Tuesday, September 28, 2021

When the cup is empty, in. When the cup is full, out.

I've had a complicated and largely asocial relationship with the RPGsphere over the last couple years.

Back in the day when the Internet was still marginally fathomable, I sought out and collected interesting images and visual art.  Anything I found eye-catching. 

Eventually there was just so much out there, and I'd get into veritable trances just scrolling and saving, that something snapped, and I simply had to stop actively seeking it out. Kind of an abyss-gazing situation. Image sites almost took on the quality of eldritch horrors I dare not think of peeking at.

Shutting it out was an easy decision, so obviously beneficial to my mental health in retrospect. (It's still true for the most part, with exceptions when I have very specific obsession, like starship interior cutaways.)

And now the OSR/DIY sphere has grown to such breadth and richness that it has taken on the same Dread aspect in my mind.

I long ago discarded the notion of becoming a visual artist, but I still entertain notions of producing game stuff of some value.

So, starting around the time of the pandemic, I’ve basically been completely avoiding RPG Twitter (I post but don’t read), Reddit, etc. or seeking any sort of replacement for G+. To mixed results.

My ideation and project-starting has basically continued unabated, bar the usual low tides. But I haven’t really felt like running games or playtesting anything. Or blogging. 

I think partly because I feel bad about preaching without practice, much less practicing what I preach.

I did manage to create and release something, a meta-reflection on my creative process itself:


aka if brain won't make games, make brains your game

Pro-tip: you can playtest solo games yourself.

And I started Ephemeral Palimpsest to try to get over some of this by letting loose a little, and not holding myself to such a high standard, with zero expectations.

I've also been trying to practice a mantra, put into words that stuck with me by Hankerin Ferinale of Runehammer, as an answer to a question about when to read and when to write:

When the cup is empty, 
When the cup is full, 

Read and consume inspiring things only when my mind is depleted of self-driven inspiration.

When I'm inspired and my mind is on fire, let myself be taken by it, and get it out onto paper (well, Workflowy, if not gDocs). Be comfortable rejecting input.

And when I have the agency, work on refining and polishing existing projects in the hopes of finishing and releasing them. - or, write blog posts to get them out in whatever state I can, instead of gathering dust in my notes unto eternity.

Of course, the times I am most inspired or have the most agency are during unstructured times when I am not more distracted by the pull of other social media or gaming - in other words, during work hours...

In terms of Intake, I've been trying to take construct a kind of drip feed, a controlled stream of content. The things I have been letting through and enjoying: 

  • Knock!
  • the new season of Blogs on Tape
  • Runehammer’s streams about discovering OSE and his Campaign Recaps (starting here, but of course all his stuff is highly entertaining)
  • Skullboy’s module reading and dungeon creation streams
  • And it would be nice to be able to consume the Glatisant in a way that doesn’t expose me to a thousand second-order links. Reading on mobile helps, because it doesn't display sidebars and stuff.

Monday, September 27, 2021

An off-the-cuff, ill-considered Note On Theme:

 We hear that it is good to have a theme for your dungeon. But I don't think "theme" is something that should be randomly rolled or determined by procedure. I think the  theme for a dungeon or adventure is the initial seed you have for it; it should be an intrinsic thing, not an extrnal template you apply to it. (though you may have some success with thinking of the theme you do have as a template to apply to specific places and things and situations)

The theme hsould be what has inspired you in the first place. It must come from that ineffable wellspring that is inaccessible to reason, that sheds introspection and application of rules. with any luck, if you have a good theme, it will bleed through your process.

a theme is not "goblins" or "red" or "death" or even "grief". a theme is nuanced, it has dimensions on multiple axes. it evokes and generates situations all on its own. it implies directions and relationships. 

at least, this is how i feel when i look at a "table of themes" and it looks like a flat wall of cliches to me. A pile of unfinished wood blocks. 

Offbeat Megadungeon: some procedural dungeon stocking tools

If the only thing that comes out of this project is a bunch of procedures instead of a complete dungeon, then so be it; I hope they find some use.

Dungeon (or Dungeon Region) Purpose

Generator on Perchance

Roll once according to size, then roll once on each smaller size for additional sub-areas

type of placesmallmedlarge
2defensestrategic point/gatefortification/base/labyrinthstronghold/castle
4extractionrare/weird resourceexploratory mine branchmining complex
6weirdshrine/temple/study/magical experimentation

there are a million generators of this type out there, but I wanted one that was a little less specific, and more interpretive (though the specific results under each size got a little more specific than intended)

Regarding the "Theme" of a dungeon: it should come from within, not  a table

Interpretive Megadungeon Room Type Roll

general space type/intentionality relative to the region's purpose/theme
something that could work even if improv-ing

1-3: A space devoted to/specialized for the region's purpose

  • think of a type of room which:
    • helps fulfill the region's purpose
    • you haven't used recently (or makes sense to have multiple)
    • makes at least a sliver of sense to position here, relative to other rooms
  • that's what this room's purpose is.

