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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Gems: A Short Series

I’ve been meaning to do another movie review for a while, so obviously it’s time to start a series of posts discussing dungeon treasure stocking instead. Specifically, how to handle gems. It’s inspired by this OD&D forum post that’s been going on for that last month or so.

How do you assign gems to treasure? More specifically, how much information do you include, or should you include? Full description of each gem and quantity, minimum information necessary, or something in between?

I lean towards the minimum, with a few extra details. But before I get into that, I need break down the steps to assigning gem details. Loosely based on the “official” process, the steps are:

  1. Check if there are gems in a treasure cache or trove.
  2. Check the number of gems.
  3. Assign base gem value.
  4. Check how many gems are of higher or lower value.

If randomly assigning treasure, Steps 1 and 2 are handled as part of the treasure table in either Volume II: Monsters & Treasure (page 22) or Volume III: Underworld & Wilderness Adventures (page 7) depending on whether it’s a wilderness treasure or dungeon treasure. Step 3 involves a roll on the Gem Base Value table on page 40 of Monsters & Treasure, followed by a d6 roll for each gem or group of 5 to 10 gems as Step 4.

In the official process, you could argue that there is a fifth step, “Record the info, along with extra details like gem type or color”. But the books do not actually say that all four steps must be done at the same time, before the dungeon key is completed.

I would argue that it’s easier to do Steps 1 through 3, record the info as Step 3.5, and put off the final roll for Step 4 when each gem is appraised.

So here is my suggested gem generation process for GMs stocking treasures:

Step Zero: Pick a Dungeon Theme

Picking a theme is of course is part of the dungeon creation process, rather than the gem generation process, but what kind of dungeon you are creating and where it is should, logically, affect what kind of gems might be available. One trivial example is pearls, usually treated as if they were gems. Underwater treasures or coastal treasures might reasonably include more pearls than someplace far from an ocean. Other gem types could be more or less common depending on the region: if jade is more common in one area, dungeons in that area or connected in some way to that area might have more jade in their treasure troves than other gems.

Step One: Pick Your Gem Types

It’s arguably not immersive to describe gems to players this way:

“You find 30 gems of 100 gp value.”

It’s more immersive to describe them this way:

“You find 20 sapphires and 10 diamonds.”

But it’s crazy to roll for each gem to see what its type is, especially since the average PC probably won’t know the exact type, just the general appearance. The easier method is to assign three gem types to the dungeon as a whole, for example opaque red, murky green, and clear yellow. All gems in that dungeon will be one of those types, simplifying the next step.

Step Two: Check the Number of Gems

As you stock each treasure trove in a dungeon, you make three rolls:

  • How many gems are Gem Type 1?
  • How many gems are Gem Type 2?
  • How many gems are Gem Type 3?

You defined each gem type in Step One, so all you need to roll is a number. Gem Type 1 will be different for each dungeon. There is no table lookup for this step.

Since we can subtract a number from the roll and discard any result of 0 or less, we can fold “Check for Gems” into this step as well.

Step Three: Revealing Details to Players

For reasons I’ll explain more in a future post, each of our gem types has a predefined base value. We actually don’t need to roll any more as part of dungeon key creation. We just need to tell the players “You find 10 gems that look like this, 8 that look like this, and 2 that look like this.” And there’s only three "this"es per dungeon, so players can just keep a running total of each gem type found.

If there’s a dwarf in the party, or someone with gem appraisal skills, they can find out more details, including the exact value. Or they can have the gem appraised, or just sell it blindly without knowing the details.

I plan on detailing each of these modified steps in a separate post, with appropriate tables. I won’t be posting before next week, however.

Series Index

  • Gems Intro (this post)
  • Gems I : Types
  • Gems II: Quantities
  • Gems III: Assessments
(Will edit to add links as the posts are published.)

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Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Marvel Reviews: Eternals

I made my first trip to a movie theater after two years of staying home to watch the new Eternals movie, so I thought I’d give a quick review.


