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 Post subject: By Request: Building the Palace
PostPosted: Mon Sep 10, 2007 12:09 am 
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Part One: Return of the Axe

Before I jump into this, I'll give a bit of personal history. I've been involved in one degree or another with the tournament since the beginning. My first published work in this field was for Crypt, where I had "Torture without End," "The Lever Vault," and "Pain's Forge." My nick on this board comes from the Chalychia's svirfneblin smithy, Jengenritz. The year Crypt was played, I was a Judge.

For Vault I was only a Judge, but I got to run a round 3 table...I really enjoyed all of my groups for Vault and had a lot of enthusiasm for the tournament...

...which brings us to Palace. Apparently my enthusiasm was noticed, because El Capitán asked me if I felt up to being the Project Manager for the next tournament mod. I may be getting my chronology wrong, but I believe I had already agreed to be Tournament Manager at this time...this meant I'd be in charge of the tournament from concept to implementation.

The beginning was rocky, I must confess. I knew I wanted the tournament to be an ever-evolving creature, and my natural inclinations tend to take things in very odd territory BUT I repressed the latter at first. Joseph knew what he was more-or-less looking for in terms of big picture (see his What I Look For document). The trick was getting the two to align.

He asked for several thumbnail ideas, I batted out a few and none really took off, but the idea of a chasm with a chaos artifact in its bottom appealed to him the most. Around here I realized what I had submitted...Axecleft Ravine, which was lifted from my very first D&D home campaign setting (called "Axehome")!

I used my old mythology, and it survived surprisingly intact in the finished volume (more on that later). While originally Marduk was the guy who dropped the Axe, I changed it to Casd'ixtat (eventually changed to Cadixtat). While originally Marduk and another chaos god were fighting over the Axe, I changed the opponent to a paragon of Law, Eus (eventually changed to Teleus).

Then came a conversation with my buddy JP. I explained that there was this shard of the Axe of Unmaking at the bottom of a ravine.
Then he said, "A shard? What if the entire dungeon was built around a giant axe..."
And I immediately said, "...because it has to be kept safe and the severed giant hand of Casd'ixtat is still there! Oh my god...a giant hand is the foozil!"
I gave JP an "additional development" credit for that one sentence, because so much clicked into place plot-wise afterward.

For the defenders of the Axe, which clearly had to be placed there by Law at the conclusion of the great duel, I chose the tortogs from DragonMech (I had either just finished or was working on my chapter for Almanac, "Duerok"), slightly modified to be the shaorti. It was decided that "shaorti" sounded too much like "shorty," so Joseph asked for alternates, so I sent him 26...one beginning with each letter of the alphabet...and we agreed that falsoom was the strongest of the lot. The regenerative crystal the falsoom mine in the Waste (and can be found in the gallery on level 1) was, therefore, named "shaor."

Why turtle-men? The meta-plot called for a race, snatched from History at the beginning of things, to guard the Axe, so I couldn't pick a "known" D&D race, and I didn't want to just invent...oh...something like "purple halflings" or "monastic elves"...I wanted something distinctive that would dictate a specific environment, culture, and "feel." Why has no one ever seen falsoom before? 'Cause they've been forgotten about...it's part of their inherent tragedy (read Korok's section on level 2...Luke did a fantastic job capturing what I was going for).

I decided shortly after I figured out the falsoom that I wanted a "fake" final battle. For some reason, the Chronopia Firstborn Repulsar Knight
http://www.chronopia-deutschland.de/1/a ... /50121.jpg
stuck in my head. I decided that would be a mad "angel"...something set to guard the Axe but eventually corrupted by it and turning on his falsoom allies (completing the metaplot point about the abject failure of the powers of Law to contain the Axe). Since it was an "angel"-analog, it clearly had to be named Yephaiel.

Now I had an ancient history, a recent history, turtle-men, a Yephaiel the Unyielding/Yephaiel the Mad, and the Axe of Unmaking. I had a vision, a clear idea of what, where, and how.