4-5: An interstitial/common area

  • if it's large, it's a gathering space
  • if it's smaller, it's simple an interstitial/liminal space, or its purpose is long abandoned

6: A space with an unusual purpose

  •  one with a purpose other than the region's - roll for a different region purpose
  • choose a room type which might make sense to have in a different region (in other words, a type of space vital to that purpose, scaled down, or "self-contained")

Then, if the room is in a faction's turf, apply the faction's actual use over top of the original purpose
Then apply the Room Stocking Roll
Finally, add random adjective inspiration

Megadungeon Rumor Table

when pumping info out of a denizen or inquiring at the dungeon tavern, the party can attempt to guide what kind of info they receive, but they can't determine the exact result.

They pick a topic (Row), then roll for the specifics (column). Roll for specifics as well (which faction, monster, etc)

Select v, Roll >Level/RegionFaction NewsTreasures/ ArtifactsDangers/ MonstersFolks"Quests"
Level/region (Specified)General Info/ LoreFaction News for that Level/RegionBig Treasures held in that AreaDanger in that AreaFolks found in that AreaQuests offered or with a goal in that Area
Faction News (Specified)Faction News for that Level/RegionGeneral Info/ Lore Treasures held/desired by that FactionDangers posed by, or threatening, a FactionAbout that Faction's Leader or notable NPCsQuests offered, or targeted, by that Faction
(Could be specified)
Where that Treasure is locatedWhat Faction holds or desires that TreasureGeneral Info/ Lore What Dangers guard that TreasureWhat individual holds or desires that TreasureAny quests associated with that Treasure, or who desires it
(Could be specified)
Danger in that AreaA Faction posing, or threatened by, a DangerWhat Treasures that Danger protectsGeneral Info/ Lore What individuals are interested or associated with that DangerAny quests associated with that Danger
Folks (Faction leaders, various NPCs)Folks found in that AreaWhat Folks think about a FactionWhat special items an individual wields?General Info/ Lore Any quests associated with that Individual

Friday, September 24, 2021

Don't Punish Exploration

In Exploration-focused games.... maybe don't punish  exploration and progress

it's kind of a paradox at the heart of dungeoncrawling games

Telegraph traps, and/or don’t spring them without warning

Lay off of ambushes, alarms

Don't impose penalties for merely opening doors, or players will hesitate to open new doors
  • interacting with doors is often like 80% of bigger dungeons in OSR D&D 
  • make it either simpler or more interesting than it usually is

Give monsters a wider variety of non hostile behaviors, default activities, and reactions

Favor slower, louder, individual monsters over quicker, sneakier, groups/swarms
  • This makes it easier for players to judge the difficulty of an encounter
  • Easier to see coming and prepare for, or run from
  • Turns the challenge into one of outmaneuvering in the dungeon rather than a tactical combat puzzle in which you're likely to misjudge relative power levels and where the outcome is swingier
  • Also big monsters are just fun. They can be more unique, and you can invest in portraying them as individuals without wasting it on something readily slain
in other words, when designing monsters:
  • Quick, Sneaky, or Numerous, choose one at most
  • (or)
  • Slow, Conspicuous, Solitary: choose two

Challenge - yes - challenge should be there, obstacles blocking progress, but it doesn't need to be literal punishment for curiosity, and that's often what traps and encounters end up being

how is blogger editor formatting this horrificly user unfriendly

maybe this is why i stopped blogging

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Offbeat Megadungeon - stocking method

Made a perchance generator for stocking my two-week megadungeon


Note: may contain alterations/updates since the stuff mentioned in this post

couldn't help myself from revisting some past thoughts about dungeon room typology, the traditional BX stocking method, and weirdness I felt with it. I wanted to decouple some aspects and kind of redefine what traps and specials meant, and add some stuff i think should be part of the stocking process even if only as a reminder to add them because they make dungeons cool.

But the classic proportions of empty, monsters and treasure is about the same

here's the full method I intend to use as it is currently - the perchance generator has some refinements beyond this

Architecture Stocking

  1. landmark (mundane but unusual aspect)
  2. trap (1-4 blocker, 5-6 complicator)
  3. interactable (to open door or cause effect elsewhere)
  4. secret (one connection is hidden/secret, or a secret compartment)
  5. verticality (connection or otherwise)
  6. unique architecture/effect ("special")

Unique Features

  • detail landmarks, interactables, and unique rooms
  • this is the most important step. don't use crap tables for "special" rooms. actually apply some imagination and inspiration.
  • create "windows" between some close rooms - unpassable by mundane means but allows "previews" of other places

