Thursday, July 21, 2011

4E Random Encounters!

One of my current pet D&D 4E projects is coming up with random encounter charts for exploration in the Nentir Vale. As I was flipping through my Monster Vaults and MM3, I was a bit overwhelmed. My first thought was that I was going to have to wind up creating hundreds of different little groups of monsters that would probably never get used. Seemed like an awful lot of work for very little reward, so I didn't get very far in that endeavor. However, I really want to implement a wandering monster/random encounter mechanic for my kids' 4E game.

And then today, I had an epiphany. Over at the Blog of Holding, Paul wrote up the Monster Manual 3 on a Business Card, which very effectively and concisely boils down the math for D&D 4E monsters. Obviously, a lot of monsters have more to them than just hit points, armor class and defenses, and damage, but for quick and dirty encounters without paging through the books, it works like a charm. You really only need one monster in any given encounter that has abilities that inflict status effects or do other cool stuff (any more than that becomes tedious), and it's usually pretty easy to keep the book open to that one monster. So, this occurred to me: use the MM3 on a Business Card for the basis of my random encounters. Kind of like this:

If you roll for a random wilderness encounter, roll 2d10 and add the numbers together, and:
C = # of characters in party
L = avg party level
2 Unique NPC/Monster from this area
3 Unique NPC/Monster from this area
4 Elite Controller +2d6 2-hit minions @ L+1d6
5 3 Soldiers @ L+1d6
6 5 Soldiers @ L-1d6
7 Brute and 2 Artillery @ L+2d4
8 3 Brutes @ L-1d6
9 2 Lurkers @ L+1d6
10 C+2d6 minions @ L+1d6
11 C+1d8 minions @ L-1d4
12 C+1d6 2-hit minions @ L+1d4
13 C+1d4 artillery @ L+1d4
14 Brute and 2 Artillery @ L-1d4
15 Controller, Soldier, 3 Minions, Brute @ L+1d3
16 Solo Soldier @ L+1d6
17 Solo Brute @ L+1d6
18 Solo Skirmisher @ L+1d6
19 Unique NPC/Monster from this area
20 Unique NPC/Monster from another nearby area

You'll notice that I grouped the minion encounters in the middle, so they will be most common. I also used only the "role" name for opponents. This leaves all the description and detail in the DM court, while still having random possibilities. The band of orcs attacking the party could be a bunch of ne'er-do-well punk minions (11) or they could be a bad-ass group of seasoned veteran warriors (15).

This obviously requires a bit more work on the part of the DM to actually make it work. For example, it would probably help to know just what types of different monsters are in the area that the PCs are traveling through. Hell, you could even make a list keyed to another random chart to see which species of monster is attacking. It would also help to have a list of the major unique monsters in the area (any big nasty dragons around? because that's what I would use on a roll of 2 or 20).

This is really just the tip of the iceberg. With a few rolls, you can have an interesting random encounter with whatever local monsters are appropriate. I'm thinking a table for some possible interesting terrain, as well as a type of encounter. What are the monsters and heroes doing? Do they just stumble across each other? Have the monsters been tracking the heroes? Do the monsters have a trap set for whenever wandering heroes come along?

The table above was just an example, but there's no reason you couldn't put specific creatures from the Monster Vaults in there, as well. If you're in the Old Hills in the Nentir Vale, there's no reason that #14 couldn't be a Blackfang Feaster (Threats to the Nentir Vale p.25) and two gnoll spearthrowers (statted up using the MM3 on a Business Card). In fact, using the MM3 on a Business Card, it's pretty easy to level the Blackfang Feaster up or down to taste.

Anyway, I think this will be the start of my template for moving forward with random encounter charts throughout the entirety of the Nentir Vale. I'll probably have the tables figured up a little bit differently for each region, but I think they'll work out okay. And yes, I'll start publishing them here as soon as I get them figured out.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chaos and Law

or, Randomness vs The Curve

As I get deeper into working on my card-based fantasy RPG, tentatively titled "The Deck of Many Heroes", I continually find myself debating dice in my head. My Dragonquest days (read: percentile rolls) and my love for the D20 trend me toward that type of random roll. However, I also can very much appreciate a proper curve when adding die rolls together. My last post, which was character backgrounds for 4E, utilized both, and I think it works well. The first roll is 2d10 added together to determine which chart you proceed to roll on, which are all random die rolls.

