Friday, February 26, 2010

Public Domain Sunday?

This is a group you would definitely not want to run into on a stormy night. As I've said previously, one of the reasons I like these public domain images is that they provide great ideas for encounters or even entire adventures. Here is the idea for an encounter that came from this excellent drawing:

You decide to push on through the storm, despite the fact that your are getting soaked to the bone. The occasional lighting strike allows you to find your way through the forest, only wandering off of the road a few times. Eventually, the trees start to thin out and you start to see signs of cultivation. With the loss of the trees, however, you have no shelter from the rain. You draw your cloak tightly around your body and press on. Suddenly up ahead you see lights. The village must be just ahead! You quicken your pace, mind racing with thoughts of a warm fire, hot stew, and cold ale. But then a group of men appears in front of you. They had been hiding on either side of the road. They are dressed like simple farmers and carry tools. The manner that they are holding their farming implements, however, tells you that they are not out working the field. The man in front has a look in his eyes that you have seen before, always before you've had to kill someone. The group begins to advance toward you. Do you attack the mob before they can strike first, raise your weapon and threaten them, raise your empty hands and greet them cordially, or run back to the forest?

Solo Design Part 2 - Adding Randomness

I had originally intended to discuss designing encounters and obstacles in solos in Part 2, but the release of Tom Grimshaw's mini-solo "The Blood War of Saxon" in the first issue of TrollsZine has inspired me to discuss the addition of random events. "Blood War" is a short (44 paragraphs) solo that takes place in a small tomb. But with a set of nicely developed random elements, Tom has made it so that this solo can be played several times with different results.

The addition of random elements can greatly enhance a solitaire adventure. Normally this is done by adding random or wandering monsters that may show up while the lone delver is exploring. But there is no reason why regular elements of the tomb, haunted castle, or dark forest cannot be random as well. Who says the dining room always has to be empty or there are always two skeletons in the crypt? In "Blood War" some doors open to rooms whose content is determined by a roll of 1d6. Grabbing for treasure also has different results depending on what you roll. It certainly keeps you on your toes.

This feature also adds to the replay value of an adventure. With these random elements you can't assume you know the best course of action the second or even third time through an adventure. So you think that chest is full of one thousand gold coins ripe for the taking? Well, guess again. That was when Omar the Dwarf was here. He was killed by the zombie two rooms over. Now the chest contains one thousand flesh-eating ants. You're dead now too by the way.

But of course you don't want to overdo the randomness. The trick is to add just a touch of chaos to the mix but keep your unifying themes intact.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Public Domain Friday

I really like this illustration. It's just creepy and weird. Who is this strange man and what is he hiding beneath that large hat? He looks fairly harmless, or at least he would in the light of day. But what if he suddenly stepped out of the shadows on a dark city street? Would you try to talk to him or just run away?

Officially this is Talebot the Hunchback from a 17th century engraving that I found on A Clipart History. He is standing in a Cours des Miracles in Paris, described as 'one of the worst built, dirtiest, and most out-of-the way quarters of the town.' That sounds just like the setting for 'One of Those Nights.' Look for this character there; or you may want to do your best to avoid him.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Solo Design - Brief Aside

I've been working on a new solo adventure for the second issue of the TrollsZine called One of Those Nights. It sends the daring delver on a quest for his inn after a long night at the tavern. If only you could remember where it was. I had intended this to be a short solo, only 50-60 paragraphs long. It's not yet complete, but is now nearing the 100 paragraph mark. My original plan called for only ten encounters and a handful of empty streets. Those 10 encounters decided they needed more space than I had originally allotted them. Who am I to deny them? They're a dangerous bunch. Solos definitely have a tendency to take on a life of their own. I think the best thing is not to feel limited by your initial design. I like the way the adventure is turning out, despite it's growing length.

I'll be looking for a couple of play testers to run through the adventure once it is completed. This will likely be in the next couple of weeks, so if anyone is interested please let me know.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Solo Design Part 1

A nice post at H'rrrothgarrr's Hovel on solo design has motivated me to write about my own thoughts on the subject. So I will take a break from my posts on rules elaborations and complications. I am by no means an expert on solo design. I have two completed solos that I am happy with, two that are in progress, and some others that are (and likely will remain) unfinished. I would like to present some of my thoughts on the subject, however, as much for my own benefit as for anyone else.

Obviously, the first thing you need in order to design a solo adventure is an idea. Big surprise right? But you don't necessarily need an idea for an entire adventure. It could just be an idea for a single encounter or event that does not yet have a context. House in the Hills started with an idea about a fireplace. Everything else was built around that one idea about a single part of one room that I had while driving from Ohio to New York. From there I simply had to find a reason for the player to be in the house. Of course you could always start with a larger idea and then fill in the details. This does tend to be a bit easier, but is never necessary. If you have an idea, always write it down. You never know where a great adventure will start.

Because solos are guided adventures, it is generally a good idea to have a set goal other than simply acquiring some loot. Plundering a local tunnel complex may be good for a GM adventure where you have the GM and other players to add to the experience, but it often makes for a rather lackluster solo unless it is done really well. Of course, opinions vary. The goal could be as simple as trying to escape from a prison, recovering a lost artifact, assassinating a villain, or rescuing a prisoner. The goal could also be as complicated as trying to stop a war. When first starting out in solo writing, stick with the simple goals. That's where I like to stay and I still end up with solos with 100+ paragraphs. But you can do a lot with simple goals, especially when you add plot twists and complications (more on this in a later post).

With your adventure idea there should also be a location. I like to keep things local: a house, a small tomb, a small town. If your adventuring area gets too large you'll end up with 100s of paragraphs and a game (and writing project) that never seems to end. If your adventure takes place in a house or other closed structure, keep it to 10-12 rooms. You can do a lot with those 10 rooms, you'd be surprised. It is far better to have a handful of carefully designed rooms with multiple traps, tricks, treasures, and creatures in every one, than 10s of room with one feature each. That being said, not every room needs to contain something of interest. Empty rooms can be equally unnerving especially if you describe them in a way that suggests that it could not possibly be empty.

With your location in mind, you'll need to draw a map. I've found it's best to do this before you write too much, or anything at all. Maps keep you organized and on track and can serve as a well-structured outline. It does not need to be elaborate, no one else is going to see it; the map could simply be a series of squares connected by lines. Each square can represent a room in your tomb or a location where some action will take place (an entire house, a field, a canyon, etc.). Label each of these action sites with a designator (A, B, C, I, II, III, etc.). Use these to organize your paragraphs in the text. Each room or event should be keyed the same way when you are writing (A1, A2, A3, A4, etc.). Scramble the paragraphs and give them consecutive numbers or letters only after you have finished writing, editing, and play testing the adventure yourself. This makes it much easier to correct problems that will always appear. This is the same system mentioned by H'rrrothgarrr in his post and I must say it is the one that I am happiest with.

Next up: Obstacles and encounters in solos. How to kill delvers only most of the time.