Thursday 27 July 2023

Ride the Giants Development Blog, Part 2

The Speed of the Giants 

This matters not only in general gameplay but because the initial concept of the game was ‘a game in real time’; an adventure lasting two to three hours, with a gaming session lasting the same two to three hours. 

There would be some, but little, compression of time. The time-limit was meant to add impetus to the PCs choices and get them making decisions faster. It was also meant to add a bit of interest and challenge to the choices made. 


Estimating the Gait 

I began by asking people on Discord for advice on estimating the gait of the giants. That is, when one takes a step, how long is the step. 

If they stood up straight, the Giants are nearly 3,000 feet high. Hunched over as they are their heads are about 2,000 feet high. So I started with the step-length of an imaginary 3,000 foot high man. Using various mysterious means, including reverse-engineering an equation used by the police to derive height from step-length, the Discord homies came back with a step length of just under 1,300 feet per-step. 

That’s just under 400 metres per step or a little under a Kilometre per double-step. 


The Chronology of a Step 

Estimating the timing of each step is more difficult. Giants of this size are physically impossible anyway. Large long-legged animals have to take care of their steps as they can easily break their own legs with their weight. 

I essentially just ended up eyeballing it. Each step takes roughly a minute and a half. 90 seconds. 

10 to 15 seconds at the start for the weight to rise and the foot to accelerate, then 30 seconds in the air, then another 10 to 15 seconds landing time for the weight to fall, the foot to settle, and weight to be transferred through the hip to raise the other foot. 

I estimate the Giants are is moving roughly 14.4 feet per second. Which makes I think its total movement being just under 10 miles per hour. 

This sounds.. really not totally insane. Like a reasonable synthesis of the impossible and pseudo-realism. 

A good one-to-three rounds of slow-foot time for you to leap up and grab on. A big "whoosh" as you travel 400 meters in 30 seconds. Then the settle time at the end. 

So a human could run away from it, someone on horseback could run faster than it. It could be 'boarded', but with real difficulty as the foot is only slow and close to the ground for not that long. To match their speed a human would need to be jogging or running. To overtake you would need to run pretty fast or have a horse. 

And a continuous 10 mph walking speed sustained essentially forever, would be very hard to keep up with for a long period of time I think? 



Boarding the Giant 

If you were trying to ‘board’ a giants foot, you could probably catch up with it, via sprinting, or if you had a horse. The really dangerous part would be when the foot comes down. If the giant trod down onto something like the soil of a field, it might send up fountains of soil like an impact crater all around the foot. If the soil was wet or the water table was high, it might send up actual fountains or more likely, dangerous torrents of wet mud. 

In the area around the foot-fall it would be like an earthquake hit. The earth might crack open, or roll like waves. Horses might break their legs and men would fall to the ground. 

If you survive all that, you have about 15 seconds at the weight of the foot settles and transfers where it will be relatively still. 

All you need to do is get to the huge curved wall of the foot, I estimate it to be about a 100 foot climb, but you don’t need to make it immediately, just hang one, hang on hard

Because that foot is going to rise up into the air. Its lateral speed at its going to be about 15 miles an hour during the swing of the foot but its speed measured across the whole of its curve till it hits soil on the next step might be more like 20 miles per hour. 

Not insanely fast. But jarring as hell. Plus the angle of its motion is constantly curving and shifting. 


What Strait do they Cross? 

Depending on if or how much time we leave for organisation the actual giant-riding part of the game might range from one and a half hours to three hours. Lets assume two hours of actual giant-riding. 

Assuming ‘real time’ that means the Giants would travel about 20 miles. 

The idea of the game is that you only have the length of the game itself to solve the problem of the giants – by the end of the game they will have reached the Nightmare Continent and if you get off the giant after that you are DOOMED  

Looking for real-life places of roughly the right dimensions the first that comes to mind is the Dover strait. 

