Friday, September 11, 2009

Old School Emphasis: Character vs. Adventure


I've been following an interesting thread over at the Swords & Wizardry boards, wherein new member "Peregrin" is looking for advice on running old-school games. It's always nice, imo, to see a younger gamer "raised" on 3.5 take a look at the older editions, and Peregrin makes some very insightful observations, the kind you can probably only get from someone who is first experiencing the game, as opposed to returning to it, like a lot of us are.

This statement, in particular, struck me:
"For me, I guess, floating around in different 3.5 circles was like watching people who enjoy tuning up cars more than driving them. They got more joy out of getting new parts than they did actually going out on the road. Now, not everyone was like that. But I've met a lot of people who seem more passionate about char building than about the adventures their char goes through."

And by "struck me", I mean "blew my mind", as Peregrin has managed in 3 or 4 sentences to sum up my dissatisfaction with later editions of D&D.

While this is certainly a process that began in 2E with the addition of kits and "character options" it seems like the main focus of most of the post-2E material published has been aimed at character optimization. A character is created, optimized, tweaked, honed, min-maxed, and point-assigned, down to every minute function and aspect. Heck, in 3.5 you could even min-max your skill rating in something like Profession: Sailmaker or Perform: Poetry.

As a counterpart to this, the DM was now expected to provide appropriately challenging "Encounters" for these optimized characters to overcome. Not too hard, not too soft, just right.

Now, take a minute and digest that.

You, as a player, develop your character. Say its Bolgar the Holy, Paladin of Tyr. You optimize the hell out of him. If your Fortitude save is lacking, simply "take a level" in another class to boost that stat. Then maybe "take a level" of "Radiant Swordmaster" to improve your damage output against undead, and "take a level" of "Blistering Warshield" to boost your AC, etc, etc.

Now I, as DM, take your character's level and abilities, and that of the other players' characters, into consideration, to design the most ass-kickingly safe and appropriate series of Encounters to test their mettle in, each carefully tailored to the right CR and EL.

Obviously, this is a far different experience from running, say, Keep on the Borderlands with B/X. What's not so obvious, is why this different paradigm exists at all.

The kneejerk reaction is to blame the publisher for putting out all that character option nonsense to begin with. But for many players, character optimization isn't nonsense at all. They like it. If those splats didn't sell so well, WotC wouldn't keep churning them out. And really, its just a somewhat more math-intensive version of what we all used to collect Dragon magazine for - new classes and options and whatnot. How many of us played a class out of Dragon Annual, like the duelist or bard? Or one of the "paladins for every alignment".

No, I'm slowly coming to the realization that the difference may be a whole lot more simple and fundamental than I thought.

Lack of good, solid, adventures.

The kind that can be dropped into any campaign setting, challenge a range of levels of characters, and are widespread enough in distribution that everyone is playing them, and enjoying that "shared experience" buzz we all got from sharing our Tomb of Horrors or Lost City stories with folks from other groups. The kind that serves as a centerpiece of the game for weeks or months of play, allowing the roleplay side of the campaign to develop organically (as opposed to a recommended story line from an Adventure Path-style product) as the players begin to interact more and more with their world.

I think the OSR really needs a "showcase" adventure. It needs a Keep on the Borderlands or Temple of Elemental Evil of its very own, something shared from group to group regardless of whether they're using LL, S&W, OSRIC, or the systems that orignally inspired them. That's not to say there havn't been some great adventures released for the RCs, there certainly have been. But I think the emphasis of the last couple of years has been on honing the rule sets themselves, diligently recreating the spirit of the three big old-school games into three faithful and marvellous RCs. I'd love to see that level of commitment put into recreating something as epic and iconic as the G or A series of modules.

I've spoken in the past about a Rosetta Clone, one system for the OSR to band together around, but my opinion is changing in gradual degrees. I think a "Rosetta Dungeon" would be more appropriate. Adventure may really be the heart and soul of the old-school gaming experience, not choice of old-school systems (each one, honestly, being good enough to justify repeated play), so lets see some creative mind out there make us all a "Flagship" adventure to rally behind, and most importantly, share.

What do you think?

