Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Kickstarter delivery charges

 

Art by The Mycoleum

This is a controversial take, so bear with me; games publishers: please include up-front delivery costs with your Kickstarter campaigns.

That's the way Kickstarters always used to work, but in recent years most campaigns have switched to third-party services like Backerkit. When using Backerkit, delivery costs are not factored in when someone backs a campaign; backers are told that they'll be charged some unspecified amount at some point in the future, once the product is ready to ship.

As a result you may, like me, get hit with a $20 delivery fee on a $20 zine that you backed 12 months ago (and then forgot about). The result of that is that I can't back any more US-based campaigns unless they collect the mailing fee up-front.

The argument against up-front postage fees is that prices change. The zine that today costs $20 to post from the USA may, a year ago, have cost only $15. If the creator had charged $15 postage as part of the campaign, 12 months down the line they'd be taking a $5 hit per item sent internationally. And, given the current state of the world economy (in particular the UK economy), predicting prices a year in advance is far from easy.

But it’s not only mailing costs which are subject to fluctuation. Production costs are too. When I ran my first Kickstarter, I was quoted £300 for printing my zines. Just 3 months later, when I printed them, paper prices had gone through the roof. I ended up paying £500.

Obviously adding more uncertainty to your prices by predicting both printing and mailing costs is not what a small creator wants. All the same, somebody is going to have to pay the increased cost. Using Backerkit, the burden is shifted from the creator to the backer.

This seems crazy, as the creator is the person best placed to plan for fluctuations in both production and fulfilment costs. Stop trying to shift the burden to your customers!

Building in flexibility to allow for inflation does not mean you need to pump up the cost to each backer, just in case. When you set up a Kickstarter campaign you need to enter a funding goal. If the project doesn't hit that goal, the backers don't get charged anything. If your funding goal barely covers your expected costs then you are not acting responsibly.

The funding goal for my first campaign was approximately 200% of predicted production and delivery costs. I didn't charge any extra to my backers, I just made sure that I had twice as many of them before going into production. As a result, I was able to absorb the extra £200 printing bill. Even if my costs had shot up by 100%, I still wouldn't be out of pocket (I'd just forego any profit). 

(Admittedly the balance of local and international backers can skew postage costs, but the principle remains the same: build the uncertainty into your funding goal, don't pass the buck on to your customers).

Setting higher funding goals may mean that fewer projects get funded, which is a shame. But that's how crowdfunding works. Kickstarter is not a shop, it’s a platform for funding hoped-for projects, and there is always a risk that these projects will fail to deliver (incidentally I am still waiting on delivery for the first Kickstarter project I ever backed, almost 13 years ago).

By refusing to commit to prices from the outset, you are doing both your backers and yourself a disservice. Your backers may not be aware that there will be future costs (I realise that these costs will be pointed out somewhere in the original campaign blurb; but most Kickstarter campaign pages are the length of novellas, and if 28 years creating "content" for the Internet has taught me one thing it is this: people don’t read things [except for you; you have already read 5 paragraphs of this post; including this torturously long sentence; but then, you’re weird; you already know this]). Even when the backer is aware that they will be billed for postage somewhere down the line, they are more likely to under-estimate than overestimate; I mean: $20 postage on a $20 zine??? Come onnnn!

The negative impact of all that buyer confusion and disappointment is, for you the creator, two-fold.

Firstly you will waste a lot of time and stress batting away complaints from disgruntled customers. When Patrick Stuart’s recent Demon Bone Sarcophagus Kickstarter went into delivery mode, I witnessed Patrick respond to numerous complaints about postage costs, even though the original campaign description included a VERY CLEARLY LABELLED SECTION called THE HORROR OF POSTAGE. Seriously, I wouldn’t wish that kind of stress on any content creator

(I myself vented my spleen at the folks whose insane delivery bill recently emptied my wallet; when they subsequently [and very politely] replied to me, I checked: it really does cost almost $20 to ship a small zine from the USA to the UK! Sending an identical zine in the other direction costs me around $7. Crazy world!) 