I am forever torn between the law of averages and the chaos of randomness! Hmm, maybe I'm truly neutral...

Any thoughts, oh D&D blogosphere?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Random Background Generation Charts for 4E D&D

Random Background Generation Charts for 4E D&D. This is by no means an exhaustive listing of all possible professions and backgrounds that a character could have in a fantasy role-playing game. This is more to help players give their character a bit more depth, to have an idea of where they came from, and maybe even help the DM flesh out the game world a bit more.

Many of these backgrounds give characters benefits above and beyond the boons generally offered by WotC's published "backgrounds" in the character builder. The charts skew towards a minimal bonus, but big bonuses are possible. The bonuses are meant to be used with an old-school style character generation method; that is, rolling for your stats instead of using a standard array. My preferred method is 4d6, dropping the lowest die, and adding the remaining 3 together, down the line. This will generally not give you a character with attributes that match 4E's standard array. However, between the possibilities on this background generation chart and my upcoming random bogey chart for chargen should offer enough little bonuses to make the game a bit more interesting, in spite of having lower average ability scores.

I'm also open to adding more possibilities to these charts, and including more boons for different backgrounds. If you have any ideas, feel free to drop them in the comments below!

Roll 2d10 and add the numbers
2-3 roll on Wealthy Chart
4-5 roll on Works with Words, Potions n Such Chart
6-8 roll on Smithy Chart
9-11 roll on Farmers and Outdoorsmen Chart
12-14 roll on Labourers Chart
15-16 roll on Craftsmen Chart
17-18 roll on Merchants Chart
19 roll on Adventurers 1 Chart
20 roll on Adventurers 2 Chart

Wealthy Chart (roll 1d10) Starting Gold value is instead of standard 100 gp
1 Minor Lord. Starting Gold: 200
2 Bag of gold fell out of the sky. Starting Gold: 250
3 Married into wealth and suddenly widow(er)ed. Starting Gold: 300
4 Literally struck gold on a claim of land and sold it off to be mined. Starting Gold: 400
5 Politically powerful, entrenched family wants to send their "black sheep" on his merry way. Starting Gold: 500
6 Incredibly successful merchant. Starting Gold: 750
7 Long-lost wealthy relative left everything to you! Starting Gold: 1000
8 The town wizard died and left everything in his tower to you. Starting Gold: 1500 (access to potions, alchemical items, and minor magic items at DM discretion)
9 You are a bastard child of the king, and you've been paid off to keep quiet about it. Starting Gold: 2000
10 Royalty, but with a few older brothers first in line for the throne. Starting Gold: 5000

Works with Words, Potions, n Such Chart (roll 1d12), any items and skills in parentheses after background are in addition to starting gold and class skills. All characters with one of these backgrounds begin with 200 instead of 100 gp.
1 Scribe (+2 History)
2 Sage (gain training in one of the following: History, Religion, Arcana)
3 Minstrel (gain training in either Perception or Bluff)
4 Interpreter (You may take 1 additional language, +2 Perception)
5 Herald
6 Clerk
7 Bookbinder
8 Barrister (+2 History, +2 Bluff, +2 Perception)
9 Astrologer (3 1st-level ritual scrolls, +2 Arcana)
10 Architect (gain training Dungeoneering)
11 Herbalist (3 potions of healing)
12 Apothecary (alchemy kit and 3 alchemical items levels 1-5)

Smithy Chart (roll d10) items in parentheses after background are in addition to starting gold
1 Nailsmith
2 Goldsmith
3 Gemcutter (+1 Magic Orb)
4 Engraver
5 Coppersmith
6 Brazier
7 Bladesmith (Masterwork Longsword)
8 Blacksmith
9 Arrowsmith (20 +1 arrows)
10 Armorer (Masterwork Armor of choice)

