Sunday, July 26, 2015

Part 2 of Expanding on the Basic Random Terrain Generator (with Fairies), Communications in the Dark Ages (on the side) and Complexity in Game Design (because this title isn't long enough ...)

Here we are again. In Part 1 I brought you all back up to speed about that Basic Random Terrain Generator I wrote about in June. That was a big one, so a re-cap was necessary. And since everything is connected, I used the opportunity to talk a little bit about communication in the Dark Ages and complexity in game design. Either way I turned it, it all wanted to be in the same post. So here we are with the second part that's basically expanding on the ideas developed in the first (and on the B.R.T.G.), so feel free to check those out before reading this one. But I'll provide all necessary tables of the original post here, too (updated versions, even!)**, so you'll only miss out on some great lunacy :-)

Without further ado: Variety and Technique

A high level of variety usually results in some complexity, but often enough also comes with difficult and extensive procedures to realize it. I believe the system described for the Basic Random Terrain Generator is somewhere in the middle, as it allows for some variety, is easy enough expanded on and easy enough to use. Basically you roll 3d10 per hex-field* (let's call them A, B and C). The first digit (A) gives the direction, the other two are interpreted as a d100 for this and give indications about the terrain of the hex-field.

As you see, the numbers 1 to 6 on (A) give the direction, every higher number indicates a layer added to the initial hex-field. The very first hex-field is always the base for direction and if a direction points towards an established border, move clock wise and add the new hex-field at the next possible position, like so:

Example 2: Terrain starts developing with the red field. Numbers in
italics had been the one with a direction, straight numbers are layers.
Numbers 7 to 10 on (A) describe layers and borders:

I had kept it vague in the original post about the values of those layers and what they mean. I'm able to expand on that now, so here is how some of this manifests in a hex-field:

Fairies playing in the sun.
Land of the Mist (A = 9)

Realm of magic and the fairy folk. Magic is strong in those areas and they count as the centers of the ley lines that move through the land. It's also a thin veil between reality and the other side. The numbers rolled indicate which fairy race is dominant in this hex field (B), why they are there (C) and where they are specifically from (interpret BC as d100 just like terrain, but in a smaller scale). This way you get some quick ideas what's going on in an area:

Column (B): The "Court of"
  1. Deep Elves
  2. Waterfolk
  3. Goblinoids
  4. Nymphs and Trolls
  5. Wood Elves
  6. Pixies
  7. Wee Folk
  8. Dwarves
  9. Giants
  10. Dragonkin

Column (C): The "Why"
  1. Place of Legend
  2. Place of War
  3. Place of Worship
  4. Place of Magic
  5. Place of Resource
  6. Place of Commerce
  7. Place of Rest
  8. Place of Training
  9. Place of Creation
  10. Place of Tragedy/Ruins

So in example 2 above we got, for instance, the numbers 9 (A), 1 (B), 1 (C), which translates as:
  • Layer: Land of the Mist
  • Who: Deep Elves
  • Why: Place of Legend
  • Source: Underground (as 11 is far below the hex-fields main 63)

So it's a legendary underground complex of the Deep Elves that's the reason for all the fairy activity in the area. Maybe something like The Magnificent Fungus Gardens of TeiLyen or some such thing. I could do all kind of shenanigans with such a thing. Quests for herbs with legendary magical properties, exploring this Underdark in general is promising. You get the idea ...

An evil lurks below ...
The Darkness (A = 8)

The Darkness is evil and evil spreads as long as it can feed on something. A hex-field with this layer is completely contaminated, only isolation (stories of something stirring in the dark, like I described in Part 1) kept it from spreading further. Every evil manifests differently. There is the "what" (B) (a specific kind of evil, if you will) and there is the corruption (C) (the theme this evil strives on). If there are other layers in the same hex, they are tainted by evil (as they all affect each other, of course).

Column (B): The "What"
  1. Ancient/Pure Evil
  2. Prehistoric Evil
  3. Undead
  4. Curses
  5. Dark Rites
  6. Sinister Magic
  7. Tragedy
  8. Demonic
  9. Powers Beyond
  10. Terror from Space

Column (C): The "Corruption"
  1. Greed
  2. Transformation
  3. Combat (Muscle)
  4. Refuge (Finesse)
  5. Life (Grit)
  6. Sanity (Wits)
  7. Disruption (Nerve)
  8. Revenge (Fate)
  9. Power
  10. Weird
I'm still going with Example 2 above and here we got a layer of evil corrupting a legendary place of the Court of the Deep Elves (and everything else ...). The number is 8 (A), 3 (B), 5 (C) and it reads like this:
  • Layer: The Darkness
  • What: Undead
  • Corruption: Life
  • Source: Underground (as 35 is below the hex-fields main 63)
So the source of this evil is also underground, but not as deep as the place of legend is. It's somewhere in between. Undead corrupting life itself is a great thing to have. The dead won't rest here. Classic Zombie Apocalypse scenario (get bitten by a Zombie and become a Zombie, I'd say, but there's room for interpretation). No wonder people avoid this place. Also: undead fairies (deep elves)!

Roman Relics (A = 7)

Roman presence should still be felt in parts of a setting in Lost Songs. A high culture has the tendency of putting it's stamp on an area, be it roads and ruins of towns or knowledge and habits. But what exactly remains and is kept alive or intact, is a matter of chance, really, so those two table give (B) indications of what is left and (C) how strong it's influence is in an area.

