Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Dungeon Alphabet Dozen - M is also for MAPS

M is also for MAPS
Roll 1d12!


Random Maps of the Underworld

1 Architectural schematic of local 9th level NPC's stronghold, signed by original builder. Shows network of secret doors bypassing all locks and traps, leading directly to treasure vault.

2 Alchemist's field journal shows locations of abundant sources of two MATERIAL COMPONENTS guaranteed to combine successfully into ADMIXTURE.

3 Geological survey shows previously unknown CAVE under nearby map hex.

4 Partial scroll of extremely ancient religious text shows lost temple of long-forgotten dead demon god.

5 Naturalist's assay reveals single magic POOL next to otherwise mundane nearby waterway.

6 Actual buried treasure, in a wooden chest, marked with a big red X and everything. Bring the shovels, because it's 10' down, and you're going to have to dig for it.

7 Pathfinder's scouting report shows game trail network connecting several nearby map hexes. The trails are easy going, without the usual chance of getting lost or penalties for rough terrain, and there's virtually no chance of encountering a wandering monster while on them.

8 Tourist's guidebook provides walking tour of nearest city, includes locations of ultra-chic tavern, hotel, and merchant center, and coupons for one day of half-off discount prices. Each spot is a speakeasy with an unmarked door, so out-of-towners normally never find them.

9 Illustrated children's fairy tale tells story of inveterate gambler who beseeches gaming-house mascot djinn to grant him a cheat code. Story obviously takes place in nearby dungeon, cheat code totally works to unlock previously inaccessible secret door, door leads to gonzo ZOWIE bonus dungeon level, illustrations make excellent walk-through guide.

10 Hobo-code chalk markings on sign at neighborhood entrance indicate location of stash house for goods pilfered from local job-sites by underpaid laborers. Additional markings in house suggest a "take-a-penny-leave-a-penny" approach to materiel held within, encourage player characters to store their loot rent-free. Dire warnings of assassin guild retaliation against stash-theives also strongly indicated.

11 Embroidered tapestry depicts legend of ancient paladin who discovered magic sword, founded stronghold, attracted coterie of cavaliers, and was eventually entombed in catacomb on nearby ISLAND. If recovered from the catacomb, ownership of the sword entitles the bearer to claim custody over the abandoned (and now monster-haunted) stronghold.

12 Lost page torn from adventurer's diary purports to show only known secret route back to the surface

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Player Art - Two Chromatic Monsters

A friend of mine read my previous post using Le Chaudrom Chromatique's random island generator, and she decided to doodle a couple of the monsters.

Below are Lindsey M's quick sketches of the variant-appearance owlbear and fairy-dragon-like hyena.

Chromatic Owl Bear by Lindsey M
 
Chromatic Pixie Hyena by Lindsey M
 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Procedural Generation Demonstration - Two Chromatic Islands

Evlyn at Le Chaudron Chromatique has created a minigame for referees to create island ecologies. She recommends starting with an encounter list, removing half the inhabitants (maybe they went extinct, maybe they never made it onto the island), then allowing the surviving inhabitants to speciate to enter the vacant ecological niches, and finally allowing the original survivors to evolve due to genetic drift.

Even starting from an extremely mundane encounter list, it's a procedure that's guaranteed to lead to weirdness.

Evlyn uses the Labyrinth Lord "Forest/Wooded" Wilderness Encounter Table.

For fun, I thought I'd try it again, using the D&D 5e "Sylvan Forest Encounters" from the Dungeon Master Guide. (I've modified the list to remove the non-creature entries, and to separate entries where you would encounter 2 different creatures at once.)

Also for fun, I thought I'd see what would happen if two different islands separated off the same mainland.


Step 1: First we see what species survive on each island. Evlyn suggests that half the mainland die off or fail to migrate, and half survive on the island.

