News #X: Another 24-hour RPG Competition!

I was slightly late to notice, but a little over a week ago, the people at 1KM1KT - including Rob Lang of the Free RPG blog - have opened a new 24 hour RPG competition. There's 30 pounds in Amazon vouchers to be won, and the deadline is the 1st of July this year.

If that doesn't make sense to you: the challenge is to write a Free Role Playing Game, with rules, artwork, setting, everything - by yourself, in the space of 24 hours. Once you start, you have to finish 24 hours later. There's no police to  watch you obey this rule, except for your own conscience, but that's it.
Think it's not possible? It is. It's incredible what you'll see yourself do in 24 hours, if you take the challenge - even if it might be heavy on your family or social life. Even if you do decide to sleep and waste 8 precious hours.

These two free games on this site were in fact done in its first form in another 24 hour competition.
And I'm quite proud of them!

Feeling lucky? Feeling brave? Feeling inspired? Just curious? I'm all of these. See if I can manage some free time space and join. You too?


A-Z for World Nirdday: Z is for Zork, a time travelling offworld agent

Z is for Zork, the name of a lonely offworld agent, sent to investigate the moral state of Nirdday. According to legend, the Zork was accompanied by a Gwelm (pronounce gh-Wo-lem), a violent, tightly harnessed undead warrior. The Gwelm was invisible most of the time, and sent both to protect the Zork, and to make sure that the Zork would not stray from his mission. Both the Zork and the Gwelms originate in Nopalgaard, a protected place in the far future on a world mostly destroyed by Chaos. Using a telempathic artefact, the last bastion of the Priestesses of Nopalgaard sent out trained volunteers into the past, hoping to find the true source of the Chaos, hoping to retroactively defeat it before it could grow. Nopalgaard, coincidentally, is also one of the more arcane names of the original garden city of the Northerners, the punishing Elves involved in the Celestial Wars.


A-Z for World Nirdday: Y is for Yaddrin, the Mirror World

Y is for Yaddrin, Nirdday's mirror world. Yaddrin years are counted forward, not backward. On Yaddrin mirror images exist of nearly every person and place one can find on Nirdday, and travellers between the worlds may be confused at first to see the difference. However, people on Yaddrin are typically more mild mannered, opposite in demeanor or ethics, more chaotic, or just less determined than those of Nirdday. Some may call those on Yaddrin “good” and those on Nirdday “evil”, but that would be simplifying the reality too much. The worlds of Nirdday and Yaddrin are much alike, but also different – with different choices of the same people having led to different, if similar histories.

Until the end of the last war active magickal gates accessing Yaddrin have been known to the Ahnenerbe division of the ImperiMor army. Some believe that Godking Castor and his henchmen have fled to Yaddrin through the gate of Lorenzo, to escape either justice or an oncoming apocalypse. After their disappearance the knowledge of traversing the worlds was either lost, or travel has been blocked, as some sages believe. Much as is the case with time travel. It is however possible that individuals from Yaddrin have stranded on Nirdday, and vice versa – now locked out from their own world and at the same time mistaken for their doubles.

Art: thankfully borrowed screen shot from the excellent old series Star Trek episode Mirror Mirror. Worth seeing to understand the concept of mirror worlds.


A-Z for World Nirdday: X is for the legendary XIV Legion

 X is for XIV Legion, the ImperiMor legion that fought at Cardabajo (pronounce: kar-da-Bagh-o) at the end of the 7th Celestial War. Complemented by hundreds of dragons and riders of the Kalath princes (pronounce ka-La-ghh) they long held at bay the enemy forces of the Jubre Legions that spawned from the windgates at Lago Madrid (pronounce La-gho ma-Dreem). Despite overwhelming opposing force, and despite a loss of over ten thousand, the legion held crucial ground and ultimately secured that the Armistice of Arrival could be effected. After the battle, a small contingent of the Legion returned from the Elder Temples, and they were said to carry a dark but mighty secret that would secure the ImperiMor supremacy from then on. Whether this legend is true or not, the refreshed XIV Legion carried on its reputation in the following centuries, winning many battles, and finally becoming protector of the Isle of Samaris.

Art: wikipedia


A-Z for World Nirdday: W is for the Wall, the Magick Shield between North and South

W is for Wall, the magick Wall of Power, also called Ley. It stretches from the East of Nirdday all to the west, separating the North and South. The wall is a shimmering shade of silver, over ten meters high, and one can vaguely see through. Sometimes, especially at dawn and dusk one can see huge shadows of skeletal giants shining through – possibly creatures captured in the wall force field. It is impossible to fly over the wall, and coming too close to it is known to cause madness or death. As word of speech, people with crazy or dangerous plans are said to “have left their head in the wall”.

