Saturday, August 28, 2021

Vancouver Problems

I'm having a tough time.

Currently, I'm typing in yet another darkened hotel room; this one in Vancouver, Washington. Folks unfamiliar with the Northwest Territories may have only ever heard of Vancouver, British Columbia, the thriving metropolis a couple hours north of Seattle (both were named for the explorer, George Vancouver). However, despite being only a quarter (or less) of the Canadian city's size (and probably less than that in terms of prestige), the American Vancouver is the older, dare I say "the Original," city to hold the name. It is, in fact, older than Seattle and at one time was (briefly) the capital of the state. When I was a kid, my father would sometimes have business trips that would take him to those days (the 1970s) the two cities (Seattle and Vancouver) were far closer in terms of scale and economic impact than they are today.

Getting here was a bitch...a 2.5 hour drive turned into four by a combination of road construction and a near endless string of car accidents (seriously...there were not less than four collisions on the interstate that would cause an incredible slowdown every 30 miles or so). We're in town for a three-day soccer jamboree for the boy, and we barely managed to make it to the field prior to the Friday night game (kid changed in the car during a 7.5 mile stretch that took as an hour to traverse). But make it we did. 

Perhaps, understandably, our team had some frustrations to work out, and they shellacked the other guys 6-0. It could have easily been 10. We'll see how today's games go.

But that's for later, after everyone's awake and breakfasted and I've had something to drink besides hotel room instant coffee (a Keurig machine, actually, which has a nice Italian roast, but forces me to get up and fill the damn thing for every cup I drink). Since the kennel fiasco that led to the death of my dog in July, all our road trips have included the original "running beagle," and she was happy to get me up at the crack of dawn for her morning meal and walk. She now dozes (with the family) while I sit typing in the dark. As usual. Having a tough time.

Problem: okay, here it is. I have four days left to write this damn adventure for Prince's contest. I've got the maps done and PDF'd (getting better with Ye Old "Dungeon Doodler"), I've got the encounters named and numbered, I've got the treasure catalogued to the copper piece, I've got my monsters and traps and tricks lined up and ready...

I'm having a damned hard time writing it all up.

And I'm not sure what it is that's stopping me. I've got into a habit with my recent adventure writing of using a simple, three bullet-point system: #1 is general description, #2 is monster stuff (if any), and #3 is any treasure (valuable or not). Here are a couple examples from my DL1 re-mix:
29. Sage Front
  • Rotten books stained with green fungus line the decrepit shelves on the north side of this room. The air smells of decay and rotting paper.
  • The books crumble if handled. All are worthless. 

30. Sage’s Court
  • Unlike the outer room, the interior is meticulously clean and uncluttered, though the stench of decay is still strong. Several shelves of intact books grace the walls; a gold-painted chair stands near a solid oak table. A single, emaciated figure works in the darkness.
  • The unliving sage putters around the room, working to keep his remaining books in excellent condition. Unless approached with politeness, he assumes intruders are thieves and attack. WIGHT (AC 5, HD 4+3, HPs 25, MM100). Though amenable to seekers of knowledge, the creature will only talk for D4 minutes before attacking in a fit of life-starved hunger.
  • Treasure: the wight obsessively cares for and preserves many of his most valuable books. He has 20 tomes worth an average of 100 g.p. each, as well as a tome of clear thought (8,000 x.p.), a tome of leadership and influence (7,500 x.p.), and a tome of understanding (8,000 x.p.).
Stuff like that. However, I'm having a hard time using this format for my "No ArtPunk" adventure. For one thing, it's a high-level affair: an AD&D scenario suitable for a band of characters levels 10th-14th. Which, in my opinion, requires a bit more tactical description in order to challenge such experienced PCs. And writing that up is a wordy affair, cluttering up bullet-points and/or rendering them a joke. The bullet points are, after all, supposed to be there for the convenience of the DM reading the text.

No, it's not that I'm writing stuff like "if the PCs do X, then monsters do Y, otherwise they do Z." I just mean there has to be more than "the Beholder attacks!" For example, in the previously mentioned adventure, the creature with the largest tactical description is (duh) the black dragon at the end of the module. Here's how I wrote up that encounter:

