Idle Essay RE: Generic Settings

Every game has details. Role playing games have details. It is easy to overwhelm players with information. Even people who have played the game for years do not necessarily have the patience to pour through the volumes of information on the Forgotten Realms. Even new settings, like Golarion, have several tomes that detail the economy of the author's fantasy world. It is all interesting, but it is a lot to ask of people in order to play a game.

A lot of game masters that run a game create a large portion of their world before it starts, and help their players into the world; they usually refer to their setting as being home-brewed. A home-brewed setting can make for a very rich game if the game master put a lot of thought into it and the players are interested and respectful of the game master's work. It could also become a time for the game master to give lectures on make believe anthropology and history, with players begrudgingly stacking dice between "epic" encounters.

When 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game came out, the Dungeon Master's Guide described a setting it called "Points of Light". This was a setting wherein the world was assumed to be a dangerous, unexplored vast wilderness, which was darkness, punctuated with small pockets of civilization, which were the points of light. Player's characters were the brave, desperate, and adventurous men and women who carried the torch into the night. This "Points of Light" setting was a description of some of the oldest Dungeons & Dragons game's settings.

This concept of a few disparate, disconnected pockets of safety in the vastness of ruins and dungeons creates a lot of opportunity for ad hoc session planning. Right now, in "When the Trees are Teeth", the player's characters are in the town of Drafton. I have town detailed, and the surrounding wilderness, and a large dungeon nearby to explore. I have my next handful of sessions planned, but I do not have any grand agenda as to where the party will end up.

I can make assumptions about the game's setting by drawing on archetypes in the fantasy genre. For example, I know there is a wizard's college somewhere, a thieves guild, a king, foppish nobles, a bard school, and dragons. When I am idle and bored, I may think about who the king is, and how he gets along with the bard's college, but it is not relevant to the game right now. In role playing games, a thing does not exist until that thing becomes relevant to the game.

More interesting about the ad hoc setting is that it provides freedom to give creative license to the players. If a player wants to suggest that he comes from a land similar to the mythic far east, then it fits! An ad hoc setting creates a rich world by player consensus.

How Pathfinder relates to D&D (a brief primer for new players)

According to geek lore, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson got the idea for Dungeons & Dragons from war games. The story is very interesting, and actually filled with a lot of intrigue, duplicity, drama, and arguments about property rights. It is one of those arcane things that is not really clear to anyone who does not dedicate a significant portion of their free time thinking about it, but the entire franchise is an interesting web of politics and copy-write infringement.

There have been quite a few variations of D&D in the last 38 years. The list to the left is not even complete! Gygax and Arneson formed a company called TSR, and eventually had creative license of their property wrested from their hands, though when exactly is contested.

In 1997, Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro, bought the Dungeons & Dragons license from TSR. They hired game designers to develop a new set of rules, commissioned artists and published a "Third Edition".

The stroke of genius behind Third Edition was the Open Gaming License. It was a public copyright license that made it legal for anyone to use, copy, modify or talk about the rules of their game, which they called "d20". That meant that anyone who wanted to make a game or book for Dungeons & Dragons could do so, with few exceptions. Hundreds of books were published to support Third Edition. High caliber licensed works like The Wheel of Time RPG the pet projects of game design super stars, creative settings like Nyambe, and horrible unlicensed slash-fiction games based on  Naruto or My Little Pony. The market was saturated in these "d20" products "for use with the worlds most famous Role Playing Game".

Thankfully Shadowrun never converted to d20
It was an interesting time to be a fan, but it also made the already anemic market fairly flat. The glut of d20 games overwhelmed other games. White Wolf released a new set of rules for their well known Vampire/Werewolf/Mage series of games, and still have a following today, but games like Feng Shui or Rifts became rare. Dozens of other game companies folded up and got out of the game or switched over to producing shitty d20 supplements.

A biproduct of the market being saturated in quickly produced, shitty supplements was that D&D's parent company felt its share of the shit-pie was being whittled away by the legal-produced knock-offs. Their solution was to release a new edition, this time without a OGL, and begin anew with a whole new set of rules. They hired game designers, commissioned artists, and published their new game.

Problem with their new game was that a lot of their old fans did not like it because it was not Third Edition. They had spent years with Third Edition and the various d20 supplements! Then came Paizo riding in.