The AceceRex of Samaris first built the Wall, together with the Elder Elves, in order to stop the ever returning wars between North and South. However, to make trade and movement of individuals possible, five major gateways (sometimes named Hellgates) were kept open. These gateways lay at Brugghes, Vaal, Samaris, Loz Azlon and PortaMornanore. Vaal was completely destroyed and closed, while at Brugghes the Wall collapsed and an effective gateway of a hundred miles wide was created on sea and land. Smaller gateways sometimes open, but usually at inaccessible places, and only with full moon for example. Apart from the greater Wall separating North and South, other Walls of Power exist shielding eastern ImperiMor, and eastern Ferdan. 

Art: modified image of Great Wall of China - original photo by Bill Price III at wiki.


A-Z for World Nirdday: V is for Vaal, the Lost City

V is for Vaal, the lost capital of the North-western Empire. It must have lain somewhere in Ferdan, not far from where the magick wall now is, but no one seems t o know for sure. Vaals power and riches were unsurpassed, as all gold and doomstone of the Empire were held in its temples. Also, it was the seat of the western Dragon High Priestess, or the Veknaa, the female equivalent of the Pope. With the demise and destruction of Vaal, also the power of the Priestesses dwindled. After its last destruction in 883 with the massacre of the Valley of Vaal, only decades ago, the lands of Vaal were so poisoned that no life was possible, and its location was lost.

Art: changed image of lost city Vardzia, wiki commons


A-Z for World Nirdday: U is for Saint Ursula, Protectress of the Soul

U is for Saint Ursula, and her 11,000 virgins. Saint Ursula – her name meaning Little Bear, as in the constellation - lived before Arrival, and perhaps before the second Celestial War, in a far away Kingdom sometimes believed to be Anglia. She may have been a Princess, or as others believe, a Dragon High Priestess – like these still exist in ImperiMor. When the King asked her hand, she at first refused, and said she first wished to consult the Seat of the High Priests, commonly believed to be Avignon. She took sail in many ships, together with her 11,000 virgins, each with six handmaidens, making for 77,000 travellers in all. When she returned, she met the King of the Huns, who also wanted her hand. She again refused, and the Hun took vengeance and massacred Ursula and her 11,000 virgins. When the graves of thousands of slain women were found at Colonia (Koln), it was assumed that this must have been Ursula and her women. Ursula is a very important Saint, and protectress of women and children, as well as protectress of the soul as it travels between incarnations.

Ursula convents are found in many places - even inhospitable ones guarding doomstone mines.


A-Z for World Nirdday: T is for Time Travellers

T is for Time Travellers. Although travel through time from Nirdday seems impossible, certainly since the last War of Destruction, known time travellers exist. At least four groups may be distinguished. The first are the so called Guardians, or Lords of Time. Whether these truly exist is unknown, but most sovereigns both hold them in high regard and fear them. It is believed that the Queen of Anglia, the Council of Brugghes and the Elves of Goldar are all advised by them. The second group originates from Section VII, the secret service of the ImperiMor army. Possibly to counter the powers of the Lords of Time, possibly just to stay ahead of other enemies, they researched ways of travelling through time. One of the ways they researched brought them in contact with the Aurorians, a group of vampyres and vampyre hunters who travel between worlds and through time. Section VII may have learned many secrets from them, before they were officially disbanded a few decades ago. The fourth group is the most natural of time travellers, the Celestial Dragon. Unfortunately, all celestial dragons have probably been killed in the first Celestial Wars.

Art: altered image from CERN


A-Z for World Nirdday: S is for Southport on Samaris

S is for Southport, on the Isle of Samaris. It is the central haven of Nirdday, and the last regular port before the Hellgate of Northport, the central hole in the magick Wall that separates North and South Nirdday. In the past, before the last Celestial Wars, Samaris was entirely covered by city sprawl, gardens, fortresses and palaces – for over 10,000 square miles. But after the Northern surprise attack that started the 6th Celestial War, with rains of fire lasting for weeks, only a small fraction of the buildings and populace survived. In the years that followed, much of the old city was buried, either under new buildings, or mostly under ruinous mountains and wild natural growth. Now, huge complexes and hidden pockets underground provide shelter for vermin, outlaws, vile creatures and horrible undead, an Undercity which perhaps spans the entire island. Naturally, the current populace of the isle, concentrated around the four main ports, tries to keep the underearth as locked down as possible – but still the lure of the unknown is great, and many a young man has tried to venture down in search of lost treasure and artefacts. Southport itself is one of the larger cities of the world, with many old buildings and some of the most bizarre markets in Nirdday, including ones for slaves. The city is guarded by a large standing army of ImperiMor soldiers, under command of the White Lord and his council.


