|Today's gratuitous photo, what I think is some sort of Sumerian Lion-Pug crossbreed, then again it might be the Babylonian equivalent of lolcats.|
As the poet once said, "I have six pack and nothing to do, " So I have a six pack, let me write something for you. We may have missed the golden age of movies, rock and roll, scifi and comic books, but we do live in the golden age of craft brews. Let me celebrate the release of Great Lakes Christmas ale with a few ideas gleaned from the old file cabinet, which I don't think I've touched much in years. Let's just say sometimes time and a half equals too much pain to go out. We can also postulate that a belly full of caffeine requires a solution of the Christmas ale known as liquid crack, which means music and some blogging.
So here is some old creativity from the mixed up files of Gort. Glean what you can. I'm counting this as creative non-new mouse trap. Pardon my lack of visuals, but it eats up the time (a pledge which a couple more beers makes me break and I start pasting all sorts of crappy pictures in, but they're my crappy pictures. Note to self: one more beer and you might find yourself belligerent.) You may call it worthless ramblings, but as "I have a six pack and I don't need you." Just admit that is a sweet lion-pug picture or whatever. It's not as if anyone but a robot in Russia ever reads this stuff.
The rest of the file resembles the AD&D appendixes which just cut and pasted part of a thesaurus for kids who didn't always know how to describe things. It has lists of types of metals, woods, and cloth. It has a type-written table I used to have taped to my homemade DM screen which required you to roll three ten-sided dice and a twelve-sided to determine random objects and room features, everything from a mummy case to rotting fruit. I won't name names, but the type of crap some people are still churning out in some sort of hope they will someday automate their entire world. Zork will never replace the human mind. You can railroad a story, including random tables, but a sandbox will always fail if you rely on automation.
1. The black man. "black skinned, black eyes, black teeth and a curving, silver scythe." A 13 hd supernatural killer who can track the party over sea or land. He is immune to an assortment of magic. He "comes for you every new moon" until they return the jewelry of the plundered idol or flee over a hundred miles from the last attack and the plundered idol. I find this as a cool idea, because brute force never wins over him. The party keep killing him, yet he keeps coming back from the netherworld and screwing with the party till they steal back the loot and give it back This was used in a campaign where a player received a tract of land given out as part of the usual absurd result of a Deck of Many Things. The player also ended up with a hermit, a fisherman, a dryad, a tribe of orcs, assorted stirges, and a flute of beguiling playing barrow-wight, but who needs more maps of stirge caves, let alone a discussion of stirge caves?
Seems to be from a period where I suspected someone of sneaking peeks at my notes as there are numerous insults scrawled in the margins, involving farm animals and children.
I unearth a file filled with old critical hits tables, which like most such things ended up crippling the party routinely. Another filled with some cryptic alliance expansions from Gamma World. One filled with some odd notes about mining something called crystals of illusion, but with no reliable explanation of what these were.
2. One labeled Cosmos. An absurd number of possibilities for a world which was to involve both multiple universes and some unworkable sketches attempting to use Larry Niven's Ringworld to connect them all, including elemental planes and hell worlds. Just a few notes which would allow a bit of improv if needed. I seem to remember a quest for the tomb of Bozo the Wizard in this campaign world, which involved a dozen or so worlds. Later campaigns revisited many of these ideas. This is a pretty old folder, it's interesting to me largely because I used these gimmicks later, but with a bit more coherence. Let's be frank here. Bozo the wizard is as good a name as most of the hard consonants and random vowels which people come up with.
These seem to fall into a few categories using a simple one to five word descriptor.
