Just over a year ago our group of friends was heavily into the deck building game Dominion. It was relatively new but had been out long enough to have three quick expansions and we really couldn’t get enough of it. Some days we would play game after game for hours on end. As should be expected, we eventually burned out from that pace. Thankfully, over the last two months I have noticed an extreme increase in the amount of board games that my friends and I have been playing and I want to share a few of the stand out games we’ve been enjoying.
Once again I solicited on my twitter account (@Bartoneus) asking what aspects of location design in RPGs people have problems with, and I’d like to thank everyone that responded this afternoon. I will be addressing many of the topics you guys asked about in the future, but for today’s post I chose DigitalDraco’s comment: “I always want to include more interesting terrain effects, hazards & the like but they tend to seem added-on.” This topic immediately struck me as one that I’ve struggled with in the past and one that I believe many other people have had issues with as well.
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.
A very important design concept used in Architecture that I would like to discuss today is the concept of negative space. This topic flows naturally from the discussion in last week’s post about the open spaces in an urban setting being defined by the buildings that are placed around it. In addition I have been thinking quite a lot about the topic since seeing the post on Boing Boing about classic style D&D hand-drawn dungeon maps. If you haven’t seen those maps yet, they are indeed very classic but they are also, unfortunately not examples of good dungeon design.
As I introduced in my last post about improvisation, I believe that the key to being able to design a location (whether beforehand or on the fly) is grounded in what I’m calling your toolbox for design. The key is that once you have a well developed toolbox to pull ideas from, you can more readily and quickly design a location for your tabletop Roleplaying Games on the spot or adapt your planned locations to fit the developing needs of the game table. An underlying goal of this series of posts is to help you develop the toolbox required so that you will be able to accomplish this task with relative ease and a good amount of confidence.
I could not be happier for February to be here because it means winter is getting closer to ending and with it hopefully the seemingly annual lull in gaming activities. There was an unintentional break from my regular D&D campaign from late November until the very end of January due to weather and horrible holiday scheduling conflicts. Last year I somehow managed to go from thinking about canceling my campaign in early December to running three full adventures within January alone. Thankfully my game got back into the swing of things two weeks ago and now I am gearing up for another adventure this weekend. As I’m getting back into planning my adventures, I’ve been thinking more and more about improvisation in tabletop RPGs.
Have you ever noticed that in most published tabletop RPG material the towns, cities, and overall civilization are kind of stagnant? Now have you ever driven down a street or been to a building campus and wondered when they would STOP doing construction on it? Our real life towns, cities, and overall civilization are very rarely in a state of stillness. When do these people build their cottages, repair their castles, and dig their mines? What I’m talking about today is introducing an element to your D&D games and RPGs that is very near and dear to the general topics I discuss in this column: construction!
While I’m gearing up and preparing to continue the Architect DM series into 2011, I decided to first put out a call for more questions on my twitter account and see what kinds of questions you guys have when it comes to DMing and world building in your RPGs. This has worked incredibly well for me in the past, at least half of the posts in this series so far have come directly from reader questions or suggestions and I’m always looking for more topics to cover.