Thursday, November 24, 2022

Giving Thanks

A few minutes here. Not enough to write anything major.

I have a lot to be thankful for. Too many things to list, even if I had the time. It's been a lovely week. The in-laws in town, the kids home from school. the wife off work...and no need to travel anywhere. Just chilling at home. Some people prefer to lie on a beach to reduce stress...I prefer to lie on my couch.

I hope that whoever you are reading this, wherever you are reading this...I hope that you are able to find your own pile of blessings to be thankful for. Whatever they are...even if it's just a chance to put your feet up for a few minutes and watch a football (or futbol) game. Take a moment, take a few deep breaths, and be glad that you can.

There's always something. But my fervent wish, hope, and prayer is that whatever your stress and anxiety and fears are that haunt you this holiday season...whatever negativity might be lurking in your mind...I hope you find a way and means to reduce it. And by doing so, increase your enjoyment of life. 

That's it. Have a happy one.
: )

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

World Cup

Spending my early mornings watching World Cup (it's halftime right now). Sorry, folks. in-laws are flying in this evening and will be with us till the end of the year. Makes for busy evenings.

If you don't see anything here before Thursday, please know I'm wishing all my readers a happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your loved ones; and be safe. 

Friday, November 18, 2022

No Fun Friday

In my last post, Jacob72 commented (in part):
Logistics and encumbrance are proper fun killers for a lot of folks and I think that it is no accident that a lot of modern games and even OSR house rules lighten the burden of it by moving to a slots or item system. Even the Appendix N source material was vague about these aspects for Fafhrd & Gray Mouser or Cugel.
He also mentioned Prince of Nothing's somewhat recent blogpost on the subject. That's a fairly good one, but I'd also draw folks attention to his earlier post on the subject, especially the comments thread and some of my comments, which included nice pertinent links.

My own feelings on encumbrance were addressed back in 2020 (though I peg 2019 about the time those feelings "crystalized"), when I rather large letters:

You can NOT have a meaningful campaign if strict encumbrance records are not kept.

"Strict" is pretty harsh. I'm not calling for rigid, rigorous bean counting in play; as I wrote at the time:
In real life, we only bother with our nice, neat packing when we have ample time to prepare...say before setting off on a journey. However, what happens when you wake up late and need to stuff everything in your bag just in time to check out and make your plane connection? Stuff still "fits" (even those extra souvenirs and books you picked up while sight-seeing) it's just that your bags are over-stretched, bumpy, and straining at the zippers. Kept in a such a state, they will eventually wear out, burst their seams and fastenings, cause straps to break, etc. but for the short-term, they'll make it just fine. 

Treat your D&D encumbrance like that. Players can (and should be) exacting prior to game play (i.e. when preparing for their expedition). During play, don't sweat the small stuff too much. Packs and bags don't necessarily carry the exact weight listed. D&D encumbrance is a measure of bulk as well as weight. And different items made in different styles may encumber at different rates from "standard." Eyeball amounts. Have a rough idea of what each character can carry before movement decreases (that's part of your prep, O Great And Powerful DM). When the treasure carried (or goblin swords being looted for Lord knows why) start hitting...or coming the break points in your notes, inform the players and ask them if there's any vital equipment they're willing to discard prior to being reduced to a crawl. Make them sweat the situation, without making them pull out their calculator app at the table. 

Time enough for the exact count in between sessions...presumably when the characters have made it back to town.
That's how I've been handling encumbrance for at least three years now.

I'm sorry if it sounds like a "fun-killer" for folks...math is hard, amIright? But let me tell you how it works in practice:
  1. Despite being a geezer, I handle a lot of my DM prep on Ye Old Laptop (duh), mostly in Excel spreadsheets. Calculating monsters, treasures, experience, etc.? All handled quickly and easily, even without creating auto-formulae (which I have done in the past). Opening up a spreadsheet, listing weights for items, and hitting "sum" takes Very Little Time and is part of my prep/cleanup either pre- or post-session. I do it. I keep the players' character sheets, after all (keeping all the game material together in one place...i.e. with the convenient for staying organized). 
  2. I don't write on or notate players' character sheets (while I retain sheets between sessions, their sheets are still their own). But when the next session starts, IF there has been a change in encumbrance level or movement (based on my calculations) I inform the player of this at the start of the session...just in case he/she wants to make a note (they usually do). Regardless, I take any new movement rates into account in terms of exploration (random encounters, resource expenditure, etc.), and mobility limitations (as per PHB p.101-102...inability to run, hustle, etc.). 
  3. Once players are aware of their limitations based on encumbrance, they are more inclined to self-police themselves...cutting down on unnecessary equipment, choosing lighter weight armor, etc. They also start to get a good sense of when to leave a dungeon environment based on the bulging sacks of treasure that they are accumulating (contrariwise, empty sacks push them to explore further even as they eye their dwindling supplies of torches, etc.). I'm also quick to point out that a party can't travel faster than their slowest member, so they tend to HELP each other (both in terms of critiquing load outs AND sharing burdens between party members).
  4. Between dungeon delves, encumbrance management provides an important logistical consideration for and what to hire, what animals are needed to pull wagons, do we charter/purchase a ship, etc. As you might imagine, it's far more fun (and entertaining) for players to organize their own caravan than to look for work as "caravan guards." That is work for broke-ass (or low level) adventurers...ignominious, thankless work requiring little skill and paying a pittance; far better to be caravan masters than caravan servants.
In practice this kind of game play actually works to engage the players' attention. It's not just an exercise in accounting; rather, it helps put the players in their characters headspace. Which is to say, it forces the PCs to worry about the same sort of things that a "real life adventurer" would be worrying about.

Let me drill down right here: I haven't played in a 5E game since the thing was first in public Beta testing. But I've since read the PHB and have heard many anecdotal accounts of gameplay. It appears that 5E mechanics engage players by focusing them on their character: its background, its abilities, certain choices that come up as the character rises in level. It is very inward looking...pushing players into their own imagination, from whence they (in theory) bring forth something to display at the table: their proficiency at "playing in character," their effectiveness in using their character's traits tactically, etc.

AD&D doesn't do this: after all, once you've rolled your abilities and chosen your race and class, there's not much more "introspection" that's needed. All paladins of a given level have the same abilities. There aren't any backgrounds. If you go buy the "racial preference" chart, every elf have a similar attitude towards dwarves and halflings as an any other.

Instead of focusing on yourself, you are forced to focus on...and engage with...the game and (presumably) the adventure at hand. Did anyone buy a rope? How many torches should we take with us? How much oil? The fighter's wearing heavy armor and has her hands full with sword and is she going to see to fight? Can the wizard carry a (full) large sack while maintaining the light spell?

Dealing with the "nitty-gritty" puts the players in the minds of their makes them feel like they're IN the adventure, rather than watching some show or reading/telling some story ABOUT an adventurer.  "Who cares whether I'm the illegitimate son of a the hell are we going to get this chest of gold out of the oubliette without a block and tackle? And even if we do, how are we going to carry it out of the dungeon before some hobgoblin war party catches up to us?"

