Monday, 30 November 2009

Finding my own style - a years journey

I began in a similar way to most old school Dungeon Masters when I started playing Labyrinth Lord over a year ago, in that I would use just a few notes and go from there, expanding them in play to bring them to life, but have since allowed my approach to drift and so have now developed my own style.

When I began, I ran some unconnected adventures, some of which were really bare bones and some of which were fully fledged boxed or printed products. Sometimes I would even run random dungeons. I connected them together very loosely so the campaign emerged as a result of play, rather than being structured up front. However, when my players hit 4th level, I felt it was time to shift things up a gear. So, I began thinking about a campaign, one that wasn't simply emergent, but had a beginning, a middle and possible endings.

I now run a campaign of very tightly connected adventures and quests. However, because I am still writing the campaign as we play it, week by week, I can make adjustments as necessary based on what the party does. I find this to be a very effective technique and would recommend it. I am 150 sides of A4 into it so far, without including the maps themselves, and there's yet more to come.

I'm finding a great approach that works for me is to begin with just a map. Sometimes I make one myself and other times I pick one from a published book. I then use only the names of places, how the bit looks on the map itself and the context within my own campaign as a starting point for what will actually be there. This frees up my imagination, helping to unhook it from game mechanics and standard roleplaying conventions, letting me think more clearly. I can then begin thinking properly about what should be there, why the location exists even exists in the first place, what (if anything) populates it... and so on. All the while I bear in mind the quest... but because the map wasn't actually designed to support the quest in the first place it ends up having little bits here and there that exist because they do and not because they were created to support the quest itself. I find that players respond to this quite well. Sometimes they will spend time trying to figure out something as though it is a puzzle when it isn't - I put this down mostly to the way computer games are designed (like a corridor with nothing to do but go onwards and every obstacle has to be overcome in order to keep going), something I do not want to replicate! However, the areas feel interesting, there are mysteries that never get solved and the places feel more real.

We're having a blast and I thought I would share this approach with you, because if you're anything like me, you might enjoy learning about other styles of Dungeon Mastering that work a treat.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Spells of Retep, the astounding, the crazy

These are the spells of the master mage Retep, penned by his own hand devised by his own incredible mind... but... whatever happened to the Astounding Retep?

Retep's Contagious Dance with the Fairies
Level: 1
Upon casting, the mage suddenly begins an uncontrollable dancing jig. There is no music - well at least that anyone else can hear, but nevertheless the caster continues to move in the most spasmodic, disjointed and downright disturbing way for 2d4 rounds. During this time, she is extremely hard to hit and gains a +6 AC bonus but cannot do anything except this strange, alluring dance except maybe accompany it with grunts, oohs, aahs and perhaps a little singing.
Anyone who attacks the mage risks getting caught up in the magical dance. They must make a saving throw vs wands or be compelled to join in the dance for the duration of the spell. Dance partners - as they become - cannot act, only dance, adding their own weird movements into the mix. They too gain a +6 AC bonus and any who attack them risk joining the frivolities too.

Retep's Massive Frog Jump
Level: 1
Range: 15'
When cast, the mage can make a single jump up to fifteen foot upwards and across, while gribbeting like a frog. The leap can be over obstacles and other creatures and the caster always lands safely, albeit in an embarrassing heap!

Retep's Spinning Bastard Beard
Level: 2
Duration: 1 round per level.
Upon completion of the spell, the caster's beard grows to extraordinary lengths and hardens into sharp points at the end and begins whipping around like a propeller. The Spinning Bastard Beard grants an extra melee attack per round to the mage, which inflicts d3 damage and automatic knockback on any enemy it hits. If the wizard forgoes all other attacks, he may powerswing the Bastard Beard.

Retep's Flash of Inspiration
Many people suffer from a lack of ideas when confronted with an unusual problem. In such a situation, this spell proves invaluable. Upon casting, the mage faces the dumbfounded individual in question and lifts (or opens) his robes. Something, previously hidden, is revealed!

Whatever happened to Retep?
Level: 4
Range: 100'
The mage points at a target after completing the spell and says simply 'You... or me?'. Roll a d3. On a 3, the target is instantly and irrecovably destroyed and can never be raised and is replaced with a bowl of petunias. On a 2, the mage and the target simply switch places and there is a distinct whiff of Old Spice in the air. On a 1, the caster is instantly destroyed, except for her boots, which simply smoulder.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Mimic vs Smoke monster

My most recent game session, last night, featured some crazy but cool moments. Recently, the party mage and thief had pulled a couple of artefacts from a dream world into the real world (a dagger that can poison anything and an orb that can imprison souls). The most recent session 's star of the show was probably not a player, but the orb.

The group entered a room with a chest at the back of it. The room was clearly an armory as it was lined with racks of weapons. As they entered the room, one of the fighters accidentally stepped on a trip wire. A bladed pendulum swung downwards, hitting the hero, but he survived. This understandably made the group nervous of other traps within this room, so the wizard decided to release a skeleton that he had previously trapped within the Orb of Dominion, further into the room, to set any remaining traps off.

Everyone else in the group left the room and the mage did indeed do this. Three quarters of the way down the room, the skeleton appeared and came running at the mage to attack him (the imprisoned creatures emerge in a berserk state!). Prepared for this, the mage dispatched the skeleton and trapped it back inside the Orb. Now happy that most of the room did not contain traps, he decided to do the same thing again, but this time to place the skeleton next to the chest.

What the group did not know, was that the chest was a mimic, so when the skeleton appeared bang next to the chest, the mimic attacked! A mouth formed upon the chest and it gobbled up the skeleton!

That was a funny moment!

Cue the rest of the group storming in to the room to fight the mimic, who was then imprisoned with the Orb. A little later, in a fight against a dozen Vokes (smoke monsters) the mimic was released and began gobbling up the enemies. Another funny moment!

After all the monsters had been killed, the party re-defeated the mimic and the wizard once again trapped it within his Orb. I wonder what will face the party's pet mimic next ;-)