Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tomb of Horrors - Introduction


Update!  This post has been updated with breaking information.  Please scroll down to end to see the updated information.  Thank you!

Ask me what my favorite DnD adventure of all time is (regardless of edition), and I'll tell you without hesitation - "The Tomb of Horrors".  This classic delve, written by Gary Gygax himself, is probably one of the most frustrating, difficult, confusing, and deadly adventures ever put on paper.  Filled with puzzles, traps, and maddeningly vague clues, this adventure ends up killing more characters than it rewards.

And it's great fun.

Granted, the adventure isn't for everyone.  If your players are combat focused (hack & slash) types, then this module is probably not for them.  In fact, the original module notes specifically state that this isn't "that kind" of adventure.  I'll add my recommendation to Gary's.  If you don't like puzzles and traps, this adventure is probably not for you.

Okay, assuming you think your heroes are up to it, go out and grab a copy of the adventure...

What's that?  It's not available for 4e?  What?

Well, you're right.  At this point, Wizards of the Coast hasn't seen fit to rewrite this classic adventure, and perhaps they never will.  However, that doesn't mean I can't apply my own DM magic to it and create something suitable for 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  So that's what I'm going to do here, one blog post at time.  

Here's how it will work.  Slowly but surely (in order of the listed encounter key in the original module), I will describe the encounter area and retool it for 4e.  It will be imperfect, and probably a bit messy.  However, I think I have enough chops to pull off a reasonable simulacrum.  Each keyed encounter from the original module will be written up in the 4th edition format (as per limits of my blogging medium).  Much later, when I have the encounters completed; I'll put the whole thing into one work, and place it out on my Scribd site.

I know what you're thinking, "That sounds like a lot of work, Mr. Deadorcs."

Well, you're right, it is.  I love this adventure, though, and any opportunity I have to keep it's spirit alive (much like the demi-lich,  Acererak), I'll take it.

But wait...that's not all!

Not only do I want to retell the story of Acererak with a 4th edition spin, I want to depict the glory of his tomb in three dimensions.  THAT'S RIGHT!  THREE DIMENSIONS!  

I've been working with the fine products from Hirst Arts for a long time now, and have many of their molds.  My summer project will be to begin recreating The Tomb of Horrors to 4th edition scale in 3D.  You won't even need to wear those weird glasses they give you at the movie theater!  I intend to incorporate special effects and everything.  I'll be doing this part right, and so each piece will probably take quite awhile.  While the 4th edition encounter descriptions might take me through the rest of the year (what with blogging about other issues as well), the actual construction could easily become a 2-3 year project.  I don't have any final numbers on that, so we'll just have to see how it goes.  Periodically, I'll post images of my progress on the 3D portion of each encounter area.  I'll give those a special tag so that you can find them easily.

Historical note:  I actually did manage to get a 1.0 version of the Tomb done about four years ago.  Managed to get all the way to Encounter Area 14.  Sadly, after a basement cleanup, little of that survived and I have no pictures that I can find.  Hence, another motivation for wanting to do this again the right way.  I have better tools now, and some of the engineering should go a lot easier.  And trust me, there's engineering.  Acererak was a devious bastard.  By the way, does anyone have a lead on where I can get a marble sized Sphere of Annihilation?  

Well, that's about all for now.  I'm heading out for vacation in a couple of days, and probably won't have the opportunity to blog in that time period.  However, I'll try to be keeping up with Twitter and such, so I won't be far off.

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

Update!  Okay, so it looks like I should have done a little research.  Seems that Wizards of the Coast IS releasing a version of Tomb of Horrors in July.  Based on the Amazon blurb I just linked, it seems they be treating it as a sort of mini campaign setting.  I haven't seen the adventure, so I won't judge.  However, I don't think that even this is enough to change my mind.  I'm going to take a wild guess that WotC will probably give this adventure a complete makeover.  I'm okay with that, but it's not what I intend to do.  With my treatment, I hope to remain as closely faithful to the original version as possible while still remaining within the 4e rules.  Hopefully, despite the actual upcoming release, you'll stick with me and see what I have to offer.  Thanks to commenter Mactep and @DaveTheGame (via Twitter) for pointing out the link.  Much obliged!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Taking A Census: 4th Edition Style - Part III (The Wrap Up)

Welcome Back!

I'm pretty excited about my wife and I's trip to Savannah, GA coming up in a very few days, so trying to keep my mind focused on blogging ideas has been pretty challenging.  However, I want to wrap up this series of posts I did HERE and HERE, so that I can get on to some other things.

Before I begin I want to give another shout out to Phil Cooper over at Barely Readable Diary for his Settlement Census Tool.  Phil took the numbers I came up with and built an easy to use web app for determining population demographics.  Awesome work, Phil!  Everyone else, go check that out.

