Wednesday, March 27, 2013

This Is Why Ruins of Undermountain Is 234 Pages Long

This isn't even the whole room description--there are 2 bugbears you fight first.

End of the Black Banners

The corpses, very recently slain, consist of three bugbears and seven human men. One bugbear lies atop a man, and another man is sprawled on top of a bugbear. The other bodies are strewn about the room. Each bugbear corpse lacks any armor, but has a club and a warhammer; one also has a short sword.

The men were all novice adventurers, newly arrived from troubled Tethyr to try their fortunes here. They know nothing of Waterdeep, having teleported to Undermountain via a gate in Calimport. DMs are free to develop adventures, tales, and information that these dead men can reveal under a speak with dead spell. They called themselves “The Black Banner Band," and their members’ bodies are as follows.

A youngish, bearded man in robes lies twisted atop the knapsack still strapped to his back, a quarter staff still clutched in his hands. His skull is crushed, and a brass ring gleams on one finger. 

This was Thanriyon Arkhelt, a NG 2nd level wizard. His robes of worn and patched black cotton are belted at the waist, and scabbarded at the belt is a dagger +1 that glows when it is drawn. In fact, it glows with a faint amber radiance all the time, whether the bearer wants it to or not; dispel magic will temporarily negate this effect, for 1 turn per level of the caster. Its radiance is bright enough to read by, when the writing is near the blade, but not bright enough to illuminate areas more than 5’ from the bearer.

In the wizard’s knapsack are a shattered flask of water (now soaking everything else!), three broken tallow candles, a tinder box and two pieces of flint, one of which has been sharpened to a cutting edge, a cotton drawstring purse containing 6 gp and 2 cp, and a book made of four thin wooden boards pierced with holes and laced together with leather thongs. This crude traveling spell book bears the spells burning hands, dancing lights, mending, shocking grasp, spider climb, and Tenser’s floating disc.

 A burly, hairy man in hacked and broken plate armor lies in a puddle of blood, a small sack still tied to his belt. The sword that killed him— evidently his own—protrudes from his side, nicked and dulled from contact with his armor. 

This was Erun Hrom Thlyndor, once of Zazesspur, a LN 3rd level fighter. His long sword is dull but still usable, and his armor can be salvaged to provide partial (AC 4) protection to a large human. His belt is cut in two places, but the dagger sheathed at one hip is unused. Erun’s sack contains a small hide purse (of 6 gp, 11 sp, and 4 cp), a round, hard loaf of good bread, and a scrap of clean linen wrapped around a hand-wheel of cheese.

 A man with long, blond hair, clad in chain mail, lies face down atop one of the bugbear corpses. 

This was Andaron Irithar, a CG 1st level priest of Tymora. His neck has been broken; on a fine chain around it is the palm-sized, lacquered silver circle of Tymora—a holy symbol of real silver, worth 5 sp.

In one smashed hand, crumpled under his body, Andaron still clutches his mace. Also under his body, strapped to his belt, is a leather satchel. It holds four rather bruised apples, a cloth bag containing five oat cakes tied into a shallow wooden bowl with string, and a small canvas bag of kindling.

Andaron’s belt is very thick and sturdy. Anyone examining it finds that it is fashioned of three layers of hide; one end of the front layer undoes at a catch and peels away to reveal sixteen slits in the middle layer. Six of these slits hold a gold piece each; the rest are empty.

 A slim man with a moustache and short-trimmed, oily black hair lies on his back, the two pieces of a broken short sword beside him. He wears gray leather armor and soft leather boots and gloves. A dagger is clutched in one hand, and a dull, spreading stain low on his chest tells of his death by spearpoint.

This was Havildar Oremmen, of Port Kir, a CN 4th level thief. He has a second dagger sheathed on the inside of his left boot. His right boot has a hollow heel, reachable by removing it from his foot, and peeling back the insole; in the tiny cavity within is a scrap of coarse muslin, wrapped around three dark gray, red-flecked gems: bloodstones, each worth 50 gp. At his belt is a small canvas purse, armored with a metal plate that curves to cover its inward face, outside, and bottom. It is his “public purse,” and contain only 2 gp, 1 sp, and 3 cp.

Inside the sleeves of his jerkin, Havildar has strapped two things he wanted to hide. Strapped to his left forearm just inside the elbow is a flat leather pouch containing a set of thieves’ picks and a folding spike-grapnel. Strapped to Havildar’s right forearm is his “private purse,” a flat leather pouch holding 6 pp and 3 gp.

Around his midriff, under his armor, Havildar wears a coil of thin, waxed cord of dull gray hue: a climbing rope 70’ in length.

