Sunday, September 19, 2021

Working with Friends

I'm very blessed to be surrounded by amazing people who are creative in ways I can only imagine.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I have ideas, and some fun ones too, but it's more that I have spontaneous bursts of creativity, and I struggle to follow through on those ideas and turn them into something tangible. It might be that it takes too much work or effort, it might be a matter of believing I don't have the time. Whatever it is, I put out ideas and I love doing just that, and I don't really expect of myself that I'll finish any of them.

Except with three ideas I had, not necessarily original, but, well, they are something, and now I'm working with three different sets of friends to turn them into something more. This is what I love; collaboration. It was a big part of the scene I was part of when Google+ was around, and I get to do it in small ways now on Facebook, Twitter, and Discord. Even Instagram occasionally when I post something and someone messages me, but its more rare there.

So anyway, here are three ideas, or collection of ideas or thoughts, and these are now no longer mine, but a collaborative effort:

THE GIGGLIES



There’s this artist named JR on Instagram and Reddit who shares these amazing pieces of dark, twisted art, like this piece based on the Teletubbies, and I immediately thought this was gameable. So I got to talking to my friend Hodag (who recently released THE HODAG RPG and you NEED to check it out), and he introduced me to his friend Cónor, who loved the concept and wants to make it into a thing.


ACROSS THE STARS



I’ve likely talked about Across the Stars years ago, when it was something else. But a few days ago my friend Matthew Adams published a 1-page game called Exploiters as part of the #MSPaintjam (or #MSPaintRPGjam, I’m not sure which) and I love it and the tone was perfect for it. So I got to talking to my friend Richard on Twitter about it and I pitched my old ATS concept and he’s considering helping me develop it into something more.

ROCKS OF SANTH

I wrote up a list of names today, and me friends David and Ted both jumped in and started to help me figure out what it all meant:


Hewer of the Rocks of Santh

Carvers of Eyes

Mandelbrot Columns

Slipstone Golem

Krathickack of the Nine Mouths

Feeder Worms

The No-Beast


Immediately a mine locale comes to mind, where the Hewer pulls out Rocks of Santh, served by and aided by the Carvers of Eyes. The Mandelbrot Columns are alien things, shifting things, mutating columns, maybe of flesh? Maybe of something else. And Slipstone golems are forged from the Rocks of Santh.

This much I know. The rest I have to figure out. Or we do, really.

Oh and the no-beast is a creature that slides through different dimensions. I think it’s lion-like in form, maybe two-headed. Or no-headed.

Let's see what comes next!

Friday, September 17, 2021

Lost in a Dungeon

Hey, have you heard about Down We Go?

So I’ve started blogging here at The Secret DM again, and I also started running Down We Go online on Monday nights, and I’m having a blast, and decided I would blog about the experience.

Which I could have done here at The Secret DM.

But I’m not going to, really, probably not anyway. Instead I set up a new blog: Lost in a Dungeon




Lost in a Dungeon is a new blog dedicated to supporting Down We Go— it will feature my play reports, as well as optional content to enhance play for others. I’m looking forward to developing it there, and I’m very happy to have the support of both Tony Vasinda and Markus Linderum to pursue my plans for Down We Go, utilizing the Together We Go 3rd party license.

So be sure to check out http://lostinadungeon.com!

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Consuming Plant

Some things just want to eat your face.

I saw a piece of art by Nick Pyle on Instagram, of a person having their face consumed by a plant — or something like that, anyway, and I immediately thought of an awesome monster it would be.

This post features original art by Evlyn Moreau that pays homage to the Nick Pyle piece.

And because it’s my favorite right now, I’ve statted this monster for Down We Go — which is currently crowdfunding on GameFound. Check it out! There are seven days left!!




Consuming Plant

A consuming plant is a mobile plant that seeks to attach itself to the head of a living creature, sliding vine-like tendrils into the skull and quickly dominating the brain, turning the creature into a vessel to do the plant’s bidding.