I prefer orienting the players in this fashion. It's not about being an anal retentive, number crunching rules-monger. What I have found is that without this "accountability," the game becomes less-and-less about experiencing adventure in a fantasy world. Which is (for me) the point of play. 

"How JB? How is it about 'experiencing fantasy adventure?' What you describe just sounds like an exercise in number juggling!"

*sigh* Okay. There's two parts to this for each side of the screen:

For the Players: they're NOT seeing a lot of number crunching. As I said, they get the end result calculated from me (weight, movement, etc.)...the same way they get the final tally of calculated experience from me. They can then make choices. "How much am I over? Fifteen pounds? Okay, what can I drop that'll get my load down to a more manageable level?" 

It's not Papers&Paychecks here. Look, do you allow your players to buy their own equipment? Choose their own spells and weapon proficiencies? And does that 'shut down' the game by over-burdening the players with choices? In my experience: no. Instead, it makes them think and consider things like an adventurer. It contributes to experiential play.

For the Dungeon Master: sure, you've got more work to do...but it's not that hard. Far harder to come up with a "new, awesome" adventure (the concept, the map, the keying, the stocking, etc.). It sounds more daunting than what it actually is.

And what is gained is enormous. Not only am I rewarded with players who tend to be more engaged and cooperative, accounting like this forces me to up my game as a DM and world builder. Spending the time to figure out the ins and outs of nomadic desert life from a historic perspective is fun research for me, but it also makes it easier to craft a richer, deeper campaign world that I find entertaining and worth engaging with...and I'd hope my enthusiasm (at the very least) bleeds through as extra energy during any game session I'm running.

Yes. Just from worrying how much water you need to carry and how much it weighs.

I don't doubt that some people shake their heads in disbelief at these ideas. I was much the same mindset, just a few short years ago, all but unwilling to even give this stuff a try. Suffice is to say: I'm a changed man. Having taken a few baby steps...and then a few more, and a few more...well, now I see that my prior thinking was in error. 

Maybe, once upon a time (in that fabled time before laptops and spreadsheets and the internet) such "minutia" was too much effort for the pleasure gained. Now, though, with the ease by which all this is accomplished? Not doing the work is just laziness. 

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Dreaming Dromedaries

So, let's talk camels for a minute. For fun.

Per I3: Pharaoh, the players are given the following equipment (in addition to their normal gear):

Enough water for the entire party to travel in the desert for seven days (10,000 gp weight).

Three large tents with poles, 10 feet x 20 feet in size, weighing 4,000 gp each. They require four turns (40 minutes) to set up or take down.

One Writ of Authority granting permission to be in the Desert of Desolation. It weighs 1 gp.

Ten bundles of firewood weighting 20 lbs. (200 gp weight) each. One bundle provides one night's fire.

One old map of a pyramid. It weighs 1 gp.


2,000 sp for expenses.

Two bags containing food. One bag contains one week's standard ration [sic] weighing 20 lbs. (200 gp weight) while the other contains two weeks' iron rations weighing 15 lbs. (150 gp weight). 

Their choice of either a camel or a draft horse.
Earlier in the "prologue" section, the adventure is explicit that the party's escort provides them with "enough water for their party, including their pack animals, to travel in the desert for seven days." Each player is thus allowed to choose either a camel (presumably a dromedary, given the Arabian setting of the adventures) or a draft horse. Here are the movement rates given for both animal choices:

Camel (under 400# load): 21"
Camel (under 500# load): 15"
Camel (under 600# load): 9"
Draft Horse (under 400# load): 18"
Draft Horse (under 650# load): 9"

Per the adventure module, a character with a movement rate of 12" can cross one hex per two hours, and all movement should be adjusted accordingly (for example, a character with 6" movement takes four hours to cross one hex). Each hex is two miles across, so: one mile per hour at standard, unburdened (12") walking rate...with ten hours being listed as the normal limit of walking, that's 10 miles (5 hexes) per day.

This is the same rate given for Very Rugged terrain in the DMG (page 58), at least for a "movement afoot." It doesn't however, jibe with the mounted movement rates...but we'll get to that in a sec. Because the first question is:


Let's start with water: the most important factor in desert survival. How much water does a human need to survive? Well, Ye Old Internets tell me that 3L of water per person per day is pretty much standard for desert survival. Since the party is being supplied with 7 days worth, that means 21L per person, weighing 21kg...about 46 pounds

Of course, horses need water, too: about 5 to 10 gallons per day. Since it's desert, and the horse is working, we could go with TEN, but let's just take the average (7.5). That's a bit more than 28L, so for a week's worth you're talking 199kg worth...nearly 439#. You're going to force the horse to carry almost 500 pounds of water, plus an armored rider, plus food?


You know how much water a camel needs to carry for a week? Zero. Camels can survive up to 15 days without water. Assuming the camels were "gassed" up ahead of time, a seven day stretch is no issue for your standard dromedary. 

And how fast are they? Well, Arabian "baggage camels" are capable of carrying 200kg of weight up to 40 miles per day...and I assume this over desert, as that's the terrain for which they've been adapted. 

Horses hooves, meanwhile, are not suitable for desert sands AT ALL and will be slower then camels regardless of load and hydration; stumbling and leg-breaking is a major consideration if trying to push a horse for "speed" in terrain conditions like that posed by the Desert of Desolation.

SO...dromedary only. 440# of load weight (including rider), 20 hexes per day. Besides our 50# of water (and a hope and a prayer that the party can find an oasis area within 7-10 days), let's look at that OTHER gear we're carrying...we'll consider a party of SEVEN characters:

Food for marching soldiers is 3# per day. Until further notice, that's our "iron ration" weight. This, of course, matches the 30 coin weight given for iron rations in the DMG (p.225) if one assumes this is a daily amount. SO for each character, two weeks of iron rations = 42#...a little more than the 15 estimated in the adventure. Let's forget the "standard" rations completely.

Food for camels: it took me a while to find this, but it appears that a camel can "thrive" on just 5kg (11#) of dry feed per day. Assuming ten days (about the longest a waterless dromedary can travel while maintaining work level), that means 110# of feed. 

Tents are tougher. My internet tells me that a traditional Moroccan camping tent (camel and goat hair) of the dimensions listed will accommodate 17-19 people...which sounds quite large for a party of six to eight PCs. Until you realize that you also have to shelter the camels, especially during a sudden sandstorm. Maybe two would be enough (men's and women's). 40# each, however, sounds extremely optimistic. An ultralight, modern tent of the same dimensions has a carry weight of 106#. Can we just say 110# for the sake of simplicity? Sure, let's do that.

[***EDIT: Faoladh just pointed out (in the comments) that the original text listed tent weight at 400#, not 40#. That makes a SUBSTANTIAL difference to the calculations below and (if accurate) will limit the party to WALKING (rather than riding) until they can purchase/steal additional camels***]

Firewood is a bit easier. While rate of burn really depends on type and density of wood (and is generally measured in length), this web site gives some simple numbers that are effective: a "bundle" of prepared firewood weighs about 20-27#, will burn for an hour, and should be enough to cook a fast, easy meal (probably the only type that can be cooked on the hardtack/field rations PCs are carrying). I can roll with that, rather than make the PCs collect and dry camel dung.