ISLAND A
1 displacer beast
1d4 gnolls
2d4 hyenas
1 giant owl
1 dryad
1d4 satyrs
1d4 centaurs
2d4 elven scouts
2d4 pixies
2d4 sprites
1 owlbear
1d4 elks
1 giant elk
1d4 blink dogs
1d4 faerie dragons
1 elf druid
1 treant
1 unicorn

ISLAND B
1 displacer beast
1d4 gnolls
2d4 hyenas
1 giant owl
1 dryad
1d4 satyrs
1d4 centaurs
2d4 elven scouts
2d4 pixies
2d4 sprites
1 owlbear
1d4 elks
1 giant elk
1d4 blink dogs
1d4 faerie dragons
1 elf druid
1 treant
1 unicorn


Step 2: Next, we allow existing species to split off new species to fill the vacant ecological niches. Evlyn has a table to roll on to see which traits the new species "pick up" from convergent evolution into the niche, and any trait not "picked up" in this way should stay the same from the original species. 5e doesn't have Morale or Hoard Classes, but it does have official creature types and bolded descriptors used to organize the entry in the Monster Manual, so I'm going to use those instead.

ISLAND A
1d4 gnolls - replaced by unicorn, adopts 4 traits (AC, HD/size, special ability, appearance)
2d4 hyenas - replaced by treant, adopts 5 traits (AC, attack type, damage, special ability, Appearance)
1 giant owl - replaced by treant, adopts 3 traits (AC, saves, special ability)
1d4 centaurs - replaced by displacer beast, adopts 3 traits (alignment, movement, creature type)
2d4 elven scouts - replaced by giant elk, adopts 6 traits (number, AC, HD/size, descriptor, special ability, appearance)
2d4 sprites - replaced by giant elk, adopts 4 traits (alignment, movement, AC, HD/size)
1d4 elks - replaced by treant, adopts 3 traits (AC, descriptor, appearance)
1d4 blink dogs replaced by displacer beast, adopts 4 traits (alignment, attack type, damage, creature type)
1d4 faerie dragons - replaced by treant, adopts 4 traits (number, alignment, special ability, appearance)

ISLAND B
1 displacer beast - replaced by dryad, adopts 6 traits (alignment, movement, AC, attack type, saves, appearance)
1d4 gnolls - replaced by satyrs, adopts 4 traits (number, movement, attack type, special ability)
1d4 centaurs - replaced by giant owl, adopts 3 traits (movement, damage, creature type)
2d4 elven scouts - replaced by pixies, adopts 4 traits (attack type, saves, creature type, special ability)
1 giant elk - replaced by sprites, adopts 2 traits: (number, saves)
1d4 faerie dragons - replaced by hyenas, adopts 5 traits (number, movement, HD/size, damage, appearance)
1 elf druid - replaced by sprites, adopts 5 traits (movement, AC, HD/size, damage, special ability)
1 treant - replaced by giant owl, adopts 4 traits (movement, AC, HD/size, appearance)
1 unicorn - replaced by blink dogs, adopts 6 traits: (AC, attack type, saves, creature type, descriptor, appearance)


Step 3: Third, we allow each of the surviving species to experience genetic drift, so that they chance from the mainland baseline.

ISLAND A
1 displacer beast - dwarf variant (reduce HD/size, increase number)
1 dryad - giant variant (increase HD/size, reduce number)
1d4 satyrs - random characteristic variant (modify: descriptor)
2d4 pixies - dwarf variant (reduce HD/size, increase number)
1 owlbear - random characteristic variant (modify: appearance)
1 giant elk - random characteristic variant (modify: creature type)
1 elven druid - hyper variant (intensify: damage)
1 treant - hyper variant (intensify: saves)
1 unicorn - random characteristic variant (modify: saves)

ISLAND B
2d4 hyenas - dwarf variant (reduce HD/size, increase number)
1 giant owl - giant variant (increase HD/size, reduce number)
1 dryad - giant variant (increase HD/size, reduce number)
1d4 satyrs - dwarf variant (reduce HD/size, increase number)
2d4 pixies - stunted variant (dilute: number)
2d4 sprites - dwarf variant (reduce HD/size, increase number)
1 owlbear - giant variant (increase HD/size, reduce number)
1d4 elks - dwarf variant (reduce HD/size, increase number)
1d4 blink dogs - hyper variant (intensify: HD/size)


Step 4: The final step is to put it all back together into an encounter list for each island.