Secondly, you will lose future custom. Like I said, I will not be backing any US projects for the foreseeable future. I simply can’t afford the postage. Perhaps I wouldn’t have backed this particular project in the first place if I’d known how much the total cost to me would be (perhaps I should have visited the US Postal Service website before placing my pledge), but at least I’d have made an informed decision.

You probably disagree with me. Most indie gaming content creators do. Meh, old man shouts at clouds.

But I give you this pledge, my dear once-and-future backers: I will always state my delivery charges upfront. No Backerkit for this old man.

In March I will be launching a Kickstarter for King Arthur vs Devil Kitteh, an illustrated retelling of a bonkers medieval tale. Find out more here. Postage included.

PS. Come to think of it, what happens if Backerkit increase their charges in between the KS campaign end and the delivery phase? ...oh, ignore me, not a problem: your customers will pick up the tab.

Saturday, 14 January 2023

Becoming Borg

The kind of elf you'll find in any Wizards of the Coast book, but AI-generated
Once again a post from Monsters and Manuals about AI has prompted... thoughts.

I agree entirely with this statement:
The real 'threat' posed by AI is not that it will replace us, but that we will come more closely to resemble robots in our thoughts, behaviours, and opinions.
You can already see similar transformations play out in the worlds of pop music and movies: the ability to (relatively) simply produce anything within the bounds of our imaginations has resulted in a regression to the mean, creating soulless pap to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Generations who grow up knowing nothing other than these mediated mediocre media come to accept them as the norm, which will shape their own expectations, thoughts, and behaviour (this has already happened to expectations of sex as a result of easily-available hardcore pornography).

It's depressing, but it's going to happen. And there's nothing we can do to stop it.

But it won't happen for a while (and it might make sense for anyone writing about this topic to first have a play with the tools and discover the current state of the art).

Regular readers of this blog will know that I've posted a fair bit about AI (I really didn't set out to do this but... rabbit holes), and I have set up The Mycoleum shop for T-shirts etc. featuring images shamelessly generated by AI.

This is the flowering of a lifelong quest to get computers to surprise me. When I started programming in the early 80s, my best friend was the random number generator. I used it to choose and combine, and was delighted every time the computer gave back something which I hadn't explicitly asked for...

I lapped up Stephen Levy's book Artificial Life when it came out in 1992. I played with flocking algorithms and developed variations on the Sorcerer's Cave board game, generating random labyrinths and caves filled with arbitrary monsters and treasure. Sadly these, and my visual "flashperiments", are no longer usable since Steve Jobs killed off the App Store's biggest rival, Adobe Flash. But a couple of years ago I resurrected Flashperiments in the form of a JavaScript music visualiser, used to create this video for my friend Will's track Ice (inspired by the Donna Kavan novel of the same name):

Most recently, I created the Twitter bot Nanodeities, which populates templates with selections from a long list of possibilities. By nesting templates within templates within template within... turtles, the possibilities are virtually limitless, and yet each is generating by combining words and phrases which I typed out myself.

AI is the realisation of my lifetime's dream: finally, a computer can awe me with its unexpected creativity. Or rather, "creativity". Anyway, I can finally get a computer to go to places I truly would never have dreamed of.

And this phrase, "would never have dreamed of", is key. In the world of the Mycoleum, unpredictability is a feature. For most commercial creators, it is a bug.

The Mycoleum works because it is a world of unimaginable fantasy, inscrutable, understood only by the mushroom-folks who live there. It's almost impossible to express just how surprised I am by the computer's responses to my prompts. But what becomes clearer, with each picture that I try to coax out of it, is how little of my prompt it "understands". This is best demonstrated with examples (all made using Midjourney).

I noticed today that somebody on the Yoon Suin reddit had posted an AI image of a crab-man. So I decided to make one of a slug-man. Below are the images generated, labelled with the prompts that generated them (minus my special sauce that makes the style of a keeping with my other AI images):
The decadent slug-man ruler of Yoon Suin
The computer seems to have completely ignored the "slug" part of my prompt here, and gone with the slightly racist assumption that "Yoon Suin" must be some Fu Manchu-type character. I'll ditch that bit, and focus more on making my ruler more slug-like...
A half-man half-slug emperor
Still not seeing a lot of slug in this; wearing a slug is not the same as being a slug. Let's be more specific about the body parts I'm after...
An emperor with the torso and head of a man and the hindquarters of a slug
Oh FFS. I've no idea what's going on here. Perhaps I should ditch the "man" part entirely because, come to think of it, I'm not really after a slug-centaur, just some kind of slug-with-personality. Let's try...
A slug emperor
 You call those slugs??? I see frog, I see tortoise (at a stretch, if I squint, it could be a snail). I see aphid, iguana... bugger all slug. At this point I have zero expectations of success, but I'll see what happens if I add a bit of human back into the mix...
A humanoid slug emperor.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no. NO!