Between Dover and Calais is almost exactly 20 miles 

But nowhere near deep enough – its only 50 meters deep!


That’s only 164 feet! About up to the giants Knees! 

Well I suppose it’s acceptable – in their hunched over posture their knuckles will be grazing the ocean surface as they walk. It also gives the PCs a fair amount of time to get up over the knee. Though if they are still dicking about with that half-way through the mission is probably failed anyway. 



Climbing the Giants 

There are several problems; the linear nature of the directional choices on a larger scale, the curved, flowing and non-intuitive surface of the giant and the shifting position and orientation of the limbs. 


The Linear Nature of the Choices 

The main problem here is that the arrangement of the giants limbs is very much not like a dungeon. There are only a few routes and risks. Large parts are semi-visible from various points. 

Most of a limb-climb is just getting up that limb,  and to make the adventure interesting at all I would need to make actually falling off relatively rare. Instead I would have to produce something like the climbing in VotE; everyone can do it a bit and failure leads to ever more nightmarish fail-states without ever quite booting you off. 

Once a climb is begun, the route-choice is largely made and any tension or interest comes  more from how challenges are met than what they will be. 


The Curved and Flowing Surface 

Lets Envisage the Giants Skin -What is this like? A curved, slightly-flexing, rocky surface. Even ‘smooth’ parts are like a rocky, and in fact most of the giants skin is deeply corrugated. 

If you look down at the skin around your knuckles. If you make a claw with your hand so the skin bunches up there, all those little triangles and oblongs of skin where the lines of compression meet and cross. Image that as a karstic landscape, but much more wrinkly – like a very old persons skin, and much deeper in its corrugations. 

Smooth parts – like  a cobblestone road, but with the cobbles jagged and not smoothed. 

Intermediate parts – like clambering over or up large boulders. 

Very Crinkly parts – like clambering over and through sharp man-sized or larger boulders

Which tilt and grind together or apart – big enough that the gaps make an ‘interior of sorts. 

So the smooth parts are actually very easy to fall off & quite dangerous while the rough parts where the limbs meet – the crinkly places of our own bodies, are relatively safe – even though they are moving and flexing, there are many holds and handholds and spaces where you can place yourself to avoid falling off (these might be dynamic holds though). 

But, maybe if I think about the actual shape and details of each part of the leg, arm and side, and think deeply about how each might move I could come up with some general ideas or abstract some rules which would help to form encounter spaces, or interesting encounter ideas? 


The Shifting Gravity 

The limb orientations are shifting regularly from near-vertical to sloped, from climb to overhang, or from climb to scramble. 

Will you wait for the position of the limb to change - it could shift from overhang to climb, or from climb to scramble and the potential danger of an opposing encounter might grow larger or smaller if you are willing, or able, or forced to, wait. 

So that idea of having to make up, lose or gain time feels appropriate. 

OR - you hear movement, or sense something above you, and if you wait you might be able to get a better look - but that will cost you time. 

TIMING – if this is ‘real-life’ timing then there could be a metronome or something. Or you could time the giants steps minute by minute. 

I don’t know if someone’s done this before but if each 90 seconds is a real-life round and an in-game round, a single step of the giant. Could it be made to work? You would have to roll fast! 



Climbing a map of the muscle groups 

Another possibility is - making some kind of map of the MUSCLE GROUPS of the limbs and making THAT a sub-map of each ascent. 

like you can LEAP from one muscle group to another to avoid an encounter.




These could be quite minor - the main danger is that they could drop you. They should also be 'rock beasts', cliff beasts really. (I didn’t put pigeons in as they suck.) 

Seagull-Griffons; micro-Griffons based on seagull heads and wings but with the bodies of racing dogs. That sounds sufficiently awful. 