A - THE ISLAND OF CATS, ELK, AND TREES

1d4 dwarf displacer beasts (as displacer beast, except: size medium, 10d8+20 hp)

1 gnoll-like unicorn (as unicorn, except: size medium, 5d8 hp, add Rampage ability, appearance "feral humanoid with one-horned horse head")

1 hyena-like treant (as treant, except: AC 11, attack bite +2 melee weapon (1d6 piercing damage), add Pack Tactics ability, appearance "huge fallen tree with knot-holes like spots, stalks on four limbs")

1 giant-owl-like treant (as treant, except: AC 12, save S+1 D+2 C+2 I-1 W+1 C+0, add Keen Hearing and Sight special ability)

1 giant dryad (as dryad, except: size large, 5d10+5 hp)

1d4 variant-descriptor satyrs (as satyrs except: remove Hedonistic Revelers descriptor, add descriptor Abstemious Perfectionists "satyrs spend long hours practicing and perfecting their music, forswearing any distractions or mind-altering substances, living only to prepare themselves for seasonal concerts which they carry off flawlessly")

1 centaur-like displacer beast (as displacer beast, except: alignment neutral good, creature type fey, speed 50 ft)

2d4 elf-scout-like giant elk (as giant elk, except: AC 13, size medium, 3d8+3 hp, add Scout descriptor, add Keen Hearing and Sight special ability, appearance "humanoid elk with antlers")

2d6 dwarf pixies (as pixies, except: 1d3-1 hp)

1 sprite-like giant elk (as giant elk, except: alignment neutral good, speed 10 ft / fly 40 ft, AC 15, size tiny, 1d4 hp)

1 variant-appearance owlbear (as owlbear, except: appearance "panther body, wooden face, lion's mane of leaves")

1 elk-like treant (as treant, except: AC 10, appearance "huge fallen tree with crown of antler-like branches, bounds on four limbs")

1 variant-creature-type giant elk (as giant elk, except: creature type plant)

1 blink-dog-like displacer beast (as displacer beast, except: alignment lawful good, attack bite +3 melee weapon (1d6+1 piercing damage), creature type fey)

1d4 faerie-dragon-like treants (as treants, except: alignment chaotic good, add Innate Spellcasting ability, appearance "huge fallen tree with pair of leafy wing-like branches and root tail, hops and flits about")

1 hyper-damage elven druid (as elven druid, except: all attacks increase dice by two sizes, quarterstaff deals 1d10+2, produce flame deals 1d12+2, shillelagh deals 1d12+2, thunderwave deals 2d12+4)

1 hyper-saving treant (as treant, except: save S+12 D-2 C+10 I+2 W+6 C+2)

1 variant-saving unicorn (as unicorn, except: save S+0 D+3 C+3 I+4 W+2 C+2)


B - FAERIE AND GIANT ISLAND

1 displacer-beast-like dryad (as dryad, except: alignment lawful evil, speed 40ft, AC 13, attack tentacle multiattack, two +6 melee weapons (each 1d4 bludgeoning, 1d8+4 bludgeoning with shillelagh), save S+4 D+2 C+3 I-2 W+1 C-1, appearance "woman with dark green skin, black leaves instead of hair, two legs, four arms, two leafy vine tentacles growing from her back, cruel laugh, glowing emerald eyes")

1d4 gnoll-like satyrs (as satyrs, except: speed 30 ft, attack bite +4 melee weapon (2d4+1 bludgeoning damage), attack spear +4 melee or ranged weapon (1d6+3 piercing damage), attack longbow +3 ranged weapon (1d6+3 piercing damage), add Rampage special ability)

2d6 dwarf hyenas (as hyenas, except: size small, 1d6 hp)

1 giant giant owl (as giant owl, except: size huge, 3d12+6 hp)

1 giant dryad (as dryad, except: size large 5d10+5 hp)

1d6 dwarf satyrs (as satyrs, except: size small, 7d6-7 hp)

1 centaur-like giant owl (as giant owl, except: Speed 50 ft, Attack: Talons +3 melee weapon attack (2d6+4 bludgeoning damage), creature type monstrosity)

2d4 elven-scout-like pixies (as pixies, except: attack multiattack, two shortswords +4 melee (each 1d6+2 piercing), two longbows +4 ranged (each 1d8+2 piercing), save S+0 D+2 C+1 I+0 W+1 C+0, creature type humanoid (elf), add Keen Hearing and Sight special ability)

stunted-number pixie (as pixie)

2d6 dwarf sprites (as sprites, except: 1d3-1 hp)

