... now with 35% more arrogance!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Reload Last Save?

I’ve been playing modded Skyrim again recently, so it’s reminded me about something that irks me in video games. It’s easy in Skyrim to get suddenly overwhelmed by enemies and swiftly killed… and then the game loads the last save and you start over. The worst things that can happen are:

  • forgetting to save for a long while and losing a lot of progress,
  • getting killed so close to your last save point that you get stuck in a “death loop” and have to abandon that save, rolling back to a previous save.

Sometimes, it’s even better to die in a couple situations to gather information about coming dangers. All of this can break immersion, if that’s what you’re looking for in your game experience. Dying really doesn’t matter.

Which brings us to a point many OSR bloggers have made before: dying has to matter in old-school games. This is why there’s so much pushback against “fixes” like negative hit points, healing surges, or eliminating save or die situations. There’s certainly room for discussing proper GM practice, or giving players a few more options to avoid instant murder. And honestly, old school play isn’t really more deadly than other RPGs, as long as you play smart. But the general feeling among the members of the OSR community is that play should be thoughtful and cautious, and death should be a constant threat. Remove too much of the threat and you turn the game into a meaningless adventure simulator.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Delusions and Illusions

Before continuing the exploration of mystical states of matter I started in this post, I wanted to say a little more about the old mystical states of astral and ethereal matter and how they affect spell-casting.

I believe I mentioned a long while ago that illusions have a special relationship to astral matter. An illusion spell cast while the spell-caster is astral takes on its own semi-permanent reality. Hallucinatory Terrain creates a sort of pocket astral realm, while Phantasmal Forces can make self-willed astral beings. Conjuration takes this one step further, causing these astral beings created from pure thought to physically materialize for a while.

Similarly, ethereal matter is affected by desire and emotion and can be used to transfer these to another being. Call it “delusion” in contrast to “illusion”. The simplest delusion spells would transfer simple physical sensations, like sleep and hunger. Charm spells would also depend on ethereal matter.

The way I’m imagining it: spell-casters during their spell prep would imagine themselves feeling sleepy, hungry, or loyal, basically practicing self-hypnosis, while chanting magical phrases, scribing symbols, and burning incense or other ingredients, impressing their desires on etheric material and binding it to some trigger phrases and gestures so they can recall and direct it later.

Since Sleep and Charm Person are 1st level spells, while the first illusion (Phantasmal Forces) is 2nd level, I’m thinking astral equivalents of ethereal manipulations are all basically one level higher. For example, Invisibility (2nd level) transforms light that reaches the target into ethereal light, so that those unable to see ethereal things would be unable (or barely able) to see the target. An astral equivalent that is harder to detect and is more like an illusion, able to be turned on or off with a thought, would be 3rd level. Detect Evil and ESP are ethereal-based, Clairvoyance and Clairaudience are astral-based and one level higher.

Extrapolating further: Dimension Door (4th level) relies on astral distortions of distance (I know AD&D says its a form of ethereal travel, rather than astral, but I don’t see it that way…) What would the 3rd level ethereal equivalent be? No spatial distortion, but temporary intangibility. This is pretty close to Phase Door, although that is rated as 7th level. I think it should definitely be lowered in spell level, although the multiple use version could be set at 5th level (and the caster should be allowed to take up to two others through the phase door.)

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Shadow, Silence, and Thunder

I was going to continue my exploration of the mystical states of matter, like the eternal and empyreal states. I don’t have time at the moment for the massive cosmology post I’d planned, so I’ll just do a quick post on one additional state.

The empyreal state is intangible, bright, and sometimes hot. The umbrial state is the converse of that: intangible, dark, and sometimes cold. It’s fantasy shadow, with its ability to actively block light. It’s the way spellcasters create magical darkness (transform a patch of air or smoke into the umbrial state) and also the way other spells cool down air to create cones of cold or walls of ice.

By extension, there could be other mystical states linked to other senses. Silence would be intangible and inaudible, stifling all sound it envelops, while Noise would be audible but overpowering, a chaos of sound.