Now that you have your settlement's population identified, there's really only one last step:  identify who all these people are.  I realized (as I was working on this issue) that for small communities, this probably isn't too much of an issue.  However, with larger towns and cities, identifying every Telgar, Dogek, and Hamaget is going to be nigh impossible.  

When I was first spit balling this idea around on Twitter, @ChattyDM mentioned an existing conceit in 4th Edition regarding NPCs.  Basically, you don't stat them out unless you expect to encounter them in combat.  I can see the wisdom in that, but I think it's important to identify major NPCs even if you don't expect them to participate in combat.


Well, there are a couple of reasons.  The first one involves companions.  A group of heroes never knows when they might need a companion.  Maybe one of their number has a serious injury and needs to wait on a healer.  Perhaps the Ogre they thought would be no problem, requires a little more "confidence" than they originally expected.  Either way, statting up your visiting "adventurer" types is a useful idea.  

The second reason is that sometimes things happen.  Maybe the heroes really angered that Ogre and now he and his Goblin minions are coming into town to "rough things up a bit".  Having some villagers stat ready can save some time when you need to muster reinforcements.  

Granted, these are unusual circumstances.  You really don't need to stat out every farmer in the country.  Unless your heroes are going to door to door selling Amway, it won't be necessary.  If your heroes ARE going door to door selling Amway, statting up the NPC is practically required.  After all, a fight is going to break out.  Also every wag in the city doesn't need to be documented either.  Cities often have thousands of people.  Stats for every one would be pointless and time consuming.  Consider your adventure, and stat out only those individuals that are likely to have an impact on the heroes.

Well, that's pretty much were I'm at in regards to population demographics and 4th edition.  As with all things 4e, its a detail that you can add to or subtract from as much as you like.  Now go forth and populate those settlements!

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Taking a Census: 4th Edition Style - Part II

Welcome back!  Last time, I detailed a system whereby you can easily generate demographic population statistics for various settlements in 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons®.  This system seemed to spark some interest and Phil Cooper over at Barely Readable Diary quickly developed an online tool that uses the math I came up.  The tool is awesome and easy to use.  Go bookmark that now and I'll wait.

All set?  Awesome, right?  Thanks, Phil! 

Now then.  As I mentioned in the previous post, 10% of the entire generated population will be made up of adventuring types.  These are the folks that have a tendency to make trouble for heroes and townsfolk alike.  A DM could easily take this number and simply stat out those individuals that are needed for the adventure.  However, I decided that it might be easier to break out this number based on the roles of characters as defined by the 4e rules.  Those four types are:  Controllers, Defenders, Leaders, and Strikers.  I used a pretty simple percentage breakdown for determining how the population of adventurers breaks out:

Strikers are 40% of the adventurer population.  Strikers are like the gunfighters of the Old West.  They are made up of Rogues, Rangers, and the odd Sorcerer and others.  Most are looking for an opportunity or are just passing through.

Defenders are 30% of the adventurer population.  Defenders are usually sell-swords (Fighters) who are looking for their next pay check.

Leaders are 20% of the adventurer population.  Warlords looking for conscripts, traveling Bards, and Clerics make up this group.

Controllers are 10% of the adventurer population.  The skills of most controllers such as Wizards and Druids are harder to come by, and so they're not encountered as often as other types.

From here, it's really up to the DM as to what classes make up these roles.  There are so many classes now, that it's more practical to use roles to describe this segment of the population instead of classes.  That way, regardless of what classes occupy your campaign setting, you can still find the generator useful.

Here's an example of how the entire population tables split out.  The example is a random Hamlet:

Adult Population: 429
Children: 172

Townsfolk: 386

Producers 270
Craftsmen 39
Scholars 19
Traders 19
Teamsters 15
Militia 19
Dignitaries 4


Adventurers: 43

Controllers 4
Defenders 13
Leaders 9
Strikers 17
Total: 43

Grand Total Inhabitants: 601

At this point, I'll tip my hat to Phil Cooper once again and see if he can incorporate this data into the web app he's developed.  Hopefully, with a couple clicks of the mouse, you can generate the population of a given settlement in no time at all!

When I return next time, I'll wrap up this topic with a bit on just how far you need to take defining who lives in the town and for what reasons.  There might be some crunchy monster bits (well, so to speak) on that one, so stay tuned.

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Taking a Census: 4th Edition Style - Part I

Here in the States, the decade is up, and that means another census.  Regardless of how you feel about that particular government activity, it made me start to think about how to build settlement populations in the towns I create in my own 4th Editions Dungeons and Dragons® campaign.