Farmers and Outdoorsmen Chart (roll d10) (starts with normal gp)
1 Farmer
2 Fisherman
3 Shepherd
4 Swineherd
5 Butcher
6 Groom
7 Trapper (gain training in Nature)
8 Gardener (gain training in Nature)
9 Forester (gain training in Nature)
10 Hunter (gain training in Nature)

Labourers Chart (roll d6) (starts with normal gp) (all characters of this background gain +2 to Strength or Constitution)
1 Teamster
2 Waterleader
3 Quarrier
4 Porter
5 Ploughman
6 Miner

Craftsmen Chart (roll d12) all Craftsmen start with 150 gp and possible item in parentheses.
1 Tanner
2 Weaver
3 Tinker
4 Tailor
5 Mason
6 Hatter
7 Glassblower
8 Bowyer/Fletcher (Masterwork Bow)
9 Embroiderer
10 Clockmaker (Pocketwatch)
11 Carpenter
12 Brewer

Merchant Chart (roll d12) all Merchants start with 200 gp and possible item in parentheses.
1 Poulterer
2 Mercer
3 Ironmonger
4 Haberdasher
5 Grocer
6 Fishmonger
7 Draper
8 Hosteler
9 Knife-grinder (Masterwork Dagger)
10 Cobbler
11 Barber
12 Baker

Adventurers 1 Chart (roll d10) Starts with 100 gp and an appropriate magical item of level 1-5 (work with your DM!)
1 Pirate
2 Smuggler
3 Explorer
4 Mariner
5 Outlaw
6 Rider
7 Scout
8 Soldier
9 Thug
10 Acbrobat

Adventurers 2 Chart (roll d10) Starts with 200 gp and an appropriate magical item of level 1-10 (work with your DM!)
1 Assassin
2 Weapon Master
3 Sharpshooter
4 Peasant Hero
5 Spy
6 Swashbuckler
7 Mystic
8 Amazon
9 Shaman
10 Gladiator

Friday, July 15, 2011

D&D the CCG: The Deck of Many Heroes

D&D the CCG: Progress and the Magic System

Progress has moved along pretty well here with my D&D the CCG project, which I am thinking of renaming "The Deck of Many Heroes". For readers new to the blog, here's the basics. I am working on a card-based fantasy role-playing game. The idea is to have no big rulebooks, and instead all rules and character information will be on cards. A PC will be defined by a simple character record card and a number of other cards with feats, skills, boons, and powers.

(For the record, I am aware of the Miniature Heroes project on Kickstarter, thank you. I have not yet seen the card system for that, but I am planning to pick it up as soon as I can.)

There are a lot of things I like about 4e D&D, and a number of those things make appearances in my card-based system. First, the Core Skills. I have stolen these whole-cloth from 4e and I am perfectly okay with it. I think they work very well for resolving just about any non-combat action, and even many actions in-combat.

I have also stolen the concept of "Power Sources" for PCs. For those not familiar, in 4e D&D, fighters, rogues, and rangers have the "martial" power source, clerics and paladins have the "divine" power source, wizards and sorcerers and bards are "arcane", and druids and shamans are "primal". There are also the "psionic" and "shadow" power sources. My system uses Martial, Arcane, Divine, and Primal as the core "classes" for PCs, and a player can use the options available through cards to build the type of character they want to play.

I've included a number of Old-School nods in the system. The first being a random attribute generation system. The standard attributes are all there: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Instead of the familiar 3-18 (3d6) range, I have opted for a 1-6 scale (1d6), and the attribute's score is also the modifier that applies to D20 rolls for skill checks, attack rolls, etc. Character generation is 1d6 in order. Each of the four class types have minimum attribute requirements. So far I have yet to roll up a character that was unable to be at least a Martial class (requires at least a 4 in either STR, CON, or DEX) though if you had all 6 attribute rolls of 3 and under, you would not qualify for any class. That being said, it should be fairly easy to select a race that gives you a bonus to one of your attributes that would allow you to qualify for something.

