Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Judging Dungeon Designs: One Page Dungeon Contest

As I've mentioned previously, I was a judge again this year, along with fellow judges Steve Winter and Teos Abadia, for the One Page Dungeon Contest, administered by Random Wizard.

There were 97 entries this year, and each judge was asked to send over our Top 10 picks so Random Wizard could tabulate them and see which entries got the most votes so he could announce a winner. The results were... let's just say "interesting." More on that later.

Last year, after the contest, I conducted an email interview with the other judges, which you can find here, wherein I asked them their process of how they went about selecting their top picks, and any hints and suggestions they had for future contestants. At the time, I noted that ideally I would have loved to join the fellow judges at a pub, hoist a pint or two, and just chat about the contest.

We're getting a bit closer to that idea this year. When I submitted my picks to Random Wizard last week, I asked him if perhaps we could do a Google Hangout with himself and the three judges so we could more naturally about the process, and also make it more interactive by letting the contestants and other interested parties ask us questions about why we chose the ones we did, how difficult the decision was, and anything else related to the contest that people wanted to know about.

Random Wizard and the other judges liked the idea, and so based on our collective work schedules and other time management issues (I'll fess up - one day I have to be gone to take my daughter to her ballet lesson!), the Google Hangout will be held tomorrow, May 28th, at 3pm Pacific Time. Random Wizard is also going to work on recording the Hangout for those of you who can't join live, but if you do have a question, you can probably put it on Random Wizard's Google Plus Post about the Hangout at the previous link, or go ahead and leave me a comment below and I'll do my best to answer it either during the Hangout or will address it directly in the comments here.

This now brings me to - "Why do we need a One Page Dungeon  Contest?" There are lots of talented people out there, and many of you are more than capable of creating your own worlds and dungeons, and in fact might not really find much use for a "simple" one-page dungeon that might not fit into your world. This type of contest is obviously not for them.

However, having been a judge for the contest two years now, I think this type of contest offers a lot to the role-playing community. Below are just a few of my thoughts, which due to time constraints today are just stream-of-consciousness.

