2016/11/29

Hey, Don't You Have a New Blog & Ooh, Bookie!

No, I'm not shutting this blog down just yet. For now the new one (www.wizardthieffighter.com - go and book it) is focused on being a hub for hosting the stuff I draw that has an "epic" whiff of DnD, Grapeshot and Metal.

BUT!

Do you want brains in machines, egotistical hedge wizards and a curio shop gone bad? Maybe not, but I'm telling you to check out this pay-what-you-want adventure by John Carlson anyway: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/198834/Automata-Run-Amok

Why?

Because it's fun. And because I illustrated it (but did not write the deputy). So go look at it.

I've also expounded on how it was made and why you might be interested: (http://www.wizardthieffighter.com/2016/6-automata-of-john-carlson/). It also has paper-geekery, where I detail the paper I used and the pens and suchlike.

Oh, and to make you feel better, here's a colored promotional detail of one of the pieces I drew for the adventure:


2016/11/27

Art of WizardThiefFighter Gets its Own Site!

As of today, my G+ collection AoWTF has hit 521 posts. A respectable number, indeed.

Such a number, that even I have trouble navigating through them!

Well, from now on this will be much easier, as they will begin to move, along with some additional content (and ads, and donation boxes, and links, and patreon stuff) to www.wizardthieffighter.com.

Seriously, go there. Look at it. Marvel at it. Ride the Stratometaship.

2016/11/19

Quaalude Iron Wicker Druid Man


QUAALUDE IRON WICKER DRUID MAN
  1. or a Ritual of Harvest Appeasement Gone Awry
  2. or Where Have All The Longpigs Gone
  3. or Who Said Druids Are Nature Lovers
  4. or Burn the Forest Feed the Fires
  5. or Ia Ia Treantu Ftagn.
  6. or Iron Man Shall Walk Again In The Sizzling Blood of the Unclean


2016/10/31

D&D is not a game. It's games.

Pre-ramble

A few days ago I joined a largish 5E D&D group on Facebook and I was ... astounded. For a few days I clicked around, participated in a few discussions, and most of the people were normal and quite polite. So far so good.

But still. Astounded. I've run 60 sessions of more-or-less D&D 5E. Sure, there are house rules - what game isn't house ruled? - but the game we run is certainly 5E compatible. It's also OSR compatible, with everything from DCO to DFD and SUD getting played.

And there I kept asking myself, what game are these people playing? Who are these dungeon masters? These games sound nothing like my games! The core books held as laws to be followed. The constant call to "CR" and "balanced encounters" and "challenges" and calls to "fudge dice".

My mind is completely boggled. D&D is supposedly a game where your imagination provides an unlimited special effects budget ... and here I saw it reduced to accounting over and over again.

I vented my astonishment on the G+ OSR group - again managing a pretty normal and polite discussion. Good job folks.

My Bard

The whole experience with accountant-D&D reminded me of one experience, years ago, when I tried to join a group at a game shop. I'd been DMing for years and I looked forward to being able to play a bit. So ... the DM lets me know the basics, level, setting, stuff like that. I roll up a bard.

I show up at the table and all the other players begin complaining, 

"Oh, God! A bard!"

"Bards are totally underpowered!"

"Bards can't fulfil any role, they don't even make good support!"

We came to the first encounter, some orcs at a barricade. I announce that I try to talk to them. The DM stares at me, "But they're orcs!"

I respond, "Yeah, but I'm a bard with an epic lute and I can try to soothe the savage beast."

All the other players look at me darkly. The DM looks at me darkly.

My bard offers parley, the orcs accept. The bard stands up and starts to talk. The DM rolls some dice and announces, "Five arrows hit you. 22 damage."

My bard was down.

The party charged into battle and killed the orcs. My bard bled out.

"Now you can roll a character that can help the team fight."

I left the group. F**k if I was going to waste time moving minis around square rooms shooting orcs with a wand of magic missiles Mk 3 for four levels until I got fireballs and could do the same thing but against appropriately higher CR monsters.

