Friday, 1 May 2015

Prepping a "dungeon" for Lair

I've been trying to prep this next group of scenarios in Lair and I keep going round and round. If this were D&D, or OSR, or something other similar I would have done my usual.
Spend a couple of weeks prepping the Setting, maps, background, basic feel of the areas in the land.
Then I would spend about a week coming up with some content that's a little different from the norm.
After that I'm usually set up enough that I can run a game on Friday and over Saturday and Sunday I can prep the next week's game.
This type of thinking is how I set up the Background of Kartharka when I first started it up (It has grown considerably since then) and how I set up the Adventures for it.

This is also how I set up the Blind Burrower scenarios (coming soon, soon).
But now that I'm starting on the next one I'm finding it difficult to do that.

I've gone round and round and spent weeks and weeks trying to figure out how to do something that takes a couple of days in a couple of hours.

Lair is about quick and dirty fun

I wanted Lair to be something different, something where the DemonLord can scrawl a few notes on a page, do a quick hand drawn map and the system will pick up the slack. I wanted the demonlord to have use their time to come up with awesome villains and weird traps, not spend their time filling in pages and pages in a notebook.

I wanted Lair to be Low Prep and quick.

So I thought that maybe the key was the format of the scenario.

I took my usual adventure preparation, reformatted it to a Lair scenario, and bam! It was indeed what I was looking for. Didn't have to go over my notes as I played, everything was right where I needed it when I needed it.

But that wasn't enough.

With the next game I was now thinking that since I was going to publish these I should try to come up with a way of laying out the maps better than just pictures of my own demonboard. I then found that the only thing that took longer than laying out all my maps on the Demonboard and taking pictures of them was doing all that and laying them out in a design program. It got very complicated quickly as I felt limited by only laying out what I could definitely build on the the Demonboard. 
So I ended up with something which was far more limiting and constrained then just having fund with blocks and cardboard on the table, I started to say things like, well it's okay if everything looks pretty similar, I mean I do only have blocks and cardboard.

That's when I knew I was on the wrong track.

The same went for the scenario design, exciting adventures ended up becoming a list of enemies on the board with some stats.

I kept saying things like "Well I guess they can fill in the blanks as they go" or "a good Demonlord would know how to prep this for actual play".

These are not the kind of things I wanted in my game and I just didn't want to live this way. Spending weeks doing what used to take me days, and limiting what my choices were to make them easier to publish and write up.

Nope, I might as well chuck the whole thing at that point and go play video games instead.

Back tot he Well

What I did instead was look to something else I already had.
Those of you with a keen eye may have noticed Lair is published by "Spooky Room Productions".
That is because I was originally working on a Horror Roleplaying game in the same vein as Lair turned out to be.

The big difference for that one was that I didn't have the DemonBoard yet. For that one I had envisioned a book full of full size hand drawn floorplans.

I also had some templates made up for my own use. Single double sided pages, on the front was the map and the basic plot points of the adventure, on the back was the map key and the stats for the "monsters".
I had done this to keep all the separate sections of the "mansion" well organized so that I would have all the information I needed for each specific location.

Anyone who has run a good horror roleplaying game will know that usually all the info is piled at the front of a scenario and the maps and keys at the back forcing a good gamemaster to either prep well and know the adventure inside and out, or make a lot of notes for each area detailing what needs to happen in each.

So I pulled out those templates, filled in the new headings for what I needed for Lair and BAM! I had exactly what I needed to create a Lair scenario in half an hour. That's what I was looking for in Lair and I had the damn thing stashed on the shelf all along.

But wait there's more!

As I've been writing this blog I've found more and more that Sword and Sorcery centred fantasy roleplaying has far more similarities to Modern Horror Roleplaying games than it does to classsic fantasy Roleplaying games.

In Lair and similar Ilk, Sorcery is mysterious, dangerous, powerful and corrupting. 

I had a few articles planned on pointing out all the similarities and the actual way of thinking about Sorcery in your fantasy games. But I hadn't thought about the format of presentation of the books and more importantly how to present it to the players during in game play.

This all came together this week as I realised one important thing. You have to plan an adventure for a sword and sorcery game in the same way as you would a horror game. They are very different breeds, the horror game less focused on the cut and thrust of combat and more on investigation, planning, learning.

But what if you changed the one important difference between the horror game and the fantasy game?
In most horror games combat doesn't work. You need to know the spell, the background info that will tell you to burn the painting, when the stars will be right, where the evil cultists will meet.

But what if Combat did work? If you really could just strangle the evil cultist before the ritual completes, or actually slay the evil monster conjured up with 3 feet of burnished copper blade?

Well then my friends, I think you would have Sword & Sorcery, in the true vein of the original Conan stories. What if you think of Conan as a reaction to these occult detective stories of the time, thin effete scholars who walk into a room with mystic words waving their arms about and lighting candles. (Solomon Kane may be a more apt response but not as useful for a fantasy game).

So if this is true, then instead of writing pages of notes for what will happen, and when, and when certain events will be triggered lets look to an old friend of the horror game prepper.

The flowchart

Horror preppers often make up a flowchart of the entire adventure as there are often a lot of moving parts.
So I made up a quick flowchart template I could fill in on the fly for Lair campaigns.

Now there are a lot of people out there who will begin to scream "railroading" again, and I hear you. Many feel the bane of the horror game is that if you do not do 1, then 2, then 3, then everyone dies.
Or at least the adventure never happens.

Well us horror people have been fighting that stigma for years.

Good adventure design will involve multiple "hooks" to get the players involved, use the "three-clue" model for every important plot point, where the same thing can be accomplished 3 different ways and in a game where all the characters can go insane half-way through you get used to characters doing random things and going "off the rails". 

Let's also look to the another big difference between Sword and Sorcery and Modern Horror. If the bad guy actually succeeds, no big deal. So the Sorcerer has summoned a demon of unknown power. It's no worse really than the lord one province over amassing an army of thousands of men to invade your town.

Things happen, the heroes move on to the next town, hopefully they will live long enough to maybe come back and take the bad guy out later.

To sum up...

Yep, I've got my scenario template, my flowchart template, a new way at looking at scenario design and I think I'm going to throw back a couple of beers tonight and see if I can set up a campaign in the time it takes to watch a Conan movie. And if I'm successful then I think Lair has a long future in my life. If not, maybe, I'll give that horror game another whirl...

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