A plea to Mongoose about upcoming adventures

Arcadayn

Mongoose
It would be nice if the modules provide some regional detail for the area they are set in. I'm not talking about a rehash of info already printed in another book, but an expansion on that. For example, Tower of the Elephant takes place in Arenjun. However, the only detail we get of the city is the map on the front cover (which is very nice). There are no cultural notes or descriptions of the city or specific locations. It doesn't have to be as extensive as Messantia or Shadizar, but a couple of pages to help give the city flavor would be nice. Personally, I think that if you are going to provide a map to a city, you should provide a key to at least important locations.

I am a big fan of the source material that Mongoose has put out for Conan. However, all of the modules that I own (Dark Dens of Iniquity, The Black Stones of Kovag Re, The Dark Altar, The Tower of the Elephant) have not lived up to the quality of the other books. Plot holes, poor maps, lack of detail, and leading the pcs by their noses are issues that I have with each of them.

How do the rest of you feel?
 
Have you considered writing one?

Generally, if I don't like what someone else is doing, I get off my duff and do it myself instead of complaining about it.

I think my best published one was in Across the Thunder River, but it does not include boxed text or a lot of details - it requires a GM who knows what he is doing and can fill in the blanks. I know I have a hard time writing publishable adventures because of the way I construct them and play them (and I write them weekly for my own campaign); they centre on NPCs and their motivations, not keyed locations - Players can go where they want, and I make up the maps on the fly - clues are found wherever the PCs think to look for them, not in predetermined, keyed locations. (Most of the handful I submitted were rejected because it would take too skilled of a GM to run it or they are too complex for a novice GM. - and Mongoose was probably right to reject them. I can see the reviews now... "OMG! He expects us to run an adventure based on a skeleton!")

Most of my own adventures are based on action-reaction: The NPC begins his plot, the PCs react, the NPC counter-reacts based on PC intereference, the PCs react again and so on... That is hard to write up so a novice GM can do it. It is a give-and-take between Players and GM, a back-and-forth action-reaction sequence that does not lend itself well to publishing.

I was given specific instructions (and the plot) for the Shadizar adventure when my original attempts were deemed too complex or advanced, relying too much on the skill of the GM. My own lack of experience at writing adventures revolving around specific keyed locations I was asked to include really hampered that adventure (not to mention a looming deadline because I spent so much time on adventures that were deemed too complex). However, I have recently purchased some books on plotting and story-flow that should help with future endeavors.

I rarely key a location to a map before the players locate it. Basically, if the players look for a place, they find it if it needs to be found; if they need to meet an NPC for a clue, then the NPC shows up wherever needed - I don't force the players to a keyed location. Usually the NPC is more important than the location, so the NPC is the only thing I detail. The location I can do on the fly.

If I want the players in a certain location after they take off running, I don't worry about engineering their path through town. Whichever route they take leads them to that location. It takes as long or as little time as needed for the story to flow well.

Usually the only keyed location I prepare ahead of time is the headquarters where the final conflicts will probably take place - even then I don't really key it. I know how many people live there, but decide randomly at the moment where they are and what their reactions to an invasion might be - depending on how the PCs gain entry, of course. How many homes do you know of where the people always stay in the same rooms and never leave to do something else or talk to someone else?

Also, for me, it is hard to come up with a hook everyone will be interested in. It is easy to do a hook my own players will accept - I know them. For example, right now my players own and operate a tavern in the maul of Shadizar. It is easy to hook them into adventures linked to that tavern and protecting their business. Can I just start a published adventure with "The players own and operate a tavern..." Would they have the same sense of concern as my players over this piece of property? Probably not. Almost all hooks involve a bit of nose-leading, and it will be more visible when one has no clue who the players are or will be.

I get more use out of an adventure idea/seed than out of a fleshed out adventure.

As for descriptions of sites not used in the adventure: Why?

How did you feel about the one included with Across the Thunder River? I also thought Greg Lynch's Heretics of Tarantia was top notch.
 
Greetings Mr. VincentDarlage,

Wow, I do nearly the same method of GMing nowadays myself. I do a lot of reaction based on what the players do since my idea is to let the players build the story and not pre-define it so much by hard coding every detail.

My method has molded over the years from running games for over 2 decades and playing White Wolf's Storyteller system for so many years.

