Wednesday, February 18, 2009

“Put the Dungeon Over There, Charlie.”

I’ve been known to make simple things difficult. Mostly unintentionally, I’ll grant you, but I will admit to sometimes taking the rocky, thorn-ridden trail when the turnpike is headed straight to my destination. Ask me to chop down a tree and I’m likely to ask for a hammer to accomplish this task rather than an axe. I don’t know where I get this trait from, but I am aware of it and I’m trying my best to jettison it along with other less endearing peculiarities.

Consider this yet another one of my gaming bad habits that I’ve acquired over the years. As I discussed in a past post, I have the bad tendency to take on more work than is actually needed to get a campaign ready for play. This quirk is so ingrained in my nature that, even when a more elegant solution is looking me directly in the face, I’m wont to brush it to the wayside in search of a hard way to do things.

Last week, I mentioned that I was searching for a home for Stonehell in my campaign world. This search led to me drawing a rough draft of a potential outdoors map of a suitable area, as well as considering the pros and cons of using either a colder climate vs. a more arid one. I was stuck on the fence and unable to come to a decision in this matter despite some helpful comments and suggestions. And then, just a few days ago, the penny finally dropped. Why not use something that that already exists and incorporates all the terrain elements and setting possibilities I had considered? After all, the solution was sitting not more than three feet away from me.

I had mentioned that I got my hands on a copy of Outdoor Survival. Now it was time to put it to use.

First of all, just take a look at that map. Absolutely realistic? Absolutely not, but I’m not shooting for a 100% realistic simulation in my role-playing game. I’ve long since dropped that requirement. What I want is a nice blend of terrain types and an overall map that lends itself to exploration. The Outdoor Survival map does meet both those criteria.

Secondly, it gets the official D&D seal of approval. Not only is it mentioned in the Original Dungeon & Dragons game as recommended equipment, but Dave Arneson has said that he used the map when his Blackmoor players wandered off into uncharted areas.

Lastly, I’ll be in good company. James Maliszewski is using the map as the basis for his Dwimmermount campaign and Rob Conley of Bat in the Attic has turned the same map into a very cool Judges Guild Wilderlands-style map.

I’m sure that there are people out there who would consider such a decision to be the sign of a lazy or incompetent referee. After all, if I’m playing this game I should be talented enough to use my own material rather than something that’s been pre-published. At one time, I’d be in complete agreement with them. But as time progresses, I’ve become more interested in what my efforts achieve in the end instead of where they begin. By this I mean that I rather apply all my creative energies into developing the setting through play rather than frontloading the process.

I’ve stated that I believe that one of the most important skills of a referee is the ability to creatively interpret unforeseen results. One of the aspects of this skill is the ability to game by the seat of one’s pants. To work with what comes up at the table rather than at the design desk. By using the Outdoor Survival map, rather than one of my own creation, I can start without much in the way of preconceived ideas and let things develop in game, yet still have an idea of what lies” just over that ridge” or “far in the west.”

My other defense in using the OS map in lieu of one of my own creations is that I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you give ten referees the same map; you’re going to get ten different settings when they’re done. Just looking at it now, I’m already beginning to get a few ideas on what might be lurking where and I’m confident those ideas are completely different from what you might be thinking.

Unlike the various published settings that TSR and WotC put out over the years, the OS map is a mostly blank slate. The original D&D rules suggests placing strongholds in catch basin locations and towns in hexes with buildings, but this is not required and the individual referee is left to his own devices. Like most of the original rules, one can pick and choose what to follow as he desires.

The more I play around with Stonehell, the more I realize that I’ve been building an inadvertent campaign. I’ll be starting on Level Three this week, thus fulfilling the “Three Levels Detailed” criteria before starting a D&D campaign as suggested in the original rules, and I’ve now got a general outdoor area map which can be explored and eventually settled by the characters. All I’m missing is a home town fleshed out and I’m set. How on earth did I get here?


Jeff Rients said...

I’m sure that there are people out there who would consider such a decision to be the sign of a lazy or incompetent referee.

If anyone give you any hassle send them my way and I will make rude farty noises at them with my tongue.

Robert said...

I’m sure that there are people out there who would consider such a decision to be the sign of a lazy or incompetent referee.

I, for one, would not be one of those people.

First of all, originality for its own sake is overrated. Every hero of creativity has built on what came before. Any student of history knows that the saying “There’s nothing new under the sun” holds a lot of truth.

Secondly, we’re talking about a diversion. A great author might make a great DM, but a great DM need not be a great author. Plenty of great DMs have stolen liberally and used every cliché in the book.

Arguably, cliché is actually good for D&D, because it allows you to skip some exposition and get on with the action—if that’s what you and your group want.

So, I wholeheartedly agree with you.

I just wish I was better at putting it into practice myself. ^_^

Michael Curtis said...

Heh, heh. Thanks for having my back on this one, Jeff. :)

Scott said...

I've often thought of using the OS map, even for some portion of my homebrew setting. It's a nice, sturdy map, and it's just the right size for an initial campaign area.