Rating: C-

The Eternals movie seems like a good opportunity to mention a modification I may need to make my movie ranking system. (Full explanation of my ranking system is here.) See, I know a lot of people freak out when I rank a movie as C (Average,) because common opinion is that “average” means “bad”. Or if I rank something as C, it means I didn’t like it.

But actually I kind of like Eternals. I will probably watch it again when it hits the streaming services. I just recognize that it’s not really an important film. It’s competently made. Well, mostly competent. I did have to give it a minus for a couple flaws. But there’s really no reason to either recommend or recommend against seeing it. It’s just a movie.

The flaws are that the film drags in places and lacks enthusiasm in others. Plus, one actor issue I’ll mention later. The film really needs to be short or at least move along quicker.

Further thoughts:

  • Too many new main characters for one film, so we really don’t get a feel for any of them.
  • Rather than cut some of the characters, I think this really should have been two movies.
    • First movie focuses on the apparent threat from the Deviants and only involves Ajak, Sersi, Ikaris, Sprite, Gilgamesh, and Thena. It ends with Sersi contacting Arishem.
    • Second movie adds Kingo, Druig, Phastos, and Makkari, and explores more about Kro while also switching to the Emergence plotline.
  • Splitting it into two movies allows us to explore more about Sersi, who seems to be our POV character in the film, but we really don’t get to know her well enough. All of the characters are treated pretty superficially, and only Sprite, Kingo, Phastos and Thena really stand out.
  • Most reviewers, even if they give the movie a thumbs down, say the entire cast does a great job. I have to rewatch the film because I had a very different feeling: I kept thinking the Druig character was a pretty poor performance. Maybe I missed something.

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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Last-Minute d6 Dungeons: Map Glyphs

I’m looking at the Last-Minute d6 Dungeons series (links below) and wanting to simplify it some more… but also, wanting to make it more readable.

Here’s what I mean: I plan on creating customizable dungeon maps that use these techniques. It would help people a lot if I could put an instruction right on the map, so that the GM using it wouldn’t need to turn back to an instructions page. Instead, the introduction would give a couple simple icons and how to interpret them.

Example A: Side Passages

The glyph for this shows three boxes, each representing a d6. The position of each door or doorway along the main corridor is the position of each d6, in order.

Look for the lowest d6 roll first.

  • If it is Odd, the exits start on the North or West side of the corridor.
  • If it is Even, the exits start on the South or East side of the corridor.

If the second or third exits exist, it will be on the same side as the first exit if the d6 that represents it is odd, or the opposite side if the d6 is even.

(There would, of course, be another glyph for tunnels that run vertical on the map instead of horizontal, but I didn’t make one yet. It would look like the above glyph, but rotated 90 degrees.)

Example B: Tunnel Junctions

Same 3d6 roll as for Side Passages, but the position of each d6 is the order of branches or exits clockwise around the compass. (This is what the curved “triangle” represents.)

  • If two of the dice match, the d6 that doesn’t match tells you which direction to skip (left, middle, right.) Branches or exits will be in the other two directions, in clockwise order.
  • If all the dice match, roll another d6 and check the result: 1-2 = turn left, 3-4 = middle or straight, 5-6 = turn right.

In either Example A or Example B, the number of matches tells which table to use to look up the d6 result (loose, doubles, or triples,) as per the Drop Dice Exits post.

Links to Last-Minute d6 Dungeons series:

  1. Tunnels
  2. Tunnels update
  3. Exits
  4. Drop Dice Exits
  5. Side Exits Update

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Monday, September 20, 2021

Ethereal Components

The way I run magic in D&D, M-Us use common, easy-to-get “material components” as spell ingredients during their spell prep (not during spell casting.) This helps explain why there is even a need for spell prep and why it is usually done between adventures rather than during them.

But one particular idea I’ve had about this spell prep is: some spell prep involves using a material object to make a temporary ethereal duplicate of that object that the spell caster “carries” with them, as if it were equipment. Examples of this for 1st level spells:

Hold Portal (object: iron spike)

Casting the spell wedges an invisible spike under the door, preventing the door from moving for a short period of time.

Shield (object: wooden shield)

Summons an invisible shield between the caster and opponents the caster is facing at the time of casting.

