16 June 2020

Potential Pointcrawl Mapping Software - Introducing MUDMap

It has been a while since I've graced the three of you who've read anything I've written with something new, and this time it's not even about my own work.

So since the pandemic I've had two campaigns implode, and if I do decide to start another one, I'm going to have to simplify some things. One avenue I've considered is diving into pointcrawls (the origin of which I believe lies with Chris Kutalik, over at his wonderful blog the Hill Cantons), as it really streamlines the map, and clearly defines the points of interest available near the players. But I couldn't find a decent software to make a pointcrawl map on.

Enter: MUDMap.


MUDs (multi-user dungeons) are a text-based type of game wherein players experience the world via written description, and then interface with said world using command. The interesting and relevant part of this is that MUD worlds usually exist as a series of rooms that players traverse through.

A map of Aetolia, a MUD I tried about 10 years ago

MUDMap, then is a software designed for players of such a MUD to connect rooms and make notes as they undertake their journey. At this point, I suspect you can see where I'm going: what is a pointcrawl other than a series of connected nodes, much like a MUD? Obviously a tabletop/online tabletop RPG is going to be a little less rigid on forcing the players to stay on the paths but the parallels are pretty clear.

I spoke to moemneop, the creator of the software, who informed me that the software is no longer being actively developed (though he does commit the occasional bugfix), but even in its current state it does have quite a few features, such as connecting nodes (you can select which side of each node is connected, even), nested maps that you can connect via nodes in each map, info rings that let you change the ring color around a node to correspond to different categories (say, civilized, wilderness, dungeon, etc), and place groups which seem like they'd be perfect for regions and the like.

A few things that I've either yet to discover or aren't available: being able to indicate different TYPES of paths would be helpful, as well as a way to lay paths that aren't necessarily between nodes, such as a path that might connect two other paths. Being able to indicate terrain on the map would also be pretty cool. Meomneop did ask what features I was missing for my use-case, which indicates to me that he's maybe willing to push some updates, but it's not something I'd ask him to do for just myself. If the OSR/wider RPG community thought this could be useful, though...

So what do you guys think? Does this seem like something that might be useful for your pointcrawl mapping needs?

22 January 2020

Sessions 0 and 1

Wew lad, it’s been a minute since I updated! I’ve moved back to day shift at work and it has been… an adjustment, to say the least. Coupled with the holidays, and I honestly haven’t had much time to type anything up. Until today. Which I’m typing at work to upload later.

We’ve since had our sessions 0 and 1. During session zero, our crew (only one of which has ever played SOTDL before) decided they wanted to play the game straight, with minimal house rules. This did not bother me greatly, but I did insist that I would be keeping strict time records and using my own encounter rules rather than the game’s encounter rules. I wasn’t nearly prepped enough for the first session. I had written some notes, but failed to bring them to work with me, and left straight from work to the session. As a result, I stumbled a little bit getting the campaign underway (and changed a bit since I couldn’t remember exactly what I had prepared), but ultimately we got moving.

And I got to work with the time records. I wasn’t super strict with it, since it was their first session, but I felt like it flowed fairly smoothly and kept me and the party both on task. Also complicating matters was the SIX players I had for the first session. Remembering to get all of them to take an action each turn or watch was much. Next time I will probably just set an arbitrary order (clockwise from me or similar) and use a written list. I did use the notes I did take in reference to the time records to reconstruct the session log, which was handy. I didn’t have to rely much on my memory.

The large party did trivialize the single combat encounter which may have the players thinking this system is as soft as 3.5, but honestly I failed to scale the encounter appropriately (it’s supposed to scale up with additional players which I forgot about). A lot of OSR blogs and luminaries talk about not balancing encounters, and I can understand why. My players, though, want to engage with the combat system of whatever game they’re playing, so I took a modified tack: each encounter type on my encounter table is divided into five encounters: Very Strong, Strong, Average, Weak, and Very Weak. These are developed using guidelines for party level in the SOTDL core book (using their difficulty system). Then, each one is assigned to a 2d6 distribution, paralleling the reaction roll: 2 is a Very Strong encounter, one from which the players should probably run. 3-5 is Strong, 6-8 is Average, 9-11 is Weak, and 12 is Very Weak, which should be trivial for the players. This gives me the best of both worlds: they can engage in combat relatively reliably, but it can still be unforgiving, and if they decide to engage in a combat that they probably shouldn’t, I won’t pull punches, so if they don’t have a solid plan, they’re probably going to die. I do also use reaction rolls, so an encounter doesn’t HAVE to mean combat, so really, if they end up over their heads, they probably deserve it.

My encounter tables (which I built using Abulafia’s Encounter Table Generator, then hosted on a hidden blog) are built per region, and start off rolling a general encounter type, using 2d6 distribution (using Nick’s rules for his ORWA encounter tables as inspiration). After the “power level” roll above, another 2d6 roll is used for the actual reaction roll (so 6d6 for each encounter, once an encounter comes up on the Hazard Die, which is another 1d6). This would normally be very unwieldy and take some time to reference all the tables, but with the HTML generator, it’s a single click. I’ll have the encounter table pulled up on a tablet at the table, so easy one-click solution once the encounter is rolled.

