Dungeons – The Logistical Nightmare!


The kickstarter for the Dungeon Tours Limited is soon approaching. In the meantime, we’ll explore some of the origins behind the game.

But first, what is Dungeon Tours Limited?

miles_parchment-title-2Dungeon Tours Limited is an upcoming tabletop RPG from Tangent Artists. In it, players take on the roles of semi-retired adventurers in a fantasy world. Your days of delving into dungeons are almost over. However, there’s been a recent trend of young nobles going “dungeoning”; and you have a client lined up who is willing to pay crazy money to join your party on your next adventure.

But there’s a problem: the noble twit won’t last three seconds in a real dungeon. So, you’re going to have to fake it. You have three days to find a cave, fill it with foam spikes and papier-mache dragons, and guide the client through. Can you reach the end without the twit uncovering the truth?

Like many RPGs settings, we owe some inspiration to Dungeons & Dragons. One night, our group was going over some of the ridiculous pre-made adventures of 1st edition. You probably know the type: adventures with ancient tombs, teeming with living, breathing monsters, buried miles below the earth . Immediately, we some logistical flaws:

  • How did the 100 foot dragon get into a dungeon with only 10 foot wide corridors?
  • If there’s a live manticore down there, who’s feeding it? Who’s cleaning its cage?
  • If a tiny chamber has an ogre trapped in, unable to get out, waiting hundreds of years between skirmishes, how does he keep himself entertained? Sudoku?

This got me thinking; wouldn’t it be fun to flip the script? Instead of having the GM create the dungeon for the players, what if the players were the dungeon makers? This lead to:

Dungeon Tours 0.0

In this version, the players play monstrous humanoids (orcs, goblins, drow, etc.) working hard on a real dungeon. They’re been hired by a warlord to keep the lair safe from adventurers.

This was purely a thought experiment, with no actual rules were created. I was even unsure whether this would be better was an RPG or a boardgame.

However, I quickly stumbled upon a two-prong problem:

  • If the players wanted the adventurers to die, there must be some easier way to do it than through dumb monsters and convoluted traps.
  • If the players succeed in killing the PCs the first 3rd of the game, the remaining 2/3rds of the dungeon is wasted.

The solution: to develop a game that had to walk a tight-rope. Rather than trying an extreme goal that can be reached through extreme means (ex. kill all invaders), it had to be a balancing act. It must be have a certain amount of X, but not TOO much X.

Dungeon Tours 0.1 – Today

This is where the idea of a fake tour first took place. It’s had certain mechanics that I’ve tried and set aside (ex. the idea of a Scare-o-meter that must be hit just right –  not to much, not too little). However, the fundamental idea of creating fake threats has been in there since the beginning.

Fun Fact: It was the “build a project” backbone of DTL that would later provide the framework for Evil Hat’s Uranium Chef. It’s funny that they’re released in opposite order.

That’s all we have time for this week. Expect more previews as we get closer to the DTL launch date.

What are the best / worst features to show up in your dungeons?


GMprov – It’s a Set-Up


This week, I’m going to focus on another rules of improv: Establish the Scene.

Whenever you’re writing a play or a book, you have months to build up the proper setting and mood. You can take your sweet time to refine the language, and use flowery language to establish the mood. Ol’ Poe describes his chamber “the bleak December / and Each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.” (Beautiful, ain’t it?)

When you’re running an improv scene, the average time you have door opento establish the scene is roughly 34 pictoseconds. When you’re GMing a rambunctious group, you might have about the same.

To set up the scene successfully, you need to establish with lightning speed, in order of priority:

  1. Who is everyone?
  2. What’s the conflict?
  3. Where are you?

You would think that the “where” would go first, but if you have to choose only one detail to give, the players are more likely going to need to know that the assassin darting through the crowd was the woman with the scar across her forehead, and will care less about the fresco on the temple ceiling.  When in doubt, people are fascinated by people, not things (which is why no talking cartoon animal ever looks 100% like the animal it was based off of.)  When you’re running Improv scenes, it is important that the player not only establish their own identity, but also the identity of the other person, and their connection.  This may seem like a lot to establish, but a skilled performer can set it up with a single sentence. Examples:

 “Young lady, you are not going to school dressed like THAT!”  Relationship: younger daughter (probably teen) and parent.

“Ladies and Gentleman of the board, as the CEO of Enerdine corporation…” Relationship: CEO, the board members.

“Excuse me officer, I’m sorry to bother you, but my wife and I are lost…” Relationship: Wife & Spouse (husband, her wife) and a stranger, who is a police officer.

Of course, the players have probably set up THEIR characters already, so you just need to set up the NPC characters. Young or old? Knowledgable or naive? In charge, or a mere pawn?

