Disclaimer: The internet is full of words. Words are hard.
Sometimes we use too many words. There is even a word for using too many words and it's kind of hard too:
It's a lot of work to read all that crap.
The Bards of Greyhawk hate words, here's their video:
We've been so busy working that when we added up how long it had been since we last played D&D it had been 3 months!
Not that the crew hasn't been begging for more abuse at the hands of Greg Svenson's Tonisborg dungeon, but scheduling has been tough since everyone has real life commitments.
Sadly when we sent out notice for the last game, it was short notice, and we only had a DM and 3 players. Crisis briefly set in because many years of experience has proven that the ideal number of people is 4-5 players and a DM, with each player running 2 characters.
A traditional Secrets of Blackmoor Iced Tea glass can be seen in this photo
Then we realized that we do know of some experienced gamers we could call on to help fill out the party -- The Bards of Grayhawk!
Disclaimer: The internet is full of words. Words are hard. There is also a video to commemorate this fateful meeting.
A quick FB message and it was all set up, The Bards of Greyhawk would join up with Secrets of Blackmoor for an epic and possibly weird gaming session.
Ritch asked for an address, but I refused to give it to him until the day of the game. I told him to think of this gaming session as something like the old days of Raves, where you didn't really know where the party was until the last minute.
When Saturday night rolled around we had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy and Ritch in person for the first time over a very laid back session of OD&D.
A few minutes of dice rolling and some equipment purchases later and the Bards were ready to Rock -- You gotta love OD&D when it comes to fast set up and play.
The Bards are in da house!
Randall had the two dwarf characters again. It has become a tradition that when a dwarf gets killed it gets re-used as yet another of a very large family of dwarf brothers, cousins, and extended family. Thus the family name of Har* gets carried onto other characters, that never have to be re-rolled, and which have similar names:
Harvii - (with two i's is pronounced Harv-eye) who died in game 1 of Tonisborg
Harvi - who died in game 2 of Tonisborg
Scarvi - who can't seem to get himself killed no matter what
Marvi - who is taking up slot 2 and can be expected to live a very short life
*A brief historical note: Randall is following Lord of the Rings dwarf naming protocol so this is all fully within regs.
And of course we had the rest of the regular party of characters, Rosa's, Chalice, and Elie, and Chris with Ned* and Earl*.
*Note: Ned and Earl are names that come from a long and ancient line of sub urban mobile castle peoples.
We're still playing the old game
By this point all the bad puns and jokes were already flying; most of which cannot be put into print. Yet when it comes to Epic Gaming there have to be bad jokes, or it won't meet our standards of Huzzah!
The game was again to be a journey into Tonisborg dungeon which dates back to 1973. It likely has not been run since about 1982, when it was "misplaced".
As the party approached the ruin, the DM dropped his first hint via an NPC: Are you going to take the little stairwell, or the big stairs? I was doing that thing you do as a DM, where you can't tell them to do something but you can suggest it.
A while back we did a blog post about Tonisborg and talked a bit about the dead-li-fication (real word -- google it) of this dungeon. The first level has some 4th level encounters on it that will destroy a weak party quickly and it's actually a bit safer to go straight to the 2nd level. In fact, Tonisborg is what inspired us to come up with the Killer D.M. concept in the first place.
The players ignored the DM's subtle hint about perhaps going to the second level of the dungeon where things might be easier and headed back to the place of carnage known as level 1.
I always wonder when people draw while I am Dm'ing, is it really that boring Ritch?
I won't go into a blow by blow retelling of the adventure since the one thing I hate most, is when someone bores me with extended long winded apparently unique special and funny tales of their own D&D games. I will try to be brief and show what is relevant about old dungeons like this one.
After a very short time in the dungeon, Tonisborg once again proved its reputation is well earned -- Tonisborg is a Killer. Almost every encounter was something that the players deemed too big to handle and they ran away from it.
Rosa even proclaimed: If this is 1st level, I want to go to kinder level!
Ever notice how dice in photos look almost as if they were placed there?
And then things went from worse to a lot worse, as the players finally reached Rooms #1 and #2. A very bad place indeed. Yet the players were doing really well and playing very tactically as they used a thief to explore the passageway solo so he would not alert anything, or anyone, of the party's presence.
