Friday, September 3, 2010

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

If you've been keeping up with this series, you know that I've been taking my players through some of the classic B series of modules. Unfortunately, I broke one of the cardinal rules of GMing published adventures when I started this campaign: I didn't read the whole adventure. Reading and familiarizing yourself with everything prevents a lot of embarrassment when it comes to your game - and not just from accidentally undermining yourself.

Because of another string of spectacularly bad rolls - the kind that J would be infamous for, were it not for another friend with even worse luck - the wizard Kirin wound up poisoned - twice! - and blinded during the final sweep through the castle. When they returned home the realized they did not have sufficient funds to cure him - and with Braille centuries away from invention, a blind wizard won't have much luck memorizing his spells.

Fortunately, that's a classic hook, and I glanced quickly at the adventures to see which one would work, spotting one called Elwyn's Sanctuary, also originally from B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond: a stolen relic, an evil cleric - sounds like just the kind of mission a Patriarch of the church might send them on.

Had I read the entire introduction, I might have realized my next piece of advice sooner:

V. Sometimes It's Not Worth Saving

A hint for any adventure design efforts you may have: a shocking reveal that can be defused five seconds into the introduction is poorly designed. In this case, our heroes were to go after the cleric Elwyn, who had stolen a platinum bell from the temple of Chardastes. Elwyn was believed to be behind a recent uprising of orcs east of Threshold.

The secret (such as it is) is that at the end of the module you find out that Elwyn…(cue dramatic chord) is a woman!

[Elwyn's] gruesome death may have been an expression of my opinion of the adventure.
So I'm already wondering what I am going to say when someone says "What does this Elwyn look like?" and trying to avoid using any gender-specific words when describing the situation. (Being unable to say "he" or "she" is frustrating and awkward.) I fumble through the end of the session and take the adventure to bed to read up.

Remember how bad the map for Castle Caldwell was? This one is even worse. We've got an iron (really?) fortress (that nobody noticed the building of), one floor high (what's with all the one-floor castles? Does everyone have a fear of heights? Have they not invented scaffolding?) in the rough shape of a postage stamp (for no readily discernable reason) and consisting of a spiral corridor that serves to funnel the PCs though each encounter in turn. There's a second spiral corridor accessed via a secret door that Elwyn uses to spy on the PCs and taunt them.

Oh, and all of this was apparently built by Elwyn and a half dozen orcs.

It's ridiculous, and the bulk of it isn't even worth salvaging. In my youth, I would have bravely gone on (because hey, that's what the book said) and run this festering stinkpile. Fortunately, I've gotten over that, and I've learned that sometimes it's better to just cut your losses.

When the players showed up (accompanied by a band of savage centaurs thanks to a random encounter) they found a crude log palisade surrounding a longhouse - a primitive motte-and-bailey fortification that could be built by a tribe of orcs without drawing undue attention (or straining the borders of disbelief). Elwyn's head was on a pike out front, and orc tracks led away into the mountains. Her gruesome death may have been an expression of my opinion of the adventure. I had carved out virtually the entire thing and thrown it away, leading only the setup as a sort of elaborate hook to move the PCs onward.

Where will they go? You'll have to wait to find out, because it's linked in with my next piece of advice…

1 comment:

  1. I had sorta suspected something like this had happened. it didn't seem like something from a boxed adventure, the named bad guy (girl) gets killed before the hero's get to kill him (her). I am intrigued. Now the question is Who has the Bell? Did Dorath set this up himself and did he stop in at the fort and retrieve the bell (before or after the death of Elwyn?) Do the Orcs have the bell and are going to deliver the bell to Dorath? Or did Elwyn hide the bell and none of the known parties know where it is.