Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Dungeon Process: Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep (Part 5 - Encounter Tables and Treasure)

In this fifth post of my dungeon process series, I will be writing the encounter tables and managing the treasure for Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep (SBLUK). 

Last time, I discussed Writing the Key


Encounter Tables

I decided to write only one encounter table for this whole dungeon. Often I find it compelling to write different tables for different levels. But this dungeon has very easy access between levels, the rooms are close together, and movement between areas is fast. 

I love writing Bastionland-style small tables for my random encounter tables. Basically it rolls on a d6, with three variations on a common creature, two variations on an uncommon creature, and one result for something rare and special. 

Here are the different creature types and 'factions' found in Unterbranch Keep:

  • Animated objects
  • Brigands (undead and animated)
  • Slimes
  • Goblins
  • Ogres
  • Miscellaneous creatures (carnivorous plant, goat kid, Mama Boar, servants, spiders, legsnake, etc.)

I believe that I have sufficient animated objects, brigands, and slimes placed throughout the Keep. So for my three common variations I will use Goblins:
  1. Three Goblins (HD 1, DEX 15, knife d6, on CD it slices off an ear/eats a finger) eating something strange found in the room (e.g. legsnake eggs, plates, a tapestry). 
  2. Ten Goblins (as above) carrying a large, heavy object towards the Goblin Crypt, p. X (e.g. bench, wardrobe, wheel of cheese).
  3. One Goblin (as above) sleeping, with a child's hat over its face. 

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Dungeon Process: Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep (Part 4 - Writing the Key)

Welcome to the fourth part of my series walking through my dungeon process in detail. Last time, I drew some maps and set out a layout for myself, and now I shall fill them with content. 

Here is a link to a PDF of what I have so far. 

The maps have incorrect highlighting and page numbers at the moment, as I won't go back and fix them until I'm certain of which content will stay on which page. 

All creature stats are for my Electric Bastionland/GLOG hack Catacombers. The stats would work in EB or Into the Odd with no conversion. All Hit Dice are d6, so just roll or use the average of 3hp per HD. If no STR, DEX, or CHA is listed that means it is 10. CD stands for Critical Damage, which a character takes after they've lost their HP and fail a STR save. 


Setting Up the Key

I started by labelling most of the rooms. I googled "medieval castle layout" a lot and tried to set up a series of rooms that would make sense for the vision I had in my mind of Unterbranch Keep. 

Some rooms I had ideas for their description in the key right off the bat. For example, I knew that the Barbican would have some animated suits of armour acting as guards, and that the Parlour would have a slime in it. Other rooms inspired content from their very nature. Obviously the Grand Hall would have a big feasting table and the Chapel would some benches and a dais. 

Room description for the Barbican

For other rooms I used my 'theme' tables from Part 1 - Theme and rolled once for each room. I even did this for many of the rooms which I already had ideas, just to keep sparking my mind. I also rolled on my custom dungeon stocking table to determine room contents (empty, creature, treasure, trap, etc). Obviously my spark tables have entries for certain creatures as well as "trap" and others, so sometimes I only rolled on either the spark tables or the dungeon table, depending on what I wanted. 


Writing Content

To fill out room contents I rely heavily on Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design, by Courtney C. Campbell. It is probably my most-used RPG resource, and well worth the money spent on the PDF.

As I wrote more content the ideas started flowing more easily. I placed more slimes and darkly animated objects, and fleshed out a bit of the brigand stuff. I tried to place a lot of treasure in the lower dungeon levels and a lot of clues in the upper Keep levels, so players could figure out what was going on if they wanted to. 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Dungeon Process: Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep (Part 3 - Map and Layout)

This is part three in a series where I am walking through my dungeon process in detail. Last time, I wrote some Background and Rumours for my dungeon, "Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep." This post is about the layout and maps.

I believe that high-quality layout can improve a dungeon immensely. Many RPG products are more like a textbook than a novel. The information is in the text, but the layout serves to move that information from the text to the referee's brain.  

I gathered a list of well-laid-out dungeons for inspiration (i.e. steal and copy). Some were solicited opinions from the OSR Discord, and all are real OSR/NSR darlings.

I am not a layout and graphic design expert, so this 'analysis' is really just me summarizing my opinion about what I like and don't like about the layout decisions made in these dungeons. 



Dungeon Layout Analyses


Incandescent Grottoes, by Gavin Norman

Gavin Norman made a name for himself in the OSR through his skilled re-formatting of BX D&D into the beloved Old School Essentials (OSE). His adventures are also well-liked. I have never played them but I've read reviews and session reports which make them seem very fun. However, I am interested in the layout, not content. 