A-Z for World Nirdday: R is for Reincarnation Forever

R is for Reincarnation, an important part of most religions on Nirdday, including the Crosstian one (Crosstian resembles the Christian religion of Earth, but is different in several aspects). Most Crosstian prophets remembered their former lives, some of these former lives also of a prophet. It is presumed that all people reincarnate constantly, sometimes splitting their soul into different bodies at the same time. Only those who were imprisoned in soul prisons, or those few who reached the Sky of Joconda are believed to be free of this everlasting cycle. One can reincarnate in any class or human-like race, and only seldomly into the body of animals – if at all. Most people do not remember former lives, but it is not commonly thought as odd if people do. Remembering may be seen as a gift or a curse, but it always seems to strengthen those who experience it. One may feel more one with the rest of humanity, knowing that you always were, and again will be. Knowing that you could have been anyone else, in anyone's position also increases empathy and a sense of responsibility for others.

However, there is also a dark side to the general acceptance of reincarnation as a fact. Those who committed crimes in former lives are sometimes hunted in their current ones, even if they are now repentant people. The Witchmasters of Toledo for example long hunted the Fourhundred souls they held responsible along with the punished Fourty, for the eruption of the last Celestial War. In ImperiMor high nobility tries to cheat the normal reincarnation cycle by letting their bodies be prepared in Heaven (see entry H) beforehand. Or else they aim to be reborn with a temple-virgin or Silver Dragon Priestess of Juno Moneta, thus securing a high born next life. As a side result there are constant feuds, not only between families, but also between soul groups spanning over different lives.

Art: wikicommons


A-Z for World Nirdday: Q is for the Queene Elizabeth of Faerie

Q is for Queen Elysabeth Ysold Galadrien, the Queen Lady of Anglia, Grand Mistress of Londinium, Protectress of the New Overseas Territories, eldest of the Ancient Elves. Her beauty is both wonderful and unsurpassed (although tastes may differ if one looks at her portraits), and all who behold her love her – and despair at the same time. Her dweomer of empathy is so strong, that her entire Faerie Courte rides the waves of her emotions. Although she has many lovers, she is not married, choosing to be second to none. Her throne is at the Tower of Londinium, she commands the greatest fleet of the North (mostly pirates and buccaneers), and protects the powers of the great banks and moneylenders of The City.


A-Z for World Nirdday: Peter von Amiens

P is for Peter von Amiens, inspiring and driven leader of the Kinder des Lichts (Children of the Light), a paramilitary, Crosstian religious organisation. Despite his Keo roots, von Amiens is a strong proponent of a strong Gross Ferdan, and many common folk believe that his leadership would bring new prosperity to the declining nation. According to his own writings, he has been contacted by an Angel after he was wounded on the front in the last War of Destruction. Gathered around him are prestigious old military men and war heroes, but also more shady characters and foreign businessmen. The Kinder des Lichts have become a force to be reckoned with, protecting the countryside, but also dispatching thugs who bully all those who disagree with them, particularly foreigner workers from the east and demi-human races. Von Amiens is a gifted speaker, who knows how to influence crowds. Therefor many established nobles see him either as someone who may save Ferdan or a dangerous man who will cause the next civil war.


A-Z for World Nirdday: O is for Opus Dei

O is for Opus Dei, a Crosstian secret police, and personal inquisition of the Pope. It was first installed by Pope Alexander, who tried to build a counterweight to the mighty Castellan Inquisition and the Witchmasters. The headquarters of Opus Dei (“the work of God”) is just down the road from the papal palaces in Avignon, in an unassuming old convent building. However, the organisation may be one of the most effective in whole Nirdday, with agents operating everywhere. The head of the service is Inquisitor General Nicolas, one of the eldest elves, and his main force consists of dark skinned halfelves all designated with the name “Peter” and a roman numeral. All are efficient as thieves and warriors, operating for the shady side of the Church. Foreign agents are typically either travelling priests, or adventurers, who use the name of a saint as their code names when making contact. 