Finally: 2000 silver pieces for each PC? Ignoring for the moment that "standard" D&D would account this as 200# weight, requiring several large sacks to load (each!)...ignoring that for a second, why would the local ruler would send good silver out into a cursed, magical desert on a probably suicide run? Just what are the characters supposed to buy with this expense money?

Well, anyway...when researching the medieval Middle East for my Five Ancient Kingdoms game, I did some research on the ancient coinage of the region. The silver dihram weighed 2.975g, giving about 150 dihrams to the pound. 2000 dihrams would thus weigh only 13.3#...far more reasonable (though still wondering why His Majesty would want to send silver out into the desert sands on camelback). 

And speaking of camels: 600 Greek drachma seems to have been about the right price for a camel "back in the day." The drachma was larger than the dihram (4.5g of silver), giving the replacement price of a dromedary something in the neighborhood of 908 dihram. Giving each PC enough money to buy two replacement mounts? Still seems overly about 500 silver per character (3,500 total for a party of seven), which is just a bit more than a three pound bag each. Keep those camels safe! Your lives depend on it!


322# of water + 294# of rations + 770# of feed + 220# of tents + 200# of firewood + 23# of silver = 1829# of gear.

Divided by seven camels = an average load of 261#. Each camel would thus be able to carry approximately 178# of additional weight (which should include 6#-8# worth of saddle and tack). Not much wiggle room there, especially if the party includes a lot of Big Boys (my height/weight tables are based on character species and character strength...fighters with exceptional strength are heavy). 

This is the logistics game which, in a forbidding desert wilderness, is a game of survival...even without factoring in dust diggers and bandits and purple worms. Figuring out how to balance the load/gear between party members is important...but FORTUNATELY with an updated movement rate (20 hexes instead of 6-7!) the party should be able to reach an oasis or two within four or five days, depending on how much time they spend exploring various adventure sites along the way. And if they're SMART they'll pick up extra dromedaries from the first camel merchant they come across, extending their range and ability to carry treasure/spoils.

But no horses please. And I really, really don't know what to think of the Symbayan "air lancers" and their pegasi. 

"Ship of the Desert?" Yeah. Absolutely.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Truth To Power

Earlier this evening, I was doing dishes/cleaning the kitchen while waiting to take the boy to basketball practice, and I told him about today's dissection of the Desert of Desolations series, including such things as Hickman's manifesto and the way-too-low treasure count of I4: Oasis of the White Palm.

[sorry...I just got momentarily distracted. As I type this I'm sitting in a neighborhood bar, having a beer, and there is what...what I assume of those Fast/Furious films on the screen. I assume, because I've never watched a single minute of a single film till now (I just recognize the actors). The sound is off...all I see are visuals. I can already tell (without sound) that: the acting is terrible. The cinematography is terrible. The writing must be nonsensical. Someone's house blew up...from a small package on the porch. Diesel is trying to look "shaken;" perhaps with sound there would be "dramatic music" but without, he just just looks confused and kind of sad. Mmm]

ANYway...I was telling him about I5: Lost Tomb of Martek and the substantial lack of treasure, including the whole each-PC-gets-three-items-from-the-vaults thing at the end as a reward as well as the whole all-treasure-is-magicked-to-stay-here-and-cannot-be-removed-without-Martek's-permission thing.

"Why couldn't we just kill Martek? Wouldn't that allow us to take all the treasure?"

You know, the thought had honestly never occurred to me.

You CAN'T kill Martek...not only does the module not give the literally provides no stats for the character. And this is, frankly, amazing considering all the NPCs that have been statted out in this series (sometimes multiple times, with regard to I4). But, of course, it makes sense: the player characters are supposed to be HEROIC GOOD GUYS that are SAVING THE WORLD from an evil, giant (noble) efreeti. You are supposed to watch as Martek, etc. does battle with the thing and destroys it. 

Which is, in the end, the final insult. The "heroism" of your characters matters not one shit in the scheme of things...check out this ending (after the PCs watch from afar Martek's victory over the Big Bad):
Martek's voice comes to you again: "The desert is returned to its people, the Efreeti is no more. One final gift I give to you. Those people that cast you into this desert will no longer remember you. You are once again free to travel the face of the world as you want. All to whom you tell this tale will believe it to be but a fable. Only you shall know the truth of what you have seen."
Fuck. You. Martek. AND Hickman. Seriously. You BOTH suck.

What a rook.

Okay, tomorrow: dromedaries.

Good picture; shitty adventure


The last couple days I've been going through the old TSR modules I3: Pharaoh, I4: Oasis of the White Palm, and I5: Lost Tomb of Martek. Pharaoh was Laura and Tracy Hickman's first (self-published) adventure module prior to their being hired on at TSR...along with Rahasia, it was on the strength of this module that the couple were acquired. I've owned the TSR version of Pharaoh...and the its sequel titles...for decades. I first ran I4 for several cousins at a Christmas gathering in Port Angeles, circa 1986 or '87. I ran the entire trilogy for my brother and his friends circa '88 or '89.

I don't think I've looked at them since. And it shows as, in more than a decade of writing this blog, I've mentioned them only a couple times...and then only briefly. 

[oh, what's all this about then? Aren't I supposed to be continuing my prior post about "adventures?" Yeah, I am. Is this a sign that I'm procrastinating? Probably. Still figuring out how I want to start and whether or not it needs to be a two-parter. Patience, folks! I'll get to it!]

So why am I looking for them now? Well, in considering fitting the entirety of the War of the Lance campaign (a campaign played out on a rather small continent) into my little corner of fantasy reality, I started thinking about the Hickman's other noteworthy creation (not Ravenloft): the Desert of Desolation trilogy. After all, the desert was a magical, cursed big is it that it couldn't be laid over a corner of my world?  

Welp, it turns out...not very big at all. The area it encompasses is about 90 miles across its longest axis and 50 miles the other way. It's too much area to wedge in south of the Palouse (where I would have liked to have it), but it would be pretty easy to throw in that southeast corner of Oregon.  Just means I have to actually develop Oregon, a world building exercise I'm NOT extremely enthused about.

But WHY Desolation? Well, it's in that low/mid-range level of adventures. My players are in that range. And they were pre-Dragonlance/story garbage, so they should, okay? And they're well-written/laid out (i.e. nice and clear for reading) so prep is minimal. And I do have fond memories of would my memories hold up upon analysis with my old, veteran (geezer) eyes.

How indeed.

I3: Pharaoh is "designed for a party of six to eight players of the 5th to 7th levels of experience." I4: Oasis of the White Palm is written for characters of level 6th to 8th. I5: Lost Tomb of Martek is written for levels 7th to 9th. Reading this we can infer that a party of the proper number should expect to gain a level of experience upon completion of each portion of the trilogy (or, at least, after finishing the first two portions).

