Wednesday, April 28, 2010

brief thoughts on starting adventures

I recently mentioned on that RPG Circus podcast that the Keep on the Borderlands is my all-time favorite module.  I have plenty of modules new and old that I adore, but the combination of heavy nostalgia plus the brilliant pick-your-poison layout of the Caves of Chaos makes it the top dog in my book.  I wish more dungeon maps took cues from the Caves of Chaos.

However, I think that ol' B2 and many other starter modules contain at least two grievous oversights:
  1. Insufficient skeletons.  If I may be dogmatic for just a moment, at least one or two of the earlier combat encounters in any starter module ought to include some skeletons or zombies.  Especially if you're using an edition where clerics don't get spells until level 2, where Turn Undead is the only cool ability of newly-rolled clerics.  If you don't give the clerics something to turn then starting clerics are just weak fighters with maces.  B2 has some skeletons in the Shrine of Chaos portion of the adventure.  But in all the times I've run it (more than I can remember), no one ever got to that section until session three or so.
  2. A lack of tiny places.  The most overlooked asset of halfing characters is that the buggers are tinier than everyone else in the party.  More dungeons should have the odd choke point that only the smallest characters can squeeze through or low-hanging kobold tunnels where bigger characters can't operate efficiently.  Otherwise the wee bastards end up functioning as little more than pisspoor dwarves with beards on their feet.
Speaking of dwarves, a starter module could be improved by including one or more spots where dwarven search abilities are useful.  And maybe throw in some sort of runic clue that can only be deciphered with a read magic spell, so as to give the MU something to do besides casting sleep.


  1. ...little more than pisspoor dwarves with beards on their feet

    If I had a Jeff Rients Quote Board (and I'm not saying I don't), this would be first on the list.

  2. About the Borderlands... as much as everyone loves the Caves of Chaos, I had a bit more fun with the module by converting the Caves into wilderness adventures, and each "cave" replacing an abandoned or destroyed village or town in those lands.

    It also allowed me to beef up the Temple of Evil Chaos without digging for additional caves :)

    One of the best things about Keep is that it is SO modifiable, without messing with the premise.

    The only adventure with similar potential is Village of Hommlet, and you just can't put that unwalled village on the edge of lands of chaos abandoned by humans. The Keep though, the keep can be dropped on any borderland with only slight modifications.

    Although I'll confess to not really enjoying the Hackmaster treatment of Keep on the Borderlands...

  3. yes you've really clarified my feelings on halflings in general... thanks!

  4. Totally agreed about the cramped/tiny dungeons sections. I like to put those in whether there are halflings or not--make the PCs shimmy through on their bellies, with nary an idea what lies on the other side.

    And Gygax did put some sloping floors in the Caves for dwarves to notice, as I recall, but I don't think they were particularly relevant.

  5. Very good. But the B/X Halfling has a 1/3 chance that they "will not be seen in normal light if the character finds some cover (such as shadows) and remains absolutely quiet and still." Combined with their missile attack bonus, I'd say they're a great choice.

  6. I'm not anti-Halfling by any means. Halflings are one of my top 7 favorite BX classes! I'm anti-ignoring-halflings-when-writing-adventures.

  7. None of this even touches on the more important concept of "insufficent skeletons." No low-level dungeon can call itself worthy if it is not crawling with vermin undead like skeletons (and maybe a zombie or two to shake things up!)

  8. Number 2 is a great insight. I will include it when writing my next adventure!

  9. Agreed on all counts. Good observations.

    I’m kind of feeling like the caves are a bit too mundane. They could use a bit more weirdness.

  10. One of the first adventures I wrote when I started playing D&D was an underground world beneath the mad hermit's tree near the caves. "The Vale of the Azure Sun". I retooled it as one of the first adventures of our current game. It might fill your need of weirdness.

    Look on Adventure Guidebooks for The Vale of the Azure Sun.

    I also put something on the trio of islands at the western bend in the river. I still have the maps, but not the key, and no memory of it. Looks like a vegetable garden and a graveyard, and some underground tunnels between the islands.

  11. These are pretty good words of wisdom...though my experience with players USED TO halflings is that they'll FIND small places to wedge themselves. Just run with it when the opportunity presents itself!
    : )

  12. Anonymous12:32 PM

    ...little more than pisspoor dwarves with beards on their feet

    This needs to be on bumper stickers and T-shirts.

    That and "... supplementary amounts of wild ass"

  13. Classic words, indeed.

    I like making fun of halflings...

  14. Anonymous4:43 PM

    "Insufficient Skeletons" sounds like a band name.

  15. Great observations--so much so I paid homage!