Sunday, January 31, 2010

Variations on Vance

Ever eager to write more words about magic, here's my contribution to Eiglophian Press's and The Mule Abides' Vancian Magic Hoedown.

Spells as Pseudo Entities

I really dig the idea of spells being almost but not quite sentient/alive. Having an impish personality, itching to escape the mental cages a magic user has erected in his mind.

Each spell exists as a particular "instance". Spells must be captured, summoned or found (in written form). They can't be copied. Although, I leave open the option that they might be bred. Ha! Idea of caster renting out their 5th lvl Fireball out for stud duties cracks me up.

When a caster memorizes a spell from their spell book the spell physically leaves the book and inhabits their mind. It literally disappears from the pages. When the spell is cast (released) or if it escapes (see Mule Abides for possibilities) it scampers back to its "home" in the casters spell book. If the spell book has been destroyed,... who knows what happens to homeless spells. Perhaps they hang about and fuel the Mythic Dungeon or inhabit some discarded bit and transform it into a magic item.

This nicely explains/supports my usual house rule that duplicate spells may not be memorized. Although, in this case modified be if caster actually found additional instances of same spell I would allow them to be memorized. If stored in same book or near one another who knows what could happen? Also, the reason casters generally have to wait til the next day to rememorize spells is that it takes that long (till dawn?) for the spells to make their way back to caster's spell book.

A spell may be transfered (say from scroll found in treasure to caster's spellbook) via memorizing it and then releasing it into a spellbook by performing the scribing ritual. Likewise if a caster loses his spell book, they can, at least, recover the spells they still have memorized by releasing them (via scribing ritual) into a new spell book. With this system I see no reason that spell inscription should be very expensive (scribing is now self-limiting, could still act as gold sink though). Still takes time. It's a mystical/magical process so material more durable than goat skin, such as bronze plates can be inscribed without requiring an engraver.

Hmmm, I guess this nixes magic user scrolls as a commonly producible item, usable to expand number of spells a caster may cast. Not sure that I'm bothered by that. OTOH, various spell storing/stealing magic items and spells gain new significance. Maybe the only way to get the single known instance of some spell is to trick current owner into casting it on you while you hold a spell siphon.

Spells vs Spell Levels vs Slots

Standard D&D magic uses slots. Each magic user level grants 0+ slots of each spell level (a 2nd lvl slot can only hold 2nd lvl spell). The varying levels of slots make "Vancian" sense if you view caster's memory for spells being analogous to electron energy levels (valences) in atoms. I.e, there is a fixed set of spell level slots that are slowly unlocked as caster gains experience.

A common variation (one Eiglophian is exploring) is granting a certain number of spell levels. Any combination of spells totaling this number of spells levels may be memorized. Too much math/juggling numbers during spell selection for me. Also, either too few spells (if total spell levels are kept low) or too powerful even for a "who cares about balance" guy like me (if total spell levels are reasonable).

A less common variation is just granting a number of spells, regardless of level. Besides mechanical fears of being too powerful (I don't think it is really esp if you forbid duplicate memorization and if high lvl spells don't grow on trees) people get it in their head that higher level spells should take up more Vancian memory space. I could take either side of that argument.

A hybrid method I haven't heard mentioned before. Which I'm not sure is a great idea, just throwing it out there for others to consider.

When a caster gains a level and is granted X number of slots, they must at that time choose what level of spell each slot is for. Vancian explanation: they have faithfully performed the daily mental exercises and have finally organized their brain to accept the spell patterns/valence of a particular shape and power.

This puts a lot of options into players hands on how they want to craft their caster. At 5th level maybe they don't know any 3rd level spells and decide it's better to grab another 2nd lvl slot. Conversly maybe after much toil and risk they found 4th lvl spell and want a slot for that. It can be assumed that the regular spell progression from the rulebook is just the most common selection pattern magic users choose.

There are wrinkles and restrictions you could put on it until it meats your personal power/balance threshold.
  • No slots > character level. i.e. must be at least 2nd lvl caster to pick 2nd lvl slot.
  • Or, Caster lvl > slot level requires. ie. must be at least 3rd lvl to pick 2nd lvl slot.
  • Can't skip slot levels. i.e. to get 4th lvl slot must have at least one slot of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd lvls.
  • MLM To get slot x of lvl y must have x+1 slots of lvl y-1 i.e must have two 1st lvl slots to get a 2nd lvl slot, must have three 1st and two 2nd to get first 3rd lvl slot.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Return of the Grand Contest: One Page Dungeon, 2010 Edition

Sweet Bejesus I'm Internet micro niche famous! Selected to judge this year's One Page Dungeon Contest, w00tloops! Now I don't have to come up with an excuse for being so lazy and not submitting and entry, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome my fellow judges and say that I look forward to crushing them beneath my boots and hearing the lamentations of their women. What? I won't be fighting the other judges, wait, what *did* I volunteer for... oh my!