SO...a party of the maximum size (eight) should EXPECT to receive enough x.p. to level them from 5th to 6th level after I3 and from 6th to 7th after I4. Everyone groks this, right? A 5th level fighter needs 17,000 experience points to rise to 6th level, but I think it's okay peg this at 15.5, considering almost all fighters should receive a 10% bonus, given the ability score guidelines in the PHB. So, 15.5 x 8 = 124K. Now, for me, I'd probably want that entire amount (124,000) available in potential treasure found, especially in a trap/trick-heavy dungeon like Pharaoh, but I'd be satisfied with 60%-70% considering monster encounters and the possibility of selling unwanted magic items (yes, there is such a thing in AD&D). So, let's call it 74K - 86K worth of treasure at minimum.

A quest-giving ghost isn't
bad...but what if the cleric turns it?
How much does Pharaoh offer? 72,335 worth (if one counts the Star of Mo-Pelar as a gem of seeing). And that's pretty close to right! Especially when one understands the Hickman's presume goody-good adventurers who will most likely sell that libram of ineffable damnation for 40,000 rather than retaining (and using) it for 8,000. 104,000 x.p.? Not bad. And while the distribution isn't great (just under 33% of numbered encounters have treasure)'s OKAY (B/X distribution is one-to-three, but I prefer my AD&D adventures to have more of a 40-50% ratio). Yes, the Hickmans had some design chops, back in the day.

Oasis of the White Palm, unfortunately, is not quite as good. A group of eight 6th level PCs of the fighter variety would need 255K (including 10% bonus) to achieve 7th level...the minimum suggested for the final part of the trilogy. I4 (credited to Tracy Hickman and Philip Meyers) provides only a bit more than 62,000 (62,519, to be exact), of which barely more than 35K is monetary treasure. 

A couple quick caveats: there is MORE treasure than that in the adventure, but acquiring it would require the PCs to rob/kill the many good-aligned NPCs that they are supposed to be aiding (I don't think that's the authors' intention!). The players are working for a Sheik Kassim Arslan, who does offer "the wealth of my tent" in exchange for the PCs' help which means, taken literally, that he could dig up another 17,250 worth of treasure experience (16,250 x.p. worth is actual monetary treasure). BUT...would the leader of his tribe REALLY give up a decanter of endless water (considering they're a band of desert nomads!)? Would he bankrupt his clan out of gratitude? Um...

Even so, that's under 80K in treasure experience. Even if we gave 'em that 60% leeway you're only about halfway to where you need to be (you'd want over 152,000). This is TERRIBLE...especially considering the overall quality of the module (in comparison to other modules of the time) and the attention displayed in I3. Quite possibly Oasis was rolled out with less play-testing (I3 had been developed over several years prior to its TSR publication in 1982; I4 was published in 1983).

Anyway, it IS possible to get the treasure count higher: by selling all the crap magic items that are present throughout the adventure. Four maces +1. Chainmail +2, plate +1. A scimitar +1, shield +2, sword +2. 6 arrows +1 and a potion of gaseous form. And...hoo boy!...more cursed magic items than I've EVER seen in a single adventure; here's the full list:

Potion of poison, incense of obsession (x2!), phylactery of monstrous attention, periapt of foul rotting, necklace of strangulation, helmet of opposite alignment, and the skull of cargath (an evil artifact that injures non-evil clerics if used). Of course, there's also a libram of gainful conjuration that only functions for neutral magic-users and drive NON-magic-users insane. 

I mean, it's really notable just how shitty the treasure is in this adventure. 20,000 g.p. worth of the monetary treasure comes from a pair of gemstone eyes in a statue that will PROBABLY BE DESTROYED by the PCs as the statue summons a relentless hoard of monsters so long as the eyes are functioning, and they may be destroyed far more swiftly than pried out (resulting in the total treasure "take" to be reduced substantially). Likewise, two of the major opponents in the adventure are DROW (in the desert! In the freaking desert!!) armed with all the usual Drow goodies (magic weapons, armor, cloaks, boots, etc.) ALL of which dissolve in sunlight (and such is stated in the module text). Did I mention this adventure takes place in a DESERT?

*sigh* Now I feel bad for pumping the tires on this module.  I'm going to blame the absence of Laura from the design process, but...poorly done, Oasis. Poorly done.

Lastly, we come to I5: Lost Tomb of Martek (credited solely to Tracy Raye Hickman). Assuming, somehow, we get the character to the minimum suggested level (7th) to tackle this, will they find the adventure "rewarding?" How does 127,000 experience points worth of potential treasure sound? To me, it sounds like "not much" for a party of eight 7th level characters. Considering a fighter is looking for 55,000 x.p. to advance (and an 8th level character would be looking for 125K!!!) that's a pretty small dent in the overall pie needed to level up.

"But JB! They don't NEED to level up at the end of this epic adventure do they?" No, I suppose not. But 80+ numbered encounters (in I5 alone)? How many sessions to navigate this thing? How many months spent playing out the entirety of this trilogy? Still: here's the part that REALLY chaps my hide:

There are only eight encounter areas in the entire adventure module that contain treasure. That's less than 1-in-10.  That SUCKS.

And really only SIX encounter areas...because at the end of the adventure, after you've gone through all the time, space, distance distortion levels and fought upteen monsters (many the same-same types of monsters) and halve faced untold frustrations with the crazy tricks/traps...after all THAT you get to Martek's dimensionally displaced tomb and see his treasure halls (three different chambers) with wealth so vast that the thieves that beat you there have LITERALLY DIED OF HEART ATTACKS FROM GLIMPSING THE TREASURE and you (DM) get the following instructions from the module:
Everything in the citadel. including all treasure, cannot be taken out of the citadel without Martek's permission. All of Martek's treasure has been magically enchanted so that it cannot be removed from this citadel. Only Martek can remove that enchantment, so unless he says it can go, it stays.
So, guess what: the PCs don't get to cart off all the treasure. IF they raise Martek from the dead (the goal of the adventure) he thanks the PCs and allows each to select THREE items from the hoard of items available. That 127K figure I came to? That's from assuming you have an average (surviving) party size of six and are selecting the 18 most profitable (in terms of x.p.) items from the hoard.

Still, it would be unfair not to point that many of these items are rare, "big ticket" types, easily worth three to five times their value on the open market: a lot of magical books (including a book of infinite spells), a dancing sword, a nine lives stealer, a shield +5. Selling those items (instead of retaining them) would make for a fairly profitable haul...AND keep the party's inventory of enchanted items manageable.

[for what it's worth, Lost Tomb of Martek is also mercifully devoid of cursed magic items]

When it comes to AD&D, selling magic items is both valid and necessary with regard to the game economy. It doesn't mean that there are "magic shops" in your game world (*barf*)...generally, the DM simply hand waves the sale and the item vanishes from play, replaced with a pile of gold (and x.p.). You can make it a bigger deal, forcing players to find buyers. etc. (I've done this at times), but then you risk players trying to steal items back or knock-over the dude who has the money for such a purchase...which short-circuits the game economy (not the game world economy, but the way the mechanics of the game interacts with each other). 

Still, finding buyers of 20K or 40K items in the middle of the desert (much less willing to buy cursed items) is a bit of a stretch for the verisimilitude of one's campaign.