Magic Missile (object: arrow)

Summons an invisible arrow or large dart into the caster’s hand that can be thrown immediately at an opponent.

Light (object: lit candle)

When prepped, the light from the candle is “stored” ethereally, attached to whatever is holding the lit candle (M-U’s hand, end of a staff, etc.) When cast, the light becomes visible above the attachment point and moves with it. Max duration = max burn time for a candle.

1st level spells would only be able to bring back one quality of the object used (like the light of a candle, or the obstruction ability of an iron spike.) The object itself would not appear (not a conjuration, in other words,) so you couldn’t use Hold Portal to summon spikes to use as climbing gear, for example. The effect is short-lived.

3rd level spells would allow actual items or material to be stored ethereally and conjured when needed.

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Friday, September 17, 2021

Portable Holes in a One-Plane Universe

There’s a question about portable holes on the OD&D forums: do you treat it as a Bag of Holding, or just a temporary hole? The question assumes in both cases that there’s an extra-dimensional space involved, as mentioned in the Greyhawk supplement.

But I thought: What if there isn’t?

I’ve written before about how I prefer a one-plane cosmology with a material world that has additional states of matter beyond solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. To maintain that, there couldn’t be any extra-dimensional spaces under my cosmology. So where does the hole part of a portable hole come from? Where do things inside the hole go when it is removed?

How I interpret Portable Holes:

  • Turns a ten-foot long cylinder of connected solid material into ethereal matter.
  • The effect stops when it hits liquid, gas, or any other non-solid material and does not continue, even if solid matter resumes before the ten-foot range is reached.
  • Objects or living beings that enter the hole at this point aren’t transformed. They are just normal objects occupying space previously filled with solid matter.
  • When the hole is removed, any ethereal matter tries to return to its solid state. If something is already in the same space and can’t be pushed out, it remains ethereal until that space is no longer occupied.

This means that if someone is crawling through a Portable Hole through a stone wall when the hole is removed, they become embedded in stone. They will suffocate, if they need air to breathe. Meanwhile, there’s an ethereal stone duplicate of them occupying the same position. When they are removed from that position, the stone reappears. If the surrounding stone is no longer there, you wind up with a statue of a crawling person.

There are some other weird situations that could happen, but the general principle is that two solid objects or two ethereal objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time, but a solid object and an ethereal object can occupy the same space.

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Friday, September 10, 2021

Last-Minute d6 Dungeons: Side Exits from Tunnels

Readers may have noticed that the Wednesday installment of the Last-Minute d6 Dungeons (links at end of post) reduced everything down to one (semi-) drop dice method to determining exits, but there was something missing. When rolling for side exits from tunnels, the drop dice method only tells you how far along the tunnel section each exit is, but doesn’t tell you which side of the tunnel it is.

I was aware of this, but left it out for a reason: I wasn’t happy with the methods I came up with. There’s basically four obvious methods of dealing with it.

  1. Roll 1d6 or flip a coin for each exit to determine which side.
  2. Don’t roll again. Just pick the side that makes the most sense (no connecting back to already-mapped areas, for example.)
  3. Make the exit roll do double duty. If d6 result is odd, exit is on North or West side of tunnel, whichever makes sense. If d6 is even, exit is on South or East.
  4. Same as #3, but only for first exit in tunnel section. Second exit will be on the side alternate, and third exit will be on the same side as first exit.

Method #1 adds extra dice rolls, right after we trimmed some out, so it’s no good.

Method #2 is fine as a general principal to modify random results where needed, but the whole point is to make a random generator.

Method #3 is a bit predictable. For example, a loose (no match) d6 result of 1 is a side tunnel, but under this rule, all side tunnels would be on the same side of a tunnel. Method #4 fixes this a little, but still could be more random.

But since we are also rolling dice of different colors (two light-colored, one dark-colored,) we could make use of that to modify Method #4.

  1. If the dark d6 result is odd, the first exit is on the North or West side of the tunnel. If the dark d6 is even, the first exit is on the South or East. Second exit will be on the opposite side, and third exit will be on the same side as the first. Modify any result that would lead back into already-mapped areas.