Wracked with painful headaches, the victim becomes bent on maniacal plotting for diabolical plans catering to furthering the needs of the Consuming Plant.

Very loud noises seem to disrupt the influence of the consuming plant over its victim, but only for short periods of time. Fire can destroy the plant but usually the victim must be set on fire as well.

Difficulty: 15
Dam: Special
Hits 3
Special: Smothering

The ball of vines leaps about quickly and latches vines around a potential victim’s head, then pulls itself close and begins smothering the subject until they succumb to its dominion, which takes 1d4+2 rounds.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

SlipStar

Today I want to talk about a game I’m developing, SlipStar


You can find the working manuscript here: kjrpg.site/ssrpg

It’s a game of survivors of a galactic cataclysm: an invasion by diabolical forces from another dimension.

And I’ve been stuck working on it for about six months.

As you are probably aware, my personal gaming style leans heavily into old school play: dungeon crawls, limited resources, character lethality.

In SlipStar, there are no hit points. Instead you track things like Heart and Hope, either of which, when they reach zero, your character is no longer playable. I like this idea conceptually that you can lose heart, or lose hope, and end up succumbing to that in a way that death by hit points would otherwise function.

But what’s it like in actual play?

I don’t know yet. I felt I had to write out the mechanics and all of the game setting content in full before I attempted play testing, but then my writer’s block hit and I’ve been stuck ever since.

But my friend (and business partner) Ava Islam (here blog is here: https://permacrandam.blogspot.com/) suggested I playtest it now, in its current state, and build on that. Which obviously I’m nervous to do, but it makes sense.

So I’ll probably look to run a game of this soon, on a Friday night or Sunday night Eastern Time, just to see how even this bare bones, barely formed ruleset plays out.

I posted the link to the manuscript however to invite feedback, if anyone wants to share their thoughts. I’m new to game design personally, in that while I’ve been home brewing D&D for over thirty years, I haven’t really tried to create a game system from nothing.

Just be gentle if you can, lol. I can handle honest criticism but I don’t think I can deal with cruelty with this first attempt at something different. Different for me, anyway.




Monday, September 13, 2021

Building a Generator

Source: Pixabay

Michael Raston is a machine.

Recently on his blog, Michael wrote up a "how to" guide to building tables and making generators for gaming purposes, sort of as a favor to me -- really I asked him to outline his process, and the result was an out of this world, in depth blog post on the topic. I highly recommend checking it out.

This post is NOT that post, by any means. What follows will be a set of tables I wrote up myself, inspired by what Michael does, and an example of how I would make it work for me. But the real quality can be found directly at https://lizardmandiaries.blogspot.com/2021/09/how-i-write-generators.html

Okay so, here goes:


Locale Theme Descriptor Monster, Base Monster, Type
1. Monastery Memory Wet Bat Goblin
2. Crypt Mirrors Diseased Slug Hobgoblin
3. Vein Dreams Empty Crab Orc
4. Hollow Reflection Mossy Fish Skeleton
5. Vault Death Moldy Goat Zombie
6. Shrine Decay Broken Cat Vampire
7. Tomb Time Ruined Dog Wight
8. Castle Loss Slimy Spider Golem/Statue
9. Tower Guilt Bubbling Bear Fiend
10. Ruins Power Crystalline Insect Dragon
11. Temple Regeneration Hot Bird Troll
12. Forest Destiny Melting Jellyfish Ogre
13. Passage Magic Metallic Plant Ooze
14. Canyon Belief Slippery Turtle Gorgon
15. Grotto Wisdom Forgotten Frog Ocular Devourer
16. Hill Fire Mysterious Bull Octopus Headed
17. Cave Water Open Elk Sphinx
18. Keep Air Smooth Snake Robot
19. Gate Earth Cracked Lizard Elemental
20. Hall Life Burnt Shark Lich

Art by Dan Smith



Okay so let's dig in a bit to this series of tables and see what we can make.