This "artifical intelligence" simply does not speak my language. It recognises the odd word, but not how sentences work. I am painfully reminded of the time I outsourced the building of a website to India and what I got back was... well, I've no idea what it was, everything got lost in translation. (I should add that this was over 20 years ago, things have changed a lot; in fact, I am collaborating with Bangalore-based Jayaprakash Satyamurthy on King Arthur vs Devil Kitty, and I would recommend him without hesitation to anyone looking for editorial assistance; his novel Strength of Water and his short story collection Weird Tales of a Bangalorean are also excellent).

The slug-emperor attempts were portraits, which is actually one of the things that AI does best (see elf-maiden pic above). As soon as other elements are introduced, you're more likely to roll a 1 on a d10,000 than you are to get what you want. Describing a scene and having the AI render anything even vaguely approaching what you had in mind: forget it. Yesterday I spent an hour trying to get it to draw an oak sapling growing beneath a gorse bush. It couldn't even draw a gorse bush. Even with very simple bog standard D&D prompts, it fails: 
D&D magic-user casting fireball at an orc
When I started writing the adventure Ship of Theseus (now Ship of Thorsus) I had planned to use royalty-free art from oldbookillustrations.com. The images I sourced were scarcely representative of the adventure content, and they were also used across many other OSR games and zines, but they were free. Once I started playing with AI art, I figured I could use that to generate images which were also free, but which were original and which more closely matched the adventure content. Could the AI draw a Viking ship whose every inch of surface bristled with vicious thorns? Could it heck as like.

There is certainly an art to crafting prompts for the AI, but even the most artful prompt-crafter in the world would struggle to get an AI to paint a scene like "the slugman emperor of Yoon Suin riding on a palanquin borne by crabmen through dusty streets lined with obsequious crowds of humans; the emperor bears a sceptre and an ivory back-scratcher".
the slugman emperor of Yoon Suin riding on a palanquin borne by crabmen through dusty streets lined with obsequious crowds of humans; the emperor bears a sceptre and an ivory back-scratcher.
This is the current state of play. But it will change. How long before an AI is able to approximate a scene in the manner in which its overlord intends? It could be anything between a year and twenty years, but I would estimate around 5.

Once that happens, the Borg will have arrived.
 
By the way, over at my personal blog I've just posted a look back over the (mostly) non-gaming aspects of my last year. I also have a new email newsletter.

Thursday, 5 January 2023

Favourite books of 2022

 

some good books
This is just a blog post to send you to another blog post. I have a personal blog which I post to roughly once per year (it's been running for nearly 22 years now, so is older than some of the readers of this blog).

Over on t'other place I've just posted a list of my favourite books of 2022.

Monday, 2 January 2023

Cadero 002: West Plaza

 (Yesterday's post, and today's, may have given the impression that I'll be posting these daily on my blog; I won't).

Here's today's entry - you'll have to read my scrawl as I've not time to type it up (actually, typing it up is the easy part, it's the temptation to edit that is the real time-killer):


And here's the spark table for LICENSED PICKPOCKETS in the Cadero mall:

1Urchin (£ d4)"Oh look! Over there!"
2Shellsuiter (£ d10)Bumps into you and bellows "OOPS! SORRY" in a deranged voice
3Monstrosity in disguise (£ d20)Drops shopping all over the place
4Spiv (£ d100)Ability to shift self by 10ft
5Hipster (£ d100 x 2)Almost invisible
6Aristo (£ d100 x 20)Has a very cute pet

Sunday, 1 January 2023

Nobody Asked for This!

I have a new email newsletter!

The more observant of you may have noticed that I also have an old email newsletter (sign-up boxes to the right and to the bottom of this post). This new one is utterly different.

