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This is a continuation of a discussion about making up your own adventures, or as it is commonly called: Home Brewing.
A previous entry here:
I constantly see people making comments about Story in RPGs. I feel many of these comments are not very well thought out. It is a lot like how people describe Role Playing which I also feel is much more nuanced than merely play acting. From my perspective everything within the RPG experience is both role playing and story.
As I discuss the various locations in the Riverine Cavern Complex my descriptions are having to become more and more detailed and complex. This is a bit misleading. I am describing these locations as examples for an adventure, but I never write them out like this for my own game. In fact, entire dungeons have been created with really simple descriptions and maybe a tiny note to go with.
Quick and dirty notation was like so:
Qty Monster HD AC
4 Skeletons Hd: 1/2 AC: 6
Treasure: 100 CP, 300 SP, 500 GP, +1 sword, scroll 1 spell, potion
And this is where a great deal of confusion occurs when today's players see an old dungeon. Their first response will be "There is no story here!" I'm here to tell you that everything has a narrative, or story, even this simple room key.
Some players like Big Arc Story, others like Subplots, a lot of people like the little Micro Narratives they engage with and solve immediately whether it's a combat encounter, or something more sublime - It's all story.
My room example doesn't appear out of thin air. Those skeletons are an animated magical undead. They were created by someone. Maybe they have been in this room for hundreds of years and began as zombies. By now their flesh has fallen off leaving just the skeletons. If the wizard who created them passed away ages ago I can know how they were created and I don't need to deal with my wizard at all. She's gone gone gone. I do know my Micro Narrative and can expand on this simple theme.
As this is just one room of many I can decide that our wizard placed these creatures here to guard a minor treasure. Because these skeletons are still here I can also know that no one has succeeded in pilfering their treasure.
Maybe I neglected to draw in an extra hidden chamber for the treasure when I drew my map. Yet, if I were a wizard I wouldn't go leaving my treasure in plain site. I would be sneaky. I can infer that perhaps this treasure is inside of a trapped wooden chest concealed in a low nook behind a secret wall panel.
What I am doing is creating a tiny little story. Who put the skeletons here and what is the purpose for them being here. Why is there treasure here and why is it concealed?
When you create these stories they can become as varied and complex as you like, yet it's a good idea for around 80% of them to be really simple. If you have too many encounters that tie into a big arc story, you create an info overload for your players. They're going to be so busy parsing all their data in order to solve the greater mystery that they won't have time to explore and adventure.
Each room can have a tiny story of its own that is not in any way connected to the greater story in a campaign. I have several stories running in my game that are so big I don't even expect my players to solve them. The big arc story is more for me as referee. I want to know why some of the places and objects my players find came into existence.
If I am playing off my big arc story my major plot points are simple:
-An ancient queen was betrayed by the elves.
-Dwarven lore hints of this event, thus the dwarves aren't too keen on Elves.
-Only certain elves can know this suppressed history, an elf player would not know this. Yet they could be drawn into a secret order of elven spies.
-Somehow the goblins are a key to this, yet most consider them to be evil.
-Oh yeah, there is a rumor that the queen is waiting to be brought back to life so she can exact revenge on the elves.
My predominantly human players are going to be stuck in a moral quandary of epic proportions if they ever do locate her. They already accidentally released a trapped demon in one of their other adventures. I've also made a point of seeding some details to the greater story in this adventure. It's my campaign story arc, perhaps you have your own you can throw into this game.
Here I go again: Everyone and everything has a story, this is true for real life and also true for our games.
More locations from the Riverine Cavern Complex follow.
This location is what remains of a semi permanent base created by a troop of dwarves working in conjunction with a scholar named Piume. They tunneled out a little base within the cavern complex in order to be able to remain here for some time as they explored the caverns.
It's a small complex of rooms as dwellings for the Dwarves. Lots of once ornate broken furniture can be found here; all in smaller dwarven proportions.
There is a hidden passage that is merely 3 feet wide leading to Piume's chamber.
The first thing players will note is the body of a hapless adventurer that died here some time ago. The room is dry enough that the corpse has become mummified. A close examination will reveal many small stab wounds most likely caused by a dagger.
Info: human, leather armor, rotted clothes, a pouch with some coins of little value.
This room has not been inhabited for a long time, yet some of the furniture remains. All of it is very ornate and gilded in gold leaf, a chair, a table, a bed, and a wood chest. Dwarves will find this style of furniture familiar as it is of dwarven manufacture. It's fairly valuable stuff if you can find the right buyer, but it is also a bit awkward to carry out of this place. The table and bed would need to be dismantled in order to get them through the entrance passage.
The floor has many pieces of broken crystal glass. A telling detail is a goblet stem.
Sitting on the table is a book that is so old it will fall apart if opened. A crystal decanter with a stopper full of dark liquid; this is old wine that has turned to vinegar. There is also an old dagger.
If anyone touches the dagger, they've made a grave mistake. This is a cursed dagger that was left here to guard the room when the place was abandoned. It will activate and fly through the air lunging at whomever happens to be here. It does damage like a normal dagger. It has an Armor class of 2 in my OD&D game, meaning that it is hard to hit. It will deactivate if it kills everyone in the room, or if someone can hit it for 6 points damage. It then falls to the floor until someone else touches it.
If the wood chest, which is empty, is moved from the wall and old parchment will be found. It is an old unsent letter.
My Dearest Cleomi,
I miss you dearly. I am nearly done with my exploration of the caverns. I have made some important discoveries in the past months. It seems clear that the ancient Ghebelin used these caves as a secret pathway through the mountains. There is even a portal that leads to another land far far away. Yet the place is now a sunken water logged labyrinth of stones. Having traversed the portal for a short visitation, I was able to read some of the ancient writing and I believe that this place is none other than the ancient seat of power of the great Ghebelin Queen Aruanni. The ruins are clearly of a large city. It is full of mystical traps of all kinds and much too dangerous for me to explore without the aid of a sensitive who can detect all these grave dangers ahead of time. Sadly, we lost one of my dwarven companions when she was devoured by an invisible creature. The dwarves are in mourning over the loss of their friend and have begun to write a song about her that will be placed in the ancestral records of their clan.
I look forward to reuniting with again, yours - Piume.
This should be printed out and folded in half and then handed to the players during the game. I use a lot of props. Sometimes opening and reading is a bad thing; like reading a cursed scroll. They're lucky this time, but they know me as a referee, and this will be a moment of anxiety and chance taking for whomever opens this piece of paper.
The Gateway to the Marshes
This location has a set of 7 prominent stalgamites in a perfect circle. A detect treasure, or gems spell would reveal that 7 Gems are encased within these natural pillars of stone. one can remove them by chipping away the stone, yet it will also damage the true purpose of this location, which is as a magical teleportation portal to the location of an ancient city that is now sunk into the fetid swamp full of all sorts of dangers.
Stepping inside the circle will cause the player to disappear and reappear in a ruined city that has been consumed by a marsh. Lucky for them, they appear on high ground.
There is a set of 8 foot tall pillars in the other location as well. One can step out of the circle of pillars and then step back into it and get teleported back to the caverns.
The marsh area is surrounded by fallen ruins of buildings. The place is very dangerous. Any wandering monster encounter here will be with something entirely supernatural that is partly invisible.
Going back thrugh the portal is a very good idea.
That should take care of todays discussion on creating adventures quickly. There isn't much more to go as far as the described areas are concerned. Strangely enough, I still haven't bothered to create a map.
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