Column (B): The "What"
  1. Historical Significance
  2. Resources
  3. Military
  4. Village
  5. Town
  6. City
  7. Bureaucracy
  8. Politics
  9. Knowledge
  10. Slavery

Column (C): The "Influence"
  1. Just some rumors and shadows
  2. Only ruins remain
  3. Some of it is still in good shape 
  4. As if left yesterday
  5. Interpreted and formed by other cultures
  6. A decadent version of the past
  7. Conserved from time (secluded)
  8. Actively Roman
  9. Evolving Roman
  10. Expanding Roman
Again with Example 2 above, in this case it's the numbers 7 (A), 5 (B), 8 (C), which results in:
  • Layer: Roman Relics
  • What: Town
  • Influence: Actively Roman
  • Source: Deep in the Forest (as 58 is just below the hex-fields main 63)
That's the last layer for this specific hex-field and it's a small Roman community somewhere deep in the woods that goes on as if the Roman Empire never went down. "Actively Roman" would mean that they still have some trade with their surrounding communities going. The Darkness that taints everything will have it's claws in this community, too. My first impulse when reading this was undead Roman nobility, draining the life out of everything, maybe with an army of always "recruiting" undead Roman soldiers (which would be cool). And since they settled in fairy territory, they'll have an ancient feud (maybe eternal now) with the court of the Deep Elves going, which manifests in various stories and legends about those encounters and some very good ideas where one shouldn't sleep in a cave or go too deep into the forest. So that's that.

Entering hostile territory ...
Border Territory (A = 10)

A Border Territory is just that, a political border. The numbers will give a DM some ideas what community is living behind the border (B) and how they interact with the characters' tribe (C). This is necessarily vague at the moment, since at that time everything that wasn't Roman was constantly changing. Cultures moved and mixed, there's an old faith and a new one (with at least two important trends, no less) and several new or old or individual or forgotten ways of live that are possible. The important part is to have some strong distinction between the tribe the characters are from and the tribe behind the border. 

Column (B): The "Community living ..."
  1. the old Germanic ways
  2. under the old faith
  3. under the new faith
  4. under a strange faith
  5. under matriarchal rule
  6. under patriarchal rule
  7. like Romans
  8. for a new start (Immigrants)
  9. for a new start (Former citizens and slaves of the Roman Empire)
  10. in very strange ways

Column (C): The "State of Affairs"
  1. Campaigning for an alliance
  2. Friendly and open
  3. Friendly but cautious 
  4. Neutral
  5. Unfriendly and cautious
  6. Unfriendly and full of prejudice
  7. Hostile, trade possible
  8. Hostile, no trade
  9. Hostile, attack on sight
  10. Campaigning to invade
No example, but lets roll a random example and see ... 10 (A), 4 (B), 1 (C), which results in:
  • Layer: Border Territory
  • Community living: under a strange faith
  • State of affairs: Campaigning for an alliance
  • Source: Here I'd not go as literal as taking the 41 as indication for a specific area in the hex-field. The whole hex is considered border territory. But high or low could indicate how long this border exists, with low meaning old (as far as ancient) and high as new (as far as being a new idea/concept right now). A 41 would mean that this border had been established just before the characters tribe settled where they did ...
In this case we got some friendly neighbors with a strange faith who are campaigning for an alliance (active trade and politics, I imagine some strange cultists are abound, too). There is still a border, but free travel (just different jurisdiction and customs). Put some other layers in there and the dynamics might change (drastically, even), but as it is, it's a nice border.

The big picture and what happens next

There you go, that's the whole thing (you'll find the one missing table below in the footnotes ...). It's not yet a world engine, but it's a sandbox/storybox generator. By rolling 3d10 you establish a tribes known terrain as long as possible. Natural and unnatural borders will eliminate you choices until there's just one field left and that's where your tribe came from.

How big or small this territory is, will be a matter of chance. That's a good thing, since the game is about exploration and expansion. In an ideal case, characters will form their own tribes at the fringes of their old clans territory (at level 10, after exploring and "opening up" the whole thing). It's all open to change. Find the source of evil, destroy it and get rid of one layer in the process (in the example above it would get rid of the undead menace, allowing safe access to that legendary elven place and better trade with the Roman town ...)

The landscape will be up to chance, too, which is also a good thing, since creating a territory random and from scratch will need making decisions how all of it fits together, which I believe to be a great tool for a DM to get very familiar with the lay of the land (at least that's how my brain works).

The next step in this must be for me to make one of these territories to see what's what. At this point I'm quite confident that it'll all work and it'll need just minor tweaking, if at all (there's lots of room for interpretation beyond the random results, so freak results are more like a benefit, if handled right).

Since this is part of the game is complete now, I might as well put it all into a pdf to have it in one place and for the general public to use and play with. Yay!

Comments and questions are very welcome, of course. I know this is a lot to digest, but if you read it all up to this point, you very well deserve all questions you might have answered.

Thank you all for tagging along!

* All rolls, but not the first (since the first roll needs no expansion, as explained later in the text). The first roll is just 2d10 (B,C).

** As an additional rule "unrealistic" results are treated as local phenomena. So if  a result puts a low natural border and a high natural border side by side, take the middle ground as if  time and natural forces had taken their toll. So the result had still been accurate, but for something that had happened a long time ago. adds some history to a setting ...  Here is a (slightly updated) version of the table in the original post:

Results d100 (BC):

Mountains (natural border)

01. Impassable Mountainface
02. Steep Mountainface
03. Wrinkled Steep Mountain face
04. Wrinkled Mountainface
05. Wrinkled Mountainside
06. Wrinkled Mountainside
07. Hills to Mountain
08. Fractured Mountainside
09. Labyrinthine Fractured Mountainside

10. Chasm (special)

Sea (natural border)

11. The Sea
12. Shelfed Sea
13. Coastline with Islands (some trees)
14. Fractured Coast (some trees)
15. Flat Delta (some trees)
16. Flat Delta (some trees)
17. Undulating Delta (lots of trees)
18. Ragged Delta (lots of trees)
19. Labyrinthine Fractured Coastline (lots of trees)

20. Misty Valley (special)

Lakes and Moors

21. Fjord
22. Giant Lakes
23. A few Big Lakes (lots of trees)
24. Some Small Lakes (lots of trees)
25. Lakescape (lots of trees)
26. Lakescape (lots of trees)
27. Bog (lots of trees)
28. Moor (lots of trees)
29. Swamp (lots of trees)