All I needed was people to write the adventure.

NEXT: Herding Cats

_________________
Co-Author: The Almanac of the Endless Traders, DCC #13, DCC #29, DCC #49, DCC #51, DCC #52, DCC #63

Author: DCC #55: Isle of the Sea Drake, DCC #61: Citadel of the Corruptor, more to come....


Last edited by Jengenritz on Tue Sep 18, 2007 12:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: By Request: Building the Palace
PostPosted: Mon Sep 10, 2007 11:26 am 
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Jengenritz wrote:
my natural inclinations tend to take things in very odd territory BUT I repressed the latter at first.


Odd territory...such as being in the stomach of Cadixtat? Fighting a disembodied hand? ;)


Jengenritz wrote:
And I immediately said, "...because it has to be kept safe and the severed giant hand of Casd'ixtat is still there! Oh my god...a giant hand is the foozil!"


Reading that encounter made me wish that we had enough time in the tournament...

Speaking of which...the printed adventure is a beauty. Great job guys.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Sep 18, 2007 1:16 pm 
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Part Two: Herding Cats

At the onset of this process, Joseph asked me if I wanted to write the tournament module myself or if I wanted the "jigsaw puzzle" approach, where various authors contribute rooms and I assemble them into a cohesive dungeon. At this time, keep in mind, there had been one of each style of tournament, with Crypt being jigsaw and Vault being single-author.

I went with jigsaw puzzle...I like the idea of a team of hand-picked authors, each submitting their best ideas, and the most appropriate of those being fully developed into encounters.

Invitations went out, and those who accepted were given the backstory and the basic structure I had worked out previously:

Level 1 - Symmetrical Halls - this is the "Lawful" level, we want alignment-based traps, constructs, puzzles, workshops, training halls, maybe some creatures from the Waste that have snuck in. These creatures should be mindless or neutral so as not to set off the traps. This area should be sterile in a Bespin Cloud City kind of way.

Level 2 - Chambers of the Falsoom - this is the "Neutral" level, areas should be living spaces, theaters, libraries, dorms, crypts, gathering halls...this is where they actually lived. We want water, maybe areas hidden by water. No or few traps, should have fey, creatures escaped from a menagerie, that sort of thing. Should have a natural, lived-in feel.

Level 3 - Axecleft Ravine - this is the "Chaotic" level. This level used to be normal, but now it's twisted by the Axe and overrun by the Heartfeaster orcs with the Unmade template, I want really bizarre encounters. Few traps. Should evoke a feeling of madness.

As you can see, the dungeon was designed with alignment in mind, but specifically NOT the good/evil axis because that already gets so much attention. I wanted Palace to look at the law/chaos axis. Even the pregens - who existed very early in the writing process - were designed for this purpose (more on them later).

I also posted some guidelines on what format these things should be in, and made sure to let the authors know that writing for the tournament is NOT like writing for other module publication.

Then the area submissions starting coming in. Some authors followed the guidelines, others didn't. I joked to my wife that it was sometimes like herding cats, but eventually everyone was on the same page.

And honestly, the Goodman Games authors are mighty damn cool to work with...I was initially worried that I would have to tiptoe through a minefield of ego and entitlement, that they would resent revisions and bail on the job. Turns out my concerns, born entirely from inexperience in this kind of project, were baseless...these guys are pros, and our conversations about the module greatly enhanced the final product. The authors were invested, and I think that shows in the printed adventure.

So once the submissions were in, I had to begin constructing the jigsaw puzzle. Each proposed area was examined to see if it would fit on any of the levels. My target number was 6-8 encounters per level. This was our first attempt to make the dungeon short enough so that people could reach the end...our success with Chronicle in meeting that goal owes something to what we learned during Palace.

Rooms were also examined as to what meta-purpose they served...was it a combat to merely weaken the party, or was it a killer encounter? Was it designed to relay information, give out McGuffins, resupply the party, or confuse them?