One agent later made famous in the Chronicles of the Children of Lilith, was code named Dismas (after the Thief crucified next to Iesu). He was actually an adventurer, master thief, and Keolandish nobleman. His co-traveller Litho de Genoa in all probability was not an Opus Dei agent, but a Paladyn from Cluny.


A-Z for World Nirdday: N is for Northerners, the Punishing Elves

N is for Northerners, the Northern Elves who fought the South in the first four Celestial Wars. It is said that the kings and queens of Goldar, and in fact all kings and queens of the world are descendants of these Northeners. Their powers of magick were legendary, and their enchanted creatures and sun chariots both beautiful and terrible to behold. However, some scholars say that the punishing expeditions of the Northeners were unnecessarily cruel, and unheeded for. The Southerners, who arrived early on Nirdday and had their main settlements near Cardabajo at Lago Madrid (pronounce: kar-da-Bagh-o, La-gho ma-Dreem), were probably not aware that the Northeners had not been destroyed in the Long Journey. The Southerners, sometimes named Ancient Dragons but in actuality resembling Elves or Angels, believed that they were now all alone. It was only reasonable that they would rebuild the old empire in the South, and thus it was no act of rebellion against their Lord.

Art: modified image of Gustave Dore (or one of his many students working in his  Ateliers)


A-Z for World Nirdday: M is for Messianist Movement

M is for the Movement, a Messianistic, very loosely organised group of individuals all involved with the ideal of changing the face of Nirdday. The movement started shortly after arrival, with the “Unknown Messiahs”, a group of inspired individuals claiming to remember many former lives. Although the Movement's tenets are freedom, liberty, beauty, fulfillment and a serfdom-free life for both Elves and the much shorter living humans, splinters of the Movement turned violent. When in 1036 the Murder of Kings was committed with soulgrinder bombs in the city of Bridges, the Movement was blamed, and consequently banned as an illegal organisation. People of the Movement, and idealists with similar ideas were prosecuted, hunted and condemned. Even now, now it is widely agreed upon that the Murder of Kings was most likely perpetrated by conspiring nobility and elements of Section V – and not by the Movement at all - the Movement itself still conjures an image of terrorism, bloodshed and violence.

Art by Raphael.


A-Z for World Nirdday: L is for Louise von Basel

L is for Louise von Basel, the adopted daughter of Philips von Basel. Together with her also adopted brother Matthias von Basel she inherited the largest share of the doomstone mines, and she is now regarded as the most important of the Lords of Five. Against all expectation she did not turn her legacy into a grand fortune, owning the most profitable mines in the world, but instead she decided to close them down, thus causing an instant famine of doomstone used in weapon production. Her rationale is that the doomstone is an absolute life threat to the populace, causing vampyrism and insanity. But with the doomstone production halted, the doomstone certificates used widely in financial speculation also lost their value, and this aggravated the financial crisis in Ferdan. Now Louise von Basel travels the world, trying to solve the web of debts that strangles both her Emperor, and virtually all nobles of Ferdan. She is regarded as a hero by the common folk, but she has many enemies too, saying that her red hair will soon turn doomstone green – as she tries to keep all doomstone for herself.

Art by me


A-Z for World Nirdday: K is for Kaiser

K is for Kaiser, the title of the Emperor of Gross Ferdan. It may also be spelled Caesar (and is pronounced as in Keyser Soze). Current Kaiser Ferdinand took over the position from his uncle Karl V at the end of the last War of Destruction. Unfortunately he not only inherited the most powerful army and empire of the west, he also inherited the biggest debts of any state so far. These debts, together with the war reparations to be paid to the Royaume de Keo, ImperiMor, Danemark, Brugghes and Anglia proved to be so crippling to his position that he has found little room to maneuver politically. Also, his country falls further and further into disrepair, and as silver and gold flow out of the country, Ferdinand has a hard time to avert impending civil war. He is desperate for heroes and champions to help him out.

Art by Tiziano (Titian)


A-Z for World Nirdday: J is for Jubre

J is for Jubre (pronounce as Goobere, with the G guttural like Germans would say it). Jubre is a word feared, and its meaning not well known to most people. It is like a curse, which may come upon you if you call it to attention. For those in the know, Jubre is the name of a regime of fear and destruction that once ruled Nirdday before Arrival, and it is seen as the true cause of the Celestial Wars. However, it may also refer to a thick black substance found under the earth, and a state of panic and fear – a raging madness that destroys everything in its path. A sickness or plague of the soul, which may also manifest as ghostlike horrors and images of soulsucking demons. Additionally, in elfish Jubre is related to the words for blindness and what can best be translated as “the hunger of eyeless sharks”.


