Sunday, April 24, 2011

Maps, Modules, and Musings

Winding down Sunday's sleeping, beagles are sleeping, I already took my nap, so I'm good for a few hours...

Last night I was up till 2am drawing maps. "Maps?" Yeah, maps...adventure module maps. When I first started this B/X Companion project O So Many Moons Ago, my original plan was to publish it as a box set in the same style as Moldvay's Basic Rules and Cook/Marsh's Expert other words, a little box, a 64 page booklet, and an adventure module to "get things rolling." After all, while the rules explain the rules, it was the first couple adventure modules (B2:The Keep on the Borderlands and X1:The Isle of Dread) that really put it all in perspective. At least they did for me. As a kid teaching myself how to play (I wasn't introduced to the game by older siblings/friends) these were the basis for understanding what an "adventure" should look like.

Not that I didn't evolve my DMing style over time...I think most people who have acted as "game master" for years do...but the idea of how to design a dungeon or a wilderness adventure definitely comes in part from these adventures. While I have adapted other ideas to my gaming the idea of a "map" with "numbered scenes" which PCs will visit (in whichever order they choose) is still my main fashion of least for B/X. This is the foundation upon which everything else is built.

Well, whatever...I'm probably being too simplistic (again). The point is, I wanted to include my own adventure module with the B/X Companion to not only showcase the rules but to present something of a model for "high level adventures." I just can't think of all that many published adventure modules designed for high level play.

I suppose it depends on what one considers "high level." When WotC issued a version of Tomb of Horrors for 4th edition, my immediate reaction (besides irritation) was the desire to do a B/X conversion of the game. At the time I figured it could wait till my Companion came out (since a high level module needs a high level rule set). But looking over the old S1 on Saturday and you know what? Ain't nothing in the adventure that needs "converting." Oh, sure, there's the old demi-lich Acerack, that needs a B/X conversion...but other than that, is there anything in the module that requires characters of higher than Expert level? No. Characters of levels 15 to 36 aren't any more suitable for this "dungeon crawl" than a party of levels 10th to 14th. S1:Tomb of Horrors really is just an "expert" level module.

Same with Q1:Queen of the Demonweb Pits. Last summer I was REALLY itching to revisit this module and work up a conversion for B/X and was anxiously looking forward to my book's publication...after all, it's tough to run G1-3:Against the Giants when you don't have a game that includes the mighty Hammer of Thunderbolts or D2:Shrine of the Kuo-Toa and D3:Vault of the Drow if you don't have my Ponaturi or Dokkalfar monsters from the B/X Companion. And I was soooo looking forward to statting up Lolth and her demon buddies as a B/X conversion.

But in reading Q1 this weekend I found that there's a lot about it I don't like. I know, I know...Q1 has long had a mixed reputation with old school fans of the GDQ series. There's still an awful lot to like about Q1 and I think Sutherland gets a lot of things absolutely right. I even like the Spider Ship/Palace that others revile (it's just "weird enough" to sound like my favorite kind of acid-trip-D&D).

But it's NOT "high level" play. To me, this is "God Confrontation Lite;" sure Lolth, as a goddess, is so far out of the class of your ordinary adventurer that there is no way she should ever be defeated. Well, so long as she's played with "Godlike" intelligence and not as a two-bit monster (i.e. so long as the DM isn't "fudging" the adventure to "save" the player characters). The other nice thing about Q1...this is just about the only scenario I can imagine where adventurers of ANY level would have the motivation and wherewithal to even consider confronting a demon goddess on her own plane (really...I tried for awhile the other day to come up with something suitable and ended up with many ways Bloodstone is just a rehashing of the Q1 plot crossed with a bad B-grade movie).

In all fairness, Q1 does come closest to what I consider "high level play:" the antagonists are definitely up there, the planar weirdness is as it should be, the extra-dimensions/worlds are right on. But then the treasures are pedestrian. Many of the monster encounters are fairly normal/pedestrian. Again, other than the fact that Lolth should KILL EVERYONE should they make it to her palace, the challenges are all geared right around that level 10-14 fact they're a little nerfed (in my opinion) possibly to compensate for PCs having limited access to spells and whatnot (i.e. fighting bugbears and ogres instead of demons as a "game balance" to the planar restrictions on spells and magic items).

And, yes...while I was at it, I also reviewed the 2003 Dragonfoot module Skein of the Death Mother (a re-imagining of the final encounters of Q1 designed and written by folks who didn't like the Spider Ship). And found it was pretty much the same encounters in a different setting...i.e. not much to cheer about there.

So, right...back to my own adventure module designed for "high level play." It's all well-and-good to bitch about everyone else, but what are YOU going to do about it JB? Well, maybe...just maybe...I'll finally get around to publishing my own adventure module.

The main thing that was holding me back was the main "site encounter" due to the necessity of drawing maps...something I have some kind of mental block about. Hell, this is one of the reasons I so enjoy playing (or re-tooling) standard old school adventure modules: my own pulling-teeth-frustration when it comes to drawing up a map. Sure, I can do a 5-6 room cave complex, but a mega-dungeon? A labyrinth with adherence to Gygaxian Ecology? No...those things just don't come very easy for me (unlike some folks).

But last night, I'd had enough...ENOUGH, I say, of sitting on my hands and whining that there ain't no high level adventure modules for using with the B/X Companion. There are quite a few folks that have purchased the game over the last seven-eight months and while I've gotten a lot of positive feedback, I get the impression that for most people it is sitting on their shelf as a mere curiosity. Ugh. I didn't write the damn thing to be a "curiosity."

So I sat down and just drew the maps. All of 'em. They're done.

Of course, they look shitty and unprofessional compared to most anything you'll find floating around the OSR, including One Page Dungeon Contest entries. But at least they're finished. I can now finish statting out the module's last few encounters (now that I have rooms to which I can assign monsters) and get this thing out-the-door.

I'm looking forward to play-testing.


  1. I always find that starting the damn things is the worse part. Are you going to post your play test reports as they happen?

  2. @ Simon: I don't know yet. I'm not sure yet how I want to run the adventure.

  3. Hey man, if you are interested in getting those maps redrawn, you know where to get ahold of me.

  4. @ Dyson: I do, and I might just take you up on that.
    : D