It’s called Dan Sumption’s Mycoleum Mind, and each week I post a short idea. Sometimes a particular way of looking at the universe, other times a lifehack, or just some gentle advice. Very importantly, it will always be short. You ought to be able to read it in a minute or less. I explain why here.

I have posted three emails to the list so far, so take a look at the archive for a better idea of what I’ll be writing about. If you like it, please sign up. It’s free (the Substack website will probably try to push you into buying a paid subscription; ignore that). 

The old Peakrill Press newsletter (sign up boxes on the right and on the bottom of this page!) will still remain, but I will use it for very infrequent posts about Peakrill projects. Dan Sumption’s Mycoleum Mind is a completely different kettle of mushrooms.

While I’m here, I’ve noticed a questionnaire doing the rounds which people are calling Questions Nobody Asked Me. Bizarrely, I first saw one just after deciding to title this post “Nobody Asked For This”. So below are some other things you didn't ask me (Because I took a 30-year sabbatical from roleplaying, answering some of these was a bit tricky).

First store where you bought a an RPG?

It will have been either Games Unlimited in Kingston, or Games Workshop in Hammersmith. Both sadly gone long long long although, as I'm sure you're aware, Games Workshop still exists in a highly bastardised form that has almost nothing to do with the Dalling Road Store road and Tim, the lovely Canadian guy who used to run it.

Favourite RPG game world?

The older I get, the harder it becomes to pick a "favourite" anything. If you'd asked me this 30 years ago, the answer would definitely have been the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying world: it was humorous and British, both things in short supply in RPG-land. Nowadays, I guess Bastionland

A published NPC who has made a lasting impression on you

Erm.

I guess that means none of them have. Although the name "Wanda Weltschmerz" has been stuck in my head for several decades (she was a PC though, from the WFRP adventure Death on the Reik).

Actually, scratch that. The Giant, from DCO.

First RPG you bought from its creator

No idea, but it was probably this century.

RPG you've played the most

AD&D, almost certainly, but all of it last century. This century it must surely be BECMI D&D, purely because of noisms' regular-as-clockwork(ish) Three Mile Tree games.

A favourite RPG character you've played

Circa 1985 I rolled a dwarf with 4 intelligence, and I had a hell of a lot of fun playing him (and pissing off the other players). Not long after that I entered a play-by-mail game, the name of which I've forgotten, with a character called Vizbamboom, a vegetarian chaos necromancer. Vegetarian because he though that eating meat is a waste of bloody good corpses! He collected dead cats, and drank a lot of tea. Playing Viz was fun! 

Wait, wait, wait wait, no no no, how could I forget about Bleaklow? Bleaklow was the best! I hope I get to play him again some time. 

The RPG you've spent the most money on but never played

Probably one of two comics spin-offs that I bought in the 1980s: either the Elfquest RPG or Teenage Mutant Ninja Heroes and Other Strangeness. I was about to add TSR's Top Secret, but I think I actually played that one.

Favourite RPG for its art

I hate hate hate mainstream RPG art. Stuff I love... I can't think of a particular game, but there is so much good art coming out of the indie gaming community at the moment, the best of which is so closely bound up with the feel of a location that it is as essential to is as the text: Scrap Princess's work with Patrick Stuart, Munkao's illustrations to Thousand Thousand Islands, Alec Sorenson's illustrations for Electric Bastionland. Also, although it's not entirely my cup of tea, visually everything about Mörk Borg is just perfect. 

Favourite RPG for its writing

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I'm not sure I would stand by this now, but when it was first published in the mid-80s it was such a breath of fresh air (mainly because it had jokes in it). For the second half of the 80s, Warhammer was my game, and that is almost entirely down to the writing. Nowadays, anything written by Patrick Stuart gets my immediate attention.

Have you played a journaling game?

Yes, but only once or twice, I would love to do it more often. I had a lot of fun playing Solitary Defilement, the solo version of Mörk Borg. My favourite thing about the directed-writing required by journaling games is that they provide a context and prompts for creative writing. Sometimes I may take something written during a journaling game and repurpose it for a different context. 

Have you played a hexcrawl?

Probably.