A-Z for World Nirdday: I is for ImperiMor

I is for ImperiMor, the Dark Empire of the East. Once its master city Capital, seat of the Godking, was master city of the entire world Nirdday. Long the Empire stretched across the world, spanning the whole North. But now only a fraction of the Old Empire is left, the seats of power splintered all over the world. Avignon and Samaris were left to the South, and Vaal was completely lost. Only ImperiMor tries to retain the old ways, the Dragon priestesses, the Dragon riders, the priests of Death named Acheron, and the secret rites of Juno Moneta, the Goddess of Money and Protection of the Soul. ImperiMor remains the most powerful nation, belligerent as ever, with many legions of trained soldiers sent all over the world – to aid in conflicts in the way they see fit. This is not always well received, however, as when former Godking Castor came to the aid of Ferdan, sparking the fourth War of Destruction.

Art: William Turner - Ovid banished from Rome, 1838


A-Z for World Nirdday: H is for Heaven

H is for Heaven, not only the name where those good of faith are supposed to go after death, nor only the name of the celestial sky from whence our peoples once came. Heaven is also the name of the secret places where a select few are reborn. Institutes of sanity and mystic wisdom, and places of rest, perhaps to end a life, certainly to start a new one. In viscous baths of organic fluid new bodies are grown to adulthood, with skin baby-soft and near devoid of body hair. Until the old body dies, these new bodies await to receive the soul that had to leave. Naturally, only the very rich and powerful secure a place in Heaven. And even then, after the shock of waking in a new body in a reincarnation bath, it may take some time before they may remember their former life.

Art note: reworked image based on cc image by Gareth & Rebekkah, crocodile baths - if that is what they really were, because we just don't know, I guess. Who knows, did the Egyptians also have reincarnation baths ;-)


A-Z for World Nirdday: G is for Goldar

G is for Goldar, the Twin Cities across the Ice Wastes, on the crossing of the Magick Walls. These cities are of the Eldest of Elves, those who steward the world of Nirdday since long before Arrival. The domes of the twin palaces of gold and silver protect the legendary twin trees named life and wisdom. Each tree has its own queen, and they share one king. The extremely slim and tall elves of Goldar with their extended pointy ears and their eternal lifespans are dwindling in number however. No elfin lady has borne a childe since Arrival, and few elfin men have fathered a halfbreed since. What has caused this curse is unknown, but perhaps it explains why this once so powerful race now more and more hides itself behind the high magick walls, inside their cities full of mystical lusts, magick delights and abundant servants.

Painting by Ivan Aivazovsky, 1846, of Constantinople - but it gives a nice impression of what Goldar would look like.


A-Z for World Nirdday: F is for Fugger

F is for Fugger, the Ferdanic family of bankers having built an enourmous fortune by lending enormous sums both to the Kaisers of Ferdan and several Popes. Their good standing with other banking houses such as the de Medici of Firenze, or the Moccatas of Portogal, and their expedient trade in both silver and gold made them not only immensely powerful in Augsburg where they live, but also in Ferdan and across the whole world. However, their role as collector of church taxes and “indulgences”, where they effectively collected an interest of 100% on these taxes, was not received well by many preachers. Especially people like professor Martinus Lotharius now not only agitate against this usury, but also against the Pope who is paid with the indulgences themselves. This starts to cause a chism in the current church.

BTW this is not far off from real world history – look up Luther and Fugger. I thought it too shocking to pass up, as I never figured what was so bad about indulgences. And no, I did not do this drawing, as I wasn't born yet then.


A-Z for World Nirdday: E for Eline de Boullion

 E is for Eline de Boullion, former colonel of the Black Guard. She served as a sniper and a field officer during the fourth War of Destruction, and was involved in effecting the grand armistice when former units of the Black Guard received command to destroy one another. The Black Guard refused to fight their former comrades, and this eventually led to the end of the fourth War. Eline travelled as a mercenary for over ten years, not expecting another sort of life, but then her father died and her brother went insane. Backed by Louise von Basel, Duke Luxembourg and Prince Lothar she then inherited the duchy of Boullion, and became one of the Lords of Five, the owners of the Doomstone mines.

Art: yes I did this one!


