On dungeons

Fantasy RPGs have two important tropes. The first is dragons, which I won’t discuss here. It’s a trope, but it’s not exclusive to RPGs, so there’s plenty to read about them elsewhere.

The second trope, which you don’t see explored in any detail in other media, are deserted dungeons. Man-made structures, from a forgotten culture, underneath ruins, that adventuring parties explore — either to cleanse the evil inhabitants or to seek treasure. I always wondered how that could be: how could the structures that a previous group of people left behind, just be forgotten? (I will ignore things like natural caves, because those are just there and not constructed. It’s specifically the dungeons with the 5′ corridors leading off into the dark that interest me.)

And then I realised that in real life, we have unexplored dungeons too! Minus the magical monsters, which I think we can all be thankful for… Of course, there are the corridors through the pyramids and the graves of the pharaos: left behind by a previous civilisation, which we know about, and yet when those were discovered, it made a huge splash.
Or take Rome: after it was sacked, the population dropped immensely: without the structures of society, there was no way to support an urban population that large. The people who stayed behind demolished the buildings to use the bricks for their own houses, and cows grazed on the Forum. Could there not be undiscovered halls and corridors underneath, that nobody knew about? Would someone who was going to flee the city before the pillaging hordes, not stash their wealth in a hidden passage underneath their house, as to lighten their load — intending to return for it when things quieted down?

More bizarre is the Shell Grotto in Margate. Such intricate patterns of shells — and yet nobody knows who made it, or what its purpose is.
Or take the underground city of Derinkuyu. These underground structures existed for over a 1000 years, yet when the original inhabitants were forced out, it took less than a generation to completely forget that the town was built on top of this. Only after 30 years did they “discover” the structures when someone knocked down a wall in their cellar. That means that the dungeons were forgotten within living memory!
Or take the region of Bagan, where kings and princes of the distant past build thousands of temples. Those were Buddhist, so they could theoretically be still used for their original purpose, but suppose that they’ve belonged to a now-dead religious system? Suppose all the houses back then had been made of wood, and only the stone temples are now left?

So I learned that having dungeons around is actually not as far-fetched a story-device as I thought it was. This knowledge will certainly inform my future scenario-building.
(Do you want to know more? Check out this video and this video by the excellent Great Big Story channel.)

Hacking Tachyon Squadron

I backed the Tachyon Squadron Kickstarter for 1 dollar, which gave me immediate access to the text-only version of the rules. It’s called “text-only”, but it is a fully laid-out PDF which looks gorgeous. There are empty spaces where the art will go, but other than that, it’s the complete game. A pretty good investment!
And it’s really good: lots of good systems to emulate dogfights in space, like we know from movies and TV series. I also note that in the list of inspirations Robotech is mentioned… The only drawback is that it uses the FATE Core system, which I like in principle but had not gotten to ‘work’ in my own campaigns. And looking at the play examples, the players are busier with the mechanical aspects than with the fiction. And it’s the fiction I’m interested in…

So maybe I could port those excellent systems to the narrative dice system that FFG uses in its Star Wars games? Or maybe the Apocalypse World Engine? The Star Wars games obviously already have space battles, so I might read up on those first.

I’ve played a fair bit of Pathfinder: it was the game of choice for most of my groups once D&D 4th edition rolled along and everybody hated. Pathfinder was the game that kept the 3.5 torch burning, and players flocked towards it like moths to the flame.
I’ve never much liked Pathfinder: by the time I started playing the game, it was already well on its way along the “supplements with ever escalating power levels” route. Lots and lots of options, and while options as such are great, I also felt the need to write an app for my phone to keep track of all the different modifiers my character had to deal with during combat!
Now, with the release of D&D 5th edition, Dungeons and Dragons is back, bigger than ever, and it’s eating Pathfinder’s lunch. Clearly, something had to be done to save the Pathfinder model. One of those things is that the publisher released Starfinder, which is (as far as I can determine) a Pathfinder-in-space game. But there is also going to be a second edition of Pathfinder — with the goal of ‘cleaning up’ the game.

Pathfinder is (was) big, so of course I’m kinda interested. But ‘cleaning up’ doesn’t mean making the game simpler. I think I don’t need to keep track of this second edition, because it does not provide what I want from an RPG.

Or at least, RPG ideas I think are cool.

Guild Orphanage Graduation Expedition


Edo Sprawl


Rogue Sprawl


Dark Amber


Monstersprawl


Ryuutama: The Forest Shrine

If there’s something in there that you are interested in, let me know! We might be able to arrange something after all…

Please ignore if you’re not interested in rambling talk about my amateur RPG design…

If you want it done right, you gotta do it yourself. Let’s see if I can come up with something coherent in terms of a Macross RPG.

Amateur RPG design hour!

In Blades in the Dark, you play as a scoundrel, pulling of heists. And in The Sprawl, you play as a professional conducting raids on corporate facilities. There are… similarities in the types of actions that you undertake in those games — but they go about it in a different way. Now, The Sprawl, as a game, doesn’t really need any ‘fixing’: there are systems in place to deal with most of the drawbacks of traditional mission-based cyberpunk games (looking at you, Shadowrun!).
The worst thing about mission-based cyberpunk is the “analysis paralysis”: trying to come up with a contingency for every conceivable thing that could go wrong. I’ve played a Shadowrun module where we did this for about a year, before we even dared to progress to the action itself. (And of course, things all went to shit anyway.) The Sprawl fixes that by having a Legwork Clock: once it’s filled up, Legwork is done and you switch to the Action Phase. Rather, you would stop legworking before that. I write more about that in my review of The Sprawl.

And still, in my experience, the Legwork Phase tends to be kinda long and dragging. Blades has an interesting solution to this: there is no Legwork Phase. Rather, you just dive right into the heist. And if you need [gear] or [intel], you just have a flashback to describe how you got that. And I quite like that: you only do the flashbacks that you actually need, rather than do all the Legwork for the things you think you will need.
It’s still Legwork, it’s still happens, but you only have to play it out when you need it during the mission. The only thing that will be different is that the Legwork Clock (which can influence the Mission Clock) advances during the Action Phase, not before. Which means that the Mission Clock can jump up suddenly, while that should have been up there all along — maybe even to midnight, basically aborting the mission?
Still, I don’t see that as a big problem. Maybe the guards should have been on alert all along, but you only notice it when you’re already in and opening the locked door with the keycard (which you got through a flashback). Nothing too weird about that, and I think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.