Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Adventure Mapping Part II – Welcome to the BRAIN STORM

Last time here on the Blog of Doom, we talked about Adventure Mapping – creating zones for different elements of your adventure. Today, let’s go into a bit more depth on the topic, by building a little adventure from the ground up, and walking through the process step-by-step.


get it it is a brain storm and this is a visual pun and I AM SO SORRY, MY FRIENDS

So first, we need an idea. My brain is full of bizarre and strange things, but for an example, I kind of want to stick to something mot gamers are familiar with – so we’ll go with a D&D-style fantasy setting. You know the type – roaming heroes1 going from location-to-location, solving problems, kicking ass, getting paid, and so on.

Hell, we might even have them meet in a tavern – but if we do, our tavern should be rad as hell.

Our PCs will be solving a mystery – likely with violence, because D&D-style fantasy. So, we want a couple fights, but also some exploration, and a few character-focused scenes conductive to roleplaying. Ultimately, we want it to culminate in the PCs finding the villain and confronting them. Probably – but not necessarily – with violence. Because D&D-style fantasy.

Anyway, let’s brainstorm some elements2:
·         A town where it takes place – let’s call it Harrowvale, that sounds appropriately Forgotten Realms-ish3
o   From the name, Harrowvale is probably haunted by spooky boogums
o   Townspeople are wary and paranoid – and they’re right to be
·         A mystery to solve – gaunt, spooked townsfolk, disappearances, stuff like that
o   Someone in the town is secretly doing Bad Things In SecretTM
§  They’re a vampire, or fused with a devilish parasite – something that requires them to do Bad Things In SecretTM in order to survive
§  Thus far they’ve hung the blame on external forces – this is Harrowvale; people are harrowed – but the PCs are the first real investigators to show up
·         And that’s a problem
·         A tavern, because tavern reasons
o   I used to work at a rad place called The Winking Lizard Tavern4 in Cleveland – so how about The Winking Basilisk?
§  The thought of a Basilisk winking is both reassuring and terrifying to me – “I could kill you with a glance, but instead, I’mma be saucy.” I like it – this place has panache
§  Their drinks? Awesome. Their Food? Delicious. The staff? Bright-eyed, and happy. I want this place to not only contradict the crappy D&D Tavern archetype (it’s dark, and dirty, they serve a lukewarm gruel, and a watered-down ale), but also to stand in contrast to the rest of the town
·         Maybe the villain doesn’t prey on the tavern? Friendship, or a more practical motivation, like they need travelers to have some place to stay?
·         Some fights!
o   Spooky wraith-fight somewhere creepy, like a graveyard, catacombs, etc.
o   Zombies, cultists, or something else suitably distressing? Might want to save that for the last battle
o   Nearby goblinoid critters, who are not the problem per se, but are definitely going to take advantage of it
§  Make sure that the first two fights have clues as rewards – otherwise they’re kind of pointless
·         Some exploration!
o   Well, we’ve got some inferred locations from the above, like:
§  Spooky Catacombs!
§  Spooky Mountain!
§  The city itself, and its inhabitants – here’s where we’ll get most of our mystery investigation done
·         Some character-focused scenes
o   We can do some of this at the Tavern, since it’s going to be our hub, I think.
§  Big Henry the bartender, former adventurer, knows stuff and is a pleasant guy.
·         He takes no guff, but he’s not really got anything to prove. He’s familiar with the PC’s vocation – having done it himself – so he’s got useful tips
o   If the PC’s want his story, he made his fame as Henrietta Crimson5, until he had enough money to pay the Wizard’s College to permanently polymorph him into his current body. Having achieved his goal, he opened the Basilisk with the remainder of his treasure
o   A shady-looking dude in a corner, handing out jobs to attack the goblinoids
§  Depending on our tone, he can lampshade to greater or lesser degrees. We could go a couple ways with this guy
§  Also, he’ll make a good suspect for the villain – we need a couple
o   A cleric, priestess, some kind of religious figure of Good And Stuff
§  Earnest and exhausted
§  Here’s a chance to really explore the condition in the city – this poor healer’s been trying to stem the tide pretty much by herself, and it’s clearly taking a toll
§  She’s not an expert on magical maladies or strange beasts – she’s a healer
§  Having Said That, she’s probably the source for our “haunted wraith” fight, because CLERIC REASONS (I like clerics)
o   And of course, our villain themselves
§  Who I should probably flesh out beyond “reluctant monster” at some point
§  What if it’s our cleric’s sibling? Cliché, perhaps, but that’s only a problem if it’s cloying or clumsy. More to the point, it makes the cleric’s story more vital and interesting, and adds a human element

Killstring, That Was So Many Bullet Points

Sorry disembodied voice, that’s how my brainstorming works

But Could You Maybe Use Less?