I love when players treat Dungeoning as more than a jaunt through the dungeon and approach it as a kind military mission with scouting and planning -- Nice Move Jeremy!
Pencils too, can look almost as if they were staged in the photo
Of course, the party had no way of knowing that death was waiting for them in both rooms and seeing as it was their choice, there was nothing to do but play on and watch things unfold.
The thief listened at the door to the room with wraiths in it and heard nothing. Then he listened at the door with the Theurgists and he heard some voices chanting. Well, so far so good.
The thief rejoined the party and a quick debate took place about what to do. It was decided that the non-noise door was the safest option. As DM, I was thinking, "Oh goody I get to kill now." So the 2nd level fighter and the 1st level thief went back to the door, thinking they could open it quietly and explore the room.
One failed door open roll later and the fighter and thief found themselves facing 2 wraiths.
After that, all hell broke loose. The wraiths killed the thief in one blow. The theurgists came out of their door to help the wraiths. The Fighter started running and said something along the lines of "AAAaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!"
Somehow everyone else got the cue that running was a pretty good idea.
Tonisborg: 1 Party: 0
We go fully medieval -- No Printing Presses means no Graph Paper!
Having decided that enough is enough the players chose to leave the dungeon for good. This led to a quick die roll to determine a random encounter which once again came up with giant weasels. A previous game we ran had weasels as a wandering monster encounter as well, and the party was already familiar with them. For instance, Scarvi the Dwarf still wants to find out how to capture and tame one, so he can "ride the weasel" -- Dwarves are weird.
Since the encounter range was only 10 feet a battle broke out immediately. One of Ritch's charatcers went below zero hit points in the first round. Since we play a very home brewed game we have our own simple system for dealing with this.
If you go negative hit points the party can still save you with healing and by binding the wounds (Only clerics for 1d4 per character) after the fight is over. So the -5 got healed by the cleric to a +3 and that player survived.
This all brings me to the whole point of today's blog post. It's always really wonderful to meet new gamers. And The Bards of Greyhawk are our kind of gamers. They are funny and they like to have a good time. They fit right into our group and the game went smoothly.
A good example of this happened during the weasel battle when there were just two weasels left and I asked Ritch, "Which weasel are you attacking".
And Ritch said, "Well, I'm a hobbit, and everyone knows that most hobbits will choose the lesser of two weasels."
If you have not heard of the Bards of Greyhawk, you should check them out.
Our personal favorite is this german electronica inspired tune they made for CafCon:
They also have a website with more info here: http://www.bardsofgreyhawk.com/
As I write this little missive from my humble jail cell in the Dark-Site run by the Dungeon Design Code Infractions Secret Police, or DDCISP, I am forced to ruminate on my crimes.
I was delivered to this vile "dungeon" of despair because I did not use graph paper. I did not follow the lines. I was a sloppy and lazy Dungeon Master. I acted without any concern for my players and actually faked half of the adventure -- I am the worst kind of Dungeon Master because I am a cheater.
And most of all, I disrespected the memory our great founding fathers, St. Gygax, and St. Arneson.
I am a traitorous comrade and deserve my fate. My living conditions are abysmal and I am being tortured daily as I am forced to listen to bad slavic rap music round the clock...
…and must eat healthy food: oatmeal. The low sugar diet will kill me -- Please Send MTN. DEW!
Ok, everyone relax!
There is no secret police force that keeps tabs on how people design their dungeons, so if you think someone is peering in your windows to see what your maps look like, either take your meds, or call the real police.
Now, lets look at Quick and Dirty Dungeon Design some more.
This is yet another truly shaming example of how I do dungeons. (See Exhibit A)
Exhibit: A (also known as The Walls of Shame)
If you examine Exhibit A, you once again see a a lot of personal shame -- my own. No one was ever supposed to see this, ever!
Lameness abounds, except for the fact that we had a blast playing it. This little piece of garbage dungeon lasted 4, or 5, sessions and I kept adding to it between sessions to keep it fresh and new. If monsters got killed, monsters got replaced. None of that clearing things out stuff; every mission required whole new monsters to be dealt with before getting to unexplored areas.
