Oh, yeah, last Saturday, we played D&D again!
The PCs were headed toward a dungeon, so I made one. It was the base of operations of a rumored-to-be-dead wizard. Among other things, she did some predatory lending in the nearby village. Last session
, they investigated a few instances of the villagers suffering the effects of that. (A golem systematically ripping apart a house, for example.)
I picked a setting: It was a mountain that you could go inside, meaning that it had a mine, tunnels, and who knows what else.
I chose a general theme, history, and factions for the dungeon.
Then, I thought, it would be great if areas within the dungeon were swappable. Meaning, you could say "in this space in the dungeon, Areas, A, B, and F could both physically fit and make narrative." Then, at game time, you could decide "it is actually Area B that will go here". Being able to decide what goes where dynamically would help a great deal with pacing issues while also being more fun for the DM.
Of course, I then tried to write a web app to support it. I had dungeon floor outlines on the left, and then generated ares on the right. I figured the DM would be able to generate a bunch of areas, delete the ones they didn't like, then label the ones they did like and key the content to those areas. Then, at game time, they'd drag areas to their proper place among the dungeon floor outlines and save that.
A couple of hours in, I realized it was harder than I thought to generate areas that were usable, so I let the idea go. I could have pivoted to making a little drawing program for them DM so they could make their own areas, but drawing that kind of thing on the computer is bigger hassle than just drawing them in their natural habitat: graph paper.
Having burned time on a technological gamble, I cut over the next evening to just making a dungeon the old-fashioned way. I draw maps on graph paper and wrote out lists of:
1. "Rooms" (whatever you want to call the atomic unit of space in a dungeon, be it castle or the inside of a mountain)
4. Items and item tables
Doing this on paper was really satisfying and peaceful. My only major fear about it was that I could lose the notebook that it was in, but now that I think about it, I can mitigate that by taking pictures of it.
Again, having limited time, I couldn't define the entire mountain. I had to choose between defining more of the outside or writing more of the interior and coming up with a way to railroad PCs into the inside. I had railroaded them way back at the beginning of the campaign by having the store they were in fall into a sinkhole that slid them 1,000 feet underground, so I decided to keep things more "Zelda" this time. There will be a cost to leaving the dungeon, but there will also be a cost to moving anywhere outside. However, it won't be impossible.
As such, I set up encounters outside of the mountain, and hey, I guessed right! The PCs spent more time outside the mountain than inside.
I worked out a few really weird monsters that they didn't get to in this session, but they got plenty of mileage out of:
1. Badgers! They're really mean in nature, and in 2E AD&D, surprisingly statistically powerful. They have claw/claw/bite! Animals provoke strong reactions in the PCs (and players)! There was a lot of discussion about how to respond to a particularly damaging badger attack! In the end, they killed one and befriended one.
2. Fengon, a hobgoblin lookout. He belongs to a local bandit gang. The PCs Charm Person or Mammal
'd him, and
he rolled with the party for a while, telling "tough older brother"-style stories and boasting of his own strength. Kardosh, the party's barbarian (technically a fighter on paper) was crushed when Fengon beat him in arm wrestling, then proceeded to flex. (He later restored his honor himself by forcing open a scrollcase that Fengon could not open.)
3. The challenge of using rope to climb a mountain! So, these guys are really into rope. They had a total 300' of rope on them. Egg, the thief, has a Ring of Feather Fall. They had her do this risk-free, but exhaustive, search for an entrance, and they found one of the high ones.
Then, they went into MacGyver mode to find a way to get 100' up the mountain (141' along the side of the mountain, as we figured out, because this fantasy mountain has a 45 degree slope) without risking falling and death while climbing with their many heavy possessions.
One of the players came up with rope splicing (which seems extremely error-prone) as a way to avoid knots when connecting the six ropes into a single 300' loop. (The reason they wanted a loop is beyond the scope of this post.)
It was some highly entertaining conjecturing, and they did in fact get the system work for one player, but could not actually unlock the door they worked so hard to climb to. We'll see how/if they deal with that next time!
In the Clues Are Hard to Do Department, they encountered a bed of broken adventurer bones. Among them was a note instructing them to climb the mountain in order to skip over some amount of dungeon trouble. The players, very reasonably, found this extremely ambiguous. But when I wrote it, I was like, oh obviously, that'll get them go this one way.
So, there you have it. Badgers, a bro hobgoblin, and a mountain and some rope. With the right players, that's all you need in an adventure!