Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Opening Day, real-world D&D sites, phad thai


It’s been a busy few weeks for me, so I am tardy as usual in my blog post. I’m working on Pathfinder Online these days as a writer/developer, but in all honesty most of my Goblinworks tenure so far has been tied up in organizing and managing the Emerald Spire super-adventure, then writing my slice of this epic sixteen-level all-star dungeon delve. Ironically, this is a tabletop RPG product very much like the sort of game products I spent years and years working on for Wizards of the Coast—so my baptism in the game software biz so far looks a whole lot like what I’ve been doing since 1991. I’m just now starting to dive into working on some of the game’s dynamic story elements. Lots to learn!
In other news… baseball’s back! I’m a huge baseball fan, and man, I love Opening Day. I cheer for the Phillies and the Mariners. The M’s have had a rough patch over the last few seasons, but I think they’re going to be a much better club this year. The addition of Michael Morse and Kendry Morales added some excellent veteran power and presence to a young lineup with a lot of potential: Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero might blossom into some great hitters now that they have a little protection around them. As for the Phillies, well, I like what I’ve seen of Ben Revere so far, and I’m delighted to see that Chase Utley seems healthy. Michael Young made a couple of ugly plays at third base in the opener, but he also made a couple of excellent throws. We’ll have to see!

Gaming: I have always found real-world ruins and lost cities to be an excellent source of inspiration for D&D adventure locales—for example, my Dungeon magazine adventure Rana Mor is inspired by Angkor Wat. Basing a fantastic location on a real place lends your adventure locale a certain verisimilitude that you can’t easily create out of a wholly imaginary place. Even if your players don’t recognize the place they’re exploring, a strong real-world example helps provide detail and idiosyncratic features you’d never think to include otherwise. Consequently, I’m always keeping my eyes open for really interesting places, especially ones I think the players haven’t seen before. Here are three fascinating real-world locales that I’ve run across in recent online browsing that absolutely deserve to have great D&D adventures built around them. None of these are very well known in the West, for whatever reason—somehow or another Ancient Aliens and similar shows just haven’t gotten around to them yet.
Nan Madol ( ) is a city of stone built on a coral reef on the island of Pohnpei (formerly known as Ponape). It might be the most interesting ancient site that no one’s ever heard of. It’s very unusual, because massive stone cities aren’t something you normally associate with the history of the equatorial Pacific islands. The author A. Merritt used Nan Madol (or a version of it) as the setting for his novel The Moon Pool, but other references in fiction are pretty rare. Anyway, as a D&D setting, Nan Madol would be interesting because it’s a ruined city best explored by small boat, and the small artificial islands would make for really interesting dungeon “rooms.”

Bagan ( ) is a vast, sprawling metropolis of ruins in the middle of Burma—er, Myanmar. It was the ancient capital of the early Burmese state, and is home to literally thousands of ruined temples and stupas. While some of the temples are very large and complex, a huge number are very simple structures—basically, stone pagodas with no interior spaces, or “hollow temples” that only contain a single room. The D&D designer in me cringes at the idea of mapping an ancient city with hundreds of complex structures and interior spaces, but a city composed of one-room temples or elevated pagodas is a much more manageable task—and still quite epic in mood and feel.
Finally, Sigiriya ( ) is an ancient palace in Sri Lanka built atop a huge stone massif. It’s known as the “Lion Rock,” and apparently it’s the most visited ancient site in Sri Lanka. Stairs climb around and through the rock to the palace on top of the flat 200-meter summit. Apparently the huge cliff walls were covered in murals in the distant past. Sigiriya strikes me as interesting because I like the idea of a site where you’d fight your way up a long stairway and through tunnels to emerge on top of a plateau in the ruins of a palace. There’s a pretty substantial city surrounding the Lion Rock itself, too. You can just see that dungeon map coming together, can’t you?

Anyway, there you go: Three great settings just waiting to be turned into epic D&D adventures!
Politics/Current Events: Seems like the news cycle has been slow the last couple of weeks, although the North Korea situation is starting to command some attention. Over the last fifteen or twenty years, the North Koreans have used provocations to win good-behavior bribes in the form of food and energy aid. I expect the current situation to simmer along until the North Koreans step it up by shooting some South Koreans via cross-border shelling or an incident at sea. Trouble is, the South Koreans are in no mood to pay the North Koreans for punching them. The real risk is that one side or the other miscalculates, and they lose control of the escalation. A couple of days ago I was thinking this was just “more of the same” from North Korea, but now I’m watching with more concern—accidents or misunderstandings might take the whole situation off-script in a hurry. I hate the idea of rewarding the Norks for misbehaving, but maybe that’s the most pragmatic way to deal with things.

The Finer Things: Phad thai. I confess it’s the only thing I ever order off a Thai menu. I used to make fun of my wife for ignoring an entire national cuisine and going with sweet and sour chicken every time we got Chinese food, but you know, I do the same thing with Thai food. I used to have a favorite Thai place just a few minutes from the Wizards office where I’d get a great phad thai a couple of times a month. Good news is I found a Thai place in Redmond that fixes a phad thai I like, so that long commute up to Goblinworks just got a little more bearable.



  1. Thanks for the "real world ruins" links! If you like that sort of thing, have you seen the "GM's Real World Reference" by Bentonite studios? It actually has Nan Madol listed, along with scads of other places, people and events that are "stranger than fiction". I backed it as a Kickstarter, but it's now available via DTRPG right here:


  2. Thanks, Andy! That's a great suggestion. When I was a kid, I used to have a copy of the Readers' Digest "Strange Stories, Amazing Facts" book on my shelf. I read that thing through a dozen times; great stuff.

  3. Rich, ever try Saya or Savan in Kent? They're two of my favorites, mainly because they're among the few places I've found that can make it without the fish-sauce since I'm allergic to all seafood.

    BTW, off-topic but as a squid and a wargamer, did you get a chance to check out the Kickstarter for Sails of Glory before it closed? It's a line that looks like it'll have potential, if how fast it reached full funding, how much funding it racked up and the history of its parent game (it's loosely based on the mechanics of Wings of War) are any indication.

    Also BTW... when you posted your "Parting Salvo" set-list for War at Sea, did I mis-count or was it only a 36-unit list?

  4. As I've said before, this Emerald Spire looks to be pretty awesome. The news that you're behind the reigns gives me security knowing it'll be the best it can be :).

    Another thing about NK this time around is that China is basically sick of their constant saber rattling. I don't have any real intelligence about the military capabilities of NK, but that no one treats them as a genuine threat speaks volumes. Having Korean friends myself, there's a big part of me that hopes to see the liberation of North Korea and possibly reunification within my lifetime.

    As for Thai food, I'm a huge fan of coconut curries, so that's all I ever get in Thai restaurants. Next time you should give mussamund (various spellings) a try.