Faction Stocking

  • place tyrant lairs - prefer big rooms in lower levels
  • place faction/tyrant lieutenant HQs - prefer dead ends (or make connection into a secret escape route)
  • determine faction territory extent according to strength/numbers
  • create contested rooms where two factions would overlap
  • place faction room types
  • apply faction's adaptation of the architecture type

Faction room types by distance from HQ:

  • leader's room, maybe with escape route
  • vault (always has treasure, and something else the leader/faction values) - usually behind leader's room
  • elite guard's room/post (outside leader's room and/or vault)
  • stock storage
  • sleeping room
  • commons
  • utility/workshops/buffer
  • guard posts

Occupant Stocking

advantage if faction room

  1.  monster (unintelligent)
  2.  Unoccupied
  3.  Unoccupied
  4.  Unoccupied
  5.  resident
  6.  wanderer

Content Stocking

advantage if occupant, trap, or dead end

    1-3: Empty
    4: stock item(s) (common supplies, mundane but maybe useful items)
    5: unusual item (problem solving item or just weird)
    6: treasure

Treasure Type

advantage if in a faction's vault

  1. coinage
  2. gem (or other highly-value-dense item)
  3. weapon/armor(?)
  4. artifact (valuable but heavy)
  5. magic or powerful item
  6. roll again twice (explode)

Treasure Values 

  • (if GP = XP) 
  • (maybe move/integrate with treasure rolling)
  • for each treasure
  • http://bxblackrazor.blogspot.com/2015/09/stocking-per-moldvay-part-2.html
  • make it dynamic, factoring in party levels, leveling cadence desired, etc?

Emitter Zone Placement

  • create and place emitters
  • extend emission zones (remember verticality)
  • emphasize emissions in unoccupied rooms


  • apply themes to anything obvious, but don't force it

Challenge Synthesis

  • detail traps
  • detail faction drives/needs/goals
  • find the rooms with the most interesting stuff going on
  • integrate the elements into an OSR style challenge

Monday, September 20, 2021

Offbeat Megadungeon: make-a-dungeon - but no, really

Step the First: Decide to really make something instead of constantly brainstorming on yet another amorphous project I get distracted away from and build up anxiety about not finishing

- me, a year ago 


let's try again. this will be "maybe I'll just make a dungeon" except i just follow two-week megadungeon more closely and let it work its magic


  • keep it loose,  light hearted, and uncomplicated, no big ideas (or at least, no exhaustively thinking through the implications and interconnections of them)
  • create it in an MVP fashion - something interesting and "complete" at each step
  • hopefully, make it Good, Actually in terms of gameability,  toyetic interactivity
  • and if i want, refine it into a nice, usable package, ala OSE adventures


  • a certain kind of gonzo/funhouse/mythic underworld that i can stand, because i'm making it
  • a sense that anything is possible fostered by everything being a little off-kilter
  • stuff that might be silly in isolation, but somehow works when played matter-of-factly in context or just obfuscated enough to wonder if its intentional or not
  • more social than i usually end up making


  • art of the Sams, Mameli and Bosma 
  • saturday morning cartoon - primary colors, but like, bad shit can happen
  • adventure time, he-man, korgoth of barbaria
  • spirited away
  • hole in the oak/incandescent grottoes
  • Black Maw
  • morthimion
  • operation unfathomable
  • dungeon full of monsters

themes/setpieces/room ideas

  • cantina - unspoken truce in no-man's land - if the party ruins wha thtey have going there, theyll  never be forgiven
  • well of wine
  • jobs, maybe unions
  • thin veneers of decorum
  • giant skull
  • card game/tarot
  • this room is just another dungeon - maybe one the players have done before
  • coffee - maybe a coffee shop on every level - this might be too much conceptual overlap with the cantina, but maybe there's something here
  • if he doesn't use it in sunken tower, skull_b0i's idea for a minotaur trying to make the level into a maze, by hand, with mixed results
  • subarea: stonehell x office building
  • what if ghosts but ___?
  • the heads of mascot costumes
  • brightness setting
  • dungeon map as crossword (im sure that hasnt been done before, but w/e)
  • get the band back together (to play at cantina? members all different factions)
  • zelda style trading quest
  • cheap crystals - colored with stains - gemseller with utter crap, like a new age shop
  • if these walls could talk - some rooms with magic mouths  and their own perosnalities
  • someone with dragon eggs but they're avocados
  • maybe some slight anachronistic intrusions
    • laser pistol
    • shopping cart
    • HS notebook