I think it took me maybe 2 hours to whip up and I didn't even bother to make a separate page to note the monsters on. What I did instead was to CHEAT. I made little notes and drew little designs next to places on the map. These are all just memory triggers for me to use as I am running the dungeon.
This is once again a bit heretical because at some point, someone decided that dungeons were supposed to be really painstakingly complicated and throughly annotated straight jackets. This probably came about because of all the published modules.
We've all seen these pre-made dungeon modules where everything is described in minute detail:
…as the players enter the room, the first thing they will notice is that there is a trail of glistening and damp saliva leading from a wooden chest in the corner to a dead orc sitting with his back against the wall on the opposite side of the room…
Ok, Some people love modules. I won't fault them for it. I use them as inspiration and STEAL IDEAS from them; yet I actually find modules incredibly difficult to run -- Too much to remember for my little pea brain.
I find that making my own dungeons is much easier, and the process for making them can be done in simple stages.
You can either make your map first, or create encounters first, I tend to mix it up and make half the map and then populate it to see how the rest of the map should be drawn. I'm jumping ahead of myself though; I need an overarching concept before I do anything.
First I come up with A THEME. In this case I have a double theme, one of which is that half the dungeon is silly because it is dedicated to Fred Funk. There is some scrawly graffiti in a triangular room that says: "Funk, King of all the orcs was here!" Along with a scary pumpkin face. The other is that a clan of kobolds is living here and the nearby village peasants are angry because of the raiding parties to steal their cows and occasionally people. There's more, but it does not matter. Ok, three overlapping themes, but whatever.
So what if the kobolds discovered a room where a demon is trapped inside a statue and that this is a really bad place for the players to find.
Themes can be anything that inspires you, be it a location like the River Cave complex from the last post, or who lives there, or maybe just a mood - I want this to feel scary like a haunted house. I want to emphasize that mood is important,
I even make notes in some rooms about the kind of mood I want to evoke during play. Is there fogg, is it silent? Telling your players that everything is suddenly silent is a powerful moment in any dungeon dive.
Once I have a map and a theme, I make a list of EVENTS like so:
-Area of map is controlled by kobolds
-There is a tunnel that over time will become infested with what look like insideout rat
-The wizard's chamber is empty, right now, but on the desk is a magic dagger. If it is touched, it animates and can fly around stabbing people. It is AC2 and if hit by a player it will deactivate and fall to the ground until touched again
-The players hear footsteps running away from them into the darkness - Boo!
-A supernatural gust of wind and rain suddenly occurs and then immediately stops And then a voice is heard laughing maniacally
These examples are actually much more detailed than my actual lists of ideas. Some of my ideas may be wandering monsters that talk to the players, I just didn't list those. Yet they are all just little memory triggers for me, so that when I run the dungeon I remember what is there and what should happen. I also embellish all my notes in real time as I actually play the encounters out. I am always faking my way through the game, Yes, I cheat!
Once I have my list, I simply plonk everything into the rooms.
The players will already know something unsavory lives here, because there are filthy symbols scrawled on the dungeon walls. Look closely and you see some symbols marked on the map - yep kobold graffiti. (Sorry if you are a bit too prudish to see these symbols. I make really scary dungeons.)
If you look at the kobold warrens, you see 6k, 7k, 8k, next to some of the rooms. My kobolds are nasty little buggers, if they are losing they will run away and warn the other kobolds, so you can see where one kobold survived and ran up to join the kobolds in the next room as a curved line and a +1. Now the next room as 8 kobolds, and then it happens again, they retreat and now the players are up against 14 kobolds and the tables have turned as the players beat a hasty retreat!
The rat tunnels are like sewers and as we played I really went to town describing how the players are trudging through ankle deep water and then they see all these little eyes reflected back at them by their torch light. This is standard run of the mill stuff, but it can scare players, and as they found out: It can still kill you!
For the record, our crew beat a hasty retreat and everyone survived.
And of course the uninhabited Wizard's lab. I cheated on that too. When I made the map I put it on the extreme upper right hand side as a secret chamber. The players never found it, so I moved it to a room marked spider in the upper middle of the map ,they found that one. I like to RECYCLE planned encounters, if they are not discovered, and why waste a good chance for fun?
