X-Treme Dungeon Mastery

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Advice and help for the dm who needs to be more extreme!

Transcript of X-Treme Dungeon Mastery

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    As for making a pretty map, there are a num-ber of really fabulous mapping programs available tocreators of adventure games. Tracy prefers Profan-tasy's Campaign Cartographer and Fractile Terrainsoftware packages. Although by the time you actuallyget around to reading this part of the book they'veprobably developed an entirely new set of softwaretools and possibly three more operating systems.

    Putting it all together: the adventuretext

    You've got the tools, you've even got all theparts. Now you have to put the whole thing togetherinto a working, well-oiled, and functional machine. lthelps if you have a plan and an instruction manual.

    The first thing you should consider is that a writ-ten adventure is a one-dimensional string of informa-tion (text) used to transform a two-dimensional mapinto a four dimensional dynamic state.

    Fine, we'll explain this for the lower level XDMsiust reading this book for the first time. lf you alreadyknow what we're sayin& you'll iust have to be pa-

    tient while the rest of the class catches up. Text is onedimensional information.. You have to read it in a lineand in sequence for any meaning to come out of thewords. You cannot read a word on page ten, flip backto page one for another word and then to page six andexpect the randomly chosen words for form a cohesivesentence. Charu are also essentially one-dimensionalas well.t Tables and maps make a fine show of step-ping things up into the second dimension (height andbreadth). These together are the completed design, the"map" to the game experience, which in reality is fourdimensional-a imagined state of existence, which notonly has the three classical dimensions of width, depth,and height, but all of which are forever moving forwardthrough the fourth dimension of time.

    It's a real challenge to figure out how to do thateffectively.

    It is these very limis in dimension that poses theheart of any approach to writing down a game design.The first thing you need to decide in your adventure,then is which is the more important dimension in yourgame: space or time?"

    Organization: Time vs. SpaceThere are two basic guiding options when you

    try to write down your adventure which you can easilychoose between by asking your self this question:

    ls the primary motivating force on the characterslimited options or limited time?

    The first is called an option lock while the secondis called a time lock.

    l. Option lock This means that the options avail-able to the players will diminish over the course ofthe adventure until they literally run out of op-tions. Players who are making their way throughan underground dungeon are primarily faced withan option lock; there are only so many places that

    * OK, whiney physics people, we know that the text exiss in the thirddimension physically. The ink, no matter how thin, has its own threedimensional space and the page ceruinly has a thickness beyond is widthand height. We're not talking about the physical properties of the page,we're talking about the dimensions of the information itself, Feed that toSchrddinger's cat . . . who may or may not be around to chew on it.t For you game design challenged, new XDMs, a "chart" compares oneset of numbers to a matched pair of results. A "tdble" cross references twofields (across the top and down the side) to find the result at the intersectionof the two fields. Now you can refer to charu and tables correctly andnot have people snicker behind your back any longer at game designconferences.


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  • they can go and even though they are free to wan-der around all they want, no one wants to go backto an empty room. So they keep exploring untilthe limit of their options is reached and they frnallyarrive at the end of the adventure.

    Option lock deal more with space and choicesthan with time. Classic dungeons and outdooradventures in a closed matrix with well definedboundaries are both examples of option lock envi-ronments. No matter how long the players wanderaround, eventually they will run out of optionsfor places to visit. In this type of adventure thebest approach is to make your text refer primarilyto maps and locations independent from timedevents.

    2. Time lock This means that the clock is ticking onthe bomb and that the amount of time availablefor the characters to solve the problem will dimin-ish with every passing second. This is, obviously, abit more urgent on time constraints for the play-ers. lf your players suddenly wake up and discoverthey are standing next to a thermonuclear devicein the 100 kiloton yield range in the middle ofthe New Mexico desert with a loud voice count-ing down from the ten minute mark, and nothingfor transportation but the Red Ball Jet sneakers ontheir feet . . . that's a time lock for you that noamount of running away will solve.