I felt a need to rush the end of the session so all 6 characters weren’t still tied up by the end of it. Several of the characters elected to stay where they ended the session to guard some treasure, which I decided to resolve online (we have a Discord for between session banter, and now I think I’ll use to resolve situations such as this), which also allowed me to fast forward through a faction turn. In the future, for smaller parties, I may keep the characters in limbo until the same party can meet again, and let them roll new toons to play until then, which will lead to each player having a stable of characters instead of just the one. This will also reinforce the idea that their characters are exploring a living world and are not necessarily stars of the show. Then again, I’m not sure. With online communication being possible, it’s always an option to wrap a session up after the fact, so I guess we’ll see how that goes.

I’m sure I will continue to refine my methods as I continue, but this is where I’m at after sessions 0 and 1. I appreciate any feedback, as always!

21 November 2019

Flow of the Game

Whew it's been a minute. Work got a little busy there recently and I couldn't stop playing The Outer Worlds on my days off. Moving back to day shift in early December, though, which should put a little more stability in my schedule and allow for my regular writing.

One of the things I've been wanting to do the most since I had the idea was this concept of strictly regimenting the flow of the game. Like taking Papa Gary's comments about strict time records, and applying it to the different "levels" of play. Basically, every time the "clock" of whatever scale the party is operating at increments, the GM gets a "turn" and the players get a turn. As I pondered how best to organize this, I came across Brendan's excellent article over at Necropraxis on Proceduralism. I probably should have anticipated Brendan beating me to the punch on this score because a.) he's awesome and you should go read his entire blog and b.) I was already eyeing his Hazard system for use during "GM Turns", and you can definitely detect undertones of strict procedure under its skin.

At any rate, after some tinkering, this is what I came up with:

Combat Round (6 seconds) - Used during combat

1.)   Check for surprise. If either side (party or opponent) has surprise, they get a free round.
2.)   Party actions. No specific order is required, and players may discuss round order.
3.)   Opponent actions. GM may decide which order opponents act each round.
4.)   Resolve round-based effects and spells and the turn ends.

Dungeon Turn (10 minutes) - For dungeon exploration and in settlements (as appropriate)
1.)   GM makes a Hazard Roll, interpreting the results and resolving the effects.
2.)   Each player describes what their character does that turn, with checks if appropriate.
3.)   GM describes the results of each action.
4.)   Resolve turn-based effects and spells and the turn ends.

Overland Watch (12 turns) - For wilderness exploration and in settlements (as appropriate)
1.)   GM makes a Hazard Roll, interpreting the results and resolving the effects.
2.)   Each player describes what their character does that watch, with checks if appropriate.
3.)   GM describes the results of each action.
4.)   Resolve watch-based effects and spells and the turn ends.

Adventuring Day (12 watches) - Normal day is 4 watches travel, 4 downtime, 4 rest/sleep

1.)   At the beginning of each day, GM rolls for weather. Players mark food/water.
2.)   After four watches of travel, party must make camp or risk exhaustion.
3.)   Without four decent watches of sleep, party members are exhausted.
4.)   Resolve daily effects and spells and the day ends.

Haven Fortnight (15 days) - This is a combination "faction turn" and "Haven turn"
1.) GM makes a Hazard Roll, interpreting the results and resolving the effects.
2.) Each player describes what their character does that fortnight, with checks if appropriate.
3.) GM makes moves for each of the NPC factions in the area. Players handle their factions.
4.) Resolve fortnightly effects and spells and the fortnight ends.

Season (6 fortnights) - No real gameplay for players at this level.
1.)   GM adjusts weather charts and Hazard Rolls to reflect seasonal change.
2.)   GM rolls 1d6. On a 1, the season is harsh. On a 6, it is very mild. Otherwise, normal
3.)   GM restocks dungeons as appropriate on a 5 or 6 on 1d6.
4.)   Resolve seasonal effects and spells and the season ends.

And below is my modified Hazard Chart:

Hazard Roll
Dungeon Turn
Overland Watch
Haven Fortnight
Roll for Encounter
Roll for Encounter
Raid (Encounter Table) or Disaster
Rest this turn, or suffer exhaustion
Rest this watch, or suffer exhaustion
Rest this fortnight, or Raid/Disaster
Water and Ration, or suffer exhaustion
Free Turn
Free Watch
Free Fortnight
Roll the next encounter. Receive a clue about it.
Roll the next encounter. Receive a clue about it.
Roll the next Raid/ Disaster. Receive a clue about it.
Extra action per character
Extra action per character
Extra action per character

I changed the 4 result from Locality to Null, since I felt a little burdened by the idea of trying to come up with local events that made sense (like seasonal changes are easy enough but , and I don't like the idea of using it in already chaotic combat so I won't be using the Hazard Roll for combat rounds. Otherwise, I'm pretty happy with the structure I've created here. I think I may have a group put together for my return to day shift, so I may be able to actually playtest some of my nonsense soon.

As always, I'd appreciate any feedback anyone has for me!