Monthly Archives: April, 2011

Looking for Sourcebooks

I’ve been looking through some older D&D materials.  I know I’ve seen something in at least one of them about non-linear adventure design, but haven’t been able to put my hands (or eyes) on the one I want.  I remember a section in a book that talks about trying to track down a wizard, and how there were a number of sites to look in.  I seem to recall a diagram showing relationships between the various places to look (a two-dimensional array of houses or towns or some other such symbols).

So far I have checked (in no particular order)

  • AD&D 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Design Kit (I thought this was the one I wanted, but evidently not)
  • AD&D 2nd Edition DMGR1 Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide (does have a paragraph or so on ‘matrix-based scenarios’)
  • AD&D 2nd Edition DMGR5 Creative Campaigning (does have a paragraph or so on ‘matrix-based scenarios’, the sample adventures suggest that there is a likely path through the encounters but that there could be some variance)
  • AD&D 2nd Edition Dungeon Builder’s Guidebook (didn’t see anything)
  • AD&D 2nd Edition World Builder’s Guidebook (didn’t see anything)

If anyone knows what I’m looking for and can find it, I’d welcome the information.

Also, I seem to recall seeing a Dragon Magazine article that talked about relationships between NPCs and groups of NPCs that was represented as a directed graph.  Nodes were NPCs or groups, edges indicated a relationship and identified the general type of relationship: ‘fears’, ‘follows’, ‘commands’, and so on.  If anyone has an idea what issue this was in, I’d welcome that information also.


Campaign Setting Design: Published Guidelines

As part of my research for these articles, I’ve been reviewing published guidelines for adventure design.

In the last couple days I have reviewed DMG 3.5, DMG II, Green Ronin’s Advanced Gamemaster’s Guide, and the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide. They have all had much the same advice for developing adventures: devise a plot, design the encounters, then run the players through it until they reach the expected end.  If you want, put in some plot twists to surprise them, and allow some alternate branches and routes along the way.

This is really close to ‘write the story the players will experience’.

I suppose it shouldn’t be that big a surprise that many published adventures follow such a format.


On Managing Expectations

In a recent thread in, I saw a comment with regard to a matter of power balance in a focus-mojo-and-release idea that I thought I would follow up on.  I think it does a fair bit to explain where I’m coming from in my game design and campaign expectations.

Keith has already been pounding into my head that at “heroic” and “legendary” levels, “realistic” isn’t a big deal.  So getting many ‘focus’ points per round at high levels might make perfect sense.

— David Lamb

I think this is an important realization to make. Mid- to high-level D&D is not ‘realistic’. It can be quite playable as long as you keep this in mind while designing… something that was not done well in D&D 3.x.

Never mind that the fighter is just using ‘a normal sword’ or ‘a normal bow’. Remember, the wizard is using ‘a normal ball of bat guano’ to throw fireball spells, or a ‘normal piece of amber’ to throw lightning bolt spells.

So, after about fourth level you can stretch credibility, after about eighth level you should be in incredible territory… at which point your primary worry as far as power is concerned is that you are in line with whatever balance point you have chosen.

Yes, your fighter can use his sword to lay down a line of wind that cuts his enemies along a 100′ path (much as lightning bolt, but not electrical… it might even be considered a force effect and push ghosts around).  Your monk doesn’t leap across a big hole in the floor, he can get to the other side of a chasm (why not? The wizard could fly… or cast dimension door or teleport). Accept that mid- to high-level characters are no longer on the same level of ability that we have to accept in our world.

It’ll make your games much better, I assure you. ‘Believable in our world’ means ‘low level’; after that, ‘internally consistent’ is a better metric.

Campaign Setting Design: Scope Level Sizes

This is a quick addendum to my last post, particularly the section on scope levels.

I wrote how scope levels describe how broad an impact or influence entities can have.  However, I didn’t write about how big I expect game elements of each scope level to be in play.  This was deliberate because the tools and techniques I will be describing are system-neutral and do not particularly depend on the play group.  Time needed to play through a scenario or advance (however that is done in the game system being used) can vary a great deal.

For my own purposes, I use the following guidelines.


Campaign Setting Design: Definitions

This article is a follow-up to my earlier Campaign Setting Design article. It expands somewhat on the idea of entities (there called ‘features’; I have formalized the structures somewhat).

I will be providing some greater description of the techniques I use to develop settings and scenarios. In order to do that clearly, I need to provide some definitions. There are other terms that will come up later, but these ones will be common to all articles in this series.

  • Entities are any story elements significant enough to document, but not purely mechanical elements.
  • Scope Levels define and limit how ‘big’ an entity is. An entity with encounter scope (the bandits mentioned below) is unlikely to have impact on the setting as a whole, while an entity with setting scope (such as a god) clearly can.

Edit 2014/04/05: The definitions previously posted below have been updated and expanded in new posts. Normally I might simply update the definitions, or redirect this page to the new definitions, but because I have split the content of this page into two that obviously won’t work.

Arcane Casters and Armor

I’m starting to come to the conclusion that there’s probably no real harm in easing the limitations of armor use on arcane spell casters.

It is already fairly easy to build an arcane caster who can use armor without significantly impacting their casting ability.  There are a fair number of spells without somatic components, which are the only components that cause Arcane Spell Failure to come up.  Most spells do have somatic components, of course, but many don’t.  Between that and Still Spell, it’s fairly easy to cast almost any spell desired in armor (albeit at a higher cost, if you must use Still Spell).

What if Arcane Spell Failure applies only in nonproficient armor?


Old Site Materials, Part 2

It took me long enough to get around to it, but I’ve now finished copying my old articles and reference materials from my old site to here.

A long and tedious task, but it’s done now.  I’ve also gotten a few new ideas as to how I can approach the implementation of the Open Game Content Library, so it’s served a useful purpose to me.

Anyway, enjoy.  The material is all available under the Old Site pages.