Over on The Rusty Battle Axe the author says “Megadungeons were all the rage in the tabletop RPG blogsphere back in 2008-2009. There are plenty of posts on megadungeon dating back to the period.”
I still haven’t run a Megadungeon, even though I have bought several: Stonehell, Rappan Athuk (twice), Castle Whiterock, Tomb of Abysthor, … I feel like I would like big dungeons. When I prep for my games, however, that’s not how it works.
If you look at my Swiss Referee Style Manual you’ll note that it is practically without advice for dungeon adventures. That’s because my dungeons are small. Usually they are one page dungeons. How come? When I prepare a game, I usually start from the answers I got at the end of the last session. I almost always end by asking: “So, what are we going to do next time?”
I write down the relevant non-player characters: people to meet, people to oppose, people with jobs to hand out, with quests that need resolving. I usually end up with one to four characters.
The bad guys are usually in a defensible position so I prepare *spells, minions, rooms, a map*… a one page dungeon, a ship deck plan or a village with a few important buildings (in which case I won’t prepare floor plans for the buildings). I usually end up with four or five buildings or ten to twenty rooms, a sketch of a map.
I think of complications. This is usually something that works in layers. Every two or three days I have a lame idea that I mentally add to the adventure. After two weeks, however, five lame ideas make a cool complication. I usually don’t think of a solution. The gargoyles want the player characters to leave, consider themselves to be /Übermenschen/… The elves are petriefied by a gorgon bull and the players have neither the saves nor the spells to survive a direct encounter. As it turns out they managed to get the gargoyles to accept their commands and the gargoyles brought all the petrified elves to the survace.
I think of rewards. I usually start by rolling on the appropriate treasure tables and embellish the magic items, if any. A armor +1 and shield +1 turn into the golden halfling armor of Priamus Bullfighter who disappeared 21 years ago from Elfenburg. The sword +1 turns into the blade of the herring knight, smells of fish allows the wearer to feel how far away the next air bubble is… I make a mental note to add the remaining equipment of said knight to the dungeon or future adventures… If my players decide to follow up I will place his city or temple on the map, and add the protector saint of all fish, and his paladins, and their special abilities, and there will be rescue missions, and favors to be granted…
Working iteratively is important for my process. I try to pull in non-player characters from very old sessions. Wespenherz, the new hireling, is an elf that they had rescued from bad guys in a previous campaign up in the north. This ring they just found was forged by Qwaar the Axiomatic and didn’t Muschelglanz write a book about the rings of Qwaar? Yes he did and as far as he know he had decided to investigate the Barrowmaze and never returned… It gives depth to the campaign, some players remember and start digging through the campaign wiki, older players explain newer players what happened back then, … I love it!
This sort of thing doesn’t come easy. As I said, every two or three days I have a lame idea, but after two weeks I’ve had enough lame ideas that together they make the game better. Much better.
The process also shows why it’s hard to integrate megadungeons. When I look at them, I want to skim them for interesting non-player characters my players would want to contact, for prison cells my players would want to rescue interesting non-player characters from, for interesting rewards my players might want to be looking for. And that’s so damn hard.
I still remember placing the Barrowmaze in my campaign and having an important non-player character flee towards it. I was using Nualia, an evil fighter with an evil sword from a Pathfinder adventure and decided that her dad was a priest of Nergal who lived in the Barrowmaze and was involved in the power struggle. Then I had an evil authority person from Kerealia fleeing towards the Barrowmaze because the players had ousted him. The dungeon itself was ok, not overwhelming. We rescued a dwarf from a pit and he’s still with us.
Once the players fell into a bottomless pit and dropped into the astral sea, they never had the urge to return, hower. Having Muschelglanz disappear in the Barrowmaze is my new attempt at letting the Barrowmaze play a role in my campaign. It hasn’t managed to make itself important. I was unable to find or emphasize anything in the megadungeon itself that would motivate my players to return again and again.
The reason I thought of using the Barrowmaze again was that one player decided to offer a reward for the return of Muschelglanz. I proposed to my players to play a random party of first level dudes trying to claim this reward by going into the Barrowmaze and finding Muschelglanz. They liked the idea so that’s what we’re going to do.
When I started preparing for the next session, I did what I usually do. I looked for cells to put him in. I looked for the headquarter of a faction that held him prisoner. I tried to find the important non-player characters and I tried to find a thing that Muschelglanz might have been looking for. I know that there is supposed to be a tablet somewhere. But everyhing else has been tricky. I really need to skim it again. Gaaah.
Now you know what I would appreciate in a megadungeon. Just in case you’re writing a megadungeon.
The free PDF will not contain the artwork. A PDF containing the artwork will cost about USD 5. I’m not sure I like this approach. I’m torn. Was that necessary? Is it a lot of art? Why the revised look of all the Goblinoid Games products? I guess the weird orcs ganging up on the poor halfling and the pink background did grow on me in the end. I printed out some character sheets and put them in a pink folder to go along with the pink theme. Oh well. I think I’ll get used to the Steve Zieser art. I really like his stuff.