30. Underground Lake (special)

Rivers and Plains

31. Plain (no trees)
32. Rolling Plain (some trees)
33. Big River through Plain (trees by river)
34. Big River through Rolling plain (trees by river
      and some trees)
35. Small Hills and Rivers (lots of trees)
36. Small Hills and Rivers (lots of trees)
37. Hills and Rivers (lots of trees)
38. Great Meandering River (some trees)
39. Labyrinthine Riverscape (lots of trees)

40. Underground River (special)

41. Cliffsides and Plains (no trees)
42. Rolling Plain (some trees)
43. Big River through rolling Plain (trees by river
      and some trees)
44. Rivers through Rolling plain (trees by river
      and some trees)
45. Hills and Rivers (lots of trees)
46. Hills and Rivers (lots of trees)
47. Cliffsides and Rivers (lots of trees)
48. Great Meandering River in hills (lots of trees)
49. Labyrinthine hilly Riverscape (lots of trees)

50. Caves (special)


51. Cliffsides and Plains (no trees)
52. Rolling Plain (some trees)
53. River through rolling Hillscape (lots of trees)
54. Streams through rolling Hillscape (lots of trees)
55. Hills and Streams (lots of trees)
56. Hills and Streams (lots of trees)
57. Cliffsides and wild Streams (lots of trees)
58. Meadows and steep hills (lots of trees)
59. Labyrinthine hills (lots of trees)

60. Dormant Vulcano (special)


61. Plateau (no trees)
62. Rolling Plain (some trees)
63. Rolling Plain and Streams (trees by river)
64. Hills and Streams (lots of trees)
65. Hills, Cliffsides and Streams (lots of trees)
66. Hills, Cliffsides and Streams (lots of trees)
67. Hills, Valleys, Cliffsides and wild Streams (lots of trees)
68. Hills, Valleys, Cliffsides, Caves and wild Streams (lots of trees)
69. Labyrinthine Hills, Valleys, Cliffsides,
     Caves, cascading Lakes and wild Streams (lots of trees)

70.  Open Cave in Cliffside (special)


71. Plateau
72. Rolling Plain (some crippled trees)
73. Rolling Plain and Streams (some crippled trees)
74. Hills and Streams (some crippled trees)
75. Hills, Cliffsides and Streams (some crippled trees)
76. Hills, Cliffsides and Streams (some crippled trees)
77. Hills, Valleys, Cliffsides and wild Streams (some crippled trees)
78. Hills, Valleys, Cliffsides, Caves and wild Streams (some trees)
79. Labyrinthine Hills, Valleys, Cliffsides,
     Caves, cascading Lakes and wild Streams (some trees)

80. Hot Springs (special)

Mountain Landscape

81. Plateau
82. Steep Plain
83. Stream through rolling Plain
84. Stream through rolling hills
85. Cliffsides, hills and streams
86. Cliffsides, hills and streams
87. Hills and wild streams
88. Vast meandering rockformations and waterfalls
89. Labyrinthine Mountainscape

90. Canyon (special)

High Mountain Landscapes

91. Cliffsides
92. Steep plain
93. Glacier through rolling plain
94. Glacier through rolling plain
95. Snow and stone
96. Snow and stone
97. Snowy cavernous mountain landscape
98. Fractured snowy cavernous mountain landscape
99. Labyrinthine snowy cavernous mountain landscape 

100. Deep Caverns (special)

Expanding on the Basic Random Terrain Generator (with Fairies), Communications in the Dark Ages (on the side) and Complexity in Game Design (because this title isn't long enough ...) Part 1

The last time I wrote about this, I was a bit vague about the different layers of history, magic and evil this generator randomly assigns to some hexes. Well, I'm now able to shed a bit more light unto that, so I thought I might share and talk about some related ideas behind all this. The post is all over the place (as if the title wouldn't give it away already)and I need to post it in two parts. This first is a little summary of the idea and some musings about complexity to get you all in the mood. The second part (which is already half done and will be posted tomorrow) will expand on the original idea and clarify some of the rules of the original Basic Random Terrain Generator (B.R.T.G.) ...

So far about the Basic Random Terrain Generator (concept)

The basic idea here is to allow every Dungeon Master to create his own random and "organic" gaming territory for the characters to explore from scratch. The themes are mostly the same from territory to territory: after the barbarian mass migration round about 500 AD, a new clan forms and settles in the randomly generated territory. Most of the new land is unexplored, most of the knowledge is so spread, you could say it is lost.

The characters are the first generation of explorers. To simulate this at the table I'll encourage DMs to NOT go with historical maps of Europe for this game, but with a completely random map that could be anywhere in a historical Europe. Believe me, the guys at the time couldn't tell you the difference anyway, as topographical maps would emerge only hundreds and hundreds of years later in this area. They really had, at most, a very alien concept of the world surrounding them.

They had stories and landmarks, basically. Borders where an idea strongly related to "There be Dragons!", "Don't go there, because ...!" or "There is no safe passage across those mountains.". So I believe there are five important factors a random generator for Lost Songs should include:
  1. The flow of the land.
  2. Enemy territory.
  3. Former Roman territory.
  4. Where Evil lurks.
  5. Where the realm of magic and faeries meets reality.

Those five form natural borders of a clan's known world. A sandbox/storybox, if you will. Before anything else, they inform a DM about the possibilities and directions a campaign might take. There'll be room for interpretation, of course, and even after telling all those rumors, nothing of this but the "flow of the land" is set into stone.

Why? Because most of the time only the core of a rumor is true. That's for the simple reason that people hadn't been there themselves, for one, and that exaggeration has the benefit of being more memorable than the truth. Look at any cheap newspaper to get an idea what I'm talking about. Or, in a more historical context, look up some research about folk tales and you'll sooner or later encounter those tales which had the sole reason of warning people about one danger or another (I recall one of Grimm's fairy tales that was a bit more obvious in this, talking about cannibals living in a particular forest, to give but one example).