(Not sure what the latinate adjectives for these should be, to match “empyreal” and “umbrial”… it wouldn’t simply be “tumultuous” for noise, because it just doesn’t have the same feel. And “silent” would be too ordinary.)

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Making Geomorphs with Inkscape (Part II)

Continuing my tutorial for those who would like to make Dyson-Logos-style, Dave's Mapper-compatible geomorphs. Part I is here and left us with a generic geomorph template. Part II focuses on creating an individual geomorph using this template. Open the template and use File > Save As... to create a copy with a unique name, perhaps saving it to a /Pictures/geomorphs folder.

Switch to the rooms layer to create the first part of the level. Don't use the rectangle tool to create a room or corridor. Instead, use the bezier line tool to create an outline of connected rooms and corridors, connecting at least two of the geomorph connection points (entrances/exits on the geomorph sides.) Use a white fill color with no stroke color, but for comparison, I've included a version with a yellow stroke color.

corridors + room
highlighted outline

You may have to switch to the node tool and "tug" each node a bit so that it snaps to the grid properly and lines up with the entrances/exits.

Geomorphs are improved if you add a bit of three-dimensionality with corridors or rooms above the base level. For these additions, set the stroke color to black and make the stroke thickness 1. You can set stroke width without opening the Fill and Stroke tool by right-clicking the number next to the stroke color in the bottom bar. (It took me at least a year or two of using Inkscape before I figured this out.) To get the walls of this upper level to line up, you can switch to the node editor, select each line segment, and tap an appropriate arrow key once or twice.

upper level

Add dashed lines to show walls that pass under the second level. The first dashed line in the Fill and Stroke tool will work fine.

hidden geometry

To cover up the solid line leading to the left end of the south side, use a borderless white rectangle.

unnecessary walls

Once you are satisfied with the layout of the rooms and corridors for this geomorph, lock the layer and switch to the layer above (details). This is where you will add things like staircases, doors, traps, pits, and other symbols.

parallel line segments
shorten segments

An easy way to make a staircase symbol: Off to one side of the document, make a line segment, copy it, and paste it several times. Align them all, then select all the lines except the top line. Shorten the lines by a tiny bit (easiest way: use the W field in the toolbar at the top,) then deselect one line and repeat, so that the lines get shorter and shorter as you go down. Once you've shortened all of them, select all the lines, center them horizontally with the Align and Distribute tool, make the vertical gaps equal, and adjust the stroke width to 0.75. Group them, then adjust the size of the staircase symbol. Reposition the staircase where needed. Copy the symbol if you need more than one staircase.

group and resize

A good way to indicate a ladder or trapdoor: Make a circle (no fill, stroke width 0.75) and a line segment equal to the circle's diameter. Center the line horizontally and vertically in the circle, then use the bucket tool in one half of the circle to create a shaded half. Group the result to make the symbol and position it where needed.

ladder connecting

Simple door symbols: Make line segments (stroke width 1) to seal off any room entrance or corridor where you want a door. Draw a rectangle (rectangle tool or bezier line tool) with a white fill. Adjust one of the dimensions using the W(idth) or H(eight) field in the toolbar so that it is one-half or one-third the other dimension, then change the stroke width to 0.75 or 0.5, whichever you prefer. Center this horizontally and vertically over the wall segment using the Align and Distribute tool.

adding doors

There's certainly more that can be done: more symbols, or adding text on the labels layer (not generally used with geomorphs, but you might use this same template for one-page dungeons or pamphlet dungeons.) You can draw little pictures, either directly in Inkscape using the freehand tool or with real pen and paper, then snapping a pic, importing it into Inkscape, and correcting colors with a threshold or levels filter/extension. There's also ways to add fancier background fill patterns.

If anyone would like to see tutorials for any of those techniques (or how I made something in one of my geomophs or other maps,) let me know.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Making Geomorphs with Inkscape (Part I)

I wanted to do something a bit different this week: a tutorial for those who would like to make Dyson-Logos-style, Dave's Mapper-compatible geomorphs. I will be demonstrating in Inkscape, since it's (a) free, and (b) the program I use.

