Monday, April 18, 2011

Actual Dungeon Design

With Issue 2 being the first to feature an actual dungeon level (Level 1 is in layouts/waiting for one more article to complete), I've decided to put to pap... blog a few overview features to remember when designing each level.

In no particular order:

The dungeon is an ecology, not a series of encounters:
That means the dungeon, especially if a group lives there, needs to have everything a habitat would have; sleeping quarters, bathrooms, a place to eat, etc. Obviously these things might be different then "friendly races" standards because of the unique ecology of the race that inhabits it, but it should all be there. Some rooms may be empty, some not particularly thrilling (storage with no secret doors or coins), but all should make sense.
This also means that when stocking a dungeon, stock it to make sense, not always balanced. There may be "tougher" monsters in higher levels, players should know when to run, but only if it makes sense. You could put an 8HD Green Dragon on Level 2 but why wouldn't that dragon take out the inhabitants of that level and take over? So he can't be there. Look to place monsters that make sense within the dungeon you're making, not the "balance of the game."

Each level should stand alone, yet connect to the whole:
I've mentioned this before. Each level should be able to be played as a stand alone dungeon if that were someone's desire. Each level should have a goal, an "end boss" to beat, and a sense of accomplishment once finished. However, there should also be elements that connect each level to the mega-dungeons overall plot, an item here, a few clues there, etc. If run alone, these items, clues would, in essence, never be "solved," but many stand alone dungeons (especially earlier editions) had elements that really only the DM knew about because of reading the Backstory.
Because of this rule, each level should have several "set pieces," areas more exciting then the hallway with a few orcs or the prison cells with the torturer. There should be something that the players talk about after the game is over, whether by architectural design that makes for a memorable (and not just "I stand in front of him and swing my sword) combat round, a fiendish puzzle that was solved with player skill, or a reoccurring NPC that causes nothing but trouble for the PCs and finally gets his later in the dungeon.
Again, because each level stands alone, there should be a reason to be in there besides trying to get to the next level. Each should have a plot hook designed to make the PCs (assuming they're proper heroes) want to explore the dungeon and reach the endgame, instead of bypassing it quickly to get to the next level or just killing/exploring everything to level up.

Each level should allow a party of four to, potentially, level up
When stocking the dungeon, each level should have enough treasure and enemies to let an average party of 4 characters to level up. I chose 4 because, while older dungeons tend to talk about parties 6-8, 4 seems closer to the group size now a days. This is an easy formula to figure out. Take the average XP it takes from all the classes in LL to go from the current level of the dungeon to the next level and multiply by 4. So, for instance, if I was designing level 3, I'd take the difference from level 3 to 4 for each class and average them (about 4107 XP) then multiply that by 4 (16428) and then make sure there's enough monsters and treasure to hit that mark. Note, don't include random enocounters or monsters that are purposely supposed to be avoided. You also may want to add a little bit more, to cover the fact that a party may not find every hidden treasure cache or decide to fight every monster that they wander into. The game self balances with classes that have more powers at lower levels (slower leveling charts) and larger parties (they may not level, but their higher numbers make for ease of play.)
Also, remember when adding monsters to not just account for HD, but also No. Enc. An encounter of a creatures HD is balanced with the average of the No. Enc. A single 1 HD monster is not a balanced fight against a 1st level party (unless it's No. Enc. is 1-1).

Remember the 5 senses
Since we're using the 5 senses system to describe the dungeon, when creating it, think in all 5 senses. What do you hear in the room, what does it smell like, does anything have a unique texture? Remember to think of things a certain race (or class) may know that others don't, certain underground structures for dwarves, flora of fey origins for elves, the skill level of a locksmith to construct a particularly locked door for a thief, etc. Don't just rely on sight based descriptions when designing a room, think of how you, yourself, would perceive an area, with all 5 senses.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Issue 2

 Yes, it's been quiet here, a combination of a bad sinus infection on my end and the fact that we're between writing and publication on the first issue's end meant that there wasn't much to put down here on the blog.