[as an aside, I'll note that Anthony Huso, in his adventure design, uses the cash value of magic items when doing his spreadsheets for treasure as opposed to x.p. value (which I generally do). This is probably the better procedure for DMs whose players are likely to dig every piece out of all the nooks and crannies, or who play regular, looong sessions. For an intermittent campaign, or one where players routinely miss half of what's available, using the x.p. value for treasure counts seems to work slightly better]

Of course, Hickman is not overly concerned with verisimilitude. He clearly stated his design priorities long before joining TSR with his wife, endeavoring to meet four objectives:
  1. a player objective more worthwhile than simply pillaging and killing
  2. an intriguing story that is intricately woven into the play itself
  3. dungeons with some sort of architectural sense, AND
  4. an attainable and honorable end within one or two sessions playing time
That's really the whole "Hickman Revolution" in a nutshell, isn't it? Less attention paid to the mechanics of D&D (like treasure acquisition), instead looking to meeting "story goals." Elaborate plots and story arcs to be played out (with hard rails coded in to prohibit deviation). Expansive, isometric dungeon maps. And assumptions of "heroic goodness" from the players in a battle against evil.

[ha! Just realized Oasis of the White Palm, much like DL2: Dragons of Flame, has one of those "dying bystander" info-dump encounters where the NPC dies, no matter how much healing PCs might apply. See GusL's post for an echo of my opinions on this tactic]

Okay...that's long enough for now; have to run some errands before the kids get out of school (Wednesday's their short day). I have a couple more things to say about the Desert of Desolation series...especially with regard to dromedaries and the logistics of desert travel...but that's going to have to wait for a later post. Maybe tomorrow. When I try to tie this whole thing into the "better adventure design" conversation.
; )

Later, Gators.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

That's A Lot Of Germans

6:30am and the Tampa Bay Bucs are about to kick-off to the Seattle Seahawks in Munich, Germany. I woke up before my alarm, round about 6:10. The rest of my family is asleep (even the dog, next to me on the couch)...we were up till midnight or so last night.

Today's my birthday, though, and they left me a couple gifts and decorations to greet me. Very kind.

[the Bucs go three-and-out on their first possession. Punt down to the 25]

They did NOT, however, make me coffee. I'm going to have to do that. Might even use mix in a little of the caffeinated stuff.

[Seahawks get a first down to DK Metcalf, then get a delay of game penalty and take a big sack on 3rd and 10. Another punt and the Bucs are in great field position]

Later this morning (around 10), I'll be going to my son's soccer game. My mom's making dinner for my birthday...that's at 5:30. In between, I'll be finding some time to take a long siesta, probably with the dog (she sleeps a lot), and play some games with the kids while my wife makes my annual pineapple upside-down cake.

[Bucs get their first first down on a pas to Mike Evans, then try a 52 yard field goal after failing to convert 3rd down. It misses; 'Hawks get the ball back and Geno goes back to work]

Lot of Germans at this game. Well, a lot of people. A pretty good portion seem to be wearing Seahawks gear (though about a third are just wearing random team jerseys...supporting their favorites I presume). Seems pretty loud no matter who's on the field.

[Seahawks move the ball well, then a stupid (unnecessary) penalty on Damien Lewis makes it 3rd and 24. Geno gets back 15, but the Seahawks still punt down to the 7. Bucs start moving the ball by going to the ground game, hoping to set up Brady's play-action. Seahawks making Leonard Fournette look better than he is...shades of rhe first couple-three Seahawks games this season]

End of the 1st quarter. Bucs are marching, having just crossed the 50. The beagles's gotten up a couple times, but then keeps going back to sleep. Sky's getting light, but no sun yet. And Amazon has some sort of advertisement with a yeti at a party? What the hell is that and what does it have to do with Amazon?

All right. I'm going to go.  Time to make coffee. Have a happy Sunday, everyone!

[Julio Jones catches a short pass over the middle on 3rd and 10 and turns it into a 31 yard touchdown reception; appears to have been a busted coverage from the rookie corner, Bryant. We'll see if the Seahawks can answer back. Hopefully. It's my birthday after all!]

; )

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Going On Adventures

As mentioned before, I recently participated in Prince of Nothing’s “No ArtPunk” adventure writing contest…this was the second year for NAP (NAP2!) and I think there’s a lot of positive aspects to it, even besides the charitable aspect (sales of the final book of top entries go to autism research...somewhat amusing given our niche market). 

Design/writing is design/writing and such things are good practice. That’s why I do it. There is also the shared “think tank” of reviews, feedback, and analysis hashed out in a “public forum” (Prince’s blog) that helps disseminate knowledge and promote certain values with regard to how one “does D&D” (hint: it’s not in the “ArtPunk” fashion, hence the contest’s name). I enjoy participating in this discourse, and lending my Old Geezer perspective to these young bucks. 

Okay. Very nice. Full stop. 

Here’s The Thing: using pre-written, pre-packaged adventure “modules” are a hack approach to playing Dungeons & Dragons, especially if one is playing the Advanced game. 

*sigh*  I’m sure I’ll take flack for this stance. 

"After all, JB, don’t YOU use adventure modules all the time in your game? Haven’t you written upteen numbers of blog posts about how you’ve re-vamped such-and-such adventure to make it work in your world? Don’t you craft dungeons for your own players?

 "Jesus, JB, isn’t this the very example you’ve been modeling for your readers?"

Yes, to all that (perhaps with a caveat or two). And let me be the first to say: I am NOT above reproach and reprimand. 

Dungeons are EASY. Crafting them, running them…they are the low-hanging fruit of D&D gameplay. Building GOOD or BETTER adventures is not as easy, but still: easy. It is D&D at its most simplistic form. And I’ll also add: crafting and running dungeons (i.e. site-based adventures) are skills that all DMs should develop, and skills they can (and will) continue to use, throughout the whole of their gaming lives. 

BUT: these modular, site-based adventures…these dungeons…they are just the first step of gameplay. 

AND: if you ONLY run dungeons (or “adventure modules,” whether written by yourself or someone else), then the campaign you’re running hasn’t yet gotten out of second gear

I apologize if I have, perhaps, led readers on about how to make “good” or “great” adventures, talking about treasure counts and encounter frequency and whatnot. As I’ve written before (more than once) my thoughts on many D&D subjects have evolved over the years. Heck, both my understanding and perception of the game has changed quite a bit. 

Let's see if I can craft a distillation of my paradigm:

An ADVENTURE is: any situation presented to the players that provides some chance of reward while involving commensurate risk, but which may be refused.

That's pretty broad...and it should be. Players and characters come in all shapes and sizes of ability and effectiveness. Breaking into the Iron Fortress of some Arch-Devil to steal McGuffins of Ancient Evil is probably not a good scenario for a new batch of players or low-level characters.

When I was a kid, I started my D&D game the way anyone following the instructions in Moldvay: I drew dungeons, filled them with monsters and traps and treasure, and then ran players through them. When I got my Expert set, I incorporated the tougher monsters and better treasures into my dungeons to accommodate the higher level game play that was occurring. I also made a few (brief) forays into Wilderness (i.e. out-of-the-dungeon) adventures, mainly using the module X1: Isle of Dread as a guide.

The hex-crawling never held much appeal for me: what is hex-crawling but tracking movement (often random movement due to high chances of getting lost) while rolling for random encounters until the party stumbles blindly into some set piece encounter? That's not "adventure" in the way I define the term.

