Monday, October 4, 2010

A Cup of Tea, a Cookie, and Some Graph Paper

I'm feeling both exhasuted and elated as I write this, so excuse me if we take the long way 'round.

The past several weeks have seen me hard at work at on my campaign sandbox. There has been a growing interest in the world outside the boundaries of the PCs’ home base of Blackpool and beyond the night-haunted halls of Stonehell Dungeon. This is a good thing, in my opinion, for there is a lot to be found just over the next hill or past the deep, dark forest. These are all very Interesting things that I want to explore along with the characters. As such, my focus has been on the world at large and away from the dungeon.

And then we had a session like yesterday’s, one that saw the party return to the depths of Stonehell in search of money ASAP. The raising of one of their number has left them very, very poor and they knew that beasties with treasure were just waiting to be slain in the ancient prison.

We had a tremendous amount of fun prowling the halls of Stonehell and accomplished so much in that session that I very much fell back in love with my megadungeon. Normally, when I get home after a Sunday session, my main goals are to eat dinner, decompress, and enjoy a nice cup of tea and a cookie in my jammies, for I tend to be mentally and physically wiped out after playing judge, jester, and sometimes executioner all afternoon. Not yesterday, no sir. Instead I cracked open my big tablet of graph paper and got back to work expanding, changing, and breathing more life into my dungeon.

Other projects have kept me away from Stonehell for the summer and I am forced to look at what I have accomplished with a realistic gaze. It is with a heavy heart that I must admit to both myself and to you patient souls that it is extremely unlikely that I’m going to meet my self-imposed deadline of year’s end for the Stonehell sequel. Not unless I suddenly hit the lottery and can devote all my time to single-mindedly writing the manuscript and creating the maps in Photoshop. That’s the bad news, and you have my sincere apologies. Hopefully, once the things I have been working on see daylight—if they see daylight—you’ll forgive me for my neglect because they are some pretty cool projects in my own humble opinion.

The good news is that my players’ adventures in the old prison serve as constant inspiration for new and unusual ideas. Their weekly dungeon crawls, both in and out of Stonehell provide me with more than just ideas—they also give me the energy I need to turn those vague concepts into actual words on paper. That’s energy that I simply didn’t have the first time ‘round on Stonehell and I am greatly indebted to Dave, Jack, Jud, Matt, Pete, Rob, and Tom (and possibly Joe too, but he’s just joining the fun so we’ll have to see) for putting up with my nonsense week after week with grins on their faces.

It’s after a session like yesterday’s that I sit back with my cup of tea, replay the game’s events, and realize that I’d be perfectly happy running a whole campaign set entirely within the confines of my megadungeon, no matter how much I want to explore other vistas within the game world. I must simply be a contradictory referee at heart. I can go off and paint every little corner of the campaign world in delicate details, but part of me—the beer & pretzels, “let's talk in funny voices,” and chuck some dice while moving little guys around the table part of me—is perfectly at home with the simple pleasures of the dungeon crawl. And if that’s wrong, I don’t care about being right.

When things go as they did yesterday and the vibe around the table is pitch perfect, I remember what drew me to this pastime in the first place. And, as I work away joyfully on my very own megadungeon, I imagine that I feel what Dave and Gary must have felt all those years ago as they created this pastime to give to us. That’s a magic that can't be scribed into a spellbook and memorized no matter how hard one tries.

That I have been lucky enough to not only create a giant dungeon playground of my own but to have other people take it up and make it their own continues to astound me. I dreamed, as I imagine most referees have at one point or another, that one day people outside my own players would be able to take part in my creations and gain some pleasure from doing so. I consider myself very fortunate that I’ve been able to do exactly that, and I am grateful to all of you for embracing my creation for yourselves or for simply expressing an interest in reading what I have written. When I finished Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls, I had what I believed was a realistic goal of selling fifty copies of the book in either hard copy or PDF. As of last night, almost 375 copies have been purchased. The book also played a very minor part in a seminar on megadungeons at this year’s North Texas RPG Convention—something I would have loved to have witnessed.

I’m a very happy referee right now and I owe that happiness to you folks, my players, my fellow creative members of this thing of ours, and my own long-avoided acceptance of the simple philosophy which had led me here: “Stop worrying and love the dungeon.”

Let’s roll for some wandering monsters…

15 comments:

johnarendt said...

Nice to hear StoneHell 2 is still in the works! It's an excellent product, a tour de force, and proof that a megadungeon is publishable - good luck getting that passion to re-ignite picking up the yoke for part 2.

It's formed the backbone for one of my two B/X campaigns (kids and dads) and we've been using it for quite a few months - if you ever find yourself wondering how a bunch of 8-year olds would react to the dungeon, I have journal on Dragonsfoot:

http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=45047

That said - it has enough horror that it could be played seriously as the tentpole of an adult game, most definitely.

rmckee78 said...

Glad to hear that work on SH2 continues. My own Stonehell campaign (OSRIC) is still going. I have been sticking to the XP advancement from the books so the clerics have just hit level 3 and we are about a year into pley. The characters have started to take their first tentative steps into level 2 (they fell down the trapdoor). The hobogoblins have raided their hometown and they are starting to get curious.

I don't think I have ever seen anything strike fear in a group of players' hearts the way the ghost ship did in the crypts. You would not believe the lengths they went to to avoid that thing.

The dungeon is still holding their attention. We have spent only one session outside the dungeon, a mystery game. I have given them plot hooks that would allow them to pursue other goals, but they have always decided to go back in.