1 giant owlbear (as owlbear, except: size huge, 7d12+28 hp)

1d6 dwarf elk (as elk, except: size medium, 2d8 hp)

1 giant-elk-like sprite (as sprite, except: save S+4 D+3 C+2 I-2 W+2 C+0)

1d4 hyper-sized blink dogs (as blink dogs, except: size huge, 4d12+12 hp)

1d4 faerie-dragon-like hyenas (as hyenas, except: speed 10 ft / fly 60 ft, size tiny, 4d4+4 hp, attack deals 1 piercing damage, appearance "cat-sized hyenas with rainbow-hued fur and butterfly wings, they wear sharp-toothed grins and their tails twitch with merriment")

2d4 elf-druid-like sprites (as sprites, except: speed 30 ft, AC 11, size medium, 5d8+5 hp, attack deals 1d6 damage, add Spellcasting special ability)

1 treant-like giant owl (as giant owl, except: speed 30 ft, AC 16, size huge, 12d12+60 hp, appearance "a huge owl with feathers like green leaves, its face like a mask carved from wood")

1d4 unicorn-like blink dogs (as blink dogs, except: AC 12, attack multiattack, horn +7 melee (1d8 +4 magical piercing), paws +7 melee (2d6+4 magical bludgeoning), save S+4 D+2 C+2 I+0 W+3 C+3, creature type fey, add Divine Guardians descriptor, appearance "white furred dogs that twinkle like starlight as they blink in and out of existence, a single spiral horn grows from each of their foreheads")


Final Thoughts: There's always something meditative about solo procedural generation, but trying to do this for a 20-item list (twice!) is maybe pushing the boundaries of what's feasible as preparation. This would probably work best with a shorter initial encounter list. More cosmetic and fewer mechanical changes might actually affect the player experience more.

It might also be interesting to utilize something like this method for an island-hopping game where the players will get to see multiple alternate ecosystems - especially if they can see them without having to fight all of them.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Advice from the Blogosphere

In the past year, the Old School Renaissance, or New School Revolution, or whatever you want to call the sprawling, vaguely defined, slightly overlapping set of family resemblances that make up the online tabletop roleplaying scene, has entered a third age. (The first age, arguably, was the pre-GooglePlus blog scene, and the second age was inextricable from G+ as a platform for sociability.)

In the wake of these changes, I really missed the hole left by the retirement of Sophia from Die Heart and the passing of James from Dreams of Mythic Fantasy. I also kept thinking about Aaron's from Twisted Cities advice about how to get more art by re-blogging and link-sharing.

Fortunately, there are a few people already doing the work of scene-making. Frothsof from Thought Eater has weekly Blog-O-Rama posts, Sohinfo from Alone in the Labyrinth has started weekly Five on Friday posts, and Ynas Midgard has bimonthly Excellence from the Blogsphere posts. I also think I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Alex Schroeder and the tools he's made for connecting the blogosphere, his Links to Wisdom and his RPG Planet, as well as Nick LS Whalen and his ongoing Blogs on Tape project.

I felt inspired by their example, and I wanted to start collecting blogposts I like from time to time. Based on what I've collected for this first outing, apparently what I really like right now is advice for how to do things.



At Throne of Salt, Dan's love for Mothership continues to inspire some of his best writing.


Jack from Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque had a couple posts I really liked. In It Feels Good to Have Made Something, he walks us through the process of home-printing a zine, and talks about the costs involved at each step. In Nine Assumptions in Game Design, he identifies some of what he calls the "unspoken and unconsidered assumptions that influence the design of role-playing games."


Richard's Dystopian Pokeverse has a nice post about Karst Cave Systems explaining where caves come from and how they could work differently than built dungeons.


Dan from Redtoof finished a long-running open-table sandbox game, and offers advice for running your own in Lessons from the Unbroken Lands. He offers lessons on downtime, campaign pacing, and treasure.


Vulpinoid from Observations of the Fox has a really helpful page of Map Tutorials.


Over at Melancholies and Mirth, Lungfungus wrote Wheels within Wheels, which walks us through the process of building a dungeon out of loops instead of straight lines, and shows just how quickly the number of possible routes starts growing once even a few loops intersect.