Have you designed a dungeon?

A fair few of them. Very few of which I've had the chance to inflict on players.

Have you played a LARP?

I went to Labyrinthe down Chislehurst Caves a 3 or 4 times in the mid/late 80s. About a decade later I saw some folks running around with rubber swords in a wood on the Wirral and though "oh, folks do that outdoors now, do they?" I've been very slightly tempted a few times since, and last year promised a friend that I would come to one of his Empire LRP meetups. So I guess that'll happen. 

Favourite object one of you characters has owned

A swimming pool. (When our party finished the TSR A-series, we took over the slavers' fort and flooded the dungeon layer so that we could have our own swimming pool.

Memorable relationship one of your characters has had

I'm sure I could come up with many, given time, but I think the most memorable was between Starmoss, the half-elven ranger I started playing on my 30-year return to D&D, and the rest of his party. There really was something special about that campaign, the players, and the player-characters, it generated incredible camaraderie.

Do you collect RPGs by a certain designer?

Not sure about "collect", but I will buy anything written by Patrick Stuart (I really tried to resist the £50 reprint of his blog, but caved just as the Kickstarter was about to close). 

RPG you really want to play in 2023

Brindlewood Bay

Most memorable monster/villain you've confronted

Most memorable villain was actually another PC, in the same campaign where I played Starmoss. Hellerin (I think that was her name) was the absolute essence of Lawful Evil, and her player roleplayed her to perfection - in fact, the best roleplaying I've ever encountered. Everyone in the party knew that she was evil, but she was just so bloody effective at getting things done that we couldn't get rid of her. 

Ever experienced bleed?

Huh?

How did you get into RPGs?

New Year's Day, 1980. A Woodcraft Folk hike. My friend Joel told me about this game, Dungeons and Dragons, which one of the older boys Jono played. I asked Jono about it, and the next three-hours or so of the walk passed in a blur as Jono, Joel and I talked about all of the things you can do in Dungeons and Dragons. I got Jono to run a game as soon as possible and, about a week later, I played for the first time. And my magic user was, in almost no time, killed by a manticore. 

Now don’t forget to head over and subscribe to Dan Sumption’s Mycoleum Mind.

Cadero 1: The Entrance Hall

Entrance to The Cadero
As per yesterday's post, this is my first #Dungeon23 entry.

Saturday, 31 December 2022

#Dungeon23

#Dungeon23 is about making a megadungeon throughout 2023, one location per day. I'm joining in.

Like photo-a-day, selfie-a-month, and landscape-painting-a-fortnight activities I've joined before, I expect this fad to last no more than a few days. But perhaps 2023 will be different?

You see, last night I had an idea. An idea for an Electric Bastionland megadungeon.

9 months ago, noted surgical-tools magnate The Very Mentionable Theophilus Q. Trocad Snr., lost his only daughter, Madamoiselle Cadero I. Trocad III, due to a tragic accident during her 47th plastic surgery operation. “The World will not forget my Cadero’s name”, Trocad told an assembly of press and radio journalists at the time, “you will all see, I shall build an incomparable public monument to her memory, This shall be my great gift to humanity, to the people of Bastion. This will show that Cadero did not die in vain.”

After 9 months under a very large dustsheet, the latest addition to Bastion's downtown shopping district has been revealed: THE CADERO, a bulbous monolith (a little like a bakelite version of the Sage Gateshead) housing a bloated shopping mall.

The Cadero is 416 feet high and about half-a-mile long, with 365 locations across 8 levels above ground (including 3 shopping galleries and a private members’ club) and 3 basement levels (with a not-at-all-hard-to-navigate car park, and easy-ish connections across Bastion, via the Underground). Everything you desire, all under one roof! (Please note, due to delays with contractors the Gorkinson’s Department Store in the East Wing is not yet open).

