The Mage Tower

May 15, 2012

The isolated tower inhabited by the mage, is a common staple of fantasy literature, yet it is somewhat rare for characters in RPGs to inhabit them.  Give one PC a tower, and they all want one, and by occupying different bits of real estate they all end split up (in this case probably minimising rather than maximising their search effectiveness…).

So, I had an idea, based on a vague recollection of the classical memorisation technique of method of loci (or memory of place).  From wikipedia:

In this technique the subject memorizes the layout of some building, or the arrangement of shops on a street, or any geographical entity which is composed of a number of discrete loci. When desiring to remember a set of items the subject literally ‘walks’ through these loci and commits an item to each one by forming an image between the item and any distinguishing feature of that locus. Retrieval of items is achieved by ‘walking’ through the loci, allowing the latter to activate the desired items.

Given that vancian mages are supposed to be good at memorising spells, it stands to reason they should be good at memorising other things as well.  What my idea is, that the mages create a mental image of a tower, and by embedding this in their memory, they create the tower in an otherworld location.

As the mage grows in power, so to does their tower.  At first, the tower is little more than a safe place to store the spells the mage knows (so the first room created in the tower is the ‘library’), but as time goes on and the mage grows in power and knowledge, so too does their tower.  As the tower gains more rooms and features, it gains additional functions.  Brainstorming yesterday I managed to come up with the following (but I don’t think its an exhaustive list by any means):

  1. The Mage is able to take shelter inside their tower, removing the threat of mundane dangers, although now they may have to deal with ‘visitors’ in the otherworld.
  2. The mage is able to leave physical items in their tower, making it a place of storage.
  3. The Mage gains the ability to invite other people into their tower.
  4. The tower gains additional rooms: kitchens, storage, sleeping, entertaining, cells, laboratories, etc.
  5. The Mage is able to place protective wards, or traps, to improve defences against otherworld threats.
  6. The tower gains a gaurdian or servant: butler, ghost, golem, undead, demon, etc.
  7. The tower gains windows, that have the ability to scry out over particular parts of the otherworld, or the mundane world.  Perhaps the mage can send ghostly messages to people in the places the window opens up onto, or other forms of communciation.
  8. The tower gains additional entrances, in odd places around the mundane world or the otherworld – perhaps it links back to the tower of the master who trained the mage, or a university where they studied, or the fortress of their employer. The tower gains a use as a means of transpotation.
  9. If it gains a mundane entrance/presence, do the locals become protective of the tower, or do they turn into a pitchfork and torch weilding mob whenever the strange lights are seen on the crenallations?
  10. The mage gain keys, or passwords used in unlocking the tower, or its inner sanctum.
  11. A mighty tower of an archmage begins to twist and change the nature of the world around the tower.
  12. Indoor plumbing!  All the comforts an old cranky mage could want…

Traps, Tanks, and some other Things

November 15, 2011

Well, I’m still waiting for my copy of Skyrim to arrive, so I have some time to write about other things.

I am still having fun playing World of Tanks.  After researching all the upgrades for the KV I decided to muck around with Tank Destroyers and Self-Propelled Guns (artillery) for a while.  This was fun and educational, seeing the artillery interface made it clear why I had died easily in certain places on the map, and I gained a new appreciation for large rock outcroppings.  Actually playing artillery can be super-frustrating, you may be stone to the heavy tank scissors, but light tanks are paper to your stone.  The light tanks move too fast for you to hit, and the slow heavy tanks have too much armour for you to damage (I cheered when a shell hit a Tiger II and managed to inflict 2% damage) so you end up hoping wistfully for a medium tank to decide to park itself out in the open for the time it takes you to set up the shot.

Tank destroyers are a bit less frustrating in play.  Their low profile makes you hard to spot, so they are excellent if you have the patience to sit in an ambush position, or know where to go for a long-range sniping shot.  A Hetzer with a 10.5cm cannon satisfyingly one-shots many light/medium tanks and its the only tank where I have ever managed ‘top gun’ with seven kills out of 15 of the opposing team of players.  Without a turret though, its vulnerable to being flanked.

Still, when my dreams were filled with green targeting recticules, I decided I needed to wind back how much I was playing this little game.


The players in my tabletop game will be off doing a tomb crawling expedition soon.  So, naturally, there will be traps.  And undead monsters.  But its traps I have been thinking about.  There is one rogue in the party, who has invested heavily in trap detection and removal masteries, allowing him rerolls if he fails a spot/disarm check.  So having traps present is a payoff for how he has built his character, helps the team, and makes up for not being as good in combat as the combat focused characters.

I do wonder though, if the process of traps is too predictable.

Most of the time, in every new shift in the game environment, he announces he is looking for traps.  If he finds one, he tries to disarm it.  Trap disarmed, party moves on, rinse and repeat.  Partly I think its dull, because its action by just one player, while everyone else waits.  Without an external factor, such as pursuing guards, its not terribly exciting.  Low damage traps are also pretty much a waste of time in Dragon Age, as the party can just stop, take a breather, and regain 1d6+Constitution+Level Health Points, so with level 6 characters, traps doing less than 10 damage are just wet bus tickets.

So I thought a bit more about what traps are, and what else you might tie into their key purpose – defending a location.  As well as doing some sub-lethal damage (because, to be blunt, save or Die traps will just make my players cry) traps can also:

  1. Block movement in a particular direction.
  2. Channel movement towards a different direction.
  3. Split the party into two or more groups.
  4. Sound an alarm.  Could be silent, could be noisy, maybe the entire dungeon just starts quietly vibrating.
  5. Summon/teleport guardians to the location (Release the hounds!).
  6. Physically trap/pin/cage the intruders in that location (Sharks optional).
  7. Mark the intruders, like paint/dye/glowing goo.
  8. Attach a locator beacon to the intruders.
  9. Communicate information to the intruders (Achtung Minen!).
  10. Trigger a time delayed device (This dungeon will self-destruct in six cycles)
  11. Apply a debuff to the players (poison, disease, exhaustion, fear, etc) rather than just a few HP.

What I’ll try and do this weekend, is have some traps that require more than just one person playing with their lockpicks, the environment setting and situation should require another pair of hands or eyes I think.  Perhaps a slowly flooding dungeon, where once you choose to fall back, you know you’ll never get to the last chamber in the tomb.

Traveller World Gen

Thinking back to the random craziness of Traveller worlds, I begin to think that worlds might have fit better together if they had been designed in clusters, rather than just retro-fitted the explanations.

Terror Australis

I also mused briefly today about what an Australian themed expansion for World of Warcraft might look like:

  • A continent full of critters that are Level 100 Elite Mobs!
  • New Wombat Race!
  • Ford Falcon mount for engineers!
  • A rejigged economy where you sell minerals to the Chinese gold farmers!
  • New Class: Tasmanian Mutant!
  • Every monster has a poison attack!
  • Forests teeming with Drop Bears!
  • Legendary pavlova recipe!
  • Ozzie rules PvP, where damage can only be inflicted while jumping!

Grand Strategy Game at Buckets of Dice 2012

I emailed the pitch in for this today.  Not too far removed from earlier discussion here, but the next big chunk of design work will be in mid-February, after Canterbury Faire is finished.