Also, remember that the player’s relationship with another person may vary drastically based on their reputation and goals. In their minds, they might be world-saving heroes, but others might see them as smelly, rampaging mercenaries. For a pop culture example, remember Indiana Jones: we see him as a gruff, heroic adventurer, but his students see him as a stuffy archeology professor, and the natives of the countries he’s see him as an infamous grave robber.

Next, mark sure you set up the conflict. Who wants what, and how badly? I talked about this a lot in the Chair/Bus Stop blog a few months back, but in a nutshell; every scene always ends with one of three possibilities:

  1. Both people get what they want.
  2. One side gets what they want; the other side can go no further to get what they want at this time.
  3. No one gets what they want, and no one can go any further to get what they want at this time.

Setting: This is the least priority, but not by much. It is vitally important that players get a few facts and a feeling about the world they inhabit. In Fate Core, these show up as situation aspects. If I have one flaw as a GM (note: I have WAY more than one), it’s that I have a habit of spamming a scene with way too many situation aspects. But how can I not? There are so many fun things to include: the space, the objects, the mood, the emotional tension.  Heck, I love situation aspects so much I built the Dungeon Tours game, which is built around players creating fun settings.


Character Creation Tip

Set-up Check list:
Who – are they talking to?
What – is the relationship?
When – Day or night? Is the clock ticking? Is the person rushed, and has no time for your foolishness? Alternatively, are you racing a ticking clock, and this person taking their sweet time?
Where – Location? Someone’s home turf? Tangible Factors? Intangible factors?
Why – Why are you two talking? What motivates each party? Why are you here?

Relationship – Quick Trick
Not sure what relationship to set up? When in doubt, a stranger is a mirror to viewer.

  • An honest person will see others as honest.
  • A lying crook who looks after themselves will assume others are crooks.

A great example is the movie The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade is surrounded by lying murderers who use threats, bribes and seductions to get him to reveal what he knows about the statue, and to give it up. He insists he doesn’t have it and knows nothing, and they assume that he’s lying to drive up the price; because if they were in his place, that’s what THEY’D do. They don’t even consider that he might actually be telling the truth, and that he DOESN’T have it. He’s not as big of a crook as they are (though, not by much.)


QUESTIONS: Does and don’ts!

Feedback to Back – Part 2


It’s been Nearly a month after GenCon, but I am determined to finish my synopsis of the play testing. So, I’ll skip to the good parts.

Dungeon Tours – So far, at most of my games, the average age of players was 20ish, and the gamers were pretty green. Even before I started my game of Dungeon Tours, a caper / construction game set in a Fantasy-Adventure world, I could tell this would be different. The average age around the table was older than me, and some had probably GMed before I even knew what an rpg WAS. When picking characters, they opted out of picking the silver-tongued Bard (though I reminded them it was a game about running cons.) One gentlemen in particular, sighting opposite of me, worried me the most. Pre-game time, I barely got a NAME out of him.
The second the game started, I realized that my fears were unfounded. The stern-faced individual (we’ll call him the Rogue, after his character), immediately livened up, and took gentle charge of the operation. The party immediately jumped into it, and quickly founded a loathe/hate relationship with the drunken noble serving as sucker client. The built a piratical adventure, featuring everything from fake musical puzzles, real graverobbing, fake trapdoors (that they might have forgotten to make “fake,”) and using a cannon as a tactic in contract negotiations.

dungeon map

No doubt, the star of the show was the taxidermied bear-boar composite fake monster, who was named “The Jeff.” I asked for an illustration, and they did not disappoint.

the jeff

  Feedback: Most of the feedback, it seemed, could be handled by GMing it better, it appears. I had forgotten one of my own rules, and as such, the board was littered with free invokes, making the game far too easy. The players, all of whom were new to Fate, were unsure of where my new rules started and where the old rules began. In the future, I’ll try to distinguish, “you’re testing THIS” before set-up.
Masters of Umdaar – for those who don’t know, this was a game I’d been working on since last spring or so. We signed up for GenCon, including 2 sessions, and then, to make a long story short, Umdaar was picked up by EvilHat as a supplement in the Fate Adventures and Worlds Patreon.

Premise: Masters of Umdaar is a pulp sci-fantasy, in the strain of John Carter of Mars, He-Man, Krull, Flash Gordon, and other corny but thrilling adventures. The game features a lot of random elements, including a random generator to create the adversarial race. This chart was originally a d6 chart, but I took the trouble converting it to 4dF chart. It was spick, it was span…

…it was on the laptop, back in the hotel. Dag. So, I took my buddy & GMing-guru’s advice, and I had them pick random animals out of a bag- I had brought with me an extensive collection of plastic toy dinosaurs, fantasy army-men, and other toys that I had purchased at Toys R Us and the Dollar Tree. One session had them facing off against a Mutoats (four-armed, mutant goatmen), the next group against the sneaky Centauripedes (insectoids that were Humanoids from the waste up, and centipedes from the waist down.) The final arena also featured such random threats as Megarats, cyborg Rozebras, and Lazerwolves (with robotic lazers on their tails, of course.) To keep the game under 2 hours, I had them on the rails for the whole adventure, (heck, the tunnel didn’t even have any forks), but they both tackled it in completely different ways. I never noticed how well Fate Core & FAE lends itself to cinematic adventures: If a player wants to overturn a fiery basin, climb a random chain, or swashbuckle from the ceiling, Fate makes it fast and easy.
Feedback: All seemed very positive. I’d love to test out a game without the “rails” given the chance.