But, finally I've got something to update on; Issue 2!

Now, why am I talking Issue 2 when the first issue isn't finished? Well, if the publication is to stay monthly, we'll need to have articles written in advance so we can begin edits and layouts in a much more time restricted manner then the first issue. If there are (roughly) only 30 days between each release, we can't take our time with the writing/art/edits/etc. So, while most articles on Issue 1 are tackled and are now just being edited, laid out, and drawn for, it's time to get writing on Issue 2.

Below is a work-in-progress table of contents for Issue 2:

Player's Section

God of Neutrality - Like the previous God of Law article, it discusses the Valadian's main church for this god.
Mini-Gazetteer: Ashencor - Detailing the hub town for the Mega-Dungeon
Organizations: The Ashen Blades of Kelias - The first article about one of the famed Fighter's Schools in Valador.
X - Still one article slot open to be used.

DM's Section
Mega-Dungeon Level 1: X - The first level of the Mega-Dungeon, name left out to avoid spoilers
Secret Societies: X - Detailing the background of a DM's-knowledge-only group.

Both sections may be one more article each, depending on length of the previous ones. As a monthly, I obviously don't want to try to put out 128 page supplements especially with a small writing staff working during their free time, but I don't want to due little 16 page things either.

Well, enough about the future, back to some layouts!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Dungeon Grows

Opening up the MegaDungeon itself up to a committee was one of the greatest things I've done in relation to this project. Once my gaming group got a hold of the initial idea and concept that ties the whole thing together they took it to places I probably never would have thought of myself.
Before I knew it, we had the initial ideas of each level planned out and already some of the more fantastical levels are getting brainstormed like crazy. With that done, I can now focus on the two DM articles for issue 1, the Dungeon Overview and Backtstory. The backstory I already knew, though with the added levels and what's in them, I can update the timeline to reflect things that occur there. The overview will be much easier now that we actually know what's in every level.

A little more writing and then that's all she wrote for Issue 1, things are coming together and I like it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

An Odd Quiet...

We're at this point in which all the old material is going through edits and no new material is being written. As a blog dedicated to the creation process of this publication, there is just not that much fun stuff to talk about. Still, some updates are in order.

Had my first art consultation, as it was, wherein a friend of mine read over a few of the demi-human articles and has begun sketching some drawings. Hopefully they'll be ready to go around layout time. Meanwhile, the articles are going through their first round of edits, big shout out to Chester for fixing all my mistakes. I tend to write fast when inspiration strikes and grammar and spelling don't always agree with first writing.

Meanwhile, I opened up the entire dungeon to my "writing staff" (i.e. group of players) to help throw some ideas out there, as this has turned more into something being made by a group then something being run by me. Once I gave them the basic premise of the whole megadungeon, they were certainly inspired and some great ideas immediately began to show up. Once we get each level codified I'll be able to write up the Dungeon Overview section and get that ready to publish on the DM side of things.

Things are coming together, and I like it! Also, quick shout out to all my fellow DM's, ST's, Ref's, GM's and whathaveyou's! Today is GM's Day, a day to celebrate those tireless bastards that keep games running and our imagination's filled with colorful tales of fancy. I mostly run games, but have been honored enough to be a player in some very entertaining games. I want to give a big thank you to everyone who's been brave enough to step behind the screen and nice enough to invite me to take a seat at their table.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

5 Senses Room Descriptions

Boxed text in adventures are a bit of a mixed bag for me. On one hand, they're classic, which I know doesn't make something good, but it makes it stick in your mind. On the other hand, it's hard to convey a room properly with boxed text for every group out there. Some people may just want to play to kill things, so the players are drifting off as your describe the smell in the air and paintings on the walls. Others are trying to map every detail and anything left out of boxed text will mess them up. Other times, boxed text comes off as ridiculous, as several sentences describe the craggy walls, dripping water, and odd smells and end with "and a huge minotaur stands in the center of the room!" as if that wasn't the important first detail...