30 comments:

  1. Ah crap, I had a big post typed up and it disappeared.

    Here's my thesis: gamers today were reared on unique campaigns, and they thrive on the knowledge that no one has ever played a character like theirs in a campaign like theirs. So a tentpole adventure might not generate the enthusiasm you seek. I know I'm not particularly interested in running through Tomb of Horrors just so I can see how far I get and gloat with my buddies. That phenomenon feels like a lost part of old-school D&D, especially in light of the Internets. I'd much rather play around in my fantasy sandbox and create a unique milieu for my small group of players than slog through a tentpole dungeon and then compare notes on Twitter.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I dunno, Patrick, at first glance I think what Al suggests (strong, tested scenarios in which a group of characters can test their mettle) isn't far removed from the questing provided in today's MMORGs, which plenty of people seem to enjoy. Also, once upon a time I the requisite time and patience for world-building but as an older player I find Al's suggestion very appealing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. EDIT: "Also, once upon a time I had the requisite ..."

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree that it is the adventure-design premise which ran the games into the reefs, because...

    Character-based systems don't necessarily go hand-in-hand with cake-walk 'safe' adventure design. It did in 3.x, and has been continued in that other iteration.
    --But, to be fair, they are not synonymous with each other.

    One could allow players to finitely detail their characters and then run them through OS gritty and hard-boiled adventures, every bit as difficult as he old standards of the S-series, etc.

    By allowing a player to tweak their character to the Nth degree, if that character then fails the test, they buy the farm. Perhaps it wasn't such a cool 'design' in the first place, or, more likely, it was just the outcome of the dice --just like in 3d6 6x in order characters' deaths.

    So, back to the OSR (plug-in) Modules: Part of what I think is choking the growth (as in development and maturation) of the OSR is the almost religious desire to re-fabricate all of the Oldies in new print-available forms. I believe James Maliszewski has said the same on numerous occasions.
    --If the D-series is the quintessential 'sandbox module series', we need another of that quality, not of the same sort, and certainly not of the same setting/subject matter.

    For example-
    * A ruined empire's highway through a valley, overgrown with centuries of wild, fey forests, and multiple off-lanes to various sites and sub-'plots', but ultimately leading to a large civilised area under the thrall of a difficult and organised foe-species. That would be almost too-close to the same structure, but could help with the non-Railroading of having a party stuck underground as they force-march through staged areas, one after another (even if there were side tunnels to circumvent an absolute A, B, C structure).

    But, I think it is important to note that if one allows too much real estate to be involved in a Module-series, it is always in danger of becoming an Epic Plotline/Adventure Path, rather than a series of discrete adventures.

    Nesting discrete adventures into a neutral sandbox campaign seems the safer route, but so-far, has yet to produce short (page-count-wise) yet dynamic modules.

    Perhaps it wasn't as easy as it all appeared to be? ;)

    ReplyDelete
  5. >>I think the OSR really needs a "showcase" adventure.

    I'm trying, I'm trying. :P

    ReplyDelete
  6. I suspect the camaraderie and shared enthusiasm of the oldest modules came from the utter lack of any widely circulated published material during those early years of D&D. Now that we have the Internet and many great OSR publishing companies, there's not the same sense of urgency re: new releases (though it is interesting how folks have piled onto products like DeathFrostDoom).

    Can this excitement be re-created? It certainly wouldn't hurt to try, and publishing has never been easier.

    Or better, why not just declare something like the Wilderlands of High Fantasy as the official setting and go from there? Certainly those folks have the street cred required in the OSR community.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What about the (annual I hope?) one page dungeon codex as the rosetta dungeon. It's version neutral, hobbyist, and showcases the talents of the OS community.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is a great post, Al! I think it essential that Warriors of the Red Planet have a solid adventure to accompany it. In the tradition of Keep on the Borderlands or B4 The Lost City.