The Cadero: level 1 draft floor plan

What is that shopper looking for? (d66)

11: A map of the mall
12: A lost child
13: The information desk
14: An escalator?
15: The ice rink
16: The car park

21: Somewhere to eat
22: Somewhere to drink
23: Somewhere to pray
24: A remote working space
25: The soft play area
26: Somewhere, anywhere, quiet

31: Workwear
32: Outdoorsy clothes
33: Underwear
34: Partywear
35: Surgicalwear
36: An item of clothing for a relative of unknown size

41: A haircut
42: A shoeshine
43: A makeover
44: A chiropractor
45: A dentist
46: A plastic surgeon

51: Someone who's in charge here
52: Security staff
53: A personal shopper
54: A mandrill mockery
55: A gullible passer-by
56: A jar of BBQ-spiced chicken stock

61: A pocket watch
62: A set of saucepans
63: A spare part for a combined gramaphone and radio set
64: A very particular book
65: Three planks of wood (assorted sizes), a hammer, and a pot of nails
66: Chewing gum


Friday, 30 December 2022

Mycelium Parish News

The Mycelium Parish News

Earlier this year, on a walk with James Burt, he proposed that the two of us produce a “parish newsletter”, to let our friends know what our other friends have been up to.

James and I first met on the Cerne to CERN pilgrimage. Between us and the other 69 pilgrims exist fecund networks of creative folks. But none of those folks has a full picture of what all the others have been up to.

James suggested we publish a newsletter, listing as much of the good stuff as we could track down. The result is The Mycelium Parish News. It features 2022's books, podcasts, radio, TV, exhibitions, theatre, videos, newsletters and more.  Here's James's introduction: 

WTF is a mycelium?

The mycelium refers to a network of countercultural groups and events, and it’s a term we first heard through theatre-maker Daisy Campbell. In nature, a mycelial network is the inter-connections that grow between fungi. Also known as the wood-wide web, these networks allow communication between different plants in a forest. It is a brilliant metaphor for culture: the fungal threads are often hidden underground, but when they cross, then a mushroom can appear.

Our particular mycelium includes a whole jumble of things, including arts labs, Festival 23 and the Cosmic Trigger crew, as well as various fellow travellers. Common touchstones include the KLF, Robert Anton Wilson, and Discordianism (which is either a joke disguised as a religion or a religion disguised as a joke). 

That explanation may not make you any the wiser. Regardless, this zine lists the work of many amazing people over the last year, and you will definitely find something of value inside that you didn’t know about before.

 

Somewhat wonderfully, we managed to keep the price of the magazine to £2.30, including UK postage (or £5 if you're outside the UK). So there's no excuse for not buying one now.

If you want a downloadable version, you'll have to wait; this zine was designed to be a thing, a thing to hold, to read, and to love, and to attract tea-stains.

Here are some spreads from the 44-page zine:

Introduction and editorial

Feature on The Lost Doctor

Some miscellaneous podcast appearances

Some books published this year

Some videos published this year

Advertising Shits In Your Head





Friday, 16 December 2022

d∞ Caltrops

Because I can't stop tinkering with AI, I asked it to "Write a random OSR RPG table in the style of the d4 Caltrops blog". Oh boy!

d20: Dungeon Hazards

  1. A pit filled with venomous snakes
  2. A room full of acidic fog
  3. A room with a magical trap that teleports the party to another plane
  4. A hidden door that leads to a room full of giant spiders
  5. A false floor that drops the party into a lake of lava
  6. A room with a magical force field that drains the life force of anyone who passes through it
  7. A room full of bone-chilling cold that damages anyone who stays in it for too long
  8. A room that is full of illusions that can only be dispelled with a magical word
  9. A room full of magical illusions that can fool the party into taking the wrong path
  10. A room with a magical portal that transports the party to a random location
  11. A room with an ancient magical construct that can animate to attack the party
  12. A room with a powerful magical artifact that can turn the party into statues
  13. A room with a powerful magical creature that can cast a powerful spell to trap the party
  14. An area with a powerful magical force that can warp time and space
  15. A room full of undead creatures that can drain life force from the living
  16. A room with a magical fountain that can grant wishes, but has a price
  17. A powerful magical item that can grant wishes, but has a powerful curse attached to it
  18. An area with powerful magical beasts that can turn the party into animals
  19. A room with a magical pool that can grant visions of the future
  20. A powerful magical artifact that can grant any wish, but at a cost

Hah! Generic dross, admittedly, and I think d4 Caltrops is safe for a good while yet, but it's pretty amazing that, from such a basic prompt, the AI completely "understands" what it's being asked to do.