Many adventures that do away with box texts (especially more modern ones) give the DM little description of the room save for what can kill a PC or be killed by a PC and expect the map to handle the killing space (what the rest of the room looks like, who cares? As long as I know where I can stand when I hit things with my axe). Others might give a sparse description, but leave out details PCs may want to know about.

For our room descriptions I've come up with something I've tentatively called the "5 Senses" model, where in each location will be described using the 5 senses. Each sense entry won't be boxed text, it will be up to the DM to decide what to reveal and what not to reveal based on what the PCs are doing. Special provisions for the Demi-Humans and their special senses would also be included, such as describing the room by sight if only using infravision or things noticeable about the architecture to a dwarf.

Sight would concern itself mostly with the room size and locations of exits, I feel a good description of dimensions and ways in/out are important for mappers, as well as all the other descriptions most often found in traditional boxed text; unusual features on the walls, the materials/look of the walls themselves, large pools of water, paintings, etc. etc. As mentioned above, it would also include anything that may appear special via infravision, or perhaps an elf would notice that the room is dessigned in an elven style.

Sound would be useful not only for flavor, but the go-to entry for those adventurers smart enough to remember to listen at a door.

Smell and Taste don't often come up in room descriptions but I feel they are something that can really help set the scene. They are strong senses we use in real life that are oft neglected when describing something (be it a novel, dungeon, or even recounting a memory), but when are used often provoke an instant response from those listening to the description. Taste, as you may imagine, wouldn't come up too often, unless the adventurers go about licking the walls, however sometimes odors are so overpowering they have a "taste" to them, as to rooms and places that are overly stuffy, old, dusty, etc.

Touch/Feel is another thing often neglected, but can be important, be it the feel of soft ground under the adventures feet or the cold draft the chills the skin the second the door is open. It can even be used to describe the feel of the walls as adventurers run their hands over it looking for secret doors.

These don't only apply for the room of course, things in the room can get that treatment too, from inhabitants (the look of the monster is that much more memorable when coupled with its smell and sound) to items the adventurers investigate (the rusty squeal of an old suit of armor being moved, the smell of the odd liquid in the beaker on the table).

These won't be written to be read aloud, but rather, they'll be descriptive and thorough, with this system the DM can use as much or as little as he wants, depending on his players. He may stop at just the basic room description by sight for players who want to move along to the killing, or leave out parts the party hasn't discovered yet because they haven't fully walked into a room or the light hasn't hit that one corner with the weird pool of liquid (even though they can still hear and smell it). Also, each detail that only a certain race would sense/know about will be distinctly called out so that the DM's can adjust to what the party consist of.

For now, it's just an interesting concept, I'll put it into practice on the revised write-up of the first level of the dungeon and run it by my group for their thoughts on how well it works or if it's too much or not enough. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More Updates

Have begun work on the DM side of Issue 1, hopefully with some other stuff out of the way, the freelance article on the god of law will be showing up soon.

Starting to think about a ToC for Issue 2, have a few ideas, will put into a more concrete idea later. My articles for Issue 1 will be going off to be read by several people to act as editors, you can't edit your own work, it just never works out.

I may have an artist, I wasn't really looking for one, but sometimes things fall into your lap, which is always a good thing.

Finally, I have an idea on a "5 Senses" approach to describing rooms in a dungeon, I'll elaborate more in another post tomorrow when I have the idea better hammered out.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Progress Report

Everything for the first issue on the Player's Side of things has been written, save for the God article which should be showing up soon.

On the DM's side of thing, the two articles explaining the rough backstory of the dungeon as well as a overview of what's on each level so DM's can begin building subplots and such is being roughly put together. Later this week I'm having a good friend and fellow gaming conspirator listen to a few of my ideas and act as a sounding board. He always tends to enhance my level of devious plans and provide some of his own that blend in perfectly with my ideas.

With any luck, those should be written soon afterward and I'll start editing and laying out the articles, all the while getting things ready to be written for Issue 2 so we can try to maintain a monthly release.