A-Z for World Nirdday: D for Doomstone

D is for Doomstone, the radiant green ores used in the fashioning of grinder bombs, and the empowering of magical devices. A side product of doomstone, third grade derivative powder is mixed in with charcoal and sulphur to make thunderdust – the black explosive powder used in firearms, grenades and cannon. Doomstone is highly toxic, and may cause Vampyric disease and amok rage among humans. It may kill elves. Only Uruk and Dragons seem relatively unaffected. The doomstone is only found in a few mines, most of them very close to the magick walls across the land. Because it is so valuable, and the mining so dangerous, doomstone certificates have been given out by the owners giving limited mining rights. These certificates were also used in great quantity to refinance the Ferdanic state debts.

Picture gratefully borrowed - here's how you can actually make this Doomstone stuff and eat it.


A-Z for World Nirdday: C for CODA

C is for CODA, the former ImperiMor secret service named Section V. Although CODA was officially disbanded after the disappearance of Godking Castor, it is probably still very active and powerful across the world. Those who are insiders call it “the (assassin's) guild”, or “the firm”, and believe that CODA is involved in many emerging conflicts, wars, terrorism, counter-terrorism, power changes and political pressuring. Many politicians, sages, military and secret service men and women everywhere may secretly also be in employ of CODA, perhaps awaiting the return of their former Godking.


Role Playing 101 #13: Between Sandbox and Railroad, or Going Pick-Your-Path

Sometimes you may feel uncomfortable with true sandboxing. But you don't want to do a linear plot either. Perhaps you want to give some choice to the players, but you're not sure how to do so without losing control of the story. If so, you might experiment with semi-non-linear stories.

Many computer adventures, and pick-your-path-to-adventure books are built this way. They are actually connected scenes (or rooms), which branch out into other scenes, and sometimes branch back to a main story line. The diagram below should give an idea how that works.

       ------\   ---E--\
      /       \ /       \
           \        /

Scene A will either lead to scene B or C, scene B will lead to scene C or D, scene C will lead to scene D or E, and scene D and E will both lead to F. So depending on what the players do, their adventures will look different, but they'll start out at A, and end up at F. Scene A could be the escape of a criminal at the scaffold, scene B their chase after his rescuers, scene C the discovery that the criminal will try to kill the king, scene D the break in in the criminal's hideout, scene E the warning of the king and building his security, and scene F the confrontation with the criminal as he tries to take out the king.

What's Good about Pick your Path
The good thing about this way of story building is that you actually guarantee that there is a story, while you explore some possible choices the heroes should, or can make. You may actually get more grip on what you'll be doing at the game table. If you make a diagram before you start play, you'll actually be forced to think about what the players might want to do, and what that will lead to.

In addition, if they indeed take one of the paths you thought up beforehand, you'll be more prepared. And if your players are at a loss which way to go, it may be easier to present choices or leads to them, for the direct actions they can take. So, it can help you to be a more focused game master.

Still, Don't get Stuck in your own Diagram
Exactly where its strength lies, there also lies its weakness. You start out at A, and you end up at F no matter what you do. If the game master did not plan for X, Y or Z, that's a hard place to get to. Or at least you'll drop out of the prepared adventure if you force your way to X, Y or Z. A pick your path is still very limited in its choices, even if it's not entirely linear anymore. Sure, you could make an adventure that can end up either at F, G or H. But ending up in a place the GM didn't think of before is not a possibility you can build in.

The thing to watch for then, is that you don't get tempted to push players through your preordained diagram, when they don't want to be pushed. Be prepared to think on your toes, and ready to draw entirely new routes and scenes. Or be prepared to think of new hooks to draw them into the scenes you thought of. Either way, still beware of railroading, semi-linear or not.

A Special Case of Semi-Linear: The Dungeon
A very classic example of this way of making an adventure is the Dungeon. A group of interconnected rooms, branching different ways, and reconnecting elsewhere. Each room can be a scene, however short or simple. It can be a fight, a trap, a rest and recovery, or a role playing encounter. A dungeon with multiple paths to its core treasure room, or the room with the big boss is very much a pick your path to adventure. That's exactly what this is about.

And the Dungeon has the similar advantages and pitfalls. Mapping out a Dungeon will make sure there is some focus on where to go next. And a limitation on where to go next. You either go in deeper, whichever way is open, or perhaps you can pull out back to the surface, but that's it.