In the Old-School style, the races are limited to the originals: human, dwarf, halfling, elf, half-elf, half-orc, and gnome. No dragonborn or tieflings or shardminds or wilden here. This is classic fantasy.

I am also planning on using Hit Dice for determining monster hit points and general toughness.

I have also included a number of things I've taken from my Dragonquest days. Chief among these is the use of experience points to purchase ranks in different skills, as opposed to a flat level-based system in which all of a characters abilities improve at the threshold of a certain number of experience points. While I am sure that the point-buy system will encourage a certain degree of munchkinism and min-maxing, I think it also enables, in this case, the capacity to develop a player's ideal fantasy archetype, or a Jack of all Trades, or whatever else.

Also included from my Dragonquest days is random background generation, which determines starting wealth and (spendable) experience points, and Ye Olde Bogey Table, which is also part of character generation to give a character a number of random quirks. The best part of being human is getting four rolls on the bogey table. Often those rolls alone could do a lot to determine what type of character you would wind up creating.

I have established the basics for combat: weapons and armor. Martial characters have access to skills that grant bonuses to hit and to damage, Arcane characters have spells, etc. It's a fairly straightforward system: roll d20, add relevant modifiers (from your character's cards) and try to beat opponent's Armor Class. Damage on a hit is a dice roll based on weapon (d4 for daggers, d8 for longswords, etc). The system does not require a battlemat and minis but could support that style if preferred.

I have finally come to the biggest road-block of them all: the magic system. I suspect that this is the most difficult part of developing most fantasy RPGs. Keeping things balanced is a big part of it, of course. Coming up with enough spells to satisfy player demands for variety is another. What I want is to come up with several spells that have old-school flavor, can become stronger as they are ranked up through the expenditure of experience points, and are also modular enough to be used creatively by players while covering numerous bases. For example, there are several spells that are basically deviations of levitate object (mage hand, unseen servant, etc), that could all be covered by a single spell, cleverly used.

I want to avoid the Vancian nonsense of a strict limit per day on number of spells, but I also am not a huge fan of Dragonquest's life-draining magic system, either. I do like the Dragon Age RPG "dragon dice" stunt mechanic system, but it doesn't mesh at all with my d20 Core Mechanic. So, what I am going with at the moment consists of arcane spellcasters being able to cast basic spells at will, and other spells have a limit per day that increases with Ranks. It's all a pretty big enigma to wrap my brain around, and I'll be perusing numerous old-school tomes for some magical inspiration. If anybody has any suggestions or comments, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gaming Paper's MegaDungeon Arrives!

I got a call last night from my FLGS, the Fantasy Shop in Florissant, that the GamingPaper MegaDungeon I had requested had arrived. After work today, I swung by there and picked it up (along with a few booster packs of Magic cards). That was $25 very well spent!

The GamingPaper MegaDungeon is 100 8.5"x11" sheets of dungeon geomorphs that are usable at the table, in game, for Fantasy Role-Playing Games that use 1-inch square grids for combat and exploration. It's basically perfect for building dungeons in 4E and 3.x D&D and Pathfinder. The sheets are double-sided, with one side furnished (thrones, crates, tables, chairs, etc), and the other side is the same map, just blank.

I'm very much looking forward to assembling some dungeons for my kids to explore. I will say this: these are a lot easier to use than WotC's Dungeon Tiles. I like the Dungeon Tiles, don't get me wrong, but they are a pain in the butt to assemble, quickly, in a usable fashion. This GamingPaper product seems like it will be incredibly easy to use. Each individual sheet is labelled with a letter and number (and a fully assembled map sheet of all 100 geomorphs in a 10x10 grid is included). I imagine I will be investing in 100 lamination sheets for them so I can draw on them with wet-erase markers.

Oh, and I'm thinking I may have to use these to really start doing some adventure design, so hopefully I'll have some dungeons up for you to use in the near future!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Old-School CharGen for 4E?