If we really feel the need for more randomness, flip the second or third exit to the alternate side if the d6 result is the “opposite” of the dark d6. In other words, if the dark d6 is even but the d6 for the 2nd exit is odd, that exit is on the same side of the tunnel as the first exit.

Links to Last-Minute d6 Dungeons series:

  1. Tunnels
  2. Tunnels update
  3. Exits
  4. Drop Dice Exits

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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Last-Minute d6 Dungeons: Drop Dice Version

I did some testing for the Last-Minute d6 Dungeons series (d6 Dungeons 1, d6 Dungeons 2, and d6 Dungeons 3,) and decided the ratio of rooms to tunnels was too low (Oops! All tunnels!) The problem is the Side Exits roll, which works fine in its original iteration for the semi-random dungeons pamphlets, but that is because that version only has a 42% chance of at least one tunnel, instead of a 97% chance.

One solution would be to replace the Side Exits roll with the Exit Destination roll, but treat it as a freeform drop-dice roll.

  1. Roll 3d6 for each tunnel.
  2. The position of each d6 is the position of each door or doorway (read left to right as West to East for horizontal tunnels, North to South for vertical tunnels.)
  3. For dice that match, only use the position of the first d6.
  4. Read the d6 result from the appropriate Exits subtable below, depending on whether its a triple, a double, or a loose d6 with no match.
d6 Loose d6 Result
1 Simple Corridor
2 Minor Debris
3 Missing Ceiling/Floor
4 Well or Fountain
5 Staircase or Ladder
6 Statue/Monument
d6 Doubles Result
1 Animal Pens
2 Storage (roll 1d6 again)
3 Jail Cell(s)
4 Food Prep
5 Living Area
6 Guard Station
d6 Triples Result
1 Armory (Weapons/Armor)
2 Execution Chamber
3 Temple or Shrine
4 Forge
5 Library
6 Magical Lab

In some cases, the GM could improvise a second roll to specify the variants. The only example specifically referenced on the table is “Storage”, where another d6 is rolled and the same table read again as a clue to what is stored in that room. Similarly, a well or a fountain could be dry or full of fresh, stagnant or poisoned water, or acid (2d6 reaction roll, with Dry as the middle result.)

This same Exits roll could replace the Tunnel Turns roll, but using two light-colored dice and one dark.

  • If no dice match, each position represents one of the three direction (left, right, straight ahead.)
  • If only two dice match, read the dark d6 first to find out which direction is blocked.
    • First Position: No door or passage North in a horizontal West/East tunnel, No door or passage West in a vertical North/South tunnel.
    • Second Position: No door or passage straight ahead.
    • Third Position: No door or passage South in a horizontal West/East tunnel, No door or passage East in a vertical North/South tunnel.
  • If all three dice match, read the dark d6 as the direction to use (First Position = North or West, etc.)

Inside rooms, roll 3d6 for exits in the same way.

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Monday, September 6, 2021

Last-Minute d6 Dungeons: Exit Destinations

I may be making changes to the Last-Minute d6 Dungeons and its update, but before I did so, I thought I would address the missing portion: what’s behind that door?

Usually, a room, although in rare cases, it would be another tunnel. The GM would roll on a table, but there would in fact be several tables, for different dungeon themes and styles, and there may even be multiple tables for one theme/style.

But here’s a generic approach: roll 2d6 on the table below. If the roll is doubles, use the information in the (If Doubles) column.

2d6 Room Type (If Doubles)
2 –> No Floor
3 Jail cell(s)
4 Food Farm/Pens
5 Lair/Living
6 Storage Special
7 Monument
8 Kill Chamber Flooded pit
9 Guard/Defense
10 Crafting Tunnel
11 Debris/Ruin
12 –> Tunnel

Doubles generally means a special version of the general room type: A 4 result means food prep (kitchen, fire pit) or food storage, but double 2 means a food source: a farm or animal pen.

Since a result of 2 is always double 1, it is always one specific result, On this table, it’s a room without a floor. Double 5 or 6 is a tunnel.

The “Special” doubles result next to “Storage” means it’s special storage, like an armory or library.

