Gristlegrim, Once Upon a Time

I’m not a perfectionist. I have never been a perfectionist. I’m not really interested in perfection. I just want things that work. Bear that in mind when you see the following diagrams.

My first solo dungeon was Deathtrap Equalizer. Deathtrap had the novel idea of getting rid of halls and corridors and tunnels. The action was mostly in the rooms, so why not make it all rooms? You have to get from room to room, so let’s make it random access–that’s easily done by letting the dice select the room for  you.

Deathtrap

 

Deathtrap gave me an idea for another Room Dungeon. I wanted one that I could lay out at a moment’s notice, so I wrote room ideas down on large 5 X 8 cards.  The cards were large enough to have the descriptions of 3 rooms on each one, so the same card could be something different on any one of three levels.  The card would look something like this:

L1:  Empty room but paintings of trolls on all the walls. The exit doors are all secret doors that must be found by searching the paintings. (L1SR on LK or IQ to find the door.) The idea of the room is to delay the party long enough to allow a group of random monsters to teleport in and attack them.

L2:  This room is a big swimming pool full of piranha–the water is 50 feet deep. There is a narrow edge around the pool, but the path is thin. L2SR on DEX to avoid falling off it. Open treasure chest full of coins, clearly visible, at the bottom of the pool. The only exit is on the other side of the room.

L3:  Hopscotch diagram leading to the center of the room. Clearly magical. Treasure in the center with gold pieces in it–number determined by how far along the hopscotch pattern the player gets. Each time through requires a higher level saving roll on DEX. Start with L1 and work up  to L8. Gold in chest equals sum of levels made before taking it. To fail is to activate a trap that does 10 times the saving roll in explosion damage to the delver.  Thus, missing a L3SR would do 30 points of CON damage–pretty much fatal for most characters. Skipping the hopscotch removes the treasure and teleports monsters into the room.

As you can see, I had a lot of fun making up these rooms. I’m thinking of doing it again, though it would just be repeating myself. Back when I was friends with Jim Shipman, he talked me into letting him publish Gristlegrim in a book form. It was an interesting experiment not long before the end, but basically it failed. Jim did some things I really didn’t like with Gristlegrim–including running the same rooms in different locations–thus increasing the number of rooms, but not the number of unique rooms, and using stolen art to illustrate it. When he was done I asked for my cards back. He said he had destroyed them when finished with each one. Grrrrrrr! That was the end of the Gristlegrim Dungeon. It survives today in legend as a place in the history of Trollworld.

Long before the end I ran an adventure by mail for some young friends in California.  I laid out an entire 6 level adventure for them to wander into, and drew (quickly) a 6 level map of Gristlegrim.  Last month I found those old drawings. I thought it might amuse people to see one of my old off-the-cuff dungeons, so I scanned those drawings and I now reproduce them here. Feel free to set one of your own adventures in this complex some time.

To build an iteration of Gristlegrim I shuffled all my description cards and then laid them out in square patterns of 3 X 3, face down so the text cannot be seen. When entering a new room, I would simply turn it over, see my description, and improvise a GM description from the notes on the card.  3 X 3 was not the only pattern possible–I could do anything, but it was the one most commonly used.

LEVEL ONE

No one was ever thorough enough to see all the rooms in even a single adventure, so there was practically infinite replayability.

No one was ever thorough enough to see all the rooms in even a single adventure, so there was practically infinite replayability.

LEVEL TWO

In retrospect I wonder why I bothered with empty rooms at all. It didn't seem right that every room would have something in it, and of course, the empty rooms were meant to be a place to let the players rest when I first designed GG, but I quickly decided that a resting player was a boring player, so I started teleporting monsters in if players tried to take a lot of time to rest and recuperate.

In retrospect I wonder why I bothered with empty rooms at all. It didn’t seem right that every room would have something in it, and of course, the empty rooms were meant to be a place to let the players rest when I first designed GG, but I quickly decided that a resting player was a boring player, so I started teleporting monsters in if players tried to take a lot of time to rest and recuperate.

LEVEL THREE

In the play by mail adventure I was running for Paul O'Connor and Tom Keefer, we never got this deep into it.

In the play by mail adventure I was running for Paul O’Connor and Tom Keefer, we never got this deep into it.

 LEVEL FOUR

One of my tricks was to have a standard-sized monster--say a goblin with a monster rating of 12, and then multiply the monster rating by the level of the dungeon. So if you met a goblin on level 4, it had a monster rating of 48. Even a small party of goblins with monster ratings this large can be quite a problem for delvers.