Old School CharGen for 4E

When 3E was introduced, one of the first things I noticed was the point-buy system for stats, instead of rolling 3d6 for them. The designers made this change for the sake of balance. The natural progression from point-buy stats is the standard array, which is what we wound up with in 4E. Every character is balanced against each other in this way right from the get-go (and nevermind the perfectly balanced races and classes as well). 


One of the best things from my DragonQuest days was the character generation system. I'm pretty sure it was our DM's set of houserules, as I only ever saw it on sheets that were printed off a computer, but the gist of it was roll a percentile to determine how many points you get to distribute and what your maximum score could be, and roll percentiles for everything after that on several charts. Background and family, race (!), money, hair, height, weight, eye color. 

The best part, though, was the bogey chart. If you didn't qualify for any race besides human, at least you got four rolls on the bogey table, which were mostly helpful but sometimes not. Everything from bonuses to ability scores, to cheaper prices for ranks in certain skills, to access to psionics was an option. Sometimes, with the right rolls, you could get a pretty powerful character right from the get-go. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that with the right rolls, even the most powerful of characters could suffer a career-or-life-ending grevious injury. 

So it was all kind of balanced in that way. And a whole lot of fun. There were still plenty of options to sift through at chargen, but the randomness of the possibilities made for a whole lot of fun. 

So, in that vein, I'm thinking of writing up an old-school chargen guide for 4e, with some modifications to races, and a full-on bogey chart. Anybody out there interested? I think it might work really well in a FourthCore style setting. I'm thinking we ought to go back to rolling for attributes, and rebalance through different possible random bonuses. Sounds more fun than just paging through the books to optimize your character.

On a not-so-random note, critical hits in 4e should have at least the remote possibility of instant kill. Or at least causing a Save-or-Die situation. Any thoughts?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Introducing: Your Dungeon is ROCK! (and some other randomness...)

Some random thoughts today...

I've been silent on the whole Your Dungeon Is Suck guy controversy concerning Christian that reverberated through the OSR blogosphere last week, and I'm finally throwing my two cents into the pile, mostly after seeing this post by Tim over at The Other Side Blog.

Let me state my thoughts on the subject unequivicably: Your Dungeon Is Suck serves no purpose other than to be unnecessarily hurtful and insulting to a group of people who by and large are doing little more than helping each other with a hobby. A hobby! Your Dungeon Is Suck, for the most part, offers the type of degrading humor that is insulting to anyone with more than a few brain cells. We don't need it in any way. D&D bloggers are perfectly capable of calling each other on their bullshit, and do so, quite often. If Your Dungeon is Suck offered honest, decent satire, that would be awesome. Instead it spews vitriol, hate, and juvenile insults.

As an antidote, I offer Your Dungeon is ROCK!, a new blog where I will highlight the smaller, up-and-coming D&D blogs that might be flying under your radar but deserve some recognition. It will also be a space where I can put up links to articles around the blogosphere I really like or that may be generating a good bit of discussion. I spend a good chunk of time surfing about the D&D blogosphere, and I encounter a lot of great material, but I want A Pack of Gnolls to remain focused on what it's doing well.

I got sent home from work today at the regular time instead of working a couple hours of overtime (one of the overhead cranes is busted, which was really hurting our productivity today), so I caught the end of the Dungeons and Dragons film on SyFy. Good God, but not even Jeremy Irons could save that gawdawful piece of trash.

Anyways, I was planning to use the bit of extra time to work on some D&D stuff (what else would I do, really?), and went searching for some background noise to put on the TV on the Netflix Instant service through the Wii. After talking myself out of some anime, I stumbled upon Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival 2010 in the New Arrivals.

Well hot damn. I have spent the next big chunk of time geeking out on my other OCD focus: guitars. I've seen a couple other DVDs of the various Crossroads Festivals (Clapton throws one every year, I believe, to raise money for a school in Antigua). This one features a nice range of old school blues, Delta, Chicago, Country, Texas, and everything in between, and a lot of the newer artists that have been influenced by the greats and play just as well. Buddy Guy, Warren Haynes, John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, Robert Cray, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, just to name a few off the top of my head...  And Clapton gets to jam with whoever he wants. Must be nice.