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Thursday, September 2, 2021

Avatars and Airbenders (Review)

I of course have been bingewatching a lot of television lately, but most of it is a rewatch. But I recently binged an older series I never watched on its first run: Avatar: The Last Airbender. And then I watched the movie adaptation. Reviews of both below.

Full explanation of my ranking system is here. Summary: C is average, A/B is recommended, D is badly made, F is something to avoid.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (TV series)

Rating: B to B+

Not only did I miss this on its first run, but I don’t think I was even aware of it. I was an adult with no kids, so I didn’t really keep track of what Nickolodeon was up to. Years later, I occasionally heard the name, but no real details. Then, about a year ago, I heard some good things about the series, but put off watching it until a few weeks ago.

Honestly, it’s pretty damned good. Even for something aimed at kids. It’s about war and morality and trauma, but not heavy-handed at all, and manages to mix in humor without spoiling any of that. In general, it’s a solid B, but there’s a few better episodes in the 2nd and 3rd seasons.

The Last Airbender (movie)

Rating: C-

And then M. Night Shyamalan came along.

I think it was the release of Shyamalan’s movie that first alerted me to the existence of the TV series. I know it was savaged by the fans, but decided notto judge the film on omissions and inaccuracies, other than “big picture” errors. And of course critics were as harsh on this film as they are on most of Shyamalan’s films, but I’ve already seen some really bad Shyamalan films, and about three decent ones. I can give him some leeway.

The Last Airbender finally helped me clarify Shyamalan’s flaws as a director.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, a lot is missing from the movie. It’s a condensed version of the show’s first season, so of course a lot of details had to be cut.

And yes, there were some odd casting choices, but you gotta figure at least some of that was due to studio pressure. Iroh doesn’t feel like Iroh at all.

And also, yes, Shyamalan decided he had to write it himself, with his stilted way of writing dialogue, a preference for “tell, don’t show”, and some weird hobby horses he likes to ride around in every movie. A bad move when adapting someone else’s material.

For example, he likes to do “spiritual” themes, so he decided to ditch the idea of the Avatar preparing for a final battle. The Fire Nation aren’t imperialists! No! They hate the spirits! For some reason! And Aang isn’t destined to fight a final battle! No! He’s got to teach everyone to be spiritual!

Granted, there is an element of spiritual rebirth in the series, and Aang does wish he could find a peaceful solution … but for some reason, Shyamalan thinks Aang is the one who has to learn to be more spiritual and more peaceful, when in the series, it’s the opposite: he learns some things, but he’s more peaceful and spiritual at the beginning than the people who’ve had to live with a hundred years of war.

But we could ignore all that and call the movie a different interpretation of the same story seed, if the movie were good. And… well, it looks pretty good, except in a couple places. And it’s no worse in terms of plot than many other fantasy knock-offs.

But the directing…

Most of the characters feel kinda dull and devoid of personality, especially when compared to the TV show. And it can’t be the acting, because a lot of these actors have done good work elsewhere. It’s got to be the directing, and to a lesser extent the writing. Watching The Last Airbender made me realize this is a recurring feature of M. Night Shyamalan movies that I somehow was always aware of, but couldn’t put into words until now. He likes drab, emotionless characters. Where that makes sense because the character is damaged or despirited in some way – Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense – his writing and directing style are actually a plus, and he makes a good movie. Where it doesn’t makes sense, like in The Village, it makes for a kind of blah movie. Where he actually wants a different tone, especially a comedic tone as in The Lady in the Water, the movie feels like a failure.

The Avatar TV series is a potentially dark theme that’s lightened up with a lot of humor and personality. That makes the darkness easier to handle. It’s easy to watch the series and just enjoy it, then think about it later and realize there’s a lot more going on than jokes. The movie, though, has maybe one half of a joke, somewhere? The rest is just dull plodding through a storyline that Shyamalan doesn’t seem to understand except in the most superficial ways.

It’s not a terrible movie. If you’re just watching random garbage on TV anyways, you can probably make it through this one. But just remember: you have to think of it as a cheapo martial arts or direct-to-video fantasy movie, just with a bigger budget and better production values.

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