Adversely, the Dungeon may be to hard for the party to tackle. Perhaps you put in a trap that is too deadly, or a group of adversaries that is to hot to handle. Then what? You can get quite stuck. Here too, you may have to improvise, and open new avenues to make the adventure last. Maybe the heroes get unexpected help from another group of NPC delvers. Maybe a renegade monster opens new opportunity as it triggers a trap barring the way. Maybe you let the heroes discover a secret passage that wasn't there yet when you first drew the dungeon – or you let them dig one of their own.

With Dungeons too, you don't have to be stifled by your own pre-set semi-linearity. Either way, whether you use a story diagram or a have a straight dungeon, feel free to improvise when stuck, and you have a great tool to run adventures.

A-Z for the World Nirdday: B is for Blade the Blood General

B is for Blade, Anthony Ringwood, the Blood General. He was one of the rulers of the Great Northern Empire during the fourth War of Destruction, until about ten years ago. Long he was the fastest swordsman alive, a dragon rider of repute on his three-eyed Kyrganian dragon, and a true Traveller of the other worlds. Serving under Godking Castor and High Priestess Iran, he struck down many a rebellion with great violence, but reputedly he also defeated the Old Gods at the gates between the worlds before these were closed. Blade was long lost at the end of the war, and he was presumed dead – or having fled to mirror world Yaddrin together with Castor and master assassin Darkheart.

Art by me.


Random RPG Thoughts #11: How MegaDungeon is D&D's Underdark?

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was already waning for me when the Dungeoneers Survival Guide was published. We played several home brews by then, diverting more and more from 1E (first edition AD&D). A good friend bought the tome however, and we enede up flipping through the pages and thinking about its implications.
The rules were... a bit outdated for us already. We had moved to using skills earlier, based on RuneQuest. But to other players it was a sign that we probably were on the right track with skills, or that we could return to AD&D, because hey, now we had skills! Even if they were named "proficiencies". But there was something more intriguing about this book, except the bulk of rules and concepts we would never use.

A mega-mega Dungeon called Underdark
It was the idea of a huge underearth network. The Underdark. It was filled with whole peoples, cities, tribes, cultures, feuds, wars, wonder and treasure in a world wholly new. There lived Drow elves, mindflayers, and floating cities of Aboleth - whatever these were. It was a mega-mega-dungeon.

It wasn't mapped, we had to do that ourselves (some of us tried, cutting and pasting 3d geomorphs from photostats in the rear of the book). It wasn't layed out, or explained, we had to wait for years and several editions later before something more detailed came out. Sure it had been around as an implicit idea since 1978 in Vault of the Drow, but we never thought of it as a full setting. Now it glared at me and really sparked my imagination. A mega-mega-dungeon.

Now we didn't really have an idea what a mega-dungeon was at that time, in the mid-eighties. We couldn't fathom that it might be a real "thing" in a later movement called OSR. It just hit my fantasy cells, and I kept on thinking how cool it would be to run a mission down such a huge web of dungeons. As a player, that is. Because usually I was a Game Master, and still am.

Indiana Jones meets the Mosquito Coast
I figured I might play a Harrison Ford look alike, being a mix of Indiana Jones and the father in the Mosquito Coast - someone leading a mission (his family) so deep into unknown territory out of idealism, that he actually forgets who he has the ideals for, and ends up estranging his family instead. Even now, over twenty years later I wonder what it would have been if I could have played that character. Eventually I did play someone like it, named Alexander Mallory, but that was different.

We never did the deep earth exploring. Not even laying down a deep earth realm, much like Mordor, in our world Yaddrin, called Findath, did enough to really let it work. Bits and pieces, small forages, hit and run missions, one escape from its depths after a failed teleport. But no real attempt to hit into the heart of it. I guess we made the concept to scary and to unattractive to delve into.

Is it really a MegaDungeon, this Underdark, or What?
I'm not to sure if Underdark is a Mega-Dungeon. Giga-Dungeon is more appropriate, I guess. Probably people like Jovial Priest or James M. from Grognardia would know best. James is working on publishing his long awaited (judging from the pledges on his kickstarter!) Dwimmermount mega-dungeon, and that will probably be big - and unexpected and weird. Michael Curtis of Stonehell might know. What do you think? Does it qualify as the mother of all mega-dungeons? Or rather the mother of all giga-dungeons? Let me know.

Artwork thankfully borrowed from the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide: by Jeff Easley.

