Monday, November 24, 2014

The Great Firework Barge Auction

This happened quite a while back but I finally have a chance to record it and I wanted to share this as an example of a type of city event.

First, some backstory.  I made a bunch of fireworks (here and here) and I have a tradition of giving players a freebie on their actual birthday.  One of my players chose some fireworks for his gift.  Then, his character Gino managed to successfully use those to survive a cave full of stirges.  So, the first city he came to he wanted to buy more fireworks.  Thinking this might be an opportunity for some sort of eventual hijinks, I had an npc tell him "why buy individual fireworks when they're auctioning off whole barges?"  So, Gino got a merchant's license and then a few weeks later (in real life) showed up for the auction. 

I did have a quick bit at the end of a previous session where fireworks from each barge were sampled and it was determined how much water damage they had.  It turned out there were three barges: one with 10% water damage, one with 50%, and one undamaged.

The Interested parties
Gino knew how much money he had and what he wanted but what to do with the other players?  I had them take on the roles of the other interested parties.   So first, I had each of them roll up their npc on my Hireling trait chart.  They're familiar with this chart and so are pretty comfortable using it and find interpreting the traits that come up amusing.

We also rolled on the Court Fad of the Day chart (from Vaults of Nagoh, but I can't find it there now) which turned out to be people carrying poles around, the longer the more fashionable.  So I had players roll how long their poles were.  It was ridiculous and we were all laughing, the characters lugging around their 13ft fashion statements.

The Goals
One of the things that makes D&D unique is that it's one of the few types of collaborative play I know of.  Because of this it's always important to me when trying to devise mini-games that they not pit player versus player.  Seriously, every night we hang out that we don't play D&D we play a game that's PVP, so there is no lack of that in our lives.

So, if the other players were going to be Gino's competition, how did they provide that campetition without just trying to outbid him.  And because the amount of money these npcs have is determined by me (or random roll, but still I'd be setting the parameters) how could any kind of bidding auction be fair for Gino's player?  My solution was the multiple barges of varying quality and giving the npcs differing, but not mutually exclusive goals.  Basically, players could work together to get portions of a barge if they wanted and still succeed.  The four goals were:
  • You're under great pressure to win one of these barges with your own money but you don't want to.  Make it look like you tried to buy one but fail.  10,000 sp
  • You need some fireworks for an upcoming festival but you're low on funds.  Get some fireworks.  1000 sp
  • It would be amusing to have some fireworks.  But buying the damaged barges would be beneath your station.  Aquire some fireworks from the non-damaged barges.  10,000 sp
  • You think you can sell the water damaged fireworks to an alchemist.  Acquire one of the barges with damaged fireworks.  3,000 sp
I had the hardest time throughout all of this trying to put a monetary value on these fireworks and thus on these whole barges and on how much money each bidder would be bringing to bear.  But after pulling out a bunch of hair I settled on the values above.

I didn't really know what Gino would do.  So I wanted it possible for him, at the very least, to acquire a portion of fireworks or maybe the most damaged barge.  In other words, this all started from him wanting fireworks.  I didn't want this elaborate mini-game to end up making that impossible.

To facilitate deal-making between the interested parties I gave players ~15 minutes before the auction started to talk to each other in-character.

I also offered 100xp to any player that made their goal.  I know this is bizarre for D&D, to give a character xp for something some random npc did.  In this case, I just wanted something toget them interested and engaged and it worked.

The Auction
I can't remember all the details now.  I started out with very small bids and later, at the suggestion of players made the bid jumps higher to speed things up.  From my notes, it looks like the barges went for 3,500 sp, 2,025 sp,  and 5,700 sp (I'm sorry, I don't remember which barges were which).  I do remember the player with goal one unintentionally won the bid on the first barge and then was a spoiler, bidding wildly in the subsequent 2 exchanges.  I think she won the second barge and only lost the last one after bidding it up.  (yes that looks right, if she'd spent 5025 of her 10,000, that last barge would have been just out of her reach).

I think Gino ended up cutting a deal with the player with goal 3 who had a lot of cash and the easiest goal to make.  Neither of the remaining two players made their goals either.

The Aftermath
The players wanted to find out who was forcing the woman to buy a barge she didn't want and punish them somehow.  I had no idea who it was and felt weird about the whole thing because their characters should have no idea that this woman that just bought two barges didn't want them.  That is something in the back of my brain now though, maybe it will come together with other threads in the future.