Complexity in Game Design

"Why should things be easy to understand?"*

Let's agree on something first: I'd venture a guess and state that most things that are easy to understand are stripped of their complexity to allow an easy access. One is able to explain gravity to a ten year old, but only in terms that allow him to get an idea about the concept, not so much in a way that does the complexity of the subject any justice.

So the understanding of a thing is not necessarily related to it's complexity, but more to what a recipient of the related knowledge is able to grasp and connect. And since "understanding" always implies setting new information into an established context in a way that allows processing it in a useful way (a benefit, if you will), the measure between "easy" and "hard" is merely describing the difficulty of putting new information related to a thing to an useful end and NOT saying anything about the true complexity of a thing ...

In other words (and more to the point), complexity in game design is only a problem if you can't explain the result. It even doesn't mean that you are not able to explain it (since that's something that can be changed), it really means can't. Which actually bears the question if such a condition is possible: is there a rule so complex imaginable that it's impossible to explain even the most basic ideas behind it? I really don't think so. But between the complexity of a thing and the ability of the person describing it to convey a proper understanding, might, in correspondence with the individual receiving the information, arise a difficulty level.

So in theory, at least, the rule is not the "problem", the one trying to understand it is and accessibility is the difficulty. Which, when all is said and done, should encourage game designers to get as complex as they want, if it makes for a better game and worry about how to explain it at another stage.

That's how I do it right now. Start complex, constantly practice explaining it and simplify as often as possible in the process ...

The B.R.T.G. will be a complex tool (I think)

That's it for today. As you probably can tell, I had my thoughts about this little tool of mine. Is it too complex? Does it do too much? I mean, who really cares about where the weather is coming from or how and where forests develop and where savanna? Must a DM go really this far when creating his own setting? I think it's worthwhile thinking about such things and I believe I should go all the way with this idea and see where it ends up. In an ideal case I can test what works and what not to trim it down later.

But for now I have to expand on it first. So I hope to see you guys tomorrow when I give them fairies a home and allow some evil from the stars into the setting (yes, there will be tentacles after all ...).

By now you can just keep on reading Part 2 here.

Just thought this was an awesome picture worth sharing ...

* Thomas Pynchon about complexity in a Playboy interview in 1977.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Third Part of Reading the Nibelunglied - Murderhobo Edition (spending gold big time since 500 AD)

Time to read some classic literature with the eyes of a gamer again: the epic medieval tale of the life and death of Siegfried von Xanthen and the revenge because on those who betrayed him, famous as Das Nibelungenlied. There are no surprises, there is only carnage (okay, and some love gold, let's not forget the booty here!). I'll quote from an English verse translation that can be found here, but I highly recommend giving a prose version of the text a chance. Check the translation first, as there might be some huge varieties in quality. If you like how it's translated, there is a good chance you'll love the story, too. One example of a prose translation can be found here.

Hagen doing his thing [illustration by Hermann Vogel]

Other parts of this series: Part 1 - Part 2

Previously on the Nibelungenlied

Our epic level hero Siegfried of Xanthen (at least level 20), wielder of the sword Balmung, invulnerable dragonslayer, king (by conquest killing everybody, of course) of the fairy realm of  the Nibelungs and prince of Xanthen, decides out of sheer boredom to court for the allegedly most beautiful maiden Kriemhild of Worms in Burgundy, so he makes his entry at the court of her brother, king Gunther, and it's all bashing skulls among friends and lots of rejoicing.

And yet, they won't show him the girl for at least a year. The guy has some serious anger issues about this kind of cock-blocking and is very happy to get an opportunity to vent some anger when the Saxons make a move to attack the Burgundians. The Saxons didn't see that one coming (bad intel, I guess) and it seriously ruined their day when Siegfried shows up and rips them a new one. Back in Burgundy everybody is very happy about the Saxons getting the boot (and sword ... and then the boot again) and king Gunther announces to throw a big ass party. This is where we enter our story again ...

FIFTH ADVENTURE: How Siegfried first saw Kriemhild

Unto the Rhine now daily / the knights were seen to ride,

Who there would be full gladly / to share the festive tide.
To all that thither journeyed / to the king to show them true,
In plenty them were given / steeds and rich apparel too.

It's like a free All You Can Eat at king Gunther's and people come from all over the place to fill their bags participate. No less than 32 nobles (they can be very specific about those things) and over 5.000 knights, lesser nobles and normal folks. Every one of them got a horse and some fine garments just for attending. I can't get tired of pointing out the HUGE amounts of serious cash those guys spend. Over 5.000 horses and party-themed shirts just like that ...

With so much testosterone in one place, voices get loud to bring out the eye candy. The verse variant is way more elegant about this, naturally.

"What were a man's chief pleasure, / his very joy of life,

An 't were not a lovely maiden / or a stately wife?
Then let the maid thy sister / before thy guests appear."
—Brave thanes did there full many / at heart rejoice the rede to hear.

It is pointed out that it'd make Siegfried very happy to see Kriemhild and king is eager to oblige:

"Thy words I'll gladly follow," / then the monarch said,

And all the knights who heard him / ere thereat right glad.
Then told was Queen Ute / and eke her daughter fair,
That they with maids in waiting / unto the court should soon repair.

The girls put on their best dresses and as much bling as a sane Mensch could carry without breaking a neck. Showing the queen sister and her maids like that in court obviously was a major highlight back then and the only way to explain this from our side of time must be the high amount of armed and horny lonely man hanging around in the vicinity.

Can't tell you how much I'd like to have seen this live and in color. I imagine the knights all being like "Uuuh, look! It's women!" and they all start pounding their chests and generally act like the apes we are. It is very biological, of course. Well, look at them going at it:

Full many a youthful squire / upon that day did try,

By decking of his person, / to win fair lady's eye;
For the which great good fortune / he'd take no monarch's crown:
They longed to see those maidens, / whom they before had never known.

Of course they make a big show out of it. We are at a kings court, after all. No less than 100 knights honor the queen and her daughter's entry with drawn swords. You can read this now either way you want (okay, maybe not that way ... man, you know who I'm talking to, just keep it civil, please), but I believe they stood there with their backs to the passage they form and the swords in the direction of some bold and desperate attendees ...

