Thursday, February 22, 2018

Prepping an Adventure vs. Writing an Adventure

Recently, I have gotten a couple of compliments for stuff I’ve done in the hobby. Firstly, one of my friends sent me an email thanking me for getting him back to the gaming table and for doing all the prep work necessary for running a game. Secondly, Ifryt, who writes Miasto ze Spizu, a Polish-language RPG blog, recently ran my adventure The Hermit Caves and wrote up a nice little review. I had to run it through Google Translate, but he liked the module for all the reasons I wrote it, which thrills me to no end.

While I am tooting my own horn here a little bit, I find the juxtaposition of these two comments actually really interesting because of the rather large difference between how I write an adventure to publish and how I prep to run an adventure. While my writing and layout style is quite different from the traditional module, I am nonetheless heavily influenced by the way modules have traditionally been presented. Part of me wonders if Referees, when prepping their own adventures, feel obligated to (at least in part) duplicate what has been published throughout the years.

Since I run a sandbox-style game and my schedule is filled with family, job, church, etc. I long ago realized that I cannot prep my adventures like a regular module. I don’t have time and my players may never actually go where I do all that hard work. Therefore, I have developed a shorthand of adventure prep and have a copious collection of random tables.

Here is an example of how I would come into a gaming session with Dyson Logos’ map The Liar’s Cave:

Note: I typed this out so you could read it (my handwriting is awful).

To explain: I take the back story presented by Dyson, added six monsters (stats on the side) and then rolled for each room using Moldvay’s table from his edition of Basic D&D:

  • E= Empty
  • ET = Empty with Treasure
  • T = Trap
  • TT = Trap with Treasure
  • S = Special
  • M = Monster
  • MT = Monster with Treasure

One thing that I believe gets overlooked in Moldvay’s Basic is that he provides an average value to Treasure Types A-M. This gives me the freedom to arbitrarily assign treasure based on average value rather than rolling on the treasure table. It also allows me to use resources like The Mother of All Treasure Tables (MoaTT), originally published by Necromancer Games, which provides various treasure troves valued at 10 gp all the way to 50,000gp.

Thus, I have noted at each room with treasure a roll on the tables in MoaTT.

Now all I have to do is ask various questions on the day:

  • Why are the monsters in this room?
  • Why is the treasure in this room?
  • What do they think of the party?
  • Why a trap here? What trap is appropriate?
  • What weird thing am I in the mood to have be a Special?
  • Etc...

This is really all the information I need to run a successful dungeon delve that brings with it surprises for both my players and myself. In a way, I am exploring the dungeon with my players since much of the information that might have appeared in a grey box in a module of old, I am making up on the spot by answering questions either my players ask or I ask of myself.

In other words, the amount of work I put into prepping an adventure into The Liar’s Cave pales in comparison to the work I put into The Hermit Caves, yet both can (and have) produce(d) great gaming sessions.

So, to all those yet-to-be Referees (and maybe to those who already are): you don’t need to go to the lengths of a written module to produce great adventures of your own. You don’t need to feel intimidated by all that flavor text and all that background information and all the crunch. If you are willing to be creative, accept the surprises and seemingly nonsensical results that random tables can provide and be comfortable with the reality that if it makes sense to you in the moment, it will most likely make sense to your players, you can jump into the world of Refereeing with as little as a piece of paper with a rough map, a few monster stats and some random tables and still be just as effective as if you’d written everything from scratch.


Scott Anderson said...

thank you, this is perfect for my little party of level 1-2 for next week's delve.

Ifryt said...

Really good and simple method for preparing a session. Thanks for it and for mentioning my blog! :)