A number of worlds just contain a book reference often with a particular era or land, shades of infamous appendix N, such as Jack of Shadows, Horseclans, Lord Kalvan, Lankmar, Lilliput, Melnibonea (as well as Corum's and Hawkmoon's world), Witch World, Earthsea (including the Land of Thirst), Arthurian, Fenian, Beowulf, Last Viking, Narnia, Pern, Titan, Changeling, Coramonde, Cthulu, Dragonlance, Dilvish, Middle-earth, Operation Chaos/Magic Inc., World of Tiers, The Shattered World, Jubbulpore, Midworld, Nonstop, Sanctuary, Tornor, Tarzan's jungle, and Moore's Lost Lands. Jack chalker could have a section of his own. These were meant to draw heavily off the magic system or general worlds. Even if people have read the particular book, they often won't recognize it as long as you don't use specific names. Cthulu for instance would often just be worlds of nameless horror in a desert temple or a medieval village where the people are crossbred with frog people who worship a terrible entity. Narnia might be the destroyed world of the Queen, except they don't visit the throne room with the queen in it, or it might be some part of it. At some point someone put a sword in Mr. Tumnus. (There was rejoicing.)
Some which are to emulate Hell, Hades, the Elemental planes, Chaos, etc... All the usual back of the DM's Guide planes. Oooo no it's a daemon, not a demon.
Some referencing other games or supplements such as Gamma World, Boot Hill, Traveller, Role Aids, Greyhawk, Judge's Guild, Thieve's Guild's Haven, or the Morrow Project, with some indicators to various designs I'd used previously. I always had some scheme to actually use the things I'd spent money on, but rarely did. I know this campaign didn't visit any of these places. I like having a four inch binder of Haven, but I can count the number of times I've used it on one hand. Excepting inspiration of course.
Some will give a tech level such as stone age or gunpowder, often a historical era. This would include the "World of the 20th century" bit, where they come out into the normal world and get scared by cars. This category would also include historical worlds such as the Victorian Age, Vietnam War, Arab-Israeli War, Old West, Mongols, crusades, Pliocene, Arabia, 1930s, Persia, Rome, Minoan, Columbian, post-holocaust, the middle ages (early mid and late), and Renaissance are all used. Too much time tunnel as a child.
Some which are based upon various myth systems or are just populated with worshipers there of such as Indian, Japanese, Celtic, Hawaiian, Egyptian, Greek, Finnish, Babylonian, Persian, African, Central American, American Indian w/ subcategories covering regional variations and specifics such as great lodge or happy hunting ground, and the worlds of the Norse mythology (Asgard, Jotunhiem, Alfheim, etc...). All the deities and demigods mythologies are hit, as well as many others if they had folklore books.
Some reference a single geographical or terrain feature, followed by a few dominant monsters, such as rain forest, ocean world, pleasant meadows, swamp world (w/ sleestak, dinosaurs) , polar world, forest world, tropical, cold world, hot world, and various combinations of these words.
Some just say heavy on or no and then state a major race or condition,such as humans, elves, ogres, barbarians, magic, drow, dwarves, halflings, giants, evil, druids, horses, demihumans, etc... Easy enough to have a world where humans don't exist. You could categorize these, screw with the normal mix.
Even a few with simple changes like "six fingered people." I seem to remember liking the idea of a crowd suddenly shouting "He only has five fingers! He's a witch/mutant/freak! Let's kill him/arrest him/sacrifice him to the gods!"
Lastly, a few of the most interesting and elaborate. Projects I've worked on at one point or another.
Dimensionia, which consists of pocket universes consisted of encounters such as a single room with a three-headed dragon or mysterious, half-understood forges. Mostly caverns where the laws of nature and magic would shift, such as depriving them of invocation or alteration spells. At least one included an annoying attempt to suspend gravity and provide magnetic switches (which sounds cool till the physics majors start figuring vectors and claim you're doing it wrong.)
The Crumbling City, a motif I'd used before, which was just an infinite, empty city filled with oddities and random encounters. At one time I started a set of geomorphs (maps which can be assembled and rotated to produce random maps) which were based on the idea of a random city which would stretch to eternity. Think of trying to walk out of LA, when the city is mostly strip malls and culs de sac. One of those things I meant to really use some day and placed in numerous worlds (in theory), but never really used for long. It just turns into a major dungeon crawl.