Remember the One Page Dungeon Contest 2009? Yeah, it's like that +1

The full details can be found on the One Page Dungeon Contest 2010 page.

Tweet it #1pdc

One Page Dungeon?

Font of SorrowsTraditionally, a dungeon is the map of a connected series of rooms full of monsters, traps, tricks, and treasure. People proposed expanding it to include random dungeon generators. These had no map, but instructions on how to create a map. Then people started saying that a wilderness, a village, or a big building could also be treated as a dungeon. Agreeing on a single definition of dungeon seems unlikely and would possibly limit the creativity of submissions.

Thus, in the spirit of “I know it when I see it” it'll be up to the judges to decide.

Whatever it is, it has to fit on one page. Letter format or A4 is the limit. It has to printable and readable on one page, too. If the font ends up being too small, or if it requires hyperlinks to read, then it won’t do.

If you're still stumped as what a One Page Dungeon is have a look at Last Years Submissions.

Yeah Whatever, How do I Enter

Step 1 Create a one page dungeon.

Step 2 Email, message, teleport submission by the March 1, 0:00 GMT deadline.

Step 3 Profit! Er, no it's Wait impatiently until April 18 for the winners to be announced.

For more accuracy and detail you probably should go read the One Page Dungeon Contest 2010 details.


There will be fabulous prizes! What's more, the prizes themselves will be fabulous!!! Fabulous like Martial Flavor.

Do you want to get in on this fabulousness? Sponsors Info.

Final words

I have one and only one final word and it is monkey.

Oh and welcome my esteemed fellow judges:

And lastly a Great Shout of thanks to Alex Schröder who is organizing this beast. You know not what you have unleashed. Pray we survive with some of our sanity intact.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I found that awesomeness on my best friend's Spacemummy Flickr page. Dude's been holding back on me. Sure, I've not checked his flickr page in like 2 years. But, knowing my obsession with all things chimptastic he should have sent out a special alert. Pasting that picture onto a card and putting it in my Deck of Random. Which I draw from and inflict on players whenever I'm bored or don't know what to do.

I always want to use flying monkeys [yep I know it's a chimp and chimps aren't monkeys] but they seem a bit too Over the Rainbow, ya know? But, this concept is perfect. Just the essential elements of flying and monkey. Still, they could make use of a prehensile tail. Wrapped around victim's neck for leverage in shattering their skull and eating their tasty non-monkey brains.

I'm not much of a statter upper, or rather I prefer to stat things up on the fly. What can stats tell you that that picture don't? It'll have whatever HD, AC etc are needed at the moment, it flies, it howls, it bites and it can be distracted by bananas. What else is there? How would you stat it up?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

D&D Meetup Austin

Finally got back around to some gaming this weekend (would have been last weekend but motorcycle decided it wanted to not work instead). Played AD&D with 8 players plus DM! at the FLGS, BattleForge, hosted Austin D&D Meetup. It was one of the most attended meetups in awhile. There were enough crazed gamers for three more tables, all playing 4ed.

A large group, also known as a 'stink', of gamers.

Thanks to Arthur, our DM, who carried on despite struggling with back pain the whole session and a fun group of players, including one RPG newbie, playing AD&D in first time for many, many years was a lot of fun. Here's my good friend flip having the his wizard search a room for secret doors, alone, before anyone else has had a chance to enter. He did find a secret door, but not before a sextet of spiders found him. Bit him down to half hitpoints before he could run away.

Hypnoticus learns why wizards should stick to the
middle of the marching order.

Some random quotes I remembered to jot down:
"I'm gonna beat on whatever I can get at." The Dwarf.
"I've detected an Aura of Dumb about you." Cleric to wizard after above spider altercation.
"You feel a slight..." DM, interrupted by player "sex change!" Who's comedic value is enhanced by recent issues party has had with a Belt of Masculinity/Femininity.

"Don't take a picture when I'm down!" Prone paladin's player to photographer.
There was also mentioned a Wand of Inappropriate Touching which gave me the idea for the Wand of Touching which either boringly allows one to cast touch spells at range or interestingly allows one to poke, tap on shoulder, nudge, wedgie, etc a living target in range.

4th ed is how this guy rolls.