D&D is Not A Game

Finally, the heart of the post. During that OSR discussion (and also thanks to this here post on RPG combat as war vs. combat as sport) I became aware more acutely of something. When you get together with friends to play chess or monopoly, you know exactly what game you will be playing and what the victory conditions are.

But not with D&D.

Because D&D is not actually a single game. It's actually more a type of play activity, within which different games are played. Let's look at the games (pl.) of D&D.
  1. An overland exploration / travel game that is literally Outdoor Survival from Avalon. The so-called Hexcrawling. This is a game I never managed to play successfully at my sessions, by the way! (with resource management system 1 - over long periods)
  2. A combat game that comes originally from Chainmail, which was a miniature war game (and I think that's where the accounting war game tension comes from). (with very short term resource management)
  3. An exploration / mapping game where players delve into a dungeon. This is where the grid squares come from (it was easier to get grid paper to draw architectural-ish labyrinths!) and this is the game that is well spoofed in Munchkin. (with resource management system 2 - over short periods)
  4. A hero simulation game, where the PCs go from zero (or level 1) to hero over the course of several sessions. This is where the whole experience thing comes from.
  5. A game of improv, which is the DMs funny voices and the actual role-playing - which are surprisingly completely untethered from rules in actual D&D. At least some basic improv tenets would be useful here.
I actually think this is pretty great. It means that you can take this House of Games (HOG) and cherry-pick your play experience. It's also pretty easy to add additional games to the D&D play house:
  1. A 'domain' game of geopolitics, which might as well be replaced with Diplomacy or a similar simple strategy game.
  2. A world-building / history-building game, which could be either wholly narrative or set up as a card game (I think Microscope does something like this).
  3. In-game gambling / fortune-telling with cards, dice and more.
  4. A dungeon or city-building game with lego bricks and dice.
  5. A music game of trying to find the perfect song on Youtube to fit a given scene / character / battle or result (I actually do this at the game and give XP for players who come up with great music).
This big playhouse means that there are different things for different people to enjoy and actually think reducing D&D to just one or two of any of these components diminishes it. Honestly, it's not a great exploration game, and it's not even that great a combat game! But, the mix and the openness of games it allows, this is amazing (I suspect even the founders of D&D didn't realize exactly what kind of play house they had created). By the same token, taking the subsystems of the game and trying to reduce them to the same rule system does not necessarily work well.

What I do think is a problem is that D&D as presented in the game books isn't up-front and open about this situation! It clearly refers to D&D as a game, but then says that "the game has no real end".

No, of course it doesn't have a real game! Why? Because the "campaign" is just a themed play-time. We're playing Feyrun [sic] or Greyskull [sic] or Mordorland Blues because it gives a mental reference frame to our actual games of "kill the annoying archmage Elfminister" or "explore the ruins of Aetheria to find the Magic Sword of Swordiness" or "banter and jibe in an improvised rhyming competition among oppressed railroad worker orcs while listening to music"

So ... phew. Not sure exactly where to take this forward, but the Games not Game realization has opened my eyes to possibilities. Now, since you read so far, some music from Dio (and Rainbow):


2016/10/22

All PCs are Thieves

Over the past five months I've drawn over 144 wizards, thieves and fighters. Characters, vignettes and accompanying texts. A number I've also published here.


The Wizards were easy. They're madmen, plumbing the depths of creation, seeking knowledge humanity was not meant to know, bringing magic, science and weirdness into the fantasy rpg. A wizard as an opponent in a game of D&D is the perfect opponent. It takes so little to make them wrong. The corruption of magic can make dispatching a wizard, even one who is good at heart, an act of mercy. No hero needs feel bad about dispatching a wizard.

The Fighters were also easy. They represent power, hierarchy, strength, domination. A wizard breaks the rules of reality to get to the top, a fighter is the top. Two heroes walk into a ring, one comes out. That is the fighter. A fighter represents the Man and it is so easy for the power of the fighter to corrupt. After all, there can be only one.

