Re Building the Halls of the Undermountain




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    Re Building the Halls of the Undermountain

    Ref: Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Article (Building the Halls of Undermountain)

    I was surprised that this "design and development" didn't talk at all about the adventure design. The article is about the design of the physical components, but it isn't even that, really. The article is more about finding a feasible list of component for a specified target product price. A component design, perhaps, but even in that space, the process was odd: How could there not be a set of guidelines to show standard product configurations, and the costs of several options? Why such an inefficient application of time on such forced issues?

    And then, more issues: No tokens. But why not a separate "Halls of the Undermountain" terrain pack? If no miniatures, a miniature selection guide? What about web extras, are they not included in the product components?

    But back to the question of adventure design. I rather was looking for more in this space, and the lack of detail here I think is telling, that is, in explaining the terrible quality of adventures which has been produced. I would want to see a description of the type of adventure (for example, crawl, urban, outdoor), the level of play, the unique story points, as well as a statement of how the adventure fit within the current space of adventures, and of how the adventure explores "play space".

    Thx!

    TomB

 

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    I tried to cover some of that in my Design and Development article about designing the adventures in Halls of Undermountain. Or as much as I could cover in my proscribed word count. ;-)

    Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Article (My Year in Undermountain)

  • #3
    Hey, thanks for the reply!

    50,000 words in a month is none too shabby.

    Spreading a story across a sandbox environment sounds challenging. I'm thinking there would need to be fragments of the story spread liberally. Even then, keeping players on track is hard, especially if the game is run over many sessions.

    One of my favorite story threads was in the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords (1999, Skip Williams), where the adventuring party encounters a prior adventuring group. One of them had his brain taken over by a mold, or something like that. Also, the pictures in Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998, Bruce Cordell), which showed an adventuring party and their several fates. The last scene has a now-blind survivor evidently recounting the tale. I spent a while puzzling over the images to relate them to the actual encounters, as well as to figure out what I could about each of the party members, and their fate.

    With 4E, I've always found the strong structure to rather get in the way of telling a story, since the game structure seems to carry too much of the burden of making the game work. There doesn't seem to be enough space left to hang the story, in the sense of having the story convey important details that matter in the play, that is, of having a story that matters.

    Thx!

    TomB

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    I love Matt's description of you, Shawn, as his "long-suffering freelancer"!

    Really looking forward to this adventure. I'll have to see what bits of it I can loot for my games.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MerricB View Post
    I love Matt's description of you, Shawn, as his "long-suffering freelancer"!
    Thanks Merric! I hope you find some stuff in there that you can use as well. And I really haven't been suffering all that long . . . ;-)

    Quote Originally Posted by tomBitonti View Post
    Spreading a story across a sandbox environment sounds challenging. I'm thinking there would need to be fragments of the story spread liberally. Even then, keeping players on track is hard, especially if the game is run over many sessions.

    With 4E, I've always found the strong structure to rather get in the way of telling a story, since the game structure seems to carry too much of the burden of making the game work. There doesn't seem to be enough space left to hang the story, in the sense of having the story convey important details that matter in the play, that is, of having a story that matters.
    I understand what you are saying, Tom. I think I have had the opposite experience, but it just might be where I was in my life during each edition.

    I found it harder to "bring stories" into adventures in pre-3E D&D. In the games I played and ran, it was much like there was a dichotomy between the two. First we had the story and interaction, then it was off to the big, sandboxy dungeon for the exploration and combat. Then we left the dungeon for most story and interaction. I think of the Temple of Elemental Evil, and once we entered the dungeons of the Temple itself, the plot was pretty much: "There is evil here, so kick its butt." There was a little story with the tensions between the different factions and what waited at the bottom of the temple, but without major DM additions it was very much a large dungeon where you had to just clean out one room after another after another after another.

    A bit with 3E, and then a lot with 4E, the design of the rules lent to a different way to write, run, and play adventures. With the emphasis on "the encounter" as the adventuring unit of time rather than "the day," it became easier to control the stories. Designers and DMs could think of "events" rather than "areas," and events are a much better unit to hang a story on than areas. Of course you can tell a great story and run a great game using either, but obviously events are more narratively useful.

    But I definitely agree with you that with 4e this structure became overwhelming. It was difficult to run more than 4 or 5 encounters in a row without a rest, which made the old dungeon delves of yore pretty hard to manage. As the DND Next designers have said, the exploration portion of the game lost a bit in the translation, because the focus of everything became the encounter, and little was done regarding what happens between the encounters.

    When designing the Halls of Undermountain adventures, I really tried to harken back a bit to those old dungeons where the exploring was just as interesting as the fighting, while still adding a bit more story than just "here lies evil, so kill it."

    I'm sure people will let me know if I failed. ;-)

    Thanks!

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    I'd like to, but the Wizards boards are down. yeesh!

    I'm designing a big sand-box adventure area right now, and I have to admit that I learned a lot from playing 4e that I hope translates to other gaems that I run. The Encounter as the structure of a game night really helped me as a GM to design a game. The idea that the heroes should be doing something at all times is something I learned when in a teaching course, and having them sit and watch me talk about stuff is boring for them.

    Sandboxes are hard, though, because you're really dealing with adventure locations rather than events. A dungeon works because you can have them run into a "trap event". Otherwise you're stuck: what's the likelihood a group of monsters will be in perfect formation at 4am on a tuesday? You don't get a good encounter mix because no one's really standing around waiting for adventurers outside of a dungeon or a context.

    What I find works is giving them a mission to accomplish and letting them choose which location they go to in order to accomplish one part first. The Mission allows the location to take on the "event" quality 4e needs. It allows me as a GM to design mini linear adventures to place into the larger Sandbox setting. They can leave, start their empire-building or whatever, but when it's time they can go adventure.
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