First off, the lists are not EXHAUSTIVE; the goal is to get 20 (or fewer if needed) motifs for each list...just some key concepts I can roll up and quickly turn into an idea for something.

Lets take the first two columns to start: Locale and Theme.

My first results on those two tables are: Halls (20), and Mirrors (2).

Okay, So our players are going to explore the Mirrored Halls of Mynroma. Sounds good.

Let's roll again.

Vault (4) and Decay (6)

The Vaults of Decay

It doesn't have to be anything in depth at this time, just something to generate ideas. And now that we have a dungeon or two, we can use the rest of the chart to describe the interior and populate it with monster types. You can also roll multiple times for each column.

Moldy (5) and Metallic (13)

The interior of the Vaults of Decay are covered in mold, but there are some sections constructed from metallic paneling -- very artificial in nature.

And now some monsters:

Slug (2) Lich (20)
Plant (13) Gorgon (14)

The idea is to combine these to create new kinds of monsters. The list is not meant to be literal: while you could create a Slug Lich, it may be better to turn this into some kind of slow-moving but powerful arcane creature that, if slain, returns to life unless its special cocoon/phylactery is destroyed. It hates its immortal existence but longs to destroy all living things it encounters.

I chose gorgon for the classic presentation of Medusa with a snake-body, so a plant-based snake-bodied creature that maybe spews some kind of organic substance that can turn things into stone.

So the Vaults sound like pretty dangerous place. I can keep utilizing the various tables and combining results to determine other monsters to face, modify those monsters with the descriptors instead of using them to describe the interior of the dungeon, and do this over and over until I feel comfortable with what I have.

The point is that the table is a starting point, to help get the creative process started, and at anytime you can switch into manual design mode and make something. Or use the generated results as is. Even better, have your players make random rolls to determine the dungeon and what they'll face there.

I love the idea of a Random Treasure Table too, and may add that. As it stands, all told, the above chart can generate over 3 million combinations (if my math is right) and it's just a starting point.

Thanks again to Michael Raston for encouraging me and helping me get started!

Friday, September 10, 2021

Creating Compelling Content

Creating Compelling Content

Ideas for developing original settings and game concepts



Floating chunks of stone drift in the sky over the heads of horned men, godless shepherds and keepers of the Valley of Thirst, it’s yellow, sallowed grass tall to their knees and yearning to be quenched in rains that never come.


Setting design can be challenging. Coming up with ideas for locations, setting up epic storylines that are ripe with opportunities for adventure...it can be a daunting task to take on. I’m not going to solve that problem for you in this blog entry, but I’m going to talk about my approach and introduce some of my techniques, and hopefully you gain something from what I have to offer here.

Smash two things together


This is advice I borrowed from Stephen King. In his book On Writing, King discusses one of the methods he uses to come up with a new story: he takes two elements and mashes them together to create something new.


Here’s a personal example, and let’s make it interesting. Let’s write up two random lists, roll on them, and see what we get and what we come up with when we combine them.


LIST ONE: MONSTERS


  1. Skeleton

  2. Zombie

  3. Vampire

  4. Goblin

  5. Orc

  6. Elemental

  7. Dragon

  8. Ooze

  9. Demon

  10. Bandit

  11. Spider

  12. Shark


LIST TWO: SUBSTANCE


  1. Bone

  2. Blood

  3. Jelly

  4. Rust

  5. Metal

  6. Crystal

  7. Time

  8. Children’s Dreams

  9. Wood

  10. Ice

  11. Lava

  12. Psionic Energy


My results: Elemental [6] and Children’s Dreams [8]


Okay, how about this:


A massive storm has settled over the lands of Areyna, thick and roiling clouds of purple and crimson filling the sky, choking out sunlight. Flashes of black lightning strike between the clouds and the earth, leaving a smell like sulfur filling the air.


Areyna is cursed. Everywhere, from the shores of Usuria in the east to the Valley of Thirst to the west, children are succumbing to a strange illness, slipping into comas from which they cannot be stirred. Now, strange beasts stalk the landscape -- half formed monsters and slithering oozes, and gelatinous reptilian things that fly, and other oddities.


