Seven Spindles and a McGuffin

Seven Spindles and a McGuffin (pdf link) is my entry into the One Page Dungeon Contest 2012. Much like last year’s entry (which was one of the winners) this one is more about dungeon structure than compelling narrative. In fact, the “story” is so minimal in this one that the whole entry is really more of a sandbox than an adventure. I sort of like dungeons that way, personally, but mileage varies.

I had some some goals for the design of this dungeon (and some observations after building it):

  • Must use a vector-based map. (Why? Well, note that this map is infinitely scalable, but the whole PDF is under 300KB.)
  • Wanted a dungeon with a couple totally different vectors of entry.
  • Provide the flow control usually supplied by different levels of a dungeon, all using a single map. The center spindle effectively allows this to be a six level dungeon on half a page.
  • Take a regional approach, where the dungeon is described by section rather that detailing each room.
  • Put some rooms at angles to the grid, but showing the grid in their own frame of reference.
  • Subvert the idea of dungeon as node graph idea from last year’s entry. It may be possible to node graph this dungeon, but I’m not entirely sure how to do it, especially since the small spindles are placed at random each time the dungeon is run.
  • Minimize hallways (if you were digging your own underground complex, you don’t get much return out of the labor). Some sections do this better than others.
  • Because each of the spindles serves eight potential openings, it turns out to be critical that the spindles turn in 45° increments. If they turned in 90° increments, I’m pretty sure that you can get situations where randomly placing the spindles results in unreachable rooms. Turning at 45° increments avoids this, though you might get cases where some rooms can only be reached if you stay in the spindle when it rotates.
  • Use psychology against the delvers. For example, in a couple of places, there are short hallways with a normal door on one end and a secret door on the other. The normal door is in the “more secret” area, so the idea is that if the delvers are already in the secret area and go through the normal door, when they find the (obvious) secret door at the other end, their tendency will be to go through it (“it’s secret, it must be protecting something good”), which actually leads them out of the secret area. Not sure if it would shake out like that in play, but that’s the idea.
  • Loved the idea of the spindles periodically sealing and unsealing sections, so that air, water and such rush in or out when the spindle moves. Like, if you are in a room with water up to your ankles and, meanwhile, the tide has risen outside, then the spindle turns and the high tide rushes into the room you’re in. Probably should have done more with that notion, but it is a) tough to do in one page and b) hard to explain and use.
  • The overlapping technique used in the fissure section, where one room is on top of another with a ladder between them, could have been used more. I thought it might confuse people, even though it is a bit easier to illustrate with the rooms at angles to each other.

I think last year’s entry was stronger, but when I went to the well this time, this is what came out.

Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack kickstarted

For its tenth anniversary, Mechaton, a game of giant fighty robots made of LEGO, is getting a revision and a new title. Today the Kickstarter for the new version started. Please help fund it.

Also, if you have a lot of cash, seriously consider one of the high level awards. Soren Roberts is an extremely talented LEGO designer and the rewards for his original work are rare offers.

Thanks in large part to prior posts here about Mechaton and LDraw, I’ve been asked to render the assembly instructions for the mechs in this product. Hopefully I can post some LDraw models when the product is published.

FUDGE d12 for Dicenomicon

Since Dicenomicon, my preferred dice roller for iOS allows for the creation and (cumbersome) sharing of custom dice definitions, I threw together a definition for a d12 that can be used for FATE games. Odds are the same as standard FUDGE dice (equal chances of “+”, “−” or “ ”). They look like this:

Fate d12

You can grab the file here (might need to right click on the link and “Save URL as…”): Fate d12 definition for Dicenomicon.

How to use this file is not explained that well in the app and not that obvious. And way harder than it should be. I’d love to say “go to the obvious screen in Dicenomicon and type in this URL to download it”, but I can’t, because that inexplicably isn’t an option. There are supposed to be several ways to get the file there, but most of them don’t work (the “import from documents” route fails with a “stream had too few bytes” error).