Paizo was the company that produced and published the official Dungeons & Dragon's magazine until Wizards of the Coast announced they would be discontinuing the magazine in favor of more "online support" of the new 4th Edition. Paizo's response was to take all their contacts they had developed when dealing with the Wizards of the Coast Dungeons and Dragons design and production team and make a new book.

That new book was Pathfinder. They tapped a huge community of fans, tweaked some rules, and adopted the Third Edition d20 ruleset as their own. The book is better designed than the original Third Edition Dungeon and Dragons Rulebooks, with clearer rules and more consistent art. Paizo still releases small supplements for Pathfinder and the d20 rule sets, but at a slower pace.

That is it.

New Campaign "When the Trees are Teeth"

I want this to be a game where all the tropes of the genre find a place to live. Treasure chests filled with jewels, undead monstrosities rising from sarcophagi, trapped thrones, sleeping dragons, bound demons, clockwork machinery, and heroes coming back to town with piles of gold tied to the mules. What one person may consider cliché, I consider archetypical. The characters that are appropriate to this campaign are just as archetypal. I want the warrior standing before an approaching horde, his faith in blade and ally. The spell-caster will be wresting the secrets of the gods and the universe from hidden artifacts and moldering tomes. There should be a clever survivor, living day by day on wit, guile, and luck. This campaign needs characters that hearken to the traditions that made D&D.

We will begin at Drafton, a small mountain-town of about 600 people. Most of the residents are self-sufficient trappers, farmers, and goat-herdsmen. There was a road that connected Drafton to the region’s most populace city, King’s Reach, but it was used so rarely that nature reclaimed it. Technically a fief, Drafton is under the vassalage of Sir Ruchard Brines, who has neither visited Drafton nor demanded taxes. The tiny region is simply beneath his attention. The people have carried on in Drafton as they have for decades, uninterrupted by the outside world save for the slow trickle of adventurers who wish to try their luck in the ruins of Yggaril.

Yggaril is an ancient ruin dug into the side of the mountain by a clan of dwarves. The mountainside is pocked with entrances to this dungeon, and horrible creatures are known to crawl out from these hidden places. The most innocuous of these creatures are small, yipping creatures that make frequent excursions into the goat herds. These creatures are little more than pests to the people of Drafton, but everyone knows that more heinous creatures stalk the woods.

Low CR Outsiders

There are not a lot of outsiders that can fill the "goblin niche". Their naturally high Hit Dice, full BAB and resistances means they're simply more dangerous than a regular old Monstrous Humanoid. Nonetheless, while preparing for a low level adventure, I needed a horde of crawling, creeping, sneaking, biting, spitting, screaming devils to come pouring out of an abyssal portal. This is what I came up with;

Krahling    CR 1/2
XP 200
LE small outsider (devil)
Init +1; Senses Darkvision 60-ft.; Perception +4
AC 12, touch 12, flat-footed 11 (+1 size, +1 dex)
hp 8 (1d10-2)
Fort -2, Ref +2, Will +2
Resistance acid/10, cold/10, fire/10
Immunity fire, poison
Weakness: critical hits
Speed 30 ft.
Melee bite +1 (1d3), 2 claws -1 (1d4)
Ranged spit +2 (1d4 plus phlegm)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Str 10, Dex 13, Con 7, Int 7, Wis 12, Cha 11
Base Atk +1; CMB 10; CMD 12 
Feats Skill Focus (stealth)
Skills Perception +4, Sense Motive +4, Stealth +7, Bluff +4
Languages: Infernal; telepathy 100-ft.
Phlegm (Su): Krahlings spit globules of gross mucas that emits a noxious smell. Creatures hit with this phlegm must succeed on a DC 8 fortitude save or be dazed for 1 round.
See in Darkness (Su): Krahlings can see perfectly in darkness of any kind, even that created by a deeper darkness spell.
Weakness to critical hits (Ex): When an attack against a Krahling is rolled and a natural 20 is the result, the attack kills the Krahling.
Environment: Dungeons
Organization solitary, pair, or mob (3-7)
Treasure none

RPG.SE is great for answering your questions!

I do not know how many role-players are aware of this site, but if you need answers to RPG questions, the RPG Stack Exchange is a great resource. It is not a forum, however, and off-topic conversations and opinions are purposefully kept to a minimum. I suggest that you read their FAQ before posting a question, however, as not every question has a place on the site.