  • Two Dragons 
    • one with dinozoid mutations
    • one a white lionine
      • snowy mane
      • ice fangs and claws, causing anything poked to freeze instantly, and likely be shattered soon after
      • might change this
  • dungeon pedant
    •  powerful, annoying, disliked by all factions but they have to tolerate them because they're unkillable, maybe untouchable
    •  a lich or ghost or something
    • basically skeletor x the boss from office space
  • a "normal human" 
    • given power beyond their ken
    • but its just a social contract
    • throws their weight around and make bad decisions
  • a sentient sword
    • who seems nice and good
    • but something's off
    • wielder is kinda meek but, y'know, a nice person
  • cats
    • just cats
    • but everyone seems to tolerate their bad behavior due to superstition (I mean,  they've  seena nd heard of bad things happening to those who don't)
    • in reality, their power is wielded via toxoplasmosis
  • maybe: a vampire or werewolf, to force myself to find something interesting in them in an rpg context
    • a vampire who is only a vampire when you aren't looking
    • nevermind, it's all dumb


  • the workers
  • swordfriends
    • each wield a sentient sword and treat them as equals, BFFs
    • would never part with them
    • aside from the leader, they're all just +1 though, and their other bonuses are all weirdly specific
    • various races and some monster types, all united in their swordfriendliness
  • cats & toxoplasmoids
    • but this is liek a secret cross-faction sleeper cell
    • but if you piss off a cat, or look at them the wrong way, they;ll get you
    • when it would become relevant, roll for a chance that basically anyone is a toxoplasmoid 
      • or, when rolling reaction, if either die comes up 1, they're a toxoplasmoid, and likely attack if you've pissed off a cat
    • weirdly tolerant of the piss smell that pervades lots of the dungeon
  • wormfarmers
    • what it says on the tin
    • overlooked by other factions- no one wants the dankest nooks and crannies anyway
    • seemingly weak, but who knows
  • orclops
    • just orc-like with one big eye
    • prefer to eat jelly but the jelly merchant has stopped making its way to their level, whats up with that
  • dinotaurs?
    • various dinosaurs with human torsos in place of heads
    • high HD, deeper levels
    • complicated relationship with dinozoid tyrant
  • holy shit - doozers
    • rock gnomes i guess, but even tinier
    • constructing cities and towns into dungeon walls
    • multiple colonies throughout the dungeon
    • need potion of diminution to parley
    • or, turn to stone when seen, so they just look like someone has been making an elaborate dungeon miniature set
  • art school
    • minus the school part
    • avant garde installations 
    • performance art as wandering encounter
  • coffee cartel
    • controls distribution of beans to the coffee shop on each level
    • coffee aids spellcasting and INT increase
  • the throng
    • dozens, hundreds of normal folks that just show up and crowd into a room for a turn, and then move on
    • some kind of hive mind but individuals are like randos standing in a line who don't want to be bothered, kind of quiet and awkward, sometimes whispering amongst them
    • bystander effect
    • who are these people?
    • maybe more of a wandering monster than a faction, but perhaps there is some way to communicate with them


generated by rolling two OSE dungeon monsters and merging concepts:
  • little koboldlike guys that 
    • when you kill one, they split into two, that are each half-there, and so on
  • High Level Troll Adventurer
    • they're basically the best. but kind of a loner. 
    • amenable to share tips or tales if bought a drink, but yeah maybe dont fuck with them. 
    • won't hesitate to throw you under the bus.
  • Adonite, Pride of Pygmalion
    • incredibly attractive sculpted stone person
    • if gazes meet for a moment, save vs spells or the gazee literally turns to inert jelly
    •  after a turn, if not disturbed too much, they safely reform
    • afterward, if they are reminded of the encounter, they must save again or experience the same effect from the mere memory
  • crystal trader
    • made of crystal (or maybe just clad in them)

mapping procedure

  • donjon - rooms on the larger side
  • multiple individual donjon map outputs per level, assembled  - loosely (but heavily) connected clusters of rooms
  • import each assembled level into mipui
  • tweak and edit in mipui -
    • refine a bit but leave some dumb stuff in
    • combine some rooms into huge chambers
    •  loose transformations and mutations beyond donjon's restrictions
  • line up and add lots of vertical connections
    • almost-all-level elevator or two, but it might be in use when th eparty wants it
    • wine well
    • classic staircases
    • traps
    • multi-level rooms

some other procedural stuff

  • each faction has opinions on all tyrants, and some other factions
  • wandering monsters should be mostly from factions, and even if not, should not mean instant battle but present some interesting social situation

ok its time to stop because it's 5 and i should have been doing real work  🙃

Saturday, September 18, 2021

here's this

 blogging is supposed to be easy. this might help.

A lot of this is going to be like therapy for trying to figure out what i want to, and what i am capable of, doing in the game design space. 

Some of it might be unpolished but gameable content that might be just below the level of interest for me to get into a state I'm proud of enough to put on Lithyscaphe, sitting next to Principia Apocrypha.

Some might be tangential or orthogonal to rpgs

or it may rot

An Orbital Survey of Nascent SF Projects

I tend to vacillate between deep interest in Fantasy projects, and SF projects. It's difficult to get into the mindset of one or the oth...