Sunday, January 13, 2013

DMG vs. The Tome of Adventure Design

Recently, I had the opportunity to purchase either the WotC re-release of the AD&D DMG or a hardcover edition of Matt Finch’s Tome of Adventure Design (I didn’t have the budget to do both). After thinking about it, I realized that the only reason that I wanted the DMG was to support WotC for actually bothering to re-release some of their older stuff and that I’ll have other opportunities this coming year to do so. In contrast, I wanted the Tome because I actually wanted to use it.

And use it I have. I have to admit that I let my work on The Chateau des Faussesflammes go fallow because I was stuck. Despite the fact that I had some really great ideas including dungeon features, NPCs, villains and even a couple of decent maps there wasn’t that one thing that strung everything together and answer that elusive question Why? A notebook, a pair of dice and a about a half an hour with the Tome helped me answer that question — which is why I have been furiously making maps this week.

Of course, one of the fruits born of this endeavor was my daughter’s dungeon. So inspired was she by seeing her dungeon get the computer treatment by dad that she wanted to do more. So, she and I sat down with the Tome, rolled some dice and began brainstorming. The results were actually pretty stunning:

The adventure itself is called The Ethereal Maze of the Feathered Priesthood. It refers to a training facility used by an avian race (possibly alien) to weed out unworthy acolytes from the aforementioned Feathered Priesthood. About a decade ago, the Villain got a hold of a map which was supposed to lead him to an artifact called the Head of Disunity. Interested in breaking apart the Kingdom so as to take advantage of the chaos to take over he set out on a quest to retrieve the evil artifact.

In process, he made a mistake and misread the map. As a result, he ended up at the Ethereal Maze. Therein is a glowing tree which produces a black, effervescent syrup-like liquid used by the acolytes in their exploration of the maze. When the Villain did not find the Head of Disunity, he threatened the occupants and in the end tried to cut down their tree. Unfortunately for all involved, this resulted in the liquid gushing forth and infecting entire areas of the Maze. In large enough quantities, it causes insanity.

The Villain, himself infected, ran away dropping his map as he fled. The inhabitants of the Maze all went insane and the facility has been abandoned. The tree continues to seep its black liquid in large quantities. Thus, the Maze offers up the possibility of all kinds of crazy monsters mutated by long exposure to the liquid, including the original occupants as well as the hazard of the liquid itself.

The hook involves the Villain, who has been recovering his sanity for the past decade and is finally active again. A Patron of the PCs has found out that he is after a map that lies somewhere within the Maze and has sent agents to go find it. The PCs are tasked with getting the map before it falls into the Villain’s hands.

All this was made possible because of a bunch of random tables and the creativity of a little girl with some help from her dad. This is a great adventure location with a built in race against time, an excuse for coming up with surprising monsters, a cool magical liquid that could have far-flung consequences and uses, an evil artifact that exists somewhere in the world (another higher-level adventure), a villain who wants to go get it and an implied political setting to boot.

In other words, Matt Finch’s Tome of Adventure Design has already paid for itself, as far as I am concerned. If you haven’t bothered to take a look or make use of it, I can’t recommend it enough (something, unfortunately, I've never been able to say about the DMG).

1 comment:

Freddy said...

Good to hear you sharing the game with your daughter. It reminds me of the time my son (about 10 at the time) once informed me that he wanted to DM an adventure in my campaign world for his older siblings. I suggested an island on my map that was theretofore unmapped and gave him carte blanche to put anything there that he wanted.

We worked up a backstory, then made a simple d10 encounter chart, plus a half dozen described locations on the island. One of those locations was a set of hills, which when drawn by him, appeared to my son to be a pair of "butt cheeks." We shared a laugh and then set up an enticement to get his brothers' characters onto a boat, which the 10 year old would shipwreck by fiat -- bringing them to his island for a one-shot adventure.

After working with him for a few hours, I retreated to a corner of the room and let him run the whole shebang without my interference.

To their credit, the older boys didn't resist the strong-arming onto the boat and they didn't cry foul when he shipwrecked them on his prepared island. I just happened to look up when my younger son asked his brothers where they would like to go on the island, "Toward the forest or toward the butt cheeks?"

The two older boys were a bit confused, not having shared our earlier laugh about "the butt cheeks", and not being given any adequate description that said cheeks were a geographical feature. But again to their credit, they played along. After sharing an odd look and a shrug, they said without missing a beat, "To the butt cheeks."

I have seldom laughed as hard or as long as that. To this day, I will often think "To the butt cheeks," when I realize I am railroading my players.