This post should have pics, but doesn’t

Okay, so I’ve been working on this helipad for the past two or three weeks.  I’m the kind of guy who likes to get most of the casting for a project out of the way, rather than try to alternate between casting and building.  As a result, I haven’t been posting a lot of pics, because all you’d see is bricks.

I have built the platform part of the helipad out of Starship Deck tiles.  I wanted to do a border using the first mold I ever bought, the Station Builder mold.

Now, I don’t have my digital camera right now, but I want you to imagine three items:

  1. two 1.5″ bricks from the SB mold
  2. three 1″ floor tiles, glued together
  3. three inches marked on a metal ruler

Now imagine that none of them are the same.  And not a little off, but a lot off.  (1) is too long, (2) is too short.  And It’s such a mess that really don’t know what I’m going to do with it but damnit right now I’m just mad.  I think I’m going to drop the whole sci-fi thing for a while and just stick to ruined fieldstone, which is a lot more forgiving.

As a final note: that Station Builder mold has never worked right.  I know Bruce does top quality stuff, but for whatever reason that mold is just a total *itch to work with.

MegaDungeon Pt. 3: The Big Bad Guys

In the last installment, I mentioned putting together the major encounters on the level: one “TPK” challenge and seven “somebody’s gonna die” challenges, and then many more lesser challenges from there.

Now, I could just randomly assign monsters, but I’d rather have some sort of story for the DUtM1, something to help the encounters hang together.  That usually involves some sort of villain.

I start by looking at the different DUtM levels (all available from

  • Level One: Random rooms–the classic “I made this up with a generating table” dungeon
  • Level Two: The “abandoned dwarf city” level
  • Level Three: A huge underground river and a strange alien city *cough*Shrine of the Kuo Toa*cough*
  • Level Four: “The Web” (their description, not mine.  Let’s call it the “D3/Q1 Level” shall we?)
  • Level Five: “The Citadel of the Four” Ooh…that’s promising.
  • Level Six: “The Shaft” where deep dwarves and trolls battled it out.
  • Level Seven: The Evil Demon Strongold Level
  • Level Eight: The Undercity, a suburb for beholders, mind flayers, et al.

Okay, I have to say that “Level Six” doesn’t really make a lot of sense in the sequence.  I’d have put Level Eight at Six and left Seven at the bottom, but 0one’s got to make a buck, I guess.  In any case, you basically have a series of levels going from more random to more organized, with increasing danger on each level (except for Six, which seems more like a “wilderness” level).

So, a story.  If you read my previous attempt at putting this dungeon together you’ll know what I came up with, but I’ll retell it here.  I think that most classic fantasy stories have a big, evil wizard as the villain.  There’s no real mystery about why: wizard’s are innately more otherworldly and dark, while a really powerful warrior villain is just a big guy with a sword waiting to get an arrow in the neck.  It worked for Robert E. Howard, and it works for me.  Wizards also seem to be more likely to seek the solitude of a large, underground complex; a warrior villain would be more likely to build an above-ground empire.  But there’s still a good question of why, of establishing motivation.  How about this for a start?

Xelat was an ancient, powerful demonologist who desired to become the consort of a major female demon.  In order to both increase his power to be a possible consort and to show his devotion to her, Xelat created a massive complex of fortifications where worshipers could gather, corrupt acts be committed, and dark magics discovered.

Yes, it is a hackneyed trope, but it works, especially with novice players looking for something familiar in a fantasy genre.  Xelat reminds me of Thanos from Marvel Comics, who fell in love with the female persona of Death and eventually acquired the Infinity Gauntlet (only to discover that, in the process, he had become more powerful than Death and suborned her).  Is Xelat living at the Citadel of the Four, still competing for her love?  Is he her consort on Level Seven?  Or has he died, and his many lieutenants taken over Level Eight?

In any case, the story also explains why there are so many pentagrams on Level One: doubtlessly part of many shrines to his demonic love.  But why a random level at the top?  The solution is elegantly simple and vaguely realistic: to keep out troublemaking do-gooders.  I can’t imagine an evil archvillain wouldn’t have ongoing trouble (I’ve just read Heroics for Beginners: a novel by John Moore) and decide that the best thing to do would be to stock the upper level with a few traps and a bunch of worthless, easy-t0-replace menaces to keep the riff-raff out.  It’s confusing and disorganized to essentially serve as a fortification.  Ergo, the first level will be scruffy little vermin like kobolds, giant rats, and skeletons (they require little upkeep).

Every Cave of Chaos needs a Keep, and so I’ll put up top a sleepy and fairly generic town full of dour people who hate living so near someplace so terrible, but are willing to gouge adventurers who might travel there.  As a real twist, I’ll put at the dungeon entrance a temple of minotaurs who have been convinced that Xelat himself is a god, and that these people who keep going down into his lair are actually sacrifices (since so few come out).  Originally intended to be an exterior fortification, these bull-men have slowly evolved into a cult around their job, perverting into something twisted and wicked.  They’ll cheerfully help the PC’s go in, and perhaps grumble a bit when the PC’s come out for air.