It seems like most Nectrotic Gnome dungeons follow the same layout style, so I focused on the Incandescent Grottoes. All of the examples below are clipped from the free sample pages on DriveThruRPG. 

Tables at the beginning of The Incandescent Grottoes

Near the beginning are a few tables: Rumours, Treasure, Encounter Table. They take up a full page each for easy reading, and employ colour. Big bolded titles at the top of each page make it easy to find what you're looking for by quickly flipping pages or scrolling through a PDF. The body text is much smaller than the titles, but still easy to read. 

There are a few heading styles with a legible hierarchy: the big bolded ones at the top of the page, followed by the purple "Level 1" style, then the bolded version of the body text as headers for the table columns. A strong font hierarchy is a valuable asset in a dungeon product. We can also see beautiful art filling the gaps left blank, and the colour-shape page number markers. This is a great start. 

Room Key of the Incandescent Grottoes

Now the key. Here we see something clever: an inset map showing the rooms described on this particular spread. I really like this technique. It makes it possible to run everything from the book without flipping back and forth, and without printing a separate copy of the map. You can see the other reachable rooms, so when the players exit a room you know where they're going.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Dungeon Process: Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep (Part 2 - Background and Rumours)

The background of a dungeon is important information for the referee to have. At the same time, long pages of dry backstory can really hinder the enjoyment of reading/running a pre-made dungeon. I often find my eyes glazing over three sentences into an adventure introduction before skipping ahead to the room key to see the goodies. 

Even long-winded room keys make me bored. It always boggles my mind to read a review on Bryce Lynch's blog and read "this eight page adventure features seven rooms." Less than one room per page? Insanity. I crammed the entirety of the 98-room Cherry Crypts into only fourteen pages (and that includes TWO copies of the map, and a couple pages of tables at the start). Obviously that's a little terse for some folks, but it works for me. I don't need to strive for that much concision for Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep: I want the layout to work in my favour more, and that often requires larger headings and white space. 

Some dungeons can be explained in a handful of words. Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep (SBLUK) could too, but it does contain some specific things going on that deserve a bit of explanation. 


Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep


High-Concept Background

"Unterbranch Keep sits atop a rocky promontory overlooking a backwater village and valley. It is common knowledge that the Keep has been abandoned and deeply haunted by slime and spirits for 33 years, ever since the Lady Unterbranch—a renowned warrior—went missing. At the last new moon, some brigands thundered into the valley, brigandized the innocent country folk, and retreated up to Unterbranch Keep; they have not been seen since."

This is the elevator pitch for the dungeon. Getting across basic information in only a few sentences. This allows the referee to picture the location in their mind, and start some wheels turning in regards to the possible creatures and contents. This isn't necessarily written to be read to the players, so it doesn't need to contain any explicit hooks (like mentioning treasure). It might be a good way to deliver the basic common knowledge regarding this locale, though. 

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Dungeon Process: Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep (Part 1 - Theme)

Lately, I have been dungeon-obsessed. I spent a few months working on the Cherry Crypts, the largest dungeon I've made since probably high school. I ran my group through the majority of the rooms in four sessions (and had lots of fun). 

I have been reflecting on the lessons learned from designing and running that dungeon, and applying them to new projects. I made some one-pagers for my setting Penrod. I have also been very slowly outlining my eponymous megadungeon, The Lapidary City (post impending). 


Full Dungeon Process

And now I am working on a new project, which I will present in this multi-part series. Each post will deal with a step in my process. I am also using this as a way to think about the process itself: how should I make a map, what is the best way to write the key, what comes first—general or specific? Part of what I hope to accomplish is standardizing some of the things I do, making it easier for myself to write large dungeons. Goals for the finished product include:

  • High-quality layout
  • Original maps (of sufficient quality; I am no Dyson Logos)
  • Unique and evocative writing and content
  • Concision
  • Build on the successes of my previous work
  • Learn from the shortcomings of my previous work

This first post is about Theme. Dungeons, for me, are easier and more fun to write if I have a strong theme to work from. This theme can be complex and multi-layered, and also simple. For example, The Cherry Crypts were themed with druidic crypts, mad wizard leftovers, and the ice age. Definitely some disparate elements, but it provided me with touchstones as I wrote out the details. Not every single room and monster has to fit the theme; it just provides structure. 


Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep

Unterbranch Keep sits atop a rocky promontory overlooking a backwater village and valley. It is common knowledge that the Keep has been abandoned and deeply haunted by slime and spirits for 33 years, ever since the Lady Unterbranch went missing. At the last new moon, some brigands thundered into the valley, brigandized the innocent country folk, and retreated up to Unterbranch Keep; they have not been seen since.

Encounter with a black pudding (Pixie Bledshaw, The Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor, Judges Guild, 1978)