Most of the time I cheat when I run a dungeon. I make half of it up on the spot and I move interesting things around as I play to keep things interesting. Sometimes my notes are not enough and I make things up in game time, or alter them based on player behavior. I said - sometimes. :)
And I can hear all of you out there saying things like: But that's not FAIR!
Well cupcakes, life isn't fair -- and I cheat my players when we play. The thing is, am I really cheating them?
Cheating players, is when they die because something they have no chance to resist kills them. Yet a core reason for playing is to have a stimulating experience and interact with all kinds of situations. I am just being lazy because I only prepare a few special encounters before each session and pad it all out with monster combat encounters and strange events. again, I try to maximize player enjoyment with, you got it, CHEATS to keep the game interesting. If the players do not go to that side of the map, well then, maybe something interesting ends up over here.
I also don't bother to use random charts to make combat encounters. I've been playing for decades and I just decide what I want where, and make a note on the map.
Some people have commented to me, Yes - Dan Boggs - I am talking about you, that it is not fair to populate your dungeon intentionally. Dan, It's just that I have monsters that I hate to use, so I find it easier to put monsters into rooms that I feel an affinity for, and I tend to make up one shot home made monsters a lot. It's a map and even if my placement is not random, what passages the players choose is, so it's still random.
Of course a first level dungeon like this requires a bit of restraint.
In the previous blog post I talked about referee mystique -- Players do not know what you are doing and this allows you to keep them nervous and afraid of your dungeon, as well as just keep them out of your business; so you can go about making things more intense in your game session -- by Cheating!
I like to run fast games and my Cheater System actually helps me run a quicker game. Which also brings me back to
MY PROBLEM with pre-made modules. There is so much detail in a pre-made one, that I can often forget those details and the players may never get all the details. This also happens in my cheater games, I forget things, and yet the players do not know this and have fun.
I used to really feel anxious when I missed some key element during a game, I was really hard on myself at times. I've finally realized that if the players don't know about it, they can't care -- JUST HAVE FUN and keep playing!
I also think the THROW AWAY DUNGEONS sometimes end up being some of my best work. Since I don't care too much about it, I feel much more freedom in making it.
Well, now you've seen another of my truly embarrassing maps. And hopefully , you will consider trying some of my sloppy and lazy technique in order to speed up your own dungeon making for your campaign.
There is no reason that game preparation should take too long, as long as your game judging ability still provides for an entertaining evening of gaming.
If you try a test run of a home made Quick and Dirty Dungeon, you may find your players are having just as much fun as when they run through an expensive pre-made one. In fact, you may find you are a better dungeon master than you realized too.
And another thing to consider -- Some encounters will never happen:
The players met an NPC named Boaty. Boaty is actually a pair of twin magical boats who say the same thing at the same time in chorus. They are very freindly and helpful. They will take you anywhere you want in the watery areas of the map.
They asked the players if they wanted to go to Happy Island - NO. Then they asked the players if they wanted to go to Dragon Island - NOPE. And finally they asked the players if they wanted to go to Laser Penguin Island - A DEFINITIVE NEVER EVER!
Consider that any truly big and dangerous monster, or place, in your dungeon is well known. The characters will hear about it from the NPC's. And perhaps, if they are smart, they will just not go there. These mythic places that players never want to visit will become epic in your games. It's been nearly a year and the players still mention Laser Penguin Island despite never having been there.
Ok, now it's time to apply this technique and see what happens. Get some paper and a pen(cil) and get to building and populating your own module. Set your Theme, make a List of Events and Creatures, Then note everything on your wonderful new map -- Instant Dungeon Module!
The methods for Quick and Dirty Dungeons are really just a tool. It may not work for everyone.
Try it, if you do not like what you've made, consider that this style of design allows for redo's. These sloppy maps can be rough drafts and practice. You can throw the map away, or better yet, look at what you have, take what you like, and make a newer and better map.
Don't forget to check out our SHOP as well as the Gary Con Movie Draft Sample here:
Image from: https://www.foodiebaker.com/skocjan-caves-slovenia/
Everyone is an expert on map making, just google dungeon map tutorial, or something similar, and you'll get a gagillion hits that lead to sites where people tell you that they have the answer to how it is supposed to be done.
