So I’ve started writing my own game system. Again, of course, but this time I’ve actually followed through and put something together that — on paper — I really enjoy.
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Sunday, September 19, 2021
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:
ACROSS THE STARS
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
Krathickack of the Nine Mouths
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
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
Thursday, September 16, 2021
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!!
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Monday, September 13, 2021
|Locale||Theme||Descriptor||Monster, Base||Monster, Type|
|Art by Dan Smith|
Friday, September 10, 2021
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
LIST TWO: SUBSTANCE
My results: Elemental  and Children’s Dreams 
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:
The Usurpers called this planet 'home', but they were not the first inhabitants.
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.
It's really planet Earth, sent back from the future to avoid destruction when Sol expands.
The Thu-in only discovered the planet within the last century, and banished their worst criminals here, all of whom have undoubtedly perished.
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...
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'.
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.
The planet is the legendary 'Eden', the failed genesis seed world of the Progenitors before their successful terraforming of Earth.
It's a rogue dimensional world from an alternate universe. Somewhere, there's an evil empire of goatee-shaved pirates looking for their homeworld...
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.
The planet is a sentient being that feeds on the sense of discovery experienced by new explorers.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The bite of the negative viper is painful, but not deadly. Within 1d4 days, you will appear inside the dungeon.
- 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.
- The vines of Nethrang all end inside the Null Path Dungeon. If you survive the journey down before the vines kill you, that is.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wait patiently, for one day a Garrabun will kidnap you and bring you to the Null Path Dungeon.
- 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.
- Break a deal with Senthrax, the Evil One. He will banish you to the dungeon.
- 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.
- Bind a young Hopperling in the Azure Bluffs; in exchange for its freedom, it will whisk you away to the dungeon.
- Trick an Interloper from the Beyond to dream you to the dungeon. Careful though, as Interlopers are hard to trick and difficult to trust.
- Pay a negamancer to take you to the dungeon. Gold is worthless to them, though, as are most things.
- Sell your soul to Senthrax, the Evil One, in exchange for taking you to the dungeon.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ride a wild Ramshackle Crawler through the City of Windows, and eventually you may arrive inside the Null Path Dungeon.
Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Interacting with the Voice
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.
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.
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.