The Outworlds: Much like the Crumbling City, these were based not just in Jack Vance, but depicted wastelands and spoiled worlds which were destroyed in the "God War." I don't really remember what this war was supposed to involve, but it was a good excuse for some beat worlds.
Mygladia, a "market place" of an interstitial space between the worlds. Somewhere (once again) I have some maps I started drawing of an inter-dimensional magic shop, a series of interconnected spaces which were allegedly a single structure, but contained doors which opened on other worlds, departments which sols potions or swords, and windows on alien landscapes. It quickly became overly complex and like most such absurd projects got set aside for the press of a campaign or some new idea. it included alchemist and bazaars. The idea was a once in a life time visit to a magic shop.
Rubik's World: OK, forgive me this one, but I did at some point design a world which was based upon an old Rubik's Cube. The idea was that periodically the world was spun which allowed access to new lands, organized in six flat lands, fifty-four lands in all. No mention here of my Flexagon or Tesseract periods. I was going to keep flipping it randomly and then allow the players to control some spins.
3. One labeled Community. This was a city in a campaign I ran in a repressive police state, which ultimately was inside a space ship. It pisses me off, because I lost most of the computer files I did for this when someone did a B&E and stole my laptop. Yeah, call it my cheesy version of Hemingway's lost suitcase. I had two different worlds on it and it's lost forever, along with the Doom game I had saved.
|Each color was the building height|
This was one of my early experiments in the possibilities of computers. That you could draw a map and then establish a sand box by blowing up various parts as needed. What pisses me off is that I have the large maps, but didn't save to disc the smaller maps. So I have printouts which say intriguing things like the White Pig Cafe, Brotherhood of the Undying Flame, Shrine of the Sore, the Weeper's casino, Swamp of Scales,, etc.. but I've lost the texts. There are nice prints of floor plans of various buildings, but I still lack most information. I made these by hollowing out the buildings which I'd designated a certain height, as opposed to drawing the buildings (the ground up sandbox.)
Here is what can be drawn from this. First off, the best way to do a sandbox is to think of infinity. The type of infinity that hippies think about when they say things like "What if one cell of my hand was actually a solar system. Whoa, what if our solar system is just a cell in the hand of God?" So you start with a rough sketch of the world. Then you blow up the particular land. Then you make a rough sketch of the one kingdom in that land. Then you make one city or village in that land. Then you make one section of the city, one street, one inn and one room. After that, you just bother to make what you need. You never make NPCs which you aren't planning to use, except in the general way of "Here are five possible innkeepers which they will eventually meet in one of the inns, someday, somewhere. You might make a spare village or in my case too many city maps, but it's all optional. It's all about which adventure stubs they follow up. Some people like to randomize such things, some like to plan them, some just like to use what they'd been thinking about. Secondly, as recent teen fiction has shown, a story set in a police state can be pretty cool. The default of D&D is often a stock kingdom or frontier which the players operate in as either mercenaries or agents of good. They're just one of many adventurers who operate. This particular campaign borrowed some from Paranoia, where a police state is always hounding your every move, but it just as easily could be said to borrow from 1984 or dozens of other novels. In this case it was a corrupt theocracy. Why? Eh, my atheism or early exposure to Revolt in 2100. It made for some cool city encounters, where everything was forbidden. Anyways, consider the idea of ending the "safety" of town. Personally, I'm thinking my next campaign will have the theme "nowhere to lay your head" with the entire campaign aimed at making the party anxious all the time, no "we go back to town and rest" because town is just as dangerous.