I also ran an all day revolving player game at a local gaming store this summer where the goal was to leave your corpse on the lowest level of Stonehell. A first level halfling (who had spent all day retreating back to the surface) managed to die on level 3C to win.
Looking forward to SH2.

nextautumn said...

"I dreamed, as I imagine most referees have at one point or another, that one day people outside my own players would be able to take part in my creations and gain some pleasure from doing so."

I just ordered a print copy of Stonehell and can't wait to delve into its depths! Glad to hear there will be more to come.

grodog said...

Michael---

Can you please share some details about the size of graph paper, the grid size (X squares/inch), and the folder that you're using for your maps?---that latter looks like an over-sized art portfolio, which suggests large map sheets to me (and which is very definitely a good thing! :D ).

Allan.

Michael Curtis said...

Sure thing.

What I've been doing is expanding on my own SH levels by copying the 30x30 square maps from the book onto sheets of 11" x 17" graph paper (4 squares/inch--the stuff readily found in most office supply stores). This gives me room to put a little more distance between some areas and rooms and allows me to insert new features that I couldn't include in the published version (because they were someone elses ideas that I loved and wanted to steal for my own dungeon).

I keep the maps in an art portfolio (good eye), specifically a Itoya Storage/Display book that's made for pieces measuring 11" x 17". When placed on opposite pages, opening the portfolio book up and laying it flat allows me to see the entire dungeon level at once.

It's a little big to fit behind a referee's screen, so what I do is keep an archival mylar envelope inside the portfolio and, when running the dungeon, remove whatever map the PCs are exploring and slide it inside the mylar envelope. This mostly fits behind my 4-panel ref screen and protects it if something gets spilled on the table or what have you.

I got the archival mylar envelopes through an archival supply catalogue. The ones I use are specifically 11.25" x 17.25" and are sold in 10 packs by University Products. Here's the link to the specific product's page.

Harvicus said...

I remember when you first started blogging about Stonehell and sharing the progress and levels. I thought it looked pretty good, but the one page dungeon template was a bit of a turnoff, as it didn't quite seem to allow enough room to present each room uniquely enough.

The reviews though kept coming back positive, and just the other day I purchased the PDF. I must say that all my fears were completely ungrounded, you were quite successful in giving each area a unique feel complete with interesting encounters and treasures. Stonehell Dungeon is a pure treasure and I look forward to the next volumn. I plan to run it pretty much as given, which was not my plan until I started reading it myself and discovering how exactly perfect it is as written.
Between this and the Dungeon Alphabet, you have my eye and money in future products you put out.
It is very cool to hear that your group is still running through its depths. I wonder...is the excavated base outside the entrance proper something they built?

rmckee78 said...

@Harvicus, I have been running it pretty much as written. I think you are going to have a lot of fun doing that. I have added and changed a few things, but not much. For example I made the "dragon" on level 1 be a real dragon since my players had spent so long carefully avoiding the area. This resulted in the scouting gnome dying after throwing himself down the nearby well in fright.

I have run the Gatehouse 3 times now as a one shot. It works great as an introduction to Labyrinth Lord/old school gaming. It fits well in a 4 hour session and there is plenty of room for wacky stuff to happen.

Michael Curtis said...

if you ever find yourself wondering how a bunch of 8-year olds would react to the dungeon, I have journal on Dragonsfoot

I just finished reading this. Those kids are great!

That said - it has enough horror that it could be played seriously as the tentpole of an adult game, most definitely.

I hope so! That was sort of the goal. :-)

Michael Curtis said...

I also ran an all day revolving player game at a local gaming store this summer where the goal was to leave your corpse on the lowest level of Stonehell.

One of my players has been trying to convince me to run a game at the next local con. I've been trying to avoid doing so simply because I don't have the time to put something together. However, this has possibilities since it would require me to do nothing but show up with pre-gens and shoot of the metaphorical starting gun.

I may steal this idea.

Michael Curtis said...

I just ordered a print copy of Stonehell and can't wait to delve into its depths! Glad to hear there will be more to come.

Thank you! Please enjoy it!

Michael Curtis said...

is the excavated base outside the entrance proper something they built?

Actually, they have no idea the place even exists. It was there long before they showed up and is more of a tribute to every player who ever said "Why don't we just take over part of the dungeon and use it as our base?"

There's a reason those rooms are empty and the builders have vanished: Monsters ate 'em.

Michael Curtis said...

I have run the Gatehouse 3 times now as a one shot. It works great as an introduction to Labyrinth Lord/old school gaming. It fits well in a 4 hour session and there is plenty of room for wacky stuff to happen.

I'm very happy to hear this because that was my entire intention. The canyon and gatehouse are supposed to serve as a way to introduce new players to the concepts of the game without overwhelming them. This is the first time that I've seen that it works as intended. Thank you.

rmckee78 said...

I actually stole the idea myself. I think I got it from Eric from The Mule Abides at DexCon.

Geoffrey said...

Stonehell Dungeon shares with Tegel Manor the distinction of being immediately useable. A referee doesn't have to spend hours studying it before he can use it in a game. (And if a referee has the time to spend reading a module, wouldn't he have the time to make his own?)

Cole said...

From a PC perspective, Stonehell is proving a lot of fun to explore, if light on treasure as yet :)

DM: It's not moving towards you but it's not fleeing. It doesn't look super happy.
First Cleric: "Would someone like to shoot that?"
Second Cleric: Any blood near the racoon?
Fighting Man: If it charges, it's going to get a spear. But my attack bonus isn't awesome.
DM: "This is exactly the kind of epic high fantasy those 4e fanboys will never experience."