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.