Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Comments of Bryce

I generally agree with Bryce Lynch's comments about what makes a good module, although -- oddly -- I don't always agree with his reviews that use these benchmarks. Nevertheless, since I was perusing some of the reviews at his website, tenfootpole.org, I thought I'd jot down a few of the general comments about adventures that appealed to me.

NOT the dry old B2 implementation that we’ve all seen before but rather something with a much more Holmes/OD&D feel to it. Transformation pools and weird edible mushrooms, strange machinery and the like. This is a kind of feel that I strongly associate with OD&D and try very hard to incorporate in to my own Magenta games.

Themed areas are great in a dungeon and I shouldn’t have to repeat myself again on why multiple entrances/exits are a good thing. 
I agree. I'm big on defined dungeon areas whether they're defined by theme, appearance, geography, or whatever. A dungeon has to be broken up into definable parts so the players feel that they're making headway.
I know that the mundane has to be there for the fantastic to have an impact but it feels like a bit much to me, although that could be personal taste. 
There's a  lot of personal taste involved in this ratio, I think. It's an area where an excellent module can succeed or fail based on the individual reader/DM.
...some sections that I would probably give a hint or two about running … like the mushrooms or some of the wall carvings. The wall carvings are a great example. Some are worth looking at to get hints. Some are just flavor text. Some will do bad things to do. There’s generally no way to tell beforehand. I’m pretty sure the goal should be to reward interaction and examination. So while the goodies are present they could use a little more in the way of extra information to help run them. After all, the back and forth between a DM and player is what this kind of style is about.
Emphasis added by me, on the parts I thought were key, here.

The group is supposed to fighting the intelligent guards of a fortress but they don’t really act in a coordinated manner.
A very hard type of module to write, these are. Bryce suggests an order of battle. Not sure what he means, but against-the-fortress adventures can definitely use what I call a monster roster, and I think that's also what Bryce means.

The ONLY way you can approach it is through a straight hack. Sneaking, disguising, etc, are not going to help because it’s just a straight up linear design. That’s quite disappointing. 
For a paid module, this is a pretty good triad for a checklist: can you hack, sneak, AND disguise as possible ways through. I'm interested to see if there might be anything to add to that checklist. I think that "creative navigating" (through alternate paths) and "discovering concealed alternate paths" might be worth adding to the list. HOWEVER, for a free or a home-designed module, though, I think it's fair to say that a one-approach dungeon is perfectly good, especially if you already know how your group is going to approach it. Your gang of 6 barbarians just doesn't need a carefully designed multiplicity of ways to use disguises through a dungeon. So I disagree with Bryce's take on the module he was reviewing here, although I agree with the metric he used.

There’s a decent attempt at mixing things up a bit: exits through chimneys, waterfalls to the second level, a blocked off section and so forth. That good; far too many dungeons are just two-dimensional affairs, but I want more More MORE! More complexity!
Yes, definitely use the third dimension! However, I think it's also worth remembering that they players themselves have to be able to assimilate what the various things are. I think there is such a thing as too much complexity. Where the line lies is probably not exactly a matter of personal taste so much as it is a matter of how a particular gaming group visualizes and assimilates a complex topography. Not all groups are head-down concentrators. Paul Jaquays said something on a dungeon-design panel at NTRPGCon, basically like this: "When designing a computer/video game, you have to work the player slowly into using the third dimension bit by bit."

Players like to recognize things. They like to feel like they have figured something out.
One of the most important design objectives there is, in my opinion. This, and making sure that they have lots of meaningful choices (and the two objectives are clearly linked).

For all the asshattery that the Internet brings it also exposes us to new ideas and things that we would not otherwise ever see. Gabor Lux/Melan is one of those things.
Very true.

Ouch! Nothing wrong with that, some of my favorite modules have a shit-ton of enemies in them. I like it! 
Large numbers of enemies = awesome battle. Always good. Don't over-use.

That's it for this post, I'm guessing it's already too long...


  1. The triad checklist I used for a magazine adventure I wrote recently is similiar in a way: what have the characters got that they can use, can the environment be used/altered, can the opposition be used /altered. I suppose it and Hack/sneak/disguise is just like Mearls' 3 pillars Combat/Exploration/Social. 6 Barbarians could use social, if not disguise then intimidating their way through a situation.

  2. Hack, sneak/disguise, negotiate/co-opt. My players tend to recruit everyone and everything they can.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Good observations.

      I think a lot of what this comes down to is 'Dungeon as Sandbox' rather than 'Dungeon as Adventure', although this obviously applies to towns, wilderness, and other type of adventures as well. A good adventure is a setting in which te players can pursue their various whims. Too often a plot is written in and that plot, far too many times, is 'Stab it!' I think that's why the old MERP supplements appeal to me so much, as well as the C&C 'I' series.

    2. Many of the MERP campaign modules worked wonderfully as adventure sandboxes.

  4. Order of Battle/Monster Rosters:

    A list of monsters available to react to incursions by the party. If the guards summon help then who shows up, when? Sometimes this is listed explicitly in an adventure, but far more often it is not.

    This is an excellent opportunity, I think, for more data to be encoded on the map. A small notation next to the rooms listing who's available to react, or some such, helps the DM plan out the fortresses responses and send wave after wave in, or plan a defense, etc.

    In general, I think maps are not used very well in adventures to encode information. I'd love to see more with lighting (Barrier Peaks anyone?) or smells, sounds, or other things actually encoded on the map.