Condor-Riding Snow Monkeys – they bathe in the hot springs atop the giants backs and form a symbiotic relationship with the semi-intelligent condors, travelling on their backs and performing tasks involving fine motor control – they can crack open bones with flints and actually they have learned to work in close co-operation with the condors, the monkeys can pull open flaps of skin, bare muscle, expose the joints of dead animals, brace cutting surfaces and put flesh under tensile strain so it cuts more easily. 

SUPER-TICKS – these feed upon the giants magmic blood. [The giants are tectonic inside so their ‘spots’ or pimples might be popping lava and their sweat might be steam or thick bubbling oils. A walking mountain has to be generating a pretty serious amount of heat. The giants back – hot, even steaming, would carry a moving column or a trailing flag of hot air above and behind it, a layer or a stream of cloud following each of them like a pennant in the atmosphere as that pillar of air rises, cools and probably condenses. The heat of the giants would make them of much more fecund than many other forms of similar mountain.] The blood does cool quite a bit in them but it’s still pretty hot and dangerous. Plus this is still a tick as big as a man or maybe horse. 

Animated magical kites that won't die - These were the creation of some ancient empire of magicians far away who wanted to study the giants – the kites were so well made they have a basic self-repair function and can weave the substance of cloud into solidity to act as canvas or waxed paper to sustain them – the kites are more like solid memes, or paper golems, semi-intelligent but not really alive, men can ride them but their actions may be very unpredictable – possibly they will obey commands in the language of the long-dead wizards. They might do slightly bonkers A.I. stuff based on garbled comprehension of their original instructions.  

Friday 7 July 2023

Dark Corridors

 Choice Theory 

So you come to a split in a dungeon, or you come to a room set with three portals, each seems to lead in a different direction but they seem identical. 

Depending on party and DM, game style and preference, you either just pick one, or have a little conference with the team, maybe looking at the map, or start asking weird questions like “what do the corridors smell like?” 

Whether this is a good or bad thing depends very much on the style of game and whether the needs and intuitions of the players and DM match. 

I intuit that the ‘actual’ Old School old school process had a lot more time for no-context choices, partly due to the prevalence of player-mapping, (easier to do in-person in a 70’s game session and which would be part of their problem-solving procedure), partly due to what I would expect to be longer more digressive gaming sessions and partly due to a somewhat harder more ‘masculine’ quality where its expected that some decisions will be tricky, oblique or apparently pointless, either due to pseudo-naturalism or a Gygaxian riddlemaster element. 

I intuit that a more ‘neo’ OSR scene would have shorter sessions, more likely to be online so player mapping harder, more likely to want events and drama condensed and with less tolerance for ‘dead’ time, unguided choice and apparently contextless decisions. 

Yet, in either situation, a choice must be made, and if the choice is to be informed at all then how shall it be so? There are greater context elements which can be brought into the question; general dungeon intel, the use of mapping, informers, magic and guides.

But what can be learned from the empty corridor itself? 

And as a corollary to that decision, what information can be imbued into  that apparently-empty corridor by the designer or DM? 

I will break our discussion into elements. In lived experience all of these will interrelate but I will try to cover those interrelations within each subject; 

·        AIR

·        SMELL


·        LIFE

·        SOUND

·        STONE


Once I started to think about it I decided that a key dominating and synthesising element is AIRFLOW

so I will begin with that and discuss why.

Ernst Fuchs



Based on my research for VotE, Caves and cave systems can differ hugely in temperature and airflow. 

This depends on whether the system massively intra-connected or isolated, if there is running water in the cave and the general temperature gradient around the cave. 

An isolated cave system with no big interconnections and no water flow within will often be a bit warm. An underground space with static air will often maintain a steady, not-quite-cold temperature. Mines, being closed systems and full of people and movement, are often hot. 

Conversely, a huge cave system with many exits will often have very strong airflows. Caves 'breathe', and any slight differences in temperature and pressure between its varied entries can create winds which can be focused and channelled by narrow passages in the system itself. 

Most caves are shaped by water and many have streams moving through them, this creates airflow

and often cools the cave. 


