A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

28Nov/11Off

In the Shadow of the Great Dragon

Gosh, has it been that long since a post?

As of late, my life has been somewhat complicated due to work and "real life", but that's not to say that I'm sitting on my hands doing nothing.

Recently I've given a lot of thought to my campaign The Coming Dark, and I'm starting to realize the problems with it. Maybe it's overexposure, maybe it's disillusionment, maybe it's the infamous "DM burnout"... I don't know. The one issue I have with it that I can point to and say "that's a problem" is that it's somewhat of a linear adventure; everything must happen in a certain order, and the players really have no option to diverge from the set path. At first I didn't have much a problem with it, but participating in a few games and seeing the community's commentary on the subject makes me realize that not many people really want an adventure that is "on rails". Players want diversity, an option to diverge from the path before them and get creative with the world around them. They seem to want an open system, an environment where the DM ends up improvising a lot that goes on.

For that reason, I've once again began to work on another campaign, and it's another big one (100+ pages as we speak) but it has a lot of room to play around in.

The premise (this is a very rough draft): 

     A long time ago, a great dragon known as Vulkanon lived inside a volcano on the small island of Pyrias, from which he tormented and destroyed everything around him. A group of adventurers led by a mage named Raylen Darathar entered the volcano to stop this menace... Nobody knows what happened inside, but Raylen was the only person to escape the volcano alive. Even so, he was successful and the volcano fell silent. The great dragon was no more.

     But something inside Raylen changed as a result of the experience, and he became more hostile towards the people of the surrounding islands. The residents of Serpent's Cove - a small fishing village on the far end of the island of Pyrias - had a great deal of conflict with the mage, and eventually they had no choice but to banish him from the island. Raylen died shortly thereafter.

     Now, several decades later, Mazon Darathar - Raylen's son - has returned to the island of Pyrias with one objective: revive the great dragon Vulkanon and use his immense power to destroy the village that banished his father. Filled with vengeance and the need revenge, he entered the volcano... and the tremors have started once again. No one knows whether it's even possible for him to revive the great dragon, but the village of Serpent's Cove and the surrounding islands can't take that chance.

Here are some of the features in it:

  • The primary setting is an island with a volcano on it, giving the players the opportunity to explore the island itself before delving in to the dungeons towards their primary goal.
  • Besides the two major quests, there are several side quests that the players can pursue. Plus there are a few areas that are surprises, such as a hidden vault of treasure somewhere in the mountain.
  • There are actually two separate dungeons that the players can traverse to reach their goal: one of them is the Temple of Blackfire, populated by the religious zealots of the Blackfire Order that worship their "great dragon god" Vulkanon, and the site of the original temple that was abandoned due to a landslide but is now the point of entry of a large group of orcs that seek to claim the temple's treasures. Players are not require to go through both areas to reach their primary objective, but if they are in the mood to explore or to get more glory and treasure (such as the hidden vault, or a powerful artifact, or just a boatload of experience and things to kill) they can enter these areas easily.
  • It is theoretically possible to reach the "endgame" encounters without any combat at all, using a series of complex skill challenges and a lot of roleplaying.

So I'm somewhat pleased with this new module, and if people out there don't run it as-is there sure are various concepts in it that can be reused. As I said, it's a big one but the players are not expected to visit every room in it. There are two areas that link up to the BBEG's inner sanctum, and even in those areas there are multiple paths and side rooms they can explore. Lots of encounters, lots of traps and the occasional solo thrown in for good measure.

As a sample of the product, I'm including two excerpts. The reason I'm including these is not only to give you a taste but they are some of the areas I'm somewhat concerned about in terms of mechanics.

  1. The Blackfire crypt in the abandoned temple, now homw to a group of undead horrors that seek to suck the life out of the living. Although this is loosely based on the Deathgrasp Sarcophagus in Dragon Magazine - instead of one, there are eight sarcophagi - I debated whether to make this a trap or an actual set of creatures. It's kind of both, so I hope I've documented it adequately enough to make it an interesting situation.
  2. The Heart of Fire, an artifact that can be assembled and has extraordinary power over elemental fire. I've never created a sentient artifact before and flavor text isn't really my strong point, so I'm concerned whether this is overpowered, underpowered or just plain wrong.

 Feedback on the above is appreciated!

The module doesn't have an official name yet, but it is intended for a full party of level 10 characters and should be available within the month. I still have the usual issues - no artwork, and I despertately need to find someone to draw me a map of the island - but it's getting there.

One of these days I'll re-visit The Coming Dark, perhaps rework it so that it's not so linear.

Anyway, stay tuned; I'm still around! 🙂

-=o=-

On an unrelated note, The Endless Winter is now available in softcover color on Drive Thru RPG! It's on Lulu as well, but almost 80% more expensive as I've mentioned before. And as soon as I get around to making cover art for it, The Dragon's Master will be up there as well.

Please visit the Darklight Interactive page on Drive Thru RPG and enjoy my stuff!

When I get around to it (that's a common theme with me, if you haven't noticed), I will finish creating my own store front where all these products will be available as well. Stay tuned for that, too!

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