Saturday, 20 May 2017

Ruined Cities Are Really Hard

Or, dealing with hyper-dense 'dungeons'.

A lot of my stuff revolves around dead cities, ruined cities, cities where something went wrong. This is me putting some thoughts about such environments being really hard to play whilst satisfying some of the stuff I like to do.

See the city. It is dead, filled with buildings bereft of their original purpose, re-imagined as lairs, traps and storehouses for treasure. Compare this to the traditional dungeon - each room has specified exits and entrances, whereas the city offers a practical infinity of entrances, exits, and approaches. This, in addition to the sheer sizes, is a problem to be solved. Two main approaches spring to mind.

Abstraction.
Movement through and the contents of the majority of structures are abstracted, often through the use of procedural generation (this house has *dice dice* nothing) - those structures which do contain items of interest are 'zoomed' into, breaking away from the strategic (travel-based) and moving into the tactical, individual level movement, most obviously combat. This is intuitive, and means the game isn't a slog of this house is empty, after the players describe surrounding yet another ruined manor. However, such zooming immediately informs players that something interesting is about to happen, whether this been combat, traps or a secret to be discovered, meaning they will deploy in a manner to take maximal advantage of the environment. (More on environment usage later.)

The characters, assumably, will be moving and acting in a far less cautious manner during standard travel. (This could, of course, be considered in the abstraction, moving far slower in the strategic view.)  This effect ruins the opportunity for players to be surprised - although, a solution for this would be utilizing more active opponents, who attempt to engage from surprise, forcing the players into positions less advantageous as they are the defenders, adapting to the situation as dictated by the ambushers. Such an addition rewards players defining themselves scouting and planning for such situations, dictating a marching order taking advantage of the nuances of the specific buildings and streets in the encounter area.

This, however, runs into another issue within abstracting the dense urban environment. Using generic floor-plans and streets leads to strings of encounters effectively occurring within the same environment, a street lacking in interesting nuance, with the same layout of buildings offering the same opportunities. Generating an interesting and unique street and/or floorplan(s) however, is going to take time - the opposite of what a surprise engagement offers. Building a large library of interesting nuances yet somewhat universal layouts would negate this somewhat - but then the difference between the abstraction and a complete mapping shrink, reaching the point where complete mapping might make more sense. The balance between a nuanced and interesting engagement locale with the speed of the generation is very hard to strike.

Complete Mapping
Completely mapping a dense, decaying urban environment is a gargantuan amount of work, which immediately makes this option less appealing. Even ignoring this significant limitation, we run into the fact such a huge amount of information is really hard to use at the table. Each structure would require some form of representation, informing (or inspiring) the GM as to the external and internal structure of the building. This could be achieved through some form of short-hand tags or keywords, the combination of these phrases rapidly building a mental image to be imparted to the players. Such a system would require a degree of training in the GM, even just to simply learn this skill. The advantage of such complete mapping is the ability to instantly determine the form and nuance of the locale an engagement is occurring within - the GM will know through a system of tags there is a barricade which offers either side an advantage, without the need for a potentially cumbersome or slow generation system. The key to achieving a working Complete Mapping is a really effective manner of splitting information into table-usable chunks, with both player-facing and GM-facing maps and information available.

Both are hard and leave me wanting somewhat. Whadda you guys do?

Friday, 19 May 2017

Acid Death Fantasy - Weird Desert Backgrounds for Troika!

ACID DEATH FANTASY

For use with Troika! - Luke Gearing

"The slate was not wiped clean - it was shattered into countless jagged pieces, splintering a new world with the debris of the old."

What happened is long forgotten. Remains of it, barely understood by the most learned scholars, are rife throughout the lands, but most are too busy surviving to ponder these relics, else maintaining their strangleholds on water and power, power and water.
The greatest living city of the desert is Shalar, that breeding ground of pleasure and nightmare. All people, all faiths, all goods have a stake in Shalar, ruled by the Many Crowned King/Queen and her terrible guard, a thousand strong. The wealth of Shalar is untouched, uncontested, and many covet the throne.
Spinning outwards of Shalar are the Thousand Sultanates, a great miscellany of egotism, pride and petty squabbles. There is much wealth, for the titles of these many pretenders are not entirely false. They compete endlessly in their petty games, although all are inevitably forgotten as the hubris of the ruler eventually causes a fall. The oldest, and most stable are the closest to Shalar, whilst the peripheral Emirs and Maliks barely stake a hold for more than a generation.
Beyond this anarchic sprawl are the Wastes, riddled with all manner of nomads and tribes, and beasts beneath the sands, all bowing in respect to the worms which roam freely between the dunes. The Alqai, four armed workers of metal, emerge from the Duneholds to sell exquisitely worked goods, or else to continue the age-old war on the Dune Riders, their slender boats neatly slicing the sand.
The Southern Wastes are the homes of the Slow Tribes, brutal reptilian peoples leaving artful piles of butchered limbs whenever they find a settlement of desperate people seeking some modicum of respite from the heat.
To the East, the Plastic Sea, a miraculous sea made entirely of liquid plastic. Upon contact with living skin, it sets solid, leading to the coast being filled with the Coated Men, duelling each other in elegant, fatal contest, having made the choice to die young and glorious, coated in flexible plastic armour.
The verdant jungles of the North would offer respite from the desert, if not for the patriarchal Azure Apes. Whilst the stable nests will happily accept visitors, the zones between are haunted by failed alpha-males, who gladly prey upon travellers to build their strength for a challenge against an aging nest-master. Not even these desperate beasts dare try themselves against the shining, metallic ruins scattered about the jungle.
To the West is the graveyard of the Old Gods, their steel skeletons looming over a great and terrible Rubble. Once a city of the chosen peoples of these gods, their undoing was terrible, their grey stone, unknown to us, marred with their burnt shadows still.

(Backgrounds after jump)