Saturday, March 4, 2017

Creating a "Casual Corner" in My Game World

It all started when I read some posts at The Alexandrian about running an open table game. I was immediately drawn in with the analogy of "playing catch" vs. "joining a baseball team." If you haven't read it, it's definitely worth your time. A lot of what Justin Alexander says there seemed to apply not just to open table gaming, but to any form of casual play as well.

This came up about two weeks ago as +Tim Shorts and I chatted online, with our regular Wednesday game cancelled for the second or third week in a row. We talked about it and I said I'd toss something "casual" together just so we could sling some dice the following week.

And this is exactly what we did. Tim mentioned my abstract map in his post-game report. And I thought it could be worthwhile to post on that and all the shortcuts I took just to create a "casual corner" in my Ravensburg setting that can be used henceforth whenever a quick pick-up game might be needed.

I still plan to write up more "proper" adventures when my turn to GM for the whole group comes around. But the "casual corner" is something I want to have in my pocket ready to go at a moment's notice any time it might be needed.

A) Choosing a Spot. First I had to pick a "corner" of my setting to use for this purpose. I chose the large dungeon just outside Ravensburg. I've been meaning to create and stock it for a couple years and have just never gotten started on it. So this seemed like the perfect spot to designate.

B) Mapping the Dungeon. I used a very abstract dungeon mapping method, as Tim mentioned in his post. The map looks like this:

Sample of my dungeon map -- the section of level one Tim's character explored.

I assume that all rooms have uniform exits – that is, either all the exits of a room have doors, or all the exits open directly into a corridor. This is not terribly far-fetched, since most rooms in the real world work this way. In fact, all the rooms in my house are set up this way, and it makes sense. A door provides security and/or privacy. It generally makes little sense to provide that at one entry to a given room but not all entries. Likewise, open areas are meant to facilitate the flow of traffic, so again it makes little sense, say, in my dining room or my living room, to have some open exits, while one or more exits have a door.

This assumption makes it easy to color-code the rooms. A solid black room has doors; a white room with just the black border has no doors. A triangle in a room indicates a stairway; pointing toward the top of the page means the stairway goes up; pointing toward the bottom of the page means the stairway goes down.

Anything else, I write in my dungeon key. All rooms are assumed to be "medium" in size (roughly 30' across) unless otherwise noted in my key; so most rooms have no annotation for size. Those that are either small (say 20' across) or large (50' across) are marked "small" or "large" in the key. I'm also assuming rooms are roughly symmetrical; not necessarily exactly so, but more or less. Again, honestly, this is modeled on the rooms in my house – they're all rectangles, but they're really fat, stubby, nearly square rectangles. I assume the same for the rooms in my dungeon, whether they're quadrilaterals, triangles, or other shapes.

Each grid square equals one exploration-speed move, so about 120'.

This speeds up pre-game map drawing considerably (more on that below). It also makes in-game mapping by the players in face-to-face play much less of a chore – I've used a similar system in face-to-face games with my wife, and it works wonders.

C. Stocking the Dungeon. To stock the dungeon I went through the following processes. Bear in mind the point of this exercise was to come up with a quick and dirty adventure environment in minimal time, not to craft a creative masterpiece of artistic adventure design. To that end, I proceeded in "assembly line" style, as you'll see below, and I used Roll20's online random number generator rather than real dice, since with a series of rapid mouse-clicks you can churn out five or six random numbers in the same amount of time it takes to pick up a die, roll it, wait for it to settle, read it, note the result with a real die.

Step 1. Determine total number of levels of the dungeon and divide each level into two to four zones.

Step 2. Use wandering monster tables to determine at random the dominant monster type of each zone.

Step 3. Quicky define the relationship of each zone-based group to the others around it (e.g. friendly, hostile, neutral).

Step 4. Determine an overall "atmostphere" for each entire level – for example, the first level, that Tim began to explore, is made up of smooth stone floors and walls, and the air is unexpectedly cold.

Step 5. Randomly place dungeon dressing in 50% of the rooms. I simply put some form of dungeon dressing in every even-numbered room or every odd numbered room in a given section. That saved me lots of die rolls right there (i.e. I didn't need to roll to see whether or not there was some form of dungeon dressing in the room – the room number dictated whether there was or not). I created my own dressing table focusing on "categories" or "types" of things (e.g. "damaged adventuring gear" rather than "broken lantern" or "frayed rope"), and then quickly just made up the specifics. This kept me rolling on only one table, instead of multiple tables, for all types of dressing – again it saved time in the long run.

Step 6. Randomly determine the general type of contents (empty? monsters? traps? treasure?) for all rooms without determining the specific details of those contents. I did this using the 1e AD&D DMG room-stocking table from the random dungeon appendix. This stocks the room with a single d20 roll, rather than two rolls of a d6 – literally cutting die-rolling time in half.

Step 7. Go back for each room and figure out the exact nature of each monster, trap, treasure. Most monsters are simply the dominant monster for the zone – this again saved time – and aren't rolled for. Once in a while, I'd roll a random one just to avoid total uniformity. For treasures, I just used OD&D's unguarded treasure table, which is much simpler than using the treasure type tables. Occasionally, where it obviously made sense, and didn't require more than a second's thought, I just put a certain type or amount of treasure in a room. Additionally, I tried to make quick ties between the existing dungeon dressing and a creature, trap or treasure in the room, whenever I could do so logically. For example, the dual pit-and-pendulum trap that Tim encountered. In the dungeon-dressing phase, I had already rolled a "pedestal" in the room. In the general stocking phase I rolled a trap result. So in the detail-determination phase, I linked the trap to the pedestal by placing treasure on the pedestal as bait. This, by the way, is why I rolled for dungeon dressing first, and then monsters/traps/treasures afterward, since in many cases, dressing would dictate the exact nature of the other features.

Result: The combination of abstract mapping with assembly-line stocking, single tables, and computerized die rolls let me create the two largest dungeon levels I ever made in record time (or record time for me, anyway). In all, the mapping and stocking came out to 3 minutes per room (I'm phrasing the time scale thus in order to avoid giving away the number of rooms on the levels I prepped). To put it in perspective if, hypothetically, there were 50 rooms on a level (100 rooms total), my total time to map and stock these two complete levels would have been five hours. If, hypothetically, there were 100 rooms on a level (200 rooms total), my total time to map and stock the two levels would have been ten hours.

1 comment:

  1. I had been trying to think of something similar, namely how to do quick, simple adventures for a pretty random group of players. This is really helpful.