  1. Download the definition file.
  2. On your iOS device, launch Dicenomoicon and hit the info button in the top right.
  3. Tap “Sharing”.
  4. Tap “Web-based Editor”.
  5. You are about to turn your device into a web server, briefly. Make up a username and password and tap “Start Server”.
  6. At the bottom of the screen, your device will display a URL to use. Open a browser on your computer (assuming it is on the same network as the iOS device) and go to that URL. When asked for a username and password, enter the one you just made up.
  7. In the page that comes up, click “Upload File”.
  8. Choose the dice definition you downloaded. Select “Numeric Die” in the “Kind of Upload” popup. Click “Submit”.
  9. Back in Dicenomicon, stop the server and go back to the main settings screen.
  10. Tap “Customize”.
  11. Tap “Custom Dice”. You should see the new “Fa12: Fate d12″ in the list.
  12. So back to the customize screen. Tap “Dice Bar”.
  13. Tap “Edit”.
  14. Scroll to the bottom on the list and tap “Add Die…”.
  15. A “d6″ will be added to the end of the list. In spite of being in Edit mode, you can’t edit this new die and this point. Tap “Done” instead, even though you are not.
  16. Now tap the new “d6″ at the end of the list.
  17. In the screen that comes up, you will see a “d6″ in a circle. Double-tap it.
  18. In the dialog that comes up, choose “Custom Numeric Die”.
  19. In the selector that comes up, choose “Fa12: Fate d12″.
  20. Click Done. Go all the way back to the main screen.
  21. At the end of your dice bar, you should see “Fa12″, which you can now use like any other die.

Lark #03: A retrospective

One year has passed since the third lark was awarded to help produce Sage LaTorra‘s game Powers For Good. According to Sage’s progress notes on the game, the iOS application he pledged to create is awaiting AppStore approval. This will make his release a couple days late but, since he also produced the totally excellent Dungeon World while making this game, I think we can cut him a little slack.

You may have noticed I’m not running a similar “$1,000 for an indie game” concept this year. This is mostly because I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with running it this year, but also partly for other reasons. Since the first lark, Kickstarter has grown popular for managing the risk of an indie game launch, and it may be a better fit for bringing quality games to market than contests like this one. I have made a point of funding nearly any rpg-related Kickstarter I find. I have to check to see if I’ve spent $1,000 on Kickstarters yet, but it seems like it might be a better use of the cash. Still thinking about it though.

I thought it might be interesting to see what became of some of the other ideas pitched a year ago. Some of these were already close to completion at the time. If you pitched last year, and I get the current details wrong or couldn’t find information about the game you picthed, post a comment to correct me. In the order they were pitched:

Running Mecha in the BattleTech universe

Chris Perrin’s role-playing game Mecha does a great job of allowing stories about pilots of giant humanoid warmachines to be strongly driven by character, instead of number crunching. Though mecha anime acts as the source inspiration for Mecha, I want to use the same rule set to bring more character driven play to the universe of BattleTech, particularly during the Fourth Succession War.

Thoughts on doing this are still in the experimental stage, but have progressed far enough to share and, importantly, get feedback. If you have ever played Mecha or BattleTech (or, better yet, both), let me know what you think either in a comment here, or on this Story Games thread.

You can read the progress of this project in the following Google doc: Succession

Escape… named a winner in One Page Dungeon 2011 contest

Escape From the Lost Laboratories was named one of the fifteen winners of the One Page Dungeon Contest 2011. No idea what the prize will be, yet, but it’s an honor to be named.

The contest page offers a PDF containing all the winners, but also take a look at some of the other 70+ entries. I loved the idea behind Mystery of Godzina House, for example.

In honor of this event, I will be setting up DivNull Lark aimed at giving the Lost Laboratories a bit more more flesh, and some love to open source systems. Stay tuned.

Vegas, Baby!

Cover for Vegas, Baby!Vegas, Baby! is a playset for the Fiasco roleplaying game that tries to emulate “Vegas trips gone horribly wrong”, such as in films like Very Bad Things or The Hangover. This is not the Vegas-based playset that was evidently sold only with the game at Gencon 2010. As I was not in attendance at that convention, and that playset has not yet been released publicly, I’ve never seen it. (From a playtest report of it, it looks to have a different focus than this one.) (Update: The Gencon version is now available as part of the Fiasco Companion. It is eerily similar in some ways, totally different in others. It leans a bit more toward Rat Pack and Ocean’s Eleven style Vegas, which I intentionally leaned away from.)

