System Jamming

I have returned to this blog, as I often do, after a passage of several months. Suffice to say that my enthusiasm to write anything at the beginning of the pandemic eventually gave way to a general malaise, followed, eventually, by a return to attending other obligations. But once again I am back (for now).

Another thing that is back: the itch. The desire to put something together and run it for my dear (and patient) friends. Here I find myself at the foot of that great hill that I have so often gazed upon. Unsatisfied with 5e and uncertain where to turn my (admittedly fickle) attention. I have perused OSE, Into the Odd, The Black Hack, Whitehack, Maze Rats, and many more, but haven’t been able to settle on any one system. There are so many clever ideas packed in each one, but do any of them allow me to offer the experience I want for my players?

This is, of course, a gamemaster problem, more than anything. Every time I ask my players what would get them excited, the response is typically some form of “anything you decide to run!” They are, above all else, a kind and generous lot. But it’s true, game systems don’t matter as much to players. Gamemasters are the ones who work directly with those systems 90% of the time, so this makes sense. And game systems, particularly the minimalist structures that underpin the OSR and Indie design spheres, really don’t give players much to get excited about. The gamemaster may love how a particular system reduces the rules for conflict adjudication down to one dice roll and a reaction table, but this doesn’t give players the insight they need to understand the shared world/narrative space of the game.

So my new goal is to splice and dice some amalgamation of my favorite RPG system ideas and stuff it into a setting that I intend to build with some input from my players.

Mapping the past

As I’ve been diving back into some older video games, I decided it would be fun to draw some inspiration for a dungeon map. Here’s Erdrick’s Cave, one of the first dungeons from Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest I) for the NES/Famicom.


This is a very straight-forward dungeon. It doesn’t feature any random battles or any puzzles. It’s simply a short maze that leads to Erdrick’s Tablet, which contains the prophecy of your hero’s lineage. The only challenge is navigating the dark passages. Things were simpler then.

My map of Erdrick’s Cave.

I would love to draw some of the dungeons from the original Zelda. Unfortunately, the scale I want to use would be too large to fit in my current journal. Definitely a project for the future.


This must be the place

With time on my hands since the semester has ended and the quarantine continues, I’ve gotten back into Dungeons and Dragons. I’m now running my own game in addition to playing in my friend’s ongoing game, and I’m having a lot of fun, even if the video service we play over lags out from time to time. Lately I’ve been drawing little dungeon maps in a small dot-grid journal. I find it to be a relaxing activity to do while listening to music or podcasts.

My first dungeon map, with a 4-sided die for emphasis.

I loved making maps when I was a kid. I don’t know what it was that fascinated me so much about them. Maybe it was because my meager drawing skills limited me to more rudimentary designs. Maybe it was my love of Tolkien, whose works always included detailed maps of Middle-earth. Whatever it was, back in elementary school I could easily spend an entire afternoon drawing maps of my own made-up locations.