Monday, June 14, 2010

Creating Adventure Locales

As posted last Friday, schedules did not work out and no game happened over the weekend. I have firm commitments from four of the players already for this Friday (the 18th), so there will actually be a game that night (knock on wood).

Today I’m talking about adventure locales and methods for creating them. At a very basic level there are two paths for development: deciding what the site is and then naming it to match or deciding the name first and then building a site to match the name. Neither method is superior to the other – you should use which ever method meets your current needs.

For my Southern Reaches game I’ve used both. When I drew the initial Table Map, I decided where I wanted to place my initial adventure locales and then labeled them loosely on the map. Next, I started working out what I wanted to be at each site. In a small group of hills deep in the plains to the west of Iron Keep is a spot labeled simply “Ruins”. Clearly I wanted some ruins here, but I had not decided what kind. It could have been a settlement, a temple, a tower, or something else. I had no predispositions, so I looked at a list of place names I culled from a random generator on Seventh Sanctum (a site hosting many different random generators).

Looking over the list I settled on “Terrace of Fallen Horses”. I liked the name and the images it evoked. So I needed a terrace (or two) with horses fallen on it or as part of the decorative sculptures. My encounter table for the surrounding plains listed horses and the hills would be defensible, so I decided that there was an old horse-themed culture in the plains long ago. As horses were vitally important to the culture, it is likely they would use statues of horses to mark important sites. “Fallen Horses” implied to me many statues that had fallen (or been pushed) over, littering the terraces. And as we’re talking about “Terrace” and not “City” or “Ruins”, I decided on tombs.

Next I sketched out what the site would look like after many centuries of abandonment. I went with two terraces – one a man-made platform ten feet high and made of large stones fitted perfectly together and the other a cut into the hill side 20 ft above the first. A large number of fallen horse statues are piled on the lower terrace, generating the site name. I wanted the first PCs to arrive to get the idea of what the site was, so one of the tombs was left open from being looted long, long ago.

As part of my research I ran across the Wikipedia definition of cairns and the cists (small, square, stone-lined hollows buried under them as opposed to the yucky biological "cyst") and decided these hills had been used as burial sites for several civilizations and scattered them through the hills, even listing them on the random encounter table, which I was also creating at the time. With all these burials, clearly there will be undead about, so the encounter table has those as well. This pretty much wound up the general design of the area, starting from a name and then developing from that. [There’s actually more, but some of the players read this and I don’t want to spoil the stuff they haven’t found yet.]

The players have started to explore the Terrace of Fallen Horses, but keep running into things tougher than the small groups can handle. I think next time they have a full group of six (with a wizard) they’ll take another crack at the location.

As a counter example, I have The Cave. It is on the map in a different cluster of hills about a day and a half south of Iron Keep on the Table Map and isn’t even named – it’s just a map symbol. I was originally thinking of a large set of natural caverns (something very old school), but while doing research I came across something cooler: North American cliff dwellings.

This would be the location a people settled and developed for defensive purposes. As this is for a fantasy RPG, they would also need to worry about potential hostilities from underground. I had recently found the very nice geomorphs on A Character for Every Game (he’s up to set 14 and they are awesome – go check them out). One set included fortified underground walls, which led me to naming the underground parts of this adventure locale The Underfortress. [No, it’s not Shakespeare. Get over it.] Next was designing something to match that name.

First, I needed the maps for the area and then the details on what each area was for. The geomorphs were perfect for the underground portion and went through the collection I had, fitting together something that could be called a fortress underground. Then I tweaked that map to become my final map, closing off some side entrances and blanking out a few unused areas on the fringe. I hand drew the cliff-side buildings (with a rough isometric view to boot). Next was some brainstorming and writing to back up the concept and the map and I was good to go.

Since then, the players have explored most of the cliff-side buildings (which were picked empty over the centuries) and next time can finish that off and/or make a start on the Underfortress. I’ve already planted hints as to what they might expect underground in the skull collection of the gargoyle.

That’s it for now. Next time I think I’ll talk some about using found maps for your dungeons, including “complete” maps and geomorphs.

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