A-Z for the World Nirdday: A is for Arrival

A is for Arrival and Ascension – At the end of the 7th Celestial War History started, and the Time of Legend ended. It was the time of Arrival, in august 1066. Now we count down to the year zero, waiting for the time of Ascension. To some this may appear as counting backward, but this is the Nirdday way. Since Arrival all gates to offworld locations were closed down, and the Fourty responsible for the eruption of the war were imprisoned in soul prisons, so that they may not reincarnate again. All other souls were cleared of their crimes, in the verdict of Avignon of 1038, declaring all other crimes that happened before arrival Legendary and therefore not acceptable in a court of law.


A-Z for the World Nirdday: Oh why not?

April seems to be A-Z month, and my Nirdday setting, which has already been used in maybe a hundred sessions could use a little encyclopedia. I'll start off tomorrow with the A for Arrival and Ascension - and will hopefully end on Dutch Queens day, 30th of April with Z for special agent Zork. To understand a bit of Nirdday's topography you might want to keep the map below at hand. Just click to enlarge.

If you like the Nirdday entries, you might also like the mirror world setting Yaddrin, for which you can download the Samaris supplement for free. In the supplement is a small gazetteer for Yaddrin too.

Pick #79: Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque

Have you ever wanted to do Gothic adventuring, wistfully looked at Vampire the Masquerade - but didn't want to play a lovesick undead creature? Looked at Grindhouse Lamentations or Carcosa and thought it too weird for you? Loved Poe more than Moorcock, but never dared to leave the fantasy arena? TOTG&D may be something for you.

Just a few days ago liche lord Jack Shear put his home brew Labyrinth Lord campaign resource out on the web, for free. It's called Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, like the blog, and sports 116 pages of remarkably good stuff. Good enough for me to want to plunder it for ideas. And good enough to think wistfully about gothic adventure campaigning. Have a look, and drop Jack a word to tell him what you think of it.


Pick #78: Why I love Spirit of the Century

A few days ago UPS finally delivered the hardcover of Spirit of the Century to my door. On 3rd try... despite that I told them I wouldn't be there; so much for communication with UPS. Spirit is a hefty 7"x9" book, well over 400 pages long, printed by Lulu, produced by Evil Hat Productions, written by Robert Donoghue, Fred Hicks and Leonard Balsera.

And I guess it just earned its spot near Talislanta, the 1E DMG, CoC, Traveller and Stars Without Number. Which means it's in my top five of RPGs (not counting my own DD2). Why?

Because this implementation of FATE (a FUDGE variant) inspires me to revise the way I look at role playing. The pick up game (a game session where you don't have all your regular players, and need to improvise outside a regular campaign) is actually made into a strength, instead of a weakness. The use of Fate points and Aspects gives the players more influence on changing the story, without making it totally free form. And it's chock full of good GM advice on running your story driven game. And I mean really good advice - despite my 30+  years of game mastering experience I found enough to make me smile.

Maybe the Pulp Hero game setting itself is not directly suited to your group's style - being a mix of Top Secret, Indiana Jones and Marvel Superheroes. But I found the book is definitely worth reading, and the game very probably worth playing. The PDF is currently only $5, so you don't have to plunder your pocket book to get it - unless of course you go for the hardcover, like I did...


Role Playing 101 #12: Why it's Good if your Players are Smarter than You

Did you ever think of a problem for your players, and they came up with a solution you would never have thought of? One that blew away your well prepared evils in a whoosh, and struck you right off balance? How did that feel?

Sometimes your players are damn (excusez-le-mot) well smarter than you. And you have to face it. The worst thing you can do then is to say their plan won't work. It will stifle their creativity, their sense of accomplishment, and their motivation to play with you. You don't want to do that.

So what do you do?
You have a couple of choices when your players are smarter. The first is to just act as if your nose bleeds, and let their plan work. It's a smart plan, isn't it? So let it work. Then think on your toes what happens next. Don't be tempted to undo the players' moment of triumph straight away, but instead show how effective their plan was. Describe the effects of the success lavishly. The players will enjoy it, and it will give you time to think about the next challenge to throw at your players.

The second option is to also be honest about it. Just say “wow, you really caught me off guard there!”, and compliment them on their plan. Maybe give them five or ten minutes of a break. For them to grab some pretzels, and for you to get your notes and wits together and make a new plan.

The third is to actually rejoice. Your players are smarter! That doesn't mean they wrecked your careful plans and think your game is worthless. They wrecked your plans alright, but they are also so well into the game that they manage to cook up a terrific counter-plan of their own. You did well. You are no longer alone in shaping the story, your players are actively shaping it in ways you had not foreseen!

Of course, you can also do all three of the above. In any case – let the plan of the heroes work, and go with the flow!