Dungeons vs Caves 

Dungeons are more likely to be smaller and contained and much more likely to be made of different materials with closed doors and other connectors and divisions within, but airflow can still tell the prospective dungeoneer a lot. 

Dungeons, specifically; the classic tomb buried under temperate soil, might not actually be cold. A tomb complex separate from any other dungeon, well if it’s a rainy area it might be damp, but not necessarily, it might be slightly warm, or at least no colder than the outside. 

[Question; have you actually been in an actual tomb complex? What was the temperature and airflow like?] 

An experienced dungeoneer, or the average Dwarf, should be able to make some decent guesses about the nature of a dungeon just by carefully feeling the airflow. If a system is 'breathing' with air flowing in or out after dawn or dusk; that suggests a system of considerable size. If the air flowing in or out is warmer or colder than the outside air that might indicate the presence of moving water within, or of something else that is cooling or warming the air within, (like, for instance, the presence of life, like Goblins or an Owlbear). 

Airflow is such a dominant factor because it effects the transmission of SMELL, SOUND and TEMPERATURE, all of which are strongly bound within the greater medium of Air. Conversely the absence of airflow is itself a strong negative signal which might not explicitly tell you much but does suggest that either this dungeon, or system, whatever it is, is either small and closed, or has doors and closing elements.



Smell is life! 

The key aspect of scent is that in almost every case it is indicative of the processes of life. A dungeon with intelligent things living in it for any period of time is going to STINK. 

The Food Sequence 

Acquisition, Storage, Preparation, Consumption and Disposal. 

Acquisition; alpha predators like monsters who drag prey back to the dungeon as a lair will leave the stink of blood wherever they are and repeated blood trails will lead to any feeding spot, as well as blood smears and fur snatched from carried prey. 

Anything bringing living or recently dead food back to the Dungeon from outside stands a good chance of leaving marks of some kind, especially since they will be tracing the same route each time to preparation or storage spaces. 

A lot of food smells or has a distinctive scent, and in a still-air environment that scent might remain in place for a long time. 

Storage; if left unattended, the rotting bodies of victims or prey will absolutely stink to high heaven. Even for unaltered human basic smell powers it should be pretty simple to find your way through a still-air environment to a rotting body. 

Poorly-stored non-meat foods can still rot, and will summon their own micro-environment of insects and small mammals, all of which can be sensed or traced. If there are mouse droppings, that’s a sign of something. 

Well-stored or dry foods are more complex, I imagine these as leaving little scent and few biomarkers. It might be that the presence of a particular dry and contained space might leave tangential markers but I am not sure. 

Preparation; if something is intelligent and eats cooked food, and/or just needs warmth or light, then there will be fire. If there is fire there must be smoke. If there is smoke it has to go somewhere. So either there is a chimney leading up out of this dungeon or the smoke is moving through the corridors which will leave traces stains, and scent. 

Consumption; large predatory animals will definitely leave bits and pieces here and there. Smaller more civilised beings might still leave scent, the wall-sweat of their respiration, residual warmth, stains, fragments and the small biomarkers that go along with them. 

Disposal; Poo. All of this stuff has to go somewhere and unless there are convenient rivers or pits then it is going to leave strong scent markers and all the small insects which emerge from feasting on the poo. And spiders, which feast on the flies, the webs of which will remain in place for a long time in a low airflow environment. 

tldr; any closed system which has living respiring and eating residents is going to stink. If there is airflow, then its strength and direction will effect where those smells go and how strong they are. Tracing those smells might be very useful for a dungeoneer. This is one thing that encourages me in the idea of bringing a bloodhound of some kind to the dungeon 



Warmth is co-dependent on airflow and the presence of life within a dungeon so many of the basic concepts have already been considered in those two sections. 

[Question; how much of a temperature differential can an average, or sensitive human being detect if they are paying attention? Could they intuit the presence of a living being occupying a room behind a door? Could they tell micro difference in temperature in the air between two identical corridors?] 