But Thieves. Making thief-type opponents is hard, because by their nature they are not the opponents of PCs. They are not kshatriyas or brahmins, they are not in positions of power, they do not seek to spit in the eyes of gods and demons with their magics. They are the underdogs. Ordinary folks getting by on guts and guile.

Thieves are essentially all adventurers. At best, they are competitors, but not opponents.

Prometheus. Heinrich Füger 1817
Prometheus. Anansi. Loki. Robin Hood. Reynard the Fox. Bilbo. Aladdin. Sinbad. Odysseus. Theseus. Conan. Brier Rabbit. Coyote. Bart Simpson. The Doctor. Bugs Bunny. Benjamin. All of them are "Thieves" and "Upstarts" against the order. Against the Man. Sneaking into the Scary Wizard's Temple to steal a ruby. Overthrowing a tyrant king. Going against the giants. Assassinating a hobgoblin holy man to prevent the downtrodden goblinoid masses rising up against the rightful elven aristocracy.

The only thieves are the ones who overthrow the tyrant and then put themselves in his place, becoming the Man, the Wizard, the Priest.

At the core of the D&D adventure is a group of down-on-their-lucks making it in the big world. Rising up, against all odds. To do this they use guile, trickery, guts and if they don't die, they achieve glory. In essence, it doesn't matter if a 1st level character is a barbarian or a bard or a warlord (terrible class name, by the way), they're all thieves.

And that's why setting thieves as opponents is kind of crappy. They're thieves because they're the underdogs and have to fight a sneaky battle against those in power. And that's why following Elminster the All-powerful's instructions is kind of lame, because it's just doing what the authority tells you.

The PCs are in a fantasy world where they can overturn everything at no cost. And now, they're going to follow orders from the Man to keep things the way they are. How boring!

Subvert the order! Bring down the Fighters and the Wizards that keep the common goblin down!

d12 Table: As you leave the Popular Noble King Wizard's Audience Chamber

  1. a maiden slips you a discrete silk purse that holds a crystal rose and a scented letter alleging that the king has had six secret sons imprisoned in a crypt beneath the citadel of City Over.
  2. a group of petitioners with magic cabbage growing from their ears are beaten away from the doors by the NKW Police.
  3. an NKW security wagon rumbles by, three captured goblins inside, destined for the NKW processing facility five.
  4. a merchant comes to you, offering to pay for goblin futures on scalps you'll collect cleaning the New Expanse of their troublesome hides. He'll give you 50% on the rate, so you can armour before you go to the New Expanse.
  5. a group of peasants with placards protesting the price freeze on turnips imposed by the NKW to fight speculators and kulaks. A group of Official Trading House accountants laughs at them from their coach and throw turnip pies at them.
  6. a nobly accoutred knight pulls you aside and mentions that if you do well in clearing out the Marble Quarries of Marmarra of the filthy kobold raiders, he may have a job protecting the tax collectors in the Western Ranch Reach.
  7. an astrologer attorney offers additional money if you also bring her any patent amulets on farms and mines that the goblins might have stolen in their raids. The goblins don't realize that these trinkets are valuable, if properly argued in the NKW property protection courts.
  8. a preacher stands on a box ranting about the inhumanity of the filthy hobgoblins in the New Expanse, who continue to pollute the Good Folk with their robbery and brigandage and breeding like rabbits and bringing sexual diseases and corrupting young folk with filthy notions and stealing young men for their lust matriarchs. The ranting goes on. And on.
  9. a noble scribe comes to mention that he knows a specialist interested in live goblins as test subjects (for a spell that will allow for the more effective fumigation of the New Expanses) and will pay 'andsomely for them. He passes an address in the Fine Warehouse Quarter of City Magnificence.
  10. a woman in a great dun coat whispers if you want any illegal goblin tech to help you out, maybe some of their cryptic mesomorphic keys to help you out in the Rainbow Ruins?
  11. a troop of proud young recruits, chests puffed and wearing the silver and red livery of the Righteous Fighters of the NKW march back and forth in the parade square, groups of young fine women swoon delicately, peddlers offer snacks, shoe shining and grooming for pennies.
  12. a number of drunken NKW university students accost several half-goblin slaves and beat them with smelly salamis while onlookers cheer and wager.

