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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Quickie Dice Tool: Dungeon Dressing

More tricks and examples of how to use the quickie dice tool. One of the most frequent reasons I have for rolling random details is to answer dungeon dressing questions. "No monster, treasure or trap in this room, but completely empty rooms are boring. What's in this room?" Or: " What's in these crates?" Or: "What kind of statue is in the middle of the fountain?"

The basic idea behind all the dungeon dressing rolls is that the vertical position indicates the first letter of the name of the item. There are ten vertical positions, each with two consonants; also, you can use the vowels AEIOU in place of BDJFL, or Y instead of Z, if you can't think of a noun beginning with those consonants. Thus, if your mercenaries feel ho-hum because they are all swordsmen or spearmen or crossbowmen and you want some new ideas, assume the next squad you place has training in two weapons and roll two dice on the sheet; use the letters rolled as a hint for the name of a weapon: (battle)axe, dagger, trident, flail, lash, sickle, mace, hook, net, rapier... or any other weapon those letters make you think of.

Although you can create impromptu lists, like that weapon list, for any specific need, I included several premade lists in the center of the sheet, including a list of "Equipment" -- mostly items you would expect adventurers to carry (well, maybe not a mask...) while the "Object" list is a scattered sample of other items you might find in a room or at a market; there's also a list of materials you might find stored in crates or in bins at a merchant's stall.

The horizontal position of any dice you roll for dungeon dressing injects a little variety in these lists. Across the top are six colors that seemed to be the most useful, and six broad material categories. You can thus roll for "red armor" in a merchant's stall, and elaborate that as a maker of dyed leather armor, or a someone selling rusty plate, or maybe even reddish bronze scale mail. Combining a noun with one of the materials across the top can produce more exotic items, like a glass shield or a net made of flesh.

The result of the dice roll itself can be used for further details. The example given in the key is to use a d4 to represent the four classical elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire.) Object + color + element can result in some pretty exotic items, like The Shield of Green Water. Or the elements can be used as a guideline to other characteristics: Earth for heavy, dense items, Water for flexible items, Air for transparent items, Fire for shiny, sparkly or glowing items. Or the more rarified elements (Air, Fire) can represent gems and metal, with the color helping to specify the type (green metal for copper, white metal for silver, red gem for ruby.) The choice here depends on how fancy or arcane you would like the result to be.

Instead of a d4 elemental association, you can use a d6 body part association, combined with color + material, to specify types of clothing: red linen shoes, green bone gauntlets, black silk tunics. Or the d6 could be used as a size roll, with most items being average but a few being tiny or gigantic. Or you can improvise a d4 social status roll (peasant, tradesman, merchant, noble) to define the quality of goods found. Or divide the d6 roll by two to get a column number, so that you can use all three columns for items (Equipment, Object, Material) on a single roll.

Across the bottom of the page are the what I call the behaviors. These are verbs, selected mainly by the letters associated with each digit in Lewis Carroll's old cypher, but I did try to focus on active verbs describing a change of state, with only a couple exceptions like "hold" (although even that could be used to describe grappling, for example.) When used in combination with objects, these could signify:
  • what you would normally do with the object (a tool for breaking things, a bag meant to be thrown;)
  • what has been done to the object (an empty/blank scroll;)
  • an item that is used to do something to an object (tools for making idols;)
  • a place where an action is done to or with an object (the shop of barrel-fillers.)
In some cases, you may have to stretch the meaning of the verb; "empty" could also mean "dig", or "remove", "throw" could mean "send", "swing" could mean "move". In extreme cases, you can always substitute another verb that starts with the same letter, whatever comes to mind; after all, this is an inspiration tool, not a straight jacket. The behavior+object combination just seems like a really fast way to define things like room types or artifacts based on general function, rather than relying on large predefined lists.

One specific way to use the behaviors is for meaningful fantasy names. In addition to made-up names like "Dyarquel" or "Phyngor", fantasy characters often have names that look more like nicknames, like "Headcleaver" or "Axegrinder". The object list (or an impromptu list) plus the behavior list can be used for this kind of name. For example, if we use yesterday's 2d4 formula for dwarven first names, we can add a d6 to get a compound last name: vertical position is the first letter of a weapon name, horizontal position is the verb that follows; the verb can be changed slightly to fit the weapon or to increase the impact ("Axeshatter" instead of "Axebreak", "Speargut" instead of "Spearempty",) or a noun connected to the verb could be used ("Axebreaker", "Boltvolley", "Spearsnatcher".)

Similarly, the objects generated can be used in other abstract ways: tavern names ("The Fleshy Kettle", "The Scarlet Shield";) images in murals or paintings, either static or active ("the tapestry depicts a band of peasants lifting a giant mask above their heads";) principal exports of cities, or trade goods in high demand; topics of books found in a library.

Dungeon Dressing rolls will resurface in combination with other rolls in future posts.

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