Monday, November 6, 2023

My Stocking Procedure

Dum-tee dum-tum-tum.

I recently posted a variant of this in a discord I frequent and was asked to do a blogpost on it in order to have it in one place. I also mentioned my strict stocking procedure in my recent interview... or at least I think I did. Dysphoria prevents me from listening to that episode. So here that is:

Step 1: I take the map I am going to use (whether drawn by me or someone else) and count the number of rooms - excluding sub-rooms that are marked with letters. 2 gets counted; 4a-4d is all just one room. I take this number and divide it by 3, possibly rounding up or just adding one if I'm feeling frisky that day. This is the number of monster encounters I will spread throughout the dungeon. It's also the number of treasures I will place. To get the number of traps, I divide the new number by 2. Easy peasy.

Step 2: I divide the monster encounters into groups of ten with the following spread:
  • Boss
  • Miniboss
  • Miniboss
  • Grunt
  • Grunt
  • Grunt
  • Mook
  • Mook
  • Mook
  • Mook
Mooks are monsters that are quite weak and usually occur in numbers about double the number of PCs (or more). Grunts are tougher monsters that occur in numbers roughly half of the number of PCs. Minibosses are the toughest monster that might show up on that level, with only one appearing, and Bosses are monsters that would be tough for even two to three levels deeper in the dungeon.

I decide what each of these encounters is going to be so that a level one dungeon might have...
  • Boss: Ogre
  • Miniboss: Grey Ooze
  • Miniboss: Tarantella
  • Grunt: Ghoul
  • Grunt: Orc
  • Grunt: Orc
  • Mook: Goblin
  • Mook: Goblin
  • Mook: Stirge
  • Mook: Skeletons
Note: this list is a little lackluster because I'm trying to do this for a very generic easy to understand example. I normally try to pick (or even make) more interesting monsters than these.

Finally for step 2,* I roll the NA appearing dice for the monsters I picked (with minibosses and bosses always just being 1 or maybe 1d3). So lets say we have...
  • 1 Ogre
  • 1 Grey Ooze
  • 1 Tarentella
  • 2 Ghouls 
  • 4 Orcs
  • 3 Orcs
  • 6 Goblins
  • 8 Goblins
  • 10 Stirges
  • 10 Skeletons
Step 3: If I had any rooms that had those subrooms - 1a - 1c and so on - I instead assign them to a lair of monsters. We have a lot of Goblins in this example so let's say we roll up a goblin lair: 35 goblins, 2 guards, and a goblin king. Dope! They get distributed among those rooms.

Step 4: I then generate a number of treasures equal to the number of monsters on the level. I use Courtney's treasure doc which apparently he sells now because the world is fallen. I got it when it was free though.

I generate the treasures assuming 250 x Dungeon Level or Assumed Level of Adventure for the treasure parcel. If I have a lair from step 3 I instead use the treasure type conversion guide in the doc. I count 19s as well as 20s as magic because that seems more fun to me but your mileage may very, as they say. For half the hoards I roll the size of the hoard without modifiers, but knowing half the hoards will be ungraded I only generate those as 1d3 parcels.

Step 5: I spread the monsters and treasure among various rooms, having half the monsters not have treasure (other than perhaps pocket change I'd roll in session) and having half the treasure be unguarded by monsters.

Step 6: I use the Dismal Depths traps document from Sham's Grog n' Blog - from the prelapsarian OSR - to generate a number of traps equal to half the number of monsters, placing some on their own and placing some in rooms with traps.

Thus ends the stocking procedure. I of course add specials and tricks and dungeon decor, but that stuff is harder to make procedures for. 

If you want to know why I have such a rigid schema, it's because it 1) Quiets the Voices in my head. This is it's primary function but 2) it works. I am at least going to get a solid session (or more likely several) if I follow this procedure.

*Step 2 sure had a lot of steps!

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Into the Megadungeon

I am the latest guest on Ben L's podcast, Into the Megadungeon, where I talk about Nightwick Abbey. I always wanted to be a Hallowe'en episode!

 You can find the episode here and Ben's post about the episode here.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Nightwick Abbey: Secret Origins - Rose Red

We say haunted, but what we mean is the house has gone insane.

I somehow have written for this blog for 13 years and not mentioned what is maybe the most influential text on Nightwick Abbey. Honestly, it's probably because I was embarrassed to admit how big of an influence it was, or maybe because I myself forgot what all I stole from in the eight years between when I saw it and when I started the blog and the dungeon. Who knows?