2016/10/16

30wizards - The Soft Cloud

The Soft Cloud


HD 5-5 - massive but soft
AC 8 - pillowy
Atk 1d4-1 - intoxicating, gentle and filling

Glorious ruler gently rests, smoking the Pipe of Djinn on the Throne of Little Three-Eyed Thralls while contemplating the world through the colour haze of trans-plutonian existence.

Henchmen:


  • Little Three-Eyed Thralls - numerous, cute, lasagna-eating menaces. A vigorous shakeup of their hierarchy is a common spectator sport. HD 1-1, AC 13, Atk 1d4 poisoned lasagna, see your embarrassing secret.
  • Chair Golem - immobile but unforgetting, golem immunities from below and behind. HD 2, AC 18.

Magics:


  • Pipe of Djinn - summons gin vapors and communicates with a Djinn named Eugene. Intoxicating
  • Colour Haze of Trans-Plutonian Existence - a void-traversing communication-enabling spell. Enlightenment brings confusion. Confusion brings release. Answers are questions wreathed in purple.

Someone has stolen my Throne and now the Thralls won’t carry me!


  1. It was Pneumato, the Gas Wizard!
  2. Perhaps it was just misplaced in Trans-Plutonia?
  3. It’s a Thrall Revolution! Lasagna for the masses!
  4. There is no throne. The pipe is corrupted.

Eugene the Djinn has a well-laid business proposition for a gin franchise. It will be a success.


  1. I will never let him go! He’s my only friend!
  2. Gin?! Who would ever drink that! Folly!
  3. The Polly Pogue Gang won’t stand for that. It has a nice Cracker Jack racket going.
  4. But to release him, some gentle virgin must drink the Aetherial Gin Prison! It turns mortals into (1) rainbows, (2) potatoes, (3) water nymphs, (4) cheese, (5) iron golems and (6) a shrubbery.

SUD: Session 3 - Three Wizard Time


Three Wizards Walk (and are Carried) About

Dramatis personae:

  • The Astrolomancer, a quarterling astrolomancer with a tarot deck, some crappy illusion spells and the summoning spell from lotfp
  • The Psychotropic Neomarxist Healer, a priest of empowerment with a lot of psychotropic herbs and a few crappy healing spells
  • The Pretty Pot, a magic pot with an unseen servant, charm spells and the ability to brew potions inside itself.

... after becoming friends with the slothrog and releasing it. They wander into the Reaver Camp. After putting on a harmonica duel with one of the pirates, sharing some long pig, charming another pirate and singing an epic poem in praise of Fooloo, first mate, they are acclaimed as true friends. The pirates pay them for the entertainment and the charmed pirate, 'Chunky', joins as a henchman carrying The Pot.

They arrive at the Golden Barge and spot the skeletons on it. After denting the barge, a skeleton comes to fix it. With mending, they help fixing it. They engage the skeleton in conversation and soon prove that they too abhor "the flesh demons" and point to the pot, the mending and some illusion magics as proof. After demonstrating their "non-fleshiness" to some more skeletons they are allowed in.

The skeletons take them to see the "Great Machine Mind", while equipping them with some sentient snacks to deliver. At the foot of the great staircase they run into the great ape dropping barrels on them. After very little thought the Astrolomancer summons an arachnid demon from the great icy seas of chaos that is 'immune to all physical attacks'. It promptly breaks free of his control.