I just hope that old school games like Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord won’t start competing against each other on the level of art.
Nick Dipetrillo aka Nicholas @ Dungeon Mastering wrote Old vs. New School: The War for Control of Your Character, a subject I recently talked about with some of my players. I started a post about that discussion until I realized that I had written about it before: 2009-08-04 RPG Circus Inspiration, scroll down. D’Oh! What am I going to do with this article, now?
Last week-end I was at a local convention and had forgotten the dungeon I wanted to run. Luckily I have many of Tim Hartin’s dungeons in various folders, so I was able to improvise. I picked Dungeon Map 011 and kept stocking the dungeon as we went along. Adapting from Labyrinth Lord page 123 (which uses d100):
Room #1 – trap! I decided on falling stones. “The stone creaks and groans, the stairs and walls look as if they are about to burst and twisted by the forces of earth.” One player decides to protect his head with a shield, triggers the trap, and his shield is splintered – no damage taken. The players spend some time reinforcing the tunnel. All they can hear from the landing is faint howling from further down. They decide to take the first door.
Room #2 – monsters! I rolled up 16 kobolds. This is going to be rough. I decide the kobolds tried to barricade the door. The group forces the door after mutliple tries and sees the room full of critters. But they decide to talk, and their magic user had decided to take kobold as his one and only extra language. Hurray for pacifists! The reaction roll indicates “indifferent.” Very cool. The players talk and ask about the rest of the level. I quickly decide that the big room in the middle holds a toad god. My favorite. So we talk about it and the players want to see it. The kobolds lead the group past their lair which I had decided was room #6 and all the following ones.
Room #3 – no roll. I’m making shit up. The kobolds first tried to have some in front and some behind the party, but they wouldn’t have any of that. Now the party wants the kobolds to open the door instead of opening it themselves. The kobold suddenly remember that you need to bring some sacrifice for the hungry toad god. One of them is dispatched back to room #6 and gives a secret knock. One player wants to memorize it so I ask for a Wisdom check. He makes it, so they’re prepared to trick the kobolds into opening their front door later. The kobold returns with the leg of a deer.
Room #26 – the kobolds open the double door, a giant toad appears from the murky waters, they hand over the partial deer, the toad hops into the room and swallows it whole. The party has been warned! Everybody retreats and a big discussion starts outside. Eventually the party decides to kill the toad if the kobolds agree to a reward. No problem I say, having rolled up the kobold lair treasure in the mean time. 100 silver pieces if they do it! And so they do it. The fighter is hit once and healed by the cleric. Another long discussion and a break later the party decides that one of the hirelings must dive to the bottom of the murky well. The guy demands some extra for the dangerous work and the party offers a 3% share of anything they find. The guy had been hired as a treasure bearer and agrees. I had rolled up a XII treasure which ended up being 7000 sp and 3000 ep!! The hireling is going to be filthy rich and retire immediately.
The party returns to the surface and hauls the treasure back into town. Too bad I didn’t have the B/X encumbrance rules with me. I quickly guestimated that each character could carry 20kg, 40lb, 8000 coins – but even with 1600 coins max, they would have been able to secure all of the treasure since we had three player characters and four hirelings, if I remember correctly.
As I said before, the adventure was astonishingly short and still it took us two and a half hours, including character creation and the buying of equipment. Another thing I should have prepared: Character sheets. Then again, I felt like showing off how quick character generation can be.
I recently planned to run some Stonehell at a local mini-con called OerliCon. I ended up forgetting my notes (shame on me!!) and improvised an adventure based some maps by Tim Hartin. The players didn’t get far, etc. Doesn’t matter – what I wanted to show was my flyer:
So, what did I do?
The statements, translated:
|High death rate probable||Easy character creation|
|Combat is quick and easy||No skills, no feats|
|Survival depends on strategy||Challenging players|
|Heroes not superheroes||Malevolent underworld|
|Gameplay is unbalanced||Finding treasure is the goal|
|Hire spearmen and torch bearers||Gain levels finding gold|
Maybe that’ll help you create your own flyers? Specially considering the recent TARGA discussion rekindled by Michael Shorten.   I could convert the Open Office document to a Word document, but I’m not sure whether it’d still look the same.
Feel free to suggest improvements and to make it your own. I don’t own the copyright to the image from the coloring book, so you might want to consider swapping it out. If you do, please let me know what you used. I’d love to use something without copyright risk. (Free Culture, I miss you.)
He also says a lot more. But apparently he thought it was all very obvious. And in fact, it is. It is, now.