The worst of them are massive entities formed of shimmering energy, through which one can see glimpses of bizarre places, twisted faces, and other obscure details: these are Elementals, forged from the dreams of the comatose children.


And they must be stopped. Destroying an elemental frees a group of children bound to it, waking them from the prison of their sleep. But the elementals are everywhere. The player characters have answered a calling to rescue Areyna and free it from its curse...and to save the children.


Overall, the key is, as with anything, practice. My techniques for creating settings aren’t original or even revolutionary, it’s just taking chances with bits of things that pop into my head, inspired by what I read, what I watch on TV, video games and tabletop RPGs, and art and music I find online. Inspiration can come from anywhere. One setting concept I had was inspired by someone talking about their character background in a live stream for an actual play session of someone’s game. Just something they mentioned as their character’s motivation for entering a dungeon was enough to spark an idea for me to create an entire game setting.


Here’s a sample setting, which I just call Death Planet X. You might call it something else.


What’s the origin of the world? Is the planet a Thu-in prison world? One of the rare, stellar jewels of the Collector? Could this be the long lost homeworld of the ancient Usurpers?


Regardless of how this planet came to be, one thing is certain: it's a death trap.


Outwardly, the planet's surface is a scarred, inhospitable landscape, marred by layers of discordant technology from an endless list of long dead civilizations. There are mercury lakes surrounding spires of gargantuan bone, which border metallic jungles, beyond which lie vast stretches of machine dust deserts, where obsidian-hued obelisks rise up and gaze across the horizon, watching the edges of the world shift and flow like fabric.


Giant, translucent glass spheres float through the air, their purpose unknown. 


Wild storms of dust and electricity form and dissipate with no warning.


Crystalline warriors stalk the land, patrolling the surface and destroying anything they encounter.


This is a harsh world.


So let’s see how it came to be:

  1. The Usurpers called this planet 'home', but they were not the first inhabitants.

  2. This isn't a planet; it's a dormant Renjin battle platform. The "surface" has built up from meteor collisions and other debris over a million years, hiding the awful weapon.

  3. It's really planet Earth, sent back from the future to avoid destruction when Sol expands.

  4. The Thu-in only discovered the planet within the last century, and banished their worst criminals here, all of whom have undoubtedly perished.

  5. This was once a part of the Collector's galactic museum, but it was stolen and moved to its current location. The Collector continues to look for it...

  6. The entire planet is an illusion, projected by a cabal of mindlinked Thought Wizards from inside one of their prism ships positioned at the 'core'.

  7. The planet is a nexus point for all of creation; it is the only known place in the universe where all realities, dimensions, timelines, universes, etc. converge.

  8. The planet is the legendary 'Eden', the failed genesis seed world of the Progenitors before their successful terraforming of Earth.

  9. It's a rogue dimensional world from an alternate universe. Somewhere, there's an evil empire of goatee-shaved pirates looking for their homeworld...

  10. It's the legendary Ixian Manifestor, whose purpose is itself a mystery. One rumor about the manifestor is that it creates a new universe, ripping apart the current one.

  11. The planet is a sentient being that feeds on the sense of discovery experienced by new explorers.

  12. The planet is actually the exit point of a dimensional portal, through which a hyper-advanced society disposes all of its technological and biological waste.


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Twenty Ways To Nowhere

I wrote this for a blog I started up a few years ago, but never explored the concept further. My friend Joshua Burnett (http://bernietheflumph.com/) made some art based on the list, and I still did nothing with it.

