Archive for October 7th, 2009


players build the dungeon

Eric raises a good point in comments: players do invest in Old School games by inventing zany in-jokes and peripheral nonsense.  This is fun stuff: I’m a fervent proponent in our mule-based alignment system, and a fanatical believer in the Boss, our made-up deity.

But the fact remains that this stuff usually sits on the sidelines of play.  Eric, our Dungeon Master in that game, has indulged our whimsies through the kindness of his heart, and has done a few things to give the Boss Cult some spotlight time.  But mainly we’re playing Keep on the Borderlands sprinkled with Boss-ism.

So here’s a dumb-as-dirt way to get your players to design a grab-bag dungeon for you.

  1. Get three players.  If you have one player, chop her in thirds.  If you have two players, chop one of them in half.
  2. Explain your setting to players in general terms.  Remember, they are players and have short attention spans. The idea here is to give a general flavor of your campaign setting, like “Curry” or “Hoisin Sauce.”
  3. Isolate your players from each other.  E-mail works well here.
  4. Tell your first player (or the feet of a divided player) to develop three scenarios for adventures–the general mission or purpose for an adventure.  Write these scenarios on index cards.
  5. Tell your second player (or the head of a divided player) to develop three general settings for adventures, including a couple rooms or areas within a dungeon.  Put these ideas on index cards.
  6. Tell your remaining player (or portion thereof) to describe three sets of special monsters & treasures.  Again: index cards.
  7. As the Dungeon Master, riffle through the index cards.  If everything sucks, throw the cards out at your players’ faces in frustration, and find new players who are able to do your work for you.  But ideally your players do not suck and have given you some good notions.
  8. Combine in a mixing bowl: 1 Scenario + 1 setting + 1 idea of special monsters & treasures = basic adventure outline.  This stuff represents rumors or historical lore that has made its way to the players.  Alter one detail in a signficant way, just to keep players on their toes.
  9. As dungeon master, draw the map and stock the dungeon with “non-special” monsters and treasures.

This way, players have some investment in the dungeon that results.

I’m not sure how well this would work, but it’s worth a shot.  At the very least, it seems likely to generate the sort of surreal, eclectic dungeons that seemed to characterize mid-1970’s Dungeons & Dragons play.


Random Events Make You Say Yes to Links

I’ve been writing an expanded version of my post at Finarvyn’s OD&D boards, which sparked some interesting discussion. The long version will hopefully be in Fight On! magazine #8 – while you’re waiting, go read the other seven!

One thing that doing this made me realize is how much I like using hyperlinks to support digressions and scholasticisms. Not having been able to do that in the essay, here is a repost of the original thoughts about random events, followed by a collection of related links.

I flew back from Gen Con on the same plane as nerdNYC’s jenskot, who turned me on to an e-book by Graham Walmsley called Play Unsafe about using improv techniques to become a better player. I was particularly primed for this, having just played in a game run by my old Ars Magica homie Bob Karcher, whose Second City long-form improv chops let the scenario seem both beautifully planned in advance and responsive to our choices, when in fact he admitted later that he had nothing more than three broad ideas to start with!

Three of the things Walmsley talks about strike me as particularly relevant to old-school play, which uses dice to achieve / reinforce the goals he identifies:

– Always say yes. Accepting that the dice have spoken is very useful training in this. Instead of rolling a random encounter/treasure/etc. and rejecting it as nonsensical, find a way to make it fit. Instead of fudging to make the players succeed, say yes to the possibility of failure and see what the next step in the story is.

– Don’t plan in advance. Having random event tables goes a long way to making me feel comfortable with this. Using raw dice rolls to determine things like morale checks and NPC reactions that can have a huge impact on how a situation plays out forces me to be open to the unexpected. The first time I started using these old-school techniques it was extremely liberating to have a dice roll say to the players and myself “look, I’m not invested in any particular way this encounter might turn out, there’s no wrong answer, let’s all see together where this is going to go.”

– Hold ideas lightly. It’s OK to do some pre-planning if you accept that your plan might never happen. For me, making my own table of random events is one of the easiest and most potent kinds of old-school world-building, and it’s a great exercise in coming up with a bunch of ideas that might or might not be used in any given session.

Lots of the other things in the book, like saying the obvious and using reincorporation to make earlier random events into meaningful closure, also strike me as very useful techniques for participants in any kind of RPG.

Chgowiz’s accounts of games played with these ideas in mind are here and here at his kick-ass blog.

Some evidence that you can trace just about any possible thread of human intellectual history through Major David Wesely appears in the “Fantasy Vietnam” post in The 20′ By 20′ Room blog. A good place to get started on the history of Braunstein and its relationship to Blackmoor and D&D is Ben Robbins’ ars ludi post.

Soon I’ll find a good link to Arneson talking about dungeons as a way to constrain player choice.

Kellri’s CDD #4: Encounters is mentioned in the comments below, and it is awesome, so I linked it here – also the random name generator I used to get Philomena’s name.

Also Tables for Fables, Jeff Rients’ Miscellaneum of Cinder, and the OD&D boards Resources for Randomness thread all deserve links.

Past Adventures of the Mule

October 2009

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