Before I get much further, a little caution.  This is probably one of the "crunchiest" posts I've done.  Lots of math and lots of explanation of the math.  If you don't care for math, skip to the end, or read my great treatise on MODRONS!  :-)  That's not a pun, I promise.

Back up to yesterday, and  I posted a blurb on Twitter about 4e demographics.  Were there any rules?  Had I missed something in the Dungeon Master's Guide?

My fellow bloggers @chattydm and @asmor (as well as others) responded pretty quickly (the miracle that is Twitter), and were quick to point out that there were only basic guidelines in the 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide™ and if I wanted additional demographic rules, I might need to go back to the 3.5 Edition Dungeon Master's Guide™.  

So, I went to both books, and they were right.  I was familiar with the 3.5 version's take on demographics, and had built an extensive spreadsheet for my own campaign setting to generate population figures.  However, the 4th edition take is more simplified, and only gives very basic descriptions for determining demographics (I'll go into what those are in a bit). 

My whole goal here was to generate population figures based on the size of the settlement; hamlet, village, town, city, etc..  Beyond that, I wanted to be able to break down the population into manageable chunks.  So, I got out my trusty Excel sheet and applied some maths to the problem.

Beginning on page 152 of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide™, the rules for determining the size of a settlement are spelled out.  Unfortunately, the rules only state population maximums for three sizes of settlements; Villages, Towns, and Cities.  This is highly simplified from the 3.5 Edition which not only add sizes for smaller communities (such as Thorps and Hamlets), but also breaks down Towns and Cities into large and small varieties.

Here's how it breaks down:

Village  Up to 1,000 people

Town  Up to 10,000 people

City  Up to 25,000 people

I blame my mild OCD, but this was insufficient for me.  So I extended these numbers to include the old categories, which I feel do a much better job covering settlement sizes.

Thorp      Up to 100 people

Hamlet      Up to 500 people

Village      Up to 1,000 people

Small Town      Up to 5,000 people

Large Town      Up to 10,000 people

Small City      Up to 15,000 people

Large City      Up to 25,000 people

Now that I had my settlement sizes, I needed to apply the maths.  In order to randomly determine a population size (every settlement needs to be different, you see), I set a range for each of these categories, like so:

Thorp     20 to 100

Hamlet     100 to 500

Village     500 to 1000

Small Town     1000 to 5000

Large Town      5000 to 10000

Small City     10000 to 15000

Large City     15000 to 25000

I set the lower limit of the Thorp to 20 for a couple of reasons.  The first, is that any community smaller than 20 people is really more like a commune, and not really an organized settlement as such.  I suppose I'll get an argument from someone out there, but breaking down a population that small seemed pointless.  The number is small enough you could "stat-out" each member without really breaking a sweat.  The goal is being able to deal with larger population figures.  The second reason, is that the 3.5 version of the rules set the lower limit on a Thorp at 20.  I decided to go with the precedent.

Now that I had a basic way to determine population, I wanted to break it down a little further.  When you create a settlement, you like to have some idea how many farmers, merchants, craftsman, etc. are in town.  It's also helpful to know how many adventuring types (read: character classes) are in town as well.  It's data that can provide the DM with potential hooks and foils for their players.  I put some thought to it, and these are the categories I came up with:

Children:  It's always helpful to know how many children your evil cult leader can kidnap.  Yes, this really happens.

Producers:  These are the folks that produce the raw material for a community.  Farmers, Miners, Loggers, Hunters, and Fisherman are all good examples of Producers

Craftsmen:  These are the folks that take the raw materials and do something with them.  Blacksmith, Leather-worker, Wainwright, Brewer, and Builder are all good examples of Craftsmen.

Scholars:  These are the folks that nurture (if you will) or educate the community.  Healers, Clergy, Sages, and Librarians are good examples of Scholarly types.

Traders:  These are the folks that exchange goods or services for money (and sometimes for other goods).  Outfitters, Innkeepers, Dry Goods Merchants and even Prostitutes can be considered Traders.

Teamsters:  These are folks that make a living porting people and goods from one place to another.  They're closely related to Traders, but enough of their jobs (at least to me) are sufficiently different to place them in their own category.  Drivers, Ferrymen, and Porters are good examples of Teamsters.

Militia:  These are folks whose only job is to protect the settlement.  Although most towns under duress will call out for "every able body", this category is for regular guards and soldiers that might patrol a town.  

Dignitaries:  These are folks that have some kind of leadership status within the community.  Mayors, Elders, and Minor Nobles are all good examples of Dignitaries.

Adventurers:  These are the folks that will make your players have a bad day.  They usually contribute little to the community, except by perhaps posing as one of the other categories for a short time.  I'll speak more about this group in another post.

