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2009-07-01 Personal Favorites

Mike says it all: “Having the opportunity to read the 112 entries taught me a lot about what I like and don’t like in an adventure, as well as gave me a few hints, pointers, and things to steal outright next time I’m behind the screen.” [1]

Here are some random thoughts on the subject. Since I want to link to the entries I talk about, I have to limit myself to entries that have been published by their authors. (If you want to publish yours but don’t know how, let me know and I’ll host it for you.)

So, let’s start at the beginning… Sorted by author name. :)

Page 1 of my notes Page 2 of my notes

warning warning warning Spoilers! warning warning warning

Megadungeon Of The Mad Archmage Gary-Stu – Level 5: Crypt by Adam Thornton: This entry got 5/6 votes. It was very popular. Why did I like it? My notes say it was gonzo, huge, had a vampirella, and something called the zombiecalypse. Looking at the PDF again, I can see what I liked about it: The top left corner (rooms 10-17) has an unholy church, an altar with gargoyles guarding gems, a vampirella called Carlotta, including such gems as “25% chance Carlotta is here, reading"or “ or “ coffin contains delicately scented scarlet silk pillow”. Great! The same corner also has another NPC of note, the abbot Yorick. Two named NPCs, I love it. And ever since I saw the stats of the kitchen kobold assassins in City of Brass by Necromancer Games I love using kobolds as cooks. And the kitchen staff dormitory has “girlie magazines”. Awesome. And I loved a flying carpet as part of the treasure!

The rest of the level was not too exciting. The Zombocalypse as it is called in the text is a room that has zombies animate when the players cross an invisible line. The other rooms also had skeletons, ghouls, etc. One thing I did like was the catwalk section where a bridge crosses a chasm, guarded by a dark knight. Falling off the bridge drops you in a pit on the next level. This was generally true: There were a lot of connections to other levels. I like “multiple entrances”.

Valley of the Necromancer Kings by Andrew Gale: Another favorite. It also started out with 5/6 votes. Other judges have mentioned the similarities/hommage to older modules, but as I haven’t read those, I cannot comment. What I really liked about this entry was that it, too, had multiple entries. And they were listed right there, at the beginning, top right corner. I also liked how the bolding of key references and monsters made it easy to skim the text and quickly take in the important parts. As a DM I hate spending time describing the room only to realize that there are big bad monsters in the same room which I should have mentioned right away.

This entry also comes with lots of undead. As undead were a popular theme in this contest, that alone would not have recommended the entry. The important part were the three necromancers. I just love passages like these: “At night, Balagos conducts necromantic rites in this chamber with the Dark Adepts from area 8.” I also like it when “Manse the Deathpriest” has a Rod of Thunder & Lightning. When I started with my Kitsunemori Campaign Setting, I had an NPC magic users whose main treasure was such a rod and who was built to make more of them. Sadly, the players did not pursue this. Back to the adventure: It has a Crypt Thing acting as a seneschal guarding the entrance to the True King. That’s how it’s supposed to be! So not only are there three named necromancers, but there are a number of other named NPCs with a an agenda. Sure, each one is described in but a few words, but it’s evocative and invites players to try and meddle instead of just slaughtering them all.

Arendt's Old Peculiar by Antti Hulkkonen: This entry also got 5/6 votes. Clearly, I have mainstream taste. :) The beauty of this dungeon is that the default setup is peaceful. It’s a pub for monsters, and as long as players play along, they’re welcome. I also liked the beautiful map. It looked somewhat hand-drawn and yet post-processed and cleaned up. Very nice. Big, readable numbers, evocative details such as a few plants or a machine, just the right amount of it.

The map also features something I really like about maps: It has circles and short cuts. [2] [3] The map also suggests various goals without requiring a huge map. You can go hire monsters in the pub. You can gather some weird plants. You can search for Arendt’s crypt. And when you read the text, you realize there are even more adventure ideas hidden away in this entry. There are people smuggling beans, for example. Maybe the owner wants to discover who is stealing these beans, or the party is hired as a distraction for the big haul. I love entries that suggest reuse and adaptability to the party’s whim.

I also like a setup that is interesting without being obviously about combat.