One of my tricks was to have a standard-sized monster–say a goblin with a monster rating of 12, and then multiply the monster rating by the level of the dungeon. So if you met a goblin on level 4, it had a monster rating of 48. Even a small party of goblins with monster ratings this large can be quite a problem for delvers.

LEVEL FIVE

Adventurers seldom got down as far as level 5. In retrospect, I kind of wish that we actually played campaigns in T & T instead of mostly episodes.

Adventurers seldom got down as far as level 5. In retrospect, I kind of wish that we actually played campaigns in T & T instead of mostly episodes.

LEVEL SIX

I only ever made 6 levels of rooms. There were 2 sets of cards: levels 1-3 on one set and level 4-6 on the other.

I only ever made 6 levels of rooms. There were 2 sets of cards: levels 1-3 on one set and level 4-6 on the other.

I think I created Gristlegrim originally in about 1978, and added to it for several years whenever I had a new idea. This was before the days of personal computers. As  you can see from my notes and drawings, I was more interested in speed and variety than in appearance and form.  40 years later, I’m still that way. I’ll take quick and dirty over slow and perfect every time. I mean, yeah, perfect looks good, but when you’re gaming, is perfect really more fun? I don’t think so. The real action is in the player’s imagination, not on the tabletop.

Today, 2014, the Gristlegrim Dungeon is like one of those fabled books from antiquity, where descriptions or synopses of the book have survived, but the actual text is lost and gone forever. For more glimpses of the glories that were Gristlegrim, take a look at http://Grisltegrim.com.

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If  you’ve ever adventured in a randomly-created dungeon of some sort that was not on your computer screen, why not leave a comment?

–end

Who Lives Where, part 2

I hope you saw part 1 of this series. If not, scroll down.

I asked Don to add things to the map and include some of the other major kindreds of Rrr’lfff.  He did, and this is the result.  I am very pleased.

Trollworld Peoples 2

I’m not sure all the colors work here, but some things become obvious. The elves are everywhere. They should be. They were the first intelligent immigrants to Rrr’lff, closely followed by dragons.

The gray background on the legend doesn’t work to show off the colors very well. Skeletons are supposedly violet, but it’s hard to tell them from the Orcs who are darker blue. Ogres have a light blue that is also hard to see.

I told Don about hobbs living on the borders of men and elves, but he has called them halflings. Don, there are no halflings on Trollworld–that term belongs to That Other Game. The hobb color is too close to the elf color. I totally missed it on my first and second look at the map. How about red, or perhaps brown for hobbs?

Light brown is a strange color for goblins, and I almost missed them, but closer examination does show them in places where they ought to be.  I’d give them the hobbs green color, preferably olive green. The fact that I could miss that on my first examination proves the map is very complex and needs to be looked at closely to really understand it.

Now, if I asked Steve to clean up the map for inclusion in Deluxe, the two things I would want him to do are: (1) make the color key more legible, and (2) possibly change some of the colors to achieve greater contrast in some places.  And change halflings to hobbs on the key.  Hobbs may sound a bit like hobbits, but is not hobbit, and is a distinct term that no other game, that I know of, uses.

How do you like this ethnographic survey of the Dragon Continent?

end

Who Lives Where?

Trollworld PeoplesDon Clarke, Dhonn of Trollhalla’s inner elite, has put together this preliminary map of who lives where on the dragon continent. I think it’s pretty cool, so I’m publishing it here, but I think it could be even better.

Trollworld is home to dozens, possibly hundreds, of different intelligent species. That being said, it is reasonable to say that only a few are really widespread and dominant in their areas.  Those would be: humans, elves, dwarves, urookin (uruks). nagas, gharghs (gargoyles), lizard men, goblins, hobbs, ogres, centaurs, minotaurs. Although both trolls and dragons are widespread and powerful, they tend to be solitary creatures and so fail to actually dominate any particular part of the world.  The big ones are feared and respected. The smaller ones get along the best they can.

So, let’s talk about the ethnography of Trollworld.  This is the Ken St. Andre version of Trollworld.  Yours may differ, and that’s perfectly ok. Trollworld is a bit like Roger Zelazny’s Amber multiverse.  There is one true Trueworld (mine) and then all the infinitie shadows of it (yours). To those who play (or live) in them, they are all equally real. A world is a world is a world after all.  This is only one corner of my Trollworld, and what I am saying here, is really only true for Rrr’lff (Ralph, the Dragon Continent).