Okay.  Now that you know the categories, let me tell you how I broke it down.  After I'm done with that, I'll actually post the Excel formulas I used so that you can create your own spreadsheet.

I used my own rationale for determining what percentage of a given population were in a specific category.  Generally, Producers outnumber everything, and Craftsmen come second.  Beyond that, I just took a good guess on distribution based on what I know about small towns and previous distributions I've encountered.  Here's what I came up with:

Children:  10% to 40% of the randomly generated population, but added to the final total.  For example:  If I have a generated population of 100 folks, I might have 10, 20, 30 or 40 children, for a final total of 110, 120, 130, or 140 total people.  I arrived at those percentages by once again going to the 3.5 rules.  You can make this percentage random, or determine a set percentage based on the primary race that inhabits the settlement (perhaps Elves have fewer babies than Humans).  

Adventurers:  10% of the randomly generated population.

Townsfolk:  90% of the randomly generated population.

 Producers:  70% of the Townsfolk

Craftsmen:  10% of the Townsfolk

Scholars:  5% of the Townsfolk

Traders:  5% of the Townsfolk

Teamsters:  4% of the Townsfolk

Militia:  5% of the Townsfolk

Dignitaries:  1% of the Townsfolk

I'm pretty math impaired, so I was impressed with myself that I managed to make those percentages add up to 100.  Yay, me!

This post is getting long, so here's the actual formulas I used to generate all the numbers in Excel.  This can probably be done with just about any spreadsheet program, as long as you have a way to generate the random population numbers.  The example given is for a Hamlet.

Settlement: Hamlet












Here's what the number calculations look like when they're done:

Settlement:                       Hamlet
Adult Population:                385
Children:                              154
Townsfolk:                           347
Producers                           243
Craftsmen                             35
Scholars                               17
Traders                                17
Teamsters                           14
Militia                                   17
Dignitaries                            3
Total:                                 347
Grand Total Population:  539

For my next post, I plan to tackle the question of how to determine just what adventurers are poking around in your settlement.  Pesky lot, always tearing up good farmland and knocking down careful displays.

In the meantime, if @Asmor is looking for a project, build me a little app that I can do this with online, so I don't have to mess around in Excel for it.  :-)

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A Major Award!

Twitter is a great place to connect with other RPG bloggers.  Often, a blog will run a contest and give away cool stuff. Today, thanks to @ThadeousC over at This Is My Game, I took possession of a great package of Gaming Paper I was fortunate to win in his contest.

Gaming Paper is an RPG table top paper designed to be an inexpensive solution to otherwise expensive vinyl gaming maps and cardstock tiles.  While every gamer has their own solution to help manage miniature combat, I was eager to check out Gaming Paper and review their product.

I have to admit, when I first spied the package, I was a bit underwhelmed.  The square tube seemed small compared to the picture on their website.  However, once I opened the package, I was pleasantly surprised to find that each of the four rolls contained in the box was a full 12 feet long!  This seemed like a generous amount of material for the listed cost of the 4-piece box ($16 US).

The paper itself is not unlike butcher paper.  It's fairly light, and has a thin veneer of coating not dissimilar to a wax.  The paper color is a neutral tan/brown so it should work well for representing most terrain and probably generates less glare than a white paper would.

In addition, this particular paper is marked off in a convenient 1 inch grid.  I understand it comes in a hex marked grid as well, for those who prefer that kind of surface.  The surface can be marked with either dry, wet, or permanent markers.  I recommend dry markers over the other kind, unless your permanent markings are designed to be saved.

Possible uses?  Well, each roll contains enough paper to completely cover a 6 foot conference table.  In a sense, it can act as a gaming "tablecloth" as long as it's affixed firmly to an even surface.  Remember, this stuff is paper, so you'll need to treat it with a modicum of respect.  

One application would be to use spray adhesive on sections of it and apply it to correctly sized pieces of foam core board.  Add pylons constructed out of the same material, and you can create a platform similar to that new WotC product, Harrowing Halls.

My wife sees additional crafting applications as well.  Somehow I lost a roll of the paper to her.  I suspect she'll have some sewing application for it.

Finally, you can use the paper simply as a platform to draw crude maps.  The paper is inexpensive enough for one shot games, and I think has excellent application for gaming stores that host one-shot events.  Paper your tables, game it up, then throw the mess away, when the dice have tumbled to a stop.

Well, that's my review of Gaming Paper.  I can certainly recommend this product to RPGers out there everywhere. Head over to their site and give their stuff a try.

Thanks again to @ThadeousC for the Major Award.  Gaming Paper rocks!

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.