Before I begin further discussion, I should note that I am pretty sure the miniseries' treatment of Autism is godawful. I don't think I'm really in a position to say, but King's general representation of neurodiversity is notoriously "yikes" and this is again an instance of his imbuing such a character with powerful psychic powers. I'm not going to comment on it further in this post because, as I said, I'm not really in a position to comment on it and it was not one of the things that contributed to Nightwick Abbey.

I have often compared Nightwick's shifting, growing, and possession of consciousness to Rose Red in conversations with players, but apparently have never stated that on this blog. Earlier this month one of those players pointed out to me that the show is currently on Hulu. I responded that I was doomed to watch it. In response he made this image he made:

It's 2002. It's 2023.

I had only seen it when it originally aired in 2002 and thought that it would likely have aged poorly and that my decision, conscious or otherwise, to ignore it on this blog would be the correct one. When I rewatched it with my wife I found that it was a melodrama in a style rarely seen on television anymore that is indeed dated and corny, but the practical effects at least were charming and some of the ideas still echoed with me the way they did when I was 14.

Rose Red, you see, is a miniseries about a house with a consciousness of it's own. As they say near the climax, "the house is the vampire." Based loosely on the Winchester house, the fictional house of the movie was constantly under construction due to the belief by the lady of the house that her daughter would not die so long as the house continued to be built upon. Even after she disappears the house persists under construction, at first with mortal workers and then only with spectral ones.

A college professor who has moved from regular psychology to parapsychology plans on bringing a bunch of psychics to the house to wake it up. It goes poorly. Practical effects are used along with the worst CGI you've ever seen. It's cheesy but I still liked it.

More important there are several lines that are definitive in how I view Nightwick Abbey as a Nightmare Realm. ""You can count [the rooms] one day and it's 74 and another day it's 87 or 96." In Rose Red, space is psychological. Rooms with their own obvious histories appear that are on no official plans and which no present inhabitant has ever been inside. Visions appear to lead you into traps - either to die or to be absorbed by the house, depending on what it thinks of you.* The psychic powers of the team bring the garden in the solarium back to life. It's neat!

In the years since 2002 I've been very into stories about evil places. Netflix once said my most watched subgenres were "Strong Female Character" and "This Place is Evil." I have to think some of that is watching this show at a formative age. It seems to have cemented the idea in my brain of a place that actively hates you. A place with more rooms than you can ever count. A place haunted by the spirits of the dead. I wonder if there's a term for that.

* It's stated that its opinion of you is largely gendered - it likes (and therefore absorbs) women and hates (and therefore kills) men. In the intervening years this haunted me for reasons, but upon rewatching it the statement in the dialog is not supported by what actually happens to any characters on the show. At least three men seem to be absorbed by the house. Weird!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

A Vision Occasioned by the Movement of Celestial Bodies

There was a solar eclipse in North America today. It was a partial eclipse - the ring of fire type - which I mention both for posterity and because the effect is related to the thoughts I had while viewing it. I happen to live in one of the best cities for viewing it, and the building in which I live has a beautiful courtyard that made perfect viewing for it. My wife and I joined several neighbors in watching it in that very courtyard. While the others stared at the Sun for most of the duration - in stark disobedience to the warnings on the glasses we had - I looked behind at the sky and the garden in the courtyard.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my great affection for the works of Clark Ashton Smith, particularly his Zothique cycle. I'm also a great fan of Jack Vance's Dying Earth, probably to no one's surprise.* In their descriptions of the last days of Earth they describe how the dimming Sun sits in a sky of deep cerulean blue and that all the colors and shadows are somehow more lush and beautiful in that final, fleeting time.

And that's what I saw - the deep blue sky, a hue I'd never seen before. The courtyard with its magnolia trees bathing in it in shadow - cast somehow as though it was lunar midnight but with the vibrant colors of noon. The bricks were redder. The pale stone of the statues whiter. The leaves on the trees darker but with the vibrancy of summer even in October. It was as though I could see Mazirian's garden or the shadowed palace of Adompha, right here in southern Texas.

Then 20 minutes later it was gone. As fleeting and fragile as the Earth in those stories. The beauty of the thing more precious for its impermanence.

*Especially since it is one of the primary influences on one of my current campaigns.

Friday, October 6, 2023

In Fair Cuccagna: Lost Adventures

My typical readership will probably be surprised to learn I'm still running Cuccagna. Given my failure to blog about the escapades of the various characters and my propensity for both gamer and actual ADHD behavior, one would be forgiven for thinking this game had been shelved. But it's not true! 

I will try to briefly recount the major points I missed.

