He sees you when you're looting
He knows you've sprung a trap
He knows your damn alignment
And he doesn't take no crap
He's making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna give you free stuff that is nice
Santicore is coming to tooooowwwwn
It's Santicore season!
Go here and join in on the fun. Secret Santicore 2012 is a present-swap of gaming goodness where you submit a request - like some NPCs, or a map, or a mini-adventure, or whatever - and while someone else fulfills your request, you write up something for yet another person. It's Secret Santa, but all the presents are game stuff.
The Secret Santicore process functions as a gigantic sentient random table, as you never quite know what you're going to get, only that it will answer your request. My advice for first-time supplicants to the Santicore is pretty simple: keep it vague. Don't request something so specific that there are only one or two ways the Santicore could answer it - not only is that no fun for the writer, but you're not going to get any sense of surprise out of reading the response. The fun of Santicore is that you are handing over a spark of something - your request - and letting somebody else run with it before they hand it back and you use it in your game. Think about the bloggers you read, or the various DMs you've played with. No two are quite alike, and no two would answer a Santicore request exactly the same way. That's awesome; embrace it.
Now that Santicore season is upon us, I feel like I ought to look back at the work I did a year ago for Secret Santicore 2011. Some of it, I'm happy with; other parts less so, which I suppose is normal.
My original assignment was "something useful for a campaign set along the Silk Road (or fantasy equivalent)". At first I was super-excited to handed not only something which was related to a part of the world I knew something about, but was also nicely vague. I had room to maneuver. Then...I had almost too much room to maneuver. What the hell was I going to do that would fit in a Silk Road campaign? I reread some basic stuff on the Silk Road looking for inspiration, but at the end of the day I circled back to the very nature of the Road itself - commerce. That's why the article ended up being Merchants of the Silk Road, a handful of random tables. These weren't the first random tables I'd ever written, but it was a habit I was just getting back into after kicking off this blog, and I think they turned out nicely.
I thought I was done, but I wasn't nearly done. See, when you have a project with a deadline, sometimes stuff comes in late, or not at all. So as Santicore got down to the wire, the Mighty Jez needed some help filling in requests that hadn't come in yet; thankfully, I had a week off from work - the first lengthy time I'd taken off during the holidays in a decade, actually - so I piped up.
I was asked to start hacking away at a request for "fifty ways plants can kill PCs". Over the course of that day, with the help of Dylan and some ideas from my wife, out came fifty killer plants. This was not an easy assignment by any stretch. Fifty killer plants - and I had resolved to avoid doing anything that resembled the classic ones in the Monster Manual, etc. My first approach was to try to do it as random tables, where you might roll for the form of the plant, then how it kills you (thorns, poison, etc). That wasn't working, so I scrapped it and just got stuck in and started reading up on wacky plants (starting with carnivorous ones) that could get amped up as monsters. In the end, I learned two things. First, the first 70% of a random table or listing gets done quick - it's the last bit that takes forever. Secondly, be careful how you love your babies. Just as I was submitting my fifty angry vegetables, the author originally assigned that request turned in his. I was disappointed, but ready to see my stuff hit the floor. In his wisdom, Jez included both articles, providing Santicore fans a whopping 75 killer plants. I was surprised at how little overlap there was between our Doom By Green article and the other one; I have since used plants from both articles in my games. If I get an appropriate request this year, I'll certainly consider using the 'Doom by [color]' nomenclature, but I think Raggi has 'Death Blah Doom' rather claimed!
And there were yet more requests to fill. Other Little Helpers were furiously cranking out articles as well, but my next assignment (being the dude who was off all week) was "a lair or dungeon featuring an alliance of goblins and kobolds, and also an evil party of adventurers". Thus was born The Moon-Eye Caves, which is definitely my least favorite of my contributions. It was seriously rushed, and I wasn't particularly inspired by the request - I don't know if I was just tired or what, but I couldn't find something in that request to hang a hook onto. I think the resulting lair, while serviceable, is pretty bland. Goblins led by a witchy goblin matriarch (Mother Moon-Eye), put-upon kobolds, and a team of nasty adventurer-types. It is what it is. I did like the little goblin bar, and I was pleased with some of the kobold traps - especially the one with the pig, as it's a reference to my old gaming group - and I think the map Jez threw together in something like three minutes works fine. The request asked for a goblin druidess or sorceress with a dire lion companion - which I dutifully turned into a black lynx called Shmoopsy. If the request had gone to a different author, you would've had a fire-breathing robot lion, no doubt. Such is the beauty of Santicore.
There was some material in The Moon-Eye Caves which had to be cut for space, though. Just one paragraph, a room description with a mini-plothook in it, that was trimmed. Here it is, you can put it in any of the empty rooms in the lair:
Star-Crossed Rendezvous -- This small cave has a few skins hidden in one corner; a sack of silver coins is hidden behind a stalagmite. A male kobold (Sneezy) and a female goblin (Skidmark) have fallen in love, and use this cave for their romantic trysts - which mostly consist of writing horrible poetry and dreaming aloud about running away “to the big city” to start a family. The sack of coins is their joint savings. They are both eager to depart, but fear Mother Moon-eye and the kobold elders; they might be amenable to trading information or assistance in exchange for escape and escort to civilization, however.
Ta-da! Santicore bonus content!