The Dwarven Hall by Bret Smith: This entry was not as popular. It got merely 3/6 votes, which was enough to make it onto our first list of top 13 enties with three votes or more. When I looked at the map I was surprised. With its colors and symbols it didn’t look like anything I had seen before, and yet it seemed not to be hand-drawn. When I asked the author, I was told the map had been done with Excel. What!? This is amazing. :)

The big win for this entry was Lava. You know the hilarious Lava Rules, right? It’s mandatory reading. It explains why I love dungeons with some lava in it. Plus it allows us to use salamanders. I also liked the laval level in Rappan Athuk 3. This contest entry has it all.

The dungeon also features four colored rune keys, which linearize parts of the dungeon. I didn’t care about them so much. I prefer dreaming about the hell hounds and fire giants.

Too bad this entry doesn’t have named NPCs with an agend, more entries, and potential allies.

I did love the contrast between room 1: “A small red dragon meets characters as they enter the tomb (role play opportunity).” Haha. This is cute. I love the “role play opportunity”. Specially when compared to room 37: “Adult red dragon Kratharax, & 10 red kobolds”. If I stop to think about it for too long, however, I start searching for an egress large enough… Mike would say “Stop worrying and love the dungeon.” [4] I think he’s right.

There Are No Tails in Zamboanga by Buzz Burgess: This entry did not get three votes even though I had it on my list of nominations! If you look at it, it might not seem to amazing. But it has monkey ruins in a jungle. What’s not to love? And the title quickly explains itself: “Transfixed on two towering monkey statues, erected on either side of a great processional, the adventurers stand on the road entering the city. […] The statues hold an arch above them that reads ‘There are no tails in Zamboanga… The City of the Ape.’” :)

The map itself is clear and simple. The shaded part is underground. I like how this introduces a second level using but a single map. There are various monster groups, potentially one of them could end up as allies. This is something I also look for: Potential allies (and not just weak prisoners too weak to fight). This entry features lizardmen (unfortunately they are described as “will attack any passers by.” Boo! It also features another band of grave-robbing looters made up of orcs. Interesting mirror situation. I chuckled when I read it.

The coolest element of the entry is a trap, however. This is the trap: “Slot in the wall is in the shape of a medallion. Words inscribed say ‘Onyx May Pass.’ Poison trapped if Onyx medallion used. If the Obsidian medallion is used, then door opens without setting off the trap.” I don’t understand, you mumble to yourself. The explanation follows elsewhere: “Ape Idol. Obsidian gem is in its head. Closer inspection yields inscription that reads ‘Followers of Onyx be fooled. Hail the Obsidian.” I love traps that trick players instead of testing character stats.

I laughed. :)

What next? Apparently Michael and Phil want to wait before publishing the archive of all 111 contest entries. First they want to prepare the PDF of the winners. I guess this is also designed to give the sponsors some mind share. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how to compress the PDF files such as to reduce the size of the zip file from nearly 70 MB to nearly 20 MB. That’s very cool. And I prepared a torrent file which would allow us to use peer-to-peer technology to share all the entries without one of us having to bear all the load. But it will have to wait until the end of July.

Continued the next day: 2009-07-02 More of my 1PDC Favorites.



Wow! 5 of 6 votes! I am quite surprised.

In the full Megadungeon, of which the Crypt is just one level, that Ogre Mage’s apartments in the upper right make more sense. Me, I’m pretty fond of the named wights and their treasure and special attacks, and while I agree that the Unholy Church is a good part, I’m just as proud of the Q—n Room, where “—” obviously equals “asqueto”. As Jeff Rients (I think) put it, “If B1 taught me anything, it’s that pools full of unknown liquids are cool.”

The Zombocalypse does take up too much of the level; again, in out-of-contest considerations, I threw it in there and made it so much of the level because two of my players have a zombie fetish. The Shadow Maze was a neat idea, but I’m not sure it works all that well; I do like the Halls Of Bone, because the skeletons-with-crossbows can shoot YOU through the lattice, but shooting THEM doesn’t do much good.