The House of the Gnoles
  • Two expeditions were made against this ignoble house of tar-covered beasts! Both involved significant combats occurring on the front lawn. 
  • During the first, they also encountered a spooky sheet ghost and a bunch of animated knick knacks.
  • A fairy sword of great puissance was won and is currently carried by Lord Saurr. It's powers are such that it was perhaps unwise for me to hand it out as treasure, but alas the deed is done.
  • On the way to their second expedition, Saurr almost got eaten by an alerion, the lord of all eagles.
  • The second expedition was mostly mopping up after the first, though a second - and more formidable - ghost was encountered in the attic and teleported using The Sword of Elfland to the manse of Prospero the Orange.
The Temple of Apollyon
  • All the men in the village of Serpentona had gone missing (and many of the women too). Oh no!
  • Turns out there was a cult of maenads worshipping Apollyon there!
  • They were squatting in an Acherontic ruin.
  • They fought a lot of serpents - with at least one causing them to debate the taxonomy of "serpents" vs "snakes" in the World of Nightwick.
  • The also fought, and sometimes captured, a bunch of maenads with snake-like appearance. Weird!
  • The most dramatic fight was possibly with a group of harpies in the second delve (of 5), who attempted to pick up and drop several of the party from a great height. It was clear they had done this with the men of the village.
  • During their stay in Serpentona they met Prospero the Red and found out he is both sexist and totally whipped. What a loser!
  • In keeping with the strategy developed in the House of the Gnoles, both an amphisabaena and a creature I will only call "the Shining One" were both teleported to the manse of Prospero the Orange. I bet he's mad!
  • In the largest treasure hoard of the dungeon they found a treasure map leading to seemingly somewhere in the middle of the Starry Sea. Jules' research showed this place was likely to be the Palace of the Sea King, an Old God formerly venerated on the island chain.
I forgot When Exactly
Current Hooks and Loose Ends
  • Noble men (and a few women) have been building strange seaside doors on their townhouses. Soon after they go missing. Mysterious!
  • Prospero the Orange seems to have moved men into both the Lapis Vaults and the House of the Gnoles. Who knows what he's up to?!
  • Speaking of which, a lot of the lowest level of the Lapis Vaults remain unexplored. I wonder if they'll ever go back.
  • They have a treasure map! Exciting!
  • Prospero the Green's chief henchman Mercutio told Skleras the Stray  to sneak into Castle St Swail to spy on the Knights in White Satin. He hasn't done it yet. I hope Mercutio isn't mad!

Monday, September 4, 2023

The Spiral of Horror - A Campaign Frame

I don't think this has anything to do with mermaids

I've been playing World of Horror, which officially releases next month (and which you should grab before it's price goes up with that official release), and it's made me think about an old campaign frame I once discussed with one of the Nightwick Regulars but still haven't been able to pull off. Here I wish to revise that campaign frame into something more concrete and see how it sounds to my gentle readers.

First, we need the equivalent of the Spiral from Uzumaki, the overall theme and phenomenon that will drive the strangeness of the campaign. Here is the first place I wish to borrow from World of Horror: we're going to have the imminent return of a Great Old One. For my example here I'm going to pick Cthulhu but I think you'll see any of them can work. An important thing here is we don't want one organization that is trying to summon Cthulhu, but rather he is coming and his influence is spreading throughout the world. If you're playing Delta Green, we can do that literally, but if we're doing more traditional Call of Cthulhu or Liminal Horror, or especially if you're doing Liminal High School, we're going to be focusing on how this effects one town.*

Why a Great Old One? They're thematically broad, like the core phenomenon of Uzumaki. Cthulhu is most utilized in scenarios in the form of Innsmouth/Deep Ones stuff, but remember that the story the Call of Cthulhu is about his effects on dreamers and artists. The madness of dreams could certainly show up in a number of scenarios, as could ancient artwork that seems to resemble the modern, or what of the "white pulpous thing" in the swamps of Lousiana or the stellar nature of his star spawn, or even his defeat of other intelligent races in Lovecraft's Mythos? Maybe a Elder Thing ruin activates an ancient weapon meant to stop Cthulhu's return based on math created by that ancient race but now it will destroy the town the PCs occupy. I dunno. Lots of stuff. If you need ideas for expanding the meaning of your respective Great Old One, check out the section on them in Trail of Cthulhu or, if you have it, the d20 version of Call of Cthulhu.

The stars are right

Next we come up with 1d4+2** of mysteries around the town.*** In my head players will have access to the hooks for these all at once. In my original Lerouxville campaign the analogous list of hooks came in the form of the notes of a missing friend. He had collected a number of notes on the outer layers of various mystery-onions**** and the players could kind of pick which one they wanted to investigate. Unfortunately I did not have these as thematically consistent as we want here - they were just a bunch of weird things - nor did I have the intention of ever revealing the fate of the missing friend. In hindsight I should've probably made that explicit - "you're never going to actually find out who killed Laura Palmer, that's just the frame for the other stuff" - but the first part is remedied by this campaign model. How you develop these mysteries is up to however you do it normally. I'm a fan of the method in the DG Handler's Guide, but you do you.

