Archive for March, 2016

Tavern Tales, Code Wheels

March 26, 2016

The old SSI video games in the Gold Box series (Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, etc.) featured some “feelies” which were physical objects that came with the game. Among them were a rulebook (which was kind of a D&D Lite for planning your character even though the game handled all adjudications – which is an interesting take on a Players’ Handbook) and a code wheel (two paper circles with a grommet connecting in the middle, and tiny holes so you could see through the top to view word strings underneath when the symbols on the edges aligned properly). These are some interesting ideas.

For the first one, the rulebook always had a section of text you would read during the gameplay because the game interface couldn’t easily handle large paragraphs. The sections were out of order, like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, and lacked context which made it difficult to read ahead for hints. But what hints you found were tantalizing! Among those were “Tavern Tales”, or rumors you’d hear in taverns. Some were true, others vague half-truths, others outright false.

I always wanted to implement tavern tales into my tabletop games, as a table of rumors you could roll on. But you only have so much development time between game sessions, which is better spent elsewhere. BUT! You can just roll on your Table of Contents for your module to generate a tavern tale topic. Even rolls are true, odd rolls are untrue (which means some topics may always have true or false rumors). Feel free to pepper occasionally with red herrings and misinformation if the two dice fall farther than a hand-span apart, giving exceptionally good info if they land touching each other, and a key, map, or some other aid if one lands on top of the other.

You may need to be clever with the die roll to prevent a result curve weighting heavily the middle of the module. If your book has 30 pages, maybe roll 1d10 x 1d3. Or if the material in the middle is the meat of the adventure, and you want fewer rumors about the introduction / town at the beginning or the deeper levels / boss fight at the end, 3d10 could be your friend.

You can also use the dice drop on the page to decide what exactly you’ll give information about. Or just use your knowledge of the topic on the page and come up with something related.

If you wrote your adventure and you don’t have a table of contents, you can number the pages in your notebook and roll for that number. Or if your notes are very scattered, write up a topic list of areas or phases of the adventure, special weird stuff, important monsters and treasures, and assume each has equal weight. If you write adventures like me, you’ll have an outline with a few dozen phrases lying around from your preliminary draft which you expanded later in your notes. Some of those ended up being very minor points in the adventure, others became central, and others changed or were left out. Perfect for a tavern tales roll.

What should be in a tavern tale? You don’t need to actually read from the page and give info from your adventure. Here are some examples I’d use:

Reality: Lizardmen in a ruined swamp castle just want to be left alone. Their god is a (long gone) dragon and the shamans brew weird potions that have unpredictable effects on mammals.
True tale: Explorers in the swamps regularly find weird totems made from bones and stretched skins.
True tale: Some plants in the swamp seem alien and rare, confounding even druids as to their uses.
Half-truth: A priest doing auguries about the wilderness, in his hallucinations and tremors, mentioned terrible reptiles stalking the swamps. He spoke in tongues which a wizard identified as Draconic.
Half-truth: Last year an adventuring party tried to explore the swamps and were driven out by scaled demons that hurled tree roots for javelins.
Falsehood: Merchants passing the swamp have described a city where savages traded gems away for iron tools.
Falsehood: At the center of the swamp is a fallen log that crushed a prince; his golden regalia remains under it where he was suddenly buried.
Dice land stacked: A Fighter Lord scouting for a wilderness territory to clear and claim gave up on the swamp as too filled with lizardmen to ever conquer – and to what end? Who can farm or mine, or harvest good straight trees, in a swamp? He has left for other conquests but a hireling of his can be persuaded to sell copies of his maps showing solid islands and the castle’s location.

Code wheels could be used for deciphering a language. That was the original theme: you’d line up two runes and the revealed word was the “answer” to the copy-protection question on startup. You could probably develop a lockpicking minigame for the Thief player to do. I haven’t thought about code wheels in a long time and the memory popped up when talking about the tavern tale thing. But if you had the code wheel drawn up in software that allowed you to write text along a vector (like Illustrator, probably Photoshop, maybe Gimp or Paint.Net) you could very quickly and easily change up the text for a new set of codes.

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