Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rappan Athuk Design Log 3

At this point I have converted the first level (not 1A, just level 1) into Swords & Wizardry. As expected, the process was quite smooth since it just meant backing out some of the 3e mechanisms and the stats. Things will get more complicated in the lower levels. I'm also making good progress on the other new levels, which are all in different stages of completion; one is no more than a map and the basic idea, one is completely done, and the others are in between.

[What follows might be considered a spoiler if you want to read the new stuff in the dungeon without any prior knowledge about what you're going to find. On the other hand, if you want to have a bit of input into the process and don't mind knowing structurally what's going on, then read on]

Possible Spoiler Discussion:
I am working on getting agreement from the rest of the team about an idea I had yesterday or the day before, which is to flesh out a very small piece of the wilderness map into a base + mini-wilderness, and include in there a small dungeon (3 levels) that no one has realized is connected, at the bottom level, to the rest of Rappan Athuk. This dungeon, being away from the central, deadly levels, is not quite as lethal in terms of monsters, and would work as the gateway for a party of first-level adventurers. This is particularly important, of course, for the OD&D/AD&D/Swords & Wizardry version, since it would provide a source for those much-needed experience points. It could be viewed as a kiddie pool, but that's not exactly what I have in mind for it, it's just an undiscovered gateway area that contains the structure for "starting" things directly at Rappan Athuk instead of having to build up to it in earlier adventures. This applies directly to the Pathfinder game too, because regardless of what system you're using, it is currently not feasible to begin a first level campaign at Rappan Athuk.

And that should be the case with the center levels of Rappan Athuk -- it's a badge of pride to even get into the damn place alive, much less get out again. But there is room for an area that's enough of an outlying wing to not spoil the major league status of the central dungeons, but since it's still part of the dungeons, it also doesn't serve as a lame "intro kiddie-pool area that we tagged on for commercial reasons." It makes tactical sense (it's a sally port, effectively), and the tactical parameters of a good sally port (narrow connection to vital areas, ability to cut far behind enemy lines) actually correspond in my mind to the things that would create a less-dangerous dungeon area.

I have already located my "tiny fortified settlement where you can buy iron spikes and rations" on the wilderness map, sketched out roughly what the surrounding keyed wilderness would look like, and done a rough map of the first level of the three dungeon levels that lead to the (miles-long) tunnel into the central area.

One reason why I want to set this area apart in terms of distance is that (a) it's not part of the immediate surroundings of the main dungeon, we already know that, and it would be a cheap trick to "replace" the existing iconic stuff -- like re-doing Star Wars using CGI. (b) the entire structure required for a true low-level area is very different from the "isolated area" that feels right for higher level adventuring. Low level parties need a place to buy their rations. They are getting stronger in much faster increments, but from a much weaker baseline than what happens with a higher level party. "Yay, we can afford plate mail for the fighter!" is a banner moment, but you have to be able to go and buy the plate mail. The majestic and desolate isolation of the central Rappan Athuk area wouldn't assimilate "Abdul's Plate Mail and Torches Emporium" at the front gates. To create an area that accommodates the needed physical elements that support a low level starting point, that low-level starting point requires some physical, geographical separation from the existing higher-level starting point.

Comments are welcome -- this isn't a done deal (not even in terms of whether it should be in there), and I have more thoughts about this low-level transition area around the sally port that I haven't had space to discuss yet, but I would appreciate any input that people can provide. What are the important elements of such an area? What "feel" for it would match up well with Rappan Athuk? Any other topics for discussion that you feel are important for this area -- bring them up in the comments.

First Design Note
Second Design Note
Third Design Note


  1. Non-standard 1st level monsters are important. If it's just filled with goblins, kobolds, rats, and other standard 1st level trash, it's not going to really have the Rappan Athuk feel. Unless they're crazed, orcus-worshipping cannibalistic goblins or something like that... then maybe.

    To me, a big draw of Rappan Athuk is that it just feels different than your typical D&D adventure. From the gargoyles guarding the front, to the horror of the well, to the TPK-potential trap inside the front door, it immediately sets itself apart from your standard "walk in, kill some orcs, move on" adventure.

    Tomb of Abysthor captured this as well, with the fountain of blood and regenerating skeletons just inside the entry. Stuff like that is what I consider the "feel" of Rappan Athuk... you need enemies and dungeon features that people haven't seen before. The typical 10 recycled SRD monsters that you see in every first level adventure probably won't cut it. Gotta up the creepiness and "wow" factor.

  2. I find these design logs fascinating and hope that you have the time to keep posting updates.

  3. I was curious, i know the big push is to make this one big release, but i have the origonal 3E release, that was put out in 3 parts, have you guys thought about releasing it in multiple smaller parts, even if thats only done as a PDF? Smaller chunks tend to be an easier sell for me.