All I can say that I learnt about the D&D endgame from blog posts in the last year or two – On the Loss of D&D's Endgame, for example, and that’s cool. But why didn’t anybody put it in the rule books I read? Why is it not in the Labyrinth Lord book I read? Why is it not in the Primer for Old School Gaming? (Or is it and I missed it?)
Here’s how I learnt to play. My mom introduced me to The Dark Eye, a German game apparently written by the first D&D translator who was unable to buy the D&D license. And my mom bought some modules. Then I designed similar games. We kept on playing different modules using the same characters, and then I moved, and a few years later we play AD&D 2nd edition with no bought modules but using the same style until we reach 12th level, and then I moved, and many years later we play D&D 3E with the odd bought module and an adventure path or two, and I’m frustrated with D&D 3.5 gameplay between levels 12 and 15. And I start looking for some rules light alternatives.
And suddenly I hear people talk about the end game, and a consistent world, and PCs turning into NPCs of said world, and players just switching characters and continuing to play, and I wonder: Why did nobody ever tell me!?
The tournament modules taught me the wrong game. (There’s some discussion of the effects tournaments may have had on the development of the game in the comments of The Ages of D&D.)
On 2009-05-27 I ordered four Lulu products for $59.85. Knockspell 2 still hasn’t arrived.
I sent another email. I did not get any replies to my previous email.
In the comments, he also talkes about note taking. I wanted to say something about taking notes after the game; I had also heard something like that on Fear the Boot. I googled for the opposite of preparation and guessed that somebody must have used postparation. And indeed, somebody has:
Taking shorthand notes during the game, and making them readable after the game are mandatory for my games. Otherwise I’d forget. Since everything new happens at the gaming table, I can just add these little notes to our Campaign Wiki after the game. If the players have met ogres once or twice, the ogre page on the wiki may be very short:
It’s great. It works.
It’s not “prep” but it’s still a little bit of work. But since it comes after the fact it doesn’t railroad anybody.
Fight On! #5 has been released.
As usual, I have stuff to say about Lulu pricing, and shipping and handling in particular!
|The Spire of Iron and Crystal by Matthew Finch||36 pages||$9.95|
|Swords & Wizardry Monster Book by Matthew Finch||140 pages||$11.50|
|Knockspell Magazine #2 by Matthew Finch||86 pages||$10.15|
|Fight On! #5 - Spring 2009 by Ignatius Umlaut||88 pages||$9.00|
|Coupon Savings (MAYCONTEST10)||$-4.06|
|Shipping and Handling||$23.31|
Shiping and handling is more than 30% – that hurts. I heard that they’re working on International Shipping Solutions. Let’s hope they get their act together, soon. I’m looking at “This should greatly reduce the shipping costs anywhere in Europe.” And I wonder: Are they talking about Europe the continent, or Europe the Union that Switzerland is not part of?
I’m a bit surprised that the adventure and Knockspell #2 both cost more than Fight On! #5. grumble
Ok, now I have to make sure to get something in for #6. Let me see… Due date is June 27!
I think the key to understanding the “old school” vs. “new school” (I hear you groan already) is the idea of affordance.
Even if you don’t care about old schoold and new school – and I don’t care about the discussion, I just care about using Labyrinth Lord instead of D&D 4E – even if you don’t care, the idea of affordance is something you might find useful when picking the system for your next campaign, or when figuring out why a particular person is unhappy in their current gaming group.
James Maliszewski started the discussion by claiming that “old school” was more than a feeling; it had to be an element of the system used, otherwise all discussion is immedately made moot. Rob Conley replied by saying that it’s not necessarily an element of the rules, and not just a feeling, it’s an attitude.
A year ago, I would have agreed with Rob. I wanted to play old school games, but my players wanted to use D&D 3.5 rules. No problem, I thought. I’ll just run a game using my old school attitude. But it didn’t work.
The reason is that the system afforded (invited, encouraged, suggested) certain player behaviour that disagreed with my sensibilities behind the screen. I could have tried to fight them every step of the way, but I’m a casual DM. I have better things to do in life than waste time trying to educate grown up people who spend their precious time at my table. They, too, have better things to do.
It reminded me of my earliest attempt to use the Kitsunemori setting. My players didn’t enjoy the changed armor rules, the new weapon list, changed cleric abilities, removal of the monk class, changes to the magic system, and so on. Either it was too much to read, or they had strong desires to try this or that build, or they just didn’t care. Trying to use the setting crunch was a waste of time, and I quickly realized it.
Similarly, trying to use the new rules and play an “old school” game is going to waste a lot of your time. Maybe it’ll work if all your players are specifically interested in it. My players have not been as interested as I, and thus my attempts have fallen flat. My attitude alone was not enough.
It seems to me that you need all the players to buy into the old school attitude. And that, to me, seems to be the equivalent of heavily house-ruling the game, even if you never write down which parts of the rules you will not be using.
System does matter.
Update: For an example, check out 2009-05-25 B ⁄ X Affordances.