You will probably want to practice first with Inkscape, in particular with the bezier line and curve tool, the node editor, and the alignment tool. I won't be doing a step-by-step walkthrough for any of the tools.

document size
grid set-up

First, you want to create a template for all your geomorphs. Starting by setting the document properties to a custom size: 3 inch by 3 inch. You can use whatever default units you wish (I use millimeters,) but the "standard" geomorphs are 3 inch by 3 inch with two connection points (entrances) on each side. You also use document properties (Shift+Ctrl+D) to set up a default grid, 10 squares by 10 squares. Set the spacing for both X and Y to 0.3 inches with a major grid line every 5 lines.

rename layer
 Rename the base layer to "background". You will have a total of five layers in your template, in this order starting from the top:

  • labels
  • grid overlay
  • details
  • rooms
  • background

Add the grid overlay layer first. This is for your printable grid lines, if you want them. I don't use printable grid lines for geomorphs, but do use them for other projects.

On the grid overlay layer, create two 3-inch long lines, set their stroke width to 1, set their stroke color to aqua. Rotate one 90 degrees, select both, and center them horizontally and vertically with respect to the page. Then, use a grid rendering tool (Extensions > Render > Grids > Grid...) Set line width to 0.2 and horizontal/vertical spacing to 28.8, with no horizontal or vertical offset. After creating the grid, select it and set the stroke color to aqua. Again, center it with respect to the page, then select the grid and the two thick lines and group them (Ctrl+G).

two major grid lines
create minor grid lines
Hide the layer and switch back to the background layer. Using the bezier line tool, draw a square with this pattern, repeat for each of the four sides:

  • line segment from one corner, two squares long
  • short one-square-long line segment
  • four-square-long line segment
  • short one-square-long line segment
  • final two-square-long line segment to next corner

The short segments will be where the geomorph connection points go. You won't seem them properly until you switch to the node editor tool.

background outline

Select a short segment with the node editor tool and add a node between the two endpoints. Repeat for each of the short segments.

add nodes to segments

Drag the center node one square inwards, for each of the short segments, to make this pattern.

triangle notches

Select each of the diagonal segments and add a node between the two endpoints. Again, repeat for each diagonal segment.

add nodes on diagonals

Drag each of these new nodes inwards so that it creates a square "tooth" for each geomorph connection point.

toothed background

Change the fill color to black and turn the stroke off to create this basic background shape. You may have to readjust the nodes after turning off the stroke to make it line up properly again: just grab each node and drag it a tiny bit and release. It should snap to the proper position. If not, you may need to adjust your Snap to Grid settings.

background fill

Make two layers above the background layer: rooms and details. You should also may a labels layer, either above details or above grid overlay. You may have to try both arrangements to see which you prefer: grid lines on top of your text labels, or below.

create new layers

Save this as your geomorph template. You can experiment with different fill colors for your background. It represents the solid stone portion of your map. If you want to try fill patterns instead of solid colors, I recommend making a duplicate of the background shape, centering it above the original background (but still on the same layer,) and then changing the fill color to a fill pattern. This keeps the final image from having transparent areas.

In Part II, I'll demonstrate my technique for using a template to make an actual geomorph.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Fifth Element

No, I’m not going to talk about that gods-awful movie. This is a continuation of the cosmology I started in the post on the eternal state of matter. Summary of the current mystical states of matter:
  • material, the base state, tangible, visible, moving through space
  • ethereal, a more rarefied state, intangible, rarely visible
  • eternal, a less rarefied state, impenetrable, fixed in space
  • astral, a conceptual state, intangible, invisible, beyond space
You could match up the states symbolically with the Aristotelian or Hermetic elements and arrange them in a circular diagram with the material state in the center: ethereal is linked to water, eternal to earth, and astral to air. (They aren’t literally water, earth, and air, but rather are mystical equivalents.)

That leaves a fifth element, empyreal, the mystical equivalent of fire. It is completely visible, sometimes blindingly so, but smokeless and mostly intangible, but can interact with the material state in the form of fire. Again, it’s not literally fire – it can’t be smothered or doused with water, and it doesn’t consume fuel. It doesn’t even always burn combustible matter. Most empyreal matter only emits light, not heat, but some of it may be hot or actually burn, and some empyreal beings can control this, starting fires.

