Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Art of DMing: Making Published Modules Your Own (Part IV)

When last we left them, our heros were hot on the trail of a stolen artifact…

(As always, previous parts can be found under the Art of DMing tag.)
Following the orc-trail up into the mountains, Demitri, Rulkh, Zandra, Kirin, and their new companion Garret (along with hirelings Brymore, Coldue and Kallis, and mules Cobblepot and Oswald) came across the entrance to a cave and ventured inside.  The cave proved to be a long and sprawling tunnel passing deep beneath the mountains, and an encounter with a clutch or fire beetles nearly proved their undoing.  Coldue, one of the new hirelings, goes down under a beetle assault, but later inspection of the body proved that the deathblow was dealt by Demitri's blade.

The reactions to Demitri's sword are really interesting to watch, because anything that happens with it immediately gets attributed to the curse on the blade.  They don't know the specifics of it yet, so there's a lot of superstition around it.  Was Coldue killed by the curse? Or just terrible rolling on Demitri's part?  I'm not telling…

After camping a couple of times, they discovered that one passage in the cave began to show signs of being worked stone, and followed it, emerging into wide, echoing corridors swept clean of any signs of passage.  A subtle feeling of wrongness pervaded the air, and a faint, shrill, atonal piping lurked on the edge of hearing.  The tunnel forked, and following the right hand path they came across a throne room, lined with skeletons.  At one end, a dais surmounted by a stone throne, with four large gems inset into it.  Assuming the skeletons were set there as guardians, the group immediately set about disarming them.

VI. Run With Your Screw-Ups

In the description of the skeletons, they are said to be clothed in rags of chainmail, holding rusty shields and scimitars.  Glancing at that, I completely missed the section later on saying that each skeleton was also equipped with an amulet that made them harder for a cleric to turn. (All the undead have these in this area, so I really should have expected it.)

Now, I could have said "Oh yeah, each of these skeletons has a big gold amulet that I forgot to mention".  or I could have just dropped the amulets entirely.  But I've found that oftentimes the best thing to do is keep going. Why didn't they see the amulets? They're hidden in some fashion - but where?

The answer to that brings me to my next point, which is:

VII. Add Your Own Color

Your players are going to do things and ask about things that no module designer ever expects them to do.  You could wave it off or give the impression that it's not important, but that's like telling your players they are wrong to be interested in something.  Take that interest and run with it.  Add color! You're not stuck with just what's in the adventure. Remember what you added so you can bring it back somewhere a few adventures down the line, too.

As they disarmed the skeletons, the party discovered a gem placed into the mouth of each - an onyx gem with a strange carving on it, one that seemed to defy the eyes and induce a sense of vertigo. Assuming that these were the agency by which the skeletons would be animated, they removed all of them and set them aside before prying the gems from the throne.  As the first gen came loose, a sigil of sullen red light flared in the heart of the gem and then faded.  I wanted to reward the players for figuring out the trap, but just as importantly I wanted to reinforce that they had actually done so!

I'm still digesting the rest of last night's session, which almost resulted in a TPK, so that's where we'll leave our intrepid explorers for now: deep in a shrine dedicated to chaos, with a bag full of plundered gemstones and a persistent uneasy feeling.

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