For her especial service / the king did order then

To wait upon his sister / a hundred of his men,
As well upon his mother: / they carried sword in hand.
That was the court attendance / there in the Burgundian land.

See? It's rather ambiguous, I'd say. Anyway, the queen, her daughter and their posse enter. One hundred and two beautiful ladies, seen for the first time by the guests. Civil unrest is a natural reaction to that, as one would expect. The historical source spares no detail:

Forth from their own apartments / they all were seen to go:

There was a mickle pressing / of good knights to and fro,
Who hoped to win the pleasure, / if such a thing might be,
The noble maiden Kriemhild, / delight of every eye, to see.

Since this is a story for the whole family and all tastes need to be satisfied, we now come to the romantic part of the Nibelungenlied. Some of you might have anticipated this eagerly: Siegfried sees Kriemhild for the first time. The DM bard goes All In with the flavor text:

Now came she fair and lovely, / as the ruddy sun of morn

From misty clouds emerging. / Straight he who long had borne
Her in his heart and loved her, / from all his gloom was freed,
As so stately there before him / he saw the fair and lovely maid.

Her rich apparel glittered / with many a precious stone,

And with a ruddy beauty / her cheeks like roses shone.
Though you should wish to do so, / you could not say, I ween,
That e'er a fairer lady / in all the world before was seen.

As in a sky all starlit / the moon shines out so bright,

And through the cloudlets peering / pours down her gentle light,
E'en so was Kriemhild's beauty / among her ladies fair:
The hearts of gallant heroes / were gladder when they saw her there.

Isn't that beautiful? She shines like the moon among stars. And now they are all sighing, this band of mighty warriors. Siegfried sees her and switches into insecure teenager mode:

He thought with heart despairing, / "How could it ever be,

That I should win thy favor? / There hoped I foolishly.
But had I e'er to shun thee, / then were I rather dead."
And oft, to think upon it, / the color from his visage fled.

He he, "the color from his visage fled". That's a guy in shock, I'd say. But he plays it cool and to great effect. Because that's what heroes do (as a true gamer would put it, he made his save ...)!

The noble son of Siegmund / did there so stately stand

As if his form were pictured / by good old master's hand
Upon a piece of parchment. / All who saw, confessed
That he of all good heroes / was the stateliest and the best.

Best I could find. I swear!
[Greek Olympic Statue and in the Public Domain]

Sure, he's posing, but wary observers might have been able to see the tension the picture captures so nicely. And he'd better look the part, since he's the hero of the day and people can't help but seeking the spotlight by praising him and putting fingers in his direction. As does this unimportant knight:

Then outspake of Burgundy / Gernot the valiant knight:

"To him who thus has helped thee / so bravely in the fight,
Gunther, royal brother, / shalt thou like favor show,
A thane before all others; / he's worthy of it well, I trow.

To this Gunther agrees and poor Siegfried is ordered in front of everyone to get the lady's thanks in person:

The king's knights hastened gladly / upon his high command

And told these joyous tidings / to the prince of Netherland.
"It is the king's good pleasure / that thou to court shalt go,
To have his sister's greetings; / to honor thee 'tis ordered so."

What now happens is, of course, the 500 AD variant of a Disney Movie. It's one of the key scenes in the whole piece and any good narrator worth his salt would throw in all the important elements of the story. So you get the epic love, displayed in public:

Whether he pressed friendly / that hand as white as snow

From the love he bore her, / that I do not know;
Yet believe I cannot / that this was left undone,
For straightway showed the maiden / that he her heart had fully won.

You get the envy that tends to come with such things:

Then thought many a warrior: / "Were it likewise granted me

To walk beside the maiden, / just as now I see,
Or to lie beside her, / how gladly were that done!"
But ne'er a knight more fully / had gracious lady's favor won.

There's even a kiss, to rub it in:

From all the lands far distant / were guests distinguished there,

But fixed each eye was only / upon this single pair.
By royal leave did Kriemhild / kiss then the stately knight:
In all the world he never / before had known so rare delight.

And it wouldn't be complete without the dark shadow of a fate most tragic sneaking into all that smooching:

Then full of strange forebodings, / of Denmark spake the king:

"This full loving greeting / to many woe will bring,
—My heart in secret warns me— / through Siegfried's doughty hand.
God give that he may never / again be seen within my land."

It's really impressive, the author covered all the bases here. Anyway, the party goes on for 12 days and the two of them are as clingy as you'd expect from a drop bear koala seeing an eucalyptus tree for the first time.

All is well in the realm of Burgundy. The hostages are freed and the HUGE AMOUNTS OF GOLD they offered as ransom had been declined. King Gunther's reasoning? "I'm rich enough, just don't play with swords again ...". So those guys caught a lucky break. And off they go.

All are leaving at some point, but none of the 5000 (and 32) guests didn't leave without the bags full of gold:

Full many a shield all laden / with treasure forth they bore:

He dealt it round unmeasured / to friends in goodly store;
Each one had marks five hundred / and some had more, I ween.
Therein King Gunther followed / the rede of Gernot, knight full keen.

According to historical sources the prose version I'm reading in parallel, that's the weight of a horse in gold. That's really a lot. Enough to advance a grown wizard to level 10 and leave some spare change for cocaine and prostitutes candy and ... I got nothin'.

Even our hero Siegfried wants to leave for his homeland, but is talked into staying. They tell themselves he's doing it for friendship, but we know why he's doing it, don't we? By the way, no one died in this chapter. There is so much friendship and happiness and good will, in fact, that the drama police showed up and made sure that the people are reminded once more of the ill fate that looms over our beloved hero's head:

'Twas her surpassing beauty / that made the knight to stay.
With many a merry pastime / they whiled the time away;
But love for her oppressed him, / oft-times grievously.

Whereby anon the hero / a mournful death was doomed to die. 

Thus ends the fifth adventure.

