Monday, April 30, 2012

Current Project: Dunlyle

Well I've gone from posting twice daily to once every two weeks.  Rest assured this has not been idle time; the current project: Dunlyle, my campaign setting.  The end result is hoped to be a sandbox setting with optional "story line" elements, along these lines:
  • Spiral/"Wire-O" bound (so as to be durable and to open flat) and tabbed, on durable paper stock
  • Overview & Area Map
  • Important NPCs
  • Gazetteer & Local Maps
  • Multiple dungeons fleshed out in One Page Dungeon style
  • Campaign flowcharts and calendars
All of this, to echo my prior postings, will be done so that it is system-neutral though obviously flavored for D&D at its various offshoots and mutations.  In other words, the goal here is to be content-rich while maintaining utility to a wide range of games and DMs.  The book itself is intended to be both a campaign prep/background document as well as an in-game reference.

At present, the manuscript is completed but I am converting my traditional map & key dungeons into one-page dungeons and removing all system-specific references.

I would welcome your feedback on this proposed format.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sample Dungeon Using Proposed Generic One-Page Format

Time to put my money where my mouth is.

Here's a sample dungeon using the one-page format I proposed in my earlier post:

Again, the idea here is to present a "keyless" OSR dungeon that is usable, generic/system-neutral, content-rich, and requires the DM to refer to no other scenario materials.  It also assumes the existence of DM Text backround that the DM read and customized pre-adventure; the map above is for in-game usage.

Thoughts, criticisms, and comments welcome as always.

(Really irritated here at my inking, by the way, the smudges and other marring is really annoying.  Need to find a way to cover up those errors.  Used my usual H pencil overwritten with 1 mm, .5 mm, and .1 mm sepia pens.  Also, I need a shading technique to better offset the rooms and halls from the white background.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Amateur Gridless Mapping Tip #1: On Rulers and Stencils

As I continue in my journeys in "gridless" mapping (i.e., without graph paper), I have found that using a ruler and stencils is invaluable for buildings and dungeon floorplans.  Simply put, straight lines and even curves are generally more pleasing to the eye than the alternative, unless you are drawing a cave complex.  So, for those of you who want to learn from a fellow amateur's mistakes, I offer the following.

A good ruler or stencil is:
  • in the correct shape (!)
  • has a smooth edge with no flashing or nicks (plastic edges occasionally have a bit of flashing from the molding process -- they can be carefully cut off with a knife)
  • easy to align with preexisting drawings
  • easy to keep flush with the writing surface, to prevent slippage
Of these, the latter is surprisingly important, particularly if you are drawing lines longer than an inch or so.  If you do not have a heavy ruler or stencil, it is vital that you are able to hold the stencil securely against the paper, or your pen may slip under the edge and ruin your line.  I have had several otherwise very good drawings marred by such slips while inking.  If your edge is lightweight (as many plastic stencils are), take the time to reposition your non-drawing hand to hold the edge down securely while in mid-line.

In my experience, the size of the ruler or stencil is not a major factor, though because I often draw in a spiral-bound drawing pad, smaller edges tend to work better.  Larger edges are heavier and therefore better for prevention of slippage.

Of course, if you use a drafting table and t-bar, many of these issues (at least those pertaining to straight lines) go by the wayside.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Adventure Formats and the OSR

Some of the obvious accouterments of the old school renaissance have included intentional graphical and layout throwbacks to the previous era, particularly the Gygaxian format of adventure presentation.

OSR Format (roughly 1977 through 1983)

Using the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief as a template, the following format emerges as the traditional standard:
  • Cardstock front and back cover with artwork/description
  • Maps, typically on inside front and back covers (though sometimes at the end of the booklet)
  • Booklet, staple-bound
  • Short Introduction/DM Notes
  • Fairly Short Background (Setting the scene, placement within game world, getting the PCs involved, etc.)
  • Map Key, including wandering monsters, room descriptions, and descriptive artwork.  Text within the map key was kept brief except where further explanation was needed.
  • Appendices (New spells, monsters, treasures, player handouts and artwork, etc.)
This is fairly typical of pre-Hickman TSR fare, all of which can be fairly said to be within the OSR wheelhouse.  Judges Guild materials of that era follow an analogous format, although virtually none had a cover and maps were usually printed inside the booklet or were separate fold-out affairs.

Later Tweaks & Content Bloat

As the game matured, the format of adventures was tweaked.  The biggest changes were in two areas: backround/story-related material (for Hickmanesque storyline-driven games) and in the quantity and bulk of text included in the product.