Ben from Mazirian's Garden also had a couple posts I particularly enjoyed. So You Want to Make a Zine has more advice for printing and assembling your own zines. In Check Out These Character Sheets, Ben also shows off some really good-looking character sheets and talks about what makes them both attractive and functional.


Evlyn at Le Chaudron Chromatique returned to the scene this year, and gave us PDF Versions of My Zines, among others.


Paul at the Indie Game Reading Club offers us 50 Lessons About Roleplaying, starting with the observation that "you can’t fix real-world problems between players in your make-believe space," and continuing from there.


Hmmm Marquis wrote Magic User Spells Based Off Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Grecian Magic.


Trey at From the Sorcerer's Skull does so much interesting worldbuilding it's hard for me to pick my favorites. I especially liked his Solar Trek reimagining of Star Trek set entirely in our solar system, his Omniverse reinterpretation of a combined Marvel and DC universe pegged to actual American history, and his transhuman cyberpunk Planescape of Gyre. The fictive history of Armchair Planet Comics is also worth checking out.


Over at Failure Tolerated, Sean gives us A Crash Course on Marketing Your Indie RPG, which includes some nice advice about how to figure out who might be interested in your game and how to bring your game to their attention.


Paul from Dragons Never Forget has summaries and reviews of over 400 roleplaying blogs in The 2019 Great Blog Roll Call, which is an impressive bit of curation.


Skerples from Coins and Scrolls has a three-part series on RPG publishing. First How I Plan and Write RPG Books, second How to Become a Hundredaire on DriveThruRPG, and third How to do Reasonably Well on Kickstarter. There's always a danger of self-mythologizing when you write this sort of thing, so I appreciate a focus on practical advice borne from recent real-world experience.


Cavegirls' Game Stuff has two recent posts thinking about how roleplaying games work - Diegetic vs Non-Diegetic, and Why We Have Dice Rolls, Game Mechanics, and Stats. Both these posts are useful for thinking about what game mechanics are and what they're good for.


Paul from Blog of Holding has two very different bits of advice. To fit the 5e Monster Manual on a Business Card, he uses the same kind of statistics I learned in grad school to create very simple guidelines for creating new monsters, using Challenge Rating instead of Hit Dice as the defining characteristic. If you want to write 5e monsters and don't want to reskin, this might be the way to go. How Big Does a Random Generator Have to Be? uses statistics again, and talks about how often repeated results are likely to appear on any random table, and how to avoid too many repeats.


Bearded Devil took a break from the usual highly-entertaining play reports to tell us How I Run a Citycrawl Campaign, and I have to say, he makes Baroque Maximalism sound pretty appealing.


Finally, at The Alexandrian, Justin gives us another defense of game mechanics in System Matters. He also takes on a fun worldbuilding exercise by retelling the history of Greece and Europe in The Nation in History.



You can expect this series to be highly ir-regular. Feel free to post your own favorite blogpost links in the comments.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Searching Amid Abundance

The classic dungeon exploration scenario involves searching amid scarcity.

The classic dungeon was once rich, but was also abandoned long ago. Since then, most of what was valuable has already been stolen by the looters and tomb-robbers of an earlier generation. What hasn't been taken away has mostly rotted or crumbled to dust. Invaders have moved in and trashed the place further.

There are treasures here, but they're all trapped, guarded by monsters, or hidden. Sometimes you get lucky, and there's a magic sword sitting on a plinth, just waiting for you to claim it.

All the rest of the time, there's a treasure chest in the middle of a room, but you just know that it's not what it looks like. It's empty, or there's a poison needle waiting to stab you when you try to open the lock, or there's a trap door right in front of it waiting to drop you into an alligator pit when you walk up, or else it's not really a treasure chest, it's just a monster that looks like one.

Or you see the monsters first, and you can only find their treasure after you kill them and start going through their stuff.

Or you're in a room that looks like it's empty, and you have to like, find the paving stone that sticks up slightly above the level of the rest of the floor because there's something under it. Or search all the furniture looking for false bottoms. Or tap all along the walls trying to find hollow spots that might indicate there's a secret door. Or break the furniture just in case, because maybe the jerk author who wrote your asshole GM's dungeon key said the treasure is hidden inside a hollowed-out table leg. Or maybe you're wasting your time because only 1-in-6 empty rooms have unguarded hidden treasure anyway.