Siegfried had to fight an army of 40.000 men to get a first look at the girl of his dreams, what will he have to do next to see some leg, too? Find out in our next installment of Reading the Nibelungenlied!

(Or read the original, but where would be the fun in that ...)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

My Rule Zero

I have DMed several systems over the years. Midgard, Vampire:tM, D&D Rules Cyclopedia, HackMaster 4e, WitchCraft and others. Even one using cards instead of dice (Castle Falkenstein). All those games had different rules, of course. And yet I find myself coming back to this one rule in every game. It's my Rule Zero and today I want to share it with you ...


You'll find a "rule zero" in almost all role playing games worth the name. Usually it's something like "The DM is always right" or "This is your game, do as you please". While those are true and right, they don't really qualify as "rules zeros", they are merely a legitimization of the DM as the arbiter of the rules.

The distinction I'm aiming for here is the following: if it's written in your role playing manual, it is not a rule zero. A rules zero is something you bring with you into the game. Into every game. It's something like a signature (maybe).

"High or low?"

It's really not much of a rule. But if a player asks me something of consequence about the game world (usually starting with "Are there ...", etc) and I believe there is a chance that it might, I'll, instead of just rolling for it, ask the player "High or low?" before I'm rolling a d100. The dice fall and then the player is to tell me how he wants it.

This is not only a 50/50 chance, it might be 80/20, 60/40, whatever I think are the chances. If, for instance, the chances for something are 30 percent, "low" would mean a result of 1 to 30 fits the bill and if "high" is what the player wants, he'd be right with a result of 71 to 100.

Sure, this could be done by just rolling the chance and go with the result. But involving the player has, in my opinion, a huge impact on the game. It gets my players every time. Usually they react surprised. then they realize that it's in their hands to make this happen. The roll is done and it's either a high or a low result. Their choice matters. By giving them that little chance to guess the right result for something I'd have decided randomly anyway, I give them at least a little bit power over their surroundings beyond using their characters. It's not more or less fair than just rolling the dice. But it seems more fair and that makes all the difference.

It's also easier for them to accept that whatever they wanted is not there because it was them guessing wrong, not just me rolling the dice "wrong".

It's the one rule I use in every game ...

This was mine, now what's yours?

I'm sure not alone in having such a rule. Of course I'd be very happy to hear about those, so please feel free to write a comment and tell me about it. What's your Rule Zero?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Week of Vengeance: Outrageous Ulterior Motives (NO ONE POSTS ALONE-Edition)

All this talking about vengeance made me remember something that happened during one of our games so many years ago and I thought this is the place to share it, because this is the
Click the picture and follow the trail of blood to
The players and their dice

This was at least 14 years ago. I have no contact whatsoever with those guys as I write this and we didn't get a chance to play a lot. But one of those sessions had been remarkable. Not necessarily for the adventure we played or the system we used, no, the highlight was the girlfriend of one of the players who wouldn't play with us, but observed instead. But let's start at the beginning ...

We met at this guy's house. A group of four people, I think. Some beer, some dungeon crawling, the works. I can't really remember if I had met this girl before, but it had been one of the first times I'd seen her. She wasn't into that nerdy stuff, but would indulge us with her presence at least.

It is strange to have someone present that isn't really into the whole experience and just wants to watch and usually I at least offer them to play a henchman or something easy like that. Give them a chance to participate, you know. But it's not only that she wasn't into it, her friend also went to great lengths to discourage her from even trying. I wouldn't say he was mean to her or anything, but he wasn't nice about it either. I remember her commenting on some discussion at the table and he mocked her for it. Man, he even tried to make a running gag out of it.

Anyway, I'm really not sure what drove the guy, but I saw her mood changing from mildly interested to mildly annoyed. Couldn't have that at the table, but what was I to do? I did my best to get the game back on track. It was merely by accident that I would give her a chance to vent a bit and she took that chance with all she got.

Because it's the little things ...

Since she really hadn't shown enough interest to play anything, I had invited her to sit next to me to give her an impression what was happening behind the scenes. I'd also offered her to answer all the questions she could come up with and would occasionally explain some of it as it occurred. Her boy friend kept doing what he had done the whole time and then the group had an encounter that started a fight. What I did now was offering rolling my dice for the encounter.

It was the beginning of the end, because once she started rolling, her friend was in a world of pain. It was uncanny how she made those dice sing as soon as he was to be attacked or lost hp. The guy almost cried, believe it or not.

I know very well that all of this was chance, but I've seen players warming up their dice. Damn, I have done that on occasion. Gamers can be very superstitious about those kind of things and this gamer had been no exception. He took it personal.It was as if she was hitting him, not his character. And she ... well, she enjoyed it immensely to see him squirm.

I really believe he had it coming. The table had turned, now she was teasing him. "It's only a game!", she'd say. And then she'd crit him ...

He managed to survive that encounter. Barely. The other characters had no significant wounds whatsoever. To the endless amusement of the rest of the table, I might add. He'd lean forward when she was to roll against another character, mumbling something like "Now you all get some!", but as if to mock him even more, she'd miss most of the time or do minimal damage.

I swear, after the encounter he tried to forbid her to roll the dice for me again. The game went on and things went back to normal. I'd still let her roll some of my dice, but it ended mostly harmless and she'd soon leave us and go to bed. I believe she got what she needed, she got her little revenge.

They wouldn't be together long enough for her to actually play with us at the table and I'd loose contact with that group soon after.

This was mine, tell me yours!

Well, that's it, my little story of revenge at the gaming table. No one had been actually harmed. I also believe it's not uncommon during a game that one gets the urge for revenge. Sometimes it's a story worth sharing, like I believe this one was. And I, for one, would like to hear more of those stories. If you got one to share, please feel welcome to do so in the comments.