Now Gino has hundreds of fireworks, what's going to become of them?  Well, he has a group of lepers building a barge for an upcoming religious regatta, and he just hired someone to fit it with a bunch of tubes, so stay tuned.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Bustling City

These aren't "encounters" so much as the groups of people characters moving through a city might encounter.  They may be just passing examples of the bustling, populous nature of the city.  If players want to interact with them, or somehow get swept up in the thing these groups are doing, more might come of it.

I'll probably have players roll on this (and then help them interpret the results) every time them move from one place to another in the city.

Roll 3d10 and fill in one of the three possible "sentences" with the results:

I've mashed social class and wealth together because, as an American, I'm less aware of class distinctions that aren't tied to cash.  You could make two columns if you want.

Entry #6 for Types of People is trying to get away from thinking that the default will be men.  In my world they will be a mix of genders.  So this result will signify that it is only men, only women, or maybe something different like a group of Hijra.

The second "sentence" is based on the idea that the Types of People categories are not  mutually exclusive.  In other words you might have a group of old soldiers or a group of foreign bureaucrats.

Let's try some for the first "sentence":

6, 2, 10
We could say it is a group of male peasants celebrating a sporting victory, carrying the best players on their shoulders.

5,7,3 
Ooh, this is odd.  A group of wealthier children are protesting something.  Maybe pelting their tutor with vegetables?

9,6,5

A group is pouring from a church after someone noticed a child went missing.

Seems to work okay.  Any of those might turn into an adventure; the players find out about some sport they can try in a minigame, or at least bet on-- they might meet this put-upon tutor and befriend him/her-- the missing child might be an abduction by something dire.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

More Thoughts on Hexless Random Wilderness Generation

First, sorry if the last post was a bit scattered (I did spend several hours composing it).  Second, a close read of Chris Kutalik's pointcrawling posts is in order because much of my thoughts on connections and such, he'd already covered 2 years ago.  Third, check out these links Talysman shared in the comments of our discussion:

A method of terrain generation from Central Casting Dungeons product.
And his own Last Minute Hex Crawl Tables

Fourth, while this wouldn't be of help to the sightless, check out this post as a method of generating pointcrawls using routes.

Fifth, I think the biggest issue for a blind person with generating a pointcrawl is not going to be the generation but keeping track of what they generate, which is basically what a map is, an efficient way to store positional data in 2-d.  The method that might work is to treat points like the locations in a choose-your-own-adventure book.  Number all of them, and number the exits from each location with the number of the location that route is leading to.  Then you could store these numbered points anyway that was convenient to you, text file list, database.

Sixth, some fresh thoughts:

All that jazz about biomes is probably not very important in randomly generating terrain for a pointcrawl.  Minecraft is an infinite flat plain, so gradients of temperature and moisture matter more.  In fantasy worlds even slightly like our own, terrain will be relatively similar unless the distance between the points is huge.   What I mean is, temperature is mostly tied to latitude, so the farther north you go the colder it will be.  But that takes miles and miles of travel to really manifest itself. 

It seems like most terrain generated will be like that you just left, maybe the only variation is in the surface features.  Is there a lake here?  Is there a forest?

So, elevation might matter much more as the variation you would see in local features.  Is there a hill here?  A canyon, a pass through these mountains?

Another thought, the problem with randomly generated anything is that information about the generated place is very local, it's difficult to make more big picture patterns or connections until you've already finished generating a big area, look at it and then do so.  What I mean is, if there's a pass through the mountains, is it the only pass?  If it is it might be very important and have different encounters.  Is this bit of forest a small grove or just a point hidden in a vast swath of forest?  Most random generating systems are not going to help with that.

With that in mind, the best bet for blind players or DMs, would probably be to take something like Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms and convert it into a point crawl and record the points in the numbered location method I mentioned above.  That way all the "big picture" knowledge could be captured for the points.  Then point 54 can let you know that it is a small grove far from civilization but near trade route heavily used in summer.

Of course, that requires someone to make a whole world which is the creative work a random system is trying to replace.  But maybe someone could use a random system as a work aid, generate a ton of points, look over them and apply logical, big-feature information to the points, and then share them with folks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thoughts on Hexless Random Wilderness Generation

The Hill Cantons blog has a very interesting question about how to randomly generate wilderness for a hexless pointcrawl.  I think an unspoken requirement is that the terrain makes some kind of sense as well.  Here are some thoughts on the problem.

