for a Day started out as the AD&D2 campaign Night Below, but as he tinkered and tweaked the adventure ready for play, Pinto realised he was more or less rewriting the whole thing and decided to release it as a unique product.

I played Night Below once in 1998, I think. I remember playing a fighter with 10 or 11 in all his statistics and I remember our party getting ambushed by bandits as we crossed a river. I recall nothing else about the campaign, so perhaps that encounter ended in a TPK, or maybe we all decided it was naff and we'd play Shadowrun or Call of Cthulhu the next week. As such I can't make a full comparison between the original campaign and the remake, but from what I can tell -- see Charles' discussion of one element of Night Below here for an example -- King for a Day does feature more or less the same individual elements as the original campaign, arranged in a different order, with different connections between them and different consequences attached.

One notable difference is that King for a Day puts much more emphasis on events above ground; most of the book's 300ish pages consists of an exhaustive gazetteer of people, places, and plots in a remote rural valley, but the original campaign devoted only a third of its overall page count to its equivalent.

(This isn't a review as such, but the formatting of the gazetteer is strange because it's written as if it's a web page, with lots of hyperlinks; a location, for example, will have links -- complete with little icons -- to the people that can be found there and the plots that involve the place, but of course none of the hyperlinks work because, well, it's a book. The detail-obsessive part of me appreciates the structure of this even if in practical terms it is bonkers.)

Once events draw the player-characters underground, King for a Day seems to be in a rush; there is a handful of locations -- albeit a couple of them are vast -- and then BOOM! there's the climax and it's done. Again, this isn't a review, but the underground bits do feel a bit underwritten, in particular the finale; I don't know what happens at the end of Night Below but I hope it's a bit more of a meaty finish.

The end result of all of this is that the remake seems broad but shallow; I don't mean this as a complaint, because it would be churlish and inaccurate to claim that the huge amount of content Pinto has generated for the main, above ground, part of the campaign is in any way superficial. Rather it's an observation on the structure of the adventure; it is more of a sprawling rural sandbox with a small but significant jaunt underground, and as such is more or less a total inversion of the original.

That's what I find most interesting about King for a Day. It is still recognisable as Night Below -- even to someone like me who has little knowledge of the original -- but at the same time it's quite different and you could play both and still be surprised. Reluctant as I am to encourage remakes, the success of King for a Day as a proof of concept makes me wonder what else is possible; maybe that Carrion Crown rewrite isn't such a bad idea after all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Right then, first things first, I am involved in one of the stretch goals for Mike Evans' Kickstarter so I have an interest in seeing it succeed.

That said, it's heading into its third week and has around 95% of its funding It achieved its initial funding goal between drafts of this post; my maths skills are terrible but I think it will need to get to 175% in the next twelve days before I am activated or unlocked or whatever happens to me, and I don't know if there's enough time left for that.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that I recommend you back it with no expectation that you'll put in enough cash that it benefits me. That's as unbiased a recommendation as I can give.

Mike will probably hate me for saying so but he's a lovely bloke, and in my few brief chats with him about the Hubris project he has shown great enthusiasm that I am certain will show in the final product. He's been blogging about it for ages so you can go and read a couple of posts to see if it's the sort of thing you'll like.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Rolling in the Old World

My opponent has three dice and needs to roll fours, fives or sixes to hit my armies. Each six counts as a hit and allows him to roll another die.


No matter, I still have a good chance of scoring a couple of hits on my four dice.

This sort of thing is why, if you want to win at a board game, you choose me as your opponent.