  • It encourages creativity. The one-page dungeon format is not easy. Trying to create a whole scenario with a map, encounters, a narrative flow, some type of objective, and a "hook", all within the constraints of one page, is extremely difficult. It takes some real creativity to make it all work without just shrinking the text so small that it's illegible. One of the things I most look forward to is not only the idea itself, but also seeing how the contestants lay out their ideas to make them work within the format. You'd be surprised what you can fit into this format if you edit yourself enough to keep from trying to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the submission. Besides layout and design, it also takes creativity to come up with something new and different that the judges aren't seeing over and over again to make your submission stand out. Reading through the submissions can give you a lot of ideas for ways to take your game that you may not have considered before. 
  • It gives you options for when you want to take a break. Maybe your whole group isn't able to get together for your regularly scheduled game, but you still want to play. Maybe you've been playing your regular game for such a long time that you never have time to try something else (a different character, a different setting or genre, or a different set of rules).  Maybe you're always the GM and while you don't want to give that up, maybe one night, one of your players could take on that role and allow you to play through a short one-page adventure just to give you a break. Any of these scenarios above could lead to even new outbreaks of creativity that you weren't expecting. Maybe the player who takes over the GM role likes doing that job so much that he or she decides to start a new campaign...
  • It can act as the springboard for a new campaign. Speaking of new campaigns, many of these one-page dungeons are so much more than "dungeons." Many of them read like mini-campaign setting ideas. Every campaign has to start somewhere. While my current campaign (of 14 years!) is based on some pretty standard fantasy tropes like Conan, some old-school D&D game worlds like Greyhawk, the Known World, and Dragonlance, and also our own world history, as I read through the submissions last year and this year, it definitely gets me interested in running a game of a completely different genre.
  • It gives players a "voice" in the community. Many might not think this matters, but I know back when I was a young teen just starting to game, it was clear that I didn't fit in with the other kids who were more into sports and hanging out at the mall. Back then, it was difficult to find people like me, and, on the whole, we tended to be smart, a bit quiet, and not that likely to have the confidence to speak up about things. But as we probably can all agree, role-playing encourages creativity and one of the first things most new role-players do is want to create things for others to look at and use. It was something I loved doing and was "good at," and where I could be in control of one part of my life. I've blogged before about doing that in my "Amateur RPG Design" columns. But, as much as I would have wanted it, I had no illusions that my designs were never going to see the light of day outside of maybe a handful of friends, because "RPGs were run by big companies." Back then in the early 1980's, we didn't have the luxury of the Internet to form a community. I would have loved for the opportunity to share my ideas with others in the form of the contest. Just knowing that somebody else was looking at and reading my ideas would have been cool. It would have made me try harder, focus more, and really work at creating something different and hopefully useful. Anybody can create home-brew stuff for their games. We do it all the time. But it takes a commitment to do so in a polished form and enter it into a contest for hundreds of people to look at and comment on. The One Page Dungeon Contest essentially empowers people who might not have a "voice" to gives them the opportunity to show their creativity and be recognized, and gives them a reason to really bring their best. 
  • It encourages young people to remain active in the hobby. This idea goes hand-in-hand with my thoughts above on giving players a "voice," but for the past two years we've seen entries by youngsters who learned of the contest and submitted their ideas. Sometimes it's easy to forget that people of all ages play these games - they're not all just like us. And while, again, for some people it doesn't matter if new people get into the hobby or not, I look at it more as a big picture thing. This is a hobby that helped define me as a person (for the better) and I'd love to "give back" to help the young people of today learn about it and give them ample opportunities to work on creating things that a larger community can see, comment on, and encourage them to keep trying, keep improving, and keep being creative. I might be a little biased as a dad whose daughter is still a bit too young to grasp role-playing games (she's getting there - she'll be six in July), but I do think it's a strong benefit of this contest. 
Those are just a few of my thoughts. To me, this contest is about so much more than just "bragging rights" for having won. But, that's just me. What are your thoughts on the contest?

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "Mercyless - Original Mix" by Waye Tennant

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Campaign Setting Anniversary

One of my players sent me a note this morning, mentioning that it was 14 years ago today that I began my World of Samoth campaign. Out of the original seven players (including me as the DM), there are three of us left, plus we've added several more over the years. Our current group is five strong and has been that way for the past couple of years.

At our "first session" all those years ago, we rolled up our characters, ate dinner, and then all went to the movies to go see the first Shrek movie. Our "true" first session was a couple of weeks later, when the group began with the old school module, B6: The Veiled Society, which kick-started a murder mystery involving some warring families vying for control of the city. One of those families still plays a very important role in the campaign to this very day.

Back when we started, my wife and I were not yet married (we were engaged, though, and our wedding was about six months later). In fact, of the group, only two of the original players were married at the time, and none of us had kids. Now everyone that's currently playing in the group is married and all but one of us has kids.

We've changed our snacking preferences a bit, as I've mentioned before. Now, more and more often, we include beer at our sessions as well. We're not a "soda and Doritos" type of group. Our frequency of play has lessened due to combinations of kids, business travel, and other reasons, but we still do get together (we played about two weeks ago, in fact).

I've blogged quite a bit over the years about these things, and about my campaign setting and our game sessions, so for this anniversary I thought it might be fun to show some pictures from my "Campaign Setting Book" that I've made. I started working on my campaign way back in the summer after my high school graduation, in 1988. It was actually a "reboot" or revision of some earlier settings I had worked on dating back to when I first started playing D&D around 1983 or so.

Back then, I didn't have a computer or of course any access to the Internet, so all of my campaign world research was done by going to the library and also going through my parents 30+ year collection of National Geographic magazines. I oftentimes would copy drawings I saw in those books as inspirations.

