Thursday, December 11, 2008

Unlimited Adventure, Low Preparation

So I'm going insane trying to figure out ways to make adventure writing easier for both my regular game (which has been meeting erratically, to put it charitably, for a bit now) and the upcoming "megadungeon" game, which I've decided I'll be running West Marches style (and the five West Marches posts have gone into my referee binder!).

The problem is, I have occasional flashes of, "Ooooh, that's a good idea!" And often times, I just put together meat-and-potatoes ideas. Meat-and-potatoes ideas are very underrated because they are quite boring to read. But they work just fine in play because they can still provide a challenge to the players and interesting to read and interesting to play often have absolutely zero correlation. They may even be at odds! That adventure ideas are not wowie-zowie all the time shouldn't be a problem as long as the final result is not predictable.

But I hate spending actual effort on meat-and-potatoes adventure writing, and if I'm going to make a true sandbox campaign, that's a lot of meat-and-potatoes to generate.

So I have a shortcut that I practice that I call 101 Locations. It's an old trick (first published, as far as I've found, in The Dragon #9, with James Ward's Tombs & Crypts), certainly not anything I'm claiming to have invented or innovated or advanced, but it's still something worth mentioning and it makes generating adventure locations much easier.

It's simply a quick location randomizer to generate a wide variety of possibilities for instant play.

My megadungeon is going to be located in a sinkhole. The walls of the sinkhole are lined with caves with ledges leading up to all of them. At night, the inhabitants wander out and feed on each other and whatever unfortunates are wandering around the sinkhole.

# Rooms in the Cave: d6-1 (0 indicated just a dead-end "hallway")

Cave Inhabitants:
1 Giant Spiders (d6)
2 Giant Bees (d6)
3 Giant Ants (d6)
4 Carrion Crawlers (d4)
5 Giant Centipedes (d6)
6 Outcast (Fighting Man level 2d4)
7 Wights (d4)
8 Ghouls (d6)
9 Skeletons (d10)
10 Stirges (2d10)
11 Giant Bats (d6)
12 Harpies (d4)
13 Goblins (2d6)
14 Pteranodons (d3)
15 Zombies (d10)
16 Wraiths (d2)
17 Gargoyle (d2)
18 Giant Scorpion (d2)
19 Shrieker (d4), will summon a random encounter (roll again) that will come in the cave behind the PCs
20 Empty

Then roll once (75%) or twice (25%) on the table to determine what dead (and mostly-eaten) carcasses are in there. This cave system is highly competitive, with creatures always trying to establish their dominance over the area.

1 d% copper
2 d% silver
3 d% gold
4 d4 x 100 copper
5 d4 x 100 silver
6 d4 x 100 gold
7 d6 x 100 copper
8 d6 x 100 silver
9 d6 x 100 gold
10 Tomb! roll again, plus 1 scroll (45%), 1 potion (45%), or both (10%)
11 - 12 Nothing!

(note that the treasure isn't necessarily in coins; just the overall value is important)

Roll randomly to see which chamber of the cave the treasure is located in and which chamber(s) the monsters are nesting in, and which have the bodies of the previous inhabitants.

Keep in mind this is a place where beginning characters can be expected to tool around, but since it's close to the entrance to the dungeon, it'll be there for characters of much higher levels too. Note that the risk vs rewards is potentially seriously out of whack - and that's necessary to the approach. Perhaps an empty cave holds 600 gold and a scroll and a potion... and maybe four wights inhabit a cave yet possess nothing. Most results will be somewhere in between. This is as it should be!

This idea can be extrapolated into many larger dungeon areas where there are a lot of similar locations that may or may not have something in them, but who the hell wants to stock 1000 individual apartments in the Abandoned Dwarven Moria-alike Realm?

Just create a "random inhabitant" list (which could mirror the wandering monster charts for the area rather closely), a "random stuff to find within" list, and don't worry about it.

In this way, with different lists for different areas of the environment, you could easily fill in details (or prevent the need for filling any in) for your Lost Cities, Megadungeons, Random Mountain Caves, Forest Lairs, Sewer Chambers, Tombs, or whatever your campaign needs, granting your creations a lot more space and many more individual locations, all while saving your creativity for the locations that really count.


  1. "interesting to read and interesting to play often have absolutely zero correlation. They may even be at odds!"

    Exactly so. The 2nd edition AD&D Night Below is fun to read, but I'd never use it in a game. On the other hand, Tegel Manor is boring to read but something I'd use in a heartbeat.

    I think a mistake most module writers make is trying to write stuff that's interesting to read. Goodness knows I'm guilty of it myself. I have to continually remind myself that the module I'm writing is not for reading but for PLAYING.

  2. Get some index cards!

    Just scribble something as it comes to mind, then deal a card from the deck at need.