Also, be nice to your girl friends. Especially if there is a slight chance that they one day might use those dies against you ...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Week of Vengeance: A Tale of Carnage and Revenge

I thought I'd do something special for the vengeance project and wrote a short story based on a setting I'd been working on. It's the first time I do so on the blog and in zee Englisch, so please be gentle ... OR I'LL TAKE MY BLOODY REVENGE ON THEE. Ahem. But let's be civil about this, dear readers. No one has to die today. Although it's the
Click the picture and follow the trail of blood to
WARNING: This is not for the weak of heart, strong language is used and
the violence is excessive. There is an abundance of sex, though (sorry, guys). 



“Anyway, it hadn’t been long after they’d discovered those portals that people went and found out what lay beyond them. Believe the news on this one, pal. Fairies, centaurs, that whole elves and dwarfs bullshit. The shit the kids like to play on computers these days. I couldn’t care less. So what, it’s fuckin’ Disneyland, I’d say. But it wasn’t long after that and the rumors about gold started making the rounds. Now, that’s where it got interesting, I tell you.

Well, after some tours in Afghanistan I’ve earned my fair share as a gun for hire in the last years. Believe me, there’s more than enough work for guys like me. Ask no questions, do what you are paid for. Simple as that. Makes a living, as they say. But that new deal was almost too good to be true. I’d only heard stories about the first wave. Shit, who hasn’t! You switch on a TV and you’ll see stupid smiling assholes with hands full of gold and jewels. Oh yeah, those goblins got teeth and knifes and whatnot, but the fuckers had yet to learn what a machine gun was. Easy pickin’s, they’d tell you, and I wanted in on that action.

When I arrived at the site in Czechia it was almost as big a town as it is now. I’ve never seen anything like it. A genuine fuckin’ boom town, like you’d see in the movies, growing every day. Freelancers, corporate, military, you name it, they all wanted a piece of the cake. Man, believe it or not, there even were people ready to settle on the other side. Whole families, waiting their turn to herd their fuckin’ cattle through the portal.

It was a mess. Still is, I suppose. An ill mix of people getting rich fast and even faster poor again, with no law to speak of, I might add. Gambling, cheap drugs and even cheaper whores did their best to keep it that way. Shit, so many stupid assholes … breaking bones almost kept me from getting a real job, it was that crazy. Anyway, the first gig I could get my hands on had been a rescue mission. Nothing fancy, but good for the contacts and the first legal permission to go to the other side.

Let me tell you this much, that first tour into the new frontier had been something else. Beautiful country. Pictures just won’t do it justice.

Well, it’s not important. By then I was in with a good crowd. Mostly ex-soldiers. My kind of people, you know. One of them, Dominguez, had been with the Navy Seals before, clever bastard, too, and an artist with the knife, but his real talent had been with the ladies. He’d smile and they’d get their panties all twisted. You’d know the type, I guess.

So one day he’d tell us about this chick from some university or another. Totally in over her head, but well funded. Can’t right remember what she was supposed to do there … learning their language or some such horseshit. Back then it was very difficult to get through the portal without an official contract. They’d just take what you got before they allowed you back in. So you’d either pay horrendous bribes to some glasses wearing monkey in a suit or you’d get ripped off on your way back. Sometimes they’d rip you off anyway. You see now, going legal with a controllable contractor was a hell of a sweet deal and she was more than ready to make it happen.

Didn’t take Dominguez long to convince her that she needed all the artillery she could get if she wanted to go beyond, the new frontier being fucking dangerous and all that. Shit, for all we knew he didn’t even lie about it, too. Almost ironic that it turned out to be much worse. We had scared that poor girl shitless to get our ticket and now I’m sitting here, drinking one shot after another, still trembling from what went down all those months ago. We just couldn’t have known …

Yeah, I’d have another … ah, that’s better. Now, where was I. Yes. It was just the opportunity we had been waiting for, since we already had some solid intel where we could make our first big claim. A treasure map, if you can believe that, but from a reliable source. From a first wave veteran, if you wanna know. All we had to do now was pushing that geek squad in the right directions and we’d get our chance.

I won’t bore you with details of the travel, since that’s not what you’re buying the drinks for. It’s the dragon’s hoard you want to know about. So yes, that’s where the map was supposed to lead us to. There had been a small village near the location and the eggheads had been more than happy to start there whatever they’d come for. Once we got rid of them, we headed straight for the nearby mountains.

If you’ve seen one military operation, you’ve seen them all. We were careful and professional about it, did our recon and all that, you know. We went through the motions. The target location had been the ruins of a castle of sorts, some fifty miles away from that village we’d dumped the geeks in. We found it easy enough and made camp at the foot of the mountain. We took our time, almost two days, to get a clear picture of the structure, the best ways to get in and out, stuff like that. When we made our move, we came prepared. But there had been no resistance at all. No signs of life, really.

We already started doubting our source, but then we’d entered what was left of the main building and saw a pile of gold and jewelry bigger than any of us had brains enough to dream up: the fucking hoard of a dragon. And what a damn magnificent sight it had been! Jefferson was the first to break formation and made a dive for it. He was the first to go, too. Didn’t even have time to scream. One moment he was up to his ass in treasure, hiding his erection, the next he was gone and the gold started turning red where his stupid face had been seconds ago.

That kind of killed the good mood right there. I believe it had been Alvarez who started shooting at the heap of gold, but it wasn’t a heartbeat after that and we all screamed metal into it. But this was a cunning son of a bitch, waited till we ceased fire, waited even for the last piece of gold to settle. Then he came over us, in an explosion of coins and claws.

See that scar? Yes, it ain’t pretty. Almost lost my eye, too. The fucking claws of that beast. But the fire was the worst. I know, it’s all in the fairy tales and shit, but let me tell you, once you’ve seen the fucker do his thing, you’ll take the image to the grave. If you’re not toast right then and there. You know, that’s how Dominguez bought his ticket. Nasty way to go if I’ve ever seen one. That fire seemed to keep the guy alive while burning his flesh of. He had already been screaming for what must have been 20 minutes when I got my chance to beat it. For all I know, he might still do so right now.