Twenty Ways to Nowhere, or How to Enter the Null Path Dungeon



  1. There is a hole at the top of the Black Mountain that can be reached by bribing the Hawkmen of Calhoun to carry you there.
  2. The road through Zendahar, the City of Skulls, is known to be very treacherous, but its the most direct route to the Gate of Nothing, beyond which lies the Null Path Dungeon.
  3. Fall asleep under the tree of the Lily Knights, in Old Gabhur; as long as the knights are away you will awaken within the Null Path Dungeon. If the knights find you though, they will slay you for trespassing.
  4. Speak to the wizard council known as the Blind Triumvirate. They will have you complete a difficult task, after which they will teleport you inside the dungeon.
  5. The bite of the negative viper is painful, but not deadly. Within 1d4 days, you will appear inside the dungeon.
  6. Find the Tree of Yearning in the Forest of Errond; convince the tree it still has worth, and it will open up an entryway that leads into the dungeon.
  7. The vines of Nethrang all end inside the Null Path Dungeon. If you survive the journey down before the vines kill you, that is.
  8. When the moons of Ilsa and Adorra eclipse each other, a stairway of light appears in the Lake of Dwelling. This stairway leads into the dungeon.
  9. Find the Endless Map, an artifact that can transport up to six people to any artificial destination. Once used, the Endless Map crumbles to dust.
  10. Wait patiently, for one day a Garrabun will kidnap you and bring you to the Null Path Dungeon.
  11. Give one of your eyes to the Seer of the Golden Desert; he will give you a red crystal in exchange. Its warmth and glow will lead you to the dungeon.
  12. Break a deal with Senthrax, the Evil One. He will banish you to the dungeon.
  13. Steal a chroma egg from the Salt Elves of Eurheim, in the Blasted Lands. Eat its yolk as the moon Ilsa rises, and you will be transported to the dungeon.
  14. Bind a young Hopperling in the Azure Bluffs; in exchange for its freedom, it will whisk you away to the dungeon.
  15. Trick an Interloper from the Beyond to dream you to the dungeon. Careful though, as Interlopers are hard to trick and difficult to trust.
  16. Pay a negamancer to take you to the dungeon. Gold is worthless to them, though, as are most things.
  17. Sell your soul to Senthrax, the Evil One, in exchange for taking you to the dungeon.
  18. The Blind King, who lingers in the Valley of Nov Ral Arath, knows the way to the dungeon. But he is well guarded by Whisper Golems and Blind Demons.
  19. The sewers of Zendahar, the City of Skulls, lead into the Null Path Dungeon. This may or may not be easier than following the road through Zendahar to the Gate of Nothing.
  20. Ride a wild Ramshackle Crawler through the City of Windows, and eventually you may arrive inside the Null Path Dungeon.



Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Voice Beyond the Stars


Artwork by Perplexing Ruins: @perplexingruins on Twitter

There comes a whisper across the distance of time and space; a voice in the Void…a ghostly calling from another dimension.

“Beware the rising of three black moons, and listen to the howling of the wolves on their approach. There towards the horizon lies the Door to Indrya Ühl, the Path of Nowhere.”

These are the words of a mad god, and they bleed out in dreams and fevered hallucinations.

The Voice Beyond the Stars.

A Revenant from outside of time, watching this world and plotting machinations of its demise…

…or of its liberation and advancement…it’s hard to tell, because the words and riddles whispered by the Voice are so obscure and often misleading.

The Voice is an entity that has existed for near eternity; once a traveler among mortals that lived through multiple lifetimes and iterations of mortal forms, it passed and ascended to another dimension, but it’s interest in this world never ceased. Now it spends its time reaching out across the vast distance to touch the minds of those willing to listen. Soothsayers, Cultists, Fortune Tellers…and unsuspecting adventurers.

It traveled among their kind once, long long ago in different ages, adventuring and exploring and learning.

But now it is in its final form: and it has a purpose. Only that purpose is a mystery. One thing is certain: it will either serve to undo existence, or lead the life forms of this world into a new awareness, an elevated state of being.

Interacting with the Voice




Art by David Ellis, @db.ellis on Instagram

The Voice, being a disembodied entity, can take various forms. Often this appearance is as a swirling nebula with a single twinkling star set in the forehead of a silhouette of a face. Or it can appear as an androgynous giant, bald head in the middle of a field. It can come in dreams or manifest in physical space.