84. Dragon’s Lair
  • An immense chamber rises four stories to a cracked and broken translucent dome. A black dragon, reclines on an enormous horde of coins, precious jewels, and exquisite items. This is Onyx, and she was old three centuries ago, before the city was buried beneath the swamp.
  • ANCIENT HUGE BLACK DRAGON (AC 3, HD 8, HPs 64); she is a warlock and may cast the following spells: charm person, detect magic, identify, unseen servant, darkness 15’ radius, knock, locate object, dispel magic, hold person, protection from normal missiles, curse, and minor globe of invulnerability. Onyx expects submission and abject worship. If the party has been able to enter without noise (such as through #83) there is a 50% she is sleeping. She will have otherwise taken the chance to cast protection from normal missiles on herself in preparation for intruders. Her first action will be to fly out of melee range and bellow for her guardsmen (any left within the palace will immediately hear her call and respond). If she sees characters engaged in spell-casting she will cast minor globe of invulnerability; otherwise she will cast hold person on any obvious melee types. She will then attack lightly armored characters in melee. Onyx will try not to use her breath weapon inside the chamber, so as save her treasure; however, if the party proves powerful, she will (sadly) do so.
  • Treasure: The dragon’s hoard is immense and growing larger as her minions gather more spoils on her behalf. 20,000 c.p., 25,000 s.p., 30,000 e.p., 18,000 g.p., 3,000 p.p., 56 200 g.p. gems, platinum miter (10,000 g.p.), platinum encrusted staff (8,750 g.p.), potion of flying (500 x.p.), clerical spell scroll with raise dead and restoration (1,200 x.p.), shield +4 (1,200 x.p.), spear +3 (1,750 x.p.), periapt of health (1,000 x.p.), and splint armor +1 (700 x.p.). All treasure is loose and will take hours to collect, count, and examine.
That's a lot of text regarding spell use and tactics, and it still makes a lot of assumptions...for example, there's no mention of the awe/fear effect ancient dragons cause, assuming the DM will be well aware of that when running the encounter (low level henchfolk and hirelings tend to scatter or cower when a dragon pops up). Nor does it detail the dragon's longterm plans or motivation (though it hints at her general greed and arrogance).

However, the adventure I'm writing now (or, rather, not writing; instead, just blogging about) has to have MANY "dragon-level" encounters...encounters that work together with each other in a sensible, interlocked fashion that provides a decent challenge to PCs possessing extraordinary resources of magic ad might. And maybe I don't trust DMs to be able to run high-level adventures without a bit of handholding: there's just such a dearth of genuine interest in such adventures to be found on the internet these days (and a plethora of pundits decrying attempts to push adventures past mid-levels). It feels a bit like I'm trying to write some sort of primer/tutorial for DMs, not just a modular adventure. And that's weighing on my mind.

Then again, maybe that's not it at all. Maybe it's just that I'm writing this thing for a dude who's made a name for himself doing scathing reviews of published adventures and I'm too concerned with creating something of sheer awesomeness, something so beyond reproach (and criticism) that ALL will be forced to BOW DOWN BEFORE MY MONUMENTAL SKILLS. And the simplistic manner that I'd normally use...just...isn't...good...enough.


Ego. Perfectionism. Procrastination. All contributing to a lack of constructive action. Maybe I just need to let shit go and get it done. Worry about the "editing for perfection" later.

Time's running out, after all.

Okay, everyone's up. The call of the wild. Time to hunt and gather.


  1. Regarding Vancouver, Washington.

    I’m re-reading the Canadian historian Pierre Berton’s novel, The Last Spike (1971), describing the building of a transcontinental railroad across Canada between 1881 and 1885. Many people don’t know that the General Manager and Dictator on the project was an American, Cornelius van Horne. It so happens I was reading just two nights ago about Van Horne’s decision to establish the west end-of-track; from page 304:

    “He [Van Horne] was already planning to name the new terminus Vancouver. It is said that one reason he chose that title was because his own name bore the prefix ‘Van,’ but such reasoning is dubious. The proximity of Vancouver Island was certainly a factor; it helped to identify the position of the new terminus geographically in the minds of world travellers. More than that, Van Horne, the romantic, wanted to give his new metropolis a name he considered worthy of its future – that of a daring explorer who had sailed those shores long before any railway was contemplated. ‘... the fact that there is an insignificant place in Washington Territory named Fort Vancouver should not in my opinion weigh in the matter,’ he [Van Horne] told Arthur Wellington Ross, who was acting as the railway’s agent in real estate on the site. ‘The name Vancouver strikes everybody in Ottawa and elsewhere most favourably in approximately locating the place at once.’ ”

    So don’t blame us. It was an American who made the decision, an American who dismissed the older American location and an American who then built the train station there and cemented the name into Canadian history.


  2. I'd say the way you've written up the Onyx encounter is probably good enough. And really, good enough is GOOD ENOUGH. It's fine to leave some room to the DM to interpret things. Give them an idea of how the encounter could play out, and they can then use their imagination to make their own playbook for the encounters.

    Trust that anyone running high level encounters will be able to figure that out.

    1. There are few people I trust to run high level encounters. That’s a sad fact (and one that I only just realized as I was typing this comment).

  3. The contest is mere hours away from completion. Best make haste if you wish to be included!