Making themselves scarce (crappy illusions, darkness, phantasmal barrier and some other stuff) the summoned demon goes after the ape. Bypassing the whole battle they enter the "Control Chamber" where they find the odd-headed supercilious and sniffy creature with a vibro axe trying to activate the "mind-machine-interface-helmet". Eventually they lure the demon inside and close the door behind them, while they rest.

Returning an hour later, the room is a mess, the demon has evaporated back into the seas of great icy chaos and they discover that they don't know the odd language to control the machine. Disappointed they proceed to poke around further in the barge, picking up some books, discovering great hamster wheels, and deciding to discover another of these "odd-heads" to use them to control the "great machine mind".

Then they politely leave, thanking the skeletons for their help.

Weirdness: 4/5
Bypassing Combat: 5/5

(Golden Goats Session 58)

2016/10/12

30wizards - Kromo Reza the First Version Sword

Kromo Reza the Sword V1

HD 2+10 - heavy and metal.
AC 18 - high and strong
Atk 2d6+6 - proud and mental, the greatsword glimmers

Great magus of the metal order, binder of demons, witch king of barbarians, poses with the great thrall Littlehead Metalknees.

Henchman:

  • Servant Littlehead Metalknees - a mind closed to reason and influence, a strength to bring down great goats. HD 6, AC 16, Atk 2d6+6 and the Words of Metal.

Magics:

  • Bewitch Barbarians - influence speakers of unintelligible tongues by waving hands and flashing metal eyes.
  • Hill-arising Runes - they do make the hills walk and the lowlanders quake in fear. "Gor na gor bo goru!"
  • Metalknees - heavy metal knees that stomp and shake the ground and mark the true thrall. Prosthetic.

Declamations:

  1. Worship me, fleshy warrior, and I will make you King!
  2. Sacrifice your most beloved sheep to me, that I see your heart is truly mine.
  3. Wield me and your bones will be as iron.
  4. Climb the peak of Ca-Ru-Na, defeat the three-headed bird Alabu and call the Lightning!
  5. Eat the soul of the horned wolf and your mind shall be closed to all ill magics! I swear!
  6. Expose the 3 Words of Metal!

The Three Words:

  1. Ca (death) is visited by those you strike in my name! (save vs. death)
  2. Ru (black) blinding ink fills the eyes of the stricken! (save vs. blindness)
  3. Na (dark) lights burn dark and shed night around us!

Pull me from the stone!

  1. Free! Free at last! Die mortal spunk!
  2. Ga-ju-ga! My task is complete! You are unbound!
  3. As a boon, that stone is now Glod. Enjoy him.
  4. Yeah ... that was anti-climactic. Do you have a body ready for me to inhabit?

2016/10/08

30wizards - Baron Baron

Baron Baron of Baronia


HD 2+2 - arrogantly low
AC 13 - quite unnecessary
Atk 1d6 - sharp and to the point

Hat trick wizard and summoner of rabbits of Arrgh, tips the Hat of Conjuration to you. With the Cape of Night and the Black Pince-Nez of Rainbows, how can you stand against his magnificent thinness?
  • Pince-Nez of Rainbows - summons rainbows and holy divers. May avert evil eye (4 in 6).
  • Cape of Night - Night is still looking for it. Inverts circadian rhythms. Causes insomnia. Is a very dark white. Protects against sun burn.
  • Hat of Arrgh - summons Beast of Arrgh. Does not come with instructions. HD 1+1, AC 20, Atk 2d6 vorpal.
  • Barron’s Ballistic Bunny - rodents fear a spell that accelerates them in ballistic trajectories. 
  • Get Real Thin - reduces body volume while maintaining mass by a factor of up to π.

Complaints in the Court of Confusions

  1. My neck fell off.
  2. It’s right there, sir. Are you mad?
  3. It must have been the purple lotus!
  4. There are myrmidonoborgs in the Iron Machine of Mulachi that make new ones!
  5. Why do you want mine? It’s still attached!
  6. The new caryatid cravats will be the rage of the season, just ask Lady Flightshade.
  7. And inside was this pearl choker. Perhaps it will convince the Silver Priestess to go to the Feast of Fools with me?
  8. My dumnorian iron dwarf servant is Rusty. It’s just a bad joke. The red-haired dwarf still has no soul. Does it eat children?

