Eight people met recently to play a game of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I had an unique opportunity to create a complete adventure for the first time, and foist it on a group of equally novice players. As novice as we are at this particular game, everyone in the group is a keen student of science fiction and fantasy stories. How could I create something unique when the game and system is one of the cornerstones of adventure cliches and tropes?
The answer: Embrace the cliche.
I don't have to dispel with the aged wizard, or the magic treasure vault, or the Rat King, or the mega-villain bent on control and destruction. These elements are my bread and butter; my mead and turducken, if you will.
I wrote a ancient back story then layered on a contemporary quest, one that would be interrupted by not one, but two side quests that would both aid and flavour the primary mission. Translation: Get the Macguffin, kill whatever gets in your way.
The first part of adventure is simple: Kill the baddies. If you won't go to them, they come to you. I had no idea how many targets seven first level characters played by noobs could deal with. I had no idea how quick people would pickup on the combat system, or how long it would take to play one round. So I scaled the targets. I started with one monster, then added another, continuing until people got the hang of it. Then they could explore a bit. When that was going nowhere, suddenly, more monsters!
The second part of the adventure was a puzzle. This was to challenge the players. It was a fairly simple puzzle, but could have taken seconds or hours to solve. The characters found multiple maps, each with information that only some could understand, with multiple languages and various race/class/alignment symbols. I drew up the maps before anyone rolled a character so I covered all the bases. Had the team not come with enough diversity to work the maps, the town was filled with helpful NPCS of all varieties. The puzzle wanted to be solved.
However maps had elements that were intentionally unclear and distracting. Adventurers must learn that maps don't always take you where you want to go, or describe the best way to get there. However the team worked the puzzle like pros, and the treasure was found! Among the treasure was the key to the next adventure, an enticement for those players wanting to continue.
Pro: Everyone got something to do and the plot kept the adventurers busy.
Con: While someone is doing something, others are siting on their hands. The adventurers never got a chance to pick a leader, team name, or make agreements on how to split the loot.
Win: For what I was prepared for, I was over-prepared for. NPCs had names, back stories, secrets and hints.
Tie: Because I designed part of the dungeon, and the players wanted to keep exploring, I felt obligated to let them, even if the plot gave up empty rooms.
Lose: For what I was unprepared for, I was really unprepared for. Never try to stock a magic shop on the fly.
Summary: Everyone had a good time, and most of the group will return for more. Now that the first game of noobs is done, and the initial quest closed, we can run the games more leisurely. Slower gameplay means more opportunities for role playing and more flexibility in decisions. The world can get a little bigger and player decisions will have a lasting impact on that world.
See you on the grid.