How I got away, you ask? I’d like to think that it’s a soldier’s instincts that keep him alive and I just know when I have to take my leave. But who am I kidding? Fucking luck, that’s what it was. Somehow I managed to get out of that main building and went hiding behind the walls of what must have been, I don’t know, stables or whatever. Mostly it had been just walls. There was still some gunfire and screams from back where I came from, but that went silent fast and only the screams were left. I know, it doesn’t sound like the brave thing to do, but half my face was in bloody ruins and I couldn’t adjust my one eye right. I was out of that fight, if I wanted to or not.

I kept my good eye on the entrance and switched from ak to shotgun. Don’t know why I waited. Maybe I’d hoped that the guys catch a lucky break and we’d have a happy end after all. Yeah, right. What I got instead was a good look at that dragon. Long as a school bus, but slender and moving like a panther. That was a mean looking bastard, I can tell you that. All teeth and scales and claws and wings. Couldn’t make out any bullet holes, though. No sir, that son of a bitch was uninjured, pissed and looking for me. I was sure of it.

I shouldn’t have gotten out of there alive, but in the end the stupid fucker fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book. While he was out in the open, looking for me, I took a stone from the ground and threw it some twenty feet away from me. He went for the noise, even went right over my head. But damn, was that creature fast! Anyway, I took my chances and gave him one with the shotgun. And a good one, too, at that. Next thing I know is that the beast screams in pain and crashes into the ruins out of sight.

If I know where I got him? Well, of course, but telling stories is such thirsty work … yes, please … much obliged. Yeah, that was a strange one. Although I couldn’t get another good look at the beast, I had two of its claws lying right in front of me. Must have shot them clean off of his right paw. Anyway, I had overstayed my welcome, so I got out of there without learning anything else.

If I got one of those claws with me to proof it? Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. And yes, I’ll show you, my friend. Soon. Anyway, I made my way back to camp. No one else had made it. I took what I needed, left camp and tended to my wounds as good as I could in the middle of nowhere. Sure enough, that dragon came looking for me.

Taking the car back hadn’t been an option, even if the dragon had left anything of it to work with. So I kept a low profile and walked as much off track as I could. When I reached the village, it was already burnt to the grounds. No sign of life, just corpses. The geek squad didn’t make it, too. All in all it took me short of three weeks to get back to the checkpoint. That stubborn fucker almost got me two times. Even attacked the checkpoint, if you can believe that.

So I got out alive. The only thing I got to show for is that stupid claw I took with me. Well, I guess that’s alright, as long as it keeps filling the glasses. If I believe in magic, you say? No. Let me tell you something. I know the stories. Dragons can talk and change into humans and whatever other stupid bullshit people can come up with. But when all is said and done, it was just a dumb animal. Cunning, yes, and fast, but a stupid fucking animal nonetheless. Nothing more.

Anyway, I won’t go back there and find out. I’m done. Come again? Really? No, I don’t think so. Nothing gets from there to our side. Have you seen one of those checkpoints? They got the heavy guns there. Don’t give it another thought. Those creatures will stay where they belong to or they get shot to pieces. Nothing to worry about. Well, that’s my cue. The story is told. You wanna see the claw now? Here you go. ... Sure, you can hold it, if you want. That’s something, right? The bill’s on you, I hope? Thanks. ... You’re welcome. And now I’d like to have that claw back. ... Well, that's it, then. Take care, my friend.”

As the scarred ex-soldier made his way towards the door, the young man that had listened to his stories signaled the barkeep that he’d like to pay now and left shortly after. The barkeep didn’t spend a second thought on his casual observation that the young man indeed had two fingers missing on his right hand.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Week of Vengeance is upon us!

"Revenge is never a straight line. It's a forest, and like a forest it's easy to lose your way … to get lost … to forget where you came in." 
(Hattori Hanzo, Kill Bill Vol. 1*)
Some of you might remember the Dungeons & Drunkards Weekend initiated by +Charles Akins back when (if you've never heard of it, feel free to check out that first link leading you to a pdf leading you to enlightenment ...). Well, we had so much fun, we started another project and took some more people on board to write about another topic: Vengeance! And since we are a bunch of creative bastards with too much time on our hands, we made a whole

Week of Vengeance

out of it. The fun starts at Monday and it's two post a day until Thursday and one brutal coup de grace on Friday. We'll have it all, tables, short stories, advice for your games, you name it! I'll update this post as soon as the posts start hitting the ground ...


+Alasdair Cunningham drew first blood with this brutal D30 Table for your vengeance!

+Travis Milam gives you some great ideas how much your players deserve what they have coming ...


+Mike Bridges spoils us with a wonderful comic about cultists spreading some murder and mayhem!

+Mark Van Vlack  helps your players plotting their own revenge for fun and profit!


+Alasdair Cunningham is back at it and presents an evil A-Team for your villains to peruse!

My entry is a short story about blood, carnage and revenge. I have no excuse ...


My second entry, in which I share a little anecdote about revenge among players (well, it's a bit more complicated than that ...).

And +Stelios V. Perdios offers some advice for Dungeon Masters how to make players mad for revenge (just scroll a bit down for the goodness ...).


+Sean Bircher delivers a great D&D 5e adventure about revenge and you can feast your eyes on it over here!


There you were, thinking this was over and BAM!, just like with a good vengeance you got another hit when you didn't expect it! +Charles Akins shows you how it's done ...

AND ...

Tuesday Again!!!

Yeah, here we are again! A true artist of revenge waits until the very last second and relishes in the resulting carnage ... So here's +Stelios V. Perdios with the first part of a great story about a girl in trouble. Let the Week of Vengeance continue!!!


+Stelios V. Perdios  concludes the Week of Vengeance project with a grandiose Part 2 of his short story.

We hope you all enjoyed our little excursion into the realm of REVENGE ...


Participating this time are (in order of initiative):
  • Yours truly (you are looking at the blog right now)

So stay tuned! This will be an interesting week ... OF REVENGE!!!

* Revenge ... Disoriented Ranger ... Kill Bill quote ... get it? Couldn't resist :-)

Banner by +Sean Bircher , with art from the 1888 G. Routledge and Sons edition of A. Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.