So I may have to spend a couple hours tonite banging on my axe instead of working on D&D stuff, but I think that'll be a pretty good use of my time.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Zeldaspiration: Bridges

The Legend of Zelda video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System was the first game to introduce a save feature and the ability to explore the game world in any order you wished. It was the first Sandbox, a term that has a different meaning in tabletop pen and paper role playing games than video games. 

Traditionally in Dungeons and Dragons, the sandbox is a large area that the players are free to explore as they see fit, but it is much more than just that. The term is often used as the opposite of the oft-dreaded "railroad" type game. In a railroady-game, the DM often just shuttles the players along from plot point to plot point to tell his or her story, whereas in a sandbox the players are given some points of interest to explore and allowed to do as they please. 

What is special and unique about the Legend of Zelda sandbox is how it grows naturally through the course of the game, with more and more of it becoming available as Link conquers dungeons and acquires magical items that allow him to explore more of the world. 

In A Link to the Past, this often took the form of a physical barrier such as a giant rock blocking a path. These were typically things that any clever D&D player would be able to circumnavigate with little difficulty, and as such, strains the bounds of verisimilitude as well as player credulity. The real world simply does now work that way. 

My personal favorite method of unlocking more and more of the Hyrule Sandbox came in Twilight Princess.

In Twilight Princess, there are several large bridges that, at the beginning of the game, are broken and displaced to other areas of the world by the evil Darkness that has swept over the land, and at several points in the game it is required that a bridge be repaired to move on to the next part of the story. 

Bridges are important to people. Their construction often inspires awe and creates an easily used path where there was only an obstacle before. A bridge enables commerce and communication between peoples on either side. The lack of a bridge causes delays and detours. 

So, my suggestion to DMs out there is to make good use of bridges! Place one in a strategic, important place. Especially during the heroic tier in 4e, when players don't have much in the way of flying capability. Maybe one of the PCs has a relative or ancestor who helped build it. Make sure they use it numerous times by placing various MacGuffins on either side of it. This also helps the players see how the bridge helps the communities on either side of it. Perhaps one side depends on the other for foodstuffs, while the other side requires minerals or other raw materials. 

Then, have your BBEG destroy it, preferably to facilitate an escape, while simultaneously causing all manner of hardship and suffering for the many people who depended on that bridge for commerce. Make it as dramatic as possible. Done right, the violent and deliberate destruction of any important landmark such as a bridge or even a statue can be just as world-changing to the players as the death of a relative or friend, and possibly more so if they have come to have a degree of respect for how important such a landmark is to the population at large. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

100 Posts!

It's only taken me six months, but this is my 100th post on this blog, and I thought this would be an appropriate time to do a little retrospective.

I started this blog as a way to put down a lot of my random D&D thoughts and ideas, and hopefully organize them in a way that might actually wind up being functional in some way. There were a number of different ideas that I was tossing around in my head and in my notebook, but they never seemed to get anywhere. I was reading a lot of D&D blogs and figured I might as well throw my hat in the ring.

Some of my ideas had a good solid start, and then I slacked off on them (like my 4E Legend of Zelda hack). I haven't posted as many "Packs of Gnolls" as I would like. Since my group hasn't met to play in over a month, my Islands in the Sky postings have slacked off.

I did, however, win Gothridge Manor's Newbie Blogger Award. That was a pretty sweet little boost. I've made significant progress on my card-based fantasy RPG, and am looking forward to playtesting it soon to see just how well my theories translate to the table. I did a lot of posts on the D&D Adventure System games Wrath of Ashardalon and Castle Ravenloft, and have really enjoyed playing those games with my family. I wrote a whole series of posts on bringing old-school style to the 4th Edition game, and I think it went over pretty well.