What about cold? Would any particular natural phenomena cause a dungeon to chill unexpectedly? The first thing that comes to mind is the presence of para-normal phenomena like Magic and the Undead. Both are often associated with rapid temperature drops. 

Conversely, super-beasts like dragons or elemental creatures might raise underground temperatures more than you would expect. 




SWEATY WALLS! Why are the walls of the dungeon dripping, dank, with the nitre, so beloved of Lovecraft? It may be water flow from outside but more likely the combination of water and warmth coves from living things in the dungeon. A system of closed stone with living things within it will naturally sweat, and drip, over time. 

What about the sweaty walls of a sleeping dragons cave? Why wasn’t the gold surrounding Smaug absolutely dripping with condensation? Maybe it was and that is what caused Bilbo to slip and slide around. Wet Hobbit action. 

[Question; have any of you actually been in an actual Dungeon, under an actual castle, working or not? Are they actually the cold, dark, dripping places of fiction?] 

I mean clearly they are made not to be comfortable, but surely actual temperature would depend on how much airflow there is, or the temperature of the living rock, if its carved into that. 

Would a dungeon under a living castle with locked doors and no windows, truly underground

actually be cold? Or might it be temperate? It would be damp I think due to the respiration of everyone above in the castle and their condensed breath dripping down.


Lichen, Moss, Mushrooms, Insects 

I feel like Gary must have at least conceived of a grand table of microflora and microfauna that might grow in a dungeon and have the required and likely temperature ranges, water needs, food sources, and, in the case of insects and small mammals, roaming distances. 

I am taking being a dungeon detective a bit too far here, into Forensic territory, BUT - IF you did actually know a lot about these micro-environments you could in theory tell quite a lot about a dungeon just from observing them as you went through. 

This should go for Rot as well, a microorganism which leaves sensory traces. A rot wizard could tell quite a lot about living systems. There is probably an opening somewhere for someone to produce a matrix of easy-to-use and 'read' pseudo-realistic dungeon microfauna, not for use as enemies or 'colour' but as a kind of spread of information that can be observed to tell what kind of things have gone on in a dungeon. 

This, because of its complexity, I think I know least about. I know a bit about cave fauna, but the secret of that is that, beyond a certain depth, there really isn’t much of it. Without light you get near-nothing and so far as I know, mushrooms will not actually grow on the cold limestone of a cave wall. 

[Question; does anyone out there know if lichen will grow in dark conditions? Or any such moss? Any fungal experts who can say which foods and temperature ranges are needed for fungal growth?]


Unknown Artist



How does sound carry underground anyway? Irregularly I would think. It must depend a huge amount on the substance and layout of the place. Some shapes and materials I know just EAT sound, but in others, small sounds can travel a very long way. 

[Question; does anyone know about what kinds of stone, material or corridor shape interact how with various sounds? Do the stone walls and floors of a classic dungeon echo with footsteps of mocking laughter as Gothic novels claim? Can anyone confirm?] 

The most important matter must be FREQUENCEY. Specifically, is there anything in this dungeon that produces a low-bass sound, like stone scraping, or something huge moving or rolling? Those low frequency sounds travel a lot, through materials more than air. How many times on a quiet day have you realised a big truck is moving several street away, or a washing machine or other large device is working several rooms, or an entire property away? 

A sleeping dragon, for instance, will produce not only sweaty gold but probably a very deep, but soft, sound that might transmit strongly through stone. 

Doors opening and closing; if these are on hinges there is a good chance they will be badly maintained and so screech. They may also thud and slam. Stone doors may produce the deep frequency sounds that transmit so easily. 

Living things; the biomarkers we talked about in the ‘Smell’ section. Is there scampering? The buzzing of flies or mosquitoes? The crawling of insects? 