Monday, January 25, 2010

More Central Texas Cons

Yikes forgot to mention these two great game conventions last time...

North Texas RPG Con

I learned about this con last year a few days after it was over, suck! Can't believe I forgot about it in my previous Texas Game Convention Post. Thanks to Troll Ate My Homework for reminding me. Registration opens Feb 1st!

North Texas RPG Convention June 3-6th Irving, TX. All old-school, all the time.


The longest-running student organized Sci Fi/Fantasy convention in the country, bam! AggieCon February 5-7 College Station . Pre-registration is done over with. Can still volunteer to run games (and get in free) it seems. I believe the timing and lead time I now have will prevent me from attending. Next year, there's always next year.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Upcomming Central Texas Game Conventions

Owl Con

I've preregistred for OwlCon, Feb 19-21, Rice University in some crappy town east of Austin ;) Looks to be a great con. Should have gone last year but I really don't like riding sport bikes that far (my only transpo at the time).

If you preregister they let you presignup for three games (btw OwlCon's registration/event listing pages/software rocks)
  • Swords & Wizardry "Temple of Mercy" DM'd by Herbert Nowell
    The remains of the First World are vestiges: magics and creatures of a horrific age." And some of those magics are concentrated in the Temple of Love. Now you and your sword-wielding companions must follow a group of lost archaeologists into ruins older than the first cities. It is a realm of swords and magics far removed from modern man, and known only to you and those like you.
    This and a 2ed game were the only old-schoolish RPG events :(
  • Burning Wheel "Dogs On The Waterfront" run by Dwight Frohaug
    There is a time to talk, there is a time to demand, and there is a time to kick in the door, shoot out the lights, and take what is yours. This scenario is a riff on the premise of the film Resevoir Dogs. It utilizes modern weapons via a drop-in replacement for Burning Wheel's combat sub-system that is inspired by the final scene in Way Of The Gun.
    I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like running Burning Wheel, might like playing it. But having both Reservoir Dogs and Way of the Gun in the description pretty much sold it. Boohyah baby!

  • Savage Worlds "The Cairn of the Blood God" GM'd by Jason Kemp Austin's own Game Master extrodinare.
    The Cairn of the Blood God has remained hidden from the eyes of men for centuries, protecting its many secrets. Now a band of daring adventurers must brave its aberrant defenders in search of the famed ruby known as the Blood God's Eye.
    Jason is a great DM and it will be funtastic to play with him again.

Chimaera Con

I don't think Chimaera Con April 9-11 in San Antonio is my type of geekyness. Seems to be more of sci-fi/anime con with some games rather than a game con. Am I wrong?


I ready marked my calendar for Texicon, May 21-23 in Fort Worth. 2010 is their first year. Rick Loomis from Flying Buffalo Inc. is there Guest of Honor. Too early to register for events. I might try to get it together and run an event at this one. Wouldn't be miniatures though which seem to be the bulk of Texicon listed events so far.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mapping the Wilderness - A Start

I've had a have hard time deciding how to map the wilderness for Gold and Glory. Just when I think I've made up my mind, someone blogs a cool map or idea that sends me spinning... I know I want a Mythic Wilderness map for a Western Marches type sandbox campaign. A map like that should;
  • be meant, primarily, for adventure. [not just a method to get from point A to B. There might not even be a point B]
  • provide interesting/meaningful choices (and consequences). [otherwise might as well be riding a RailRoad]
  • be Terra Incognita to the characters and most NPCs. [exploration / discovering unknown is wilderness adventure's "draw"]
  • be divided into regions of like geography/ecology/danger. [facilitates custom encounter tables, identifiable descriptive traits, players ability to recognize increasing danger (see next)]
  • be arranged so that the farther one goes from civilization the more imperiled one's life becomes. [the basic sandbox risk/reward equation]
  • somewhat limit the scope of the campaign via "impassable terrain" or other hopefully non totally obvious means. [a Mythic Wilderness is more detailed than "backdrop wilderness" and there's a need constrain area if DM is to give it the proper attention]
  • be Judges Guild's Campaign Hexagon System compatible. Meaning numbered 5mi hexes arranged a certain way. [personal requirement so my JG stuff "drops in", besides it's pretty nifty]

A Breakthrough

Read a blog post recently (sorry lost which one in the deluge). It noted that the map of Greece with all those islands and rugged terrain screams for adventure and begs to be explored. At the time I thought, "yeah, meh, whatever". Later when looking over my National Geographic map collection I noticed the Macedonia region on a relief map of the world. It was structurally close to what I had envisioned for GnG's map. And I began to grasp the wisdom of that blogger. After seeing the topo SVG map from that wiki page I knew I had found my cartographic grail.

