Friday, April 1, 2011

Adventure Design - layout (MAJOR Castle Thadrian Spoilers)

I randomly pulled an rpg pdf from my harddrive today to give a looking over. It was an adventure from Relative Entropy Games called Castle Thadrian. I snagged the free pdf when it was offered quite some time ago, saved it, and forgot about it. Until this morning when I was looking for something to read.

Now, this isn't really a review of the adventure. It's a good introductory adventure - provides lots of low level challenges. I really like the fact that there are clues to piece together that indicate some history (general Diro's tragic tale), some ongoing plotting (the Baron's scheme) and hooks for an ongoing campaign (the three pieces of the sword). The layout is adequate, the maps are standard fare (that is to say, adequate - I like the style - they look hand-drawn and hand numbered). I'd like more serious art (but that's just me) in the book, but that's hardly a fault. The adventure is written for Engines and Empires - a riff on Labyrinth Lord - though fully compatible with Old School gaming. While there's a bit much "background" and "introduction" for my tastes, I get where the author, Mr. Higgins, is coming from and I think that he accomplishes his tasks generally pretty well (emphasizing the similarities between LL and E&E, desiring the adventure to be more "role playing" than "roll playing" [my words, not his] seem to be his two primary goals - besides writing a solid adventure). All in all an enjoyable read and I'd recommend it (if it's still available - it's not on the Relative Entropy Games Lulu page...).

But here's the real point of this post. I really like what Mr. Higgins has done with the idea of "boxed text" - it's not the old "read aloud to your players" box, it's more a snapshot of the room. I find this to be incredibly helpful and am considering using this style for stuff I'm working on (yeah, always working on, never completing).

This room is the "big last battle" room - the treasure hidden is THE big treasure of the adventure. Mr. Higgins gives us almost a full column of description for this room - but the boxed "snapshot" tells me exactly what I'm getting into - and SHOULD be enough of a reminder (assuming that I've read the adventure through before inflicting it on my players) that when we get to it, I don't have to say, "Um...wait a minute...let me check...uh, what's here?" or whatever and totally destroy any tension and flow we've built up.

This has probably been done before, I don't know, but for me this a strong design element - realizing that I didn't write the dang thing and don't have immediate recall of every room, I might need a little hint to remember that the switch for the portcullis is hidden in the east alcove (room 59, for those keeping track).

More adventure designers need to keep the harried and hurried DM in mind when writing. We simply won't remember (or possibly notice) the three word detail in the 53rd room that sets the giant thingamabob in motion - and if that's really important to the adventure, and we miss it, what happens then? (I know - OLD SCHOOL is to just riff on it and make something up - roll some dice, consult a table, never-let-them-see-you-sweat - but if I just wanted to make everything up, why would I use a pre-printed adventure in the first place?).

EDIT: (oh - and the NEXT post really is a little about hex filling and the AWESOMENESS OF DL1 DRAGONS OF DESPAIR)

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