Next file is sketches used for an off the cuff raid on a magic order. Lots of stick men and a complex chart detailing which spells who has as well as what their spell books contain, a product of a campaign where you could read spells out of other's spell books as a scroll, resulting in many explosions and hilarity when people failed. This was a rough sketch of where the towers would appear. They never went in any of them, but merely nuked a major ritual, broke things, and ran off laughing.
|At this point mentioning I can't draw is just redundant. Maybe I should claim to be an outsider artist.|
The next file has sketches of a wizard's spire set in the center of some giant trees. Crude maps of rope bridges, which never mattered because they flew in, went etheral. and were ultimately busted into the wizard's throne room in the first hour. One of the best moments I've seen played out as one player willingly had his character turn evil and swore fealty to the wizard in return for letting his friends escape. One of those times where you're just damn proud of how fuckin' awesome your friends can be at times. This one is for Rich, wherever he is now. This needs no visual. However, I will now break for some middle-aged, white-boy toasting to my homies who are departed. As a different poet recently said into my ears at great volume, "And I salute you brother."
The next file is just the type of endless "random table" I churned out in the long ago and which I've seen a lot of on some people's blogs lately. It is just a long list of possible decorations, cross referenced with assorted types of possible artwork. As in it is a battle near a tower on a statuette. The type of crap which is virtually useless as unless you're completely burnt out or retarded, you could improvise things like this by merely applying what your adventure is about in the moment. "OK so Cthulu is going to show up eventually. OK, squid sword hilts all around. Kelp motifs up the bunghole!" Or maybe if you're the type of of guy who snaps pictures or surfs the net for little to no reason you say, "you found a horn that looks like this."
|Gratuitous photo number two. Let's pause as I credit the Cleveland Museum of Art for still being the People's Museum and not costing a dime. I'm now drunk enough to say " Bite me NYC Metropolitan on my hairy bean bag. "|
Next up is a miscellaneous world, nothing special, but representing an hour of play once. The paucity of this file is due to my not looking back, but fully meaning to one day. It's just sketchy notes of no worth to anyone.
4. The Dungeons of Arl: The type of thing I used to spend time on. Well until I realized I rarely used such things later. It has all the basics, monsters, treasure, secret rooms, and a few traps. I never used it because it has no narrative. It isn't part of a campaign.
|Slides, pools statues, and nothing special|
5. Garbanzo's Tomb. A one page dungeon drawn in purple ink. I thought I'd invented such things. They were usually side missions and often were tombs. This one featured a lot of crocodiles and what I thought was clever, a room filled with 500 minions, an invented monster with the strength of about half a kobold.
Stupid idea. We basically had a tedious time where every round saw high level fighters skewering their level in minions while the wizards burned them to the ground in huge piles. All I got out of it was this tiny picture. I'm sure most of you have done it as well. You want an orc fight like Moria and then you find out it;s just burning huge a pile of corpses until they run low on magic.
Here is where I go to check up on why I seem to be in the C-D section of the file cabinet and instead discover a bunch of weird doodles and comic strips I made in junior high. Why do I have these? Because once it is in a folder, you never throw it out. I labelled it, that's permanent and all.
|Note the influence of the classic basic box Dragon.|
|A D&D comic strip that was anything but comical.|
7. The City of Relthorn: Another project greater in memory, largely due to theft. Another example of top down sand box.
You have to admit, such things start to give the old graph paper a run for it's money. OK, so the labyrinth thing got out of hand a bit. I drew this city with a number of temple complexes and palaces. You can see that I was still working on blowing up smaller maps, which is why the complexes are all uniform squares. Later on I'd learn to disguise such things, reducing maps and pasting them back on the previous maps. So rather than say this dot will be the walls, I now just say this dot represent mostly structures.
It involved a good tomb-robbing dungeon on one of the islands though. The party returned to the surface only to find the authorities waiting for them, Indiana Jones fashion. I believe that was when I discovered that it isn't enough to have a cool map for yourself, you need to quickly render it for the players.
Well no longer a six pack have I.
So, despite the pause for junior high cartoons, I think I put out a few ideas. I now intend to go sleep the sleep of the just, which is always slightly drunken.