It took some work to make the hex grid, and to scale the image so 1 hex = 5mi, and to make the several layers. I've also been adding swamps, raising mtns, and sinking a peninsula. Must watch myself though. Computer and detailedness makes it easy to fall into the over/endless editing trap. Must remember "broad brush strokes" and "detail it when you need it, not before" aka JIT. So far I'm happy and enjoying myself! No claims to be the best map ever. Works for me and more importantly has gotten my ass motivated to get this campaign started.

I present the Eastern Frontier. The safe, boring Kingdom lies off to the lower left. The rest is the unexplored!

I'm sort of sold (at least this week) on vector based / free hand maps and against the tyranny of the hexgrid. Which would seem to make Campaign Hexagon System compatibility a wee bit difficult. I resolve this by using hexgrid overlay on top of my nice hexfree map. Either via software "layers" or hexgrid printed on transparency. I create, draw, design without the grid, then throw the grid on for location write up / play. Hopefully getting best of both worlds. Here's the hexified version (sorry, only posted 1/4 sized images, but trust me those are numbered hexes)

A league is three miles and the distance man/horse can walk in an hour. I've decided to treat my 5mi hexes a 2 leagues or two hours of travel. Two hours seemed like a good duration for a wilderness "turn". Probably about the time travelers should rest and reorientate themselves. Also nice time to checks for encounters, getting lost, etc. A group can do 4 (5 if pushing it) turns of wilderness travel.

Reality Ain't So Bad

Since working on this I've discovered several advantages to using real word maps. First and most obvious is that you get a fairly detailed map with very little work. There's likely to be many more maps of various types depicting the area, for free online. Such as these awesome topo maps. At the very least there will be Google Map sat images and topo maps. I find it difficult to visualize terrain from a map, even topo maps. Google Earth provides a whole new perspective :). Google Earth is also great for finding photos taken of the area. These provide more visual aides, ideas for descriptions, flora, and fauna. One boon I wasn't expecting is that several times already the map had a feature that inspired me to add something to the game world I had not thought of.

This version shows roughly the "bands" of increasing danger as you get farther away from the edge of civilization aka the "keep on the borderlands". Going further to the west (and off map) the bands would decrease until one reached the Stygian Empire. Up North is... something. It's good to keep a few mysteries.


Ars Lundi "Running your Own Western Marches" and my own tendency to be distracted by grid led to my avoidance of hexmaps. I still absolutely adore Mystara style maps. Which are the right thing for continental and world maps. At that scale you don't really care about the details cause you can't show enough of them to matter.

From Ars Lundi article:
It was a vector map, so I could zoom in or out to any scale I wanted. I printed a variety of maps at different scales if I there were interesting things to see in the area. No one needs a close-up map at one inch = one inch of a barren plain.

That author felt hexes lead to the belief/behavior of one thing per hex and once it's found players no longer interested in looking there. I can also see hexes removing the mystery and tension of exploring/getting lost, "meh, we're only 1 hex away from the road".

More from Ars Lundi:
I didn’t use hex maps, just free movement and distances. It kept things organic and made it easy to get lost / disoriented, which was good. To track movement I just got distances and bearings from the party (”we’ll march southwest for 2 miles”), checked to see if they were going the way they thought (wilderness lore) and then drew the vector on the map to see where they actually were.

Blogbliography (incomplete as usual)


mkhexgrid software make almost any hexgrid you want, download it. A couple spec files I used:

output = ps
outfile =
centered = true
image-width = 11in
image-height = 8.5in
image-margin = 0.3in
hex-width = 0.375in
grid-grain = h
grid-thickness = 0.5pt
grid-start = o
grid-color = 0.8,0.8,0.8
coord-origin = ur
coord-bearing = 0
coord-tilt = -90
coord-distance = 0.1in
coord-color = 0.6,0.6,0.6
center-style = n
coord-font = Helvetica
coord-size = 6pt

output = ps
outfile =
centered = true
image-width = 11in
image-height = 8.5in
image-margin = 0.3in,0.3in,2in,0.3in
hex-width = 0.3in
grid-grain = h
grid-thickness = 0.5pt
grid-start = o
grid-color = 0.8,0.8,0.8
coord-origin = ur
coord-bearing = 0
coord-tilt = -90
coord-distance = 0.08in
coord-color = 0.6,0.6,0.6
center-style = n
coord-font = Helvetica
coord-size = 6pt

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