How can the party gain or lose points here? Are there special objectives, goals, or tidbits of information to acquire? Is there a bad guy to kill, a lever to throw, a parchment to find, a trap to avoid, a captive to save, or a special weapon to recover? This is VERY IMPORTANT to tournament writing, and it's often overlooked.

If there are creatures, what kind are they? Do we have too many magical beats, humanoids, or vermin? Is the creature a physical combatant, an ambusher, a spellcaster, or something else? If there are traps, are we repeating the spells or mechanism used for it? If it's a trap, how did the falsoom bypass it? I HATE it when there are traps with no way through them. How do the dungeon denizens not set off the damn trap everytime they go to the port-a-privy?

What player types were needed to overcome the encounter...did it require skill, brawn, magic, or knowledge? I worked up a matrix of the areas selected to see how many were straight combat, how many needed certain skills, etc. The idea was to strike a balance so that every player would have something to do (again, more on the pregens later).

Rarely was an encounter accepted whole-cloth. Most of the time they were sent back for tweaks ("This is great but I already have swarm vermin, can you rework it with tricksy fey or a spellcaster of some sort?"), and again the authors were fantastically accomodating about this.

This entire process was a terrific amount of fun, and taking pieces from this room and pieces from that room, I began to see intriguing threads that I hadn't intended but worked out. The switching of the Water Garden for the Hunting Grounds, for example, or the evolution of the Rahn'mok as the ersatz saviours of the falsoom...even the Ring, Rod, and Ribbon of Law were born from looking at what the authors had sent in. Sometimes I would send one author a chunk of another author's area, and ask him to synch up some details or work Plot Device A into his area. Then there were the subplots of each pregen...entirely after-the-fact, but when the rooms were all submitted it was staring me in the face.

I mention this in the "Writing of Whiterock" thread, but it's worth mentioning here...striking a balance between structure and flexibiliity works wonders. Having a vision, but also being able to recognize better or complementary ideas when they arise, makes for a good adventure.

At least that's my opinion.

NEXT: Pregeneration

_________________
Co-Author: The Almanac of the Endless Traders, DCC #13, DCC #29, DCC #49, DCC #51, DCC #52, DCC #63

Author: DCC #55: Isle of the Sea Drake, DCC #61: Citadel of the Corruptor, more to come....


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2007 1:31 pm 
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Jengenritz wrote:
I HATE it when there are traps with no way through them. How do the dungeon denizens not set off the damn trap everytime they go to the port-a-privy?


That's a pet peeve of mine as well.

Jengenritz wrote:

What player types were needed to overcome the encounter...did it require skill, brawn, magic, or knowledge? I worked up a matrix of the areas selected to see how many were straight combat, how many needed certain skills, etc. The idea was to strike a balance so that every player would have something to do (again, more on the pregens later).


This was one of the things that my group kept talking about...Palace seemed VERY well balanced. Every character had some part to play. In several encounters, you could see where another one of the original 6 characters would have come in handy...

Jengenritz wrote:

striking a balance between structure and flexibiliity works wonders. Having a vision, but also being able to recognize better or complementary ideas when they arise, makes for a good adventure.


I think that goes for GMing as well. There have been times when I've introduced a plot, only to have the party come up with a better (and more sensible) one than what I had originally conceived...so I drop my original plot, and go with the one they concocted. The group is proud of their "aha!" moment, and I get a pat on the back for the idea they gave me. Genius! ;)

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2007 3:53 pm 
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Quote:
Every character had some part to play.


Entirely intentional. The next post addresses that very topic, in fact.

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Co-Author: The Almanac of the Endless Traders, DCC #13, DCC #29, DCC #49, DCC #51, DCC #52, DCC #63

Author: DCC #55: Isle of the Sea Drake, DCC #61: Citadel of the Corruptor, more to come....


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