Sunday, 18 February 2018

Old-school D&D

Back in the early days of D&D the game was based around raiding dungeons and killing monsters. The idea of a continuous, unfolding narrative came later. The Dungeon Master was exactly that - master of the dungeons. The adventurers weren't too worried about their motivation - they were seeking XP, magic items and gold. Gaming has moved on from this to longer campaigns, world building and time spent travelling around the land to provide context around the dungeons and this, by and large, is a good thing as it makes for a more rich gaming experience and a feeling of belonging in the fantasy world. However, I look at my own writing and think that there are definitely places where I use ongoing narrative as an excuse to be a bit lazy. Why bother thinking about how long things are going to take? If the session runs out, the excess can be moved to the following week. Small, detailed environments can give way for broad-brush world building with a default expectation for any given environment. It has been a long, long time since I wrote adventures with the discipline of "this must last a single session" and while the above isn't entirely a bad thing I do feel I've let certain skills slide over the years.

Changes in circumstances in the tedious medium of Real Life means that a weekly RPG is increasingly difficult and even playing regularly with a consistent group is proving awkward. My previous game (two years in length, enjoyed by all) eventually came to an end because of these pressures and that group is, sadly, going to fragment. However everyone wants to keep playing so the question is, what can we do instead?

Organisation problems combined with a desire to try writing in a different way bring me to my one-shot project. Write a load of single-session adventures for low level characters. Fill them with detail and texture to keep them interesting, put together interesting challenges for low level characters, enjoy being able to run games without worrying about an overarching plot and having to have all players available. Over time I might stick these games together into a loose plot, but the adventures need to remain able to be run independently.

A key part of this is to make the writing of these sessions relatively simple. It takes weeks to write a full campaign world - I'm aiming to be able to turn out a good single-session adventure in an afternoon. For me, that will mean finding some tools to help laying out dungeon maps and design balanced encounters. It will also mean some playtesting before I get anything right. For now, here is what I'm using as my starting guidelines.

Have a strong dungeon theme

I want these adventures to feel like part of a wider, untold story, not a series of violent encounters with no purpose.

4 or 5 proper encounters

This should fill a 4 hour gaming session. They shouldn't all be combat!

Start at or near the dungeon mouth

For these games I'm just going to provide the party motivation. The players can fill in why their characters are part of the mission.

Two pages of notes

This is much more vague, but to avoid over-writing I am aiming to able to pull together everything I need in two pages of my notebook.

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

The cards you see are Dungeon Cards, available from Dice Shop. They are great for randomly generating dungeons very quickly. I deal a handful of cards and use them to stimulate ideas for a mini-setting and theme. Then I rearrange the cards until I get something around the right sort of size and turn it into a proper map which I can then fill with encounters.

The coffee is important.

Et voila:

Behold the output

I'm going to write a few of these and see how they play. If I'm feeling brave, I will also write them up and ask other people to try running them.