It's sort of funny to think that some people will try to tell you that there is a right way, and a wrong way.
Not long ago, we got to visit a cave complex in Slovenia. It was fascinating to see just how big the caves are. And also how high the ceilings were, or how deep a canyon can be underground:
This site has an interactive that is pretty awesome too:
Being in a real cave complex makes the little wheels in your head start to turn, and the idea of a river cave dungeon complex was born.
Because the original rules suggested using graph paper, that is exactly what we do, and most of us end up following the lines and treat the graph paper like the lines in a coloring book. It's sort of amazing that all of our underground places align to the cardinal points like the streets in Mayberry U.S.A. And of course, because so many of us have seen pre-published dungeon modules, we try to make our own hand drawn maps look as tidy and professional as what you see in the commercial products.
So, what if we just stop caring about it so much?
Map courtesy of: Worlds Lamest Map Makers and Bic Ball Point Pens :P
This is a map that was drawn yesterday while lying on the couch. It isn't even finished. It's really sloppy. It's embarrassing to share this publicly because the only award it will get is as World's Worst Map Ever.
There are places that upon further inspection, we'd like to alter a bit. Well, it's drawn in pen, so the next step will look even worse!
Having played for a long long time, we're less and less obsessed with dungeon map perfection. In fact, we have stopped using graph paper and just draw what comes to mind on whatever piece of paper seems to be handy. This means that the actual distances and dimensions during a game are estimated on the spot. The little tunnels are about 10' wide. The pathways around the canyon walls are likely more like 20' wide, which should make the players begin to worry about just exactly who lives here?
Most of the maps in our current game are really chaotic because of this, but it doesn't seem to change anything and the players have no clue just how sloppy they are!
You may be wondering why we do this, there are several reasons:
-The Dungeon Master Mystique. No one will ever see our maps because players aren't ever supposed to know what the Dungeon Master knows.
-Anachronisms. Even though players want to have exact duplicates of your map that they create: there are no such things as graph paper and mechanical pencils in our fantasy world!
Never mind surveying poles and equipment.
-Old School Play. We play a fully immersive game, where all of the action takes place as a verbal exchange. We prefer to only use minis in order to determine marching orders. Once a battle starts, the action is all in your head like so:
Ref - There are two orcs standing in the room.
Player - Ok, I run over and attack the one on the left with my sword - RAHR!
Frenzied die rolling follows. ;)
If you play the verbal style of RPG things can also move really fast and you can clear half a dungeon level in one night.
-Confusion. It's fun to trick the players about what direction they are traveling in and we make maps with lots of squiggly passages that angle in all directions. This makes it so they end up with their own sloppy, but realistic maps -- and sometimes they get lost.
-Game Time. Sure, the players can do a very accurate map, but this will take time, and guess what -- the DM gets to make more wandering monster die rolls.
-Scale. If you use graph paper and use a scale 1 square = 10', your dungeon is actually a really tiny thing, how the heck is a dragon supposed to get in there?
-Real World Time. Mapping and populating an entire dungeon could literally take weeks. Our players can clean out a dungeon in just a couple game sessions. When they are done with a dungeon, they just move on and forget about it. All that effort and OCD detail gets put in a drawer, possibly forever.
-D.I.Y. That's right -- DO IT YOURSELF. The essence of the original set of rules for D&D was that they were a template for how to run a game; a lot of it was not defined. Every DM played differently and made things differently. This means that each and every D&D dungeon was a unique experience to be delved into.
The most important part of all of this, is that making maps is actually fun to do. It's like a hobby within a hobby. All you need is a pencil, or pen, and a piece of paper, and you can descend into a magical world that is all your own.
Remember the words of the greatest Dungeon Designer of all time...
A few hours of day dreaming on paper and you end up with an instant home made Dungeon Module!
Our attitude is that maps don't really matter. They can be as poorly made as possible, and the experience of playing an RPG is still the same -- it's how you use the map that matters.
So relax and have fun. better yet, get a piece of blank paper and a pen(cil) and get drawing!
Oh and --Thank you Dave Arneson, for inventing RPG dungeons!
Don't forget to check out the T-shirt and FREE 35 minute online screener offer,
just click the SHOP button at the top of the page :)