Humans are the most numerous kindred on Trollworld. They adapt to every climate. They are fertile and have large families. They organize and work together well. They are magically adept. They generally like to live together in cities and near cities. Areas where they predominate are shown as flesh-colored on the map.  Don has them mostly on the dragon’s head and breast down to the foreclaws. What would be more accurate would be not to shade the whole area, but to have them around the human cities and in narrow strips of territory along the roads that connect those cities. He also apparently does not know that those are all human cities along the dragon’s belly, so that there should be a narrow strip of flesh-tone along that coast except for the heart of the Naga jungles. The island of Sonan Ie is also a human region, as is most of the dragon’s tail, and the islands up in the dragon’s wings.  Human lands interpenetrate lands where other kindreds would be numerous of perhaps dominant.

The Skeleton Men, who are a type of humans with transparent flesh, control all the area on the south coast of the Dragon’s Mouth. The old abandoned city of Khorror is their unofficial capitol. Their lands are part of the Empire of the Goddess.

Dwarves are perhaps the second most numerous kindred. There are actually several different kinds of dwarves–just as there are different kinds of humans, but they get along well with humans. Dwarves aren’t farmers. They are miners. Dwarf country would be islands all over the map, wherever there are good mineral deposits. They have a notable underground city as part of Khazan. They would be up in the mountain ranges and hills everywhere, not much in the forests.  Dwarves and trolls compete for the same resources–the dwarves want the minerals, but the trolls want the territory. Beneath the surface there is a neverending war between dwarves and trolls.

Elves dominate the forests, but the dark elves live underground in caverns, mostly the caverns below forested areas, but some in the hills and mountains too.  You would see elves in all the forested areas, even those fairly close to human cities. What you would really find on the map are interlaced ribbons of green and pink.  Hobbs do well on the borders of both groups, so if we had a hobb color on the map, I’d put it in islands bordering both elves and humans.

The urookin have mostly had to subsist in the borderlands that are not fertile enough to support large groups of humans or elves.  They have the surfaces of the low hills, and the edges of the plains and deserts. We may as well go ahead and call them orcs again. I believe that terminology is coming back in the deluxe edition. Orcs are akin to humans in that they can adapt to almost any environment, so although most of them would be in hills and semi-barren country, you might find clans of them in the mountains.  It was the Red Orc clan who gave their name to the Red Orc mountain range north of Khosht.

Goblins mostly live in wet and swampy areas. The region known as the Great Sump is a huge marsh full of goblins. Don did not have a color for them. A narrow band of goblin color should follow all the major rivers, perhaps in islands. There are goblins up and down the Khazan/Thar river, and along the Khosht River and elsewhere. Still, they are adaptable, and where there is underground water, there are underground goblins.

Ogres live in wild and inaccessible places–often ruins of former glory. You would find them up around Tharothar and also around the Blasted City and D’Tryt.

Lizard men live in even harsher territory than Orcs. Their homelands include the Scorpion Lands and the Scorching Veldt. There are also aquatic, dinosaurian lizard men called the L’zhan, who live in the archipelagos of islands called the Dragon’s Wings and the islands east of the Dragon’s Tail and north of the Mane Lands. They are great mariners and fighters and a menace to all who encounter them.  They have enclaves of settlements along the north side of the Dragon’s Back.

Centaurs and minotaurs prefer more open country, and their stronghold is the plains south and east of Khazan.

Fairies live in the forests with the elves, and have also invaded the cities and live alongside humans.  They are like pigeons, or bees.

Leprechauns take over isolated hills usually not far from human settlements. They do so love to take advantage of the clumsy big people.

Nagas live mostly in the Naga jungles in the Dragon’s midsection, but there is a large population of humans there as well. The humans are a slave race for the serpent-people.

The far east, the Dragon’s Rump, is the home country of the Gharghs–a winged people who dominate the large human population by force.  They are dragon minions and protected by the large number of dragons who make this part of the continent their home. Dragons also dominate all the highest mountain ranges, especially the sky-scraping peaks north of Khazan, Kasar, Stormgaard, and Tharothar.

Ratlings live mostly in the undercities where humans can be found.  They tend to be more scavengers than producers.  All human cities require a large underground support system to carry water, and sewage, and those tunnels can be adapted to other purposes as well.  Ratlings and goblins are an underclass there, with dwaves usually in charge. Trolls tend to be predators in such areas.

As you can see, the ecology and ethnology of Trollworld is complicated.

Heh! But I have to say I love seeing maps like this, and I hope Don will go on to add more colors and further show the (rough) ethnography of Trollworld.

–Ken St. Andre, Nov. 15, 2014