    ReplyDelete
  9. To my mind what you are describing - the hyper-customization - is a symptom of the exception-based style of play viewed across 3, 3.5, and 4th edition. The whole notion of a set of rules for which there are many exceptions is the foundation from which one gets the splat-book phenonenom. Older versions of D&D had fewer rules but, most importantly, they had few exceptions. In that context it was about adventures, not hyper-optimization of characters (it seems to me). That hyper-optimization rested with the DM in early editions and migrated to the players in today's game. The transition over time is certainly interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I wonder how much of this can simply be put down to the fact that younger gamers have been raised on computer games, games that heavily feature character construction and improvement. As a middle aged gamer, if I play a computer game I want to get in and start playing straight away. I have no patience for games that require me to spend an hour creating my character, with further long periods of maintenance to level-up. And yet young gamers seem to love these sorts of games.

    Maybe 3e simply tapped into the needs and wants of a generation. I'm not sure that producing a fantastically written adventure is going to draw younger gameers to the OSR in great numbers, but hey, it's worth a try.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'd like to first start off by saying that the case of "younger players raised on 3rd or computer games" is getting old, and not true. I've been playing since 1E (wet my teeth on D&D), and there are many things that each edition has done very well, including 4E. Furthermore, I think it's wrong to try and simplify 4E, or 3E+ as "simply" anything. 4E is an evolution of 3E, which is an evolution of 2.5 Black Death series, which is an evolution of 2E, etc. Consider also the Player Option 2.5 series was really the beginning of the customization scene of D&D, so it was long before computer games for kids became the norm.

    The prime difference between editions is really drawn with the creation of 4E. 1-3E were basically all the same. Cut through all the options and additions to the game, and it's really all the same game. The style was all the same. 4E changed a lot, and a lot of it makes sense for the majority of D&D players out there.

    You see, 1-3E was designed for how people wanted to play the game. 4E was designed for how people actually play the game. Take the magic system for OD&D. At low levels, you had a round or two of spells that *might* succeed, and then you were out of spells. That was it. Nothing more. Your wizard wasn't casting spells anymore. But people generally had an issue with this. And let's be honest, Keep on the Borderlands was a prime example of making this a real problem. After all, do you go in at first level and clear a room with your party, cast your magic missle, and then stop? Go back to the keep or make camp in the woods? Or do you keep going, pressing on, with a 2 HP wizard who has no spells to cast.

    It's not heroic! It's not fun! Sure, at higher levels it might get better, but your so bored early on, you'll never reach that higher level.

    This isn't the only issue. The 15-minute work day is just another problem. The "I swing, I hit" problem with the fighters is another problem.

    The issue is, the game is designed around a system that supports fun and interesting combats of the kind you find in stories, not adventures. Consider Lord of the Rings. How often does the Fellowship get into numerous combats in a single day? The Mines weren't your typical dungeon crawl. Heck, their entire journey from Rivendale was filled with, in D&D terms, one to three skill challenges (from 4E), and somewhat of a combat with the thing in the water at the entrance. Beyond that, there wasn't much.

    So, OD&D was great following in that style. But adventures simply didn't.

    ReplyDelete
  12. So 2E started to work toward fixing that. 3E put even more work into fixing it. But the core system was cumbersome. So 4E came out that really went a long way to fix that, and essentially, made 4E for the way the majority of people played. And let's be frank, 4E is much better for the traditional dungeon crawl then previous editions, at least as far as game design goes. Indeed, 4E makes it easier to build the adventure first, regardless of the players.

    "As a counterpart to this, the DM was now expected to provide appropriately challenging "Encounters" for these optimized characters to overcome. Not too hard, not too soft, just right."

    The same can be said for ALL editions. The difference with 4E, and somewhat with 3E, is that since everything was designed differently (and by that, I mean the process of design, not the results of the design), it's easier to provide DM's with a rating to detail how difficult an encounter will be on average. In earlier editions, when DM'ing, I'd be forced to guestimate how tough encounters would be. This led to the time honored tactic of fudging dice or adding in additional monsters at the last minute. I became VERY good at this.

    I think a lot of misconception comes about by the people that look at the rules and added books and start to talk about all the options and additional rules and what not and get all over excited and forget how many rules were provided for 1E. Consider all the expansions that came out for 1E. I remember quite a few, and each one came with new rules. However, each rule set generally used some different system, something which finely got solved with 3E.

    Anyways, it all comes back to my original point: OD&D was made for the way people wanted to play: to replicate the movies they watched and the stories they read. 4E was designed for the way people actually play: the dungeon crawls that are so popular.