THAT being said, just traveling from one place to another IS an adventure. Forget the whole idea of "hex-crawling" for a moment (and its associated game mechanics). Unless you (DM) are dead set on basing your entire campaign within an enormous, never ending "megadungeon," at some point your players will be traveling from one place in the imaginary world to another.

This travel...this space between dungeons...this IS "adventure," and the next tier in one's DMing ability.

"Wait, wait! What? You just said hex crawls aren't adventures!" Yeah, I did. I also said forget hex crawls for a moment. Let me explain:

Players (PCs, adventurers) don't just wander without purpose. Or, rather, they shouldn't wander without purpose. They have reasons to go places. They are (imaginary) people...not migratory birds. Put yourselves in their iron-shod boots for a moment: our party has just finished scouring the entirety of the local dungeon/bandit hideout/goblin den. Is it reasonable to buy a week's worth of food and then just "set off" into the wilderness, expecting challenge and reward to find us?

As is the answer to most rhetorical questions (as my old humanities professor would say): "NO!" with a small chuckle.

People don't do that. Well, maybe suicidal imbeciles. But most rational folks (adventurous or not) wouldn't. Even in our real world...depressingly devoid of unicorns and dragons...grabbing your napsack and marching off-road into the wilderness is a bad idea. No, I don't care if you were trained as scout-sniper for the USMC. I've known such individuals (and played D&D with them) and, no, they're not that stupid.

Destination. Purpose. These are things rational individuals have. "Adventure" is what happens on the way.

When I started playing AD&D "for realz" (circa age 12-13), it was with the near total abandonment of the dungeon or "static adventure site." Instead, we explored the world in which our characters resided. It was a fantasy world, created from whole cloth by the DM, but the map (not a hex map) had quite a bit of "blank space" to it. As we travelled from destination to destination, having adventures, our characters grew in both knowledge and experience...just as we players grew in knowledge and experience. And the map ended up having fewer blank spaces.

Dungeons were still run. I ran Tsojcanth, Forbidden City, an assassins guild of my own creation, and (towards the end) the Demonwebs. My co-DM ran Ravenloft (I wasn't present for that), one or two homemades, maybe a couple from Dragon, maybe some stuff ripped out of Castle Greyhawk. But those were few and far between. Our adventures were mainly composed the things that happened on the road, interactions we had and relationships we built with various NPCs, scrapes and shenanigans we might get into in larger towns. 

Granted, our world was the work of amateurs. It had all the trappings of vanilla fantasy of the pseudo-medieval European variety (i.e. "D&D-esque"). But it had no history (that we ever wrote) or imbedded politics. The "factions" and "powers" that came into being all developed in play: Machiavellian nobles, benevolent kings, shady assassins, friendly archdruids. Ours was a developed world and rather densely populated (mostly with humans) had to travel long distances (often via flying mount) to get to anything like "true wilderness." Such travel was exceptionally dangerous...far away from civilized lands, communities where you might find food/shelter were sparse (if present at all), and you were more likely to wander into a pack of trolls than anything resembling "friendly NPCs." You didn't just wander into that shit without purpose...and even if you did, you better make damn sure you have a means of provisioning yourselves and (hopefully) a ranger or barbarian type to keep you from getting hopelessly lost.

Roads. Roads were important. Stepping off the road was as perilous as in Tolkien's Mirkwood.

Back in civilization, things were far easier. Business folks (shopkeepers, innkeepers) weren't apt to stab one in the back or slip you sleeping potions because they were doing business. PCs had to look for work because the money found would (eventually) run out. But there were always local issues that needed dealing with...the average NPC was busy with their daily lives. I don't recollect a single time that PCs were hired by a wizard at a tavern, or offered a treasure map by some shady, cloaked figure; those things just didn't happen! What was MORE usual was getting into a bar fight...perhaps over a lady...someone getting beaten and/or killed and then getting in trouble with Johnny Law. More than a couple jail breaks. 

Often time, destinations were suggested by rumors heard in one community. "Such-and-such king is holding a contest/tournament," or "Baron So-and-So has a Problem." Smelling opportunity, the PCs would pack their bags and set off to the next place, picking up other PCs along the way. As they grew in level, they also grew in reputation, and many of the characters became their own "factions" with their own agendas. A patriarch built his castle and started attracting zealots. A wizard built his tower and pursued his own magical research. A bard wooed the most beautiful woman in the land...and incited the vengeful jealousy of multiple powerful figures.

And because of those agendas, new destinations were chosen, and new adventures were had.

See, here's the thing...the real deal, the dirty secret...about D&D: the game doesn't really start until you've come out of the dungeon. People talk about "endgames" and "dominion play," but they are speaking of superficialities with only a partial understanding of the game's potential. 

When properly engaged with the game, the participants are taking part in an act of creation...of world creation. They are crafting their own Silmarillion, penning their own stories, writing their own histories, building and enriching the fantasy environment. That is what "campaign play" is, at its highest form. And it is a near equal partnership between the players and the DM(s). The DMs may be setting the starting geography, but it is the players' interaction with that geography that gives the world "life."

[of course, little prevents D&D players from doing their own landscape work: founding towns, building castles, digging dungeons (and populating them with summoned monsters, traps, and treasure), felling forests...even raising mountains is possible with the right magic spells! Literal world building exists as a distinct possibility for the enterprising player, even when NOT acting as DM] adventure design, i.e. dungeon writing, is a piece of the DM's work, a tool every DM should have in his/her toolbox. But that's just the elementary level of game play. The next, higher, level is world building, a much taller order. But it's only with a properly built world (or the beginnings of a properly built world) that one can start to build true adventures based on meaningful context. That is to say:

situations that provide some chance of reward involving commensurate risk

...any of which can be refused by the players.

[the refusal part is important. Might need to write a separate post about that]

These days, I'm building my own campaign world in a less amateurish fashion, though it's tough without the creative partnership I had in the past (my old co-DM doesn't game anymore, so far as I know. Her business these days is coaching struggling writers to finish their novels). On the other hand, I have a lovely crutch in the form of a real world map (the Pacific Northwest) with real world climate, resources, population centers, etc. and an existing history that I can twist and turn to my own ends. Makes the running of the world rather easy which, in turn, frees up an enormous amount of time that I can use to develop profitable, dangerous scenarios. Me shoe-horning in various adventure modules (Ravenloft, The Sentinel, Hommlet, etc.) is admittedly lazy on my part...but players like dungeons and they remain an integral part of the game.

They're just not the entirety of the game. 