Let's try just again:

d20 Things Found in a Strange Ancient Temple

  1. Strange symbols carved into the walls
  2. A massive statue depicting an unknown god
  3. An altar dedicated to a forgotten deity
  4. A hidden chamber beneath the floor
  5. A pool of bubbling acid
  6. Piles of yellowed bones
  7. An ancient tome filled with secrets
  8. A secret door leading to another area
  9. A giant stone golem
  10. A strange device of unknown origin
  11. An ornate chest filled with treasure
  12. A magical fountain that can grant wishes
  13. A cursed relic that brings misfortune
  14. A magical weapon of great power
  15. A powerful magical artifact
  16. A strange creature lurking in the shadows
  17. An altar of sacrifice
  18. An arcane circle of power
  19. A powerful magical trap
  20. A strange creature imprisoned in an enchanted cage

Once more for luck?

d20 Adventure Hooks

  1. You discover a hidden entrance to a magical tower with a portal to another dimension.
  2. A mysterious magical item is stolen and you must recover it before it can be used for evil.
  3. While exploring an ancient ruin, you stumble upon a powerful artifact that could unlock untold secrets.
  4. A powerful wizard challenges you to a duel of magical wits.
  5. You must navigate a labyrinth of traps and challenges to reach a lost treasure.
  6. You are tasked with rescuing a princess from a castle guarded by monsters.
  7. You are asked to explore a haunted manor, but you must uncover its secrets before you can leave.
  8. A powerful artifact is hidden at the bottom of a lake and you must retrieve it before it is lost forever.
  9. You are taken captive by a band of orcs and must escape before they can sacrifice you to their dark gods.
  10. You must negotiate with a race of lizardfolk to gain access to their sacred temple.
  11. You must battle a powerful dragon to prove your worthiness to a powerful wizard.
  12. You are summoned to a distant land to help a noble family reclaim their rightful throne.
  13. You must travel through the depths of a dangerous dungeon to retrieve a powerful magical item.
  14. You are tasked with infiltrating a rival clan's stronghold and stealing a powerful artifact.
  15. You discover an ancient temple with a powerful relic that will allow you to control time.
  16. You must battle a powerful necromancer to save a small village from his undead horde.
  17. You must journey to a distant land to find a powerful magical artifact before it falls into the wrong hands.
  18. You must battle a powerful demon to save a kingdom from destruction.
  19. You must infiltrate a powerful wizard's tower to steal a powerful magical item.
  20. You must brave a deadly dungeon to recover a powerful artifact that will grant you untold power.

Just to clarify, the only thing I wrote was  "Write a random OSR RPG table in the style of the d4 Caltrops blog". Everything in italics, including the table titles, was generated by the AI. And, my god, it doesn't half like using the word "powerful".


Gelatinous Cube podcast

I've just driven from one end of England to the other (ish), which means that I've just listened to a lot of podcasts, one of which was the excellent Gelatinous Cube.

Most RPG podcasts feature reviews of games, or actual play, or occasionally a bit of pontificating about games design and worldbuilding. And then there's Gelatinous Cube, in a class of its own.

Each GC podcast starts with a very short prompt for an adventure: "This Goblin Wears Lipstick", "This Mountain has a Witch on it", "The Spirits are Restless". One of the two presenters, siblings Adam and Rosie, acts as DM for that episode, and explains the encounter or short adventure they have written to go with the prompt. If they've already incorporated this encounter into their campaign then they also talk about how their players responded. The two then throw the idea about a bit, talk about ways it could be fleshed out, alternate takes, possible consequences and follow-ups... and then they throw it over the the show's silent third host, the eponymous Gelatinous Cube, for an alternate take. Working only from the short prompt, the Cube presents its own entirely different set of encounters/adventures.

It's a really simple and delightful format, and its bursting with ideas. If it were just Rosie and Adam discussing their adventure ideas, this would still be well worth a listen, but The Cube's creative contributions take it to another level, and really get the creative juices flowing. Comprehensive show notes mean that each episode is playable pretty much as-is.

I listened to a LOT of gaming podcasts 18 months ago, but Gelatinous Cube is the only one that I still regularly download and listen to. 