The Voice has no corporeal form, being composed entirely of energy. It is incapable of physical attacks and immune to them.

It can Command or Intimidate any intelligent being into following its orders, within reason, proximity, and purpose, that isn’t directly harmful to the subject, similar to a Quest type spell. Saving Throws to avoid succumbing to the instructions are allowed. But the Voice doesn’t enjoy using this method, preferring to coax and entice people into serving it and it’s causes…nefarious or otherwise…with the mere inclination that such “advice” and suggestions it offers are worth being followed, based on any of a number of kind of rewards they can provide.

The Voice for Game/Story

Using the Voice is one of those amorphous elements that can add some kind of dressing to a setting or campaign. It’s a pretty obvious maguffin to use, the “distant voice as friend or foe” — and really this is all just an excuse to create a character based on Doctor Who’s final form, The Veil.

I think entities like this are fun to incorporate into a fantasy campaign, as long as they aren’t overused. The Voice should show up rarely, mysteriously, randomly…and impart things that are helpful and equally harmful at different intervals.

It isn’t necessarily important if the Voice serves good intentions or bad ones, as long as everyone has fun with the mystery. You should decide before the campaign ends which it is, but the implied temporal loop should be enough to cover the actual truth: The Voice speaks from different times, in double speak, because it is communicating from different time periods itself. So it is both protagonist and antagonist of its own intentions.

If that makes sense.

I’ll come back to The Voice in a future post, addressing some mechanical ways to make it a part of your game. I think it has potential. I really appreciate Perplexing Ruins letting me use their art for this post as inspiration, and David Ellis for creating the piece of art of the floating head for me.



It lives!

(Art by Dan Smith)

Mwahahahahahahaha!!!

I’m back from the grave!

So…what’d I’d miss?

Seriously though, I’m happy to be back, and I want to talk about what I’ve been up to for the past year and a half, not that it’s really relevant to anyone, but I’m hoping to start this blog somewhere, and this feels like it.

I launched a new blog called Beyond the Weird (http://beyondtheweird.blog) with my friend, Tony Obert. That blog is a different animal — featuring original content, mostly written by Tony, along with guest writers and original artists brought in for almost every post. I don’t really write for the blog myself, spending more of my time producing for it, which I enjoy but I struggle to get content made for it consistently which, if you know me, is a pattern I succumb to (just look at this blog, THE SECRET DM, and my history of posts — pretty sporadic).

I’ve also dismantled my company, In Search of Games, which I started in 2016. I enjoyed it, and grew the company to include several other employees, but my focus and drive wasn’t there, and ultimately I decided it was time to move on.

So I formed KILL JESTER (http://killjester.com) with my friend, Ava Islam. Together we launched a very successful Kickstarter campaign for Ava’s old school roleplaying game, Errant…which you can preorder at the site above, or check out the rules here: errantrpg.carrd.co


…and there’s more, but not much more. I’ve battled depression, faced Covid with my family (everyone survived, which I’m very thankful for), lost 40 lbs, gained back 20…and have started to lose weight again. I also set up a group on Facebook called Chris Mennell’s Setting Ideas and Art Share Forum — feel free to request to join, I love new members! 


I’m also starting to use Twitter more, only now I’m @chrismennell — same on Instagram. One day (soon) I’ll talk about Google+ and all the interesting conversations that occurred there and the incredible creativity it sparked, but for now there’s Facebook and Twitter (and Discord too, of course) and we’re doing okay with what we have.

So what else is happening? I hired an amazing assistant, Ty aka Eldtrich Mouse (@eldritch mouse on Twitter) who has been helping me establish routines, get organized, get tasks done, and move forward on any of a dozen ideas I’ve had in the works.

