Howling Tower: Cardtography and Multi-Level Dungeons

Multi-Level Dungeons We’ve covered the basics of how to lay out the cards, how to connect the cards, and how to decide what each card represents in a simple dungeon. In this installment, we look at ways to create a more involved, multi-level complex. If we’re talking about a dungeon (and for the time being, we are), then all that’s needed is a way to locate some stairs or ramps down to the next level. The simple and obvious...

Howling Tower: Cardtography, a Simple Dungeon

A Simple Dungeon The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate why playing cards are such a potent choice for generating our environment. We didn’t choose cards as our randomizers because they’re somewhat room-shaped. That’s a happy coincidence. The real reason is because they have information embedded on them, and we can use that information in all sorts of useful ways. A playing card has two obvious bits of information: suit (clubs, diamonds,...

Howling Tower: Cardtography

Cardtography: The Basics Since the introduction of computer RPGs, randomly generated dungeons are everywhere. Software developers prefer to call them procedurally generated rather than random because they aren’t truly random; they’re created according to a rigid procedure. Developing a procedure that spits out satisfying dungeons is a popular problem among programmers, and the web is full of fascinating blog posts about the many...

Howling Tower: Monster Stats, Part 5

This installment is about deconstructing dragons. The Monster Manual contains 20 chromatic dragons, 20 metallic dragons, 1 shadow dragon, and 1 undead dragon. The Tome of Monsters and the Southlands Bestiary introduce several more. With all those stat blocks spread over three books, you’d expect to find plenty of variety—and you’d be right. But even with all that variety, streams of predictability flow through every* dragon stat...

Howling Tower: Monster Stats, Part 4

This installment, you get a break from graphs and formulas—though not entirely. In honor of Thanksgiving, I had to include some pie charts. Instead of plotting trends, however, this time we count how often certain concepts occur throughout the Monster Manual, to help you get a handle on whether they’re common, uncommon, or rare. Before diving in, understand that the Monster Manual contains 312 monster stat blocks in the main section, 96 animal...

Howling Tower: Monster Stats, Part 3

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, we looked at ability scores and hit points. In this installment, we look at damage output for official fifth edition monsters. First, a note about how I calculated damage output (average damage per round, or DPR). This topic is covered in a good amount of detail in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but even with detailed guidelines, it’s not always a straightforward task. The general rule is to calculate the...

Howling Tower: Monster Stats, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at ability scores and established a few useful rules for assigning them to monsters of your own design. In this part, we look at Hit Dice and hit points as they relate to challenge rating and extract a few lessons about monster defenses. Hit Dice In the earliest editions of D&D, Hit Dice (HD) were a direct measure of a monster’s toughness. If you knew how many HD a monster had, you knew a third of everything you...

Howling Tower: Monster Stats

In the year since fifth edition came out, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time deconstructing its monsters and putting them back together again. The lessons I’ve learned have been invaluable when developing new creatures for third-party monster collections such as Fifth Edition Foes from Necromancer Games and Southlands Bestiary and Tome of Beasts from Kobold Press. These lessons would be equally useful to everyone who wants to create...

Howling Tower: Rules Are Your Frenemy

This is the final installment in a series of six articles for players hoping to get the best possible experience from their time around the RPG table. Roleplaying game rules are wonderful things. I’ve spent decades pulling them apart, refining and polishing every piece, and putting them back together so they purr and growl like a Jaguar V-12. The comparison to an engine is not random — like oversized engines, too many RPGs have more horsepower...

Howling Tower: Expect Things to Go Wrong

(This is the fifth installment in a series of articles for players hoping to get the best possible experience from their time around the RPG table.) “Adventures, in retrospect, are pieces of extremely bad luck that missed a fatal ending.” ―Lawrence Griswold, Tombs, Travel and Trouble It’s a shame that Lawrence Griswold isn’t better known these days. He was a real-life Indiana Jones, a Harvard-educated anthropologist and archaeologist who spent...

Howling Tower: Dive Into the Unknown

This is the fourth installment in a series of articles for players hoping to get the best possible experience from their time around the RPG table.   “… Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive―it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it?” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables In...

Howling Tower: Paying Dues

Guilds were a notable feature of urban life in medieval cities. If you were a craftsman of any type in Europe during the Middle Ages, you almost certainly belonged to a guild. Guilds show up in fantasy RPGs and campaign settings, too; every city has a thieves’ guild and a wizards’ guild. It’s mostly lip service, though, because those guilds seldom do anything other than issue vague threats (thieves’ guild) or accidentally blast their guildhalls...

Howling Tower: Saying No

In recent years, the philosophy of “yes, but” has become a hot ticket for GMs. Let me assure you, this was not always the case. I’m reminded a bit of the way philosophies come into and out of fashion in business management (are you a one-minute manager in search of excellence?). If that sounds dismissive, it’s not meant to be. There’s a lot to be said in favor of “yes, but.” As GM philosophies go, it’s better than...

Howling Tower: The Elevator Pitch

When designing a world as a setting for replaying and storytelling, condensing your concept down to an elevator pitch is a great exercise. Not that you’re likely to corner a venture capitalist and a Hollywood producer in an elevator and pump them to invest money in your idea, but because you are going to corner friends, players, and readers and ask them to invest something even more precious than cash in your creation—their leisure time....

Howling Tower: World of Wonder

Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you that I’m definitely not a reactionary type. I consider myself to be progressive about most things. But in some regards, I’m an unapologetic originalist. I almost always prefer the first recording of a song to the cover version, the original version of a movie to the remake, authentic ethnic food to an anglicized, family restaurant dish, and charcoal over propane. Knowing that, it should come as no...


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