All of the the podcasts are here, but if you want show notes for the more recent ones then head over here

Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Further Encounters in AI

OpenAI have just added a new model, text-davinci-003, to their GPT-3 text generators. It is supposedly much higher quality than previous models, so I decided to generate some random encounters and some nanodeities using the same prompts as before. I also, for shits & giggles, decided to ask another AI to make pictures of the encounters, because: why wouldn't I? 

Here are the results:

Random encounters

* At the edge of a nearby lake, a giant 3-headed turtle is sunning itself on a rock. It has a large shell with powerful scutes, and its 3 heads have different expressions: one is smiling, one is frowning, and one is screaming. The turtle is friendly, and will willingly carry up to four PCs across the lake on its back. It is also a repository of knowledge, and will answer any question they ask it, but will only do so if they answer three of its own questions first.

The turtle's questions are:
1. What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?
2. What is the most powerful emotion you have ever felt?
3. What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

* The PCs come across a clearing in a forest, where four wooden pillars have been erected around a raised platform. On the platform, a circle of five humanoid figures stand, their heads bowed and their hands clasped together. As the PCs approach, the five figures begin to chant a strange, eerie melody in a language none of them have ever heard before. The chanting becomes more and more frantic, and soon the five figures are spinning in a circle and holding hands. The ground suddenly trembles and a shimmering red portal appears in the centre of the circle. The five figures continue to chant, and the portal slowly starts to open, revealing a strange and alien landscape beyond. If the PCs step through the portal, they will find themselves in a place called the Shadow Realm, where they will be able to explore, interact with the inhabitants, and find powerful magical items. However, they must be careful, as the Shadow Realm is a dangerous place, and they must be careful to not become lost in its depths.

* A small rock-strewn valley, at the bottom of which lies a shallow lake. In the lake is a small island, upon which stands a single, ancient oak tree. As the PCs approach, they notice that the lake is home to a small colony of giant fire-breathing dragonflies. The dragonflies are friendly and will offer to give the PCs a ride across the lake, in exchange for a few pieces of copper. Once on the island, the PCs discover a small shrine to the god of fire, surrounded by a ring of standing stones. In the centre of the shrine is a small altar, upon which sits a single, flaming gem. If a PC takes the gem, they will gain a permanent increase to their fire resistance.

Nanodeities

* Gurf, a deity of long-forgotten front doors made from oak and yew, has domain over the forgotten and misplaced. Gurf appears as a moss-covered door with a lion’s head knocker and a keyhole with a glint of starlight. To appease Gurf, kneel in front of an ancient door and whisper a prayer for the forgotten and the lost. Gurf will reward you with an entirely new door, with a shiny brass knob and a lock that can never be picked.

* Marilath is the god of half-forgotten memories, and can be found in the far corners of one's mind. Marilath looks like a silver-scaled catfish, but with a human face and a beaked nose. To worship Marilath, one must sit in a comfortable chair and recite forgotten memories in a soft voice. If successful, Marilath will reward you with a vision of forgotten memories, providing a glimpse into the past.

* Gorack the Great is the god of forgotten roads, appearing as a giant centipede with a glowing yellow eye. To appease Gorack, one must draw a map on a piece of paper and trace a route along a forgotten road. Once the map is complete, Gorack will reward the worshipper with an altered perspective on the world, and will offer guidance on how to find forgotten roads.

Conclusion

These responses do feel slightly superior to the set I generated with an earlier text model. The differences are subtle, but the biggest difference is the one you can't see: with the previous model, I generated perhaps 10 or 15 responses in order to get three which I felt were adequately creative and believable. This time around, I only had to generate the three which you see above.

As for the image AI: that was predictably terrible, but a lot of fun. The images themselves are nice enough, but scarcely representative of the text (although the deities are a lot closer than the random encounters). I could have made the images a little more accurate by tweaking and re-tweaking the text, but life's too short and, as my attempts to get an AI to depict a viking longship made of thorns have taught me, AIs are terrible at generating anything other than simple portraits or landscapes.

However, I adore the fact that the picture of Gorack the Great, god of forgotten roads, incorporates what appears to be a prehistoric version of Google Maps' location pin.

I also learned a new word, "scutes".