For instance, a couple of friends of mine (Jim Pinto, Dan Smith, Chris G. Williams) got together and produced a game called MURDER CARS!!! - a narrative game of vehicular combat. It’s available for download now at DriveThruRPG: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/369684/Murder-Cars

I’m also launching a new blog, dedicated to a game called Down We Go, written by Markus Linderum, and being produced by Tony Vasinda — currently crowdfunding on gamefound.com: ttrpg.link

The new blog is: lostinadungeon.com

It will feature original artwork by Billy Blue, as well as Luigi Castellani and others. The blog is set to feature regular posts from me as I lead a party of player characters through a series of dungeons using the Down We Go rules, exploring and testing the system. I’m also hoping to feature additional DWG content, like optional rules, monsters and equipment, etc., as well as interviews with the creators and other contributors (which, if you check out the crowdfunding campaign, you’ll see are quite a few people.)

Which Reminds Me…

I’ve been working on a personal campaign setting for awhile…a far future space opera I describe as “Dune meets DOOM” — complete with hell in space and provincial houses of a crumbling imperium. It’s called The Dark Between, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about it in the weeks and months to come. I’ve started picking Dan’s (of Throne of Salt — http://throneofsalt.blogspot.com) brain about making the AI Hegemony in the setting more noteworthy, and I look forward to sharing the results of that discussion as well.

Which brings me to closing out this blog post, that didn’t really talk about much and doesn’t improve anything for anyone, anywhere. More and more I feel that blog posts should serve a purpose, should advance something in some way, and I’m terrible at writing in that fashion, at this point anyway…although I hope to get better at it.

I also don’t want to just list a bunch of blogs to check out, because I feel like that’s a cop out. Same with listing Kickstarters to check out.

Final Thoughts…?

Here’s a picture of a simple layout for a dungeon I’m working on, Nethregor’s Crypt. It’s a terrible map, but I’m not an artist or a cartographer. What I will eventually do is turn this map over to an artist, someone whose talent far exceeds my own, and have them craft something mesmerizing. Probably Dan Smith, again.

But what this map does for me is allows me to better visualize the intended layout of a dungeon I’m plotting. And similar to a point crawl, a dungeon can be a series of points linked by corridors. Obviously I want to make it more than that — the finished work will be a living, breathing dungeonscape with its own flora and fauna and ecology. Well, some undead too but definitely a story that can be told by the placement of the inhabitants, in case anyone is paying attention.

Which is a subject I want to get to in the future — the importance of some semblance of realism in populating dungeons with monsters vs. the lack of interest in backstory by a bunch of murdering lunatics hunting for gold.

I’m sure others have written about that subject, people smarter and more talented than me, and I’ll do my best to find those posts.

But back to Nethregor’s Crypt…

One of the key things I love about Down We Go is the encouragement to use adjectives, especially for players to get involved. What kind of dungeon are you exploring? DWG suggests choosing or rolling: Flooded, Shrouded, Infected, Glowing — and then you build from there.

I think using adjectives is key; it’s easy and sets a tone immediately. Like playing Mad Libs, only we’re building a dungeon.

So, our entryway…what is it?

The entryway is murky.

Okay, so what does that mean?

“The entryway to the crypt is a small chamber of lackluster design, slightly flooded with a few inches of mud. The air is damp and mold clings to the chamber walls. A single passage leads east down a dark and murky corridor.”

This helps set the tone for the dungeon.

I could add more details of course, it’s great to use flowery language and dress up a descritption, and I highly encourage touching on the five senses — how it smells, how it tastes, what can be seen or heard…how the ground feels wet and soaks through the boots as the players slosh towards the next chamber…

…but remember you’re entertaining lunatics hunting for gold, and they don’t care about the finer points of your descriptive prowess. Keep it short, make it interesting with adjectives, and be ready to move on.

Okay, I feel like I gave you, the reader, SOMETHING there. It isn’t a lot to go on, but I mostly wanted to say I’m back now, and happy to be here. But I also wanted to offer up something tangible, which I want to do regularly.

And maybe you’ll read this and let me know what you think.