Pseudo-Realistic Terrain
First, how do you randomly generate terrain and not have deserts next to swamps?  If you think of terrain as fitting into hot-cold and wet-dry continuums, with a chart like this:

You can generate terrain that will always be one step away from the temperature and moisture of the terrain you were in.  Imagine a position on the graph which represents the features of the area you are in.  Like this:
The black square is pretty temperate, roll a 1 and things get colder and dryer
If you roll a d10, 1-8 will show you what heat and moisture the new area will have.  Rolling a 9 or 10 could mean you stay in the same box, or if you wanted to 10 could mean you hop two boxes to indicate a larger shift.  But this might just be introducing a difficult visual record keeping in lieu of a hex map.  Maybe we could just track it abstractly by using the letter/number code and this little chart:

Roll to check the next chunk:
  1. colder / wetter
  2. colder / dryer
  3. hotter / wetter
  4. hotter / dryer
This won't tell you what kind of features are on the new terrain, though.  Two possible solutions come quickly to mind.  First, you could define certain biomes for certain combinations of temperature/moisture the way Minecraft does:
This graph has the axes opposite of mine
So, for example, J1 (and clusters of letters/numbers near it) would correspond to tundra and whatever features you pre-define tundra to have.

The second possible way to handle this is to generate features on the fly with some component charts.  For example:

Natural Features
Roll for each:
  • Elevation
  • Vegetation
  • Rocks
  • Water
  1. Lack
  2. Great lack
  3. Abundance
  4. Great Abundance
This requires some interpretation but would result in a greater variety.  A location with a lack of water but abundance of vegetation could mean cactus or maybe tumbleweed.  A great lack of rocks could be interpreted to mean sand dunes or mud flats, depending on moisture.

Size
If we aren't keeping track of strict units like hexes, we could more loosely determine the size of the piece of land we are in, like this:

Size of this chunk of terrain:
  1. tiny
  2. small
  3. big
  4. huge
Or just use d10 or d100 as a scale, depending on your preference.

Keeping Track of Points
But, none of this gets at how you would keep track of points in a pointcrawl without using something like hexpaper.  I think the answer is in the connections.  This topic made me think of my long time project of trying to randomly generate catacombs with hexes.  You can see some examples if you scroll through my hexes label.  Doing generating based on connections is easy with hexes because you can roll 1 d6 to tell you how many exits a hex has and 1d6 for each to find the position of that exit.  That still requires hex paper for easy record keeping, though.

Some of these combinations of exits have shapes like a "T" or a "K."  And that might be a possible approach to keeping track of things.  For example: You come to a large forest with several roadways, they take the shape of a "K" and you have entered at the bottom straight leg of the "K."  So, just using the letters of the alphabet or the shapes of numbers to evoke connections to new areas might be a way to generate and record connections.

Another idea that comes to mind, is to record the connections in relation to a clock face.  Kind of the way fighter pilots talk about incoming bogies.  So, for example, You come to a grassy plain with roadways continuing into the distance in the direction of 2 and 10.  A d12 would tell you a direction and maybe a d4 or d6 could tell you how many connections.

Distance between Points
Without a regular grid of some sort another issue will be determining which points are farther away than others.  Are simple sizes above could help here.  If the terrain you're in is huge it could add a certain amount of travel to get to any point.  And if you determine the size of the terrain you're moving into it would tell you how much longer until you reached the point of interest.

Encounters and locations I leave for someone else, but hopefully the ideas here will be interesting to folks.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Lich Paraphernalia

Found on and around powerful users of magic, especially those long dead:
  1. Parchment Sash - Spells cast near it are captured in writing and can be copied.
  2. Blood Pearl - If a dead mage's body is rendered-- through a laborious, time consuming process-- one of the spells still uncast upon their death will seed into a red, misshapen pearl.  Consumption of it will grant knowledge of that spell and allow copying or casting.
  3. Flesh Forks - Tuning forks of different sizes, each with a bladed end.  They resonate when spells are cast in their presence (fork size corresponding to spell level).  If the blade is stabbed into a wizard's neck, the vibrations will transfer understanding and allow casting that spell once.
  4. Jade Worm - Placed deep in the ear, it whispers a list of the spells present in the minds of any magic users nearby.
  5. Milky Orbs - Varying in diameter and fragility, they shatter when a particular spell is cast within a particular radius.
  6. Slow Lime - Painted on a surface, this greyish paste stays damp for months.  Any spells cast near the lime will leave tracks and patinas in colors that can be read like a story by a wizard of sufficient level.