A man with a small, black spade beard and an old, puckered scar on his left cheek lies on his back, his battle axe atop him. One arm lies at an odd angle, and his back is twisted and arched. He wears scale mail, and lies atop what is left of a battered, split shield, still strapped to one arm. His plain iron helm, crushed like an eggshell, lies nearby. 

This is Baerkyn Urundul, once of Baldur’s Gate, a CN 3rd level fighter. The blows that broke his arm and back did not ruin his mail or his axe. Baerkyn is wearing (non-magical) metal gauntlets of very fine make. If they are removed, a gold ring (worth 3 gp) will be visible on the middle finger of his right hand.

Baerkyn’s belt has an ornate, snarling-lion-head brass buckle (worth 2 cpl, and bears a scabbarded broad sword and dagger. His canvas purse, also on his belt, contains 14 gp, 11 sp, 15 cp, and a bronze good luck charm: the sword of Tempus, Lord of Battles.

A red-haired, stubble-faced man in studded leather armor lies half-buried beneath the body of a bugbear. A sack and a broken iron lantern lie beneath one of the man’s outflung legs.

This was Delbarran Thundreir, a NG 2nd level fighter from Zazesspur. If the bugbear body is shifted to examine Delbarran, one of his arms is still clutching the hilt of a short sword, buried deeply in the bugbear’s body. His other arm holds a splintered wooden shield across his chest in a vain attempt to protect himself from a bugbear spear attack; in the end, that attack came from the rear.

Delbarran wears worn and rusty studded leather armor. His belt carries a sheathed dagger and a purse containing only a candle-end and 2 cp. The sack under his foot contains only a blanket, a spare pair of (well-worn, and quite large) boots, and the brass hilt of a broken dagger. The lantern is of the candle-and-reflector type; its shutter is completely shattered, and its candle has disintegrated into tiny wax shards, but the rest could be straightened, to serve as a lantern lacking any hood for its light.

 A brown-haired man in studded leather armor lies sprawled atop a polearm, a sack fallen by his outstretched hand. 

This was Hortil Gundelbar, a NG 1st level fighter of Brost. He died of a shattered skull, and never had time to wield his bill (polearm: bill-guisarme, which remains undamaged. He also has a hand axe and a dagger, both thrust in his belt, and a belt-purse containing 2 sp, 6 cp, and a whetstone wrapped in an oily cloth.

In Hortil’s sack are a loaf of bread, a large leathern flask of fiery amber Calishite wine, and two unbroken stoppered glass vials of holy water.

7 male adventurer corpses, 3 bugbears, 3 clubs, 3 warhammers, 2 short swords, tinder and flint, 28 gp, 27 sp, 32 cp, spellbook: burning hands, dancing lights, mending, shocking grasp, spider climb, and Tenser’s floating disc, long sword damaged plate armor (AC 4), dagger, 1 weeks rations, silver holy symbol (Tymora), mace, 3 daggers, chainmail, 2 axes, gauntlets, broad sword, wooden shield, studded leather armor, blanket, boots, hoodless lantern, bill-guisarme, 2 vials of holy water.

Dagger +1 (Glows faint amber always; dispel magic temporarily negates this effect, for 1 turn per level of the caster. Not bright enough to illuminate areas more than 5’ from the bearer.)

Hidden on bodies: 6 pp, 162 gp worth of stuff, dagger, thieves' tools, folding grappling hook.

The men were all novice adventurers, newly arrived from troubled Tethyr. They know nothing of Waterdeep, having teleported to Undermountain via a gate in Calimport. They called themselves "“The Black Banner Band."


If you're more into the whole brevity thing than Ed Greenwood was and in my Google + RPG circle, help us out with keying this hex map.


Roger G-S said...

In the early 80' Greenwood's style was an amazing revelation to read - until you tried applying it to actual play. I killed a campaign that way in high school, choked to death with "realistic" clutter in every room.

I guess if you want to play Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective in a dungeon these descriptions are your thing.

Gus L said...

The description is absurd, and I love verbosity. What's worse though is that it's florid crap abput dull dead adventurers with dull stuff and dull dead monsters.

Nagora said...

I think there's a sort of dilemma for some people when writing down adventures/settings for other people to use, which is that the writer starts to think "well, if the reader NEEDS an off-the-shelf adventure then clearly s/he CAN'T think of this stuff themselves" and then starts feeling that they should throw in all the stuff which in an actual game would be handled off-the-cuff.

In that passage, the tiny mention of the notched sword is clearly pre-empting an expected question from a player who is trying to ascertain whether the sword might be magical. The author's seen players ask that sort of question and so, for the benefit of the DM, who's assumed to have some sort of writers' block at this point, the author throws in the answer.

The result is unusable because the actual DM in actual play simply can't remember what is in effect a huge branching script of "if they say 'what about x', then say 'y'".

I can sympathise as I have a strong tendency in this direction myself, but that is a wild bad case of it.