Thanks for that insight into your GMing style.
 

thulsa

Mongoose
VincentDarlage said:
I know I have a hard time writing publishable adventures because of the way I construct them and play them (and I write them weekly for my own campaign); they centre on NPCs and their motivations, not keyed locations - Players can go where they want, and I make up the maps on the fly - clues are found wherever the PCs think to look for them, not in predetermined, keyed locations.

VincentDarlage said:
Most of my own adventures are based on action-reaction: The NPC begins his plot, the PCs react, the NPC counter-reacts based on PC intereference, the PCs react again and so on... That is hard to write up so a novice GM can do it. It is a give-and-take between Players and GM, a back-and-forth action-reaction sequence that does not lend itself well to publishing.

Interesting comments. Do you have any examples of such "skeleton plots" that you've used, and how they developed based on player interaction?

How much do you prepare for a gaming session? How long does a typical session last? Do you improvise everything except for the initial plot hook, or do you use time between sessions to come up with counter-reactions from the NPCs based on what the PCs did?

Personally, I usually start with determining the general theme (such as "lost temple in the desert", "pirates on the high seas", "nobles scheming to usurp the throne", etc.) and then design some NPCs. Then I think about how the PCs could be drawn into the machinations of the NPCs, trying to avoid the "you are hired by a stranger in a tavern" approach.

But I also need to have some kind of flowchart ("if the PCs are defeated here, this happens", "if the PCs don't believe the stranger, he might ambush them later", etc.), and to map out the different locations the PCs might visit.

So... it would be great if you could provide an actual example of how you use action-reaction to improvise your gaming sessions.

- thulsa
 

toothill man

Mongoose
I use the same style as vincent think it is unlike tsr some systems like conan,slaine,CoC etc lend themselves to pc based storytelling which is far more flexable than the linear way :D
 

GregLynch

Mongoose
Some of the best sessions I've ever run have been with NO preparation whatsoever. If the players are invested in their characters, and the characters have fleshed-out personalities (i.e. they're way past the point where the players say things like 'My guy says he wants the new magic sword.') I find you can usually just wind 'em up and let them go. Give the characters an interesting setting and they'll go make their own fun.

I still have very fond memories of a session of 2nd Ed D&D I ran way back in college. Most of the players couldn't make the session - they were either sick, got called in to work or had to study - so only one player came. We both still felt like playing, so instead of whatever I had cooked up for that day, I ran what shortly became known as 'Bombier's Excellent Adventure.' Bombier, of course, being the name of the character of the sole player in attendance.

The PCs had only just arrived in a new city, and while the rest of the characters did whatever, Bombier went exploring. He got rolled by a prostitute, beat up a street gang, met a gaggle of NPCs I made up off the cuff (many of whom became fixtures in the campaign, even if only in recurring bit parts), heard a large number of rumors (most of which were utterly false), found a potion shop where everything was mislabeled - and was paid to help figure out what was what, fought a mock duel, got into a drinking contest and tried to impress a pretty young lady by chasing down a pickpocket - a chase that ended up in a playhouse, where he chased the pickpocket across the stage in mid-performance before losing him, though he did crash in on the office of the playhouse's owner, who some shady characters were busy shaking down for money at the time, earning Bombier a black mark in the local underworld. There's a lot more that happened (we played for about 12 hours that day - ah, college), but that's a good sampling.

Anyway, it was a hell of a good session, and it was totally unplanned. We talked and laughed about it for years until the player died a few years ago.
 
thulsa said:
Interesting comments. Do you have any examples of such "skeleton plots" that you've used, and how they developed based on player interaction?

Yes. I will see what I can easily post later tonight (I am at work right now; my students are taking a test)

thulsa said:
How much do you prepare for a gaming session?

I prepare the NPC stats once I have the plot down. I don't worry about maps. I don't worry about locations. I do that on the fly. I spend about two hours in preparation, a little longer if my focus is off. Most of that time is consumed by NPC statting, which is why I like premade stats - I can modify those quickly.

thulsa said:
How long does a typical session last?

Six to 10 hours.

thulsa said:
Do you improvise everything except for the initial plot hook, or do you use time between sessions to come up with counter-reactions from the NPCs based on what the PCs did?