    This isn't to suggest either way is right. Indeed, I think the biggest problem people who don't like 4E have is admitting that as a game system, it's done a lot right, and overall, it's a better system for the way D&D has been published then any previous edition.

    But, it doesn't have that feel that is so important with the earlier editions.

    So, back to your original post, of what the Old school emphasis is. It's not Character or Adventure. It's the feel of the Character in the Adventure. It's a feeling. 4E makes a better game. OD&D makes for a better experience.

    What is needed? Not an adventure, that's for sure. You need a system that bridges that gape: old school feel with new school design. Paizo had a great chance and botched it (and yes, they could have done it, BC and all). I've heard good things about FantasyCraft, but I've yet to check it out myself. But that's what you need, I think.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Jason speaks a lot of tosh, as my girlfriend would say. From start to finish.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Sorry Jason, I'm with James here, what a load of tosh. You obviously played B2 a hell of a lot differently than we did - we had fun. Yep, even the player with the magic-user had fun. And our gaming sessions didn't consist of a single encounter and run back to the keep.

    As for the younger generation and changing tastes (as demonstrated by the types of computer games they prefer), that was my personal, first-hand observation, not some lame theory I plucked from the net. I'm not suggesting it's the be-all and end-all, but rather one possible factor amongst many to be considered when attempting to attract new blood to the OSR. And of course I am not trying to generalise.

    As for your theory above, I don't think you've grasped the differences between the older and newer versions of the game at all. What you say certainly doesn't sit true with my experience.

    ReplyDelete
  15. @Thomas - hmmm, theres an idea... ;)

    @Jason - I like the "gap-bridging" system idea, start writing! :)

    There are a few fairly common misconceptions about older edition gaming. The "15 minute workday" is really a non-problem in LBB thru 1E. Characters weren't really expected to be able to handle fight after fight, they were supposed to figure out ways to outsmart, avoid, or run away from monsters as often as not.

    Also, its important to understand this was back when a magic missile could acutally *kill* the average orc, no one could save vs sleep, charm person lasted for weeks or months, etc. While the 2hp wizard only had a spell or two, they were *far* more potent. A first level spell was, in many cases, a combat-ender, not just that round's attack.

    Also, that 2hp wizard's player was expected to step out beyond his "skill set" and be an adventurer, not a cannon: investigating, searching, solving puzzles, etc.

    A fantastic resource to help anyone along toward grasping this playstyle is Matt's "Quick Primer for Old-School Gaming", a must-read for players of all editions, imho. :)

    http://www.lulu.com/content/e-book/quick-primer-for-old-school-gaming/3019374

    ReplyDelete
  16. If your starting rebuttal is to sling an insult, you haven't got much else. I didn't expect agreement, but frankly, you haven't digested anything I wrote, and went for the quick reply. If you disagree, fine. Your second paragraph does this fine. Disagree. Explain your reasons. I obviously didn't quickly come here and say "Duh, your stupid mans!" I hope it was obvious that I've spent some time coming up with my ideas. They may be wrong, but nothing anyone has said has changed them yet.

    Anyways, let's start off by looking at what you wanted to do. I figured it was an adventure, or dungeon, that you could use to attract people to the old style type of game. I made the assumption you meant attracting people from the Black Death+ group of people. I disagreed with your reasoning and your plan to accomplish your goal. I explained why, but you disagreed because of personal reasons.

    You can't just look at your personal gaming experience. You also can't look at people's opinions that only think like yours ("Ewww, nasty 4E!"). You need to understand why people like 4E, and I can tell you it's not character optimization. Character optimization was around before 4E. Heck, it was around before 3E. Hell, it was around in OD&D. And don't get me wrong, for a lot of people, that's half the fun. Building a character. And it's not surprising considering the success of games like SimCity of the Sims.

    But back on target. You have to understand the target audience you want to attract. A dungeon adventure isn't going to do it. After all, there are a number of them out there that are great already you can pull from.

    But I don't know why I bother. No, I didn't play B2 differently. We didn't go back to the keep or just run single encounters. But it doesn't change the problem. And our wizard had fun. But not as much fun if he could have been actually casting spells more often. And it is a problem for the majority of players out there. The evolution of D&D, and most other gaming systems, is proof of that.