    Time lock relates more to time than to space oroptions. You will need locations and, no doubt,maps, but the primary concern of the adventure-the very heart of your organization of the text-willneed to center around sequences of events andtheir relationship to choices.Now that you've frgured out the general approach

    to your adventure (linear, open, or closed matrix) andis primary concern (option or time locked) it's time getthe whole thing organized.

    Tricks of Adventure WritingThe Script

    All XDMs know that the text of your adventure isa script. lt's a reference work that isn't meant to be readbut a guide to performance. This means that writinga good adventure has more to do with technical writ-ing than it does with creative writing. While there are

    certainly a lot of creative elements in an adventuremodule, it's all about the performance in the end.

    When you write your adventure, it is moreimportant that it is organized properly than howflowery your purple prose flows on the page. Orga-nization and ease of reference are the watchwords.It's your performance from these notes that mattersmore and the more organized your script the betteryour performance.

    Cut ScenesYou're an XDM, a master of the game! Why

    overburden yourself with mundane deuils such as,say, doing the exposition for your adventure? Whyshould you do all the work while your players iustsit around the table pretending that they hear whatyou are say, but all the while are secretly wishing youwould stop reading that long description text and geton with bashing in the heads of a few monsters?

    Hey, why is that your problem?We humbly suggest that you use scripts and

    cut scenes to get you through those awkward mo-ments.

    A cut scene is a video game term for a se-quence inside the game over which the player has lit-tle or no control. They are primarily used to advancecharacter, plot, or background issues inside the game.They also provide texture, flavor, and atmosphere forthe game. You might think of these little scenes asthose same long, boring descriptions that you've beengiving in every game. Until now.

    We suggest that you script these cut scenesand have your players perform them. You can evenproduce these as cut sheets-copies of the scriptwhich only have the spoken lines for each of the play-ers on them.

    lmplied StoryActors on a stage are often encouraged to look

    not just over the audience but to gaze to the left orright of the proscenium. This effectively extends thestage because the audience, following the sightlines ofthe performer's eyes, believes that there is more inthe character's world that is contained on the stageiself.

    This is also true in the descriptions that youwrite for the various encounter locations in your

  • adventure. Most of the writing in encounter locationsis dull and dry stuff, but the description text is yourone opportunity to imbue the encounter with sights,sounds, smells, all the emotion and sense that bringsa place to life in your players' minds. lt is helpful,then, when considering what to put in these piecesof descriptive text, to look "beyond the proscenium"and extend the encounter through the use of impliedstory.

    lmplied story means placing descriptions in-side the text that hint at greater events that have hap-pened here in the past. Try the following examples:

    As you open the door, you see that the backof it is charred. The room beyond appears to bethe remains of a library. The books here are allcharred, standing on shelyes that skew away fromthe black crater in the center of the room.

    What happened here? Who did this? Are theyanywhere around or is this somethingthat happened long ago?

    What about this de-scription:

    The mummifiedremains of a womanIay atop an altar. Onrhe sfairs below it, twoskeletal figures lay frozen inthe grip of combat, their rust-ing armor all that remainsof their clothing. One'sbony hand grips wispsof hair on his oppo-nent's skull whilethe other's handwraps around hisenemy's throat, Bothhold short swordsin their remain-hands, plungedthrough one anoth-er's ribcages.

    Who were these people? Why are they here? Whathappened?

    Remember that it is the nature of humanity tocomplete stories-especially where none is given. Everytime players are confronted with what looks like a storythey will complete it in their minds, making up whatev-er pleases them to fill in the gaps and make it complete.The wonderful thing about this is that it involves theplayers more completely because it engages their imagi-nation, allowing them to actually contribute somethingof their own creativity to the adventure.

    FoundationA good mystery story includes a surprise ending at

    which you can look back and say that all the clues werethere all along.

    In storytelling, we call that foundation. You lay thefoundation for the work that comes later