How to Draw a Dungeon with Excel

An example of Excel dungeon maps
You can make attractive, incredibly functional and easy maps using Excel. I will show you the basics here. They may not be the prettiest maps in the world, but they work great for D&D or Pathfinder games played on grids. Read on for more information!

Row Height 21, Column Width 3.43
After opening Excel and selecting a worksheet, the first thing you need to do is resize the cells to a square grid. Make sure you have all the cells of the worksheet highlighted (ctrl+a) and select “Format” from your ribbon. Click on “row height” and change the value to 21. Then select format again, this time selecting “column width” to 3.43. The dimensions are not exact, but this is the value I use.  The important thing is that the cells become a uniform grid.

Start with a simple outline.
Select "Draw Border"
Now you may draw walls along the grid lines by selecting the “draw” tool from the "borders" toolbar, usually located underneath the font drop-down. When you select the draw tool, the mouse pointer will become a pencil. Clicking or dragging your mouse across the edge of a cell will draw a border along that cell. You can select the line thickness, pattern, color and eraser from the “draw borders” menu.

Change the line style to draw doors.
Place Doors in the map by selecting the double-line style and drawing them as you would a wall. Using this method, the door is drawn on the edge of a square, meaning that it does not occupy any square. If you require a door that occupies a specific square, you would have to draw the line by using Excel’s “Shapes” Function.

Add shapes to the map.

Excel is not a drawing program, and so does have limits to what we can do, but with creativity you can stretch the program to cover just about anything you need. We can use the Shape function to place specific objects in the room. Go to the Insert tab at the top of the program, and then select “shapes” for a drop-down list of available schema to insert into your map. I put some circles in several squares to represent pillars for players and monsters to hide behind. I also added a star, which represents a statue. I will key this statue later in this tutorial. You can use the default shapes, or you can import your own.

Highlight cells outside the dungeon.
We have a room with a door and some set dressing, but it does not stand out from the rest of map very well, so I am going to highlight the room by formatting the cells around the room to a darker color. Select the cells outside the room, which would be the solid stone of the dungeon walls. You can add to your selection by holding the CTRL key and highlighting those cells with your mouse. When you have the cells selected, use the “fill” tool next to the “draw border” tool to paint each cell you highlighted the color you selected.

An example of the near finished dungeon.
You can add encounter notes, stat-blocks, and information directly to the map by drawing a text box “shape”. The text box lets you write inside it. Here I have added details about three ghouls who make this dungeon their home, information about a locked door in this dungeon, and a note about a trap!

You can add a key to the map by drawing a square shape, then placing more shapes inside of it. Use the symbols on the map keyed to text boxes with a corresponding description. The “group” function is a good way of keeping your key and other more complicated shapes linked together like a single object. If you need to alter the key you can “un-group” the object to make the changes.

Commenting in the cells is a great way to key the map

Finally, each cell of the map can hold a ridiculous amount of information, so you can add notes relating to the spaces in the map directly to that square. You can select the cell and start writing, but your notes will clutter the map. It may be a better idea to right-click a cell and select “add comment”. A comment box will pop up, which you can type in, re-size, and move around the screen. Right-click the cell again, select “Hide Comment” and it will shrink into the cell until you hold your mouse over it. You can still see that a cell has a comment because the top right corner of the cell has been highlighted red.

Ral Partha Miniatures

Owning a lead alloy figurine of a pre-historic hyena makes you the Bell-o'-the-Ball in my social circle.

Ral Partha is a  miniature company founded in 1975 around then 16 year old Tom Meier. The company has had a tumultuous relationship with Dungeons & Dragons since Hasbro took the reins of the franchise in 1997, but has continued to produce their line of Battletech, Shadowrun and classic fantasy figures in Europe and under the name Iron WindMetals in the US. They are fantastic, varied, inexpensive, and have an old-school feel. 

Many of the Iron Wind Metals and Ral Partha EU minatures are generic fantasy figures, perfect for Pathfinder or your favorite OSRIC rules-set.

Ral Partha's European website does ship to the United States & Canada, but they charge an extra fee for any shipment under 10 Euros.Their prices are reasonable, and with current exchange rates that equals about $13, which I could spend in one fell-swoop. The stateside Iron Winds Metals has most everything the EU does, though, so I would check there first.

Fantasy figurines are a dime a dozen (figuratively), but this Bureau Chief is something unique, and I love how he's holding a bottle of scotch.