The source of this is some classical and medieval cosmologies which name the highest heaven The Empyrean, and describe it as a place of pure light. There’s also some influence of Middle Eastern stories of djinn, efreet, and peri, which are all described as beings of smokeless fire (in other words, light.)

I may actually have more mystical states in the works. I’ve been thinking about this in conjunction with my revamped magic system. Some of the spell effects are explained as partial or total transformation of something from one mystical state to another. So, more mystical states means more spell variety.

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Thursday, November 7, 2019

Astral, Ethereal, Material... Eternal?

Have been busy this week, so no time for an extensive post. But I had an idea that I might expand on at some point. It has to do with mystical states of matter.

I’ve posted before about doing away with the cosmic planes entirely and keeping astral and ethereal states of matter, rather than astral and ethereal planes. Everything is in the same world, except some things are material and can be interacted with, some things are intangible and barely visible (even then, only under special circumstances,) and some things are completely invisible/intangible to material beings, but highly mutable.

But what if there were a state of matter that went the opposite way? What would that be?

I propose the third mystical state: eternal.

An eternal object loses all distinctiveness, becoming a grey, motionless shape. It can be touched (feeling icy cold,) but cannot be destroyed or moved by any means. It is timeless and unchanging. Living beings that become eternal experience nothing but black silence, forever, but continue to be aware of their own thoughts.

Petrification (Flesh to Stone) may not actually be a transformation into stone, but rather a translation of matter from a material state to an eternal one.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Dice Rolls: Are They Secret? Are They Safe?

Dennis Laffey has a post on his blog (What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse...) about keeping dice rolls a secret (or not.) I'm sure regular readers of my blog know that I agree with what he says. Except I would go even further: almost all dice rolls should be secret.

Not super secret, mind you. Some rolls you'll roll without intending to reveal the result, but if someone accidentally sees the result, it's no big deal. I'd classify monster attack rolls this way.

But most rolls should be secret. Not just because of suspense, although that's very important. But because, as I'm sure you've heard me rant before, players and play should not be focused on mechanics. Mechanics are for GMs. They aren't important.

So players get to roll their own saves, because they may already know their target number anyways and keeping the roll a secret is pointless, since it won't reveal any information. They can roll their own attacks, although I'm in the "roll high on 1d20" camp rather than telling players target numbers. They can roll for many situations, where they know what's happening and know the approximate odds, like "The narrow ledge near the waterfall is damp. If you cross it, roll a d6. On 5+ you slip."

But reaction rolls are secret. Turn undead is secret (especially the way I interpret it, since two Very Bad results on Turn Undead means the cleric has angered their god or had their faith shaken.) Monster saves are secret (they are clues to monster level.) And definitely, any search for something that might or might not be there, like secret doors or listening at a door, has to be secret.

Monday, November 4, 2019

October 2019 Blog Maintenance, November Plans

Just noticed that my previous maintenance/todo post mistakenly said it was for September/August instead of September/October. That caused me some problems when I tried to look it up for reference on this maintenance/todo post.

Blog maintenance completed in October:
  • started using blog topic graphic links at the end of map and PDF posts
  • updated links to new dungeon expanders and Liber Zero reference sheets
  • ran tests on the effectiveness of my blog promotion activities… will have more to say on this around New Year’s.
I promised one or two small Map Monday releases and one large one. Wound up doing just the two dungeon expanders. Also promised more LZ reference sheets and delivered two. Still more are on the way.

I did not complete The Assembly of Ill-Formed Flesh, for a variety of reasons, mostly because of other non-blog-related matters. Things get pretty hectic here from time to time.

Plans for November:
  • Two Map Monday releases:
    • one or two small maps, probably pamphlet dungeons.
    • The Assembly of Ill-Formed Flesh, if possible, or a geomorph set, if not.
  • More LZ reference sheets, probably the Hybrid Class and some GM references.
  • Possibly the LZ Player’s Guide, if I get enough of the player references done.