Or finally you hit the jackpot and you're in the evil wizard's combination laboratory-library. This terror of the countryside, who amassed untold wealth from pillaging the countryside and demanding tribute owns ... one spellbook, a couple potions, a few scrolls. Maybe a talisman or a single magic ring.

And your characters, who are dirt poor, take everything they can find. They want everything that's not nailed down, then they want to pry up the nails and keep those too, because you never know when you might want to nail a door shut. (You never will. Those nails will still be on your character sheet, unused, at the end of the campaign, just like all the rubber bands your grandmother saved in a kitchen drawer - "just in case" - off every newspaper she ever received, and then never had any further use for, because growing up during the Great Depression convinced her that this was a wise and prudent use of space.)

Everything in the dungeon that can be taken is written down, and because it's too much of a pain to write very much of that sort of thing, there's not that much written, and so the dungeon is mostly empty.



But what if it was different?

What if, instead of poverty, there was plenty? What if instead of scarcity, there was abundance? What if your characters weren't poor, they were rich, and instead of taking everything, they only wanted to take the best things? What if the interior of the dungeon didn't resemble an empty cave or an abandoned warehouse, what if it was opulent, palatial? What if it wasn't abandoned, but living, and what if the people who lived their were your people, or at least were people whose good opinion you craved and respected?

What if, instead of playing a meth addict ripping the copper wires out of the walls of an abandoned trailerpark doublewide, you played a gentleman thief, plucking only the very finest, very choicest items from out of the museums and display halls of the inordinately wealthy and the exceptionally rich?

Or, I don't know, what if you were still poor, but that wizard you just killed had an actual library full of books, and only one of them was the spellbook? What if you're poor, but the world around you isn't, so if you bring an entire backpack full of books back to town, but none of them is the spellbook, then you'll end the adventure worse off than you started it, because books are cheap but an indoor place to sleep at night is not?

What if the problem wasn't finding anything in a place that, at first glance, appears to contain nothing, but rather finding the right thing in a place that appears to contain everything?



This is a follow-up, of sorts, to my thoughts about searching for treasure in dungeons where things might be landmark, hidden, or secret. It's a follow-up because I asked myself the question "what if everything was a landmark? what if the treasure was hidden-in-plain-sight? what if the treasure wasn't secret because you couldn't see it, but because you couldn't recognize it even though you were looking right at it?"

Running an abundant dungeon probably requires additional rethinking of the way the game designer writes up the dungeon, the way the gamemaster describes it, and the way the player approach it. But let's set all that aside for right now. For right now, let's focus on the question of how to mechanically adjudicate these searches.

When I talk about abundant dungeon spaces, I'm imagining rooms that are stuffed with objects. I guess this could just mean really well-appointed living spaces, but what I'm imagining are more like storage spaces that are filled with objects that look very similar but have very different monetary values. Imagine wading through a hallway filled with chairs. Imagining entering a bedroom where the floor around the bed is completely covered by teacups and saucers. Imagine finding a dressing room filled with masquerade costumes. Imagining opening a drawer stuffed with silverware or a cabinet overflowing with China. What happens if the players pick up the first one they find? What happens if they want to look close and pick out the best ones?



Landmark - In a room that's literally filled with treasure, let the players collect their treasure!

This advice contradicts what you might see in some other old-school sources, which I'll talk about in another post. OSR authors generally encourage you to make most of the apparent treasure in these places worthless. Find a library? All the books are moldy, rotten, and illegible. Find an armory? All the weapons are rusted and unusable. Etc.

I disagree! Let the players take home their treasure, and make it worth something!

Obviously, just picking up the first objects you find isn't the most effective way to find the most expensive treasure, but that doesn't mean what they find should actually be worthless. I would assign a nominal monetary value to each item, and let the accumulated value add up. Silverware is probably worth a coin each, collecting a drawer full is like finding a strongbox of silver pieces. Other objects might be more difficult because they're heavy or bulky or fragile or some combination of the above. Anything like that is probably worth 2, 5, or at most 10 coins.

Just picking up whatever you can find is a beginner's strategy, and players will learn to be more discerning once they realize there are ways to earn far more cash for their efforts. But un-directed accumulation can also be a stepping-stone to connoisseurship, by allowing characters to begin accidentally collecting matched sets.

