Wednesday, April 29, 2009


It should be no revelation to anyone who’s GM’ed more than a game or two that you can’t predict what players are going to do (or where they’re going to go). The best (and only) way to guide their movements short of laying down the rails is to selectively skimp on prep-work. If you’ve left a corner of your dungeon level bare of detail, they’re going to zoom in on it with player sonar and start digging around in it. They’re like fucking ferrets – they get into EVERYTHING (and tend to smell weird).

Accordingly, when I lovingly re-drew, detailed and re-stocked two sheets’ worth of dungeon levels last night, I practically FORCED my guys to flee the area like so many suspiciously-well-armed refugees. They got through a door I didn’t expect them to get through (and which may be replaced with a stronger version in the near future by a pissed-off landlord), wandered down several hundred yards of unpleasant, single-file (and barely sketched) corridor, whomping vermin and deftly avoiding every potentially gainful distraction I put in their path until they finally wandered into a real fight (and got banged up enough that it was time to make for the surface). No hard feelings, though – I can improv when I need to. It’s like jazz – it’s dungeon scat. (Actually, no, that sounds horrible, it’s nothing like that. Don’t Google that term, either.)

FWIW, I actually like having areas that were developed during play. I do stuff I wouldn’t normally do when I’m pressed for time, and let things get into the game that otherwise (were I sitting at home, unharried by bloodthirsty players), I’d overthink and try to rationalize. Frankly, I tend towards the realistic, the well-reasoned, and the explainable in my designs, and this isn’t always a good thing. The weird, random, unexplainable shit is where a lot of the wonder of the dungeon comes from, and going “off the map” tends to draw some of that into the overall fabric. Can’t be a bad thing.

Next time, though, I’m gonna be ready. My goal, as of late, has been to provide myself with a handy “DM pack” to run Zent-Mer with – something that, along with a red book and the map, will be all the material I need for a long session. Inspired largely by Kellri’s Old School Encounters Reference, I’ve been distilling any number of charts and lists into an information-dense 8.5”x11” booklet. Next addition: A selection of small dungeon “nodes,” straight outta Appendix A (1e DMG), ready to plug in and stock when the ferrets get loose.


PS: Oh, yeah, they got into a fight. More on that in a few – I’m still tossing around an on-the-fly rules hack I stumbled into last night, we’ll see if it sticks.

PPS: Another thing, going back one more link in the inspiration chain from Kellri’s book: No DM running Classic D&D should be without a copy of Monster & Treasure Assortment. Such a simple idea, such pure DM gold when you’re running on the fly (or stocking in a hurry).

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