Once adventures became less site-based/sandboxy and more story-based, larger amounts of background and story material were required to guide DMs through various story flowcharts and matrices.  NPCs, in particular, became much more fleshed out and given a life of their own.  While the point of this was to enhance the "story" and dramatic aspects of the game, it undoubtedly contributed to content bloat within published adventures.  It further made the products less adaptable for individual DMs -- more story details require more work to customize to one's own game-world.

The other content infusion of note was the addition of descriptive "boxed text."  While the goal was laudable -- to provide greater immersion and verisimilitude -- the inclusion of subjective descriptors left some DMs (and many more players!) feeling that they were reading from a script and trapped by the content.  If the author was not both brief and evocative, boxed text became a millstone around DMs' necks.

Other tweaks to the format included improved quality maps and experiments with different types of maps, such as the famous quasi-3D iso maps of Ravenloft.

Encounter Format

One of the more irritating-to-grognards developments in late 3rd and most 4th edition adventures was the advent of what can be called "encounter format," in which everything needed to run a particular encounter was generally (though not always) on one page or two facing pages.  Thus, a detailed dungeon room, its monsters (and their game stats) and all tactics and "developments" were listed in one place.

While generally hated by the OSR due to the "encounter" nomenclature and the size of stat blocks necessitated by later editions of the game, the encounter format has one big advantage -- utility.  All of the traditional formats require a DM to juggle no less than three documents -- the map, the key, and at least one rulebook (usually the DMG or Monster Manual).  The encounter format eliminated that juggling and allows a DM to focus on the players, the flow, and the game rather than shuffling papers about.  This philosophy has developed its own subculture of sorts via the "One Page Dungeon" contest.

Building a Composite OSR Format: Goals

My mission statement, therefore: 
OSR content should be adaptable, easy to use, evocative, creative, and customizable
I would further add that we, as consumers of said content, should value such publications on these merits alone and not, say, by its sheer size or bulk.  Furthermore, OSR publications must by necessity adhere to the OGL -- requiring either close adherence to OGL rules or a more generic approach so as not to violate the license.  I advocate the generic approach simply because everyone is seemingly playing a different game.  Within the OSR itself there are at least three major subsets -- white box, Basic, and AD&D systems -- and substantial variation in basic game mechanics.

I therefore propose the following format for OSR site-based adventures:
  • Notes/Introduction
  • Background (brief)
  • Small-scale overland map (optional)
  • Unified large-scale map showing the entire site and labelling its sections
  • Sectional small-scale maps done in "one page dungeon" style (i.e., "show me don't tell me") with clear links to other sections
  • Appendices
By eliminating the Gygaxian map-and-key format and later hyper-wordy formats, the DM is given what he needs -- introductory materials to read and digest for application into his own game-world, and in-game materials to use while sitting at the table playing.  The "one page" sectional map format, by necessity, will provide brief information in order to avoid OGL problems and to keep it adaptable, it should be as generic as possible in terms of game mechanics and statistics.  The downside to this, of course, is that it will require that the DM either adapt the content to his rules system beforehand or have the rulebooks handy during play.

For those wanting to inject a "plotline" into OSR adventures, a slightly expanded background section and a one-page story flowchart is recommended for in-game reference.

So what do you think?  Would you consider buying and using a scenario in my format as described?  How strong is the pull of sentimentality of the Gygaxian format?  Is the size/bulk of a publication relevant to your perception of its value?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Experiments in Drawing and Lettering

After a two-week hiatus caused by garage sales, the demands of parenthood and matrimony, and a job relocation, I return.  Below is Castle Rockabie, a location in my Dunlyle setting.  For those who care, this is on 80# drawing paper, originally drawn in H pencil with the aid of a few stencils, then gone over in sepia ink pen in varying widths: 1mm, .5 mm, and .1 mm.  Some quick notes:

The point of this was threefold: to have fun designing something in my campaign area, to experiment with line drawing and lettering, and to prove to myself that the one-page keyless concept was usable.

I am pleased overall with the line-drawing and design.  On the layout, I wish I'd moved the third floor over a bit and given more separation to the small minimap at the bottom of the page.  My lettering is uneven and as you can see I am struggling to find my own style -- it's a mash of wannabe architect, comic lettering, and my own scrawl.  One of the biggest challenges has been to slow down while lettering.

I am not happy with my weak little castle drawing in the upper right corner.  Bleh.  My attempt at an ivy-covered wall makes it look like a giant bush, fire, cave-in, or some other calamity rather than the regal foliage I had envisioned.  I think I'll always be more of a layout/design guy than an illustrator.

Lastly, I now see the value of getting a drafting table with a T-bar ruler (I forget the correct term for it) so that lines are properly horizontal and vertical.  Eyeballing the registration of my lines produces some uneven results, most easily seen in the "Garden" description text.

Anyway, it was a fun experiment and I will try a similar concept with a dungeon environment, using the text areas as a true key.