I've kept pretty much every scrap of paper on which I've written notes for my campaign setting over the years, and then in 1998, about 10 years after I'd started, I began collecting all of my notes in a big non-lined sketchbook. I started by actually meticulously re-copying all of my old notes but over time I found it more efficient to just cut out certain sections of my notes and paste them into the sketchbook. Below are some pictures to give you an idea - it's a mixture of hand-written notes, old pages printed from a dot matrix printer in late 1989 or early 1990, newer pages from around 2003-2004, sketches, and more. I'm still adding to the book although these days it's more of almost a "scrapbook" project, as most of my game-related notes on characters, NPCs, etc. are just on my laptop.

Hope you enjoy. Tell me about your campaign world for your games - is it homebrewed like mine, or do you use a published setting? Do you have a crazy notebook like mine full of hand-written notes, or are you more organized?

The first pages. On the right is graph paper that I pasted
into the book. It's got a mixture of dip-pen calligraphy I did
along with a regular ballpoint ink pen. I used the World of
Greyhawk boxed set as a template for my campaign note. Circa 1987-88.

Another piece of graph paper with a mixture of
calligraphy and handwriting, for a Language Tree
for my campaign world. Circa 1988.

This is a more recent creation for the campaign world ("recent" being about
10 years ago), for a calendar design. Circa 2004

Various sketches I did of weapons and architectural designs. Circa 1989.

Some more sketches of weapons and armor, grouped by culture. These were
actually for some "secret societies" that were employed by various merchant
houses. Circa 1989.

Sketch of a chainmail hauberk and a helmet. Circa 1989.

An NPC and a description of an organization that was
essentially a powerful mercantile league run by dwarves,
along with a rough sketch. Circa 1990.

"The Imperial Alphabet." This was hand-written with
a dip-pen with a special nib for calligraphy. I used to love
practicing calligraphy and applied it to my D&D stuff.
Circa 1987-88.

Some more weapon and armor designs. Circa 1987-88.

"Religious Items." I think I may have copied the idea
of the totem-like designs from an article for another
game that I read in an old Dragon magazine. You can
see how I cut out my old sketches and pasted them
in here. Circa 1988.
More weapons and armor designs. I used check out
encyclopedias or ancient arms & armor all the time. Circa 1987.
A product of its time: a dot-matrix print-out of some
old NPCs I had created. I've got pages and page of
these in my notebook. These were using 1st Edition
AD&D Rules, modified with Unearthed Arcana and
Oriental Adventures. Circa 1989.

Hanging: home office (laptop)
Drinking: Iced tea
Listening: "Blue in Green (Take 3)" by the Bill Evans Trio

Monday, May 4, 2015

Another Star Wars Post: New Media About A Galaxy Far, Far Away

My daughter with Princess Leia buns in her hair,
doing a Force push at lunch today at school.
They aren't allowed to wear printed t-shirts
or else she'd have a Star Wars shirt on as well.
Pretty much everyone in the blogging community has jumped onto the "May the 4th Be With You" bandwagon, and I actually think it's kind of cool. What was once a small little inside joke has become a pretty big deal in the Star Wars world, and even vendors like Internet giant Amazon are on board, with discounts on Star Wars related merchandise for today only. I would say once something's big enough for Amazon to create a sale out of it, it's safe to say it's hit the mainstream.

Below, I list a few cool Star Wars related things you might not know about that you can check out today to celebrate the day, aside from listening to the music (as I'm doing right now) or watching the movies (as I did last night - my wife, 5 year-old daughter, and I watched Star Wars, aka "A New Hope" for the second time together).

I've written about Star Wars many times before - mentioning how the old Star Wars comics from Marvel were the first comic books I'd ever read, and how my mom really helped encourage my interest in Star Wars even though she really didn't have much interest in it herself. And I've written a few times about Star Wars Day itself, in 2012 and 2013 (last year I was out of town in New Orleans for Jazz Fest, but I did celebrate by wearing a Star Wars T-shirt that day, and I saw several other people doing the same at the concert). What, if anything, do you all do to celebrate Star Wars Day?