    As for the younger generation remark, I think we had a misunderstanding. I meant it more as a reminder that you don't have to be a younger role player to enjoy 4E. More importantly (not that I'm suggesting anything more), I don't want it to be seen as insulting, which in many places it's used as such.

    Finally, I've grasped the difference better then you have, I assure you. Spend some time thinking about it, and look at everything as a whole. Not just your personal experiences. You can't just use your personal gaming experiences as a reference for the differences between the two. You really have to spend some time thinking about the two. You don't like 4E or it's kind. Fine. Maybe that's the issue. You look at the warts. Myself, I find things in both systems that I enjoy. Maybe that's why I looked at things more closely.

    And considering how much time there was between my post and your comment, I know you didn't give it any thought. You even had to steal that insult you started off with.

    ReplyDelete
  17. looks like that link to the primer might not have fit the comments page, but you can find at the side of my blog, under "get yer old school here!".

    ReplyDelete
  18. @Jason - now don't get all huffy and self righteous about my terrible "insult" only to start slinging your own, because it really makes it difficult to take what you say seriously. You accuse me of not reading your post, but obviously didn't read mine, since you credit me with supporting the very idea I actually expressed doubt about. As for the time difference between your posts and mine, well truthfully I wouldn't have noticed had you not pointed it out, but good onya.

    Honesty, throwing a huge amount of words at a subject doesn't actually make an opinion accurate, correct or insightful. Neither does it always make a person seem as smart as they may think it does - sometimes it just comes across as arrogant or wanky.

    Luckily for both of us, Al gave a much better response to your comments than I did.

    ReplyDelete
  19. @ Al (regarding your original post): Um...it's a nice thought?

    Sure, we could use a good, solid adventure (note: NOT gigantic mega-dungeon adventure). But hasn't the damage already been done?

    Now, I know that sounds cynical, and I don't know if I even ascribe to the theory myself...certainly I've been able to introduce Old School gaming to non-gamers in the last year with excellent results.

    But for existing players? Who are already used to Mr. Potatohead optimized characters? What's to turn them on to an EXCELLENT solid adventure when they can't have their half-dragon warlord/sniper/fire-priest-whatever?

    If one's imagination is fired by character options, how would a cool adventure help? By buzz alone?

    Or perhaps I'm missing the point. Perhaps you're just saying the OSR needs more (and higher quality) adventures. MORESO than retro-clones, new edition retro-clones, expansion retro-clones, etc.

    If THAT is what you're calling for, I say: yeah, probably. But what can you do about what people are publishing?

    It's like with politics...people complain about politicians doing screwed up stuff, but won't run for office themselves (and some won't even vote!). Yeah, we probably need good solid adventures much more than we need Labyrinth Lord 2 (or even MY project, the B/X Companion!)...but someone has to write and publish those adventures. And we can blog about what SHOULD be done (a lot) when we probably would best be of service by sitting down and typing out real material.

    I admit, I am as guilty of this as anyone...

    ReplyDelete
  20. Working with two OS publishers, I know that they're calling for submissions (modules) but getting very little. I'm guessing the current phase of 'lets take the clone doc and make our own house rules version' will pass, then hopefully we'll start to see more creative endeavours come forth. And since the older versions of D&D - plus the various clones - are all easily compatible, adventures, settings, spells and monsters are all quite usable, no matter what system they're written for. Although making people understand this easy compatiblity is perhaps the harder challenge. People see brand names and think "different games", not understanding that it's all the same game.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I think you absolutely right about having that one shared experience adventure, but it will be difficult to have a Rosetta Dungeon because of all the different systems. Which system would it be published under or would it be a system neutral adventure?

    ReplyDelete
  22. I think moreso than other system types, OS gaming can be very system-neutral. Especially OS D&D, because the monsters are often quite similar in power levels between OD&D and 1E. 2E changed up dragons and giants quite a bit, but the differences between OD&D and 1E are somewhat like the differences between 1E and 2E. But that means OD&D ends up rather different from 2E. You could gear it towards the 1E system and split the difference I guess.

    I'm thinking that the adventure needs to be about setting, NPCs and their interactions and desires, locations, rumors, little plots and diversions, and some kind of tentpole to keep things solid.