SKELETON CREW – This was our last game of GenCon. After this game, we’ve got a 10 hour trek home, before I start a brand new job the next morning. I love GMing, but we’re all ready to go home. During set-up, Vince Salzillo, head of Double Exposure, comes over and says, “I’ve got some great guests lined up for you.” We don’t doubt that he’s got a good group, but I just nod, smile, and thank him. It would seem that the Vince-man does not exaggerate.

The event starts up, and Vince starts the game selection process. It’s on the far end of the hall, so us playtesters only hear every third word. Suddenly, I hear him drop my name, and he points in my direction. He asks me to wave, but being the goofball I am, I start waiving both arms, a la one of those fan-blown figures outside of a car lot. He then announces to the room who will be joining the game: Rob Donague and Fred Hicks of Evil Hat. I drop to the floor (only half of it acting.) Let us be brief and say that my thoughts were no longer on going home.

The group testing at the table was probably the perfect mix you could hope for for a playtest: two people (a couple) that had played rpgs, but never Fate; a young gentleman who had played it a litter (who was also a super-helpful aide for Double-Exposure, taking a much earned break); and two pros (Fred & Rob, who kinda invented the system.)  I introduced the system basics, and passed around the character sheets. The couple picked Peek-a-boo and Weston Peese respectively (and she even spoke in a little pre-schooler’s voice), and the aide took on the geeky hero-in his own mind Zomboy. Fred asked for a simple character (it’d been a long con,) and took on the role of Caomh Culainn, the Wight Berserker, while Rob gave the Mad Scientist Doc Turnell lots of life and even more melodramatic volume.

What was tested?: Our tweaks to the Fate Core system aren’t too elaborate, especially in a simple pick-up game. Our skill mode didn’t seem to cause too much confusion (one exception, noted later), and players seemed to really enjoy the “Round 0” effect, which lets players set up the conflict before punches are thrown.  Steve and I were both really pleased by the Team Spirit teamwork system, which we had only conceived of the night before. Previously, players had interpersonal aspects and a team concept- but that was the first time we had merged it onto a Team-Character Sheet. Rob and the Aide picked the interpersonal aspect of “Former Enemies,” which meant the Rob would constantly bellyache how the Doc (in his more megalomaniacal days), had been thwarted by the idiotic Zomboy… to which the aide would play Zomboy as a dumber and dumber still (it was a vicious cycle).  We had hoped to test “The Final Round,” but with a 2 hour playtest, we had to concede the fight before I would have liked.

Feedback – Rob had a question with one of the skills (Engineering) which I later got a chance to clear up… hopefully the full rulebook explains it better than I can. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the dry-erase Fate Game Aids. Learning from Dungeon Tours, I tried to make very clear from the beginning what they were being tested on, and several players seemed interested enough to sign up as playtesters.

Speaking of which, guinea pigs players are now allowed to sign up for the Skeleton Crew RPG beta test. Submit a form, and receive a FREE copy of the BETA test next month!


Dungeon Tours Ltd. – 101


What is Dungeon Tours Ltd. ?

Dungeon Crit-044 walkTours Ltd. is a work-in-progress roleplaying game. It uses the Fate Accelerated game system, but only barely- it’s more about the story telling, with a few dice thrown in to add some craziness.

Origin: The basis for  Dungeon Tours Ltd. comes from fantasy board games and video games that let players take on the role of the bad guys- instead of having one GM, there are multiple players controlling the monsters, traps, and curses that befall the hapless heroes. We started wondering: could you do an rpg with the same villainous premise? The problem became instantly clear- it’s way too easy to make the dungeon impossible to survive. The solution was to make it a Goldilocks situation- the dungeon would have to be hard, but not too hard.

The Premise: Players take on the role of retired Adventurers, who are hired to guide bored nobles through grim dungeons. However, real dungeons are scarce and fraught with danger- so why not lead the dumb noble through a fake dungeon of your design? Your job: find a dank cave, fill it with bogus threats, and convince the noble that it’s the real deal. Can you finish the build on time? Can you fool the noble long enough to get paid?

Play: We’ve run a few test games, and so far, it’s been a huge success. It plays like a mix of Dungeons & Dragons, Leverage, and Trading Places.  Sessions last an average of 2-4 hours. Players that are new to Fate Accelerated, or Roleplaying in general, seem to have no problem jumping in.

Beta Testing: Will open soon. Contact us if you’re interested in joining!