As mentioned, if you're looking for a few other things to do, here are some suggestions:

  • TV Shows
    • I've written briefly about of this before, briefly, but you can check out "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" on Netflix, including the 6th season that never aired on Cartoon Network - the show was canceled after Disney acquired Lucasfilm before this season could be shown. Now, I'm not one who actually likes the Prequels (I've been know to say that my daughter can watch them when she turns 18 and moves out of the house, but not before then), but this series, despite taking place between Episodes 2 and 3 of the prequel movies, is quite good. It gets into a lot of background on the Force, especially the Dark Side, and shows in a much better manner than the films how Anakin is seduced. It also includes a very strong and interesting female character in the form of Ahsoka Tano, young Jedi who starts out as Anakin's Padawan but grows into herself and her role as a commander of the Clone Armies during the war. Her character arc along is worth watching the series, but there's so much more to like
    • In the same post above I linked to where I wrote about Clone Wars before, I also wrote about the new Star Wars animated series, Star Wars: Rebels, which airs on Disney XD. Originally it took me a bit to get into, as it is much different in tone than Clone Wars, but after getting used to the change, I really like the show. Yes, it's slightly more kid-friendly than Clone Wars, but the storylines are still very engaging. Watching a somewhat rogue-like Jedi Knight, who mainly tries to hide his past as a Jedi (so as not to be discovered) and is not afraid to use a blaster or to "steal from the rich to feed the poor," but at the same time also tries to honor his past by training a new Padawan, makes for very compelling drama. This is more of a "team" show versus Clone Wars, and all of the characters are interesting. The show creators also did some great work on the main two female leads, who are every bit as tough and clever as the male leads. 
  • Comics
    • The Star Wars. For those of you who are really into Star Wars, you know that George Lucas' initial script included a lot of concepts that were very different than what ended up in the movie. I'm not talking just about things like how Luke's friends Biggs and Carrie were deleted from the silver screen. I'm talking about things like how Han Solo wasn't human, the main character was named Annikin Starkiller, and he is trained in the ways of the force by an old "Jedi Bendu" named Luke Skywalker, to fights against the Knights of the Sith. There's a lot of really different stuff in here, but as a Star Wars fan it's fun to read the original script and see how different the movie ended up being. However, even better than just reading the script is reading an 8-issue comic book adaptation with gorgeous art, to help bring it all to life. Dark Horse Comics, shortly before they lost their license to publish Star Wars comics after it reverted back to Marvel, published this comic and it's one of the more unique Star Wars pieces you'll find. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available in a digital format currently, but you can still buy hard copies of the trade paperback collection over at
    • A tale of two different post-Battle of Yavin Star Wars stories. Right around the time that Disney first acquired Lucasfilm, but before Dark Horse lost the license to publish Star Wars comics, they came out with a new title called simply Star Wars. I did a review of the first trade paperback collection (which collects of the first six issues of the series) and I had very positive things to say about it. It's a refreshing look at things that happen directly in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin, before the events of the Empire Strikes Back. I really enjoyed this series a lot. And then, randomly, after Marvel re-acquired the rights to publish Star Wars comics, what did they do? Exactly the same thing Dark Horse did! Marvel's first Star Wars comic in about 25 years was called, coincidentally, Star Wars. And it takes place immediately after the Battle of Yavin, before the events of the Empire Strikes Back. You can read my review of the first issue here. So, if you want to get a sense at how two different companies and creative teams deal with the exact same premise, this is a perfect opportunity to read two different stories. And, the thing is - they are both good - different, but good. You can read the Marvel Star Wars comics digitally on Comixology or It's not been collected in trade yet, so you'll have to buy the individual issues.
Enjoy Star Wars Day, and May the 4th Be With You! Please do drop me a comment below, or Tweet me, Facebook me, or Google Plus me and let me know how you like to celebrate Star Wars Day or if you checked out any of my recommendations above.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "The Asteroid Field" by the London Symphony Orchestra (from The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack)

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