I pretty much improvise everything beyond the initial hook. If I know what motivates the NPCs, what they are trying to accomplish, and what is important to them, I can almost always figure out what they will do next to compensate for setbacks.

thulsa said:
Personally, I usually start with determining the general theme (such as "lost temple in the desert", "pirates on the high seas", "nobles scheming to usurp the throne", etc.) and then design some NPCs. Then I think about how the PCs could be drawn into the machinations of the NPCs, trying to avoid the "you are hired by a stranger in a tavern" approach.

I find the "hired by a stranger in a tavern" to be the worst and most unlikely hook ever - and I don't think I have used it in a game since I was 14 (which was 21 years ago). Seriously - how many people today go to a bar to find someone to do something? (well, other than attempts to get laid.)

The second worst hook ever (IMHO) is the one where the players are beat up and essentially enslaved, and forced to go on the adventure. My players, as soon as they are free enough to go on the adventure immediately round back and slay the idiot who gave them weapons to go do something. It is a poor hook if the players are forced to do it.

Actually my players come up with most of their own hooks; at the end of a night's session, I can hear them talk - "Next time, we should go check out this place... Next time, we should go take this guy out... Next time..." and so on. Sometimes it is something as simple as a player saying, "I am really curious about that part of the world..."

One time, I was just having a hard time describing passersby, and in every scene I mentioned a guy in green whose head was wrapped in bloody bandages. He really wasn't anything but window dressing, but the players got interested in him and started following him and eventually it became an adventure.

thulsa said:
But I also need to have some kind of flowchart ("if the PCs are defeated here, this happens", "if the PCs don't believe the stranger, he might ambush them later", etc.), and to map out the different locations the PCs might visit.

I don't do any of that. I just put myself in the shoes of the NPC - what would he do? What would he know? How would he react? If the PCs do nothing, then I just go forward with his plans unimpeded.

thulsa said:
So... it would be great if you could provide an actual example of how you use action-reaction to improvise your gaming sessions.

I will see if I can't post a good example later tonight or early tomorrow.
 
GregLynch said:
Some of the best sessions I've ever run have been with NO preparation whatsoever. If the players are invested in their characters, and the characters have fleshed-out personalities (i.e. they're way past the point where the players say things like 'My guy says he wants the new magic sword.') I find you can usually just wind 'em up and let them go. Give the characters an interesting setting and they'll go make their own fun.

I have found this to be the case with me as well.
 
Let's face it- us GMs are lot more like referees in pick-up football match than anythign else. We just try to keep the players frenzied energies to adhere to some sort of rules.....8)
 

Strom

Mongoose
What a great thread! I'm looking forward to seeing some of Vincent's work. he is very talented - I'm on record for already saying so.

I do think it is a little arrogant for anyone to say a DM should use a certain style just because that is what works for someone else. I have also had some great adventures by shooting from the hip and just making things up on the fly. But I also realize that I struggle with being repetitive in my descriptions of buildings/people/environments and so I enjoy the flavor text many adventures provide so I can create the best atmosphere for the adventure. Not all of us are fluent or skilled in describing an environment/location/event that is different each and every time. I realize that making it up as you go is one style - but the request by Arcadayn for additional information to help him relate the events/environment is perfectly valid not only for himself but for others too. Like myself.


I think a magazine like Dungeon survives because I am not alone in this. It is just a matter of accepting my limitations and utilizing all resources to make the game better. There is nothing wrong with this attitude and it's not just a matter of 'getting off your duff' but a desire to make the adventure all it can be, IMO.
 
Strom said:
What a great thread! I'm looking forward to seeing some of Vincent's work. he is very talented - I'm on record for already saying so.

Thank you!

Strom said:
I do think it is a little arrogant for anyone to say a DM should use a certain style just because that is what works for someone else... There is nothing wrong with this attitude and it's not just a matter of 'getting off your duff' but a desire to make the adventure all it can be, IMO.

Well, I have been accused of arrogance before, but I really don't think I said anyone has to use my style. He asked how the rest of us felt, so I told him how I felt on the subject. I think I referred everything back to me and I wasn't trying to advise anyone to do the same - just saying how I felt on the matter.
 