2016/10/04

30wizards - First Wizard

First Wizard Tentaclebeard



HD 7 - elegant
AC 7* - untouchable
Atk 2d7 - sparkly

Slayer of the Scumbag Sorcerer, Defeater of the Douche Demonist, the Evil Elementalist and the Wanker Wizard.
  • Scarf of the Tentabeard - stops hearts with its touch and charms cephalopods.
  • Eary Robe-hat of Sparkles - imbued with magic by the Mad Arch-Imp ‘Cat’ Cheerdrums.
  • First Wizard’s Misrule - a cursory spell that inspires drunkenness and wild partying.
  • Orb of Rubber - bounces and brings the bouncy back
  • My other house is a cake-shaped crypt.

Who Will Rid Me of this Self-Absorbed Fairy Princess?
  1. She ate all my cross-pies!
  2. Those were priceless experiments, not imp-cakes!
  3. I will not be humiliated and sparkle in daylight again!
  4. He said he was a princess!
  5. There is now a temporal vortex in my lavatory. Ah.
  6. How dare she turn my snakes into socks?!

There is a filthy goblin in the basement playing checkers with a ghost in her head.

2016/09/28

The Stratometaship: A Patreon Vote Your Own Adventure

If you've been following this page for any length of time, you've noticed that I occasionally draw.

I've also got too many different, partially overlapping social media accounts - not least of which patreon (https://www.patreon.com/wizardthieffighter) - and I've been tossing around different ideas for what to do.

At one point, I thought to myself. Maps. But ... those are covered.

Then I thought ... adventures. But they're also covered.

Then I gave up for a bit and just chucked up a tip jar and said, "support pictures."

And that was fine for a while.


A pinkish moon rose and fell.

And I had an idea ... I don't know when/where I'll finish my first illustrated adventure OSR DND game supplement thing. But I realized I'll be drawing all the way till there ...

... and there should be something fun to do with patrons, that doesn't actually involve me doing bonus special extra features. I hate those. I want patreon to cover my papers and pens and things like Adobe CC subscriptions and the like, while letting me keep doing what I love: draw and paint surreal trippy DnD stuff.

So ...

... you're still reading?

Well, patrons get to participate in the stratometaship "vote your own adventure" and contribute to the journey taken.

And yeah, if, when, maybe the book comes out, of course they might get .pdfs and the like. ;)

So, that's the gist of it for now!

STRATOMETASHIP

and related materials also appear here:
  • https://www.instagram.com/lukarejec/ - overlaps with cute penguins and non-dnd art.
  • https://www.facebook.com/wizardthieffighter/ - just starting up, a facetube alternative to G+.
  • https://plus.google.com/collection/ozEE2 - the Art of WTF collection, currently the largest receptacle of stuff for WTF.

2016/09/25

WTF Character Sheets tailored to Character Classes

I'd often thought to myself ... each class in D&D should have its own character sheet. After all, the classes do pretty different things. After making the three sheets that my WTF hack requires, I understand why there are not more class-specific character sheets.

Time. It takes time.

On the other hand, they look pretty. And I also understand more clearly why more adventures don't have infographics outlining the games for the enterprising lazy DM. Enjoy.

(should also be compatible with 3rd level 5E characters)




And for the Generics.


2016/09/15

Improved Information Presentation for Dungeon Masters and the Slumbering Ursine Dunes

The Golden Goats (our D&D party) has chosen (on the basis of insufficient information and DM nudging) decided to (of their own free will) hit the Slumbering Ursine Dunes. This is not a review of that adventure, but I will use it for illustration.