All right. That's probably enough for now. Not sure how this one is going to land with folks, but at least I got something down for a Thursday morning post. I have a couple follow-ups planned that piggyback on the subject, but comments, questions, and feedback would be appreciated...especially disputes or calls for clarification. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Random Notes

Just warming up the mental muscles this morning...maybe the typing fingers, too.
  • The Seattle Seahawks boarded a plane to Germany today for a game versus the Bucs in what will be the first ever NFL game in that country. They're off to Munich which is, perhaps, my favorite German city ('course I've only ever been to three or four cities in Germany...).  I've heard ticket prices are something in the neighborhood of $500 with some 3 million folks trying to get in the game; one would assume the sport would appeal to a large segment of the culture. For my part, I wish I could go just to get back to Bavaria, which is MY version of Disney Land (i.e. "the happiest place on Earth"): mountains and castles, beer and schnitzel, cathedrals and museums, the Autobahn...sheesh. An abundance of riches. Hope the 'Hawks have fun.
  • In sad news, a child was murdered at a local high school, another victim of gun violence. Not a crazed psychopath with mass shooting agenda, just a hormonal 14 year old with far-too-easy access to a handgun. Now, multiple lives have been ruined: victim and shooter, family and friends, students and teachers. I know the school well; it is the public school that serves the same neighborhood/community as my kids' elementary school. Many siblings (at least six) of my kids' classmates attend the school. A sad, frightening day yesterday. 
  • In happier news, Washington State continued to be a bastion of sanity and democracy judging by the election results of 2022...and it appears such was the case for a lot of the country, stymying the predicted Red Wave. That makes me somewhat...hopeful? I won't say more than that, because delving into the politics of this country makes me equal parts sad and angry, and I know it tends to rile up my readers. Thank you to everyone who voted (one way or the other): our democracy only has a chance of being a representative reflection of our society if we make our voices heard. Voting is the way we do that.
  • In my publishing "business:" sold a bunch of books lately. Must be the holiday season. Thank you to everyone who's given me money: as I've written before, it's much appreciated and encourages me to do more.
  • In general gaming: picked up a copy of Jeffrey C. Dillow's RPG Adventures in Fantasy Gaming. First published in 1980, I'd never heard of this game before finding it on the shelf. Compact, hardcover (the good kind), lovely illustrations, it is somewhat reminiscent of Fantasy Wargaming being based off a wargaming model (by which I mean: something like a combo of ODD+Chainmail with a heavy emphasis on the Chainmail). Unlike FW, though, it seems far less inclined towards the medieval/historical and far more fantastical and...dare-I-say...American-ish (Fantasy Wargaming is distinctly Euro-centric, in my opinion). Looking forward to the chance of digesting it. Appears to have at least a couple of adventure scenarios in it that I might purloin (including rather nice maps).
[oh,'s a review]
  • In television: started watching Reservation Dogs with the wife. Fantastic show. Equal measures funny and heartbreaking. I've had some extremely limited experience with tribal nations in Washington (both in general and as part of my former job) and my aunt in Montana worked as a federal liaison to the tribes for the last couple decades. Oklahoma isn't the same as Washington and Montana but there are shared similarities of reservation life.  Just a really well made, well cast, well written production...must see TV.
  • In Dragonlance/D&D: nothing to report. However, it is my birthday Sunday and perhaps I can wrangle some D&D play out of the family. We'll see. After getting up at 6am to watch the Seahawks play in Germany, and then heading out to watch my son's morning soccer match, I might just decide to take a nap. But we'll see. 
Okay. That wasn't a terribly bad "warm up." Now let's see if I can get something a bit more substantial.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Just Spitballing

The other evening my son was complaining that he "didn't have anything to read;" a blatant lie since there are book shelves throughout our home (Six in the office alone! Two in my kids' bedroom) literally overflowing with books. Really...we have about (hold on, I'm counting)....eleven-ish book shelves PLUS piles of books on bedside tables, side tables, coffee tables, etc.

Why don't you read one of the three books you just got from the library the other day? "They're BORING. I want something that's like D& with D&D characters, doing D&D stuff." Oh. 

I picked up a copy of Dragons of an Autumn Twilight off the shelf I have designated for nostalgic-crap-paperbacks and handed it to him. Yes: I am a terrible parent.

"Hickman? Didn't he write Ravenloft?" Yep. "What's this?" It's a D&D book about D&D characters doing D&D things. "Really?" Yeah. It's crap, but when I was your age, I thought it was great.


My own Dragonlance journey is evolving in a different fashion. My research has been more focused on The Atlas of the Dragonlance World, DL11: Dragons of Glory, DL14: Dragons of Triumph, and (to lesser extents) the Players Guide to the Dragonlance Campaign and the 2nd Edition Tales of the Lance. What might be surprising, though, is HOW I'm using them...see, I don't really give a rip about rules for kender or minotaurs or the various knightly (proto-)prestige class mechanics: that's all stuff I can do myself (and probably in an easier, if not more eloquent, fashion).

Likewise, I'm not overly concerned with the creation myths and pseudo-history of Krynn (or their particular cosmology which is mostly silly and generally ignored in the fiction and published adventures)...who cares with how gully dwarves came into being?  Instead, I'm mining the thing for information that IS useful for a campaign set in the DL world: nations and states, population demographics, climate conditions, geography (pre- and post-Cataclysm), trade goods. All that is ALSO stuff I could weave from whole cloth myself...but it's a lot less work for me if I just use their stuff and worry about how it all factors into their economy and the economic war machine.

Dragons of Glory is also an interesting book...probably more interesting than most people give it credit for. "Timelines of the universe" (when the gods were created; when the gods created humans, elves, etc.) are NOT interesting (and anyway, shouldn't that all be confined to the realms of myth and creation story, i.e. like our "real world?"). Timelines of war and the movements of armies long as they can be grounded in some semblance of reality. DL11 is one of the first places I've seen that shows another great justification for the "no cleric" world of Krynn: armies are forced to carry their own provisions, rather than rely on create food spells (ridiculously low level in AD&D). And how much food does a dragon eat, anyway? Sure, dragons are the fantasy equivalent of "air support" but are they troop transports, resupply vessels, or strafing/bombing vehicles? Remember: dragons are lazy (chromatic dragons, especially, have high "sleeping" percentages)...they are not uber-monsters that can go-go-go, indefinitely.

I know, I know..."Who cares, JB? We're not running a wargame here!" No, you're not...and neither am I. But it's important for world building. I keep coming back to that term; one of these days, I'll spend 10,000+ words defining exactly what I mean. Here's the TL;DR version: it's the OPPOSITE of half-assing one's scenario creation for your D&D campaign. Lookie here:

Say you're a DM that wants to run an adventure for a group of friends. You've got this great "tomb" adventure about a module? Let's say I3: Pharaoh (I remember that one being pretty good). You set a weekend aside and run it for your buddies. They have a great time. "Can we do it again next week?" Do what? "Play D&D!" Um...sure. What do you want, another tomb?

Set aside (for the purpose of this post) all thought of the "mega-dungeon," a relic from the most primordial days but bearing as little resemblance to the glory of the "true" D&D game as a board game (board games are more succinct and satisfying than mega-dungeons, in my Not So Humble opinion). As I said: set it aside for the moment. What do YOU, Mr./Ms. DM plan on doing next? You, Dancing Monkey, how are you going to entertain these individuals, week-after-week, month-after-month, year-after-year? You going to keep buying PDFs off of DriveThruRPG for the requisite levels of your players?

How empty.