So, what can you expect from this Pack of Gnolls in the future? A lot of things.

":Legend of Zelda-ify Your D&D Game" will begin posting next week.

I've still got a bunch of FreeRPGDay material to review and give away.

Hopefully, my group will be gathering more frequently, so there will be more play reports, and hence, more Islands in the Sky to detail. I also plan to run D&D with my kids, so I'll have those play reports too.

D&D the CCG will get some more love as I further refine the system and playtest it with my family and friends.

I am also fixing to try my hand at some adventure writing, with a gnoll theme to it of course. I've also got a few ideas for some FourthCore adventures, but I'll not tip my hand on those details just yet.

There will probably be some more posts about the D&D Adventure System board games, especially once "Legend of Drizzt" is released in October.

I'm also going to start mining my Magic: The Gathering cards for adventure ideas, locations, NPCs, and anything else I can glean off the cards. Those cards are a treasure trove of useful D&D material. It's a shock that there is no official 4E D&D Magic: the Gathering campaign setting yet.

So that's it. 100 posts! Woohoo! Thanks a lot to all my "followers" and everyone else who stops by to read my scrawlings. You guys make it all worth-while.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Mapping Question

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, been a bit ill.

Anyway, the campaign I am running for my kids is set in the Nentir Vale, of which I have a map.

In my never-ending attempt to old-schoolify 4E, I want to overlay a hex grid for exploration and travel in the Nentir Vale. Anybody out there know how this can be done easily? Or better yet, have it done already? Any help here would be greatly appreciated. I'm also working on random monster charts for exploring in the Nentir Vale, which of course I will be publishing here, and having a hexed map of it would really help a lot in that process.

Thanks in advance!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Legend of Zelda-ify your D&D Game!

Here I go, embarking on another series of posts. I will be continuing my FreeRPGDay reviews and giveaways, of course. The first winners have been posted, by the way, right here!

The Legend of Zelda video games are some of the most popular in the world, and I think they are often overlooked when we examine the resurgence of fantasy media in the past decade, in favor of The Lord of the Rings films and the oft-maligned but wildly popular World of Warcraft. Indeed, for many kids in my generation, the Legend of Zelda was their initial gateway to a world of swords and sorcery and monsters and dungeons. It was for me.

Over the years, the games have evolved with the technology level of the system they are played upon, but they have also retained some core qualities throughout, and many of these primary aspects can be quite useful to Dungeon Masters building a campaigns and adventures for their players. For Zelda nit-pickers, we are primarily examining the core console releases: Legend of Zelda, Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess.

1) Sandbox. Years before Grand Theft Auto, the first Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System pioneered the open sandbox. The game opens with the hero in the middle of the screen, with three directions to go, and a cave to enter. Enter the cave, get your sword, and go thee hence unto the wider world to explore. Certain areas, of course, were accessible only once the proper items were available to open them up.

2) Level-up. The method of growing your hero more powerful in the game has always been the same. You start with three hearts maximum life. At the end of every dungeon is a heart container that adds another heart to your maximum total. You also typically find some type of item that enables you to do more in the game, typically the ability to get to new areas or new weapons to fight smarter. You don't "level up" after aquiring a certain number of experience points, you do so after exploring a complicated area and vanquishing a powerful foe (and also by accomplishing the gathering of certain numbers of "pieces of heart" within the sandbox).

3) Two worlds, light and dark. Starting with "A Link to the Past", the Dark World was introduced, and the idea of two different worlds occupying the same or similar places has stuck around. In Ocarina of Time, it was the present and the future. In Wind Waker it was above and below the sea, and in Twilight Princess it was the shadow that had to be expunged by "Wolf Link".

4) Characters. Link. Zelda. Gannon. And the Triforce, reflecting all of them. These characters have been constant and make up the core of the conflict in the game. They represent each different aspect of the Triforce: Courage, Wisdom, and Power. This is a huge part of the mythology of the land of Hyrule, and is consistent throughout.

The next four posts in this series will examine how these principles can be applied to your D&D game.