    It needs to talk about fighting the Troll, but it doesn't need to mention his HP. You have those rules. Write his stats for your system in the margin. Mention the GP value of the jewel-encrusted saber he has in his treasure, and people will alter that as needed for their own campaign's money balance.

    The DM needs to thoroughly read and understand the module, the ways things interact with each other, the things he needs to keep secret and the hints he needs to drop. Why not assume that as part of this process of "owning" the module he adds margin notes and adjustments? We cannot expect any module to be runnable by a DM right after opening the shrinkwrap, unless it's very basic or arranged like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.

    Besides, I would care more about a little more depth in the Baron's personality and plans than a detailed survey of his statistics. The following important NPC descriptions is perfectly fine to me:

    Baron Wolfenstien: Fighter Lv 6. Hu M 45yrs, 5'3" 200#, balding blonde, brown eyes, longish goatee, out of shape retired adventurer. (Followed by three paragraphs of personality, three of his plans, and one of personal equipment).

    I don't want to know how good he is at swimming unless it varies from the expected. Or any history about him that won't come up in the module, for that matter. And don't tell me he's a meticulous badass and leave it at that. The entry for how his men feel about him and how he runs his demense should show that pretty well.

    As for the orc in a 10x10 room with a pie, I don't want so much in the way of combat statistics. Give me just enough to work on. I'm more interested in why he's there, whose orders he follows, and from that I can play him as a DM. I can extrapolate his behaviors and values and desires, his specific battle plans, etc.

    I think simplicity, and giving the DM an excellent framework, is necessary. After all, we learned how to DM well by stretching our DMing muscles - but if a module carries you by the hand it won't teach you anything. A DM quick on his feet from practice will be better off because players will always throw him curveballs. And really, a module is a way for the game designer to teach the DM how to use the system and how to run a game. It certainly is other things, but as a training tool it's invaluable.

    And maybe that will be what gets players into OS style gaming. At least show them what it's about so they can weigh the differences intelligently.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I'm confused...

    I agree, that a shared experience, or a mega-tent-pole dungeon / setting is a great place to center some significant effort. And I also agree that (IMHO) 2E, 4E and especially 3E are character-centric. Meaning to say that the focus did seem to shift to a more masturabotory model. i.e. You could spend hours, as a player, tweaking and fine tuning your PC all by your little old lonesome. No DM required.

    I also see the business sense behind this. One DM and X players at a table...let's see, who do I want to target for future revenue? No brainer.

    Back to the topic at hand though. Isn't this effort already underway? I mean, what's Darkness Beneath, in FightOn? How about Joe's excellent take on Castle Greyhawk? Or maybe James' effort over at Megadungeon?

    And if we're talking about attracting new players to this "experience", why can't we utilize some of those older modules? I'm going to put my wife and daughters through the Caverns of Thracia.

    Why? you ask. Well, it was well written back then and it's well written today. I understand that these older edition Rosetta modules are tough (or neigh impossible) to get hold of anymore, but I'd be willing to bet that most people that are interested in running (and attracting new talent) probably have a copy of one of these old modules sitting around somewhere.

    Oh, and what about talking to Ward, Kask and Mentzer about this? Aren't they some heavy hitters that are pretty knowledgeable about what it takes to hit a homerun ball out of the park? Not that there isn't ample talent in the OSR pool right now...Jim, James, Al, Joe, Gabor, Melan, Jeff, Jason and on and on and on.

    ReplyDelete
  24. And if we're talking about attracting new players to this "experience", why can't we utilize some of those older modules?

    I think in many cases, new players like new shiny books. Older stuff appeals to the collector and the nostalgic. Although I believe it's totally erroneous, many, many people actually believe old=bad, new=good. Sadly it is smart marketing to play up to this way of thinking.

    As for Ward, Kask and Mentzer, sounds like they're already on the job. It'll be interesting to see what they produce.

    ReplyDelete
  25. More importantly, Dave and Dude, the old modules are out-of-print and copyright is held by Wizards. We can't publish them ourselves, and new players can't easily buy them.

    The real question, then, is what features an early Rosetta module would need.