Castel

Mongoose
To me a GM is the god in service, the world works at his will, but then, he can´t really interfere , he rules the world but not he PCs... (of course he can help, or make things a bit more dificult, depending of his mood... lol)

Me, I really only need ROK, and the core book to get an adventure started, but extra info is always usefull, and pre-made scenarios can always help when you´re in a "not creative day"

About the adventures, it depends of what kind of adventure you want, for me the best style is to go with the flow, leaving the PCs to do the roleplay while your thinking what to do next.

When you prepare an adventure thinking in all possible reactions, it doesn´t allways work, PCs tend to do what you least expect...

One example, my PC and the party were running with a bunch of stolen gold... and our GM had a adventure prepared, whe escaped all possible entries in the adventure and ended the adventure just by spending all of our gold in equipment...

So never take an adventure for granted, and always think outside the box.

Have fun roleplaying
 

Bregales

Mongoose
I agree, what a great thread (although it's mutated from Arcadayn's initial post, but I prefer to think of it as evolving). :D

I love to GM freeform. My group's first session was on the fly after they made up their characters, we started right away (I didn't have the 1st edition RPG book at that time and one of the players [Tiberius on this thread] printed out the NPC stats sheets supplied in the Conan freebies section, and they were all I needed (besides leafing guy's rpg book)! I wanted to get them together in a wierd way but keep the action constant, and although I couldn't really and truly start en medias res I did a close approximation. Everyone had a pretty good time, it was challenging for them and they got together. The NPCs I'd made up on the fly became recurring characters (and Tiberius ended marrying one of them!).

The guys at the same time said they enjoyed the adventure but felt that, by not running pre-published adventures, I gave them something to gripe at ("If it was pre-published, we couldn't complain because YOU didn't write it, someone else did; they're superior to anything you create that way"). I took this as an insult but caved in and ran Kovag Re next, which was ridiculous because of it's very setup. After that I compromised, I made up NPCs fully and started writing adventures to act like pre-pubs. I found this necessary in part because one of the characters was a sorcerer, and you had to have everything slotted for a spellcaster in a way you wouldn't need with a party w/o a spellcaster. Now that the player's decided to drop him and make up a new character (non-barbarian) I can GM more happily now.

Anyway, though this has become a ramble, I have in much of my past before this group always GM'd based on character needs and an NPC model. As for my GMing, I have always GM'd in a reactionary style, even with pre-published adventures. I find it close to the paradigm actors employ in their work (was one for 14 years). My GM motto is "You can act in any way you want, just remember that everything you act upon reacts in it's own way, and you influence every NPC, trivial seeming or not, by your every action, word, deed."

I enjoy having a fast and free style as a GM. If the players don't tell me anything about what they want to do, I work off of what they had done previously. You ask, "How would YOU feel if playerX did that to you?" and create the reactions that way. When an NPC pops into me head, I make it a 1st person correlation, I don't distance myself from the subject by thinking in an omniscient mode. That helps me react in a way that's not what the players assume the reaction would be. Does a 14 year old girl respond the same way as me, a 34 year old diabetic man?

I guess since I'm giving suggestions, I'd just say that if a GM pays attention to the particulars and doesn't generalize he can't go wrong (also an actor's law). Does this mean draw every square foot of every building and label and describe every particle of dust in it. No. It means character interaction. I've only drawn ONE building in my Conan sessions, which should have been a climactic adventure but turned out very differently (of course). But because I knew the character of the evil sorcerer, and the Stygian player's mentor who had sent the party on that adventure, and the adventure led to the antagonist's temple, I knew I could deal with whatever happened if it went against what I thought the players would do, which happened at the climax and severly altered the party's fate. If you know the person(s) who built the location you're GMing the players in, you can deal with the location without needing everything spelled out.

I'm sorry, I realize this isn't true for everyone, but I find it essential for myself. I GM'd a whole city on the fly once because I had decided on what the city's inhabitants and leader were like, which led me to answer why their ancestors built the city how it would be arranged. Asking one quesiton, answering it leading to the next question...and I decided on it in a couple of minutes. I don't recommend it for everyone, I'm just saying that's how I GM, which seems similar to some of the other posts already made here. I'll stop writing this overdrawn diatribe now. :oops: G'night. :p
 

GhostWolf69

Mongoose
To DM or not to DM...

