I do all of my design work at Sand & Steam openly. Every bit of what I do is laid out for everyone to see, warts and all. When I first started, I choose openness not because of any high-minded philosophy about information needing to be free. No, I did so for one very simple, very motivating reason: I was scared.
It has been a few weeks since my last Architect DM post, but I’ve been brainstorming a handful of different posts and this one came to the forefront as something I want to discuss. My last post introduced some of my general thoughts about worldbuilding for modern and futuristic games, which is a genre that I plan on talking about more in the future. However, this week I’d like to discuss something I learned in architecture school that can be applied to your games and make your life as a DM/GM easier.
So here is a game that I really do enjoy, and yet, there is this scar on my beloved which prevents me from embracing it completely: the character sheets are 8000 pages long.
It is not terribly hard to write a typical dungeon-delve adventure with 3 encounters, a skill challenge, and the PCs rushing in at the last moment to stop the ritual before the evil creature of great power is unleashed. Many DMs and players are happy with that. Thank goodness! However, not every DM or player is happy with the standard fare.
It’s good to be back! The first week of August saw us at GenCon and very happily winning a Gold ENnie award, and then in the weeks after I’ve been catching up on things post-convention and getting back into the swing of things. Lately I’ve been discussing and toying with the concept that the best world building happens through playing a campaign, and so I suggest the world building DMs out there spend less time before play and just jump into things with a published or a bare bones adventure and then let the world build from there. This also opens your game up to the possibilities for players to contribute to the world building which for me has always turned out better than I could imagine.
The Architect DM series has covered a lot of different aspects or tabletop RPGs ranging from details of a single encounter to the much larger task of planning out an entire game world. I’ve found myself tending to progress through that range from post to post instead of staying to one end or another for more than one or two posts in a row. With this in mind, today’s post comes from some of my more recent thoughts on Campaign planning and how to build towards running a mostly sandbox style game.
I’m going to clue you guys in to a nifty little secret that I’ve been using for a while now in my RPG encounters – adding height to a tabletop RPG can be one of the best ways to invigorate your encounters. You must be careful, because using something like height in your game can become something of a gimmick or a trick and if overused could become predictable or boring to your players. However, when applied correctly and in the right amount height and depth can create some of the most memorable moments of your game and can also help enforce or dissuade certain styles of play.
As with nearly every topic I cover in this series, I’ve touched on the idea of adding character to settlements and cities before but now I’d like to put it in the spotlight. Let’s face it, your players will only remember select portions of the adventures you run even on the best of days. The elements that players seem to remember the most are specifically striking elements of a few NPCs, villains, encounters, and social interactions. Generally speaking, they will not remember a location very much unless a specific element of that location ties directly to one of those elements. They may not remember a location featuring a really sweet bridge if you describe it to them, but set a dramatic encounter on that bridge and they’re much more likely to remember the details of that location.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the iconic “Dungeon” concept that many of us think of when we think of it in the context of Dungeons & Dragons. Also because only a month or two ago Dave wrapped up his 4E run through the Temple of Elemental Evil with custom mechanics to add to the “large dungeon crawl” feel of the adventures. Now I find my own campaign on the verge of the epic tier (the characters are currently level 19/20), and I am beginning to brainstorm a series of elemental dungeons that they will have to go through as a form of the Temple of Elemental Evil now fractured and embodied in five separate temples. Yes, I loved The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and I plan on stealing liberally from it.
In an ongoing effort to help new and experienced tabletop RPG storytellers improvise and design locations, I started by talking about urban open spaces and provided what I called a design toolbox for that purpose. In this post (and most likely several future posts) I will attempt to provide an extensive and easy to use design toolbox for “Fantasy Buildings”. What types of buildings fall into that category is not set in stone, so I invite you to comment on this post or suggest on twitter (tag me with @Bartoneus) any types of fantasy buildings that I don’t cover int his post that you think should be included in future posts on the subject.