Like many dungeon masters (referees, game masters, whateverees), I have stacks of adventures at my disposal. Infinite modules and adventures, games galore. From the OSR classics like Death Frost Doom to Zak Sabbath strangenesses like Red & Pleasant Land to the gargantuosity of Blue Medusa to short things like Gus L's Tower of the Hated Pretender and the subsequent Dread Machine and Patrick Stuart's Deep Carbon Observatory. Seriously, google those and check them out. They are good.

I've come to really appreciate pre-made adventures, because they provide me with

  1. the skeleton of an adventure to run, useful when short on time, 
  2. and encounters that I didn't make up myself, which is great because they challenge me when running them, expand my experience, and leave me completely indifferent to outcomes.
But one thing I have run into in every one of these adventures is the challenge of information presentation.

The information I need from an adventure as a DM is different from the information players need, furthermore I function as a medium for this information, filtering it for the players. So, the information flows a bit like this: Author (Adventure) ---> DM ---> Players. Every one of those steps is open to entropy, distortion and information loss.

But the big difference is in how information is (or should be!) presented to different audiences.

How Players Receive Information During a Game

A player receives information in a linear fashion from the DM. For example:
DM: There is a great stork in front of you. About 60 feet high. It grabs a merchant and swallows him whole.
PC: Is it blue?
DM: No.
PC: Damnit, my Arrow of Blue Slaying won't work. Can I jump on it?
DM: If you climb a nearby building or tree, it could work, but it'll be dangerous.
In this way, a player's experience is a bit like reading / playing a piece of interactive fiction with a real-live fictomancer (aka. storyteller) and dice to provide random events.

How DMs Receive Information From an Adventure

The same way. In a linear fashion.

Most adventures are laid out and written as though I, the DM, am an invisible, floating, incorporeal, somewhat mind-reading eye or spirit exploring the adventure step-by-step.

  1. The sands here have been compacted by generations of ritual blood-letting by the troglocactus people. A golden cow is buried under the semi-animate dragon statue. A smelly path leads south. A sweet path leads east.
  2. 1d3 orco-agave slaves are here working. Great clay bowls pock the canyon here, where the troglocactus people deposit their sappy discharges to make the delectable nectar known as peopltle. Peopltle causes a buzz and gives advantage to speaking to animals or plants and a 20% chance of seeing a vision familiar (see p. 59). A paved path leads to the adobe hut of the ogro-saguaro chief red-knocker to the west and a dirt track leads to the orco-agave slave village further south.
  3. 40% chance Red-Knocker is here. The adobe hut is fine and decorated. There is always a spiny ant-eater-umber-hulk crossbreed here. She is named Mary-Louise and likes checkers. Can find rumours. Red-Knocker has blown all his gold at the Gamblehouse of Sweet Nectar Slim in Migarro, so there is no loot.
And this is kind of fun. It's like a make-my-own adventure game in some ways. I end up rooting for the Clan of Poo werebear circus performers. I chuckle at puns.

What PCs and DMs Do With Information

The player immerses herself in her own story in a linear fashion, knocking down one door after another, until she discovers the prince is in another castle. And yes, I've done that. She doesn't need to know what is (or could be) behind the window, under the hidden trapdoor, in the background or in the mind of the extra-corporeal corner-demon Pelutho who is tossing bread crumbs into this reality to fish for the souls of men (but not women, for Pelutho is not that kind of tosser).

The DM mediates the adventure to the PCs. The DM is like the adventure's Search and Map and Random Seed and Dice Rolling system mashed together with some bad voice acting and terrible theme music for fight scenes. Oh, also, while generally conducting the party like a master of ceremonies (because a good game of D&D is a party).

And therein is the problem.

As a DM during play I need a synchronous overview of the adventure at multiple levels. I need both higher and lower-level overviews, and I need more information density than a player ever experiences. Adventures try to deal with this, and many recent OSR adventures are taking steps, but they're not there yet. The essence is still linear, even in the Blue Medusa.