    * A low-level module would probably be best, as it'd be accessible for beginning parties.
    * The Town/Wilderness/Adventure format is a good one, as it makes the module self-contained.
    * An interesting location worth coming back to several times.
    * Portions heavily rewarding negotiation, retreat, resourcefulness, and trickery.
    * It needs an element of exploration, as that's one of the biggest shifts in paradigm from more modern games.
    * It should be built as a sandbox, with choices between several interesting locations and plenty of strange things to pry into.
    * Finally, it should be a jumping-off point into other adventures, whether it does this by dropping clues to other locations or by including a "Cave of the Unknown".

    (Jason - and I say this as someone who has run 4e since shortly after release: The exploration element is what 4e handles very poorly, and to many minds it is the most important element in D&D. Most of us disagree with you because of this, not because of some myopia or nostalgia.)

    So could we recreate all those elements without simply rehashing Keep on the Borderlands? I think it's totally possible, but I think the current focus on megadungeons isn't the way to go for that. Megadungeons are too big, and not self-contained enough to work well as a module.

    For a Rosetta Dungeon, I think a better model than Castle Greyhawk would be Dwellers of the Forbidden City. For the most part, it's much like a single dungeon level with several access points and all sorts of interesting things to investigate right off the bat. Then it's just a matter of picking out an exciting and unusual setting, like a dinosaur-filled Lost Valley, a half-sunken ruined city in pirate country, or an abandoned dwarven citadel built within the cone of a dormant volcano.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I personally think Isle of Dread was a lovely setting. Rather than buy it I'm recreating it for my own group from information scoured from the Internet plus personal ingenuity, with a Central American halfling spin.

    1: It's a self-contained setting. If you leave it means weeks of travel back to a port and weeks back. So you're less likely to deal with players going where you didn't expect.

    2: It's easily expandable. There are plenty of places to put your own encounters and quirky things. You can add islands to turn it into an archipelago. You can develop undersea adventures nearby.

    3: It's a sandbox, but the DM can add rails of varying intensity depending on his style. It's much tougher to take a rail module and turn it into a sandbox.

    4: It's got the pulp fantasy adventure thing going.

    5: The environment can handle players who want to fight, explore, negotiate, or sneak.

    For these reasons I think something like Lost City would also work really well.

    Obviously you couldn't just derive most of the module from an older work, but taking inspiration from them is a good thing.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I really like 1d30's suggestion of making it fairly system neutral but leaving space in the margin to write in system specific notes.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Given some of the discussion with Jason above, I thought this latest post at Grognardia was very appropriate:

    http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2009/09/geezer-wisdom.html

    It's about Mike Mornard's account of playing a 1st level MU with one spell and 3 hp, in Castle Greyhawk with Gygax as DM, making it almost to level 3 and in the process having "one of the best single evenings of gaming I've ever had".

    Certainly Mornard's experience flies in the face of Jason's comments above, where he said:

    Take the magic system for OD&D. At low levels, you had a round or two of spells that *might* succeed, and then you were out of spells. That was it. Nothing more. Your wizard wasn't casting spells anymore. But people generally had an issue with this. And let's be honest, Keep on the Borderlands was a prime example of making this a real problem. After all, do you go in at first level and clear a room with your party, cast your magic missle, and then stop? Go back to the keep or make camp in the woods? Or do you keep going, pressing on, with a 2 HP wizard who has no spells to cast.

    It's not heroic! It's not fun! Sure, at higher levels it might get better, but your so bored early on, you'll never reach that higher level.


    Mornard's experience reflects my own. It was, and is still, fun.

    ReplyDelete
  29. If you want to see the effect of shared adventures on modern players, you need look no farther than Dungeon Crawl Classics. We are busy sharing adventures, and looking at how other groups used the same material. Right now, there's a lot of Sailors on the Starless Sea and Doom of the Savage Kings, but I am guessing that you'll be seeing more people sharing how they experienced these iconic and flavourful adventures.

    Closer to the OSR home, I would encourage people to share and blog about their experiences in the available megadungeons, such as Barrowmaze, which is excellent and worth writing about, or shorter, but intense, adventures such as Death Frost Doom.

    The products are out there; all that is needed is the buzz of actually sharing what you did with them, and how they played out for you.

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...