So, with that background in mind, I’ve got a couple of starting places for the major challenges:

  1. Undead.  Obvious low-maintenance guardians. 
  2. Demihumans like goblins or kobolds; the “major” challenge could be a chieftan of some kind.  These guys would essentially be the “tenants” of the upper level.
  3. Cultists.
  4. A half-mad minotaur who wandered down there and is now stuck.

Making sense of the MegaDungeon chaos

This is sort of a “Part Two” of my new attempt to write up encounters for the Dungeon Under the Mountain, Level One by 0one Games.  Let’s assume that, for a minute, my estimations are correct.  I don’t know how many encounters there really are; as I said last time, I’m guessing 240.  I didn’t just pick that number out of a hat–there are eight pages for the map, and that would mean roughly 30 rooms per page (I’ve counted a few pages and this seems about right). 

Now at first I thought about trying to figure out how the rooms are all laid out and grouped together and shooting for balance in each “bloc” of rooms.  This would be prevent having too many high-level encounters too close together as the PC’s would encounter them.  But then I thought, why am I going to such effort?  This map is totally random, and I’m trying to do this as quickly and easily as possible.  Besides, there’s such thing as too much game balance, in my mind.

So, I’m dividing up the ~240 encounters by page, meaning ~30 per page (see, I told you I had a reason for picking that number!)  For identification purposes, I’m designating the former 5 categories as A (scratches), B, C, D, and E (TPK), and empty being X.   So, on each page I should put the following:

  • 5 empty rooms (X)
  • 15 type A encounters
  • 7 or 8 type B encounters
  • 2 or 3 type C encounters
  • 1 type D encounter
  • and 1 type E encounter on the entire dungeon level

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The Return of the Megadungeon!

So, it’s 5 degrees Farenheit outside with about four inches of snow.  The kids are home and bouncing off the wall.  I guess there is only one thing to do–dig up an old project and work on it.  Actually, I’m multitasking: glueing bricks together for the helipad and fussing about with the Dungeon Under the Mountain, Level One from 0one games.

So, there’s about 240 rooms in DUtM1, which is more than I’ll ever play, but that won’t stop me.  I don’t know if that number is exact, but it divides evenly by 8, which is important.  Here’s my first question: what percentage of rooms should be empty?  I don’t mean without dungeon dressing, but roughly what percentage of rooms should have no encounters, traps, etc.  Too few, and the level will take forever.  Too many, and it’ll get boring.

Next, how to stagger Encounter difficulties?  Call it Encounter Levels or whatever, but here’s how I see the levels being staggered (note: these descriptions are lifted from Central Casting: Dungeons by Task Force Games).

  1. Unless the PC’s are incredibly stupid or unlucky, they should get through this encounter with just a scratch or possible minor injury.
  2. Minor injuries likely, Major injuries possible.
  3. Major injuries likely, one PC death possible.
  4. One of more PC deaths likely, TPK (Total Party Kill) possible.
  5. TPK likely.  Run away!

Here’s my initial answers:

What percentage of rooms should be empty? At most 17% (1 empty for every 6 rooms).  For 240 rooms that’d be forty vacant rooms.

How should encounter levels be broken down?

  1. 60%
  2. 25%
  3. 10%
  4. 4%
  5. 1%

So we would be talking about 120 PC level -1 or -2 encounters, 50 PC level encounters, 20 PC+1 or +2 encounters, 8 PC+4 encounters, and 1 PC+5 encounter.

That sound about right?  Comments welcome.

Some Miniature Math

Right now, I’m in the middle of building a helipad out of sci-fi Hirst Arts bricks.  It’s slow going, but I’ll post some WIP soon.

In the meantime, I picked up Ancient and Medieval Wargaming by Neil Thomas at Half Price Books recently (a gem of a find for that store).  I like his rules for their simplicity and ease of instruction, but I began to wonder what it would take to build a AMW army.  So, as a bit of an intellectual exercise, a little “Miniature Math.”

Let’s build a Hundred Years War miniature army (in theory).  In AMW, that means:

3 Units of Men at Arms: 3 units * 4 bases * 4 minis/base = 48 minis

3 Units of Archers: 3*4*4=48 minis

1 Unit of Billmen: 1*4*4=16 minis

I Unit of Hobilars: 1*3*4=12 minis

That’s a total of 124 miniatures: 112 infantry and 12 cavalry.  In terms of monetary cost, I’m going to see about doing it three ways: Games Workshop (the Bretonnian line), Old Glory Miniatures, and Zvezda plastics.  Why just these three?  Because I’m sure that you could buy them all from Wargames Foundry and drop $200 on the army, but for a game that a) I haven’t played before, and b) don’t have an opponent, I’m not willing to drop that kind of cash on it.  So, three ways of buying it, broken down by company:

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New Year, New Sci-fi Terrain Piece

I stayed up last night just so I could squeak one more terrain piece into the 2008 Projects list: a “Filtration Tower.”






It’s based on a piece that was made over at the Necromundicon, one of my favorite links in my taskbar here.  I tried out some new techniques in terms of weathering which I think make the piece really pop.

Now, for the Year in Review and the Year to Come…

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