For the sake of our Cthulhu example, and because I have Liminal High School on the brain, maybe some high school Wicca types were all visited by him in a dream and now they're out in the swamp feeding people to those polypous things. Get a list of NPCs, leads, maybe a handout for one of their dream journals, and you have a scenario.

Do you read Sutter Kane?

Finally, at least prep-wise, we have the main innovation I have taken form World of Horror. In World of Horror, every time you investigate a location some event happens. Often these are related to the case but often they aren't and sometimes an animated head or the missing class of 1971 just pops out of nowhere and you have to run away or fight it. That's a bit... too much if we want to be thematically consistent, but there is something we can take her. What we're going to do is come up with a list of kind of one off random spooky encounters that can be inserted into any investigation. These are tied thematically to the Great Old One.

As I hinted at above, our example for this is going to be a dream-driven deep one with a fire axe that'll attack the PCs during one of their investigations. What's his deal? Unfortunately for the PCs, that's likely to be a dead end; however, he sets up the broader theme of the Great Old One thematically and introduces an element of horrific synchronicity into our game. 


So mechanically what you'd have is the PCs select the scenario - "let's check out what those witchy girls were doing in the swamp our friend seemed so interested in. Maybe they killed him?" They ask around and find out that a fellow student who works at the Shell station***** has seen them meet up in the gas station's attached Subway every weekend before leaving for somewhere else. Thinking they might be able to follow the The Craft wannabes from there, the players decided to stake out the Shell station. The Keeper (or whatever you want to call them) rolls a die - let's say a d6 for old time's sake - and getting a 6, rolls a second die to determine which of his unplaced weird things happens at the Shell. Oh look, it's the fire axe maniac! How convenient for our example! He asks if they read Sutter Kane. They look confused. He attacks them with an axe. Gameplay ensues.

So why do this? What do we get out of it? Well from our example one thing we get out of it is potentially a higher density of weird moments instead of mundane detective work. I know a player who has disliked most of the CoC/DG games run by the Nightwick Regulars because of the lack of relative action. This perhaps does something to remedy that. Hopefully. It also sets up foreshadowing for the final bad thing in our Uzumaki spiral. And if you want to be real pretentious about it, and this is hack work, remember, it adds to the horror of the unknowable or some shit. Spooky!

* You could probably do that with Delta Green too.

** Not necessarily literally rolling dice but I wanted to be more concrete than "a handful." 

*** Or world. Whatever.

**** To slightly borrow a metaphor from some asshole.

***** Get it? Because of the ocean?

Friday, September 1, 2023

Combat Hack for Liminal Horror

I'm currently playing in a Liminal Horror game run by Evlyn set in a high school in a spooky Pacific Northwest using her excellent Liminal High School. I liked it enough that it has put me into my terrible "monkey see, monkey do" mode so I've been thinking a lot about Liminal Horror. Normally I'd use Call of Cthulhu for this sort of thing, but 7th edition and Delta Green have complicated my "which version do I choose?" arithmetic and added to that thinking about Sandy Petersen is a bit more fraught given certain events.

So why not try the game she wrote the supplement for? A cursory read showed me there's nothing I found too unpalatable about Liminal Horror. The magic system isn't necessarily my thing but not in a way that would ever be a deal breaker. However, on rereading it I discovered it has a mechanic I hate:* no to hit rolls, only damage.

I'm not a fan of this for a number of reasons, but I actually think in a horror game it matters a bit more because the certainty of a hit takes out some of the tension. I am not generally a big fan of things that move rpgs more towards perfect information games and I think that movement is worse for horror.

A conversation about this issue with some of the Nightwick Regulars led to Huth, Anthony, and I putting our brains together and (mostly Anthony) providing this hack: To make an attack roll, compare your STR or DEX (depending on weapon) with the target's DEX. To hit the target, roll under 10 modified by the difference between your two stats. So if you are trying to shoot someone and you have a DEX of 10 and they have a DEX of 13, you need to roll under a 7. If you are hitting someone with a baseball bat and you have a STR of 15 and they have a DEX of 8, you need to get under a 17. Always treat a natural 1 as a success and a natural 20 as a failure.

There. Now it's palatable to me again.

*I should've known this due to its Into the Odd lineage, but I am perhaps less up on the NSR than I should be.