Information Presentation (the Example of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes)

I'm going to break-down the SUD based on the information being presented.
  • p. 1 - Welcome to the Dunes - an introduction and some guidelines (not using it during play)
  • p. 2 - Dunes History - dropped it, as I slotted it into Rainbowlands
  • p. 3–p. 8 - Faction Behavior - this is important, but at 4 pages, I don't have the time to review it as I play. In practice, this means my rendition of the SUD diverges at the first NPC encountered.
  • p. 8–9 - Rumor Table - yay! But let's hope I spot it more often. (R&PL has an interesting approach, where all the tables are (repeated?) at the back, which I like. Another cool option would be a bonus .pdf of just the tables to keep them available).
  • p.9–10 - Wandering Critter Table - important. See above.
  • p. 10 - Using the Map - honestly, ignored this in play.
  • p. 11 - the Map - I refer to this constantly. It now has a flap, marking it in the book. This is one of the most important references in the adventure, unfortunately, like on many maps, the locations are simply numbered, not named. Maps are an area of information presentation for DMs that I think present one of the best chances for improvement in future products.
  • p. 12–20 - 25 Point-crawl locations - all the "level 1 locations". A key problem is that there are two key adventure/dungeon locations, which are not marked as such on the map and require "redirection" from p. 16 to pages 20 and 30. Also, several of the small locations do also conceivable break down into smaller sub locations. Linear!
  • p. 20–40 - Actually, three large dungeons, containing 3 of the factions. Together they add an additional 25, 14 and 18 locations, respectively. Each comes with specific local environment settings and encounter tables, but their maps are only at the end of the adventure. And, again, numbered. Linear!
  • p. 41–43 - Chaos Index - a fun tracker-based mechanism to modify the environment based on party activities. However, notice it's location: slotted in the middle.
  • p. 44–55 - Bestiary - ok, reference. It can be here, I probably won't manage to check during play, though!
  • p. 55–56 - Spells - as above.
  • p. 56–59 - Bonus Classes - as above.
  • p.60–61 - NPC hireling pre-gens.
  • p. 64–65 - maps for p. 20–40
At its core, the SUD is a location-based adventure with 4 factions, 4 location areas each with its own encounter tables, a total of c. 85 location objects + additional character and treasure objects, and several global tables and trackers (chaos index). This is an approximate information architecture of the whole adventure:

SUD information architecture: I want stuff like this when I run an adventure.
SUD does its job pretty well, but it's quite classic in that the only non-linear tool is a map, the rest of the adventure presentation is linear.

Ideas on Adventure Information Presentation for Running a Game

That quick information architecture? That's a top-level overview for a DM. Slightly below that, is a diagram breakdown of the different moving parts (objects: locations, characters, treasures, traps, tricks, etc.) and how they pertain to each other. I generally make one for every game I run (here's the DFD example. It has pictures, too.) — assuming I have at least a bit of time.

If I have time, I may try to hammer something like this out for SUD, because it's fun and I'm in the process of running it. When I run a game, I want to have the information presented to me in a dense yet visual format, that I can use to grasp what is going on and stay on the ball ... sort of like a good infographic.

This is how I envision it:
  1. top-level adventure track = adventure info architecture + factions track + chaox index + key tables (this is basically a table of contents cross-pollinated with DM screen, I guess!)
  2. adventure diagrams = crossbreed of map + key facts about each location (NPCs, treasures, challenges) - these should correspond to the individual adventure levels, so SUD would have four - but the level 1 (pointcrawl) should mark the entrances to sub-levels.
  3. location details = this is basically an index-style presentation of the individual locations. What we already have.
I suspect every DM does some level of self-architecting before running an adventure, but my hunch is that several handout style one-pagers would make running most adventures much, much easier. If I'm write (I'll find out soon enough), a 60 page adventure like SUD really just requires 5 stand-alone .pdfs to make it ridiculously easy to run.

And now, a picture.

See the Red Dunes? Just south-west of Sfera?