Monday, September 20, 2010

The Dragon #10 part 2

Let There be a Method to Your Madness by Richard Gilbert: This article gives advice to DMs on how to design a dungeon, and I have to say that this is great stuff. The central idea that the author puts forward is that you should work out what the dungeon was before it became a dungeon. Figure out a short history of the place and a basic personality for the person who built it, and you ought to have enough hooks from that to plan out a goodly number of levels. Obviously this sort of thing can go too far, but this article keeps things just on the right side of sane so far as planning goes.

An example dungeon is created for the article. It was built 400 years ago by a magic-user called Nappo with the aid of a few hundred orcs. From that, plus the fact that Nappo loved to experiment on monsters, a whole lot of ideas for levels are created. There is the requisite laboratory level, another for the animal experimentation, living space for the orcs, cells and torture chambers, a number of levels with tricks and traps to stop intruders reaching the lower depths, where are Nappo’s own quarters. Not bad for an article of this size. I’m going to tentatively place this dungeon in my campaign world, should I ever get around to designing the thing. (I think this project has about five mega-dungeons planned so far, which is really stretching things. But hey, I like to plan big.)

Weights & Measures, Physical Appearance and Why Males are Stronger than Females in D&D by P.M. Crabaugh: What we have here is a set of charts to randomly determine your character’s appearance, as well as size and build. That’s fine and handy so far as it goes, and I do appreciate that there are some pretty odd and fantastic combinations possible here. But this is yet another author who feels the need to differentiate between male and female characters. Thankfully, things aren’t too egregious here. There’s actually a rare tendency here to err in favour of women, giving them a +2 to Constitution and a +1 to Dexterity. They don’t suffer any actual Strength penalty, but they do have a diminished carrying capacity. The author has devised a new encumbrance system that computes a character’s maximum carrying capacity based on size and build. Since on average females are smaller than males, they can’t carry as much under this system. But you know what? I’d swap that for the Dex and Con bonuses any day.

Gaining a New Experience Level by Tom Holsinger: There has already been one article in this issue about level advancement. While that one proposed the idea of granting XP only for gold spent on orgies and charity and such, this one takes a different tack. The idea here is that characters can only advance in level by attracting the attention of the gods, and having that level divinely bestowed. I have to say, I like this a lot. It clears up a lot of problems that people have with D&D’s level system, most notably the amount of punishment that high level characters can withstand. Now there’s a reason Rothgar the Mighty can survive about twenty sword thrusts – he’s powered by the gods.

There are a lot of rules here for how different alignments can attract the attention of the gods. Good characters can engage in prayer and fasting, or alternately they can ritually sacrifice Evil or Neutral creatures. Evil characters can also do sacrifices, and sacrilege against gods of another alignment also works. The author is getting a little cheeky when it comes to Neutrals. They can attract their god’s attention by playing practical jokes on religious figures of Good or Evil, or they can do so by getting laid in a mistletoe tree.  It seems a little incongruous, until I remembered that mistletoe is sacred to druids.

This is all well and good, but the downside is that you don’t always attract the attention of the right gods. There’s a chance for gods of the opposite alignment to show up, which is never going to be pretty for your character. Apparently the presence of clerics can be used to mitigate this chance, for a token sum of course.

The character then has to become physically exhausted once he’s got the attention of the gods. The author’s suggestion is to get drunk, but I figure there are a lot of different ways. I certainly don’t intend to use his suggestion of ‘Great Pink Elephants’ as emissaries of the gods. You do have to admire his explanation for demi-human level limits, though: it’s because they have a harder time getting drunk than humans! He also provides an explanation for why high level characters need to build castles. It’s because all of these antics involved in getting the attention of the gods have a tendency to piss people off, and are harder to get away with in a town or city.  Once you've got your own place out in the wilderness, you can have all the wild parties and sacriligious tomfoolery you want.

I plan to use these guidelines in conjunction with the ‘XP for gold spent’ rule mentioned in the Orgies Inc. article. I’ll provide this as an alternative, generally requiring the expenditure of less gold or possibly none at all depending on how the player goes about things.  So players can spend all of their gold and reliably level up, or they can take the risk of keeping their gold by using the gods, and hope they conmtact the right ones.

Next: The Dragon #11


  1. I had missed that Crabaugh was author of that article. Too bad. He's otherwise my #1 reference for how to write cool stuff for games.

  2. I don't think it's actually that bad an article. The random charts to generate your appearance are nifty, at least. The encumbrance system is decent, if a little over-complicated for my tastes. It's just linked to statistically differentiating male and female PCs, which to me is always a bad idea.