To me it's like playing jazz... I love to improvise and swing with the flow... but in order to do that you have to KNOW the rules, otherwise you cannot break them in a "nice" way, and it all goes sour.

So I guess what I'm saying here is this:

Personally I'd rather buy a hard wired adventure where my PC are supposed to go from point A to point B and further to beat up the bad boy at C.

And then break every rule and plot line in it, with the benefit of acctually "knowing" what the plot was to start with and how to deviate within the frame of that plot.

As opposed to buying yet another "loose" source book that doesn't tell me squat about anything except givving me a bunch of loose hints and random dots that have to be connected by myself, but no one will tell me the numbers of those dots.

In a perfect world of course the best option would be to harmonize the two, getting it all. But in a perfect world marriages lasts forever too so...

Again, jazz, you have to give me the song, on paper, not by note, in the right order. THEN I'll be able to play the solo and go wild. If you just give me a bunch of loose notes floating around in no certain order... I'm in trouble.

/wolf
 

urdinaran

Mongoose
Back to the original post, I also would like to see a little more local flavor in the upcoming adventures; i.e. important npcs, locations, plot hooks etc.

If an adventure is set in a certain city, expand on what has already been written. I think it would help give some of us ideas for further adventures in that location. I especially love the plot hooks that are presented in some of the books, and think those could be included in the upcoming adventures.

As for the so far published adventures: not to crazy about Black Stones or Shadizar; I really like Tower of the Elephant and Heretics, good job on those guys.
 

mthomason

Mongoose
Have to say some of my favorite scenario modules in any gaming system present a quest of some kind in an area, with sufficent background information on that area to allow the characters to wander "off-storyline" a bit, plus a page or two of ideas at the back on re-using that area in future adventures.
 

René

Mongoose
mthomason said:
Have to say some of my favorite scenario modules in any gaming system present a quest of some kind in an area, with sufficent background information on that area to allow the characters to wander "off-storyline" a bit, plus a page or two of ideas at the back on re-using that area in future adventures.

Dito!
 

Arcadayn

Mongoose
VincentDarlage said:
Have you considered writing one?

Generally, if I don't like what someone else is doing, I get off my duff and do it myself instead of complaining about it.

[snip]

I get more use out of an adventure idea/seed than out of a fleshed out adventure.

As for descriptions of sites not used in the adventure: Why?

How did you feel about the one included with Across the Thunder River? I also thought Greg Lynch's Heretics of Tarantia was top notch.

First off, sorry it took me so long to reply. Second, Vincent, I love your work on the sourcebooks. You provided great information and tons of plot hooks all with a great Hyborian feel.

I think you misunderstood what I'm asking for. I've been GMing for 23 years and own a lot of adventures from several different companies. I have never used an adventure "as is" as PCs will usually go in a direction that no one can predict. After each session I usually have to modify the plot and design new areas I didn't think I would need before. Believe me, I "get off my duff" for several hours each week preparing for the next session. However, sometimes you need a jumpstart to help get the duff in action. That is why I purchase modules. Modules should give you a nice basis for a story and provide well detailed locations for them to take place. Subsequently, when I plop down my hard earned cash for a module, I have some expectations which I feel should be met. Thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, I can exercise my right as a paying customer to complain about it if I don't like it.

I think that a module should provide background detail on the area it takes place. For example, Arenjun in Tower of the Elephant. What are the laws of the city? What is the typical dress? What are the local customs? What is the architecture like? What are the most important/frequented locations and WHERE are they on the city map? Who are the proprietors and patrons of these locations? This background information is important because PCs rarely follow the story as writen. Sure I can make this stuff up on the fly, but then why waste money on a module?

In Dark Dens of Iniquity, Nehira's manor and the secret temple beneath it are major locations that had little or no detail. Instead, we get detailed floor plans of the guild offices and two maps of generic tunnels. :shock:

Columbia Games did a nice job with their Harn modules (e.g. The Dead of Winter). The old ICE had some great stuff in the MERP modules as well (their plots were a little too thin though). The Warhammer stuff (I believe the series was called The Enemy Within) is also very good. As far as cities go, one of the best I've seen is the old Free City of Haven box set from Gamelords.

I own Thunder River, but have yet to read it as the PCs are quite embroiled in things in Shadziar. I don't own Heretics yet.
 
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