You need a world; you need context for your players. NOT background (and certainly not "backstory!")...just a world for exploration. Dungeons? can shoehorn dungeons into most any world. Krynn's got a dozen plus (the DL series). Greyhawk's got a bunch. I know Mystara does. And I'm sure Ye Old Forgotten Realms has a plethora, even before the advent of 2E (wasn't the "H" series of Bloodstone set in FR?). I've had no problem slotting pre-published modules of all stripes into MY campaign world (a fantasy Washington State). "Insert dungeon" is standard operating practice

But the need the world. Without the world, it's all hollow. 

Ugh. Okay. I'm going to try to write about this tomorrow (though it's my kids' short school day; maybe Thursday?). Just too many distractions today. School shooting down the street. Wife freaking out. Kids coming home early. Mid-term voting. And ALSO the start of basketball season (for the plays all the sports). Jeez. Busy day. Currently finishing this post at a bar while drinking a beer...but I've got to go.

More later. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Confessing Dragonlance

I have a love-hate relationship with Dragonlance. I can beat it up all day, but it continues to draw me to it, like a moth to a flame.

I once heard it said that "whatever you're into circa age 12 will be the things that continue to fascinate you the rest of your life" (they may have been speaking only of boys/men). For myself, there's certainly an element of truth to that. The Seattle Seahawks. Dungeons & Dragons. And, sure, the Dragonlance saga.

One of the NAP2 adventure entries in Prince's contest was a little entry called Keep the Pace, a fairly creative submission that took some shit from me for being something that occurs entirely within a dream. *sigh* As I commented at the time: not my cup of tea. "Dream adventures" is something I associate with the old World of Darkness (games like Vampire, Mage, 3rd edition Ars Magica, etc.) written for the "Storyteller" system (yes, that's the actual name WoD gives their proprietary mechanics) which I played extensively back in the 1990s. 

But there have, of course, been the occasional D&D forays into dreams (and, heck, back in my youth I remember running some dream shenanigans in my own AD&D campaign...embarrassing to admit). Combing my memory for some of these, the one that sprang foremost to mind was adventure module DL10: Dragons of Dreams. Written by Tracy Raye Hickman and featuring one of my absolute favorite covers (Caldwell), this is an adventure I've never owned nor read, though having read Spring Dawning multiple times (told you I was a fan) I am aware of the whole Silvanesti/Cyan Bloodbane/forest-locked-in-dream-thrall scenario. 

All green dragons
should be so cool.
SO...decided the other day to grab a PDF copy of the thing and check it out. And by the adventure. It's a how the whole "dream thing" is handled. 

So THEN I spent more than a bit of time looking for an in-depth review of the module...preferably one that included an actual play report that didn't come from someone hacking the mechanics and just doing some heavy-handed "narrative driven" drivel with their players. Couldn't find a single one (there's a four part YouTube video of actual play that I started listening to, but they're not using the original characters and include...for example...a "draconian paladin" as a PC, which makes me wince more than a little). What I did find was an extensive deep dive of every Dragonlance module published for AD&D (and many of their 3E adaptations). Ended up spending a couple-few days going through that.

The writing of the author ("Purple XVI") is caustic and profanity laden, in the style of Bryce or Prince, but there's an obvious affection for the source material. No one "hates" a topic, setting, or product line so much as to spend THAT much effort dissecting it. I know I write long, rambling screeds and rants about how beloved "classic" adventures are crap...but this is tens of thousands of words (99,819 words per my laptop). Without an actual fondness for the material no one's going to martyr themselves simply to lampoon an entire series...a series that MANY folks agree (at this point in time) Weren't Well Done.

So what does that say about me? Well, as I said, I was a fan of the novels in my youth, but I never owned, ran, or played any of the DL adventure modules. My co-DM owned a couple, but said they were awful (remember: at the time she was 14 and a fan of the novels, too, but even then we could recognize they were crap D&D). But, while I have absolutely no desire to run an epic heroic railroad (hey, man, I said I ran a lot of WoD back in the day...) and unequivocally loathe many of the design choices made by the Hickmans and their co-authors, STILL the series, the world of Krynn, and the potentiality of the setting holds an immense fascination for me.

Reading Purple's reviews was a way of assuaging my curiosity without going out, buying, and reading the whole shebang myself.

There's just so much material there! Multi-level dungeons! And DRAGONS! Did you know: the original impetus/idea of the DL series was to create a 12 module series with each featuring one of the cannonical MM dragons? Yes, that includes both Bahamut and Tiamat (those were modules DL13 and DL14, respectively). Why, then, were there 14 modules (originally) published? Because DL5 was a mini "setting sourcebook" (an overview of the Krynn world) and DL11: Dragons of Glory was a chit-and-hex wargame for running battles during the War of the Lance. SO...remove DL5 and DL11 and you get 12 adventure modules, each corresponding with one of the month/paintings of the original Dragonlance calendar from 1985 (the cover of the calendar was used for the cover of DL5). 

It was a DELIGHTFUL attempt at creating a succinct, 12-issue campaign series. With extensive, multi-level dungeons, such a project could occupy at least a year of game play...and probably years if the thing was run as a sandbox campaign instead of a story oriented railroad. While I'm not as enamored with the Dirtbag Dragonlance concept as some folks, I do like the idea of running the world as a war-torn, post-apocalyptic fantasy setting where players must find a way to survive and thrive.

It's Twilight 2000 for AD&D.  Hell, the size of the setting isn't much different from Eastern Europe (the continent of Ansalon, as mapped, is only about half the size of Australia, and has a lot more water in its interior). My own campaign world is smaller in terms of area, but not so much in terms of land mass, considering all the inland seas.. Which is to say: the thing is TINY.  And that's fine for a pseudo-medieval fantasy campaign that doesn't provide jet airliners for commercial intercontinental travel. The Cataclysmic changes the world's undergone from being hit by a divine meteor strike has resulted in plenty of dungeons and monster-infested wilderness, even as it's left some city states with better-than-usual technology remaining. In many ways, Krynn/Ansalon is a perfect world setting for D&D...even before you add in the dragon war.

And so we come to this: even though I really, REALLY don't care about the DL fiction that's been penned over the years (despite my absurd fondness for the original two trilogies), the setting/situation created by the Hickmans remains appealing as a very game-worthy environment in which to set a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. And while I have no wish (zero! zilch!) to play through the modules as written (they are, in fact, terrible), I find myself really loving the idea of possibly running a campaign set in the World of Krynn...of, in fact, taking those first 12-14 modules and mining them for stones from which to build a most excellent imaginary environment worth exploring.

A fool's errand. That's a statement, not a rhetorical question. It is madness to conceive of this as a project...especially as a commercial project (which, indeed, is what I've been considering over the last few days). And, yet, the idea...and ideas related to it...simply won't let go of my brain. 

Now, I'll tell you folks, a lot of times when I breathe out something like this into the internet it cures me of that buzzing bee in my bonnet. Just typing out the words and phrases of what's rambling in my head helps settle my firing synapses and bring me back to a more "neutral" frame of mind. But not always...and, perhaps, not this time.  If that turns out to be the case...if just writing about this subject begins to stoke the fire in my mind rather than douse its flames...and if I actually begin writing this thing that looms in my imagination...well, I'll post a few more missives on the subject. 

It's a completely idiotic idea for a project. But, right now, it's one that's got some "grab" to it.