Whenever the characters bring their treasure back to their hideout, you can check whether any of the individual items of the same type are part of a matched set. (Looking at the birthday paradox suggests that the chances of having at least 2 items in the same set should increase very rapidly the more you find, but that math seems really complicated to simulate at the table, so let's ignore it.)

Roll d20, and try to get lower than the number in your collection. Yes, that does mean if you have 20 or more items of the same type, then at least 2 are guaranteed to be part of the same matched set. Roll a dice determined by the set type, and that will tell you how many items are part of the same matching set. So for example, if you were collecting silverware, you would roll d4+1 to see how many pieces are part of the same matching place-setting. Other kinds of sets might require you to roll d6+1, d8+1, etc. Subtract that number out of your total collection, and roll the d20 again. You might have multiple different matched sets, so keep this up until you roll too high.

Items that belong to a matched set are much more valuable than unmatched items. So if a single piece of silverware is worth 1 sp, a set of two is worth 3 sp (2! = 1 + 2), a set of three is worth 6 sp (3! = 1 + 2 + 3), etc. If that scale-up somehow doesn't impress you, then try making each additional piece even more valuable, so two pieces are worth 4 sp (1! + 2! = 1 + 1 + 2), three pieces are worth 10 sp (1! + 2! + 3! = 1 + 1 + 2 + 1 + 2 + 3), etc. Either way, the point is that each additional matching piece substantially increases the value of the whole collection.

You now have the choice to sell your incomplete set for a decent price, or you can try finding more pieces to make even more bank. Just like that, your players have a sandbox-like goal! This can help direct their exploration within the dungeon, and might even give them a reason to return to the room where they found the first part of their collection.

The next time you gather items of an existing type, roll under d20 for the new items to see if any belong to your current sets. If you get a match, roll d4-1 (or whichever dice is appropriate) to see how many are duplicates of existing pieces. If you get a 0, it's a new piece that fits into an existing collection. Congratulations! Roll again to see how many duplicates you found at the same time. After you've finished checking for matches to your existing sets, check again for your entire collection, which might now contain some new partial matching sets thanks to the additional pieces. (If your GM is feeling really generous, you can also see if any of your mini-sets belong to an even larger mega-set. Just check them in the same way, but treat each little set as an individual "piece" of the larger set. Perhaps some of your complete place-settings have the same pattern and belong to the same table-service, for example.)

Silverware is admittedly an unexciting type of item to collect, but you could apply this same logic to pieces of clothing making up uniforms or suits, chess or mahjong pieces, idols of gods in the same pantheon, china pieces in the same tea-set, or especially books in the same multi-volume series. Not every possible item needs the opportunity to be part of a matched set, but for key items you want your players to collect, this is a simple way to segue from simple smash-and-grab dungeoneering to goal-directed reconnaissance and investigation.

This idea is currently untested, but I think it should work in a gaming environment. From knowing a friend who collects rare books, I know that filling out a partial collection is massively more difficult than I've made it seem here. (It's the birthday paradox again. For the same reason it's easier than you'd expect to find the first match, it's harder than you'd expect to find the last unique element.) But I feel like performing virtually any task in a game ought to be easier and more fun than doing it in real life, particularly if that task is one the game itself is encouraging you to perform. We don't need an accurate simulation of real-world probability, we need a mechanic that allows us to adjudicate complex actions in a simple way.


Hidden - What if you're not just looking for any items, you're looking for items of particular value? In that case, you're not spending time picking up everything you can carry, you're spending time looking at what's available and picking out individual items somewhat selectively.

Foraging in the woods should probably work like this, for example. In a damp forest, you absolutely will find mushrooms or firewood or water if you spend a little time looking for it. In a library or bookstore, you will find interesting books. In a pantry storing tea or coffee or spices, you will find valuable varietals if you stroll about instead of swiping armfuls directly into your backpack.

The idea here is that in spaces of abundance, most of the items are relatively low-value, but higher-value items can be found if the characters spend time looking for them. Matching sets are a way to boost the sale-price of low-value items, but looking for hidden gems are worth finding all on their own. I would say that in the dungeon is your only chance to find a hidden gem. They will never turn up as part of a smash-and-grab operation.

