Mar 26, 2015

DM Tools: Cites of Mystery

Last post, I talked about rediscovering an older 2nd edition product, and how, after re-reading it, found it's almost as useful today as it was back then. After that realization, I decided to go back and dig up the companion product to Dungeons of Mystery, Cities of Mystery and give it a second look.

Cities of Mystery actually came out before Dungeons of Mystery, but I didn't buy this when it first came out, so these reviews are actually in purchase order, not release order. Turns out Cities is, like Dungeons, almost as useful now as before. Of the 64 pages of content, the only useless material is the few monster stats the book provides in the City Adventures section, and that's only because they are in 2e format. The other 99.8% of the book is just as relevant today.

Like Dungeons, this book provides a top down look at cities, from such broad ranged topics as where to locate them, to what types of governments and rulers run the city. This is great if you have no idea in mind, just look through the pages and let your inspiration wander. If you have some details already in mind, the next level of book gives you a bit more detail, what types of historical events affected the city and what type of defenses does the city have -- from nothing all the way up to city walls, friendly monsters, and air patrols.

For even more detail, it offers ideas on handling taxes, special events, and kinds of work the PCs can find in town. One of the most useful sections I found were the handful of charts to quickly roll up and detail what shops are in the city, are its wares high quality, and what's the demeanor of the owner. These can easily be used at the table for existing towns that might need a bit more fleshing out, when the PCs end up staying longer than you planned.

Lastly the book offers a sample city (but it's not really that impressive), and a collection of adventure outlines. You'll still need to do some considerable work to flesh them out, including making interior maps for the building they visit. All of the adventures (not surprisingly) take place in the city and make use of one of the major draws of the product, the maps and fold up buildings. And if those few adventures aren't enough, the very last page includes a dozen more adventure seeds, each one a single paragraph that can easily be worked up in to a single game session.

As for the street maps and fold-up buildings, they (since they came out before Dungeons of Mystery) set the standard that didn't deviate in the follow up product. The maps are all modular, and the buildings mostly different versions of square and rectangular spaces.

But there are a number of difference that make the fold-ups better in some ways and worse in others. First off, all the buildings have roofs. so they hold their shape and are easily recognizable. There's a good variety of building shapes and design styles, from a stone structure to something more like a peasant home.

The buildings also have some noticeable downsides. Most are too small. A simple 10' x 15' building only has six 5' squares. Depending on how many PCs are in your party, some may be waiting outside if you go in to talk to a shop keeper. Secondly, the buildings have no internal details, so you can't remove a roof and play out an indoor fight. These are probably better for outdoor city scenes where the PCs may be chasing someone who ducks behind a building and seemingly disappears, or is just trying to lure the PCs into an ambush by the thieves' guild members perched on the building roofs.

One last thing to mention. If you look at the product, you'll notice the Forgotten Realms logo clearly above the product name. There is NO specific Forgotten Realms content in this book. Even the sample city, Sauter, is generic with no FR hooks in it's history or description. In fact the sequel product, Dungeons of Mystery (which just had the generic 2E logo), had more FR content, since one of the adventures was FR specific (but one was also DL specific, so the generic label was warranted).

As for Cities having the FR logo, I'm sure some marketing guy came along and said "If it's labeled FR, it'll sell more copies."

That bit of marketing aside, I whole heatedly recommend this product. It's overall more useful since the fold-ups are better than those in Dungeons, and the city content is useful in many different ways. Of course, if you don't run city based adventures often, the value of this product diminishes greatly.

Sadly, neither Cities nor Dungeons are available on D&D Classics.com, so you'll need to check second hand resellers for a copy of either book.

Mar 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday - Dungeons of Mystery and the Pinwheel of Death

I was going through some old gaming materials, part of my 2e collect, and came across the remains of this little gem: Dungeons of Mystery.

