Thursday, 13 March 2014

Into Ploughshares: Seasons as Dungeons

I think the most logical way to handle things in Into Ploughshares – bearing in mind that I’m deliberately trying to map pastoralism onto traditional adventuring – is to have a season correspond to a dungeon adventure as the most basic model.

A dungeon adventure is typically broken up into both phases and sections:

  1. Learning about the dungeon (rumours, research, clues). Perhaps better if we swap “dungeon” for “problem, situation or opportunity”.
  2. Preparation (shopping, gathering, crafting, planning, training)
  3. Travelling to the dungeon (navigation, survival, random encounters)
  4. Investigating the dungeon before entering (surveillance, tracking, divination, evaluation)
  5. Dungeoneering
  6. Returning from the dungeon with news, loot or captives (navigation, survival, random encounters)
  7. Aftermath (celebrating, shopping, punishment, turning in quests, healing and repair, planning)

The dungeoneering phase is typically the meat of the adventure, and within this section adventurers will explore numerous individual rooms or sections, with activities like:

  1. Searching
  2. Fighting (multiple rounds of combat)
  3. Dealing with traps
  4. Looting
  5. Negotiating with NPCs
  6. Healing and recovery

Following this model, a season adventure might work something like this:

  1. Learning – a bit tricky, but we can recast “dungeon” as “situation” and this makes sense. If we have wandering pastoralists in the wandering adventurer mould, this can work. They learn about a settlement that has problems (rumours, research, clues).
  2. Preparation (shopping, gathering, crafting, planning, training)
  3. Travelling
  4. Investigating
  5. Pastoralising (most of what you do)
  6. Returning
  7. Aftermath (celebrating, shopping, turning in quests, recovery and repair, planning)

The pastoralising phase, the bulk of the adventure, splits up into numerous “rooms”. Rather than physical rooms, these are discrete-but-related situations that can be dealt with. It’s important to note that in most cases, a season adventure should not be built around an escalating challenge that must be overcome sequentially – this is not how most dungeons work. Instead, there are numerous self-contained situations that offer challenge and opportunity.

Let’s think about dungeons again. In some cases the main quest may be to kill everything in a dungeon and defeat its overlord. In other cases, there’s one objective to meet, but many obstacles to overcome (in whatever way you choose) along the way. Still other times, there is no particular objective other than to explore and see what’s interesting. The objectives of the characters may not match the quest given to them, either – PCs have their own motivations and opinions. Sometimes defeating one enemy, or disabling a substantial trap, will make another combat easier; in other cases your decisions may determine how other dungeon residents react to you (do you side with the goblins or the gnomes, or neither?).

Mirroring this, in a season adventure, the main quest might be to deal with a whole series of problems of escalating severity. However, this shoud not be a series of hardships that happen to the characters and must be survived. A dungeon adventure doesn’t consist of a stream of monsters of increasing Challenge Rating advancing on the PCs. Rather, we should present a number of problems that the PCs are asked (or recommended, or able) to address, some of which may depend on resolving other problems first. Some problems may interrelate, so that solving one makes it easier to solve another, or alters the range of options. In other cases, valuable resources need to be focused on one problem or another, so difficult choices may be needed. PCs might decide to leave some problems or opportunities untackled, deciding they’re not worth the effort.

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