Adam Thornton 2009-07-02 04:16 UTC

I think that generating the map using a CSV file and a Perl script is an awesome idea. You just invented your own SVG shorthand! It still looks like a major effort. :)

The part of the skeletons armed with crossbows behind bars is cool. I liked the ogre mage Edgar as well. I also liked how it hinted at a bigger world. I guess the wights didn’t work for me because I’m not so much into out-of-game jokes.

AlexSchroeder 2009-07-02 09:19 UTC

Wow, I can’t really read those scans at all. Just enough to spot my name and see that there are four little circles next to the dungeon title… FWIW, I published it here at Scribd

Joshua 2009-07-02 13:59 UTC

The funny thing was that writing the map generator and then entering the data for the features took no more time and was WAY less frustrating than trying to scan the map in and then edit it so it didn’t suck with Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator. Plus, once it was even sort of working, feedback was immediate, because I could just emit the map and hit reload on a browser tab (Safari, Opera, and Firefox, at least, all have native SVG support). That was handy when I put corners in the wrong place, which happened a lot.

It’s a classic Raymondesque Little Language approach.

I think I’ve run into its limitations, though. For starters, doing caverns with it is going to be hard, but would be necessary if I were to make this work for the other levels of the dungeon. I have a sort-of-design in my head to do caverns by mapping an arc between points and then walk a….well, let’s be honest and call it a turtle…along it introducing random perturbations with a bias depending on how far the turtle is from the arc (to rubberband it back to the path, so the wiggliness is bounded). But if I do this it’s going to create a HUGE SVG file, and doing it for closed (possibly filled) polygons may turn out to be a humongous pain.

And then there’s something I ran into with the features like tables, coffins, toilets, ovens, spiral stairs in the map: what I really want to do is just define each of these as an SVG entity, and then plunk it down on the map with a location, rotation, and scale. At which point, suddenly, I have semantics rather than just a series of strokes…and I’m well on my way to creating a CAD system with a CSV user interface, which, well, I don’t think I want to go there.

Thing three is that I’m just about to have to read and understand the SVG spec. I got this far by cargo-culting, but then a couple days ago I got interested in the question of why Safari and Firefox rendered differently, and determined that I was using the dasharray attribute incorrectly (needed commas) and that text-size had to be outside the style tag (I don’t know if that is actually necessary but it seems to make it work with Firefox). Now, it could be argued that if I do that, I will be a happier camper--among other things, I maintain the Linux CLI port of Inform 7, which currently emits EPS files, and I bet that if I learned enough SVG to build my maps, I could make Inform emit SVG easily too--but, hey, I got a day job.

Wow. This turned into quite a treatise. I think I ought to put it up on my own blog too.


Adam Thornton 2009-07-02 14:53 UTC

Joshua, if you click on the picture you’ll be taken to Flickr, and and there you’ll find a well-hidden button saying “All Sizes”, so if you really want to read my notes, there is a way to do it. :)

Adam, I wrote a wilderness map generator using SVG a while ago (2007-06-08 Old School Hex Mapper Getting Better) where I’ve used a different sort of mini language to define a hex map. I abandoned that approach when I realized that adding more features such as roads and named locations was going to require a lot of hand-editing anyway. But the general approach would still apply to your problem: Define the objects for your maps first, and then just reference them from the CSV input. Either way, it’s intriguing. :)

And I remember trying to write an adventure using Inform and trying to play through winners of the various Interactive Fiction Competitions. But I didn’t even get as far as that!

As for my own hex-mapping, I’ve now switched to using Inkscape and wrote an Old School Hex Map Tutorial on how to use Inkscape.

AlexSchroeder 2009-07-02 16:48 UTC

Ha! I checked out the notes for my entry (Cry of the Gravegod)… I believe it says “hag and undead.” Seriously, though, thanks for taking the time to judge so many entries. Hoping this contest becomes a regular thing.

– Heron 2009-07-03 15:17 UTC

You succeeded in your Decipher Script test! :)

Yes, I would like to see a 1PDC 2010 as well. If I were to organize it (assuming Phil and Michael don't get enough beer), I’d probably be more open about it. Publish all entries sooner. Publish the initial nominations. Publish the final result. In that order. If that means no sponsors and no prizes, so be it.

AlexSchroeder 2009-07-03 16:30 UTC

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