Zak Sabbath said...

Maybe that's it. Or maybe it's just getting paid by the word.

I could understand the "these modules have all this lard because they are written for novices " argument better if these dungeons weren't written for high-level parties (it says it right on the box).

Roger G-S said...

Greenwood's tendency to one-ahead the players was a big part of my critique of Undermountain. It ends up being persnickety and ineffectual at the same time, precisely because it can't cover every case.

Luka said...

Wow ... that is ... wow. I'd probably just key it something like this: 7 dead adventurers, 3 dead bugbears. Weapons (50% broken), 1d6 human armours (50% damaged). Around 30 gp. Spellbook (here I'd probably list the spells, or just key it to a random table). Hidden low-level adventuring equipment worth app. 30 pp. A dagger +1.

Dead men - novices - various classes - called "Black Banner Band".

Or I'd go even further and have tables with loot and gear fleshed out on the side and just key the whole thing:

adventurers, dead, 7 - gear poor
bugbears, dead, 3 - gear v. poor
hidden treasure - middling
+spell book, holy symbol, +1 dagger

Konsumterra said...

when i wrote comics some artists wanted super detailed lists of everything in panel and lists of items - others liked brevity - some couldnt decide which was basicly hell for me - i became colourist and inker instead - less drama

Neil Willcox said...

The details should be filler in dead adventurer and/or room stocking tables.

The paid per word may be some of it. I suspect Greenwood may have written something closer to Zak's version for himself, but for a published module felt he should put on the page all the details he usually kept in his head.

Everloss said...

I fell asleep shortly after the first paragraph. Greenwood has never been the sort of writer to pique my interest. I don't need to be told in detail how everything is. I just need the pertinent info and I can do the rest.
Skipped down to the translation, which would give me a lot of room to imagine it all myself.

Chris said...

Ed Greenwood. His "Five Shires" for BECMI took 90-some pages to say:

* "If a big person touches you in a way you don't like, shout NO!" (all 5 Shires halflings have an innate 1/day 'stop that from happening' Big No! power. Really.)
* 30-level Halfling secret masters: a wizard-priest class with unique magical cold burning, darkness-spreading fire shrines (lolwut?) who can /dominate/ their clansmen at will.
* halfling pirates (nasty, brutish and short, hurr durr) who kidnap human women, dress them up and 'worship' them.
* page after page of dull, dull, dull NPC descriptions.
* Two pages of halfling folk song lyrics.
* else, +1 what Tolkien said.

That's what you get for paying freelancers by the word.

J Blanchard said...

The halfling pirates sound like pretty creepy villains.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere online (forgot where unfortunately) a minimalist system for keying rooms. It was far closer to Zachs version using the order of the lists to detail content. It was simple yet conveyed everything.

It seems some folks dont trust their DM or dont remember what its like using someoe elses module.

SavageCheerleader said...

Zak, I don't want to thread jack, but I wanted to ask you some questions about your system use; I dig it and I too found myself with an entire table full of new players. If you don't mind, I will post them in this thread.

I respect your ideas and thoughts on this issue, and many others. That is why I am reaching out, DM-DM.

Zak Sabbath said...

you can ask but for basic stuff you might want to check the tags and "read this first" posts in the margins first

SavageCheerleader said...

Thanks man. I have read just about all of the essays (great stuff), but I do not remember seeing a point which speaks to my conundrum. It really is basic; what led you to run your players with a modified 3.0 system rather than OD&D or an OSR Clone/System? I have a semblance of an idea from the DYI D&Ders comparison essay, but if you could take a moment to elucidate the data point which firmed up Zak'ed 3.0 over OSR.

I am considering running Pathfinder sans skills and feats (thanks for the confirmation it works), but then again, I have Swords&Wizardry, Crypts&Things, OD&D, DCC RPG...I am one of the too many systems with too many strangers, but we want a solid campaign. Which system is now my biggest (stupid, I know) enemy.

Much appreciated.

Zak Sabbath said...

I run a system between 3. 5 and AD&D because those are the systems that one of my players and I (respectively) were most familiar with when the campaign began and it is easier to hack as we go than transfer all the character sheets over to some new system mid-campaign

Unknown said...

You'd be thinking of this or one of his other posts on the same.

Rachel Ghoul said...

Do you think there's any chance you might idea-mine the Expedition to Castle Ravenloft module? I've always been weirdly fond of that one.

Zak Sabbath said...

I'm sure someone sufficiently motivate could do it.

Rachel Ghoul said...

I'm sure, but you're funnier than they probably are. =P

Unknown said...

In fact you could break that down to a spreadsheet as well.

But one mans meaning is another mans spreadsheet minutiae. Especially the dead bodies. What would a mass grave of women and children be? 52w,78c. I mean, it'd save space, right!?