This playset has not had much testing, so if you play it, let me know how it goes and how you actually used it. Chances are I will revise it at some point, based on feedback.

Thanks to Jason Morningstar for sending me his standard playset InDesign template. Normally, I would share the source documents for something like this, but the template and the fonts are not mine to share, so I can’t. You can, however, consider the contents of this playset to be free to hack, mutilate, mangle and destroy.

The PDF can be downloaded here: lw01_vegas_baby.pdf

One page dungeon contest entry, 2011

Escape From the Lost Laboratories (pdf link) is my entry into the One Page Dungeon Contest 2011. It is, perhaps, a bit more free form in its room descriptions than some one-page dungeons. Since the rules specify that the dungeon needs to be system agnostic, I tried to give just enough detail that readers would think “Ooo… I bet this is how you’d represent that in [insert game of choice]“, but not so much that two different people would do it the same way.

When reading through it, it should be pretty obvious that the experience your players have will be highly dependent on their access to teleportation magic. The title assumes they don’t have any, so that their only choice at escape is to work through the dungeon. If, however, they can teleport on their own, the focus of the whole adventure changes pretty drastically, shifting to more about exploration and investigation of what the place is and how the players might use it for themselves. Some parties might get sucked into the network, take a quick peek, teleport out, and never think about the place again. Others might do serious exploring and be more interested in finding out about its builders, and so on. (If tamed, it would make a pretty great “home base”, for example.)

I am open to feedback on this dungeon, so post it if you have any. Though I have already submitted this entry, the contest allows resubmission with updated versions, so I have until the end of March. Also, feel free to post how you’d flesh out the rooms for a specific system. If anyone is really clamoring for it, maybe I’ll build a Pathfinder version once the contest is over, with MapTool maps and such.

At a more “meta” level, this dungeon makes explicit the notion that all dungeon maps are really just directed graphs. The graph is plain to see in my entry:

One of the reasons dungeons remain popular is that their directed graphs not only represent the geography of the dungeon, but also the flow of the narrative. The dungeon is a tool to control the pacing and sequence of the story and place payouts such that reaching them requires certain challenges. You can see some explicit examples of this in a thread on this topic at Story Games. This thread has a number of opinions on what traits these graphs need to make dungeons “fun”. I also provide side by side comparisons of the maps of some classic dungeons (Tomb of Horrors, Keep on the Borderlands, White Plume Mountain) with their directed graph representations. For example, here is the graph of White Plume Mountain, which clearly shows its “three silo” design:

White Plume Mountain directed graph White Plume Mountain map

As a quick example of how graph analysis can be used, take a look at room 2. The graph makes in painfully obvious that the adventurers will be moving in and out of that room multiple times. So, it would be good to make that room memorable somehow or, perhaps, contain some kind of trap that needs to be dealt with each time through the room. The revised version of White Plume delivers here (see PDF at link above), with a challenge that is similar general each time through, but still different enough in the specifics that it doesn’t get annoying.

One thing I don’t spell out in that thread is exactly how I built these graphs. The key is a program called dot, which is part of the GraphViz package. Once you get that installed, you need to make a .dot file to represent the dungeon. This is just a text file that follows a specific format. These can get complicated, but for turning dungeons into graphs, we only use a really small portion of the format. It starts with a shell definition that defines the file as a directed graph, and contains a single graph attribute for spacing out the nodes:

digraph G {
	ranksep="0.4 equally";
}

Let’s use a smaller example from one of last year’s One Page Dungeon contest winners: map three from Antti Hulkkonen’s “Den of Villainy!” (reproduced to the right through the magic of the Creative Commons license). At each room on a the map, enter one line for each connection the room has. For example, room 1 on the map leads to rooms 2 and 9. So, one line is "1" -> "2" and the other is "1" -> "9". Do that for each room. Then save the file and open it with graphviz (or open a command line and run dot on it). That’s the basics of it. You can also add some embellishments to each line, like using a different color for secret doors and so on. The result might look like this:

digraph G {
	ranksep="0.4 equally";