Consistent background sounds - Water should produce some kind of distant continual sound

likewise, wind changing outside the dungeon, rain, storms, these should produce some sort of effect, unless there are many portals between here and there. 

Is this place indeed as 'Silent as the Tomb'? If so that itself might be quite unusual.  In a state of such absolute silence it might be that very super-quiet noises which are usually indiscernible could become more prominent, like the crawling of a bug for instance, or the shifting of dust. 

At what distance and in what circumstances can we expect living inhabitants to produce discernible sound? 


by Art of Raman


Or whatever material the dungeon is made of. 

You would probably need to know a lot about bricks, or slate flags, for micro differences in them to be useful in any way, but.... aren't dungeoneers (and Dwarves) exactly the type to pick up just such knowledge? 

What could we reasonably expect a skilled observer to pick up from various arrangements of building stone in separating corridors? Could they guess which corridor was built first? If one is a later addition to the other that should be obvious should it not? as well as the various skill and the resources available to the builders. 

A culture in decay producing less perfect masonry, or cutting into a stone-lined corridor with one lined with brick. 

What the hell are the roofs of these dungeons anyway? Logically they should be braced with wood, but that would decay (or would it?), so they should be either megaliths or arches. 

Does stone degrade over time (without use, probably not..?) but with use and perhaps dripping water, how does stone degrade? 

What stone would you even expect to be used in construction of a dungeon? Granite is too hard surely? I would expect bricks to be the most practical and affordable and bricks do crumble both from use but also from compression and freeze-thaw over time. 

Does sound echo across marble? How about light? In the Mersey tunnel near me, the roof has been covered with black tar or pitch. it was originally made with a white, reflective, opalescent roof to the tunnel. The idea was that it would reflect the lamps of vehicles and make the tunnel seem more full of light. Two problems; exhaust fumes blackened it, and where that didn't happen the improving strength of electric lights made the roof blindingly white so they had to paint if over. 

But if you were in a classic Carrera-marble tomb, with only lamps, it would be pretty relatively bright surely? There can't be many materials like that. Do we have any idea of the reflective nature of various kinds of stone? Would a difference between slate, bricks or granite slabs add or reduce 10 or 20 feet of visibility?


Viggo Johanson


21 Questions for Empty Corridors 

(This is my attempt to condense the discussion above into a simple set of concrete questions, more for Dungeon designers and DMs, in a style similar to Jeffs ’20 Questions for your Campaign World’.)


1.      Is the air still or does it flow?

2.      If there is airflow, where does it flow to or from, and at which times? (i.e. does it ‘breathe’ in and out as it warms and cools with dawn and dusk like a cave system might?).

3.      Is there moving water? If there is, does it cool the dungeon?

4.      Is it warmer or cooler than outside? Are any parts especially warm or cool?

5.      Are there living things eating, breathing and pooping in the dungeon?

6.      Do the walls sweat? Is there nitre?

7.      Is there a food store? Are there mice or insects?

8.      Is there fire in the dungeon? If so, where does the smoke go?

9.      Is there poop in the dungeon? Where? How strong is the smell?

10.   Is there rot in the dungeon? Are there flies?

11.   Do smells emanate evenly through still air or are they carried by airflow?

12.   If you followed the smells of blood, meat, smoke, spices or poop, where would they lead?

13.   Are their spiders in the dungeon? How stable and old are the webs and where?

14.   Do lichen, moss or fungi grow in the dungeon? If so where?

15.   Are there any sources of LOW FREQUENCY sound in the dungeon?

16.   Are there any permanent natural sounds like moving water or wind?

17.   Do voices, steps or door sounds transmit in a reliable way?

18.   Would the sound of fighting transmit and if so how far?

19.   If someone stays absolutely silent in the dungeon and listens, what do they hear?

20.   Are there obvious changes in construction? Like in materials, methods, age, wear etc?

21.   Do any of the above elements come into play at otherwise contextless choices in which door or corridor to take?