We’ll give it a shot in the next section; please be patient, disembodied voice.

Okay, Cool. Can We Get Back On Topic?


Looking at the above list, let’s try and suss out our elements.

  1. Harrowvale itself. We probably don’t need it on the map, as everything takes place here, but it might be useful to describe certain areas, like Slums, or The Chapel
  2. The Mystery. This is going to come out in other elements, but we should be keeping it in mind.
  3. The Winking Basilisk. This is gonna be our hub, and provide a source of unobtrusive roleplaying opportunities – if players want to do more RP, this is a good launching point. If they’re more interested in procedural elements, they can use it as a base of operations, and a springboard
  4. Three fight scenes, one of which is our climax
    1. Haunted Location w/wraiths & such
    2. Goblinoid stronghold
    3. Final confrontation w/zombies or cultists, and our villain
  5. Exploration and investigation. It’s really more of a theme, but we should have three locations to explore, leading up to the above action sequences, as well as the city itself and its inhabitants
  6. Character-focused scenes. This should be more of a factor of our characters – if PCs want to interact with them, we’ll get these. And if PCs want to interact with each other, we’ll give them the option. With that in mind, here’s our dramatis personae
    1. Big Henry – knowledgeable, practical, and a foil for PCs grappling w/identity
    2. Dreilk the Grim, “shady corner guy” – morally ambiguous, choice/consequence point
    3. Sister Analise – compassionate, but this close to a crisis of faith
    4. Corianna, Analise’s sister, and our reluctant villain

That’s a concise list. We’ll certainly flesh it out further, but I like our pieces.  

Bringing It Together

Now that we’ve got our elements, we can start mapping out the adventure. We have our elements in-place, and we loosely know how they tie together. Past that, it’s a simple matter of playing connect-the-dots:

Ok! Now we've got a concise little map to follow. Sure, there might be other connections, and there's plenty of other things to explore in Harrowvale, but I think this hits our key points nicely.

And that's how you do it!

I kind of like this little adventure - I might flesh it out further, make a cute little module. If you're interested in such things - or have a suggestion, comment, or system you'd like to see it in - watch this space!

And thanks for coming to Harrowvale with me.

* * *

1 – Possibly in the Mythic Greek sense, as opposed to the modern usage.

2 – If you ever wanted to see ideas off the top of my head, here’s what it looks like.

3 – Personally, I don’t like the Forgotten Realms as a setting – it’s about as milquetoast fantasy as you can get. But! So many great writers have nailed the execution – Ed Greenwood, Chris Avellone, and R.A. Salvatore come to mind, though they’re hardly the only ones – that it doesn’t matter if the setting doesn’t interest me; I keep enjoying stuff set in it. So on one hand, I don’t like it. On the other hand, I often adore stuff set in it, and I get why it’s popular.

Also, I occasionally face-check against the setting; I originally went with “harrowdale,” but some quick googling showed that no, I wasn’t clever, that was just an existing city in Forgotten Realms. Because of course it was. Harrow-vale, on the other hand, also exists in a now-defunct MMO called Shadowbane, and AGGH I GIVE UP EVERYTHING HAS ALREADY BEEN EVERY NAME, AND THE SIMPSONS DID IT FIRST. Don’t care. It’s Harrowvale. /rant

4 – They had a big-old Iguana in a habitat; sometimes I got to go in and spray him down, scratch the back of his skull – me and that Iguana? We were bros.

5 – It always struck me as odd that in fantasy settings with transformative magic, that you wouldn’t see more transgender folk. Gender dysphoria is hardly a modern phenomenon – Ovid’s Metamorphasis is more than 2,000 years old – but we do have better tools to address it now. A magical society has those tools on-tap, so it’s reasonable to assume that some people would use them.