	"8" -> "3" [dir="both"];
	"1" -> "2" [dir="both"];
	"1" -> "9" [dir="both", color="blue", style="dashed"];
	"2" -> "3" [dir="both"];
	"2" -> "4" [dir="both"];
	"3" -> "5" [dir="both"];
	"3" -> "6" [dir="both"];
	"4" -> "5" [dir="both"];
	"5" -> "13" [dir="both", color="blue", style="dashed"];
	"6" -> "7" [dir="both", color="blue", style="dashed"];
	"9" -> "10" [dir="both"];
	"9" -> "12" [dir="both"];
	"10" -> "11" [dir="both"];
	"11" -> "12" [dir="both"];
	"11" -> "13" [dir="both", color="blue", style="dashed"];
	
	/* Mark the entrance rooms */
	"1" [shape=Mdiamond];
	"8" [shape=Mdiamond];
}

The graphviz package will handle the layout of the nodes automatically. Sometimes it does a better job of this than others (and there are tricks you can use to make the output better), but as these graphs are just to visualize the dungeon, they don’t need to be perfect. In this case, the result looks like this:

The flow of the dungeon becomes more clear in this graph, with the one whole branch only accessible through secret doors, a main interconnected section, and two key secret rooms (which, significantly, are furthest away from the entry ponts). All very rational.

LDraw files for Mechaton inspired by hardsuits

Minifig for scaleSimilar to my last LDraw/Mechaton post, here are some more files. These all come from the “hardsuit community”, a group of Lego enthusiasts who build minifig-in-powered-armor-looking figures. Since these “hardsuits” are built to minifig scale (to the right is a minifig shown at the same scale as the images below), they work pretty well for Mechaton, with a few alterations.

The hardsuit community (apparently) has evolved a number of “standard” body types, where the core of the model uses a particular idea, which is then embellished. I selected a number of these standard cores, but only present one example of each. I believe that I give credit below to the originator of any given standard core, but it can be hard to track this down, so I may have got it wrong. Let me know if you know better.

As before, I had to guess at some of these models, going by pictures posted to the net. In most cases, I changed the head entirely, as hardsuits typically use minifig heads, which Mechaton models usually avoid. I also sometimes added extra stuff or changed a bit here and there. I’m sure I also guessed wrong in a few places. So, if these drift from the standard, that is why.

The LDraw files use the latest part collection, but may contain unofficial parts. (Also, you may need to right-click on the .ldr files and “Save Link As…”.)

Blacktron by pasukaru76 Blacktron
by pasukaru76
Source: Flickr
LDraw file: pasukaru76-blacktron.ldr
Double Edge by xezav Double Edge
by xezav
Source: Flickr
LDraw file: xezav-doubleedge.ldr
Hardersuit by Alvaro Gunawan Hardersuit
by Alvaro Gunawan
Source: Flickr
LDraw file: alvarogunawan-hardersuit.ldr
Reclean, based on design by PolarBear!! Reclean (based on “Cleanbot”)
by PolarBear!!
Source: Flickr
LDraw file: polarbear-reclean.ldr
Retriever by xezav Retriever
by xezav
Source: Flickr
LDraw file: xezav-retriever.ldr
Übermann by Geoff Herndon Übermann
by Geoff Herndon
Source: Flickr
LDraw file: geoffherndon-ubermann.ldr
W. Mk1 by W. Mark W. Mk1
by W. Mark
Source: MocPages
LDraw file: wmark-wmk1.ldr
ZSF-AHTP by Mr. Villa ZSF-AHTP
by Mr. Villa
Source: Flickr
LDraw file: mrvilla-ZSF-AHTP-4.ldr

To view these files, you’ll need some kind of .ldr viewer, such as Bricksmith or others.

Lastly, a repeat of my earlier plea: when you come up with the next great frame, please give the world an LDraw file for it, so we can marvel at your genius from any angle we like.