This was one of a number of products that came out in the second edition days to help facilitate using miniatures in your game. This set focused on dungeons (not surprisingly) and provided a number of dungeon themed maps that could be flipped and turned and pieced together in different ways to make each time you used the maps unique.

The product, a skinny boxset,  typical of many other similar 2e releases, also included fold-up cardboard rooms that you could use to build out a dungeon lair. The set did come with a variety of room sizes, and a few other flourishes, like stairs and an alter set up for key encounters. Also there were "doors" that you could attach to the fold-up walls anywhere to show where the door would be for a given room.

I remember building out some, or maybe even all, of the "rooms", but these were really nothing more than 1 in high squares in various dimensions, and all with the same bland stone pattern. To build out a dungeon, you were supposed to use paperclips to attach rooms together. So, for instance, you would attach a 20x20 fold-up with a 10x30 fold-up, and add the door piece to show there was an opening between the two. For me, the biggest issues were how bland the walls looked, leaving all the rooms generic and uninspiring, and the fact that none of the rooms held their true shape. None of the corners were 90 degrees and all of the walls bowed out in the middle. In the end I chucked the cardboard but saved the rest and I'm glad I did.

The book that comes with the product is a great find. It covers a lot of area for DMs to think about with regard to their own dungeon creations, such as what was the structure originally, who's there now, how the ecology of the lair inhabitants "level out". Each topic in the book gave me plenty to think about and new ideas that I want to incorporate in my next dungeon build.

The book runs about 64 pages, with just under half of the book being a system-agnostic essay on dungeons. The remainder of the book is filled out with instructions on the fold-ups, and three scenarios using the fold-ups and maps. It should be noted that all the adventures are second edition, and if you have a good working knowledge of 2e, you can easily convert them to 5e.

Lastly, the boxset also comes with what I call the Pinwheel of Death. Aligning any of the monsters by matching color (green, blue, yellow) gives you any instant snapshot of who in in your dungeon, from the boss monsters, the minions, and the vermin. You use this as a way of quickly generating a dungeon on the fly, or to just give you an idea or two in the planning stages.

So, in finale, Dungeons of Mystery, turns out to be a great product, and one that I'm moving from my 2e back pile to my ongoing reference/inspiration books on my 5e bookshelf. Check it out and you may end up doing the same thing.

Mar 9, 2015

A Tale of Two Kickstarters - Where Dwarven Forge Meets Dungeon Decor

A couple of months ago there was a pair of competing Kickstarter projects, one from UpWorks and another similar themed one from Miniature Building Authority. Sadly, through no fault of the projects competing against each other, the UpWorks project went belly up.

But today I'm happy to report on two Kickstarter projects currently running that are so complementary that backing one almost necessitates backing the other.

First up was a nice little Kickstarter project called Tavern Dungeon Decor. This KS gives you a bunch of accessories and dressing for any number of public places, like taverns, temples, or libraries, just to name a few. The KS provides everything from a variety of chairs and tables, to bookshelves, books, plates of hot food, and even a bunch of seated patrons to dress up your city based encounters. What the KS doesn't provide are the walls or rooms for said buildings.

And that's where the second KS comes in. This is the latest Dwarven Forge Kickstarter, Dwarven Forge's City Builder System. This KS, in less than 12 hours has already raised over half a million dollars, and like previous projects from DF, is probably on track to raise several million. Their project still has a long way to go, and plenty of stretch goals and add-ons still to be revealed. This staggered reveal of goals and add-ons really helps keep the excitement alive, not just for non-backers waiting for the tipping point to jump on, but for existing backers who (like me) often have to start searching couch cushions for extra cash for that must have add-on.

On the other hand, the Tavern Dungeon Decor, almost feels like a third party partner to the DF project, since the Tavern project only has one pledge level, and has already outlined all their expected stretch goals and add-ons. It takes no time to figure out what you want and pledge (which can run as low as just $35 without any add-ons).

If you are interested in ether project, do yourself a favor and check them both out (if your wallet can stand it).