Think of collecting wine bottles out of a wine cellar, for example. Most bottles will be worth whatever's the normal amount for wine in your game, although you can increase the value by collecting a complete case of matching vintages. However, a few bottles would be more expensive if sold, or might provide minor medicinal benefits to a character who drinks it as a ration.

Or think again of gathering books in a library. Most volumes are probably parts of some sort of series - maybe the complete works of some minor author, maybe encyclopedias, or textbooks organized by grade level, or annual reports from colleges or companies or churches, maybe historical chronicles, or all the editions of a particular magazine or newspaper bound together by year, maybe really boring stuff like a social register, or a listing of military members, or shipping manifests, or business ledgers. They might have research value or look good on your shelf, but they're only particularly valuable in a series. But there are also interesting individual books, which could have all kinds of game benefits. (I could write a whole blog post, and probably should, about all the ways you could use books in your game.)

The items you find this way should have an increased value, say 10 or 25 times the usual price of un-matched items of the same type. They should also, I think, have minor beneficial abilities. These should either be less impressive than full-on magical powers, or they should be the weakest magic available in your game.

Spending the time to find hidden gems is also a way to improve your existing collections. If you look carefully, you will find items that belong with one of your matched sets. You'll still need to roll to see if there's a unique piece or only duplicates, but you can skip the initial d20 roll for the match.


Secret - Finding something really valuable amid an ocean of near identicals requires a discerning eye, cultured taste, a shrewd sense for appraisal, and perhaps a bit of luck. There's always a chance of failure, but if you succeed, you'll have found something unique.

I mentioned before that I think the purpose of game mechanics is not to simulate reality but to allow us to make complex determinations quickly enough to use these decisions at the game table, and frankly, to put a thumb on the scale in favor of fun and interesting outcomes. So look, yes, in reality, the determining factor in these kinds of searches is whether or not a really valuable thing is actually there. Not every rummage sale has an original Shakespeare folio, not every thrift store has an undiscovered Picasso, no matter how hard you look. And if there is such a treasure present, then it shouldn't matter if you find it there in the store, or if you buy up the entire inventory in order to sift through it at home.

But since this is a game, and since the point of dungeoneering is that dungeons are storehouses of riches uncountable, let's sort of assume that there is a real treasure present in every abundant dungeon room, but you can only find it if you make an appropriate skill check and succeed your roll. (Look! I finally found a use for the appraisal skill besides pretending you don't know how to look up prices in the equipment section of your game rules!) You'll never find this treasure if you spend time but don't pass the skill test. You'll never find it if you grab up everything and take it back home. I would however stipulate that if you have some sort of procedure for conducting research, either by studying appropriate reference books, or collecting enough mundane examples, or both, you can also find these treasures by making sufficient research progress, rather than risking a skill check.

I would say that these treasured items should be worth 100 or 250 or 500 or 1000 times as much as their mundane counterparts. I would also say that they ought to be full-on magic items with powerful effects. This is the good stuff. It's not enough to grab the first thing you see, not enough to just spend time looking for it. If you manage to find one of these treasures, it had damn well better be worth it.

If you use your search for secrets to find an item for an existing collection, you will find a unique item that fits into an existing collection, in addition to the usual number of duplicates. (If your GM is really playing hardball, then this might be the ONLY way to find the last item that finishes off and fully completes a matched set. If so, just make sure that the choice to finish a collection has roughly the same financial pay-off as finding a unique treasure.)



So, now you have a plan for running an abundant dungeon, a plan that doesn't involve just giving the appearance of treasure while actually declaring almost everything worthless. And, you have a mini-game for your players to try collecting matching sets for extra cash, or to especially seek out the b-sides and rarities amid the masses.


My only final word on this is that even in a dungeon that includes abundance, not everything needs to be abundant. It's probably more interesting for your plays (and much easier for you!) if pick a few categories of treasures that feel thematically appropriate, and allow them to exist in abundance. You will need to do some extra preparation so you can describe the appearance of the things they're finding, give a formal or informal name to the matching sets, and assign special properties to the hidden or secret items.

I promised at least two follow-up posts in the process of writing this, one to look at other OSR authors's advice for managing abundance, and one to think about how to write abundance without having to enumerate your own private Doomsday Book in the process.